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1 - A fortnight after the formation of the kickass rock band called My Chemical Romance, a name that everyone thinks is super cool and which Gerard will definitely be able to say out loud on stage without stumbling over the words, when they finally get on a damn stage.

It's Thursday night, and they're playing on Saturday, their first real show as a band. They stopped practising and started drinking properly (as opposed to standing a beer on your amp and wetting your throat between songs) maybe a half hour ago, and when Ray notices the way Mikey's got his fingers curled into his palms, he sighs, and reaches for the cooler.

The ice that was in there is mostly slush now, but the beers are still cold, and regardless of the fact that Mikey's already got a bottle on the go, he needs an actually-cold one right now. Ray brings it over and sits down next to him.

'Hold it, he murmurs into Mikey's ear, so the others don't hear. Not that Gerard or Otter would necessarily realise what the issue was. But, just in case. He doesn't want Mikey to feel embarrassed. 'The cold will help,' he says.

Mikey takes the beer and wraps his fingers around the wet glass, pressing his - yeah, exactly like Ray thought, red and notched and a little bit ripped-looking - fingertips to the chill of it.

It's been two weeks. Even playing constantly the way they have been, that's not long enough to do more than take the edge off, and bass strings are mean to unpractised fingers. Mikey's little smile when he looks up at Ray and says, 'thanks, man', is as subtle as the curve of the bottle he's holding, and a very bad idea thrills weirdly in the pit of Ray's stomach for a second, before he pushes it down and pushes himself away, ruffling Mikey's hair and retreating to a safe distance.

No, Ray tells himself. Nuh-uh. Bandmates are out of bounds.

***


2 - The first motel night on their third little 'tour'. Just long enough for everyone to have started to really smell ripe.

Ray stamps the snow off his shoes onto the doormat as carefully as he can, but there's a lot of snow. It shouldn't matter, this motel is a shithole and anyway Gerard, Frank and Otter are about ten minutes behind him with the food and they'll trail snow and mud and leaves everywhere anyway. It just it bothers him a little, making a mess.

He staggers fully into the room and dumps the case of beer, which he got volunteered to carry because he always gets volunteered to carry the beer, onto the nearest bed and heaves a sigh of relief. There's beer, soon there'll be food, they're not sleeping in the van tonight, and -

- the final piece of the puzzle; there's steam coming out of the slightly-ajar bathroom door. Ray spends a moment being pleased that Mikey is actually showering, like he promised he would, and then notices why the bathroom door is ajar. There's a power cord snaking in through the gap. The plug end is mostly in the socket, but the cord's flexed so that it's pulled a tiny bit free.

Ray may possibly have drunk one of the beers on the way home out of spite and a half-hearted attempt at lightening his load, and he hasn't eaten anything but half a microwaved gas station burrito today, but you'd think he was a fighter pilot he reacts so fast.

'Mikey!' he yells, yanking the cord out of the socket, and then for some reason he will never, ever understand, he also kicks the door wide open. The cord does indeed belong to the electric space-heater he was afraid it belonged to, and it totally is standing in the puddle he was afraid it was standing in. Also Mikey is naked.

Because he's having a shower, Ray, Ray's brain helpfully reminds him.

Mikey stares at him myopically. 'If we're being "environmentally conscious" by having shower buddies you should have told me,' he says. 'I think I kinda used most of the hot water already.'

Ray, belatedly, waves the power cord of the heater at him. 'Dude, what the hell?' he demands, to cover up the fact that he really didn't think this whole encounter through.

'I was cold?'

The water is still running, and Mikey is kind of standing half out of it with his arms wrapped around himself, as if it's his toastrack chest that the rules of society demand he hide. Maybe he's self-conscious about it. Ray doesn't know. He certainly doesn't need to be self-conscious about his -

Ray jerks his eyes back up to Mikey's. 'The other guys will be back soon, you should finish up,' he manages to say, and evacuates with haste.

'Y'know, I'm pretty sure Mikey can take showers without supervision,' says Gerard mildly, unwinding his scarf from his neck, which is when Ray realises that the others are already back and there are three open pizza boxes on the floor. 'I mean. I think he's at least mastered the basic concept, or else where does all the water on the floor come from, and why does he comes out smelling of shampoo?'

'You know what shampoo smells like?' Frank asks from the bed with the box of beer on it. 'Toro started without us!' he says, poking at the ripped corner of the box without any real upset in his voice. He fishes around and starts producing beers from the box like rabbits from a hat.

Ray holds up the space heater by its cord as an explanation for why he was in the bathroom. It's not a very good explanation, really, except for how they all know Mikey. 'Your brother is gonna electrocute himself one of these days,' he says accusingly to Gerard.

'He electrocuted himself a bunch of times when we were kids,' Gerard says cheerfully around a mouthful of pizza. His scarf already has melted cheese on it, and he's abandoned it, typically, in the middle of the floor in between pizzas, where it will almost certainly get more cheese on it as the night wears on. 'But I finally taught him to unplug the toaster before he stuck forks into it, so. That helped.'

'Oh my god,' says Ray faintly. He puts the heater down out of the way and lunges for the beer Frank's holding out for him, collecting Gerard's half-eaten pizza slice on the way.

'Hey!' Gerard protests, but it's too late, and anyway Ray needs it more than he does. Ray collapses onto the bed next to Frank and about thirty seconds later Gerard follows suit.

By the time Mikey surfaces, in a cloud of steam and mysterious hair product that probably renders the shampoo completely pointless, even Otter has piled up to watch Dawn of the Dead (yet again) with them all. Mikey bends down to plug the heater back in, and gets pelted with food wrappers and toxic socks.

'What?'

'Just get over here,' Gerard says. 'Before you give Ray a heart palpitation.'

Mikey picks Ray's side of the bed to curl up on. Body heat is definitely the most efficient way to solve the whole problem, Ray decides. And safer, he thinks, as he wraps an arm around Mikey's shoulder and pulls him close. Mikey snuggles into him, though, and Ray finds himself leaning his head on Mikey's without even thinking about it … and … maybe it's not that safe.

***

3 - One month later, after a Band Meeting with their actual manager that turned into a late dinner and then a show and then slightly too much beer and everyone crashing at the Ways' blessedly parent-free house.

Ray didn't think he drank that much last night, but his head is pounding and - what the hell is with all the - oh fuck. That's a fucking fire alarm. He wriggles himself out of the blanket burrito he appears to be sharing with Gerard and … ew, Otter's feet, goddammit, and smacks the pair of them til they wake up. 'Guys, c'mon, we gotta go,' he yells over the noise. 'Where the fuck are Frank and Mikey? You guys have a fire extinguisher, right?'

Gerard's eyes are so bleary Ray can practically feel the headache radiating out of them. 'Uh, yeah, I - guess, I mean, like, somewhere -'

Otter's already on his feet and he helps Ray get Gerard standing and up the stairs. The noise gets louder as they get higher. Ray can't even fucking tell if he actually has a hangover under all of this.

When they reach the top of the stairs, Ray leaves Gerard to Otter's tender mercies, because the source of the fire is immediately apparent - Mikey's next to the stove, and something is a burning black disaster in a frying pan, and the bewildered, unhappy look on his face would almost be funny if it weren't for the fact that he's holding a spatula and poking at the fire rather than doing anything useful.

Ray grabs him and pulls him away from the danger, which is roughly when Frank bursts back into the kitchen from the bathroom, and he stops, takes in the scene, and starts laughing so hard he doubles over and falls on his soaking wet and extremely naked ass.

'Frank, for fuck's sake, will you do something useful?' Ray asks, holding on to a struggling Mikey who seems to be trying to get back to the stove, like some kind of skeletal lemming. 'And put your dick away, for chrissake, nobody wants to see that.'

'Excuse you, I can name three merch girls and one hot dude who plays keyboard who definitely wanted to see it in the last fucking week, man. Stop trying to ruin No Pants Saturday.'

'It's not fucking No Pants Saturday, Frank, c'mon, just - fucking help me,' Ray pleads, trying to keep a hold of Mikey and somehow put the fire out. He's only got two goddamn hands.

'Fine,' says Frank. 'But I don't see you telling Mikey to put his dick away.'

Ray squints. 'Mikey's what?'

'Dude, literally his dick is touching you right now, how have you not noticed?'

'Can you just turn the fucking fire alarm off?' That noise is doing Ray's head in.

Gerard hands Frank a towel, so at least someone is doing something useful, but then he says, 'did you have to tell him? He's the only thing preventing me from seeing my brother's dick right now. Jesus.'

Meanwhile Mikey is saying, 'but the pancakes!' like some kind of mantra. Maybe it would be a mercy if they all died in a house fire. At least then Ray wouldn't have to explain the triple homicide to the police.

The noise finally stops. Ray looks up to find Otter standing on a chair, holding a pencil, having pushed the button on the fire alarm. 'Put the pan in the sink, and run some fucking water in it, Jesus assfucking Christ, are you all children?' he says, getting down heavily. 'So help me God - look, if you will all put some goddamn pants on, I will drive us to get actual, real pancakes made by someone who knows how to fucking cook.'

'Pants are a form of oppression,' says Frank, but he's grinning and he's clearly only saying it to fuck with Ray.

'You're so right,' says Gerard, looking approving, although given Gerard never goes anywhere wearing less than sixteen layers Ray's not sure when he decided to help Frank form a fucking nudist colony. Then he remembers, and looks down and - yup. Totally no pants. That's. That's Mikey's dick, like, right there. Rubbing against Ray's hip, because Ray's clutching him like he's a fainting maiden.

Ray's arms fly open with about as much say-so from his brain as they took to grab Mikey in the first place. Mikey falls on his bony ass to the ground and - well, now everyone can see everything.

'Ow?' he says reproachfully, and Ray pulls him back to his feet, and then they're just having the same whole problem all over and, and …

'I've changed my mind, pants are a great idea,' says Gerard, who has his hands over his eyes.

(Mikey's PJs, it turns out when they debrief over proper breakfast, met a tragic amount of pancake batter, by which point he was already in the early stages of burning the house down and decided the best plan was to just strip off in the middle of the kitchen and keep dealing with the fire.

Otter vetoes Mikey cooking or in fact ever setting foot in a kitchen ever again.

Gerard vetoes No Pants Saturday after Frank floats the possibility of it becoming a Band Event.

Mikey winks at Ray over Frank pouting at Gerard.

Ray vetoes his entire libido. Seriously. Get a fucking grip, Toro.)

***

4 - At a New Jersey basement show in a venue Brian swears they're never playing again.

As far as Ray's aware, Mikey continues to wear the pants he put on after the Pancake Incident for the next three weeks. Without washing them. This is good for Gerard's sanity (actual direct quote: "yay, pants!") but bad for Ray's nose. Their practice space is really kind of tiny and if he wants to avoid getting brained by Mikey's headstock he has to kind of stand right up behind his shoulder and … yeah. Sweaty isn't even the word.

Mikey'll probably have to change his pants after the show tonight though. When the venue isn't actually big enough to have a stage that isn't just one end of the floor, you tend to end up soaked in beer and worse before the set's half done. And even Mikey won't keep wearing a pair of pants that smell like a bar bathroom at 3am. Probably.

Everything goes fine through pack-in, through set-up and soundcheck. Okay, there's no real stage, but the acoustics in this place are surprisingly pretty good, and Gerard sounds awesome already. The new warm-ups he's been doing are really working for him. Frank meets Ray's eyes behind Gerard's back and they grin at each other.

The opening number - they start on Honey, it always gets the pit moving - goes well too, but … kinda too well. The pit grows, and grows, until it's to the walls on three sides, and Gerard's got nothing but the mic stand between him and five frantically pogo-ing dudes determined to be right up in his face.

Frank muscles in, though, braces Gerard, and Frank's little but he knows how to hold his own and he's carrying a couple of pounds of wood and metal. He spits back in people's faces and Ray knows for a fact he won't let anything happen to Gerard (well, that he isn't doing himself. Frank's a menace). So Ray breathes and concentrates on his solos, until there's a familiar headstock in his face and that shouldn't be happening, the place isn't big but they do have some elbow room here - and he looks up.

Some dude has got around Frank and Gerard and is basically leading the moshpit onto the stage like Satan's conga-line. Mikey's shrinking away back into Ray's space and with good reason, because this dude is ginormous and he's clearly bound and fucking determined that he's dancing here, right in Mikey's usual spot, crowding him up between Ray and Otter's kickdrum.

No-one seems to know what to do for a minute or two, and then a flailing fist catches Mikey in the cheek and that's it. Ray drops his hands from his guitar and shoves the guy in the chest, hard. He does it again, and then points left. 'Fucking get off,' he yells, not that either of them can hear it, over the sound of Otter thrashing the shit out of his snare and Frank trying to cover Ray's line because they lose the backbone of the melody without it. 'Get off,' he says again, and he slams his palms into the dude, over and over, bulldozing him away from Mikey, past the kicked-over mic stand which is probably what's causing the feedback eating into the general noise, past Gerard, back onto what's supposed to be the dancefloor. The rest of the idiots who followed him melt back into the crowd like nothing happened.

The dude who hit Mikey stumbles into the writhing pit and the mass of bodies just like, takes him like quicksand. He goes down like a stone.

Fucking good.

After the show Ray manages to sweet-talk some ice and a clean rag out of the bartender, and makes up a compress. Mikey, sitting on the bar top, spreads his thighs and lets Ray in close to settle it against the rapidly swelling bruise on his face.

'Thanks,' he says. 'You didn't have to.'

Ray reaches up and ruffles his hair because it means he doesn't have to step back for another moment or two.

***

5 - Standing on the side of the freeway next to their broken down van, in a cell-reception black spot, three hours before their next gig.

'Nope,' says Frank, sitting down on the roof of the van and then sliding off to the ground. He lands on his feet and hands, knees bent, and then stands up like nothing happened, dusting his palms off. 'No reception even up there.'

Otter sighs. 'I think I saw a gas station a couple of miles back,' he says. 'C'mon, shortstop. Time for Plan B.'

Frank rolls his eyes and punches him in the arm, but takes the gas-can he's offered. 'Don't let them get eaten by mountain lions,' he says to Ray, eyes flicking to the shadow of Gerard in the back seat. It's hot out here, they ran out of water a while back, and Gerard is maybe not quite down from whatever he was up from last night. Mikey's leaning up against the van. There's no question of sending Gerard out to get gas, and there's no question of asking Mikey go somewhere away from him when Gerard's like this, so.

'I'll try,' says Ray, offering a salute. Frank returns it with cut-glass precision, then ruins the illusion with a giggle, and turns to trail after Otter, who's already moving.

Ray hunkers down by the side of the van in what little shade it's throwing, looking at the dirt and the gravel and the grass on the verge, wondering vaguely about taking a piss since he might as well take the opportunity, they're not going anywhere. He's aware of Mikey shuffling around behind him, and sighs. Boredom's going to be the biggest issue - boredom and dehydration, but mostly boredom, given this is Mikey we're talking about. He doesn't have a Zen bone in his body - it's just that he mostly sits still and does all his fidgeting with his phone. And his phone is now out of commission.

Ray's standing back up and figuring they can go and like, sit in the van and try and get Gerard talking - he's been weirdly quiet the whole drive, it's not right, it's another indication that he's still trying to shake off last night's trip - when the van's suspension rocks like a weight's been taken off it. Ray whips around, there's the honking of a truck horn -

'Oof,' says Mikey faintly, thudding back up against the side of the van and staring up at Ray, who has his hands still fisted in Mikey's shirt where he grabbed him and snatched him back from the edge of the road. 'I was just -'

'Walking out into traffic,' Ray snarls at him, if snarls is the right word when your voice has hit falsetto. 'Jesus Christ, you nearly gave me a heart attack.'

'You think I can't dodge a few cars?' Mikey demands. 'Dude, seriously. All I wanted to do was to see if the reception was any better on the other side.'

'You're like a fucking danger magnet,' Ray says, shaking him a little since he's got him by the shoulders anyway and he might as well see if it helps. 'If you get yourself killed, Mikey, so help me God, I'll -'

'You'll what,' says Mikey, licking his lips, and Ray suddenly becomes aware that he has Mikey like, pressed up against a hard surface, looking up at him all dark eyed and hard-breathing. Even though Ray knows those things are like, from the recent mortal-peril adrenaline rush, he can't stop his dick from putting two and two together and getting five.

No, he tells himself again sternly, very fucking sternly, and takes a forced step backwards.

'I'll tell your mom on you,' he says as evenly as he can manage. And it's a good threat, too, he does have Mrs Way's number, they all have each other's emergency contacts. 'Get inside and keep your brother company,' he adds, as repressively as he can, and herds Mikey around away from the moving traffic and into the van, where Gerard is holding his head in his hands in a way that suggests that any further suspension-lurching will end in everyone wishing they had a bucket. Or a hosepipe.

Twenty minutes later Otter and Frank return triumphant with a full can of gas and a bag of Cheetos, the combined smell of which gets Gerard out of the van at the speed of light to hurl his guts up into the scrubby plants growing on the verge. He gets a cheer from the convertible full of probably-fratboys that drive past mid-hurl. Frank throws an empty beer can at them.

By the time they finally make the venue, they're fifteen minutes late, Brian is in an advanced state of apoplexy and threatening to never let them drive themselves unsupervised again, Gerard is back talking a million miles a minute, and Ray's inappropriate boner has mostly gone away.

Mikey brushes up against him at soundcheck and smiles with just his eyes, rimmed with three days worth of not-quite-washed-off eyeliner. Ray knows it's just a 'good luck out there' Mikeyway smile, but …

Fucking no, Ray reminds himself. Not happening.

***

+1 - Gig afterparty, 2am, last motel night of the tour.

Ray's the designated driver tonight.

He hates being the designated driver. Being the designated driver also means being the person who has to help Otter pack his drums up, stop Frank destroying the furnishings, watch out for Gerard, and strategically cockblock Mikey. All of these things are things Ray ends up doing most of the time anyway, but they're a lot less fun when you're stone cold sober.

Tonight, though, things are weirdly under control. Frank and Gerard are on the floor by Ray's feet, literally arm-wrestling. Ray isn't sure why, but he's not surprised Frank is consistently winning. Gerard keeps doubling down, but Ray isn't sure he understands fractions when he's off his face - best sixteen out of thirty-two doesn't sound right somehow. Otter's drums got packed hours ago because some of his buddies came to the show. They are gonna have to leave soon if they're gonna get any damn sleep tonight and still make Brian's like, military-campaign-schedule departure time tomorrow that's supposed to get them back to Jersey before Monday, but Ray doesn't actually think it'll be that much of a problem.

Except then he realises he hasn't seen Mikey in ten minutes, and sighs. The guy's like a sex-ninja. You take your eyes off him for a fucking second and before you know it, he's already back at someone's place. If Ray has to fucking drive out to the suburbs tonight and knock on someone's door like Band Dad, he's gonna be pissed.

'Gee, you know where Mikey is?' he asks, shaking Gerard by the shoulder. Gerard's arm, which was shaking anyway, collapses under Frank's onslaught and Frank's immediately crowing about it.

Gerard looks up at Ray reproachfully. 'I was winning,' he says, contrary to all evidence. 'He's probably hooking up,' he adds, as if Ray should have worked that one out. Ray had worked that out. Ray was looking for some more, like, specific information.

'You wanna go find him?' he tries hopefully.

'Ew,' says Gerard primly. 'Why don't you just text him?'

'Not gonna do much good if his pants are on the bathroom floor already,' Frank points out, laying Gerard's arm flat once more. 'Dude, seriously, just admit it. Danzig beats Morrissey on like, every scale.'

'I don't crash Mikey's hook-ups, I'm a cool big brother, also fuck you Iero, learn more than four chords and get back to me.'

Ray sighs and gets up. 'Don't you two move,' he says. 'I'm gonna be back here in ten minutes, and then we're leaving.'

'I can't move,' says Gerard, truthfully, because Frank has him in a headlock. Which is fair because Frank knows way more than four chords, and you can't just let vocalists say shit about your skills like that.

Ray, however, can't stay to help Frank defend his musical honour if he wants them to stick to Brian's schedule. Mentally steeling himself for whatever he might find, he's heading towards the men's bathroom when someone grabs him by the elbow. He flails wildly, knocked off balance, and has to blow the hair out of his face when his assailant's solution to all the windmilling limbs and falling is to push him up against the dirty little corridor wall.

'Hey Ray,' says Mikey softly against his ear. 'I need your help.'

Ray blinks at him. 'Are you okay? What's -'

'I'm kind of in trouble,' he says. Ray immediately starts looking around for the hookup that went wrong. It was bound to happen sooner or later, just, like, statistically. Even sex-ninja powers aren't infallible.

'Are you okay? Did someone hurt you?' Ray demands, pushing back against Mikey. 'Do you need me to get someone to back off -'

Mikey rolls his eyes. 'Dude. Chill. No.'

'Then what -'

Mikey shuts Ray up by kissing him. Hard, with both hands buried in Ray's hair, and one bony knee working its way between Ray's thighs, and when Ray's gasping into his mouth, then he pulls back. 'I hear we're supposed to be leaving in ten minutes,' he says breathlessly, eyes sparking with mischief behind his glasses. 'And I'm totally dying here.'

'Mikey -'

Mikey rolls his hips against Ray's. 'C'mon,' he breathes. 'If you're gonna keep treating me like a fucking damsel in distress you could at least let me ravish you or whatever.'

Ray blinks. On the one hand he's pretty sure that's narratively the wrong way around but on the other hand … fuck yes? He can't help the noise he makes, and Mikey grins like a wolf, just like Gerard does on stage, and that's when Ray, categorically and definitely, knows he's doomed.

'Save me from myself,' Mikey says, and starts pulling Ray towards the bathroom.

It's kind of a lot more than ten minutes later when Frank and Gerard crash through the bathroom door and find Mikey fucking Ray over the sink.

'Jesus Christ,' says Gerard faintly, slamming his hands over his eyes. 'Mikey, for God's sake, we had this talk. Remember? About discretion? And pants? And me not seeing your dick?'

Mikey lurches into Ray harder and stops there, trembling with the kind of control over himself Ray has never ever seen him display in any like, useful context. 'Busy, Gee,' he grits out. 'Really fucking busy right now.'

Frank chokes down his unhelpful, hysterical giggles and starts pulling at Gerard's elbow, trying to steer him back out of the tiny little room. 'It's not like you can actually see anything,' he says. 'At least, not Mikey's -'

'Shut up!'

'I mean, like, Ray's kind of doing a good job of … hiding it. Also way to go, Toro, busting those macho stereotypes there.'

Ray palms a handful of sweaty hair out of his face and is proud of how steady his voice is when he says, 'Out.'

'I guess you kind of are, now, yeah,' says Gerard thoughtfully, peeking out from his fingers and then just dropping his hands entirely. He starts to gesture like he's about to launch into the full speech about The Patriarchy. 'I'm -'

'Leaving,' says Mikey, shifting his grip on Ray's hips like he's done waiting. 'Gerard. You are leaving.'

He starts to pull back.

Frank manages to get Gerard out the door in time to save him from seeing anything that scars him for life, but it's close.