Getting through the wreckage without anyone breaking any limbs is a challenge; it’s hard not to be careless and clumsy, give in to panic completely. Bob stays the calmest—there’s no shortage of fear and concern in his eyes, but he stays steady, making the path a little clearer for the others when he can and catching Gerard more than once when he slips.
When they get out to where they faced the wolves before, there’s no one in sight. No wolves, and no Mikey. Just the mansion, looming ahead on its hill.
“We’re going in?” Ray asks, already feeling pretty sure of the answer.
Gerard nods, tense and silent, and starts up the hill, the others following.
The walls of the mansion are pale stone, but the wide front door is heavy wood, black in the darkness. It’s standing ajar, and Gerard moves forward, only to have Frank stop him with one hand and move in front. He’s holding Brian’s gun in a guard position, tilted upwards and resting against the hollow of his shoulder, and his expression is grim, utterly removed from his usual easy smile.
“All of you give me a clear path to fire if I need it,” Frank says. “I shout for you to move or get down, you do it, I ask for light in a certain direction, you give it to me. But I’m only gonna fire if I think I absolutely need to.”
Gerard nods, impatient. “Frank, let’s go
“Hey.” Frank locks eyes with him, deadly serious. “I know. But the more important the goal is, the more important it is that no one fucks up
. Got it?”
He looks at each of them in turn, gets three nods, and turns around, squaring his shoulders. “Okay. Here we go.”
They step inside into pitch-blackness, no light but the two beams from their flashlights. From what Ray can tell, they’re in a wide, open room that seems devoid of any furniture. Bob sweeps his flashlight in a methodical circle, checking out the walls.
“Two doors on the right, two on the left, and one straight ahead,” he says. “Any idea where we go?”
Gerard swallows hard, and the house is so still that Ray can hear it. “I have no idea if this is going to work, but…everyone think of Mikey. Focus on Mikey.”
Ray closes his eyes, even though he doesn’t really need to in the dark, and thinks of brown eyes and sleep-warm skin and bony elbows, long fingers wrapped around the neck of a bass and smiles that are all the more wonderful because they’re rare and the little hitch in Mikey’s breath when he’s about to come.Mikey,
he thinks. Mikey, where are you?
“This way,” Gerard says, and moves straight ahead.
The door they go through opens onto a narrow hallway, flashlight beams revealing a T-junction up ahead.
“Left,” Gerard says after a moment’s deliberation.
Frank rounds the corner first, Gerard just behind him with one of the flashlights. Ray’s about to follow when the boards beneath their feet move
, turning into a steep slope.
Ray hears Frank shout, sees the beam from Gerard’s light go wild, and then he’s teetering on the edge of where floor turns into an almost sheer drop, groping for walls that should be there and finding nothing, about to fall when Bob grabs him from behind and hauls him backwards.
“What the fuck,
” Ray says, and Bob says “Hang on,” and shines his light around—revealing what’s now a solid wall to the left, where Frank and Gerard disappeared, and hallways stretching on ahead and to the right.
“—Okay, we’ve already failed Rule One, which is ‘don’t split up’,” Ray says, and Bob gives a huff of what might be laughter.
“I think Rule One would have been ‘don’t go in the creepy fucking mansion in the first place’. So: go back or go on?”
“Go on,” Ray says after only a moment’s hesitation. “There’s three people we need to find, now. Which way?”
Both of them take a moment to think, and then say “Right,” at the same time, so right it is.
Gerard has about a second to think clearly when the floor drops away, and he uses it to grab Frank’s free hand and tighten his grip on the flashlight.
Then they’re falling, tumbling down the slope for he has no idea how long until they land in a heap.
” Frank says, muffled, and then “Gee?”
“I’m okay,” Gerard replies. “Well. I’m conscious.”
Frank lets go of Gerard’s hand to probe him gently all over, and there’s no sudden shooting pain anywhere, so Gerard sits up cautiously. “You?”
“Nothing broken or bleeding and I’ve still got the gun,” Frank replies.
Gerard shines his flashlight on Frank for a moment, just to see him, and then around.
“…Uh,” he says after a moment. “We, um, seem to be in a really big room with no walls or doors that I can find, anywhere.”
“Is it just me, or is this place getting to be not fucking funny
real fast?” Frank stands, reaching a hand down to help Gerard up and not letting go. “So what now?”
Gerard shrugs. “Walk in the direction that feels like Mikey, hope something turns up, and keep hold of each other no matter what? Fuck, I wish we hadn’t gotten separated from Bob and Toro.”
“Yeah,” Frank agrees quietly. Then, with a kind of manic cheer, “Just you and me now, sugar. Let’s take a stroll.”
He doesn’t know how long he’s been here, and he can’t really remember anything between standing outside the house, hand-in-hand with Fear, and being here, in the dark. All he knows is that it’s dark and silent, and he’s cold.
The others are going to come for him. He has to remember that. All he has to do is sit with his legs drawn up and his arms around his knees, and wait for them.
They promised; they’ll come.
Bob tries to keep track of time, at first, counting out seconds and minutes in his head. He gets to twenty-seven minutes before he fucks up the count, and a while after that, he’s lost track completely—they could have been in here an hour, two hours, five.
He and Ray work their way through a labyrinth of hallways, sometimes starting into a turn only to realize the junction they were about to turn into is gone, sometimes going through doors that disappear behind them, but the floor stays put, and Bob counts that as a victory.
At least, until they walk into one wall, turn and walk into another, and realize that they’re standing in a space about the size of a closet, with solid walls on all sides.
“—Oh, this is bullshit,
” Ray snarls, and punches the nearest wall.
“I’m not sure that’s gonna help, Toro,” Bob tells him.
“You got any other ideas?” Ray demands, punctuating the question with a solid kick. The wall doesn’t budge, and stays equally immobile when Ray throws his shoulder against it with a dull thump. “I am not—” Thump. “Spending the rest of my afterlife—” Thump. “In a three-square-foot room with you, Bryar.” Thump. “No offense.”
“None taken,” Bob says, just before the floor under their feet vanishes.
They run into a wall, eventually, and make their way along it. Between the gun, the flashlight, and their death-grip on each other, neither on them has a free hand, but Frank sticks an elbow out to brush the wall now and then, making sure it’s still there. Gerard sweeps the flashlight from side-to-side periodically, but mostly he keeps the beam out in front of them—which is good, because it keeps them from going head over heels down the staircase.
It goes straight down as far as the light reaches, and it’s narrow enough for walking side-by-side to be risky, with no railings on either side.
“Okay,” Frank says, “I go first, and you shine the light over my shoulder.”
Gerard makes a quiet noise of assent, and when Frank moves down onto the first step, Gerard rests a hand on his shoulder and Frank reaches back to tuck his fingers into Gerard’s belt loops.
Frank swallows hard as they start down, his chest a bit tight. “Would, uh—would now be a good time to point out that I get kind of claustrophobic sometimes, and that while we’re in a nice big space, we’re also under a hill with no visible way out?”
“Sucks to be you,” Gerard replies, with a comforting squeeze. He goes on, voice hushed. “I wonder how far down this goes, though. How far down we are already, after that fall—”
“Baby?” Frank interrupts. “Not helpful.”
Maybe he falls asleep for a while. He doesn’t know. If he does, he doesn’t dream, so there’s no big difference between sleeping and waking, here in the silent dark.
No one’s coming.
He starts to tell himself that because it seems better—if he tells himself they’re not coming and they do, it’s better than if he tells himself they are and they don’t. That’s how it started. Only now, he can’t remember what it felt like to believe they were coming, to have that hope.
He doesn’t really notice the cold anymore—in fact, he’s almost comfortable. Comfortably numb, he thinks, and laughs.
It’s so faint he doesn’t hear it at first, and when he does, he thinks it’s an echo of his own laugh. Then it comes again, louder.
He looks up, raising his head from his folded arms. Not hoping—he doesn’t remember how to hope—just mildly curious at the appearance of something new.
There’s a tiny pinpoint of light in the distance, coming closer.
“Mikey? Mikey, is that you?”
It’s a flashlight beam, and a voice he recognizes.
“Ray.” It comes out quiet at first, barely a whisper, and then he draws in a deep breath and shouts it. “Ray!
Footsteps break into a run, and the light comes closer, dancing around wildly. Mikey tries to stand up and almost falls over—his legs are asleep—and then Ray catches him, holding him up.
Mikey just kind of hangs there for a second, sagging against Ray, looking over his shoulder to where Bob stands holding the flashlight. Then his hands fist in the cloth of Ray’s jacket and he tilts his head down, burying his face in the crook of Ray’s neck.
“You came after me,” he murmurs.
“Of fucking course
we did,” Ray answers, holding Mikey so tight it’s going to be painful in a second. “We got separated from Gerard and Frank, they’re still somewhere in the house—”
“Actually—” Bob begins, and then Frank’s voice cuts across his, farther away but coming closer.
“Hey! You guys having some kinda party without inviting us?”
That’s all the warning Mikey gets before Gerard crashes into his back. He lets go of Ray and whirls around, and then he and Gerard are clinging to each other and Gerard kind of mashes his face against Mikey’s hair, alternately kissing him and whispering “Mikey, Mikey, Mikey
.” Ray rests a hand between Mikey’s shoulder blades, staying close, and Frank and Bob press in from either side, and two minutes ago, part of Mikey was absolutely sure he’d never be this warm again.
“Fear brought me here,” he says into Gerard’s shoulder. “I didn’t want to—”
“It’s okay,” Gerard says, cupping the back of Mikey’s head in one hand. “It’s okay, let’s just get out of here.”
“Any ideas on how we do that?” Bob asks, casting around with his flashlight.
“If the stairway Gee and I came down is still there, that’ll get us part of the way,” Frank suggests.
They find the stairway and start up in a row: Frank first, Gerard and Ray with Mikey in between them, Bob bringing up the rear. The stairs stretch on and on until Mikey has no idea how long they’ve been climbing, but after losing track of time sitting alone in the dark, losing track of time while he’s with the others seems pretty bearable.
Eventually, Frank glances over his shoulder. “Hey, Gee—is it just me, or is it taking a lot longer to go up than it did to come down?”
“Not just you,” Gerard answers, panting a little. “Don’t complain, though, I’m hoping it’ll take us all the way back up.”
A while after that, they can see a dull orange glow up ahead, the first light that hasn’t come from their own flashlights. Frank makes them slow down and keep as quiet as they can, pointing out that “If there’s anything up there, we’ll be able to see it, but it’ll
be able to see us
”. As they get closer, the blur of light resolves itself into a wide circular hole with the source of light somewhere beyond it.
As they near the lip of the hole, Frank crouches on the stairs, creeping up and craning his neck to look out, then ducks back down, grinning.
“I don’t fucking believe—it’s the front room.”
“How can you tell?” Gerard asks, brow furrowed.
“The fucking front door is open, I can see outside,” Frank replies. “I say we go for it as fast as we can, before this place can spring any more surprises on us.”
Gerard nods. “Let’s go.”
The room that was totally dark when they entered is now lit by a lot of candles, Gerard notes as they emerge into it. Some of them are set up in tall, three-armed candelabras around the room, but most of them are set farther back, and all he can see are their flames, bright yellow and surprisingly steady, not flickering at all…
” he hisses as it hits him. “Get back, go back down—”
“No!” Bob interjects, low but urgent. “The stairs are gone, there’s nothing but a sheer drop.”
“Gee, what—” Ray begins, and Gerard doesn’t wait for him to finish.
“Those aren’t candles back there. They’re eyes.”
Before he can say any more, the wolves emerge from the shadows.
There are more of them than Gerard has ever seen, even on the night he died, crowding around on three sides. Ahead, settled on their haunches in front of the door, there are only two—both the size of the one that attacked Frank last time, and identical as far as Gerard can tell.
Gerard doesn’t have to look back to know that the others have formed themselves into a tight unit, Frank and Mikey flanking him, Ray and Bob shoulder-to-shoulder in the rear. He pockets his flashlight, not needed now, and reaches for Mikey and Frank’s hands. With his other hand, Frank’s still holding Brian’s gun at the ready, even though six bullets wouldn’t put a dent in the number of wolves surrounding them.Well done, boy.
Gerard’s pretty sure it’s one of the two bigger wolves—alphas, he guesses, although he’s not sure that’s really correct if there are two of them—speaking, but he can’t tell which.We must admit, we didn’t expect you to find him, or for the five of you to make it back out here. We thought the house would deal with you…but we are more than willing to finish the job.
“Sorry to disappoint you,” Gerard says. “But we’re on our way out.”
One of the pair throws its head back as if to howl, but the sound it makes is a harsh, barking laugh. You may be. Your friends? I wouldn’t be so certain.
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Gerard demands.
The second alpha bares its teeth at him. We told you to keep them out of our territory, if you wished to protect them. Whoever enters here is ours, by law. You are exempt. They are not.
Gerard’s eyes narrow. “I don’t give a fuck about your law
. I’m leaving and I’m taking them with me. All
of them.”Brave words, boy.
The alphas rise to their feet, moving in different directions to circle around the five men—the opening behind them is gone, Gerard notes with a glance over his shoulder. But it will take more than your words to make that happen.
“You try to touch any one of them—” Gerard begins, doing his best to keep his voice steady.You’ll stop us, if you can,
one of the wolves replies, sounding unimpressed. But can you protect all of them, from all of us? Perhaps one, or two—and how will you choose which to save? Your brother? Your lover? What if you were forced to choose between the two of them?
Gerard tightens his grip on both Frank and Mikey, and tightens his jaw. “You try to make me play that game, you’re just going to be wasting your time as well as ours.”
One of them snarls as it paces past him.This is no game, boy. You’ve meddled with forces older and stronger than you can hope to understand, and there is a price to be paid.So which do we take?
The other wolf goes on circling calmly, and then pauses in front of Ray. You? You could sleep forever in the darkness here. Never again have to worry about failing, about whether or not you’re good enough.Or you?
Its twin goes on, sniffing at Bob. So afraid that you don’t truly belong with the others, that one day you’ll be alone again…you could belong with us forever.
With the alphas’ attention shifted off of him, Gerard tries to think clearly, to come up with some kind of a plan. He glances around at the rest of the pack; they’ve all stayed where they are, awaiting their apparent leaders’ command. And with the alphas pacing in circles, the front door is clear, and still open—if they can just get that far…Perhaps we should take the killer.
One of them stops in front of Frank, cocking its head thoughtfully. After all, this is what he’s always believed he deserves—maybe it’s what he wants, deep-down. Maybe we should give it to him.Or you.
The other one looks at Mikey, coming too close for Gerard’s comfort. Your brother’s love has been both a blessing and a curse, hasn’t it? Always feeling that you had to follow him, that you couldn’t exist without him? Not even death was enough to stop that, but we could. We could set you free.
. From my brother,” Gerard growls.Is he your choice, then?
One of the wolves asks, sounding almost teasing. Will you save him, at the risk of losing the others?
Instead of answering, Gerard half-turns, looking at the others. “Do you all trust me?” he says quietly. “Enough to do what I say, when I say, without hesitating?”
He gets four nods in return, and then leans in towards Frank, whispering right against the shell of his ear.
“You and I need to be at the outside, try to shield the others. It’s a bigger risk for you.”
Frank nods, and tilts his own head to reply in kind.
“I’ve done some of my best work with the odds against me. Say the word.”
“I love you,” Gerard says out loud.
One of the alphas growls, bringing his attention back to it. We won’t wait all night, boy. If you’re going to choose, choose now.
“There’s no choice to make,” Gerard says, and steps to the side, putting Mikey between himself and Frank. He reaches his other arm back, bracing it across Ray’s chest, and looks at the two wolves.
“These are all my brothers,” he says, calmly and clearly. “And you and your laws can get fucked. Run!
Gerard doesn’t hesitate, praying that none of the others do either. He runs full-tilt towards the door, holding on to Ray and Mikey, and when one of the alpha wolves lunges for Ray, Gerard throws himself in that direction and sees it veer off. On his other side, he hears Frank fire once, twice, three times.
A few wolves crowd around the door, only to scatter as Gerard runs toward them. He’s mentally bracing himself for the door to swing closed before they can go through it, something like that, some last trick to keep them here—but he makes it out, and pauses just long enough to look back and make sure the others have, as well.
“All of you in front of me,” he shouts. “Go, go!
They obey, but they’re spread out now, and Gerard can’t guard all of them. He grabs Mikey, covering him as well as he can without tripping both of them, and sees Frank take down two wolves when they spring for him and Bob, his aim sure and deadly.Maybe,
Gerard allows himself to think as they barrel down the hillside. Maybe we’re gonna make it out of this.
Ahead of them, a wall of flame rises from the ground, springing up as quick and sudden as an image in a child’s pop-up book.—And maybe I should’ve known better than to think something like that.
He skids to a halt in front of the fire, close enough to feel the heat of it on his face, and turns to see the wolves coming down after them. Seeing their prey trapped, the pack slows to a teasing, leisurely pace. Gerard hears Frank shout and looks to see where he points—among the approaching pack are the two big twin wolves, the alphas.
“I got both of ‘em in the heart back there, I’m sure of it,” Frank calls, anger laid over fear in his voice. “Waste of two perfectly good bullets, fuck.”
“Any bright ideas?” Ray shouts at Gerard.
Mikey looks over in his direction, incredulous. “Did you seriously just say that? Who fucking says
“Uh,” Bob interjects. “Imminent doom? Little bit more pressing than word choice?”
“All of you shut up!” Gerard shouts. “Do you hear something behind us?”
“You mean besides the wall of fucking fire?
” Frank yells back.
“No, there’s something else,” Gerard replies. “It sounds like—”Hoofbeats,
he’s about to say, but then, from behind, Jeanne shouts for him to get down and he does, pulling Mikey with him as horse and rider leap straight over their heads, landing with surprising grace in front of them.
The nearest wolf springs at the newcomers, and Jeanne’s horse neighs and rears, striking the wolf down with its hooves. Perched on its back in full armor, Jeanne pulls her sword from its sheath with a sharp metallic rasp, and she looks back over her shoulder for a moment, pointing.
“That way, quickly! Go!”
None of the five stop to question her sudden appearance or her advice. They run in the direction she indicated and find an outcropping of rock on the hillside, one that just might let them get high enough to leap over the wall of flame.
Frank scrambles up and takes the jump without hesitation, clearing it easily and turning to urge the rest of them on.
“Mikey, you next,” Gerard says, and when Mikey just hangs on to him, showing no signs of getting ready to jump, Gerard shakes him. “Go on, or I’ll get Bob to throw you.”
Mikey finally draws himself up, eyes the distance carefully for a moment, and then throws himself forward, flailing a little awkwardly and knocking Frank over when Frank tries to catch him, but successfully avoiding the fire. Gerard urges Ray up next, and Toro crouches at the outcropping’s edge like a sprinter, pushing off with his feet to gain the momentum he needs.
“Go on,” Gerard tells Bob. He wants all the others clear before he makes the jump himself.
Bob pushes off the same way Ray did—or at least, he tries to. The rock at the edge of the outcropping is just a little bit loose, enough for Ray to have shifted it with his jump—and enough for it to slip just a little under Bob’s feet. Panicked, he flings himself forward, but doesn’t have the momentum he needs.
clears the fire.
Gerard surges forward, shouting, but Ray and Frank are already grabbing Bob by both arms and hauling him forward, and Mikey struggles out of his jacket as fast as the belt will allow, flinging it over Bob’s leg to smother the flames.
Gerard closes his eyes for a moment, shaken, and then opens them, gathering himself to make the jump. He’s half-expecting to fall short and land in the fire himself, but he makes it, just barely, and lurches to his feet, stumbling over to where the others are huddled around Bob.
“Is he okay?” Gerard demands, and Ray looks up, his face white.
“I’m not an expert, but I’d say second-degree burns. Maybe third.”
Bob groans and tries to roll over; Gerard catches sight of the wound—the leg of Bob’s pants in charred tatters around red, blistering skin—and swallows hard, feeling sick.
“I’ll be fine, I just need a minute,” Bob tries to protest, to which Frank replies “You caught on fucking fire,
Bryar, take it easy or I’ll brain you.”
“We should be clearing out of here,” Bob protests. “What’s gonna stop the wolves from coming right over after us, huh?”
They all look up at the voice and the sound of hoofbeats to see Jeanne riding up on their side of the fire, having apparently jumped back over farther down. Her horse’s flanks are scratched and bitten, but it’s walking steadily, head high, Jeanne herself looks untouched, and the blood from her horse’s wounds is nothing to the amount of blood that drips from the blade of her sword, so dark it’s almost black.
“We aren’t clear of their territory yet,” she says, and dismounts to wipe her blade on the ground and sheath it, nodding towards Bob as she does so. “Come. I will carry him.”
Once Bob is settled in front of her, Jeanne spurs her horse into a fast walk, the others keeping pace as well as they can. Gerard jogs a little faster, drawing even with her.
“How did you know to come out here?” he asks. “If you hadn’t shown up when you did…”
Jeanne looks down, and in the dark (they’ve pulled the flashlights out again, but right now the most illumination comes from the fire behind them), it takes a moment for Gerard to realize she’s smiling faintly.
“I had a vision,” she says.
“A—” Gerard’s eyes widen. “Like—”
“Like the ones I had in life, yes.” She looks over at him, gray eyes wide and clear. “I don’t know where it came from—if it was God, or the Mother, or something else entirely. And I don’t care. If it led me to save you, it was blessed, whatever its source.”
Gerard smiles and opens his mouth to reply—only to be cut off by a chorus of eerie howls. He whirls around, already tensed to run again if he has to.
The wolves are ranged along the hillside, none of them moving.
“What are they doing?” Mikey asks, tense.
“I don’t know,” Jeanne replies.
One of the wolves—it’s hard to tell this far off, but intuition tells Gerard it’s one of the alphas—throws its head back and howls again, and the others join in.
And the wall of fire leaps twice as high as it was a moment ago, and spreads, racing across the ground.
” Gerard says calmly, just before Jeanne shouts to run and they obey.
They struggle up the small rise that leads back to the level ground surrounding the city, and out of the corner of his eye, Gerard can see the flames sweeping past—not overtaking them directly, but curving in a wide arc. It’s going to surround them before they can get back to the city limits, and it’s moving too fast for them to do anything about it.
And then they reach the top of the rise, and look down the shallow slope and see what’s waiting for them.
It’s a couple of deflated clocks away from being something out of a fucking surrealist painting, Gerard thinks to himself.
Their instruments are down there, looking just as they would set up on the stage at the House (and it occurs to Gerard that it’s going to be difficult to think or say the club’s name, now that he’s been inside the true house of wolves, as Fear called it), Bob’s drums at the back, a lone microphone stand out front, Ray’s guitar to the left and Frank’s to right, and Mikey’s bass tucked securely in the middle.
“What the fuck?” Ray asks, coming up beside Gerard.
“We need to play,” Gerard says. It comes out of nowhere, and it’s insane—and yet, why else would the instruments be here?
” Ray says again.
“That’s how we can push it back,” Gerard tells them all, the words coming out in a rush. “The fire, it’s…it’s destruction, and the songs are creation, even when they’re about death. And that’s why—God, I could kick
why Mother War chose us for this. Because
we’re not soldiers, or were, but left it behind.”
Mikey speaks up, behind him. “Gee, do you really think—”
Gerard turns, looking around at them all. “Still trust me, all of you?”
They all nod, but then Frank asks “What about Bob?”
“I can do it,” Bob says from where he’s slumped against the horse’s neck. “I mean, okay, trying to run would’ve been a bad plan, but I’ll…I’ll try to avoid putting weight on that leg and I’ll be fine.”
It’s the kind of risk Gerard wouldn’t be in a rush to take if they had a choice, but…it doesn’t really seem like they do.
So he nods. “Okay. Let’s do this.”
Jeanne walks her horse straight up to the drum kit to deposit Bob there, and then retreats to watch at a short distance. At least, that’s what she plans on doing, before fire suddenly arcs away from the main curve and cuts her off from them.
“Gerard!” she calls out, reining in her horse as it dances nervously, wanting to be away from the fire. “Gerard, I cannot—”
There’s fear in her voice, Gerard notes, and it’s the first time he’s ever heard it there. And then realizes that oh, of course
there is. Fire
“It’s okay!” he calls back. “I think we can take it from here, you get away if you can. And thank you!
Jeanne nods and turns her horse, looking back over her shoulder to raise one hand. “Good luck, all of you. Take care of each other!”
And with that, she’s gone, leaving only the five of them and the fire.
There’s no hesitation in the song they choose, even though it’s one that’s not quite finished yet. If push comes to shove, Gerard has no doubt they’ll be able to fill in what’s missing as they go, the way they did with Mother War’s song. He thinks that might actually make it a better choice, to have spontaneity and actual creation involved in this.
And to drive the fire back, they’re going to need something powerful, something intense. They need to reaffirm the bonds they’ve forged to get this far, and tell the fire and the wolves and the darkness all at once that they will not be defeated, that they haven’t come this far to be taken down now.
(It’s all very clear to Gerard, suddenly, that they’re all different faces of the same thing, the wolves are the house is the dark is the fire and all of it is destruction, is hopelessness, is what The Black Parade must defeat to leave the city and what will consume them if they fail.)
So they play. They play as if it were their last song, all of them bringing forth everything they have to offer and keyed into one another as they never have been before. Gerard turns on a whim and finds himself back to back with Mikey, the two of them leaning against one another for a few moments; looks around for Ray and Frank and finds them whirling in and out of each other’s space as if fighting or dancing or both; drops to his knees and sees Frank do the same at the exact same moment, unplanned. When Gerard turns enough to catch sight of Bob, he’s grimacing in pain but playing all the harder for it, hardly ever missing a beat.
The fire rages around them, close enough that a few times Gerard’s half-certain he’ll explode simply from being that close to that much heat. But the flames never touch them, any of them, and when Gerard moves closer still, as if daring them to, he’s almost certain they retreat a bit.
He drops to his knees again and starts into the bridge that way, everything but a single guitar melody dropping away and then coming back slowly. Gerard looks back at each of them—Ray, Bob, his eyes lingering on Frank and then finally coming to rest on Mikey as he sings. Awake and unafraid
, building in volume and intensity until they explode back into the chorus, giving it all they’ve got, passionate and desperate and triumphant.
And around them, the flames start to die down.
As the last notes of the song fade away, Gerard strides forward, watching the fire shrink even more as he approaches.
“We’re going home, now,” he says, loud and clear into the surrounding darkness. “Unless you have any other tricks to try and stop us with.”
No reply comes, from any direction, and after a moment he turns and walks back to the others.
“Bob, man, mind leaving your kit out here? We should get you back as soon as we can…”
Bob nods, wincing a little as he rises from his stool. “Hell, for all we know it’ll be back in the practice room tomorrow morning.”
Gerard smiles crookedly. “Good point.”
Frank and Ray end up supporting Bob on either side, so Gerard and Mikey walk close together, arms around each other’s shoulders. They’re all a mess, dusty and sweaty and exhausted, and right now Gerard isn’t thinking about anything much beyond getting all of them home in one piece.
They only slow down a little when they see the twins waiting for them on the outskirts of the city.
Regret is the first to speak, when they get close enough.
“I’m sorry,” she says. “Truly sorry for what you’ve all had to face tonight, and for its necessity. But you’ve faced it and defeated it, and that is incredible.”
Gerard looks between the two of them, anger flaring inside him as quick and bright as the fire had.
“…Was that all some sort of fucking test
?” he demands. “Did you put Mikey—did you put all of us through that just to see if we could make it?”
Fear shrugs nonchalantly. “Well, I suppose
we could have just taken it on faith that you would not only walk into Hell for each other, but be strong enough and smart enough and united enough to walk back out…but if you were in our position, would you?”
“Fuck you,” Gerard says coldly. “All of you. You and your mother as well as the wolves. We’re not a bunch of fucking toys
you can just play games with.”
“Temper, temper,” Fear says, seeming unbothered. “And what exactly is it you think you are
, then? You’ve been willing enough to play our games when you’ve seen some benefit to it.”
“Yeah, well, maybe I’m reconsidering that,” Gerard snaps. “Assuming that whether I’m willing or not even matters.”
“It matters,” Regret says. “So do other things. Including, as my sister says, how far the five of you are willing to go for each other. We couldn’t let that go untested.”
“Gee.” Mikey jumps in before Gerard can say anything else, squeezing his shoulder. “Let’s just go home, okay? You can be pissed off at them some more tomorrow.”
Gerard looks down, drawing in a deep breath, and then glances over his shoulder at the others, Bob still between Ray and Frank, face pale and drawn with pain.
“Okay,” he agrees, and looks back at the twins. “Don’t think I won’t be.”
“We’ll speak again soon,” Fear says, and it has the tone of a promise, even as she smirks a bit. “You can be as angry as you like.”
The twins stand aside to let the five men pass without another word said, but two pairs of sharp black eyes follow them until they’re out of sight.IX.