Everyday Mysteries In the Summertime
by Wax Jism

Thanks to Cim, Megolas, Bexless and Isilya

It's two thirty in the afternoon. A fly buzzes eagerly around the counter, the only living thing that isn't drooping listlessly in the heat. It's only June but the summer's already gearing up for the kill, probably smelling blood in the water. The A/C has been out for a week.

Mikey pushes up his glasses and tries to wipe sweat out of his eyes and off his nose. When they slide back down, he's still sweaty and now the glasses are smudged all to shit. He leans towards the small table fan, but moving hot air isn't all that much cooler than still hot air when it comes down to it. Something catches his eye, though, and he tries to focus through sweat and fingerprint blurs. The calendar for this week seems oddly empty.

"Uh," Mikey says. His voice sounds throaty and unused like he hasn't spoken in months. He swallows. "Gee? You called the dude about the A/C, right?"

Dave Mustaine goes quiet mid-wail. "What?"

"Dude. A/C?"



He hears the tinkle of the beercap curtain and then Gerard's next to him. Mikey elbows him in the side.

"I forgot," Gerard says, giving him the crooked oops? smile he's got that kind of makes Mikey forget what he was pissed about. "Sorry. Like, I didn't even--I guess it's kinda hot in here, huh."

"You are such a fuckup, man."

"I know," Gerard says quietly. He doesn't look too bummed, but the smile's gone. His eyes are totally bloodshot.

"Stop with the fucking Megadeth, though, seriously," Mikey says. "At least Youthanasia. Didn't I tell you to go get So Far So Good?" Gee's listened to À Tout Le Monde five times in a row and Mikey sincerely hopes it's not a sign of another obsession with school shootings.

"Couldn't find it," Gerard says and leans over Mikey towards the fan so his hair falls in damp fronds over Mikey's face, hardly moving in the sluggish breeze.

"Jeez. Fuck, Gee."

Gerard kisses the top of his head and moves away quickly before Mikey can jab him in the side again. "I'll call the dude, okay?" He pitches his voice high and squeaks, "Don't melt, Mikey. Don't you melt!"

"I'll be good if you bring me a Diet Coke," Mikey says. He wants a beer, but somebody better stay sober at least til five.

Mikey sells ice cream sticks and Coke and Doritos to the kids and gas to their parents. Self-serve gas pumps are the best invention ever, but if he notices in time he'll get up and help women over fifty 'cause they tip well out of gratitude. Sometimes they tell him he's cute.

The station is too far from the turnpike to get the big streams of tourists, so it's mostly a trickle of townies and summer regulars from the lakeside. Very rarely a small group of prep school kids will descend from the Hill to get snacks on this side of town. Even less in the summer, of course. The kids stuck there in summer are probably too embarrassed to show their face among the happy and free, Mikey reasons.

He's pretty much zoned out reading an old Q magazine (#127, Blur cover) from a collection he scored off eBay when he's startled into knocking over his Coke by Gee yelling "We got a walk-in!" straight into his ear.

Damon Albarn's face remains unmolested but the register is fucking dripping. Mikey glances out the front window briefly. Coke on the register is a bitch. The keys will stick and take forever to clean. "It's Frank, dude," he says. He grabs a wad of Kleenex from the box under the counter and dabs at the keypad.

"Those are gonna stick like a motherfucker," Gerard says. There's the oops? smile again. "Sorry. Do you need a new fucking prescription or something? That is not Frank, dude. Doesn't even look like Frank, and those are red bangs. Unless Frank's dyed 'em since, like, Thursday and grown fucking three inches and lost fucking ten pounds and you would have fucking told me about that. Uh, right?"

"Right," Mikey says. The kid's walking across the tarmac, dodging between Mr Dearborn's turd-colored Mercedes and the diesel pump. He is a short, dark kid in the navy Hill uniform, and he's got his hair cut like Frank's--cropped sides, broad, uneven Mohawk ending in long, floppy bangs--which is enough to get anybody confused. There must be some kind of outbreak of non-regulation hair up there this summer. Frank's getting away with it so far because he gels it into what's basically a forties lounge singer do every morning, and he's just a day student. Mikey doesn't know this kid, though, so he must be one of the real Hill boys.

Gerard's vanished into the back room again. He doesn't deal with customers, like, ever. Especially not with Hill boys. Gerard has issues.

The bell over the door dings. Mikey quickly stuffs the soggy Kleenexes back under the counter and slouches over his magazine. He only glances up once the kid is right in front of him.

"What can I do for you?" he says.

Up close he doesn't look a thing like Frank, of course. Frank's got a sharp little cat face. This guy has too many teeth and his eyebrows are kind of bushy. He smiles at Mikey and yeah, whoa. A lot of even white teeth there.

"I've seen you around," he says. Mikey blinks. "At the beach? Bonfires? Shitty beer, worse music, drunken fights and lots of chicks in bikini tops and cutoffs?"

"Uh, yeah," Mikey says. Put like that, the beach parties sound kind of dreary, but it's basically the only fun you get in this town.

"Obviously I wasn't wearing the Hitler Youth gear," the kid says, and then he points up and waves his hand at the air. "Megadeth!"

Mikey looks around reflexively like maybe Dave Mustaine is gonna be lurking behind the ice cream freezer.

Smooth. He takes a breath and stops himself from pushing his glasses up his nose. Hill boys sometimes make him feel poorer and dirtier than he is, like a gap-toothed, tobacco-chewing yokel. Sometimes they just make him feel like kicking them in the knees.

When he turns back, the kid isn't actually laughing, just smiling kind of good-naturedly. His eyes are really big and dark and crinkle up when he smiles. Mikey's not sure but if he had to guess he'd say there's some covert eyeliner action going on. The hair might pass up at Hill if the kid's daddy is rich enough, but makeup? Risky. Wow, he thinks, but he says, "...uh, yeah."

"I guess I'm not the only lameass who listens to Youthanasia. Man, I used to have À Tout Le Monde on fucking repeat."

"It's my brother's," Mikey says. "But, uh, we kind of share--I mean, we both live here so..."

Now the kid's got his elbows on the counter, pretty much settling in for a chat. "Yeah? You both rock out to eighties thrash? Older or younger?"


"Your brother. Is this your place? I thought you were a junior. Your name's Mike, right?"

"Mikey," Mikey says.

"Pete," the kid says and he actually sticks out a hand. Mikey stares at it for a full three seconds before getting it together and shaking. Pete's hand is a little sticky with sweat, but so's Mikey's.

"The air conditioning's out," Mikey says. It occurs to him that this might be some kind of hazing ritual, or maybe a prank. Maybe Pete's here to case the joint--no, wait, they're all rich. Maybe it's like a Murder By Numbers situation and he's the random victim.

And that is where his brain goes when he's had no one but Gerard to talk to for like four days. Mikey thinks Gerard is great company, the best, but he sure can pass on the paranoia.

"Yeah, it's an oven in here. It's cooler outside, you know?" Pete's got kind of a Midwestern thing going with his accent, like Mikey's friend Bob who moved to town from Chicago a few years ago. Bob's a good guy. He'd be good to have around right now, too, cause he's a little scary looking when he scowls, unlike Mikey who often gets offered cookies by elderly ladies, 'to put some meat on those bones.' "You gotta stay in here all day? That sucks."

"I'm all right," Mikey says stiffly. He hears a muffled thump from the back room. Gerard's listening. It makes Mikey feel both better and worse. Better 'cause Gerard totally has his back if something would go down--two crappy fighters has to be better than one, right? Worse because Gerard's gonna be all, 'Why were you talking to that asshole?' and Mikey won't really know what to say. Gerard is nice to people if they corner him long enough to talk to him. Except Hill boys. He even gives Frank the stink-eye if he comes around wearing the uniform and Frank's like Gerard's best friend that isn't Mikey. Mostly because he's so fucking tenacious even Gerard can't escape him, but still.

"I bet," Pete says, whatever that means, and then he looks around the counter and clocks the magazine. "Oh, sweet. That's some vintage shit. You buy that for Blur?"

"Yeah!" Mikey says, and it comes out totally excited. He can almost hear Gerard rolling his eyes. "I mean, I bought like half of some dude's collection, but mostly for Blur and, like, Radiohead, and... um."

Pete's nodding eagerly. "It just pisses me off that I'm like too young? Ten years too young. Way to be a fucking infant when all that stuff went down. What do we have now? Missed out on grunge--"


"Thank fuck we missed out on Vanilla Ice--"

They both crack up at the same time, and Pete's laugh is loud and braying. Mikey's got this really stupid thing where he snorts and the rest of his laughter sounds like he's about to choke--just him giggling is enough to drive Frank to fucking fits of hilarity--but it's kind of drowned out by the donkey bray, so that part is pretty rad.

"Man, man," Pete gasps, "being retro is such a fucking hassle, but at least we have, you know, options. We can take the pretty and leave the scuzz. It wasn't all Kurt Cobain genius back then."

"You got more of a punk look, though," Mikey says, surprising himself.

Pete touches his head immediately, smooths the bangs down over his forehead. "Yeah. Yeah. That's my scene. Not so much hardcore anymore, though. It's like too narrow, you know? I gotta expand."

"Yeah," Mikey says. That's pretty much what Frank keeps saying. Mikey's always been kind of expansive about music anyway, so he doesn't have that problem. Frankie doesn't mind that Mikey busts his ass about it.

"So, I just came down here to talk to you, basically," Pete says. "I kind of forced your boy Frank to tell me where I'd find you." He grins again, bright flash of teeth. Not exactly handsome, Mikey thinks, but with the smile and the funky hair he's pretty sure girls think Pete is cute. The women who want to give Mikey cookies would probably want to show Pete their etchings or something.

He has an image of that and immediately knows he's going to blush even before the heat spreads over his face.

Pete's grin widens, wolfishly. "He did say you guys hate us down here. Valley vs Hill forever, or whatthefuck. I'm glad I still have all my teeth."

"Whatever, it's just this old... thing," Mikey says with a little inward wince. Gerard's gonna be pissed about that one. The thing may be old but it's not dead. Shit. "But yeah, I guess. It's not Crips and Bloods or anything, but."

"Nobody bothered me at the beach, though."

"Not that many kids on the Hill with scene hair."

"Just me and Frank Iero," Pete says and Mikey wonders how Frank's really fitting in with the prep school crowd. Frank's parents are the most misguided people ever. Summer school on the Hill, that's practically child abuse in this town. Mikey and Ray and Bob have even worked out some plans to bust him out in case something went wrong. Just in case.

"You know," Pete's going on, leaning forward on the counter, eyes wide. He has really good skin, smooth and tanned golden-brown. He's totally wearing eyeliner. Mikey's kind of frozen, not moving back even though Pete's right up in his face with his big eyes and big mouth. "I'm pretty sure Frankie thinks I'm gonna try to corrupt you or something. He's probably going nuts right now. He's got class 'til four and he can't skip like me cause he actually cares what his parents think."

"Um," Mikey says. Pete's grin has turned into a small, wicked smirk. "I--"

"You should call him and let him know you still have your innocence," Pete says and leans back, taps the counter decisively as if to snap Mikey out of the trance. That's what it feels like, anyway. "I like you. You're cool. Seriously, dude. I'm reaching out across the class divide."

He reaches out for real and puts his hand on Mikey's arm just under the elbow. Mikey startles, he can't stop himself.

"This is, like, Shakespearean," Pete says. "'Did my heart love 'til now--'"

"Oh, fuck off," Mikey says, shrugging off Pete's hand. He realizes he said it easily like he would if it was Gerard being an ass like that.

"Okay," Pete says, backing away, holding up his hands with a grin that's basically a silent laugh. "Don't send your Montague buddies to get me or anything. I'll see you by the bonfire, Mikey Way."

He turns and walks out, waving over his shoulder without looking back. The bell over the door chimes.

Mikey stands still for a moment. He hears the beercap curtain clink.

"What. The fuck," Gerard says. Mikey shrugs.


They're having an impromptu Twin Peaks marathon in their room when Frank calls. Gerard's actually crying because it's Laura Palmer's funeral and Gerard always fucking cries, drunk or sober, doesn't matter.

Mikey answers, "Weeping Ways' residence." Gerard doesn't even try to throw something at him, just rubs his wet eyes and blinks at the paused, staticky image of Leland Palmer prostrate on his daughter's coffin.

Frank says, "Fuck, Mikey, did Pete Wentz show up and fuck with you today?"

"Yes, he did," Mikey says. "Not so much fuck with me, I guess. He was kind of, dunno. If he was fucking with me it was, like, subtle."

"Wentz wouldn't know subtle if it ripped off his face and fed it to him," Frank says.

"He likes Megadeth," Mikey says. "He just kinda chatted for a while."

"Seriously, Mikes, he's kind of fucked up. Not subtle fucked up, just fucked up, like, his parents sent him here to keep him out of trouble fucked up." Frank's eating something crunchy in between sentences. Mikey tries to remember if anybody cooked anything today. Probably not. He's not hungry, though. It's too hot to eat, even in the basement. "He's pretty funny, though. And a vegetarian."

"Yeah, I guess," Mikey says. "I mean, funny. He didn't eat anything... here."

"Cause all you have is fucking Doritos. It was freaky, though, he knew your name and described you all 'skinny, glasses, cute' and I was like 'that must be some other Mikeyway, man, my Mikey's one ugly fuck.'"

"Thanks, Frank," Mikey says.

"Wentz is totally stalking you! Watch your back." Frank's giggle is high-pitched and can pretty much cut through concrete. Gerard once created a comic book character whose power was pretty much that. He was a burglar for justice, of course. Gerard's got tons of weird superhero ideas.

The VCR comes out of pause suddenly and Mikey almost drops the phone. Gerard's looking under the sofa for the remote that Mikey's still holding. "Uh, thanks for the heads-up, man," he says quickly, trying to use the remote by reflecting the beam via the framed and glass-covered Dawn of the Dead poster that hangs over the bed. "You wanna talk to Gee?"

"Nah, I'll come over later, 'kay? He's weeping like a fucking girl at Twin Peaks right now, am I right? Are you marathoning or just catching the top ten best tearjerkers?"


"Don't watch the one where he, you know--"

"Oh yeah," Mikey says. Frank's favorite parts are getting worn out on the tapes. "Where he drives around--"

Gerard looks up from his excavations. "With Maddie's body in the trunk, right? Is Frank coming over?"

Mikey nods at him and holds out the remote. "We won't," he tells Frank. "Don't worry about, you know. I think I can defend my virtue. He's kind of small."

"Please, he's a fucking maniac and you're a pussycat. He could turn you into hamburger."

"Did Frank just call you a pussy?" Gerard asks. He leans his head on Mikey's shoulder and yells, "Frank, my brother is not a fucking pussy!"

"Gerard, I meant YOU!" Frank yells back.

"I'm gonna hang up now," Mikey says. "See ya, Frank."


Mikey wakes up to the sound of Gerard retching in the bathroom.

He lies there for a minute, trying to kick his brain awake and out of the last shreds of some fucked-up dream about getting punched in the face by a red-banged, eyelinered Thom Yorke. The room's half-lit because the bathroom door is ajar, and familiar shapes like the desks and chairs and piles of dirty clothes and CDs and comics on the floor grow monstrous, quavering shadows. Mikey hates waking up in the middle of the night. He wishes he could sleep in the day instead so that if he woke up, it'd be light. He's not afraid of the dark, just of coming out of sleep in the dark and realizing that he has no idea what's happened around him for the past few hours. And it could still be going on.

The faucet is running in the bathroom now and Mikey's about to get up and see if Gerard's done, if he needs any help, when Frank's voice says, "Fuck, Gee."

Mikey's head hurts and he's thirsty, and the room is stifling hot. The sound of running water makes him thirstier, and he's going to have to pee soon, too. There's another bathroom up in the hall, but that means stumbling through the basement and up the stairs and it just doesn't seem doable at this point.

He's still wearing his jeans and his glasses, but he's pulled the sheets up to his neck. His shirt is damp with sweat. The room smells like stale beer and cigarette smoke and dust. Their mother never comes down here and often refers to their room as the Dungeon. Mikey never really notices how gross it gets except when Frank's around because Frank is weirdly clean for a fucking fifteen year old and always complains about stuff like old pizza slices growing fur under the bed. That doesn't stop him from spilling ash and beer foam and corn chip crumbs on the floor and putting his feet on Mikey's pillow with sneakers on. Apparently, it also doesn't stop him from holding back Gerard's hair while he pukes.

There goes Gerard again, sounding like he's trying to turn himself inside out. They must have moved on to something other than beer after Mikey fell asleep. His hangover is pretty low-key, nothing a couple aspirin and a lot of water won't fix. He'll be okay to handle flammable liquids by eight o'clock.

He rolls out of bed and immediately puts his foot in something wet, of course. He struggles through the massive headrush when he gets upright, grabs the railing on the top bunk and just leans against it for a second before shuffling carefully through the room.

Frank is actually, literally holding back Gerard's hair. It's gotten really long the last year after Gerard stopped going outside much and also stopped listening to their mother's opinions.

Gerard's slumped over the john in the old familiar position, his cheek resting against the stained porcelain. Frank is holding his hair with one hand, rubbing his shoulder with the other, and he's leaned over Gerard probably close enough to smell more than Mikey would like to.

Mikey stands in the door, blinking in the light and stares at their knees on the tiles, Gerard's round, black-clad knees and Frank's skinny knees that stick out of his torn jeans.

"Dude," Mikey says and Frank jumps like he's been slapped and yanks his hand out of Gerard's hair hard enough to pull out a few strands by the root. He kicks over a toothbrush cup full of water that was sitting on the floor behind him.

"Ow," Gerard mumbles but doesn't move.

Frank's sitting in the water puddle on the floor, rubbing a hand through his own hair. "Jesus fuck, Mikey," he says.

"Sorry," Mikey says. "Are you okay, Gerard?"

"Mfine," Gerard says. "Don' wanna move... ever."

"I told him not to try that coffee liqueur shit," Frank says, "but did he listen?"

"Don' wanna move," Gerard repeats, but he's kind of moving, kind of falling against the wall. Frank scrambles up, quickly if not too gracefully, and grabs his arms to stop him from braining himself on the metal trashcan in the corner. Mikey unfreezes his brain and tries to help, but he stubs his toe on the doorstep and the whole thing turns into a total slapstick type situation with him swaying around going ow ow ow fuck and Frank with his jeans wet all down the ass and thighs falling over into Gerard's lap trying to keep him upright and Gerard's eyes rolling in their sockets like he's about to pass out.

"Dude," Mikey says again once the shooting pain has mellowed into a dull throb. He slides down the wall on the other side of the door, keeping his toes out of the puddle. "I don't think we should be let near alcohol, like, ever."

"Nobody let us, man," Frank says. He's crouched next to Gerard. Mikey would almost say what he's doing is hovering like an over-attentive night nurse.

"Yeah," Gerard says, lifting his head. His eyes focus on Frank very slowly. "We're the fucking... fucking captains of our fucking fate."

"We're the captains of the fucking banana boat," says Frank and cracks up into hoarse, fucking shredded late-night laughter.

"Bananas," Gerard says. "Mikey, do I have to kick that guy's ass?"


"That guy, that guy." Gerard waves his hand limply at Mikey. "Your guy. Whatsisname. Whatsisname... Uh, what's his name, Frankie?"

"Pete," Frank says. "Gerard is offering to beat up Pete Wentz for you. If you take him up on this I'm bringing my camera. And a fucking .45. You gotta stop with the booze, Gerard, I think you killed the last viable brain cell just there."

"Good," Gerard says. "I'll do it, though, Mikes. I'll protect you, I will. And you too, Frankie. Who do you want me to kill? I'll do it for you." He's listing slowly towards Frank, and Mikey can't tell if it's gravity or on purpose.

"I'm good, Gee," Frank says. He's looking down, picking threads out of the kneeholes on his jeans.

"Yeah, thanks, Gee, but no thanks," Mikey says. He heaves himself to his feet and picks up the glass, fills it with water again and hands it to Gerard. "You think you could, like, move or do I have to pee right in front of you? I don't think my aim is a hundred per cent right now, you know."

"I can get up," Gee says and stays right where he is. He drinks the water and makes a face. "Seriously, Mikey." He reaches out a hand and grabs Mikey's jeansleg. His eyes are wide but the rings under them are the color of bruises. He looks wasted and dramatic like this, Mikey thinks, consumptive or something, romantic. Gerard would love to hear that. Gerard likes dramatic.

"Seriously," Gerard says again. "Nothing's gonna happen."

Frank picks the glass out of his hand and gives it back to Mikey. He pries Gerard's other hand off Mikey's jeans. "Come on, let the kid take a leak, man."

Frank is younger than the both of them, a year younger than Mikey, but it's hard to remember sometimes. Then he'll do something seriously ADHD and remind them all over again.

Gerard does get off the floor after a little bit of coaxing and Frank walks him into the bedroom. In the door he shoots Mikey a slightly sheepish glance and says, "Don't stay in there forever, wouldja? I, um, drank the rest of that fucking coffee stuff, okay. Sorry, dude." And then he barks a laugh that stabs Mikey in the temple like an ice pick, and closes the door.

When Mikey comes out of the bathroom, Gerard is asleep in Mikey's bed and Frank is opening the window. He goes in and out that window so often he's worn a path in the lawn outside. Once when he was stoned he confessed to Mikey that he preferred the window because going through the basement between Mikey and Gerard's room and the stairs creeped him out.

The only reason it doesn't creep Mikey out more than it does is he's lived here his whole life and Gerard once walked him through the whole thing and made up stories about every imitation tribal mask, naked, dismembered porcelain doll and stuffed fucking grizzly head they could find.

It occurs to him that now that their grandmother is dead, the only person who actually knew what the fuck half those things are is gone. Just once, their mother suggested once that maybe they could 'clean up' a little in the basement and Helena's apartment and Gerard didn't talk to her for a week. He hardly talked to Mikey. No one's made any suggestions about the apartment upstairs.

"Mikeyway, Mikeyway, come in," Frank's saying right in his face. "Jeez, you do that shit just like Gerard."

"What?" Mikey says. Yeah, it sucks to wake up at night. Your brain goes wandering.

"That, man," Frank says, flapping his hand in front of Mikey's face. "You guys are such space cadets. It's kind of sweet."

"Thanks, Frank," Mikey says.

"Nighty night," Frank says and heaves himself up on the dresser to crawl out the window. He's getting really smooth at it. Going the other way he can actually do a running slide and land on the dresser along with various foliage, clumps of dirt and the occasional unfortunate earthworm. One day he'll forget to check the window's open first.

Now that it's quiet he can hear the house creak around him. Gerard's curled up on top of the covers, his knees drawn up almost to his chest. His jeans are in a messy pile with his shoes. Mikey shucks off his own and kicks them into the same pile. He climbs into the top bunk that's been Gerard's since he was six and Mikey was three. Mikey tries to count how many times he's slept up here. Not many. He decided to move into the top bunk when Gerard left for college, but it felt fucked up and he was back on the bottom the next night. When Gerard came back after Helena died, things went back to how they'd been as if that year never happened.

Gerard has a habit of storing shit in his bed, so Mikey has to shift a pile of X-Men comics, an overflowing ashtray, one half full and two empty cigarette packs, a lighter, a Discman containing a mix CD Mikey made for Gerard a few months ago, and Gerard's sketchbook to the foot end before he can even lie down, and he still manages to jab his elbow on a stray pencil.

"Mikey," Gerard says suddenly, and Mikey's heart fucking stops for like three seconds. "Mikey. Are you in my bunk?"

"Yeah," Mikey says, trying to take even breaths.

"I'm sorry."

"It's okay."

"No, it's not," Gerard says tightly, as if he's speaking through clenched teeth. "It's really fucking not."


Gabe Saporta tackles Mikey onto the sand about seven minutes after he arrives, which is pretty much standard.

"Later," he declares, "I'm going to find one of those prep school pussies and teach him how we do it in the Valley. This is practice. You're my crash test dummy."

"Your knee is kind of in my crotch," Mikey says. He's getting sand in his underwear, too.

"I know, I'm doing it on purpose." Gabe is kind of lanky but he's almost a foot taller than Mikey and he's never been afraid of sticking his hands in embarrassing places. The crowd around them are hooting and someone yells, "Show us your tits, Mikeyway!"

Mikey tries to free a hand to poke Gabe in the eye or something. "Shit, can I breathe now?"

Gabe flashes a grin and licks a wet stripe across Mikey's cheek and nose before pushing himself off and getting up. Mikey sputters and rubs his face on his sleeve.

After a while, Gabe crouches down and produces a piece of microfiber cloth from his pocket. Mikey cleans his glasses.

"Where's Toro and the Awesome Bob today?"


"Tragedy. We have something special for everyone tonight." Gabe waggles his eyebrows.

"Vampire strippers special or Millers instead of Bud special?" Mikey asks. Gabe fancies himself a party planner. Some of his ideas are less than awesome.

"Vampire strippers, good idea. No, man, dance-offs."

It's past eleven and people are getting pretty buzzed, so there are cheers and whistles at this. Mikey's only about three beers down which is not even enough to watch these people dance.

Two years ago, the summer between freshman and sophomore year, Gerard used to come with Mikey a lot, mostly because he didn't want Mikey to go get wasted alone and wander into the sea and drown or get hit by a car or raped by gangs on PCP or abducted by pirates, aliens or ninjas. Gerard would hang back and watch the crowds, and occasionally say vicious and funny things about people to Mikey and eventually get drunk enough to try to talk to someone right before he fell over and passed out.

Later, when Mikey's almost drunk enough to dance but still not feeling a whole lot of party spirit, Gabe waltzes by and spins him around and says, "Weren't you friends with that Iero kid?" He knows the answer to that, of course. Gabe was the one who invented the game of Stuffing Frankie In His Own Locker back in Frankie's freshman year.

"Still am," Mikey says, giving Gabe a scowl. Frank's home with another bout of the common cold gone crazy, for seriously the fourth time this year. Where someone else gets a cough and gets PE off, Frank gets fucking pneumonia. Someone else feels a little nauseated; Frank has to spend three days in the hospital hooked to an IV because he can't hold down even water.

"Huh," Gabe says. "I'm just saying 'cause I'm gonna go pick a fight with his buddies from school now." He points, and Mikey sees Pete Wentz and an even shorter kid with reddish hair hanging past his ears standing on the other side of the fire, talking to a group of girls Mikey doesn't know.

"Aren't you too old to beat up kids half your size now?" Mikey says.

"Are you still pissed about that? I never actually drew blood."

"And I will never actually stop being pissed," Mikey says. Gabe is made of half asshole, half awesome, and Mikey can never decide whether to shun him for the first or stick around to watch the latter for entertainment. Gerard has told him his opinion on this, of course, but the one thing Mikey really doesn't take Gerard's advice on is how to survive in human society.

He has no idea why Gabe likes him, but Mikey figures he should be at least a little grateful that he does, or he would have ended up pretzeled into lockers, too, and he's a lot taller than Frank.

"I'm sorry I was mean to your little boyfriend like a hundred years ago, Mikey-poo, I really am. Now watch this. I'll let them throw the first punch, okay?"

He does, too, which isn't surprising. Gabe isn't going to actually hurt anybody. He doesn't usually have to since he has the reach of a giant squid.

Mikey can't hear what he says to Pete Wentz, but the reaction is impressive. Pete rocks back on his heels for a second, turns to his friend and says something and then pivots so fast Mikey thinks he should hear a fucking sonic boom, and clocks Gabe right in the mouth. It's amazing he could even reach Gabe's face, let alone get that much force behind it, but Gabe actually goes down.

"Jesus!" someone says. There are impressed gasps all around.

Pete doesn't give Gabe enough time to get up or even get his hands up before launching himself at him with a snarl like a pit bull in a vendetta kinda mood.

"Pete, fuck," the long-haired friend yells and goes in after, trying to drag Pete off by the legs. Mikey pushes himself through the gathering crowd to get closer. He sees Pete rear back and fucking headbutt Gabe just before letting go. He and his friends crash backwards in a pile. Gabe curls up into a ball, groaning and cursing, his hands clapped over his face.

Pete bounces to his feet. He's got a faint red spot on his forehead but otherwise he looks like he's ready for another round with an even bigger guy. He's staring at Gabe with his teeth bared, breathing fast.

Blood is welling between Gabe's fingers, almost black in the firelight.

"Mmph," he says. Lifts his hands a little and looks at the blood. "Fuck, that stings."

"I can help you with that," Pete growls.

"No, I'm good. Fuck." Gabe moves his head very gingerly. He looks spectacularly gruesome with the blood dripping down his face and onto his white t-shirt. "Never been headbutted before."

Pete's still got his hands in fists, but he seems a fraction less coiled and ready to blow.

Gabe looks up. "Hey, Mikey, did I deserve that or what?"

Pete snaps his head around and spots Mikey. He looks baffled.

The whole scene seems utterly absurd; staged, like a high school version of West Side Story. He's pretty sure he wasn't feeling this fucking wasted five minutes ago.

Pete just stares at him, still breathing hard. His friend is kind of tugging at his arms, trying to get him moving.

The crowd is still... crowding. There's a murmur of threats starting somewhere in the back. There are a lot of drunk people here, and a lot of people who don't have a sense of humor about getting knocked around by strangers.

"Yeah," Mikey says, his voice sounding a little distant as if he's suddenly learned ventriloquism. "You kinda did, Gabe." He thinks he might have giggled, because people are staring at him like they're weirded out.

He manages to walk across the tossed-up sand without falling on his ass, so maybe he's not as drunk as he feels. He grabs Pete's shoulder, maybe harder than he meant too. "You should leave now," he says. "Come on, gotta go."

Pete's short friend--Mikey's pretty sure he's not a whole lot taller than Frank, and Frank's a fucking midget--says, "Don't touch him."

"It's fine, Andy," Pete says. He's not trying to shake Mikey off. "That's him." He turns and starts walking down the beach, towards the water. Mikey lets go of his shoulder and takes a few steps after him. He's not sure what he thought Pete was going to do. He's not sure what he thought he would do, himself.

Andy looks at him with narrowed eyes for a second before shrugging and taking off after Pete.

Nobody bothers to follow them. After a while, someone's already shotgunning beer and getting it all over everybody, and someone else finally changes the music from that same fucking The Calling record that's been playing on repeat out here for basically weeks.

Gabe's on his feet again. "That was pretty special," he says, bumping Mikey's arm with his elbow.

"Broken nose?" Mikey asks.

Fuck no. That was a totally pussy headbutt. I just have a glass jaw, what can I say."

"It's your nose that's bleeding."

"Yeah, nose, jaw, it's all glass. My father was a renowned glass artist."

"I thought he was an electrician."

"That's not playing along, Mikey Way."

There's more shotgunning going on, and Mikey looks at the kids with farmer's tans and baggy jeans, and the kids with tattoos and skinny jeans, and the kids with Hawaiian shirts and cutoffs, and this was pretty fun last week, maybe--or maybe it was fun last year, but tonight Gee's at home getting drunk by himself in the basement. That would be tragicomic if it was someone else's brother but it's Gerard so right now it's just fucking tragic.

"You gotta play with someone else, I'm going home," he tells Gabe.

"You've been kind of weird lately, Mikes," Gabe says.

"Since when?"

Gabe screws up his face in deep concentration. "Since whenever. I'd ask you if you were okay, but it turns out I don't actually care. And you know why I don't care?"

Mikey raises one eyebrow. He's experiencing a quick drop in intoxication levels. He wants pretty desperately to sit on the couch at home and watch TV. Maybe shoot up some crack in his eyeballs or something. This must be what Gee feels like all the time, then. He wonders where Pete and Andy went, if they just walked back to the school or if they went to booze it up someplace else.

"Because this is a fucking party," Gabe explains very slowly. "If you're not feeling okay you're not doing it right."

Mikey claps Gabe on the shoulder hard enough to jostle his head. Gabe winces. "Going. Home."

Pete's standing by the pumps when Mikey gets back to the station. Just kind of standing there, not really waiting, it seems. Just chilling. He's got his back to the road so Mikey watches him for a while. He's standing in the light from the yard light. His t-shirt and jeans are still a little wet and sandy from the beach. His hair is a mess. Not an artful mess, just a mess.

"Are you stalking me?" Mikey asks. Pete doesn't even twitch, just turns around slowly. He's not smiling.

"No. Maybe. Yes?"


"I'm bored," Pete says and steps out of the circle of light and his face falls into shadow so it looks hollowed out and ghostly. "I had a shitty day."

"Is that why you beat the crap out of Gabe?"

Pete barks a laugh. "Fuck no, I kicked that dude's ass 'cause he was being an asshole. I think it was a fair fight. Felt pretty good, too. Maybe I needed to blow some steam. And there you were. Is he a friend of yours?"

Mikey shrugs.

"Do you believe in fate?" Pete asks. He sounds serious, but Mikey doesn't know him well enough to tell.

"Dunno." He knows Gerard does, but right now that's not helping Gerard since he apparently believes it's his fate to be a lonely, miserable drunk and he's doing his best to stick to that path.

"I'm not sure either. I wish I was more sure. I like your t-shirt."

Mikey's wearing a really old shirt, one of Gee's from, like, junior high, with Optimus Prime representing for the Autobots. It's several sizes too small and worn thin. It is pretty awesome.

Pete takes a few steps closer and Mikey sees that his shirt says 'Johnny Castle taught me all my moves.' It's a pink baby doll t-shirt and his jeans are cut low. Between them are two inches of tanned skin and a tattoo.

"Do you like mine?" Pete asks.

"Um," Mikey says. "Yeah." He can't make out the tattoo. It's just black lines sticking out from under the tee. Could be anything.

Pete follows his gaze and hooks a finger under the hem of the shirt and pulls it up. The tattoo is a bat. His stomach is flat and muscled.

"Cool," Mikey says. The wind is picking up a little, from out over the lake, and it's almost chilly. He has goosebumps all over his arms. He crosses them. "So, um. Your friend Andy, he goes to the Hill with you?"

Pete blinks. "Yeah. Andy's a chill dude. Smart. Too smart to hang around the likes of me, you'd think, but every superhero has a weakness, right?"

"I think I'm the sidekick type," Mikey says.

"Who's your hero, then?"

Mikey opens his mouth to give the obvious answer. Closes it again. He doesn't really want to talk about Gerard with Pete, who is cute and wearing expensive jeans and seems to be completely sober.

"Safeguarding his identity," Pete says, nodding and pursing his lips. "Clever boy."

Mikey looks down at his shoes. His toes are pointing in. He moves them, like he does when he notices.

He looks up again when he feels Pete's hand on his arm.

Pete says, "Look, Mikey..."

Mikey waits. He only realizes he's holding his breath when his chest starts burning.

Pete rolls his eyes and says, "Shit, you know I can beat up guys twice my size, so please don't try to punch me, okay? I wanna kiss you."

Mikey has to let out the breath he's kept in, and it comes out with a nervous giggle.

Pete's hand tightens on his arm and then he feels warm, damp breath on his face--Pete has to crane his neck a little to reach--and then lips against his.

It's just a brief touch and then Pete's backing away a little, looking Mikey in the eyes. "Wow," he says. "You're so fucking... I have no idea what you're thinking."

"Um," Mikey says. He really doesn't have much of an idea either. His stomach feels twisted up and tense, and he's still got his arms crossed, tightly so his hands don't shake.

"Okay, okay. I'll just--" Pete leans in again, staying longer. The warmth of his mouth sends tendrils of heat downwards. It feels like a snake of heat coiling itself around Mikey's spine the whole way from neck to ass. The hairs on the back of his neck are standing up. He opens his mouth automatically, he doesn't even know why, to speak or try to breathe or something, and Pete clearly takes it as 'yes, please.' He puts a hand on the back of Mikey's head and presses closer, opens his mouth too.

Mikey's not a virgin or anything, but this is just as fucking tense and weird and amazing as the first time he kissed a girl--the back of his mind immediately starts playing fucking Like A Virgin--maybe even more. It's not even that different, technically speaking. Pete's small and slim and his mouth is big and pretty soft.

Mikey unfreezes his limbs and sneaks an arm around Pete's waist, almost flinching when he gets naked skin instead of shirt. But he leaves his fingers there, in the gap between jeans and shirt and Pete makes a little sound and pushes his whole body against Mikey's body and his tongue into Mikey's mouth.

Mikey feels dizzy by now, from being so turned on or from forgetting to breathe, or both, but suddenly it occurs to him that he's standing here right by the road, in front of his house, under a fucking streetlight, kissing a boy.

He tenses up and pulls himself back, pushing Pete away.

"What?" Pete says, a little desperately. His eyes are heavy-lidded and his mouth is wet. He looks like Mikey should grab him and reel him back in.

But Mikey says, "No, no."

"Come on," Pete says, his mouth thinning, his eyes narrowing.

"Not here," Mikey says. "I have to go."

Pete lets go of him and does a frustrated little pirouette, throwing out his arms. "Mikey, don't fuck with me."

"I'm not," Mikey says, feeling slow and kind of stupid. What's he even trying to say here? "Just... not here."

"Where?" Pete's insistent like Mikey remembers being with Tracy Shoemaker last year, all where, when, why not? Afraid of being cut off before the score. And nervous. Pete sounds pretty nervous.

That makes Mikey look down at his shoes again. He doesn't even know why. "Just, like, come by tomorrow after five or something if you want. Okay? I gotta go to bed."

Pete bounces on the balls of his feet a few times. Then he says, "Yeah, sure. Okay. I will."

"Okay," Mikey says. "Okay."

He looks up again just in time to see Pete coming closer, and Mikey leans into the kiss this time, opens his mouth immediately, and puts his hand on Pete's side to feel the muscles under the skin move.

Pete pulls back after just a little while and says, "Okay. I'll see you tomorrow."

Mikey says, "Yeah."

"You're really, like, pretty," Pete says. "Really. So, uh. Bye."

He turns around quickly and jogs across the lot, across the road and down the path through the little patch of woods between the road and the pasture land that separates the Valley from the Hill.

Mikey rubs his cold arms and watches Pete disappear between the trees.

Gerard is sitting cross-legged on the floor in their room with his headphones on and a cigarette clamped between the index and middle fingers of his left hand. He's bowed over his sketchbook, his hair falling like a frayed black curtain over his face. A half empty bottle of Bud sits next to him, probably forgotten. The room is hazy with cigarette smoke. He doesn't notice Mikey.

Mikey still feels tense and weird, sort of unprotected like his skin has gone thin and fragile, letting everything through. Gerard would understand if he tried to explain that. He could probably--would probably--draw it, Mikey with every vein and organ showing like colorful fish under translucent skin.

Thinking that makes him feel a lot better. He crouches down behind Gerard and puts his head on his shoulder, his arms around his chest. Gerard smells a little like beer and a lot like smoke and he doesn't start at the touch, just leans his head against Mikey's and mutters something that could be 'Hi.'

"Whatcha drawing?" Mikey says and looks down. It's a lot of black and red, and it's roughly, almost angrily drawn with angular slashes and spatters, but it's clearly Frank and Mikey--Mikey's glasses are reflecting light, making them opaque, closing off his face; Frank's eyes are wide and frightened but his pose is defiant--backed against a brick wall, facing off a hunched, inhuman monster of some kind, maybe a werewolf mid-transformation, with stringy hair down to lumpy shoulders and too-long arms ending in twisted talons. Mikey is holding a broken bottle. Frank is brandishing a piece of pipe. "Wow. Is Buffy on her way?"

"No," Gerard says softly. "I think you're fucked."

"Well, that sucks," Mikey says. "Can't you save us?"

"Fuck no." He points at the monster with the hand holding the cig. Smoke wafts in dissolving curlicues over the picture. "I'm the one who'll tear your fucking guts out."

"Maybe you'll just bite us and we'll hunt together."

Gerard twists around and ruffles Mikey's hair, knocking his glasses askew. He doesn't seem to be drunk, just tired and sad like he gets sometimes. It's almost worse than the binges. "No, kid, I'm just hungry. I dreamed that last night. I could taste the blood. Like pennies and raw meat. I ripped out your throat."

"Shit." Mikey's nightmares tend towards the mundane--naked in school, sometimes flying and falling, the occasional horror scenario with teeth falling out or being chased by monsters out of movies. He's just not as brightly colored as Gerard.

Gerard takes a deep drag off his smoke before stubbing it out directly on the floor next to a small group of its fallen brothers. "Tell me something nice," he says, exhaling and watching the cloud of smoke dissipate.

"You didn't actually turn into a werewolf and eat me? That's pretty nice." Mikey pushes his face into Gerard's neck and says--and it feels almost like a compulsion--"I made out with Pete."

Gerard looks down, picks up his brush and starts to dab more bloody spatter onto the gruesome scene.

He sounds only a little pissed off when he says, "Was it nice?"

Mikey stands up and walks a lap around the room and tries to decide if making out with Pete falls into column 'nice', 'not nice' or 'other'. 'Other' really covers a lot of ground between 'nice and 'not nice'.

"I guess?" he says poking a pile of Star Wars tie-in paperbacks with his toe. "Maybe. I'm undecided."

"Good to know you're in total control of the situation," Gerard says, a little sharply.

"Give me a break, Gee."

"I know, I know. Sorry, Mikey." He's looking up at Mikey, his face the very image of contriteness. His eyes are swollen and puffy. Maybe he's been crying. Gerard's pretty weepy for a guy and not hugely ashamed of it either. If Mikey asks, he'll tell the truth unlike, basically, 100% of all other guys. He'll happily tell Frank or Bob or Ray, too. Mikey finds that really cool about Gerard.

"It's a really cool picture," he says because he's feeling kind of mushy and maudlin and he doesn't want to get all drunk-earnest. "Frankie would totally get a kick out of that."

"Yeah," Gerard says morosely and goes back to adding strategic blots and drips and splashes.


Because it's Sunday morning, their mother kicks them both out of bed before ten am. She never comes into their room but she'll stand outside the door and knock relentlessly until they can't take it anymore. She makes pancakes; it's totally worth getting up for, but they're not morning people. Especially not hung over.

"For once you look shittier than I feel," Gerard says, lighting his third smoke in twenty minutes. Mikey is hunched over his coffee, trying to absorb it through his skin. It's too hot to drink as fast as he wants to. His head feels too heavy for his neck.

"Did I ever tell you about my Uncle Gerard?" Ma says. She's still frying pancakes, cigarette between her teeth, rolls in her hair. "Pop's oldest brother."

"Who drank himself to death," Mikey and Gerard intone. "Yes, Ma."

"Maybe I shouldn't have named you for him. Nomen est omen."

"You just got ash in the batter, Ma," Mikey says.

She squints into the skillet. "Aw, fuck, so I did. I'll eat this one." She drops her cigarette in the sink and turns on the faucet. Gerard is snickering into his coffee.

"What are you laughing at?" Mikey says. "You totally ashed in your beer the other day and drank it. Didn't even notice."

"You know, boys," their mother says, waving a spatula in their direction. "One day you'll surprise me and not be hung over at breakfast. I had hopes for you, Mikey."

"I'm not hung over," Gerard says.

"That's wonderful, honey," she says, completely unconvinced, and leans in to kiss him on the cheek. She carefully wipes the lipstick stain off after. "You should tell that little Iero boy to use the fucking front door every once in a while. I never see him and he's wreaking havoc in my flowerbed."

Mikey gets some more coffee. He thinks he'll be physically and mentally ready for pancakes after three cups. "He doesn't like the basement, Ma," he says.

"What a strange boy," she says. "Let's hope he hits that growth spurt soon."

Gerard makes a face as if he's offended on Frank's behalf. "What?" Mikey says. "She has a point."

"Maybe he gets enough shit about it in school," Gerard mutters. Sometimes he's just weird about Frank.

"Gabe Saporta got beat up last night," Mikey says. "Headbutted."

"Who the fuck is tall enough to headbutt Gabe Saporta?" Gerard says, but he perks up visibly.

"Um. Pete Wentz."

Gerard looks at him. Three-two-one: Mikey's cheeks go from cool to red hot.

"Who is Pete Wentz?" their mother asks. "These pancakes aren't gonna eat themselves, boys. Tuck in or I'm calling Chuck Warren over for breakfast."

"I'm eating!" Mikey says.

Gerard says, "Pete is Mikey's new friend from the Hill. Are you serious, Mikey? What was he doing fighting with Gabe?"

"Gabe was picking a fight with him. You know how Gabe is, he loves fucking with the summer school kids." Mikey stabs a pancake and his fork skids over the plate with a squeak. Talking about Pete with their mother in the room is exactly what he doesn't need right now with his headache threatening to launch a full scale assault.

"Hey, Mikey," Gerard says and taps him on the arm, leaving a smear of maple syrup. "I'm not fucking with you. Just tell me everything about Gabe getting his nose smashed in, okay?"

Sometimes Gerard just gets it. He's smiling. Mikey smiles back. "You should have seen it, man. It was fucking karma."


Ray Toro and Bob Bryar come in around four thirty to gossip about Gabe getting beat up and drive Mikey insane with nerves. Bob knows everyone who ever bought a record in the Valley, so everything that happens will reach him eventually. He's already heard three or four eye witness accounts.

"They were all pretty wasted last night, though," he says, leaning on the counter. Bob's got a way of being very still when he talks, as if he's trying to camouflage himself with the powers of his brain. Mikey thinks he's close to success. "I'm trying to piece together the truth. Investigative reporting and stuff."

"Yeah, yeah, he says they say the kid had, like, kung-fu moves," Toro says. When he nods, his giant Sideshow Bob hair bounces eagerly. "Who said that, man? That sounds retarded."

"It was that girl who came in last week with Geoff," Bob says. "She paid cash so I don't know her name. She was cute, though. I saw her again on my run this morning and she, like, said hi. Mikey, please tell me the kung-fu part is the beer talking."

"It wasn't kung-fu," Mikey says. He's been rearranging the lockbox with lottery tickets for twenty minutes and it looks like he can't let it go yet. "He was more like, I don't know ka-ra-te but I know ke-ra-zy, you know? Just wham-bam."

Bob nods and gives Mikey a long look. "Geoff's girl also said you knew him."

"I knew Geoff? I know Geoff."

"No, no, you know, the Hill kid."

Mikey deliberately drops some receipts behind the counter and dives down to fumble slowly after them. "Uh, sort of, I guess? He's been in here to buy shit. Frankie knows him."

Bob leans over the edge to look at him. "How wasted were you last night?"

"On a scale from one to delirium tremens!" Toro supplies.

"Drunk enough to be fucking hung over right now," Mikey says sourly. He straightens up just in time to spot Mrs Adamowsky pulling up in her old Jetta. "Hang on," he tells the guys and escapes the interrogation and the A/C-less heat into the relative cool of the lot to fill her up and make polite chitchat.

"You don't look so good, Mikey Way," she says when she follows him into the station to pay. "Do you get enough sleep, honey?"

Bob and Toro are still hanging around when Ma comes down to take over for the evening hours and Mikey walks out the front to find Pete leaning against the diesel pump. He's wearing the same jeans but another t-shirt, less pink and less baby doll. It's got the Decepticon logo on gray, and Mikey bites his tongue and looks down quickly to stop himself from grinning like a fool.

"Hey, that kid is casing your shop," Toro says and flops the fro in Pete's direction.

Pete raises a hand in a brief Queen of England kind of wave.

"Isn't that the kung-fu dude from the beach," Bob says. "Right, Mikey? I heard he looked kinda Asian, with weird hair."

"Come on, that's not weird hair," Toro scoffs and gives his fro a little duff. "This is weird hair. That's just...hair."

"Does he look Asian?" Mikey says. He lifts his chin in Pete's direction.

"More Asian than me," Bob says.

"I look more Asian than you, Bob," Mikey says. Bob's the blondest guy in town that doesn't actually have a Swedish name.

Bob smiles a little wryly. "You also totally know that dude. Don't even front."

"What?" Toro says.

"Yeah," Mikey says. He shrugs a little stiffly; he's been feeling like a guitar string tuned too sharp since three pm and now someone just struck an almighty power chord.

"What?" Toro says again. "It is that dude? Seriously? He's fucking... fucking diminutive. Whoa. He knocked out Gabe Saporta? Kudos, man. Ku-dos."

"Mikey," Bob says, pitching his voice low. "Hey."

Mikey tries to communicate 'just a minute' to Pete using only his eyebrows. Pete uses his eyebrows to communicate 'what the fuck?' "What, Bob?"

"We're gonna take off now, okay."

"Okay? Yeah," Mikey says. Bob is looking at him. Bob has these pale blue eyes that get really crazy laser intense when he's giving you the Look. Mikey looks away. There's a nervous giggle building up in his throat. "What?"

Bob slaps him on the shoulder and smiles. "Nothing, man. Keep your chin up, Mikey Way."

"What was that about?" Pete asks after they've said hi and both shuffled their feet and picked at their nails for ten seconds. "Your little pow-wow."

"Just, you know. Um."

Pete grins wolfishly. "Didn't wanna make it a double date, huh?"

Mikey looks down the road where Bob's dirty white van just disappeared around the bend. "Not on the first date," he says, only a little too fast. He's kind of shit at telling jokes because he always garbles the punchline and says it too fast and too quiet, and usually nobody even notices that it's a joke. Somehow Gerard is better even though he doesn't know any jokes. He doesn't get lost halfway through a sentence. He's more articulate than Mikey even when he's too drunk to stand.

But Pete laughs his loud laugh and says, "You're so right! Let's make out, okay? Do you have a car?"

"No," Mikey says. It's a good thing he's already red-faced and twitchy. "I mean, sort of, we have a truck but I, um, I don't have a license."

Pete makes his eyes go big and round. "For real?"

Mikey nods.

"Flunk the test? Written or driving?"

"Driving. I'm just not real co-ordinated, I guess. I took it three times so now I can't try again until next year."

"Hurley doesn't have a license 'cause he is, like, sticking it to The Man by taking the bus or something," Pete says. "By making his friends drive him around."

"Sometimes my brother drives me," Mikey says.

"Right, your brother!" Pete looks interested, he's nodding and leaning in. "I have a brother and a sister. I don't know, I think you sort of look like an only child."

Mikey says, "Well, I'm not." It sounds kind of vehement in his own ears, like he has to hammer in the fact, like it might not be true unless Pete believes it. That's a weird thought to have. Something to talk to Gerard about, that kind of weird. Gerard is all about the low-key everyday kind of mystery of having weird thoughts.

"Is he cool?"

"He's awesome," Mikey says. Pete's cocked his head like a bird considering a nut. "Like, weird but cool? Really out there. He knows a lot of shit. He's fucking smart."

"He's totally older than you, too, am I right? I mean, obviously," Pete says. He's looking a little thoughtful, and a little smug, like he's pretty sure he's got Mikey all figured out. "You look, like, all worshipful? Older brother, absolutely. I'm the oldest. I don't get that worship deal, but it's cool I guess. To have that."

"I guess," Mikey says.

Pete grins and says, "You know, I'm older than you. Maybe you could worship me a little, like, now. If we could find a good chapel or, like, other sanctuary of... whatever denomination."

Someone says, "Hello, Mikey!" in a loud voice and Mikey blinks and looks up, and there's Chuck Warren getting out of his car right on the other side of the pump. He waves at Mikey and smiles. Mikey waves back. Chuck Warren has been trying to get their mother into bed for like years and Mikey's pretty sure her resistance is wearing thin even though Chuck is kind of a Republican asshole and chews tobacco.

Pete cranes his head and gets a load of Chuck too. He turns back to Mikey with one eyebrow lifted as far as it goes and the other scrunched down. "Whoa. We really need to relocate. This is serious. How about your room?"

"No," Mikey says. "I don't-- That's no good. Shit."

"Shit. Do you have a fucking balcony? I could climb up a rope, it'll be romantic."

"No, I mean, just--" He's having an idea. Gerard's going to kill him. Or Gerard's going to look at him like he's dirt, which is maybe worse. But Pete's looking at him expectantly and chewing on his bottom lip and Mikey remembers what it felt like to kiss in the lamplight last night, that dizzy wild feeling. So he says, "I know a place."

Helena's apartment is the second floor of the house. She's been dead for nine months and three weeks, but no one's touched anything there beyond emptying out the fridge and turning it off. Mikey loved her and he misses her every fucking day but it's nothing but crazy to leave half the house empty like that. She's not coming back. She'd fucking laugh herself hoarse if she knew and then she'd tell them to get it done, get her cleaned out of there.

That's what Mikey thinks, anyway. He's just waiting for Gerard to think it too, but it's been nine months and nothing has changed except Gerard gets drunk a little more and cries a little less, and Ma can't make him do anything and Mikey doesn't want to make him do anything, he wants Gerard to understand.

Still, he feels like the world's biggest turd when he opens the door with its familiar squeak and lets Pete into the hall. But excited, too.

"You have a whole apartment up here?" Pete says, looking around. "Furnished."

"I don't want to talk about it," Mikey mutters. "Just take off your shoes. Come on."

That gets him another raised eyebrow and a little smirk. "Yes, sir."

The air in here is a little stale, unused, but Mikey thinks he can smell her underneath it, flowery perfume and turpentine and wood chips. He hasn't been up here since a few weeks after the funeral when Gerard dragged him up here and they sat on her bed and Gerard tried to tell him a story about Helena letting him mix colors for her, but he started choking up after just a few sentences and then he was just crying too hard to even talk. They were up there all night, Mikey remembers, curled up uncomfortably on the narrow bed, and when they woke up just before dawn all stiff and achy, Mikey's shirt was still wet in a big patch on the front.

He pushes his glasses down his nose and rubs at his eyes. His chest feels tight and he's not sure if it's because of Helena or because of Pete.

"Who lived here?" Pete asks, really quietly. He looks almost solemn, and that's a really surprising expression on his face. He's standing very still and he looks really small here in his sock feet, looking up at Mikey.

"My grandmother," Mikey says. "She died last August."

"Fuck, I'm sorry," Pete says.

"It's okay," Mikey says for, like, no reason. It's not really okay.

Pete looks at him and asks, "Is it?"

"Does it matter?"

"Yeah," Pete says, scratching his eyebrow. "I mean, I want to do some really dirty fucking things with you but I'm not into--well, not that I can't get into moping around and talking about horrible things that happened to us but I want to keep the sex and the sadness, like, in separate containers. So, just to check. Are you okay? Either way is fine."

"No," Mikey says before he can think too much about it. "But I, um, I want to do the dirty things."

Pete laughs and says, "You are so fucking cute, dude. Fuckin' A." He reaches up and touches Mikey's cheek with his fingertips, so lightly it's like a tickle more than a caress. Mikey squeaks out surprised laughter and slaps his hand over Pete's.

"Yeah," Pete says and twists his hand around to wrap his fingers around Mikey's in a tight grip. "Which room?"

Mikey leads him to the guest room, feeling poised on the border between freaked out and just excited.

Pete squeezes his hand hard and says, "Your grandmother had pretty rocking taste in art, for real."

The painting over the bed is one of the ones that Gerard calls 'abstract nudes' and Mikey calls 'fucked up naked women'. "She painted them," he says. "She was an artist."

"Fucking awesome. Really. Awesome. Jesus Christ, come here--" He tugs at Mikey's hand. Mikey stumbles two steps forward into Pete.

"Okay," he says, which is pretty superfluous at this point.

Pete's short but not really that small close up; he's solid and warm and has quick, sure hands. He puts them both on Mikey's shoulders, slides one around Mikey's neck. "Come on," he breathes, also not really necessary. They both move to close the distance and crash together a little violently, Pete's brow knocking against Mikey's glasses. They gasp out laughter and grab each other, turn their heads the wrong way at first and then click together, tongues and lips and teeth.

"Oh, hey," Pete says and leans back. back. Mikey tries to follow but Pete puts a hand up. "Wait--"

Mikey opens his mouth to protest but Pete just says, "No, no, these gotta go," and takes off his glasses, folds them carefully and puts them on the dresser. The world goes soft and foggy. Pete's face is a dim blur in the dusky room. Mikey blinks at him. Without his glasses he feels naked and helpless.

"Fuck yeah," Pete says and pulls his shirt over his head. The bat tattoo is a dark smudge on his belly. There are others, something around his neck like a garland, something on his back. "You too."

Mikey doesn't think he hesitates for long but Pete is impatient and his hands nudges Mikey's away to pull at the t-shirt, making the undressing clumsy and exciting with nails running over his skin and knuckles tripping over his ribs and collarbones. Ma shakes her head when she sees him without his shirt on and Gerard calls him Bones sometimes, but Pete smiles and runs his hands over Mikey's pale, bony chest and down to thumb the sharp ridges of his hipbones.

He remembers how annoying it was when Tracy would start shrinking away and saying things like, "I know I'm kind of fat." and "my thighs are like so gross," the second he got her shirt off, and here he is suddenly having a revelation about where the impulse comes from when Pete moves so comfortably and his skin is evenly tanned and smooth over sleek muscle.

So instead on dwelling on Tracy and her contagious body issues, he puts his hand on Pete's face, cups his jaw and rubs his fingertips over the hint of stubble, tilting his face up to kiss. Pete's hands come up too and they're both tangling fingers in hair and moving their bodies closer. Pete runs hot like a cat, and Mikey shivers, sweaty in the places they touch, goosebumped and chilly in the places they don't.

The backs of his knees hit the side of the bed before he even realizes they've moved, and he falls gracelessly, knocks his head on the wall and also elbows Pete in the side when he brings up his arms in reflex.

"Smooth," Pete says, giggling breathlessly and clutching at his ribs. "I thought I had that move down. What do you wanna do?"

"What?" Mikey's stuck between embarrassment and excitement, and his face can't even decide if it wants to smile or frown so he's pretty sure he's frozen in some really weird expression and his voice also can't decide anything so it comes out both throaty and squeaky.

"I just--Hang on, jeez." Pete crawls properly onto the bed and shoves at Mikey until Mikey's flat on his back and Pete's straddling him. Mikey can't tell what Pete's thinking because he's suddenly serious, his mouth closed, his eyes hooded. "I don't know what you do."

"What I do?" Mikey repeats stupidly. What he's doing right now is lying half-naked on the bed in his dead grandmother's guest room, under her painting of the fucked up naked chick. There's a bible in the drawer of the dresser. There's a picture of Helena and grandpa on the opposite wall. On the underside of the bookshelf--the books are mostly travelogues and mysteries from the sixties and seventies--are his and Gerard's names scrawled in pencil. If he were to turn his head he could see it. If he were wearing his glasses. He keeps his eyes on Pete's face, which is a little soft around the edges but recognizable at this distance.

"Huh," Pete says. "Hah."

Mikey decides that anything he says right now will be unbelievably retarded, so he just lies there, still and wondering what the hell Pete wants him to do.

Pete leans back, which puts him right on Mikey's lap. He says, "You look pretty freaked out right now."

Mikey tries to push himself up but Pete pushes back, dropping himself down to cover Mikey, his fingers touching Mikey's mouth just before his lips do, "That makes me feel better about being so fucking nervous," he whispers, the words coming right against Mikey's tongue, barely audible. "I only did this with girls before."

Mikey just nods so Pete's mouth slides wetly over his face.

"I thought about it a lot, though," Pete says. His move restlessly over Mikey's skin, on shoulders and chest and arms and belly. "All the time. Fucking embarrassing sometimes."

He stops talking to get back into the kiss, to push at Mikey's mouth with his tongue. Mikey has heard all the words but they don't really matter. He doesn't even remember if he's thought about it. He can't concentrate on anything but the tension in Pete's back vibrating into his palms, and Pete's tongue, and the way Pete rolls his hips against him and how it all makes it so hard to breathe.

He has to break away to snap for air, and Pete mouths at his jaw, licks at the place under his ear where the skin is tender. Mikey digs his fingers into Pete's shoulders and turns his face into Pete's neck. Pete shoves his whole body down into Mikey's with a choked sound. Mikey's back arches. "Fuck," he says into Pete's ear.

"Yeah, fuck," Pete says, kind of slurring the words. He's pushing himself away again and Mikey grabs his arms, Pete wrenches himself loose and pushes Mikey's hands down his own body until Mikey gets it. Mikey has trouble focusing his eyes, and he wouldn't get any detail anyway, so he just fumbles at the stubborn button fly, those tight fucking jeans, and Pete throws his head back and makes a sound that's almost a whimper. He's still got his hands around Mikey's wrists and he doesn't seem to be letting go.

When the buttons finally relent, there's nothing but damp skin and wiry hair under his fingers and he's surprised enough to freeze for a second but Pete chokes out, "Oh fuck don't stop" and his fingers tighten around Mikey's wrists.

Mikey twists his hands around and pushes hard at the waist of Pete's jeans, but of course they're too tight to budge very far and Pete seems to be losing it a little, not being very helpful, just pushing against Mikey's hands in sharp, irregular thrusts.

It's really uncomfortable, and sort of frustrating. Mikey chews on his bottom lip viciously and screws his eyes shut and grabs Pete's arms and yanks him forward.

"Whoa," Pete says. "Oh... hey--" But he turns his face to Mikey's immediately, mouth falling open, breaths coming fast. Mikey drags his hands down Pete's heaving sides and shoves at his jeans, and then Pete helps and they push the stupid things over his ass and halfway down his thighs.

"Tight fuckin' pants," Mikey says. His voice sounds weak and breathy. He feels crazy and overheated, his skin is getting slick with sweat even though the room seemed cold when they first got here, and he's sliding his palms over the generous swell of Pete's ass, and Pete pushes against him and Mikey feels his dick against his belly, a weird, dizzying touch.

"Fuck, fuck," Pete pants against his mouth. "Just fucking touch me, Mikey, fuck."

"Yeah," Mikey whispers, and works his hand between their bodies--Pete might want it but he's not making it easier by thrusting sort of spastically against Mikey's belly as if he just can't stop--and then his fingers are curled around Pete's dick, his grip clumsy and awkward but Pete almost yells what might have been "Yes!" and his kiss is almost a bite, ungentle and clashing, his hands on Mikey's throat, in his hair. Some distant part of Mikey's mind has the time to wonder if Pete is this pushy and violent with those girls he was talking about, too, or if it's just something that happens when you're in bed with someone who's taller than yourself.

Then Pete's dick twitches in his hand; Pete tightens his hands painfully in his hair and goes absolutely still for two seconds, his hips shoved into Mikey's so hard Mikey thinks there will be bruises where their hipbones grind together. And now he's got a handful of spreading slick warmth.

"Jesus," Pete mumbles and kisses him much gentler. "Fuck, that was, fuck."

Mikey's poised somewhere halfway, not sure if he should move or wait. "Hm," he says. Pete's thigh is kind of pressed against his dick, but not really enough, and he's still got his pants on and that's not the most comfortable ever. He shifts a little, trying to find a good spot.

Pete blinks against his face, eyelashes like tiny trapped moths tickling his cheek, and says, "Wow, yeah, wait. I'll do you." He's pushing himself up. Mikey thinks he might be smiling. "I'll use my mouth," Pete says now and that's absolutely a smile, a grin.

"Uh," Mikey says, that's about all he can manage before Pete kisses him again and crawls down the bed.

He hears, "Oh, hi, got it all on you," and "how hard can it be, girls do it all the time," and "you're wearing underwear like such a good boy, ha!"

He flails around a little thoughtlessly and finds Pete's head. The long parts of his hair is thick and stiff with whatever industrial strength gel he uses to make it look like it does, but the sides are untreated, growing out a little in inchoate curls--Mikey thinks the word 'inchoate' which Gerard once told him about because it was Gerard's favorite word at some point: Gerard will be totally jazzed that Mikey used it in a sentence.

"Just don't, like, push me down," Pete says.

He's a little violent at this, too. Unsurprising, Mikey thinks, but not bad, not bad. He tries thinking of what a bad blowjob would be, but it's not coming to him. He doesn't have that much to compare with. Just Tracy, who had been up for experimenting but kind of careful and hesitant, more like Mikey himself. Pete's just going for it, trying everything, tongue, lips, teeth, his hands on Mikey's hips and on his thigh, on the crease of his groin, cupping his balls, experimenting, definitely, but not at all hesitant or careful. Mikey's so fucking close he's going to be in pain soon, and he thinks his eyes might be rolling back in his head, but it's also strange and unsettling because he has no idea what will pop into Pete's head next, where he'll stick his fingers. Mikey has to let Pete's hair go or he'll end up yanking it out or something. Instead he slaps his hands down flat on the scrunched up crocheted day cover and bites the inside of his mouth hard.

Pete keeps his mouth on Mikey's dick, though, thank fuck, slides up and down in something like a rhythm and there's no bad there at all even when he moves the finger that's been rubbing at that spot behind the balls, sweet sweet pressure there, he moves it down and pushes. Mikey can't help making some kind of sound, but he can't even figure out how to move away and what happens is he spreads his legs a little instead and Pete logically takes that as yes, please and pushes harder. It feels weird, and surprising, and then Pete sucks hard and pushes with his finger at the same time and Mikey comes, almost unexpectedly. It almost feels like he missed the buildup and there it is, free fall and yes, thank you, thank you.

Through the post-orgasmic haze he feels Pete moving away, leaving him wet and shivering, still panting and feeling weird and limp and .

"Mmph," Pete mumbles. "You 'ame in vy vouf." And after a while: "Weird."


"The taste. A little more bitter than mine, I guess. I'm, like, vegan? I can totally taste that you're not. I wonder if that counts as breaking edge."

Mikey can't even get his brain to try deciphering what the fuck that was about, but Pete doesn't seem grossed out or anything, so it's probably okay. Pete's stretching out next to him, sliding his jeans the rest of the way down and kicking them off the bed. Mikey feels dazed and kind of melted into the mattress, and he knows he's going to fall asleep if he closes his eyes, he always gets super sleepy after he comes, so what he should do is scrape the come off his belly at least, probably not a good idea to sleep up here either. He doesn't move.

"I'll help you out, man," Pete says and pulls at his jeans.

Both naked, they roll the cover off the bed and crawl under the sheets. The bed is narrow but spooning works, Mikey being the big spoon, which is familiar and comfortable. The bedclothes are a little old and dusty but under that they smell like Helena. He pushes his face into Pete's neck where he only smells hair gel and a little clean sweat and whatever cologne Pete uses, a subtle, kind of girly and bright scent that reminds him of Tracy again, and of Gerard for some reason--not that Gerard usually smells that good, but when he does, he smells pretty fruity. Gerard doesn't believe in haircare products for men. He believes in things that smell like apple or grapefruit or green tea, lychee or peach or honey and almond. Mikey remembers seeing Frank sniff him and grin, and then not say anything.

gone limp against him. Mikey has an arm around his waist, palm pressed flat against his chest. He can feel a nipple right under his ring finger. He listens to Pete's slow breaths.


If he was dreaming something, he forgets it the second he jerks awake. He's usually a slow waker, it takes him a while to unfold his mind and re-establish contact with all senses, but now he's gone from asleep to alert so fast his head is spinning and his limbs sizzle with adrenaline.

Next to him, Pete moves slowly and mumbles something.

Mikey turns his head and looks right at Gerard, who stands by the bed looking down at him from under his bangs. His hand is still on Mikey's shoulder.

Mikey can't make out his expression. He lies perfectly still, his heart slamming wildly in his chest, his skin tingling.

Gerard lets go of him and nods his head in the direction of the door. Mikey nods back. Gerard leaves the room, padding quietly into the hall in his sock feet. Mikey lets his eyes drop shut for a few seconds.

"Was someone just in here?" asks Pete and Mikey almost falls out of the bed. He regains his balance and pushes himself up, getting stuck in the sheets and having to yank at them to untangle his legs. He probably kicks Pete a few times in the process.

He fumbles for his glasses. Behind him, Pete says, "I guess so."

Wait here," Mikey says. He doesn't look at Pete, just finds his jeans in the pile on the floor and pulls them on without bothering with underwear.

He does look back on his way out. Pete's sitting cross-legged on the bed, casually naked in a heap of rumpled sheets. "Sorry," Mikey says and Pete shrugs.

In the hall, Gerard's pacing in circles, arms swinging, hair in his face. Mikey wishes he'd thought to put on his t-shirt because now he feels cold. Isn't there a heatwave on? He pulls up his shoulders and crosses his arms.

Gerard stops pacing and stares at him. If Mikey had to put a name to his expression, he'd maybe say 'betrayed'.

Mikey says, "So..."

Gerard scratches his head, a nervous tic he gets whenever he has to think about what he's saying, or when he's nervous, or pissed off or all of the above. He threads his fingers in his hair, cards through the strands, tugs at it, twists tufts of it around his index finger. He's biting the inside of his mouth, too, another nervous tic. Gerard is a jumble of clues that Mikey can piece together pretty effortlessly most days. Sometimes he knows what Gerard is thinking before Gerard's finished thinking it. Gerard knows him the same way. Gerard's told him that more than once, always in strange, private whispers like secrets. Why it's a secret that they know each other better than anyone else, Mikey's not sure, but he's kept it.

Gerard's looking betrayed, but Mikey isn't sure yet why. Which why.

"What time is it?" Mikey asks, mostly to say something and get Gerard to stop staring at him like he's a backstabbing piece of shit.

"Fuck should I know," Gerard says, his tone so clipped and tight he sounds like someone else.

"Gerard..." Mikey tries. He also tries to remember what the hell he was thinking. Nothing at all, it seems. His stomach rolls queasily and he digs his fingers into his own bicep.

Gerard rubs his eyes violently and then his face, and then tugs at his hair again and says, "Mikey, what the fuck?"

Mikey looks away. Then he looks back again because he needs to see what's on Gerard's face. "We needed someplace to go," he says. His voice catches halfway through.

Gerard looks more defeated now than anything else. "Why did you have to bring him here? Fuck."

They never have fights. They have arguments, sure, but Mikey can't remember when they last got really angry. They're angry together, at other people. That's how it works.

"Where else?" he says. He and Tracy were together for two months and a week last fall, and they had sex in a car, in a barn, in Tracy's bedroom when her parents were out, and once in Mikey and Gerard's room when Gerard was up in the back room of the station doing the books with their mother. Two months of constantly looking for places to fuck. He never even had the thought to bring her here, but then Helena was only a month dead when it started. "It's the guest room," he adds. "I didn't even go into her room."

Gerard claps his hands over his eyes. He's swaying a little, but Mikey doesn't think he's wasted. He's breathing too fast.

"Gee, are you okay?" he asks. He's breathing funny himself. His lungs seem to have shrunk because he can't get enough air into them.

Gerard drops his arms and looks at him wildly before turning and walking out the front door, without even putting his Chucks back on.

Mikey leans against the wall and tries to breathe normally. He has a headache, too, and the nausea is more like a crampy, twisting ache.

He hears a sound and sees Pete standing in the guest room doorway, wearing clothes and looking deliberately relaxed with an eyebrow cocked. "Homophobic freakout?"

"No," Mikey says. He's offended on Gerard's behalf even though he knows Pete has never even seen Gerard.

"He left his shoes." When Mikey tries to pass him to go get the rest of his clothes, Pete grabs his arm and says, "Hey, look, are you--Look, don't get all freaked out, okay? Mikey." He's frowning, he's looking up at Mikey with what might be pleading except it's like one of those graphic illusions--when Mikey moves his eyes a little it's defiance.

"I gotta talk to him," Mikey says. He can't get his voice to rise over a mumble, and Pete leans in and sort of squints at him, and Mikey repeats it, maybe even quieter.

"Okay," Pete says. "Okay. Your brother, right? Okay. He's not gonna try and punch me, is he?"

Mikey finds his shirt and slips it on. It smells like the apartment now. He snags his underwear from under the bed and stuffs them in his pocket. Then he pulls the messy sheets off the bed and throws the day cover back on it.

Going outside with the sheets tucked under his arm and Pete trailing behind him feels like walking to the fucking gallows, and for like a second he's angry at Gerard for making him ashamed, and then he's angry at Helena for dying and leaving them floating around like this, she should have known they'd be useless, she should have known. She was the one who always knew how they felt when they just put on brave faces for Ma.

What would she have made of Pete, he wonders, and figures she would have laughed pretty hard. Not in a mean way, but just amused because Pete's exactly what you can't find in this town and Helena always called Mikey's love for Britpop and gangsta rap his 'yearning for a bigger pond'.

Gerard's standing on the last step, looking down at his feet. Either he's just noticed that he forgot his shoes or he's just stopped to think. Mikey stops, too, right outside the door. Pete walks right into him.

Gerard turns around and there's a moment where Mikey can feel the tension growing. Then Pete shuffles his feet behind him and says, "Hi."

Gerard spins back around and starts walking shoeless right down the gravel path.

"Hey," Mikey says, coughs, tries again: "Hey!"

"Wow," Pete says, sounding baffled and amused.

"I didn't do anything wrong," Mikey says, louder now. "She would have been okay with it."

Gerard stops and says, "I fucking know." He sounds like he's grinding his teeth. "But she's not fucking here now."

"Uh, so," Pete says, "I should probably, like, go now."

"You don't have to," Mikey says.

"Yeah, fuckin' go," Gerard says almost at the same time. That means he's getting really pissed. He doesn't talk much to strangers unless he's angry enough to not care what he says.

Mikey drops the sheets and takes the steps two at a time. "No, come on, Gerard."

"Fuck," Gerard says and makes a flailing motion with his arms. "Fuck!"

He turns around and Mikey stops almost at the bottom of the steps. The one he's standing on is the loose board, and every time he shifts, it creaks mournfully.

Mikey opens his mouth to say something, he's not sure what, but something's about to come out.

Frank comes around the corner, walking on the grass with his hand up in a wave.

Mikey closes his mouth with a snap.

"Hi, Iero," Pete calls from the top of the stairs.

"Hey," Frank says, slowing down. "What are you guys doing?" He sounds a little out of breath even though he wasn't going very fast. Mikey's seen him take the corner running so fast he fell over on the wet grass.

"You're supposed to be fucking sick in bed," Gerard says, still sounding angry. Frank stops, confused.

"I just thought I'd come hang out, I was dying of boredom."

"Are you gonna die of pneumonia instead or what? Jesus, Frankie."

"I'm not gonna die," Frank says with a scowl. "Don't be such a bitch, Gee."

"Jesus fuck," Gerard says. He's gesticulating sort of helplessly at Frank. Pete snickers.

"So what are you guys doing?" Frank says again. "Oh, hi Pete." He's looking up at Pete now, and noticing the pile of sheets--his eyebrows go up--and then at Mikey and Gerard.

Gerard rubs the back of his neck. Mikey doesn't know what he wants to say so he shrugs. Pete snickers again. Frank starts coughing, a nasty dry rattle that doubles him over so hard he almost faceplants on the walk. Gerard grabs his shoulders to keep him upright.

"What'd I say," he says, but he doesn't sound pissed off anymore.

"Cute," Pete says, just loud enough that Mikey hears.

He says, "Throw me those sheets."

"I'm just gonna take off," Pete says, coming down the steps. "Uh, so."

"Right," Mikey says. "I guess."

"This is so fucking lame. What are we, thirteen?" Pete says with a little grin, and when Mikey feels his own mouth twitching, Pete leans in quickly and kisses him. "I'll be around, okay."

He marches right past Gerard and Frank with a little wave and a "See ya!"

Frank looks after him until he's gone from view. Then he looks at Mikey. Then at Gerard. Then at Mikey again. "Oh," he says. "Oh. Wow. So you guys--"

"Not a word," Mikey says. He makes a show of picking up the sheets and stomping down the last steps.


"Mikey," Gerard says. Mikey tucks his chin against his breastbone and plods on. He still feels a little sick. He's going to wash these sheets and take them back up, and he's not going to talk to anybody until that's done, he decides. Fuck Gerard and Frank.

Frank coughs again, and Mikey feels a tiny sting of guilt for being a bitch when Gerard was already a bitch to him. Frank can be seriously annoying sometimes but he's never mean, so he doesn't really deserve to get stuck in the middle of their family drama.

"Fuck, Frankie," he hears Gerard say. Gerard's nightmares often have to do with Frankie finally catching something he can't fight off with will power only. Gerard once made the huge mistake of reading a medical textbook to investigate what was actually wrong with Frank. He spent at least a week yanking the cigarettes right out of Frank's mouth whenever he tried to smoke; even tried quitting himself. Obviously it didn't last, but it was seriously disturbing while it was going on.


He's never wished so hard he had his own room with a fucking lock, so he stays up in Helena's apartment after getting the sheets from the laundry room, lying on the newly-made guest bed with Kid A on his CD player. He tries to think about nothing at all, but of course he's worrying about Gerard and when he deliberately tries to stop that shit, he worries about Pete instead. He's still not sure he hasn't been totally played. When Pete's not here looking at him and, like, charming him, it's hard not to start second-guessing. Logic dictates that Pete can't go around calling him a fag to everyone in town without implicating himself, and especially not without getting hell for badmouthing a local if he tried, but Mikey's pretty sure Pete could think of something horrible to do if he wanted to. 'Fag' isn't even the worst thing they call Frank. It probably makes Mikey the worst kind of shallow coward that he's more worried right now about getting called names in school than about, like, his brother being such a mess or his mother working two jobs to pay for Gerard's really small student loan (and what a fucking waste that was), or about their dad being an alcoholic and how Gerard is no doubt going to be one too.

Sometimes Mikey's thoughts sound so much like Gerard he's afraid he IS Gerard, like a figment of Gerard's imagination. He just never says those thoughts out loud. He's tried, when it's late and they should be sleeping on a school night and Gerard just wants to talk--Mikey listens but when he tries to speak he just can't make it come out like he thinks.

He should tell Gerard about thinking he's made up. They're fighting right now but how long can that last, really? They're brothers. They're them. That's how Toro puts it; Toro's known them the longest, since Mikey was tiny and couldn't pronounce the letter 'r' and 'Gerard' and 'Ray' came out 'Giwahd' and 'Way' and confused him a lot about his last name. Toro will tell people, "Don't even try to get it, it's them."

The silence at the end clicks off and Everything In Its Right Place starts over again. Mikey turns onto his side, which is pretty uncomfortable with the headphones and his glasses both digging grooves in the side of his head. He thinks he can smell Pete on the day cover. He presses his face into it. He'll have the pattern imprinted across his cheek and forehead when he gets up.

Thinking about Pete gives him that clenchy sick feeling again. They haven't really talked about anything, nothing about meeting up again. It would be best to let it go and just not have expectations. Mikey's actually really good at that, not having expectations. Gerard's the one who always hopes and wishes and sets himself up to be fucking crushed when things don't pan out. It's a crazy way of doing things, especially when you're a Way and nothing will basically pan out, like, ever.

Mikey turns off the CD player and gets off the bed.

Ma's back in when he comes down, he can hear her voice from outside the door. Gerard got his high voice from her, but if Gerard sometimes sounds like a chipmunk with a sore throat, she sounds like a startled chicken. Mikey's got their father's voice, and sometimes he feels kind of embarrassed using it around her. Just sometimes, though, 'cause it's not like he can help having, like, the genes he has. Gerard says he likes Mikey's voice and calls it 'soothing'. Frank's voice is totally deeper than Mikey's but Frank talks so fast and has kind of a stutter, so not even Gerard can spin that into 'soothing'.

What she is saying when Mikey enters the living room is, "Gerard will take him, don't worry. No need to come by this way." She's on the phone, twisting the cord around her fingers like Gerard does, too. She's got an unlit cigarette clamped between her teeth, so her speech sounds a little muffled.

"Tell her to put a fucking padlock on the door next time," Gerard says and now Mikey sees that he's sitting on the couch, perched on the edge next to Frank, who is curled up with his eyes closed. His breathing sounds wet and raspy and painful.

Frank opens one eye and whispers, "Fuck you, Gerard."

"Fuck you," Gerard says vehemently. "I fucking told you."

"Yeah, well, when are you ever right?"

Mikey stands awkwardly in the middle of the room. Gerard is leaning over Frank, so that Frank can probably only see a lot of stringy hair and Gerard's big worried eyes. Mikey's been there. Gerard looks like he wants to scoop Frank right up and squeeze him but he doesn't quite dare. Mikey wonders if the reason is that he's worried Frank might break or because he thinks Frank wouldn't be into that. Since Frank is like the huggiest teenage boy Mikey has ever met, that's hardly a valid concern. Frank will hug random old ladies in the street if they tell him his hair is too long or his jeans too dirty.

"Uh," Mikey says carefully. "Should I get the truck?"

"Yeah, you fucking should," Gerard says without turning around to look at him.

"Could you, sweetie?" Ma says. "Of course," she says into the phone, "Mikey's getting the truck, won't be a minute. I don't think it's worse than last time. He just tired himself out walking here. You just relax."

"Gerard, I fucking swear if you try to carry me I'll bite your ear off," Frank says conversationally. Then he coughs a lot. It sounds like he's choking.

"I'll just, uh..." Mikey mumbles and backs out of the room.

He gets the truck backed out of the garage and drives it around the house without running into any doors or flowerpots on the way, which is a win for him. They're all waiting by the front door for him. Frank's leaning on Gerard, looking a lot like he really should have let Gerard carry him.

He watches Gerard help Frank climb into the cab and thinks Frank is kind of like the heroines in Ma's historical romances, some of which Mikey may or may not have read looking for the smutty parts. That heroine is always going for long walks on the moor and catching colds that keep her in bed for three weeks so the dashing hero has to put her up in his beautiful guest rooms and have his numerous servants bring her broth that he will personally feed to her. That always makes him fall in love with her because apparently dudes in the old days were really into girls who couldn't take a walk without almost dying.

If Gerard had servants, Mikey thinks, they would be cooking up broth right now.

If he told Frank that he's comparing him to a Victorian chick, Frank would try to feed him his glasses, no doubt. He thinks Gerard would not mind being a dashing hero, though. Gerard has told Mikey he wants to make a difference if he could only think of how.

"Don't drive too fast, Gerard," Ma says and Gerard scowls at her. "Frankie, you tell your mother it's no trouble, honestly. And get better, sweetheart, okay?"

"Yes, Mrs Way," Frank wheezes. "I'll be okay. See ya, Mikey."

Mikey waves. Frank waves back. Gerard just drives, still scowling

"What's going on with you two?" she asks as soon as the truck has rattled onto the road. "That's not like my kids, they never fight."

"It's nothing," Mikey says, trying to sneak past her, avoiding eye contact.

"Oh no, young man," she says. "That might work on your teachers but I'm your fucking mother."

"It's just, you know, we just had an argument."

"Fine, don't tell me!"

"Really, Ma. It's nothing."

She lights a cigarette and waves a hand at the smoke. "Are you jealous that he's spending so much time with Frank?" she asks.


"I know Frank was your friend first, and it is a little strange that he and Gerard get along so well. He's mature for his age, I think. A little precocious. He's not so popular at school, his mother told me. Maybe that's why he makes friends with older boys. And Gerard is, well..." She sighs. "You know Gerard."

Mikey realizes his mouth is hanging open. He closes it.

"It's probably Gerard who should try to make friends his own age," she goes on. "Does he ever talk to Ray Toro? They were such buddies in elementary school."

"Gerard's kind of..." Mikey trails off because he doesn't really want to tell her things about Gerard if she hasn't noticed them herself. He sometimes wonders how much she really sees. She would try to do something if she knew how he really was, wouldn't she? Mikey should do something. Gerard's not okay, that much is fucking crystal clear. But he just says, "You know."

She finishes her cigarette and drops it on the walk and grinds it out with her heel. Then she shoots him a rueful look and bends to pick it up. "I'm always on Gee's case about throwing his butts everywhere," she says with a chuckle. "I should clean up my own act first, I guess."

She's starting to look pretty old, Mikey notices. She's looked the same for his whole life, it seems, but now he can see that the skin on her throat is thin and saggy and the bags under her eyes are sort of taking over her face. This house was her parents' house and she's lived here since she was little. He doesn't know if she ever yearned for a bigger pond.

"I really feel for the Ieros," she says. "You boys were never really sick that much. Poor Frank is so fragile. That's what must have stunted his growth, too. Now he'll have to miss more of summer school. I hope he won't be held back a year."

"I could ask--" Mikey says before he can stop himself. "Uh."

"You should really try to finish your thoughts, honey," she says.

He takes a breath. "I know someone from, uh, his school. I could ask him to bring down Frank's homework."

"Oh, that would be really helpful," she says. "I didn't know you knew any of the Hill boys. Was that what you boys are fighting about? Gerard's still a little sore about it, I think. Not that he'd ever tell me about what happened."

"Yeah, I guess," Mikey hedges. Gerard never told him what happened either, which means it's something he feels guilty or ashamed about, and something really bad, too, because Gerard always confesses things to Mikey eventually, at night when he's drunk or just needing to let things out. It's been two years since he came home with his hand cut up like he'd punched it through plate glass and refused to tell anyone how it happened. It took fifteen stitches and he passed out like four times in the emergency room just from freaking out about the needles. Mikey thought he was gonna end up with a cast on his own hand too from how hard Gerard was squeezing it.

"You should call your friend tonight so you get him before he goes to class tomorrow morning, okay?" she says.

"Uh, yeah," Mikey says. "I'll just go up there."

She looks a little surprised but doesn't question him. He wants to go up to the Hill and hunt down Pete Wentz like he wants to cross the Atlantic in a dinghy, but he waves at her and heads out anyway.


The school on the Hill is a sprawl of red tile buildings shaded by lush maples and elms. Mikey's been up here a couple times for inter-school "friendship games" and knows sort of where the dorms are, but he has no idea which one Pete's in.

It's Sunday evening so there's not a lot of activity on campus, and most of the kids he sees are wearing normal clothes. Nobody pays much attention to Mikey.

Either he can wander around here until he bumps into Pete or he can just ask, so he looks around for someone helpful-looking.

A really tall black kid with a baby fro ambles by wearing sloppy jeans and a t-shirt with a coiled snake on it. He nods at Mikey as he passes, and Mikey says, "Hey, hey, excuse me?"


This kid is taller than Toro even though he's probably, like, Frank's age. "I'm looking for Pete Wentz, um... Do you know where--"

"Pete!" the kid says with a wide grin. "Pete's my boy! You gotta be Mikey the gas station kid!"


"Petey's told me all about you. You're shorter than I thought. But then everyone looks tall to Pete, know what I'm sayin? And short to me! Come on, I'll show you where he's at. I'm Travis. Some people call me Schleprok. Or just Travie. Travis is fine too. I'm not too picky. Especially not with friends, and a friend of Pete's is a friend of mine."

"Hi, Travis," Mikey says. Travis's eyes are a little bloodshot and unfocused, and his smile seems permanent. Baked on, so to speak. "Nice to meet you."

"Pleasure's all mine, Mikey the gas station kid." He slaps Mikey on the shoulder so hard Mikey's teeth clack together. "Follow me."

He walks a loop around Mikey and starts back the same direction he came from.

"Weren't you going somewhere, man?" Mikey asks.

Travis stops and looks back. Shakes his head. "Don't remember. Whatever." He starts walking again, and Mikey walks after him. After a while, Travis says, "Hey, Mikey."


"I have heard a lot of weirdass rumors about your brother."

"What kind of rumors," Mikey says. He's heard this song before.

Travis's grin is kind of wolfish. "Actually some dude told me he heard your brother was a vampire. I liked that one. Some other dude said he was a satanist."

"Yeah, he's both," Mikey says. He's pretty tired suddenly, tired and nervous and there's a ball of anger knitting itself tighter and tighter in his chest. "Me too. I'm wearing lots of sunscreen."

"Whoa, dude, deadpan," Travis says. "Get that shit a lot? Take a swing, man, it'll make you feel better and I'm so fucking high right now I wouldn't even notice 'til tomorrow."

"That's okay," Mikey says.

The dorms aren't exactly crowded, but there are still a lot of boys hanging out on the steps, in the common room, in the corridors. Travis exchanges elaborate ghetto handshakes with everyone they cross paths with and Mikey keeps his mouth shut and nods whenever someone looks at him.

"Okay, okay, here," Travis says and stops abruptly in front of a door. "Stand back a little."

Mikey takes a step back. Travis bangs on the door and hollers, "Wentz! Put your dick back in your pants and open the door!"

Mikey takes another step back.

A few moments later the door opens and Pete's friend Andy sticks his head out. His hair is mussed over his ears as if he'd been wearing headphones and tore them off quickly. He's not wearing a shirt, or his glasses.

"What. The fuck?" he says, squinting at them. "Travis, I swear to-- oh, hi, it's you."

"Yeah, man," Travis says quickly. "I just rolled by to drop off this little dude, Hurley, keep your panties on. Take a Midol or something."

"Sorry," Andy says mildly. "Your momma snarfed them when she swung by last night. I gave it my all but now we know sex doesn't cure PMS."

Travis digs both hands into his fro and makes a woebegone face. "Fuck, I'm too fucking stoned to beat that. But you know I'd school you if I was sober."

"I've never met you sober, so I wouldn't know." Andy retreats into the room, leaving the door open behind him. "Mikey, you wanna come in and chill for a while? Pete's been in the shower about forty-five minutes, I think he might be done in another fifteen."

Travis nudges Mikey forward, none too gently. "All ye who enter here, abandon hope," he whispers, rolling his eyes crazily and hitching his eyebrows towards his hairline. "Fuck, now I remember, okay, gotta bounce, later, don't be a stranger."

Mikey has time to walk through the door, say, "Sorry about that," spot a poster on the wall and exclaim, "Oh, sweet, The Misfits!" and Andy has time to put his shirt on and find his glasses, and then Pete comes in wearing flipflops and a towel. His hair is making heroic efforts to escape its straightening and his shoulders and chest are dotted with droplets.

He stops just inside the door. For a second he looks shocked. Then the grin comes out and he says, "Fuck, yeah. I was just thinking about you," and he takes the three steps that separate him from Mikey at a run. When they connect, Mikey overbalances and falls backwards onto the bed behind him, knocking something onto the floor in the process.

Ouch," he says, and Pete kisses him. Maybe he mutters "whatever" into Mikey's mouth. The damp from his skin is soaking into Mikey's t-shirt. His wet hair is dripping right onto Mikey's face, smearing on his glasses, making everything smell like shampoo. It is the same shampoo Gerard uses.

Pete," Andy says. "Pete. Pete."

"What," Pete says, not really stopping. Mikey is weighed down and kind of helpless, and his feet are slipping away from him with the rug by the bed. He's got his hands on Pete's head, though, curled around the nape of his neck, tangled in the long clumps of wet hair on the crown.

"Remember last year when you told me you were into dudes, Pete?" Andy goes on. "And I said something really supportive about how I was cool with the gayness, and I would even watch you march in the Pride parade cause that's just what an awesome friend I am?"

"I do remember," Pete says, moving his mouth over Mikey's face, nudging his glasses up with his nose. "Is this going somewhere?"

"Mph," Mikey says.

"I'm still cool with the gayness, Pete, provided it doesn't occur in my bed. And you are paying for that Discman, maniac."

"Um," Mikey says and lets go of Pete. Pete looks down at him. "You're getting my shirt wet."

Pete grins and says, "It's a good look on you." He leans down to whisper, "And I was just in the shower for an hour thinking about you, you know,"

"For fuck's sake, Pete," Andy says. "You're getting the kid wet and you're getting my bed wet."

Pete's grin doesn't fade one bit. "This was kind of what I was picturing, too. So I basically brought you here with the power of my brain, that's like magic."

"You pictured us, um, on your roommate's bed? With him in the room? Yelling?"

"I'm not yelling yet," Andy says.

"Just you, showing up here all out of place and a little sweaty from walking, like this. I wasn't, like, naked and wet and stuff, but I can work with this, it's all good."

Mikey shoves at him a little and rolls away, almost falling off the bed. He feels awkward and spider-limbed, getting himself all tangled up in the bedspread which is coming off the bed with him. Pete's towel is unraveling. Pete seems entirely unconcerned. Andy has taken off his glasses and is rubbing the bridge of his nose.

"You didn't bring me here with your brain," Mikey says, finding his legs and standing up. Pete sprawls on the bed, still smiling, a heap of damp limbs and bright green towel. "I came up to ask if you knew someone who shares classes with Frank Iero."

Pete blinks.

Andy seems to be suppressing a smirk now, but Mikey's not completely sure.

"You just came in with Travis McCoy," Andy says. "He's in junior Spanish and I guess history? Does Frank take any of those?"

"Yeah, he does," Pete says at the same time as Mikey says, "I think so."

"How do you know?" Mikey asks just as Pete asks, "Why did you need to know that?"

"I care," Pete says and Mikey says, "He's sick."

Andy says, "I'm gonna get Travie," and walks out of the room, but just before he closes the door, he adds, "Nobody will be naked when I come back."

"That's okay," Pete says after the door's slammed shut. "Travis has seen me naked like so many times. Also he's stoned as fuck right now, so it's not like he's going to remember." He slides off the bed, leaving his towel behind.

"Look, Pete," Mikey says and takes a step back. "I need to--"

"I kind of want to fuck you," Pete says. He's hard, so that's kind of an obvious statement. "Or the other way around, whichever. You're totally hot. And I like you. No, really."

"No, really?" Mikey says. He shoves his hands into his pockets. There's some change in the left one and he tries to count how much just by touch. There's at least two quarters and something else, he's not sure what.

"You know, it's not a line," Pete says. His face can look serious but not sincere. Mikey can't tell if he's either or just fucking around. "I want to, like, talk to you."

That does sound like a line because Mikey has, in fact, used it. He tries to remember if he meant it at all. He should ask Gerard if he's used it and if he meant it. But no, that would be pointless because Gerard would never not mean that, even if he's totally wasted. Especially if he's totally wasted.

He hasn't seen Gerard with a girl since he was in junior high and Gerard was a sophomore and dating this weird, really quiet chick with glasses even thicker than Mikey's. She asked Gerard out, that was pretty much all Gerard wanted to share about that, and they went on seriously two dates before she got back together with some other dude she'd been with before. Gerard threw a giant bitch fit and actually burned this drawing he'd done of her. This was before Mikey got the whole idea with being broken up over someone, and he thought it was pretty funny but he sat up late with Gerard and listened to him talk about how high school sucked and how he couldn't wait to be a fucking adult and get out of this hellhole.

school doesn't suck that hard for Mikey, but he gets it. Frank is the only kid in school he'll miss once he graduates.

He asks Pete, "After the fucking, right?" For a second, he's not sure that came out right at all because Pete kind of just blinks at him. But then he cracks up and Mikey cracks up a little too, and Pete says, "Yeah, well, obviously."

He comes up to Mikey and presses himself close and kisses him, kind of sweetly even though he's totally still hard and poking Mikey in the thigh with it. Then he steps back and says, "Okay, I'm just gonna put something on, I guess. What's wrong with Iero?"

Mikey shrugs even though Pete's already turned his back. "He gets sick a lot. He'll probably miss like two or three days, or maybe the whole week." He hasn't spent a lot of time looking at guys' asses--at least not consciously, he has to admit, because apparently Pete has pushed some kind of hidden gay reveal! button in his head and now he's started noticing what he'd been noticing... without noticing before. And now he's noticing that Pete's ass is round and that he wants to put his hands on it. "So I was gonna ask if someone could collect his assignments and, like, bring them down, or I could come by and get them?"

Pete's pulling on jeans without bothering with underwear. Maybe he just doesn't own any. "Not much point talking to Travie tonight, man," he says. He bends to dig through a pile of t-shirts. "As I said, stoned as fuck."

"So, like," Mikey says, "You think--"

Pete straightens up and turns around. He's holding the pink Dirty Dancing shirt he wore last night. "Don't worry about it. The Pete is on the motherfucker." He makes a face. "Ouch."

"The Pete talks fast and drives fast," Mikey says.

"So, your brother," Pete says. For a second, Mikey thinks he's, like, lost time and he's in the middle of some other conversation. But Pete is still holding the shirt, so it's just The Pete switching the subject fast. "Is he gonna give you a hard time?"

Mikey shrugs. "It'll be okay." Obviously it will. Any other option is... well, he can't really think of another option. But he also can't think of another time Gerard's looked at him with that expression. He needs to get back home and do something. "I have to go," he says.

Pete still hasn't put on his shirt. "Uh. Okay?" he says, frowning. "Yeah, okay."

"So," Mikey says.

Pete smiles. "I'll think of some other place to, you know. Have our next secret torrid rendez-vous."

Mikey nods and smiles. He feels like he's in two places at once, suddenly. He's not wearing a watch so he doesn't know how long he's been here. Pete's smile seems a little uncertain so Mikey smiles again and says, "You know where I live."

He waves, which feels weird, but Pete just waves back.

He's almost out the door when Pete says, "I'm sorry I fucked things up with you and your brother? That sucks."

"It's okay," Mikey says. He could try to explain how things work but it'd be long and probably not make much sense. "My choice."

He waves again and goes.


The sun is setting while he walks home, and the wind is picking up a little, the kind that comes over the lake smelling like seaweed and mud and sometimes, on unlucky days, the paper mill on the far side. It's still not cool but it feels like the muggy heat has lost some of its mug.

He's walking kind of fast and manages to trip over a root on the deceptively well-trod shortcut to the road, and he catches himself on a tree that isn't actually a tree but some kind of deformed bush, so it doesn't hold his weight and he hits the ground hard enough to rattle his teeth. This is the kind of thing that happens to Gerard constantly, but Mikey's usually less likely to have freak gardening accidents or that sort of thing. He thinks it's not so much because he's less of a klutz than Gerard but because he's slower and younger and he's already seen Gerard hit himself with hammers and get his tongue stuck on the flagpole in the winter and wipe out and break his collarbone trying to learn to skateboard, so he knows what to expect from the world. Once when he was thirteen he did have a little accident with an electric whisk and a sinkful of water. The fuses blew and the whole kitchen went dark, but he didn't get shocked or anything except Gerard grabbed him by the shoulders and just shook him, and that was shock enough right there.

He scrambles to his feet and wipes grass and sand and pine needles off his clothes and out of his hair. There are plenty more nature between him and the road so there weren't any witnesses to his faceplant, but he knows he's blushing anyway. And his ankle and shoulder kind of hurts now.

The truck isn't back when he limps across the yard, and Ma's watching Tivo'd soaps in a cloud of smoke and barely says hi when he comes in. Downstairs, their room is dark. He turns on the TV and flips through every channel quickly and turns it off again.

He goes back upstairs. On the way he pats the deer head Gerard calls Leatherface because it's kind of moth-eaten and half the fur has rubbed off its delicate little deer face. Leatherface freaks Frank out a whole lot. Which is weird because Frank just loves the real Leatherface and would watch The Texas Chainsaw Massacre alone at night by himself when he was like thirteen. He's always talking about how he's gonna get a Leatherface tattoo, like, the second he can convince someone to do it for him. Mikey's pretty sure he'll have to wait 'til he's eighteen.

That makes Mikey think of Pete's tattoos, of course.

On the Tivo It's The Bold and the Beautiful right now. Ridge is starting to look pretty mummified. Ma is drinking tea, which is code for bourbon, and she never goes above and beyond beer by herself unless she's worried.

"Hey, Ma," Mikey says. "Gerard not back?"

"His phone's turned off," she says. She lights another cigarette and drains her tea mug with a shaking hand.

"Did you call Frank's folks?"

"Answering machine," she says.

That's not a really complicated equation all things considered. "They must have gone to the emergency room."

"It's not that much further," she says. She pauses the Tivo. "Why wouldn't he just come right back?"

That's not very complicated either, but Mikey says, "He's probably hanging out with Frank's parents. Maybe his real dad is there or whatever. They can't get all drama if Gee's there watching."

"Fuck, of course," she says. She smiles at him. "I'm such a fucking ditz sometimes, Mikey."

At least we came by it honestly, Mikey thinks.

He goes outside and sits on their little porch with Mansun's first album on his Discman. He's on the steps because if he sits on the swing he can't help himself, he has to swing and it's rusty and squeaks like it's dying.

It's pretty nice out here with the wind making his hair move and tickle his forehead, and the last shreds of sunset burning out above the tree line in the west, away from downtown. Sunrises are never as pretty because the town competes with its own dirty light. The west is just farmland and the interstate, lots and lots of not a whole lot. When he turns up the volume, he can't hear the traffic at all.

He taps his knee to the beat and lets his chin drop and his eyes close. He contemplates going downstairs and playing Grand Theft Auto until his brain shuts down. Instead he takes off his glasses and puts them on the weathered wood next to himself. The porch needs to be painted, the old white is coming off in flakes and the steps are nearly uniformly gray. The whole house needs work but there isn't anyone in the family who can find the business end of a hammer and their dealings with contractors tend to end in tears.

He's humming along to the music, trying to keep it mostly under his breath because even if there isn't a soul listening he's not prepared to commit the ultimate crime of singing along to headphones. Gerard does it, of course, but Mikey forgives him because it's the most hilarious thing and Gerard never takes it personally if you laugh at him. Mikey remembers a couple of months ago Frank had enough of it and tried to make him stop, but that just led to wrestling and Gerard rolling over and getting accidentally stabbed in the thigh with a stray H6 pencil. Mikey's never even bothered saying anything. Gerard does what he does.

The sky is darkening quickly and without glasses the tree line looks fuzzy like a cloud. The kitchen window is spilling light onto the porch but it doesn't reach very far into the garden, just barely showing the green on the leaves of the first deformed, overgrown rose bushes across the gravel walk. The rest of the bushes are black and diffuse like the trees.

The way the light just doesn't reach beyond those bushes is kind of creepy. Isn't light supposed to go on indefinitely? Does it just get used up? He squints and tries to figure out where it really stops, but the bushes are in the way, it's just green here, black here. He doesn't feel like putting his glasses back on. He doesn't actually feel like thinking about the kitchen light just disappearing seven feet from the window, either.

He thinks about the drawing of Frank and himself and the Gerard werewolf--Gerard drew the light as empty highlights lined with sharp black slashes of shadow, the frames of Mikey's glasses and the shadow of the steel pipe crossing the bridge of Frank's nose and the curve of his cheekbone.

A pebble falls from nowhere and lands between his feet before it bounces away again. Mikey can't stop the squeak, and just the attempt at stopping it makes it more squeaky and high-pitched. He slaps his hands over his mouth.

Gerard shuffles into the light, his old black jeans and even older black hoodie kind of sucking up every last bit of it, making him just a pale, round, black-eyed face floating like the moon in the dark. Then he makes some kind of face--Mikey can't see it clearly but the movement pretty much spoils the image of some undead monster from beyond.

Mikey takes off his headphones and puts on his glasses.

Mikey crosses his arms before he realizes that Gerard has already got his crossed. It's an arm-cross face off.

"Frank's in the hospital again," Gerard says. His voice is kind of hoarse. He's probably chainsmoked in the truck on the way back, lighting the new cigarette off the butt of the old one with callous disregard for road safety. He wouldn't have smoked on the way there, not with Frank coughing up a lung and looking miserable next to him, and he wouldn't have smoked at the hospital because no way he would have gone outside until they kicked him out. "But he'll be okay," he adds after a pause. "They just needed to, like, rehydrate him and observe for a night."

"Okay," Mikey says. "Good."

"I just took him directly to county. He sounded like he was turning inside out. They said it was a good call. Frank wasn't too happy, though. And the doctor chewed him out about smoking, and told his parents about it, so he was extra pissed off."

He's dug his smokes out of his pocket and lights up. The click-scrape of the lighter sounds loud in the night, like the sound of a gun being cocked.

"He must be pretty sick of hospitals."

"Fuck. I'm sick of hospitals and I've only known him like a year and a half." He's quiet for a while, blows smoke and watches it float away, swats at a mosquito every once in a while. Mosquitoes love Gerard and don't give a shit about Mikey, which is probably, like, God's compensation for not giving Mikey an ounce of artistic talent.

"Someone'll get his homework assignments to him," Mikey says.

"Yeah?" Gerard cocks his head and studies him. "Who?"

"Dunno," Mikey says. It's almost cold by now with the sun down and the wind coming in. He rubs the gooseskin on his forearms. Gerard's still looking at him like that HMV dog listening to the phonograph. "Someone in his classes. Pete said he'd ask around."

Gerard presses his lips together. For a second, Mikey thinks he's not going to take that bait, but it wouldn't be Gerard if he didn't. So Gerard scratches his head with the hand holding the cigarette--a bad habit he can't seem to break even though he once burned his bangs clean off and got a second degree burn on his forehead before he could slap out the fire--and says, "Fuck, Mikey," sounding tired and resigned as if he's being dragged into an argument against his will.

Mikey says nothing. He's not sure if it's going to be a real fight or just a rant.

But when Gerard opens his mouth to start his rant or whatever it'll be, Mikey finds himself jumping in first. "Why are you even pissed off about this?" he says.

Gerard blinks.

Mikey says, "Cause if it's just about using the apartment we gotta talk about it. It's time."

Gerard opens his mouth again, but Mikey says--quickly now, stumbling over words, "If it's about, like, about Pete or being--the whole gay thing--uh, we gotta talk too."

Gerard's twisting a strand of his unwashed hair around his finger, the cigarette forgotten and twitching closer and closer to his skin. Mikey unfolds himself and stomps down the steps and picks the stump out of Gerard's hand and drops it on the ground.

"Oh," Gerard says. "It's not the fucking gay thing, I'm not some fucking asshole."

"Didn't think so," Mikey says. He digs his hands into his pockets and pulls up his shoulders. "I'm just saying."

"How are you cold?" Gerard asks, sounding incredulous. "You skinny fuck, Mikey."

Mikey shrugs. Gerard takes off his hoodie and hands it to him. He's wearing one of Mikey's band t-shirts underneath, Joy Division's Unknown Pleasures, and it's kind of loose on Mikey but not so much on Gerard. Gerard's love for stupidly tight clothes must have started in art school because before he left he was hiding in baggy hoodies and jeans two sizes too big, but since he came back he's started co-opting Mikey's clothes and stretching them into weird shapes until they look fucked up on Mikey but kind of embarrassing yet awesome on Gerard. Mikey's started buying his shirts skintight now. Gerard hasn't really noticed, he thinks, but Frank laughed until he fell off the couch the first time he saw Mikey in a baby doll tee.

Gerard's hoodie smells kind of strongly of Gerard, but it's too familiar and everyday to be gross. Mikey pulls up the hood and huddles down into it. "Weird," Gerard says. His arms are round and white and smooth with not a goosebump in sight. "It's like eighty-five degrees."

"Think about it," Mikey says, knowing he's basically hiding inside the too-large hoodie. Gerard probably can't see his eyes. "Seriously. If you were talking to Helena--"

"Fuck," Gerard says flatly. "Motherfucker." He gets another cigarette and lights it.

"No, seriously, Gee."

Gerard takes deep drags, deep and long, and he holds them like it's pot. He must be getting fucking dizzy. They're both completely sober, which is pretty unusual, and this must be the most unpleasant and most opportune possible moment for this conversation.

Gerard clears his throat and spits on the gravel. Gerard spits very daintily. "Frank was all, you know, coughing the whole time and his dad, his real dad showed up," he says, talking fast. "So they were arguing in the hall and I sat next to Frank and waited, and he was just coughing and coughing, but when he got like a two second break between coughs he was telling me that I should fucking talk to you and we should make up cause it's creepy when we're pissed at each other."

"It is," Mikey says.

"Frank's kinda..." He waves his hand in a vague figure eight. Maybe he means Frank's infinity. "You know, he thinks. He likes people to be, like, angry about the right things."

"Yeah," Mikey says. Frank does like that.

"Or maybe he just wants us to get along so we'll have more stupid Twin Peaks marathons," Gerard says with a little grin. It's gone almost immediately, though, and he finishes his smoke and drops it, grinds it out and picks up the stump, and then he says, "It's not Pete either. I don't care if you wanna fuck the football team, and I'll give you a hug when they treat you like shit, too. And if I'm drunk I'll try to beat them up."

Mikey is starting to warm up now, and he's actually feeling a little overtoasted. "Stop with the beating up," he says. "I don't want to be driving you up to County after Frank. Cause I can't drive."

Gerard laughs suddenly and throws his arms around Mikey and squeezes, his hair getting in Mikey's nose and eyes, He makes a snuffling noise against Mikey's neck and mutters, "Just be careful, Mikey." His hands fist in the hoodie.

"I am careful," Mikey says right into Gerard's ear.

Gerard's breath fans damply over his throat. "No, no, I mean... not with Pete, cause he's... I mean, Pete's just one dude and he's... Okay, with Pete too. But with everything else, man. You don't even know what a fucking hellhole it can be. You know? The fucking world is just... sometimes I think it's just black everywhere."

Mikey thinks sometimes that Gerard makes more sense when he's drunk.

"I'm sick of being such a coward," Gerard mumbles almost too quietly.

"You should move out of the basement," Mikey says. If they stand here hugging like idiots much longer, he's going to cry too. Gerard's a goner already, of course.

"I know."


"I know." He shifts a little against Mikey, a half-twitch. Gerard can never stay still for long, unless he's asleep. He sleeps like the dead, right until he screams himself awake. "I guess I don't really want to clean her out."

He lets go of Mikey and moves away and scratches his head kind of violently, and moves his shoulders and shuffles his feet. He rubs the fading scars on his right hand.

"It's not like... cleaning her out," Mikey says carefully.

"Come on," Gerard says. His face is wet. He wipes at it clumsily. "I know. We need closure. We need to move on. By moving up."

Mikey clenches his jaw around the giggle because he can't really tell if that was supposed to be funny or even sarcastic. Gerard can say really silly-sounding things with utter sincerity.

"Ma will be glad," Mikey says. "She's kind of worried. Uh, she's actually worried right now. Come to think of it."

He turns towards the door but Gerard isn't with him yet. So he waits.

"I'm fucking crying," Gerard says and wipes at his eyes again.

"Yeah, no shit," Mikey says. His eyes are kind of burning, but he thinks he's safe.

"I miss her." Every time Gerard says that it's in the same voice, sounding like he's surprised.

Mikey looks at the green-black rosebushes instead of Gerard, but of course that's not really much help. "Yeah, me too," he says and he realizes he always says that, and in the same voice too. He feels tired when he says it. It makes him feel tired to think about. Like, all the missing that goes into losing someone. Every day, missing. He thinks if he lost someone else... he doesn't even think Gerard--except there, he just did. If he lost Gerard, he doesn't even want to imagine how exhausting it would be just to miss him. "Does it make you tired too?" he asks.

"Really tired," Gerard says and hugs him again fiercely, dripping tears on his neck. "I love you, Mikey."

"I know," Mikey says. This is easy, uncomplicated territory. "I love you too. You realize Ma's in there drinking tea and watching soaps?"

"Aw, shit." They untangle and Gerard squeezes Mikey's hand quickly and lets go.

"Don't step on my player," Mikey says, almost too late. It just bounces off the steps into the hydrangeas.

Gerard gives him the oops? smile.

Mikey shrugs. "Just go drag Ma out of her funk."

After Gerard's disappeared inside--leaving both doors wide open as an invitation for the mosquitoes--Mikey fishes the Discman out of the sad and wilting shrub. It's still intact, and plays fine. He thinks about sitting on the porch for a while more, to wait for the second part of the drama to be over, maybe decide if he wants to wear something stupidly tight tomorrow in case Pete decides to just pop in, if that possibility would be worth dealing with suggestive looks from middle-aged ladies. But instead he just follows Gerard inside and closes the doors carefully.