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Gift Horse

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The thing that Bob doesn’t get, is how Brian ever managed to take the band anywhere by himself. Five dudes isn’t so many, but when one of them is Frank, who will literally fall down on the floor if he can’t sleep for twenty hours a day, and two of the others are Ways, who are at least two hundred percent more likely than anyone else to walk in front of traffic or get beaten up for staring creepily at someone, it’s a lot of work.

Ray and Otter are pretty okay, if for ‘okay’ Bob accepts a value of ‘awesome but dippy’ and ‘man, that guy needs my fist in his face’ respectively. But right now, for example, they’re at a rest stop and – seriously, there’s only so many places to go at a rest stop, but Frank’s asleep under a tree (Bob doesn’t know why he even gets out of the van. Maybe he likes the change of scenery) which means someone has to stay with him in case he gets raped or murdered or someone pours vinegar in his ear again. Ray’s inside, trying to win Gerard a bear on the grabby machine or some shit, and they’re not allowed in by themselves after the time in Germany when Gerard accidentally shoplifted four bags of chips and some Skittles because he was too busy checking himself out in the glass door to remember to pay.

Brian’s inside with them, making sure capitalism wins the day, and Otter’s with Frank because the dude’s not so much of an asshole he won’t look out for that little shit. That means Bob’s in charge of Mikey. Except he’s also in charge of trying to figure out where the fuck they’re headed when the map they’re using was last updated before Europe even had a Union, Bob’s pretty sure, plus everything’s in French.

He glances up from the map in time to see Mikey wandering into the parking lot, headphones plugged in and eyes on his cellphone. There aren’t any cars headed for him or anything, but Bob just knows if he looks away for two more seconds that’ll change, so he weighs the map down with his soda and jogs across the scrubby grass verge to catch Mikey by the elbow.

Mikey’s impossible to surprise. Anyone else would jump and flail at the feel of an unexpected hand on their arm, but Mikey always acts like he’s expecting everything – maybe it’s a side-effect of living with Gerard, who knows – so he just blinks sleepily up at Bob, then smiles and reaches up to push his earphones away. “Hey, dude, what’s up?”

“My fuckin’ blood pressure, Mikey, come on.”

Mikey follows Bob placidly back to the picnic table and sits down right next to him, instead of opposite like a normal person. Mikey’s got pointy elbows and he’s taller than he looks, but he likes to sit right close; Bob’s getting used to feeling his bony shoulder digging in to the top of Bob’s arm, or waking up to Mikey’s big eyes and long nose two inches from his own face.

“Help me with this,” Bob tells him, and Mikey hunches obediently over the map; drags the highlighter Bob gives him over the roads Bob points out.

Bob pauses to light up a smoke, and when he looks back Mikey’s abandoned the highlighter and has picked up the thin black marker Bob stole from Gerard instead. He’s drawing something on the place between his thumb and forefinger – when Bob leans over to look, he holds it out.

“It’s a unicorn,” he says in kind a long-suffering voice, the same one Gerard uses when someone takes a couple of seconds to grasp exactly how a stack of empty cigarette cartons are a metaphor for a vampire.

This is different, though; it’s obviously a unicorn. Mikey’s not gonna win any art prizes or anything, but Bob knows a unicorn when he sees one, even if it is pointy and scratchy and kind of confused looking. “I know, man,” he tells Mikey, and Mikey beams at him and reaches for Bob’s hand.

Bob smokes with one hand while Mikey draws another wonky unicorn on the other one. Bob flexes his hand when Mikey’s done; moves his thumb up and down and it makes the flesh there move so it looks like the unicorn’s…not running, but sort of hopping awkwardly in place.

Mikey laughs quietly and turns Bob’s hand over; he draws a smiley face on the pad of Bob’s thumb, just two dots for eyes and a little curved line for a smile.

Later on, after Brian and Bob have herded them all back into the van and they’re speeding along the Mikey-highlighted road, Bob turns around to do a headcount. It’s unlikely any of them have gone missing from a moving vehicle, but not, as Bob knows from experience, completely impossible.

Frank’s asleep again, this time sprawled with his head on Otter’s stomach and his feet in Ray’s lap. Gerard and Mikey are in the back bench seat, nodding along to whatever’s playing in their shared earphones.

Mikey sees Bob looking; he gives Bob a thumbs-up over the back of the seat, and Bob sees he’s got a smiley face on his own thumb, too. He wiggles it back and forth.

Bob crooks his own thumb at the knuckle, making the smiley face nod at Mikey.

Mikey smiles, shakes his head, and looks out of the window. The sun reflects on his glasses; his hair is the stupidest thing Bob’s ever seen.

The road rumbles under the wheels; Bob turns back around and rests his arm in the open window. He flexes his hand and watches the unicorn do its lurching, stampy dance.

“What’s on your hand, man?” Brian wants to know.

Bob rolls his eyes.