Tell Me Something True
March 1, 2005
"I have never," Bert pauses, beer bottle halfway to his mouth as he surveys who's still standing— or at least, vaguely upright in the ravages of the room party. Bert grins wickedly before finishing, "Kissed another dude."
Ray purses his lips. He probably shouldn't drink (he's pretty sure friendly pecks on the cheek don't count), but god, everyone else in the room is. Even Bert, which is stupid because Ray is pretty sure you're not supposed to drink on your own turn. Ray not drinking is practically the same as writing "homophobe" across his forehead, though, so it feels like the lesser of two evils when he starts to raise his bottle of Bud to his mouth. Unfortunately, Frank calls him out.
"Bullshit, Toro!" He cries, pointing a tattooed finger at Ray. "Motherfucking bullshit you've kissed a dude."
"What?" Ray tries to sound offended, like of course I've kissed a guy, what the fuck? offended, but it doesn't come out right and he knows it. He's always been a shitty liar.
"When?" Frank challenges, bouncing to his feet and getting into Ray's face. He stinks of aniseed from the absinthe Bert's been pouring all night, and he's just drunk enough to be an asshole about this.
Ray shrugs. "All the time. You guys are always—"
"Uh-uh." Frank shakes his head, dropping his hands to his waist. "Don't count if we kiss you. Who have you kissed?"
Fuck, he can feel his cheeks getting hot, but maybe it's dark enough that no one will notice. He runs a hand through his hair as he runs through names in his mind, looking for one he can throw out. Maybe James? No, shit, Frank is tight with him. Frank is tight with fucking everyone, the asshole.
Ray's about ready to give up and admit defeat, when Mikey-- who's been pretty quiet up until now, settled into his almost silent drunk persona-- speaks up, with no inflection, "Me."
Ray turns his head to stare at Mikey. He's slouched in the corner of the room, long legs sprawled out on the floor and leaning back on the bed, a bottle of beer in one hand and a glass of one of Bert's interesting absinthe cocktails in the other.
If it's a joke, Mikey's not laughing. He's not even smiling. He meets Ray's eyes, barely twitching an eyebrow at him. It takes Ray a moment to get it—that Mikey's giving him an out.
Mikey doesn't say anything else, or even change his expression. He just holds Ray's gaze until Ray's brain finally clicks into gear, reminding him he has a room full of drunk musicians and techs looking for some kind of entertainment from this stupid game, and they’re probably getting pretty annoyed with him right now.
Ray juggles his beer to his other hand, scratching absently at his shoulder when he says, "Yeah, Mikey. Like he said."
Frank just stares at him, looking like a cross between a kicked puppy and a sulky teenager. "Bullshit."
Ray tilts his head to exchange a look with Mikey. He can feel the smile stretching his mouth before he even meets Mikey's eyes. It only gets wider when he does because while Mikey isn't quite smiling back at him, the amusement is there--in the twitch of his mouth, the curve of his eyebrow.
Ray shakes his head, looking back at Frank. "Not bullshit, Frank."
"No way. When did this happen?"
Ray chuckles, smothering it into the back of his hand. "Like I'm gonna tell you."
There's a few wolf whistles and Bert's insane high-pitched giggle rings out over a general cackle of laughter.
Frank crosses his arms over his chest, sending Ray one more glare before crossing the room to kick at Mikey's feet. "Mikeyway come on, don't leave me hanging, I want details."
Mikey does smile then, a deadly grin that shows Frank his teeth. He tips his head coyly, taking a sip of the hell-flavoured concoction Bert brewed up without even a grimace. "A gentleman doesn't kiss and tell, Frank."
Frank kicks Mikey's shoe again. "You're not a gentlemen. Spill." When Mikey doesn't say anything Frank starts kicking his foot in a light staccato rhythm, "Mikeywaaaaaay."
"Okay, okay, okay, Frankie. Give the lovebirds some space," Bert says. He moves so fast Ray nearly misses it, blurring as he crosses the room and grabs Frank around the shoulders. He turns to point at Ray. "Dude, you can drink now."
Ray grins, wide and sloppy, getting altogether too much satisfaction out of the whole ridiculous situation. He raises his beer in a messy toast to Mikey, which just makes Mikey smile bigger, and takes a long swallow.
It tastes awesome.
It's late enough that Ray can already feel his hangover starting to kick in when he and Mikey stumble out of Zacky's room. Fuck, he never should have drunk that absinthe. Sound check tomorrow (or rather, later today) is gonna be a fucking killer.
Mikey's room is the first one they pass on the way back. Despite the threatening headache, Ray's still pretty happily fuzzy-drunk. He doesn't question it when Mikey sinks his fingers into Ray's t-shirt and pulls him into the room behind him, even though Ray is rooming with Frank tonight.
The room is dark—Mikey's sharing with Gerard, who skipped the party and is probably asleep. Mikey doesn't turn the light on so Ray's struggling to see his face in the dim light leaking in from the streetlamp outside.
"Mikes?" Ray's voice sounds rough, shredded from the alcohol; he hopes it doesn't affect his ability to sing tomorrow. No, later today.
Mikey's swaying a little in front of him, but Ray can't tell if that's because he's moving or because Mikey is. "Hey, so," Mikey starts, anchoring his fingers in Ray's t-shirt again, steadying himself. "You know how I covered for you with the whole kissing a dude thing?"
It takes Ray's beer-soaked brain a moment to catch up to where Mikey is. "Um, yeah?"
"Well," Mikey starts, prying one hand from Ray's shirt to adjust his glasses. His eyes look hazy. "Well, like, if you wanted to be able to say it for real. I mean, if you wanted like, the experience of kissing a dude - no pressure - I could help you out with that."
It definitely takes Ray's brain a moment to process that one. If he were in a court-room drama he'd be asking for a read-back right now, because he didn't just hear that right. Did he? It's too fucking hard to see in the dark room and he can’t figure out what Mikey wants him to say. He opens his mouth and closes it again when he realizes he has no words. No idea where to even start.
He’s too slow and he knows it. In the dim light filtering through the faded curtains, he thinks he sees Mikey shrug, maybe twitch his head to the side, before he lifts a hand to scratch through his hair carelessly. "Fuck this absinthe. I think I've already got a hangover."
Just like that, the subject is dropped. Mikey turns smoothly, heading for the bathroom. When he lets go of Ray's shirt, he pats Ray's chest twice with absent motions before he shuffles away with a light, "'Night, Ray." He slips into the bathroom and closes the door.
Ray is still staring at the door when the bathroom light comes on, lighting up the crack along the bottom. He's trying to figure out what the fuck happened - his brain chasing after the conversation and not quite catching up - when the rustle of sheets tells him Gerard isn't asleep.
"Ray?" Gerard's voice is soft, but too loud in the stillness of the room.
"Gee?" It's all Ray can think to say.
"Um, just in case you were wondering, that was Mikey hitting on you." Gerard's voice is calm and sleepy.
"Oh." Ray says, because he’s too drunk to really process this any further than that.
"Don't get weirded out," Gerard adds, his voice is light, but Ray can hear enough twist in the words to know it's a warning - don't hurt my brother.
"I'm not weirded out," Ray says, trying to mean it.
The thing is, Ray is kind of weirded out.
Frank was still at the party when Ray and Mikey left, so it's no surprise when Ray lets himself into their room to find it empty. It's highly likely Frank won't even make it back to the room tonight; the way he was going he might end up crashing on the floor upstairs in Zacky's room. As much as Ray likes Frank, he has to admit it's a relief to have the place to himself, even if it does make his own thoughts too loud to ignore. Thoughts like how warm Mikey’s hand felt on his chest through the thin material of his t-shirt. How his lips looked, wet with the shine of whatever he was drinking.
Fuck, Ray is way too drunk.
He shuts the door, shaking his fro like he can shake out the unwanted thoughts. He doesn’t bother to switch on a light. just peels off his clothes right there in the bedroom. It's freeing to be naked in an open space for a change, instead of having to take clothes into a bathroom or bunk or whatever semi-private corner he's got. He sighs, scratching his fingers across the back of his neck, revelling in the cool air on his bare skin.
He takes a hot shower and from the moment the spray hits his face he leans into it and reaches down to grab his dick. It's habit now; a hot shower in the privacy of hotel room pretty much equals jerking off, whether he's really in the mood or not. Precious hot water mixed with rare privacy demand he take the opportunity when he can.
Not that Ray's not in the mood. He's still warm-buzzy drunk from the party and loose enough that he feels comfortable making a little noise, light groans getting lost under the pounding of the spray as his dick hardens under his fingers.
Ray lathers his hands with shower gel, rubbing soapy fingers over his dick and down to cup his balls. He's not thinking about anything, just letting himself experience it: the hot water on his skin, his own grip on his cock, wet and slick. Fully hard, he adjusts his grip so he can get a thumb in on the underside of his cock, just under the head, pressing where he wants it.
Fuck, it's good. A throaty noise escapes his mouth and he leans forwards, pressing a palm against the glass of the shower screen to steady himself, because he's weaving on his feet, just a little. He adjusts his grip on his cock, tightening, pulling up and it's so good he has to close his eyes - shut off that sense and just feel it.
The roughness of his callused fingertip just under the head of his cock feels better than usual tonight. The soap and water lend slide to his hand as he jacks himself, movements getting faster. He doesn’t linger, doesn’t draw it out; tonight he just wants to come.
He doesn’t mean to think about Mikey.
He's not thinking about him, at first. It starts with an errant thought, thinking of the girls who've touched his cock before, how soft their hands were, how they'd never get that rough brush of his calluses, that firm grip.
It makes him wonder whose hands wouldn't be all sweet and soft.
Mikey's wouldn’t be. He's got those rough calluses and his fingers are long and strong from years of playing. Fast and nimble.
And just like that Ray’s thinking about Mikey while he's got his hand on his dick. Fuck, he doesn’t want this, but trying not to think about Mikey is still thinking about him. His brain gets stuck in a loop that starts with Mikey's hands, slides up his torso to Mikey's mouth. Fuck, what would it taste like? How would it feel on his cock?
Ray chokes out a noise, the tile cold and hard under his palm as he sways on his feet, jacking himself harder, faster. He looks down at his own hand moving on his wet dick, his mind's eye seeing long slender fingers wrapped around his cock instead of his own wide ones. He wonders what Mikey would sound like, panting in his ear as he jerks him off.
He’s such a fucking bad person, because that’s what he’s thinking of when he comes, hard and shuddering. He bites off a choked noise and his hips shove forward as he spurts on the tiles. Water drips into his mouth as he groans, his blood fizzing with adrenalin, his whole body vibrating with his orgasm.
It takes a long moment for him to come down. Slowly he comes back to himself, the patter of droplets of his skin, the damp steam in his lungs nearly suffocating. He’s overheated, in more ways than one, and the wetness on his skin feels too much like sweat.
His heart pounds in his temples, already feeling like a headache. He eases himself off the wall and rinses his hands. He points the shower head at the tiles to wash away his come, and tries not to think about what just happened.
He tries not to think at all.
The next morning is weird. Ray steps into the hotel foyer, backpack over his shoulder, looking around for his bandmates. He left Frank retching in their bathroom, but the others are already here, Bob and Brian over by the reception desk. Ray's face starts to heat up the second he sees Mikey sitting on an uncomfortable looking sofa with Gerard. He looks down, letting his curls fall in front of his face, hoping Mikey doesn't notice that he’s using his hair as a shield.
Ray aims his steps for Brian, but Gerard calls his name and holds up a takeaway cup of coffee. Ray can't ignore that.
He goes over and takes the coffee from Gerard, thankful for it even if his stomach will likely rebel later. He glances at Mikey in a way that he hopes is subtle, but Mikey's halfway through telling a story about some fight between two of the techs. He barely stops long enough to say hi to Ray before barrelling on.
Ray sits beside him, keeping half a cushion gap between him and Mikey, who's leaning all over Gerard. Mikey does a perfect imitation of Worm telling off Cortez as he props his legs up on Ray's knees. The contact should make Ray feel even more uncomfortable, remind him of how he was thinking about Mikey in a markedly non-bandmate manner last night, but it doesn't. It's just Mikey.
Mikey shoves a handful of his hairspray-logged hair out of his face and adjusts his glasses as the conversation turns to an idea Gerard had for the bridge of a new song. Ray chimes in then, because he has some opinions to share. He leans his elbow on Mikey's knee as he hums out a chord progression to them and Mikey grins at him, adding a few notes himself.
It isn't weird at all.
Mikey doesn't bring up what happened at the party, or what happened after it. Neither does Ray. Frank doesn't either, but that's probably because he spends most of the day vomiting the bottom of his stomach out.
Absinthe is fucking dire.
July 15, 2005
The blacktop is hard under Ray's ass as he leans back against one of the huge bus wheels. He's probably getting his shirt filthy, but it's been two weeks since they've stopped to do laundry so he's long since given up on trying to keep anything clean. He's hidden in shadow except for the tip of one shoe sticking out into a parking lot light.
He realizes it probably looks like he's sulking, if anyone were around to see him. The guys are all on the bus, with half of Fall Out Boy. Ray's out for a quiet cigarette and to count himself out of a particularly heated argument about A New Hope versus Empire Strikes Back that he refuses to get drug into again.
He isn't sulking, though, quite the opposite. The tour is going great, even better than Taste of Chaos. They've got a certified gold record. And, in a little over twelve minutes, Ray is going to be twenty-eight.
He just needs a few minutes alone with it all before he's ready to go back inside, where by now they're probably talking about Ewoks. He needs his strength for that.
He's just crushing out the butt of his smoke on his sole of his shoe, considering lighting a second one, when a metallic crash startles him. It sounds like someone ran into the bus. Curious, he kneels up and peers around the front bumper.
Mikey, drunk and giggling, is pressing Pete Wentz up against the side of the bus. He's kissing him hard and messy. Pete's kissing back, one hand fisted in Mikey's hoodie, muttering things Ray can only half hear against his lips. "So fucking dangerous, Mikeyway."
"Danger's my middle name," Mikey giggles, his voice throaty and warm. He leans in, pulls Pete forward by a handful of his t-shirt and kisses him again. Ray can hear the wet noises their mouths make and the slide of their bodies against the bus panels.
He swallows, reaching out and laying a palm flat against the wheel to steady himself. Fuck, this is the last thing he expected to see. Sure, Pete and Mikey have been hanging out a lot lately, but Ray just put it down to two bassists bonding. He didn't think, can barely even compute, that they could be fucking.
But Mikey's sinking to his knees, ducking his chin so his messy hair slides against Pete's belly. Pete's giant too-white teeth glint in the darkness as he smiles or grimaces and Ray can hear him groan, "Fuck yeah. Love you like this."
"Like this?" Mikey's voice is deep. His hands are busy somewhere in Pete's groin region and Ray can hear the rattle of a buckle, the rasp of a zip.
"Like you best when you’re kneeling." Pete laughs then, loud and abrasive, before choking off abruptly. Because Mikey's sucking his cock, and Ray can fucking see it.
He needs to stop looking, right the fuck now, except his body is frozen to the spot, his eyes locked on the half-lit scene in front of him. The curve of Mikey's back where he's hunching forward to find Pete's dick, the awkward bend of his elbows, the smooth, rhythmic motion of his head as he sucks Pete off.
He needs to get the fuck up and go back inside. This is not his fucking business. He's got no right and he doesn't want to know this shit. He doesn't want to know what Mikey sounds like when he's giving head, or just how good he apparently is at it, given the less-than-quiet noises Pete's making.
And Pete? Fuck, he thought Pete, of anyone, was straight.
Then again, maybe Mikey is just helping him figure that out.
Ray is pretty certain he doesn't want to see Wentz's O-face, so he pushes up to his feet, slipping away as carefully and silently as he can.
They don't notice him, thank god, and he stays in the shadows as he traces his way back to the bus doors.
He does his best not to think about what he just saw and heard, to ignore the heat in his groin and the tightness in his jeans.
The voice in his head telling him that could be him pressed up against the bus, his dick in Mikey's mouth.
His heart’s beating way too loud and he’s breathing way harder than he should when he gets to the bus door. He stops, one hand on the door handle, trying to get a grip on himself before he goes inside.
Stalling, he checks his watch. It's right on midnight.
Happy fucking birthday to him.
29th July, 2007
It's the increase in crowd noise that makes Ray look up from his guitar, pausing long enough in his head-banging to see what's caused the swell of high-pitched screaming and the burst of hundreds of camera-flashes firing.
Gerard and Frank are kissing, right there on stage, mid-set.
Ray's mouth drops open. He looks straight to Mikey, who’s already watching Frank and Gerard. He looks amused. He catches Ray's gaze and shakes his hair at him, sending him a grin.
His expression clearly mirrors Ray's thoughts: those crazy fuckers.
After the show, in the backstage rush that's half sweat and all adrenaline, it's all anyone can talk about.
"You know that shit's gonna be all over YouTube, Gee," Mikey says.
"Good!" Gerard yells, sounding ecstatic. "Maybe it'll show some kids it's okay to do what you feel, fall in love with whoever you want to fall in love with, fuck gender, fuck society trying program us. This is good Mikey, I hope it's all over fucking YouTube."
Ray starts laughing before Gerard's even finished his speech. It's so fucking typical for him to embrace a scandal like this, to throw himself into it face first.
"Fall in love with whoever they want to fall in love with, Gerard?" Frank asks, his lips twisted into a weird smirk.
Gerard looks as confused as Ray feels when Frank corners him, getting right up in Gerard's face.
"Kind of like you did, huh?" Frank asks, except he's not really asking, he's saying it like it's a fact.
"Frank?" Gerard's cheeks are flushed red. It's not just post-gig adrenaline, no way, the fucker is blushing.
"You know, you could've just said something. You didn't need some kind of political statement excuse."
"Frank–" Gerard doesn't get any more words out, because Frank grabs him by the collar of his sweat-damp t-shirt and kisses him hard. Gerard makes a whining noise but kisses back, his fingers flapping up to grasp at Frank's shoulders.
Ray knows he's staring. He feels like he shouldn't be, but fuck, this is kind of a big deal. Well, them kissing onstage isn't, but offstage it is. Offstage it's more than just fucking with some idiot homophobes in the crowd. Offstage means feelings, and the potential to fuck up the band.
Not to mention, how the hell are they going to split hotel rooms now?
It isn't until Mikey groans, "Oh god, enough already," that Ray drags his eyes away from Frank and Gerard - who have graduated to enthusiastic necking now - to see that Mikey's got one hand over his eyes.
"Guys, you're kind of making a scene," Ray tells the back of Frank's head, gentle but firm. Frank being Frank, he doesn't even stop to take a breath. He just flips Ray the bird and keeps on kissing Gerard.
It's at that moment that Bob rounds the corner. He takes one look at what's going on and starts laughing uncontrollably, calling for Brian between ragged breaths. Mikey looks traumatised, so Ray grabs him by the arm and steers him through the thickening crowd of techs and random onlookers. He's pretty certain it's physically impossible for Frank and Gerard to do anything by halves and they'll no doubt hear all the gossip later. For now he keeps an eye out for a quiet spot, finding one out around the back of the catering tent. He perches on a railing and pulls out his cigarettes, lights two and hands one to Mikey.
"You okay?" he asks, studying Mikey's tightly schooled expression.
Mikey leans forward, resting his elbows on the railing Ray's ass is sitting on. He tilts his head up to look at Ray, giving him a weak smile. "Yeah, fine. It's not," He waves his cigarette, a throwaway motion vaguely in the direction of the stage they just came from, "that. I mean, Gee's had a boner for Frank for years, that was totally gonna happen sooner or later."
"It was?" Ray can't keep the surprise out of his voice.
Mikey stares a Ray for a long moment, like he's seeing him for the first time. "Wow, you really didn't know."
"Um, no?" Ray takes a drag of his cigarette to give his hands something to do. This is a weird conversation.
Mikey turns his head, muffling a smile into his shoulder. The way he's wearing his hair these days, all pulled back and sort of bouffant, exposes the curve of his neck in a way that has Ray's mind going to a very non-brotherly place. He flicks his eyes away, looking down at the burning cherry of his cigarette instead.
"So, what is it then, if it's not our lead singer and rhythm guitarist making sweet, sweet love?"
"Ew." Mikey punches Ray lightly in the shoulder. "You suck for bringing that up."
Ray smothers his grin into his fist, trying to hide it by taking another drag of his smoke. He waits until the smile isn't hovering on his lips anymore before finally asking, "So, what then?"
Mikey shrugs, the motion seeming to take up his entire body. "It's just, I don't know, shit like that's a reminder that I don’t have shit like that."
Mikey hunches lower over his hands, swapping the cigarette between his long fingers in distracted motions.
"You could." Ray says, thinking of any number of girls or guys who've made eyes at Mikey - not fans of course, but techs, press, other bands; nearly anyone who comes into contact with Mikey falls under his spell. "I mean, you could have anyone."
It feels like he's saying too much and he hopes the warmth he can feel in his cheeks isn't all that visible to Mikey. Not that Mikey's looking at him, anyway; he seems transfixed by his cigarette as he passes it from one hand to the other. They don't usually talk about stuff like this.
"Not anyone," Mikey tells his hands. He sounds like he's thinking of someone in particular.
Ray frowns. He knows it's none of his business, but he can't help wondering who. Then he remembers that night on Warped, what he saw between the buses, and it occurs to him just how many times he's heard Mikey's sidekick chime with a particular ringtone.
For a few long minutes he really hates Pete fucking Wentz.
The next morning Brian herds them from the bus into one more identical looking radio station for one more fucking interview. Ray's muzzy headed from sleeping late; it's easy to sit back and let Gerard do all the talking. He's going at a million miles per hour today, still running high after the show, even though he and Frank stayed up all night.
Ray doesn't know what they stayed up doing because he slept with headphones in. He doesn't need to hear how they resolve their issues, just that they won’t let them fuck up the band.
It's just Ray, Gerard, and Mikey squeezed into the soundproof booth, coffees at hand. Frank's off getting tattooed on Kat's Von D's reality show, and Bob used his amazing powers over Brian to weasel out of this interview. Ray wishes he could've gotten out of it too. He usually likes interviews, but today is different. There's a knot in his gut and he can't figure out what it is.
That the host is annoying isn't helping. Her hair is big and blonde and she seems to be wearing a lot of makeup for someone whose not on TV. She asks all the usual boring shit, but it's rote. She doesn't wait long before she asks about Frank and Gerard lip-locking on stage (which is, indeed, all over YouTube.) Ray isn't surprised, Brian warned them they'd get these questions, and the over-lipsticked woman whose name Ray can't remember uses it as a reason to pry into Gerard's sexuality.
"So are you gay, straight or a space alien?"
Gerard doesn't even flinch. He leans forward into the mic and kicks off with, "I don't think we should try to squeeze ourselves into categories, you know? We’re human beings, we shouldn't, like, try to label ourselves."
Over in the corner of the room, Brian shifts uncomfortably.
The host's mouth screws to the side before she covers it with a smile, not giving up, "Yeah, but are you into guys, girls, or what?"
"I'm into people." Gerard says, and Ray has to fight back a smile. "I don't believe in breaking stuff down into gender. And I don't think it's right the way we try and force sexuality norms on kids - gay, straight, bisexual - tick this box. You should just love who you want to love, right? When you find the right person, you just know it, and it's not about their equipment, it's about who they are, you know?" He scratches a hand through his tousled hair, messing it up more.
It's obvious to Ray he's talking about Frank. The sentiment is so earnest he almost wishes Frank were here to witness it, but then Ray would likely have to witness the resulting bout of making out and he's fine with skipping that part.
The host's smile gets brighter and more false. It's like she's out for blood, but Ray still doesn't expect her to turn towards him and Mikey and say, "How about you guys? Mikey? Ray?"
Mikey's expression doesn't change but Ray can tell by his startled blink that he didn't anticipate this, either. He coughs, clearing his throat, before he leans closer to the mic with a casual laugh. "I'm gonna go with Gerard's answer, I think he makes a really good point."
There's practically steam coming out of her ears now. "How about you, Ray?"
A glance at Brian shows Ray a tense man. All their dancing around is pressing deep lines into Brian's face. Reprise would no doubt prefer them all to be loudly and vocally straight - onstage kissing or not.
He swallows and leans forward, feeling like he's somehow the last bastion of heterosexuality in his band. "Yeah, I'm straight."
It's not a big deal or even a dishonest answer. Ray's only ever had girlfriends. He had his first crush, first kiss, lost his virginity, all with the fairer sex. He like chicks. He likes tits and asses and soft curves. He glances at Gerard, feeling defensive of his response, and forcibly reminds himself that 'love who you want to love' works for straight dudes, too.
Gerard just bumps shoulders with him and adds, "Not that there's anything wrong with that," with a grin that cracks them both up.
It doesn't occur to him until later on, that Mikey wasn't laughing too.
February 1, 2010
"You know, staring at it isn't going to make it go any faster." Gerard leans in over Ray's shoulder. Ray has to admit he is staring at the export timeline on the ProTools screen, waiting for the bar to fill, pixel by pixel.
"You can't prove that," Ray says. He grins at the screen, waveforms visible behind the slowly filling worm of the export box.
The waveforms don't look markedly different to any of the other songs they've pumped through the export process on the album, but this song is. As Gerard keeps saying, it's the turning point, the first track on the album they're actually going to release. They were up all night tweaking the version that Ray's bouncing to disc, the burner whirring gently on a CD that's going straight into Ray's car stereo. He can't wait to hear it on his speakers while he's burning down the highway. It's music made for speed.
Ray rubs a hand over his gritty eyes. There aren't any windows or clocks in the sound-proofed recording studio, so it's like being in a vacuum. It has to be very early morning by now, if Ray's dry throat and hunger are anything to go by.
He drags his focus away from the screen and tunes back into the one-sided conversation Gerard's having with himself. Or rather, with Ray, if Ray were listening.
"So I reckon if we take Death Before Disco and like, speed it up and I'm thinking like, something spoken over the beginning, maybe Japanese? What do you—"
Gerard breaks off, shaking Ray's chair. No, wait, he's not shaking Ray's chair; the whole fucking room is shaking. Ray manages to get his feet under him, grabbing onto the mixing desk to steady himself as his chair topples over behind him. Equipment starts shaking off shelves and tables, falling down around them, and all Ray can do is wrap an arm around Gerard and grab hold of anything that's not moving, trying to stay upright.
"Fuck. Fuck. Is it an earthquake?" Gerard's voice is pitched high with panic, his hands gripping Ray's arm where it's tight across his chest. Ray's been through an earthquake, but it was barely a tremor, not like this.
Everything's a blur of movement and noise as the ground beneath their feet actually honest to God moves, shaking loose and trashing hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of equipment around them. Ray struggles just to keep his feet under him. He nearly pulls it off, but strangely enough it's when the ground stops moving that he loses his balance, landing hard on his knee and elbow on the worn carpet of the studio floor, Gerard landing almost on top of him.
The silence is loud, but for distant car alarms and the ringing in Ray's ears, one more semi-tone lost to him forever. He grabs Gerard's arm, "You okay?"
Gerard nods, looking freaked, but he's not bleeding or hurting as far as Ray can see. Ray's knee feels tender but he feels fine otherwise. He glances around the studio, heart sinking at the trashed mess of equipment. But he pushes that back; he can't think about it, not yet, not the equipment and the tracks or the off-site data backups that only happen once a night so they would've lost anything they've done since midnight last night. He can't think about that, not until-
"We need to find Frank and Mikey," Ray says. Gerard's already nodding, pushing up onto his feet, stepping over the remains of a keyboard to get to the door that swings wide on loose hinges. Ray feels strangely calm, numb as he follows Gerard out into the hall, their footsteps weirdly muffled. Ray doesn't think about whatever damage his ears might have suffered. Later, he tells himself, eyes searching the halls for signs of life.
There's no one around, which isn't surprising given that it looks like the sun's barely up. The hallway looks less wrecked than the studio, but that's mostly just because there's less stuff in it to be wrecked. As it is, most of the framed posters of flagship Warner Music bands and albums have fallen off the walls, scattering shattered glass across the floor. Ray's only wearing Chucks and he has to be careful where he steps, but Gerard's got proper thick-soled boots on so he stomps over all of it. The walls are cracked and parts of the roof are slouched dangerously low.
They both hear the footsteps coming and Gerard speeds up, jumping over debris to get to the end of the hall just as Frank comes tearing around the corner. They catch each other in a desperate hug, Frank panting breathlessly, "Thank fucking Christ." He grabs Ray by the arm and drags him into it and for a moment Ray lets himself breathe, the relief of finding Frank welcome.
But it doesn't do anything for the knot in his gut.
"Where's Mikey?" Ray asks first, even before Gerard.
"I thought he was with you guys." Frank glances down the hall like Mikey's going to step into it any second. Ray can see a deep cut across Frank's forehead.
"Shit, you're hurt." Gerard says. He hovers his hand over Frank's bloodied head, but Frank bats it away. "Mikey only went around the corner to the 7-Eleven, he should've gotten back before me."
Ray's heart shoots up somewhere into his throat and the panic he's been doing a really fucking good job of keeping a lid on so far starts to vibrate up through his body. Because if Mikey's not back here, if he's not looking for them, if he was in the wrong place when the world shook up and now he's not here he could be, he could be-
"Which way would he have been coming from?" Ray's voice doesn't sound like his own when he asks the question and he can see the same tightly reined panic on both his bandmates' faces.
Frank flaps a hand behind him before turning back the way he came. "This way," he says. Ray and Gerard hurry to keep up as Frank dodges broken glass and detritus on the way to the back entrance.
The back door faces east and Ray squints at the sun rising straight into his eyes. Outside is worse than inside. It's not just little stuff that's wrecked out here; it's whole buildings crumbling, small fires burning and other bleary eyed people emerging from buildings, looking around in shock at the destruction. Ray doesn't have time to think about them, not until they figure out where Mikey is.
Like he's wished him into existence he hears Mikey's voice calling out to them, carrying over the chorus of car alarms and sirens.
"Fuck, thank god," Gerard curses, already moving. He runs across the road heedless of any possible traffic and Ray's right the fuck behind him, Frank's footsteps smacking the road after them. Gerard catches Mikey in a hug and Ray wraps arms around both of them, the sick twist in his stomach giving just a little when he can feel Mikey under his hands.
Not to be left out, Frank squeezes into the huddle with them. Mikey bears it, leaning into the warm arms around him for a moment, before he gives himself a shake and looks at them seriously. "You need to see this."
Ray opens his mouth to ask what, but Mikey's already moving. Without the guys to hold onto he realises his hands are shaking. He squeezes them into fists and jogs to catch up to Mikey, who's hurrying up a steep alleyway that runs behind the 7-Eleven. There's a dumpster at the end and Mikey boosts himself up to climb on top of it, offering a hand down for Gerard. Ray gives Frank a leg up, which leaves Ray for last, but he's taller than the others. He has no trouble looking over their heads to see what has Gerard swearing and Frank whispering under his breath.
Ray squints against the sun and looks over Mikey's head, staring open-mouthed at the fucking huge mushroom cloud hanging in the sky over Los Angeles. The horizon is dotted with fires and there's a crater somewhere near where Sepulveda should be.
"It wasn't an earthquake," Mikey says, his voice awed and shaky. "It was an attack."
Much, much later, they come to know this day as the first day of the Helium Wars.
Night is so much darker when there's no electricity. The stars are bright pinpoints in the sky, the only light source Ray's got when he's not looking back toward the burning city.
The ground vibrates under Ray's ass. He can't fool himself it's a good feeling, like the when bass rumbles up through his feet when they're on stage, or throbs under his ass when he's sitting on a monitor. Each time he feels that vibration, it's another blast, more lives and infrastructure shattered.
They still don't even know who's attacking.
He sits on the ground, leaning back against Gerard's Trans Am parked by the side of the highway, trying not to listen to Frank and Gerard arguing about what step to take next. Frank wants to go back and keep looking for Bob, and on some level, Ray agrees with him. It doesn't matter if he's officially in the band anymore or not; he's one of them, they need to take care of their own.
But when he thinks about actually turning the car around and heading back into the chaos, to where they saw the armed men in white suits and facemasks herding civilians at gunpoint, he agrees with Gerard. They should just get out, run, and keep the fire at their backs.
They've got fuck-all supplies: just the clothes they're wearing, whatever Gerard has in his car, and whatever fuel is in the tank. Ray doesn't let himself think about his own car totalled in the studio parking lot, roof caved in, windows shattered. Just like he doesn't think about the CD that never finished burning, the tracks they've barely begun to write, the smashed up instruments they had to walk away from.
His chest aches with the effort of breathing normally. His phone sits in his pocket, heavy and useless.
There's a scrape of shoes against the blacktop as Mikey sits down beside him. Ray keeps his eyes on the stars, but tracks Mikey's movement in his peripheral vision. He's looking at Ray. When Ray doesn't look back, Mikey turns his attention to the sky.
"You know, we see the same stars here as they do in Tokyo. Same longitude," Mikey says.
Ray turns his head then, to see Mikey still looking up. His cheeks are pale in the starlight and there's a smear of dirt across one cheekbone. He's got his knees pulled up in front of him, bony arms wrapped around them. He looks younger than Ray can remember him looking since he got rid of his glasses.
"I'm sorry?" Ray asks, because he's not sure what else to say.
Mikey tears his eyes from the sky, meeting Ray's. "It's true," he says, like Ray doubted him.
“If you say so.” Ray replies. He’s not sure why Mikey’s bringing this up now, but it’s nice to be talking about anything that’s not tied to the ground shuddering under his ass and the smell of smoke in his hair, so he doesn’t ask why.
Mikey scoots closer, until his shoulder is pressed to Ray's. It feels nice, warm through his shirt. Mikey leans his head on Ray's shoulder, his hair scraping Ray's cheek. "Tell me something true, Ray Toro." His voice sounds small, almost childlike.
Ray wraps his arm around Mikey's shoulders and leans his cheek against Mikey's hair. He can detect the chemical scent of Mikey’s hairspray somewhere underneath the stink of smoke that hangs on them all.
He tries to think of some astrological trivia to add, but the ground rumbles under them again. His heart sinks and he can't come up with anything, just tightens his arm around Mikey. "I'm scared." It's weird to admit it aloud like that, after being so careful, so tight-lipped all day.
Mikey's hand covers Ray's where it's gripping his arm. He laces their fingers together and squeezes.
Ray squeezes back.
At least, whatever happens next, they'll all be together. That's something.