sparsenicjade
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Author's Notes: A little over two years ago, I said to luciamad, "You know what this fandom doesn't have? It doesn't have rape-recovery." For those of you who have been in other fandoms, particularly ones like Highlander, or XF, or the more old school fandoms, you'll know that what I was talking about was a very specific genre of stories. Which is to say: this story is not heavily researched. It is based, to some extent, on the processes I have seen friends go through, but it is not a personal narrative, nor is it medically based.

Additionally, given that I began writing this fic two years ago and that I wrote it in between other fics over the years, nothing at this point makes any kind of canonical sense. It was actually finished before the Panic break, before Bandit was born...think of a major event in the last five or six months, this story was done before that.

Finally (sorry, I know these are long), Spencer's sisters appear in this story. I know NOTHING about Spencer's sisters beyond their names. I chose, consciously, to keep it that way. It skates the line of what I consider acceptable for ME to even be using them as characters in the story, but that's all they are, characters.

Thanks: To luciamad and tearupthesky for encouraging me way back when, to turps33 for encouraging me all along, and to thepouncer for betaing, and being awesome at it, despite her own triggers.

***


The door was open.

Mikey stared at it, thought, leave, leave, then, with a distant sort of clarity, no, not like this. He turned the taps on the water to hot and splashed at his face, once, twice, three times, four. He soothed down his shirt and double-checked the zipper on his jeans. He somehow managed to pop the button off in his frantic attempts to get them done up.

Mikey would have to hope the guys didn't notice. If they did, he could make a joke about it. Mikey, the boy who brings heaters into showers and accidentally destroys his own jeans while taking a leak. Yeah, funny. He took a breath, found his smile, and checked it in the mirror for obvious flaws. It wasn't his best work, but it was dark in the club, he doubted they would notice.

He took a step out of the bathroom and waited, waited to be able to breathe again, like maybe now that he was free, that he could get past the door, he could erase what had happened behind it. But the only difference was that it was louder in the hall. Mikey's head hurt.

He found Ray and Bob sitting in a booth and stood at the table. Ray said, "Hey. We were beginning to think you'd fallen in."

Mikey shook his head slightly, and fed them the first lie. "Line. The girls were sharing."

They both nodded knowingly and let it go. Ray slid in a little bit. "You wanna sit?"

"I'm kinda tired," Mikey said, which was weak, because it was early, and before he'd gone to the bathroom he'd been all set to dance, but just the thought of getting out onto that floor, letting people's hands brush his skin-- Mikey took another breath.

Bob narrowed his eyes. "You okay?"

"Headache," Mikey said, which at least had the advantage of not being a lie. "Will you tell Gee and Frank I caught a cab back?"

"You want one of us to go with?" Ray offered.

Mikey waved away the offer. "Enjoy the night off. I'm just gonna take a couple Tylenol and crash. I'll see you in the morning." Mikey could feel the thread of suspicion under their concern, but he didn't plan on taking anything more intense than Tylenol; he wouldn't do that to them again, not if he could help it. He said, softly, "Promise."

Bob looked away, but Ray just nodded. "Okay, well, I've got my phone on vibrate and I'm sitting on it, so just call if you need anything."

Mikey checked his pockets and said, "Um. You have money for a cab?"

Bob handed him over a twenty. "You have any idea where we're staying?"

Mikey had to think for a second. "We were at the Hyatt, right?"

Bob and Ray looked at each other. Ray said, "Pretty sure that's right, yeah."

Mikey nodded. "Okay. Later." It was roughly one million miles of people with their hands and their elbows and their shoulders before Mikey had reached the door. The night was cold and Mikey thought he might have checked a coat but he wasn't going back in to get it. Maybe he would call Ray and ask him to. Maybe not. The cold was all right, safer than the heat of the club, more numbing. Mikey walked to the curb and hailed a cab and made himself sit still and silent the whole way back, alone with nobody but the stranger in the front seat. Mikey all but fell out of the cab when he arrived. He gave the guy the whole twenty. He'd pay Bob back later.

He made his way up to the room and locked the door behind him, deadbolt and all. He threw his clothes in the trash, not even allowing himself to think about the fact that before tonight that had been his favorite pair of jeans. Then he turned the water in the shower on scalding and stayed there until it ran cold and his teeth hurt from hitting up against each other. Only then did he very carefully dry swallow two Tylenol--only two--curl up as small as he could make himself in the bed and pretend to sleep.

*


He put on sweats in the morning. It was late spring, but they were on the east coast, where the breeze came off the ocean, and Mikey was always cold on the bus so nobody would think it was odd behavior. Sooner or later, somebody was going to try and drag him out of his bunk and make him eat, but if he said he was feeling a little sick, Gerard would make them stop somewhere for soup and Bob would make the others leave him alone. Mikey didn't like lying to them, but there were times when the truth just wasn't a viable option. He would pull himself together tomorrow and everything would be fine.

Mikey couldn't sleep but he didn't really want to, either. For the most part the meds helped keep his nights dark and easy, but he remembered quite well enough the things that could get to him in his sleep. Instead he listened softly to his iPod, guilty pleasure music that made him think of Gerard, which in turn made him feel safer. He listened to the jazz Bob had downloaded onto Mikey's iPod in the hopes of finding a kindred soul, and the metal he'd stolen from Ray, and some Leathermouth tracks. He went through all of Fall Out Boy's albums, even the very first one, and when he got desperate, he turned to the other bands that Brian represented.

When they got to the arena, Mikey stumbled out of his bunk with notes that weren't theirs ringing in his mind. It took him a while to focus on the soundcheck, but he was pretty sure everyone just chalked it up to him having a bug. Matt asked, "You want me to play?" and yes, Mikey really really did, but that seemed like a dangerous road to step onto so he shook his head. "I'm just not gonna move much." It wasn't like he usually did, so that shouldn't be an issue.

Matt squeezed his shoulder and Mikey had to bite the inside of his cheek not to scream at him to not fucking touch. Matt was fine. Matt would've fucking killed that guy with his hands if he'd seen. Matt would've killed that guy with his hands if he'd tried what he'd done to Mikey on Matt. Mikey shook his head and muttered, "No good," not even sure if he was talking about himself, or about the train of thoughts.

They left the soundcheck and Gerard said, "Why don't you go lay down in back? I'll get you some food."

"Not really hungry," Mikey told him honestly. Gerard put a hand to Mikey's forehead and Mikey just about crawled out of his skin. He swallowed back the sob that wanted to follow the sensation, because this was Gee, for fuck's sake. Gee.

Gerard said, "Huh, I don't think you're running a fever, but still, if you're gonna pass out up there, let's have it be for valid, flu-related reasons, yeah?"

It was easier just to go along. "Nothing heavy. I'm really--"

"Not hungry." Gerard nodded. "I'll see what I can find."

Mikey went and laid down in the quiet room, where nobody but the band would bother him. He actually did fall asleep in there, more from sheer exhaustion than from the desire to sleep. He woke up with his head pounding and his mouth dry and for a second thought maybe he'd fallen off the wagon. Then he remembered. It wasn't exactly reassuring, but at least it wasn't that. Mikey got up to go and wash his face. He would see if he could find Gerard, make him happy by eating something. He found the other four in the dressing room, getting ready. Frank saw him first. "Hey, we were gonna go wake you in a bit. Gerard found you toast."

Mikey shuffled to where Frank was indicating. The toast was still warm, so it was probably pretty near to time to go onstage. Mikey managed two pieces by proceeding slowly and keeping his mind very blank. His throat felt constricted and he kept thinking he'd choke. Somehow, he didn't. He made himself change from the sweats into show clothes. Mikey had never wished to be back in their Black Parade duds so badly in his entire life. At the time it had been torture, hot and sticky and hellish, but now the last thing he wanted to do was slip into a t-shirt that barely afforded him armor from Frank, let alone the crowd. And he could trust Frank, he could.

Mikey shivered once he was in the t-shirt and jeans and Ray frowned. "You sure you don't want Matt to take over tonight? Gerard would lie for you, say that you were in the Amazon, saving children or something."

Mikey forced a laugh. "That's a Gerard thing to disappear for, not a Mikey thing."

"We all have supreme faith in your ability to rescue Amazonian children," Frank said, quite solemnly.

"Not like this," Mikey told him honestly.

"Well," Frank shrugged. "We all have our days."

Mikey wished his issues were that finite. Ever.

*


Mikey had done this before, sort of. He had pretended to be fine for so long, and nobody had noticed any differently. Or, if they had noticed, it hadn't been so obvious that they'd said anything. No, it had been him who had finally had to say something. So if he could just do that again, nobody would ever have to know and sooner or later maybe he could forget and then it wouldn't matter at all. Wouldn't matter that someone bigger and stronger and faster than him had done things to him. Things that weren't supposed to happen to guys.

And when he thought of it that way, it seemed stupid that he couldn't say anything, because of course this kinds of shit happened to guys. Just because people didn't talk about it didn't mean it didn't happen. That was why Gerard was so insistent that he talk about the worst parts of his life, because it meant that maybe others could. But Mikey wasn't Gerard, not that way. And he knew, knew with every bone in his body that if this were some girl, some fan or one of their merch girls or their techs or whomever, that he'd be standing there thinking she should totally talk about it, totally fight to find the guy and put him away forever, and it wasn't that Mikey had a big thing about being a guy for fuck's sake, except that maybe he kind of did. Maybe this was that last part of him as a boy that he couldn't have taken from him.

Whatever else, he couldn't talk about it. He knew, he'd tried. He tried with his therapist, because he was supposed to tell her things, she couldn't help if he wouldn't tell her things, so he had said, "I'm having nightmares," but when she had asked what the nightmares were about his throat had swollen up and all he could manage was a vague, "Dunno. Just. They're just fucking scary."

That was the closest he'd gotten to saying anything. The thought alone began and ended with a paralysis of his brain. The only other option, really, was remembering how to appear fine without actually being fine. There was a hole in that plan, clearly, as last time he'd had to have a nervous breakdown to get himself to fine, but Mikey liked to think that having done that he had built up a small, but useful, immunity.

So he did what he'd done before, minus the alcohol and the extra pills, because the last thing he needed was to call attention to his using habits, and the guys would catch onto that. It was lucky that he could keep that in mind, because he really fucking wanted a drink, or twelve. He just wanted to sleep, was all. He talked to his therapist about the nightmares and his trouble sleeping, but since he couldn't get himself to tell her the root cause, he knew she couldn't react to it in any kind of appropriate way.

What he hadn't counted on was that Gerard would have learned from his mistakes the first time. Mikey should have expected that, really, because Gerard was smart, and he paid attention, particularly when it came to Mikey. Mikey may have had to be the first one to say something the first time, but the second time it had been Gerard who had stopped him in his (nearly self-destructive) tracks and sent him home.

It took Gerard less than two weeks this time to ask, "You need a break, Mikey?"

Mikey considered it, considered letting Gerard believe that this was another product of his faulty brain chemistry. It was an easy excuse and then he could go home and hide in his house and-- And be completely alone. "No, Gee, no, I'm just-- We're adjusting my meds," Mikey lied. It wasn't exactly a lie. His therapist had said maybe they needed to, but Mikey didn't think any amount of adjustment was going to solve his current problem.

"Okay, but maybe while--"

"Don't--" Mikey took a breath to swallow at the panic that had almost ridden out on his tongue. Softly he said, "Don't send me away, Gee. That's not what I need right now."

Gerard pushed hair out of his face. "I-- I wouldn't send you away, Mikey. I just-- You've been-- I mean, whenever one of us tries to hug you of late you get all finicky and you like, smacked Frank when he touched your shoulder the other day."

"I didn't know it was him," Mikey said, which was true. Frank had come at him from behind and settled a hand on his shoulder. He'd just flailed out blindly.

"Okay, but you never used to--"

"I'm just jumpy. I think it's the meds, really. I don't want to be away from you guys, please. I don't."

Gerard screwed up his face a bit before smoothing it out. "Okay. I mean. Okay. We don't want you to be away from us either."

And even though being held by anyone sort of made him want to vomit or scream or both, Mikey said, "You can hug me," because Gerard was jittery, like he wasn't sure what to do with his body if it wasn't wrapped around Mikey's. And when Gerard closed in on him, quick and merciless, Mikey just held on and made himself breathe and think, "Gee, safe, Gee, safe."

*


The worst events were the ones where there were other bands there, other bands that they knew, were on good terms with, had long-time friendships with, even. Because it was fucking odd for Mikey not to hug people hello when he always had before, and he knew it. So the start of those events was generally a sheer thirty minutes to an hour of hell, with people's arms and hands everywhere and the first time Mikey was at one after The Bathroom--as he had come to think of it, those were safe words, safe--he had to escape after the barrage of greetings to throw up in the farthest possible toilet, the one where nobody would find him. He hadn't been eating much, hadn't wanted to, and he knew it was starting to show, but everything smelled wrong, tasted wrong on his tongue and in moments of stress or terror, came right back up.

He rinsed his mouth out when he was done, popped a stick of gum, and went back down to find the band. Frank saw him first and said, "Hey, you disappeared."

"Bathroom," Mikey said. The truth was the easiest thing to tell.

Frank frowned. "There's one right over there, you know?" he pointed in the opposite direction of where Mikey had come from.

"Oh. Oops." Mikey shrugged. He was forever getting lost, nobody would read that as anything out of the ordinary. Frank laughed and ruffled his hair and Mikey made himself not run from the treatment. It was too much, it was just too fucking much for one day.

"Pete was trying to find you," Frank said. Mikey had been a little afraid of that. Pete was touchy-feely, particularly around Mikey and while Mikey had never minded before, he was really pretty sure it might drive him completely insane now, in a literal sense. But he couldn't avoid Pete. Pete would take it personally and then Mikey would have hurt Pete's feelings when Pete didn't even deserve it. The thought made him even sicker than the thought of being touched. He bit back a sigh.

"I'll go find him." He wandered off in a direction that seemed just as likely not to contain Pete as to contain him. He didn't find Pete, but he found his breadcrumbs, otherwise known as the members of Panic at the Disco.

Brendon Urie waved excitedly at him and said, "Holy shit, it's Mikey Way," which might have been the same thing he'd said about every last member of My Chemical Romance the first time they'd met roughly a year before. Mikey'd heard Pete going on and on about the kids for forever, had listened to their first album and some of the first stuff off their second and even third, but had only ever met them for a few seconds here and there until both bands were at the Grammies, up against each other--once again--for what may have been the stupidest category ever created. Jon had agreed with Bob when he'd made that point without fear or hesitation and that had endeared Jon to the members of My Chem for forever on.

Mikey did his best to smile for Brendon, he didn't want Brendon thinking he had suddenly turned into some kind of asshole rockstar. He said, "Is that actually Brendon Urie?" but tried to stay far enough away to avoid a hug. He failed miserably, as Brendon just came bounding at him and threw himself at Mikey. Mikey accepted the hug and even reminded himself to hug back. His heart was beating so hard it hurt, made his head hurt. When Brendon finally, finally let go--Mikey knew that really, it had probably been twenty seconds or so--Brendon said, "Hey, Mikey," and Jon nodded in his direction with a smile. Spencer had an odd expression on his face, but he shook it off and offered Mikey a smile as well. "Hey."

Mikey said, "Hey, um, you guys wouldn't happen to know where Pete went?"

"We lost him to Cee-lo like twenty minutes ago," Ryan said.

"Literally," Brendon explained. "One second he was here and then Cee-lo tucked him behind him and stole him."

Cee-lo had always been fairly courteous toward Mikey and the members of his band, so he doubted the veracity of this claim, but then, Pete drove people to odd lengths. "Okay, well, if you see him again and we haven't found each other, can you tell him I'm probably with my band?"

"You should try the bar," Spencer said. "I think he said something about Pete owing him a drink."

"Thanks," Mikey said.

Spencer said, "Actually, you mind if I search with? I could use something with caffeine in it."

Mikey shrugged even though he felt like screaming. Why couldn't anyone leave him alone of late? Had things always been like this and he'd just never noticed? And if so, when would he go back to not noticing? "Four eyes is better than two."

Spencer nodded and said to his guys, "Our slot is 2:15. See you then."

"Yes, mom," Ryan said, earning himself a cuff to the back of his head. Jon laughed.

Spencer said, "Come on. The wild Pete moves quickly and without any logical course."

Mikey laughed and was shocked to find actual amusement underneath the response.

*


Pete was no longer at the bar--although eyewitness accounts placed him there some time in the recent past. Mikey wasn't all that anxious to meet up with him, since if Pete was in the mood to pay attention, that would just mean more lying to people he cared about, people he usually took pains to let into his world. As it was, he was only searching out Pete because if he didn't, Pete would search him out and no good could come of that. Still, when Spencer offered, "Wanna soft drink?" Mikey was more than glad to say, "Yes, please," because at least Spencer was somebody he didn't have to feel too terrible about lying to.

Spencer asked, "You have a preference?"

Mikey said, "Not diet."

"Sure," Spencer said, and ordered something, handing it over to Mikey.

Mikey took a sip and said, "They have cream soda?"

"Evidently." Spencer's smile was wide, pleased. "I always ask, just in case. Usually it ends in failure. We're gonna have to come back to this place, next time we're in town."

"You like cream soda a lot." Mikey had been having trouble concentrating recently, even more than usual. Repeating basic facts seemed to help.

Spencer didn't act like that was weird, so maybe it wasn't, maybe that was what Mikey was always like and it just felt different now. He couldn't tell. Spence said, "It was a thing, back when Ry and I were kids. His dad used to have it at his house as a bribe to get Ryan and me to play over there, since he preferred my place. We used to go over and fucking gorge ourselves, you know? Now it seems kinda fucked up, but at the time-- He used to let us get away with a lot of shit. Mostly because he was too fucking plastered to pay attention, but Ryan and I have this thing about taking the memories where we can. It's not a pact, we specifically refuse to call it a pact."

"It's just an unending dedication to the wonders of cream soda."

Spencer laughed. "Exactly."

"Okay," Mikey said, and sipped at his slowly, trying to enjoy the sweetness, trying to pay attention.

"You and Gerard have things like that?"

"Huh?" Mikey said, and okay, maybe the paying attention thing isn't working out so well.

Spencer didn't laugh, though, he just said, "You know, things that aren't pacts?"

"Oh." Mikey nodded. "Lots, sorta."

Spencer didn't ask, but the tilt of his head was interested. Mikey tried to determine if that meant Spencer was humoring him, or if that was Spencer's way of asking without pressing. Either way, it seemed like an opening. Mikey said, "Well, like, our grandmother, she used to let us have Oreos every time we came over even though my mom said they had too much sugar in them. So that's what we do, when we really miss her, we go and get ourselves a bag and just plow straight through." They hadn't done that in a while. Mikey'd have to go get them a bag. He missed Oreo Nights.

"You and Gerard can finish off an entire bag of Oreos by yourself?" Spencer looked impressed.

"I have a hollow leg," Mikey told him. Everyone was always saying it.

Spencer laughed. "Oh yeah? Which one?"

Mikey curled back in on himself instinctively before he realized that Spencer hadn't reached out to test. Spencer, unlike his band members, didn't assume that right was his. Spencer looked away, taking a sip of his soda, but he'd clearly noticed. When he looked back, though, all he said was, "That was how we got into music, another one of those not-pact things."

Mikey wondered, for a second, if Spencer had ever told anyone who wasn't in his band that before. Then he shook his head. Of course he had. Why the hell this would be the first time for him to have said something like that was completely beyond Mikey. He asked, "Isn't it sort of for everyone?" It wasn't a mean question, just validly interested. It was for him and Gerard and Frank and Bob and Ray. It was for Pete, too.

Spencer said, "But the story's always different."

Mikey said, "Yeah," and wondered if he'd missed something. Spencer didn't sound like he was talking about music and special pleasures anymore. Mikey took another sip and let the carbonation wash his confusion away.

*


Performing was easier. For one thing, he had his bass to protect him from Frank and Gerard, and he had, over the years, perfected his technique. For another, it was taken for granted that Gerard and Frank were menaces while on stage and so therefore was not odd that he would want to ward them off. And the audience, while overwhelming, was kept at a distance. All in all, with his bass and the need to entertain people, Mikey was safe for a couple of hours.

Then he would have to leave the stage, have to take his bass from his neck, have to act like a normal human being. He had actually tried keeping his bass around his neck one evening, and Frank had asked if everything was all right. Mikey'd had to lie about being tired and stressed out and whatever other words would come out of his mouth that would make sense and weren't the truth.

Pete found him when their set was up, which wasn't surprising since Mikey was kind of easy to find, coming off the stage. Mikey thought he might be in luck, still being guarded by his bass, but Pete just tugged it up over Mikey's shoulder with the ease of someone who had a trademark of throwing his own around himself, and slid into Mikey. Before Mikey had always loved that Pete was a full-body hugger--it was like the hug meant more. Now it was hard to handle, hard to breath through. He made himself because he wouldn't pull away from Pete, he absolutely wouldn't. If he hurt Pete then that asshole had taken more than just his security of self, he'd taken Mikey and fuck if Mikey was going to let that happen, not a fucking chance.

Pete didn't let go, he just let one arm drop and aligned himself to Mikey's side and Mikey had to start counting breaths or he was going to hyperventilate, pass out. Things were getting a little wavery when all of a sudden Pete's arm fell from him, Pete jerking away and Mikey looked over to see where Spencer had appeared from out of nowhere, pulling Pete to him and saying, "Seriously, Wentz, if you don't go listen to Ryan's new ideas he's going to cry and I'm going to stick you with crying Ross all night long."

"Mean, Smith, mean," Pete said, but made an apologetic face at Mikey and went off to find Ryan before tear ducts could wetten.

Spencer said, "You've still got your bass on."

Mikey blinked. "Oh, um. Yeah, he--"

Spencer smiled. "Sneak Wentz attack."

Mikey sort of expected those, though. "Um, where'd you come from?"

"I was watching the set. Rumor had it you guys were gonna play something new."

"Jesus, for real?" Mikey really had to start talking to Bob and Brian about what people were saying. He never knew. "When would we have time--" Mikey thought about all the time Ray had been spending on the other bus lately, about the way Gerard would disappear for hours with him and wondered if he'd missed something. "I don't think we have anything new, sorry."

"Your old stuff wasn't a disappointment." Spencer smiled. "You have a headache?"

"Huh?"

"You look a little--"

"I could use some water." Mikey hadn't been planning on telling anyone that, had been planning to see if he could sneak off to his room and hydrate in peace, but Spencer was staying a nice distance from him, and he had saved him from Pete, so it wasn't such a big thing to just say it.

"The bar's gonna be crazy at this hour. Wanna see if this place has a cafe or something?"

Most of the hotels who hosted these types of things did. Mikey hesitated. Last time he'd been somewhere with someone who wasn't one of his guys-- Mikey closed his eyes. This was Spencer Smith, for fuck's sake. Pete loved this kid. "Lemme just tell my guys. So they don't--"

"Yeah," Spencer said, and didn't act like there was anything weird about that. Then, "I'll text Ry."

"Right," Mikey said, and looked around. None of his could have gone very far.

*


They ordered waters, and Spencer got coffee and a sandwich and didn't seem to expect Mikey to talk, which was nice. He didn't really have anything to say. When it arrived, Spencer offered half the sandwich silently. Mikey was about to refuse, but Spencer looked like he kind of had his heart set on Mikey taking it, and Mikey didn't want to argue. He was tired. He took it, and put away a bite and realized, to his surprise, that he was a little hungry. Not a lot, but he could almost definitely keep down that much food. It was a pretty plain sandwich, which helped. Mikey chewed slowly and drank his way through glasses of water, and Spencer didn't act like there was anything odd about that at all.

Spencer asked, "You want some coffee?" and Mikey nodded. Spencer signaled for the waitress and got him set up with a cup. Spencer sipped at his own a little and said, "Look, it's not really my business, and you probably already have someone and everything, but my sister, the person she goes to has been really great at helping her get her life back and there's a guy in her therapist's office who works with male survivors, and if you needed a number, I could get it for you."

There was a buzzing that rose really loud in Mikey's ears and it was hard to even hear himself say, "What?"

Spencer looked at Mikey over the rim of his coffee cup. He said, "Look, what I'm gonna tell you, this sort of isn't really my thing to tell, okay? So I need your promise that it stays between you and me. Like, no telling Gerard or Frank, just you and me."

Mikey held his coffee between his hands and tried to get himself to warm up a little--he'd gotten so cold. He didn't really understand what Spencer was talking about. He could keep secrets. He was amazing at keeping secrets. He must have nodded, must have done something, because Spencer said, "Couple of years back, my sister went to a party on her campus. It's a pretty safe campus, and she went with a group of people she knew. She wasn't stupid and she knew how to take care of herself. But she's flirting with this guy, not even really drinking, because she's old enough that she's been around Ryan her whole life, so she maybe has a beer, but she gets it herself. Like I said, not stupid."

Spencer seemed like he was waiting for something, so Mikey nodded. He had a feeling he didn't really want to hear the rest of this story, but he couldn't make himself tell Spencer to stop, either. Spencer said, "Right, so she's flirting, and he says, 'wanna see if we can find somewhere quieter to talk?' and hey, this guy is in her bio class, she knows him, right? So she says, 'sure.'" Spencer's hands were in fists on the table, the knuckles white with the tension of how hard he was clenching them.

Mikey tried to say, "Spencer," or "Smith," or anything that would break this up, get it to stop. He couldn't find his tongue. Spencer took a breath. "Asshole raped her in the middle of a fucking party. Held her face down in the bed so she wouldn't be able to scream, wouldn't really be able to lash out, and just--" Spencer looked away and Mikey could see him shaking; knew that if that kid were in this room, Spencer would kill him with the butter knife at his disposal and be done with it.

Mikey managed to say, "Spencer--"

Spencer whipped his gaze back and said, "She went and had a rape kit done, let people touch her, did all that because she knew she was supposed to, but he'd used a condom and the other members of the group, they said they hadn't seen or heard anything. He got off. And she spent a fucking year picking the pieces of her life back up."

It had been a while since Mikey had felt present enough in his own head to feel horror for another person. Spencer said, "I know the signs, Mikey. I watched them for a year. I still watch them when I catch up with her and she's having a bad day. So you can lie to Pete and to whomever the hell else you want to lie to, but I'm gonna email you the number, and I think you should call."

Mikey didn't say anything. His stomach hurt. He kind of wished he hadn't eaten. Spencer said, "Is there anyone I can talk to? Maybe Gerard? If I--"

"No!"

Spencer startled at the vehemence of the response and he blinked at Mikey a few times before he said, "Oh shit. Mikey--"

"Shut up. Just-- Just shut the fuck up."

"Mikey, it took my sister a year with every part of her support system in place. Her parents, her siblings, her friends from back home. You can't just--"

"Your sister is a girl. Your sister doesn't have to stand in front of hundreds of people almost every night, doesn't have to give interviews, doesn't have to be That Guy in that Band Who Was--" Mikey opened his mouth to say the word, tried, tried with everything he had to push it past his tongue, because he knew what it meant not to be able to say it, but in the end all he could do was compromise with, "Attacked. So don't fucking talk to me about what I should and shouldn't do. You don't know anything."

"I know that your brother and your guys would be fucking crushed if they thought you thought saying something like this to them would make you weak, make you less." Spencer paused, tilting his head, watching Mikey. He took a slow breath. "I know they'd fucking die a little if they thought, for a moment that you didn't want them to help you get past one of the worst events of your life because it might change the way they thought about you. I know that, Mikeyway, because I'm in a fucking band, too, and because Ryan might as well be my brother."

Mikey pushed the coffee aside. The smell was making him sick. He put his hands to his eyes and tried to block the light, block Spencer, block the words that had already been said, already been heard from his mind. It wasn't working. Softly, Spencer asked, "How long, Mikey? How long has it been that you haven't told them?"

From the dark, Mikey told him, "One month, three weeks, two days and eighteen hours."

"Jesus. They must be scared out of their fucking minds trying to figure out what's going on with you."

Mikey shook his head. "They think it's just, y'know, Mikey being Mikey."

Spencer said, "They don't, Mikey. That's why I thought they knew. The way they were looking after you-- I mean, maybe, I guess, maybe that's it, but they think it's gotten to the place where they can't fix it again."

The thought spiked sharp and wildly painful at the back of Mikey's mind. "Spencer, I--"

"I could go with you. To tell them. If that would help. I don't know, I-- What would help?"

"Just-- Organize it, please? Get us in the same place, something, just-- I don't want to have to do anything." Mikey shook his head.

Spencer said, "Yeah, okay. Okay."

*


Spencer was clearly not in the business of fucking around, which Mikey appreciated. He texted someone--maybe Pete, maybe one of his guys, Mikey had no idea--and said, "Okay, your room, ten minutes."

"Ten--"

"You really wanna wait? Give yourself time to think about it?"

Mikey's throat hurt when he tried to swallow. "No."

Spencer nodded shortly. "C'mon, let's get up there before they do. At least give you time to choose where you want to sit." Mikey allowed Spencer to herd him up and into the elevator, mostly because Spencer never once touched him, just managed to guide from a safe distance. Mikey wasn't sure where he was going, had just handed Spencer the room key and trusted him to find it. Mikey was fairly certain he hadn't even been yet. The hotel staff had put their bags away and they'd gone straight to the event.

Spencer did find the room and let Mikey wander around for a few minutes, getting used to it. Then someone knocked on the door and Spencer answered to find a very flustered looking Frank who blinked at him. "Smith? Pete said--"

Spencer stood back and let Frank see Mikey. Frank said, "Mikey, Pete said you needed us. What--" Frank was moving toward Mikey, but Spencer put his hand to Frank's arm. Frank threw it off and gave Spencer a decidedly nasty look until Mikey said, "Frank. Frank. Just-- Can you sit down?"

Frank looked at Mikey for a long time, then back at Spencer. Then he went and tucked himself into a pretzel atop the bed. He had barely sat when Gerard showed, Ray at this back, Gerard's franticness as evident as Frank's, Ray's more quiet, but no less clear. Frank cut off any questions with a, "He wants us to sit down." Gerard looked at Mikey for a confirmation, and Mikey nodded, a little bit of a plea in his eyes. Gerard didn't make him ask, and Ray just followed Gerard, sitting next to him, allowing Gerard to lean into him.

Bob was last up, and unlike the others he didn't look like he needed to ask questions. He just took in the scene before him, found a seat and waited for Mikey to say what he needed to say or do what he needed to do. Mikey looked at them all for a bit, trying to find the beginning, or even just somewhere, somewhere to start. He hadn't been able to sit, hadn't been able to still himself like that. He looked over at Spencer, who was still standing near the door, clearly willing to leave if Mikey wanted it, also clearly willing to stay.

Mikey thought about what Spencer had said about his sister, about how she had gone to the hospital, let all those people touch her. "Spencer," he said softly. Spencer looked at him, waiting. Mikey asked, "What's your sister's name?"

Spencer tilted his head. "Jackie."

Mikey said the name softly to himself. It was a strong sounding name. "Mikey" didn't hold up well to it. Gerard said, softly, "Mikey?" and when he said it that way, like maybe the name was everything, like maybe the word was the equivalent of Atlas' shoulders, well, then it measured up a little better. He said, "Gimme a second, Gee. Just another second, okay?"

Gerard nodded. They all nodded. Mikey took a deep breath and said, "You remember that night after we played in Dallas, I wanted to go out to that club so we all went?"

"Then you went home early," Ray said. Bob nodded. Frank and Gerard just kept listening.

"I, uh-- I went to the bathroom and I was--" Mikey looked back at Spencer, like he might know the right words. But these weren't Spencer's to say. "I was going to the fucking bathroom and this guy-- I should have heard him lock the door, but I just wasn't paying attention, I was listening to the music, I was y'know, just-- Just. And he came up behind me, and I started to say, y'know, 'back off' or 'the fuck' or-- Something." Mikey closed his eyes but the feeling of Him being there, being behind Mikey was too much and he had to open them again. "He had a knife at my balls. He said, um. He said, 'Scream, pretty boy. Scream and I'll use it. I like using it.' So I um, I mean, I didn't even want to open my mouth, because what if he thought I was trying to scream? I stayed nice and quiet for him," Mikey said, feeling like the words were going down the wrong way, would come up if he so much as took a breath.

He looked up to where Gerard was looking back at him, eyes wide and wet, cheeks shining in the dull light in the room. Ray said, "Okay. Okay," and when it didn't sound like it was going to stop Bob asked, "Why-- um, why couldn't you tell us?" He looked like he was working as hard as he could not to punch something. Mikey appreciated the effort, even if he knew, knew it wouldn't be one of them. Mikey tried to come up with an answer that wouldn't hurt them. He was almost there when Frank sprinted from the bed and into the bathroom. Mikey winced at the sound of him puking.

Spencer walked calmly over to the mini bar and found a bottled water, then followed Frank into the bathroom. Gerard said softly, "We played in Dallas almost two months ago. A few weeks after my birthday."

"I--" Mikey bit his lip. "I wasn't paying attention. And I didn't fight. I didn't do anything. I just let him."

"He put a knife to your balls, Mikey." Bob's knuckles were practically see-through over the arms of his chair. "You did exactly what you had to do."

There was the flush of a toilet and some water running and then Frank appeared in the doorway to the bathroom, a handtowel on his neck. A moment later, Spencer slid out from behind him. He looked at Mikey. "Unless you want me to stay, I'm gonna head out. I think--"

Mikey nodded. Spencer was half-way out the door when Mikey said, "Spencer?"

Spencer turned around, but by then Mikey didn't know exactly what to say. A simple thanks seemed stupid. Spencer smiled, a sort of tilt of his lips. He said, "I'll email you that info," and disappeared.

*


Mikey said, "Frank."

Frank moved to the couch, where Ray was rubbing at Gerard's shoulders. He tucked himself on Ray's other side. Gerard asked, "Was... Was Spencer easier to tell?" His voice was wobbly, desperate.

Mikey shook his head vehemently. "I didn't, Gee. I didn't tell him. He-- He started talking to me about it. Like, he was talking about his sister's therapist, because his sister, she--" Mikey couldn't say it, couldn't share her secret like that, even if he mostly had.

Gerard's expression managed, somehow, to become more sad. "Oh."

"And he-- He thought you guys knew. He was talking about it like you must have and you, I mean. You should have. Of course you should have. I should have said, I should have told. I should have."

"Mikey, sh," Ray said. "It's fine. It fine. We know now."

"I didn't want to-- I always fuck things up. I always-- You guys always have to watch to make sure I'm going to be okay, and then you have to figure out what to do when I can't be okay anymore and I didn't want there to be another thing, I didn't want you to look at me any more carefully than you already do sometimes. I thought if I just, I mean, people get beat up and like, get over it, and I, you know--"

"Tell me you saw his face," Bob said.

Mikey hadn't, but that was beside the point. "You're not allowed to kill anyone."

"I don't want to kill him. I want to find him and watch while you kill him. Slowly. Because if that fucker hadn't come at you from behind, he never would have stood a fucking chance."

Mikey blinked. That was sort of sweet, in a Bob way. "You didn't see him, either."

"You're stronger than you look or act, Mikeyway."

Out of the corner of his eye, Mikey could see Frank and Ray nodding in agreement. Gerard was still just watching him. Mikey said, "Oh."

Gerard said, "I could kill him. If you're not going to." He said it with a surprising calm, none of the fervor Gerard usually showed for projects, just an absolute certainty in his plan. Mikey looked at Gerard, because it wasn't as if he'd never seen this aspect of him, it had just been a while. The last time Mikey could concretely remember it was when they were kids, and Gerard would resolutely keep him from hearing their parents fight, watching the marriage fall apart.

Slowly, Mikey shook his head. He said, "I don't want him to be important anymore. To me. To any of you."

After a pause, Frank said, "You're important," and Mikey understood that it was both an acceptance of what Mikey had just said and a complete mutiny against the sentiment, but that was okay. Frank wasn't offering to kill anybody, so it was sort of a step in the right direction.

Ray fidgeted a little, which was odd and then clearly made himself look at Mikey before saying, "Um. Mikey. This is-- I mean, you don't have to tell us, but, uh, have you even told your therapist?"

Mikey wasn't about to claim that he never told his therapist things he didn't tell them, because that was the whole point of his therapist--to say the crap that he couldn't say even to the closest people in his life, and yeah, when he thought about it that way, it made sense that he might have, but, "I didn't-- This wasn't about keeping it from you." It was, but only in the sense that they were part of Mikey's entire world. It had been bigger than that. "If I'd wanted help, I would have come to you. I always-- I let you guys help."

They were silent for a bit. It was Gerard who said, in that same, low, steady voice, "Usually not when you need it the most."

Mikey opened his mouth to argue and then realized that it made sense that Gerard saw it that way. He was always leaving when he was at his worst. But that wasn't about them being unable to help. That was about Mikey not wanting to force that on them, ever. Still, it occurred to him that Gerard--Gerard who had fucking let them detox him--probably couldn't really understand things in those terms. Mikey took a breath and said, "Gee. Gee. I need help. Okay? I need...you. All of you. I need help."

Gerard said, "I want to. I do. But I don't know how to begin."

Frank said, "I figured that out while we were talking."

Bob raised an eyebrow. Ray and Gerard just looked at him. Mikey waited. Frank said, "We're all gonna have to put Smith on speed dial."

*


Mikey got Spencer's number from Pete and texted him, "i mayb gt u in2 smthing"

Spencer called him a second later. "No shit. I've got messages from every single member of your band."

Mikey cringed. Spencer didn't sound mad, but he hadn't really signed up for any of this. He'd just assumed Mikey had been an adult about this whole situation. "Sorry."

"Well, hey, it beats having Iero want to kill me. That thought probably would have kept me up at night."

"I didn't mean to--"

"Hey, Mikey?"

"Yeah?"

"You like the Smiths, right?"

"Who doesn't?" Mikey actually meant that genuinely. He didn't know anybody who didn't.

"Wanna listen to the bootleg Jon probably sold his immortal soul to get Ryan for Christmas?"

"Um, yes?" Mikey said, not really sure how they'd gotten from point A to point B.

"Awesome. You can bring anyone you want, we were planning a little bit of a thing around it tonight, before everyone heads out."

"A little bit?"

"Gabe and his cobras, Fall Out Boy, you, anyone you brought with, us, Empires. Greta's got a red-eye. We've already informed her she sucks. Cash said he might come. Disashi. Travis actually doesn't like The Smiths, which, you know, I guess happens. Academy was invited, but Jon invited them, so they'll probably know better than to show, since that's code for, 'Tom's coming, and if you upset him, I will fuck your shit up.' Jon totally would, too. Some of the shit he can do to guitars is sickening and wrong."

"I didn't realize--"

"It's complicated. Jon's actually friends with them, he's just friends with Tom more."

"Yeah, no, I still talk to Bert. And Quinn and Jeph for that matter, but Gee's issue is mostly with Bert."

"Probably about the same sort of thing. So, you gonna come to my party? There's going to be lots of fizzy, sugary drinks, and probably candy, since we put Ryan in charge of that."

"Will there be straws? I like straws."

"I'll see what we can arrange. Pete is a ninja of random-ass needs."

This was categorically true. Mikey still had to ask, "Um. Spencer. The being-friendly-inviting-me-to-parties thing. Is that a pity thing?"

There was a long silence, and Mikey was kind of worried that he'd really pissed Spencer off when Spencer said, "Let's assume, for a second, that you think I'm smart."

"Fair assumption."

"And that this is my last night in town with a fair amount of people I don't get to see very often and I'm having a pretty small party sharing something special with them."

Mikey thought about it for a second. "You're trying to tell me you would have picked a different way to make me feel better about being pathetic?"

"Or," and now Spencer did sound a little mad, "that you're not pathetic."

Mikey nodded obediently. Spencer said, "Repeat it fucking after me, Mikey Way."

Mikey was amazed at how Spencer could manage to make the order sound amused, indulgent and completely inflexible all at once. "I'm not pathetic," he said hurriedly.

Spencer sighed. "Well, it's something. Will I see you at the party?"

Mikey considered hedging, but Spencer was trying to be his friend, trying to be something more than that guy that his guys could call to get put-Mikey-back-together tips. Mikey appreciated the effort. He didn't really want to make it any more difficult for Spencer than it probably already was. "Yeah. Yeah. What time?"

*


Mikey had planned on just bringing Gerard, so as not to seem like that asshole who crashes a party and brings his whole entourage, but it was becoming fairly evident that nobody in My Chem was letting Mikey go anywhere without him, ever again. Mikey had a feeling this was going to get real old, real fast, but for the moment it was kind of reassuring. Not that he told them that. No reason to feed them ammunition in what would soon enough become a fight for his independence, no doubt. At least, Mikey hoped it would. That would be a sign of normality returning.

Brendon opened the door and immediately jumped upon Ray in greeting. Mikey got the feeling Ray had stood in front of him for just that purpose. Ray thought ahead like that. What Ray hadn't thought ahead to--and honestly, really, really should have--was that the Wild Frank Monkey would join forces with Brendon, and that he would be attacked on two fronts. Bob was forced to get in on the action, and rescue Ray. Frank was great and all, but he couldn't play both guitar parts at once.

In the ensuing mayhem, Spencer found his way to Mikey and said, "You brought the gang, I see."

Mikey winced. "Sorry?"

Ryan, who was standing next to Spencer, said, "They'll calm down once I put the first song on. You're not gonna believe."

Mikey said, "Cool." He wondered if Ryan knew. Not that he thought Spencer would have told, just that Spencer had disappeared for hours with Mikey, and Ryan had known Spencer forever, probably knew about Jackie, had probably seen the after-effects on Jackie. And Ryan wasn't stupid.

Brendon shouted, "Ryan sampled the goods," from where Bob had him gently but effectively restrained.

"It was my present, dickface," Ryan said, decidedly unperturbed by the accusation.

Pete said, "Too true," draping himself over Ryan. Jon appeared at his side. Those two had a tendency to disappear and reappear in tandem whenever together. Clearly Jon valued his privacy, because Pete really didn't have an issue making out in front of all and sundry, Mikey knew for a fact.

"What's yours is mine," Brendon said, equally unbothered by Ryan's profanities.

"Jesus, we're not married." Ryan made a face.

Brendon looked at Bob, who considered the situation for a moment before allowing Brendon to go free, at which point, it was pretty much all over for Ryan. Mikey wisely got out of the way. Pete had to be rescued by Jon. Tom and Cash laughed. Spencer said, "C'mon, I went out and bought cream soda for the occasion."

Mikey smiled and followed Spencer into the kitchenette. It was easily viewable from the main room, and besides, Frank had followed them. Frank hoisted himself atop the counter and asked, "Cream soda?"

Spencer got one out for him. Frank took it and opened it, chugging straight off. He looked at the bottle consideringly and said, "Shit. I'd forgotten how good that stuff is."

Spencer laughed into his bottle. Mikey made appreciative eyes, since Frank was clearly trying to make up for his "this is band-business" routine of the other night. Spencer, who obviously also could read into the behavior, said, "Yes, it is how I wooed Mikey into crossing lines," the joke carefully laid out.

Frank slanted his head sideways and said, "Clever, Smith, abominably so."

Spencer waited a beat and then pulled his body language back ever so slightly. "He was able to escape from my gingerbread house before I cooked and ate him, though. He's resourceful like that."

Mikey knew he was supposed to say something, supposed to reassert his presence, but he was tired of pretending to be fine, tired in general, and neither of them meant to be assholes, they were just having a conversation that needed to be had. Frank said, "Well, good. It would have sucked having to eat you all in revenge. Gerard and I are totally actually vegetarians."

"I thought Gerard was a vegan?"

"That's Frank. With Gee... It sort of depends on whether there's Gruyere on offer or not," Mikey said.

Spencer laughed. "I'll remember that. Should I ever need to woo him over to the other side."

Frank shook his head at Mikey. "What is it with you giving away the band secrets?"

"Loose lips sink ships," Mikey said, without even really thinking about it.

Spencer mimed shutting and locking his mouth. He threw Mikey the key.

*


Mikey was coming out of his Smiths-induced stupor when he caught Gerard and Spencer whispering to each other, Gerard's face open and grave, Spencer's calm but focused. Mikey couldn't hear what they were saying, but he had a feeling that was kind of fair. He had a feeling they were busy being big brothers together, and they deserved that time. Gerard, particularly. Mikey was sort of a handful, he could recognize. Then again, so was Gerard at times, so it balanced out.

Brendon, who was lying on the couch with Ryan draped over him, opened his eyes and turned his head in the direction of where Mikey was sitting on the floor, his back to the arm of the sofa. He said, "So. That was pretty fucking awesome."

Mikey looked over and watched where Brendon was still beating out the rhythm of the last song on Ryan's stomach. He said, "Thanks for letting Spencer invite me. It was--" But Mikey had never really had words for how The Smiths made him feel, and even less so now, when for nearly a straight two hours, he hadn't been Mikey, hadn't been this person who was going to have to fix himself all over again.

"We wanted people here who would get that," Ryan told him, earnest and much more mellow than Mikey was used to seeing him.

Pete sauntered over from where Jon was still being held hostage by Empires and said, "Mikeyway gets this so much more than any of you children." He flopped down on his belly in front of Mikey and then twisted so that he could grin up at him. Mikey made himself reach out and pet at Pete's hair for a little bit. Then he allowed himself to pull back in on himself. Pete blinked and Mikey knew that look. He bit the inside of his lip and considered just letting Pete think he was mad or upset with him. The thought made Mikey's stomach hurt. He'd spent four months having halted, broken, useless conversations with Pete after Warped '05 and he swore, when they managed to fix themselves, that they'd never do that again.

Mikey said, "Ryan, Brendon, mind if I steal Pete?"

"We actually prefer to make out when our boss isn't watching," Brendon told Mikey, the face of pure innocence.

Ryan rolled his eyes. "Have fun. Don't do anything in front of cameras."

Pete stood and gave Brendon a thorough noogie. Mikey stood, too, and made eye contact with Bob, who nodded. Mikey said, "C'mon," and lead Pete from the room, through the hallways, back to his own room. He let Pete in first and when the door shut Pete asked, "Did I do something? I don't remember doing anything, but if I did--"

"Pete," Mikey said.

Pete bounced on his toes. "Yeah. Yeah. Okay."

Mikey grabbed them both a bottle of water from the mini-fridge and tossed Pete his. He leaned up against the counter, took a sip and made himself start talking. To his surprise, it was just the tiniest bit easier. Now that the guys and Spencer knew, it was a bit like Mikey had less to lose. Or maybe it was just that he'd said it once, he'd made himself find the words and now they were there, in his head, stored up. He was still shaking and dizzy and sick to his stomach by the time he finished, but he hadn't needed as much help, even if he'd stopped more, given himself more time to say the things that had to be said.

Pete sat still in the silence for a moment before hurling his water bottle as hard as he could against the wall. It splashed in every direction, but it was water. It would dry. Mikey felt a sort of vicarious satisfaction in the sharp thud of the impact. Pete hunched over with his hands on his knees and just breathed. Then he straightened up and said, "Tell me what to do. I don't know what to do, Mikey."

Mikey sympathized. "I'm sort of depending on Spencer to tell me that. Maybe you should ask him."

"I will," Pete said. "Who-- I don't want to fuck up, Mikey. Who knows?"

"Just you and Spencer and my guys. I-- I was thinking I'd probably tell Spencer he could tell his. You know, so they wouldn't think-- I just don't want my shit fucking up your flagship band."

"That's-- They wouldn't let it, Mikey. You need to take care of yourself. You told me that. Remember?"

Mikey remembered. He remembered every day of every week of that month following the pictures breaking and Pete not being far behind them. He also remembered how Joe and Patrick and Andy had sat back and held Pete on his feet, silent and not judging. "You, um. If you need to tell your guys. Need them to talk to, or something. You could."

"Do you want that?"

If Mikey had his way, nobody would know. If Mikey had his way, there wouldn't be anything to know. Pete said, "Yeah, we'll wait on that, then," into the silence, and Mikey was secretly glad. He nodded, but he was facing the carpet. He heard Pete take a step his direction, heard the hesitation in the tread. Pete said, "You know if there was anything you needed--"

Mikey looked up. "I know."

"You do?" Pete sounded a little surprised. Mikey did know, though, wouldn't have been in this room with him except for that. Pete said, "Oh."

Softly, Mikey said, "This is a love song in my own way," and ignored the fact that Pete was scrubbing at his eyes.

*


The first day back on the bus was sheer torture. The guys were clearly unsure of how to handle Mikey, how to give him his own space without leaving him alone, how to protect him without smothering him, how to do all the things they'd always done effortlessly before. Mikey didn't want to yell at anybody for caring about him, so he gave up pretty early and crawled into his bunk with his iPod. Spencer had sent him new music at four that morning. The playlist was entitled, "inspired by The Smiths, Mikey and too much Laffy Taffy." Mikey could admit, Spencer had really gone to town on that. It wasn't exactly his fault, though, since Panic evidently played drinking games with high sugar content treats rather than alcohol. It had made it easy for Gerard to get in on the action, which made Mikey happy.

Mikey fell asleep fairly easily, not having gotten much sleep the night before, and woke up gasping and panicked and biting at his own pillow to keep from screaming. Mikey couldn't even say how his body had instinctively known to adopt that sort of behavior on the bus in order to avoid getting caught, it just had. But evidently now the guys were listening for even minor disturbances, because Bob immediately said, "Mikey?" and Mikey could hear that he was sitting in the aisle, probably scrunched there, on duty. He said, "Mikey," again and then, "Mikey, can I pull the curtain.?"

Mikey made himself pull the curtain, made himself be the one to lessen the protective barriers between himself and Bob. Bob wasn't going to hurt him, for fuck's sake. Bob said, "Hey, hi. Want me to get Gee?"

Mikey shook his head. Gerard would want to hug him, want to comfort him physically and Mikey really didn't want to be touched. He didn't want to look at Gerard's face when he realized that wouldn't help, either. Bob nodded. "Want me to go away?"

Mikey thought about it. Despite the fact that Bob was kind of large, looming next to his bunk, he didn't. There really wasn't much that could get through Bob. He shook his head. Bob settled back down with the curtain still open. He murmured, "I would have taken you home, you know?"

Mikey considered the statement. He was still thinking when Bob contextualized. "That night. You told us you were tired and took a cab. We would have taken you home. Even if you were just tired, and just wanted someone to go with you. And it wouldn't have been some big deal, some 'Mikey's always doing this' thing. You said-- You said we always have to be so careful, but that's kind of bullshit. We're as careful as we decide we need to be, not you."

Mikey blinked at Bob. Bob sighed. "You're not work, Mikeyway. Or at least no more than any of the rest of us."

Mikey was doubtful, but it was a good thing to hear, especially from Bob, who maybe had to go get his wrists fixed every once in a while, but otherwise held them all up without ever complaining that his shoulders were getting tired. All he said was, "You're sitting on the floor by my bunk."

"You didn't ask me to be here." Bob sounded a little fragile about the fact.

Mikey said, "I did. I told." It was all he had to offer. He hadn't known to ask, not really, even though, looking back, maybe he should have. "I told."

Bob, kindly, didn't remind him that he'd all but been forced to tell. Instead he smiled a little. "Yeah, you did. That was pretty fucking brave."

"I wanted to puke the whole time," Mikey said.

"We would have held your hair for you," Bob said, and his tone was so close to solemn, so very close, but he missed it by a small, crucial note.

Mikey shoved at Bob's shoulder, conscious of making the first move to touch him. "It's not that long."

Bob didn't take advantage, didn't even take it as an invitation to touch back. "Hasn't anybody ever told you it's the thought that counts?"

Mikey snickered. His eyes were slipping shut again when Bob asked, "Mikey?" softly.

"Mm."

"You have them all the time? The nightmares?"

Mikey didn't open his eyes. He knew if he didn't answer, Bob wouldn't push. He made himself say, "Lots."

"Mikey."

Mikey peered out at Bob from one open eye. Bob said, "I'm gonna stay right here, if that's--"

Mikey pushed the curtain even further back with his foot. Bob nodded and stayed where he was.

*


Spencer emailed him the therapist's information a couple of days after they'd left, atop a long email about the trials and tribulations of living with Brendon Urie and Ryan Ross. Mikey was kind of impressed. Not even Gerard could make their bus that exciting, not anymore at least. And Mikey didn't really miss that kind of excitement. At the bottom, the email was signed, "you should write back, if you have time, Spence".

Mikey waited until the day of his regularly scheduled therapist appointment and curled up in the privacy of the back lounge, like always. He let himself talk about the guys for a bit but found that he couldn't really talk about them anymore without saying things that already should have been said. So he said, "There's this guy in another band, Spencer."

He'd felt safe telling Pete, if not sure of himself, not happy. And it wasn't exactly that he didn't feel safe now, just that his guys, Pete, Spencer, they had supported him because he was theirs, and they had made the choice to keep him. If his therapist supported him, it would be because she was paid to. And Mikey knew that wasn't exactly fair either. She'd gotten him through a number of things, had regularly taken calls from him at odd hours, but it was still her job when all was said and done. But he made himself talk about it. Made himself tell her and explain that he was thinking of using separate therapy to deal with the aftereffects.

She thought about it for a long moment and said, "I am not saying that it's not a good idea for you to seek out a therapist who specializes in surviving sexual trauma. I am going to say that if you think you're going to be able to keep that entirely separate from what we do here, you're going to keep being unpleasantly surprised."

Mikey had pretty much figured that out in the first five minutes of their conversation. "No. I got that."

"How're your guys doing with it?"

Mikey blinked, because normally in these sessions she was pushing him to think about himself. She didn't require that he think of himself as a separate entity--he thought she was pretty clear on the fact that that was never going to happen--but at least that he think of himself with foremost importance. But she had asked, and Mikey actually really wanted to talk about that, so he wasn't going to ask questions. "I think, I think maybe they feel guilty."

"Yeah?"

"Bob and Ray will barely leave my side. Gee keeps sneaking glances at me when he thinks I'm not looking. Frank's being--" Mikey closed his eyes and thought about it. "Forcefully Frank-like."

There was a soft sound that might have been laughter on the other end of the line. Mikey felt like maybe he should laugh, like that would be funny in some other situation, but he just didn't feel like it. "I keep thinking if they'd just act normally then it would be like it hadn't happened, but I don't think I'm acting normally. I wasn't even before, not really, not if Gee was asking if I wanted to go home. I just wasn't being honest about the problem this time."

"Normal in relation to what, Mikey?"

It was a good question. Normal for when Gerard was sober or when he wasn't? Normal for when Frank was sick or when he was with them? Normal for the road or for "home"? "Yeah, okay."

"Do you want Ray and Bob to back off?"

Mikey thought about it. "Not really. But I wish Gerard would stop looking at me like a puppy he accidentally killed."

"Have you told him that?"

"Sometimes you just have to let Gerard be Gerard until he's read to be, um, slightly less Gerard." Mikey ran a hand over his face. Four years with the same therapist and he still hadn't figured out words that actually encapsulated his older brother. It was getting to be embarrassing.

"And Frank? The enforced normality--"

"He doesn't know what normal is. When he tries to be it it's all fucking over the top, like a parody, or something. And I just-- He moves too much when he's like this. I mean, Frank moves a lot anyway, but he knows how to stay, he can do it. Except when he's like this. And it's harder to fucking make him listen, tell him things."

"What do you want to tell him?"

Mikey opened his mouth and stayed like that for a bit before finally saying, "I just wanna ask him if he actually thinks I can get better this time, or if the manicness is a cover for panic."

"Would his answer matter? Would it change your opinion?" Mikey turned the question around on her. "Why'd you ask how my guys were doing?"

She did laugh at that. "Touchè." Then she asked, "What do you think? Without considering what Frank or any of the others thinks, what do you think?"

"That-- That I've done this before, and that's encouraging."

"But?" she prompted, reading him correctly.

"But I think I might have worn myself out on that recovery."

"I don't think so," she said.

"Well," Mikey nodded to himself, "that's something."

*


Most nights after he woke up from a nightmare, or possibly two--if he'd managed to sleep through the first--Mikey would wander into the back lounge and read or listen to his iPod or just spend some time staring out the window. Some nights one of the guys--whoever was on shift to look after him--would come in and sit with him. Some nights they would just leave him alone.

It was on one of those nights--he was pretty sure Ray was awake in the bunks, listening for sounds of distress, or whatever it was they listened for--when Mikey had been sitting with his phone in his hands for close to an hour, trying to convince himself to just text Spencer. They texted all the time, usually just little things like Spencer sending, "the food blows at this venue," and Mikey responding, "suck." Or Mikey sending, "i miss my dog," and Spencer responding, "get in fucking line."

Sometimes Spencer would call him and say, "Hey, how's it going?" and not press Mikey to talk about anything he didn't want to talk about, but as of yet Mikey hadn't called Spencer. He sure as hell hadn't done it in the middle of the night. He had a sneaking suspicion one or two of the guys had, but that was the guys, and that was their business. After an hour, though, he was still holding his phone in his hands, trying to convince himself that calling was stupid and he was pretty sure he wasn't going to listen anytime soon, regardless of the logic. So he hit memory eleven and tucked himself into the tiniest ball possible, his phone smashed up against his ear.

Spencer picked up on the second ring with a clearly-just-woken, "'Lo?"

Mikey winced. "Sorry, I'm an asshole, you should--"

"No, uh, wait, um, M'key?" There was a sound on the other end of the line that Mikey knew intimately. Spencer had totally just fallen out of his bunk. Someone was telling him to be quiet and there was a few seconds of indeterminate noise before Spencer said, "Okay, sorry, I was trying not to wake the guys."

Mikey said, "Sorry," again.

"Fuck that, tomorrow's a travel day anyway. What's up?"

"Not--" Mikey bit his lip. He wasn't going to call Spencer at three in the morning and say "not much," he wasn't going to. "I had my first session today. With Dr. Blake."

Spencer waited a couple of beats. "That's...way to go."

Mikey knew that Spencer was trying to give him the space he needed, trying to allow him to come to Spencer, but he sort of wished Spencer would just push, be nosy, make him tell these things. "I think, um. I think it went well. First session, you know?"

"Yeah, I know."

Mikey tilted his head, since that hadn't been a sympathetic statement. It had been an empathetic one. "You--"

"My baby sister was raped and my best friend is Ryan Ross, Mikey Way. I'm not unfamiliar with the therapy scene."

"Oh." Mikey should have known better. Even Ray had gone to therapy at times; Mikey suspected largely just to keep all the craziness around him in perspective.

"So it was a first session."

"Yeah, but he wasn't pushy, or anything."

"Not pushy is good."

Mikey waited a second. "But?"

"But you called me, so what's up?"

Yeah, okay, that was fair. And it was ass o' clock in the morning. "I should have waited until tomorrow."

"But you didn't. Mikey."

"Couldn't sleep. Rarely can."

"Nightmares?"

Mikey nodded. He thought Spencer would know. "I just-- I just wanted to say that to you. That I did that. The therapy thing." There were other things that Mikey figured he should say about Spencer's help, but he wasn't ready.

"I'm glad you told me. You think now that you have you can get a little sleep?"

Mikey realized, then, that his eyes had probably been shut for a good five minutes. "Think prolly."

Spencer laughed softly. "Call me when you wake up, Sleeping Beauty."

*


It wasn't anybody's fault that things got out of hand. They were in an internationally recognized band, these things happened. That thought was not reassuring in the least when the security that the Argentinian police had put up for their arrival in the airport broke down, and there was really only Worm between a few hundred fans and the guys. Worm went for Gerard, naturally, because he was the most likely to get attacked. Mikey saw it in the second before the frenzy of the crowd hit and was reassured for all of a second until there were hands grabbing at him from everywhere, which was when he completely fucking lost it. He heard all four of the guys--Gerard particularly--screaming his name even through the complete panic, the rushing of blood in his ears. He thought, "Don't, don't do this, you need to get yourself out," but there wasn't any way out, just hands everywhere, just people he didn't know, didn't trust, touching him and Mikey couldn't breathe, not even to scream. Like before, he just let it happen.

Matt and James got him out. They came from a different direction having arrived on a slightly earlier flight and took the shouting of all four other members of My Chem to mean that Mikey was the priority. They fought their way to him and stood on either side, solid and forbidding, fending off the people who were still grabbing at Mikey's arms, legs, hair, whatever they could reach. Matt said, "It's okay, Mikey, we're gonna get you out of here."

They managed somehow, managed to him through the crowds and into the car. Mikey put his head out the window and vomited. He could hear the click and flash of a million cameras but couldn't focus enough to even be humiliated by this. Later he would be unimpressed anyway. What was one more humiliation?

James was rubbing his back and Mikey asked, "Please, I just-- Please, they were-- I don't want--"

Gerard all but fell into the car then, Frank right behind him, Ray and Bob and Worm defensively at their backs. Bob said, ridiculously calm given that he had four scratch marks directly down the left side of his face, terrifyingly close to his eyes, "Hey, James, give the kid some room, 'kay?"

Mikey was left blessedly to himself then. Gerard said, "Hold our your hand, Mikey," and when Mikey did, gave him a bottle of water. Mikey took a sip and spit it out before pulling his head back inside. Ray said, "Okay, let's go, please," to the driver, before hauling Gerard bodily into his lap and checking him over. Gerard said, "I'm fine," and tried to slip away from the perusal, but Bob held him right where he was. The four of them were clearly trying not to look at Mikey too closely, which was fine by Mikey, since he was still a shaking, miserable wreck of a one-time human being.

They were headed straight to the venue and when they got there, all seven of the guys formed a human shield around Mikey, ushering him in without so much as glancing at the fans who were behind the fence, screaming for them. Brian was already there, having gotten in a day earlier than them to meet up with another one of his bands. He said, "Jesus, took you long enou--" cutting off when Mikey broke free of the defensive barrier and ran for the bathroom so that he could vomit some more. He'd held it together for the car ride as much as he could, but now that he was still, that he was once again a target for anything that moved fast enough, he just couldn't help it. His stomach kept at it, well past when he was into dry-heaving. He heard Frank say, "It's just me, Mikey, 'kay?" and hand him water. Mikey did his best to get sips down in between bouts.

When his body finally managed to exhaust itself, someone reached over him and flushed the toilet. Bob said, "I'm gonna pull you up, Mikey, okay?" and waited for Mikey to nod wearily. He did as he said he would and then mostly pulled Mikey into the quiet room where he laid him down on the sofa. Gerard sat on one arm and Ray on another. Frank curled into a ball in a nearby chair, so small it worried Mikey that he'd disappear. Bob and Brian were standing, talking quietly with each other.

Brian was the first to actually say something. "Matt said that unless you were violently opposed, he could take your spot tonight."

Mikey wanted to be. He wanted to be brave like Frank, who played through these kinds of conditions all the time. He wasn't though. He nodded. Things were silent for a bit before Gerard said, soft and raspy after all the screaming he'd done earlier in the day, "Brian, we need to cancel the rest of this tour."

Brian blinked at Gerard three times before saying, "The fuck?"

Mikey's voice was scratched all to hell from the vomiting, but he said, "No, Gee."

Gerard ignored Brian for Mikey. "Mikey, it's not-- I need it, okay? I almost-- I would have hurt them to get to you, to get you out of there. And I can't sleep half the time worrying about-- I need it. I need to stop for a bit, get back in the studio, refigure stuff out. I should have pushed the point a while ago, but I was afraid of what I'd hear in my own lyrics and that's the pussy's way out."

"There are eleven dates left, you guys, not including tonight. I don't know what the fuck is going on--"

"No," Bob said, stopping Brian mid-sentence. "You don't." He said it carefully, making it as clear as he could that his intent wasn't to hurt Brian.

Brian took a long time to say, "So tell me."

Nobody looked at Mikey, nobody but Brian, when he realized nobody else was. Mikey said, "Brian. I-- I need some time." Because if nothing else, he couldn't keep going on, knowing it was freaking Gerard the hell out, causing Frank to nearly disappear, making Bob be the mouthpiece for the group. He was probably fucking Ray up too, in some way he just couldn't see.

Brian tilted his head and said, "Okay. Okay, but Gerard seems to think he needs to stop as well."

"He's just shaken up. We all are. Bob got mauled." Mikey had noticed the bruises on Gerard and Ray and Frank. He wondered if they were on him. He couldn't feel them, but that could have been because he was distracted by how much his stomach hurt, how tightly his muscles were clenched.

"It's happened before, Mikey," Brian said it softly, not unsympathetically.

Mikey thought about how this should have been easy, saying it one more time. He'd told Pete, and he wasn't any closer to Pete than he was to Brian. But he'd been relaxed when he'd told Pete, at ease from the combined factors of his guys and a few hours of good music. It was the coward's way out, but then, hadn't everything Mikey had done in relation this been that way? He said, "Guys, I'm gonna-- I'm gonna go thank Matt for taking over for me. Can you talk to Brian? I'll be back in a bit."

"Want one of us to go with you?" Ray asked. Mikey tried to say no, but in the end he had to nod and allow Ray to follow him out the door with a significant look at Bob, who was already moving over to where Gerard was. Mikey closed the door behind them and headed toward the stage.

*


Ray said, "Hey, where's the fire?"

Mikey laughed a little. It wasn't a terribly amused laugh, but it was a laugh. He slowed down. Ray said, "I'm pretty sure Matt's still gonna be there when we get there." More softly, Ray said, "And I think it's going to take them awhile."

Mikey nodded fractionally in recognition of the sentiment that he'd totally just left his brother and two of his best friends to do his dirty work for him. Whatever Ray saw in Mikey's reaction, he shook his head at it, said, "Mikey."

Mikey asked, "Are you ready to stop? To cancel the rest of the dates?" Nobody had thought to ask Bob or Ray or Frank. The thing was, Bob was almost always ready by this time, his wrists aching for the rest that a bit of down time followed by a writing period would bring. And Frank never complained too hard anymore--like he'd used to--about having the ability to stay in one place, spend some time with Jamia, give his immune system a chance to recover from the wreckage of touring. Ray, though, Ray and Gerard were the two of them who never needed to stop moving, didn't really know how to take breaks.

Ray shrugged. "Gee is."

"That's not an answer."

Ray slowed to a stop. Mikey was surprised enough to stop with him. Ray said, "Yeah, Mikey. It really is."

It wasn't like Mikey didn't know that Ray and Gerard slept together. Ray and Gerard had always slept together, even back when Ray and Mikey were much closer and Gerard was just Mikey's weird, basement-dwelling older brother. But it had always been just that. Just two guys who knew they could always go to each other when the need was there. There had been breaks over the years, for girlfriends, and then Bob had come along and for a while they had shared him before deciding that a threesome was much more efficient, but they had done it for as long as Mikey could really remember and they had always come back to each other. Which didn't mean it had ever been more than good sex between good friends; it hadn't.

Mikey stared at Ray. "Since when?"

"Six months after the divorce, maybe."

Mikey had noticed that they'd started sleeping together again. They hadn't, not while Gerard had been with Lyn, not through the divorce proceedings, not once. Mikey had just thought they were picking up where they'd left off. "So I wasn't even fucking here before all of this."

Ray winced. "No, I mean. I don't know. It felt so different with us, I just kind of assumed everyone knew. But we never said, and I'm not sure how different it looked from the outside."

Mikey was still fairly sure that paying attention would have helped with that situation. His stomach gave another lurch but he just swallowed back against it. "That's-- I always thought--"

"Yeah," Ray said. "I know." He gave a sheepish smile. "I think that's half of why it took us so long; it's annoying, how you're always fucking right about this shit."

"Only when it comes to other people," Mikey reassured him. "Gee, really."

"Sometimes your internal compass gets a little turned around," Ray said lightly.

Mikey looked at him, hard. Ray laughed. "Like Bob said, Mikeyway--you're stronger than you look. Stronger than you think you are, too."

There was a flaw in that logic. "If I don't think it--"

"Luckily, you've got us and Pete and that Smith kid to think it for you. Brian, too, in a bit, if I'm not wrong."

Mikey held that thought close to him, the thought of all those people, and the way they saw him, the way it distorted his view of himself. Or maybe his view distorted theirs. One way or another, distortion was occurring. And looked at Ray. "I'm glad you and Bob-- It's you and Bob, right?"

Ray nodded.

"I'm glad you're-- I'm glad you love him. Like that. He's worth that. And I don't know that anyone else was ever going to see him, not really." Mikey wasn't sure that it was ever possible for guys like them, guys who lived and died with their band, to find that outside. Frank had, but Jamia was a rare, rare breed, perhaps the only one of her kind. Mikey couldn't quite tell.

Ray slanted his head. "Yeah, he is, Mikeyway."

There was something behind the statement, but Mikey couldn't figure out what it was, was too tired to think all that hard about it. "We really should find Matt, so he doesn't get this sprung on him any more last minute than it already is."

Ray was silent for a second before saying, "Yeah, point," and falling into step beside Mikey.

*


When Ray and Mikey got back, Brian was sitting in the hall outside the room, his back to the wall, knees tucked to his chest. Ray said, "I'm gonna--" and left Mikey there with him.

Brian looked up. "Sit with me, Mikeyway?"

Mikey left a little space between them, but he slid down the wall, wrapping his arms around his knees. Brian waited a little bit and said, "I, uh. I made some calls. About canceling."

Mikey nodded. "Thanks. I-- I know I'm kind of fucking things up."

Brian took a deep breath. Mikey rifled in his hoodie pocket and pulled out a packet of gum. That always helped Gerard when he was somewhere where he couldn't smoke or had run out of cigarettes. Brian took it gratefully. Mikey gave him some time to work into it. Finally he said, "Out of curiosity, did it ever occur to you guys to say to me, 'hey, Bob's wrists are fucked and Frank's family keeps having emergencies and Gee'd like to spend some time with his wife before his marriage falls completely apart'?"

Mikey was quiet for a second before answering honestly, "No."

"Why the fuck not, Mikey? Is it because you're all morons, or am I just seen as some kind of--"

"Gee asked once."

Brian fell silent, looking at Mikey incredulously. Then, "What?"

"You know after-- He asked if we could maybe reschedule and--"

"Mikey, if I'd said you could, do you think for a minute that Gerard ever would have gotten back on that stage?"

Brian was looked at him intently, and even if Mikey'd wanted to, he wouldn't have had it in him to lie. He shook his head. "No."

"There's a difference between tough love and being an asshole and fine a line as it is, I like to think I manage to fall on the not-asshole side."

Mikey rested the side of his face on his knee. "We don't think you're an asshole."

"Then why didn't your guys call me when they first found out, Mikey? Why didn't they say, 'we gotta take care of some shit'?"

The answer to that was actually pretty easy. "I didn't tell them they could. I didn't want to-- If I thought we could keep doing this, that I could hold it together and Gerard wouldn't fall right over the edge watching me do it, then we wouldn't even be talking now."

"Gee says-- He said you've been getting help from a doctor out in Vegas?"

"Spence, um, Spencer hooked me up with him. From Panic?"

Brian nodded. "He was thinking maybe you guys could go out there. Rent a house, spend some time in the sun. I don't actually believe he means that last part, but it sounded good in the pitch."

Mikey looked away. "I dunno. I-- Phone calls are a lot, you know?"

Brian was a long time in saying, "I think that's maybe why you should go."

Mikey breathed out and found himself somewhere between a laugh and a sob. "Tough love?"

Brian was chewing on the gum furiously, looking straight ahead, blinking like mad. Mikey said, "Hey. Hey, Brian. We know, okay? We know you love us."

Brian buried his face in his knees for a few seconds, but when he came up he didn't look like he'd actually cried. He just said, "I'm gonna find you guys some nice digs in Vegas, see about getting you some studio time. You probably won't need it for a while, but, well, it'll be there when you do."

Mikey nodded, because Brian was going to deal with all the shit from them canceling their tour and really, the least he could do was let Brian have his way in this, let Gerard and Brian conspire to fix Mikey. Brian chewed very deliberately for a second and then said, "Imma go smoke a pack, or something. Wanna watch the show with me?"

Mikey nodded again, only this time it had nothing to do with owing anybody anything.

*


Mikey wrote Spencer an actual email about the situation later that night, with capital letters and punctuation and everything. It started with "Dear Spencer," and said, "We're cutting the tour short. There's probably footage of me puking out a limo window on YouTube. Pete hasn't sent me it yet, but he's been kind of sparing with that sort of thing lately." Mikey missed it, not that he was going to admit that. It wasn't even that he missed getting emails of links that either freaked him out or made him roll his eyes, so much as that he missed Pete's confidence in sending them. "We're going to spend some time in your part of the world. Brian thinks I should see the shrink face to face. I know you're not there right now, or anything, but I thought you should know, so it wouldn't be weird, if you came home and I was there and I hadn't said. But you also shouldn't feel like you have to call, if you are in town. I'm going to stop typing now. Mikey."

Ten minutes later, there was a message that said, "Dear Socially Awkward Much, I'll see you in a couple of weeks, when we're off tour. We've got a few months before we go back on, because Brendon misses his family when we're away and Ryan spoils him in between pretending to roll his eyes a lot. Spencer."

They flew back to the US early the next morning, and stayed in LA for a couple of days. Mikey knew where Pete kept his spare keys and had an open invitation to crash regardless of whether Pete was there or not, so they holed up there while they did the mandatory press conference--Gerard, Ray and Frank did most of the talking--and Brian got them set up in Vegas.

The place Brian found them was actually a four bedroom house in a suburb near the mountains, well outside the city. Mikey's favorite parts were the back porch with the hot tub and the living room with floor-to-ceiling windows facing the sunset. The carpet was pretty awesome, though, too. Mikey could walk barefoot in it and barely see his feet.

He spent most of the first few days there just sleeping, trying to get comfortable enough in the space to do so with any real ease. Frank worked to find all the best delivery places, and Ray figured out the best logistics for writing and playing in the house. Jamia arrived at some point. Mikey didn't know if Frank had mentioned that she was coming, just that he woke up in the middle of the day--or so the sun seemed to indicate--and she was sitting on the couch with Bob sitting on the floor in front of her, braiding his hair. Mikey yawned and said, "Hey, J."

She said, "Hi, sleepy face," and went back to her stylist ways.

On the fourth day, Mikey woke up and didn't feel like going back to sleep, didn't feel tired which was the first time he could remember not doing so in a while. It was just past sunrise and the house was quiet. Mikey went out back and soaked in the hot tub in both boxers and a t-shirt until he was pruned and thirsty. He dried off in the early morning sun, got himself a glass of water from the kitchen and went to take a shower. By the time he got out, Frank and Jamia were up, making smoothies in the kitchen. Mikey was secretly glad Jamia was there helping, because sometimes Frank did things like not put the top on the blender right, and it was a fucking disaster to clean up.

Frank said, "Orange banana, or orange banana strawberry?"

"The strawberry one," Mikey said, and took a seat at the counter.

"Have you checked your phone in the last, I don't know, forever? Because it's kinda been ringing. A lot." Frank didn't wait for an answer before turning the blender on.

Mikey wandered off to find his phone and when he came back, there was a smoothie waiting for him. He said, "Thanks," and started checking his messages. Sure enough, there were a fair number. Pete had checked in, and both his therapists had called to ask how he was settling in, his mom, his dad, Jepha, whose message was admittedly a lot more like, "You canceled the tour? Is one of you dying? What the fuck, call me, bitch."

There were two messages from Spencer. One was, "Hey, you stomping my grounds yet?" and the other, "Did I do something? Because you have to tell me. Just ask Ryan, completely oblivious." Despite the words, he didn't sound worried. Also, Mikey was pretty sure "oblivious" was the last word that would ever describe Spencer.

Mikey made himself call his mom and his dad first, even though Gerard probably had already, then his therapists. He sent Pete a text thanking him for the use of the house and telling him where they were, and Jepha another one that said, "w're fine jst needed sme tme," which wouldn't hold him off for long at all, and finally called Spencer. "Hey, sorry. I was sleeping."

"Mmm, post tour sleep. How I miss it."

"You've only got like two and a half more weeks, right?"

"You know how it is, the last part's always the worst."

Mikey did know. "How're the guys?"

"Jon misses Pete. Brendon misses his family. Ryan misses his dog. Pretty par for the course, really."

"Yeah." Mikey smiled. Some truths were kind of universal.

"So, hey, um. I miss you."

"Oh." Mikey thought about that. "Really?"

Spencer laughed, but it was a complicated laugh and Mikey wasn't sure he understood. "Really."

"I saved you to call last," Mikey said, hoping Spencer would understand. That meant they could talk the longest.

"Really?"

Mikey nodded even though Spencer couldn't see. "Really."

*


The therapist's office was a good half-hour's drive away, but that was okay by Mikey. He took one of the rental cars Brian had set them up with and made his way there, GPS at the ready. The suburbs were pretty easy to navigate and Mikey didn't get lost, which meant he was early. He looked at the magazines that didn't have celebrity gossip, mostly comprised of health tips and recipes Mikey was pretty sure he couldn't make.

The doctor poked his head out of his door and asked, "Mikey?"

Mikey stood and came in the door. The doctor didn't offer his hand, which Mikey appreciated, since he was still having a rough time touching strangers. As it was, being in a room with a man he'd never met wasn't at the top of Mikey's fun-things-to-do list, but at least now he was able to keep his mind rational about the whole experience. That was a pretty serious step in the right direction. The doctor said, "Hello, I'm Dr. Blake. It's nice to meet you face to face."

Mikey couldn't exactly say the same, but he managed a smile. Dr. Blake motioned to a stuffed chair and Mikey sat in it, tucking his limbs up. He knew that his body language gave him away, but he also knew that that should be okay in here. He was trying to reestablish his safe spaces, as per several conversations with his regular therapist. When Mikey was settled, and had looked around the room a few times--nothing out of the ordinary: bookshelves, books, a desk--Dr. Blake asked, "How's the new place?"

"Nice," Mikey said. "Not home, but nice."

"You feel safe there?"

Mikey thought about it. "Mostly. It helps that the other guys are there. I haven't been there by myself yet."

Dr. Blake was silent for a bit and Mikey asked, "Is that odd? That I feel safer with them there? I mean, they were there that-- The night I was raped."

Dr. Blake had a hard and fast rule about Mikey not avoiding saying the word. Everything else was negotiable, but not that. It had taken Mikey well over a month to be able to make himself. He had to admit that mastering the ability made him feel more in control of the situation. Dr. Blake asked, "Do you blame them?"

"No!" Mikey said, scowling.

"It wouldn't mean you didn't love them if you were. It's pretty natural to be angry at people who were there, who could have helped--"

"They weren't there. None of them went to the bathroom with me." Mikey's chest hurt. He made himself breathe.

"No, but you said they noticed it had taken you unusually long. They could have checked."

"Even if they-- It wouldn't have--" Mikey closed his eyes. "I don't want to talk about this."

"What do you want to talk about?"

Mikey knew that tone. It meant the man wasn't actually letting anything go. He sighed. "Fuck if I know. Music. Books. Movies."

Dr. Blake laughed a little. "You're the one paying me by the hour."

Mikey scrubbed at his face. "You think I should be mad at them?"

"No, I think you should explore whether you are or not, so that you can express it in healthy ways. Clearly they're important to you. I can't imagine it would be a good time for anyone if you just let it build up and it came out over who was in charge of the remote control, or something equally inane."

"I think healthy might be a little different between us," Mikey said.

"Yeah, from what I know of it, probably. But I can't imagine this is what it looks like."

"Probably not," Mikey admitted.

"We could talk about that. What healthy would look like in this situation."

Mikey opened his mouth to say he didn't know, but that was kind of the point. He hadn't even thought about it. "That-- Okay."

Dr. Blake nodded. "Okay."

*


At Dr. Blake's suggestion, Mikey signed himself up for a self-defense course at a continuing education center. Frank signed himself up right along with and when Mikey said, "You don't have to," Frank said, "Sure as hell couldn't hurt, either." Jamia evidently agreed, because she signed up as well. Gerard did too, but Mikey had known that was going to happen. Secretly, Mikey didn't think it was the worst idea in the world for Gerard to know how to get someone far the hell away from himself.

The class was overwhelmingly made up of women, largely twenty-somethings to about forty. Mikey was pretty sure a few of them knew who they were, but they mostly just stared a little instead of making a huge deal of it, so he wasn't too bothered. Occasionally, if he caught one of them staring, he would smile, and that was usually enough that she would look away, or smile back and then look away. Either way, it was fine.

In the end, Mikey was glad they'd decided to do the class with him, since they often partnered off in class, and he might not like having them come up from behind, but he could at least stand it. He was pretty sure that with anyone else he would have just flailed out and gone for the kill in any way possible, which would have thoroughly defeated the purpose of the class.

At home he practiced with Bob and Ray, because they were bigger than him, and he wasn't used to the feel of them from class. To his surprise, within a couple of weeks--four classes--Mikey was starting to feel more confident about walking into grocery stores, going to see a movie by himself, all the things that he had done regularly before. He still wasn't sure any of the things he was learning would have helped--Mikey would never, never forget how cool the steel of the knife was against his skin--but they helped him to think he could stop something this time, that it wouldn't be the same.

There were fliers at the class about a Jujitsu class for beginners at a martial arts studio nearby. Mikey told the others that he was going to sign up. Frank was all over that idea. Jamia was pretty excited by it, too. Gerard took a pass, which didn't surprise Mikey. Gerard had never been much into physical activities.

The day the three of them came home from their first class, sweating and sore and mostly ready to collapse on the floor and never do anything ever again, was the day they walked in to find Ray, Gerard and Bob talking in the den with Spencer Smith. Spencer smiled at Mikey when he walked in, and then, taking in his disheveled appearance asked, "Should I have called ahead?"

Mikey blinked. "You said you were gonna call when you got in town."

"Yeah." Spencer half-smiled. "I came instead."

"I need a shower," Mikey said, because if he didn't take some ibuprofen and get himself under hot water he was never going to be able to move ever again.

"We were gonna order some dinner anyway," Ray said. "Go take your shower. Maybe we'll be closer to having food by the time you get back."

Mikey looked at Spencer, who nodded, smiling all the way this time. Frank said, "Foooooood. I love you forever, Ray Toro," even as he was dragging Jamia off to the shower they had in their room. Mikey followed, splitting off into the hallway bathroom that he'd agreed to take so that Ray, Gerard and Bob could have the master bedroom and bath. He pulled the ibuprofen from the medicine cabinet, swallowed four with the aid of the tap and ran the water until it was near to burning. Then he stayed under it until he could feel the worst of the oncoming ache loosen from his muscles.

He towel-dried his hair and slipped in to a pair of sweats and went to join the others. Jamia and Frank weren't there yet, but Mikey wasn't surprised. Frank showered for longer than the rest of them even when he didn't have his wife there and available, wet and naked with him. Mikey used to find the thought arousing. He didn't like to think about the fact that he no longer did. Mikey was pretty sure he could be aroused, he just hadn't wanted to be, which was something he knew he was going to have to work through, sooner or later. The thought was not an appealing one.

Spencer said, "Food should be here in a bit; we got sandwiches. Gerard swore he knew what you liked and Bob let him order, so it's all on the two of them if you can't eat. There's cream soda in the kitchen, though, if you want. I picked it up on my way over."

Gerard could probably order for Mikey while sleeping, so Mikey wasn't too concerned. He went into the kitchen and grabbed himself a cream soda from the fridge, chugging his first couple of swallows. Spencer asked, "Thirsty much?"

Mikey smiled. "Keep talking and I'll have Frank drag you to the next class."

Spencer shrugged. "Might not be the worst thing ever. Our band could use a ninja."

"Jon's not one?"

"You really shouldn't listen to anything Pete tells you."

Mikey smirked. "So I keep reminding myself."

There was a comfortable silence then, until Spencer said, "I think it's awesome, though, really. That you're doing that. Jackie did a self-defense course, too, her and Crystal and my mom all did. But Jujitsu's cooler, I have to say. Traitor brother though it makes me."

Mikey took a sip and told Spencer solemnly, "I won't tell."

"You're a good friend, Mikeyway."

"So Pete says."

Spencer laughed.

*


Spencer stayed and played some Halo--which he kind of sucked at, but was at least self-aware, and awesomely hilarious, about sucking at. None of them really did anything after that, but somehow two in the morning rolled around and Spencer was still there. His phone rang and he said, "Oh, huh. Gimme a sec," and wandered out to a nearby room. When he came back in he said, "Evidently it's kinda late."

Gerard glanced at the clock on the DVD player. "Oh."

"Yeah, Ryan was worried you'd eaten me."

"Was not. Ryan likes us," Gerard said.

"Yeah, but Brendon feeds him ideas and sugar and Bendon may be more physically dangerous on the stuff, but Ryan's the one you've got to watch out for. He can kill you with his brain."

"Really?" Frank asked, sounding interested.

Spencer nodded. "I've seen it happen."

Frank and Gerard exchanged glances. Ray, Bob and Jamia exchanged eyerolls. Mikey asked, "Why does your band need a ninja if Ryan can kill people with his brain?"

"It comes and goes. Also, Ryan isn't always the best at figuring out who should be dead."

Mikey looked at Spencer. "And you are?"

"We work best as a team," Spencer admitted.

"Yin and yang," Gerard said profoundly.

"Bonnie and Clyde," Bob said dryly.

"Ernie and Bert," Frank said snarkily. Jamia smacked him upside the head, but she was laughing as she did so. That was okay, though, since Spencer was, too.

He said, "On that note, I think I'm gonna head out. I left the dogs by themselves and they're probably not very happy with me by this time."

Mikey stood. "I'll, uh--"

"It's cool, I can find my way."

"You should bring the dogs next time," Frank said, sounding wistful.

Spencer said, "You sure? They're a handful. I mean, I love 'em, but--"

"Did you actually just warn me that your dogs were a handful?" Frank sounded genuinely surprised.

Spencer paused. "You have a point, friend."

"I always do. It's just that most people aren't smart enough for my unrelenting presence of mind."

"Well, okay," Spencer said, and hugged Frank until he squeaked. It took a bit, but Spencer was clearly in it to win it and Jamia just as clearly had no intentions of rescuing Frank. When he had come away victorious, he high-fived Ray, did a manly sort of handshake/back-pat thing with Bob and put in another hug for Gerard. To Mikey he said, "Glad you're here. Got plans for tomorrow?"

"Phone therapy in the morning, Jujitsu at one, we were maybe gonna write. The evening should be open."

"That's... It wouldn't be inviting myself if I showed up again, right?"

"Hell yes it would, Smith," Frank said. "That's the only way we ever let anyone in. Balls, man. You gotta have 'em."

"Mm," Jamia said, face too straight for words.

Spencer shook his head. "See you tomorrow, in that case."

Despite his earlier protest, Mikey walked him to the door.

*


Milo took to Mikey pretty much from the moment he trotted in the door. If Mikey sat down, Milo sat down on him. If Mikey went to another room, Milo followed. Spencer said, "I'm sorry, I've never seen him fixate like this."

Mikey just got to his knees, though, burying his face in Milo's back. It was nice to be able to be so close to something living without wanting to pull away, feeling unsure of what that being's next move might be. He said, "I'm glad you brought him."

Spencer sat down on the floor, and when Mikey emerged for some air, he noticed Spencer just watching. Mikey ducked into himself. Spencer didn't stop him. Instead he said, "Jackie took up all these new hobbies afterward. It was something her therapist suggested. There's a term for it, but it's just really finding something that reminds you that you're inside yourself."

Mikey nodded into the silence. Spencer shrugged. "You're already doing the Jujitsu thing, which I guess isn't exactly the same, but you play an instrument for a living so maybe that kind of therapy wouldn't be the best for you."

Mikey tilted his head. Spencer played with the strings on his shoes. "They use dogs to treat depression, did you know?"

Oh. Mikey smiled, just a little. "There's a reason I have a zoo at home."

Spencer grinned in acknowledgment. "You could keep him for a bit. If you wanted."

Mikey blinked. "Um. He's your dog."

Spencer shrugged, looking a little uneasy. "It's not like I don't leave him with other people for significant chunks of time. I mean, if I'm honest."

"Right, but, you could be with him, now--"

"I'm over here pretty often. I mean. I plan to be. That was what I meant."

"You don't have to."

"If you don't want--"

"No, I just. Your family's here. And stuff."

"On a normal basis, I see them more than I see you."

"Yeah, sure, but." Mikey opened his hands wide in the international symbol for, "you know what I fucking mean."

Spencer nodded. He said, "I really am pretty good at making my own decisions. Ones that are good for me, even."

"That's sort of different," Mikey said.

"I'm a unique guy."

Milo inched over to try and chew on Spencer's shoelace. Spencer swatted at his nose and Milo came to Mikey with a wounded air. Mikey laughed and scritched behind his ears. "Oh, you are trouble. Trouble, trouble, trouble."

Milo panted happily. Mikey said, "I-- Okay. But if you decide you want him, or something, just come and get him. And if he starts acting like he misses you or Boba or anything--"

"You'll tell me. I trust you with my dog's happiness, Mikey."

After a second, Mikey realized that he actually trusted himself to take care of Milo as well. It was a startling revelation. He nodded and collapsed on his back, waiting for Milo to lay atop him. He didn't have to wait very long.

*


Spencer yawned. Mikey glanced at the clock. Spencer followed his eyes and said, "Yeah, I should probably get going."

They had a schedule. Spencer came in the evening--sometimes with dinner, sometimes without--and stayed until everyone was ready to go to bed. More often than not, this meant two or three in the morning. It was currently a bit after three and Mikey said, "Um. The couch folds out. If you want. I have no idea if it's comfortable--"

"More comfy than my driver's seat," Spencer said. "Thanks. I'm beat."

"Oh."

Spencer frowned slightly. "Mikey?"

"You just-- You could have said something."

"About being tired?" Spencer yawned again in the middle of the question, and okay, yeah, Mikey probably could have picked up on that on his own.

"About-- You've been driving back and forth every day, you could have just asked to stay."

Spencer cupped a hand behind his neck and considered Mikey. "I didn't mind. I sleep in in the mornings, you know?"

Mikey'd guessed, but that kind of wasn't the point. "I would have invited you. I just didn't think."

"It's fine. Just, this is kind of your space right now, you know? I'm pretty in to respecting that."

"You do." Mikey didn't even have to think about that. "You do. But that doesn't mean--" Mikey scrunched his face up, trying to figure out how to say what he was saying. "I don't like one-sided friendships."

Spencer was slow to answer. When he did he said, "Not to say that I wouldn't have been considerate in this situation if I felt that things were one-sided, because I probably would have been. At least, I like to think I would have. But I wouldn't be coming over here every day."

Mikey crossed his arms over his chest, unsure if he believed Spencer. Spencer scrubbed a hand over his face. "Jesus. You and Ryan."

Mikey asked, "Ryan?"

"It took him forever, forever to understand, not kinda, but really understand that I wasn't hanging around for pity's sake, but because he was my best friend in the entire world. He always thought it mattered that he wasn't my support system and I was his, but it didn't, because I didn't need a support system, I had one of those. He didn't. I needed Ryan to be weird and fun and the most interesting person in my world and he never failed at that. The problem with you and Ryan is that you see everything in terms of your needs, don't understand that another person's needs are different. With Ryan it's a form of being self-centered, with you I think it's that you grew up with Gerard, who has a lot of the same needs as you, so you're used to seeing your needs mirrored, but that doesn't mean it's true for everyone."

"I think Bob and Ray have tried telling us that a few times," Mikey admitted.

Spencer laughed a little, more a breaking of the tension than anything. "Have an extra pillow?"

Mikey didn't go to get it. "You know you're welcome to stay whenever, right?"

"Now I do." Spencer was still smiling. Mikey couldn't help smiling back. He rolled his eyes and went to go get Spencer his pillow.

*


Spencer had said, "My mom's having dinner on Ryan's birthday, since we generally have our party either on mine or between. Anyway, she wants you guys to come."

Mikey'd said, "Uh, what does Ryan want?"

"Ryan couldn't give a crap less so long as my mom makes his favorite foods. Normally I wouldn't betray his confidences like this, but I'm going to tell you, Mikeyway, my best friend is ravenous machine of death to all things edible."

"His secret is safe with me," Mikey said solemnly.

"I knew I could place my faith in you," Spencer said, equally solemnly, before grinning. "Anyway, you should come. My mom makes fizzy sherbert drinks and chocolate birthday cake to die for. Plus, Brendon'll probably insist on Ryan giving birthday spankings again, and trust me, nobody wants to miss that."

"I'm sure," Mikey said. "Should we bring something? Appetizers? A gift for Ryan?"

"You can bring whatever makes you feel comfortable, but it's a no strings invite. We'd just like you to join. It's not a big party or anything. Jon's not even in town at the moment. It's just Ryan, Brendon, my family and you guys."

"Ryan really won't mind?"

"Okay, this is for real something I shouldn't tell you, but I think he'd kinda like it."

It took Mikey a second of looking at Spencer in confusion, but then he said, "Oh. Fanboy."

Spencer stiffened a little. "It's not--"

"No, no. I'm flattered." Mikey shook his head. "Are you kidding? Gerard and I invented being fanboys. In our basement. He just never, I mean, Pete didn't say and there weren't any of the usual--" Mikey stopped and regrouped. "Ryan's kind of intimidating."

Spencer blinked. Then he laughed.

"Oh, shut up, that's totally not fair, you've known him since you were five--"

"Oh, no, Ryan was intimidating then, too, I'm just-- You know you're like, um, that people-- You're totally like him, Mikey."

"What are you talking about?"

Spencer looked at Mikey for a minute. "Seriously? You, you're all silent and you have this way of looking at people, like you're totally not interested and, well, I mean, you're just. Like Ryan, a little. Not once you get to know you guys, or anything, but definitely at first."

"But. But nobody's intimidated by me."

"Well, no, that's cause you hang out with Gerard. It's hard to be intimidated by someone who hangs out with Gerard."

"Ryan hangs out with Brendon."

"Right, but Brendon does shit to perpetuate the myth. Also, Ryan hides behind his intimidation factor. You just hide."

Mikey opened his mouth to argue, but after a second just smiled a little. "Yeah. Guilty."

Spencer shrugged. "It works. Sucks for other people, since knowing you is pretty nice, but whatever. I like a well-kept secret. Anyway, Ryan's a dweeb, you shouldn't let his strong-silent thing get to you."

"I'm sure he'd appreciate you saying so."

"Ryan Ross knows perfectly well how I feel about him," Spencer said. "You gonna come?"

"I like chocolate cake as much as the next guy," Mikey said.

Spencer grinned, slow and accomplished. "Not if the next guy is Ryan."

*


Despite what Spencer had said about them not needing to bring anything, Mikey brought a bedazzled hoodie for Ragamuffin, Ryan's miniature poodle. Ryan had, so far as Mikey could tell, shown no propensity toward dressing his dog, but Mikey was entirely sure he could get Ryan to see the error of his ways. He forced the issue of Bob driving as well, since he wanted to actually be on time.

Gerard sat with Mikey in the back and asked, "You okay?"

Mikey looked at Gerard. Gerard shrugged. "You kinda spend most of your time around us right now."

"I go to Jujitsu. And therapy. And Spence comes over."

"Yeah. Just. Parties are different."

"It's a dinner party, Gee. There aren't going to be strobe lights and, I dunno, loud music."

Gerard said, "Well. Ryan Ross. I mean, you never know."

Mikey laughed a little. "Maybe slightly nervous."

"Good. It'd suck if it were just me."

"Oh, it wouldn't have just been you," Mikey said.

"Who else?"

"Frank had Jamia iron his t-shirt."

"Really?" Gerard sounded positively gleeful.

Mikey patted his shoulder, not unaware that it was one of the first times he had initiated contact since the attack. "Saw it with my own eyes."

Gerard seemed cheered by this and even mildly calm by the time they reached Spencer's place. The piled out of the car and up to the front door, where they all stood for a minute before Jamia rolled her eyes and reached out for the doorbell. A girl that Mikey didn't recognize, but who looked too much like Spencer to be anyone but his sister said, "You beat Ryan, come on in."

Spencer came around the corner as they were filing in and said, "Hey. Glad you came."

"I said we were going to." Mikey held out the box he was carrying. "Presents?"

"In the dining room. Have you met Crystal?"

The girl who'd opened the door was still standing there. She smiled. "Hey. I'm Crystal."

"Crystal, this is Mikey, Gerard, Bob, Ray, Frank and Jamia."

Mikey could kind of tell that her thoughts were somewhere along the line of, yes, we have an internet connection in the house, thanks, but all she said was, "Nice to meet you."

There was polite agreement from all the guys, and Crystal said, "I'm gonna go help mom."

Spencer took the box from Mikey and asked, "Can I get you guys drinks?"

"Cream soda?" Mikey asked.

"Wouldn't be caught without it," Spencer said. "Anybody else?"

Everyone but Frank and Ray raised their hands. Frank said, "Plain Coke?"

Spencer nodded. "Sure. Ray?"

"Coke's fine."

"Great. Sofa's through there. Feel free to sit anywhere. Ryan and Brendon'll be here any minute, they called a while ago with some really stupid excuse which just means they had shower sex and it took too long, so, sorry, didn't mean to make you wait." Spencer disappeared toward the kitchen. A few moments later he came back with a tray of drinks. "My mom says sorry she's hiding in the kitchen, she'll be out just as soon as everything's done."

"Is there anything we can do to help?" Bob asked.

"Nah, she's got the twins in there, anybody else and she's just going to feel stressed about people getting in her way."

Mikey took a sip of his cream soda and was about to ask Spencer about the song he knew they'd all been fighting about when Ryan and Brendon came through the front door shouting, "Sorry, Ginger!"

Ginger yelled back, "You'd better be! Dinner will be ruined!"

"Aw," Brendon said, plaintively.

"Go entertain my real guests!"

Another voice called, "Happy birthday, Ryan."

"Thanks, Jackie."

Ryan and Brendon came in view. Brendon said, "You've usurped our spot as favorites."

Mikey said, "Happy birthday, Ryan."

Ryan smiled and said, "Thanks. Thanks for coming. Hey, is that cream soda?"

Spencer said, "It's in the fridge," and proceeded to ignore Ryan's whining about how he deserved special treatment on his birthday.

*


Jackie got Mikey alone in the kitchen, somehow, while he was helping clean up from the cake. He was sneaking another crumb or three when she said, "Spence says you know about me. Says he told you."

Mikey made himself look her in the eye as he nodded. She deserved that.

"He told me he had a good reason, but I woulda figured that out for myself."

"He's a good brother," Mikey said. Spencer, obviously, wasn't his brother, but he knew what good brothers looked like, and Spencer was definitely in that set.

After a second, Jackie smiled. "Yeah."

Mikey shifted on his feet. She asked, "Whatever-- Did it--" She shook her head in frustration, her arms coming up over her chest, and Mikey knew that position all too well.

"I wouldn't have let him help me if he hadn't. I-- I don't think I could have. I didn't even, I mean, he." Mikey ran a hand over his face. "It was really important."

She was still standing defensively, but she was watching him now, her eyes a little knowing. Finally she said, "Okay."

Softly, Mikey said, "Thank you."

She tilted her head. Mikey shrugged. "Just. For, um. Being strong. And not being mad."

"I was at first. I was pissed."

"But you didn't take it out on me."

"I took it out on Spencer," she admitted.

"That's what brothers are for," Mikey said. It wasn't always his favorite part of the description, but sometimes it was just a part of being a sibling.

She laughed a little, low and not particularly amused. Mikey said, "I owe you one. If you ever want to collect."

"I don't even know what I did."

Mikey looked at her, pretty sure that was a lie. She didn't flinch. She also didn't repeat her protestation. Finally she said, "Couldn't hurt, having a member of My Chemical Romance in my debt."

"Yeah, your brother's band doesn't get around much."

"Sucks that I grew out of my crush on Gabe. For a while there, life was pretty sweet."

"Gabe? Really?"

Jackie shrugged. "I used to be into tall guys. Product of growing up around midgets or something."

Mikey noticed the used to be. He let it go. Mikey knew what kind of thing could change a person's taste in an instant. He looked at Jackie, Spencer's baby sister, and put down a flash of the desire to beat her attacker to a pulp. If anyone had that right, it was her. "If I find any good-looking mid-size guys, I'll send them your way."

"Sweet of you," she said.

Mikey smiled tightly, but not without warmth. She smiled back. Mikey was pretty sure she had filled in the blanks. He was surprised to find himself all right with that. He filed the information away to discuss with his therapist. He asked, "So, uh, who's gonna notice if I have another piece of cake on the sly?"

"Ryan," she said. Then, "Go for it."

*


"My mom likes you," Spencer told Mikey. "She sent leftovers." He went straight to the fridge and stored said leftovers. There was a note on them that said, "SHARE, BOYS. Love, Ginger."

"Even though we keep stealing you?"

"If that was how she was going to judge people, she'd have killed Ryan in his sleep years ago."

"Yeah, okay."

Spencer laughed. He said, "You hung around for a while, so I figured--"

"Your family's really nice," Mikey said. "I told Jackie I'd hook her up with someone normal-sized, if I could manage it."

"Yeah, she said the two of you talked. She didn't say about what."

"Nothing to say, really." Mikey shrugged. "You never told her about me."

"Not mine to tell."

"Still, sort of fair, what with--"

"Jackie doesn't keep it a secret. She doesn't talk about it with just anyone, but she does Take Back the Night walks, and seminars on women's safety. She doesn't hide it. There's a difference, Mikey."

After a moment, Mikey nodded. "Thanks. Again."

"No need, but sure." Then, "Hey, where is everybody?"

"Frank and Jamia went home for a few days to take care of some stuff, Gee, Ray and Bob are on a date."

"A date?" Spencer smiled.

"Well, they're doing one of those Lord of the Ring trilogy screenings. If Gee could get away with it, he'd probably make out with them during all the Sam and Frodo scenes. As it is, unless Ray and Bob keep a tight lid on the situation, we might be seeing Brian shortly."

Spencer smiled knowingly. "How's he gonna feel about that?"

"Oh, well, you know. He's only had to cancel a good ten dates and explain that to the label without giving me up. I'm sure it'll seem like a party to him."

"You should get him a nice Christmas present."

"Yeah, I've been hoarding hookers and blow," Mikey said solemnly.

Spencer exploded with laughter. "I was thinking a massage chair, but your idea is better, definitely."

"Maybe a live-in masseuse..." Mikey pondered.

"While you're at it, maybe throw in a lifetime membership to a Yoga studio."

"He probably could use some stress relief."

"And now we're back to the hookers and blow."

"Vicious cycle," Mikey agreed.

There was a comfortable silence for a bit. Then Spencer said, "It's awesome that they trust me with you."

"You were-- I mean, it was-- If we hadn't talked--"

"Yeah. It's still awesome."

Mikey looked at Spencer and instead of saying, "It is," or, "I trust you with me," said, "Popcorn and Bob's Dr. Who stash?"

"I'll melt the butter."

*


Mikey woke up two nights later, plastered in his own sweat and...cum? He looked down to confirm, and sure enough, whether he remembered it or not, he'd been turned on by something. Mikey shuddered, made nervous by the vague feeling of left over pleasure. He hadn't been turned on, hadn't wanted to be since the attack. The rape. His therapist would make him say it, he knew.

He threw the sheets off the bed, tearing the fitted sheet off and took them to the laundry room. There were extra sheets somewhere, he knew, but he couldn't remember where, and he didn't think he could go straight back to sleep anyway. He started the wash and went to go take a shower. When he got out, he grabbed a glass of water, put the sheets in the dryer and laid down on the couch, texting Spencer. "asleep?"

Spencer's response was a little too quick for comfort, considering it was nearly four in the morning. "u ok?"

Mikey thought about telling Spencer to go (back) to sleep. Instead he said, "wrd drem"

"ntmr?"

"n. n jst. idk"

"g sleep?"

"evry1, y"

"wnt me 2 cm ovr?"

"tmrw"

"now?"

"n, m fine"

"mikey"

"promise. fine."

"no wht i do whn i cnt sleep?"

"?"

"cddl dogs & wtch tv in a foren lang"

Mikey blinked. "y?"

"try it."

"k"

"here if need"

"y. thx"

":-)"

Mikey corralled Milo onto the couch with him, turned on the TV and found a station in what sounded like Chinese, but could have been Japanese or Korean or Vietnamese. At first he thought the unusual meshing of syllables, consonants and accentation would keep him awake, but soon he found that the lack of plot or pertinent information that his mind could deduce was calming, and before he knew it, he was slipping back under.

*


Mikey woke up to the feeling of a blanket having been spread over him and the sound of Frank and Spencer arguing about the relative merits of small dogs versus large ones. He rubbed at his eyes, stretched, yawned and said, "Frank, he's not comparing you to a small dog," since clearly, Frank was taking this all a little more personally than the argument really warranted.

"Afternoon, sleeping beauty." Frank snickered.

Milo, who had escaped at some point, came over and licked Mikey's face. Mikey turned slightly away, frowning. "Time izzit?"

"Almost three," Spencer said.

"Shit, I'm sorry, you should have woken me up."

Frank shrugged. "You looked like you needed the sleep. I told the teacher you were sick, Spencer and Jamia made your bed, then Spencer and Ray took Gee out for a run with the dog. It was awesome."

Mikey blinked. Spencer said, "I got here kinda early, and I figured, you know, it wouldn't hurt to hang around. You had to wake up some time. And Gerard had a lot of excess energy, okay? Ray was totally the one to suggest it."

Mikey believed him. "You didn't have to stay."

"I know, but Chinese television is bizarre and intriguing."

Spencer probably had the same channel at home, but Mikey neglected to point that out. He was glad Spencer had stayed. "Is there food?"

Spencer stood. "I told the guys I'd do some grocery shopping when you got up."

"Oh, hey, you don't have to--"

"I know, but your diet makes me worry about your internal organs."

Frank flipped him off. "Just as long as you get peanut butter. It's a staple, Smith."

"Only when eaten with something," Spencer said, but he held his hands up in the international signal for "fine, whatever." He looked at Mikey. "You wanna come with?"

"Uh," Mikey looked down at himself.

"I think I can spare a few minutes for you to change."

"He's really generous, Mikey. Wherever did you find him?" Frank asked.

Mikey stood, yawning and stretching again. He brought his hand down atop Frank's head and gave him a half-hearted noogie. Frank made a noise of discontent and moved, but he didn't go far. Mikey caught him smiling before he turned away. It was kind of rare that Mikey was the one to touch first these days. And the guys didn't really touch unless he made it extremely clear they could. Mikey smiled back and ambled off to find a pair of jeans and a clean t-shirt. Oddly, he felt like going a little out of his way for Spencer.

When he came back, Spencer said, "Pac-man," obviously delighted by Mikey's choice of retro tee's.

Mikey said, "You weren't even alive."

"Was too, and whatever, you were way too young to have listened to Joy Division at its height."

He had a point, but even more so, Mikey didn't really feel like bickering. He said, "I heard things in the womb."

"Babies can actually do that, you know? Brendon's sister was totally insistent that Brendon only give her the songs with no bad words in them so that the baby could get familiar with his stuff while she was waiting for it to be born. No joke."

"Brendon must've loved that."

Spencer grinned. "That won Ryan over, which I think was the bigger deal in Brendon's eyes."

"Yeah, I can see that." Family and band wasn't something a guy wanted to have at odds, even if Ryan had his reasons. "Still, your mom wasn't playing Pac-man with you in the womb."

"My mom's a total gamer."

"Having met her, I can definitely see that."

"Whatever. You just don't want to admit you lost this round."

"That's totally it," Mikey agreed.

*


While they were in the grocery store, well lit and public and a place where Mikey could feel fairly confident in his ability to repel any attacks on his person, Spencer said, "This is so not any of my business, which pretty much means you're free to tell me to shut the fuck up, but Jackie, for a long time, she didn't think she'd ever, uh. She didn't really want to, y'know. Sex."

Spencer was speaking softly, but Mikey could hear him. "Um. Okay?"

"She'd talk about it with her therapist, I think, anyway, but not with us."

Mikey hurt for Spencer. He could remember how it had felt, having Gerard shut him out during the worst of his downward spiral. Mikey winced, realizing his own actions really hadn't been any better-worse, probably. "Yeah."

"I don't know who suggested it, the therapist or Jackie's friend or Jackie, I have no idea, but she had this really good friend and he helped her kind of...get comfortable again. When she was ready."

Mikey processed the words. "Oh."

"I-- I don't even know who you'd go to. I mean, probably not the best idea with Ray, Bob or Frank, with them all being involved, and I'd offer Jon, but he's mostly Pete-sexual, and Brendon has a massive stick up his ass about monogamy, because he's evidently afraid of becoming a 'gay Mormon stereotype'," Spencer actually formed the air quotes. "But maybe Matt or Brian? I don't know if they're with anyone. I don't even know if it's guys for you, except that Jon said that you and Pete, but that doesn't really mean anything because, well, Jon and Pete--"

"It's guys. Mostly. I mean, there have been a few girls, but not... And I don't think that'll be a problem, if it comes up again. I mean, maybe, but, I guess I'm not worried?" It wasn't as hard letting Jamia near him as guys who weren't his guys or, well, Spencer. That said, Spencer's idea was valid. Mikey had a sense that if he didn't force himself to get back on the proverbial horse--and soon--he was going to be walking for the rest of his life. Granted, he'd thought that about touring and he'd been wrong, but the second time he'd known it was time to go back, he'd been right. Sometimes it just took him a couple of tries.

"Okay," Spencer said softly.

Matt was straight and Brian was currently monogamous with Jepha, despite the fact that it broke all of Brian's rules about not falling in love with his artists. They were at almost two years, though, so Mikey was pretty sure that rule had been trashed all to hell. James was married with actual, live children, Pete was totally in love with Jon, Patrick, Joe and Andy were all either straight or more straight than not, and Gabe was trying his hardest not to fuck up whatever it was he had going with his band--Mikey had long ago stopped trying to figure out the Cobra Tangle of Lurv, as Pete had christened it. "Jackie's friend. Did she ask him--"

"Yeah, she really trusted him, and knew even if he said no, he wouldn't laugh, or tell anyone or anything."

"But he said yes."

Spencer nodded. "He really helped her. They're still really close."

Mikey took some time to mull that over. He helped Spencer with the checkout, and after a brief argument, paid for the food. They loaded up the car and buckled themselves in and Mikey asked, "Are you-- Uh, you're not straight, right?"

Spencer nearly backed into another car. He recovered in time. "Feeling smooth, just now."

Mikey laughed nervously. Spencer said, "I, uh. No, not straight. Not completely."

"Because you told me about it, but then you didn't offer, and I mean, maybe you just don't want, which is totally understandable--"

"It felt presumptuous."

"Oh."

Spencer's eyes were staying distinctly on the road. "Just, you know, 'oh hey, maybe you should get some tail, and, by the way, mine's on offer.'"

Mikey laughed a little. "Tail?"

"Whatever, I was making my point idiomatically."

"Nice word."

"I listen to Ryan. Sometimes."

Mikey knew the feeling. "Just, you've been pretty, um, really good at knowing what will help. And I-- If it's not too much to ask, because it's a lot--"

"Not too much, though," Spencer told him.

"No?" Mikey asked.

"No."

*


Mikey admitted, "You're going to have to start."

Spencer said, "How 'bout we take turns?"

"Your turn first," Mikey said.

Spencer laughed. They were sitting on the steps of the back porch, enjoying the late morning sun. Spencer inched his bare foot over and rested it gently atop Mikey's. Mikey startled, despite having seen what Spencer was doing. He didn't move, though. He let himself get used to the touch and when he had settled completely into it, Spencer must have seen something--must have been paying more attention than it seemed like--because he inched over with his body, stopping when he had aligned himself with Mikey's side. It was far, far more contact than Mikey had had with anyone, except perhaps Gerard, since the rape. He wanted to move away, give himself back his space. Instead he stayed where he was.

Spencer said, "Okay?"

Mikey nodded. Spencer said, "Just stay as long as you can. No longer. It's a first try."

"Can you? Talk? Or something?" Mikey didn't want to spend the time counting in his head, listening to his own fears about skin on his, about the disturbance of his boundaries.

"I can talk. I used to talk a lot. Then Ryan figured out how to speak for himself and it was all over."

Mikey smiled. "How'd he learn?"

"Not that he would ever admit to it, but I suspect he figured out that if he didn't, Brendon was going to get over thinking Ryan walked on water at some point and then he'd just be screwed."

"Do you think he would have?"

Spencer was silent for a moment. "I don't know. Part of me hopes he would have. Seeing Brendon unhappy is a bit like running into a dog that's been chained up outside a store and it's freaking out, you know, trying to get in? And like, whimpering and shaking and shit. Only, Brendon pretends that none of that is going on. So on top of everything, you feel like some kind of pervert for knowing."

"Wow."

"Yeah, it's not fun. But I think if he had, I think I'd have had to piece Ryan back together again and I dunno. There's only so many times you can fix something before the structure's just fucked."

Mikey felt himself tightening against Spencer. Spencer started to move away and then stopped. "Oh. I don't think you're at that point yet."

"Spence--"

"No, if I thought that, I wouldn't be bothering."

"I call bullshit."

"That's fine, but I'm pretty pragmatic, really, and you're not Ryan. You're not Brendon or Jon, either."

And okay, that was both valid and true, but, "I still call bullshit."

"Believe what you like. I've got better things to do with my time than help strangers who can't be helped."

"I wasn't a stranger," Mikey argued.

"Close enough. You weren't a friend."

"Pretty harsh dichotomy you've got going there."

"You know all that many people who fall between?"

Mikey thought about it and admitted, "Not a whole lot."

Spencer nodded, his point made. Mikey said, "Thanks."

Spencer said, "Shut up."

"No, I mean, just. You just believe shit. Like Gee. That's hard."

"Ryan taught me."

"Ryan."

"Ryan Ross, world's hardest believing believer. You have no idea."

Softly, Mikey repeated, "It's hard."

"Sometimes." Spencer twisted his head to look at Mikey. "Sometimes not so much."

Mikey rolled his eyes and looked away, but he didn't move. He stayed right next to Spencer.

*


"Your turn," Spencer said. He'd waited two days, given Mikey some down time, but Mikey had to admit that he was right. Which didn't necessarily mean that Mikey knew what to do with the knowledge. He closed his eyes and thought of all the ways he'd used to enjoy touching people, even in just a friendly context.

Mikey grabbed a chair from the kitchen and said, "Sit facing the back."

Spencer didn't argue, just did as he was told. Mikey laid his hands on Spencer's shoulder and gave himself a moment to get acquainted with the slope of fabric beneath his hands. Gerard had always said he was good at this, that his boniness, his strength, lent itself to some serious massage-fu. Spencer deserved something, deserved some relaxation. Mikey made himself focus on that fact as he dug in, drew out sharp cries, low grunts. Occasionally, Mikey would ask if something was okay, but mostly he had to not think too much, just let himself do.

When his hands were sore, his arms shaking from exhaustion, sweat lining his spine, Mikey said, "Um. Spence?"

"Dead. Try again later," Spencer said, his voice lengthening in a way that made Mikey think of taffy pulls. It was a weird thing to think of--Mikey hadn't see taffy pulls since the Italian market his mom had sometimes taken him to as a kid.

"'M'kay," Mikey said, and laid down on his back on the floor, staring blankly at the ceiling. He felt sort of loose and dopey himself, like after a really good karate class.

Spencer slid, literally just sort of poured down, onto the floor. Mikey let his head fall to the side so that they were facing each other. Spencer's eyes were mostly closed. He asked, "What other sekrit ninja skills have you got?"

"I can wiggle my ears."

Spencer's eyes opened slightly. "For real?"

Mikey demonstrated. Spencer looked on in awe. "Never, ever let Brendon catch you doing that."

"Couldn't be worse than when Gee saw me do it. He tried to sell tickets."

Spencer said, "Did not."

"Gee was an enterprising little shit," Mikey said, the last word being somewhat diluted by a yawn. "Then some kid made fun of me for it and Gee tried to beat him up and ended up with a broken nose for his trouble and well, mom put at an end to that."

"Tired?" Spencer asked.

"Class was kinda brutal yesterday," Mikey said. "And I was trying to work on some stuff with Ray, and we're both frustrated, and I just didn't get much sleep."

Spencer nodded sympathetically. "Wanna nap?"

"You have to go?"

Spencer was quiet for a long moment. He said, "We're, uh. We're pretty close, like this."

Mikey frowned a bit. "Spencer?"

"As close as we would be in a bed." Then, after a quick breath, "I'm kinda tired, too."

Mikey thought about that for several minutes. Spencer just let him, lying quiet and mostly still. Finally, Mikey said, "Um. Clothed, right?"

It was a stupid question, but Spencer just nodded. "Yeah."

Mikey's heart was beating hard just at the thought and he wasn't sure he would actually be able to sleep, but he got that Spencer wasn't offering to be difficult. "Okay."

Spencer didn't give him time to rethink. He said, "Okay," back, pushed himself up and reached for Mikey's hands, hauling him to his feet. Then he called Milo, who helped him herd Mikey into the bed, and cheerfully climbed up between them. Mikey blinked at Spencer in surprise. Spencer just smiled and gave Milo a good scratch behind the ears. Milo wriggled happily, taking a while to settle. Mikey assumed he did in fairly short order. He wasn't sure. He was already asleep by that time.

*


There was a note from Spencer on the side table when Mikey woke up. It said, "Had to run some errands. Later, S." Mikey blinked a little until the clock came into enough focus for him to see what time it was. Then he rubbed his face and looked again. "Shit," he said and got up, walking into the kitchen.

Gerard, Frank and Jamia were in there, making sandwiches. Mikey asked, "Is it really six?"

Frank said, "Don't worry, we checked to see if you were dead a couple of times, but you kept on breathing, so we figured you were good."

Mikey put a hand to the back of his neck. "Huh. Where're Bob and Ray?"

"Studio," Gerard said.

"They kick you out?" Mikey asked.

"I was hungry," Gerard told him, with what Mikey knew Gerard thought to be great dignity.

Mikey smiled at Frank. Frank asked, "You want in on this? We have a serious spread."

Mikey considered and picked out a couple of pieces of the oatmeal grain bread. "What time'd Spence leave?"

Frank said, "Dunno. We were in the studio."

Mikey looked at Jamia, who shrugged. "Maybe three-thirty?"

Gerard was playing with his food, so Mikey swiped at his hand and asked, "What?"

"You fell asleep with him in the room?" Gerard sounded confused.

Mikey didn't blame him. "Milo was between us." He slathered some mustard on the bread and thought about how to explain, exactly, what he was doing with Spencer. "He's been, um. Helping me test shit out."

They were all silent at that, and Mikey layered his slices of meat and lettuce before looking up. Gerard looked unsure, Frank like he was biting back a comment, Jamia had her patient expression on. Mikey shrugged. "Like, I can touch and he can touch. I mean, mostly there's talking and then a little touching, but it's, um, learning to be comfortable? With things. Again."

"Is it working?" Gerard asked quietly.

"Dunno," Mikey told him, honestly. "It's really small stuff? And I-- I slept, so, maybe?"

"Does your doctor know?'

Mikey nodded. "I told him. He-- He said as long as I felt comfortable. That I had to stay comfortable."

"Something making you uncomfortable?" Bob asked, coming into the kitchen. "Because I'd like to watch while you kick its ass."

Mikey smiled a little at the inherent vote of confidence. "No ass-kicking scheduled at the moment, sorry."

Bob made a face and stole the mayo from a little past Mikey, careful to stay out of his space as much as possible.

"Ray setting something down?" Frank asked.

"Yeah, he's gonna be after you in a bit."

"Do not eat faster," Jamia said. "I'll fight off the scary Ray-monster if you need more time to digest, dear."

Frank grinned at her with his mouth full. She rolled her eyes. Bob finished making his sandwich and went to go sit next to Gerard, who scooted just enough to make room for Bob, not so much that Bob would have his own space, per se. Mikey pushed his top piece of bread down onto his sandwich and took a bite. Jamia asked, "You wanna sit, Mikes?"

Mikey shook his head. "Gonna go watch TV. Come get me when Ray calls?"

Gerard said, "Mikey?"

Mikey shook his head. "I'm fine. You'll come?"

Bob said, "Yeah. We'll get you."

Mikey slid his sandwich onto a plate. "Okay then."

*


"You said something to your guys?" Spencer asked the question a few days later, when they were settling down for a nap again. Mikey had gotten used to enjoying them in a really small amount of time. He thought, maybe, one of these days he wouldn't need Milo. He hoped, in any case.

"I thought-- I try to, now. At least when things come up."

"That's good," Spencer said, settling down, his eyes closing.

"They--"

"It was chill. Frank informed me that he watches a lot of procedurals and they would never find the body, but I feel like he meant it in a fond way."

Mikey laughed, the sound more in his chest than anything, but it was there. "Ray and Bob are the ones you have to worry about. They don't warn."

"Yeah, I'd figured that out. I've been hanging around, you know?"

Mikey said, "I'd started to notice," and let the conversation drop as they both fell lazily into sleep.

Mikey was the first one to wake up this time, Spencer still breathing evenly, cuddled over Milo, his fingers brushing into Mikey's side. Mikey stilled for a bit, but realized he didn't mind, so he stayed where he was. Milo whined at him a little, and Mikey reached up a hand to scritch at Milo's favorite spot, right along his chest.

Spencer murmured, "If you spoil him, he won't come back to me, you know."

"Hey. Did I wake you up?"

"Nah, I was in and out for a bit, there." Spencer pulled his fingers back for a second, then let them rest, smiling at Mikey. It was a hazy smile, like Spencer still wasn't certain how to control his facial muscles.

Mikey smiled back. Spencer said, "I'm gonna move my fingers. Just back and forth a little."

"Yeah," Mikey said, and allowed it. He still had his shirt on. He said, "You know, sometimes I just-- I used to really like, um. Gee and I just, with our arms around each other, or Bob. Bob's soft. I just-- That's what I want to fucking kill him for. Not the way it hurt or the way it made me feel afterward or any of the things I think should make me want to. Just that, those things were good."

Spencer was cautiously bunching Mikey's shirt up. "They will be. Again. You're working on it."

"But I--"

"Shouldn't have to. I agree."

"The shrink thinks it's good, all the anger."

"It took Jacks a long time to get there," Spencer told him. "Longer than this."

"Girls are taught that it's not ladylike."

"Yeah. But she had a big brother. I never--"

"You weren't the only influence in her life," Mikey said. Thinking about what it would have been like to have Gerard and only Gerard, he added, "For better or for worse."

Spencer grinned, then, "She was pretty amazing when she was pissed, though. I mean, sometimes it totally went in the wrong directions, but she was so fucking fierce, it was almost hard to get upset, 'specially when she hadn't been at all in so long."

"Is it like that with me?" Mikey asked.

"I'm not sure I can-- I mean, I like it? But one of your guys would probably know better. They knew who you were."

"You think it's that different?"

Spencer thought for a long moment. "I think every major event, good or bad, changes us in our lives."

Mikey was considering that when Spencer's fingers found their way to lying directly against his skin. He sucked in a breath. Spencer said, "Milo, go." Then, "Milo!"

Milo made dog-grumbling noises, but he got off the bed. Spencer said, "C'mon," and Mikey made up his mind that he wanted this, he did, and rolled closer to Spencer. Spencer slid his arms around Mikey, the one hand staying in contact with Mikey's skin, and it was much, much closer than anything they'd done that Mikey hadn't been in complete control of. Spencer asked, "Okay?"

Mikey took a breath. "Good. Good."

*


It was Mikey who initiated the kissing, but then, it was always going to have to be. Spencer had been clear about that--he wasn't going to push the big stuff. He hadn't said, "I'm not going to force you," he certainly hadn't used the word rape, but the implication had been there, and Mikey couldn't blame him. It was a big enough favor to ask a guy to help him ease back into thinking about having sex, let alone put it all on him, make him the aggressor. Especially when, Spencer was right, the last thing Mikey needed was to be forced.

Mikey kept thinking about it. He'd think about it when they were sitting next to each other on the couch, watching TV, or when they napped together. He'd think about it when they were out taking Milo for a walk and when Spencer was at the house after a long five or six hours in the studio. He thought about it non-stop, really. When he was exhausted from thinking about it, he came back from a jujitsu class to find Spencer on the back porch with Gerard and said, "Hey, um, can I borrow you?"

It wasn't really a question. If Spencer hadn't said yes, he probably would have insisted. He wouldn't have made Spencer do anything, but he would have made it clear how much he needed what he was proposing. Spencer didn't say yes exactly, he just got up, squeezed his hand on Gerard's shoulder with a, "Later," and said, "Hey," to Mikey, following him in the house, to Mikey's room. Mikey was sweaty and gross from the class and he said, "Sorry," when he closed the door, but other than that he just went for it, just put his lips to Spencer's and tried to remember what felt good about it.

The plus was that the guy, the rapist, hadn't kissed him, so the act itself was not polluted. But the intimacy of it was terrifying, his stomach tight inside of him, his hands shaking. After a second, Spencer whispered, "Hey," into the almost-violence of the kisses, and slowed things, his mouth insistent in a pattern of relatively gentle kisses. "Hey," he said between kisses, or, "Mikey," or, "Yeah," and Mikey couldn't say if Spencer knew that it helped to hear his voice occasionally, but it did.

They kissed for maybe all of two, three minutes before Mikey needed some space, needed to not feel hands on him. He pulled back and said, "Okay, okay," hands running compulsively through his hair.

Spencer said, "Hey, Mikey."

Mikey looked at him. Spencer smiled. "Take a breath."

Mikey exhaled on a nervous laugh, and then inhaled. Spencer said, "You were great, what're you freaking out about?"

Put like that, "Not sure?"

"Okay, forgive me for using the most pedestrian and overused metaphor in the history of the English language--"

"I'm not Ryan."

"Yeah, point, so--"

"Or even Gee."

"Are you done interrupting?" Spencer asked with a laugh.

Mikey shrugged. "Maybe."

Spencer rolled his eyes. "It's like getting into a pool the first time in, well, I guess for you it would be summer, but here it's spring, if not late winter. Anyway, heated or not, the pool's fucking cold, so unless you're Brendon, and insane, with no regard for your anatomy whatsoever, you don't canonball in, you go down the stairs, waiting to warm up at each one. The crappy part is that you know, you know that if you just followed Brendon's batshit insane antics, you'd get it over all at once, in seconds, but you can't, because the idea in your mind of that much cold all at one-- Well, you just can't."

Mikey stared at Spencer for a long time. "You're right."

"I know."

"That's a really overdone metaphor."

There was a second's hesitation before Spencer reached out and play-smacked him. "Asshole."

What Mikey noticed was that he didn't mind the impromptu touch, or even the mock-violence of it. He said, "I'm just fucking ready to swim. I mean, in my--" Not in his head, because his head was still scared as hell. "I don't know. Gut."

Spencer nodded. "Yeah."

"I want a drink," Mikey admitted, because he couldn't bear to tell the others, to have them look concerned yet again. "I want to just-- I keep thinking if I were even just buzzed, that I--"

"You'd really want to give up any control in that situation?" Spencer asked mildly.

Mikey glared. "Tell me that always being right gets tiring."

Spencer nodded solemnly. "Burdensome, even."

"You've had this conversation with Ryan."

"Many, many times."

*


When a real problem arose in the arrangement between Mikey and Spencer, it wasn't the one Mikey had been expecting. He wasn't sure what he had been expecting--perhaps that Spencer would find himself an actual boyfriend or girlfriend, or that Mikey would hit a wall and be unable to go any further, but whatever it had been, it wasn't what happened. What happened was that kissing Spencer became easier, that sometimes, when Spencer showed up smiling and with a box of donuts or a new horror flick, Mikey wanted to pin him to the wall and thank Spencer by way of his tongue on Spencer's.

Which was good, of course, in the department of Mikey not being a sexually paralyzed freak for the rest of his days. On the subject of Spencer being a friend though, who had been willing to help Mikey out in good faith, well, that made it a little awkward. Sure, Spencer had offered intercourse of any and all varieties, so Mikey didn't think he was likely to balk at this stage. Except that what Spencer had offered was something a little above and beyond friendship--sex for sex's sake, not because they were boyfriends or involved or anything that Mikey secretly thought he probably really wanted.

As far as Mikey could see, there were two ways to handle the problem: one was to pretend as though nothing had happened, eventually sleep with Spencer and act appropriately grateful. Another was to tell Spencer and watch Spencer act like it was fine, but withdraw a little bit, try and extricate himself while he still could.

Mikey did what he always did in these situations. It surprised him, a little, because he hadn't since before the attack--rape--but it also felt right, and Mikey couldn't help feeling kind of excited about the fact that he wanted to. He went and found Gerard.

Gerard was hanging out with Ray, the two of them clearly getting nothing done, since Gerard was braiding Ray's hair. Ray was making notations on a piece of paper, but when Mikey glanced, it was sort of like reading a Shostakovich symphony--if Shostakovich had done 400 mg of PCP before writing his symphonies. Mikey said, "If we give Frank some cocaine, he could probably manage that."

Ray wadded it up and threw it at Mikey, who didn't even bother to duck. Ray said, "Some help you are."

Mikey said, "I kind of want to sleep with Spencer," because he had found, over the years, that just coming out with these things was the best way to go. This was largely due the fact that if he didn't, he'd just stutter himself into oblivion.

To Ray and Gerard's credit, they were both pretty used to this, even if it hadn't happened much over the eight months and change. Neither of them gaped. After a second, Gerard went back to braiding. He asked, "Um, I thought you guys were--"

"You guys definitely are," Ray said.

"Kissing," Mikey nodded. "But I think-- I don't think he was intending for me to, uh. I don't think I'm supposed to want to get in his pants. This is like, it's a favor. It's not-- I'm totally the skeevy guy at the bus station here."

"I'm pretty sure you'd have to shower even less than you do for that," Bob said as he came in. Then, catching everyone's expression he asked, "Am I interrupting?"

Ray and Gerard looked at Mikey who bit his lip and waved his hand. "I suppose you might as well know you're in a band with a pervert who molests his friends."

"You shouldn't talk about your brother that way," Bob told him. Gerard flailed a bit until a hand found its intended target. Bob intoned, "Ow."

Mikey laughed a little, which helped. Ray said, "Let me just throw this out: Spencer seems like a stand up kinda guy, and all, but Mikes, I really don't think any guy offers to help any other guy out in the orgasm-happy-time department unless he's just a little bit interested in the goods."

That argument was totally logical and it wasn't that Mikey didn't have some sense that it was probably slightly true--Spencer wouldn't have said after all, not when he knew Mikey was freaking out about anyone showing interest in him. While one of the important issues that Mikey and his therapist had been working through was the difference between desire and power in a rape situation, desire still held a fair amount of charge with him, even when it originated on his side, clearly. But he'd also gotten to know Spencer pretty well, gotten to understand his relationship to Ryan, Brendon, his sisters, the way he took things on. "I don't think he actually thinks of public restrooms and glory holes when he looks at me, I just don't think we're, like." Mikey was not the metaphor guy. "I don't think he thinks about anything other than helping me. In the way you do when you're pretty in love with someone and sex is just something you do because of that, not the other way around."

Into the silence that followed that pronouncement, Bob said, "Look, not be a prick, but is there any chance that you're just really grateful to him? And that, y'know, given some time and some, uh, release, it'll bleed off?"

Only Gerard asked, "Why would you want that?"

Mikey looked at Gerard warily, "Gee--"

"Sexing you up isn't the only thing Spencer's done all this time, and you know it. Also, according to Patrick, who wasn't supposed to tell Bob, who wasn't supposed to tell me, Panic's been putting off going back on the road. I don't think that's because any of them's crazy about staying put, okay?"

"Gee, that doesn't mean--"

"It means he cares. Whatever else, he cares. And you don't know what the fuck you want, other than a little bit of two-backed-beast action with him, so just leave it. Just let it be."

For all that Mikey knew he had a reputation for ignoring the world around him, "Not what I'm best at."

"Doesn't mean you can't do it," Gerard said, and kicker was, he was right. Gerard was almost always right about Mikey, which was why Mikey came to him in the first place, and why it was always so fucking annoying to come to him.

"If this backfires--"

"You can have my Ultimate X collection."

Mikey choked on his own spit. When he recovered he asked, "For real?"

Gerard shrugged. "It's not gonna backfire."

*


The day Mikey came in his pants while he and Spencer were making out, Mikey straddling Spencer on the couch, fully-clothed, like teenagers, Spencer said, "Look, feel free to say no, but I'm fairly confident I can do better than that."

Mikey said, "I don't know who's been telling you stories about my prowess, but Pete's been known to exaggerate."

Spencer laughed. "I was probably thinking about later."

Mikey leaned back against the couch and closed his eyes. "Handjob?"

"If you want," Spencer said.

Mikey opened his eyes and looked at Spencer, who shrugged. "Or blowjob. Y'know."

Mikey's gaze strayed to Spencer's lips and for a second he was nothing but the tingles running up his spine. He blinked, the reminder of what feeling turned on at a moment when Spencer wasn't pressed to him, hands warm and large and Spencer's, a little intense. "Oh."

"You don't have to decide. Just, think about it."

Mikey was actually trying to think about what there was to think about. He knew that right outside this feeling there were others, ones he'd been struggling to step out of for even a few minutes for going on nine months now. It was weird for them to seem so far away, so completely insignificant. It was kind of like being drunk, but the way it had been at first, not later, when it was just another depressant, to go along with the others. It made him want to say, "You like sushi?"

If Spencer was surprised by the change in topic, he didn't much show it. "Yeah, but Ryan's not really into it, and Brendon doesn't eat fish, so I don't end up having it much."

"There's a place I found with Ray. It's good, and they suggest stuff and don't treat you as if white skin equals culturally bankruptcy."

Spencer waited for a second before asking, "Are you trying to say you need a sushi buddy?"

"I'm--" Mikey was tempted to grab his balls, just to make sure they were still there. "I'm kinda failing to ask you out on a date."

There was a spark of something that Mikey was pretty sure was a smile before Spencer shook his head. "Um, Mikey, I--"

Mikey made himself stand his ground, not physically back up. "You don't have to say yes. I mean, it's not-- I get that you're just helping me out."

"Seriously, shut up, Mikey."

Mikey said, "Sorry."

"I was going to ask, probably after stuttering awkwardly a lot, if you're sure this isn't just gratitude? Because, I mean, sushi would be fun and all, but it's-- I don't want that. You don't want pity and I don't want thanks, and just, if that's all this--"

Mikey put a hand on Spencer's chest. Spencer quieted, looking down at it. Mikey said, "I'm not-- I don't know how to say that no, this isn't that, because I am grateful, there's-- You helped me get my fucking life back. That's not something I can just ignore."

It took Spencer a moment to nod. "Okay, point."

"But I really-- I-- We have a good time together, even when there's not tongue action, and I just think. I think it could be fun to have sushi together. Is all."

There was a beat, a tick on Spencer's watch and then he said, "Yeah, okay."

Mikey looked down, but then brought his face up, because Spencer kind of deserved to see his smile. Spencer's smile was slow, but steady in response. He said, "Okay."

*


"Hey! This place has sea urchin." Spencer looked like a kid who'd just found a particularly unlikely and awesome prize in the crackerjack box.

"Um," Mikey scrolled down the menu. "Apparently?"

"It's a little hard to find around here. There's some good places out by the strip, but places that have stuff that's different from, like, salmon and shrimp and stuff, that's harder. Oh, nice, Tako, too."

Mikey glanced. Tako was evidently octopus. He said, "I think you're more adventurous than I am about this."

Spencer grinned. "I have two baby sisters and a competitive streak."

Mikey wasn't really sure how that ended in sea urchins and octopi, but if there was one thing growing up around Gerard had taught him, it was that it was better, sometimes, not to ask. For all his adventurous ordering, though, Spencer had good table manners, the kind that a guy raised around three women picked up. Despite having eaten around Spencer numerous times at this point, Mikey felt a little awkward. He couldn't decide if it was the datey-dateness or the fact that they were in a restaurant, or just that Mikey was now noticing these things and details could sometimes throw Mikey, but the fact that he'd been raised with only a brother to emulate and spent most of his life around other guys felt patently obvious. He got over it because, well, Spencer knew worse things about him and also, Spencer spent a lot of his year on a bus with three other guys--well, at least Jon, Jon seemed like a guy who ate with boy-manners.

Halfway through the meal, Spencer asked, "How do you feel about fried ice cream?"

Mikey shrugged. "It's fried and there's ice cream. What's not to like?"

"Fuck if I know, but it weirds Jon out, like, it's one of the few things he has a seriously emotional response to, so I'm always kind of careful when introducing the idea."

"This place has fried ice cream?"

"Nah, but the Mexican place two blocks over does fried cinnamon ice cream with a splash of chocolate sauce."

Mikey was kind of surprised at how watching Spencer get excited over the idea was a bit of a turn on. Mikey had always enjoyed enthusiasm, but in a way he hadn't expected his sex drive to come back the same, almost like a car that was totaled and when it came back from the shop it looked similar and everything, but the parts inside were mostly new. Still, watching Spencer's eyes settle into a dedicated interest, and listening to his tongue roll over the word "cinnamon" was definitely doing something for Mikey. "Uh, yeah, that sounds--"

"Like something you wouldn't mind kissing off my tongue?" Spencer asked softly, with something that was so, so close to disinterest, but a crucial millimeter off.

Mikey made himself chew and chew well. There was nothing grosser than coughing up half-chewed food on someone, and while sometimes that was a valuable weapon on a bus fight, there was a time and a place for everything. Even more softly, Mikey asked, "Ever had your cock sucked by someone who's just eaten ice cream?"

For the first time in all of this--not including the asking Spencer out on a date part, because nobody expected the Romantic Inquisition--Spencer looked completely thrown sideways. He blinked. "No."

Mikey just looked at him for a moment longer and then went back to eating his sushi. Spencer said, "Mikey, um--"

"I don't know," Mikey told him honestly. He had no idea if he'd be able to follow through on that suggestion. He thought there was a good chance. He was turned on at the thought and what had happened to him hadn't involved mouths at all. Knowing all of that, he wasn't making any promises.

"I-- I could. For you. If nothing else."

"Spence--"

"I don't mean-- I'm not all self-sacrificing and shit. Just, it's a good idea. I'd be into it, either way."

Mikey took a few more seconds to chew--spewing food while talking was only one step up the etiquette ladder from coughing it up. "I'm into fried ice cream, either way."

"Okay then," Spencer said.

*


"I just discovered your superpower," Mikey said, watching Spencer eat fried ice cream while driving and not make a mess. It was sort of like the time Ray had dried his hair under a hand-dryer at the pool and still managed to look totally the same.

"I can also put on all my clothes while asleep."

"Yeah, Frank can do that to."

"And not have any of them be inside out."

"Okay, that's almost alien-like." Mikey took a another spoonful. "There something you aren't telling me?"

"We don't like to talk about it. It upsets Ryan."

Mikey nodded. "He has a delicate constitution."

Spencer snorted and came up to a light. He took another spoonful. They were almost back to his place. When they got there, Mikey took both the bowls in, like a gentleman, Spencer greeting Boba and giving him some love. Mikey joined in once he'd thrown the bowls away. When Boba finally tired of them they were both lying on the floor, well licked, and Spencer rolled over a bit, not atop Mikey, but definitely next to him. "I should have told you, I totally give out on the first date."

Mikey pulled him in the crucial inch that it took to kiss him. Spencer tasted like cinnamon, not as cold as Mikey was expecting, but sweet and just a little bit sharp and Mikey said, "I really want-- Just, like, lay flat, okay?"

"Yeah, I-- Whatever you want."

Mikey knew he was smiling in a pretty idiotic way, but he couldn't help himself. Spencer was looking at him like he was Christmas come early, and it was heady and awesome and settled better in his stomach than even the ice cream. He plucked at the button on Spencer's jeans and worked them, as well as his boxers, over Spencer's hips. Mikey wasn't ready to take his clothes off with anyone, but he liked getting to do it to Spencer, the way Spencer didn't fight at all.

Mikey put his hands to Spencer's hips to hold him where he was. Spencer said, "Mikey--" but Mikey didn't give him time to offer an opt-out again, just took a breath, opened his mouth and took the head of Spencer's cock in. Spencer squirmed a bit, but he didn't buck, just said, "Oh, yeah, hi, okay."

Spencer's voice was a little bit higher than usual, different than his breathy exclamations when they were rubbing off on each other. Mikey smiled as best he could with his mouth full. Then he took a breath through his nose and sank a little deeper. Spencer smelled like soap and maybe like ginger, but Mikey thought the latter might have been from the sushi. The skin of his hips fit beneath Mikey's hands, his cock wasn't too hard to take. Really, these were Mikey's perfect conditions for a blow job.

Spencer said, "Hey, can I-- Can I touch you?"

Mikey drew off slowly, partially because he was thinking, partially because it made Spencer's eyes roll in the back of his head. Mikey considered and finally said, "My arms, shoulders. Don't-- Probably not my hair?"

Spencer nodded. "Good, that's good."

Mikey went back down on him and Spencer rambled, "Um, justincase thisisembarrassing orsomething, it'skindabeenawhile."

Mikey laughed, which made Spencer squeal and flail until his hands found Mikey's triceps. He squeezed, but not hard enough to hurt, nowhere near. And the thing was, Mikey knew he could have. Spencer was a drummer, Mikey knew exactly how strong drummers were. This thought in mind, Mikey took one of his hands off Spencer's hip and wrapped it around the base of Spencer's cock. Spencer whined, "Mikey, fuck."

Spencer's response was making Mikey hard, forcing him to widen his legs a little. He sucked harder, mostly because Spencer was being so, so amazingly good about not bucking up into Mikey's mouth and it seemed like a nice thing to do. Spencer sobbed once and said, "Found. Your. Superpower."

Mikey figured he'd tell Spencer that he could play entire compositions with a Coke bottle later. He could hint at it, though, by pulling back, blowing over the tip of Spencer's cock and then swallowing and sucking again. He varied his pattern and the second time he did it, Spencer said, "Mikey, Mikey," and pushed a little at him. Mikey didn't fight, sitting back on his heels and watching Spencer arch up into the orgasm. Partway through his hand was down his pants barely of his own accord and he was palming himself.

Spencer--still a little tipsy from the orgasm--rolled a bit toward Mikey and said, "Hey, hey, lemme--"

He was careful in putting his hand over Mikey's, and then working Mikey's to the side so that he had his hand on Mikey's cock. Mikey shuddered a bit, but said, "Don't-- Don't pull away."

"No, uh uh." Spencer squeezed, not exactly gentle, but not too hard. "C'mon."

It took a while, Mikey having to remind himself where he was, who he was with, even while he was looking at Spencer, and Spencer not applying the kind of pressure that this would normally take. Despite that, they got there, Spencer's hand hot and a little rough and just the right size and Mikey wanting it, wanting it so badly. Mikey stiffened and said, "yeah, yeah," even as the pleasure pulled him down to the floor. When he focused again, Spencer had brought hot hand towels. Mikey said, "How do you feel about post-sex naps?"

"I like them in beds."

"I have to move?"

"Unless you have a superpower we haven't discussed."

Mikey sighed and got to his feet.

*


After the night that Spencer stayed over late enough that it really didn't make sense for him to go home and Mikey woke up feeling safe and warm and a lot more calm than he had for a while, the two of them had been finding their way to each other at night, regardless of where they stayed. Spencer didn't seem to mind that most nights Mikey felt more like sleeping than anything else. And on the one occasion that Mikey had woken up to skin on his and nearly ended Spencer's family line, Spencer had just rolled away far enough that Mikey could see him and then hadn't freaked out when Mikey had come to his senses. Mostly, he'd just let Mikey make it up to him for days, at the same time being quietly reassuring.

A couple of weeks into the routine, Gerard handed Spencer a box and said, "Merry Christmas."

"Well, it's January, but way to get a head start on things." Spencer opened the box and grinned when he found matching cotton pajama pieces with dogs all over them. "Mm, hot."

Gerard had just grinned at him until Spencer rolled his eyes and said thanks and accepted the hug that was all but thrown at him. Spencer had worn them that night, clearly expecting Mikey to laugh, and Mikey didn't disappoint him. He did, however, follow it up with, "Comfy's a good look for you." He then followed the comment up with a blow job to prove his point.

Two days later, Mikey woke up before Spencer and made his way to Spencer's kitchen to put on some coffee. Whoever managed to fall out of bed first was on coffee duty, that was their deal. He had just finished pouring the water when he turned around to find someone who was not Spencer standing in the kitchen. He had a chair in his hands, in front of him, ready to throw so quickly that he barely heard Ryan's, "Fuck, sorry, sorry! I thought you were Spence."

He did hear it, though, and after a few seconds, he was able to put the chair down. It was still in front of him, but at least Ryan wouldn't think he was planning to decapitate him any time in the near future. Mikey said, "Uh. Hi."

Ryan rubbed at his face. "Tell me you made extra coffee."

Mikey nodded, but didn't move from where he was, hands wrapped tightly over the top of the chair. He tried to think straight, the result of which was to ask, "Where's Brendon?"

Ryan waved a hand. "He got stuck on something he was writing and didn't sleep last night. I found him asleep under the piano. I trained his dogs to help me herd him to bed."

"Really?"

"Amelia's part Border Collie. It's pretty instinctual."

"Oh," Mikey said.

"If you'll let me by without killing me, I can pour the coffee."

"Uh. I think you should stay there," Mikey said, but he managed to pry himself free of the chair and pour two mugs, setting one on the table. Ryan waited until Mikey was clear of it to reach out.

Mikey took several sips of coffee, letting the heat and the caffeine talk him down from Crazy to Just Slightly Jumpy. When he was there he said, "Sorry. Wasn't expecting-- I thought you were Spencer."

"Lot of that going around," Ryan said softly.

Mikey winced. "Seriously, I didn't mean--"

"Yeah, I know. Got it. I'll just-- I'm gonna drink this coffee and--"

"You came to see Spencer."

Ryan stiffened. "It wasn't, I mean. No big deal. Just haven't, y'know. We're not touring, right now, and I mean, he's-- Like I said, nothing big. We'll talk later."

"Ryan."

Ryan stopped, nearly to the door. Mikey motioned across the table from him, where there was an empty seat. "He'll probably be up in a bit."

Ryan glanced at the clock. "I could come back."

"Yeah, but gas is expensive and we only have so much of the environment left."

After a second, Ryan huffed something that was close to laughter at that and sat down at the table.

"I didn't mean to steal," Mikey said honestly. He remembered the first flush of Gerard and Lindsay's marriage, when all of Gerard's free time had gone to her. He'd liked Lindsay, a lot, but it had still sucked.

"If you had I could just kill you and not have any scruples about it," Ryan said calmly, but with a somewhat forlorn air.

"Sorry," Mikey told him, mostly sincerely.

"Yeah," Ryan said.

"He's--"

Ryan waited a long time, but Mikey didn't even know how to finish the sentence, how to talk about what he had needed, and the times when Spencer had pushed too hard and it had turned out to be just enough. Finally he shrugged. "I'm lucky."

"If it turns out you just needed him to get over your own issues and you decide to let him go gently when all of this is done, I will out your brother to a reputable entertainment news source, start a campaign to have your favorite ice cream flavored discontinued and then kill you."

"Kinda going easy on me, don't you think?"

"I don't harm pets and I don't treat sexual assault as a weapon that can be used on multiple occasions, so, no."

"Righteous of you." Mikey had never used that word and meant it. He'd never thought he would.

"Fuck off," Ryan said.

"I meant it."

"I know."

Mikey laughed a little. "We have bagels."

"Capers?"

"Uh--"

"Probably, he usually keeps them for me. You toast, I'll get out the toppings."

"Sure," Mikey said, and grabbed Ryan's mug so that he could pour them both another cup.

*


On the double date that was clearly needed and had been set up by Spencer, Brendon asked, "How's your album coming?"

"Not as quickly as we'd like," Mikey said, frustrated by the fight Gerard and Frank had had earlier and the fact that Ray, Ray of all people, was possibly not speaking to Frank.

Brendon winced, but then bucked up. "I, uh, I kinda meant musically."

"Oh," Mikey said, and felt a bit stupid for not getting that the first time. Spencer put a hand to his shoulder and Mikey jumped so hard he hit his knee on the bottom of the table. Spencer had pulled back immediately, but he was still saying, "Okay, okay," in a low, private, calm tone by the time Mikey came back enough mentally to actually hear him.

Mikey wanted to get away, but the thought of going to the bathroom by himself was enough to make his mind go blank with panic, so he said, "I'm gonna step outside for a moment."

Mikey was on the outside of the booth because he didn't like being stuck and Spencer never cared. He made his exit quickly and, when he got outside, took about thirty deep breaths before he could concentrate on anything other than just not freaking out. Then he dialed Frank and said, before Frank could even answer, "You guys need to compromise."

He hadn't noticed how much the tension was getting to him. He hadn't been paying attention, he thought, now that he was. There had been other things to think about, Spencer, and keeping himself together, and the music had been an escape, but that was all it had been since they'd begun writing together. It didn't work like that for the others, he knew, not for Gerard, certainly, and not much for Ray or Frank. He was used to them fighting over songs, over their thematic approaches to albums, all sorts of things, and he wondered if maybe this shouldn't even be bothering him, but it was. He could do without another album--he didn't necessarily want to, but he could--but Frank and Gerard being at each other's throats the way they were right now? The emotion that accompanied actually thinking about the situation made his muscles tighten enough to hurt.

"Hey Mikey," Frank said softly, and that was the good thing about having friends who knew you better than you knew yourself at times: it didn't take long for them to catch on that something was wrong.

"I can't-- I know we've done this before, and I get it, I get that you all just have opinions and shit and it'll blow over, I fucking know because despite everything I have recall and logic and whatever the hell else humans are supposed to have, but I need you guys to just--"

"Ray came up with something."

"Ray--"

"He just needed some alone time. You know how he is. With music."

Mikey let things slide into place and realized that, yeah, he had read that one completely wrong. Because Ray hadn't done anything like that in months. "He-- I just thought, I dunno, he hasn't been--"

"You've been better," Frank interrupted. Then, into the unsure silence, "You've been better and maybe we were rushing. I dunno. It was good, you know? Like, the fact that you don't necessarily need us near, but we can touch and, I just, you've definitely been getting better, is all. I don't think he meant--"

"I never wanted-- I didn't-- You guys shouldn't have, like, paused."

"Yeah, well, nicest way possible and all, but fuck you, Mikeyway."

Mikey closed his eyes. "Okay, yeah."

"I don't want to make music with four assholes who wouldn't care if I dropped off a cliff. If you do, go find some other fucking band."

"Blow me. You knew what I meant."

"Yeah, well, you've been around a few times when Gee's been off his nut on cocaine, or I've been puking blood offstage, or Bob's been lighting himself on fire, so don't even. The only problem with the five of us is that Ray can't manage to have any sort of regular trauma, dickwad."

"I'll mention you said that," Mikey said, letting himself rest his back against the front wall of the restaurant.

"Do. He's a problem solver, he'll take care of it."

"You're fucked in the head."

"Love you, too," Frank said, and hung up. Mikey pocketed his phone and contemplated the sky for a few minutes. He heard the door open and turned his head. Spencer was standing in the doorway.

Mikey said, "Hey."

Spencer smiled a bit. "Better?"

Mikey nodded. "I'll be in as soon as I've compiled my list of reasons why I'm the Best Date Ever."

Spencer came outside and stood next to Mikey, close, but not so close that they were touching. Mikey moved the extra inch it took to be right up along Spencer. "Sorry."

Spencer waved a hand. "You had to get out. Trust me, I've had fucked up days with my band before."

"Yeah, but--"

"Just buy Brendon a vanilla coke or something. He thinks he freaked my boyfriend out."

Mikey shook his head. "Wasn't him."

"You know that, I know that."

Mikey waited a second then nodded. He said, "Sorry," again.

Spencer sauntered lazily ahead of him. "Tell you what: you have the rest of the date to make it up to me."

*


Mikey wasn't sure exactly how he'd ended up playing Truth or Dare with Spencer at three in the morning. He'd never done so before, not even with Gerard, and they hadn't been drinking, because, well, Mikey didn't drink. Spencer didn't drink much, either, not when he was around Mikey. But for whatever reason, into the blue glow of Mikey's alarm clock, Spencer's voice had floated up: "Truth or Dare?" and Mikey hadn't really had to think much to say, "Truth." He knew all about boys in bands. Dares were fine so long as you put limits on them, or whatever, but if you didn't, you invariably ended up drinking horse piss upside down behind a cop car in rural Kentucky in the middle of the day. Not that Mikey had done that, or anything, and not that he would ever narc on which one of them had, but the lesson in all of this was that he knew better than to take the dare.

"Have you thought about when I leave to tour?"

Just all the time. "It's crossed my mind."

Spencer poked at Mikey's side. "Truth."

I think you could probably find someone a lot less damaged. "I'm not looking forward to it."

Spencer narrowed his eyes at Mikey in the dark, but finally said, "Fine, your turn."

"Truth or dare?"

"How 'bout we pretend we're playing a game of Truth?"

Mikey didn't even know what he was going to ask until it was coming out of his mouth. "What happens if I never want to be fucked?"

Spencer was quiet for a while. Then he ventured, "Um, we do other things? Like we have been?"

"But--"

"No, I don't even want to know what the end of that thought is. Even assuming sex was the end all be all of relationships, and I'm fairly confident it's not, one kind of sex really wouldn't be. We can't be the only gay guys in history to make the decision we weren't into that."

"I. I'm not into that," Mikey said softly.

"Well, I'm into what you're into, so, by definition."

Mikey chewed on his cheek for a bit. "Your turn."

Spencer laughed. "Cheater. Okay, what happens if I want to be fucked?"

"Do you?"

"You can't answer a truth question with a question."

"Spence."

Spencer rolled on his side to look at Mikey. "Yeah, kinda. I mean, it's not driving or anything, but, y'know. I like that."

"Even if I never, um, gave back?"

"Is sex usually strictly reciprocal in your relationships?" Spencer asked. "I mean, you've probably had a few more than I have--"

"I take your point."

"But you don't answer my question."

"Maybe. I don't know. I think-- It sounds good."

"It sounds good?" Spencer quirked an eyebrow in mild indignation.

Mikey shoved at him playfully. "Blow me."

"Now?"

Mikey thought about it. "If it's on offer."

"Truth or dare?" Spencer asked.

Mikey thought it through. "Dare."

"Sixty-nine."

"You're on."

*


Brian came in town to check up on the record's progress. In truth, it was going better than Mikey--and, he suspected, the others--had come to expect, but it wasn't where they would normally be in their process. Mikey thought they probably had another solid month to go, if not two. Gerard had offered to talk to Brian about it, as had Ray, then Bob, and even Frank, sort of, in his, "I'll beat the shit out of anyone who rushes this," kind of way. Mikey'd finally said, "Guys, I can take the heat on this one."

He didn't really think there was going to be much. Brian had been in constant contact, so it wasn't as though he didn't know what was going on, and that they were pulling their shit together. He'd started to talk about the label for a bit a month earlier, but Gerard had thrown an actual temper tantrum about artistic process and Mikey had taken the phone into his room and said, "Not to sound like a dicksmack, but my therapist says I need to find my own ways of telling people to step the fuck off when they get impatient about the recovery process, including myself. So, um."

Brian had said, "Stepping."

They had a welcome party for him, mostly because Bob said, "I wanna grill some steaks," and Gerard heard, "Let's invite everyone we know in a fifty mile radius." Luckily, they didn't know that many people nearby. There were a few people that Jamia had made friends with at the dojo, Panic, and the guy at the independent film rental place in town with whom Ray had become soul-bonded within their first three weeks of living there.

Brian seemed to appreciate the gesture, though, if him polishing off two steaks within half-an-hour of arriving was any indication, so Mikey congratulated Gerard on having yet another awesome idea. Gerard said, "We haven't even gotten to the sundaes yet," clearly pleased with himself.

Jamia heard--Jamia had weirdly accurate and intense hearing powers--from nearly across the yard and said, "If you so much as touch the butterscotch before me, mister, I will put all of my considerable jujitsu skills to use."

Gerard glared. "I'm not that messy."

Gerard was, but if it came down to it, Mikey would defend his honor. Luckily, Jamia decided to throw him a bone. "Not as bad as Frank, I guess."

Frank went in for the tackle, but Jamia could handle Frank without anything getting broken, that was proven fact. Mikey went to go get himself another cream soda and wasn't surprised when Spencer followed him inside. Mikey grabbed one for Spencer, and they stood in the kitchen, taking first sips. When he'd swallowed, Spencer asked, "You talked with Pete lately?"

"Earlier today, but it was a fight about whether Transformers or Thundercats was better, so probably not in whatever context you're asking."

"She-ra, princess of power," Spencer said with a completely straight face.

Mikey snorted the soda. "You just lost any respect I might have once had for you."

Spencer said, softly, "Well then it won't be such a big thing that I have to get my ass back on the road."

It wasn't like Mikey hadn't known that was going to be necessary. Mikey knew that, sooner or later, his guys were going to have to record this album they'd been trying desperately to pull together and go out there and sing about shit like silence and fear and darkness and love to kids who probably wouldn't get it, but would have their own sense of the words, where they sort of could. Still, "Yeah."

Spencer glanced away from Mikey for a moment and then looked back. "It's not-- It's not just business. Ryan doesn't handle being back here for long periods of time like this well. And Jon gets frustrated at feeling like a transplant, having us, but not Pete or his family, and not really getting anything accomplished for it."

"Spence, I'm not-- I'm not freaking out." It wasn't the cleanest truth Mikey had ever told, but he wasn't freaking out at Spencer, and he figured that was probably the significant part. "I kind of know how it is, being in a band."

Spencer acknowledged the sentiment with a wry twist of his lips. Quietly he said, "Maybe I'm the one who's freaking."

Mikey was trying to hear what Spencer's tone was telling him. "That would be a change of pace."

"Have any idea how long it's been since I haven't wanted to leave someone? Not even for Ryan or Brendon or Jon or my fucking drums?"

"Haley?" Mikey guessed. She was the only person Spencer ever bothered to talk about.

"If it had been, I would probably still be with her," he said, sounding like he had something caught in his throat.

Mikey felt his breath catch. Finally, when he felt he could say something, he said, "Yeah, it's gonna suck."

"It wasn't-- I mean, it wasn't the same, but she got tired of it and I couldn't, I couldn't just choose--"

Mikey crossed to Spencer, pressing himself into Spencer's space. He leaned into him, but didn't make a move to turn things sexual, just stayed where he was. "Hey."

Spencer took a breath. "Hey."

"You trusted me to get past my own fear. Even when I thought you were wrong."

"Yeah."

"Trust me not to be a hypocritical asshole about my own lifestyle."

"Not that simple."

Mikey sighed and closed his eyes, resting his forehead against Spencer's. "Have you found anything that is?"

*


In the studio, Mikey was fairly good at shutting everything out. Once the door was closed, the only thing that Mikey knew were the lines that needed playing, the notes and the tempo. He'd learned the trick when he'd first been falling prey to his mind's own weaknesses, and if it didn't work well enough to keep him settled all the time, it did the job when he really needed it to. It was a useful skill to have in the last few days of Spencer's presence, but even with it, he cut out early on the day before Spencer was scheduled to leave. Nobody said a word.

He drove over to Spencer's, unsurprised to find the other guys there. Jon was staying with Spencer until they headed out, and Ryan and Brendon just didn't seem to have much of anywhere else to be. Of course, when Mikey showed they only stayed around for a bit before Brendon tugged Jon out of the house, Ryan already on his way to the car. Jon looked a little forlorn and Mikey texted Pete, "cll ur boy"

Then he turned to Spencer who said, "I have virgin pina colada ice cream and key lime pie."

"If you're trying to get me in bed, you really don't have to go so far out of your way."

"Maybe I just like a little lime in my coconut," Spencer said, clearly holding back a laugh. Mikey laughed for him.

"I like pie."

"You're a complicated individual," Spencer told him.

"Enormously," Mikey agreed, and followed Spencer into the kitchen, scooping the ice cream as Spencer cut the pie. Mikey kicked off his sandals on the way to the table and put his feet on Spencer's. Spencer talked about last minute leaving details, while Mikey told him about how the studio session had gone, and it was pretty much like any other night, except for how it so clearly wasn't.

Mikey helped Spencer clean up--the kind of clean up you do when you're not going to be back for a while--and sat with him while he did a last packing check. Spencer knelt on his suitcase in order to close it and then fell a little forward, into Mikey. Mikey caught him midway, met him, mouth to mouth. They kissed lazily for a bit and Mikey said, "Mmm, lime."

Spencer was the one to laugh this time. He pushed Mikey backward lightly, mumbled, "Bed right behind you."

Mikey knew where the bed was in Spencer's room, but he appreciated the warning. He didn't like being pressed down, pushed, if the intention behind it wasn't telegraphed. Somewhere along the way, Spencer had clearly figured that out. They crawled up the bed, undressing each other as they felt like it. It took a while, neither of them being particularly intent upon rushing it.

"Mikey," Spencer said, nipping at the skin of Mikey's shoulder.

"Mm?"

"Stuff on the dresser. If-- If you wanted."

Mikey let his gaze flicker over Spencer's shoulder, where, sure enough, there were a few condoms and a small bottle of lube. Mikey looked back at Spencer. "That what you want?"

"I'd-- I mean, I'd like it, but not if it's gonna wig you out."

"How do you want it?" Mikey asked, more curiously than intently--he still hadn't decided what he wanted. There was something novel in the idea of changing things up, having tonight be different. But Mikey didn't really want to spend their last night together for a while freaking out, which was possible.

"Facing, definitely facing." Spencer was watching Mikey carefully, maybe waiting for an answer, maybe making sure that Mikey wasn't getting worked up.

Mikey kissed him again, giving himself space to think, but also to get lost in Spencer again, just a little. When he surfaced he said, "Blow me? Just--"

Spencer didn't make him explain, slinking down the bed, his mouth sliding over Mikey's dick, warm and wet and with a tongue that knew all of Mikey's favorite spots. Mikey had to push him off fairly quickly, a combination of, hey, blow job and thinking about what it might be like, being inside Spencer. He found one of Spencer's wrists and tugged him up, kissing him, "Okay, let's, I wanna--"

Spencer nodded and grabbed the lube. He said, "I can--" but Mikey shook his head and took it from him. He wanted to know he'd made it good, he needed that. He turned Spencer on his side, splayed his hands over Spencer's ass and then worked fingers inside of him, getting off on the way Spencer watched him the whole time, his eyes intent and then fuzzy. Mikey had kind of forgotten what he was doing, gotten lost in the moment, when Spencer said, "I realize I'm supposed to, like, be supportive and sensitive and shit, but--"

Mikey laughed and took one of the condoms from the batch that Spencer had swiped in a moment of desperate flailing. He rolled it on and pressed Spencer onto his back, pushing his legs back with just a bit of force. Spencer folded easily. Mikey didn't think too much about the next part, pressing himself in evenly. Spencer said, "Mikey, Mikey, I'm gonna--" his fingers brushed over Mikey's arms.

Shakily, Mikey said, "Yeah, touch--" and Spencer did, his palms wet but not too hot, shaky, but somehow still grounding. Mikey said, "Spence."

Spencer arched up into Mikey's thrusts. They weren't terribly forceful, more shallow and steady than anything, but Spencer didn't seem to mind, and it was good, better than good, better than Mikey remembered it being. Spencer dragged his fingers over Mikey's torso, down to where he wrapped his hand around his cock. Mikey watched, unable to look away, incapable of stepping in, but it was okay, Spencer didn't seem to need that. Mikey came watching, trying his best not to collapse on Spencer, but Spencer just pulled him down, shifted them to their sides and ground himself into Mikey until he had come.

Mikey lay slightly beneath Spencer until he felt Spencer shiver, slightly, then he moved them enough to get the sheet over them. He said, "Wake me up to take the shower with you."

"Mikey--"

"Or I'll kick your ass."

"You won't be awake."

"This isn't the last time we're going to see each other. And I'm a big believer in interest."

Spencer laughed softly, more movement against Mikey than sound. "Whatever. You're the one who has to get out of bed unnecessarily."

"Yeah," Mikey said, "I am." His decision.

*


Spencer woke him up with whisper. "Hey."

Mikey was not, generally, quick to wake, but he knew where he was, what the tone of Spencer's voice meant and he made a grumbling noise. Spencer laughed, the sound tired, but true. "You're the one who said to wake you up."

"Meant it," Mikey muttered, and rolled over atop Spencer.

Spencer said, "I've gotta get moving," but he was carding his fingers through Mikey's hair even as he said it.

"Yeah," Mikey said, and didn't move. Spencer huffed, and let him stay for a moment, but then he pushed him off, insistent, if gentle. Mikey sauntered into the bathroom and ran the shower until the water was just this side of too hot, the way Spencer liked it. Spencer was brushing his teeth and when he stepped past Mikey, into the shower, he smelled like peppermint.

Mikey followed the scent, groaning just a bit when the water hit him, half in pleasure, half from the burn. Sometimes he forgot that extremes could be nice. Spencer was sudsing his hair up, and Mikey knew they didn't really have time to linger, but he watched anyway. Spencer's hands could make Mikey forget to breathe.

Mikey rinsed off quickly enough that he was done when Spencer shut the water off. He climbed out first, letting Spencer have most of the steam. Spencer said, "Prince among men, Mikeyway."

Mikey would settle for just being a man, whole unto himself. He didn't tell Spencer that. He did say, "Well, you trained me up right good."

Spencer snickered. "You did that yourself."

Mikey wasn't sure if they were discussing the same thing, but it didn't matter. They had agreed to disagree on more than one occasion. Spencer finished brushing his hair and threw on some clothes. He was lacing his shoes when he said, "Take me to the bus site so I don't have to pay a cab?"

Mikey made a face at him. Spencer grinned. "Take me to the bus site so I can have you for a few seconds more?"

"Sap," Mikey accused, not unhappily.

Spencer shrugged. "Love does that kinda shit to the best of us."

Softly, Mikey told im, "You just earned yourself a ride."

*


Gerard was already awake when Mikey came in the door, despite the sun having barely risen. He was sitting on the couch, watching The Voyage Home. Mikey sat next to him and stole a drag of his coffee. Gerard didn't complain. Instead he asked, "You okay?"

Mikey drank some more coffee, closing his eyes and letting the movie's mostly-ridiculous(-ly awesome) dialogue wash over him. "Yeah. I mean, I'm gonna miss him, but, yeah. I'm okay."

"We looked at the schedule. We're probably still gonna be here when they hit LA. You should go."

"I told him I'd try."

Gerard took the coffee back. Mikey opened his eyes. Gerard took a sip and said, "Ray had this idea that I'm kinda on board with."

"If it involves bodily-fluids--"

Gerard hit him. "Gross, Mikeyway."

Mikey smirked more with his eyes than his face, but Gerard clearly saw it, because he rolled his eyes. He said, "As I was saying," with a sense of his own grandeur, "Ray thinks we should do the same number of dates, but with week breaks here and there, to slow things down, give us all time. Jamia's talking with Frank about a kid, and Frank's looking kinda--"

"Wistful." Mikey had noticed. He'd also noticed that the amount of condoms on the grocery order list had gone down. He'd just figured that Ray and Bob and Gerard had come to an agreement. "What's Brian say?"

"That if it's what we want he'll run interference with the label so long as we do keep our number of shows standard."

"We kind of owe him Frank's first born."

Gerard looked at him in clear horror. "And you usually give such good gifts."

Mikey laughed in acknowledgment and stole Gerard's coffee cup, getting up to refill it, get himself one of his own. He said, "Oh, come on, who doesn't like his very own miniature alien monkey?"

"It's possible you've been friends with Pete Wentz for too long," Gerard told him, following him into the kitchen.

"Probable," Mikey agreed. "Or yours."

"Well, I've always been your older brother."

"Blow me."

"Okay if I substitute in one of my boyfriends? Because cock is all well and good, as long as it doesn't belong to someone who has the same genetic strand as I do."

Mikey waited a moment until he was sure he wasn't going to spit the coffee out of his nose before taking a sip. He handed Gerard his renewed cup. "Generous offer, but it'd be sad if my boyfriend had to face off with one of my band members."

"Yeah, that has Romeo & Juliet written all over it."

"Except for the part where it took us forever to fall in love."

"Except for the part where I actually believe you're in love," Gerard said, "Not some really fucked up version of teenage hormonal angst."

"Well, he is young enough to be your son."

"Lies, Mikeyway, lies and propaganda."

"Well, maybe a few years off."

"Maybe you're a jerk," Gerard said.

"Maybe your face."

Gerard tried answering back, but he was laughing too hard. All that came out was, "Yeah, well, maybe--"


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Skin by egelantier, photo by microbophile