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Hallelujah (Lock and Load)

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Ray's ignoring the fact that he feels a little like his mother right now, and Mikey's letting him.

It's a good trade-off, cemented by the cheap beer in his fridge that Mikey's currently swigging down like it's water. He leans up against the counter while Ray's adding the stewed tomatoes, and they both listen in silence to the conversation coming from the living room. Ray can't see them from here, but he thinks that right now, Frank is probably grinning and opening his big, fat mouth to say something horribly inappropriate.

"No, shit, Gee, listen," Frank says, giggling that strange, awkward giggle that he's never managed to entirely erase from his vocabulary. "Fuck, man, this will be so awesome on stage."

"Fuuuuuck," Gerard groans, "Frankie, why did you have to say that, god, fuck, we're so screwed--" and Ray looks up to see Mikey watching him, tipping his beer in an ironic salute. Five points to Ray for that one. It's an ongoing bet. Ray snorts.

"We're probably doing this backwards," Ray says. "I should probably be out there making sure Gerard doesn't throw himself off the top of the building."

"I don't want to eat Frank's cooking," Mikey says. He sticks a finger in the tomato sauce, and Ray smacks his hand away. "You're going to burn yourself," Ray says, and then sticks his own finger in it and brings it to his mouth, testing the sauce. It needs more garlic. He'd been cooking when the Ways had shown up on his doorstep; he'd opened the door with one hand on the frying pan and Gerard had sort of spilled out into his living room, falling into their old, broken down couch. Ray had totally sympathized, but he'd also had a pound of ground beef in his hand, sizzling even after it had been taken off the stove.

"Hypocrite," Mikey mutters, and drains the last half of his beer. He crumples it in one hand, tossing it into the sink full of dishes with a clang.

Ray turns the heat down and puts the cover on the frying pan. He turns around and he's planning on saying something thoughtful and considerate regarding Mikey's newly minted status, something to the effect of It happens to the best of us, and It's not a death sentence anymore, you know that, but what comes out is, "Fuck, Mikey, aren't you scared?"

"You're an asshole," Mikey says, his head back in the fridge, searching for another beer.

"Yeah," Ray says. He bites his lip against all the questions taking up space in his mouth. He wants to ask if Mikey's started showing yet, if it hurts, how they found out, what the odds are of it happening to two brothers at the same time. If that means anything.

"Of course I'm fucking scared," Mikey mumbles, after a minute of silence in which the only sound is Gerard's mildly-hysterical falsetto coming from the living room. The hand-waving going on out there is probably pretty epic. "Wouldn't you be?"

"Yes," Ray answers honestly. "But we're here, man, you know that. It won't be--you guys aren't alone."

"Fuck lot of good that's going to do me," Mikey mutters, but he bumps his shoulder into Ray's all the same, a silent punctuation mark that says he understands.


No one wants to be Chosen. It's not the kind of thing you grow up thinking, oh, wouldn't it be awesome if? It's more like the kind of thing you silently wish on anyone but yourself.

Ray would trade it for Mikey, though. He really would, and fuck if he knows what that says about him, but it's there. If Ray could put a hand on Mikey's back and suck it all out into his own body, the spectre of future pain, the responsibility, the complications? Yeah.

Ray's trying not to think about it.


(But Mikey's going to look really pretty with wings.)


Ray doesn't actually see them until a month later, until the day that Frank's lying around in his underwear, sweating all over the couch like an asshole. It's that hot, sticky New Jersey heat that clings to your body, that seeps inside every pore, and Ray almost doesn't blame him for spending the whole day basically naked.

Mikey shows up around two, his hair wilting in the heat. "Gerard's in the basement," he says when Frank asks. "You know him. He's working on something, I don't think he's even noticed." Ray's sitting at the kitchen table in a ratty old pair of basketball shorts, guitar in hand. He can feel the sweat dripping down between his shoulderblades.

Mikey pauses in front of him on his way into the kitchen. "Where did your hair go," he says. He waves a hand around his face in an accurate approximation of Ray's unruly orange halo.

"Oh," Ray says, looking up, and tugs his hair out of the elastic band he'd found in the silverware drawer. He shakes it out for a moment, looks up at Mikey through the curtain, and then ties it back again when Mikey nods like he's satisfied.

"Just checking," Mikey says, over his shoulder. "Your hair is a constant in my life."

"Glad to be of service," Ray says, considering the best way to attack this particular fingering. It's not often that he has to think about it. He was blessed with big hands, long fingers, the kind that make Frank secretly jealous. It's not Ray's fault Frank's a tiny little fucker, no matter what Frank says.

When Mikey comes back out from the kitchen, water bottle in hand, he's taken his shirt off, wiping his face with it on the way to the couch.

Ray stares, and tries not to.

He doesn't know why he thought they'd be white--like angel wings--except that the ones he's seen on TV have always been white. Mikey's are small and dark, nestled into the soft hollows of his back, the same color as his hair. The feathers are shiny and well-groomed, although Ray would bet that's more by accident than design.

"What?" Mikey says, and turns around, as though he can feel Ray's eyes on his skin. His face is tight, pinched in disapproval.

"Nothing," Ray says, blinking. "They're--nothing. How's it going, with them?"

Mikey stares at him for a moment, and then shrugs, as though he's abandoning his anger because it's just too damn hot. "Doesn't hurt anymore," he says, shoving Frank's feet off the couch to make room. "They're just kind of there. I've got a few months, before--"

"Yeah," Ray says, when it doesn't look like Mikey is planning on finishing his sentence. "What color are Gee's?"

"Blond," Mikey says, and snorts a little when Frank sits up and says, "No fucking shit, really?"

"He looks like George Michael," Mikey says, snickering. "He keeps saying he's going to shave all of his hair off and bleach it."

"He should do it," Frank says. "Tell him I'll help him."

"Wow, you're the last person I would let get near my brother with a sharp instrument," Mikey says, and Frank kicks him in the knee.


Ray sends away for an informational pamphlet. It comes in the sort of brown paper envelope that suggests that what's inside is either porn or a sweepstakes invitation. He reads it at work, behind the shop counter, ignoring the curious looks he gets from customers.

At one point, he feels a poking around the vicinity of his knee, He looks up to see a pair of small, dark eyes staring up at him, surrounded by a halo of curly black hair. "Whatcha reading?" the boy asks, and pokes him again. He's got a pair of child-sized drumsticks clutched in one hand.

"Something for my friend," Ray says, ignoring the imprecise term, the fact that he doesn't quite think of Mikey as a friend. "He needs some help. I'm trying to help him out."

"Oh," the boy says, like he was hoping Ray would tell him he was reading about the secrets of the universe, how to be the best drummer in the world, and did the boy want to learn? "Is he sick?"

"He's--yeah." Ray says. "A little bit. But he'll be okay."

"Okay," the boy says, and then his father tugs him away, faint disapproval written on his features once he catches the title in Ray's hand. What to do If You or Someone You Know is Chosen. Ray supposes it does kind of lose points for style.

The pamphlet suggests that Ray remain calm and supportive and be willing to accommodate odd requests and sleeping schedules. It notes that Vitamin C and dairy products seem to help, although no one knows why. It suggests that the person who has been Chosen "refrain from using alcohol or other mind-altering substances, so as to avoid moral and ethical crises."

It's not actually all that different from dealing with the Ways in the first place, with the exception of the dairy products.


Frank wakes him up by shoving Mikey on to his bed at three AM the next morning. "Damage control," Frank says, tugging on a t-shirt. "I need to go find Gerard. You take Mikey." Ray blinks, blinks again, and it's only then that his tired brain makes the connection between the word Mikey and the person curled up on his bed in a ball. Mikey moans, and it's a sharp, miserable noise.

"Okay," Ray mumbles, "Okay, Mikey, what, what's going on, are you--"

"Fuck," Mikey moans softly, his face pressed to the mattress. "Fuck, Ray, I, my head, I can't--" When Ray puts a hand on his shoulder, he's definitely shaking.

"Tell me," Ray says, pulling Mikey up so that he's pressed more firmly against him, throwing the comforter over his knees. It's warm in the room, but Mikey's shivering. This wasn't in the manual, but Ray has a feeling he knows what this is, and he can't imagine having to do this part alone. "Tell me what you see."

"I can't," Mikey says brokenly. "Ray, fuck, you don't understand, it's--"

"Just try," Ray says. "Pick one out. What are they doing?"

"I think--someone's getting killed," Mikey says, softly, horrified. "This guy, he's--it's hot, and it's dusty, and he's got a gun, and he doesn't want to, Ray, he doesn't want to do it but it's them or him, and--"

"Okay, it's okay, it's not you," Ray soothes, and pulls Mikey up so he's cradled within the circle of Ray's arms. Mikey cuddles into him, entirely unselfconscious, seeking something to hold on to against the visions in his head.

He listens as Mikey talks. Men, women, children, animals; it's a panoply of death, a look into the collective consciousness of the end.


They called them the Chosen because no one had any idea what else to call them. They were witnesses to the ravages of war, of industry, of consumerism. They grew wings and saw the future, the past, held up all of humanity's crimes and sorrows for the world to see.

The first one, a girl named Cynthia, took for herself the name of Jeremiah, after the Old Testament prophet.

His Lamentations, she said, were now our own.


Ray doesn't know if there is a God, but if there is, he's really pissed off at Him right now.

"Come on, Mikey," Ray says, and brushes his tangled hair away from his face. "Milk. It's good for you."

"That's what they all say," Mikey mumbles. "Just let me sleep."

"No, come on, it's been three days," Ray says, sighing a little. He doesn't know if this is normal; he hasn't been able to find anything online about what happens after the first Vision. Mikey's skin is shiny with sweat, but he's refusing to leave the safety of Ray's bed.

"You need a shower," Ray says, for probably the fourth time this morning, and Mikey shakes his head. "Not alone," Mikey mumbles. "Not alone, I can't--"

"I'll come with you," Ray says suddenly. "Look. I can--it's fine. I don't mind."

Mikey stops, blinks, looks up at him as though he's seeing Ray for the first time all day. "Okay," he says hesitantly. "Really?"

"Really," Ray says. "But you have to get out of bed first."

"That sucks," Mikey says.

"I don't make the rules," Ray says. "Up, come on." Mikey takes his time, but eventually he's standing with both feet on the ground, his skinny legs poking out of a pair of Ray's shorts. They're cinched as tight around the waist as they can go.

Ray just--doesn't think about it. He gets Mikey into the shower and washes his hair and holds him up when it looks like he's going to fall. He washes his wings, carefully, gently, and manages to ignore the soft, pleased noises Mikey makes. The sun shines through the high, cracked window in his bathroom and Mikey looks even more angular in the light.

He blinks at Ray, useless without his glasses, and smiles a little for the first time all morning, soft and fuzzy around the edges.

Ray doesn't kiss him, but oh, it's hard.


They pick Bob up from the airport on Thursday, all of them crammed into Gerard's tiny, wheezy car. He squeezes all of them in turn, a rough sort of squeeze, the kind that says I missed you guys louder than any words ever could. After he hugs Mikey and Gerard he turns to Ray with both eyebrows slightly raised, and Ray hugs him back and says, "Tell you later, man."

On the way home, Ray thinks about just suggesting that Gerard come back with them, since Bob's going to be sleeping on their couch for the foreseeable future and Mikey's taken up residence in Ray's bed, but Frank beats him to it. "We need to stop and pick up Gerard's shit," Frank says, peering over the steering wheel and swearing occasionally at the Newark airport traffic. Gerard makes an injured noises and says "Frank, I told you, I don't think--" and Ray cuts him off with, "You can use the spare room as your studio." It's a low blow, a cheap shot that he knows will work, and Gerard thumps back against the front seat with a long-suffering sigh and doesn't make any more protests.

It just makes more sense for all of them to be in one place, really.


Bob falls asleep on the couch almost as soon as they walk in the door. Frank takes the opportunity to take stupid pictures of himself sitting on Bob and Mikey giggles the whole time he's behind the camera. There's a lot of close-up shots of Bob drooling, of Frank sticking his fingers up Bob's nose. Ray makes two pounds of pasta and they eat it all, scattered around the living room in front of the TV, a living tableau with Bob in the center.

"Why the fuck is there pasta sauce in my hair?" Bob says, when he wakes up the next morning, and everyone smiles into their coffee and stays silent.


The second Vision hits a few days later. Ray wakes up in the middle of the night to find Bob sitting on the couch with a Way under each arm. They're watching an episode of My Little Pony, the cartoon version from the eighties. Gerard looks up at Ray when he enters and says "Starsong was always my favorite." He giggles.

"I liked Lucky," Ray says. He peers at Mikey. Mikey's eyes are red, but he's got a silly grin on his face. "Bob. Bob. Did you get them high?"

"Yup," Bob says. He seems utterly unconcerned about the possible ramifications of his actions. "Figured it might help."

"I--" Ray says, and then he starts laughing. "You fucking, you," Ray says, and shakes his head. It's not the way he would have dealt with the situation, but Mikey and Gerard look almost happy, even if it's chemical. It's a far cry from the last time. Ray can't find it in himself to be mad.

"Sit," Mikey says, and tugs on Ray's hand. He pats the three inches of space next to him clumsily and giggles a little when Ray sits down. "Your hair is so awesome," Mikey says, and Ray nods solemnly. It's a struggle to keep a straight face.

They watch old VHS tapes until the sun comes up. Mikey leans up against Ray's chest, and Ray can feel the silky shape of his wings underneath his thin t-shirt. Ray wants to pet them, but he settles for scratching Mikey's head lightly. It makes Mikey purr like a kitten, nuzzling into Ray's shoulder. Gerard thinks it's hysterical.

"My little brother's so easy," Gerard says, laughing, and Mikey flails a hand out and manages to catch him in the nose. Gerard yelps a little and Mikey snickers into Ray's shoulder. "Shut up, I have awesome taste," Mikey says, and Bob nods and says, "It's true. You could do a lot worse than Toro."

"Thanks, asshole," Ray says to Bob, replying to the words and not the intended meaning behind them. There's no way Mikey means what Ray thinks he means, and anyway, he's stoned.

"I'm just saying," Bob says, and shrugs.

"My hair has slayed many a fair maiden," Ray agrees.

"Maiden, my ass," Mikey mumbles into Ray's shoulder. "I'm a fucking ninja."

"Sure you are," Gerard coos at him.


"This is so fucking stupid," Gerard rails, talking to everyone who will listen. "It's like, we go through all this shit, and we see everything and for what? So we see it? What kind of fucked up, stupid idea was that? We can't save anyone and it's all just bullshit, fucking bullshit. It's like, it's like, okay, so whatever, you grow wings, awesome, I've always wanted to be Batman and now we're kind of more Batman than Batman ever was--"

"--except without the Batmobile," Mikey says. He's curled up on the floor of Gerard's studio, a glass of milk untouched in one hand.

"Yeah, fuck that shit," Gerard says. "But like. Okay, wings, Chosen, cool, but what can we do with it? I see all this shit in my head and I want to paint it but it's not enough, Mikey, not nearly fucking enough, and we're just supposed to stay like this?"

"Maybe," Mikey says. "I don't know, Gee."

"Fuck, I don't either, that's the problem," Gerard says. "It's all just so--it's so stupid. There has to be more."

"Fuck it," Mikey agrees, succinctly.


They go down the shore on the first of August, despite the fact that Gerard hates the term "down the shore" and he's not a big fan of the beach, either. Frank crows in glee from behind the steering wheel--"We're going down the shore, fuckers, watch the fuck out!" and Gerard calls him a fucking Bennie and chain-smokes for the entire two-hour drive down the Parkway. He's not actually sulking, but he's doing a fair imitation of it. Mikey's in the back seat, squished between Bob and Ray, and every once in a while he reaches up and plucks the cigarette out of Gerard's mouth to take a long drag. The car smells heavily of boy.

They've got a house in Point Pleasant for the weekend, friend-of-a-friend-of-a-friend, because everyone in Jersey knows someone who has a house by the shore. It's mostly just a shack, cardboard-thin walls and sand blowing under the front door, but the wind carrying the spray is thick and warm.

They get incredibly drunk the first night because you don't fuck with tradition. At some point, Ray stumbles out the back door and pisses on the sand by the ocean. It's satisfying on a lot of levels.

At the diner the next morning, they contemplate their options: sleep, sleep on the beach, continue drinking, or drive up to Asbury Park. Sleeping on the beach wins out for everyone except Gerard, who maintains that vampires don't go out during the day and they certainly don't go to the beach. He passes out on the couch as soon as they get back, and Frank pats him on the head fondly.

The beach is crowded, but it's early enough that they're able to grab a spot and spread out towels. Mikey keeps his shirt, boots, and sunglasses on. Ray tries to point out he's going to have a hell of a tan line when he wakes up, but Mikey just mutters something and pushes his head into the crook of his elbow. His hair is full of sand.

The day drifts in and out with the tide. Ray dozes until he's hungry again, then stumbles back into the house with Mikey, slightly dazed by the sun. They make sloppy sandwiches and when they're done Ray thinks about maybe lying down again, but before the thought is fully formed Mikey's tugging on his hand, leading him to one of the back bedrooms. He flops down on the bed with a sigh, and Ray stands awkwardly in the doorway. It takes a few moments before Mikey realizes Ray's not following. He frowns.

"I'm gonna," Ray says, about to leave, and Mikey mumbles "Shut up and get over here." Ray's being weird--he knows he's being weird--and it would be awesome if he could explain his head right now, but he can't, so he shuts up and does as Mikey asks. It's not that he doesn't want to. It's that somewhere inside he'd apparently decided it was okay to take care of Mikey as long as Mikey needed help, and on days when he didn't, he should back off, give Mikey some space. Mikey must have missed the memo.

"Um," Ray says. Mikey's warm where he's pressed up against him. His hair is a mess and he smells good and Ray feels like a creepster. "Um, Mikey, maybe I should just--"

"We sleep in the same bed," Mikey mumbles into his shoulder. "It's cool. You're comfortable."

"That's because you have nightmares," Ray says hurriedly. "I just, I'm just trying to--"

"Wow, stop freaking out about this," Mikey says. He raises his head and gives Ray a level look. "You're being all weird. What's your deal?"

Ray thinks, I love you is not an appropriate response to this situation.

Ray blurts out, "I think you're hot."

"Thanks?" Mikey says.

"Dammit," Ray mutters. "Fuck. I just. I should go--" He makes to get up, but Mikey's grip is surprisingly strong on his arm. Mikey is surprisingly strong. It's one of the things Ray loves about him.

Mikey waits a beat and says, "I like your hair."

"Okay," Ray says. "Yes. I know."

"I'm really bad at this," Mikey says, after a minute of looking at Ray and then looking at the floor. "Usually I just ask someone if they want to fuck. Or like. I get the suspicion that they would like to fuck and then I just confirm it."

"I mean, we could," Ray starts, even as his stomach drops. It's not what he wants from Mikey, but he'll take what he can get.

"No," Mikey says. "I mean yes. But you're. You. We watch movies together, and you bring me milk and shit. It's different."

"I'm really lost," Ray says. Unlike Gerard, he can't communicate with Mikey by just staring at him, which is what Mikey seems to be trying to do.

"I like you," Mike says, finally, bluntly, one hand still on Ray's arm. "I like you and it sucks because now I'm all fucked up and a freak of nature, and--I have motherfucking wings, Ray, Jesus Christ, you shouldn't have to put up with that."

Ray stops trying to pull away. Mikey's palm is sweaty on his skin and when Ray sits back down, Mikey swallows heavily. "Sorry," Mikey says quickly. "Um. Fuck, I didn't want to make it weird."

"No one is settling for you," Ray says, quietly. "I'm not settling. And I don't care, Mikey, I seriously don't give a fuck. It doesn't matter." Mikey's still making surprised noises when Ray kisses him, but he opens up under Ray's mouth almost instantly. He shifts into the kiss and Ray tugs him over, up, onto his lap. The door's open, and Ray doesn't give a fuck. Mikey's skin is so warm under his hands.

Ray pulls away, eventually, and calls him a stupid, beautiful idiot and lots of other things. It doesn't sting, because he's still cupping Mikey's face while he says it.

Mikey shrugs and smiles a sheepish little smile, like he's heard it all before.


Ray's expecting cat-calls, but no one even comments on it when he and Mikey start holding hands. When he broaches the subject with Gerard, mostly because he feels like he should, Gerard just grins at him and waves his hands a little and says "Finally!"

"That obvious, huh," Ray sighs.

"Yup," Gerard says. "Also, if you fuck him up, I'll rip out your intestines."

"Not planning on it," Ray says.

"Good," Gerard says. "Intestines are kind of messy." He's interrupted by Frank vaulting over the back of the couch, landing mostly on Gerard but also partially on Ray. "Hi," Frank says. He bats his lashes a little at Gerard, just because. "What are we talking about?"

"Ray and Mikey," Gerard says. "And intestines. You know."

"Oh, you're boning?" Frank says, turning to Ray. "High-five, man!"


There are days when everything is so normal that Ray almost forgets. They all stumble around each other in the mornings, grumbling into their coffees, and then go their separate ways, only to meet back up at the end of the day.

He forgets because for months, the only thing different about Gerard and Mikey is that they have wings.

Mikey's are just as soft under Ray's hands as he had imagined.


September begins with Mikey dropping an entire cup of coffee on his foot at 8:52 in the morning. Ray hears the sharp noise of ceramic shattering against the cracked kitchen tiles, and sticks his head into the kitchen. Mikey's staring at Frank with a horrified expression.

"Dude," Mikey says. "Dude. Never say that about my brother ever again." Frank's frowning at Mikey in utter confusion. "I didn't say anything," he says. "Seriously, Mikey, I didn't even open my mouth, I don't know what you're--"

"I heard you," Mikey insists. "I'm not repeating that shit, but you said it, I know you did. Ray. Ray, back me up here, tell Frank he's a fucking weirdo--"

"Uh," Ray says, and shakes his head. "I, uh. Mikey. I didn't hear anything." Ray watches as Mikey frowns at him. It's silent for a long moment.

"Mikey," Frank says slowly. "Let me try something." He closes his eyes and leans back up against the counter, and then Mikey says, "Dude, fuck you, you clean it up." He glances over at Ray. "Can you believe this shit?"

"I didn't--he didn't say anything," Ray says slowly. "Frank didn't say anything, Mikey."

"But I heard him," Mikey says. His frown deepens. "He told me to clean the floor up, you didn't hear that?"

"That's because I thought it," Frank says. "Shit, Mikey. You're fucking psychic." He's starting to grin. "Dude. Dude. Oh man, this is going to be awesome."

"Whoa," Mikey says, in a tiny voice.

"Whoa," Ray agrees. "But wait. Wait a minute. What about Gerard?"

"What do you mean, what about Gerard?" Frank says.

"They're all connected and shit," Ray points out. "So if Mikey can hear us thinking, that means Gerard--"

"Fuck," Frank says, the color draining slightly from his face. He scrubs a hand through his hair. It's a nervous, jerky gesture.

"Sucks to be you, motherfucker," Mikey says, viciously pleased. "Better keep it clean from now on."


Dinner that night is the most entertaining thing Ray has ever experienced. Gerard drops two forks and a glass of water, and won't tell anyone why.


"It's a little weird that you can hear me," Ray says later, when they're lying in bed. "I think about a lot of random shit. It's probably not very interesting."

"It's interesting," Mikey shrugs. "It's better than being at work. Fuck, man. I spent all day listening to people fucking worry about stupid shit. Car insurance this, bills that, does my wife think I'm cheating on her, does she know I'm cheating on her--people are assholes, dude. Boring assholes."

"Yeah," Ray says. Mikey's pressed up against his side, skin on skin, his long legs wrapped up around Ray's calves. Fuck. Ray really loves Mikey's legs.

"Thanks," Mikey says, smirking. "Keep going."

Ray rolls his eyes. He thinks something along the lines of you have a great ass, accompanied by a memory from the last time they fucked. It's pretty X-rated.

"Shit," Mikey says softly, digging his fingers into Ray's hip. "This is awesome. It's like free porn." His voice is a little lower than normal.

"Aren't you supposed to be using your powers for good?" Ray says lightly. "Saving people and shit? Proclaiming the world's ills?"

"Probably," Mikey says. "Maybe. Weren't we talking about my ass? I was into that."

"I just wonder if there's a reason," Ray says. "That's all." He's not trying to steer the conversation away, he's just honestly curious. No one's ever heard of brothers being Chosen at the same time.

"Should have picked someone other than me and Gerard," Mikey says, snorting. "I mean, come on. We're such fuckups."

"That's not true," Ray says, frowning. "Mikey."

"What do we do?" Mikey continues, ignoring him. "We like, what. Drink? Go to shows? Gerard makes art and I listen to shitty mixtapes at work? What the hell were they thinking? We're not going to save anyone. We're the ones who need saving."

"Maybe that's the point," Ray says softly. "Not that you need saving. But, like. Who else is going to talk to those kids?"

"I'm not cut out for this," Mikey says, sighing and flopping on his back. "Maybe Gerard is. Somewhere in there. But I'm not, Ray. I'm just an asshole with wings."

"You take care of him," Ray says quietly. "Stop putting yourself down, Mikey."

"I'll stop when I want to stop," Mikey says. He swings his legs over the side of the bed. He's not making eye contact. "I'm going to get some water."

"Dammit," Ray sighs, after Mikey's left. He doesn't know what to say to fix things. Their entire house feels like it's waiting for something. It's making them all itchy and restless.

Mikey comes back with a glass of water, tripping over a pair of Ray's shoes on his way back to the bed. "I'm sorry," Ray says immediately, even if he isn't, even if he meant everything he said. It's not worth fighting over.

"I don't get you," Mikey says quietly, taking off his glasses. "Doesn't it get exhausting?"

"What?" Ray says.

"Seeing the good in everyone," Mike says. He scrubs a hand through his hair. "You're always so--You should have been the one to be Chosen. Not me."

"Come here," Ray says, instead of answering. There's nothing he can say that won't reopen the argument. He tucks Mikey's head into his shoulder instead, smoothing his palms over the sharp jut of Mikey's bare hips. "Just because shit doesn't make sense now, doesn't mean it doesn't matter," Ray says eventually. "I mean. That's just how I think of it."

"So you think it's all going to make sense?" Mikey says.

"Yeah," Ray says. "Yeah, I do."


Gerard fiddles with his chopsticks and says, "Guys, uh. What would you think about playing a show?"

Next to Ray, Bob raises his eyebrows a little. The topic of their earstwhile band has been pretty much off-limits since the change, since Gerard's been refusing to discuss it. Ray doesn't know the reason behind the sudden 180-degree reversal of opinion.

"I'm okay with that," Bob says. He shrugs a little, and looks around the table. "Yeah?"

"I'm so down," Frank says, once he's finished swallowing his gigantic mouthful of tofu. One of these days, Frank will learn that the food isn't actually capable of running away from him. Today is apparently not that day. "Fuck yeah, dude. That's what I've been saying--"

"I'll do it," Ray says quickly, before he has time to back out. He glances over at Mikey, but he's studiously avoiding his gaze.

"Mikey?" Gerard says carefully. "It's up to you. You know I'm not going to do it without you."

Mikey picks at his food for a little while. The only noise is the swishing sound of the dishwasher coming from the kitchen.

"Yeah, okay," Mikey says suddenly. He looks up from his plate, directly at Ray. "You know what. Fuck it. Yes."

"Where?" Ray says. "I mean, should we just call up Brian, or--"

"Anywhere," Gerard says thoughtfully. "Some random bar, I don't care. Someplace local. I just want to--I don't know. It feels important. Is that weird?"

"Yup," Frank says cheerfully. "But you're kind of a weird motherfucker, Gee."

"Thanks," Gerard says. He sounds entirely pleased.


Brian gets them into a bar in Weehawken. Ray had sort of expected to be playing Jersey City, but the venue is on one of the dirty piers backing out onto the Hudson. They can see the lights of Manhattan shining across the river as they're unloading all of their gear. It makes something clench up in Ray's chest, that indescribable feeling of longing mixed with possibility mixed with Jersey-bred disdain.

Ray would bet a lot of money that half the kids in this crowd are in with fake ID's. The bar smells like piss and cheap beer, which is probably two parts its patrons and one part Frank Iero.

("Frank," Gerard says, slightly pained, in the alleyway. "There is a bathroom ten feet away."

"More hardcore this way," Frank grins, mumbling through the cigarette clenched between his teeth as he zips himself up.)

Gerard's a little unsure on stage at first, scrubbing a hand through his hair and tapping the microphone against his wrist during soundcheck. Ray can't figure it out until he realizes Gerard's drinking water from a plastic cup, no liquor anywhere in sight. Ray really wants to ask what the hell that's about--not that Gerard really should be drinking, sometimes he gets a little sloppy on stage, but he always tells them he's too fucking scared to do it sober--but the guy in the booth is giving them the thumbs up, waving them the go-ahead.

Ray glances over at Frank and then Mikey, drums his fingers silently on the fret to count them in, and then it's just the satisfying buzz of clean chords and feedback ringing into his ears. His hands move independently of his brain, so much so that he has time to look over and wonder what the hell Gerard thinks he's doing.

He's crouched on the side of the stage, screaming into the microphone, holding out his hands to the crowd. That's nothing new, but the feeling is different; it's like instead of pushing the crowd away with insults, he's pulling it closer, wrapping himself in these kids like a blanket.

They rip through four or five songs, hard, fast, loud. When they pause to take a breather, the air in the room feels static. It feels like something's about to happen.

Gerard turns around, facing them. "You guys ready?" he says, quietly. Ray nods. They've got a new song, the one they've been practicing all week, although he has yet to hear the actual lyrics. They'd hammered out all of the guitar parts with Gerard singing nonsense words, telling them the lyrics weren't ready yet. He'd promised they would be by tonight, and apparently he's keeping his promise.

Gerard turns to Mikey, and Ray's seen enough moments between them to know they're saying something to each other, something without words. Mikey stares at him for a moment and then smiles, a full on fucking starshine smile, and then he hits the intro bassline.

"So this thing happened," Gerard yells out to the crowd, over the sound of screeching guitars. "This fucking thing happened, and it pissed me off, and I was angry, because I didn't know why." The crowd yells encouragement, already starting to move in time to the music. "I thought it was all some fucking bullshit until I realized, it's not about me. This is about you--and you're all just--you're all fucking beautiful, okay? This is for you," Gerard calls out, and then he pulls his shirt over his head.

Ray sucks in a breath, amazed. The crowd screams back at them as Gerard holds out his hands, because he's covered himself in words, angry scrawls of lyrics covering his arms and chest, his wings rising behind him. Frank hits the chords to break into the chorus and the air in the room feels electric. Ray can taste it on his tongue.

So give me all your poison
And give me all your pills
And give me all your hopeless hearts
And make me ill
You're running after something
That you'll never kill
If this is what you want

"Then fire at will!" Gerard screams, and the crowd carries them up, up and out, music and desperation and hope ringing out into the night. Through the windows, the lights of New York City shine out on the Hudson like so many falling stars.