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An Inexplicable Occurrence of Angels

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Gerard hasn't prayed in years, probably not since Gamma died. It's just... no. Not happening. He imagines sometimes that he's in a staredown contest with God, arms folded, glaring at each other.

God blinks first. Gerard's not sure that he should feel proud about that, or worried about getting smited. Smote? Smitten? Whatever.

It starts with a giant crash just after dawn. The ceiling of Gerard's bedroom rattles with footsteps that don't head in any particular direction, just thunder aimlessly from side to side. Then more crashing. Sounds like dishes.

Gerard rolls out of bed and runs into the door twice before he gets the doorknob to turn; his heart beats so hard it's pounding his guts into submission, stomach twisting pathetically. Mikey sounds drunk or high or something worse – Gerard can imagine some pretty horrific possibilities.

Except then he gets out into the hallway and Mikey is standing right there staring at him, hovering just outside his own door. "What the fuck?" Gerard croaks, his heart seizing up mid-stroke.

"What the fuck?" Mikey says back flatly. He's scared, though, Gerard can tell. "That's not you?"

Another crash from upstairs. "Holy shit," Gerard breathes.

It's either a burglar or a distraught fan, or both. They go up together, Gerard clutching a croquet mallet that Mikey inexplicably had in his closet. Gerard makes Mikey hang back, then pokes his head quickly around the edge of the kitchen doorway and yanks it back.

He stops. Blinks.

"What is it?" Mikey whispers.

Gerard pokes his head around the corner again, a bit slower this time. Stares.

There's a guy in the kitchen. A naked, shivering guy with tattoos, who's currently curled up on the floor with his face tucked in his arms. And out of his pointy, hunched shoulders sprout a pair of pure-white, 4-foot long wings that have knocked the clock off the wall, the dishes off the counter, and upended all four of the chairs.

"Huh," Gerard says.

Taking the… guy downstairs isn't high on Gerard's list of bright ideas, but as Mikey points out, "Mom'll have a stroke if she sees him." Mikey stays in the kitchen scooping up broken crockery while Gerard kind of herds the guy downstairs. It doesn't take much work: he flinches away every time Gerard comes near him, running into walls and panting and shivering all over. Even the wings shake.

When they get down to his room, Gerard shuts the door then stands next to it. Their visitor is on the smallish side, with dark hair that curls around a sharp chin. Tattoos cover his body, writing and pictures that Gerard can't make out in the dim light.

He's still naked. Gerard flushes and yanks his eyes back up to face level. "Um. Are you cold?" Dumb question: he can hear the guy's teeth rattle together. "Okay. Can you – " He puts his hand out slowly.

The guy looks at Gerard's hand, wide-eyed and arms hugged tight across his chest. Gerard puts on what he hopes is an encouraging face and leaves his hand hanging there, unmoving.

After a long moment in which Gerard can practically hear the guy's ribs jackhammering against each other, he shuffles awkwardly forward and almost tips forward into Gerard's chest. He doesn't know how to walk, Gerard thinks, steering the guy – boy, he's a boy, up close he doesn't look a day older than Mikey – down to sit on the bed. Narrow fingers close tight around his wrist, but there's no freakout.

Footsteps thump outside. The boy jumps at the sound, scooting backward in the bed; his wings tear Gerard's Aliens poster off the wall. Mikey sidles into the room, his eyes huge. "Is he…?"

The winged boy flops around in Gerard's bed, tangled with the comforter and knocking over a stack of CDs. "I think," Gerard says slowly, uncertain, "he's an angel."

-o-

"We should maybe buy him some clothes," Mikey whispers.

"What?"

"Clothes. To wear. He's really small, I don't think he's going to fit in either of ours."

Gerard gapes at his younger brother. "There is an angel. In my bed. And you're worried about his pant size?"

Mikey pushes his glasses up his nose. "Can you think of anything else that we should be doing?"

So far they've spent half the morning seated on Gerard's floor staring at the angel, who sits on the bed and stares back. It took him an hour to stop shivering, even with another record-hot day slitting its sharp beams over the horizon; Mikey had finally dragged his comforter in, too, and the angel's dark eyes peer over the edge of a thick cocoon.

"No?" Gerard finally admits, defeated.

Mikey nods, chewing on his lower lip. "Okay. Um. I think the Goodwill in Clifton will be open. I'll be fast."

"Wait, wait – you're not leaving me here with – him." Gerard latches onto his arm, darting eyes at the lump of comforters and wings. "What if he, like, starts speaking in tongues or something?"

"I dunno. Speak in tongues back?"

Mikey Way, ladies and gentlemen: buy the wrong cereal and it's the end of the world. Drop an inexplicable angel and he wants to go shopping. "Fine," Gerard groans. "Leave me to get smited."

Mikey purses his lips, thinking. "I'm pretty sure it's 'smote.' Besides, he's, like, tiny. And he looks like he's twelve. I don't think he's here to smite us."

"Whatever," Gerard grumps. If Mikey's not going to spaz the hell out, neither is he. Much. "Go buy him some Decepticon gear, you freak."

The pale flash of a middle finger hails Mikey's departure. Then it's just Gerard, in his bedroom, alone with an angel. Only his life could be this weird. Part of him wants to crawl back into bed and pretend this was all a withdrawal-induced hallucination – but that would entail pushing the angel out of his bed, and Gerard's not so convinced about the whole no-smiting thing.

Oh, shit, the angel's watching him again, leaning forward to poke his chin over the edge of the comforter like a small animal emerging from its burrow. "Hi," Gerard greets uncertainly.

The angel cocks his head to one side, doing nothing to dispel the impression of, like, a lemur or something. "Can you understand what I'm saying?" Gerard asks. "Blink twice if you understand me."

No luck, but then the angel's gaze slides away to the window and his thin little mouth tips downward. After a brief struggle –

"Oh, hey, you maybe shouldn't – "

– he kicks free of the comforters and stands up, still naked.

" – or, you know, whatever," Gerard chokes, and tucks his burning face behind one hand. Definitely not twelve years old.

In the corner of his vision the angel shuffle-steps over to the window, peering up at the single, intrepid ray of light slipping into the room. After a moment he lifts his hand to pass it through the beam, like it's something he can touch. Sunlight plays across his fingers, held and released, tripping over his knuckles on its customary way to the floor.

Gerard watches, sort of totally forgetting to keep his hand up. The angel doesn't seem to notice: his focus is absolute, eyes intent. He spreads his palm, fingers speared outward, tilting it so that the light slips sideways across his palm.

As he tips his arm, the beam falls across black letters tattooed on the soft skin inside his elbow. It's just a brief flash, but it's enough for Gerard to read: 'TAKE THIS TO MY GRAVE.'

It's hot. It's been so hot, this whole last week, and Gerard has been down here breathing the same stale air. It crowds up into his open mouth and nose, pushing on his lungs. "That's," he croaks, then clears his throat, tries again. The angel looks over and Gerard points to the words on his arm, says, "That's mine."

He knows the rest of it, too, and so does Mikey. Mikey's seen the last gasps of creativity, the scrawled lyrics and half-hearted sketches that Gerard has managed to peel from the mess he's made of himself. But no one else has and no one will: Gerard had his chance and he blew it for all of them. Now he's a has-been rock star living in his mom's basement.

With an angel. A has-been rock star in his mom's basement with an inexplicable angel, who has Gerard's unsung lyrics tattooed on his forearm and, now that Gerard looks closer, on his chest and torso and legs and neck. And everywhere there aren't lyrics there are pictures that Gerard knows too, from the sketchbook tucked under his mattress.

Gerard scrambles up and backs away, shaking. "Who are you?"

The angel twitches away, too, his eyes widening at Gerard's sudden movement. One of the wings bumps hard against Gerard's desk, and he kind of half flaps to regain his balance, utterly fails, and tips over to bang his head against the wall.

The rush of air from his wings hits Gerard and jolts him into motion, out the door into the hallway.

-o-

Mikey finds Gerard on the front porch a half hour later, a cigarette in his mouth and half a dozen crumpled butts beside him. "Don't tell me he's gone."

Gerard jumps up and grabs Mikey's wrist, ignoring Mikey's squawk when bags of Decepticon gear tumble to the porch. He tugs Mikey through the living room and down the back stairs, leaving a trail of fallen clothing behind them.

He pulls up outside his own door and whispers, "He has my lyrics."

"Did you leave him alone in there?"

"Mikey." Gerard shakes his brother once, hard. "He has my lyrics. Tattooed on his skin."

Mikey stares, clearly torn between holy shit and oh, God, Gee is being dramatic again. "So," he says slowly, "maybe he's a fan?"

"With wings?"

"An angelic fan? Gee, a lot of people have tattoos of our lyrics."

"Not – Mikey, not those lyrics." Gerard flaps his hands, willing Mikey to figure it out. "The other ones. The – my – I wrote last week!"

Mikey's expression doesn't change, but Gerard can see the exact moment when it clicks in his brain. "Post-band lyrics?"

"Yes." Gerard shifts between his feet, ready to bolt. "This isn't, like, a random angel invasion, Mikey, he's here for me. He's come for me."

"Okay, okay. Don't freak out – "

"Stop not freaking out, Mikey!"

They both cut off when the door thumps. Gerard freezes in place, his eyes darting to the knob as it jiggles and starts slowly to turn. It's like a scene from some cheesy slasher flick: ladies and gentlemen, tonight the part of Stupid Teenage Heroine will be played by Gerard Way. He can't move, though, all the muscles in his legs have locked up.

The door eases open. The angel pokes his face around the edge, lemur-like once again; his eyes look suspiciously wet and his expression is one of utter misery.

"Hey," Mikey greets after a moment, his voice soft and going a little higher, like he's talking to a kitten or a baby. "Hey, dude. You okay?"

The angel sniffles a little, looking back and forth between them. He opens the door wider; Gerard automatically puts his hand over his face again. Then he drops it in shock when the angel croaks, "Hey due you okay," in a surprisingly deep voice.

Gerard gasps. "You can talk?"

The angel peers at him, lips working a moment before he says, "You can talk."

"Gee," Mikey whispers, "I think he's repeating what we say."

"Gee," the angel whispers, "I think his repeating what he say." He frowns.

"That's… close," Gerard tells him hesitantly, at the same time Mikey says, "Is that my face on his chest?"

-o-

Once Mikey puts clothes on him things get a little easier. The angel seems to like his new duds, picking curiously at the sweatpants and kicking his legs around inside the fabric. Mikey holds a T-shirt in his hands, eyeing the wings. "How can we – ?"

"Oh. Um. He'll have to step into it. And we gotta cut a hole in the back."

"Then how do we get it around his neck?"

"Ummmm." Gerard wrinkles his nose up, thinking. "I guess… cut the neck into straps? Like a halter top."

Mikey's lips quirk. "You want to put a halter top on the angel?"

"Like a halter top, Mikey. Also, shut up."

Once he gets past his skittishness, the angel's inquisitive and touchy: he reaches up to pull at Gerard's hair, tugs Mikey's glasses off his face, and cranes his neck to watch Gerard put the shirt on him.

"Okay, dude," Gerard groans, ducking the wings as he tries to tie off the T-shirt's neck strap (he refuses to call it a halter top, even inside his own head – there's only so much weird that even he can handle, and a cross-dressing inexplicable angel is right up there), "seriously, can you hold him still?"

"How?" Mikey asks, but reaches out and takes the angel firmly by both shoulders. "Hold still."

"Hold still," the angel parrots. He claps both of his hands on Mikey's shoulders.

Gerard ties off the T-shirt strap and hastily backs out of wing-reach, but still gets a swipe of feathers to the face when the angel turns. "Ackth!" he yelps as he falls backward.

On the other side of a wall of white, Mikey busts up laughing. After a moment the angel does, too, copying Mikey's snorting giggles perfectly.

"Now that's just creepy," Gerard says from his place on the bed, but he lies there unmoving for a moment, listening to Mikey laugh.

-o-

By the time Mikey gets around to asking, "What're we gonna do with him," they've moved down the hall to watch the Venture Brothers on the small TV in Mikey's room that Gerard hates (the color balance is so off, the reds give him a headache).

"Papa Smurf has a eeee-ing beard! They're mammals!" the angel yells, mimicking the censor's high-pitched beep.

"What're we gonna do with him?" Mikey asks.

That exact question has been running laps around Gerard's brain for most of the day. "We can't tell anybody. We can't – they have religious cults based on window smears shaped like the Virgin Mary, think what they'd do if they saw him. Or," his stomach twists, "there'd be scientists who'd want to, like, do tests and shit."

The thought is sharp and horrifying. As freaked out as Gerard still feels, he can't imagine sending the little dude to a laboratory to get poked with, oh God, needles. "We gotta hide him."

"Hank, I had my pubes shaved!" the angel says.

"Okay, but I think Mom's gonna notice sooner or later that there's a third person living in the basement. And you know she can't keep secrets, man."

"Right. True. Um. We probably need to find somewhere else to put him. In a cabin, like, out in the woods, maybe?"

"Where're we gonna get a cabin?"

Gerard screws up his face, darting his eyes at Mikey. "Brian?"

Mikey's mouth opens a little then closes. They haven't talked to Brian since he called them to tell them that the label had canceled their contract.

"I don't think," Mikey says slowly, "that Brian's too big on the idea of randomly giving us a cabin anymore."

It's a depressing thought, same as all the other stray thoughts Gerard has about the band; even the good times – their first album, their second album, the stage and lights and giddy rush of making it, of reaching to the sky and hearing a crowd scream back at him through the rain like a whole forest of trees falling at once – are coated with this thick fucking layer of regret, now. Gerard picks at the blanket and slumps. "Yeah, guess not."

"Dean," the angel snaps, "have you been shooting dope into your scrotum?!"

A tiny line draws itself between Mikey's eyebrows. "Do you think we should be letting him watch this?"

"Iunno," Gerard shrugs. "He seems to like it."

-o-

They decide to call the angel Frank, after Francis the patron saint of animals; Gerard can't really get past the lemur thing.

If their mother notices the unusual amount of food heading into the basement, she keeps it to herself. She and Gerard haven't really had that much to do with each other since he arrived home in the back of a Matt Cortez's station wagon, fish-pale and clammy with his own sweat.

It's totally unfair, of course, but his mother has become synonymous with failure in Gerard's mind. No more band, no more fans (or at least the non-bitter type), he's near broke and barely clean and has moved back in with his mom; just seeing her around the house makes Gerard want to tear his hair out or run away to form a new identity free of all the monumental disappointment.

Why Mom avoids him is a question he doesn't ask and doesn't want to know.

Mikey's voice drags him out of these brooding thoughts. "Let's see if he likes ramen?"

Frank does indeed like ramen, and Hersey's chocolate sauce, and bananas. Then they introduce him to peanut butter, and it's all over; he tucks the entire jar against his chest and clumsily shovels spoonful after spoonful into his mouth.

Watching him eat, Gerard has another horrifying thought. "You think he knows how to use the bathroom?"

Mikey's eyes widen. "Oh. Man. Maybe we shouldn't be feeding him so – "

"Not 'It'," Gerard says quickly.

" – much fo – fuck you, Gee!"

Mikey's sharp, bony foot nails him in the thigh, but Gerard is unrepentant. He grabs a bag of corn chips, shoves a handful in his mouth, and says around the sharp corners, "Ah fink ee shul caa Ay."

There's a pause, and then Mikey asks, "Did you just say that we should call Ray?"

Gerard keeps his eyes trained on Frank and chews. "Mmm."

He can feel Mikey watching him, but it's not like the thought hasn't been out there already. In Gerard's experience, there are only two things that Ray Toro has never been able to fix: one was the crappy old van that they junked around in for two years before they signed the deal with Warner; the other was Gerard.

"Okay," Mikey says after a moment. Gerard silently thanks him for not saying anything more about it.

When Frank starts frowning and rubbing his stomach, Mikey, stony-faced, leads him to the bathroom; Gerard distracts himself by taking out his phone, scrolling through his phone book for Toro's number, then staring at it for a solid minute.

He punches 'Send' before he can talk himself out of it, and puts the phone to his ear. It goes to voicemail, thank God, and just hearing that reedy voice again makes Gerard smile. Then the beep goes off and it's his turn.

"Hey, Ray," he says, starting with as much nonchalance as possible; it evaporates fast in the heat and the muddle of his own brain. "It's Gerard. Yeah, back from the dead! Believe it! Um, hi, I hope – y'know, that your summer's going okay. How fucking hot is it, by the way? So fucking hot, that's how hot. And, um – wow, I'm talking about the weather. Lame. Anyway, uh… gimme a call, wouldya? There's something… look, there's something I kinda need help with and I couldn't think of anybody, y'know, else," he hits the side of his own face, "not that, y'know, I'd call anybody else, because you're the man, Ray. You fix – Jesus, whatever. Just call me, okay?"

He hangs up and flops back on Mikey's bed, makes a few angry, disgusted faces at the ceiling.

He's not sure what Ray will make of the message. The last time they saw each other had been after Otter – after Ray and Brian had gone to tell him that he was out of the band. And then they'd come back and told Gerard that he wasn't welcome back, either, not until he was clean. Ray had been tired, so fucking tired, of having to be the adult for everyone. He'd looked at Gerard with his sad eyes and he'd said, "You give me a call when you want, Gee. When you're ready."

It's been almost a year. If Ray had been holding out hope that the band would survive, Gerard thinks that it must be all gone by now. Ray had always held on the hardest, had lived and breathed the music. He'd joined the band because he'd believed in it; he'd believed in Gerard.

And Gerard had let him down.

The bathroom door opens. Mikey comes out, followed by a rather bewildered-looking Frank.

Mikey crosses straight to the bed and elbows Gerard out of the way viciously, then pulls a pillow over his head. "Under pain of death," he says, muffled through the fabric, "we'll never speak of this again."

Gerard tucks his face into his brother's shoulder and howls with laughter.

-o-

Monday dawns with a cool breeze from the ocean pushing through the heatwave. Mikey leaves early to bike his way to work. He's back at Eyeball Records, which was pretty cool of them to them to welcome him back; on the other hand, Gerard can't imagine going to work with a whole office full of people that know all about the train wreck known as My Chemical Romance. At least Gerard gets to hide out at home, licking his wounds.

He sometimes wishes Mikey would wash his hands altogether, would just leave the music thing alone instead of poking at the scab; it's not fucking healthy for him, and Gerard… he worries, okay, most of his time and energy is spent worrying about his little brother. But apparently Mikey loves the scene too much to lift that last toehold, and Gerard is all about keeping Mikey happy these days.

When he finally rolls out of bed at 1 pm, Gerard's presented anew with his… Angel Problem. Frank is curled up on sleeping bags with his wings tucked awkwardly on either side of his body; maybe he should look innocent and cherub-like, lying there, but in reality he just looks uncomfortably hot. He's yanked the not-halter top up around the wings, uncovering as much of his torso as possible.

'if it looks like i'm laughing i'm really just asking to leave,' says the small of Frank's back.

Jesus Christ. It's been seven months and four and a half days since Gerard had a drink or did a line, and that one little sentence brings it all back with a vengeance. He scrubs a hand over his face and stumbles into the bathroom.

It should feel like a victory; the people in his group at AA tell him it is. The face in the bathroom mirror, though, looks anything but triumphant. Gerard grimaces and scrubs his hair back as fast as he can, eyes averted.

Frank's awake when he comes out, and is – "Hey!" – tearing the sheet off the window. "Not cool! Stoppit!"

Frank jumps nervously but doesn't obey. Dust swirls in the sudden flood of light as he rips the cloth free from the staples.

"Frank!" Gerard yells, his hands flailing uncertainly. Pretty much his only option is to grab Frank's wings, and he can't quite bring himself to do it. "Frank, stoppit, dude!"

The angel looks over one shoulder. "Frank?" he asks. The up-turning inflection at the end sounds clumsy and over-exaggerated, but his puzzled expression speaks well enough.

"You're Frank. You're also a little dipshit, why'd you do that?" When Frank's expression doesn't change, Gerard sighs and points at Frank's chest, then his own. "You, Frank. Me, Gerard. Stop fucking up my room."

It takes another moment of deep thought, but then Frank's face clears and he smiles wide. He has really white teeth. "Frank," he says, pointing to his chest, then Gerard's, "Gerard. Frank, Gerard." He points to the door and makes the puzzled face again.

"Um. Mikey."

"Mikey," Frank repeats, and Gerard might be imagining things but for a second Frank looks kind of… affectionate. Then he turns back to the window and peers out. There's not much to see: the back yard hasn't been mowed in however long it's been since Mom shamed Mikey into it. Grass, weeds, and flowers crowd against the basement window.

Frank, though, stares at them in amazement. He puts his hands on the sill and tips up onto his toes, his mouth open as he touches the cloudy glass.

Watching him, Gerard says, "Oh. Um. You wanna go out?" Another puzzled face makes him point to the window. "Out?"

Frank blinks, then points, too. "Out," he says firmly.

-o-

It's not the craziest thing Gerard's ever done – well, okay, yeah. Taking his tattooed angelic visitor out for a jaunt around the neighborhood in the middle of the day? Possibly craziest.

"Mikey's gonna kill me," he groans. Once he introduced the idea, though, Frank was determined: he kept trying to go up the basement stairs, or get the window open and climb out. Short of tying him up, there's no way Gerard can keep him in the basement and sooner or later even Mom is going to come down to investigate the weird thrashing noises.

So here he is, digging through Mikey's closet for belts; he's already laid out all of his own on the floor of his room. Frank sits impatiently on Mikey's bed, jiggling his feet and craning his neck at Mikey's window. He hasn't made any head fakes toward it yet, but Gerard has a feeling that it's just a matter of time.

"Alright already," he says, lurching back to his feet with a bunch of studded, sequined, and feathered – seriously, Mikey? – belts laid over one arm. He takes Frank's wrist with his other hand and drags him back to his own room.

There, he's faced with a serious obstacle: for this to work, he needs to touch the wings.

"Can you, um." He half-gestures at Frank, trying to indicate that he should fucking mantle the damn things already; Frank just stares at him blankly. "Okay. Um. Hold still. I really hope this isn't going to hurt."

He reaches out and puts a palm on the peak of one wing. It twitches under his hand a little and Gerard can feel the delicate bones underneath. Bird bones are hollow, he thinks vaguely around the loud drum of his heart. They feel and look exactly like big bird wings, like a swan's, maybe, with the straight, long contour feathers stretched around Frank's torso and legs. Underneath his hand are smaller downy feathers…they're pretty warm.

Gerard takes his hand away and clutches it to his own chest. Frank's making his puzzled face again. Nothing else happens, though, so Gerard gingerly tries again, settling his fingers on the outer curve of one peak right where the down changes into harder flight feathers. He pushes gently, his stomach twisting in fear of a soft crack; then Frank moves the wing, shifting it down closer to his shoulder.

"Yeah! Yeah, now just – " Gerard hooks a belt in his mouth, teeth clenched in the pleather. He pushes as gently as possible until the wing barely peeks over Frank's shoulder, then hooks the belt across Frank's chest and up over the wing. He has to wrap both arms around Frank to blindly latch both ends together.

Frank's shirt is rucked up and the puzzled look has changed to outright bewilderment; but the wing stays in place, held there by the purple-sequined belt.

"Okay," Gerard says breathlessly. "You, uh, might look like a hunchback," a nervous giggle claws out of his throat, "but uh, I think this might work."

-o-

Six belts and a heavy trenchcoat later, Gerard leads Frank out of his house into the late afternoon sun.

Frank really does look a bit like an overweight hunchback, and the very tips of his wings poke out the bottom of the trenchcoat. Plus, he's wearing pink slippers. Gerard spent five minutes putting various pairs of boots, sandals, and sneakers on Frank; he'd kicked them all off with a scowl until Gerard had crept upstairs to steal his mother's pair of old bathroom slippers. Those, apparently, had been acceptable.

Still, he doesn't look freaky enough to warrant a police battalion or something. And the expression on his is totally worth it: Gerard has never seen anyone look that impressed by suburban New Jersey.

"So," he says, and realizes that he's gripping Frank by the hand. He uses that to turn them until they face the house. "This is our house. Where we – Mikey and I and Mom – live."

Frank's gaze takes in the spotty roof, the warped wood of the front porch; then he points and says, "What."

"Uh…a mailbox."

"Mailbox." Frank twists around without letting go of Gerard's hand and points at one of the cars parked on the street. "What."

"Car. Don't get in front of it, if it's moving."

Gerard had been scared that Frank would take off running down the street in excitement, but he seems content to walk beside Gerard getting the names of random shit. The one scare they have is the big black dog three houses down the street from Gerard's: it always charges out to the fence, spittle flying from its mouth. Frank startles away, eyes wide, and Gerard has to catch him around the waist to keep him from going into the street. He hurries them past the long fence and the bared teeth that snarl between posts.

"You okay, dude?" he asks once they've left the dog behind. Frank nods, but he grips Gerard's hand a little tighter.

There's a big space between the fourth and fifth houses down that was once a community garden before the city shut it down. Now it's just overgrown. Gerard came here a few times in the last year, until a group of kids chose it as a hideout for pot-smoking. There'd been no hard feelings until one of them had recognized Gerard; the kid had been husky, dark-haired, and wearing a Marilyn Manson T-shirt. It hadn't ended well.

The place is empty, now. "Little fuckers must be in school," Gerard mutters approvingly.

"What little fuckers?"

Gerard halts, torn between delight (and seriously, how fast does an angel learn, because Frank's only been here, like, half a day, and he's already forming semi-full sentences) and alarm that his angel just said 'fucker.' "Don't, um – that was good, Frank. Very good. Don't say that."

Frank makes his Puzzled Face. Gerard sighs. "Nevermind. C'mon."

A grove of trees stand in a semi-neat circle. Off-shoots from their roots spear up out of the ground and cigarette butts litter the ground, but other than that the area between the trees is empty. Gerard kicks the butts away to sit down on the bare dirt; Frank attempt to copy and immediately falls over.

"Oh, shit!" Gerard lurches back up. "With the wings, shit, you can't sit down – you okay?"

"Shit," Frank says, seeming a little perturbed but otherwise unharmed. He looks past Gerard's hovering shoulders at the sky. Gerard sighs and sits back down near Frank's head; between him and Mikey and The Venture Brothers, he has a feeling he's already lost the 'no-swearing' battle.

Frank wiggles, tipping his head back in the dirt with one eye closed against the sunlight; his other eye studies Gerard intently. Gerard's fingers curl in the torn hem of his T-shirt. "Hey."

"Hey," Frank says, but it's not an echo. There's a new awareness in his face – less lemur-like, more… something else. He lifts one hand and circles it in the air. "What."

Gerard follows the orbit of Frank's finger around the circle of tree trunks. "Iunno. I think somebody wanted to use this as, like, a neighborhood meeting place. Or a ritual altar." He giggles, then stops short. "Oh. Awkward. You, uh, probably don't wanna hear about ritual sacrifices, huh?"

They sit for a while in silence, listening to the distant traffic and the screech of summer insects; the air feels cooler here in the space between the trees. Once Gerard's mind sets off he can't stop it, though. "I, uh, haven't ritually sacrificed anything but I did bite a Bible once. I don't know if that upsets you or not. And I've made some pretty questionable life choices." He rubs at his head; there's a headache wriggling to life behind his eyes. It's probably all the goddamned sunlight. "I used to have a rock band. That, y'know, tends to go hand-in-hand with the questionable life choices – not that that excuses it, because they were my fucking choices, you know? I'm not shirking responsibility, here. I did some stupid stuff and I let people down – " His eyes involuntarily drift back towards the house. "So, y'know, just so you're aware. I might not be the best influence on you."

Frank blinks.

"Did you understand any of that?"

Frank shakes his head.

"Right, okay. Great." He suddenly feels exhausted. "Why are you here? Is the world coming to an end and you're like, the messenger?"

Frank's head tips further until his face is almost completely upside down. "How would the world come to an end?"

"Okay, dude. Are you just, like, picking all of this up as you go?"

From this angle, Frank's frown looks like a smile. "Iunno."

"Is there anything you do know? Like, what're you here for? What do you want? Why do you have tattoos of my stuff?"

Frank stares at him, eyes wide. "Iunno," he whispers.

Gerard unfolds his legs with a snap. His heart beats painfully in his temples, and for a moment he just wants Frank to go back to wherever he came from and stop making Gerard think too hard about, like, existential metaphysics and his fucking place in the world.

"Gerard?" Frank pipes when he climbs to his feet. Then, "Gee!"

It sounds so genuinely frightened that Gerard can't help but turn back. Frank's still on his back, struggling like a turtle to roll over or sit up. Gerard rubs a hand over his face and goes back to him. "Calm down. It's okay, just hold still and – here."

Frank grabs Gerard's hands tight and doesn't let go, even after Gerard has heaved him back to his feet. "Sorry," he says urgently, his gaze fixed on Gerard's face. "Sorry. Gee."

Every day, a new way to feel like an asshole. "It's – don't worry about it, okay?" Frank looks like a sad little kid, all big doe eyes and Gerard attempts to hook an arm around his shoulders; he can only get halfway, due to the wings. "Shit, man, this feels like a cheesy Disney movie. 'A Boy and His Angel.' Fuck."

"Fuck," Frank agrees, and Gerard sighs. He steers them homeward.

When they get back, Mikey's home, and Ray Toro is with him.

-o-

Ray takes it well. Relatively speaking.

When Gerard unhooks the belts (Mikey throws a minor hissy fit about one of them being his good belt, like he's got them graded), Frank shakes his wings out with a soft grunt of relief. Ray backs away to the nearest wall, his eyes huge.

"Well," he croaks after a minute.

For his part, Frank takes to Ray pretty quick. After a few moments of cautious shyness, Frank emerges from his hiding place behind Gerard and shoves his hands into Ray's hair.

Ray freezes. "Well, then," he says after a moment. "Where'd he come from?"

"He says he doesn't know," Gerard answers, trying not to giggle. Frank bats Ray's 'fro around between his hands, fascinated.

"What're you gonna do with him?"

"That's what we're trying to figure out," Mikey says.

"Hi," Frank says.

Ray's eyes get a little bigger. "Hi."

Frank steps back and points at Ray's hair. "Cool."

"…thanks."

When he gets past his own initial freakout, Ray is everything that Gerard remembers: within minutes he's started a list. "Okay, so we've got to find a place for him to live."

"I was thinking a cabin?" Gerard supplies. Mikey is sitting on Gerard's bed teaching Frank how to make PB&J sandwiches. Frank has his chin hooked over Mikey's shoulder and Gerard's fingers twitch with the sudden desire to sketch or paint this moment – there's something so mesmerizing about the careful swipes of the butter knife across the bread, the absolute concentration on both their faces.

"Do you think," Ray says, a bit of the nervous awe back in his voice, "he's some kind of guardian angel?"

Gerard bites his lip, watching the way Frank's wing curls over Mikey's head and shoulders. "Maybe."

"He doesn't have any papers," Ray comments, adding to his list. "Birth certificate, social security card, none of that. If he's going to be here long-term, that could be a problem."

It hadn't occurred to Gerard to ask, but he suddenly swallows hard. "Frank."

Frank looks up. He has peanut butter smeared all the way from his mouth to his cheekbone. Gerard smiles despite the unpleasant wriggle in his stomach. "Are you gonna be here for a while, do you think?"

That makes Mikey look up, too. They both fix their eyes on Frank; he blinks. "Iunno," he says.

"Do you want to stay?" Gerard asks, his gaze fixed on Frank's shoulder.

"Yes," Frank answers immediately. "Yeah, Gee."

Gerard sits back, relieved. "Okay. Cool."

-o-

Ray has his own condo outside Trenton. They drive Frank there in the back of Ray's car, tucked underneath a blanket. Mikey has to sit back there with him to keep him calm: Frank doesn't like the car much and keeps trying to sit up or open the door. Finally he squirms one arm underneath Mikey's knee and buries his face in his thigh.

Night's fallen on New Jersey and Ray's face is sporadically lit by street lamps. "Thanks for doing this, Ray," Gerard murmurs, feeling oddly hushed. It's not like someone's going to hear him from inside the car and, like, call the Angel Retrieval Task Force.

"It's an angel, man. I'd worry about getting struck by lightning if I didn't."

"Fucking – exactly. See, Mikey, Ray's worried about getting smote."

Mikey pulls a face and pets Frank's hair. "Frank's not going to smite us. Are you, Frank?"

"Don' like the car," Frank says, muffled.

"Seriously, though," Ray goes on, glancing in the rearview mirror. "This is – this is incredible. This is – God, and Heaven, and Hell, and Milton, you know? Whether or not he knows exactly where he came from, there's something else, Gee. This is fucking proof that there's something beyond our world!"

Gerard says, "You just ran a stop sign."

Ray's eyes widen, but not for that reason. "Oh, shit. I stopped going to church."

"Huh. Well, Mikey and I never went, so I think you're safe."

In the back, there's a sudden, unmistakable noise. Ray and Gerard both freeze. "Mikey," Gerard says, "did he just throw up?"

"On my shoes," Mikey declares, miserable.

Angel vomit smells as bad as the normal kind. They park and vacate the car in a hurry. "I'll clean it out tomorrow," Ray mumbles, glancing down the street. "Okay, let's go."

"Hurts," Frank groans as they hustle him along wrapped in the blanket.

"I know, Frankie," Gerard murmurs, rubbing his shoulders. Mikey walks behind them, squelching. "Guess you really don't like cars, huh?"

"No," Frank says, and claps a hand over his mouth. Gerard nearly lunges away but realizes at the last moment that if he does, the wings might pop free from the blanket. Instead he grimly hangs on and takes a round of vomit in the leg.

By the time they get inside Ray's place, it's 1 am and they're all a little smelly. It has the taint of familiarity about it; Gerard has shadowed this doorway before with his own drunken stomach acrobatics.

The various instruments strewn around Ray's condo are also painfully familiar. Gerard knows that Mikey still has his bass tucked away in his closet; Ray, though, has three guitars in his living room, and sheet music tucked behind the spice rack in the kitchen. Gerard's hands burrow into his jacket. "So," he says, "what've you been up to?"

His voice sounds hollow and accusatory even to his own ears. In the middle of laying sheets over the foldout bed, Ray pauses. "I'm sorry," Gerard says immediately.

Ray sighs. "Don't be sorry, Gerard. There's this guy – he's a drummer. We've been talking about starting a band."

It's a blow to the gut. Gerard reels for a moment, his hands making fists in his pockets. He imagines punching Ray, Ray who he's known since high school, who will still show up out of the blue when Gerard calls him for help.

"That's cool," he manages. It's been almost a year. What'd you expect? All the anger rushes out of him just as fast as it came. He's really glad that Mikey is in the other room showing Frank how to brush his teeth; sometimes very late at night, he'll hear faint strumming chords from Mikey's room, and he knows Mikey hasn't given up hope. It makes Gerard shake with fear: the idea that Mikey's still got some stake in the band, something left for him to lose, and what'll do to him when he does.

"What about you?" Ray asks. "What are you doing these days – besides rescuing stray angels?" His wide smile looks forced, maybe a little guilty.

"Oh, you know. Stuff." Sitting in the basement, getting soggy, wasting any chance I had left. "It's good, though," he finally manages, because Ray is Ray and Gerard owes him so much. "It's really good that you're still playing."

Ray's hair bobs with his nod; he turns a pillowcase over and over in his hands. Gerard clears his throat. "You, uh, got some sweats that I could borrow?"

As he follows Ray down the hall, Gerard glances into the bathroom. Mikey is showing Frank how to fucking floss and Gerard has to clap a hand over his mouth and hurry on into Ray's room so Mikey won't hear him laugh.

-o-

It's like a sleepover, the four of them staying at Ray's, but without pillow fights. Gerard wouldn't be opposed to starting one, but it's 3 am and Ray and Mikey are responsible adults with jobs that they have to wake up for in, like, three hours. It turns out that Ray has been filling in as recording guitarist for new Eyeballs bands, so he and Mikey can even fucking carpool to work tomorrow. They sleep out on the hideaway so they can get up tomorrow morning without waking up everyone else.

So Gerard finds himself in Ray's bed beside Frank, who's stretched out on his stomach with one wing slung over the side and the other tucked on the mattress between their bodies.

They've got a place for him to stay, but it's not like they can just leave him with Ray. Besides the financial strain of feeding, clothing, and housing a whole other person, Frank had appeared in their kitchen: Gerard's pretty sure that makes him their responsibility.

The tattoos drift into Gerard's head for about the fiftieth time that day. My responsibility, he thinks and glances over at Frank. There's the glint of eyes looking back and Gerard startles a bit. "Hey."

"Hey," Frank replies. There's that soft, strange curl in his voice again. Enigmatic, Gerard thinks. That's what Frank is, with his wings and borrowed words and wide eyes that look both childish and knowing. "Okay?" Frank asks.

"Sure. I'm fine." Gerard tugs the thin sheet up to his chin and startles again when his toes bumps Frank's wing. "I'm just thinking," he stammers on, as much to distract himself as anything, "I should probably get a job."

The thought has occurred to him a couple of times but only as a half-formed fetus of an idea. Now it's out there, hovering in the space above him.

"Job?" Frank asks.

"For money." My Chem will only pay the bills for so long; it's already paid for a trip to rehab when his first try at quitting hadn't worked, and Mikey's medical bills after he'd – when he'd –

Anyway. Gerard can't work around people – well, maybe, like, nuns or something. He could work as a gardener, in a nunnery where no one ever listened to music or watched the TV; but nowhere that someone might recognize him as that guy that didn't, couldn't, keep it together. That couldn't make it.

"Hey." Frank slides a hand underneath the wing and across the space between them to touch Gerard's shoulder. "What job?"

"Um. Iunno. I'm not super-qualified for much." Gerard shifts in the bed, idly running his legs back and forth between the sheets; his toes bump Frank again but he's more prepared for it this time. "I, um. Used to have this band. Mikey and Ray were in it, too, and this other guy – anyway, it kinda fell apart. You know, that's life, thing's like that happen, you've got to move on." The hollow mantra sucks the air out of his lungs. "So, y'know. My resumé's gonna be, like, a paragraph."

Shit, he could always go back to Cartoon Network or something. It'd be just like before: Mikey at Eyeball, Ray playing the local circuit, and Gerard back in a basement somewhere, tracing the fucking Aqua Teen Hunger Force. Like My Chem never happened. Gerard shivers and tugs the sheets tighter.

"Gerard? Gee?" Franks small hand curves suddenly over Gerard's chin, rubbing his mouth. Gerard freezes; but Frank's face is open and bent only in concern. "Okay?"

"Um." Gerard wonders if he should give a lecture; take Frank's hand away and say, Now Frankie, guys don't touch each other that way in bed. Unless they're, you know. Gay, or in prison. Or both.

But then he'd probably have to explain gay sex to his angel, and that's just not a conversation that Gerard's ready for. Ever.

"Yeah," he finally answers. He can feel his own breath hitting Frank's hand and rebounding back onto his skin. "I'm okay, Frankie."

Frank smiles wide. "Cool." He removes his hand and wriggles deeper into the bed.

Gerard drops off quickly, too. When he wakes, it's to the soft sounds of Mikey and Ray eating breakfast. It takes him a moment to realize that he's kicked off all the covers and Frank's wing is draped haphazardly over him; in the dawn, it's dazzling white.

He takes a few deep breaths and turns his head. Feathers brush against his cheek as he moves. Frank's face is tucked against Gerard's arm, but Gerard can see the small tattoo of a vampire child on his shoulder, bright lurid blood splashed across its pale mouth.

-o-

The heat wave rolls on, smudging the skyline a sickly tan and making the pavement sweat. In the late morning, before it gets too hot to go outside for the rest of the day, Gerard straps Frank up again – under his shirt this time. He can't help but giggle as he drags the leather belt across Frank's bare chest.

"What?" Frank's eyes sharpen. He pokes at Gerard's stomach. "What? What!"

"You look – oh, God, you look like the fucking p – pat – patron saint," he puts his hands on his knees, trying to breathe, "patron saint of S&M!"

"Who's Ess and Emm?"

Gerard laughs until he falls over, curling into a ball as Frank drops down on top of him yelling, "What, what?! Motherfucker! Bitch! Tell me!"

Not far from Ray's house, a little green park pushes for breathing space among the buildings: it's well-maintained, full of kids, and safe enough that the drug dealers only come out at night. Gerard keeps one hand firmly clamped on Frank's elbow as he steers them in that direction. For good reason: as soon as Frank sees the swarm of kids playing on the jungle gym he kind of squeaks and makes a run to join them.

"Whoa! Whoa," Gerard gasps, snaking an arm low around Frank's waist. He's strapped the wings up much better and dressed Frank in a light-weight coat out of Ray's closet (rolling up the sleeves a good four inches). Still, a short guy with unnaturally broad shoulders in a tan trenchcoat might raise some eyebrows with the mothers who sit around the outside of the playground.

"They look so happy," Frank breathes. His own face is sun-bright, his smile so open that it hurts. It's a good pain, though, and Gerard lets himself stare for a moment before he tugs Frank along the paved walking paths that intersect and arch among the grass.

They have another near miss when a stroller goes by and Frank flips out over the baby. Gerard's pretty sure that the mother's going to call 911 on this weird guy making incoherent noises of delight over her baby's sleeping head; but she only looks at Gerard and asks, "Are you his helper?"

It takes Gerard a moment to figure out that she thinks Frank is mentally challenged. Which… okay, is close enough for him to say, "Yes, ma'am," and not feel too bad about it.

"I want one of those," Frank announces when the stroller and the mother pull away. "Can I have a baby, Gerard?"

"Not without some pretty major surgery, Frankie."

When the sun gets high overhead, Frank turns his closed eyes to it like a sunflower seeking food. He lets Gerard tug him along, feet stumbling and his sweaty hand tucked tight in Gerard's palm.