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Blurring the Truth and the Lies

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If he’s asked Pete says that he’s fine.

It’s an automatic statement. Carefully crafted lies to protect the people he loves. I’m fine. I’m eating. I’m getting enough sleep. If he keeps repeating the words they have to believe it, except, of course it’s not true.

Not always. Sometimes Pete can outrun the black dogs -- or skirt the black holes or defeat the fanged monsters, truthfully Pete doesn’t qualify emotions with physical forms, he just knows that they’re there, always lurking and ready to reach out and grab -- but sometimes he can’t.

Like now. When Pete should be on top of the world, but just isn’t.

His band is successful, his company’s a success and he’s loved by family and close friends. Real love, the kind that’s lasting and not based on an image.

Except that’s not enough.

Pete’s tried using words, his hands shaking as he sits at his laptop and just types. He’s got pages of lyrics, the paper made grimy and torn through in places. He’s got people he trusts and who are willing to listen -- but none of that helps.

Nothing Pete’s tried is enough, and all that he’s left with is running.

Foot down he keeps going faster, the road ahead straight, no obstacles, no danger and Pete’s head is pounding along with the beat of the music. Loud and unyielding, an ice prick to his brain as he squeezes his eyes shut and swallows.

A little longer and he’ll stop.

A little further and he’ll turn back and go home.

A little more time and he’ll be ready.

Pete opens his eyes and screams.

~*~*~*~

“Bay three. Pete Wentz. Male, late twenties, car versus tree. He’s in a medically induced coma right now and family is on the way. Mikey, you’re his one-to-one tonight.”

Mikey takes a step to the side, looking past charge nurse Jones into the unit. From here the patient is part hidden, by machines and the raised sides of the bed. But Mikey knows what he looks like. Pete Wentz, front man of Fall Out Boy and the reason why Mikey was almost late for work; he’d had to fight his way through the crowds of fans and press in front of the hospital.

“Neuro will be coming in to check on him again later and plastics are waiting on a consult with the max facs unit. They’ll be in some time tonight.” As instructions go they’re standard, and nothing Mikey can’t handle, but about to enter the unit, he stops when Jones briefly touches his arm. “You saw that crowd outside. The reporters can’t know that Mr Wentz is a suspected suicide.”

“They won’t find out from me,” Mikey promises, pushing back faint annoyance the Jones would even think for a moment that Mikey would talk. Even without his professional oath he wouldn’t, especially not to the yelling crowd of photographers who’ve been circling the main door since Pete was rushed in early this morning.

“Okay, good.” charge nurse Jones hesitates, professionalism briefly replaced by concern for the patient as she looks into the bay. “Any issues, you know where I am.”

Mikey nods. It’s not the first time he’s been assigned one-to-one duties, but it is the first time he’s cared for anyone well known. Not that fame matters right now. Stepping into the unit Mikey glances at the machines that surround Pete’s bed, automatically taking note of displays before he checks Pete himself.

“Hi Pete, I’m Mikey, I’m your primary nurse for tonight.” Now, years into his specialist training it’s easy for Mikey to talk to someone unresponsive. It’s second nature to say what he’s doing as he circles Pete’s bed and stands close to the rail, taking in the heavy bandaging that’s wrapped around Pete’s head and the extensive bruising and graze that scrapes over his cheek. “It’s my job to look after you tonight, so I’ll be here until morning. If you feel someone staring, don’t worry, it’s just me.”

Pen pulled from his scrubs pocket, Mikey moves to the foot of the bed, chart held in one hand as he reads more of Pete’s details and stats. The impact injuries to his abdomen and chest, the fracture to his skull and right eye socket and the possibility of resulting brain swelling, the concern of his temperature steadily rising. In combination they’re a worry, and Mikey knows it’s going to be a long night, one where Pete’s fighting for his life despite never moving.

Stats noted, Mikey slips the pen back into his pocket and reaches over the bed, briefly touching Pete’s hand. “You’ve got to keep fighting. You hear me?”

The hiss of the respirator is the only reply.

~*~*~*~

“If you don’t let me in now I’ll have your jobs. All of them.”

Normally ICU is its own version of quiet. Soft voices against the constant white noise of machines alongside the sporadic outbreaks of chaos that come along with coding and emotionally charged grief. This outbreak is close to the second, and even without seeing who’s yelling, Mikey knows they’re afraid. It’s there in the sharp words and shrill pitch, Mikey touching Pete’s shoulder as he says, “I think your friends have arrived.”

It’s not Pete’s family, they’ll still be en route, no doubt arriving the next morning, red-eyed and exhausted, when Mikey will finally able to put faces to the people who keep calling -- Pete’s hanging on. No change. Someone will call if there is -- the guarded non-answers all Mikey can give at the moment.

A last look at Pete and Mikey walks out of the bay, his footsteps soft as he heads for the door, where charge nurse Jones and Steve from security are standing. They’ve got the door to the hallway half open, Steve blocking the way as Jones keeps talking, ignoring the yelling from the person outside.

“As I told you, our visiting criteria is fixed, family only.”

“I am family,” the man -- Patrick if Mikey is hearing right -- says, and while technically that’s untrue, Mikey’s seen and read enough to know that to Patrick, Pete is his brother.

“Pete’s family is still flying in,” Mikey says, Standing next to Jones he keeps his voice low, his words for her ears only. “Until then Patrick could visit. Pete needs a good friend.”

Jones turns, frowning as she looks up at Mikey. “You know this person?”

“I know of him. He’s the singer in Pete’s band. In interviews Pete says he’s his best friend.” Of course that doesn’t mean that it’s true. Mikey may not be the scene king that he was in his teens but he’s been around enough to know bands often exist on fake feelings, declarations of friendship that mean nothing once the cameras stop rolling. But in this case Mikey’s sure that it is true, the interviews backed by the fact Patrick looks like he’s ready to bodily charge Steve to get to Pete’s side. “It won’t hurt to let him in for ten minutes.”

“Ten minutes only, and you stay with them,” charge nurse Jones says and then turns back to the door, back straight and unflinching as she stares directly at Patrick. “Mikey tells me you’re close to Mr. Wentz. Until his family arrives you can visit. For ten minutes only; do not make me regret giving you this chance. The rest of you can stay in the waiting room.”

Steve doesn’t move, a physical barrier until the crowd of people behind Patrick back away, grumbling still but seemingly resigned that only Patrick can visit. When the hallway is finally clear, Steve takes a step back and Mikey takes his place, his hand out when it looks like Patrick’s about to push past to find Pete.

“Hold on.” Instantly Patrick glares, his hands curled into fists, but Mikey’s faced worse and he’s unimpressed by fear-fuelled rage. “You need to disinfect your hands. It’s for Pete’s benefit.”

Showing by example, Mikey takes a sidestep to the wall-mounted dispenser, squirting antiseptic gel onto his palm. Rubbing his hands together he nods approvingly when Patrick does the same.

Patrick abruptly rubs the gel onto his hands, and then says tightly, “Can I see him now?”

“Yeah,” Mikey says, but he makes no effort to actually show Patrick Pete’s bay. “Before we go in, he’s not looking that good right now. He’s attached to a lot of machines and seeing them can be scary....”

“I’ve seen it before,” Patrick cuts in, his patience obviously on the point of breaking completely. “I just want to see him.”

And Mikey should press the point, but he doesn’t. Sometimes all you can do is let people take that sharp shock without warning. He starts walking, stops outside of Pete’s bay and says, “He’s in here.”

Instantly Patrick rushes past, the remaining color in his face draining away when he sees Pete -- face swollen and hair shaved under the bandaging, tubes and wires snaking out from every part of his body. As reactions go it’s one that Mikey’s seen often, enough that it’s instinct to grab a chair and set it next to the bedside while steering Patrick toward it, holding his arm until he’s safely sitting down.

“I know it looks bad but he’s hanging on.” Sure that Patrick’s not about to slump forward and smack his head on the floor, Mikey turns his attention to Pete, mentally noting readings as he touches Pete’s shoulder and says, “Patrick’s here to see you. You’ve got him worried.”

“He’s always got me worried,” Patrick mutters, and takes a deep breath, his glasses held in one hand as he scrubs at his eyes. “Jesus Christ, Pete. I was only in the next room.”

Busying himself at the side of the bay, Mikey arranges supplies on a shelving unit and then does it again, giving privacy the best that he can. It’s all that he can do. Patrick’s not one of the people who needs Mikey to stay close. The ones who sob on his shoulder or need someone to hold onto. What Patrick needs is a moment to breathe, his fear pulled close and voice wet when he finally says, “He’s going to be okay.”

It’s not a question, just a simple statement of fact, and more than anything Mikey hopes that it’s true as he says, “He looks like a fighter.”

Patrick reaches between the siderails of the bed, taking hold of Pete’s hand, careful of IV ports and tubes as he holds on and says, “He is.”

~*~*~*~

While he lives on his own, Mikey’s used to getting home and finding someone in his apartment. Tonight, it’s three someones, and when Mikey pushes open the door he sees Gerard in his usual space on the couch, sitting sideways, his feet against Frank’s legs while Ray’s sprawled out in the easy chair, his legs stretched out and feet crossed at the ankle.

While it’s not unusual to see them, it is unusual to be the focus of so much attention, all three blatantly staring as Mikey takes off his coat. Glancing toward the living area, Mikey says, “You know I can’t tell you anything.”

“We’re not asking anything,” Gerard says, poking his toes against Frank’s thigh. “We just thought.....”

“That you could tell us if it’s true Pete Wentz tried to off himself,” Frank says, interrupting Gerard and frowning as he bats at Gerard’s foot. “We know he got taken to your hospital and you’re going to tell Gerard later anyway because you know everything that goes on in there. This way you get to cut out the cagey bullshit and tell us all upfront.”

If he had the energy Mikey would protest that he doesn’t tell Gerard everything, 90% sure, but even then, he doesn’t include confidential patient details. After years of Mikey working at the hospital, that’s something Frank’s well aware of, but Mikey’s still not surprised that he asked, not when Pete’s such a big name on the scene. Grabbing a water from out of the fridge, Mikey twists off the cap of the bottle and thinks what he actually can share. “He’s been admitted.”

“We know that,” Frank grumbles and sits forward slightly, his tone serious. “We want to know if he’s alive? They keep showing his car being taken away from the crash site, if he survived that....”

“He did.” That’s something Mikey can say, knowing a statement about Pete’s condition is due to be issued. “But he’s really fucked up, in a stable but critical condition.”

“Fuck,” Ray says softly, sounding concerned. “I went to their show only last week. He looked fine.”

Still sitting forward, Frank’s attention is solely on Mikey as he says, “Wait. You said that like you know for sure. Did you see him? How fucked up is he? Does he still have his hands?”

“Yes he’s still got his hands.” Technically, it’s something Mikey shouldn’t reveal, but he also knows Frank, and the last thing Mikey wants is some rumour that Pete’s lost both of his hands and is going to spend the rest of his life trying to play bass with his stumps. “But that’s it, no more details.”

“Fine.” With a long-suffering sigh, Frank shifts along the sofa as Gerard moves his legs, making space for Mikey to sit down. “But if you find out any juicy details...”

Mikey grins and holds up his water in a salute toward Frank. “I won’t tell you.”

“Close-mouthed bastard,” Frank says, his arms crossed and silent for all of a moment before he adds, “When you see him, tell him he’d better hold on and keep playing.”

That’s something Mikey can do, and he simply says, “Okay.”

~*~*~*~

Pete’s used to waking feeling confused.

It’s just something that happens at times. Late nights that have slipped into mornings and ended when he’s opened his eyes to see yet another unfamiliar room or face.

Most times he lies still, getting his bearings as he decides if he needs to engage with the people around him or slip silently away. Right now though....

Pete doesn’t hurt, but it feels like he should. His whole body numb in a way that suggests that something is wrong. He’s also thirsty, his head stuffed up and eyes refusing to open more than a slit.

Fear creeping close, Pete tries to move, but he can’t.

Arms like lead and body heavy, Pete opens his mouth to cry out, but before he can croak out a word, the darkness grabs hold, pulling Pete down. And no matter how hard he tries. How hard he fights, there’s no way he can stay in the light.

~*~*~*~

“Sources say you woke up for a moment earlier.” Mikey sits on the chair next to Pete’s bed, careful not to bump the rails as he takes the time to just look. It’s something he does always, visual clues taken in along with noted-down stats and figures. Right now Pete looks worse than before, bruises darkening and skin deathly pale. But Mikey knows this kind of worse is expected, as Pete’s body fights back and all he can do is lie still and heal. “If you want to do it again we’re all ready.”

“Do you think that works? Talking to him, I mean.”

Mikey looks over his shoulder, already standing so Patrick can sit. “It can’t hurt. Studies have shown that some patients can hear when they’re in a coma. Plus, who wants to lie and listen to nothing?”

“It would drive Pete crazy,” Patrick says, dropping heavily into the chair. Leaning forward, he rests his head on the bed rail, as if it’s the only thing keeping him upright, and if Mikey hadn’t already lost this fight before, he’d order Patrick to go home. But he has lost that fight, Patrick only going as far as the waiting room as he alternated ten minute visits with Pete’s family every half hour.

“Did you eat?” That’s something that Mikey will ask, and he’s prepared to use underhanded tactics as he adds, “I don’t want you passing out and making Pete worry.”

“Like he’d even see me, fucking slacker,” Patrick says fondly, turning his head slightly so he can look up at Mikey. “But yeah, I ate. Joe sent out for take-out. Pizzas mainly, but there’s subs and more healthy stuff, too. He’s got enough for the whole floor. You should go out and get some.”

Mikey looks at the clock on the wall, but despite how appealing free food sounds, he’ll have to say no. “Can’t. Not until my break, and that’s hours away.”

“Sucks.” Head still resting on the rail, Patrick reaches through the bars of the bedside, resting his hand on Pete’s. “We’ll sneak you some food in. I’ll do the deed and Pete will provide the distraction. He’s good at that.”

“I’m sure he is,” Mikey says, remembering some of the other times he’s seen Pete, when he was running and diving off stage, the audience in the palm of his hand as he soaked up their love and attention.

His hand still on Pete’s, Patrick sits up straight, looking directly at Mikey. “You’ve been to our shows.” It’s not a question, but Patrick stating a fact as he adds, “I can tell. You’re thinking about Pete.”

“I’m always thinking about Pete when I’m here. It’s my job,” Mikey says, but at Patrick’s pointed look, admits, “Yeah. I’ve been to a few of your shows.”

“I thought so.” Patrick keeps looking at Mikey, and for the first time in days his attention isn’t solely directed on Pete or Pete’s care. “What’s with the evasion? You’re not allowed to talk about your social life?”

“It’s not that,” and it isn’t. It’s just, Mikey’s not used to the two sides of his life colliding. Usually there’s a clear divide between leisure and work, Mikey’s professional side tucked away when he goes out. “Some people don’t want to hear about their nurse’s personal life. They’re more focussed on what’s happening here.”

“Pete would want to know,” Patrick says, sounding sure of that fact. Gaze turning from Mikey to Pete, Patrick smiles slightly and for a moment exhaustion is visually pushed back. “He likes to know what people are doing, especially if it involves him. He’s nosy like that, even if it’s things he shouldn’t be reading, or know.”

“Never Google yourself.” It’s something Mikey fully believes, and that’s after only seeing a few bitter comments directed toward him on social network sites, for Pete it must be a thousand times worse. “I liked the shows that I went to, you put on a sweet show.”

“Thanks. Pete loves it, we all do.” Patrick stops talking, any hint of a smile gone as he says, “It’s why I don’t get this. He does love it, and things were okay. Not awesome, but okay. This makes no sense, he should have told me, he has done before, and now: this.” Again, Patrick falls silent, and then, after a long pause, says quietly, “Maybe I missed something? Or wasn’t looking hard enough. I don’t think so. I know Pete’s been in a slump lately, but nothing worse than usual, we’ve seen them before, and he always gets through them.”

“I’m sure you did all that you could.” As much as it sounds like a platitude, it’s something Mikey believes. Pete and Patrick’s friendship is something that’s been well documented in press, but more than that, it’s a belief based on how Patrick looks now, so exhausted he can barely stay upright, but always, his focus on Pete.

Patrick shakes his head. “I must have missed something if Pete’s here. I saw the footage on TV. Pete’s not a bad driver. There was nothing to cause him to go off-road ..... fuck, why didn’t he say something?”

“Sometimes those words are the hardest to say.” That’s something Mikey knows by experience, but this isn’t about him. To Patrick, he’s just someone who’ll listen during one of the worst times of his life, not a friend who’s there to swap life experiences. A step closer, and Mikey rests his hand on Patrick’s shoulder, knowing he needs comfort but won’t accept too much from a stranger.

Patrick takes a deep breath and rubs at his eyes. “Hard or not, when he wakes up we’re going to have a long talk. That or I’m going to punch him hard in the face.”

Mikey squeezes Patrick’s shoulder. “Professionally I have to recommend the talk. But if you have to punch him, aim for his his jaw, that’s got no breaks.”

Patrick laughs, the sound loud in the quiet of the room. “I’ll keep that in mind,” and then, more softly, “He will heal? He’ll be okay, right?”

“He’s hanging on.” It’s all Mikey can say. The constant dance he performs trying to reassure without giving false hope. “Don’t give up on him.”

“I won’t,” Patrick says instantly, and then, “I never have.”

~*~*~*~

“Pete. Hey. Are you with us?”

Someone is talking to Pete, but he doesn’t know who. All he knows is he’s heard that voice before, but he’s not sure where. In fact, Pete’s not sure of anything right now. Everything feels fuzzy, reality slipping through his fingers and he’s unsure if he’s sleeping or awake.

“Pete. I know you’re probably confused, and that’s okay, you’re in the hospital, you had an accident but you’re safe now. If you want you can open your eyes.”

Someone keeps talking, the words indistinct at times as Pete struggles to understand and push past the fog in his mind. Heart beginning to race, he tries to take a deep breath, and immediately panic sets in when he’s unable to do so. Fear surging, he opens his eyes, trying to make sense of what’s happening -- but he can’t. All he can see is white light.

“Pete. Listen to me, you’re okay. You’ve been in an accident, it’s why you’ve got a tube helping you breathe. The doctor is coming now, and if she's satisfied with how you're doing, there’s a possibility that she might take it out. But you need to calm down first, otherwise she’ll have to sedate you again.”

It’s the same voice from before. Unfamiliar still, but at the same time soothing, like it’s someone Pete should know but doesn’t. Panic still surging, he tries to calm down, focussing on the sound of the words, the quiet confidence of the person who’s talking.

“That’s it. You’re okay. You’ve got this. Just lie back and let us do all of the work.”

With an effort, Pete manages to move his head, just a shift of position not nearly enough for a nod, but still, it counts.

“Hey, there you are. I knew you were with us.” The sound of footsteps and then the light dims as someone gently touches Pete’s face, wiping away the tears he can feel under his eyes. “There you go. All gussied up to see Dr Antcliff.”

Exhausted, like he’s performed a full show, Pete blinks, trying to clear his vision so he can see who’s talking, and, more importantly, where he actually is.

“Hi.” Someone leans over the bed slightly, so he’s in Pete’s line of vision. “I’m Mikey, your named nurse. I’ve introduced myself before but you’ve probably forgotten.”

Pete has forgotten. He's forgotten a lot of things, the most important being, why is he here? Mikey mentioned an accident, but the last thing Pete remembers is driving, the windows down and cold air blasting his face. Now he's lying in this bed, a tube down his throat and so weak he can't move. Unless it's worse; thoughts of paralyzation crush him, making him gasp for air. Pete’s heart starts racing again, alarms going off as Mikey steps out of sight, momentarily, and then back, his hand curved over Pete’s, providing comfort as he crouches slightly so his face is closer to Pete’s.

“It’s okay. You’re not able to move just now because you’ve been here a while and are still recovering. You’ll be running around stage again in no time,” but then, Mikey stops talking, says softly under his breath, “Fuck,” as if he’s said something he shouldn’t. “I’ll go and see where Dr Ancliff is. She’ll fully explain all of this.”

Instantly, Pete tries to shake his head. As much as he needs answers Mikey can’t leave. He’s the only thing keeping Pete sane at the moment, when right now he’s moments from panic, so scared and trapped that’s it’s taking all of Pete’s will not to try and start screaming. Pete concentrates hard, all energy focussed on his hand so he can turn it, wrapping his fingers around Mikey’s.

“Okay. I’ll stay,” Mikey says, smiling at Pete. “She won’t be long anyway. I paged her as soon as you started to wake.”

Pete tightens his grip slightly and waits.

~*~*~*~

“Hey, Mikey, come sit down for a minute,” Andy says, beckoning to Mikey when he’s about to walk past.

Already changed out of his scrubs, Mikey tucks his ear buds back in his pocket and turns off his iPod, changing direction so he can go into the small waiting room that’s just outside of the doors to the ICU. Usually it’s a place that’s half empty and quiet, the few relatives waiting too weighed down with anxiety to switch on the TV. Today though, the TV is on and every surface is covered, flower arrangements next to the boxes of pizza on the coffee tables, alongside trays of donuts and fruit and plastic bags full of candy.

There’s enough food to feed the staff on the floor for days, and Mikey’s stomach growls, because was lunch a long time before.

“Grab some pizza, or a donut. Fuck, take one of everything if you want.” Andy stands, careful not to wake Joe, where he’s curled up on one side of the couch, a blanket tucked over his shoulders and upper body. Out of all of Pete’s band, it’s Andy who Mikey’s spoken to the least. Not that he hasn’t gone in to see Pete, he has. It’s just, when Andy does go to visit he speaks only to Pete, intense one-sided conversations where Andy holds onto Pete’s hand and then, gives a brief thanks to Mikey at the end of his ten minute visit.

“I’ll take some pizza, thanks,” Mikey says, picking his way past the bags piled at the side of the room. Eyeing the pizza boxes, Mikey opens one up, taking a slice of what looks like pepperoni and then bites, chewing as he waits for Andy to speak.

“Pete. He’s okay? Right?”

It’s what Mikey expected, and he swallows, well aware of how carefully he has to speak now, even if he is officially off duty. “He’s doing better. Taking the breathing tube out was a good step, now we’ve just got to wait.”

“Bullshit.” Andy says, quiet but fierce, as he stares over at Mikey. “I don’t want some whitewashed, covering your ass, babying bullshit. I want the truth.”

“That is the truth,” Mikey says, “I wouldn’t....”

Andy holds up his hand and cuts in, “Pete’s been one of my best friends forever, I nearly lost him once and need to know if it’s going to happen again. I need to.”

“You won’t.” It’s not what Mikey should be saying. He should be adopting the official line that Pete’s stable and comfortable, but, as much as Mikey has to be careful of what he says, he’s not on the clock now, and sometimes it’s worth going off script, especially when he’s faced with someone who’s obviously close to the edge and has been willing a friend to live for days. “He’s still classed as critical and it’s going to take a long time for him to recover, but he will.”

“We’ve got time, fuck, we’ll make time,” Andy says, standing motionless, and while the tension remains, the slope of Andy’s shoulders relax, as if he can finally breathe easier. “Thank you.”

“Any time,” Mikey says, still holding the slice of pizza as he heads for the door. “I should go. See you tomorrow.”

“I’ll be here,” Andy says, sitting down heavily, his head resting against the back of the couch. “We all will.”

Mikey doesn’t doubt it.

~*~*~*~

“You do realise you don’t actually live here,” Mikey says. Unfastening his coat, he hangs it up and looks at Bob and Frank, who yet again have ended up at his apartment. “And we established I’m not going to tell you anything about Pete.”

Frank stops channel surfing long enough to give Mikey a long look. “We don’t want confidential details. Just the little stuff, like does his dick look the same as it did in those pictures?”

“Don’t even go there, I’m not telling you that,” Mikey says. He debates searching the kitchen for anything edible, but he gives up on that idea and walks to the couch, kicking at Frank’s feet. “Move over, and who says I’ve seen those photos, anyway?”

“Everyone has seen those photos,” Frank says, shifting along the couch and flicking channels while still looking at Mikey. “And if they say that they haven’t, they’re lying.”

Bob reaches over from where he’s sitting in the easy chair, and plucks the remote from out of Frank’s hand. “I haven’t seen them. I’ve no desire to see Pete Wentz’s junk.”

“Well, obviously that’s what you’ll say,” Frank says, grinning at Bob. “You’ve just proved my point.”

“Yeah. No I haven’t.” Bob switches channels, his attention on the TV and not on Frank. “Not unless you can prove I’ve looked at them. Which you can’t. So, no point made.”

As subjects go, it’s not one Mikey wants to encourage, and he especially doesn’t want to be asked if he’s looked at the photos of Pete’s junk in the past. Kicking off his sneakers, he takes off his hoodie top, throwing it over the back of the couch before pulling up his feet and getting comfortable, relishing the chance to finally relax. “More fans joined the vigil today. Security had to put up barriers and Patrick nearly got mobbed when he went down to the lobby.”

“He went down on his own?” Frank shakes his head slowly, his grin fading away. “Is he crazy?”

It’s a question that Mikey would answer with a yes, especially when the amount of Fall Out Boy fans camped out on the hospital’s grounds swell by the day. Even being banned from the building hasn’t kept them away, as they gather to support Pete the only way that they can. Not that Mikey cares that they’re there. He gets being a fan, and has no issues with the sea of signs and always lit candles, but as well-meaning as the fans are, Patrick really shouldn’t be wandering alone.

“He’s an idiot like that sometimes,” Bob says casually, giving no indication that he’s noticed when Frank sits up and stares in his direction. “He used to go out for pizza at 3am, didn’t even care it meant walking past some shady dealer’s place. I was sure he thought his headphones were some magical shield.”

“Are you telling me that you know Patrick? Patrick Stump? Patrick Stump, singer of Fall Out Boy?” Twisting to the side, Frank kneels so he’s leaning over the side of the couch arm, getting a little closer to Bob in the process.

“We shared an apartment for a while,” Bob says, the hint of a smile the only indication that he’s taken note of Frank’s reaction at all. “They were recording and I’d just finished a sound job. We both needed somewhere to stay. It just worked out, it’s no big deal.”

“Except you used to live with Patrick Stump and never told us.” Frank frowns, and then abruptly turns so he can look at Mikey. “Did you know?”

“First I’ve heard of it,” Mikey says, almost as eager as Frank to hear details. “You’ve lived in your apartment a long time so it must have been when they were recording Infinity on High.”

Bob channel surfs a few times before replying. “Yeah. Patrick’s an untidy fucker. Used to drive me crazy leaving his laundry everywhere and never washed a dish.”

“As opposed to you, the paragon of tidiness,” Mikey says, pointedly looking at the empty beer bottle and bowl at Bob’s feet.

Bob shrugs. “This is here. I don’t shit in my own nest.”

“That makes no sense.” Frank lets himself down, so he’s back in his former place on the couch, but still looks toward Bob. “It should be shit in your own den. Birds shit on the ground, or your head.”

“It’s not a den either.” That’s something Mikey’s sure of, hours worth of werewolf conversations with Gerard backing up his facts. “Wolves don’t shit in their den. They do it outside, as a warning to any predators.”

“Except, I’m not a wolf,” Bob says, tapping Frank smartly on the arm with the remote as he starts to open his mouth. “What-the-hell-ever is shitting where, Patrick was a messy fucker. That’s all there is to it.”

For a moment, all is silent, but it won’t last. Mikey knows that it won’t, and he isn’t surprised in the slightest when Frank asks, “So, did you see Patrick’s junk?”

Mikey doesn’t hear Bob’s answer. It’s impossible to do so when he’s suddenly flattened by a giggling Frank as he scrambles to get off of the couch and away from Bob, who’s jumped up and pounced.

Already laughing, Mikey cups his junk with his hands, wary of Frank’s knees as he makes his escape. Yet another chase between Frank and Bob that will inevitably end with someone knocking on the ceiling from the apartment below -- not that Mikey cares.

It’s moments like these that he needs. Time to relax and let go, laughter washing away the last hold of his job, professionalism and care put aside until the next day.

~*~*~*~

“Do you want some water?”

This time Pete knows exactly who’s talking before he opens his eyes. Movements still clumsy, he tries to scratch at the bandage that’s wrapped around his head and says, “Please.”

“Stop that.” Patrick reaches out and takes hold of Pete’s hand, pulling it back so he can’t scratch. “I told you. If you keep doing that I’ll get them to break out the restraints.”

“Promise?” Pete attempts a wink, though suspects it’s not that effective when both of his eyes still feel so swollen and bruised. Still, it makes Patrick smile, and that’s worth the stab of pain from Pete’s attempt to move his face.

“I don’t think they do the pink, fluffy kind here,” Patrick says, walking away from the bed and then back, a plastic glass of water held in his hand. Adjusting the straw, he places it against Pete’s mouth and holds the glass steady. “Drink.”

If he had the energy, Pete would make some remark about Patrick being bossy, but right now it’s taking all his concentration to suck at the straw, slowly at first, then faster when the cool water hits his dry throat.

“Slow down, you’ll make yourself sick.” Patrick pulls back the glass, setting it out of sight despite Pete’s silent protest. “Don’t look at me like that. If you throw up I’ll be kicked out again.”

Even the prospect makes Pete feel worse. It’s already scary enough when he’s trapped in this bed and at the mercy of his own jumbled thoughts, but having to do so alone would be unbearable. Pete clutches at the blankets, reminding himself that Patrick’s here, that he’s not going anywhere, then asks, “Again?”

“I got thrown out of the room a few days ago.” Patrick looks behind him and then pulls a chair close, sitting with his arms over the bed rails. “It wasn’t long after you got here. Your family was still travelling and something went wrong. Alarms going off and people running everywhere. I said I wasn’t leaving, but Mikey’s stronger than he looks.”

“Sorry.” It’s all that Pete can think to say, and he hates that Patrick looks so exhausted, his previously hidden fears for Pete breaking through the air of practicality and calm he’s kept until now.

“It wasn’t your fault.” Chin resting on his folded arms, Patrick’s eyes are open, but he’s staring into the distance and not looking at Pete. It’s a look Pete knows well, but usually it’s given to strangers. When Patrick wants to say something but doesn’t, keeping back his real feelings. It’s why Pete hates that look, and is scared of it all the same, but not enough that he’s not going to say something.

“I didn’t mean to scare you.”

“I know,” Patrick trails off, and then, his words cut off and brittle, says, “Why did you do it, Pete? I thought you were okay. I thought things were fine. I was in the next room, why didn’t you come and see me?”

Pete’s head aches as he tries to understand Patrick’s questions. None of them make sense, even if Pete was driving too fast the crash was an accident, and Patrick has to know that. It’s not like Pete intended... “I never meant to do this.” Pain pounds in Pete’s head, his chest tight as he looks at Patrick and realises that he does think Pete’s accident was deliberate. That Pete went out with the purpose of driving full force into a tree. “I didn’t....”

“I know, it’s okay.” The legs of Patrick’s chair scrape against the floor as he stands, looking from Pete’s face to the alarms that have started to flash on the machines that surround the bed. “It’s okay, just breathe, you’re okay.”

“Patrick. You need to go outside now. You know the drill.”

Pete tries to grab for Patrick’s hand, to keep him close, but his fingers grasp at the air, Patrick being pulled away by a nurse Pete doesn’t recognise.

Alone once again, Pete closes his eyes, trying to hide from the chaos around him.

~*~*~*~

Usually, it takes Mikey all of a few minutes to walk from the bus stop into the hospital. This morning it takes almost twenty. Most of it taking photos of the ever increasing vigil and sending them to Frank and a few to Gerard, especially of the huge get well banner that’s been strung between two trees.

Despite the annoyances they’ve caused, such as having to have someone manning the phones full time on ICU and needing to show his ID more often, Mikey has to respect the fans’ dedication, and he’s glad to see someone has been handing out hot drinks.

Mikey takes out an earbud to hear yet another chant of ‘Get Well Pete’ and then goes inside, walking past the watching guards with a small smile.

“Mikey, hi.”

It takes Mikey a moment to spot Patrick, and then sees him in the coffee shop that’s part of the lobby. At this time of the morning it’s usually deserted apart from staff members grabbing a quick fix of caffeine before their shifts. But today, nearly every seat is filled with people in suits and dress clothes, while Patrick, Andy and Joe are clustered around a trolley filled with leftover undrunk coffees.

While it’s obvious the band know the people around them, they’re also set apart, both in dress and how, despite their smiles and greetings, all three are at a stage of exhausted Mikey knows well, where you’re functioning through sheer willpower alone. It’s something that makes him feel nervous, because Pete’s family are here too, there’s no way all three should have stayed awake for another night, even if they do refuse to go to a hotel for a night’s sleep.

Checking the time, Mikey sees he’s still got a few minutes to spare, and walks inside, bypassing the man who stands and goes to bar his path when Joe says, “He’s with us.”

“Hey,” Mikey says, tucking his iPod into his bag while not-so-covertly eyeing the coffees. “You’re all up and about early.”

Patrick picks up a small coffee, and then changes his mind, selecting a bigger one instead before handing it to Mikey. “We’re going out to read a statement about Pete soon. We’ve been meeting to put it together.”

Despite the warm coffee he’s holding, Mikey feels cold. He’s sure he would have heard something if Pete had taken a turn for the worse, but even so, this sounds significant in a way he doesn’t like.

Andy steps closer, says, “It’s okay. Pete’s still the same as yesterday. We just have to do this sometimes. Keep the fans and press informed.”

“Fuck, sorry, I didn’t think.” Briefly, Patrick touches Mikey’s arm and then smiles for a moment. “It makes a change, us telling you Pete is okay.”

“I’m glad that he is,” and Mikey is. He hasn’t even talked to Pete that much, at least, not an actual conversation where Pete has responded, but still, Mikey’s rooting for him to fully pull through. “I should go, Jones hates if I’m late.”

“See you up there,” Patrick says, and Mikey walks away, leaving them to their job as he goes to start his.

~*~*~*~

Mikey taps the still-full dish with the spoon and says, “If you don’t eat they’ll fit a feeding tube, and believe me, you don’t want that.”

Pete doesn’t care. He’s not hungry and whatever Mikey wants him to eat looks disgusting, like some kind of gruel. Not that it matters. Even if it was scrambled eggs topped with salmon and truffles Pete wouldn’t want it. His throat is sore and his whole body hurts and he’s sick of lying in this bed feeling grimey and floaty.

It doesn’t help that there’s nothing to do and even when Pete is allowed visitors, half the time he can’t keep up with the conversation, words and thoughts slipping out of his grasp.

“I know it’s not the best breakfast dish, but you need to eat, and you really don’t want another tube in you,” Mikey says, relentless as he sits at the side of Pete’s bed and keeps talking. “You need to eat to get better.”

“You have coffee for breakfast,” Pete says, and then stops, trying to work out how he knows that.

“So you were listening all the times I was talking to you. Figures you’d remember that,” Mikey says, sounding amused. “You’re right, I should eat breakfast too, but I’m not in a hospital bed, you are. So, it’s non-negotiable I’m afraid.”

Pete keeps his mouth closed, too tired to deal with eating, but it seems Mikey has one last trick up his sleeve.

“If you eat something I’ll help you clean up later. There could be a bed bath with your name on.”

“You’re bribing me with a wash?” It’s not the first time Pete’s had such an offer, though, it has been a while, back when touring meant time in small vans at the height of the summer. “Normally I get bribed with sexual favours.”

Mikey laughs, almost spilling the bowl of oatmeal. “Sorry, I can’t give sexual favours when I’m on duty.”

For a moment Pete feels more like himself, the constant hiss of oxygen and beep of machines masked by Mikey’s laughter. It’s a sound that makes Pete want to smile in reply, and he does so as he attempts an exaggerated leer and says, “So you’ll do them when you get off duty?”

“I think you’ve been watching too many nurse pornos,” Mikey says, and then looks toward the door, as if checking no one has overheard what he just said. Still smiling a little he adds, “No sexual favours, but the bed bath offer stands if you eat.”

It’s a tempting prospect. While Pete hasn’t looked in a mirror he knows he’s nowhere near looking his best. That’s something that’s obvious, not just through how he feels but the way his parents struggle to hide their reaction each time that they see him. “Okay, fine. But it’s still disgusting.”

“Disgusting, but it also contains all the nutrients and vitamins you need,” Mikey says, far too cheerful as he gives the spoon back to Pete. “Eat as much as you can.”

Pete takes the spoon, and dubiously pokes at the mush in the bowl. The last thing he wants is to eat it, especially when it’s taking effort to hold the spoon in the first place. It feels like Pete’s having to learn to feed himself all over again, and he hates how his hand shakes as he scoops up some of the oatmeal and aims for his mouth.

“See, it’s not that bad,” Mikey says, taking a pen from his scrubs pocket as he writes something on Pete’s chart that hangs at the foot of the bed.

Pete swallows, grimacing as he does so, the small amount of soft mush feeling like it’s laced with invisible razors. “It tastes like paste.”

“Generations of children have grown up eating paste,” Mikey says, giving Pete a thumbs up when he scoops up another small mouthful. “My brother used to make paste pies. They were delicious.”

“He can have this if he wants,” Pete says, the shaking of his hand getting worse as he raises his arm. Just two mouthfuls and it feels like he’s been working for hours, and it’s only sheer stubbornness that keeps Pete going, determined that he will get the oatmeal into his mouth.

“Well done,” Mikey says, and it should sound patronizing, but somehow doesn’t at all, just encouraging as Mikey easily wipes dibbled oatmeal from the side of Pete’s mouth, and then pushes the table containing the bowl and spoon from over the bed. “Have a sleep now, we’ll get you looking beautiful later.”

Pete would protest. It feels like all he does is sleep, but truthfully, there’s not a chance he won’t sleep at the moment. Wrung out, he nods and closes his eyes.

~*~*~*~

Talking to doctors isn’t Mikey’s favourite part of his job. He likes them just fine, and there’s a few who’d he’d class as actual friends, but mostly he deals with the fact that most of them don’t see patients as people, but just a diagnosis and words on a page.

Like now, when he comes back from lunch and finds out a consultant from mental health has been in to see Pete, and wants to transfer him off to a psych unit.

“That’s stupid.” In the small space that’s used as charge nurse Jones' office, Mikey tries to keep his voice low, well aware of the people close by, each one sick and clinging to life. “He’s not well enough to transfer to a non-medical floor, especially to psych.”

Charge nurse Jones’ mouth tightens momentarily, then she sighs, says, “I know that. I’ve told them that and they agree he’s not going to be moved until he’s physically okay to do so. But he’s got history for this, you know that. He needs the right help, and that’s not here.”

“Getting locked up in psych isn’t the right place, either.” Hands tight around Pete’s chart, Mikey forces himself to relax, and to react in a way not influenced by his own history. “Locking people away doesn’t help. He needs his family and friends, and won’t get those in the unit.”

“Everyone is different, Mikey,” charge nurse Jones says, and while she makes no attempt to touch Mikey, the understanding is there, sympathy alongside professionalism as she takes the chart and straightens the pages. “Have you talked to him about the accident? If you have any solid basis for saying he shouldn’t be moved...”

It’s an opening for Mikey to put in an objection, a solid one based on what he actually knows. The problem is, they haven’t talked in depth, Pete still too ill to do much talking. But even so, somehow Mikey has the feeling that the accident was exactly that. Except, gut feelings mean nothing when it comes down to official reports.

“No.” Mikey admits, and knows he has to give this up for the moment. “I should go. I got Pete to eat breakfast with the bribe of a bedbath.”

About to walk away, charge nurse Jones stops and says, “Weren’t you going to do that anyway?”

Mikey smiles slightly, says, “Yes.”

~~~~

Since he’s been caring for Pete, Mikey’s seen him sleeping or unconscious, often confused, and then, lately, present enough he’s lucid for increasing periods of time. He’s seen him hurting and afraid, overwhelmed and trying to deal, but never like this, where Pete’s tried his hardest to curl on his side, his sheet pulled up as high as it goes and Pete’s face pressed into his pillow.

A quick glance at the readouts and Mikey sees that medically, things are okay, but there’s obviously something wrong, enough that he puts the bathing supplies to one side and approaches the bed. “Pete. Are you hurting? Remember to press the button for your pain relief if you need it.”

A long pause, and then Pete barely shakes his head in reply.

Mikey doesn’t ask if he’s sure. In the last day Pete’s shown he’s capable of dosing himself if it’s needed, and this doesn’t seem like physical pain. It reminds Mikey of a lifetime before and watching Gerard, and then, later, how he tried to deal with things by himself. Added to knowing that the psych consultant has been on the unit, and the pieces click into place. “I heard Dr. Keeke was here.”

For a long time Pete doesn’t reply, then says softly, “He’s an asshole.”

It’s a statement Mikey would agree with, but professionalism means he’s not about to admit that out loud. Sitting in the chair that’s close to the bed, he pulls the sheet straight and checks that none of the tubes surrounding Pete have got kinked when he moved. “He was trying to help.”

Pete turns his head so he can look at Mikey, wincing at the abrupt movement. “He can help by leaving me alone. I’ll be out of here soon, he can fuck off with his bullshit.”

“You’ll be discharged when you’re ready, you’ve still got some healing to do,” Mikey says, effortlessly hedging about timescales. “But you’ll be back on the stage as soon as possible.”

“Patrick said that you’d seen us.” Slowly, Pete turns, biting back a gasp of pain as he settles himself on his back. Breathing heavily, he squeezes shut his eyes and gropes for the control of his pain relief, pressing the button once. A long pause, and Pete says, “If I’d known I’d have asked you backstage.”

“Except, you didn’t know me then,” Mikey points out, assessing how Pete’s doing by both machine readouts and how he looks as Pete starts to visibly relax.

“I still would have known you,” Pete says, sounding sure as he looks over at Mikey. “You always know the people who’re meant to be important.”

Mikey considers, thinking about all of his friends and how for some, they became close through an instant connection, like they were always meant to be part of his life. But still, he doesn’t think that would have happened with Pete. “You nearly kicked out my teeth when you stage dived.”

“It’s one of my things,” Pete says, and Mikey hopes he means the stage diving and not kicking out teeth. “I love being on stage. It’s why...” Agitated, Pete stops talking and thumps his fist on the bed, teeth gritted as he adds, “Things are good. What he said makes no sense. I wouldn’t do that. Not now. I just needed to get out for a while, do some thinking. It wasn’t like before, whatever he thinks.”

“The car crash?” It’s all that it can be, and while Mikey’s got no psych training himself, instinct and practice means he’s ready to listen, all plans pushed aside for the moment as he waits for Pete to respond.

“I can’t remember the impact.” Pete stares at the ceiling, lost in some memory that’s making him tremble, the beeps of his heart rate monitor starting to speed up. “I should be glad about that. Who wants to remember hitting a tree? But I can remember before, and I didn’t mean to do it. I didn’t!” The last is almost a yell, Pete grabbing for Mikey’s hand and holding on, his fingers digging in tight. “You have to believe me.”

“I do.” It’s not the right thing to say, and Mikey can imagine legions of his past nursing teachers voicing their disapproval, that he’s basing his response on a gut feeling and not actual medical facts. It’s something he’s not supposed to do, but somehow, he does believe Pete, and more than that, realises that Pete needs someone to believe him, too.

“My parents don’t,” Pete says, his eyes closing as he continues with words that must hurt to say. “Patrick doesn’t either.”

Mikey could say that they’re all scared. That it’s hard to stand by and watch when someone you love is hurting so badly. That past actions always leave deep scars, but he doesn’t. What he does do is sit still, Pete still clutching his hand, letting him hold on until he’s deeply asleep.

~*~*~*~

Pete hates being trapped and unable to move. It feels like he’s suffocating, the bars on the bed like a jail cell, and that’s before the limitations of his own body. Every small movement hurts, cracked bones and bruised skin protesting any tiny shift, and always, the wires and tubes binding him down.

When the fog lifts from his brain he wants to rip out the tubes and try to get free, but knows all that will happen is an undignified faceplant onto the floor -- and Pete hates it. He hates the constant beeps and blinding white lights and always, the carefully blank looks and soft voices of the people who come to his bedside.

He wants to tell them to stop. That he’s okay, but that’s hard when he keeps falling asleep in mid-sentence, and especially so when he knows he still looks like roadkill. It’s why, when Pete sees Mikey walking by, he snaps, “I thought you were cleaning me up.”

“Still am,” Mikey says, and that annoys Pete too, that he can be so calm when Pete wants to fight. “All the stuff is ready, I just need to go see to another patient first.”

It’s a reasonable thing to say. Even if Pete can’t see them, he knows other patients are close by and need care, but right now that doesn’t matter. He wants his face washed and the dried blood out of his hair -- he wants to go home, but if he can’t do that a wipe down with water will do.

It’s something Pete’s still picking over when Mikey returns, making no remark when Pete bites out. “I thought you were only supposed to look after me.”

“I do, mostly,” Mikey says, his back to Pete as he fills a bowl with water from the small sink in the corner of the room. “But you don’t need my constant attention now.”

“So you’re saying I’m better? Then you can take all of this shit off.” Pete indicates the heart monitors and IV, steeling his expression when the abrupt movement pulls at the cannula on his hand. “I don’t need them if I’m better.”

“You’re getting better, but you’re not there yet...” Mikey corrects, setting the bowl of water on the rolling table, alongside a small package wrapped in what looks like white plastic. “But I think you’ll lose the heart monitors soon, probably when you get moved.”

Even if he does hate it here, it’s not what Pete expected to hear, and all fight drains away as he says, “I’m being moved? Why? If it’s to the psych ward I’m not going. I’d run first.”

“Not psych, that’s not going to happen,” Mikey says, some emotion flickering over his face that’s gone before Pete gets the chance to pin down what it actually is. “But a less intensive floor, yeah. You could have been moved yesterday, but it’s been easier to keep you here while they sort out security.”

It’s a move that sounds good to Pete, somewhere away from here and the constant hush that makes him feel suffocated at all times. “Good, it sucks here.”

“It does sometimes,” Mikey agrees, and if Pete wasn’t so tired, he’d be poking at Mikey, trying to see what he has to do to get him to actually react. But he doesn’t, all he does is lie still, watching as Mikey unwraps the parcel and lays out a soft cloth, some soap and a still packaged razor.

“You’re going to shave me?” It’s something Pete hasn’t considered, too out of it to worry about anything as insignificant as stubble, but now he’s been reminded, he brings up his hand, becoming aware of the annoying itch as he feels the patchy beard that’s started to grow in.

“Depends if you want me to,” Mikey says, dunking the cloth into the water and squeezing it out, causing rivulets of water to flow over his hands. “Most people are too sick to care about grooming, but there’s no reason I can’t.”

Pete considers as he continues to watch Mikey. On one hand, a beard could be awesome, and Pete’s sure he could pull one off. On the other, he wants to feel more like himself, and if that means letting someone shave him, well, that’s what Pete will do. “You won’t cut my throat?”

“I haven’t killed you yet,” Mikey says, and then, “Anyway, these are safety razors, I doubt they could cut your jugular vein.”

“That’s good to know,” Pete says, laughing a little, even if he’s feeling a little awkward that he’s about to be washed like he’s some kind of kid. “I’m sorry.”

Mikey stops, his hand on the bedside and says, “What for?”

“For snapping at you, for this.” Pete tries to find the right words as his emotions twist yet again, all anger gone and vulnerability left behind. It’s something Pete hates, and he focuses on trying to breathe, each inhale measured as he fights against the lack of control. “You having to do all this for me.”

“It’s my job, it’s what I do.” Mikey pushes down the bars, locking them in place out of sight, and Pete thinks that’s it, Pete’s worries answered by an emotionless official answer, but Mikey hasn’t finished talking. Still standing he looks down at Pete, says, “I love what I do. When people heal and get better, or the ones that don’t but need care to the end all the same. I want to help them, it’s why you don’t have to say thanks. But it is awesome to hear.”

Pete can understand that. It’s how he feels when he’s talking to fans, taking in their thanks for something he loves doing. “Being in a band and being a nurse, it’s all the same in the end.”

For a moment Mikey looks puzzled, then he grins, says, “Blood, shit and tears. I can see how it is.”

It isn’t what Pete means, but applies just the same, enough that Pete smiles back, sighing with contentment when Mikey wrings out the cloth again, and then, gently, runs it over Pete’s face.

~*~*~*~

Years before, Mikey was sure he’d make his living with music. It’s what he loved doing -- loves doing -- and the potential was there for a job to get a foot in the door. All he had to do was keep pushing, working hard at his internship and making contacts, something that came easy to Mikey,

But then it all changed.

With his grandma unexpectedly dying, the heart was ripped out of the family, and Mikey had to step up to help. An unpaid internship swapped for a hastily accepted job at a hospital coffee shop, and Mikey was plunged into an environment that was alien at first, but he soon learned to love.

And still loves it now, a vastly different job and years of studying and on the job training later. But, sometimes he needs to forget all about nursing, the tension of his everyday life replaced by a dive bar, loud music and the company of friends. Friends who tonight, thankfully, aren’t asking about Pete.

“How about that girl over there?” Gerard leans against Mikey, heavy and loose limbed, his breath hot against Mikey’s neck as he talks. “Or that guy? They’ve both been watching you since you came in. Fuck, pick them both up.”

Mikey grins and takes a drink of his beer, gently knocking Gerard on the shoulder with the neck of the bottle. “Sure, I’ll just go up and ask them if they want a threesome. I’m sure they’ll say yes.”

“They probably would,” Ray says, pressing close to Mikey and Gerard when he’s jostled from behind by the crowd. “Fucking Mikeyway, you’ve got more game than all of us combined.”

From a short distance away, Frank turns, his arm around Jamia’s shoulders, holding her close as he says, “For you losers maybe, my game doesn’t count, I’ve already scored the winner.”

“And don’t you forget it, baby,” Jamia says, kissing Frank on his cheek. It’s something that Mikey loves seeing, a reminder that out there, people can find love and retain it. Unlike Mikey himself, who, despite being able to get dates, never seems able to keep the relationship going.

“I think they would say yes.” Still leaning against Mikey, Gerard looks between his two possibilities, as if seriously assessing what they would say. “And if they don’t they’re stupid.”

“Noted.” For a while Mikey thinks about making a move. It’s been a long time since he’s taken anyone back to his apartment, and even longer since he’d had sex with anything but his own hand. The only thing is, Mikey’s enjoying hanging out with his friends and his brother, listening to good music and anyway, “I was planning to sleep all of tomorrow. I’m back at work the day after.”

“You’re getting old,” Gerard says, sounding fond. “Old and overworked. You don’t have to work as much as you do.”

It’s a familiar comment, and one that Mikey’s well able to ignore, no matter how often Gerard suggests Mikey quit his job and work alongside Gerard. “Yeah, I kind of do. I want to.”

Gerard sighs. “If you’re sure.”

“I am,” and Mikey is -- more than anything.

~*~*~*~

The floor change is more tiring than Pete expected, especially since all he had to do was lie still in his bed and be pushed. Even so, by the time he’s safely in his new room Pete’s whole body is aching while his head throbs, pain spiking with every bump of his bed.

When he arrives in his new room it’s like he’s traded silent white for a rainbow of colour and sound. A TV is on close by, someone’s laughing and a large window lets in the sun. Pete’s overwhelmed, and all he wants to do is go back to sleep, but they won’t let him. New nurses and doctors are introducing themselves and discussing Pete’s case, all of them efficiently kind, but already Pete misses Mikey -- the way he’d only seem to talk when Pete needed to hear it, and was calm always, even with Pete at his worst.

“Okay, you’re all done,” Linda says. She’s already introduced herself as Pete’s named nurse for the day, around the age of Pete’s mom, and her touch is gentle as she ensures that Pete’s settled and comfortable, the controls for the bed close at hand. “Do you want me to tell your friends they can come in?”

“It’s visiting time?” After so long with regimented visiting, Pete's expecting conditions, and he looks at the door, waiting to see who’s allowed in first. “Do they get more time here? Twenty minutes?”

“Oh honey.” Linda pats Pete’s shoulder, and adds. “You can have visitors whenever you want now. For as long as you want.”

Instantly Pete says, “Tell them all to come in.”

“I’ll do that,” Linda says with a smile. “I think they’ll have got all the stuff down by now.”

It’s a puzzling thing to say. As far as Pete knows the only things they’ll need to bring down are themselves, and even then, Pete’s parents should be at the hotel, sent there by Pete after his mom fell asleep at his bedside the previous night.

Pete watches Linda walk out of the room, and tries to work out what she means. Maybe Patrick, Andy and Joe have a few extra clothes with them, or more likely, their laptops. Pete doesn’t know, it feels like he’s been cut off from them all forever, a few minutes visit nowhere near enough, especially when half of the time Pete fell asleep in mid-sentence.

Impatient, Pete fumbles with the bed control until he’s sitting up further and then watches the door, needing his friends, and he gets them -- and a whole lot more.

“Pete.” It’s Joe that arrives first, only his hair visible behind a huge arrangement of flowers. Tipping them to one side, he peers at Pete through a vibrant tangle of petals and stalks. “The others are coming, but this might take a while.”

‘A while’ is an understatement, and all Pete can do is lie back and watch as his room is filled with flowers, balloons and soft toys. With each arrival they take up more of the surfaces not used for medical equipment, balloons clustered in corners and the plushies a soft mountain on the couch that’s close to the window.

“That’s it,” Patrick says, trailing a Hello Kitty balloon behind him. Tying it well away from the bed and surrounding equipment, he looks at the chaos and adds, “We left all the food platters for the staff at the ICU, and all the fan gifts are being held by management. You’d need another four rooms for all of that stuff.”

Pete stares, trying to take in the sheer volume of things that suddenly surround him. “This isn’t fan stuff?”

“This is friend stuff.” Andy nudges a stuffed gremlin to one side and moves to stand next to Pete’s bed. “We’ve kept all of the cards, you can read them when you feel up to it.”

It’s not that Pete doesn’t know he’s got friends. It’s something that comes along with his job, that he’s in the position to meet lots of people, and sometimes, they become friends. Not always good friends, but enough that Pete keeps their number in his phone, and will shoot off an email or text. It’s just, he never expected all this, and Pete’s glad that the room he’s been moved to is a big one.

“We’ve been taking messages,” Joe says, sitting on the end of Pete’s bed. “A lot of people are worried about you. Gabe’s been threatening to cancel the tour and fly in for the last week.

“You got him to stay away?” Pete asks, surprised that Gabe hasn’t flown in anyway, even just for a fleeting visit between shows.

“Your mom did.” Patrick looks around and then pulls a chair close to the bed, wedging an ugly plush dog under the arm so he can sit. “She told him you wouldn’t want him to disappoint the fans, and that he could come visit when you were actually awake.”

“Sneaky,” Pete says, and yawns, wincing when the movement aggravates his broken cheekbone.

Patrick reaches out, his touch gentle as he rests his hand on Pete’s arm. “You should have a nap. It’s been a long day.”

Pete would protest that all he’s done was be rolled down a few floors and then watched Andy, Joe and Patrick do all of the work -- but he doesn’t. A nap is exactly what he does need, especially as this time, he can slip off to sleep while surrounded by friends.

Feeling safe for the first time in days, Pete sleeps once again.

~*~*~*~

“Mikey. Mikey! Hold up.”

Reluctantly, Mikey slows and then stops. It’s been a long day and a horrible shift where they’ve lost one of the patients and all he wants to do is go home. Wishing he’d taken the back stairway instead of the one at the front of the hospital, he walks back toward Patrick, who’s lurking at the door to the stairs.

“I hoped I’d see you, they said you were on late shift and would be leaving around now.” Patrick lets the door close, leaving him standing in the stairwell with Mikey. It’s the first time Mikey’s seen him in almost two days, and he’s glad that Patrick looks more rested, the shadows under his eyes still obvious but starting to fade. “I wanted to say thank you. Pete was moved before I could say it.”

“You’re welcome,” Mikey says, and despite how tired he is, the smile he gives is genuine, Patrick is someone easy to like. “I hope Pete’s doing okay.”

Patrick laughs a little, says,” He’s going stir crazy; the better he feels the more he wants to be plugged back into the world, but it’s still too soon. He keeps trying to get at my phone, but when he uses it his head aches.”

“It will, he needs to try and relax, leave the phone alone for now.” Not that Mikey’s not sympathetic, even the thought of losing access to his own phone gives him cold chills. “Is he eating any better yet?”

“If you call picking at mashed potatoes and demanding a burger, yeah,” Patrick says, and then, after a beat. “I know that it’s late and you probably want to get home. But his room’s really close, and I know he’d like to see you.”

“I really shouldn’t....” Mikey cuts himself off. While he’s not supposed to get involved with his patients, it will be nice to see Pete, and be reminded that often, people can and will get better. “I could stop for a few minutes.”

Patrick smiles, wide and happy as he opens the door and ushers Mikey through before him. “I’ll tell security to put your name on the list.”

“You’re still having problems with that?” Not that Mikey’s surprised, even with Andy, Patrick and Joe staying out of sight, the number of fans outside has remained constant, with a small group determined to get inside and see Pete.

“Someone stole some scrubs yesterday and tried to get into Pete’s room,” Patrick says, sounding more amused than alarmed. “The ‘I love Pete’ Sharpie tattoos on her arms gave her away. But most have been great. . . Jake, can you put Mikey on the list of people allowed to go into Pete’s room?”

Instantly, the security guard that’s been lurking at a discreet distance pulls a PDA out of his pocket and walks close, looking at Mikey. “Mikey. . . . ?”

“Way.” Mikey pulls his ID from out of his pocket, holding it up so Jake can see both his full name and hospital ID number.

Jake inputs the info, and says, “Done. You’re cleared for Pete’s room as well as this floor.”

“Thanks.” With a last smile at Jake Patrick opens the door to the unit and goes inside, Mikey following behind him. It’s not one of the floors that Mikey’s ever worked in, but even so, everything about it feels familiar, from the sound of his shoes on the floor to the nurses clustered around the central desk, their expressions serious as they talk softly or type on a computer.

The only thing that is out of place is another security guard standing outside of a room at the end of the hallway, and the fact that huge arrangements of flowers seem to be on every spare flat surface.

“They’re Pete’s overflow,” Patrick says, seeing where Mikey is looking. “We’ve started to share them around the hospital, you couldn’t move in his room for flowers.”

Mikey tries not to wrinkle his nose. While he likes flowers just fine, there’s a limit to how many people should have, especially in hospital, where you need space to look after the patients. Thankful they’re banned from the ICU. Mikey waits for Patrick to go into Pete’s room, and then goes inside, too.

“Mikey.” Since the last time Mikey saw him, Pete looks better, his skin colour healthier despite the dark bruising that still discolours his face. He’s also trying to grin, but stops, grimacing as he touches his cheek. “See. I remembered your name this time.”

At Patrick’s puzzled look, Mikey explains, “Pete kept forgetting my name at first. I must have introduced myself at least fifty times.”

And told Pete what had happened fifty times and answered the same croaked out questions repeatedly as Pete struggled to understand during the times he was lucid. Not that Mikey’s going to say that, some things are meant to remains between patient and nurse, especially the many things that Pete won’t remember himself.

Pete presses the control for his bed, raising himself up a little. “Sorry I didn’t say goodbye, they came and kidnapped me.”

“They do that,” Mikey says, and can’t help checking the displays on the IVs that Pete remains attached to. “I’m glad you’re feeling better.”

“I am,” Pete says, and this is awkward in a way Mikey isn’t used to. He’s in this weird grey area where he isn’t Pete’s nurse or his friend either. He’s just someone who was there when Pete was struggling for life, and Mikey would leave, except, Patrick’s phone rings, and, after checking the screen he excuses himself with a mouthed ‘sorry.’

For a long moment Pete remains silent, looking past Mikey to the hallway as the sound of Patrick’s footsteps fade away. “I keep telling him to go back to the hotel. My parents have, and Andy and Joe. But Patrick won’t, he sleeps on the couch and juggles dealing with management while watching me sleep. He hasn’t even seen Elisa in weeks.”

“He’s worried about you.” This is a conversation Mikey could do in his sleep and he approaches Pete’s bed, sitting on the chair that’s set by the side. “He was here when you were so sick, and it takes time to forget that.”

“I wish I could forget it.” Pete holds up his hand, displaying the cannula and blood stained tape stretched over lines of black ink. “But I can’t, because I’ve got this and a tube in my dick and can’t eat anything but mush.”

“I thought we’d established it was paste?” Tired, Mikey leans back in the chair, his eyes feeling gritty and bedtime still a long time away. “You wouldn’t enjoy solid food at the moment anyway, not with the breaks in your cheekbone and eye socket.”

“A broken face, tubed dick and shaved hair.” Pete lets out a long breath, says, “So how was your day?”

“We lost a patient, the woman who got your room.” Mikey’s not going to add details, there’s no need for Pete to know them, but the events of the day are still lodged deep, and while he’ll forget the anguished cries soon, right now they’re too raw, and he says, “She had three kids and a grandchild on the way. They didn’t take her death well.”

“Fuck,” Pete says, and Mikey instantly regrets that he said anything at all. Normally he wouldn’t, holding on until he got home and could talk to Gerard. But it’s too late now, the words have already slipped out.

“Sorry, I shouldn’t have said that.” Mikey rubs at his eyes and more than anything he wants to slip into sleep. But he’s still got the bus ride home and needs to find something to eat and no doubt deal with his friends. Though, Mikey has to admit that he hopes there is someone crashing at his apartment tonight, that way he’ll be surrounded by life, and it’ll be easier to cast off the memories left by today.

“I don’t know how you do it,” Pete says. He looks directly at Mikey, and adds, “I couldn’t do it. I’m too selfish. I’m the person who complains about a shaved head when someone has just died.”

“That doesn’t make you selfish. You can’t compare your misfortune with someone elses, or mourn every death. If you did that you’d go crazy.” That’s something Mikey truly believes, and something he had to learn fast when he moved into nursing. “It’s terrible that she died, but it sucks that you’ve got a tubed dick, shaved head and a broken face, too.”

Pete keeps staring at Mikey, as if considering what to say. “I guess. But you know what would make it less sucky? If you took my dick tube out.”

Mikey can’t help laughing, sensing that Pete’s decided to joke for both his benefit and Mikey’s. Or, at least, half a joke. an element of actual want obviously there. “Not your nurse now, remember. And it’s there for a reason. I doubt you’re up to making it to the bathroom yet.”

“So I’ll use a bottle,” Pete says, as if he’s already figured this out. “I’m used to it, hell, those cardboard ones will be a luxury, we used to use soda bottles on tour.”

“Still not taking it out.” Mikey looks down at the bag that’s hanging at the side of Pete’s bed, seeing the collected urine is much better in colour and volume. “But you could ask your doctor tomorrow. It looks like your urine output is closer to normal.”

“You come to visit me and look at my pee?” This time Pete doesn’t stop himself grinning, even if his grin is lopsided and visibly hurts. “Most people just bring me a present.”

“I can see that,” Mikey says, pointedly looking at the piles of stuff at the other side of the room. “I didn’t even know you could buy a stuffed Wookie.”

Still grinning, Pete says, “It’s from Gabe. He was going to send me a life-sized one but the postage was going to cost more than my first car.”

“Gabe Saporta?” Mikey suspects that it is. He’s read that Pete and Gabe are friends, and sending a full-sized Wookie sounds like something Gabe would do. “I haven’t seen him for years.”

“You know Gabe?” Pete sounds delighted at the possibility, and raises his bed again so he’s sitting a little bit straighter. “How? You’re not part of the scene now because I’d have seen you before.”

“You’ve only seen me in my uniform, and I don’t actually go out in my scrubs,” Mikey says, debating just how much he’s going to tell Pete. “And it was ages ago, back when he was in Midtown.”

Pete stares at Mikey, as if trying to recognize him from back then. Not that he will, Mikey’s changed a lot since those days, both in personality and looks, his headlong jumps into danger and drinking swapped for a demanding job and a life that’s mostly at peace.

“How did you know him?” Pete asks, as if he needs to put Mikey and Gabe together in his head. “If I ask him will he remember you?”

“Maybe.” Though Mikey suspects not. He and Gabe were never that close back then, more people who met in a series of parties, making out when the mood hit but leaving apart at the end of the night.

“I’ll ask him,” Pete says, and then, “At least, I will when I’ve got my phone. Patrick says I can’t have it.”

“Patrick’s right.” Effortlessly swapping from the past back to now, Mikey embraces his nurse side, seeing how Pete seems to be tiring from talking so long. “I should go. I’m at work tomorrow and my brother will probably be waiting at home.”

Pete frowns. “The one that creates and publishes his own comics?”

“That’s him,” Mikey says, unsurprised that’s one of the things Pete has managed to take in. “I told you about him while you were unconscious.”

Pete frowns again, and then admits, “That’s all I can remember. You should tell me more another time. Like tomorrow night when you’ve finished work.”

“I could stop in for a few minutes,” Mikey says, though he’s not sure why Pete’s made the request. He’s already got plenty of friends, and apart from Gerard, it’s not like Mikey’s got anything that interesting to share. “Try and eat more of your paste.”

“If I do will you give me another bedbath?” His eyes half closed, Pete turns his head so he can look toward Mikey.

“Not your nurse, remember?” Mikey says with a smile. He stands and briefly touches Pete’s shoulder. “But I’ll drop in tomorrow.”

“Good,” Pete says, his eyes fully closed. “It’s a date.”

~*~*~*~

“You know, Linda would happily do this,” Patrick says, his brow furrowed as he sits on the side of the bed and leans in close next to Pete. “Or I could buy you an electric razor, that way I won’t slice off your face.”

Pete waits until Patrick finishes a slow, careful swipe with the razor, then says, “Can’t. We tried it before and the buzzing hurts my cheekbone and eye.”

Patrick dips the razor in the bowl of warm water, swishing it briskly until the foam and hairs float away from the blade. “So I get to be your personal barber?”

“Blame Mikey.” Pete gets his gaze fixed on Patrick’s face, trusting him completely despite the fact he’s so close to the broken parts of Pete’s cheek. “He started this. If he hadn’t offered I’d have rocked looking like Blackbeard.”

“Or some kind of insane homeless person,” Patrick says, carefully positioning the blade next to Pete’s nose. Pulling down, he takes away another stripe of stubble, ending at Pete’s chin. “I don’t know whether I should thank him or not.”

“You should,” Pete says, as soon as the razor is taken away from his skin. “He said he’d check in tonight. You could tell him then.”

“I could.” Patrick presses his fingers under Pete’s chin, gently tilting back his head and exposing his neck. “Or I could call Elisa while you’re being entertained by someone who won’t try to catapult you out of your bed.”

Pete smiles, feeling the foam tickle his face as he does so. “Joe was just testing the controls of the bed. And you should call her, or even go back to the hotel for the night. My mom and dad do.”

“Because they need a real bed to sleep in,” Patrick says, his breath warm against Pete’s face as he leans in, his hand steady as he glides the razor over Pete’s throat. “I don’t.”

“But you do need to call Elisa,“ That’s something Pete does know, as much as he wants Patrick here -- how much he needs him here -- he also knows that Patrick needs time to be with his girlfriend, and if he won’t do that, he needs to at least call her and be able to talk in private. “I’ll be okay, even if Mikey doesn’t visit someone will. Or I can stay on my own. I’m a big boy, now.”

“Yeah, not going to happen yet,” Patrick says, and while some events since the accident have been missing or foggy, one thing Pete clearly remembers is how always, his friends have been there when he needs them. Like now, when clearly, Patrick isn’t going to go off and leave Pete alone.

“I’m okay.” Pete waits until Patrick sits up, and then repeats, “I’m okay.”

“You will be.” Patrick lets the razor drop from his hand, landing with a splash of foamy water that spills over the bowl. “But you’re not now, and you weren’t....”

Patrick trails off, his mouth a tight line, and while Pete regrets that the mood between them has changed so quickly, he has to be glad that Patrick’s brought this up again, even if he did back off from what he actually wanted to say at the last moment. Despite feeling sick at the thought, Pete knows this needs to be addressed and says quietly, “I didn’t do it on purpose.”

“You drove your car straight at a tree.” Patrick’s hands are tight fists and he’s looking anywhere but at Pete. “I saw the tracks on the TV coverage. There was no attempt to swerve to the side. They were going to transfer you to the psych ward at one point.”

“I know.” Pete feels cold, his skin clammy as he remembers the doctor visiting from the psych department. False sympathy and so many questions Pete’s head was pounding when he was finally left alone. “But I didn’t swerve because it happened so fast, and I wasn’t paying attention.” That’s one of the last things that Pete does remember. How he was driving over the speed limit, and no doubt careless, trying to get away from the demons that had surfaced again. But that didn’t mean he wanted to end it, just, Pete needed distraction and to get out of his head. Pete’s been at the point where he’s wanted to die, and he was nowhere close to that edge, no matter what others might think. “I didn’t want to die, Patrick. And I didn’t try to take my own life. Promise.”

It’s one of the strongest cards that Pete is able to play, a promise to Patrick something that’s binding between them. Words only, sure, but they’re words that mean everything, and Pete’s glad when Patrick turns, his attention back totally on Pete.

“You didn’t want to kill yourself?” Patrick keeps staring, as if he can see directly into Pete’s head. “It really was an accident. I thought....We all thought....”

Pete’s chest is tight, and he hates that he’s hurt Patrick again. Keeps hurting him, even though, this time Pete didn’t mean to. Picking at the scab of old wounds, Pete says. “It wasn’t like Best Buy. This was different,” and it was, even if from the outside looking in it looks almost the same. “I didn’t do it on purpose. I was fucked up. I’m always fucked up, but I told you if I ever got to that point again I’d tell you.”

And Pete will, he’ll tell Patrick if things get too much, but they haven’t -- they didn’t.

“I thought I’d lost you again.” Patrick pulls in a deep breath and lets it out slowly before pulling Pete into a tight but careful hug. Holding on, he tucks his face against Pete’s neck, shaving gel smearing between them. “Don’t do this again, Pete. Please.”

“I won’t,” Pete says, finally able to give Patrick comfort back in return. “I promise.”

~*~*~*~

If he’s honest, Mikey’s been unsure about going back to see Pete. On one hand, while hanging with former patients isn’t something that’s banned, it’s not really encouraged. But on the other, Mikey likes Pete, and has enjoyed the conversations they’ve had, even if they have been fragmented and repetitive at times.

Still undecided, Mikey heads down the stairs, slowing when he reaches the landing for Pete’s floor. Coming to a stop, he looks down the stairs which mean a bus journey home and then, because most of his friends are working late, an evening alone.

Or he could go throw caution to the wind and go visit Pete, even if it is just for a few minutes. Decision made, Mikey turns and pushes open the door, already pulling out his ID when the security guard in the hallway looks his way. “Mikey. Mikey Way. I should be on the list.”

It’s something that makes Mikey smile to say, words that he usually used he when he’s hitting the clubs on his nights off, and again, his two worlds seem closer somehow.

“Okay, you can go in.” The security guard -- a different one from the day before -- opens the door for Mikey, letting him onto the main floor.

A wave and smile for the staff on duty, Mikey makes his way to Pete’s room, the security guard positioned there checking his PDA before letting Mikey push open the door.

“Mikey. Hi.” Today, Pete is propped up in bed and dressed in what looks like an old Clan t-shirt and not a hospital gown. Despite the IVs that still snake down to his hand, he looks more like himself than Mikey’s ever seen him, especially since there are fewer bandages wrapped around his head. “I decided it was time for a change of image. More man lounging than man on the verge of death.”

“It suits you,” Mikey says, and it does. While Pete is still obviously nowhere near well, each day he’s looking a little better. “How does your head feel?”

“Still feels like it impacted a windshield and is held together by hundreds of stitches,” Pete says easily, patting at the bandage. “I’m thinking of shaving all my hair and calling myself Scarhead.”

“I’m sure the fans will love it,” Mikey says, sitting on chair by Pete’s bed. “No other visitors tonight?”

“I told them they could go because you were coming. And oh, did you see? I lost my dick tube.” Pete starts to pull at his sheet, as if to show Mikey the evidence, then lets the sheet drop, as if suddenly realising Mikey’s not actually one of his close friends. “You probably don’t want to see.” Mikey could point out that he already has, and that he’s actually done far more than see, it was probably a catheter he inserted that was just taken out. But it’s an observation he keeps to himself, especially as Pete’s already moved on, his eyes bright as he says, “I talked to Gabe.”

Mikey takes off his bag and puts it to one side, getting comfortable as he asks, “Did he decide to send the life-size Wookie anyway?”

“He’s thinking of driving here with it in the backseat of his car,” Pete says, adjusting his bed so he’s lying further back by all of an inch. “I asked him about you. You’ve been holding out on me.”

Pete sounds more amused than accusing, so Gabe mustn’t have told him anything that bad. Not that there’s really anything bad he could tell. While Mikey was different back then, his partying never went any further than drinking too much, enjoying making out or sex at the end of the night and on a few occasions, a few fights. Still, Mikey joins in with the teasing mood of the moment and says, “Whatever he said I did, it didn’t happen.”

“So you didn’t make out with him at parties and one time go home and have wild Wookie sex?”

“I don’t know about wild Wookie sex, I never role played Star Wars with Gabe.” It’s the kind of comment that Mikey would never make while working, but right now, Mikey isn’t a professional, just someone enjoying this new friendship, and the way Pete’s eyes widen before he laughs in response, even if he does so with his hand pressed over his cheek. “But the rest? I guess.”

Pete lets his hand drop, his mouth remaining curved into a small smile. “You should have told me before. It would have been a good distraction when you were force-feeding me mush.”

“It’s not really something I tell my patients,” Mikey says, imagining long nights where he talks about his past instead of the more mundane stories he tells now. “The last thing they’d want to hear is what I got up to when I was young.”

“Younger,” Pete corrects. “You’re still young, and okay, I can see that some crazy people might not want to know. How is your brother? I think I remember you saying he’s bringing out a new book.”

It’s an abrupt change in topic, but that’s something Mikey’s well used to, and he says, “Comic book, and he’s great. Busy right now doing last minute edits, but it’s what he loves doing.”

“Comic books, right,” Pete repeats, as if committing that fact to memory. “You like them too. At least, I think. I can’t really remember all that you said.”

“It’s great that you remember anything,” especially considering most of the times Mikey told his stories Pete wasn’t fully aware of the world or deeply unconscious. It’s the main reason Mikey always keep speaking when alone with his seriously ill patients, and why the stories he tells are about things that he doesn’t mind being known and repeated. “And yeah, I love comic books. When I was a kid I always wanted to write my own. Now Gerard does that and I’m here.”

“But you like nursing?” Pete sits forward a little, as if the answer that Mikey gives is one that actually matters a lot.

“I love it.” At least mostly. Mikey loves taking care of his patients and making a difference, but there’s parts that he hates too. The bureaucracy especially, and the fact that, as hard as they try, it’s impossible to save everyone. “It’s not what I expected to do, but I’m glad that I did.”

“Good.” Pete lies back, as if satisfied by the answer, but he’s still staring at Mikey, like he’s trying to work something out. “So you were called to nursing? Like a vocation?”

“Fuck no.” Mikey laughs, Pete’s question startling him from hospital appropriate language to the kind he more usually uses at home. “I had no intention of getting into nursing. Just, I needed a job, got one in the coffee shop downstairs, and talking to the staff showed me this was something I’d like to do.”

“It was that easy?” Pete doesn’t sound convinced, and Mikey can’t blame him, going from a coffee shop wage slave to nursing seems like a big jump that at first glance doesn’t make sense.

“It wasn’t easy at all.” Mikey can admit that, not wanting to repeat the years of working his way through classes and interning. “But I was never going to make my name in a band and we needed the money and I liked the people I worked with, and I guess, I just like people.”

“And they like you, too,” Pete says, as if stating a known fact, but before Mikey has a chance to respond, Pete’s moved on once again. “You wanted to be in a band. Don’t tell me you love music, too? Making out with Gabe, wanting to be in a band. Where have you been all of my life?”

“Here. In my apartment. If you’re talking when I knew Gabe, a thousand dive bars.” As lists go, it’s a small one; Mikey never travels far from New Jersey. Not that he cares, he loves where he lives and even if he hasn’t moved away, at least he isn’t trapped in a dead end job at the mall. Mikey smiles, says, “But I don’t hang out outside of venues or fight for barrier. That’s how you’ve missed me.”

“Except you said I nearly kicked out your teeth,” Pete says, looking triumphant, like he’s caught Mikey in the midst of a lie. “So you must have got close when you came to our show.”

“Close enough,” and Mikey remembers the surge of the pit, being trapped by bodies and singing along, sweat-soaked and exhilarated as Pete reached out over the grasping hands of the crowd. “Security must hate you.”

“They do at the time, but they haven’t let go of me yet,” Pete says, blase, like he’s uncaring that he could easily be sucked in by the crowd and held onto. “They’re good at belt holding.”

“They’ve got robot hands. It explains how they’re able to hold on so tight,” and for a moment Mikey forgets that he’s not talking to his friends or Gerard, all of whom understand the need for a good superhero or mutant conversation. “Or you know, just good at their job.”

Pete dismisses Mikey’s second comment with a shake of his head. “Tell me more about the robot hands. Is it just hands or their whole body? Because having robot hand would be badass.”

“Cyborg hands, with lifelike skin,” Mikey says, and it’s easy to forget that Pete is a former patient and not one of Mikey’s actual friends. Though, Mikey suspects that’s something that could change, the foundations of friendship already there, apparent in the way Pete’s listening so intently, occasionally nodding as if what Mikey says makes perfect sense. “It’s why they can hold onto you so easily. They’ve got super strength, and probably bones made of adamantium, for that extra edge.”

“Like Wolverine, yeah.” Pete considers a moment, one hand clawed where it rests on the sheet. “The security bots should have spears coming out of their hands. Instant protection against the bad guys.”

“Deadly protection,” Mikey says, relaxed and caught in the scene they’ve both been describing. “No one would mess with you then.”

“If they did they’d get speared.” Pete makes a jabbing movement with his hand that’s attached to his IV, wincing as he says plaintively, “Ow.”

Quickly, Mikey visually checks there’s been no real damage, and then says, “As a trained medical professional I recommend you don’t do that.”

Pete rubs at the tape over his hand, any pain pushed to one side as he directs his whole attention on Mikey. “Noted, but these securitybots, I think they need lasers.”

“Oh fuck yeah,” Mikey says, lasers always a welcome addition to any situation. “They could shoot from their eyes.”

Excitedly, Pete sits forward a little, the effort to stop himself moving even further obvious as he says, “Yeah. Or their nipples.”

Mikey considers. While nipple lasers are unexpected, he still likes the classic of eyes. He has to convince Pete of that fact.

Pulling his chair closer to the bed, Mikey starts talking.

~*~*~*~

Dropping into Gerard’s studio is an impulsive decision. Mikey hasn’t seen him for a few days, and while dropping in isn’t exactly on the way home, it’s easy enough to get off the bus in the city and head for Gerard’s.

Stopping for food first, Mikey balances a pizza box in one hand as he gropes in his bag for the key to Gerard’s studio, knowing if he’s working there’s a chance he won’t hear the intercom.

“Gerard,” Mikey calls out as he unlocks the door and lets himself inside. Even if he isn’t working it’s unlikely that Gerard will answer, but still, Mikey likes to make himself known, unwilling to risk another thrown paintbrush to the head situation -- though, even now, Mikey’s not sure what Gerard hoped to achieve with the paintbrush if there had actually been an intruder.

Key back in his bag, Mikey starts climbing the steep stairs, one hand trailing over the bannister for balance as he makes his way up to the top floor. Despite the sketchy location, it’s a place Gerard loves for the space and abundance of natural light, and it’s become Mikey’s second home.

“Mikey.” Surprisingly, Gerard appears when Mikey starts up the last flight of stairs. Looking down, his grin wide and delighted, he waits until Mikey’s on the landing before pulling him in for a tight hug. “You didn’t say you were coming to visit.”

“I wasn’t going to,” Mikey admits, the pizza box hot where it’s ended up flat against his chest. “I went to visit Pete, and it got late...”

“So you decided to crash here,” Gerard says, sounding pleased with that plan. Pulling back from the hug he looks down at his chest and wipes at a patch of grease that’s spreading over his t-shirt. “You brought food.”

“I did,” Mikey agrees, the last thing he wants after a long shift to try and create something edible from the no-doubt moldy leftovers Gerard keeps in his fridge. “But you better have coffee.”

“I always have coffee,” Gerard says, like the very idea that he wouldn’t is an outrage. Leading Mikey inside, Gerard locks the studio door and heads for the tiny kitchen that takes up one corner of the huge space. “Dig out a space on the couch, I’ll get these.”

Once his bag is placed out of the way and the pizza safe on the table that’s in front of the couch, Mikey pushes clothes and mail to one side, careful to gather up the things that look important. When there’s room, he sits, kicking off his shoes as he watches Gerard. “Did you get all your contracts signed?”

“They’re all done.” Gerard grabs two mugs off the counter, looking inside both before setting them next to the machine. And it’s the fact he’s able to find clean mugs so easily shows it’s good that the contracts are done, Gerard never so tidy as when he’s unable to work on his art due to procrastinating on something official.

Of course, that the studio does get tidied at times could be seen as a positive, but Mikey would rather take his chance drinking coffee out of a mug coated with dry paint than see Gerard frustrated and unable to work on his art. “So how long did it take after you’ve been putting it off for weeks?”

“A few hours,” Gerard says, and at Mikey’s laugh he adds, “Shut up. You know I hate doing that shit.”

“So you ignore it and line up your mugs in height order instead.” Mikey sits on the edge of the couch, so he can open the pizza box, unable to wait any longer. Grabbing a slice he takes a bite, almost eating the whole slice before Gerard comes over with the two mugs of coffee.

“So, you went to see Pete.” Gerard sits, taking a long drink of coffee while looking at Mikey over the rim of the mug. “You weren’t sure earlier.”

“I still wasn’t when I finished my shift, but then got to his floor and thought, fuck it.” Truthfully, Mikey still can’t explain why he did go to visit, but he’s glad that he did so, the couple of hours he was there seeming to go in a flash. “Patrick went back to the hotel to talk to his girlfriend on Skype and Andy and Joe went on a mission to find some vegan pancakes, then all three had an interview with an international radio station later. From Australia I think. . . What?”

Mikey stops talking, unsure what’s caused Gerard to grin like he is, like Mikey’s said something amusing, which isn’t the case at all.

“You. This.” Gerard emphasizes the words with his hands, and has to do a balancing act to keep his coffee from spilling out of the mug. “Talking about people in Fall Out Boy like it means nothing.”

Mikey still doesn’t get it.”They’re just them, and you talk to well-known people all of the time.”

“Because I work with them,” Gerard says, his smile still apparent as he puts down his coffee. “You get assigned as Pete’s nurse, and end up as friends with his band. It’s like your superpower.”

“Not friends, I just talk to them,” Mikey says, taking another slice of pizza from out of the box. Eating slower now that he’s not so hungry, Mikey lets his thoughts wander, about Gerard’s new comic book, whether he should crash here or go back to his apartment, and also, what Gerard just said. “I need you to draw me a security guard with a robot arm and laser firing nipples.”

About to take a bite of his pizza, Gerard stops, and lowers the slice. “That’s specific. Any reason?”

“It’s for Pete,” Mikey says, remembering the involved conversation they’d had only a few hours before. “We were talking about his security at shows, and how he needed one that’s half robot. I told him laser eyes would be better, but he argued for nipples, and I figure, he’s sick, I can ignore his faulty reasoning this once.”

“Laser eyes would be better,” Gerard says, his pizza slice back in the box as he stretches out to the side, snagging a pen and pad of paper. “But nipples are an interesting twist.”

“That’s what Pete said.” One of many things Pete said in fact, and Mikey adds more details as he remembers them. “The arm bones are made of adamantium and shoots out spears. Small pointed ones for the most impact.”

“Yeah. Okay.” Gerard’s bent over his notebook, hair falling down into his face as he sketches. It’s something Mikey loves watching, the sure way Gerard uses his pen, the purse of his mouth as he concentrates, lost as he brings ideas to life. “How about that?”

Gerard holds up the page, and while he’s been sketching for only a few minutes, he’s captured exactly what Mikey wanted to see. A security guard standing next to a stage, robot arm held aloft and lasers firing alongside the spears, aiming at some formless creature of evil that creeps in from the side.

“That’s fucking awesome.” Mikey takes the sketch that Gerard hands over, taking in details such a the Clan symbol on the security guard’s arm, and how, behind him on stage, there’s someone who has to be Pete. “Pete’s going to love it.”

Gerard puts down his pen, coffee and pizza ignored as he looks directly at Mikey. “You like him.”

“I like them all,” Mikey says, and he does. That’s just what he does, makes friends easily, even if that’s just for a short time. Which is what’s going to happen here, because as much as Mikey does enjoy talking to Pete, it’s a temporary thing, something that’s going to end as soon as Pete is well enough to go home.

“Of course you do,” Gerard says, and then, “When you see Pete tomorrow tell him laser eyes are better.”

“I will,” Mikey says, and makes no attempt to deny that he’ll visit.

~*~*~*~

“Are you ready to do this?” Patrick asks, phone in hand as he sits on the foot of Pete’s bed.

“Yeah.” Pete touches his head, fingers resting against the bandages and the just barely visible stubble where his hair’s starting to grow in.He knows he’s not looking his best right now, far from it in fact, but it’s time to put out a statement, but one on Pete’s terms. Checking that Andy and Joe are close by, and there’s nothing incriminating in sight, Pete says, “Go. I’m ready.”

A nod in response, and Patrick holds up his phone, and Pete starts to talk.

“Twitter people. You’ll know I’ve been in an accident. I’m okay, I’m fine, it’ll take more than a tree to knock some sense into my head.” Pete smiles, hiding the ache in his cheekbone. “I know I’m not looking too pretty, but what else is new? And you’ve still got the devilish handsome Patrick to look at, and these guys too.” Taking the cue, Patrick turns so he can film Andy and Joe, both of whom wave and make faces in response. “I want to thank Mercy Hospital for taking care of me so well, and my friends who’ve been awesome, and you guys of course. Your support means everything and I’ll be back soon. Promise. This is Pete, over and out.”

“Got it,” Patrick says, pressing buttons on his phone. “Do you want to see or should I send it to Twitter?”

“Send it.” It’s what Pete does always, sending his words out into the world without censoring, and that’s not going to change because he’s stuck in a hospital bed. “I’ll spend the morning reading comments about how shitty I look.”

Still looking at his phone as he sends the video, Patrick says, “You look a whole lot better than you did last week.”

“And if they do say you look like shit I’ll post some pithy, cutting remarks,” Joe adds, sounding as if he’s relishing the prospect. “Maybe add a photo of a dog’s ass.”

“Okay, sent.” Patrick sets his phone on the bed, safe in the valley between Pete’s feet, and glances over at Andy and Joe. “We bought you something.”

“Yeah?” Pete enjoys presents, especially ones from his friends who know what he actually likes and not just what he’s said in the press. “Is it a sweet hat to hide my scarhead?”

Andy reaches behind him, pulling out a small gift bag which he throws over to Pete. “Not even close.”

Pete reaches out, already suspecting what’s inside of the bag, and grins, delighted when he sees that he’s right. Taking out the boxed phone, he wants to bring up to his face, breathe in the smell of new plastic and the knowledge that soon, he’ll be back in contact with the rest of the world.

“Your old one was toast,” Andy says. “So you’ll have to start over.”

“That’s okay,” and it is. While Pete’s lost thousand of numbers, emails and photos, they’re mostly things that can be replaced. Plus, it gives Pete something to do. There’s only so long he can watch TV while his concentration is still spotty, and in a way, having a new phone feels like a blank slate. “Thank you.”

“Thank us by getting better,” Patrick says, gently pinching Pete’s toe from over the blanket. “We need you back on the stage.”

“And dealing with the online shit,” Joe puts in, frowning as he adds, “When I try for a deep post I keep getting comments asking if I’m high.”

“That’s because you are,” Andy says, sounding disapproving in a way that means nothing, more an expected joking bicker between two close friends. “And you make sense. For a Pete post you need to talk in metaphors, add on hidden meanings, twist those up, and then hide them again.”

Pete brings up his hand, flipping Andy off while making no attempt to hide his grin. “Screw you. My blog posts are epic.”

“Not as epic as this,” Patrick says, showing the screen of his phone. “Three hundred and seventeen retweets within a few minutes and you’re trending worldwide.”

While it’s something that doesn’t actually mean that much in the long run, knowing people still care is a good feeling. Sure, there’s going to be bad comments mixed in with the good, but that doesn’t matter. Pete’s got his fans on his side, he’s got his family and friends who are there for him always, and with those, he can deal with being stuck in this bed.

For now anyway. A few days at the most and Pete’s gone, that’s something he’s sure of.

~*~*~*~

To Mikey, his days off are something to cherish. Every time he relishes going to bed without setting an alarm, and loves waking up late morning, or sometimes, early afternoon. He loves lingering over breakfast, eating cereal while watching crappy TV, and then, later, a trip to the laundromat. What he especially loves is those days off always end up with him hanging with his friends.

Today, Mikey’s heading for Ray’s, where they’ll hang for a while before heading into the city, ending up at the club where Bob works at the moment. It’s a routine Mikey looks forward to, especially since Ray always seems to have a fridge full of food and, more importantly, the desire to share it.

With his clean laundry safely at home, and wearing clothes that don’t smell of disinfectant, Mikey feels at ease with the world as he walks the last block toward Ray’s. At this time of the afternoon the sun is starting to lower, the streets turned golden, and all around people are heading for the nearby park, their dogs walking beside them. Or, in one case, excitedly pulling in front of them, and Mikey smiles at the woman with the bull dog as she almost runs past.

It’s a neighbourhood that’s perfect for Ray, independant shops scattered between apartments, and relaxed in the way that no one cares when Ray practices songs on his guitar, amp turned low and windows flung open.

It’s also the kind of place that seems meant for adults, and sometimes Mikey can’t believe that Ray live somewhere so nice. With furniture that’s not bought at a thrift store, a door that doesn’t need multiple locks and his name on a mailbox. Of course, that’s something that applies to all of Mikey’s friends now, even Gerard’s studio, as chaotic as it is at times, is a step up from living in his parent’s basement.

It’s something Mikey thinks about at times. That he should make that next step, too. He’s got the job stability and the savings to put toward a nicer apartment, but the truth is, it’s a change that Mikey’s unwilling to make. As seedy as it is, he’s comfortable where he lives, and no one has ever died from sleeping on a futon and living with basic cable.

Bypassing a man walking five fluffy dogs, Mikey takes the steps to Ray’s building two at a time and goes inside, blinking as the light changes from bright to something more dim. In the lobby he takes a moment to check the door is safely shut behind him, and then takes the set of stairs to Ray’s apartment, ignoring the doorbell and knocking instead.

“It’s open,” Ray yells from inside.

“Of course it is,” Mikey says quietly, and then adds, louder, once he’s inside. “You should lock your door.”

“I’ve told you. I do at night,” Ray says from the kitchen, where he’s covering a tray of something with aluminum foil before putting it into the oven. “No one’s going to bust in.”

“They could.” That’s something Mikey’s all too aware of. He’s had to watch too many people die after home invasions, people who thought they were safe too. “It only takes one person who’s snapped, you wouldn’t stand a chance if. . .”

Ray walks past Mikey, locking the door and says, “I’ll try to remember. Promise.”

“Okay. Thanks.” It’s stupid, but Mikey feels relieved, even if he knows the door will still be unlocked next time he visits. It’s just how Ray is, never thinking of the dark things that could happen, and despite his worries, Mikey remains glad of that always. “I’m the first one here?”

Ray nods, says, “Bob’s coming with Frank. They said they’d be here twenty minutes ago, but you know what they’re like. Gerard’s. . . well, you’d probably know better than me.”

“He said he needed to finish up some inking.” Which means he could arrive in the next few minutes or not turn up at all. Not that Mikey’s going to worry, especially when he’s already talked to Gerard multiple times today and there’s a comfy chair waiting to be claimed. “Do you need some help?”

It’s something Mikey always offers, even though, most times, Ray says no. Which is what he does this time, ushering Mikey into the living room before heading back to the kitchen. “I’m just warming these through. Mom baked them this morning.”

Mikey grins, his day getting even better. While Ray is a competent and good cook, his mom is in a different league, and Mikey’s had many meals at the Toro’s where he’s left the table overstuffed and content. While Mrs Toro’s cooking isn’t the same heated up -- for one thing, the amusement value of embarrassing Ray-as-a-child stories are lacking -- it’s still much better than takeout or anything Mikey can make for himself.

“There’s beer in the fridge if you want it, or soda,” Ray says, only the top of his head visible as he rummages in a base cupboard. “And I DVRed Monday Night Raw if you want to watch it again.”

“Fuck yeah.” Mikey changes direction and heads for the kitchen, taking a Coke from the fridge. Popping the top, he takes a long drink and judges his moment, waiting for Ray to turn away before pinching off an end piece of a cannelloni that’s still on a tray on the counter.

“They taste better when they’re hot,” Ray says, mouth curling into a smile when Mikey grins, unrepentant at being caught. “Go sit, they won’t take long.”

It’s something Mikey’s happy to do. Coke in hand, he grabs the TV remotes with the other and claims one of Ray’s easy chairs, the one you can sink into and have the perfect view of the TV. Switching it on, he rests the can against his leg and starts pressing buttons, checking out what Ray’s got recorded. “Storage Wars? Really?”

“It’s interesting to watch,” Ray says, sliding the second tray into the oven. “I want to be Barry when I grow up.”

“A fuckload of money to do what you want, yeah.” Mikey can see the attraction, even if he does have no desire to go bidding on storage units. “When you make your fortune finding a mint condition first generation Playstation don’t forget about me.”

“Fuck that, you’ll be there helping me carry boxes,” Ray says, dusting his hands against his thighs when someone knocks at the door. “Hold on, I’m coming.”

A few moments, and Ray unlocks the door, letting Frank, Bob and Gerard inside.

“I take it Mikey’s already here,” Frank says, indicating the lock with a nod of his head. “We found Gerard, and is that your mom’s cannelloni I can smell baking? You’re a prince amongst men.”

Ray shuts the door, locking it again. “Yes he’s here, and yes I’m heating up cannelloni, but no way can you smell it. I just put it into the oven.”

“I can smell your mom’s cannelloni when it’s frozen,” Frank says, still talking as he leans over the back of Mikey’s chair, plucking the can of Coke from out of his hand and taking a drink before giving it back and throwing himself onto the couch. “Hi. How’s things going over at Mercy?”

“I haven’t been there today, you know that,” Mikey points out, even though he knows what Frank is actually asking. It’s something he always asks, only questions about Pete taking priority over the last few weeks.

“Don’t make like you don’t know what I want,” Frank says, taking the Coke that Bob hands over. “Spill, you haven’t told us the good stuff for days.”

“Because you’ve been asking about Pete,” Mikey says, and then, knowing that this is something Frank won’t drop. “Okay, fine. Two days ago someone was brought in with a bouncy ball up his ass. Melissa said it was at least five inches wide.”

“Melissa is your contact in ER, right?” Frank says, his mouth pursed at one side as if he’s searching his memory for people Mikey’s mentioned before. “And how did it get there? Deliberate or was it another slip in the shower?”

“If you mean she’s my friend, yeah,” Mikey says, tucking the remotes under his arm when Bob looks like he’s going in for a snatch. “This one was deliberate, some kid who wanted to know how it felt.”

Bob sits, claiming the other easy chair. “Jesus, you’d think they’d start small with a pencil.”

Frank turns his attention from Mikey to Bob. “Is that how you started? Little baby Bob sticking a pencil up his ass, or a drum stick?”

“Fuck you, drum sticks don’t go up asses,” Bob says, as if the very idea is causing him pain. “And neither should bouncy balls.”

Mikey has to agree. While he’s no prude in terms of experimenting with toys, some things just aren’t meant to be used, especially things that get stuck and need to be surgically removed. “The guy got transferred to surgery, apparently the X-rays were the hit of the floor.”

“Like that one you showed me during your ER rotation,” Gerard says. Sitting, he barely misses hitting Frank full in the face with a swipe of his hand as he talks, describing something that happened a lifetime before. “Mikey showed me a picture of the x-ray, it was fucking awesome, you could see the G.I. Joe up the guy’s ass.”

“And you’re still not using it in an art piece,” Mikey says, even though it’s been a long time since Gerard actually asked. “And before you ask, I haven't got the photo anymore, I deleted it, and don’t take them now. I only did then because I was young and stupid.”

“Who said I was going to ask?” Frank affects an innocent expression, one that lasts for all of a few seconds before collapsing and being replaced by a grin. “Okay, fine. I won’t ask. So tell me about your superstar friend instead.”

“Pete isn’t a superstar,” and truthfully, Mikey isn’t actually sure if he’s a friend either. Yeah, Mikey’s been visiting every night, and each time he enjoys Pete’s company, including the days where Mikey’s job has left him exhausted and emotionally drained. And sure, Pete seems to enjoy Mikey’s company too, asking if he’s coming the next day at the end of each visit. But that doesn’t mean anything, even if Mikey has started to look forward to seeing Pete every day. Mikey’s nursed lots of people he’s come to like over the years, and every one of them has left in one way or another. It’s why Mikey needs to keep telling himself Pete is a temporary friend only, even if, deep down, he’d like more. “And he’s okay. Getting close to being discharged I think. Probably next week. I’m going to see him tonight.”

About to take a drink, Bob stops, the bottle held close to his mouth. “But it’s your day off. You’ve always said you won’t go to the hospital then.”

It’s true, Mikey’s line between home life and work something he’s always fought to keep clear, but, when Pete had asked if Mikey was coming the next day, he’d instantly said ‘sure.’ “I’m only going for an hour or so, we’re halfway through watching Beetlejuice. I’ll meet you all after.”

“Just don’t say his name three times,” Gerard says, cutting Bob off when it looks like he’s about to say more. “Creepy fucker.”

Glad of the distraction, Mikey starts surfing channels, and then stops, spotting the outside of his hospital, and then, the rolling banner at the bottom of the screen, ‘Pete Wentz leaves Mercy Hospital. Says thank you to all of the staff.’.

All Mikey wants to do is turn over the channel, to watch anything but what’s clearly indicating that he actually isn’t a friend to Pete in the slightest. It’s something Mikey should have stressed to himself more, that being friends with your patients isn’t something that happens. But he ignored that, and now he’s left looking stupid, unable to look away as Pete’s shown leaving the hospital in a wheelchair, grinning as he waves at the fans who yell out his name.

Finally, Pete’s gone from the screen, and, looking at no one, Mikey changes the channel, says, “Guess I won’t be going there tonight after all.”

Gerard stretches, so he can rest his foot against Mikey’s. “Good. It means you get to spend more time with us. We’ve missed you.”

Frank nods, mouth curling into a smile. “We have. Gerard only saw you six days out of seven last week. He was pining so much his next comic book series is going to fuelled by coffee and tears.”

“It is,” Ray says, seeminglessly picking up Frank’s conversation. “The main character is followed by a black cloud that only gets smaller when he’s close to his brother. In the last panel the cloud gets so big that he dies.”

“It’s a sad situation,” Frank says, miming a tear and ignoring Gerard who’s laughing while trying to protest.

As distractions go it’s perfect, and Mikey’s close to laughing too, but only does so when Bob scowls and says, “Fuck him. You were too good for him anyway.”

He loves his friends for always having his back, Mikey simply says, “Thank you.”

 

~*~*~*~

If he’s honest, Pete expected that once he was discharged from hospital his life would go back to normal. The reality is, Pete still feels like shit. Despite the freedom of no IVs or rails at the side of his bed, it takes Pete all of his strength to get to the bathroom, and despite being back at the hotel for over a day, Pete’s spent very little of his time out of bed.

Frustrated, he lies back on his mountain of pillows, trying to ignore how his face aches and how his head itches and how he’s still unable to take a deep breath without his chest hurting. All Pete wants is to be magically better, but it’s not going to happen, and that’s something he’s struggling to deal with.

It doesn’t help that distractions aren’t easy to find. With concentration still an issue and reading making his head pound after only a few minutes, Pete’s bored out of his mind. While he was more than ready to be discharged, Pete’s missing the hospital with its constant stream of people, especially as Patrick, Joe and Andy are busy with band business and Pete’s family on their way home.

Which Pete pushed for. He’s a big boy and doesn’t need his mom holding his hand, plus, there’s no point having them hang around his hotel room and watch as Pete sleeps. But the truth is, he misses them -- misses everyone -- even the custodian that used to come and clean the room every morning.

“You’re awake,” Patrick says, his smile fading as he walks through the connecting door of their rooms and sees Pete sitting up and surrounded by discarded books, his cell phone, a laptop and countless sheets of crumpled paper.

“No shit.” It’s an unfair thing to say, Pete knows that it is, but he can’t bite back the words. “You wouldn’t let me go to the interviews, what else can I do?”

“You’re not up to interviews yet,” Patrick says, reasonable as he always is when dealing with Pete lately. Sitting on the side of Pete’s bed, Patrick takes a container out of the bag he has slung over his shoulder, setting it down on his lap. “I bought you some ramen, it should still be warm.”

Pete wants to gag, ramen the last thing he wants to eat. He wants pizza or a burger or even an apple, something he can sink his teeth into, and not something that’s mush. Pushing back the urge to flip the container onto the floor he says, “I’m not hungry.”

Without a word Patrick sets the container to one side, pushing it against the array of medication bottles arranged on the bedside table. Considering, Patrick waits a moment then says, “How about a bath instead?”

“You’re not worried I’d pass out and drown,” Pete bites out, words and tone saying one thing, while inside all he wants to say is to yell yes. It’s been far too long since Pete’s felt completely clean, and now Patrick’s made the suggestion, all Pete wants is to relax in warm water. Except, there is a good chance that he could pass out, and after surviving the crash, Pete doesn’t want to actually drown in a hotel bathtub.

“I’ll stay with you,” Patrick says, easily, like suggesting he stays with Pete as he bathes is something he does every day. “I’ve not like I haven’t done it before.”

Pete would say there’s a big difference between sharing a snatched shower or hose in the middle of a field of asphalt during Warped, and Patrick watching him take a bath, but Pete doesn’t want Patrick to change his mind. So all Pete says is, “Please.”

It turns out that Patrick’s an expert at running a bath and then getting Pete into it safely. Not that Pete is surprised, as far as he’s concerned Patrick’s an expert at all that he does, and that includes bodily helping injured people into a tub.

As situations go, it could have been awkward, but all Patrick does is roll his eyes when Pete attempts an ass wiggle after taking off his boxer briefs, and then stands, providing a steady support for Pete to cling on to on as he steps into the tub and lowers himself down.

Pete sinks into the warm water, his eyes closed and body fully submerged, his head resting against the folded towel Patrick’s placed at the head of the tub. For the first time in weeks Pete starts to fully relax, muscles loosening and aching fading as he says, “I love you. Marry me.”

“I’ll have to ask Elisa first,” Patrick says, voice rich with amusement. There’s the sound of him moving, footsteps to the other side of the bathroom and then back, two dull thuds as Patrick kneels at the side of the tub. “Don’t slide down any further. You don’t want to get your bandages wet.”

Instantly Pete wants to touch. Water dripping, he brings up his hand to his head, gently pressing his fingers against the rim of the bandage, close to the first set of stitches. By now Pete has seen every one, asking to look in a mirror when his bandages were changed back at the hospital. Pete imagines them now, dark thread against pale skin, the stubble where his hair has started to grow through. He moves his hand a bit further, pressing his fingertips against the raised line. “I’m going to look ridiculous when these are healed, like someone’s shaved lines over my head.”

“No more ridiculous than normal,” Patrick says, taking hold of Pete’s hand and pulling it down. “Stop that, and better a few scars than the alternative.”

Patrick’s right, logically Pete knows that, and it’s not like Pete’s especially vain, there’s no way he can be when his body is covered in some unfortunate tattoos. But as ugly as some are, it was Pete’s choice to ink those lines into his skin. Unlike the scars, which aren’t a choice at all. Those are a reminder of Pete’s carelessness, of his bad decision making when he was feeling his worst, but they’re not his choice, and Pete says, “I didn’t mean this. I didn’t want it.”

“I know.” Pete opens his eyes, needing to see Patrick’s face as he keeps talking. “I believe you. I’m sorry I didn’t before.”

Pete shrugs, causing water to lap over his chest. “You had cause.”

“No. No I didn’t.” Arms crossed against the lip of the tub, Patrick looks directly at Pete. “We had an agreement, and I know you’ll tell me if you’re getting that close to the edge. Just. I got scared. I thought you were going to die and I got angry. At the universe, about that fucking tree growing where it did, at you.”

“I’m sorry,” Pete says, yet one more sorry added to the thousands he’s given to Patrick over the years. “I didn’t mean to scare you.”

“You never do.” Patrick laughs a little and takes off his glasses, wiping the steam from the lenses. “I told Mikey I wanted to punch you. I’m surprised he didn’t report me to security.”

“He wouldn’t do that,” Pete says, and then stops, thinking about Mikey. They’re thoughts that make Pete smile as he remembers discussing music and laughing at shared experiences, until, suddenly, a new thought pushes forward. It’s one that causes Pete to sit up slightly, water slopping over the side of the bath and splashing Patrick’s chest. “Mikey hasn’t called me. I left him a message with Linda and she promised to pass it on.What if she forgot? Or gave it to the wrong person? Or I wrote down the wrong number?”

“Or he’s busy,” Patrick says, cutting Pete off. “Or Linda may be busy. You haven’t been gone that long, he’ll call eventually. Just try to be patient.”

“I’ve already used up all my patience for the next thousand years,” Pete says, but still, he knows Patrick’s right. Deliberately trying to relax, Pete lets his arms float, his thoughts drifting, but always, they come back toward Mikey. “Did he tell you about the time he got punched doing triage in his ER rotation? He called security then, and hit the guy over the head with a bedpan.”

“We only really talked about you.” Patrick reaches for a cloth, wetting it before leaning forward, so he can gently wash Pete’s neck under the bandages. “He was always busy, and when he came to visit you I couldn’t get a word in.”

“Yeah, right.” Pete makes no attempt to suppress a sigh at the feel of Patrick’s fingers against his neck, how gentle he is as he washes the hair that hasn’t been shaved. “Most of the time you weren’t even there when he visited.”

“I had things to do,” Patrick says, and then, “And you were in good hands. WIth your own personal nurse.”

“No.” While Pete gets what Patrick is saying, he’s not seeing the full picture. That while Mikey is a nurse, when he visited Pete he wasn’t assuming that role. He was just being Mikey, someone who Pete enjoyed talking to and could have easily become a good friend away from the hospital setting. “He wasn’t a nurse then. He just told me these stories, about the things he liked and his family. Did you know he used to know Gabe? And likes all these sweet bands and only got into nursing to support his family at first. His brother creates these comic books and.....” Pete trails off, taking in how Patrick’s stopped washing and is looking at Pete with a fond smile. “What?”

Patrick dunks the cloth again, wringing it out before gently running it over Pete’s face. “You like him.”

“I wouldn’t have asked him to visit all those times if I didn’t.” Pete lets his eyes close again, his body relaxed, but mind working, thoughts finally able to push past the fog that’s starting to clear at all times. “We could have been friends and not just patient and nurse.”

“Could?” Patrick lets the cloth drop in the water so it spreads out, a soft brush of weight against Pete’s chest. “You’ve got hundreds of friends, and they’re not all in the business. I’m sure you could handle a nurse from Jersey.”

“I didn’t get his number.” It’s something that Pete regrets, especially with this new uncertainty that Mikey may not have seen Pete’s note. “Or to see the second half of Beetlejuice”, which is all kinds of wrong, because Pete loved listening to Mikey recite the lines, and the way that he laughed so easily at the same time as Pete. “I can’t wait too long, I’m going to call him.”

“Good,” Patrick says, “But not tonight. You’ll be asleep as soon as you get back into bed.” Pete wants to disagree, but knows there’s no point. Already he’s feeling sleepy, eyes half closed when Patrick picks up the cloth and puts it in Pete’s hand. “Do your junk yourself. I’ll get a towel ready.”

“Spoilsport.” Pete squeezes the cloth, letting water trickle over his chest. “I’ll find his number tomorrow.”

Patrick stands, says, “And I’ll help you.”

~*~*~*~

Sometimes, Mikey feels like walking away from his job and never going back. Like today, when, due to one emergency situation after another, he’s been on his feet for over twelve hours with one five-minute break. He’s tired, hungry and his feet are aching, all he wants is to go home and sleep.

With his earbuds in and his hoodie zipped up high to hide his scrubs, he leaves the front entrance of the hospital. Shoulders hunched against a wind that’s cutting, he walks past the area which until a few days before, was crowded with Fall Out Boy fans. He starts to cross the road, then stops, frustrated when a cab pulls to a stop inches away.

Swearing under his breath, Mikey steps to the side, about to walk behind the cab, when the door opens and Pete looks out.

“Pete?” Mikey takes out his earbuds, unable to hear what Pete’s saying at first. “What are you doing here?”

“I escaped.” Pete’s wearing dark sunglasses and one of those awesome furry hats with the flaps pulled down low on his head, the earflaps helping conceal some of the still-dark bruising that discolours his eye and cheek. In combination with the overly large hoodie and sweatpants, he looks like someone who’s gotten dressed in the dark, but still also very Pete-like, enough that Mikey takes a step forward to block him from view.

“You can’t be here alone.” Mikey crouches slightly, his earbuds swinging from where they hang from the neck of his hoodie. “Tell me people know where you are.”

Pete grins, says, “I told you, I escaped. Get in.”

Mikey doesn’t think twice before doing just that. Sliding into the cab he pulls the door closed, turning so he look over at Pete. “The fuck, Pete?”

“You can go now, just drive for a bit,” Pete says to the cabbie, and then sits back, trying for cool, but Mikey can see the tight pull of his mouth, and how Pete clenches his hands as he tries to get comfortable. Resisting the urge to touch, to take off Pete’s sunglasses and check his eyes and then pulse, Mikey busies himself turning off his iPod, putting it away in his pocket as he waits for Pete to speak. “I left you a note, but I don’t know if you got it. So I needed to get your number to check.”

“I haven’t seen a note, but things have been crazy lately,” Mikey sits so he’s leaning half against the door, half against the seat back. “And you could have asked for my number, I would have given it to you.”

“I know.” Pete rubs the back of his hand, over the faint residue of tape that remains. “I called the hospital but they wouldn’t give out any staff details, so then we tried to find your brother’s number. But all we got were hits about his comic books and photos of him at award shows. He looks like you.”

“You think?” It’s an observation Mikey’s heard a few times, but not really something he’s seen himself. At least, not since they were kids and his mom thought matching outfits were cute.

“Yeah. I’ve only seen photos of him, but I’ve watched you plenty.” It’s impossible to see Pete’s eyes behind his glasses, but Mikey can feel him looking, enough that it’s starting to feel uncomfortable when Pete says, “At least. I think it was him. There could be another Gerard Way who creates comic books, sort of has your bone structure, looks like he’s been dragged through a hedge backwards and lives in the city.”

For a moment Mikey considers protesting the description, but really, Pete’s got a point. “That’s him. He likes to experiment with his hair.”

“I like when it looked like spiders legs.” Pete digs in his pocket, pushing up his hips until he can pull his phone free. Hitting buttons, he scrolls through some pages and then shows Mikey a picture of Gerard. “This one.”

“You’ve saved a photo of my brother?” Not that it’s something unusual, Mikey’s used to people being drawn to and wanting to know Gerard, he’s even taken photos for comic book fans who track Gerard down at award shows and signings, but that doesn’t feel like that kind of situation. Mouth curling up into a smile he says, “If you’re planning on kidnapping me and getting Gerard to pay a ransom, you’re supposed to have a photo of me, not him.”

Pete responds with a grin. “It could be a picture for my accomplice. He needs to know what Gerard looks like so he can deliver your ear.”

Mikey imagines his ear in his box, which is more likely to attract Gerard on an artistic level rather than any form of actual recognition. “I don’t know if he’d recognise my ear on it’s own. Maybe. To be sure you should go for something more recognisable. Like my nose.”

“Except you’d die if I chopped off your nose,” Pete says, and then stops and corrects himself. “Well, maybe. I supposed it depends on how much was chopped off. If it was the tip I guess you’d be okay, but the whole nose? How much blood would you lose then? More than an ear or a hand?”

Mikey considers, picturing each wound. “Head injuries tend to bleed more, but you wouldn’t really cut any important blood vessels with an ear or nose, so if you packed the wound quickly you’d probably survive. A hand though, you’d have to bind the arm tight and tie off the arteries, if you don’t do that you’re toast.”

“Probably why kidnappers usually deliver fingers in a box,” Pete says, wiggling his own fingers. “But if you did lose a hand you could have a sweet hook.”

“If you survived the blood loss and inevitable infection and gangrene,” “Mikey says. “But yeah, a hook would be good. Forget keying, if you were an asshole I’d hook your car.”

“I’d climb with mine, or cook with it. A marshmallow on the end of my hook and I’d be able to roast it right over the flame.” Pete grins, obviously loving that idea. Then his grin fades as he says, “But I’d have to have a special bass hook made, or else let someone else play and I’d just annoy the others on stage.”

Mikey shakes his head. “Fall Out Boy wouldn’t be the same without you. So no hooks for you, or for me. I need to be able to nurse patients, not accidently gut them with a hook.”

“You can’t be a slayer, you’re a savour.” Pete seems adamant about that, and he looks at the picture of Gerard one last time before putting away his phone. “If I didn’t find you at the hospital I was going to go look for your brother.”

“His agent would have passed on a message,” Mikey concedes, and in fact, it’s likely Pete could have eventually met Gerard in person, no doubt setting up a meeting via a network of contacts and friends. Shifting slightly, MIkey looks past the driver so he can see the meter, glad that he’s sitting down when he takes in the total, which already is into three figures. “Holy fuck, how long have you been waiting here?”

“A half hour or so,” Pete says, as if the total means nothing. “I wasn’t exactly sure when you finished your shift.”

Mikey tries to take it all in, that Pete’s apparently willing to spend so much money just to see Mikey, and more than that, go out alone when he’s still obviously not well. “You should be in bed resting, not hanging around to see me.”

“I left without saying goodbye,” Pete says, and takes off his sunglasses, twisting the arms between his fingers when he adds, quieter, “But if you don’t want to see me. . .”

“I do.” And Mikey does. He’s glad to see Pete now and enjoys how they can slip into conversation easily, but at the same time there's the issue that Pete shouldn’t be here. As much as Mikey does want to see him and spend time with Pete, it’s too soon for him to be up and about. It’s why Mikey says, “You need to go back to your hotel. Now.”

Slowly Pete nods. “You’ll come back with me?”

Mikey simply says, “Yes.”

~~~~

It doesn’t take long to get back to the hotel. While not obviously expensive, it’s a step up from the kind Mikey has stayed at, and he tries not to stare as he slowly crosses the lobby with Pete.

Mikey’s arm is bent, providing support, helping Pete keep his balance as they head for the elevator and then inside, Pete leaning against the mirrored wall as they go up for five floors. Pete seems to slow with each step that he takes down the carpeted hallway, and Mikey’s practically keeping Pete upright as he tries to swipe his keycard to get into his room.

“Let me,” Mikey says eventually, and takes the keycard, swiping it with one hand while keeping Pete up with the other.

“What the hell do you think you were doing?!” Mikey’s barely steered Pete into the room when Patrick jumps up from a chair and comes running, pulling up a few inches away. “You didn’t tell me you were going. You could have waited, we would have come with you.”

“I sent you a text,” Pete says, and stands straight, despite his tight grip on Mikey’s arm. “You were all busy with interviews, so I went alone. I told you I’d be fine.”

“Yeah, you look fine.” Patrick takes in a deep breath, and then turns and goes to the bed, pulling down the perfectly made covers with a hard tug. “You need to get in bed before you fall down.”

Pete flashes a grin, says, “He loves me really,” but Mikey can feel the way Pete’s starting to shake, exhaustion hitting him hard.

“I can tell.” It’s true, despite how harsh Patrick’s words seem, any anger is also combined with concern, the kind that’s born of affection and love. It’s something Mikey’s seen often at his job, when fear and loss of control manifests as anger directed at the patients. “He’s also right. You need to rest.”

“I’ve been resting forever,” but Pete’s making no attempt to resist as Mikey gently steers him to the bed and then helps him sit, before plucking off his hat and putting it off to one side.

Crouching over, Mikey pulls off Pete’s sneaker, the laces already loose and says over his shoulder. “Can you get his pain meds? Two tablets of the Oxycodone and a glass of water.” Pliant, Pete lets Mikey take off both of his sneakers and gets into bed, sitting forward as Mikey arranges pillows so Pete’s sitting propped up. Satisfied he’s comfortable, Mikey takes hold of Pete’s hand, fingers on the pulse of his wrist as he checks his watch and takes count. “A little fast, but you’ll live.”

“Told you.” Pete’s talking to Patrick, but despite his casual remark, Pete’s glad that Patrick is starting to relax, his anger visually draining away as he gets to help Pete, and, more importantly, see he’s okay.

“Take these.” Patrick sits on the side of the bed hands over two tablets, and then a glass of water, watching until Pete takes and swallows them both. Then, taking back the empty glass, he rests his free hand on Patrick’s leg, his touch lingering. “I’m going to find Joe and Andy, tell them you’re back. Mikey, are you staying?”

“I didn’t plan to,” Mikey says, checking the time. “I should get going. I have work tomorrow.”

“You can stay for a while.” Pete shuffles over on his nest of pillows, patting the bed at his side. “I only just found you.”

“I was never actually lost,” Mikey points out, already knowing that he’s staying, even if it’s only for ten minutes so he can be sure Pete is okay. “It can’t be long, though.”

“Great.” Pete smiles, bright and wide, barely wincing this time. “You still need to tell me what happened when Gerard met Gabe, and how Frank’s show went. It was last night, yeah?”

“Embarrassment happened, and Frank’s show went super great, but one of the amps blew,” Mikey says, one leg up on the bed and getting comfortable as Patrick mouths something at Pete that Mikey doesn’t catch. Whatever it is, it makes Pete roll his eyes before turning to Mikey, listening intently as Mikey finishes his story.

~*~*~*~

“I’m going to go crazy,” Pete says, and paces to the window again. “I’ve gone crazy. I need to get out.”

Andy looks up from his laptop. “My offer stands about meditation.”

For a moment Pete thinks about taking him up on the offer. While meditation isn’t really Pete’s thing, he’s ready to try anything at the moment. It feels like Pete’s body and mind are constantly fighting. Pete’s feeling mentally clearer day by day, but physically his body is lagging behind. It doesn’t help that Pete hasn’t been cleared to fly, leaving him frustrated and wanting to be anywhere but here.

“How about you take me to the movies instead?” It’s a long shot suggestion, especially as Pete’s head still hurts if he’s watching something too bright or too loud. Add in the fact that, even with a disguise, Pete would be recognised within minutes in a crowded public place, and it becomes an impossible suggestion -- but Pete’s willing to take the risk if it gets him out of this room.

“Not a good idea.” Andy shuts his laptop, giving Pete his full attention. “Why don’t you go visit MIkey? Have a change of location instead of him coming here every night.”

It’s something Pete hasn’t considered, especially since it feels like he’s being watched every moment by the others, each one making sure he doesn’t leave the hotel again. “Do you think he’d mind if I asked myself over?”

Andy stares a moment then laughs, says, “He was okay with you stalking him at his job and he comes here every night after working a full shift. I doubt he’ll care if you ask to see his apartment.”

“That makes it sound like I’m angling for something, and it’s not like that.” Pete sits on the chair that’s been left near the window, perching on the edge so he can look down to the sidewalk below. “He’s a friend.”

“Yeah, yeah. Your nurse friend who nursed you back to health and then stuck around,” Andy says, not even attempting to hide his amusement. “It’s a story of you, him and a stuffed Wookie. We all know how it goes.”

“Chewie’s got nothing to do with it,” Pete says, looking at the stuffed Wookie that’s still holding the taped-on light sabre Pete and Mikey created the night before. “I’m going to call him.”

Andy opens his laptop again. “Or you know, text, considering he might actually be busy saving lives.”

Without a word, Pete switches from calling to text, typing out a quick, ‘your place tonight? Change of venue.’ Then smiles when, within a few minutes he gets a text that simply says, ‘Y’.

~~~~

“I shouldn’t be long,” Mikey says, slowing his pace so Pete can keep up as they walk up the stairs to Gerard’s studio. “I just need to check that he’s actually okay.”

“It’s fine.” Hand gripping the bannister, Pete takes another step, trying not to show how much he’s winded. “Does he normally downplay injuries?”

“All the fucking time.” Mikey stops, waiting until Pete moves past and then places his hand on the small of Pete’s back, as if he’s worrying about Pete falling. “He’ll leave things until they’re serious, and he ends up knocked on his ass. If I check I can stop that from happening.”

“I do that, too,” Pete has to admit, remembering walking on broken bones and working through illnesses where he should have been tucked up in bed. “I hate being sick.”

“No shit.” Mikey grins, and takes another step. “And here I was thinking you kept your impatience for me.”

“You. Patrick, Andy, Joe, Gabe, my mom,” and truthfully, anyone around who’s healthy when Pete’s not feeling his best. “I just want to be better.”

“You will be.” Mikey curls his fingers slightly, patting Pete’s back. “A few weeks ago you were on a ventilator. You have to give it time.”

“So people keep saying.” Enough that each time Pete hears it he wants to tell them to shut up, even though despite his impatience, he knows he’s still nowhere near well. Like now, when a few flights of stairs have left him light-headed, and desperate to sit down.

“We’re nearly there.” Mikey looks closely at Pete, and then yells, “Gee. Open the door.”

A few moments, and a door on the next landing opens, and Mikey’s brother, someone Pete’s previously seen only in photos comes to stand at the top of the stairs. Just, this time he’s lost the spider hair and instead of a suit he’s wearing a paint-splattered hoodie and shorts so short they’re almost obscene.

“Mikey, hey.” Gerard grins and takes a step back when Mikey and Pete reach the landing. “You didn’t say you were bringing Pete Wentz to visit.”

“Just Pete is fine,” Pete manages to say, relieved when Mikey keeps walking, urging Pete inside the studio and to a chair that he quickly clears of clutter.

“Sit down,” Mikey says, watching as Pete sits. “Gerard, can you bring Pete a glass of water.”

If he was feeling better, Pete would feel bad that his first meeting with Gerard is like this, where Pete’s attempting to catch his breath as Mikey crouches at his side, no doubt monitoring his breathing.

“Here.” Suddenly, a glass is in Pete’s line of vision. Taking it, he tips the glass against his lips, being careful not to drink too much or too fast in case he throws up. Another swallow of water later,and Pete clutches the glass, looks up at Gerard and says, “Thanks.”

“You’re welcome.” Gerard smiles again, and as embarrassing as this first meeting could have been, Pete feels welcome, comfortable as Mikey stands and approaches Gerard.

“Show me.”

At first Gerard does nothing, just looks at Mikey as if he’s unsure what he’s asking. But at MIkey’s unflinching look, Gerard sighs and pulls at the sleeve of his hoodie, exposing a white bandage wrapped just above his wrist. “I ran it under cold water for twenty minutes and then used a bandage out of the kit. With antiseptic ointment, not butter this time.”

“Good.” Mikey steps closer, gently unwrapping the bandage and inspecting the reddened and blistered skin underneath. “It’s not infected, but keep an eye on it. Call me if the redness spreads. And for fuck’s sake. Stop microwaving your coffee to molten temperatures. The last thing I need is for you to get an infected burn and turn into some kind of zombie.”

“It got cold.” Patient, Gerard waits as Mikey rewraps the bandage, being careful only to touch the outsides. “And being a zombie isn’t that bad. No need to buy food and I’d look good with gray skin.”

“You say that now,” Mikey says, efficiently using tape to fasten the bandage. “But wait until you’re eating dogs for dinner and expecting me to sew your hands back on.”

“I know, I know,” Gerard says, keeping his arm still. “Don’t come running to you if my feet rot off.”

“Exactly.” Mikey grins at Gerard, all traces of professional nurse pushed aside as he adds, “But fuck yeah, zombies are cool. Just don’t be trying to eat my brains when you contract your flesh-eating zombie infection.”

“I won’t,” Gerard says, serious, like it’s an actual promise he intends to keep. “But, you really didn’t have to come check. I said I was okay.”

Mikey pulls down Gerard’s sleeve. “You said you were okay when you blew out your knee and ended up walking with a stick for months. So yes, I had to check.”

“I guess.” Gerard shrugs off the comment, pulling Mikey into a quick hug as he kisses his cheek and then turns his attention to Pete. “Hi, I’m Gerard. Mikey’s brother.”

“Pain in the ass brother,” Mikey mutters, wandering off toward a huge messy desk that’s close to the window. “Have you finished that panel?”

“Yeah, it’s on the board, see what you think,” Gerard says, then sits on the coffee table that’s in front of Pete’s chair. “I show Mikey all of the panels, he’s my sounding board and muse.”

“Which means I get to listen as he talks out his new ideas,” Mikey says, hands braced on the desk as he bends over, looking at something Pete can’t see. “These are fucking great. Another best seller for sure.”

“He always says that,” Gerard says, but sounds pleased, as if Mikey’s opinion is something that really matters. “I don’t know if Mikey told you, but I’m bringing out a new comic book soon.”

“He’s told me.” In fact, Mikey’s talked about Gerard and his comic books at length. They’re stories that Pete enjoys hearing, especially as each one shows clearly how much Mikey loves and admires his brother. There’s also the fact that Mikey talking about Gerard’s comic book is one of the few things Pete can sort-of remember from when he was in hospital, one fuzzy memory in a sea of what was otherwise blank time.”It was one of the first things he told me at the hospital.”

“Yeah?” Gerard reaches out, touching Pete’s knee. “How are you feeling? You’re still looking a bit battered.”

As comments go it’s an understatement, Pete’s face turning into a riot of colourful bruising and while the bandaging on his head has been reduced again, he’s under no illusion it actually looks good. “I’ve felt better. But at least I’m not dead.”

Solemn, Gerard sits forward and pats Pete’s knee again, as if resisting the urge to go in for a hug. “Not dead is good,” Gerard says, and then jumps to his feet, indicating behind him. “Do you want to see the panels? Just don’t tell anyone. My manager would shit a brick if he knew I was showing someone but Mikey.”

“As long as it’s okay.” Pete stands, feeling better now he’s rested, even if it’s just for a short while. “I looked up your work,” and bought every comic book Gerard’s created, not that Pete’s about to admit that, or that he’s memorised Gerard’s dedications to Mikey in the front of each one. “Your early stuff was brutal.”

“I was angry back then,” Gerard says, and then, “And really fucking loved creatures of the night. I still do.”

“I can see that.” Pete stands next to Mikey, close enough to touch as they look down at the comic book panels mounted on large board. “Is that a goblin?”

“Ha.” Gerard claps his hands, looking delighted. “I told Brian people would recognise the goblin. Fuck him and it needing to be more obvious.”

To Pete there’s no way the thing he’s looking at could be anything but a goblin, but Mikey’s eyes are narrowed as he stares at the panel. “It wouldn’t hurt to stress some goblin characteristics. Pete recognised it, but he’s a horror and fantasy geek, too.”

Gerard frowns and picks up a pencil. “I suppose. If you’re staying order some pizza. I’m going to try something with this.”

“Which means he’ll be changing things for hours,” Mikey says. Straightening, he stretches his neck to both sides, laughing when Pete grimaces at each crack. “I’ll order pizza, but we don’t have to stay here. We can still go back to my place.”

Pete looks around the studio, wanting to investigate and look around, to drink in new things he hasn’t seen a thousand times before. Plus, there’s also the issue of his limited stamina, which isn’t a problem right now, but could be by the time he gets to Mikey’s. “We can go to your apartment next time.”

“We can,” Mikey agrees, and smiles.

~*~*~*~

Mikey’s getting used to seeing Pete every night. In the last five days they’ve visited Mikey’s apartment and Gerard’s studio and spent a lot of time in Pete’s hotel room, working their way through a list of movies. As schedules go it’s one that’s jam packed, and apart from Gerard, Mikey’s seen none of his friends, never mind having a moment to kick back alone. Not that he cares. The more time Mikey spends with Pete, the more Mikey likes him, and the thought of him leaving is unsettling.

But Pete has to. Already he’s physically much better, his strength building up and the visible damage starting to fade. Soon Pete will be cleared to fly, and that means him going back home, to recuperate for a bit longer before throwing himself back into the business. Mikey will miss him, he already knows that.

Thankful they’ll have some contact at least, even if it’s not in person, Mikey heads to the bathroom during his break, checking his phone on his way back to the unit. Unsurprised, he sees multiple messages from Pete. Most are the usual kind he sends daily, links to YouTube clips and songs he thinks Mikey should hear. Except for the last, that appears while Mikey is still reading about a windsurfing dog. Opening the text, Mikey reads, ‘look up’.

Surprised, Mikey does so, smiling when he sees Pete standing at the end of the hallway, near the door of the ICU. He’s surrounded by Andy, Patrick and Joe, and someone Mikey recognises as being part of Fall Out Boy’s management, while the publicist for the hospital stands off to one side.

Phone put away in his pocket, Mikey hurries up to the group, and is immediately pulled into a series of hugs starting with Pete and ending with Joe. Stepping back, Mikey looks toward Pete. “You didn’t say you were coming to visit.”

“Just saw the doctor,” Pete says, his hand going up to his face. “All healing nicely. My eye’s not about to pop out from my head.”

“Nice to know,” Mikey says, but suspects there’s more to this visit, unless Pete’s started to take an entourage to appointments. Which wouldn’t be unheard of, except this is Pete, and while previously Mikey’s seen him in the media with friends, that doesn’t extend to going out with management, too.

Seeing Mikey’s confusion, Andy says, “We’ve been delivering gifts. We wanted to say thank you to the people who work in the hospital. We’ll be doing more later, but this will do for now.”

Mikey looks past the group to the waiting room behind them, his eyes widening as he takes in the huge-ass flat screen TV that’s set up in a corner, while state-of-the-art speakers are positioned around the room, alongside an elaborate stereo system that Mikey itches to touch. Resisting the urge to swear in surprise, he says, "It looks like you’ve raided the entertainment aisles at Sears.”

“And the sofa section,” Joe says, miming a wince as he rubs at his back. “I still haven’t recovered from sleeping on the old ones.”

“There’s stuff for the staff, too. Including a new coffee machine.” Patrick grins as he picks up a bag and takes out an oversized mug. One with ‘ICU nurses do it with TLC’ printed over the front. “It’s not much, but we wanted you to have something for yourself, and we know you like music and coffee.”

“I love it,” Mikey says, smiling when he takes the mug, which maybe isn’t a state of the art entertainment center, but means just as much. “Thank you.”

“You should have a thousand mugs,” Andy says gruffly, and goes in for another lightning fast hug before walking away. Confused, Mikey clutches his mug as everyone but Pete follows, leaving Pete and Mikey alone.

“I got your something, too.” Pete looks at the ground, scuffing his foot against the tiled floor. “It’s stupid and if you want you can give it to the kid’s ward or something. But, I just thought. I know you like my Wookie and I called Gabe and told him and got one made and Chewie had Han’s back always, keeping him safe and having adventures and they were best friends and fuck.... here.” Pete pulls a small stuffed Wookie from out of his hoodie pocket and almost throws it at Mikey. “You don’t have to....”

“It’s perfect,” Mikey cuts Pete off. And it is, every detail correct and the fur so soft Mikey can’t stop touching. But more than that, it’s the meaning behind the gift that counts most and Mikey says, “Are you saying I’m a Wookie?”

Pete shakes his head and looks directly at Mikey. “I’m saying I’m Han and you’re Chewbacca, and I’d trust you with my back always.”

And as answers go, it’s enough. More than enough.

~*~*~*~

It’s been a long time since Pete’s been able to go further than the hospital, Gerard’s studio or Mikey’s apartment. It’s why he’s so antsy now, barely able to stand still as he looks in the mirror, checking how he looks once again.

“You’re only going to a bar with Mikey and his friends,” Patrick says, from where he’s sitting on the bed, rolling his eyes at every outfit Pete tries on. “Are you sure you don’t want us to come? Or security?”

“Mikey says there’s a place no one will see me.” Plus, there’s the fact that it’s more likely Pete would attract attention if he goes along with the rest of his band or a security guard following behind. This way he gets to spend time with Mikey, get out of the hotel and also meet new people. It’s win-win as far as Pete is concerned.

“Text when you get there, or if you need something,” Patrick says, frowning at Pete. “I mean it. And if you stay the night at Mikey’s, text me then, too.”

“I will. Promise.” Pete deliberately stresses the promise, knowing that despite how Patrick’s teasing about Pete’s clothes and gruff with his instructions, he’s really worried about Pete going out. “I’m not planning to, though. But I guess I could. Friends crash over, right.”

“Pete...” Patrick stops talking, and takes in a deep breath before saying. “I know I told you never to discuss your sex life with me again. But you nearly died. If you want something with Mikey, go for it.”

“You’re giving me permission to seduce my hot nurse?” Pete asks, teasing for all of moment, before his own doubts press forward. “I don’t even know if he wants that. I don’t know if I want that. I’ll be going home soon.”

Patrick rubs at the bridge of his nose, as if physically pained. “Cars and planes exist for a reason, and didn’t you give him your Wookie love token?”

“It’s not a Wookie love token,” Pete says, reminding himself to send Gabe another email protesting the label he attached to the box, one that’s had Pete’s band fondly mocking for days. “And he hasn’t said anything about it. Just sits there, all hot and funny and kind, with those eyes, and I want to write a million songs about him and have you sing every one.”

Patrick considers, then says, “How about we start with one, and the condition that I’m not going to sing about nurse sex.”

“Deal.” Pete moves away from the mirror before being hit with the compulsion to change his hoodie yet again. Sitting on the bed next to Patrick, Pete checks his watch and looks at the back of his hand, the marks left by the cannulas barely more than a faint line. “I haven’t known him that long. What if I say something and he doesn’t want me like that? Or he does and it’s a disaster?”

“Then at least you’ve tried.” Patrick brings up his hand, touching Pete’s cheek. “Don’t over analyze this, Pete. Trust your gut instinct.”

“And if it goes wrong?” Pete has to ask, verbalising doubts he picks over in the dead of the night.

“Then we’ll deal,” Patrick says, and then, “Like we do always.”

~~~~

Between Patrick and Mikey’s arrangements, there’s no way Pete isn’t going to get to the club safely, even if he is travelling alone. As soon as the cab pulls to a stop, Mikey’s stepping forward from where he’s been waiting near the entrance, and Pete’s glad that he’s made an effort to look good.

“You look. Wow.” Pete pays the driver and gets out of the cab, his attention held by Mikey. While Pete’s mostly used to seeing him in scrubs, this isn’t the first time Pete’s seen Mikey in casual clothes -- but he’s never seen him like this. Eyes faintly lined in black and hair artfully messy, Pete can easily see Mikey’s scenester past, and the fact that he’s as comfortable in this environment as he is at the hospital.

“I hope that’s a good wow,” Mikey says, touching Pete’s arm as if wanting to steady him, even if Pete’s walking fine on his own. “I like your hat.”

Pete flicks the rim of his ballcap, glad that it’s both helping hide his face and conceal his hair and stitches. “I was going to wear a bandana, but didn’t know if you’d want to be seen with a pirate.”

“I’d want to be seen with you however you looked,” Mikey says, ushering Pete inside and nodding at the door staff as he does so. “You should wear it next time we go out.”

“I will,” Pete promises, unable to stop his grin at Mikey’s casual comment about a next time. “I should buy a patch for my eye, too.”

“That would be badass,” Mikey agrees, slowing slightly as they approach the doors to the main club. “I know you feel better now, but if you need to leave, tell me, we’ll take off. And whatever my friends say, ignore them. They’re idiots.”

“All the best friends are idiots.” That’s something Pete’s been sure of for a long time. The kinds of idiots that mock endlessly, say embarrassing things, but are there for you always.”Wait until you meet Gabe.”

“Already have, remember,” Mikey says, and Pete’s about to comment when Mikey places his hand in Pete’s, curling their fingers together as they walk into the club and head for the other side of the room. “Bob claimed the booth earlier. It’s private and away from the speakers.”

Pete tells himself Mikey’s only holding on so they won’t be separated, but despite that, he loves the feel of Mikey’s hand in his own as the skirt the tiny dance floor and approach a booth at the back of the club.

“Hey, I found Pete.” Mikey’s still holding on, and Pete can’t help being relieved. While he’s got no issues meeting new people, being stared at by Mikey’s friends is unnerving.

“Pete, hi.” Gerard stands, standing awkwardly between table and chair as he looks over at Pete. “I’m glad you could come. This is Ray, Jamia, Frank and Bob.”

Gerard’s introduction is quick fire, Pete barely having time to take the names in, but he’s spent weeks listening to Mikey’s stories, enough that it’s easy enough to match mental pictures to the people in front of him now.

“Hey.” Pete looks at Frank, says, “How did your show go last night?” And then to Ray, who’s stood up to let Pete sit down. “Did you find out who threw the tomato through your window?”

“I see Mikey’s been telling stories,” Ray says, seemingly unconcerned that Mikey’s been doing just that. “No one’s confessed yet. At least it hit the wall and not me.”

“Getting hit by a thrown tomato hurts.” That’s something Pete knows well, from food fights and being in shows where the audience hated his band from the start. Sitting, Pete flexes his fingers when Mikey lets go, already missing the warmth of his hand. “Music haters, they suck.”

“I’ve told him to put on a show next time,” Bob says from where he’s sitting at the end of the booth, his smile widening as Ray shakes his head. “A bare chest and leather pants, doing a guitar solo at his open window. They’ll be throwing money not fruit.”

“Tomatoes are a vegetable not a fruit,” Frank puts in, leaning forward so he can see Bob better. “But yeah, you should do that. Show those fuckers what they’re missing.”

“They’re both, a veggiefruit, and I don’t want to be thrown out of my appartment,” Ray says, sounding patient, despite Pete’s suspicion this is a conversation that’s happened many times before. “Plus, I don’t have any leather pants.”

“I do.” His face scrunched, Gerard excitedly points at Mikey over the table, barely missing a full glass of water. “Remember, I wore them at art school. They should still be in my room in the basement.”

“Those things were falling apart back then,” Mikey says, taking a seat next to Pete. “Ray needs something form fitting.”

“He does,” Jamia agrees, grinning at Ray. “That ass needs to be shown off, don’t you agree, Pete?”

For a moment Pete’s unsure of how to reply. While it feels like he knows all of Mikey’s friends, the reality is, he doesn’t know them at all. For all he knows a comment about Ray’s ass would be seen as a bad thing -- but at the same time, Pete’s sure that it won’t. “I don’t know. I think I need to see it to be sure.”

Obviously it’s the right thing to say. With everyone laughing, Ray turns and bends slightly, sticking out his ass and giving it a wiggle as he looks over his shoulder at Pete. “What’s the verdict?”

Pete grins, says, “New pants for sure. The tighter the better.”

~~~~~~

“You should stay, I can go back to the hotel alone.” Pete huddles into his hoodie, hating that he’s the cause of Mikey having to leave the bar and his friends so early. “I’ll text someone, they’ll meet me out of a cab if you’re worried.”

Mikey moves so he’s sheltering Pete with his body. “Or you could just come back to mine like we said.”

Miserable, Pete leans against the wall, trying to ride out the headache that makes his head pound. “You were having a good time.”

“Yeah, with you,” Mikey says, and moves even closer, so his whole body is pressed against Pete’s. “I was out with you. I’m not going to change that because you don’t feel well.”

“I feel better now.” Pete does, compared to before when everything was suddenly too much, too loud, too bright, the bass vibrations hurting Pete’s chest. He does feel better, but it’s not enough to go back in. “Your friends are going to think that I’m lame.”

“My friends like you,” Mikey says, hesitating a moment before he curls his hand against Pete’s side and adds, “But not as much as I do.”

“Yeah?” Pete wants to laugh, or smile, or dance a jig on the sidewalk. He wants to ask, are you sure? is this too fast? what am I doing? But none of that matters when Mikey’s right there, waiting for some sign, which Pete is going to give. Pushing himself up on his tiptoes, he says, “I like you, too.”

“Good,” Mikey says, “Then you won’t mind if I do this.”

For the first moment being kissed by Mikey feels awkward. It’s been a while since Pete’s been with a guy, and the scrape of Mikey’s stubble is surprising at first, until it isn’t at all. Within seconds, awkwardness flows into something that feels right, feels perfect as Mikey presses his mouth against Pete’s. His eyes closing, Pete opens his mouth slightly, feeling Mikey’s tongue as he licks and explores, making Pete shiver.

It’s a feeling Pete loves, because for the first time in a long while, Pete’s body is reacting with pleasure, not pain, and he wants to press harder against Mikey, holding on until nothing else matters. Except Mikey’s pulling back slightly, his hands on Pete’s waist as he says, “Not here. Someone could see.”

Pete wants to say he doesn’t care, that people can see if they want, that this new thing with Mikey isn’t something to hide -- but he can’t. Pete needs to think of his band, and that, as much as it hurts to stop now, being recognised making out outside of a club isn’t the best thing to happen.

Reluctantly, Pete says, “Your place?” and moves in for a last kiss, something gentler this time, Pete cupping his hand around Mikey’s face.

Mikey smiles slightly, says, “Stay here,” then walks to the roadside and whistles, waving down the next cab.

~~~~

Sleep has never been Pete’s friend, and now, after the accident, that hasn’t changed. Frustrated, Pete lies still, hating that he’s wide awake now, even though he napped during the day. It makes no sense, Pete’s body is exhausted, he can tell that, every healing injury making itself known, but sleep is elusive.

Wide awake, Pete matches his breathing to Mikey’s, unable to resist reaching out and touching his bare arm.

“Pete?” In the darkness, Mikey’s face is shadowed, but Pete can see enough to make out the way Mikey’s eyes are open, how he looks concerned as he turns onto his side. “Are you feeling okay?”

“Just a headache,” Pete says, but reaches out, stopping Mikey from moving when it looks like he’s going to sit up. “No, stay here. I don’t need any meds.”

Mikey waits a moment, and then settles back down, moving so he’s close to Pete. “You want to watch some more movies? I’ve got more.”

It’s a tempting suggestion, Mikey’s movie collection one Pete admires and wants to work his way through. But now that Mikey’s awake, all Pete wants to do is lie here and drink in this new feeling. He wants to touch Mikey, and learn the parts of him that he usually keeps covered. Rest his head on Mikey’s chest and hear his the beat of his heart, to kiss along Mikey’s collarbone, up his neck to his mouth.

Giving into that impulse, Pete rolls, positioning himself so he’s lying against Mikey, so close he can feel every breath as Mikey rests his arm on Pete’s chest, keeping him steady.

Content, and feeling safe, Pete lets his mind drift, remembering the last few weeks and then, suddenly asks, “In the hospital. You said you knew I hadn’t tried to commit suicide. Was that a nurse compassion thing, or did you mean it?”

They’re not questions Pete meant to ask, but now, he can’t help remembering the times Mikey did state he believed the crash was an accident, and how, after that first time, always seemed to find some vital job to stay close when Pete was visited by the psychiatrist.

For a long time, Mikey doesn’t reply, and Pete thinks he’s asked something he shouldn’t, but then, Mikey says, “It was a gut instinct. Stupid, because that’s not how my job works, but I knew about your history from the internet and Ray had told me about your last show, and suicide didn’t seem to fit right then.” Mikey sighs, something Pete feels as well as hears. “I should have known better. I know it’s possible to do your job and look okay when inside you’re wanting to die. But I guess. I believed you.”

Pete’s glad that he did. Even if that belief was one based on gut feelings. Except, now that Mikey’s answered that, it’s leading to more questions, ones that Pete isn’t sure he has the right to ask.

“Go on, you can ask,” Mikey says, his hand warm where it’s resting against Pete’s chest. “And no, not psychic, just good at interpreting body language.”

“Of course you’d say that.” Pete leads in with a joke, trying to work out what he wants to say. Over the last few weeks he’s gotten to know Mikey first, in a professional setting, then as friends, and now, where Pete’s still finding his footing in their relationship. Right now, it feels like he’s about to take a next step, moving from questions about favourite foods and movies to the personal, and Pete realises, he wants to know everything about Mikey, good, bad and in-between. “About wanting to die. It sounds like you’ve been there.”

“I have.” Mikey answers without hesitation, and then adds. “It was a long time ago. I had a breakdown after keeping things bottled up. When all those repressed emotions exploded it wasn’t pretty.”

Pete holds onto Mikey, riding the urge to pointlessly jump to his feet and try and fight the memory of every person who’d caused Mikey pain in the past. “Is that why you hate the psych team? You always looked like you wanted to punch Dr Keeke”

“Because he’s an ass who doesn’t listen to the patients,” Mikey says, tensing up as he adds. “Therapy is great, but it’s not one size to fit all, and Dr Keeke doesn’t get that. You needed to be with your friends and family, not locked away.”

“And you?” Pete asks, turning the subject back to Mikey.

“I needed the same.” Mikey waits a moment, his breathing even as he says, “It was a gut feeling that you hadn’t attempted suicide, but one based on being at that point myself. I held on, got through it, and I saw that in your too. Stupid, maybe, but....”

“No, not stupid.” Pete pushes himself up on one elbow, so he’s looking down at Mikey, who’s looking right back. “It wasn’t stupid at all.”

There’s a thousand other things Pete could say. Thank you for being there. For seeing me for who I am. For fighting in my corner. But none of that matters. What does is the fact that Mikey’s here now, ready and waiting, his mouth curling up into a smile as Pete moves in for a kiss.

 

~*~*~*~

Pete’s got an idea stuck in his head and he can’t stop thinking about it. He barges into Patrick’s room without knocking and says, “I’ve been thinking.”

“Again?” Patrick looks up from where he’s sitting on the bed, his laptop on his lap, sighing when Pete makes no attempt to continue, just throws himself onto the bed so he’s sitting next to Patrick. “If you’ve been thinking about Mikey again, I told you, my advice was a one-time thing.”

Pete waves his hand in dismissal. “No, it’s not about that. Well, it's sort of about him, but not all about him.”

“You’re talking in riddles,” Patrick says, his mouth curving into a smile. “I’ve missed it.”

“You say that now.” Pete bumps his shoulder against Patrick’s and leans in, trusting Patrick to keep him propped up. “Andy and Joe are coming, I’ll tell you my idea then.”

Patrick looks down at Pete. “You texted them? Why didn’t I get a warning. I could have been doing something in private.”

“You arranged for adjoining rooms,” Pete says, laughing at Patrick’s huff of protest. “And you wouldn’t have been doing anything I haven’t seen before.”

“Not going there.” Patrick shuts his laptop and sets it to one side when Joe and Andy enter through the door to Pete’s room. “I hear you’ve been summoned.”

Andy grabs a chair, pulling it close to the bed. “Apparently Pete’s been thinking.”

“And he has an idea,” Joe finishes, sitting on the stool in front of the desk. “So, we’re here. What’s your idea?”

Pete looks around all of his friends, and says, “I want to put on a concert. Next week.” No one speaks and Pete can understand why. Putting on a concert in such a short amount of time is insane, but Pete knows it’s something they can do -- what they have to do. “I know it’s crazy doing it at short notice. But I’ve been cleared for travel and I’m sure you’re all ready to go home, but I think we have to do this. For the kids and the hospital, I was thinking we could make it all donation, and I’d make the arrangements, get everything....”

“No,” Patrick cuts in, sounding adamant, and Pete’s stomach sinks. This is a concert that needs to happen, and Pete was sure his friends would agree.

“I’ll do all the prep, I don’t mind.”

“No,” Patrick says again, but softer this time. “No, you’re not making the arrangements. We are. All of us. Like it’s supposed to be.”

“Fuck yeah, we are,” Joe agrees, frowning at Pete. “You don’t get to do this alone. Not when we’re here to help.”

“We do it together,” Andy says, fierce, as if daring Pete to disagree. “We can call it the ‘You can’t keep a good Wentz down’, show.”

“Or the ‘Pete nearly died and all we got was this stupid show’ show.” Joe says.

Patrick thinks a moment and then says, “Or ‘My Harlequin romance, the when nurses and musicians meet’ show.”

“I hate you all,” and Pete does, every single one of his stupid, loyal, amazing friends. “But I’ve already got a name.”

“Yeah?” Patrick asks. “Are you going to share?”

Pete is, but first he turns the title over in his mind again, ensuring it still feels right, and it does. Simple and uncomplicated, and he says, “It’s called, ‘The Phoenix’”

 

~*~*~*~

 

It’s been a long time since Mikey’s walked up to security and said, “Mikey Way. My name’s on the list.”

It feels like in some ways he’s slipped back in time. When his image meant everything and he spent all his spare time going to a succession of seedy bars and clubs that looked the other way when it came to his age. Except instead of being too young and projecting an image to get into those clubs, now Mikey’s sure of himself, and more importantly, he’s here with his friends -- good friends, the kind that want Mikey for himself and not what he can do for them.

Secure in that knowledge, Mikey feels content with the world, relaxed at this moment despite the nerves that remain hidden under the surface.

“When I see Patrick I’m going to tell him he’s a messy fucker,” Bob says, holding out his hand as the security guard pulls out a handful of bright pink wrist-bands and fastens one around Bob’s wrist. “And that he owes me twenty bucks.”

“Does he?” Frank asks, getting his own band fastened. “Because if you’re making it up. You should at least go for a hundred.”

“Or you could say it’s good to see him, and thank him for the tickets to the show,” Ray says, following Bob and Frank into the venue, all three waiting in a group as Mikey and Gerard are given their bands.

“Except he gave them to Mikey, not me,” Bob says, and then, at Ray’s pointed look. “Fine, I won’t shake down the successful musician for money.”

About to comment, Mikey stays quiet when a woman appears from a side room and hurries directly to Mikey, a bundle of all access passes held in her hand. She’s someone Mikey’s seen before, part of Fall Out Boy’s management, but as much as he tries, Mikey can’t remember her name. Relying on the trick he normally reserves for former patients who recognise him in the street, Mikey goes for the vague friendly greeting and says, “Hi. How are you doing?”

The woman smiles, the passes tangling together as she moves in for an impulsive, tight hug. “I’m doing great. Pete’s doing great, you should see him. He’s buzzing for the show,” and then, pulling back. “I’m sorry, it’s just, Pete said how you’re such a great nurse. After his accident none of us were sure if he’d ever perform again. Hell, if he’d even survive. You saved him.”

Aware that the others are watching, Mikey has to correct what she’s saying, because no way can he take all the credit for saving Pete’s life. “All I did was my job. It was the doctors who saved him, and Pete himself. He never gave up.”

“He’s always talking about you,” the woman -- Lucy, now Mikey can see it written on her own pass -- says, unwilling to let Mikey push aside all of the praise. “Everyone’s looking forward to meeting you. From the way Pete talks you hung the moon not once, but daily.”

In another situation Mikey would say that doesn’t make sense, but right now he’s too taken aback to do anything more than just smile, taking one of the all access passes Lucy hands out. “Thanks.”

Lucy smiles in return, her hand on Mikey’s arm as she starts to steer him along the hallway. “You could go backstage now if you want. But I’d advise you to take your places for the show. There’s no support act so they’re about to come out soon, and Pete was adamant you get a good spot to see them perform.”

“We can do that,” Mikey says, even if it does mean he won’t get to see Pete until later. In a way maybe it’s a good thing, Mikey still unsure just what Pete was trying to say the last time he saw him.

The sound of the audience is apparent as they follow Lucy up a short flight of stairs, passing another security guard who opens a door when he sees all of their passes.

Lucy steps to one side, says, “Sit anywhere. This is a private area for family and friends only.”

A flurry of thanks, and Lucy leaves with a last smile as Mikey follows the others, and finds himself on a small balcony, the seats plush red velvet and with a perfect view of the stage. Already Frank is making his way to the front row, Ray hurrying to grab hold of Frank’s belt when he leans over the railing and looks down at the audience below.

Gerard grabs Mikey’s wrist before he can follow Ray and Frank. “Are you okay?”

For a moment Mikey thinks about hedging, but there’s no point. Gerard already knows how Mikey feels, and no doubt is picking up on his nerves now. “Mostly. Just. I don’t know what this is,” Mikey admits. He looks behind him and sits on the edge of one of the flipped up seats, lowering it down with his body. Sitting, he stares forward, barely seeing the stage where crew members are setting up mics. “I know he likes spending time with me, and I like him. But we’re so different. It can’t go any further than that.”

Gerard sits, close so his knees are pressed against Mikey’s. “Sure you’re different. You both love what you do. You both love music. Have in-jokes already and like the same movies and TV shows. Hell, you even like each other’s friends. You couldn’t be more different.”

“Except, I live here and Pete travels the world.” It’s a big sticking point Mikey always comes back to, one of many that suggest this thing with Pete -- whatever this thing actually is -- can be nothing but a friendship and brief fling. “I’m not going to be one of his ports in a storm, and anyway, I don’t even know how he feels. The other night could have been him scratching an itch and I just happened to be there.”

“Fuck scratching an itch,” Gerard says, so loud that Ray looks behind him with a questioning look. “He’s not scratching anything with you. If. . .” Gerard shakes his head when Mikey tries to cut in. “No, I’m not saying that scratching an itch would be wrong if that’s what actually happened. I’m not policing your sex life, but it’s more than that. I can tell.”

“A lot of patients fall for their nurses. That doesn’t mean that it’s real. I was there when Pete needed someone the most,” Mikey says, and at Gerard’s eye roll. “It’s a real thing. Documented and everything.”

“I document werewolves and evil creatures from hell, that doesn’t mean those are real,” Gerard says. Pulling in a long breath, he leans back in his chair, his arm brushing against Mikey’s. “Give yourself this chance, Mikey. I know you love your job and that’s fucking fantastic, but you don’t have to worry about supporting us now. Take a vacation. Go and have fun with Pete without worrying about your patients or me.”

That’s something that’s never going to happen. Even if Mikey’s worries about Gerard are smaller now -- more along the lines of worrying that Gerard’s been eating while in an artistic burst, rather than the fear that Gerard’s stopped functioning completely -- they’re still there. Plus, Gerard seems to be forgetting one big issue. “I still don’t know how Pete feels.”

“I do,” Gerard says, and stands. “Come on, they’ll be starting soon. You don’t want to miss the beginning.”

And he’s right. Mikey doesn’t. Or more truthfully, he doesn’t want to miss any moment of Pete.

~*~*~*~

Adrenalin surging, Pete’s unable to stand still. Pacing the dressing room, he wants to jump or run in fast circles, anything that will bleed off some energy as they wait to head for the stage. If the last few days have been the build up, right now it’s seconds from the explosion, Pete showing the world that he’s okay, that he’s bounced back and is ready to throw himself back into the world of music again.

At least to an extent. As much as Pete feels better, he’s not there completely. That’s something that’s easy to forget until Pete looks in a mirror and sees the scars that are still raised and red, or when a headache hits, sudden and brutal, when Pete’s pushed himself too fast and too far.

It’s why Pete’s watched at all times, and he’s getting used to being told to lie down, or to take a few minutes to chill out. It’s something he wants to protest, except each time his friends are saying the right thing, when Pete needs the downtime, even if his mind doesn’t agree.

“Remember, if you try to stage dive I will kill you,” Patrick says sternly, as he looks over at Pete. It’s a warning that Pete’s heard multiple times now, but he can’t be resentful, that’s impossible when he knows Patrick says it because he cares.

“If he tries to stage dive I’ll take him down myself.” Joe’s brow is furrowed as he stands in front of Pete and takes hold of his shoulders. “You hear me? If you go near the edge I’ll be one step behind.”

Pete brings up his hands, and then, impulsively, kisses Joe on both cheeks. “I’m not going to stage dive. Promise. I’ll go out, I’ll sing a bit and talk bullshit about my scar head....”

“You’ll make googly eyes at Mikey,” Andy puts in as he draws a shape of a heart in the air with his drumsticks.

“I’m not going to make googly eyes.” That’s something Pete does know. As much as he wants to see Mikey watching -- as much as he needs to see him watching -- Pete’s not doing this show just for Mikey. Part of it, sure, Pete wants to look up and know Mikey is watching, but mostly it’s for Pete and his band, for the fans who’ve always supported Pete.

“So you’re not looking forward to see him?” Patrick says, leaning in close to Pete. “Because the constant talk about him you’ve been doing suggests otherwise.”

“I like him,” Pete says, ignoring the way Joe rolls his eyes and Andy mutters, ‘no shit’. “I think we could have something good. If he wants that.”

“You mean you still haven’t talked about that? You’ve been together nearly every night. What the hell have you been doing?” Patrick says, and the hurries to add. “No, don’t answer that. I don’t want to know. But you have to say something.”

That’s something Pete already knows, but somehow, the words haven’t been there. Everything has happened so fast, and sometimes, Pete wonders if it’s happened too fast. But at the same time, Pete’s spent his whole life acting on instincts, and yeah, sometimes they’ve steered him wrong, but mostly, things have gone right. It’s why, despite only knowing Mikey a short time, it’s something that feels right.

Pete promises himself he’ll talk to Mikey soon, a real talk where he’ll share all of his feelings and hope Mikey feels the same. But that’s a talk for later. Right now, Pete’s got a show to do with three of his best friends. Looking at his watch he says, “Two minutes.”

Instantly, Joe and Andy move close so they’re standing next to Patrick and Pete. As one, everyone moves in for a hug, something that’s usual for pre-show, but right now it feels extra special. Where no words are needed, just Pete held close by his friends. Ones that have been there through good times and bad, and never once turned around and said, enough.

They’re Pete’s support, his heart, and he knows they get it when he simply says, “Thank you.”

~*~*~*~

Fall Out Boy come on stage without any fanfare.

One minute the stage is empty, and the next all four are there, caught in a spotlight. Instantly Mikey jumps to his feet, Gerard, Ray, Frank and Bob doing the same as the already noisy crowd amps up the volume. Their screams intensifying as, instead of taking their usual places as normal, Andy, Pete, Patrick and Joe walk close to the front of the stage and link hands, holding them up in air. It’s a show of unity, the band drinking in the love of the audience, but Mikey’s attention is solely on Pete.

He’s got a bandana wrapped around his head, and looks fantastic, no trace of bruising apparent and grinning so wide his face has to hurt. It’s a grin Mikey can’t help returning, his own arms in the air as he yells out a greeting, uncaring that none of them will be able to hear.

Finally, all four drop their hands and Patrick moves to the mic as Andy goes to his drumkit and Pete and Joe are handed their instruments. A quick look around, and Patrick says, “Thanks for coming, this is Thriller.”

It’s all the intro that’s given, but that doesn’t matter. This concert is about the music, and about Pete showing he’s okay as he takes over the whole stage, stalking Patrick and leaning his head on his shoulder. It’s about Pete standing on Andy’s drum riser, both fists pumping the air between songs. It’s about Pete clinging onto Joe from behind, trying to play his guitar and failing.

It’s about Pete showing he’s alive.

What he doesn’t do is speak at length, just some banter with Patrick or introducing a song. That is, until close to the end of the concert, where his hoodie soaked through with sweat and his bandana clinging to his head. Wiping at his face with his arm, Pete twists his bass so it’s lying against his back, and then goes to stand next to Patrick, waiting until the screams of the crowd have died down.

“As you all know I had an accident recently, and that’s why I’m here. To show that I’m fine. I’m okay.” Instantly the screams start again, and Pete looks into the audience, his expression serious, as if he’s wanting to tell each individual what their support mean. “I’m also here to say thank you. To my family and friends who never left my side, to Andy, Patrick and Joe who’re more than my band, they’re my brothers. To the fans who sent their love and well wishes, thank you, because it helped. To the amazing staff at Mercy Hospital. Thank you for saving my ass and putting my head back together. And finally....”

Pete stops talking, and Mikey’s standing as close to the railing as possible, barely able to breathe as he watches Pete.

“And finally,” Pete says again, looking up at the balcony, directly at Mikey. “I want to say thank you to Mikey, and dedicate this song to you. This is Saturday, and while it means the end of this show, it’s also a beginning. To quickfire friendships and lifelong dreams.”

With those words Pete stops talking, but that’s okay, Mikey knows what he’s saying. There’s no way he can’t when Pete holds up his arms, his hands making the shape of a heart.

His friends cheering around him, Mikey holds up his hands and makes a heart in return.