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draw another breath

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Ray would always remember that day.

He was actually feeling good about life for once. His new gig at the 2-7 was turning out to be interesting, and the Canadian was strange and weird and fascinating all at the same time. Ray could work it.

And the Stella-ache was slowly getting smaller, more manageable. It didn't feel like it was going to suffocate him in the dark reaches of the night anymore.

He would always love Stella, his beautiful Stella, but he was learning to live without her. After the whole mess with Orsini and that scumbag Dwayne, he'd been able to say no and make it stick, for the first time.

The elevator pinged and the doors slid open creakily to admit a young woman, scruffy and dressed all in black. She had dark, shaggy hair, chopped and messy and hanging in her face. Her dark jeans were tight and she'd topped it all off with a ratty Iron Maiden shirt and black boots. She was cute and had a sweet smile that she flashed at Ray.

The elevator rumbled downward.

Ray turned, leaned against the wall and grinned wolfishly back. She blushed a little and lifted her chin, which was kinda sharp and pointy. Gutsy kid.

She was way too young for Ray, but the look she aimed at Ray told him that she didn't think he was some old, creepy pervert for staring at her. Something about the way she held herself and the way she smiled invited the eye to linger over her, a weird kind of look at me vibe that made Ray think of performers, of people who made their living on stage and on display.

He let his eyes travel over her slim form, taking in the pale, smooth skin, the slight curve of her waist, the holes in the knees of her jeans. She was in that stage that some young women went through, slim-hipped, flat-chested and boyish. It was a good look on her and she knew how to use it to her advantage.

She stared back, unashamed in her interest as she looked him over. Ray couldn't help but wonder what she saw—a tall guy, hair spiked up with attitude, wearing head-kicking boots and his favorite Bulls shirt. Did she see him, the Ray Kowalski who was putting his old life behind him and starting over? Or did she see someone desperately trying to cling to the past, dressing like someone half his age, crashing his way into a mid-life crisis?

"Hi," she said, and winked at him. "Lovely weather today; wasn't expecting Chicago to be so nice."

Her voice was pitched high and she talked East-coast fast, with an accent that Ray thought was Jersey, though he didn't have Fraser's ear for that kind of stuff.

"Usually isn't," he conceded with a smile. "Not gonna complain, though."

"Mmmm, no." She worried at her bottom lip with her teeth, clearly thinking about something. She took a deep, bracing breath. "So, I'm passing through town and it's my first time in Chicago and I'm desperately hungry. Interested in some lunch?"

Ray was charmed by her fearlessness.

"Sure. There's a little café around the corner that's got some outdoor tables; we can take advantage of the weather. Plus, they make great coffee."

"Coffee," she moaned.

Ray laughed and held out his hand. "Ray Kowlaski."

"Gerard Way," she replied, taking his hand and shaking it firmly.

"Gerard?" Her hand was nice, slim and strong with calluses in odd places. "That's a strange—" He looked at her, really looked at her and felt the ground shift under his feet. "Oh."

She—no, he looked uncertain and a little scared, trying to pull his hand free from Ray's grip. "I'm sorry—I didn't mean—"

Ray squeezed his hand reassuringly. "It's okay," he said softly. And it was. "Let's go get some lunch."

It wasn't until years later that Ray realized that was the exact moment he got bent.