I, Brian1 Schechter, do formally declare my intention to pursue level 5 Archmagister designation in accordance with the traditions of the Order of Ancient Magic.
The bond of family sorcery has been extended to me by the head of the Way household2,and I do formally declare my intention to familiarize myself with history of the Way house, both the family and the literal house, in accordance with the instructions laid out3, also by the Order of Ancient Magic.
1Middle name redacted
2And believe me it's going to be difficult for me to get used to referring to Gerard in that manner.
3In unnecessary detail
Brendon's voice echoes in the foyer. "Gerard!" he shouts. "Gerard?"
Gerard is hanging upside down, the backs of his legs curled around a thick iron pipe, and his arms dangling so his fingers almost touch the floor. All of the blood has rushed to his face, making it beet red, and he keeps swinging back and forth, like he's trying to curl himself upright and can't quite get the momentum. Frank's standing beside him, ready to unhook him and lower him to the ground at first notice, though Gerard's distracted enough that he seems to have forgotten that he's upside down.
Gerard's looking at a painting on the opposite wall. The painting is also upside down, and stuck that way, despite Frank’s best efforts to turn it around.
"Does it look any different from this angle?" Frank asks, turning his head sideways to try to see for himself.
"Gerard!" Brendon, who called them to the house to investigate matters other than the artwork, is just out of sight around the corner, and has been shouting for a few minutes.
"He's still looking at the painting!" Frank shouts back. He's not taking his eyes off Gerard for moment incase he falls, so whatever Brendon's shouting about is going to have to wait.
"This doesn't make any sense," Gerard says, frustrated, and then the pipe he's hanging from cracks and water starts spitting everywhere and Gerard starts to slip. Frank catches Gerard before he hits the ground, but the impact combined with a renewed burst of water from the pipe knocks them both down.
"Brendon!" Gerard shouts as Frank attempts to steer Gerard away from the stream of the water. Brendon comes running in, and then stops to take in the soaked Gerard, Frank, and the carpet. "You said it wasn't a water pipe," Gerard says.
"I said I thought it wasn't a water pipe," Brendon says. "Whatever pipe it is – was - ” he says. “It wasn’t meant to be used as a trapeze. Did you hear me shouting?"
"I can't identify any reason that someone would hang this painting upside down," Gerard says, wiping water from his face, "except perhaps because of a deep misunderstanding of abstract expressionism."
"Listen, about the vampire?” Brendon says.
“You said he was a zombie,” Frank says.
"The neighbor said she was certain that the resident of the house was a zombie that had turned into a vampire," Brendon says, looking a lot like he’s finally admitting something he was hoping he wouldn’t have to bring up.
"A what?" Frank says at the same time Gerard says, "That's impossible."
"That's why I called you," Brendon says.
"Zombies can't turn into vampires, there's nothing in them to turn. You could maybe curse a vampire into acting like a zombie, but it's very clear when they've been vampires first. They don't eat anything, and they're not good for much except posing as doorman or the occasional card dealer."
"What was it the neighbors said they saw?" Frank asks. "Was it a zombie they knew?"
"It was someone new to the neighborhood. Introduced himself as a zombie and a few weeks later the neighbors heard him calling out, "Blaaaaah."
Gerard just looks at Brendon, then at Frank, as if to see if he heard wrong.
"They thought it sounded like 'blood'" Brendon adds.
"Blah?" Frank asks. Brendon nods.
"Maybe he has malaise," Gerard says thoughtfully.
"And then he bit one of them," Brendon adds.
"He bit someone?" Gerard says, suddenly curious, "Where did he bite them?"
"On the neck," Brendon says, like there was any other place, and considering this is a zombie vampire they’re talking about, Frank thought Brendon wasn't far off. "So they went to the Clan Clinic and got screened, and then the Clan Clinic sent an investigation team to the house. This was the only thing they found that had any magical traces," Brendon says, pointing at the painting.
Gerard rushes forward to the painting. "Frank, hold me upside down again."
"Sir?" Frank asks, and they both stare at each other for a tense moment. Until now, Frank's managed not to call Gerard sir in weeks.
"I need to try again," Gerard says, "Just, hold me upside down. By the feet."
"You're too tall," Frank says, "I can try and hold you by the waist."
Brendon is watching them, barely holding back a smirk. The water pouring from the pipe starts to splutter and slow, just as Frank can feel his body temperature starting to drop from being soaked. Then Frank hears something that can’t possibly be the water.
"What was that?" Frank says, and Gerard goes very still.
"Gerard," Brendon whispers, "Frank, I -"
"Shhh," Gerard says.
There's a zombie shambling down the hall at them. He's clearly gone rogue, his eyes cloudy and unfocused, his steps uneven, but he's got a wicked set of teeth and he's coming right at them.
"The zombie vampire, I presume," Gerard says.
"Guys," Brendon says, a little more panicked.
"It's fine," Gerard says. "Let me try and talk to him. Are you or were you ever a vampire?" Gerard asks the zombie. In response to the word 'vampire', the zombie bares his teeth.
"I see," Gerard says. "You ought to know that those are not traditional vampire fangs," Gerard says. He turns to Frank, who smiles widely, revealing his fangs. "You see?" Frank points at his mouth, incase the zombie just thought he was being cheery.
The zombie growls.
"Are you seeking legal representation or Clandestine Code assistance for issues surrounding your Midnighter classification?" Gerard asks.
"Blaaaaaaaah!!" the zombie shouts.
"That doesn't sound like malaise," Frank says.
"Someone quick, get me some ham!" Gerard shouts as the zombie is suddenly moving a lot faster. "Brendon?"
But when Frank turns to look for Brendon, he walks right into Brendon's foot, because Brendon is hovering about five feet in the air.
"Um," Frank says.
"That's what I've been trying to tell you!" Brendon yells, and lifts a little higher in the air.
"Grab him," Gerard says, "Meet me in the kitchen!" and then he dashes off. The zombie shambles after Gerard.
Great, Frank thinks, Gerard's getting deli meat and he's left here with an airborne attorney and bringing up the tail end of a zombie vampire. He's pretty sure this isn't what he thought a partnership in the detective agency would truly be about.
"Why are you floating?" Frank asks Brendon in exasperation.
"I don't know," Brendon says. "It's not like this has ever happened before."
"Kitchen!" Gerard is shouting, and so Frank tugs at Brendon's leg and pulls him along like he's a balloon. Brendon, to his credit, does not complain, just uses his hands to guide himself away from smacking his head against the crown moldings.
Frank and the buoyant Brendon make it to the kitchen just behind the zombie, which is advancing on Gerard, who appears to be almost halfway in the icebox.
"Hit him with something," Brendon says, "But don't let me go!"
Frank scans around the room for something heavy to hit the zombie with, and thinks for a minute he might be able to do something with the wooden butcher block on the counter. He has it in one hand, Brendon's leg in the other.
"Blaaaaaaaaaah!" the zombie says.
"You're certain I can't convince you to come with us to the nearest Clan Office?" Gerard says, muffled from within the icebox.
The zombie advances. Frank lifts the butcher block, ready to strike, and then Gerard slams the icebox door behind him and says, "Frank, wait!"
The zombie lunges at Gerard, mouth going for his neck.
"Gerard, no!" Frank says, but before he can do anything else, the zombie stumbles back from Gerard, a giant piece of ham stuck in its mouth.
"Ggggggggg," the zombie says, backing away, almost sounding pleased.
"Did you just - " Frank says, and Gerard beams at him. "Did you just tie a piece of ham to your neck?"
"I did!" Gerard says gleefully. "I knew he wouldn't take it if I just offered it to him, because if he truly believed he were a vampire, he would feel compelled to bite the neck of his victim."
"So you fashioned an impromptu ham necklace."
"Worked like a charm," Gerard says.
"He's drinking from the ham?" Brendon says. "Hey, hey, don't let go," Brendon says when Frank momentarily forgets that Brendon is still floating.
"Enough at least that it appears to be settling his zombie rage and his hunger rage at the same time," Gerard says.
"Gggggggg," the zombie says, more quietly, and definitely pleased this time.
"Brendon, why aren't you on the ground?" Gerard says. "I thought you checked for traps," he says, to Frank.
"Obviously I missed one," Frank says. Brendon sighs and floats a little higher and Frank has to tug him back down.
"We should go," Gerard says. "Before the zombie runs out of ham. Brendon, I'm sorry, but if you can't stop floating, we're going to have to tie you to the carriage until we get home.
"Great," Brendon says with a sigh.
"Frank, maybe while you're securing him, I can go take another look at the painting?"
"No," Frank says, startling them both. "I mean, maybe you can come back later, once the zombie has been removed."
"Of course," Gerard says, and Frank thinks he's going to be angry because Frank's basically ordering him around on a case, but Gerard just takes a hold of Brendon's other foot and says, "Ok, Brendon, try and hang on."
"To what?" Brendon says. "Is this what every case is like with you?"
"Not every case," Frank says, "Sometimes there are pianos."
From the Accounting of Events in the Way Household from the Beginning of Known History, by B. Schechter, Sorcerer
My first tasks in my role as family sorcerer tonight are indicative of my responsibilities at large. Before dawn, I healed neck wounds on Detective Gerard Arthur Way, Son of Donna, Grandson of Elena, Venerable Keeper of the Way Mansion, Legal Investigative Consultant for the Clandestine Code for Midnighter Rights, Legal Investigative Consultant for the Daylighter Governor's Office, Five-Term Appointed Member of the District Rezoning Board, and Certified Midnighter Gardener4, from a suspected zombie- vampire, a task made more difficult by the hovering of his former valet, Frank Iero.5 I removed a combination floatation and buoyancy spell from a visitor to the household, Mr. Brendon Urie, a task made more complicated by the fact that Mr. Urie, a former Daylighter, three years past had a demon bound to him. Demon-binding magic interferes with all forms of magic, and the complexity of the buoyancy layer laid on top of the floatation spell meant that Mr. Urie had to be tethered to the sofa for an additional half an hour while I removed the spell. Both Mr. Iero and Mr. Way exhibited signs of having recently been immersed in water, and both refused to explain, and Mr. Way was barely convinced by Mr. Iero to change his still wet clothes before running to his office to research what I understood to be a theory on the effect of art therapy on malaise. All of this was complicated by the fact that we are still, as a household, short of a valet.6
I have reported the rogue zombie (or potential zombie-vampire) to the Clandestine Office of Zombie Affairs.
4Hereafter referred to as Gerard.
5 When I argued there was no such thing as a vampire-zombie, Mr. Iero said, "Tell that to the ham." I have not had the time nor the desire to follow up on the meaning of such a comment.
6 I did consider having my apprentice, Ms. Salpeter, step into the role, but it would do little to further her magical education, and she's not very tidy.
Gerard's not paying attention again and so he's got his shirt collar folded in and he's trying to put it on with one sleeve backwards. He struggles for a minute and then Frank's there, righting his shirt. "Thank you, Frank," Gerard says.
"You always have trouble with the collar," Frank says fondly.
"I do," Gerard says. "Here, let me help," Gerard says, as Frank's fingers are still cold from being wet and he's fumbling at his own buttons. He hisses in a sharp breath when Gerard's fingers brush over his chest, and their eyes meet. "It's about time I help you get dressed," Gerard says. "Since you always do this for me."
"Because I - " Frank starts to say and Gerard leans in and kisses him as he slips Frank's shirt off his shoulders. Frank runs his cold fingers into Gerard's still damp hair, and Gerard's kissing is going far to warm him up. Gerard slides off Frank's undershirt next, breaking the kiss just to pull it off, and then skidding his hands down Frank's bare back. Frank forgets what he was going to say about how he helped Gerard get dressed because he was his valet, or how Gerard isn't helping Frank get dressed so much as undressing him, but it's lost when Gerard kisses down Frank's neck, sliding his fingers up to his ribs and over his nipples. Gerard's right hand stops over the scar from Ryan's arrow and Frank shivers. Gerard traces a fingernail in a circle around the scar, then presses his fingers to it again and Frank arches into Gerard's hands. It's not that it hurts, but it feels like Gerard is cleansing the memory of the scar and what it means, like he's drawing out the poison each time he touches it so it becomes just like any other mark on Frank's skin.
"Shhhh, Frankie," Gerard says, still touching the scar. "I know, I know," he says, as Frank whimpers with each pass, and then Frank's getting pushed up against the wall and Gerard's undoing Frank's pants and dropping to his knees. "Shhh," Gerard says, sliding his hands over Frank's bare ass, taking Frank's cock in his mouth, and Frank throws his head back as Gerard sucks him.
"Supposed to be," Frank tries to say, but Gerard's mouth is hot and moving fast over him. "Getting." He's not going to last more than a minute like this. Gerard on his knees in front of him always short-circuits his brain, and Gerard's not even teasing. "Dressed," Frank says. "Dressed!" he says again desperately. Gerard makes a hum of agreement which Frank feels in Gerard's throat. "Gee - " Frank says, closing his eyes, body bowing, and then he's coming.
"You're absolutely right," Gerard says, wiping his mouth, standing up, grinning wickedly at Frank, "we're supposed to be getting dressed." He then proceeds to start buttoning up his shirt.
"Oh, no, no, no," Frank says, when he's finally come back to himself. He swipes Gerard's hands away from the buttons of his shirt. "I think our schedule has changed."
It's late morning and Frank's finally cleaning up the mess of damp clothes they left on the floor before getting into his coffin when he hears raised voices in the corridor down by the indoor entrance to the greenhouse. He rushes downstairs and then stops, skidding on the carpet, when he sees Alicia, the Fairy who Mikey casually hangs out with like she's not rumored to be running the Seelie Court. She is leaning against the doorframe, propping the greenhouse door open with her foot. The sun curtain is pulled all the way back and sunlight streams in. Frank backs up, even though he's not really that close, he can feel it prickling at his nerves.
"Oh, sorry, Frank," she says, and she takes a step back into the hall, letting the glass door fall closed. A moment later, Gerard follows her.
"Frank?" he says. "Oh my god, did you get burned? I told you to come in," Gerard says sharply to Alicia.
"I am not coming into your greenhouse," Alicia says, like Gerard had just suggested something both offensive and preposterous. Gerard gives her another stern look.
"I'm fine," Frank says. "I heard shouting, so - "
"That was my fault," Alicia says. "I brought up something Gerard doesn't want to talk about."
"I wish you were not still trying to bring it up," Gerard says, tight-lipped. Frank can hear the implied, "in front of Frank."
"I'll go," Frank says.
"It's fine," Gerard says. "Alicia just wanted to know how we were doing after Ryan's attack."
"Oh, I can see how you are," Alicia says. "It's radiating off you. You're even getting some of it on Frank."
Frank looks down at his arms, imagining he's been dusted with something.
"Alicia, please," Gerard snaps.
"Just Fairy talk," Alicia says, turning what Frank imagines she probably thinks is a comforting smile at him. "I think I'll go see if I can find your brother."
"You've never had trouble finding him before," Gerard says.
"Figure of speech," Alicia says, and then she walks off toward the back servant's entrance.
"Frank," Gerard says, tugging the sun curtain back over the door and locking it in place. He looks like he's about to apologize, except that Frank was the one who interrupted what was obviously meant to be a private conversation.
"I'll just go get some sleep," Frank says.
"Alicia means well," Gerard says. "Though her approach leaves something to be desired."
Frank thinks her approach is nothing but suspicious, but the few times he's spoken with Alicia have always left him feeling unsettled, so he has to trust that Gerard knows better than Frank how to tell the difference between creepiness and malice, at least where the Fairy are concerned.
"I'm just going to finish up," Gerard says, gesturing to the greenhouse. "Let's meet in my office after sunset?" Gerard waits until Frank is out of the hall before opening the greenhouse door, though Frank can still feel the sunlight coming in.
Frank brings Gerard a cup of coffee he'd intercepted from Cortez, and the notes he'd written up about the vampire zombie once the sun has set. Gerard sips the coffee with his eyes closed for a minute, and then what he says shocks Frank so much that Frank has to ask him to repeat himself twice.
"I'm taking you off the case," Gerard says. Each time he sips his coffee, he closes his eyes.
"Why?" Frank says.
"I'm worried about the vampire zombie," Gerard says.
"That's bullshit," Frank says. "What's really going on?"
"Brendon said something that made me uncomfortable," Gerard says.
"What?" Frank demands.
Gerard sighs. "About the way you and I were with each other," Gerard says. "I'm worried about it seeming inappropriate."
"Brendon knows we're," Frank stumbles over the right word, settles on, "together."
"The Clan officers are involved now," Gerard says, "because of the vampire zombie. They'll have to do a full investigation. And I think if they see that you are recovered enough to be working on a case - "
"You think they'll find out about what happened. So let them," Frank says. "No one can prove anything."
"Frank," Gerard says seriously. "I'm not letting anyone investigate you."
"But if we just get it over with, let them investigate, if they just asked me, I could tell them - "
"You won't tell them anything," Gerard says sharply.
"I'm not going to tell them about the Trading."
At the word, Gerard flinches.
"I thought we agreed," he says, teeth gritted, "That we weren't going to talk about it."
They have agreed not to talk about it, after that first night. The danger of people finding out is too great, the trouble they'll get into because it was forbidden for perfectly good reasons but Frank gets the sense that there’s something else, some other reason Gerard doesn't want it brought up. Frank spends a lot of time convincing himself it isn't because Gerard regrets it. After all, everything is fine between them. Except that there is still this imbalance. Being a detective, one as good as Gerard, means he must hold the keys to lots of people's secrets, but it makes Frank feel sometimes like he’s still just Gerard's valet. Like they aren't equal. And maybe they aren't, but Frank wants them to be, eventually. He doesn't want to always feel like Gerard is hiding things from him; he wants to deserve his trust.
"I'm just saying that if the Clan officers investigated and we got it over with - "
"There is nothing," Gerard says stubbornly, "That we're getting over with. You're not telling anyone anything about what happened. And you're off the case." Gerard gestures emphatically and catches the edge of his coffee cup with his elbow and it sloshes coffee onto his files.
Frank is halfway out the door when Gerard says, "Frank, wait."
He almost doesn't stop. "What?" Frank says. "Something else you want to tell me not to do?"
"I'm just worried," Gerard says, kinder but still not giving in. "If people find out too much - "
"I don't understand why you're so - " The word he wants to say is secretive, but he knows saying it like that will only make things worse. “Why you're so worried."
"It'll sort itself out soon enough," Gerard says. "We just have to be careful."
Frank thinks the one person he has to be the most careful around is Gerard, but he can't say that, either.
"I'm going to talk to the Clan officials and give my report this afternoon," Gerard says, "And then I'll follow up with Brendon tomorrow."
"You don't even want me coming to see Brendon?"
"He won't be alone tomorrow," Gerard says.
And ok, Frank doesn't really want to see Ryan Ross anyway. "Ok," Frank says. "I'll....go talk to Pencey about finding us a replacement valet."
Frank starts a letter to Pencey but before he's done Gerard is shouting for him because he's lost the pressed fern leaf he's been trying to identify and then, like they hadn't been arguing at all, they spend the next fifteen minutes paging through all of the books and files in Gerard's office. The door chimes, and Frank's about to go get it when Schechter declares in his disembodied voice that it's a messenger and he's let them in.
"Is that Pencey already?" Gerard asks. "They've certainly improved their service."
"I haven't even sent the letter yet," Frank says.
"Maybe they've started employing psychics," Gerard says thoughtfully. "How are you tonight, James?" Gerard says when the messenger turns out to be Dewees.
"Hey man," Frank says. When the book he's paging through turns out to have no fern leaves whatsoever, he says, frustrated, "I was sure you left it in the third series of field guides. You had it yesterday."
"I'm sure I had it this morning," Gerard says.
"I've got a message," Dewees says.
"Are you a messenger now full-time?" Frank asks, paging through two more books in quick succession. "I can never keep track."
"Neither can I," Dewees says, then adds, "This is by request only."
"Where's the message?" Frank says. Gerard is paging through a book Frank already has been through, which Frank points out, and he grabs the book from Gerard and sets it in the already done pile. “Give it to Gerard."
"It's for you," Dewees says.
"Actually, Frank isn't a valet anymore," Gerard says, and he puts a book on the done pile without looking at it. Frank picks it up and puts it back into the undone pile. "So you can give the message directly to me."
"I could," Dewees says. "Except it's for Frank."
"I know there are messenger rules," Gerard says, "But honestly, you don't have to go through him."
"The message," Dewees says. "Is for Frank."
Gerard sighs, and looks pleadingly at Frank.
"I think," Frank says, "That Dewees is trying to say the message is for me."
"That's what I said," Dewees says.
"Oh," Gerard says. He places another undone book in the done pile, and Frank catches it. "Do you like being a messenger?" Gerard asks, as Dewees hands over the carefully folded letter to Frank.
"Not particularly," Dewees says, and Frank's not surprised, after the most recently misunderstanding.
"Would you like to be a valet?" Gerard asks.
Frank's reading the message, which is from Jamia. He recognizes her handwriting before he unfolds the paper all the way and then is startled to find that it says only, "I need help moving the couch. Get your lazy ass over here and give me a supernaturally strong hand." It takes him a minute to catch up with what Gerard had just asked.
"Yes," Dewees says. "I've always wanted to be a valet.""
"No you haven't," Frank says.
"Don't you think he'd be a good fit, at least temporarily, to see if he liked it?" Gerard says. "Who's the message from?"
"Jamia," Frank says absently.
"So what are the terms of your employment, do I have to speak with your master?" Gerard asks.
"He's on holiday," Dewees says. "I'm supposed to stay here and keep his affairs in order. But he didn't tell me which affairs and he didn't tell me what order, so, I end up with a lot of free time."
"Excellent," Gerard says. "Frank, can you get him started with Brian?"
"Actually, Jamia needs me to help her move furniture," Frank says, because that's what the note says.
"Oh," Gerard says.
"I can come back tomorrow," Dewees says.
"That's fine," Gerard says distractedly, as he starts going through the books they've already been though once more.
"Ok, yeah, sure," Frank says. "I'm just going to, uh, go see Jamia," he says to Gerard.
"Is everything ok with her?" Gerard asks. "Is there something wrong with her apartment?"
"I'm sure everything's fine," Frank says. "Sometimes she just gets it into her head to move furniture." The thing is, Jamia doesn't get it into her head to move furniture around out of the blue. It's a code they'd set up ages ago, when she wanted Frank to come and scare away her blind dates. Except he's pretty sure she's not on a blind date right now.
"I'll help you find the fern when I get back, ok?" Frank says.
"Of course," Gerard says, and keeps paging through the books.
"Come on, man," Frank says to Dewees. "I'll walk you out.”
"You ok with this?" Dewees asks, once they're outside. "Me taking over your old job?"
"Whatever," Frank says. "It's fine."
"A resounding endorsement."
"Sorry, no, you'll be great," Frank says. "I'm just wondering what the hell Jamia needs."
"Thought you said she was moving furniture,” Dewees says.
"Yeah," Frank says. “Right. Anyway, Gerard's just acting kind of strange."
"Not the only one. Say hi to Jamia," Dewees says, and then wanders off down the street.
Frank had thought there was something special that happened that day that Gerard had hired him to be his valet, but watching what just happened with Dewees stuns Frank with the realization that Gerard apparently offers valet jobs to any messenger who walks into his office.
There’s a White Hand picket line at the border of the Midnighter area. They’re holding torches and signs and they all look pretty tired, but Frank figures a daytime picket line while most of the Midnighters were asleep wouldn't make much of an impact. Still, they may as well be doing it in the middle of the day for all the Midnighters on the street are paying any attention to them. Frank ignores them, too, as he crosses over into the Daylighter quarter, where it's quiet, such a stark contrast to the Midnighter side of town.
He doesn’t see a single person all the way to Jamia’s front door and it’s starting to get a little eerie. He climbs her stairs, and knocks.
"What are you doing using the door?" Jamia asks, flinging it open. "I was waiting for you at the window."
"Last time you told me to use the door," Frank says, exasperated.
"Well, last time I wasn't sending you a coded note in the middle of the night. I thought the stealth was implied," Jamia sighs. "Come in before my neighbors see you."
Jamia's couch is in exactly the same place it's always been. "So what's going on?" Frank says. "Are you in some trouble?"
"No," Jamia says, and then hesitates for a moment before adding, "Not me." Before Frank can ask who is in trouble, she says, "Gerard didn't make a big deal about you going out?"
"Nah," Frank says, because he’s not going to get into how Gerard hardly seemed to react at all. "I'm sure he'll be working on the art history file I left out for him in a few minutes. But if someone is in trouble, you know that he - "
"I don't want to involve Gerard," Jamia says. "This is complicated and I need - I need to keep it a secret."
"Ok," Frank says, trying not to flinch. Everyone and their fucking secrets. "So are you gonna tell me what's going on, or are you keeping it a secret from me, too?"
Jamia sighs. She looks like she's been worrying for a while. She chews on her fingernail, stops. "Something's up with Lindsey," she says.
"With the Governor? Are you sure we should - "
Jamia quells him with a look. "I just want to find out what it is," Jamia says. "So if it's not a big deal, I can just stop worrying, and I can let it go without making a big fuss and calling in your detective boyfriend."
"Oh," Frank says. "Ok. So what are we doing?"
"We're breaking into her office," Jamia says, so matter of factly that Frank's nodding before it really sinks in what she's said.
Jamia digs around in her bag as they stand outside the locked door of the Governor's office.
"Wait, so why are we breaking in? Are you getting a bobby pin, or a lock-picking set? I should have asked Gerard if I could borrow his lock-picking set."
"That would have given us away, just a bit, don't you think?" Jamia says distractedly. She manages to find what she's looking for and pulls it from her bag. There's a slight clicking and then the door swings open.
"How'd you do that?" Frank says. Jamia holds up a key, almost touching Frank's nose. He decides its better not to remind her that he can see perfectly well in the dark. "So we're not breaking in."
"We're sneaking in," Jamia says impatiently. Frankie holds up his fists, ready for a fight with whatever might be waiting when he steps in the door. "Don't make me regret bringing you," she says, and grabs his forearms, tugging them back down to his side.
"What if there's some sort of troll defense system? This is the Governor's office!"
"And amazingly, I have been in here before."
"Not in the middle of the night." Jamia gives him a look. "What have you been doing in the Governor's office in the middle of the night?" Frank asks, scandalized.
Jamia sighs. Frank realizes what a stupid thing it is as soon as he says it. "Midnighter political emergencies," Jamia says reproachfully. "And I've been in the Governor's office for enough of them at all hours of the day and night that I'd know if there was some sort of secret defense system, ok, Frankie? Now shut up, I need to concentrate."
Jamia is skimming her hands over a panel on the side of the Governor's desk. "I've seen her put things in here often enough, you'd think I'd have figured out how to open it," Jamia murmurs, mostly to herself.
"Perhaps a light would help," a voice in the dark offers, and Jamia screams. The light flicks on and Lindsey is sitting in an arm chair in the corner.
"Frank, you're wretched at this," Jamia scolds, smacking him across the chest. "I thought you knew something about secret criminal activity. You didn't, like, scan the room?"
"I did! I just wasn't really expecting anyone to be here. And she kind of....blended in with the chair."
"Well thank you, Frank," the Governor says with a smirk. "I've been practicing."
"What are you doing here?" Jamia asks, remarkably composed after her initial shock. "And if you say you could ask me the same thing, I'm going to smack you as well," she says.
"I didn't want to go home," the Governor says. Frank watches as Jamia gives her a stern look. "Although my office isn't that comfortable either, perhaps you feel like going out for some pancakes?'
"Pancakes," Jamia says quietly. Frank watches as they talk in what appears to be the secret language of breakfast.
"I find myself surprisingly hungry," the Governor says.
"Come on," Jamia says to Frank. Lindsey shuts out the light and they walk out in the dark. It’s just like the case yesterday, except instead of facing zombie in the kitchen, he’s going out for pancakes following the daylight Governor. In either case, he hasn’t had much choice in the matter.
There's a 24 hour diner that Jamia and Frank used to go to, and Frank's forgotten its warm feeling and the way it smells of maple syrup. The waitress nods easily at them like she gets the Governor in here all the time, which, maybe she does. Lindsey orders pancakes, so they weren't entirely a code. Jamia orders waffles and the waitress offers Frank something from the blood bank if he can show her his Clan Certification, but he politely passes, saying he'll take some coffee with everyone else. Lindsey and Jamia are both quiet until they both speak at the same time. Jamia stops and lets the Governor go first.
"My home is under surveillance," Lindsey says. "And I suspect the office is similarly bugged."
Before Frank or Jamia can respond, the diner door opens with a distracting jingle and a flurry of laughter. Mikey and Alicia are arm in arm and they take a booth in the opposite corner, seemingly without noticing anyone else at all.
"That's bad news," Frank says quietly. He wonders if this is what Alicia meant when she told Gerard she was looking for his brother. To take him on a breakfast date.
"No kidding," Lindsey says, her eyes still on them.
"Thanks for that obviousness," Jamia says, "Of course the Governor being surveilled is bad news."
"I meant Mikey and Alicia," Frank says. "I wonder if Pete knows."
"She should know better," Lindsey says.
"What is the matter with you two? It's none of our business."
There's another burst of laughter. Frank can't shake the feeling that something's very wrong, and the Governor looks equally unsettled.
"Seriously, guys, can we talk about something we ought to be worried over? Like your office being bugged?” She says to Lindsey. "I thought we had security measures protecting against that."
"Someone else clearly has something better," Lindsey says.
The waitress arrives with their food, putting a steaming platter of pancakes in front of the Governor, waffles in front of Lindsey, and she stops and asks Frank again if he wants anything. "We have some good stock," she says, and for the first time, Frank realizes she's also a vampire.
"I'm all set, really, I might have some of Jamia's waffles."
The waitress, having already anticipated this turn of events, sets down a fork in front of Frank, grins and walks off.
"Do you know who it is?" Jamia asks, looking up at the Governor and not her plate while recklessly pouring syrup all over her waffles.
"No," Lindsey says, but it sounds like a lie. Jamia seems to think so, too.
"So how do you know there's someone bugging the office? How do you know someone's watching your home?"
"I saw them," Lindsey says. "Two down the street, one by the house, one carriage parked suspiciously, not the neighbors," Lindsey says, and it sounds rote, like Lindsey's been telling herself this over and over as though to convince herself of the reality of the threat. "And before you ask, there's a different set a night, like a shift."
"We need to call the police," Jamia says.
"Or the Blind Order," Frank says.
"No," Lindsey says to both of them. Frank thinks he sees Alicia look up from her booth out of the corner of his eye, but when he turns, she's looking at her menu.
"Are you going to tell me what this is about?" Jamia says, a moment later, huffy and impatient in a way that Frank's familiar with from years of dating her, and, to his surprise, Lindsey doesn't seem thrown by it either. "How long has this been going on? When were you going to say anything?"
"I didn't need to, did I?" Lindsey says. "You were going to break into my office you were so worried something was happening."
Jamia can't seem to decide whether she's pleased or irritated. "You're acting like it's normal, this surveillance or whatever."
This sobers Lindsey. "No. No, it's not normal. It's actually quite problematic."
"And you know what it's about."
"Possibly," Lindsey says.
"I'm waiting for you to tell me," Jamia says.
Lindsey is silent, and Jamia sighs and shoves her plate of waffles at Frank, who picks up his fork and takes a few bites.
Alicia and Mikey appear to be sharing a plate of French fries. Frank watches as Alicia dips a fry in ketchup, and feeds it to Mikey. Frank snaps back when Jamia snatches her waffles back.
"I hate it when you're coy," Jamia says with a huff, and Lindsey laughs.
"It's about the Mindless Act, undoubtedly," Lindsey says.
"The - " Frank says, trying to see if what Lindsey just said was the same as what he heard.
Jamia cuts in. "The Midnighter Integration and Neutral Daylighter Legal Environmental Services Standard," she says effortlessly. Frank tries to parse it out, can't, and shakes his head. Jamia looks disgusted with him before she returns her plate of waffles to him.
"It's our Clandestine Code," Lindsey says, "If I can pass the thing, it'll transform the way the Daylighter community treats Midnighters from completely barbaric to something approaching equality."
"Is it that good?" Frank asks.
"It had better be," Lindsey says, "I've spent the better part of a year writing it, and the last two months going over it with Patrick Stump and Pete Wentz. Have you ever tried to write anything with Pete Wentz?"
"No," Frank says.
"Don't," Lindsey says.
The mention of Pete makes Frank look over at Alicia and Mikey's table. They're just talking, but Mikey presses a hand over Alicia's. Lindsey turns and looks, too, and catches Frank's eye. They look at each other and Frank wonders how the Governor knows how unsettling that little intimate gesture is.
"Will you stop watching them?" Jamia says, both to Frank and to Lindsey, who startle. "What is your problem?"
"Mikey's seeing Pete," Frank says.
"Alicia doesn't see anyone," Lindsey says.
"So if we're done with gossip," Jamia says, "Can we talk about what we're going to do about the people following you?
"I still think we should tell Gerard," Frank says.
"No," Lindsey says. "I really don't want to involve him."
"See?" Jamia says. Frank thinks if it were a little less obvious, she would have kicked him under the table.
"It might not be a Midnighter issue at all," Lindsey says. "There are certainly plenty of nefarious Daylighters who might do something like this."
It could be a Daylighter, but Frank doesn't really think it's that likely. There's been a werewolf faction that's been vocally anti-Daylighter and who are more than likely the ones responsible for the string of transitional zone arsons. There's always the White Hand, and the torches from their picketing are still fresh in Frank’s mind. He can't help thinking about Fairy with Alicia sitting right across the room, their complicated allegiances and their insistence that they are both a part of and separate from the Midnighter legal system. Frank knows Gerard is better at this than he could ever possibly be, and so he lets Lindsey and Jamia list various different suspects, names Frank's heard before but not anyone he really knows.
They abruptly stop their conversation when the waitress comes and clears their plates, and as Lindsey and Jamia settle the check, Frank watches Alicia get up from her booth with Mikey, give him a playful slap on the head, and leave the diner. Frank takes a last bite of Jamia's waffles and follows them out.
He's just a second too slow. A dark form pelts toward them, knocking Jamia to the ground. He's heading straight for the Governor, and he's fastening his hands on the Governor's throat.
"Tell us the secret," the cloaked figure demands.
"I know quite a few secrets," Lindsey croaks. Frank doesn't hear the figure's response because he finally manages to pry the guy's hands away from the Governor, and Jamia, back on her feet, swings a potted plant at the guy like it's a discus. He takes off at a run, and Frank's about to chase him down when Lindsey's hand on his arm stops him.
"Don't," she says. "I'm fine."
"You're not fine," Jamia says. "You were just attacked! This is serious."
"I know," Lindsey says, and there's a calculating expression on her face. "But I think I have an idea who's been watching me."
"So can I tell Gerard now?" Frank asks.
"He's the last person you can tell," Lindsey says. "The attacker. He said he wanted to know the detective's secret."
Frank's mind goes momentarily blank with shock.
"What does that mean?" Jamia asks.
"I need to think," she says, in a way that makes Frank think she knows a lot more than she's telling, and more than she's going to tell them. Jamia's expression seems to say she's thinking the same thing. "I don’t want to get Gerard involved yet, if this is just about the Mindless Act."
"But it's – " Frank says, and then he stops, because he notices that there's someone standing in the shadows at the corner of the diner. The person moves so they're just in the lamplight and Frank sees that it's Alicia. She grins when she sees Frank's seen her, and it makes Frank shiver. Then she disappears back into the shadows.
Frank's still so distracted by Alicia that he easily agrees when Lindsey and Jamia extract a promise from him not to tell Gerard about what happened.
"I just need a little more time," Lindsey says.
"Let me know if I can help," Frank says.
"Thank you, Frank," Lindsey says.
"Thanks for coming out tonight," Jamia says to Frank. "I wasn't sure you'd remember the code."
"Been a while since you've been on a blind date," Frank says, looking from Jamia to the Governor. "I should get back. I don't know how long Gerard thinks moving furniture will take.”
"I'm going back to the mansion. Are you coming?" Lindsey asks Jamia, who nods, and follows her.
Frank's about to turn and walk home when Alicia's at his side. He startles and almost trips over the remnants of potted plant that Jamia had used as a weapon.
"I won't tell if you won't," Alicia says.
"Uh," is all Frank can manage.
"I'll make sure Mikey doesn't say anything either," she says, "About your moving furniture." And before Frank can manage a coherent response, she goes back into the diner, and Frank’s left to wonder whether he’s just made a mutually beneficial pact with Alicia or if it’s actually blackmail.
As Frank approaches the driveway of the Way Mansion, he sees Dewees, who is sitting on the stone wall at the edge of the driveway.
"What's up, man?" Frank asks.
"The sky," Dewees says, and Frank laughs.
"I meant, why are you sitting on the west wall? You're supposed to come back tomorrow."
"It's not tomorrow?"
"Just fucking come inside," Frank says, and Dewees follows.
"How was Jamia?" Dewees asks.
Frank flinches, but if Dewees notices, he doesn't say anything.
"She's fine," Frank says, and then because he isn't sure how to change the subject, he just shouts for Schechter as soon as they're inside. "Hey, Schechter? Mr. Grand Sorcerer?"
"Do not address me that way," Schechter says grumpily, appearing from his office.
"What?" he says, finally looking up from the several jagged pieces of stones that he's arranging on his desk.
"I've found us a temporary valet," Frank says, but when he looks behind him, Dewees isn't anywhere to be seen.
"You just stumbled across him?" Schechter asks.
"It's my buddy Dewees, the zombie. Dewees?" Frank says. He wonders if there's some rule he forgot about inviting him in and he's not able to cross the threshold.
Frank pulls back the sun curtain, opens the door and peers out. Dewees isn't there.
"Bring him in," Schechter says impatiently. "I'll do the interview and everything now."
Except that at that moment, Greta steps out of Schechter's office with a bowl of water balanced in her hands and several rocks rise up in the air from Schechter's desk and zoom after her like darts.
"You said that wouldn't happen!" Greta shouts as she runs past Frank, quickly handing him the bowl of water.
"I know what I said," Schechter shouts back. "Get the zombie started or whatever," he says to Frank. "You know what he needs. I need to go - " Schechter gestures towards Greta and the stones.
"Yeah," Frank says, and waits until Schechter has run off before he shouts into the courtyard, "Dewees, get in here!"
"In where?" Dewees says as he comes in to stand beside Frank.
"In the house," Frank says.
"Specificity is the key to a well-behaved zombie," Dewees says, like he's reciting something he was long ago urged to memorize.
"You'd better behave. Here," he says, hanging Dewees the bowl. "Go bring this to Cortez and I'll go get the training manual."
"Yes, sir," Dewees says, and Frank already doesn’t like the sound of Dewees calling him sir.
Frank spends the better part of an hour going over the Mansion layout, the valet duties, and where Dewees can find any of the various things he might need. He probably doesn't do as thorough of a job as he could, because it feels strange to him to start every sentence with, "When I was the valet, I did…" His head's spinning from the breakfast he just had with the Governor, from the mysterious attacker, and from his promise not to tell Gerard even though that's what everything inside of him is screaming to do.
Frank's mid-sentence explaining why there are three places they keep towels in the house when he's suddenly unable to speak. It takes him a moment to realize it's because he's coughing.
"You ok?" Dewees asks, reaching around to pat Frank on the back. Frank tries to answer, but he just coughs more.
"Haven't heard you cough in ages," Dewees says, when Frank finally wheezes to a halt. "Thought vampires didn't need to breathe."
"Not," Frank says, clearing his throat. "Not in the same way."
"Did you choke on something?" Dewees asks. Frank shakes his head. He's not sure what happened at all, except that his chest aches. “Maybe you’re throat is raw because you’ve been talking at me for an hour straight.”
"Whatever man, listen, the towels are important."
"I'm listening," Dewees says.
Gerard's fallen asleep in his reading chair when Frank goes to find him. He startles awake when Frank touches his shoulder, but then smiles sleepily at Frank.
"How was Jamia? Have you been back long?" Gerard asks.
"Dewees was still here, so I got him started," Frank says, choosing to ignore the first question. "Come on, we should go to bed."
They're upstairs when Gerard asks, "Is everything ok, Frank? You keep clearing your throat."
He hasn't realized he is still doing it. "I just – it was weird, I had a coughing fit earlier. With Dewees."
Gerard accidentally slams the dresser drawer shut. "Coughing."
"Yeah, it was out of the blue," Frank says. "Haven't coughed in years."
"Maybe you should talk to Brian tomorrow," Gerard says. "It might have to do with your injury." Gerard's not looking at him, instead folding and unfolding a pair of socks.
"Shouldn't I be completely healed, though?" Frank asks. "Isn't the Trading supposed to – "
"Frank," Gerard says sharply, and Frank falls silent. Gerard finally looks at him and they have an uncomfortably tense moment of staring at each other.
"I'll talk to Schechter," Frank says.
"Ok," Gerard says, "Oh, I found the fern."
"Oh," Frank says. He doesn't want to talk about the fern. He wants to talk about why Gerard just snapped at him, and why he can't even say the word 'Trading' without Gerard getting furious. "Where was it?"
"Where you said," Gerard says, his voice softer. "In the third volume of field guides."
"I told you," Frank says.
"I know you did," Gerard says, and then he starts to undress and get into bed. Frank, feeling completely wrong-footed, does the same.
"Why doesn't he want me to talk about the Trading?" Frank asks, storming into Schechter's office the next night.
"I'm assuming you don't mean the zombie," Schechter says, closing the book he was reading. "Who by the way, I haven't even been able to have a conversation with because he keeps running away."
"Did you scare him?" Frank asks. Schechter glares at him. "Because maybe you scared him and he just needs to….warm up to you." Frank can't help but say it with a smirk.
"Tell me why you're trying to talk to Gerard about the Trading," Schechter says.
"I'm not trying," Frank says. "It just keeps coming up."
Schechter is moving pieces of glass around what looks like a piece of plywood. He moves another piece and a moment later, Greta storms in.
"Stop it," she says.
"Stop what?" Schechter says, though it's clear he knows exactly what she's talking about.
"Stop moving the rooms of my house around like they're pieces on a chessboard."
"What?" Frank says. She looks pointedly down at Schechter's glass and plywood.
"Have you figured out the order yet?" Schechter says.
She sighs grandly and storms back out.
"You're cruel," Frank says.
"She's the one who wanted to be my apprentice," Schechter says, and moves another piece of glass. "So tell me," he says, looking up at Frank, "Why are you talking to me about this and not Gerard?"
"Because we don't talk about it, we just fight," Frank says.
Schechter shakes his head, and Frank isn't sure what he means, but he doesn't ask. "I just wanted to know if you knew something I didn't."
"I know lots of things that you don't," Schechter says.
Greta storms back in then. "Colors and prime numbers," she says.
Schechter looks considering at the glass piece in his hand, then places it down. "Close," he says.
She storms off in a huff.
"I don't know what you want me to say, Frank," Schechter says. "If he's upset, you're more likely to know than I am."
Frank shrugs. "I just think that it has to be about something more than the Trading -"
"Brian, do you know where - " Gerard says, bursting in. He looks at Frank, then at Schechter. "What did you just say?" he says.
"Nothing," Frank says.
"Why are you asking Brian about the Trading?"
Frank shoots Schechter a look as if to says, "See?" but Schechter is pointedly looking away.
"I'm not," Frank says. "You're the one who told me to come see him."
"About your cough," Gerard says.
"Your cough," Schechter says, in a way that completely gives away the fact that Frank has failed to mention the cough.
"I was going to – " Frank starts to say, but at that moment the door to Brian's office flies open again.
"Color," Greta bursts in, "And the Fibonacci sequence."
Then she takes in Gerard's flushed face, Frank's stillness, and Schechter's frown. She takes a step back.
"The Fibonacci sequence doesn't have a seven," Schechter says after a long moment.
"I'm going," Frank says, and pushes past Gerard and Greta. After a moment, he hears the door close behind him, and someone following. He hopes it's Greta, but when he turns, it's Gerard, who looks chagrinned at being caught.
"Checking to see what I'm doing next?" Frank says.
"I was just concerned - " Gerard starts but Frank cuts him off.
"I am tired of your concern," Frank bites back.
Gerard, to his credit, doesn't say anything. He lets Frank walk off down the hall.
Frank sleeps in his coffin the next day. They spend the next night pretending the conversation didn't happen.
Excerpt from the chapter on Service Staff and Non-Magical Staffing Requirements of the Way Household
Since I have been employed with the Way Mansion, the household has suffered under what I was at first certain was a curse on the valet position, but later realized was simply a terrible combination of bad luck and bad decisions on the part of Gerard.
The Way Mansion could manage with a single valet with average skills were it not for the Detective Agency, or moreso, Gerard's inability to separate the agency from his household responsibilities7. As it were, the household has employed at least twelve valets in the past eight years, and I say at least because I know there are at least two occasions upon which Gerard employed a valet for less than a day and failed to tell me about the manner of the individual's failure to be appropriate the role.
Over the years, I developed a series of questions to be asked of anyone up for the position in order to first determine their qualifications, and, as time went on and Gerard's business grew more perilous, magical tests that would rule out anyone wishing Gerard harm.
The matter boils down to the fact that, after eight years and an increasingly tenuous relationship with Pencey, the provider of temporary service positions, we had an ideal balance of a capable valet and an individual supremely attuned Gerard's detective activities8.
7 Mikey appears to have no desire for valet service, but would also, I have little doubt, let the house fall into complete disrepair were he in charge.
8So, of course Gerard went and fell in love with him.
Frank's just finishing filing the update on the stolen set of cursed wine goblets Gerard took on a few weeks ago, and as much as Gerard would protest that they have a valet for filing, Frank's not interested in re-explaining the system to Dewees when he can't manage to find him half the time anyway. He thinks he must keep hiding from Schechter and he makes a point to bring it up the next time he finds him.
He hears Gerard around the corner and hurries to close the filing cabinet before Gerard sees him and they have to have another stupid argument.
Then Frank's hit with a weird wave of dizziness where the wall feels like the floor and the ceiling feels like the wall and then he kind of falls shoulder-first into the filing cabinet, which makes the trick drawer pop out and shoot paper and file folders all around and all the flapping paper isn't helping Frank's sense of up and down at all.
He tries to talk, to shout for help, because he's not getting better and his sight's getting blurry, but before he can get anything out, he's falling and he's at least reassured that he's found the floor.
"Frank?" Gerard is suddenly there, and Frank can feel him but not see him. He wonders if his eyes are swollen shut or if he just can't manage to open them.
"Requirements for full table settings with more than two Clan Code sub-level A's in attendance," Frank mutters and that's not what he meant to say at all.
"Brian!" Gerard shouts, which means Frank's scared him. He can hear Gerard's heart speed up and Frank tries to move his hand to pat Gerard's arm but all that happens is the room starts to spin really, really slowly.
"Why the hell are you shouting?" Schechter says, and as far as Frank can tell, Schechter didn't use the door. "What happened," he says, stern and calm.
"I don't know. He was on the ground when I came in here."
"Frank, can you answer me?" Schechter asks.
"Three pronged forks," Frank says, "Spoon to the left."
Schechter presses hard on Frank's chest and Frank starts to cough.
"Maybe it's something he ate," Schechter says. "Go get Cortez and see if he can tell us what bag Frank ate from."
"Brian, I can't leave him."
"Fine," Schechter shouts, and disappears, and reappears a moment later. "The blood looks fine," Schechter says. "If there's something wrong with it, I don't know what it is."
"But he's not getting better."
"We need to clean his system," Schechter says. "I can - "
"No, my blood helped him before."
"Nnnnnhhh," Frank says, as much as a sound of protest as he can manage. He knows this isn't right.
"Just a little, right?" Gerard says.
"Probably two ounces," Schechter says. “Though you'll have to judge, I'm not measuring blood from your wrist, ok?"
Suddenly Frank's mouth is full of blood and he's swallowing, his lips against Gerard's skin in a way he's absolutely not supposed to be familiar with. Things go fuzzy and dark, and he's just swallowing and swallowing, then he opens his eyes to a yellow glow that is Schechter bandaging Gerard's wrist with magic.
"What the hell," Frank says, though the words are thick and slow in his mouth.
"I'd like to ask you the same thing, come on, let's get you to the lab," Schechter says.
"Since when do you have a - " Before he can finish, he is unmistakably in a lab, on a cold steel table, and Greta is hurrying over to rest her fingers on Frank's wrist as though she's taking his pulse.
"You ok, Frankie?" Gerard says, standing right next to Frank on the table.
"Don't do that," Frank says, reaching for Gerard's wrist to try to see the wound. "Don't give me your blood."
"Frankie, you had blood poisoning - "
"No," Schechter says, swirling something in a test tube and holding it up to the light. "It's possible that you may have had an allergy attack, but it's too early for me to tell."
"I had an allergy attack?"
"Oh my god, Frank, what are you allergic to?" Gerard practically shrieks. "Allergies are completely dangerous, trust me, I know! Why didn't you say something, you need to be more careful - "
"I'm not," Frank says. "I'm not allergic to anything. I'm fine."
"Clearly," Schechter says, gesturing at Frank still prone on the lab table, "That is not true."
"Here's the analysis," Greta says, appearing at Schechter's side, peering at Frank upside down.
"How can you have an analysis, I've only been here for two minutes," Frank says. Greta does a perfect impression of Schechter's scorn.
"It doesn't mean we have answers," Schechter says, like it's taxing him to be this patient. "It just means we have a list of every Daylighter food, drug, and unique composition that's left traces in your blood."
"And so what do you have to do, just study it?" Gerard asks anxiously. Gerard and Schechter have a sort of battle of intense looks.
"We have to call Dr. Asher," Schechter says.
"Hey!" Frank says at the same time Gerard says, "Brian."
"Victoria," Schechter says, "is the best expert on vampire diseases - "
"I don't have a disease!" Frank protests.
"Fine, she's the best expert on vampire allergies," Schechter says, "And you'll do whatever she says."
"Fine," Frank snaps back, "I'll just go and clean up the file room and you can call me when she's here."
"No," Gerard and Schechter say at the same time and Frank is overruled.
"I'll get James to do it," Gerard says. Frank sighs. "And to make tea."
"Tell him - " Frank says, sitting up.
"I know, I know. What temperature to boil the water, what brand to use, what cup, and when to bring it to me." Gerard says fondly. "He's not my first zombie, Frank."
Frank lies back down on the table and listens to the bustling of Greta around the lab, and wonders when Schechter got a lab, when Gerard learned how to be a master to a zombie, and when Dewees so effectively replaced him.
Frank hasn't really meant to fall asleep, but he wakes with a start when he hears Schechter and Victoria talking down the hall.
"You should have brought him to see me after his injury," Victoria says.
"Could this be related?"
"Well I haven't had many patients survive a poison arrow, and as I haven't examined him, I can't be sure."
"You know why I couldn't bring him," Schechter says.
"I heard the rumors," Victoria says. "You know I'm bound by doctor-patient confidentiality."
"Not when it comes to the suspicion of sinister rituals," Schechter says.
"And there's no reason for me to suspect one," Victoria says.
"Thank you," Schechter says, and then they open the door.
"Hi Frank," she says kindly. "I hear you're suffering from a case of blood-based allergies?" Frank shrugs, and she says, "All right, let's do an exam."
It's a lot like the other exams he's had the Clan office, with Victoria pressing strange pieces of equipment to various parts of his chest and arms, shining lights into his eyes, his ears, his nose, his throat. But she presses a few things that look like kitchen equipment to his feet, before finally focusing her exam on the diamond-shaped scar on his chest.
"Interesting that it scarred," Victoria says, pressing her fingers gently to the spot. Frank flinches. It hadn't hurt before, but it does now, in the weird, dull way. "Not all vampires scar once they've been turned," she adds. "It's not unheard of, it all depends on their manner of turning and their magical constitution. Brian, can I see your lab results?" Brian gives a wordless wave and Victoria stands and starts reading through the stack of papers. "Brian," she says, impatiently.
"Ask Greta," he says shortly.
"Greta?" Victoria says tentatively, and Greta comes in from the workroom.
"Oh, it's not translated, sorry," Greta says, and starts murmuring at the papers.
"What's not translated?" Frank asks.
"I can't read magic," Victoria says.
"Here you go," Greta says, handing them back to Victoria.
"You've gotten good," Victoria says. Greta beams at her and shoots a look at Schechter, who ignores her. "So," Victoria says to Frank after a few minutes of quiet. "It does appear that you have an increased sensitivity, you might even call it an allergy, to various compounds generally found in Daylighter blood. Have you ever had werewolf blood?"
Frank makes a face. "They gave it to me when I was first turned. Thought it would help give me strength since I'd been so sick as a Daylighter. Made me feel like I was on a swing set."
"Ok, so no werewolf blood then," Victoria says. "Your other best option is a cocktail, then. One part Daylighter, two parts Midnighter. I'm thinking a mix that's a third vampire should combat the Daylighter allergens. I'll give you a prescription and you can pick it up at the Clan office."
"I'll pick it up for him," Schechter says. Frank rolls his eyes at Victoria. "I saw that," Schechter says.
Frank's been sick more than his share, and he knows all the various stages of wellness and not-so-wellness, knows when he was past the point of when he should have gone to see a doctor, or when he could tough it out. The thing is, he's never been sick as a vampire. Illness is something he left behind. His poor health was the reason he got turned. So he doesn't know how to be sick as a vampire. It is like the first time he ever remembered being sick as a Daylighter: scared, vulnerable, unable to breathe like the blankets of his bed were choking him, feverish and unsure how to tell how close he was to never, ever, ever getting better.
He tries to reason himself out of it, as Schechter checks him over, as Victoria talks about blood cocktails, and tries to tell himself it's going to be fine, but there's still a part of him, something that's leftover from being a Daylighter, maybe it's even become scraped raw and new when he was turned, the part that thinks this is just the beginning of the end, the curse of his bad health tracking him down, come to kill him off finally. There's a part of him that thought, the very second he started to cough, that he was finally dying.
So of course trying not to think of it just makes him think of it, but he's scared, and he's never been very good at being brave. He turned himself into a vampire to escape dying after all, and yet. Death's still knocking at his door. But he'd thought there was a good reason then - he was young. He needed more time.
He thinks the same thing now. He's just found Gerard. He doesn't want to waste away. Not again. There are whole months he barely remembers, filled with bed rest and shortness of breath and pain.
Now it is going to be blood cocktails and the ice Victoria's placing on his chest, and Gerard giving him concerned looks if he so much as breathes too heavily.
"You call me if there's any change, and then let's make an appointment for a week from now, I'll even come here so we can keep this discrete. Not that there's any reason, of course," Victoria says lightly. "It's nice to get out of the office."
Dewees is there to show her out, and Frank is being resolutely ignored by Schechter, as though he's had quite enough of Frank for the day, so Frank lets himself out of the lab, and goes to see Gerard.
"I didn't want to intrude," Gerard says. It's a poor explanation for why he is effectively hiding from anything that might implicate him in Frank's illness or injury. Frank wants to shout the word over and over. Trading, Trading, Trading, just to see what Gerard will do. "What did Victoria say?"
"Victoria's not going to say anything," Frank says impatiently.
"What did she say about you?" Gerard says. "About what's wrong."
"She said that it's not the first case of Daylighter sensitivity she's seen develop after turning. She's prescribing me a blood cocktail."
"And Schechter's taking care of it?" Gerard asks.
"Yeah," Frank says, and wonders why no one will let him do anything for himself.
"Good," Gerard says. "And you're feeling ok?" Frank nods. "You want to go out and see the dragon's bush? It's on the east lawn because it's supposed to smoke on the 3rd and 4th of the month and I didn't want it clogging up the greenhouse."
It's a peace offering, and Frank's ready to accept it. If this is just the beginning of him getting sicker and sicker, then he doesn't want to spend what time he has left fighting with Gerard.
"Yeah, ok," Frank agrees. As they're walking out to the yard, Gerard lets his hand linger on Frank's back.
Frank doesn’t get better over the next few days, but he can pretend he isn’t getting worse, and he can pretend to ignore the way Gerard looks at him when he coughs. Gerard hovers over Frank the first time he drinks the cocktail Victoria's described. He feels fine, and finally convinces Gerard to leave him alone and go back to his office so Frank can track down Dewees.
As Frank's wandering around looking for him, he hears raised voices, and he's not used to hearing Brian and Gerard argue like that. He walks closer to Schechter's office, as close as he dares, and listens. If he focuses, he will hear it more clearly, like zoning in on a sound through everything else rather than just casting his hearing wide open, assuming Schechter doesn't have magic on the door. But Frank listens, and he hears Schechter's voice clearly.
"Brian, it's the simplest solution."
"There's a difference between effective and simple. There is nothing simple about that."
"You know what's wrong."
"It's not a good idea," Schechter says. "But I'll consider it. Now get out, I need to work."
Frank rushes away from the door, and ducks into the grand dining room.
"Frank?" Dewees calls from under the table.
"Dewees, what the fuck, I've been looking all over the house for you. Where do you keep disappearing to?"
"I don't know," Dewees says. "I get lost."
"Well come on, get up. You have chores to do."
"I do," Dewees says agreeable, and crawls out between two chairs. "Did you hear shouting earlier?"
"No," Frank says and then the door chimes. Frank looks at Dewees, who’s still on his hands and knees between the chairs. “You gonna get that?”
“Oh, right,” Dewees says, and heads for the door. Frank follows, and Gerard’s just coming out of his office when Dewees announces the arrival of Pete Wentz.
"Pete," Gerard says cautiously. "I don't believe we have an appointment?"
"Oh, no," Pete says airily, like he never needs appointments. "Mikey and I are going out."
"Out where?" Gerard says.
"Gerard, leave him alone," Mikey says as he comes out from where he's rummaging in the coat closet for a pair of shoes.
"Where are you going?" Gerard asks, turning his question on his brother.
"None of your business," Mikey says back.
"There's a counter-protest at the rezoning line," Pete says diplomatically.
"I'm getting my counter-protesting shoes," Mikey says.
"You're not going," Gerard says. Pete actually takes a step back.
"What's wrong with going to a counter-protest?" Mikey says, "It's not like it's my first one. I have shoes specifically for it."
"It's not safe," Gerard says.
"I'll be with him," Pete says. Mikey beams at him. Gerard scowls. "I mean it, besides my general strength and reassuring protectiveness, I travel with security." Gerard's frown seems to deepen.
"I'm going to go get the sign posts in the shed," Frank says, because even though it can wait, he feels tense and awkward with the brothers on the edge of a fight. Pete looks at him like he wants to go with Frank but can't find an out. Gerard doesn't seem to hear Frank, but Frank slips out anyway, without waiting for acknowledgement.
There's a faint glow across the lawn and Frank follows it to the fire pit, thinking maybe Schechter's burning something. The closer he gets though the more he realizes - or rather feels - that it's not fire. He can feel fire the same way he feels sunlight, though less intensely. This glow is something else, something more magic. He gets close and the glow goes out, then he sees that Alicia is standing just outside the fire pit.
"Sorry," Frank says. "Didn't mean to disturb - " he's not sure what he disturbed, actually, but he's sorry. He really had hoped he wasn't going to see Alicia again for a while.
"Nice fire pit," Alicia says. "It get much use?"
Frank shrugs. "I think Schechter burns stuff in it mostly and Gerard will burn off some of the brush and cuttings from the greenhouse. Mikey told me they used to have bonfires years back, but there hasn't been one since I've been here."
Alicia nods. "Gerard doesn't let you near the fires?"
"No," Frank says, "Even though it's not like I'm just going to spontaneously combust if I tend a fire outside. But he has a thing about greenhouse stuff."
"I know," Alicia says. "There are certain things about which he is very....." she gestures and a little bit of the glow returns, "reserved. Have you seen Mikey?" she asks, and Frank startles a little at the change in topic but tries to keep up.
"Yeah, he's inside with Pete," Frank says, then regrets it instantly. It must show on his face because Alicia laughs, and it's a melody that reverberates around the trees. "He's fighting with Gerard," Frank adds, hoping to avoid talking about what he said and Alicia's reaction at all.
"Pete's fighting with Gerard, or Mikey's fighting with Gerard?"
"Mikey," Frank says.
"Well that's good," Alicia says, "I didn't think Pete was feeling particularly suicidal lately."
Frank laughs, and for a moment, he feels almost comfortable around Alicia. It's not that he's scared, or that she's Fairy, she's just - it's like with Schechter before he met him, but worse. It was all her power.
"I can go get him, if you want," Frank says.
Alicia shakes her head. "I'll just sit out here and contemplate your empty fire pit," Alicia says. "If you don't mind."
"No," Frank says. "I don't mind." He's not sure it would matter if he minded, and it's not like he's going to tell her to leave. She smiles at him, though, and Frank heads to the door then turns around, almost forgetting he was going out for the sign posts. He sees the glow start again and watches it fill the sky until he can see all the woods around, the houses and the Lazarra mansion, like it's a harvest moon at midnight.
Application for Sorcerership, page 47, part 4, Personal Declaration
I have been in residence in this household without formally serving as the family sorcerer for eleven years. I have also come to believe that at the time Gerard hired me, he saw something in me that I did not yet recognize myself. Most level 5 quests do not begin eleven years into service, and while I am fine with the unusual nature of my pursuit at this time, I am not looking forward to the eleven years or halfhearted and unorganized notations as required in creating my own book of family magical history.
I was not planning at the time to ever pursue sorcerership, so I did not document magical events in the house with any detail or consistency9. I would have continued along in that manner, if it hadn't been for the faked death of Pete Wentz10.
And with that fact, I begin the recording of the present events of the Way Household with an illegal, sinister ritual: The Trading.
9 If I had, I would never have done anything else. I am not sure that my future as a level 5 sorcerer won't be reduced entirely to paperwork.
10 Please see attached case file, faked case file, evidence log and faked evidence log.
Frank walks by the sitting room on the way to the kitchen and he sees Mr. Vaughn Stump is on the settee, his hands pressed over his eyes. Frank's not sure for a moment that it is Mr. Vaughn Stump, because he would have expected him to be at the counter-protest along with Pete. What’s even more odd is that he’s missing the most distinguishing feature - his hat. His head looks smaller, and Mr. Vaughn Stump obviously feels that it's barer without it, because the hand that's not covering his eyes keeps creeping up to touch his forehead.
"Sir," Frank says, ducking in, "Did Dewees take your hat? He's still new, but he's a zombie, so all you have to do is firmly tell him you'd like it back."
"No," Mr. Vaughn Stump says, "Thank you, Frank, but I didn't come here with a hat."
"Oh," Frank says, and then, “I'm sorry to disturb you, is there anything I can - "
"Frank," Mr. Vaughn Stump says, "I thought you just told me Dewees was the valet."
"Yes," Frank says.
"So why are you offering to get my something to drink?" Patrick says.
"Oh," Frank says. He hadn't even realized he was doing it. "Apparently it's hard to unlearn being a valet, sir?" It's a ridiculous thing to say, since technically Frank hadn’t been a valet for very long at all.
"And that," Patrick says, touching his forehead, realizing he's doing it and stopping again, "Call me Patrick."
"Of course," Frank says, and he says the name a couple of times in his head as though it could override all this time calling him Mr. Vaughn Stump in just a few repetitions. "Are you here to see Gerard?" Frank asks, because even though Patrick's insisted on being called by his first name, it doesn't mean that Frank's allowed to ask about the missing hat.
"Greta, actually," Patrick says. "But she's probably with Brian since she's not next door, so I thought it would be all right to wait for her here."
"I'm sure Schechter will give her a moment if - "
"No, she's expecting me. I made an appointment and everything. She's an apprentice now, so I need to schedule consultations in keeping with the Clan Code for any magical business."
Greta shows up at that moment before Frank can ask what sort of consultation he's here for. Patrick stands and they hug, and Greta says, before she's even let him go, "Patrick, where's your hat?" Patrick's face falls. "Tell me who it was, I'll go after them," Greta demands.
Schechter appears behind her. "You are not cleared for violent retribution," he says. Greta sighs. "Patrick," Schechter greets him and Patrick nods.
"Here," Schechter says, and he's suddenly holding a hat, not unlike the fedoras Patrick usually wears. He hands it to Greta, who hands it to Patrick. Patrick understands immediately, but he sort of hovers with the hat lifted to his head, hesitating. Then Frank realizes that Patrick's not hesitating. The hat won't go onto his head.
"You've been cursed," Greta says.
"Very good," Schechter says to Greta. "But what kind?" Schechter asks her, and holds his hand out for the hat, which he makes disappear.
"I have the Curse of the Ninth," Patrick says while Greta's tilting her head at him, trying to divine the curse.
"No you don't," Schechter says immediately. "Who cursed you?"
"I don't know," Patrick says.
"Hmmm," Schechter says, and then he corrects Greta's hand position as she scans Patrick.
"By his head?" Greta asks and Schechter nods, nudges her hand a little to the right.
"What's the Curse of the Ninth?" Frank asks.
"Something he doesn't have," Schechter says emphatically. He's watching both Patrick and Greta.
"But he's been cursed with something," Greta says. "I can feel it, just not what." She sounds frustrated.
"It's not the Ninth," Schechter says to Patrick. "I'd know if it was. Come on, come to the lab, I'll let Greta do the intake."
"You will?" she says, looking up at him, surprised. Schechter ignores her and says to Frank, "Get your coat, Gerard's going to want to go to the apothecary in a minute."
Frank nods, and doesn't ask how he knows. He goes to the coat closet and when he opens the door, an arm thrusts his coat to him. "Your coat, sir," Dewees says from behind the line of hanging coats.
"What the fuck, man?" Frank says. "What are you doing in the coat closet?"
"You sent me here."
"That was this morning," Frank says. "And I didn't tell you to get in the closet, I told you to put a coat in the closet. Who let Patrick in?"
"I did," Dewees says, his face still hidden behind the coats. "And then I came back here."
"Were you hiding from Schechter again?" Frank asks.
Dewees doesn't answer.
"Come on, get out of the closet, the scary sorcerer is gone. And the next time I tell you to get out of the way, I don't mean for the whole day."
"You need to give me a specific time," Dewees says. "Gerard always asks me to come back at a specific time."
"Well then ask Gerard," Frank says.
"Ask me what?" Gerard says, appearing.
"Here's your coat, sir," Dewees says, handing Gerard his coat.
"Thank you, James," Gerard says.
"Out of the closet," Frank says. Dewees obeys. "He got scared of Schechter," Frank says in explanation.
"I can talk to him about it," Gerard says. "Brian could ease up a little on the whole intimidation thing."
"No," Dewees practically shouts. "That's not necessary, sir. There's no need to bother the sorcerer with my small issues."
"If you say so," Gerard says skeptically. "But you let me know if you change your mind. There's no need to hide in closets if you don't want."
"I just do what I'm told," Dewees says, eyeing Frank meaningfully.
"Are you coming with me?" Gerard asks Frank, looking at his coat.
"Schechter told me you were going to the apothecary."
"Oh, no, I was going to the Office of Zombie Affairs," Gerard says, "to follow up on the vampire zombie."
"Oh," Frank says, "So I shouldn't come."
Gerard's expression is pained. "I just think – "
"No, it's fine," Frank says, and tries to mean it. "I'll go see what Greta and Schechter have found out about Patrick."
"Something's wrong with Patrick?"
"He's cursed, apparently."
"What curse?" Gerard asks, putting on his coat. Frank helps him fold down the collar.
"Patrick said he thought it was the Curse of the Ninth."
"Oh my god, poor Patrick," Gerard says. "I'll be back in a few hours. See you soon, Frank," he says, and then he's gone.
Schechter's explaining a second round of blood analysis to Frank while Greta conducts some sort of complicated scan of Patrick's hand with a thin piece of thread.
"Frank," Schechter says, and Frank realizes he's zoned out, and Schechter's holding a piece of paper out at him.
"Sorry," Frank says, and looks at the paper. It's a list of spices. "Wait, this can't be me, this is - "
"All of the spices Gerard is allergic to."
"That's weird," Frank says.
"Victoria thinks it's a possibility you imprinted on his food choices," Greta says. She's walked over to the desk with her eyes closed, but she opens them as she hands Schechter a glass vial. "Eyes closed," Schechter says.
Greta curses under her breath and closes her eyes. Frank looks from Greta to Schechter but they appear to be having battle of wills, staring at each other even though Greta's eyes are closed. After a moment, it seems that Greta loses and she holds her hand out for the vial, eyes still closed.
"Patrick's done the chart," Greta says, walking back over to him without bumping into anything the way Frank would expect.
"Send him over, then," Schechter says. "Eyes closed!" he says.
"So you've never had any allergies," Schechter says, gesturing at the list Frank is holding.
"Unless you can figure out something the doctors never could about why I kept getting double-lung pneumonia," Frank says.
"That's exactly what I intend to do," Schechter says. He snatches back the list and starts circling things. "What else did you have?"
"You mean, Daylighter illnesses? Uh, everything?" Frank says. "Bronchitis half a dozen times, asthma all the time, a lung infection, twice. Every cold and flu you can think of. And I nearly had a collapsed lung, I don't really remember it though."
Schechter shakes his head. "And you swear to me, Frank, you swear you followed the Clan Code procedure for turning?"
"Yes," Frank says, "I was at a clinic and everything."
"Which clinic?" Schechter asks, and Frank shrugs. It's not something he really paid much attention to at the time. Schechter rolls his eyes at him and says, "Fine, I'll check your paperwork myself."
Greta comes back a moment later, her eyes still closed and a little smirk on her face that shows she's proud of it, too, Patrick behind her. Greta continues the rest of the way into the room and starts pulling down small jars and putting them back, her eyes still closed.
Patrick nods at Frank, and holds out the chart for Schechter, who takes it. "Stay there for a second and let me read it," Schechter says, now he closes his eyes and holds his palm over it. "Strange," he says.
"What?" Patrick says. "I mean, any part specifically?"
"It's strange that you of all people got cursed," Schechter says.
"Anyone can get cursed," Patrick says. "If you think because I work with Pete - "
"It's not about Wentz," Schechter says, and Frank sees something like relief on Patrick's face. "Your energy's all wrong for curses, it should have slid right off you."
Patrick looks at Frank, and Frank shrugs. If there's something Schechter sees in Patrick's energy, it's not visible to Frank, although that's why he's not the sorcerer.
"We'll do a few more things in a minute," Schechter says. "Let me figure out why Frank kept knocking on deaths' door." Schechter picks up Frank's file of papers and begins flipping through them. A few pages in, Patrick comes over so he's right behind Schechter's chair, and brings his fingers to Schechter's shoulders and starts rubbing them. Schechter sighs and leans into him, without looking up from his paperwork, and Frank watches, mesmerized, as Patrick's fingers work, digging into the tight muscle, making Schechter's chest rock forward slightly with each motion. No one ever touches Schechter, and so Frank's not really sure what's happening, or why it's happening in front of him. He wonders if, like Greta, he ought to close his eyes.
Patrick's thumbs stroke up the joint of Schechter's neck, back down, then higher up, tracing to the nape of his neck, just under his hair. Schechter sighs.
"Uh," Frank says, and both Schechter and Patrick startle, Patrick jumping a foot back.
"What just happened?" Schechter says, turning to Frank and then to Patrick.
Greta's eyes fly open and Schechter doesn't say anything. "Frank," Schechter says when it's clear no one else is going to say anything.
"Patrick was - he was just massaging your neck."
"He was what?" Schechter says.
"I - what?" Patrick says.
Schechter crowds into Patrick's space. Frank and Greta exchange a worried look. "Did you mean to?" Schechter says.
"No," Patrick says.
"Greta, was that you?"
"What, did I decide I wanted to see Patrick massage your neck? No," she says shortly.
"Interesting," Schechter says, and sits back down abruptly. He touches his fingers to his neck, where Patrick's thumb had traced his skin. He holds his hand over Patrick's chart again.
"Show this to Gerard when he gets back," Schechter says abruptly to Frank, and Patrick's hands fall away from Schechter's shoulders as Schechter hands Frank a piece of paper with the list of spices in the blood that Frank was apparently allergic to.
"Ok," Frank says. "See you," he says, to Patrick, and Greta waves, her eyes still closed. Schechter's already ignoring Frank before he's out the door.
Frank's not going to show Gerard the allergy list, because he knows it's not allergies. Maybe it's the first symptom, sure, but that's how it always is, this false hope that if he just eats right, or stays away from strenuous activity or gets enough sleep, that he won't get sick, again and again. It never worked before and it's not going to work now.
"I've got another letter for you," Dewees says, catching Frank pacing back and forth in his bedroom, between the coffin and the bed, since he knows he should lie down and rest like everyone keeps telling him to but he can't decide where he should lie down. "Why do you get so many messages? You never got much mail at your old apartment."
"I don't fucking know," Frank says, snatching the letter off the tray.
"How are – "
"Don't ask me how I'm feeling," Frank interrupts before Dewees can finish. Dewees shuts up immediately, because it's an order. "Sorry," Frank adds. Dewees is still eyeing him balefully, even if he can't say anything else about it.
"I'll be downstairs," Dewees says. "If you need to send a reply."
Frank opens the letter, which he thinks will be from Jamia. Instead, it's from the Governor.
There's a scrap of paper that reads, ‘If you're still interested in helping, you can help me figure out who sent this letter. –L.’
There's a small card-sized envelope addressed to the Governor, and inside, there's a piece of paper that says, "Tell us the detective's secret and you won't have to find out what we do to our enemies."
Frank is still interested in helping. But not just for the Governor, and not just because Jamia asked him to. If he's dying, if this is finally it, than he's going find out who wants to hurt Gerard and he's going to stop them before he's too sick to be any good.
The first thing he does is go to see Schechter, who is standing on the opposite side of his desk and tracing the outline of a strangely shaped wooden block onto another, larger block.
"Why are you back again?" Schechter says.
"Can you tell me where paper comes from?"
"Trees," Schechter says. "Greta," he calls out.
"It's not working," Greta says, through the closed door to the next room
"And whose fault is that?" Schechter asks.
"Will I have to start from the beginning if I say it's yours?" she says.
"I mean, a specific piece of paper," Frank says. "Can you, like, trace it back to where it came from?"
"Give me the paper," Schechter says, putting down the wooden block and the pencil.
"I just meant theoretically," Frank says, but Schechter holds out his hand.
"No you didn't. Give me the paper."
Frank doesn't want to give Schechter the actual note, because then any chance he has of keeping this from Gerard will go right out the window. He fumbles for the note in his pocket and finally manages to give Schechter just the envelope. Schechter gives him a suspicious look as he tucks the rest of the note away.
"I can tell you where it came from and where it went," Schechter says. He stares at the envelope a moment and then says, "It was sent within a block of the first house where the werewolf territories and Fairy overlap. And it was received at the Governor's mansion," Schechter says, "Though the address says that part clearly enough," and he pins Frank with a look. Frank is certain that Schechter's going to ask him why he has mail that was received at the Governor's mansion, but he just says, "Does that help?"
"Yes," Frank says. He thinks Schechter's going to say something else, but when Greta shouts from the other side of the door.
"It's tracing itself now," she says nervously.
"Whose fault is that?" Schechter says.
"Can I blame Patrick?" she says, and Frank decides it's as good a time as any to get out of there.
Frank knows exactly who to go see about anyone suspicious living in the werewolf territories. Frank worked with Mike Pedicone at Pencey when Mike was a new wolf, before he got recruited by Pete to run the Werewolf Residential Assistance Program. Frank's heading up the path to Mike’s office when Gerard turns the corner onto the street. They both see each other and stop. This isn't anywhere near where Gerard said he was going, and he looks as surprised to see Frank as Frank is to see him. They're both so still that Frank thinks for a minute that Gerard will actually just turn and walk off in the other direction, but then he comes over.
"Uh, hello," Gerard says. "I didn't realize you were - "
"Running errands," Frank says quickly. "I thought you'd be gone a while, so - "
"Of course," Gerard says, and then it seems to register that he's quite obviously not anywhere near the Zombie Affairs office. "Just....following a lead," Gerard says absently. They both turn at the sound of footsteps approaching behind them.
"Hey,” Mike says, “ I'll be ready in a few minutes, let me just get the files unlocked, ok?" and continues his way into the building.
"You're meeting with Mike Pedicone?" Gerard says.
"Yeah," Frank says defiantly.
"Oh," Gerard says. "Is it about the Clan Code compliance of the house? Or something Brian asked - "
"We’re old friends," Frank says, which isn’t exactly true, but he’s not the only one who’s lying. "I shouldn't keep Mike waiting."
"Right, I should go, too," Gerard says. "So, I'll see you later, Frank." And then he hurries off as Frank heads for the door.
Frank tries very hard not to think about what lead Gerard's following, and then Mike's there, and Frank convinces himself to focus only on his lead.
"So, what can I help you with, Mr. Iero?" Mike asks. He's wearing a suit so blue Frank thinks there has to be some magic involved.
"Don't call me Mr.," Frank says. Mike grins at him.
"Sorry," he says. "You called representing the Detective Agency."
"Which means you're supposed to pretend we don't know each other, I know, I remember the rules even if I don't follow them at the right times," Frank says.
Mike laughs. "You said you needed housing lists?"
"Yeah," Frank says, bluffing his way through it from everything he's heard Gerard say, "And there's a clue that led us to this area. I don't need a full address list, just anyone who might be in this zone who's on your radar?"
Mike's eyebrows shoot up for a moment, and Frank knows that there is absolutely someone on his radar. Frank tells Mike what Schechter said, about how he's looking for anything a block from first house where the werewolf territories and Fairy overlap.
Mike gets a bunch of files after entering a complicated code, and as he hands them to Frank he says, "You know, I don't know the details of the case, but I can tell you who it is without having to look through those files. You know who lives there, don't you?" Mike says, "It's the werewolf called Bert."
"The werewolf called Bert,” Frank says. "Fuck."
"Does that help?" Mike asks.
"Yeah, it really does, thanks," Frank says, and he shakes Mike's hand, tucking the files under his arm.
The werewolf called Bert, Alpha of the Shallow Believer faction would totally threaten the Governor.
He hires a messenger to deliver the files to Lindsey and a note he writes about what Pedicone said about the werewolf called Bert, and then he takes the long way home, hoping that he'll get there after Gerard has returned.
Gerard is coming out of the greenhouse when Frank comes in, and they exchange polite hellos and it seems like neither of them is going to bring up their meeting outside Mike's office. He watches Gerard go upstairs with several cuttings in his hands, probably to paint. Frank listens to see if he can hear Mikey, and then follows Gerard. Gerard is painting, Frank was right, pots of oil colors on the small table beside him. Gerard's arranging his palette. Frank stands at the door, not wanting to disturb him. He waits until Gerard wipes his hands on a cloth and looks up before coming all the rest of the way in.
"Hi Frank," Gerard says. "How's Patrick?"
"Strange," Frank says, thinking back to the inappropriate touching.
"Curses can be very unsettling," Gerard says. "The vampire zombie, for instance, appeared to be under a geis that combined vampire and zombie characteristics. I'm sorry, Frank," he says, "I shouldn't talk about the case. How are you feeling?”
He wishes Gerard hadn’t asked. He hates that question so much, it’s hard to hide it. "I’m fine," Frank says.
"I’m sorry,” Gerard says.
"It’s not your fault.”
"It is. I never thought that one of the consequences - " Gerard says and stops. Here it is again, the thing they can't seem to stop coming back to.
"You weren't thinking," Frank says. It's much more bitter than he means it to be. The air between them goes tense.
"No, I was thinking very clearly," Gerard says. "Just only about the one single thing that mattered."
They stare at each other, and Frank's almost frightened by the intensity Gerard's barely masking.
Gerard exhales slowly and then says, "But you're feeling ok now?" Frank nods. "You don't want to sleep or anything?"
What Frank really wants is watch him paint, perch on the corner of an armchair and watch Gerard swipe colors all over a canvas, twist his brush in his fingers the way he doesn't realize he does before making a decision.
"Would you - mind if I just sat here?"
Gerard's expression softens as he accepts Frank's redirection. "Of course not, Frank," he says, and then he turns his attention back to the canvas.
From a list of Curses Attempted on Gerard, Mikey, the mansion, the grounds, or any individual sent into the property cursed with the intention of spreading this curse11
Fornwell's Friend 13
The Curse of Mercury 14
Palanquin's Geis 15
Unknown Textile Particalization Curse16
11 Please see separate list for cursed plants acquired, gifted, or bred.
12 Cast on Gerard during an investigation. Removed before it effected his fingernails.
13 Detected and removed before the double Gerards could multiply further.
14 Cast on Mikey at a protest. Detected when Mikey repeatedly asked me how my day was seven times in an hour, removed before it could take further effect on his ability to process conversation.
15This was placed on the carriage, twice, before I was able to locate the curse caster. Gerard, quite remarkably, is immune to any curse that's transferable by touch or object. I have not told him this lest it result in even more reckless behavior.
16 Cast on the evidence room by an undetermined object contained within. Currently unremovable, which explains all the dust.
Frank's meeting Spencer at the Undead Oyster for the first meeting of the Valets with Non-Traditional Master's club. Spencer seems surprised when he walks in and sees Frank.
"I thought you weren't a valet anymore," Spencer says.
"But you came anyway," Frank says.
Spencer smiles and sits down. "Well, I am still a valet with a non-traditional master, so I assumed I might just come and see what other valets I ran into," Spencer shrugs. "We're an expanding community, there might be a growing number of non-traditional masters out there. How are you, Frank?"
"I'm fine," He says, because he hasn't gotten the hang of saying, I'm going to sicken and die soon. "How are you and your master?" Frank responds.
"You sure you aren't a valet?" Spencer asks. "You can call him Brendon, you know. He certainly keeps asking me to."
"I bet he does," Frank teases
Spencer's cheeks color slightly.
"That's a lovely look on you," Gabe says, coming over from a few tables away and putting his hands on Spencer's shoulders. Spencer tenses. "Don't forget to update your Clan Code registration, Mr. Smith," Gabe says. "It's that time of year again."
"Like you'd know," Spencer says tightly.
"I don't know what you're talking about," Gabe says. "I am Clan certified."
"Yeah, as a creeper," Frank says. Gabe laughs delightedly and then wanders away as if he hadn't been talking to them at all.
"Don't worry about Gabe," Frank says since Spencer visibly relaxes as soon as Gabe's gone. "He likes to mess with all the former Daylighters."
"I was never a Daylighter," Spencer says, distractedly.
Frank's momentarily dumbfounded. "I'm sorry," Frank says.
"No, I'm sorry, I should explain. I thought I was a Daylighter, if that counts," Spencer says.
"Really?" Frank asks. "Were you a sleeper Midnighter or something? I've heard there are Banshees who go into stasis for whole decades."
"No, I'm a changeling," Spencer says. Frank looks at him closely, searching for evidence. "You'd never know, right? I didn't know until I was a teenager. So remember when I said I was friends with Ryan growing up? I went with him to one of the Clan Clinics just after he'd been turned for his weekly check-up, and I set off the alarms."
"Alarms?" Frank says.
"Every Clan office used to have them before it was ruled an invasion of privacy. But they had sorcerers set up magical species detectors, mostly so that people who knew they were Midnighters but didn't really know enough else about themselves could get categorized. It was like a diagnosis, oh, you're a vampire, oh, you're a selkie, oh, you're half-water creature, here, have a spritzing bottle. It made it easier for the Clan officials and the Midnighters matching up their self-identification. Anyway, they had Ryan go in and out the door a dozen or so times before they realized it was me."
"So, which court do you belong to?" Frank asks, though for a moment he thinks he's going to cough instead. "You can't possibly be Unseelie."
"I could, I guess, they've offered," Spencer says. "Baby swapping is their kind of thing, and then Alicia offered, on behalf of the Seelie, when Ryan tried to have her over for tea one time. I'm kind of an outsider, really, so I've just been getting used to finding my own way without choosing a court."
Gabe walks by, deliberately close, and winks at Spencer. Spencer shudders.
"You want to go? Or I could punch him, I guess," Frank says.
"No," Spencer says. "Please don't."
Frank stands to get up, or he thinks he does, but he thinks he must have tripped on his chair, because he's on the floor. When he tries to sit up, Spencer's got a hand on Frank's chest, gently holding him down.
"Stay there for a second, Frank," Spencer says in his polite valet way of requesting something while not actually asking at all.
"Just tripped on - " Frank says, but the room's spinning in a way that's getting familiar.
"No, you didn't," Spencer says. "Something you're taking, Frank?" Spencer asks. Drugs, Frank thinks. Spencer's asking about drugs.
"No," Frank says, but then he starts to cough, and Spencer rolls him onto his side.
"We need to take him to a clinic," Spencer shouts to Travie, who's come out of the kitchen to check on the commotion. Frank wants to say no, but he's too busy coughing, his throat raw with each choke.
He feels Travie lift him, tries to let himself go limp, even as coughs are still shaking his shoulders and chest.
The next thing Frank knows, he's in a room in a Clan Clinic, and Dr. Asher is telling Spencer to take off his shoes.
"Not coughing from my feet," Frank says. His sight's still blurry, and he's not coughing anymore, but he can feel it in his chest, lurking there, or maybe it's just the pain from a coughing fit enough to knock him out.
"Oh, so he's back with us," Victoria says. "And he knows anatomy."
Spencer's taking off his shoes anyway. Travie is actually pacing.
"Travie, stand the fuck still," Frank says, because Victoria's lifting up one of his feet and examining it and it's Frank's trying not to think about it too much because it'll get too weird.
"Hey, you fucking blacked out on me as I was carrying you here, I can pace all I want," Travie says. Victoria has abandoned his feet after looking at both his heels and how she's taking a blue glass and pressing it to his chest and then pressing her ear to it. It reminds Frank of kids eavesdropping at a door with a water glass. Frank's about to say as much when Victoria says, "Shh," and everyone in the room goes quiet.
"Ok, Frank, you stay here, and stay lying down, I'll be right back," Victoria says.
"What did you - is it -" My lungs he doesn't ask. He knows what it feels like to get worse.
"I'll be right back," Victoria says and slips out the door. Frank immediately tries to sit up and Spencer, who hasn't seemed to ever leave valet mode, is pushing Frank back down, his mouth set in a line. Travie is still pacing.
"What happened?" Frank asks.
"You tell me," Travie says. "I'm showing the new kid a mnemonic for remembering where dishes are kept and I look and you're fucking hacking up a lung and last I knew, vampires didn't cough, ok?"
Frank can't really say much to that, because, last he knew, the same was true.
Frank looks at Spencer, who shrugs. "Seriously, one minute you were standing there and the next you were on the floor."
There's a commotion outside the door, and when it swings open, Frank's expecting Victoria again, but instead it's Dewees, who says, "Announcing Mr. Way," and before he's even finished, Gerard is barreling into the room. He stops short when he sees Frank on the exam table. Frank tries to sit and Spencer still firmly pushes him down.
"Frank," Gerard says, sounding utterly lost. Even Dewees looks concerned.
"I'm fine," Frank says.
"You're in a Clan Clinic, you're not fine," Gerard says. "Hello Travie, Spencer," Gerard says. "Forgive me my lack of manners.
"Not at all, sir," Spencer says.
"Have a seat, Mr. Way," Travie says, pulling a chair over to Frank's exam table. Frank tries to sit up again and Spencer just gives him a look.
"Can you tell me what happened?" Gerard says. He seems to be scanning Frank for injuries. "Was it coughing like before?"
Frank says, "I just came to a few minutes ago."
"You were unconscious?" Gerard asks, his voice going high.
"Hello Mr. Way," Victoria says, returning. Frank sighs. "Ok, I need to ask everyone to give me some time with Frank. I'm sorry but that includes you, Mr. Way," she says.
"Of course," Gerard says absently. Frank reaches out for Gerard's hand and gives it a squeeze. Gerard's eyes snap back to Frank's face.
"I'm fine," Frank says.
Gerard shakes his head like he's agreeing, but Frank can tell the conversation would be going differently if there were less people around.
"Let me know when you're done, please, I'll be outside," Gerard says to Victoria, in this authoritative voice, and Victoria just nods. Frank watches as everyone leaves and Dewees shuts the door.
"I know you're scared, Frank," Victoria says, and Frank wants to argue, but he's alone with a doctor, and he is scared. "You said you'd call me if anything changed. I take it your sorcerer didn’t pinpoint a specific cause?"
"This isn't normal," Frank says.
"We don't know everything about normal with Midnighters," Victoria says. "Not even vampires and you're the ones we know the most about."
"But coughing -"
"Is odd, yes," Victoria says, "And I know what you're thinking." Frank closes his eyes. "I looked at your files, Frank, I know when you were turned and how long you were sick before that." He wishes Victoria wasn't so keen. "Of course it's a possibility that your lungs are still weakened or still being affected by some Daylighter ailment, if an unlikely one. But to be honest," Victoria says, "I'm considering some injury from the arrow you took in the chest a few months ago."
Frank nods, because, he hadn't thought of that at all, and that's much more reassuring than thinking he's got pneumonia again. "I want you to ice your chest for 15 minutes, twice a day. Always put a towel under it, don't put it directly on your skin, and don't do it for more than 15 minutes, it'll lower your body temperature too quickly and I don't want you in here for hypothermia, too."
"Ok," Frank says.
"I need to do some research, so I'm actually going to ask Mr. Way for a chance to look at his library." Frank can tell from her tone that the thing she wants to research is the Trading. He wonders if Gerard will be more open with her than he is with Frank. "Don't worry, Frank, we'll figure this out. Here, I'll go get some ice and send Gerard in, ok?"
Victoria comes back in with some cloth wrapped ice, and she pulls Frank's shirt away, and arranges the towel over his chest. Frank lets his eyes fall closed, lets the coolness soothe his chest and his worry and he closes his eyes. Gerard comes in a few moments later, whispering, "Hi Frankie," and Frank shifts to try to see him but Gerard stops him with a hand on his arm, and then Frank feels Gerard lean close, and press a kiss to his forehead.
"You ok, Frankie?" Gerard whispers.
"I hate coughing," Frank says, surprising himself. Gerard strokes his hands through Frank's hair, then down across his face. Gerard's tenderness is more reassuring than Frank could have expected. "You're not mad?"
"Why would I be mad?" Gerard asks. Frank doesn't know how to say he's had no idea what makes Gerard so angry lately.
"Because this happened. In public."
"Oh, Frank," Gerard says. "I just want you to be well," Gerard whispers, his fingers pausing on Frank's cheek.
Gerard sits quietly with Frank, stroking his fingers over Frank's jaw until Victoria comes back in. She opens the door quietly and Frank realizes he was practically asleep. Gerard stands, and they're whispering again, but Frank can hear them clearly enough. Victoria is asking if Frank's stopped coughing with the ice, and then she's handing Gerard a sheaf of papers.
"You can come with us now," Gerard says. "Brian will let you in if I ask him to."
"I'd rather take a few hours to create my research proposal. He should have it by tomorrow evening."
"Very well," Gerard says. "I'm sure he'll appreciate your formality."
"Oh I'm not sure about that," Victoria laughs, "But his Order will." Victoria lifts the ice from Frank's chest and has him sit up. She then presses the eavesdropping glass to his back. "I want you to follow the instructions I've left with Mr. Way. If you have another coughing fit that renders you unconscious, I want you to get yourself to the closest clinic, or call me."
Frank nods, and dazedly lets himself be shuffled toward the carriage without even reading the papers for his care.
"Honestly, Frank," Dewees says, though it sounds more concerned than scolding as Dewees helps him into the carriage after Gerard.
He feels better when he's leaned against Gerard, Gerard's arm draped over his shoulder and Frank resting his head on Gerard's chest.
"What was Victoria talking about, with a research proposal?" Frank asks as the sound of the ground passing behind them starts to relax him, the further he gets away from the clinic and the way it brings up too many familiar bad memories of so much time lost to doctor's offices, and things he thought he left behind him.
"Brian's a classified sorcerer now," Gerard says, "Not that he wasn't before, but he's following the rules of his Order now because he's finally accepting who he is. Which means that when a professional comes to the house to use our resources, they need his permission, and he needs to know the scope of their research."
"Just because he's a level five whatever?" Frank asks.
"And he's tied to our family."
"You can do that before he's a full sorcerer?"
"Yes and no," Gerard says. "He was only tied to the house as much as he was a sorcerer. We hadn't had a family sorcerer for a while, you know, it doesn't suit everyone’s needs, and when Mom wanted a smaller place closer to her friends in the gardens, well - it was up to me to find one if I wanted one."
"And you wanted one?"
"I needed one," Gerard says, and Frank feels like he's going to say something else, but then he says, "With the business, you know? Come on, Frank, close your eyes for the rest of the ride." Frank does, without hesitation, and if there is another question about Schechter lurking in the back of his mind, it is lost when he falls asleep.
From the Three Parts of Magical Origin Retrieval: Attachment to a Household
I was working in an apothecary when I received a visit from Gerard, who was looking to employ a sorcerer capable of guiding a family member through an illness. I knew no such sorcerer, since at the time I was not in contact with the Ancient Order of Magic17 but I offered my assistance, and Gerard accepted.
Guiding a person through an illness is a straightforward magical process if you know the illness they are suffering from. In the case of Gerard's brother, he had caught what at first appeared to be a fever, though when I asked Gerard if Michael James Way, Son of Donna, Grandson of Elena, Second in Line as Keeper of the Venerable Way Mansion18 had seen a doctor, Gerard said no and refused to have one called. Mikey was delirious and his body heat was rocketing and the only thing that had helped was when Gerard had placed him in what was the coolest room in the house, a stone room underground.
It didn't take much deducing to determine that Mikey was not suffering from a traditional sickness, and despite Gerard's unwillingness to tell me what was actually wrong with Mikey, I was able to find the path back to his healthy spirit and guide him there.
To this day, I do not know what Mikey was suffering from. I do not believe Mikey has any memory of the incident.
17 Since at that time they had told me in no uncertain terms that I was not to call on them until I was ready to pursue magical apprenticeship and I had told them in no uncertain terms that it was never going to happen.
18 Hereafter referred to as Mikey.
The next night, Frank thinks he’s feeling well enough to go out and investigate the werewolf called Bert, or at the very least go out and see Jamia and Lindsey to check in, but Dewees appears with ice and Frank loses the chance to sneak out. He has no choice but to get into his coffin. "I'm fine, man, get out," Frank says, swatting Dewees away as Dewees arranges the ice on his chest.
"I'm staying till your 15 minutes is up," Dewees says. "Victoria told me to," when Frank raises his eyebrows. "Don't make me go over the Zombie Hierarchy of Orders," Dewees says.
"Well at least stop fussing," Frank says and Dewees steps away from the coffin.
"You could use some fussing, is all I'm saying, especially if you're not going to let your boyfriend do it."
"It's not like that," Frank says.
"Oh really?" Dewees says. "Are we doing this again?"
"Doing what?" Frank says, knowing he shouldn't ask the question since Dewees is baiting him, shifting because one side of his chest is colder than the other. At least it makes his chest feel better and less like it's swollen somewhere inside.
"Frankie, Frankie, Frankie," Dewees sighs. "When you got pneumonia the second time, and then when you got the upper respiratory infection that spread to your lungs -"
"Enough of my medical history," Frank says, because thinking of it makes his lungs hurt, makes his head just spin and climb with worry.
"All right," Dewees says thoughtfully. "When did you and Jamia break up the first time?"
"September that year, I guess?"
"It was right after your lung collapsed," Dewees says. Frank feels a sympathetic twinge in his chest.
"Yeah, so?" Frank says. "What didn't go wrong that year?" Dewees doesn't answer and Frank says, "Are my fifteen minutes up yet?"
"Eight more to go," Dewees says without hesitation. "You push people away, Frankie."
"I'm still friends with you."
Dewees barks out a laugh. "Despite your best efforts sometimes. Don't get me wrong, it's been better since you've been a vampire, but there's a reason it was easy for you to transition. You barely had anyone left in the Daylighter world."
"That's ridiculous," Frank says.
Dewees doesn't say anything. "And the only reason I said Gerard wasn't - it's because we're - we still haven't really talked about - "
"Are you sleeping with him?"
Frank startles and almost starts to cough. "Yeah," Frank says.
"And you care about each other?"
"We are not having this conversation." Frank says. It's either enough of an order or Dewees is annoyed enough with him that he stops and is quiet. "How many more minutes?"
"Three," Dewees says, "Though I have half a mind to put you into the icebox."
"Fuck you," Frank says though there's not a lot behind it. "Hey man," he says, before he can stop himself. "Do you think I'm dying?"
Dewees is suddenly leaning over the coffin. "No, Frankie," he says.
"Ok," Frank says, relieved.
"But you're still pushing people away, which means you think you are, and I think that's more important. Time's up," Dewees says, and takes away the ice and then lowers Frank's coffin lid.
"There's a note for you," Dewees says, walking up to Frank with a silver tray and a piece of folded paper on it.
"Who's it from?"
"Read the note, I don't know."
Frank reads he note. It's from Jamia, and it says she's right outside. "Jamia gave you this note, didn't she?" Frank asks.
"I was instructed not to reveal the delivery person."
"But it's Jamia, because the note says she's right outside."
"It might be," Dewees says, Frank gives him a frustrated sigh.
"Is Gerard here?”
”He left an hour ago to see Mr. Urie,” Dewees says, and Frank’s first hurt that Gerard’s gone out again on the case without him, but then relieved that he won’t have to sneak past him, which just makes him feel dizzy inside his own head.
"Well, when comes back, tell him I've gone to help Jamia move furniture again."
"Of course," Dewees says. Frank thinks he ought to have at least tried to come up with a better lie. But his mind's already racing, about why Jamia is there, why she'd walk right up to Dewees and give him a note. Something has to have happened for her to be out in the middle of the night.
He finds her down the path, waiting by the gnome boxes. "What is it?" Frank asks. "What's going on?"
"I need some moral support. I just got a note from Alicia that Lindsey ran into some trouble in Fairy, and I'm not going over to the Governor's Mansion and seeing her with bloody knuckles and a black eye without an emotional crutch."
"I'm your crutch?" Frank asks cautiously. He wants to ask Jamia if she trusts Alicia's information, but there doesn't seem to be a way to do it that doesn't insult Jamia.
"You are tonight. What did you tell Gerard?"
"He's out," Frank says.
"Good," Jamia says, and they make their way to the carriage.
"You don't really think she'll have a black eye," Frank says.
"Well, maybe I'll give her one," Jamia says, and Frank keeps quiet for the rest of the thankfully short carriage ride.
Jamia strides up to the Governor's mansion, badgers the guards, and gets them inside Lindsey's entryway in under ten seconds. Frank's not sure he could have done it faster if he was using vampire strength.
"I'm fine," Lindsey says from behind her desk. She has three steaming cups in front of her. They don't look like they're steaming with tea. Frank's reassured to note that she doesn't appear injured in any way.
"You keep quiet," Jamia says to Lindsey, who sighs and sits back in her chair. "What was she doing?" Jamia asks Alicia.
"Meeting an informant," Alicia says. She's flipping through a book with pages the size of Frank's chest.
"I take it the informant wasn't you?" Jamia asks.
"No," Alicia says, and closes the book. "Hi Frank," she says.
Frank startles. "Hi Alicia," he says.
"You ought to tell them," Alicia says to Lindsey.
"Yes, she's right," Jamia says, "Whatever it is she thinks you should tell us, I agree."
"No," Lindsey says, sternly to Alicia, then, more softly to Jamia, "I can't. It's complicated."
"It's complicated less because of what you don't know then because of what you do," Alicia says. “You remember that time you got trapped?”
"You were trapped in Fairy?” Frank says. He thought people who got trapped in Fairy never got back out.
"Since when," Jamia breaks in, "do you have an informant in Fairy?"
Lindsey looks appropriately scolded. "Since tonight," she says. "Or so I thought."
"Why - " Jamia says but Lindsey interrupts her.
"Because Frank found out the threat came from a neighborhood near Fairy."
"She didn't ask me," Alicia says, "For the record. She didn't ask me first, even though I would have been able to tell her."
"I didn't want to bother you," Lindsey says, exasperated.
"You are always my bother," Alicia says. Jamia throws up her hands.
"So you went in, got into trouble and Alicia got you out," Jamia says.
"No," Lindsey says, with a smirk, "I got myself out of the trouble, I just made enough noise that Alicia came over to see what was going on."
"She's got a nice artistry with her punches," Alicia says.
Jamia is glaring at Lindsey, and Alicia is taking one of the steaming cups away from Lindsey's desk and peering into it.
"So, did you find out anything?" Frank says. "About who's following you, and why?"
"No," Lindsey says, too quickly.
"You can at least tell him why he's here," Alicia says.
"I'm Jamia's emotional crutch," Frank says.
Alicia laughs, and Lindsey looks embarrassed. Jamia just turns her glare on Frank. "So, I guess that was a clever ruse," Frank says.
"Do you know if Gerard has any secrets?" Lindsey asks, Frank feels the air buzz around him, so loud in his head he almost wants to look around to see if there's a suddenly someone behind him. Frank feels like Gerard is nothing but secrets.
"If I knew if he did," Frank says, choosing his words carefully, "It wouldn't be something I would talk about with anyone." He feels furious with and protective of Gerard in equal measures and he's and ready for a fight from anyone who pushes him.
"Here," Alicia says, giving Frank the steaming cup she'd taken from Lindsey.
"I'm not drinking this," Frank says.
"You don't drink it," Alicia says. "Just look into it for me."
He does. He can barely see the bottom of the cup through the steam. "Ok," Alicia says, and takes it back, then looks into it. "He doesn't know," Alicia says.
"I don't know what?" Frank asks.
"I don't know either," Lindsey says.
"What are you talking about?" Jamia exclaims.
"I already knew five of the six reasons my 'informant' told me someone was following me," Lindsey says. "The sixth was whatever it was they wanted to know about Gerard."
"But you don't know anything," Frank says, not sure if he's frustrated or relieved.
"Apparently not," Lindsey says, looking to Alicia.
"But you do," Frank says, to Alicia. Alicia's face is impassive. She has to be lying. Why would Alicia know any of Gerard's secrets?
"Can we talk about how there are five other reasons someone is spying on you?" Jamia says.
"But I don't understand," Frank says, "If someone wanted to know something about Gerard, wouldn't they follow me, or Mikey, or something?"
"That's what's worrying," Lindsey says. "I'm the wrong person to go after if you want to know something about Gerard, but go after me they have."
"Hello, five other reasons?" Jamia says.
"The Mindless Act," Lindsey says, counting off on her fingers, "The ninth Clan Code collaboration with Wentz, the district re-zoning, the Quinn case against the werewolf called Bert, and the Mindless Act."
"Why is the Mindless Act on the list twice?" Frank asks.
"Because it's very important," Lindsey says.
"So, wait," Frank says. "Someone's watching you to find out what you know about this secret that Gerard has?"
"Yes," Lindsey says.
"But you don't know anything."
"I know several things about Gerard," Lindsey says, "None of which seem likely to be secrets."
"So why," Frank says, "Don't we just ask him."
"I'd rather he not know," Lindsey says. She looks up at Alicia.
"So that's why you brought me here," Frank says to Jamia. "You wanted to see if I knew. You could have just asked."
"If you knew," Alicia says, "You wouldn't be able to tell it."
"This is crazy," Frank says. "This is totally crazy. I found out that information about the werewolf called Bert and I thought it would help. But if he's in danger - I'm just going to go home and ask Gerard what secret he has that the Governor might know because there are people who are trying to find out to use it against you, or him, or something."
"No, you're not," Lindsey says, "Because then we'll lose the upper hand. There's a reason they're not going after Gerard directly, and I want to know what it is."
Frank sits down in the nearest chair and scrubs his hand over his face. When he opens his eyes, Alicia is holding out another steaming cup.
"I'm not drinking your scrying tool or whatever," he says.
"It's tea," she says, and when she hands it to Frank, he sees that it is.
He drains the tea, stands up from the chair and sets Alicia's cup down on the table, and then coughs a little, and taps his hand on his chest. "So, I'm just going to - " but then he realizes Jamia is staring at him. "Uh," he says.
"Frank," she says, short of breath, and then Alicia and Lindsey are looking between Jamia and Frank. "You coughed," she says, pained.
"Oh," Frank says, "yeah, it's like, it's this thing that's been happening since - "
"You've been coughing," Jamia shouts and Frank startles. He looks to Lindsey for help, who just shrugs, because of course she doesn't understand. They've wandered into raw territory; an old fight that they're not supposed to be having anymore.
"I'm not sick," Frank says hurriedly.
"Then why are you coughing?" Jamia asks.
"Well, Victoria doesn't know - "
"Victoria?" Jamia says. "You've had to see a doctor?"
"I'm not sure I understand," Lindsey says. "Why it's so bad that he has a cough?" Alicia is reading the cup Frank's finished like she's looking for invisible tea leaves.
"Vampires," Jamia says, "don't cough." She's gone kind of grey.
"It's why I became a vampire," Frank says to Lindsey, "I almost died of a Daylighter illness."
"A couple of illnesses, a couple of times," Jamia says. "Seriously, Frankie, don't do this to me again."
The guilt hits him hard. He lied a lot back then, trying to keep her from worrying, and it's clear to him now that he'd done a really terrible job.
"I'm not dying," he says. "It's a side effect," he says. "Of....what happened."
"What happened?" Jamia says, but Frank just looks away. "You know what, don't pull this bullshit with me. Watching you almost die while you did a pathetic job of trying to hide it from me? Not one of the highlights of our relationship."
There's a long pause, and Frank watches as Lindsey and Alicia exchange a series of complicated looks.
"Really? No half-hearted apologies? No telling me how much you still love me even if it's not enough to get yourself to a doctor? It's like trip down memory lane."
"You know it wasn't like that," Frank says, feeling his defensiveness overwhelm him.
"What I know," Jamia says, "is what a fucking idiot you are when you're sick."
The stare at each other. The thing is, she's not wrong. Even now, he thinks about how he went out without blood, how he didn't tell Gerard or Schechter where he was going, how he was hours overdue for Victoria's ice regimen.
"It's not the same. I'm not sick in the same way."
"It looks the same to me," Jamia says. "Right down to the denial, and the way you keep trying to stop yourself from coughing."
At the word, he starts to choke through holding it back, coughing and coughing until Alicia pours him more tea and practically forces a few sips into his mouth until he can drink the rest without spluttering.
"Does Gerard know?" Jamia asks, once Frank's drinking his tea without coughing each sip. He knows why she's asking, and it slices through him. He wants to start apologizing, but he knows that's not what she needs right now.
"Yeah," he says. Jamia sighs, and looks away, nodding. "He was there when it happened, the first time."
"Ok," she says. "Because I was going to fucking tell him, if he didn't."
Frank wonders if she hates Dewees for not telling her when Frank was hiding how sick he was. He wonders if she hates him, a little, too.
"You're going to fucking tell me all about it," Jamia says. "I'm taking you back home."
"I'll come with you," Alicia says.
"I don't need an escort, I'm fine," Frank says, more because he doesn't want Alicia to come.
"Remember the time with boat?" Jamia says, and shit, he'd been thinking about it, too, but hoping she wouldn't bring it up. "With the railings?"
"I was fine," he says. "Like now. After some tea."
"It was a whole bottle of bourbon and I'm not entirely sure you didn't just numb your central nervous system."
"I want to hear more of these stories," Alicia says.
"I'm going to stay," Lindsey says, "But I expect a full report?" She's smiling cautiously at Jamia, who smiles back.
"Fuck you all," Frank says half-heartedly.
"So, I'm waiting," Jamia says, "Tell me how a vampire can have a cough."
Frank's telling them as much as he can while trying to keep the conversation away from the Trading, Jamia casting him suspicious looks and Alicia listening like it is a funnier story than it actually is. They're almost to the Way Mansion when Alicia stops, and then shushes Frank, turning herself around to face the opposite direction, her eyes half closed.
"Alicia," a voice scolds and then Gabe steps out from a shadowy doorway. "There's no need to put on a show, you've known I was here for the past two blocks."
"Sadly, Gabe, I can't ever forget where you are."
"And who is this fine specimen of Daylighter?" Gabe asks.
Jamia rolls her eyes. "Put the vampire charm away, I'm not interested," Jamia says.
Gabe grins at her, then at Alicia, and then as an afterthought, seems to notice Frank.
"Hi Gabe," Frank says, "Find your glasses yet?"
"No," Gabe says, feigning shock at the realization. "I have no idea where I've put them."
"How that answer works on the Clan officers, I have no idea," Frank laughs appreciatively.
"We'll just be on our way," Alicia says.
"Don't be home late," Gabe says. "There are monsters around."
"Can't believe he's still making that joke," Frank sighs, but Alicia's mouth is in a line and she doesn't say anything until they get to the mansion.
Gerard is thankfully still out, but it's not Dewees but Schechter who opens the door and glares at Frank when he sees Frank's escort.
"Alicia," Schechter says in greeting. "Jamia. Tell me, did you find him on the side of the road?"
"Just about," Alicia says. Frank has no idea why Alicia is covering for him.
"I'm fine," Frank says.
"Shut up," Schechter commands. "Dewees?" he says, but Dewees doesn't answer. "Fine, I'll get you some ice myself," he says, and storms off.
Frank tries to catch Alicia's eye, but she asks "Is Mikey home?" and she's heading upstairs without waiting for an answer.
"You're sure Gerard knows," Jamia asks. "Everything?"
He knows it shows on his face that it's not true. She looks away, crosses her arms. "Is it because of what's going on with the Governor that you're not talking to him about it? Are you trying to protect him?"
"Yes," Frank says, because that's exactly what he's doing, but it just makes Jamia's face fall.
"He needs to know, if you're getting worse," Jamia says. "It'll be easier for him."
Schechter returns with ice and all but levitates Frank upstairs into his coffin. Frank hears Dewees appear and offer Jamia tea, and then he coughs until Schechter arranges the ice.
"I'd ask you not to be stupid in the future," Schechter says. "But it won't do any good."
Gerard returns sometime after Frank's drifted off, and once he lifts the lid of his coffin, he can hear Gerard trying to reassure someone downstairs. Frank gets up, because he doesn't want it to seem too obvious that he had a coughing fit that took enough out of him that he to take a nap in his coffin. He realizes Gerard is talking to Inspector Toro.
"I think he asked me out," Inspector Toro says. "On a date."
"That's wonderful," Gerard says.
"I said I think," Inspector Toro says. "I'm not certain. He said it's some sort of dinner event or something. I should wear my best suit. I don't have any good suits."
"Ray," Gerard says soothingly. "You said yes?"
"I did," Inspector Toro says, "But there's still time for me to take it back." Gerard laughs. "I should get back the station. I'll send you those files. We're even using Pencey now for evening messages."
He knows he ought to at least greet Inspector Toro, but after his run-in with Alicia, he's not feeling particularly social, and he takes full advantage of not having a valet’s obligation to be polite, and hides instead until Ray leaves.
"Who is Ray wearing his best suit for?" Frank says at Gerard's door. Frank can still feel the unfinished argument from before hanging between them, but Gerard laughs a little at Frank's question.
"Bob Bryar," Gerard says, and then he asks cautiously, "Are you feeling all right? Brian said you went out?"
"With Jamia," Frank says, hovering at the door. He's scrutinizing Gerard like he will see the secret, whatever is so important, if he just looks hard enough. "Moving furniture," Frank says.
"Again," Gerard says. "She must be doing quite an overhaul of her apartment." There's something in Gerard's voice that's wrong, and he knows Frank is lying.
"So I'm just going to go take a bath," Frank says, and it's the coward's way out. Gerard looks at him for a long moment and Frank thinks he's going to be called on the lie, and then Gerard says, "Ok," and looks away.
There's a knock at the door a few minutes after Frank’s filled the tub and climbed in, and Frank hopes that it will be Gerard, but braces himself in case it’s Dewees, bringing in more towels.
"Come in," Frank says, guarded.
"Frank?" Gerard says, swinging the door open just a crack, so his face fills the space, peering in.
"Hi," Frank says, and suddenly the splash of water, his lack of bubbles makes him feel self-conscious and warm.
"Hi," Gerard says, taking a few cautious steps in. "I'm sorry," he says, "If I was brusque before. I was worried when I heard you were out."
"It was not a big deal," Frank says. Gerard just takes off his jacket, starts to roll up his shirtsleeves. Frank watches, mesmerized by the simple action. He catches Gerard's eyes, and Gerard flushes, and then takes a seat at the edge of the tub, trailing his fingers into the water.
"You don't need to worry so much," Frank says, though his voice is unsteady, with Gerard leaning close, Gerard's fingers inches from Frank's skin in the water.
Gerard laughs, quiet and low. "I can't help it."
"You can tell me about the case,” Frank says, and Gerard's fingers stop in the water, the halt causing a splash.
"No, I think there's something else I'd rather do now," Gerard says, and lifts his fingers, still dripping, to trace down Frank's jaw, to tilt up his chin. He rubs his thumb over Frank's lip and Frank tastes the hot water. "Oh, Frank," Gerard says, dipping his hand back in the water, then trailing his wet fingers through Frank's hair. Frank lets his eyes fall closed, and Gerard does it again, the bathwater dripping down Frank's neck. He shivers and then Gerard's cupping the back of Frank's head, and Frank feels the tug of water at his chest as he lets Gerard pull him forward, and then kisses him. Frank tucks his knees up against the side, hangs on to the edge of the tub with one hand, to Gerard with the other. Gerard is kissing him so slowly, Frank thinks he might fall back into the water, or fall over the edge of the tub chasing Gerard's mouth. But Gerard is holding Frank just where he wants him, fingers firm and massaging warm, urging presses at the back of his neck.
Gerard traces his tongue over Frank's bottom lip, over the corners of his mouth, over the crown of his top lip. Frank whimpers and Gerard smiles and does it over again. Frank rocks against each press of Gerard's lips to his, the water splashing as his body shifts, trying to get closer, closer to Gerard. He arranges his legs underneath him so he can sit up, and he presses his wet hands to Gerard's chest, feeling the material getting soaked, the water dripping down his elbows. Gerard kisses him so slowly, languidly, sliding their tongues together, teasing the roof of Frank's mouth so that Frank's rocking up against Gerard, fingers digging tight in the wet material. Gerard slides his mouth hotly against Frank's cheek, licking over where the bathwater has trailed down his jaw. Frank manages to undo the first two buttons of Gerard's shirt before Gerard's mouth on his neck stops him from being able to focus on anything else. Gerard's teeth scrape over the skin, still wet from the bathwater, sucking hard and then mouthing so gently, then licking, then teeth again, and Frank can't do anything but tilt his neck to Gerard's, and moan, which echoes on the tile. Frank's hands fall away, and they splash back into the water, so that when Frank grabs for Gerard again, his hands are newly wet and warm.
Gerard gasps when Frank presses his wet hands back to Gerard's chest, getting two more buttons open and sliding his shirt back away from his shoulders, so the thin material of his undershirt colors with Frank's wet fingerprints.
"Frank," Gerard breathes against Frank's neck and then he pulls back to unbutton the rest of his shirt, slide it off his shoulders. Frank slides back into the heat of the bathwater, "If you had any idea the number of times I wanted to do this, every single time you ran the bath for me, I wanted you wet and slippery against me." Gerard discards his shirt, and then lifts the hem of his undershirt, taking it off and revealing the pale expanse of chest and stomach.
Frank trails his newly wet fingers across Gerard's chest, down his ribs. Gerard breathes in sharply, and Frank brushes the pads of his fingers, one by one, over Gerard's nipples, striping a wet line all the way across his chest. Gerard closes his eyes, bites his lip, leans toward Frank. Frank reverses his path, dipping his fingers in warm bath water, rubbing Gerard's nipples, water dripping down the curve of his stomach. And then Frank doesn't mean to do it, but his fingers are traveling over the scar on Gerard's chest, where he sliced himself with a knife and let Frank drink blood from his heart.
Gerard's eyes fly open as Frank traces the scar with his fingers, feeling Gerard's heart beating right beneath his hand, so close, so close, and then he's leaning forward, hair dripping wet across his face, shoulders chilly as they rise out of the water, and pressing his mouth to the scar, tracing his tongue along the jagged line of scar tissue. Gerard makes a broken noise, and when Frank presses his lips to it, Gerard has his hands under Frank's arms and he's hauling him out over the edge of the bath, Frank's feet kicking up a splash of water. Frank wants to laugh, but then Gerard's still holding him tight, draping Frank across his body, sprawling them both out across the tile. Gerard's kissing Frank devastatingly, one hand on the back of Frank's head, one hand on the small of his back, his leg tucked over the back of Frank's calves, holding him close, and Frank knows, distantly, he's going to get cold, and this should be ridiculous, Frank naked and wet on the bathroom floor, but their chests are sliding together, skin slippery wet with bath water.
"You can't - " Gerard's says roughly between kisses, and Frank is still half expecting Gerard to push him away. "You can't touch me there and expect me to have any sort of control left."
"Oh," Frank says, and so he presses his mouth to the scar again and Gerard groans, throwing his head back, fingers pressing sharply into Frank's back.
"You can't - " Gerard mumbles. "Can't - "
"It doesn't....hurt?" Frank asks. It doesn't look like pain, but Gerard's still insisting it's something Frank shouldn't be doing, even if it looks totally like something Frank should keep doing from the way Gerard's reacting.
"No," Gerard says, breathy and quiet. "God, no, Frank, it feels - " He doesn't try to find the words, just kisses Frank so he'll understand, sliding their tongues together, canting his hips so they're in the perfect rhythm of rocking, dragging his fingers across the damp skin of Frank's back.
"Can I keep doing it?" Frank asks. Gerard makes a choked sound and Frank can't tell if it's a yes or a no. It's important that Frank doesn't guess wrong, because this is the closest they've come to talking about it, and Frank's mouth on that spot is almost too literal a reenactment, except this is the only time Frank hasn't felt shut out by Gerard's reactions. "Gee?" Frank asks. Gerard rocks his hips up, eyes squeezed shut.
"Please," Gerard breathes out, eyes still closed. Frank brings his lips across the scar, dragging them wet and slippery with spit and bathwater and Gerard moans and shudders underneath Frank, legs falling open, hips canting helplessly up. "Frank," Gerard breathes out, shaky.
Frank traces his tongue along the scar and then presses his teeth gently against it - not his fangs, just his regular teeth. Gerard goes perfectly still.
"Yeah?" Frank asks. Gerard whines. Frank presses his teeth down harder. Gerard arches his chest and shoulders so much that Frank's almost thrown off.
"Frank, I need - I need," Gerard says, and then Gerard's reaching between them, unbuttoning his pants and shoving them down. "Oh," Gerard gasps when they're skin to skin, Frank pressing their bodies together, still slippery and wet.
"What do you need, Gee, tell me," Frank murmurs, kissing Gerard's jaw as Gerard moves restlessly underneath him.
"Just touch me, Frankie, please," Gerard pleads, fingers gripping at Frank's hips. Frank reaches between them, the angle awkward and he's not sure he'll keep his balance, but he wraps his hand around Gerard's cock, and he barely manages three strokes and Gerard's coming all over their stomachs, shouting Frank's name.
"Fucking Christ, Gerard," Frank says, and he slides himself against the wet mess, palms slippery on the tiles, Gerard breathing shuddering breaths underneath him. Then Gerard reaches up and kisses Frank, deep and rough and sloppy, hands in Frank's hair, and then Frank's coming, too.
They catch their breath laying against each other, and then Gerard whispers, "The water's still warm, let’s get in the bath."
Frank steps in after Gerard, feeling his body temperature immediately start to rise. They slosh water around as they settle, and Frank leans back against Gerard, who is tracing lazy circles in the water.
They stay that way until the water starts to cool. "We shouldn't," Gerard says abruptly, his voice tight. "You shouldn't do that again."
There's no good way for Frank to ask why. This is private, this is just the two of them, so Gerard's excuse that people will get suspicious doesn't apply here. Frank wonders if Gerard believes they shouldn't get enjoyment out of what's supposed to be a sinister ritual. But the way he'd looked, the sounds he'd made when Frank had touched that spot....
"Ok," Frank says. But then Gerard presses his hand over Frank's scar, and Frank's more confused than ever.
Greta pulls Frank aside and says, without further lead-in, "I need to talk to you about your friend."
Schechter has Greta doing all sorts of weird stuff lately, like charting the migratory patterns of dust motes, so Frank just assumes it's some sort of interview for her apprenticeship exams.
"I'll freely admit I don't know much about necromancy," Greta says, and she says it with such forced formality that Frank thinks there's hardly anything free about her admittance at all.
"You mean that's what Schechter pointed out when you asked him whatever question you're going to ask me."
"So he sent me off to do research, yes," Greta says with a long-suffering sigh, "Like it would kill him to just explain something to me straight out, just once."
"I don't know much about necromancy either," Frank says.
"But you're friends with a zombie," she says.
"I was friends with him before he was a zombie, too," Frank says, "And it's not like it was my idea to raise him from the dead."
"How did he die?" Greta asks.
"I was in the hospital when it happened," Frank says. "I was in and out, that month, so it wasn't a big deal that I hadn't seen him. You don't really expect your friends to visit every time you're in the hospital when you spend as much time there as you do in your own place. But I guess he was gone so long because - well, he died. Some stupid shit, too, walked home drunk, tripped and hit his head, passed out. It was a cold night, and he just. Died."
"He died of exposure? So he didn't die in a Clan Clinic or anything?"
"No, and it was before they gave out those cards about what you want to happen to your body after your mortal death, so, he must have told someone what he wanted before or something? I don't think he had an estate, I don't know. He doesn't talk about it and it isn't really something you're supposed to ask, you know? He just showed up at my place and I told him to take off his fucking shoes because he was all covered in mud and he just - took off his shoes. He never fucking did what I said. And he said, 'Oh, so, I should mention, I'm a zombie now.’ Like nothing had changed."
"So he was always - "
"Like that, yeah, that's just who he is. Strange."
"And you never knew his master?"
"No," Frank says, "I figure he's just secretive, you know?"
"Often people who keep zombies are," Greta says, “There's something off about him, though.”
"That's just Dewees," Frank reassures her. "There's always been something off about him."
"No, I mean, about him as a zombie, his zombie magic," Greta says.
"Really, though, that's just Dewees," Frank says. "He's always been like that."
Frank's not sure exactly what she's seeing that's weird, but it's Dewees, so, Frank doesn't really need to know to reassure her.
"Ok," Greta says, though she doesn't sound convinced. "I guess I'll go read that book Schechter gave me. Or throw it at him."
"Was Ms. Salpeter asking about me?" Dewees says, appearing from around the corner in a poorly hushed whisper.
"Yes," Frank says back, mimicking the same whisper. "She said you were weird."
"Apt description," Dewees says.
"Wait, why are you asking? Did you do something? Are you trying to ask her out?"
"Frankie, I don't have time for romantic entanglements," Dewees says. "Certainly not with a sorcerer's apprentice."
"She was asking about necromancy," Frank says.
"Ah, a hobby everyone should get into."
"She's right, you are even weirder than usual."
"Time for your ice,” Dewees says. “Since we’re talking about weird. Oh, and your doctor’s coming over.”
From the Catalog of Items in the Way House That Should Be Kept Locked Up19
Alicia's spirit board, loaned or given to Mikey, in which case it could presumably be referred to as Mikey's spirit board.
Fae/Fairy in classification. As far as I know, Alicia is a member of the Seelie court. The item bears no trace of curses.
This spirit board could be used to conjure, converse with, question, or temporarily bind a spirit from another realm. 20
I have strongly encouraged Mikey not to keep this item under his bed, as it has the ability to conduct dream energy and I really do not want to see whatever is in Mikey's dreams transmuted through a spirit board and manifested in any form.
Gerard is not, as far as I know, aware that his brother is in possession of this item.21
19 But won't be for various reasons beyond my control.
20 As this object originated and possibly was even created in Fairy, I am using the widest definition possible of "realms" including but not limited to after-life realms, pre-afterlife realms, post-afterlife realms, and the spaces in-between.
21 And I will not be held responsible for starting that fight.
Frank lets the chill from the ice spread down this his chest and he wonders what it is Victoria might find when she starts her research today. It’s before he’s supposed to, but he sits up and removes the ice as soon as he hears Victoria arrive.
"I appreciate you letting me into the library," Victoria says to Schechter.
"It's not my decision, it's Gerard's," Schechter says, though it's mostly for Frank's benefit. Frank's not having any of it, though. "Anything for Frank," he says, his voice clipped.
"I can't guarantee I'll even be able to find anything here, but some background can't hurt."
"Anything you need, call for the valet, or Greta."
"Or me," Frank says.
"Don't call Frank," Schechter says. "He doesn't know his way around the library."
"I do, too."
Schechter stares at him. "Show Victoria where the Records of Iblis are."
Frank glares at Schechter. "OK, fine, I only know the case files."
"I'll call Greta,” Victoria says, “Or your zombie, he's quite friendly."
Frank all but paces outside of the library for an hour, waiting for an opportunity to casually wander in and ask Victoria what she’s found, but then Dewees is calling him for lunch, and it isn’t until he takes a seat at the table with Gerard and Mikey that he realizes he’s walked into the middle of a fight. He thinks Dewees ought to at least have warned him.
"What ever happened to the agreement we had where you stayed out of my business," Mikey says.
"We never had such an agreement," Gerard says. Mikey looks at him pointedly. "Whatever happened to your good sense?"
They glare at each other, and then Mikey asks Frank to pass the milk.
"If there's something you're worried I'm going to do since I'm so senseless, you could tell me what it is instead of evading my questions. "
"That's not what I'm doing," Gerard says. They glare again.
"Maybe we could change the subject?" Frank says and passes the milk to Mikey, who seems to have forgotten he asked for it and refuses to take it.
"Sure," Mikey says. "How are you feeling, Frank?"
Now Frank also joins in the glaring.
"Mikey if you would just remember how we were raised," Gerard says.
"What does that even mean?" Mikey says. "Are you Mom?"
"I meant about -"
"I don't care what you meant, you sound ridiculous. All you care about is proper behavior." He looks meaningfully at Frank. Frank didn't really expect to side with Mikey in this fight.
"So, I’m just going to go check on Victoria, see if she needs anything,” Frank says, extracting himself as quickly as possible and heading straight for the library without looking back.
"Find anything interesting?" he says, before he’s even all the way inside. Victoria smiles knowingly up at him.
"I did," Victoria says. "Or, well, it was what I didn't find that was interesting. I thought it was mere rumor, but in all recorded instances of the Trading, or rituals similar enough to have been forms of the Trading before it was named or banned, no Daylighter ever survived."
"There was one instance," Victoria continues, "The Pendergast Conjunction, where a Daylighter and vampire survived, but both died after two days. There are a few rituals that appear to have been magically aided, but the result is still the death of the Daylighter."
"Oh," Frank says.
"Oh no, Frank, I'm sorry, Gerard's not going to die," Victoria says, misunderstanding Frank's shock. "He's fine. It's been too long to be anything like any of those cases. It's just - unlikely Gerard survived, but he did, so, it's a first. There's always a first. There are always medical exceptions to the rule."
"Gerard always has been the exception to many rules," Frank says.
"See?" Victoria says looking less alarmed. "It's just Gerard."
Frank wanders down the corridors aimlessly, trying to wrap his head around what Victoria had found. No Daylighter survived the Trading before Gerard. He wonders if that's part of why Gerard didn't want to talk about it, if he was uncomfortable with being some sort of medical miracle. If he'd thought he wasn't going to survive, if he'd done this for Frank, knowing what could happen -
"What are you doing?" Dewees says, and when Frank looks, he realizes he's climbed halfway up the mezzanine balcony.
"I was just....checking to see if it was sturdy?"
"With a duster in your hands?" Dewees asks.
"What do you care if I'm dusting?" Frank says, climbing down. He's not sure when he picked up the duster, or how long he's been cleaning.
"I don't," Dewees says. "Less for me to do. Except that it's weird that you're acting like the servant staff when there's, you know, me."
"Maybe there are some things you forgot."
"Things that I - " Dewees says, and then reconsiders his approach. "Firstly, I'll give you that forgetting would be a valid concern if I were a normal zombie valet in a normal household. But I'm me, and this is not a normal household. Secondly, or actually still part of the firstly, I have a master, the head of household, the brother of the head of household, the sorcerer of the house, and the boyfriend of the head of household who also happens to be the former valet to tell me what to do. And thirdly, or, well, I've lost count, the former valet, who, in case you didn’t know, is you, left me this fucking journal full of detailed instructions on what I'm supposed to clean, not clean, arrange, re-arrange, un-arrange, and generally be doing for every person in every aspect of the household. So, what were you saying?"
"That you forgot to dust this part."
"I did not forget," Dewees says. "And even if I had, all you'd have to do is to shout my name, and tell me to dust it. There's no need for you to be climbing all over the place. Now give me the duster."
Frank hands the duster over. "Sometimes I just I don't know what to do with myself," Frank says.
"Get a hobby," Dewees says. “I’d recommend necromancy.”
"No, I mean," Frank sighs, and leans against the wall, shoves his hands in his pockets because he seems to need extra restraint to stay still. "I don't know what I'm supposed to do here."
"You don't know what you're supposed to do in your house."
"This is not my house," Frank says.
Dewees gives him a look.
"This isn't - it's not - "
"I'm going to give you a little lesson here, Frankie, something I've learned in my long life of being a zombie. Life is made up of binaries. It's either one thing or the other, and sometimes you make the choice yourself, or if you're me, you wait for someone to tell you which it is. In your pathetically stupid case, either you live here with your boyfriend, or you don't. Either you make the choice yourself or you wait for Gerard to make it for you, but I'll give you a clue, I think he already has. So we're back to my original point: the problem is with you."
"Gerard's on his way back," Frank says, thankful that hearing Gerard a mile off is enough of a distraction that he can just pretend he didn't hear a thing Dewees said. "I'll go fix up his room."
"No, you'll go sit on his bed and pretend you've been reading all night and now you're ready for some naked time before dawn."
"Oh my god, please don't ever say that again," Frank says.
"You're the one who's sleeping with him," Dewees says. "I'm sorry one of you has such an issue with being naked."
"We don't - we - Christ, stop it."
"Stop what?" Dewees says, in that same weird way, like he's waiting for Frank to say something specific.
"Stop talking about Gerard and me," Frank says. "And go dust the mezzanine."
Without another word, Dewees takes the stairs up, duster in hand.
Despite not wanting to seem like he is taking Dewees' advice, Frank does settle himself on the bed and start reading, picking up the first book on the bedside table, a treatise on moss growth patterns that's actually so boring he's going to fall asleep, but then Gerard's in the door, and Frank closes the book, glances up at Gerard who's looking at him so warmly, so fondly, Franks is suddenly wide awake.
"Hi," Frank says.
"Hi," Gerard says, "Sorry I'm late." Gerard loosens his tie, sits down on the edge of the bed.
"You're not late," Frank says.
"You're reading my moss book. I'm late."
"I wouldn't say reading, so much as - holding." Gerard chuckles as Frank hands the book to him.
"You know, moss growth patterns are a really reliable indicator of Midnighter travel paths through wooded areas," Gerard says. "I could show you the next day - well, two days - after the rain, if you wanted to learn."
"Why would I ever need to know that?" Frank says.
Gerard shrugs. "Who knows when you'll need it for an investigation."
Frank feels like there's something Gerard's trying to tell him, but he can't figure it out.
Gerard kicks his shoes off, stretches his arms behind him on the pillow, and starts to tell Frank all about moss growth patterns whether or not he wants to know anything about moss at all. Frank settles close, then closer, and when he curls himself against Gerard's side, Gerard exhales and finally relaxes.
Gerard goes looking for Mikey in the middle of the morning. Frank feels him slip out of bed and he knows Gerard's going to try and mend whatever happened during their argument, but Gerard returns too soon to have found Mikey at all.
"James says he left already," Gerard says miserably, sliding back under the covers, but he can't stay still. "I'm sorry," he says to Frank, the eighth time he turns from one side to the other and back again.
"We should just get up," Frank says.
"I could go check on the hydrangea vines," Gerard says. Frank's happy enough to encourage the distraction, getting them up and getting them both dressed for the day, because it means he has a chance to catch the Governor during her Daylighter office hours, and to follow up to see what she's found out about the werewolf called Bert.
"Frank, come here," Schechter says, after Gerard has gone into the greenhouse and Frank is just about to sneak out the back door. Frank puts down his sun-proof coat hurries over because Brian has that tone in his voice. "Frank."
"I'm here, I'm here," Frank says, and he skids to a halt outside the room where he's followed Brian's voice to and he is expecting a lab or a table full of papers like he's mostly seen lately. Inside the room are three grand pianos. Greta is seated at one of them.
"Is that - " Frank says, flinching.
"The very same," Greta says with a cheeky grin.
Patrick is at the other one, and he nods his still bare head at Frank.
"Sit," Schechter commands, pointing Frank at the third piano.
"I don't play!" Frank protests.
Schechter just shakes his head. "I need a control." Schechter says when Frank is still lingering at the door and being reluctant.
"A control?" Frank says. "You mean someone who can't play?"
"I suspect that you could manage to make some noise with your fingers on the keys, which is what I need," Schechter says, "so stop whining. Greta?" He says, and Greta begins a complicated lilting melody, and when Schechter holds his hands up, Frank feels the unmistakable static of magic in the air. Greta stops after repeating the melody twice, and then Schechter nods her to stop.
"Now you, Frank," Schechter says.
"Now me, what?" Frank says. He looks to Patrick for support, but Patrick's eyes are closed and he looks like he's concentrating.
"Play," Schechter says.
"I don't - "
"Magic!" Schechter says, quite impatiently, and so Frank presses his fingers to the keys and to his surprise, he begins to play. It's a mix between feeling like he's chasing the memory of the melody around in his head, and being directed by an invisible magic force that has only the gentlest pressure on his fingers.
"Whoa," Frank says, and feels the tug to complete the same repetition of the melody Greta did.
"Good," Schechter says, when Frank stops. "Good. Now you - "
"I can't, Brian," Patrick says, and Frank's surprised at how upset Patrick sounds.
"It's ok, it didn't hurt," Frank says, trying to reassure Patrick, but his face looks even more pained.
"Come on, Patrick, don't fight me," Schechter says. He doesn’t mean his orders, but the magic, because Frank can feel the static increase as Brian steps closer.
Patrick raises his fingers to the keys and just - nothing happens. He can't even seem to lower them to the keys. Brian steps closer, reaching around Patrick's shoulders, puts his hands almost over Patrick's hands. Brian's eyes are looking somewhere inside the piano, and Patrick's looking like he's trying to lift the piano off the ground through the power of his hands.
"I can't, Brian, I swear to you, I'm trying not to fight it, I'm not even thinking about it, but it's just - "
Patrick sighs, sits back - except that he sits back into Brian's arms. His face relaxes for a moment and then he seems to realize what he's done and sits back up, spine straight. Brian slowly pulls away, the static of magic still heavy in the air.
"Strange," Schechter says, and shakes his hands out, but there's still all the magic in them and so Greta and Frank both immediately start playing Ride of the Valkyries until Schechter waves his hand and the music stops.
"Can you see how it's the Curse of the Ninth now?" Patrick says. "I can't create anything."
"That wasn't creation," Brian says. "That was mimicry. You should have been able to play that."
"But it would have been creating music - "
"But that's what I'm telling you," Brian says. "Greta created the music, and I made you and Frank receptacles to receive it and return it."
"Don't call me a receptacle," Frank says. No one's listening to him.
"But how else do you explain it?" Patrick says. "We're coming up on the ninth complete re-release of the Clan Code, and I can't - "
"Come on," Greta says, suddenly at Frank's side, scooting him up from the piano bench. "Go back home," Greta says to the piano, which, much to Frank's alarm, lifts itself off the ground and soars around the room for a second and just when it looks like it's going to make a rush for the door, causing Frank some serious panic, it disappears.
"Impressive," Frank says.
"Thank you," Greta says. "I've been practicing." She shuts the door, but just before, Frank sees Brian hauling Patrick up from the piano bench with a few emphatic gestures.
"So why does Patrick still think he has the Curse of the Ninth?" Frank says. "Schechter seems pretty sure he doesn't, and I'm generally inclined to believe Schechter, especially when he's shouting at me."
Greta laughs. "It's weird," she says, "Because it's true, he is exhibiting signs of it. The Curse of the Ninth stops you from being able to create - usually geared towards the method in which you create most often, which in Patrick's case is writing, but then it starts to grow outward, stopping you from being able to make anything, like music and ultimately even a sandwich. People have starved to death with the Curse of the Ninth gone untreated long enough."
"And so the thing you played, and I copied - "
"That's exactly it," Greta says. "You copied it. You basically just repeated it back. Brian turned up your echo. And it should have worked for Patrick."
Gerard comes down the stairs at a clip with two pages that look like they've been torn out of a very old book in his hands and he grins at Frank and Greta and says, "The ivy is creeping in reverse!" and continues off down the hall, then abruptly turns. "Did I hear Ride of the Valkyries earlier?" Gerard asks. Frank nods. "Excellent!" Gerard says. "I'll be in the greenhouse," he says, and turns to go, then turns back. "But Frank, don't let me spend more than an hour, I'm not kidding, come and knock at the door."
"Yes, sir," Frank says, and Gerard grins and continues off. So there's no way he's going to be able to sneak out now. He feels Greta staring at him.
"Did you just call him ‘sir?’" she asks.
"It's a hard habit to break!" Frank protests.
"I don't think that's a habit," Greta says, and then turns off down to Schechter's office leaving Frank in the middle of the foyer, thinking about flying pianos and valet instincts.
After dinner, with Gerard reviewing files in his office, Frank thinks he's finally going to be able to do some kind – any kind – of investigating into the werewolf called Bert. Frank closes the front door as quietly as he can, but it doesn't matter, because Dewees has already seen him. He's sweeping the front walkway, short, controlled, repetitive strokes that send the small pebbles scattering. It's the middle of the moon cycle and it hangs, yellow and half-obscured. Dewees has clearly just replaced all the lanterns, refilled all the oil, because they're burning bright along the path, setting the front yard in a yellow glow.
Frank walks down the path, his hands in his pockets, staying clear of Dewees' sweeping.
"What's up, man?" Frank asks.
"I am finding sweeping very meditative," Dewees says. "It's surprising."
"You've never swept much before?"
"Hardly ever," Dewees says. "Mostly I just opened the windows and let the wind blow things around in your apartment."
"You never swept at your master's house?" Frank asks.
"Never been in his house," Dewees says. "How's your cough?"
It's as though it was fine until Dewees asks, and Frank tries to choke away a fit of coughing. "No different," Frank says, because there's no way he can manage the 'fine' anymore.
"And the case you're working on?"
"Why are you asking about the case?" Frank asks.
Dewees makes a kind of shrug. "Don't know," he asks. "Maybe someone told me it was polite to make small talk about work."
Frank shakes off his suspicion. "I'm not working on any cases," Frank says, deliberately not mentioning the Governor's case. He's not sure whether Dewees even knows about it, or why he's suddenly suspicious about what Dewees knows.
"You been to the Fairy Quarter lately?" Dewees asks.
"Not really," Frank says. "Why? And what's with all the questions?"
Dewees shrugs again.
"Is this because you heard Greta say you were creepily silent?" Frank asks.
"She said that?" Dewees says. "I'm not creepily silent. I'm not silent, at least."
"Well, she seemed to think so. So is that why you're giving me the third degree of randomness?"
"Maybe," Dewees says non-commitally.
"Really, man, what's wrong?" Frank asks.
Dewees stops sweeping and looks up at Frank. "I don't know," he says, after what appears to be serious consideration.
"You don't have to stay here and be a valet if it's making you unhappy."
"It's not making me unhappy," Dewees says.
"Ok," Frank says. "You'd tell me though, if you were unhappy?"
"I'd try," Dewees says, and then he starts sweeping again.
Frank doesn't even get to decide where he's going to go first, to the Governor's Mansion or to the werewolf quarter when he runs into Jamia.
"Hi," Frank says. "Just passing by?"
"Yes, I really enjoy lurking outside of your house trying to think up excuses for why I'm calling on you in the middle of the night. Tell me you're on your way to the protest."
"I was actually going to go see Lindsey," Frank says, and tries to sound definitive about it.
"Well, she'll just tell you to go to the protest with me, because he's going to be there."
"Oh," Frank says.
"Ok, fine, we'll walk all the way to the Governor's Mansion so you can have Lindsey tell you what I just told you. It's fine, I left my gloves in my office anyway. Come on."
There's a shadow by the lamp halfway up the path to the Governor's mansion, and Frank stops says, "Who's there?" before he realizes that he knows. "Gerard?" Jamia's already at the door and she doesn't notice that Frank's not still right behind her.
Gerard steps out of the shadows. He looms in the lamplight, taller, broader in the lamplight of the path. "I'm sorry to startle you, Frank," he says.
"It's ok," Frank says, taken aback by the seriousness in his voice, in how closed off he seems. "Do you have an appointment with the Governor?"
"Apparently," Gerard says. "Though I think I'm early."
"Jamia's just gone in to see her," Frank says, and then realizes he's thrown out any chance of seeming like he was here by chance or some other believable lie.
"I see," Gerard says. "Are you going back to the mansion now?"
"I was going to see if I could catch up with Mikey," Frank says.
"At the protest," Gerard says, and Frank's agreeing before he realizes he hadn't said he was going to the protest.
"Right," Frank says. "So if I catch up with him, do you want us to come back and get you once your meeting is done?"
"No," Gerard says, "Thank you, Frank, I have some other business to attend to. I'll see you later."
Frank feels like he's been caught doing something wrong, and he wants to go back and pick a fight with Gerard about it. When Frank had left the mansion, Gerard had been in his office, and so if anything was wrong, it was the fact that Gerard had waited until Frank was gone to leave.
Frank doesn't tell Jamia about seeing Gerard, and she doesn't tell him "I told you so" when Frank barely has his head in the Governor's office before she's asking him to go to the protest to see if the werewolf called Bert actually shows up.
It's not until he sees the first straggling crowds at the edge of the protest that it occurs to him that Gerard might not have had an appointment with the Governor at all. Which would mean that either Gerard was following him - which gives Frank a strange kind of thrill because as weird as it is, it would mean he has Gerard's attention - or Gerard's case is intersecting with the Governor’s, which makes Frank want to go back and warn Lindsey. That's the thing with Gerard on a case - once he's on the trail, there's no way he's not going to find the solution. Which means if Lindsey is still set on figuring this out without involving Gerard, she's going to need to rethink her plan.
Frank's getting swept up in the protest crowd. It's larger than he thought it was going to be - possibly because there seem to be a counter group for every group - there are White Hands and there are Daylighters who don't like the Midnighters but don't like the White Hands. There are Clan Officials and there are a few Midnighters protesting the Clan Code. There are Daylighters protesting the exact placement of the zoning, who are fine with mixed neighborhoods as long as they're somewhere else.
Frank finds Mikey with a sign that says, "You can't judge a Midnighter by the time of day they do their shopping." Pete's a few feet away, talking animatedly to a group of startled looking Daylighters.
"He's explaining how sun shielding works," Mikey says. "Hi Jamia."
"How's it going?" Jamia asks.
"Uneventful," Mikey says. "Like Pete says, if we change one person's mind just a little bit, it's worth it."
"Is Alicia here?" Frank says. Jamia all but kicks him in the shin.
Mikey snorts. "What's with your sudden interest in Alicia?"
"Fuck you, I'm just asking." Frank says.
"Sure," Mikey says. "Just asking. She's here somewhere."
"Subtle," Jamia whispers.
There's a chant that's trying to get started, several voices tripping over each other to say things at the same time. Something about community lines. Frank can't tell who it's about, who it's directed to.
There's a sudden burst of light in the middle of the street, and several people shield their eyes. Frank squints into the brightness and realizes it's a bundle of herbs emitting the light, burning in a too-bright white flame.
"That's not right," Frank says. It starts sizzling and spitting sparks, and the crowd is starting to back away from it in a panic.
Some of the White Hands start a loud shout about unnatural magic. Then the werewolf called Bert appears.
"Fire's bad, fire's very, very bad," he shouts, and the crowd gives him a wide berth. "Gonna catch your coat on fire!" he says, waggling a finger at one of the Daylighters holdings signs. "You Daylighters love fire, don't you? You'd set everything ablaze if you could, wouldn't you? You'd set the sky on fire!"
"Wow, he's even crazier than I'd remembered," Jamia says.
The light is twisting up toward the sky and then it abruptly stops when Alicia, who appeared from in the middle of the crowd, bends down and picks up the bundle of herbs. Several people around are blinking to adjust their eyes to the return of the dark.
"Oooh, who put the pretty light out?" the werewolf called Bert asks.
"Alicia?" Pete asks, "What is it?"
"Something that doesn't belong here," Alicia says, looking at the bundle of herbs. She twists her fingers and the herbs crumble to dust, which she examines in the palm of her hand before blowing away into nothing in the air.
"Oh, hi, Fairy lady," the werewolf called Bert shouts across the street, having spotted Alicia. "Why'd you put out the light?"
"Isn't that a solstice bough?" Mikey asks. Alicia beams at him and ignores the werewolf called Bert. "Gerard used to make them, sometimes," he says. "Our grandmother did, too. Though we never lit them."
"You're not supposed to," Alicia says. "That kind of light's for the equinox."
"So," Frank says, baffled, "It's not the solstice and it wasn't even supposed to be lit, so what's it doing here? Did someone here make it?" Everyone knows who he means.
"Possibly," Alicia says, looking around, "Though it's more likely someone misunderstood the ritual."
"Why'd he be doing a ritual at a protest?" Jamia asks. "Isn't he too crazy to be doing a ritual?"
"Lots of energy," Alicia says. "Not a bad place for a ritual, if you were going to do one." Frank is once again completely uncomfortable at how creepy Alicia can be. "We should go," Alicia says abruptly and Frank realizes it's because the crowd is parting and werewolf called Bert is coming in their direction. "Goodnight, Frank," she says, "Or did you want to come back to Decaydance with us?"
"You were looking for Alicia, here she is," Mikey says. Frank wants to kick him.
"Were you?" Alicia says. "I'm flattered, Frank."
Frank sighs. "I'm going back to the mansion. See you later."
"You really don't suspect Alicia?" Frank asks Jamia as he walks with her back to her apartment.
"Suspect her of what?" Jamia says.
"Of…" Frank's about to say 'being evil' and but thankfully catches himself. "Threatening Lindsey."
"That's ridiculous, Frank," Jamia says. "Alicia's been Lindsey's friend for a long time."
"It's just that she's always at these places where weird things happen," Frank says.
"Well, so are you," Jamia says.
When Frank gets back to the Way Mansion, Mikey's coming up the path with the signs posts from the protest he drops them twice in a row.
"I think I got a splinter," Mikey says as Frank comes over and helps him gather up the posts and put them away in the shed.
Frank says, "You didn't stay at Decaydance long." Mikey rolls his eyes and heads up the walkway to Mansion.
"Michael, what in god's name are you wearing?"
Frank, who is a few steps behind, slams into him as Mikey stops abruptly on the doorstep.
"You didn't," Mikey hisses at his brother, who's standing just inside the front door. "You did not call Mom."
"I did," Gerard says evenly.
"How could you call Mom about this!" Mikey glares at his brother, and at Frank for good measure.
"I'm as surprised as you are," Frank says. Gerard shoots him a look. "Sorry," he says to Gerard. "But no one likes getting surprised by their mother."
"Be careful or I'll call your mother next," Gerard says. Frank immediately shuts his mouth tight.
"Boys, come in," Donna Way shouts from down the hall. "Don't leave the door hanging open for the whole night to get in." Mikey reluctantly steps in, then stumbles a few more steps as Gerard shoves him forward. "Come here, give your mother a kiss," she says, grabbing Mikey and kissing him noisily on the cheek, then grabbing for Gerard.
"My boys," Donna says, then reaches for Frank.
"Call. Me. Donna." She says in a warm yet alarmingly authoritative tone.
"Donna," Frank says, and she squeezes him tight. Mikey snorts.
"Now Michael," she says, letting Frank go and turning to Mikey, who immediately hunches. "What is this?"
"It's a coat," Mikey says.
"I mean the vampire fashion," Donna says. "Don't think I don't keep up with the Midnighter scene. I know high collars are coming in as the new retro."
"It's not about the fashion," Gerard says.
"No, of course it's not," Donna says. Frank tries to edge away at the familiar tone of a Mom about to launch into an uncomfortable session of prying.
"Mom," Mikey says. "I don't want to talk about Pete."
"Everyone wants to talk about Pete," Donna says. "But I won't make you talk about your boyfriend if you don't want to share that sort of information with your mother."
"He's not my- "
"Mikey -" Gerard says.
"All I want to know," Donna says, in a voice strangely reminiscent of Gerard when he was interviewing a suspect, "is what your grandmother would think."
"Mom," Mikey whines.
"What would she say?"
"I'm not reciting the three most important parts in front of Frank. It's for little kids."
"What does it matter if Frank hears them? They're good for him, if Elena was around she'd make him recite them, too."
"The three most important parts of what?" Frank asks.
Mikey sighs, looks to Frank, who shrugs, then at Gerard, who holds up his thumb. Frank thinks it's some sort of go ahead, thumbs up gesture, until Mikey and then Donna does the same.
"The first part is your hand, which pushes and pulls, opens and closes."
Mikey flips out his index finger, adding it to the count. "The second part is your knees, which allow you to bend when you need to be flexible and kneel when you're too tall."
"And the third part?" Donna says.
Mikey says, and flips another finger to the count. "The third part is your neck, which holds up your head, and lets you choose between looking up and down."
Frank watches, puzzled, waiting for the explanation. "It's not about my neck," Mikey says.
"It's about where your eyes are looking," Gerard says.
"It's a metaphor," Frank says, suddenly breaking from the literalness. He'd thought something was wrong with Mikey's neck, about the feeding and the collar but - oh. "Sorry."
"You know I'm fine if you're dating Pete," Donna says. "I'm fine if you're not. I'm fine if you don't want to talk to me about it, but, you need to talk to your brother, and, you need to remember that where your eyes look is where your feet take you. So if you're looking in the wrong direction, you'll just end up there. Now show me the greenhouse," Donna says to Gerard, "I haven't been in since last winter and Mikey says you got the larkspur to hum."
Gerard and Donna walk off to the greenhouse, and Mikey kind of slumps, then looks nervously at Frank.
"My family's weird."
"No lie," Frank says, and Mikey reaches out and smacks him. "I kind of wish I'd met your grandmother."
"Don't rule it out," Mikey says. "For all I know, she's a fucking time traveler."
Frank sends a message to the Governor while Gerard is showing his mother the greenhouse, asking if they can meet to talk about what happened at the protest and whether or not the Governor has any new information. He figures he has enough time to sneak out to the diner while Donna is here and be back again before anyone notices he’s missing.
Jamia and the Governor are already at the diner when Frank arrives, and Frank wonders if Jamia actually went into her apartment before heading straight back to the Governor's Mansion. The same waitress who served them before brings them coffee and waffles and an extra fork for Frank.
Frank stifles a cough and Jamia glares at him.
"I know you didn’t think that the werewolf called Bert was capable of that kind of ritual,” Frank says, before Jamia can ask him how he’s feeling.
"I didn’t say he wasn’t capable, I just said he wasn’t sane enough,” Jamia says.
“I can’t see him making that kind of demonstration, though,” Lindsey says. “The distraction is his style, but not magical plant bombs.”
"What if the werewolf called Bert arranged for someone else to do the ritual so that he could take advantage of the crowd’s panic?”
"Well done, Frank," Gerard says, and everyone freezes. Gerard takes the empty spot at the booth next to Frank.
"Gerard," Frank says, hesitating.
"I mean it, this has been a skilled investigation."
"Thanks," Frank says, cautiously, Gerard beams at him.
"Governor," Gerard says. "Jamia."
"Detective," Lindsey says, mocking his formality, and he smirks.
"Hello Gerard," Jamia says, though she scowls at Frank.
"What?" Frank says.
"You told him," she hisses.
"He didn't," Gerard says. "Now what I want to know," Gerard says, turning his attention to Lindsey, "Is why you didn't hire me. Frank is clearly representing the agency well, but I thought we had a working relationship."
"The case is - " Lindsey starts.
"I know what the case is," Gerard says before she can finish.
"You do?" Lindsey asks, at the same time Frank asks, "How long?"
"I had suspicions immediately," Gerard says, "Jamia is strong enough to move all of her furniture herself," Gerard says. Jamia reluctantly smiles at him.
"Someone wants to know what you know about me," Gerard says to the Governor. "Don't worry, I can handle the questions. But what you're leaving out is they way they're attempting to stop you from passing the Mindless Act."
Frank can tell by the way Lindsey is frowning that Gerard's right about what she's been holding back. Jamia sees it, too.
"What really gave it away," Gerard continues, "Was when I found out who set up that first meet for you with the supposed contact in Fairy. It was Adam, wasn't it?"
"Lindsey," Jamia says, quietly. "Tell me it wasn't Adam."
Lindsey doesn't answer, but it's as good as a yes. Jamia throws down her napkin, goes to get up from the booth. Lindsey stops her with a hand on her arm.
"He seemed like he wanted to help," Lindsey says.
"You promised me you wouldn't have anything more to do with him," Jamia says.
"Are we talking about Adam Lazarra?" Frank asks, "Our neighbor?"
"Adam Lambert," Gerard says, "He's a leanashe, he lives with the fairies now, but it's complicated."
"We all thought Adam was a Daylighter," Lindsey says, "Certain kinds of leanashe can pass for Daylighters, especially ones as old as Adam. He worked as a clerk in the Governor's office my first year as Lt. Governor. He advised on Midnighter Cooperation Policy as the Clan Code was going into effect."
"But I thought leanashe have a Tier 7 Supernatural Lethality rating."
"Yes, exactly," Jamia says. She then pays a lot of attention to stirring her coffee.
"He killed three people," Lindsey says. "It seemed like a string of accidents before, but then, one of the victim's families hired Gerard because of the suspicious circumstances."
"It didn't take me long to figure out Adam wasn't who he claimed to be," Gerard says, "And he certainly wasn't a Daylighter. Leanashe's are something like vampires, but they don't feed on blood so much as….life. The situations surrounding the deaths were complex, and there was the possibility that they were voluntary, and it was one of the first cases of mixed Daylighter-Midnighter law. Eventually, everyone agreed that Adam would be relocated to the Midnighter community and barred from Daylighter contact, everyone believing he would have a harder time accidentally killing a Midnighter."
"Lindsey defended him," Jamia says.
"I did," Lindsey says. "I believed the deaths were accidental, and I believed Adam was genuinely trying to live as a Daylighter because it was the community that suited him best, not because he was trying to prey on us."
Jamia makes a disgusted sound and takes Lindsey's coffee and switches it with her empty mug. Lindsey's smile briefly appears on her face.
"You're leaving out the best part," Jamia says.
"He was also a suspect in the attack on Pete after the Clan Code passed," Lindsey admits reluctantly.
"Oh," Frank says, "The fairies."
"His involvement was never proven," Gerard says, and then considers before adding, "I did always suspect he may have been involved in some way I could not prove," He gives an apologetic shrug to Lindsey.
"He could be a useful ally in this situation," Lindsey says. "I heard he's not with either court in Fairy."
"Can that happen?" Frank says,
"Yes," Gerard says, "it's possible, but it's not ever actually a good situation. It's usually because neither court will accept him."
Frank thinks about how Spencer had refused both courts. Whatever happened with this Adam guy and Fairy was probably not that simple.
"So when he contacted me - "
"You got stupid," Jamia says. "And decided to take him at his word." Lindsey sighs.
"Adam's situation is more complex then he has led you to believe," Gerard says. "It appears he's involved with the rogue faction led by the werewolf called Bert."
Jamia slams down her napkin, gets up and goes straight out the door. Lindsey rushes after her.
Frank turns to Gerard. "So," Frank says.
"I'm not mad, Frank," Gerard says. "I know Lindsey asked you not to tell me about the case, and that you were trying to protect me."
Frank's surprised at the easy forgiveness, and waits for the other shoe to drop, but Gerard isn't saying anything else. Frank wonders if now's a good time to bring up Gerard's secret. He told Lindsey he could handle the questions. But Frank's too afraid of getting shut down to ask directly, so instead he asks, "Do you know who it is, who's after the Governor?"
"Not specifically," Gerard says. "Not yet. There are several threads leading in several directions. To Fairy, to the Shallow Believers, to the White Hand. There are too many people who don't want the Mindless Act passed, and they are frequently the same people who would like to have some leverage against me, before I manage to connect them to their crimes."
"Jamia's pretty upset about Adam," Frank says.
"The events in the Governor's Office a few years ago were pretty ugly," Gerard says. "I think she's worried about Lindsey ending up one of Adam's ‘accidental’ victims."
"So you think he was guilty, too?"
"Leanashe are powerful," Gerard says. "They've been around a long time. Most of what they do isn't an accident."
Lindsey comes back in and opens her wallet. "I'll take care of the check," Gerard says.
"I'm sorry," Lindsey says. "I can't stay. Jamia's upset with me, and –"
"I'll make an appointment for tomorrow," Gerard says. "I'm not worried, Lindsey." Gerard adds, when Lindsey looks like she's going to argue. "I appreciate all that you've done to try to keep me out of it, but I can handle it."
She nods, and rushes off. "Should we go home and compare notes?" Gerard says. Frank's still not sure why Gerard's being so easy on him, but Frank agrees, and they take the carriage home.
"Frank," Gerard says, as they're setting up to review the case file in Gerard's office. Gerard pauses with his hands halfway to his pockets, like he’s about to pull out his handkerchief. "Are you dating the Governor?" He look looks almost horrified that he’s spoken. Frank knows that expression; it’s the one Gerard gets when he’s been thinking something for so long it’s not clear there’s a difference between the voice in his head and his speaking voice.
"Am I what?" Frank asks.
"All of the evidence suggests -"
"The evidence," Frank bites out.
"You have been spending a lot of time with her," Gerard throws back. Frank gapes at him.
"I’ve been spending a lot of time with Jamia, too. You don’t think we’re getting back together?"
"Well, you weren’t keeping your visits with Jamia secret," Gerard says matter-of-factly. "Of course I understand if the two of you are interested in political discretion considering the current - "
"Gerard," Frank says, and Gerard stops. "Shut up."
"No, of course, it’s none of my business, I merely wanted you to - "
"Gerard," Frank says, because he’s starting to lose his temper and it’s only going to get worse if Gerard keeps talking.
"Of course, of course, Frank, who you’re dating is none of my – "
"I was under the impression," Frank says, stepping forward and shoving Gerard. "That I was dating you. Except that we can't be seen together, we can't go on cases together, you can't look at me wrong in public and - "
"So you'd rather spend your time with the Governor?"
"I'd rather spend the time with you," Frank says, "But you won't let me, and so instead of being bored out of my mind and totally useless, I went and took a case." It's the easiest explanation, the one that bypasses the whole messy business of whatever Gerard is hiding.
"You did a wonderful job with the case," Gerard says quietly.
"Don't compliment me right now."
"I'm sorry," Gerard says quietly.
"Why in the world would you think I was dating the Governor?"
"The trips out to the diner, the regularity with which you stopped by her office, the mail you sent her – "
"And you thought that was totally reasonable, that I'd go and start dating someone else - the Governor no less - without talking to you?"
"No, it wasn't reasonable," Gerard says, even more quietly.
"Then what?" Frank demands.
"I was sure I'd pushed you away," Gerard says and there's the first note of genuine emotion that isn't from the well-reasoned detective this whole conversation. "I've spent all this time trying to make sure you were safe and make certain people didn't find out things they....shouldn't," he says, "And then I realize I've been neglecting you, shutting you out. And when I finally start paying attention to you, I - "
"You were what?"
"I was jealous," Gerard shouts, and Frank is so glad he's finally hearing the truth that it takes him a moment to realize that he and Gerard have backed their way against the wall and that Gerard's head is just inches from the painting of the mansion grounds 50 years ago. "The thought of you seeing someone else - I was so jealous." They're nose to nose, now, both of them breathing heavy. Frank's hands are tight in Gerard's suit jacket.
"Good," Frank says, and he leans in and bites Gerard's jaw. Gerard closes his eyes, tense and unmoving. "Fucking serves you right."
"You could be as mad at me as you wanted, as long as I was keeping you safe," Gerard says like it's all against his will, these words spilling out. "The idea that you were seeing someone else, that you wanted someone - I couldn't stand it," Gerard says. He raises his hands like he's considering pushing Frank away but stops just short.
"I hope it was burning you up inside," Frank hisses.
"It still is," Gerard says.
"If you're so fucking jealous," Frank says, biting Gerard's jaw again, and then pulling back the collar of his shirt to lick up his neck. Gerard shudders. "Then start acting like it." The next thing he knows, he's being grabbed and shoved back against the wall, Gerard reversing their positions. Frank would like the way Gerard is holding him still if he wasn't so fucking angry.
"Frank," Gerard says, eyes wide and intense, leaning close, "I can't afford to be jealous."
Frank shoves him away, but Gerard's arms are tight and they both end up just crashing back against the wall. "What the fuck does that mean?"
"If anyone were to see just how important you are to me," Gerard starts to say but Frank struggles until he's breaking free, momentum carrying him to the middle of the room.
"Is there anyone else around right now?" Frank says, and he's practically shouting. Gerard doesn't answer. "So it's just me. I'm the one you can't let see any part of you."
"Frank - "
"No," Frank says. "Fuck you, you're such an idiot."
"Frank," Gerard says, and he's right there, right in Frank's space. He settles his hands on either side of Frank's face. Frank tries to shake him off but Gerard is too close, holding too tight. His eyes are wide, open, searching. "I want you to know everything there is to know about me."
"But there are all these things you won't let me see," Frank says. His voice is soft, and he feels himself being soothed by the way Gerard is holding him still the way he's touching him, like he's trying to tell Frank something he can't put into words.
"I know," Gerard says. His mouth brushes over Frank's and Frank can't help but chase it. Gerard doesn't kiss him, just brushes their lips together again.
"I don't understand," Frank says, frustrated. Gerard just holds him, brushing their mouths together in a not-quite kiss.
"You want me to show you how jealous I am?" Gerard says, voice low, and Frank feels heat curl in his belly. He wants an answer to all his questions, but he'll take this. Gerard's licking the corners of Frank's mouth, still holding back.
"Yeah," Frank says. Gerard grins.
"Come with me to the werewolf fancy dress ball," Gerard says. He licks Frank's bottom lip, pulls back before Frank can bring their mouths together.
"What?" Frank asks, feeling stupid and distracted by the way Gerard's dragging his teeth across Frank's chin.
"Come with me to the ball," Gerard repeats, his voice going silky. He brushes his wet lips over Frank's, letting Frank's bottom lip catch on his teeth and then letting go. "As my date."
"You're serious," Frank says.
"Say yes," Gerard says, still teasing at a kiss.
"If you mean it," Frank says, though the last word is a gasp because Gerard sucks his bottom lip, then let's it go.
"I mean it," Gerard says, not looking away.
"Ok, yes," Frank says, and Gerard finally, finally kisses him. Frank groans into it as soon as their lips meet, and they kiss for so long, Gerard so attentive, so aggressive, that Frank forgets why his body is still so tense with anger, lets the anger ebb into a different kind of adrenaline, let's Gerard's mouth apologize without words.
He doesn't really believe Gerard means it; he doesn't even realize he doesn't believe it until Dewees is escorting in a tailor the next day
"For your suit for the ball, sir," the tailor says.
"I thought about being a tailor," Dewees says, as the gentleman takes out a measuring tape and starts measuring Frank's arms, legs, neck, and waist.
"When did you think about being a tailor?" Frank says, as the tailor darts around, measuring him. "Do you even know how to sew?"
"How do you think I reattach things when they come off?" Dewees says.
"With a needle and thread? I thought that was zombie magic or some shit," Frank says.
"Well the fact that it reattaches is part of necromancy," Dewees says "But you need to set it, it's not like I can just hold my finger in place and wish it back on."
"When did you lose a finger?" Frank asks. Dewees doesn't say anything. "Show me," Frank says, and Dewees holds out his right hand, the third finger with a band of stitches around it like a ring. "What happened?"
"Normal valet accident," Dewees says evasively.
"I never cut off my finger when I was a valet," Frank says.
Whatever Dewees' response would be is lost when Gerard comes in.
"Mr. Seabury," Gerard says. The tailor snaps to attention.
"Mr. Way, sir, I am almost completed my measurements of Mr. Iero. Would you like to discuss materials?"
"Yes, Gerard says. "Frank, do you have a color preference?"
"Uh," Frank says. He's so startled that Gerard is so openly having a suit made for Frank, and all that implies, that he has no idea how to answer a question about color preference "Black?"
Gerard laughs. "You have material swatches?"
"Of course, sir," the tailor responds. From his bag, he produces a booklet, and starts paging through. He lays it open on the desk, and Frank looks, Gerard peering over his shoulder.
"See anything you like, Frank?" Gerard's voice is close to his ear and Gerard shivers.
"You should wear something with grey accents," Dewees says.
"I quite agree, James," Gerard says.
"Can you just - pick something?" Frank asks Gerard desperately.
"Of course, Frank," Gerard says, smoky, and Frank flushes.
Gerard kisses him slow and sleepy before going out for his meeting with the board for rezoning.
"You sure you don't want to come?" Gerard asks.
"Oh I want to come," Frank says, and Gerard laughs and kisses him, "but no rezoning, they want to hear from you, not me."
"But you're a Midnighter, Frankie, your opinion has power in the debate."
"There are countless vampires who will say exactly what I'd say, and better," Frank says. "I'll sleep in, and then take a long bath, and then get dressed for the ball."
"The ball," Gerard says, and he leans in and whispers, "Where you'll be my date."
Frank wants to hide his face in the pillow at that, but he can't tell Gerard how he's nervous or whatever it is he's feeling, so instead he tugs Gerard down for another long, lingering kiss.
"Frank," Gerard says, laughing against his mouth. "I have half a mind to leave the rezoning debate to everyone else and stay right here."
"You'll regret it later, though, I know how much it matters when you're there. You're the most famous Daylighter resident of the Midnighter community," Frank says.
Something flickers over Gerard's face and for a second Frank's afraid he's somehow accidentally insulted him. But then Gerard kisses him quickly and sits up.
"You're right, Frankie, I really ought to go. And besides," he says, catching Frank's eyes and holding his gaze. "I'll have you all to myself tonight."
Frank does hide his face in the pillow then, but it feels justified, and Gerard just laughs. "I'll see you soon," he had said.
Frank is still thinking of the promise in Gerard’s eyes as he prepares his bath. He pulls off his t-shirt and checks the water, but before he undoes his pants, he freezes, hands on the edge of the tub, because when he looks down at his chest, something is wrong. He hasn't wished in so long that he could look in a mirror and actually see his reflection, because he thinks - no, he's sure, as soon as he rubs his fingers over and over the spot - that the scar where Ryan Ross' arrow had pierced chest - is gone.
Frank closes his eyes, undresses, gets into the bath, ducks his head under - and then lets his fingers trail over his chest. The skin where the scar was is just as smooth as it was before, lines of ink unbroken from collarbone to his stomach. No raised pink diamond shape scar.
It isn't as if he ever really paid that much attention to the scar. It was too intense most of the time, too much of a reminder how close to death he'd come, how much Gerard had risked for him. The only times he's really felt that it was ok, that it was not something wrong, some terrible memory, was when Gerard was touching him there. Frank puts it out of his mind, because it’s too strange, too unsettling, and he lets the bathwater cover over his chest so he can’t see anything’s wrong.
Gerard spends the time Franks getting dressed in the office wrapping up the minutes for the rezoning board. Dewees is hovering, trying to helpfully point out various things Frank could do to look sharper.
"You’re wearing a tie?" Dewees says. There are three in front of him on a hanger. Frank stares and Dewees comes over and pulls the tie in the middle off the rack and hands it to Frank. Frank fumbles the tie and Dewees comes over to help. "Are you nervous?" Dewees asks, his mouth quirking. "You nervous going on a date with your boyfriend?"
"No," Frank says but then he fumbles his cufflinks. "Its just, he's acting like..."
"Like he wants to take you to the ball and flirt with you all night so he can come back and bone you when you're finally begging for it?"
"Fuck you man," Frank says. "He just said for so long that he wanted to keep up secret."
"Are you having second thoughts?" Dewees says mockingly. "You think maybe you can do better than the greatest detective of our time?"
"Fucking shut up man and help me with my tie."
"Frank?" Gerard says, down the hall. "Have you seen James? I want him to get the carriage."
Frank quickly pushes Dewees away and tries to tell him not to show he's been here helping Frank because that just looks pathetic.
"I'm just about to get the carriage," Dewees says, ignoring Frank's flailing. "I was bringing Frank more hot water," he says and then opens the door and walks out. Gerard catches the door just as Frank's shrugging on his suit jacket.
Frank feels Gerard's eyes on him, and he looks up coyly.
"Hi," Gerard says.
"Hi," Frank says. "Do you like the suit?"
"Oh, I do," Gerard says, stepping forward and tracing his fingers over the lapel of Frank's jacket. Frank notices Gerard's holding a plant cutting in his hands, a small stem of purple flowers.
"Is that from the greenhouse?" Frank asks. Gerard smiles and presses a straight pin gently through the stem of the flowers and then pins them to Frank's lapel.
"Viscaria," Gerard says. "It sways to music, like a dancing couple. Appropriate for tonight, don't you think?"
Frank lets the warmth of Gerard's attention wash over him as they walk to the carriage. Except he can't help but think about how Gerard's fingers, and now the flower, were so close to the place on his chest where the scar used to be.
From the recording of All Magical Individuals/Groups or Parties Representing Individuals with a Supernatural Lethality Rating Over Three22
Subset of Persons of Interest: Threats, Enemies, Dangerous Individuals: Gerard does not know that I keep a list of his enemies, and he would most certainly object to the use of the word "enemy." The list is broken into categories of threat, threat capacity, and the individual's awareness of the threat they pose to Gerard.
Individuals on this list with a supernatural lethality rating of over 5
1. The werewolf called Bert (most recently the issue of the Quinn case)
2. Matt Rubano (from the contested issue of the Lazarra inheritance)
3. Adam Lambert (from the contested the findings of the Wentz case)
4. Alicia Simmons (no known grudge or vendetta, but by merely existing, she poses a threat)
5. The unnamed head of the Unseelie Court, see above re: the same issue as Alicia
6. Jon Walker (from the demon binding of Brendon Urie)
22 This could be its own book alone. My head of household runs a detective agency.
As the carriage is pulling up to Rubley Square, Frank realizes it’s the same neighborhood that the Governor’s threatening letter came from, the neighborhood he never managed to investigate in person. Frank's distracted and he and Dewees both reach for the door at the same time as the carriage comes to a halt. There's a brief slap fight as they both try to open the door, and Gerard laughs. Frank yanks his hand back and crosses his arms. Gerard looks apologetic. "I'm not laughing because of - " Gerard says and then stops. "You and Dewees are just funny," Gerard adds quickly. "You're very similar." Gerard seems to feel like he's digging himself a hole and so he just stops. Dewees clears his throat to remind them that the door is opened and they've arrived. Frank gets out first, and once Gerard is out, Frank gives Dewees very specific instructions about where to park the carriage and what to do with himself while they're out.
"Whatever, Frankie," Dewees says. "I won't get into any trouble."
"Oh, I'm sure you will," Frank says, "Just because I've forgotten some specific instruction that says, "Don't climb into the pool or something."
Dewees just sighs. "You're having some trouble letting go of your job. Listen, Frankie, you can't be both his servant and his boyfriend," Dewees says. "Or, well, you can, but I'm pretty sure that's in violation of some of the Clan Codes unless you have your sex worker certification."
Frank can feel his expression growing more horrified by the minute. "Just. Stop," Frank says and Dewees bridles.
"Stop what?" Dewees says, like he's giving Frank an opportunity to get the question right.
"Stop talking about my relationship with Gerard." Dewees looks oddly disappointed at Frank's command.
"Your relationship!" Dewees says, but because Frank's given him a direct order, for the moment, he doesn't say anything more. "Listen, Frankie, you go dance with your boyfriend and I'll take care of the carriage and not jump in the pool. Ok?"
Frank watches Dewees disappear with the carriage with an odd sense of disquiet which he's totally willing to blame on nerves. Gerard is waiting further up the path and he grins at Frank when he sees him, and holds out his arm for Frank to take.
Gerard's suit shimmers like a dark bottomed pond. It makes Frank want to dip his hands into the fabric, to see if it feels like water. Gerard's eyes are bright and he's tense in this wonderful way that makes Frank tense too, with anticipation of what's to come. Frank's suit is soft, and light, but he's looking for the first opportunity to take off his jacket. Gerard doesn't usually get this excited about balls; they're more a working event for him more often than not, than a social one, but Frank knows tonight is different because of the way Gerard kept brushing his fingers over Frank's hand in the carriage. Because tonight Gerard is going to the ball with a date.
They're waiting at the entrance to show their invitation, just outside in the courtyard lit up with glowing yellow lights. There are several people Frank doesn't recognize in the line in front of them, and possibly Travie a few positions up, but most of Frank's attention is on Gerard, the way he's almost buzzing next to him.
"Oh, this is going to be wonderful, Frank," Gerard says, and Frank finally gives in and slides his hand across the lapel of Gerard's jacket. Gerard shivers and beams at him, and suddenly they're next in line.
"Good evening," the butler says. "Welcome to the 4th annual werewolf fancy dress ball, Mr. Way and Mr. Iero. It is two days past the quarter moon," he begins with the air of formal repetition, "It is 3:00 AM, Midnighter time, and the west half of the ballroom is situated in Fairy, though through a cooperative agreement all food and drink is safe from usual concerns. The Seelie court is in power until 12 noon, Daylighter time. Have a lovely evening and think you for supporting the Werewolf Prowling Mission."
They step across an invisible magical divide from outside to in, which Frank thinks must be part of the security. The ballroom sparkles and swirls, fancy dress costumes everywhere, people with drinks and laughter, food and low, intimate voices.
"What shall we do first, Frank?" Gerard murmurs low in his ear and Frank shivers.
"You must have business to discuss," Frank says, his voice unsteady.
"Oh, most likely," Gerard says, "but first and foremost, I am here with my date, so you tell me. What do you want?"
Frank wants to stand there, with Gerard's face bent close to him, and disappear into the sound of Gerard's beating heart. "Let's see if we can find Mikey," Frank finally says because his mind is crazy with all of the other possibilities. Gerard leans close and presses a kiss to Frank's cheek, and Frank can tell he's disappointed, but then Gerard takes his hand.
"Find my rogue brother," Gerard says, scanning the room. "I think we can do that."
They find Inspector Toro and Bob Bryar first, at the outer edge of the dance floor.
"Gerard," Inspector Toro says, a little desperately. "Frank. Hi."
"So you decided to come, I'm so glad," Gerard says, clapping Inspector Toro on the arm. "Good evening Bob, how are you?"
"Hoping there won't be any trouble," Bob says. "I'd like to have an evening off from work at least once."
"Trouble," Inspector Toro says, going a little wide-eyed.
"Is everything all right?" Frank asks Inspector Toro, who shakes his head yes, too quickly.
"Culture shock," Bob says.
"Just shock in general," Inspector Toro says, then seems to come back to himself. "And I didn't decide to come to the werewolf ball so much as I agreed to let Bob take me out on - well, to go out for the evening with him, and this - this is where he took me."
"I thought asking you to wear your best suit was enough of a clue," Bob says.
Frank watches the conversation, and watches Gerard, who has the expression on his face that means he's taking things in and cataloging them.
"You're quite safe here," Gerard reassures Inspector Toro. "There are many other Daylighters at an event like this, and I do believe your date gives you a certain measure of extra security." Ray glances up at Bob, whose eyebrows raise, and Ray's cheeks color a little. Frank politely looks away, then back at Gerard, who's smiling gently.
"Excuse us," Gerard says. "We're on a mission to track down my brother."
"Wentz is in the fountain room," Bob says.
Frank's not sure what a fountain room is, but there's a sudden expression on Gerard's face when Bob mentions Pete that makes Frank think maybe they shouldn't go looking for Mikey after all. Frank's saved, though, from having to attempt to redirect Gerard's attention away from whatever it is Wentz is up to by Mikey himself, who appears at Frank's side and hands his brother a drink. "No spices, I checked," Mikey says, more to Frank, though Frank knows Mikey would never give Gerard anything he hasn't fully investigated for allergens. "Shame you can't have the cinnamon cider, it's delicious."
Mikey's wearing a suit coat with tails over his jeans, and a high white collar, shirt untucked. He looks dressier than half the ballroom. Frank will never understand that about Mikey.
"Thanks, Mikey," Gerard says, then as if he can't help himself, "Where's Pete?"
Mikey rolls his eyes. "I'm not here with Pete."
Gerard sighs, and this his eyes narrow. "What's that on your wrist?"
"Probably duck sauce," Mikey says lightly, "Good egg rolls," but Frank can see immediately that Mikey's lying, because there's a spot of blood on his white cuff.
Gerard grabs Mikey's wrist, yanks him close. Mikey tries to struggle away but Gerard has a strong grip. "I thought we discussed this," Gerard says.
"You mean, you lectured me," Mikey says, and struggles away. "I didn't agree to what you said. I don't take your orders," Mikey says.
"What - " Frank says, but Gerard shushes him.
"It's not safe, Mikey," Gerard says.
"You're just saying that because you don't like Pete."
"You know that's not true," Gerard says. "I say these things because I'm trying to watch out for you."
"Well, I don't need it," Mikey says.
"Just -" Gerard says, as Mikey turns, about to walk off. "If you're going to do it, don't do it again for a little while. At least not tonight." Mikey walks off without acknowledging him.
"Do what?" Frank says, feeling completely lost, and feeling several of the things Mikey just said to Gerard are uncomfortably familiar.
Gerard sighs, and takes a sip of the drink Mikey's brought him before he says, "He let Pete drink from him."
"Oh," Frank says, thinking it has to be something worse for Gerard to be this upset. "They've been together a while, though. And it was just from his wrist, you know that's the safe way to do it."
Gerard doesn't answer, just scowls at the floor.
"Come on, let's get something to eat," Frank says. Gerard allows Frank to steer them toward the nearest food table, which is piled with tiers of sweets, all meticulously labeled with ingredients and creature-identification coding. "Here," Frank says, picking up a sugary candy in the shape of a flower. "All sugar, no plant extracts," Frank says.
Instead of holding out his hand for the candy, Gerard opens his mouth. Their eyes meet and Frank feels a shiver go up his spine. Frank places the candy in Gerard's mouth, the tips of fingers brushing Gerard's bottom lip. Gerard takes the candy, sucks for just a moment on Frank's fingers. Gerard's eyes are dark.
There's a nervous laugh behind them, but the sound and the person who made it are lost as the crowd shifts.
Eventually Gerard does need to talk business with a few former clients, and Frank lets himself be swept along with the crowd. There's a suddenly animated conversation just inside the fountain room, and Frank would tune them out just the way he'd been ignoring all the other overlapping conversations all night, except that he hears the word "Trading" and feels suddenly cold.
"It can't have been," a voice is saying. "He'd be dead if it was the Trading."
"People are just saying that because his valet was a vampire. It's not the only way to bring a vampire back from a serious injury," another voice says.
"But I heard from someone who knows Ryan Ross that he said it was the Trading, that his valet drank the blood right from his heart."
"That's not how the Trading works, if it was from his heart, he'd be dead."
"That's what I mean! Why isn't he dead?"
"Why would you believe anything Ryan Ross said?"
"Why would he risk the Trading for his valet? Everyone knows it's illegal."
"Haven't you seen them tonight?"
The crowd shifts and Frank can't hear the rest of the conversation. He's about to go investigate further when Brendon spots him. "Oh, hi, Frank," Brendon says, flashing Frank a slightly lascivious smile. Frank looks to Spencer, who rolls his eyes, and then looks over the clipboard in his hand.
"Good evening, Mr. Iero," Spencer says, looking pointedly at Brendon.
"Mr. Urie, Mr. Smith," Frank says.
"You look delicious in that suit," Brendon says. Spencer clears his throat. "Spencer, would you like a suit like that?"
Spencer clears his throat again and says, crisply, "No, sir."
"Brendon!" Gerard says, finding Frank with suspiciously good timing before Brendon's flirting gets too out of control. "I didn't know you were coming to the ball. Mr. Smith, hello again."
"Good evening, Mr. Way."
"Gerard," he corrects him.
"Yes, sir," Spencer says.
"I'm not technically here for the ball," Brendon says. "I'm on rotation for Order office hours," Brendon says quietly, so just the three of them can hear. "People make appointments for consultations before they order a contract. Usually we do it in public settings like this, where anyone could be, it keeps everything pretty under the radar."
"And you don't worry about people finding out who you are?" Frank asks.
"After the thing with Ryan, I'm about as public a figure as Bob," Brendon says. "Spencer here also provides some excellent cover, as he handles all the appointments and categorizes them in my calendar as Daylighter tax consultations, which does well to bore anyone who might get too curious."
"I am quite facile with tax language at this point," Spencer says.
"I bet that's not all you're facile with," Brendon says.
Frank covers his laugh in a cough, which makes Gerard look at him, concerned.
"I'm fine," Frank says. "Really."
"Are you feeling well?" Spencer asks. "No more allergic reactions?"
"Yes, Spencer told me about that," Brendon says, "Quite odd for a vampire."
Gerard suddenly tenses next to Frank. He feels a pang of guilt talking about this, remembering how worried Gerard has been.
"Seems to have been a fluke," Frank says, hoping that he sounds more convincing than he feels.
"Hmmm," Brendon says thoughtfully, and then he turns to Gerard, "Oh, I've been meaning to send you the note about the vampire zombie. The geis was successfully removed and the neighbors report that the zombie has been acting normally since his return from the Clan Zombie Treatment Center."
"No signs of vampiric tendencies?" Gerard asks. Brendon shakes his head. "Interesting. I assume you've been copied on the Clan's records of the zombie's statement?"
"He has no recollection of the incidents in question, nor of anything that may have prompted his acting in such a way."
"Interesting," Gerard says again.
"Are you going to ask him to dance?" Frank says quietly to Spencer as Brendon and Gerard talk about the zombie. Spencer colors slightly.
"Of course not," Spencer says.
"He would say yes, you know."
"That's what I'm afraid of," Spencer says. Frank laughs. "I'm actually anxious for us to leave, though don't tell Brendon."
"You should tell Brendon," Frank says, and Spencer gives him a look. Frank understands. "Do you just not like the dancing?"
"It's because we're in Fairy, at least on this side of the room," Spencer says. "It makes me feel - well, it's hard to describe, but it makes me feel like I've put something down and now I can't remember where," he says. "I think I see our next appointment," Spencer says to Brendon, as a woman is cautiously approaching.
"Excuse us," Brendon says, "Let's have lunch, next week?"
"Of course," Gerard says.
"See you," Frank says, to Brendon and Spencer. Brendon waggles his eyebrows, and Spencer stamps quite hard on Brendon's foot.
"Do you think I should do something like that? Office hours?" Gerard's saying but Frank only half hears him.
"Oh, hmm, what?" Frank asks. "Sorry," he says. "Just thinking about something Spencer said. Can you tell where the line between the werewolf quarter and Fairy is?"
Gerard stills. "Yes, I can," he says
"I can't see it," Frank says. "I guess it's just one of those things, right? Like an optical illusion."
"Yes," Gerard says, though the word sounds strange. "You don't need to know where it is, though, for an event like this. Since the court has yielded control of the space to the werewolves."
"They can do that?" Frank says.
"They can do lots of things," Gerard says, and it sounds so weirdly cryptic that Frank regrets bringing up Fairy at all. And then Gerard seems to catch himself, and says, "It's a gesture of friendship. The fairies and the werewolves have a complicated history, since they've always overlapped territories, and for a bunch of other reasons historically and politically. But something like this, sharing space, is an important gesture."
Frank clears his throat and Gerard takes his hand. "Your cough," Gerard says. “Is it back?"
"No," Frank says. "Really, I’m fine. I was just trying not to laugh at Brendon and Spencer."
"You’re certain," Gerard says. He’s still holding Frank’s hand, thumb rubbing across the back of Frank’s knuckles. "Nothing else unusual?"
Frank abruptly thinks about his missing scar. "No," he says. "Really, I’ve been feeling mostly fine. Not worse, at least," he says, when Gerard gives him a dubious look. But further protest is interrupted when Inspector Toro comes over and interrupts them.
"He took me to the werewolf ball. A ball. With werewolves," Ray says.
"It’s just that you’ve only seen the factions," Gerard says reassuringly. "The werewolves as a social group are pleasant and easy to get along with."
"But that's what I mean, why are there even factions?" Ray says.
"You have different departments in the police organization," Frank says, since it seems as though Gerard alone is not going to be enough to calm Inspector Toro down.
"Yes, but we don't tear each other's throats out when we disagree."
"Look around," Gerard says. "Everyone is perfectly well behaved. Look, have you met Mr. Pedicone? Frank, why don’t you take Inspector Toro over to meet Mike and I’ll see if I can find Bob."
There's only one werewolf Frank recognizes at the ball, and it's clear a lot of people at the ball know Mike Pedicone. It's one of those things about werewolves; you don't always know who they are for good reason; as far as Midnighters go, they've had it hard across both communities. He shakes both Frank and Gerard’s hands warmly when they come over.
Frank’s about to introduce Ray, who’s shaking slightly, to him, when a hush falls over the room. Frank looks around to see what's causing it, but the disturbance is over at the door and there are too many people in the way for Frank to see whose arrival is causing such a stir. When Frank turns back to Mike, his hackles are up, and in that moment Frank wonders why werewolves aren't more easily visible, because in that moment, Mike looks nothing at all like a Daylighter.
"What - " Frank says, but Mike's charging off through the crowd. A second later, the crowd shifts and Frank sees what the problem is. Gerard gasps and Frank’s surprised Inspector Toro hasn’t collapsed.
The werewolf called Bert has just crashed the Fourth Annual Werewolf Fancy Dress Ball.
"Why isn't anyone screaming?" The werewolf called Bert announces, a moment before Pedicone is in his face, whispering harshly. "No, Mike-Mike, I don't think I will leave," and then the crowd ripples and shifts and he's gone from Frank's sight.
"Frank," Gerard says, suddenly at his side. "I can't believe it, I thought he knew better."
"He's insane," Frank says, awed. The crowd is starting to thin as people exit to the garden, or head off to the sides as the werewolf called Bert advances into the party, Mike Pedicone always a few steps in front of him.
"I came for the party!" The werewolf called Bert says loudly. "It's a werewolf party, and I'm a werewolf."
"You're not welcome here," Mike says.
Mikey is at Gerard's side a moment later. "Shit," he says and Gerard nods. Their fight seems to be temporarily suspended in the wake of the scene unfolding in front of them.
"Where's - " Frank asks.
"Travie took Pete out to the garden," Mikey says. Frank nods. "Forcibly." Frank's glad. He doesn't want to see what would happen if Pete and the werewolf called Bert were more than 30 feet apart.
"Don't make me call security," Mike is saying.
"Security," the werewolf called Bert laughs. "I got in, so they can't be that good. Who are you using, fairies?" There's something ugly in Bert's tone, and Frank feels the crowd get tense. Gerard's hand is on Frank's elbow.
There’s hardly anyone left in the main ballroom now. Mike and the werewolf called Bert are circling each other in the entrance hall, and no one else seems willing to get involved. Someone collides awkwardly with Frank, bouncing off into Gerard.
"Sorry," Ray says, trembling. "Sorry, I just - I - " he's looking at Frank and Gerard but it's clear he can't really spare any of his attention from the werewolf called Bert.
"Could you just keep an eye on him," Bob Bryar says, appearing next Gerard, so Ray doesn't hear. "I was trying to get him out of here," he says, “but it's clear there are some things I need to take care of. Even though I am not working tonight," Bob says.
Ray is positively shaking. He looks at the werewolf called Bert and Mike, then at Bob.
"I'll be back in a few minutes," Bob says.
"Wait," Ray says, and he grabs Bob's arm. They both look down at Ray's hand on Bob's arm, and then at each other. "You're not going over there."
"I am," Bob says.
"But it's - it's the werewolf called Bert," he hisses.
"I'll be back in a few minutes," Bob says again, and then strides over.
Ray positively shakes. Frank looks at Gerard, who is watching, rapt.
Mike seems to sense Bob's approach, because before he's even in the clearing made by the crowd, Mike's backing off. He exchanges a brief look with Bob, and then steps into the crowd. The werewolf called Bert is turning wild circles, arms spread, as though taking in the splendor.
"Bob!" he shouts, when his circling stops, and he sways a little. "My dear friend."
Bob doesn't respond.
"Isn't this fun? The fancy dress ball held on Fairy ground. Like we're friends! Like we get along!"
"You were not invited to this event," Bob says.
"I know, that's why it's so fun to be here!" the werewolf called Bert says. "It's not appropriate!"
"You have two choices. You can turn around and walk back out the entrance hall with me, or I can have security remove you from the premises."
"You're not security?" The werewolf called Bert laughs. "You came to dance?"
"Do I need to give you a countdown?" Bob says.
"You're no fun, Bryar," the werewolf called Bert says. "I think I liked you better before."
Gerard gasps. Frank waits for an explanation, but Gerard doesn’t explain.
"I like you even less than I did before," Bob says, "Which should be impossible."
There's a long beat where Frank thinks things are going to get physical, and then the werewolf called Bert laughs, turns on his heel, and marches out the front door, Bob a step behind him.
The entire crowd seems to exhale at once, and then slowly the voices come back, the music starts back up, and people come in from the garden.
Ray is a mess. Mikey is patting him awkwardly on the shoulder.
"Before what?" Frank says, because they're all just staring at each other, but no one answers.
"I thought you said," Ray says, turning to Gerard, "That the werewolf called Bert," his voice goes thin at the name, "Wouldn't dare show his face at an event with Bob Bryar."
"Well apparently," Gerard says, "The werewolf called Bert has quite a lot more nerve than I anticipated."
"Let's get you something to drink," Frank says to Ray. Ray nods.
Frank takes Ray with him to the bar, where they get brandy and when they rejoin Gerard, Mikey has wandered back off again and Gerard and Bob are talking, and Frank hears Bob say that he walked Bert all the way to the Argent Cross Street, which is the edge of the neighborhood. Frank thinks again of the threatening letter, and wishes Schechter had been able to give him a street address. Bob stops talking as soon as he sees Ray and Frank coming over.
"What about the Clan officers?" Gerard says.
"They're not going to take on the werewolf called Bert," Bob says. "Not unless they're going to catch him on some littering violation."
"Did he - " Ray says, finding his voice, "Is he gone?"
"Let's not talk about it," Bob says, and Ray looks instantly relieved.
Ray raises his glass to his lips and takes a long sip. Bob's eyes track all of Ray's movements, and Frank sees something pass between them.
"We were discussing the redistricting in Zone 12," Gerard says, “Before the interruption.” and Ray looks grateful that Gerard isn't saying what they had actually been talking about.
"Making the boundaries for this one is more complicated," Bob says. "But it's zoned for Daylighters."
"It should be an easy enough transition," Ray says, "Daylighter communities with more than one Midnighter border already have Midnighter awareness training, and two Clan Clinics or offices per 25 registered Midnighters."
Gerard says, "The Garden quarter is so popular, I think they're hoping Zone 12 will serve the same purpose and provide some relief from the housing crunch. And they tend to be good places for Daylighters to mix if they're considering becoming a Midnighter, or dating someone."
Ray's eyes flick to Bob's face for a second, then away. It’s so fast that Frank wonders if Bob saw it at all.
"I'd live there," Ray says. And now Bob's attention is entirely on Ray. Frank feels Gerard react to it, as well, brushing his fingers against Frank's. Ray sets his glass down. "Would you like to dance?" Ray asks. Gerard's fingers grab Frank's, and squeeze. Frank squeezes back.
Bob is frozen, looking at Ray so intently Frank thinks that if he were Ray, he would have looked away by now, or possibly run away.
Ray breaks a moment later. "We don't have to, it's fine," he says, about to reach for his glass. "I just -"
"Yes," Bob says, and then holds his hand out for Ray. The moment Ray's hand touches his, Bob's striding onto the dance floor. Gerard's fingers squeeze in Franks hand again.
Frank watches until they're swallowed into the crowd on the floor, Bob arranging Ray's uncertain hands, stepping close, and the gentleness of Bob Bryar with a dance partner catches him by surprise.
"Would you like to dance?" Gerard asks, his rich voice sending Frank trembling.
"Uh," Frank says, momentarily swept up in Gerard's gaze, Gerard's hand in his leading him toward the dance floor. But then he starts to remember why he had been trying to avoid this. "Gerard, if we're seen dancing together - "
"Oh, I think we'll be hard to miss," Gerard says, and it makes Frank's breath catch.
"But everyone knows you," Frank says, a little desperately.
"Yes," Gerard says, "And everyone already knows I've come here with a date. So it should be no surprise to anyone that I'd be seen dancing with him."
"But I used to be your valet," Frank says, in one final, desperate attempt.
Gerard just laughs, and then pulls him close. “I’m so sorry it took me this long to do this,” he whispers against Frank’s ear. They move into the middle of the dance floor, so he can see Ray and Bob again. Frank can feel people looking.
There's a jazzy, warm melody wrapping around the room. Frank can't see where the band is from here. The flower on his lapel is swaying gently, just as Gerard had said it would.
"Sir, this - " Frank says, not even sure where it came from.
"Stop calling me ‘sir,’" Gerard says, still too close in his ear. "You're not my valet, Frankie. You were always more."
"Everyone's already talking, everyone here will know - " Frank says, wishing he'd mentioned the gossip he'd overheard earlier.
"Exactly," Gerard says, taking Frank's hand, pulling him close. There's a murmur that fills the room, then Frank's attention is pulled back as Gerard pulls their bodies together, a hand at the middle of his back.
"Gerard," Frank whispers at what he sees in Gerard's eyes.
"Everyone here will know you're mine," Gerard says, his hands on Frank's hips, their chests together, and Frank lets his eyes fall shut, lets himself be pulled until Gerard's cheek is hot against his. Gerard's hand is on his jaw, his thumb stroking across Frank's cheek. Frank's eyes fall closed. "I don't care what anyone thinks," Gerard says. "They can talk all they want. You're here with me," Gerard says, pressing a quick kiss to Frank's mouth. "That's all that matters. You're here."
They dance for a while, Frank listening to Gerard breathing, listening to their shuffling steps along the floor, the tug of the flower on his lapel as it moves to the music, too. They spin with the crowd around the ballroom, shifting and shuffling, and they pass Pete and Mikey. Gerard stiffens a little, but relaxes as Frank turns him to face in another direction.
"Sorry," Gerard says. "If he would just - "
"I know," Frank says. "Don't think about it now. Think about what a fabulous dancing partner I am."
"You are, it's true," Gerard says. "How did I never know this before?"
"Well, you never asked me to dance before now, did you?" Frank murmurs, and Gerard laughs and leans in.
All of a sudden, there's a scream, and then confused shouting, and then Frank and Gerard both hear, clearly over it all, Mikey shouting Gerard's name.
Gerard pushes his way through the crowd toward where he'd last seen his brother and Pete dancing, Frank just behind him, and everyone parts to reveal that someone has fainted. Not just someone; Pete. And it's not so much fainted as.....collapsed, half-draped over Mikey's bent legs on the floor.
"Someone get Victoria right now," Gerard says, leaning over Pete, pressing his fingers inside his mouth, and Frank's not sure what he's looking for, if Pete's choked on something. "Now!" Gerard shouts.
Frank feels the murmur go up, ripple through the crowd. Pete Wentz. Collapsed in the middle of the dance floor. The murmur builds to confused, panicked voices, until there's a magically magnified voice. It's Bob. "We ask that everyone step outside to the garden until the situation can be assessed. There is no need to panic. But no one may leave until I have given the all clear."
Frank can see over Gerard’s shoulder Pete groggily coming back to consciousness. A moment later and Bob’s standing with them. "Can I have a code?" he says, sounding impatient. Frank thinks he's asking for some sort of key. "Anyone?"
"No code," Pete says, at the same time Mikey says, "Three."
"No code?" Bob says. "Can you tell me in under 15 words why you're on the floor? A reason I'll believe?"
"No?" Pete says, his voice unsteady.
"I'm calling it a Code Three," Bob says, and storms off.
"What - " Frank says and then Bob's voice is shouting, "Emergency Procedure 3-6-7, could I have all Clan Officials clear the floor and could I have an Order presence at each of the directional derivatives. So much for not working tonight," Bob says, to no one in particular.
"I'm fine," Pete says.
Victoria appears, rushing to her knees, blindly reaching for something behind her - her medical bag. "Come on, let's get him on the ground," Victoria says, and Frank dashes forward to help lift Pete off Mikey. Pete's face is slack, his eyes closed. Frank feels a terrifying sense of déjà vu.
"What happened?" Victoria asks Mikey urgently.
"Nothing," Mikey says. "Nothing, I swear, we were dancing and then he was just - falling. I tried to hold him up, but - "
"Brian," Gerard says, standing up and turning his back to the scene, drawing Schechter's name out. A moment later, Schechter appears, right next to Gerard.
"Schechter," Bob’s magically magnified voice rings out again. "Your fucking sorcerer shit is messing with my readings."
"Fuck you, Bryar," Brian says, and immediately goes to Mikey, looking him up and down, and then pushes him toward Gerard. "He's fine," Schechter says, and bends down to where Victoria is running some sort of tube over Pete's prone body.
"We meet again so soon," Victoria says. "No sun traces, no wood, no garlic, I need to get him back to the lab to see if it's a toxin. Can you see anything?"
Schechter examines Pete, then, it's so quick that Frank almost misses it, looks at Gerard and nods.
"Is he going to be ok?" Mikey's thready voice suddenly bursts out.
"Yes," Victoria says. "But, as I don't know what happened, I can't say any more."
Mikey looks relieved, and then he's searching his brother's face, the two of them having a classic Way brother silent conversation. Gerard puts his arm around Mikey and says, “Frank, can you find Dewees and ask him to get the carriage ready for when Bob gives the all clear?"
Frank makes his way to the north end of the garden where he sees several of the servant staff gathering. "Frank," Gabe says. "What's going on?"
"Hey man," Frank says, and evading the question, "You seen Dewees?"
"Yeah, he's over by the pool," Gabe says.
"Fucker," Frank says, and takes off. Dewees is in fact, by the pool, walking in steady, even steps on the stone edge.
"What are you doing?" Frank demands.
"Not going into the pool," Dewees says.
"Have you been here all night?"
"Nah," Dewees says. "Had Gabe teach me how to do the box step."
"What?" Frank asks. "I mean, whatever. Gerard wants the carriage ready when the all clear's given."
"How's Wentz?" Dewees says.
"Don't know," Frank says.
"I wonder," Dewees says, "Whether I could be prevented from falling into the pool because you've ordered me not to go in."
Frank looks at him for a minute and is about to say something scathing when he actually considers the idea for a minute. "Nah," he says, "I don't think zombie magic has any power over the laws of physics. If you fall, you're going in. Though I guess you could ask Schechter about it."
"I'm not asking that sorcerer anything," Dewees says, looking suddenly afraid.
"It's ok, man, it's fine, I won't make you ask. You just seem like you wanted to know."
"I don't desire anything but clarity," Dewees says airily, and then hops down from the pool edge and heads toward the carriage.
When Frank comes back into the ballroom, after some negotiating with guards at the entrance, Pete is sitting up, drinking water from a cup Victoria is pressing to his mouth.
"Can I blame you for this?" Bob says, coming over to Schechter.
"No," Schechter says.
"Too bad," Bob says. "It'd be more convincing than telling everyone Pete Wentz just fainted." He looks to Victoria. "There's nothing else I could say?"
Victoria shakes her head.
"You ok?" Bob asks Pete. "I’m serious. We have 9 local Order agents in the area, and I'd guess there are at least 16 Clan officials here incase you wanted to do anything."
"Anything like what?" Pete says, twisting his face away from the cup, which Victoria is still trying to press to his mouth.
"Anything like figuring out why you just collapsed in public in the middle of a fancy dress ball? Or, I don't know, would you prefer to hold a news conference?" Bob sounds pissy, and tired. “Consider whether or not it has anything to do with the evening’s other disturbance?”
"I'm fine," Pete says. “And I highly doubt it has anything to do with the werewolf called Bert. I just got overtired.” Bob sighs loudly.
"Where is he?" Patrick comes rushing over. "They said I couldn't see him and I told them there was nothing about Pete I couldn't see and - " Patrick stops when he sees Pete on the floor.
"What the fuck," Patrick says, like Pete's messing with him.
"I'm fine, 'Trick," Pete says.
"Oh, yeah, because Mikey looks like he's the picture of calm. You have never passed out," Patrick says. "Not even that time you hung upside-down for 12 hours and then tried to stand up right away."
"I didn't pass out," Pete says. Victoria coughs. "Ok, fine, I don't know what happened."
"Fucking - whatever, Pete," Patrick says, and tries to stalk off but then comes back a moment later and just glares at Pete.
"You have a list of everyone in attendance?" Gerard says. "Staff, guests, everyone?"
Bob nods. "Good," Gerard says. "I'll be in touch tomorrow."
"It's not a case," Pete murmurs.
"With you, it is," Gerard says. "Mikey, say goodnight."
Mikey makes a sour face at his brother's petulant order, but then he kneels down by Pete and Gerard's concession is to look away. Mikey presses a brief kiss to Pete's lips and then stands up.
Several people try to ask them what's happening as they leave, but Schechter appears to be monitoring their exit and shrouds them in a fog that lets them pass through the crowds, through the front door, and all the way to the carriage, obscured. Gerard pushes Mikey in first, then Frank, and then gives Dewees the order to take them back to the Mansion.