gala_apples (gala_apples) wrote,
gala_apples
gala_apples

Title: Define Mate
Pairings: Ray/Mikey (past Mikey/Pete/Gabe)
Rating: R
Wordcount: 10 223
Warnings This story is set in the aftermath of infidelity.
Summary: Love is complicated. You can love your grandfather while not wanting to clean up after the remnants of his life. You can love your boyfriend while not being able to forgive him. And you can love yourself while wishing that you didn’t have so many fucking emotions. When Ray is given the opportunity to make his mental state simpler, more primal, less conflicted, he takes it.
Disclaimer: This is a non-profit, non-commercial work of fiction using the names and likenesses of real individuals. This fictional story is not intended to imply that the events herein actually occurred or that the attitudes or behaviors described are engaged in or condoned by the real persons whose names are used without permission.
Accompaniment: Mix by [profile] littlblackghost


“I just feel like an asshole, you know? Like what right do I have to walk into a place I never go, owned by a man I see twelve times a year, and say ‘you don’t need this or this or this in your new life’?” Ray adjusts his stance against the washing machine and sighs. No matter how many times he reminds himself he’s being a good son by taking the duty off his mom’s hands, he still just feels like a shitty person.

Gerard blows out his mouthful of smoke, nodding as he does so. “Elena would kick our asses. No question.”

Frank, ever supportive, adds “she could take everyone in this room.”

Gerard continues “but that’s different though. Elena’s capable.”

Frank throws in “spry and shit.”

“Your grandpa, he’s sick, right?”

“I dunno if it’s sick. He’s got Alzheimer’s. Sick kinda implies you can get better.”

Frank scuffles across the cement floor of the unfinished laundry room and hugs him. “That’s shitty. So, so shitty.”

Ray accepts the hug, even ruffles Frank’s hair. He likes affection as much as the next person but he can’t help but feel a little guilty about the sympathy. What he said was accurate; he sees his grandpa once a month. Frank and his grandpa, Gerard and Mikey and their grandma, they’re both very different. His friends see their grandparents constantly. Frank’s devastated for him, extrapolating how he’d feel about his grandpa, and Ray’s not all that upset about the slow loss of a man he didn’t know very well.

“I just don’t get why it has to be me. I mean, I do, Mom and Dad are busy and my brothers are on the west coast.” And he’s not taking a full load of classes, and skips when he’s bored or hungover, Ray doesn’t add. He doesn’t need to, Frank and Gerard both understand and copy his slacker behaviour. “But like, can’t my mom take a day off work or something?”

“It would make sense. She’s known him her full forty something years. You’ve known him twenty. If anyone would know about the sentimental value of stuff it would be her.”

Gerard offers “maybe that’s why she can’t? Because everything has memories. But you’ll be more, you know. Objective.”

The timer dings and Gerard scoots out of the way so Frank can put his wet clothes in the dryer. With the hand not holding the pipe, Gerard passes him an anti-static sheet. The box is something purplish, called Paradise Thrill, and it makes all their clothes smell like citrus and flowers. It’s still better than paying to wash at school.

“Hey Gee-” Mikey stops short as the door fully opens and he sees all the occupants. “Okay. Uh. I guess I’ll ask later.”

Mikey walks out backwards, all but holding out his palms to show he doesn’t have a gun. Ray would almost prefer it if he did. At least then there’d be a decent reason for all the tension. Gerard looks like he’s going to puke, a fact Frank notices immediately. Frank angles towards him and says in what Ray considers a highly judgemental tone, “you really need to get your shit together with him. You’re causing Gerard physical anguish.”

“I have my shit exactly the way it has to be right now.” It’s not like he chose the events that ended in this outcome.

“But you realise this sucks, right? Me and Gerard have to choose sides, and that’s like picking brothers for me, and it’s even more literal for Gerard. And Mikey’s all alone now, and you know a part of you cares.”

Of course a part of him cares. If Ray didn’t care things would be a lot easier. And the other part is true too, it’s shitty for them both. At this point Ray’s pretty sure Gerard has an ulcer. But that doesn’t change the fact that mutual avoidance is the absolute best he can do right now.

“You haven’t smoked in five minutes, pass it over.” Blatant change of topic, yes, but not one anyone will argue with.

After a while they can hear the clatter of cupboards opening and closing, the rattle of specific pots being pulled out from under the stove. It’s a sound Ray’s been hearing for over a decade. Mr Way just has a manner in the kitchen that Ray’s own parents don’t. It’s like he’s infusing his food with equal parts annoyance and enthusiasm. It makes the food taste better, and that’s not just Ray’s T.H.C. coated taste buds talking. When he was in elementary school he’d try to get permission to stay for dinner least three nights a week.

Frank looks up from his hand of cards to stare directly at him. “I’m gonna eat dinner with the family. You want to stay, or me to drop you off at your mom’s, or-?”

Frank doesn’t have to say what he means for Ray to hear the subtext. Even stoned, he’s not clueless. Mikey will be at the dinner table, and for all Ray knows the elder Ways don’t even know they’ve broken up, never mind why. They might expect Ray to sit beside Mikey and share his dessert. Ray can barely handle being in the same lecture room with him, one of three hundred students. Footsie is no longer an option.

“Drop me off at my grandpa’s?” Might as well get a head start.

The ride isn’t long, thank god. Frank’s van smells like ass. For about three weeks a friend of his was living in it, and while the fast food wrappers and burnt CDs with horrible taste are gone, the stench lingers on. Frank doesn’t wait for him to get all the way up the sidewalk before he takes off. Ray can’t blame him. He wouldn’t want to be late to Mr Way’s dinner either.

Ray knows why his mom asked him to do this. Her days are busier than his are. Travelling time would add even more on; the university is probably a fifteen minute bus ride compared to the forty minute drive. Not to mention he’s got the strength needed to pull couches to the curb. And Gerard’s probably right; he won’t drown in memories just walking through the front door. If he was more cynical though he’d say it was just easier to pawn off a mess on him. That’s certainly what it is, a flat out mess. He’d estimated losing one, maybe two days of his life to clearing house. Actually standing in the living room that the front door opens to Ray is forced to recalculate. If all the rooms look like this it’ll be one or two days per room. More, if the rooms are supposed to be at ‘call the realtor’ levels of cleanliness, instead of just ‘not horrific’. Grandpa definitely had a hoarding problem. Has. He’s not dead, just displaced.

Every surface is covered with items. If Ray’s really going to do this, he needs entertainment. Something to keep his will to live at non-critical levels. Ray’s not dumb enough to look for a docking station, none of the technology is newer than cassettes and VHS players. What is an option is putting on mTV and hoping for one of the rock related programs instead of the reality shows that are on nearly every time slot. All he needs to do is find a remote. It’s like Where’s Waldo, only with electronics.

The remote Ray eventually finds turns on a television that is stacked on top of another broken one. His attempt to key in the channel doesn’t work, but maybe it’s just a shoddy remote. It was dusty when he picked it up. Pressing the up channel button doesn’t work any better. There’s only one explanation. Unlike every other member of the middle class in the United States, Grandpa doesn’t have cable. Ray’s got no interest in watching the war movies in high stacks surrounding the tv, so he settles for the documentary on channel three. Maybe he’ll learn something.

The longer he stays, the more Ray realises how unprepared he is. His initial instinct after seeing the brush full of dog hair -Grandpa hasn’t had Finder in about five years- is to do a basic sort of Gross and Useful. He can further sort Useful into Keep, Sell, Donate later. But Gross and Useful isn’t working. All he’s doing making more piles. Ray needs baskets, or garbage bags. Ray needs a fucking game plan.

He buses back to the university rather than call Frank. He’s not sure if Frank and Gerard are staying the night, but he can’t. All innocent memories of sleepovers at the Ways have been rewritten with sneaking into the bathroom at three am with Mikey to be bent over the sink and fucked, and then getting a second orgasm in the shower. Ray doesn’t want to lay on Gerard’s floor in his Batman sleeping bag and wonder when Mikey is going to sneak in from his room and cup his dick through the layers of lumpy cloth. He never will again, and if Mikey did try Ray would feel worse than he does knowing that Mikey never will again.

To make efficient use of his time, Ray calls home while he’s on the bus. No one on the bus will care. Most won’t even notice, nearly every person on the university bus is wearing headphones. He wants some advice, or maybe even a take-back of duties. After seeing the house he’d be thrilled to not have to go back.

His mom doesn’t seem interested in rescinding the order. She doesn’t seem interested in the situation at all. “If there’s anything you want, take it. If there’s anything you think you can get money for, sell it. It’s all up to you.”

“But how do I know if-”

“Whatever you think, do it. If you end up chucking a priceless heirloom, no one will notice.”

They chat a bit more, but the conversation of Grandpa is exhausted. Ray hangs up with a proper parental sentiment before he gets off the bus. The silver lining in being stuck with this is at least Ray can do it the way he wants to, when he wants to. Not in the sense of a month from now, of course, but being able to go when he wants instead of having to coordinate family cleaning parties. Ray’s not the type to make a flowchart of ideas, but if he did, step one would probably be listing the stuff he might be able to sell. An online auction will take a while, maybe longer than cleaning will. Doing it later will only prolong this process.

Since Mom’s made it clear she doesn’t care, Ray’s not worried about emailing her pictures before he puts them up on Ebay. All he needs to do is upload them, create an account, and cross his fingers money might come pouring in. Once he’s in his room -a single, and man did he pay a lot more for that, but so far it’s been worth it- he digs into his box labelled Cords For Shit and finds his connector. It automatically loads to the last place photos were saved; the folder that is the bane of his existence. The folder that he should delete, but hasn’t.

Ray’s not sure if it’s more unfair to Mikey or himself that he still has nude pictures of Mikey. The average person would probably say Mikey. Ray’s not so sure.

There are two main reasons this situation would suck for Mikey. The first is someone accidentally seeing the pictures. That’s pretty unlikely, as far as Ray is concerned, considering the directory that has to be followed for that to happen. C Drive > Downloads > Music > OSTs > Dazed and Confused is pretty much guaranteed to never be opened. No one that knows the password to his laptop likes to hear fifteen repeats of Low Rider. The other reason is that he could be an asshole and post them online somewhere. That would never happen either. Even in the hours Ray’s felt most furious, he’s never thought about ruining Mikey’s life.

Mikey getting hurt by the pictures is a hypothetical. On the other hand, that they hurt him is straight up reality. Ray’s laptop is with him almost constantly, the hazard of being a student. At least once an hour Ray gets as far as right clicking the folder and pressing delete, but he can never click yes. He can’t let go and it’s slowly driving him mad. He can’t even figure out how to stop being turned on by them. It would be one thing if he was just keeping them for nostalgia’s sake. Actively enjoying them is a completely different story. Their existence keeps him attracted to his ex, when he should be moving on.

It’s a good folder’s worth, maybe twenty or twenty five pictures. Not all of them are nudes, there are a few where he’s hard but in underwear. There’s one where he’s in girls underwear. Hell, there are a few that are Mikey fully dressed and being casual that happen to hit a chord. Mikey was never exactly shy, the one exception being trying to take a picture of him grinning. The Ways couldn’t afford braces. It’s not really noticeable to Ray, but Mikey thinks he’s like that one episode of The Simpsons where Lisa’s teeth grow through her lips. The few candid photos Ray has of Mikey smiling just hit him the right way.

Ray sighs before he holds down shift and clicks the first and last picture he needs so he can move the set to a new folder. He doesn’t have time for this stupid bullshit pining right now. He needs to resize so he can list things on Ebay.

***


If there’s one thing Ray knows, it’s that he needs beer. He wrote his stupid essay, even though the topic nearly sucked the life out of him. He wrote it fucking brilliantly, citing the texts most likely to impress his professor. He might not know the difference between APA and MLA but he followed the online samples exactly, down to the edition number. And he handed it in with a fucking smile, because if his prof is dithering about whether something is worth a mark, Ray wants to be remembered with a positive attitude. After staying up all night and having to look cheerful, Ray deserves to be drunk. At least then the cheerful won’t be faked.

Luckily he’s in college, which means he can drink whenever he wants. Really, Ray’s willing to bet at any given second someone on campus is drunk.

He’s got a little bit of restraint. He texts Frank and Gerard and tells them they need to come over for drunk Magic. It’ll be easier than drunk D&D, and Mikey’s missing characters won’t be huge gaping holes of misery. They both agree, which is nice. Drinking alone is only a few steps away from drinking alone, in your underwear, in the dark, with a loaded pistol on the coffee table in front of you.

Their presence won’t be immediate. It’s not like they can teleport, the world isn’t that cool. They have to cross campus. Rooms are assigned by major and Ray is nowhere near psychology or graphic arts. Or broadcasting for that matter, not that he’ll ever again have to care about how many steps he has to walk with an erection to get to Mikey. He pulls out a case of beer from under his bed, but doesn’t pop a cap off until Gerard and Frank are joining him on the floor, shuffling their decks. The rest of the box is open for sharing, that goes without saying. Sharing the stash has been a group rule since Frank first stole wine coolers from his mom when they were thirteen. In this case Frank’s got rum to share, and Gerard’s got vodka. That’s okay. Mixing liquor gets you drunker.

It also makes you much more hungover the next morning; a fact that becomes obvious when he wakes up, head pounding. Only part of the blame can be ascribed to the fact that Frank slept in his bed while Ray slept sitting up, leaning against the frame. Ray can tell without turning around that it’s Frank, there’s a foot out of the blanket resting haphazardly on his shoulder. As long as Ray has known Gerard he’s slept with blankets wrapped tight around him like a cocoon. Until he turned twelve he slept in a sleeping bag instead of under a comforter. Gerard would never have a stray limb out.

A trash bucket is perched on his stretched out legs. Ray owns two, actually. The other is full of crumpled rough drafts -he writes better by hand- and food wrappers. The light blue trash bin is officially designated as the puke bucket, has been since his first day here. Thankfully it’s empty. Empty and dry, which means it hasn’t been used and rinsed out either. Ray’s grateful for that fact. When he pukes it almost always gets into his hair. He doesn’t have any platonic girlfriends to hold it back.

“Where’s Gerard?” His throat hurts when he tries to talk. If he didn’t actually puke, he must have at least dry heaved.

“Only one of us was needed for ‘make sure you don’t choke to death on your own vomit’ duty, and I drew the short straw.”

Frank doesn’t sound bitter about it, just matter of fact. They’ve all babysat each other multiple times over the years. Ray’s scariest one was when Geoff supplied them with salvia and Gerard kept trying to get onto the balcony. Thank fuck they took it one at a time. In comparison to holding Gerard down on the couch for eleven minutes, Frank only having to keep alert for the sound of vomiting isn’t much. Ray grunts anyway, sure Frank will take it for the thanks it is.

“Ray, how much do you remember about last night?”

The tone is inquisitive, so Ray immediately distrusts it. “I didn’t black out, but most of it’s hazy.”

“You remember at any point jamming your tongue down my throat?”

Shit.

“Or Gerard’s?”

Double shit.

“So from now on you can knock it off with the moral high ground. You and Mikey are officially even. This shunning shit is officially done.”

Ray doesn’t think that’s quite fair. He only made out with Gerard and Frank. Mikey did a lot more. But to be fair, if they’d been willing to do more, he most likely would have. His best friends just have more morals than Mikey’s other friends do.

“Did I do any other stupid shit?”

“Well, I managed to stop you before you called Lou at three in the morning to tell him you wanted to get matching eagles battling snakes tattoos. So there was that. But mostly it was the kissing thing, and trash talking while failing miserably at Magic. Look, I got class in twenty minutes. You gonna be okay?”

“Go ahead. I’m no longer in danger of choking to death. Or at least no more so than the average president.”

Basically fine, Frank heads for class. Ray is much more worse for wear. He needs a shower, greasy food to soak up any remaining alcohol, and to brush his teeth. And honestly, probably to skip the day’s classes and sleep.

Step one is easy enough. No one is in the bank of showers so he feels comfortable enough to gargle warm water as a temporary reprieve to the disgusting taste. He dresses and heads back towards his room, damp hair pulled loosely into a ponytail. Except he somehow ends up at Mikey’s, two floors below, knocking. He has no idea how it happens. He can’t even blame it on the vagueness of a good high, he hasn’t smoked in a few days. He’s just there, knuckles bouncing off the cheap veneer.

Mikey answers before Ray can come to his senses and run away. He looks good, like he always did. He’s wearing skin tight jeans that have creases across the thighs. Natural ones, not creases that are part of the producer’s design and add an additional thirty bucks on to base price. Mikey buys nearly of his jeans wholesale at the same place that Gerard does, only a few sizes smaller with a longer inseam. His shirt is vintage Misfits, grinning skull cracked in a hundred different spots, white flaking when he moves. Knowing Mikey, he’ll still wear it when the design is completely worn off.

The hickeys are gone.

“Hey Ray. Are you.” Mikey cuts himself off and starts again. “You want to come in?”

Ray shrugs, the drag of wet hair making him shudder a little. He honestly couldn’t have less of a clue about what he wants right now. Mikey retreats a bit to sit on his bed, leaving the door open. Ray follows after a second, closing the door behind him. He looks at the spot beside Mikey, then sits on Verne’s. He’s got a leopard print comforter, not because he thinks it’s cool, but because he’s the ironic hipster type who thinks it’s cool to mock by imitation.

“So?”

“What?” he replies weakly.

“Ray, you haven’t let me be in the same room as you for two weeks, and now you’re on Verne’s bed, staring at me.” Ray didn’t think he was staring. “So what do you want?”

Like the walk his legs took, Ray’s mouth surprises him. He’s obviously got some kind of full system disconnect between brain and body. “I want things to be normal. Like they were last month.”

If he said it to Frank or Gerard they’d tell him it’s impossible. They’d tell him that he needs to move forward, not yearn for the past. But Mikey wants to reverse time too. “Last month if we were blowing off class we’d be smoking up and playing video games.”

Or fucking, Ray thinks. But he’s glad Mikey didn’t bring it up. As much as his erections want Mikey, his emotions aren’t quite there yet. “What’s the oldest Mario Party you have?”

“You want a classic, huh? Mario Party two is downloaded on the Wii.”

It’s Verne’s console. As far as Ray can tell, he got it to make fun of those who think they’re athletic because they play Wii sports. He never seems to care if Mikey uses it, as long as he uses his own credit card to buy more points. Mikey grabs the controllers -one a white Wii classic, the other an old GameCube Mikey probably took from home- and loads the game. It has a lot less player options than later versions, which is part of the fun. Mikey picks Peach. One of the Ways always does. After a brief back and forth between Yoshi and Donkey Kong, Ray picks Yoshi. Mario and Luigi are the computer players, and Ray lets Mikey pick the difficulty, the number of turns, and the land they’re playing in.

Everything is fine until a few turns in, when Peach lands on one of the items squares. Mikey can choose between a skeleton key and a mushroom, and the words just fall out of Ray’s mouth. “Don’t pick the mushroom. You don’t have a good track record with them.”

Mikey’s grip tightens around the handles of his old grey controller. “Is that why you asked to play this, so you could bitch at me? Did you plan that perfect opportunity?”

Ray’s had a lifetime of being called a bitch by his older, intensely masculine brothers. It’s just about his least favourite word. “It’s not like I’m saying something that’s not true. I wouldn’t say something that wasn’t true. For example, I wouldn’t call you a whore because they didn’t pay you. Slut could work, I guess, but not a whore.”

“You act like I wasn’t sleeping with them at the same time!”

“You act like that makes it better!”

“You try to talk your way out of a threesome when you’re high on shrooms!”

“You know what? You call the cops if they forced you. You call Saporta and Wentz if they didn’t so you can arrange a triad because you’re not my singular boyfriend if you fuck other guys!”

The door reverberates nicely when he slams it. Fuck Mikey, fuck class, fuck everything. Fuck getting food too. Having a full stomach only means it’ll take longer for the alcohol to hit his system, and Ray really needs to get drunk again.

***


It’s taken Ray a while to open all the doors in the tight wallpapered hallway. Each one stands for a cleared out room. Once he realised the last door hid a staircase to an attic, he decided to worry about it later. Later is now. There are no other rooms left to do.

The obvious thought hits him as he’s ascending the staircase. It’s going to be messy as hell, probably the worst room he’s seen yet. Attics are places where normal people hide all their clutter. If everyone has a messy attic in their clean house, it only stands to reason that a messy house would have an abominable death trap attic.

Surprisingly, it’s not that bad. It’s not neat, that would be asking far too much. It’s about the same level of messy grossness as the rest of the house, with maybe an inch or two more dust. Ray’s made it through six rooms of gross hoarding, he can make it through one more.

Most of the attic he’s able to sort into the four categories pretty straight off. Like every other room Keep is the smallest pile. Ray doesn’t have a lot of long term use for Readers Digests, even if he does rifle through the warped pages and read some of the articles. The Sell pile is a metaphorical pile, he can’t exactly stack the maple coat rack on top of the full length mirror. He takes multiple pictures of every item, he can weed them down once they’re on his computer. Eventually he’ll have to get one of his parents to let him borrow the car, so he can take the metric fuckton of donatable stuff -like the entire cupboard of toilet paper multi-packs- to a shelter. For now it’s in a neat pile in the kitchen.

Finally he’s left with some cardboard boxes. They’re the only thing between him and freedom. Their structural integrity is completely gone. The sides of the first box cave as he tries to pick it up to move it. The first box is filled with papers, mostly letters. Ray mentally stamps it Keep and moves on. He doesn’t have time to read them right now, and he might not be all that interested, but one day someone in the family will be. It can sit in their basement until then.

In one of the boxes is something furry. Curious, Ray pulls at it and shakes out the folds. It’s a beautiful grey fur coat. If Ray had to guess he’d say real fur from a wild animal. It’s become obvious that Grandpa used to hunt, even though he never told any of the grandkids stories about the great outdoors. There was a stuffed deer head mounted in the bathroom. He thinks Gerard Way the instant he sees the jacket in full. A nice thought, considering it’s mid-October. Sooner rather than later he’ll need to get Christmas presents. Ray looks at the jacket for a minute before deciding to try it on. It’s really diva, a look Gerard sometimes goes for. On the other hand, Gerard has never been a person willing to work for his fashion. He’s no woman in six inch stilettos. If the lining is itchy he won’t wear it, and then it’ll be a shitty present.

His arms are kinda sweaty, but they still glide smoothly in the sleeves. It must be satin or something, cotton wouldn’t feel like this. The sleeves are skin tight, which is actually a good thing. Gerard’s arms aren’t as thick as his. Ray doesn’t want Gerard to be swimming in his present, but to take it to get professionally altered would probably cost more than it’s worth. The fur hangs nicely, Gerard wouldn’t need to do up the jacket to like the way it looks. That doesn’t mean Ray wants to give him a jacket that can’t do up. He hooks the teeth into the pull and mentally crosses his fingers as he tugs on the tab. After possibly fifty years, the zipper still hasn’t rusted.

Once he’s fully zipped, things get uncomfortable. Every inch of him is boiling hot, much too suddenly to be a reaction to the heavy coat. It’s like he’s having the hot flashes Mom gets, except he’s about three decades too young and the wrong gender. A few beats after that his vision starts greying out, like he’s about to faint. Ray stumbles to the edge of the room. If he’s going to faint, he should do it where there’s less clutter to hurt himself on.

The movement gets him in front of the mirror. That’s where another oddity is added to the sudden symptoms, deepening his confusion. From shoulders to waist he’s grey fur, of course, that’s what the jacket is made out of. But according to his eyes, his hands and face are also covered in fur.

He must be hallucinating. There has to be some sort of moth that causes delusions that has nested in the jacket for years. It’s the only thing that makes sense.

Slowly Ray’s body changes in front of his eyes. His arms get shorter, the jacket shrinking with them instead of the limbs getting lost in the fabric. His fingers stubbier and start melding together. His legs grow thin enough that his pants drop clean off. Without the denim they’re grey fur, ending in paws. He loses his balance on them and falls forward, front paws momentarily dragging against the mirror before he lands on all fours. That feels better. More natural. He doesn’t try to stand again.

His mind is the last to go. It’s not that he gets dumber, it’s really more that his concerns change. He doesn’t want to process things, he’d rather just let wave after wave of sensations hit him. He can hear children playing in the street. He can hear everything, and he wants to explore it all. But first, there’s a smell.

There’s a long length of wood on the ground. Its branches are stunted, but smells good. Like humans and pine and chemicals and dust. He pads over to it and runs his nose on it, trying to capture it fully. Then one of the not-branches catches on him. He backs away, snarling at it when it pulls on him. All of a sudden his snarls are human growling, and it sort of hurts his throat so he stops.

Ray pats himself all over. He feels human. He can see his naked legs and his finger splay and bend at their multiple knuckles when he orders them to. It’s not enough proof that he’s normal again. He races to the mirror to check his whole body. The proof is in the mirrored glass in front of him. He’s human, clad only in a classy grey fur jacket done up halfway.

He’s got options now. He could think himself crazy, and report to the nearest psych ward about delusions. He could assume his mom once hid out and did acid in the attic, and he accidentally absorbed some through touch without knowing. He could throw the jacket to the bottom of a trash bag, or even burn it. Or he could take the scientific approach.

Ray chooses to experiment, if only because Gee and Frank will be horrified that he didn’t when he relates the tale if he doesn’t test. He zips up the jacket and waits. It’s not long before his body begins to morph again. Watching himself change is less scary this time, and more interesting. By not moving from the mirror he can see the only thing that remains at the end is the zipper pull, which looks more like a dog tag. It’s that circle of metal that he can hook onto the branch of the coat rack. Once the zipper is pulled down enough the magic cancels and he’s human again.

Doing it once is to make sure it works. Doing it a few more times is because it’s fascinating. Magic exists. Werewolves exist, and someone in his family knows it.

***


It’s not every day that Gerard shows up for breakfast. Or lunch or dinner, for that matter. Gerard’s got issues with disengaging from projects and following healthy habits. But if one was keeping a tally, breakfast is his most often missed meal. In general, Gerard only shows up when he’s stayed up until breakfast time, not gotten up for that time.

Today is clearly one such day. Ray doesn’t judge it based on Gerard wearing yesterday’s clothes, or having not showered. Both are likely on any given day. He can’t give Gerard much shit for it, it would be hypocritical. He’s got three pairs of jeans, and they get washed only when they can stand by themselves. Besides, it’s just the way Gerard is. If it bugged him it would be his choice to fuck off and not be Gerard’s friend, not Gerard’s duty to change into an ultra-hygienic person.

What makes it obvious to Ray is the oil pastel stains that are still smudging when he touches things. It’s a medium that wears off quickly. If it was last night’s medium, it should be on Gerard’s sheets, not the edge of his plate.

Frank, who is that ultra-hygienic person, just passes Gerard a napkin so he doesn’t pick up his breakfast burrito with green and blue fingers. Gerard ignores it in favour of guzzling his coffee. Ray has no doubt that if Gerard’s been creating all night, he’s been drinking it like liquid oxygen. He probably doesn’t even taste it anymore.

Ray’s halfway through his mound of scrambled eggs when Wentz and Saporta come over. It’s enough to kill his appetite completely.

Before the betrayal, Ray kind of liked them. They weren’t entirely his favourite type of personality, too energetic and in need of constant stimulation. If Frank’s a seven on the scale of constantly needing new input -something which irritates Ray at times- they’re both easily a nine. Also semi-insane, with legit diagnoses and often skipped medication. Not that Ray judges that. Lou’s got OCD, and both Ways could probably get a label if someone looked at them closely. Good enough guys though, for the type of person that could handle them in large doses. Now, post-betrayal, Ray just wants to go Chuck Norris on them. Bash in Pete’s stupid teeth and cut Gabe at the knee so he’s the height of a normal person. He knows Gerard and Frank can tell. For one, they’re not idiots. For another, his body language isn’t exactly subtle.

As Ray watches, killing them both with his mind, Pete fishes his wallet from his pocket. Out of the hand-crafted duct tape item he pulls out a ticket, and gets way too far into Ray’s space holding it out. “It’s to Standing On The Roof. Your Facebook page said you liked them. It’s an I’m sorry-”

“We’re sorry-” Gabe interrupts.

“-ticket. We were tripping really hard. Like really. Sober we never would have done it.”

Ray takes the ticket. Gerard sighs in relief, but Frank is still tense beside him. He’s got the right of it. Ray waits a beat then stands and unbuckles his belt. He’s got just enough room to get his hand down the back of his jeans and rub the ticket between his cheeks. That done, he drops it to the linoleum. He doesn’t need to say anything, the action pretty much speaks for itself.

Gabe rolls his eyes. Ray wants to stab them with his fork. “Pick it up Pete, we’ll scalp it.”

“Why me?”

“You’ve drunk your own piss. I’m pretty sure you can handle shit particles.”

Pete picks up the ticket. Apparently he thinks Gabe has a point. Ray doesn’t watch them leave, instead focuses on his breakfast and spearing his egg onto his fork.

“For what it’s worth, I think they meant it.”

In Ray’s opinion, it doesn’t mean shit all.

Gerard, looking like he needs a cigarette more than he needs oxygen, adds “Gabe doesn’t really apologise for things. Ever. Like not even really obvious fake bullshit ones. I think they did too.”

An ‘I’m sorry’ doesn’t fix what happened. It doesn’t make Mikey’s choice, impaired thinking or not, any less painful. Ray ignores the both of them. Contrary to Frank’s ultimatum, they still haven’t enforced group hang-outs. They’re still on his side, for all the verbal pressure they’re applying. He doesn’t want to mouth off and have them abandon him.

It’s quiet, after that. Well, not literally. The few hundred students around them that know nothing about his crises and care less than that don’t allow for quiet. But the three of them are silent, focusing on their food instead of talking more about Pete and Gabe and by implication, Mikey. Ray wants to scream. It’s not as manly as punching someone, or driving a car at racing speed down an open road, but Ray doesn’t need to be manly. He needs to be relieved of some of the emotion tamped up inside him. And for that he needs to scream.

No. Not scream. It hits him all at once, the plain truth. He doesn’t need to scream. He needs to howl.

When he was a wolf all of his higher thought processes left him. All it was was greyscale sight, heightened smell, and incredibly heightened hearing. Right now he’d like nothing more than to be reduced to that. Unfortunately he has classes he can’t skip. It’ll have to wait.

In the end, he doesn’t get to his grandfather’s house until nearly nine. His last class ends at six, and then there’s a meeting for a group project that he has to attend. Two of his group are calm, but Evan is high strung enough to be a fuckin’ harp. Ray’s pretty sure Ishtar and Lennie are only interested in dividing the work and not talking until the day they have to present, but the second they sit down Evan dives into the minutiae of the project and they have no choice but to let the squirrely fucker rant.

Walking in the back door, Ray grins. The weird contraption on the door finally makes sense to him. It hadn’t made much sense as a doggie door, the lever too high for Grandpa’s old dachshund to nose to get out. Now he gets it.

He strolls around the house, sparing himself a minute to be proud of what he’s done. A Saturday with the car got most of the random items out of the house. A combination of Craigslist and Freecycle has gotten rid of most of the furniture. The floors are swept and washed. Ray even bought a pack of Glade plug ins to make things smell citrusy fresh. The attic is the only dusty and cluttered place left. Until he figures out where to store the wolf jacket, Ray doesn’t want to draw attention to the room.

This time Ray takes off his jeans and socks and piles them in the corner of the room before he gets the coat. He got lucky once that his paws didn’t rip the fabric. The less opportunity he gives his wolf self to destroy things, the better. He can’t think of a reasonable explanation for his jeans to have claw marks in them. Sliding his arms in the jacket makes him sigh. In less than a minute, he won’t have any goddamn high level thinking.

He pads around the human things, and down the tiny hills. The place smells like chemicals pretending to be trees, and chemicals pretending to be fruit. He trots until there’s a metal thing he can nudge. The fun noises are on the other side of it. When he nudges it hard enough, the barrier opens. Then he’s free in the night.

He lopes. The animals that are half him but missing something howl. He joins in. He is lonely as they are. He has no pack. He has no mate. The part of him that isn’t right knows where his mate is. He needs to go there. Maybe once he has his mate, the wrongness will stop.

He stops on short grass. The human caves are really big here, way bigger than they were at the place that he left. His wrong-part knows when to stop, supplies the right window. The room belongs to two people. Their scents overlap on almost everything beyond the window. One of the people is his. There’s only one way to prove that to the other predators. He raises his leg. The scent of his urine will mark out for everyone to smell what’s his.

***


At the red light, Frank turns down the volume. He twists in the driver’s seat so he can see Ray in the passenger, and Mikey in the right side of the backseat. “It’s my birthday, you’re both my brothers, and I don’t give a shit. For the next six hours get over yourselves and worry about my joy.”

Ray scowls. He hasn’t said a damn thing in order to get a lecture. Which, actually, that’s probably the problem.

“Most joyest joytastic ever evening ever coming up, Iero,” Mikey mutters. He’s obviously just as uncomfortable trapped in the same car as his ex as Ray is.

“And remember, none of us are driving. I’ve got my keys, you can borrow them if you’d rather sleep in the car. But if it’s gone in the morning, I’m willing to beat whichever of you to death.”

“IADD. Ieros against drunk driving. Got it.”

It’s obvious which house is having the party. It’s the only one with floodlights on the front lawn. There are no parking spots left, of course, the entire street is full. Frank circles the block a few times to check, then shrugs. “Guess we’re walking in, boys.”

It’s easy for Frank to say, he’s not going to freeze to death in his costume. Neither will Gerard, who is wearing what Ray’s ninety eight percent sure are black women’s leggings under a grey tunic, complete with leather arm gauntlets and a wide belt. It all serves to make him look like a flamingly gay knight of the round table.

Ray’s proud of his entirely DIY costume. It turned out nearly identical to what he wanted. The pants held the red dye pretty well, and while he’s got no hope that they’ll come out of the laundry still red, he doesn’t need to wear them again. The weird long vest took longer to create, he had to get a bunch of pins to cover it in. But with both items, and white wristbands, and his hair slicked back, he makes a pretty damn good Shawn Michaels; the Heartbreak Kid. The October night is just a little cold on his bare chest.

The house is no Halloween masterpiece. Ray’s seen some pimped out places in his twenty one years. This isn’t even fifth grade classroom. As far as Ray can see, the only decoration is the fake cobwebbing, which is completely overused and hung on every surface. But looks don’t really matter. This is where Frank wants to be, so this is where they are. It’s a birthday tradition since the dawn of time; activities are decided by the birthday boy. If Frank wanted to sit and watch paint dry, completely sober, Ray and Gerard and Mikey would sit with him.

There’s a table against the banister of the staircase full of party necessities. There are about ten different flavours of chips available, none of which Ray considers dipping a hand into. All it takes one person that forgot to wash their hands after taking a shit, and the entire bowl has E. Coli or some other hideous disease. The same goes for the open M&Ms, and the chocolate covered pretzels. The pumpkin pie is probably safe, seeing as it calls for utensils. Ray steers clear out of sheer confusion. Who bakes pie for a house party? What the fuck?

The standard line of kegs is missing. Instead there’s a massive bowl on the table the size of a watermelon on steroids. Drinking from a public punch bowl goes against his personal safety rules. It’ll obviously have five kinds of alcohol poured in at random making it swamp water. The question is if there’s any rohypnol, or MDMA caps, or E tabs. The answer is it’s likely. Ray doesn’t need that shit. Pot has always been enough for him.

Once they’ve travelled the house -ostensibly to say hi to all the people Frank knows, but really to look for a hidden keg- and found nothing, Ray bites the bullet and fills a cup anyway. Frank and Mikey and Gerard are right behind him. He crosses his fingers and hopes it’s not spiked with anything more than the shittiest quality of vodka and chugs. Ray’s not about to do this night sober. Not when any second now he’ll see Mikey hit on someone, or be hit on.

Ray knows Mikey will hook up tonight. He’s gorgeous at the worst of times, when he’s been up for three days on four hours sleep because he’s going through one of those phases, or when he’s smoked enough that the candies that look like fried eggs in the bulk containers in grocery stores make him giggle so hysterically he’s bent over, or when he’s got a cold and his entire face is bright red with irritation and he’s got snot on his cheek from wiping his nose with his sleeve instead of grabbing a kleenex. Mikey is hot at all times, and right now he’s wearing his own favourite wrestler’s garb and it could just about kill a man. Mikey is Rowdy Roddy Piper. Ray watched Gerard paint the Hot Rod logo on a white shirt months ago, he was with Mikey when he was trolling online for the kilt, and he’s pretty sure the belt is borrowed from Frank. Altogether he looks pretty bang on, except for the hair, which can also be said for Ray.

Mikeyway’s got the legs to pull off a shorter than necessary plaid skirt, and every straight girl and gay boy are going to notice. Knowing that only makes Ray all the more determined to hook up tonight. Halloween is one of the sluttiest nights of the year. There’s got to be some guy that wants to get head.

Halfway through the night that guy arrives in the form of a pretty twink with bleached white hair. His sexy vampire costume is generic, but his tongue is blue from a Tootsie Pop, and he opens the conversation with saying it’ll be one more lick to the centre, and does he want to take that magical lick? Ray likes a guy with a bit of weirdness to him. He says instead that he’ll share, and directs the sucker back into his mouth, then kisses him around it.

It’s a wet kiss, the stick scraping against Ray’s cheek, but the guy must think it’s good enough. When he pulls away it’s with a smile. “Tommy. Wanna see if we can find a room?”

“Ray. Definitely, for sure.” He doesn’t know where Mikey is, but he hopes he somehow senses this and it’s like a kick to the balls. Maybe he’ll get Tommy to leave a cluster of hickeys or something. If Mikey can screw other people whenever he wants, so can Ray.

They find a bedroom upstairs that’s empty. They’re probably not the first to fuck in it tonight, but there are no pools of come or huge wet spots, so Ray doesn’t care. Frankly, if the bed was nasty he’d fuck Tommy against the wall. The way he looks stripping down, all pretty and pale with eyeliner making his eyes ravishing, Ray’d fuck him against whatever surface he had to.

Evidently Tommy shares the same thought. Rather than climb on the used bed he bends against the dresser. Ray fishes the condom out of his pants, then kicks them off. He’ll keep the vest on, unless it gets in the way. It’ll jingle when he’s thrusting, and he’s drunk enough to find that hilarious. Sex should be fun, not serious.

Ray puts the condom on and shuffles in closer. “How many fingers?”

He hears a spitting sound before Tommy answers “I’ll do myself.”

Ray gives himself person to step back again and watch. At least half the time they cut the fingering out of porn to go straight to the ‘good stuff’, but it’s Ray’s favourite part. The idea that someone is stretching himself to accommodate someone else, that they want it so bad they’re willing to do that, it just makes his cock twitch the way a blowjob doesn’t.

Tommy’s ass is great. It’s also wrong, too cute and round. And the arm that is leading to the hand that’s leading to Tommy’s ass is covered in tattoos. Ray likes tattoos. He has no regrets about the one he has, and approves of Frank collecting them like some people collect snowglobes. On his potential lover though, it just suddenly seems very wrong.

“I’m sorry. I can’t. I know, cocktease. Sorry.”

Tommy shrugs. “Better to have your gay freak out now instead of once you’re in my ass.”

“That’s not what this is.” This is Mikey’s pure existence being a cockblock. He can’t say that, of course. Tommy won’t get it, and Ray’s not up for explaining. But christ. So close, and he just fucking can’t. Fuck.

***


Ray’s got the kind of friends that are constantly present. It’s just fact. They eat together, hang out together. Even when they’re doing different things, they tend to do them in the same room. The only thing that stops their quartet from being a married couple -apart from the lack of sex, but then some people would joke that no sex is a part of marriage- is that they don’t sleep in the same room. Their methods of falling asleep when sober are so different trying would probably drive them all to the brink of insanity. Ray needs music with a certain beat, he’s got playlists on his iPod specifically for falling asleep. Mikey’s got hypnagogic hallucinations, which essentially means he starts to dream before his body is fully asleep. If other people are moving around him his dreams turn ugly, a problem he had with his first roommate before he got Verne, who meditates from eleven to one am. Gerard needs physical space, half the time he falls asleep with half of his works in progress on his bed beside him. Frank sleeps with the lights on.

With Mikey gone, Frank and Gerard’s clingy behaviours have only reinforced. The two practically breathe each other’s exhalations, they’re so close to each other. They’ve been trying to spend their time equally, going back and forth between being close to Mikey and close to Ray.

In the last week Ray’s been giving them a lot of opportunity to be with Mikey. Sooner rather than later Frank and Gerard are going to comment on the fact that he’s spending more time apart from them than he has since he was fifteen. And that instance wasn’t even his fault. Lou had caused that by being a giant bastard and shaving Ray’s head when he was sleeping. Friendly prank or not, it had horrified Ray, who didn’t left the house for all of August until his hair started to grow back. Now it’s different. In this case it’s very much Ray’s choice to be separate.

The only reason they haven’t called him on his absence yet is because Frank is benevolent and Gerard is distracted. Frank thinks he’s building some kind of visual history for his grandpa. He saw the photos of the stuff Ray was trying to sell and assumed he was making a scrapbook with anecdotes scrawled through it. Meanwhile Gerard is still on his oil pastels kick. Whenever a new medium hits him it takes a month or so before he becomes less frantic about it. Ray gives it a matter of days before one of the two comments. And when Gerard or Frank does, he’ll have that sweet moment of saying I was busy being a werewolf, wanna see? and it’ll be great. For now though, Ray is free to spend all his time at his grandpa’s old house, wearing his old jacket. It’s a lot more peaceful being a wolf.

As much as Ray likes it, he wouldn’t say he’s addicted. He’s got an alarm set on his phone. The shrill tone is annoying when he’s human. As a wolf with hearing sensitive enough that he can hear leaves fall off trees it’s almost excruciating. And it certainly gets his attention, even when he’s halfway down the block. With it, the human part of his brain that the wolf classifies as wrong comes a bit closer to the forefront and knows it’s time to unzip.

The alarm goes off when the moon is out, as per usual. He pads up the tiny hills -stairs- and hooks his pull and then tugs. That’s when things change. Instead of the wrongness overtaking him, the fake branch breaks. A rough splinter drives itself into him, just under his throat. He snarls in pain and tries to shake it out but it’s stuck fast.

Fix it the wrongness screams. Try again. He only knows one way to fix things. The pack fixes things. He bounds down the tiny hills, whimpering as the wood in his body shifts. The door is still open. He exits and keeps running.

This time he doesn’t need the wrongness telling him were his mate is. His urine marks it, strong and unsurrendering. Now he just needs mate to come outside. He howls. A few windows open, but one is mate’s. Not-Mate, the one with his smells all over Mate’s, is the one looking outside.

“Holy shit. That is one huge ass dog.”

He snarls. He’s not a broken-wolf.

Mate joins Not-Mate peering outside. “Wait, is that blood? Is the poor thing bleeding?”

In the real wilderness, not this stupid place with so many caves, wounds heal, or they kill you. It’s not a dying wound, so he stopped paying attention to it. Mate pointing it out brings the wrongness on stronger than ever. The wrongness Ray is terrified he’s going to bleed out. Ray won’t pay attention to him.

“Can you jump in?” Mikey asks like he expects him to listen and tap out an answer in Morse code. It’s one of the things Ray loves -loved, he reminds himself- about him.

“Ooooh no,” Verne draws out.

Ray just looks at him. Even in greyscale Mikey looks great. Mikey laughs at himself after a second. “Yeah, I guess you’re not very nimble and catlike. Stay there.”

“You’re gonna get yourself mauled, Way. I’m not coming outside with you.”

Ray’s glad for his attitude. If Verne followed and witnessed the transformation Ray’s praying will happen, he’d probably just be irritatingly hipster and unfazed by it. Ray can only handle hipsters is small doses, and especially when they’re not excited by something they should be.

He smells Mikey coming before he sees him. It’s the first time he’s been in control of this set of senses. The wolf took scent for granted, but knowing that Mikey had Thai food for dinner a few hours ago is a thrill for him. He’d probably be even more interested if he didn’t know there’s a possibility of being stuck forever.

“You’re a big pup, aren’t you? I’m gonna get you all comfortable and safe.” In human terms, Mikey is whispering. To his wolf ears he’s shouting from maybe fifteen feet away. “I’m gonna help you. Find your owner, if you have one. Not gonna hurt you.” Mikey crouches and holds out his hand, still not coming closer. “Just gonna help you.”

Ray walks the rest of the way to meet him, not wanting to startle him by loping forward. He’s not a vicious stray, but Mikey doesn’t know that. He relishes the moment of smelling Mikey’s hand. He hasn’t been close enough to inhale his cologne in a while.

“Good pup. Now who do you belong to?” Mikey reaches for the pull he’s mistaken for a collar and tag. It’s his chance. Ray backs away as quickly as he can. Thank god Mikey’s instinct is to tighten, not loosen his grip. By the time he realising what he’s doing and guiltily lets go, the pull is down enough that the transformation reverses itself.

“Holy shit! What the fuck, Ray?”

“Can we talk about this once I have pants?” The dead November grass is frigid against his legs, and it’s a public campus.

Mikey stands and moves closer to his window to shout “pass me a pair of jeans!”

An acid washed pair flies out a second later. Mikey catches them mostly with his chest, then tosses them to Ray. They’re way too tight. He can barely get his thighs in, the seams straining. He can’t zip them at all.

“And now I repeat: what the fucking goddamn hell?”

It’s not a word for word repeat, but at this point Ray’s gonna let it go. That doesn’t mean he knows what to say instead of nitpicking. “Uh.”

“You’re a fucking werewolf! When were you going to tell me?”

“I haven’t told anyone yet.”

“That’s not what I asked, Ray. Assuming the more primal part of yourself hadn’t led you here when you panicked, when would you have told me?”

Ray shrugs, keeping his eyes on the brown grass. “Never? We’re not dating anymore.”

Mikey finally sits beside him on the cold lawn. Ray’s bare foot is almost touching the sole of Mikey’s sneaker. He doesn’t need to look to the side to be sure Mikey is staring at him through long bleached bangs.

“I know that. But we’ve been friends forever. It’s always us werewolves against Gee and Frank’s vampires in Would You Rather.”

It’s one of their most hashed battles. Ray can remember all the times it came up after a new supernatural show aired, or movie came to the silver screen, or book got public. Mikey’s right in that aspect; neither of them ever strayed from werewolves. But he’s wrong about being owed the information. Isn’t he? “We can’t talk like that anymore.”

“Can’t, or won’t? Ray, don’t you even want to try to be friends anymore?”

“I want you as my boyfriend again so much I don’t know if I can be friends with you.” It’s a hard kernel of honesty that Ray didn’t mean to drop. He blames the rush of adrenaline of getting stuck, and relief when he wasn’t anymore. He’s never been good with mixed emotions. He can’t process as quickly as Gerard can.

“Then can we be boyfriends again? Because I can’t- I can’t do this. I didn’t mean to and they didn’t mean to but we did, and that can’t go away. I know it can’t. But I fucking need it to, because I can’t do this. We’ve been friends for thirteen years, and I just want to hug you and suck you off and watch stupid movies that we’ve seen a hundred times, and what the fuck? I can’t, because you can’t, because I made a mistake.”

Ray doesn’t need to look to the side to be sure that Mikey’s hands are flying as he spews out something that he’s probably had bottled up a few weeks. Mikey, too, isn’t as good as Gerard is about feelings.

“I don’t know if we can. I want to. But I don’t know.” He wants to. Ray wants it so much he could almost cry from the longing. But what if the first time he goes to touch Mikey’s dick he sees Pete’s mouth there?

“Can we just try? Can we just fucking try? It can’t suck more than this does.”

Ray’s not sure that’s true. Going soft because he can see Gabe’s fingerprints on Mikey’s chest would suck to infinity and beyond. But that’s only a possibility of hurt. Not having one third of his friends, having the pictures he can’t delete, not being able to touch someone else because there’s only one person he wants- all of that hurts right now.

“We can try.”
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