The simple truth of the matter was that Mikey hadn’t had the first idea how to live in a world without his older brother, and hadn’t wanted to learn.
There had never been a time in Mikey’s life when Gerard wasn’t
there—except, perhaps, during the worst of his benders, when he’d been there in a physical sense but pretty much checked out otherwise. He wasn’t just a sibling, he was a fact of life: the sky was blue, gravity pulled things toward the center of the earth, Gerard was Mikey’s big brother and best friend.
So when things started going downhill for Gerard, it was pretty unavoidable that they’d go downhill for Mikey, too. He’d done his share of drinking and pill-popping, and the need to take care of Gerard (as well as he could, as well as Gee would let him) was about the only thing that kept him from doing more.
There was a part of him that always whispered, bitterly, that this wasn’t the way it was supposed to be—that Gerard was the big brother, and he was supposed to be taking care of Mikey, not the other way around. Mikey always did his best to push thoughts like that to the back of his mind, because the way things were supposed to be didn’t change the way they were, and he had to just deal with that.
When Gerard died, it wasn’t the first time Mikey thought about killing himself. It was just the first time he hadn’t had a strong enough reason not to.
Mikey wakes up with Ray’s arms around him, Ray’s hair tickling his neck and Ray’s heart beating slow and steady where his chest is pressed against Mikey’s back. He stays where he is for a while, and then slips out of bed and dresses quietly, leaving Ray still fast asleep.
Gerard’s sitting in a folding chair out on the balcony, sketchbook open on his lap, mug and cigarette both in the hand he’s not drawing with. Mikey heads into the kitchen first and fills a mug of his own from the half-full pot on the burner, then walks over and taps on the glass of the balcony doors.
Gerard looks up, faintly startled, and then offers a smile that’s just a little bit uncertain, gesturing for Mikey to come out.
“Hey,” Gerard says when Mikey steps out. “It stopped raining.”
Mikey smiles a little. “I noticed.” Gerard might be perfectly content to stand in the rain, but he’d never bring his sketchbook out in it.
“Ray still asleep?” Gerard asks after a moment.
Mikey nods. “I didn’t want to wake him up, he has—”
“—Trouble sleeping sometimes,” Gerard finishes with him, and both of them grin at the unplanned unison.
Gerard flips his sketchbook closed and sets it and his pencil on the ground, then switches his coffee to his other hand to take a drag on his cigarette.
“Toro’s a good guy,” he says after a brief silence. “I mean, it’s not like you need my approval or my blessing or whatever, but—”
“No, I’m glad,” Mikey tells him, because disapproval from Gerard wouldn’t be enough to stop him, but that doesn’t mean his approval isn’t good to have. He hesitates, looking down into his coffee, then adds, “Frank’s a good guy, too.”
“I tend to think so,” Gerard replies, carefully neutral.
Mikey shrugs. “Look, it’s not like—I got used to worrying about you when it comes to sex, okay?”
Gerard ducks his head. “Fair enough. Not like I didn’t give you reason for it.”
“And I know I don’t have to worry so much now, and it’s not like you need my approval either, but—old habits, y’know? And I didn’t know him. I still don’t know him all that well, but I guess that’s partly my fault.” Mikey shrugs again. “Anyway. The guy put himself between me and a wolf, okay, that gets him points.”
Gerard grins crookedly. “I’m glad.”
They drink their coffee in companionable silence for a little while, Mikey leaning back against the balcony railing. Eventually, Mikey gestures with his mug towards the sketchbook.
“How’s it going?” he asks. All of them know that Gerard’s been working hard on something he thinks might be important, but that’s all they know at this point—he’s been playing things close, and seems almost afraid to discuss it in too much detail.
Gerard sighs. “Kinda slow. And frustrating. I’m not sure I can figure this out on my own, and so far, the list of people I could talk to about it includes a giant fucking telepathic wolf I’m in no hurry to talk to about anything
, and two anthropomorphic personifications of negative emotions who I haven’t been able to find
anywhere in the city for almost a week.”
“Sucks,” Mikey says succinctly, and Gerard laughs in spite of himself. “Gee, seriously, if there’s any chance the rest of us can help you figure it out…”
Gerard bites his lip. “Maybe. I don’t want to shut you guys out, I just…whenever I think about how I’d lay out what I have so far for another person, it just sounds weird and crazy.”
Mikey looks down his nose at his brother, which is an old habit from when he still had glasses, but still serves its purpose in staredowns. “Weird and crazy like personifications of emotions and telepathic wolves who can’t touch you for some reason?”
“…Okay, point.” Gerard drains the rest of his coffee and stands, tucking his sketchbook under one arm. “I will think about it, Mikey. Promise.”
“‘Kay,” Mikey says, and finishes off his own coffee. “I’m gonna go wake Ray up. Or go back to bed. Or maybe both.”
Gerard waves a hand at him, sending tendrils of cigarette smoke through the air. “That is officially
as much as I want to know.”
Mikey doesn’t, like, make a concentrated effort to be friendlier to Frank, or apologize for his previous lack of friendliness; he just acts naturally around him, without any of the wariness that he now knows is unnecessary, and trusts Frank to get it. Frank seems to, and drops his own standoffishness in return. Between that, the fact that Mikey and Gerard have patched things up a little, and the fact that Ray’s been steadily getting along with everyone already and just waiting for the other three to catch up, the apartment sees a pretty welcome drop in tense silences and people trying to avoid each other without really having enough space to do it in.
Mikey keeps up with his guitar lessons. He’d probably do so even if he didn’t enjoy relearning the instrument—Ray takes a pretty hands-on approach to teaching, and more than once, Mikey’s let himself accidentally-on-purpose get distracted by Ray’s arms curving around him and Ray’s hands guiding his into place—but he also thinks there’s something pretty awesome about hearing sounds that are starting to actually sound like music and knowing that they’re coming from his hands and brain and heart.
“To bad we don’t have a bass for you to practice on,” Ray comments one time, the words warm puffs of air against Mikey’s ear. It’s not even a lesson anymore, just Mikey still holding the guitar on his lap and refusing to move from Ray’s, and Ray playing around him. “We could make Gerard learn drums and start our own band.”
Mikey smirks. “Gee can’t play anything. Believe me, I’ve heard him try. He sings okay, but he’s weird about it. Besides, you’ve got a band.”
Ray shrugs. “I’ve got a bunch of people whose afterlife occupation of choice happens to be the same as mine, and who get along well enough to play together but haven’t really been friends for at least a decade. They’re all good guys, don’t get me wrong, but it’s not the same thing as having a band with your friends, and I kind of miss that.”
“We could be a guitar trio and make Gerard sing,” Mikey offers, then asks, “If I got a bass, could you teach me to play it?”
“Probably,” Ray says. “You want to?”
Mikey rubs at the calluses that are starting to form on his fingertips, looking down thoughtfully. “I’ve never been in a band before.”
The thing about Ray is he’s too nice. Not really pushover nice, he has his limits, but he cuts people slack and tries to think the best of them, and it takes a fair amount to make him angry.
Frank’s nice, too, but he’s got a temper. And a short man complex. And a fairly low tolerance level for anything he considers bullshit.
Mikey knows from talking to Ray that the House band’s had some internal problems, but he doesn’t get a detailed account until he hears Frank talk about it.
“So, basically, Otter and Hambone can’t see eye-to-eye on anything
anymore, let alone on things like tempo and starting times. And it’s not the first time we’ve ever had friction—two-thirds of our horn section aren’t even speaking to each other, they have to pass everything back and forth through the third guy—but this is our drummer and our bassist, right? And a rhythm section divided against itself cannot stand.”
“…And a horn section divided against itself can?” Gerard asks, but Frank waves that off.
“Horns are extra,” Frank says. “The whole fucking band doesn’t take its cues from the horn section. Anyway, I feel like it’s only a matter of time before one or the other of them splits, and right now we don’t have anyone to replace either of them, so it kind of—what’s the phrase?—sucks.”
Ray pauses as they get to the House, one hand wrapped around the door handle. “Yeah, but until we do have potential replacements, you want to stop talking about both of them before we go in?”
It’s still a while before the band’s set to start for the evening, but this is one of the first times both Way brothers have come down at the same time, and Frank’s insisting on referring to it as a double date. The four of them head towards the bar, but Frank stops short about halfway there, causing a brief pileup.
There’s a stocky blonde guy Mikey hasn’t seen before standing by the bar, and Frank stares in his direction for a moment before launching himself at the guy and shouting “Bryar!”
The guy staggers a little, but seems remarkably untroubled by suddenly having Frank hanging off his back. “Iero,” he replies in a calm rumble.
“Bob, hey,” Ray says, approaching more slowly and with less jumping. “How’s it going?”
“Pretty good, except I think I might have a growth on my back,” the blonde guy says. “Hey, Toro.”
“Ha, ha,” Frank says, and lets go of Bob’s neck, only to grab his arm and tug him around to face the others. “Ways, Bob Bryar, who’s a great guy when he’s not being a fucking hermit and never coming around to see his friends
. Bob, Gerard and Mikey Way, they followed us home and we kept them. Where’s Schechter? This meeting calls for drinks.”
“So what’ve you been up to, man?” Ray asks, as Frank moves down the bar to harass Brian.
Bob shrugs. “Not much. Helping load and unload stuff in the warehouse district, mostly. Pretty much been keeping to myself aside from work, you know how it is sometimes.”
Ray nods. “Yeah, I know.”
Bob looks over at Gerard and Mikey, surveying them calmly. “You two are…”
“Brothers,” Gerard finishes, his expression just a bit guarded. Ray and Frank are good about respecting boundaries and not asking awkward questions, but not everyone they’ve met has been.
“Huh,” Bob says, and then, “Well, any friend of Ray and Frank’s is a friend of mine.”
Gerard gives a faint smile. “Likewise.”
Aside from that, Bob doesn’t talk much, even though he sits with Gerard and Mikey to watch the band. One of the only times he does say anything is during a song he apparently knows, where he starts tapping the beat out on the bar and then frowns.
“The drums are a half-step faster than the bass,” Bob points out, sounding disapproving. “It’s messing things up a little.”
“They’ve been having—” Mikey starts, and then pauses, because it’s not really his place to repeat what Frank told him, is it? “Creative differences,” he settles for.
Gerard looks from one of them to the other, then shrugs. “I thought they sounded like that on purpose.”
Operation: Get Mikey On Bass begins shortly after that. It’s not a very complicated operation; Phase One is walking to the merchant district to acquire the instrument, and Phase Two is Ray teaching him to use it. Phase Three, get Mikey in the band when (not if) the drummer-bassist situation becomes untenable, may be a bit more tricky.
But for now, Ray and Mikey are putting Phase One into action, with Gerard tagging along because he has some artwork to trade and Frank tagging along because he’s Frank.
Gerard’s been doing a pretty good business lately, using the same woman he gets his art supplies from as a go-between for taking commissions and making sure the finished products get to his patrons. He ends up being the one to secure a bass for Mikey, promising the instrument supplier a painting in return.
“I figure I’m going to need more studio space eventually,” Gerard says while they’re walking back, waving his hands around, already excited at the prospect. “Maybe find an empty apartment in our building—”
He stops, falling silent and looking straight ahead, and when Mikey goes “What?” and turns away from Gerard to look, it’s easy to tell what’s caught Gerard’s attention. They’re on a street that’s little more than an alley, so narrow that Ray and Frank are walking behind the two brothers, and the woman standing about twenty feet away takes up most of the street.
Mikey’s seen her before, but only ever from pretty far away. This close, weirdness of the crazy hair/tattered dress/gas mask combo is even weirder and, with her looming ahead of them like that, a little creepy. Mikey darts a quick glance over his shoulder; Ray and Frank have gone still as well, quiet and watchful. Mikey stays where he is, but reaches one hand back, and Ray takes it.
After a moment, Gerard speaks. “Um. Hello?”
The woman—Mother War, they said she was called—doesn’t respond, doesn’t move.
“I’ve been told you don’t speak,” Gerard continues uncertainly. “But if there’s something you want, or something I can do for you…any way that you could let me know—”
“We speak for her, when it’s needed.”
Mikey hasn’t seen the twins since his arrival, but he recognizes Regret’s voice even before he turns around.
“Is it needed now?” Gerard asks calmly.
“Only if you want any of your questions answered,” Fear replies.
Gerard’s turned to the side now, seeming unsure whether to look at the twins or Mother War. “Any
of my questions?”
“Any three,” Regret says. “Three of us, three questions. No promise that you’ll like the answers, but we won’t lie to you.”
Gerard considers, and nods slowly. “Is it all right if I take a few moments to think, then?”
“It is,” Regret tells him, and when Gerard looks around at Frank and Ray and Mikey, raising his eyebrows a little, they gather around him.
“Any suggestions?” he asks.
“I wouldn’t mind having some light shed on what the wolf was talking about, that night,” Ray says.
“Me neither,” Frank adds. “But let’s face it, baby—if you’re driving without a map, we’re sitting in the back seat. Your call what to ask.”
Gerard shrugs. “Knowing what I want to ask isn’t a problem. Narrowing it down to three things…”
Mikey looks at his brother, and shrugs as well. “You did okay going on instinct with the wolves.”
Gerard looks down for a moment, then nods and squares his shoulders.
“All right,” he says, and the others step back to give him room to speak, staying close behind him.
“I remember what Regret said when I first came here, about there being something for me to do,” Gerard says. “Is that why the wolves haven’t been able to touch me?”
He looks over at Mother War first, and she inclines her head slowly.
“You’re one of ours,” Regret says. “Your brother and friends as well, to a degree, but you most of all.”
Gerard’s brow furrows. “Why—” he begins, and then stops himself from using another question so hastily, but Mikey can imagine what he was about to ask.Why him? And why us?
Gerard forgoes that question, however, for the one that’s been plaguing him. “What is
it that I’m supposed to be doing?”
Fear answers this time. “You already know that. You only think you don’t. Trust your intuition, and let the others help you.”
Gerard doesn’t seem terribly satisfied by that answer, either, but he nods. “All right.” He thinks for a long time before asking his last question. “If I have more questions and can’t find any of you, or if you can’t or won’t tell me everything at once…is there anyone else I can talk to about all of this?”
“There’s always the wolves,” Fear points out, sweetly menacing. “Though you may find them even more unhelpful than us.”
“There’s the maiden,” Regret says, ignoring her sister. “You may want to talk to her whether you have questions or not, in fact. She knows what it means to be one of our Mother’s chosen.”
“The maiden?” Gerard asks unthinkingly. “Who—”
“That’s more than three questions,” Fear interrupts in a teasing sing-song. She takes her sister’s hand, tugging her down the narrow street towards Mother War. “See what you can make of what we’ve given you, before you go asking for more.”
As the twins approach, Gerard and the others crowd back against one wall to let them pass. Regret pauses as she and her sister pass, turning to look at Gerard.
“Good luck,” she says, though she sounds as gloomy as ever. “We’ll be watching.”
Up ahead, Mother War tilts her head as if to look at them, then turns. The twins fall into step behind her, and the three of them walk away slowly, not turning, not looking back.
No one speaks until the three women are a fair distance away. Ray is the first to break the silence.
“Well, that was…creepy?”
“Definitely creepy,” Mikey agrees, then glances at Gerard. “Did any of what they told you actually help?”
“I think so,” Gerard says. “I have to think for a while. And I wish I’d known who they were talking about, with that thing about the maiden.”
Frank shrugs. “Not sure, but if I had to guess? I’d say Joan of Arc.”
Gerard looks at him, startled. “What?”
“Well, she mostly calls herself just Jeanne, these days,” Frank continues.
“…What?” Gerard repeats, still staring at him. “I mean, I know Jeanne, but—”
Frank spreads his hands. “She doesn’t like to talk about it. But she’s totally Joan of Arc, man, everyone knows that.”
“I didn’t,” Mikey interjects.
“I didn’t either,” Gerard says thoughtfully. “Shit, maybe I should
go talk to her.”
“Tomorrow?” Ray suggests. “It’s gonna be dark soon.”
Gerard doesn’t know where to look for her, but he heads for the outskirts of the city, hoping he’ll get lucky—or maybe banking a little on the fact that everything he’s done in this place seems to have been guided by something stronger than luck or coincidence.
Whatever it is, it steers him right again. He gets to the point where the wreckage has to be climbed over, rather than walked through, and when he scales a hill of rubble, she’s there, sitting on the ground. Her horse stands next to her, head lowered for her to stroke its mane, and neither of them is wearing armor—she’s in a simple white shirt and dark trousers, the material plain and rough.
“Jeanne,” Gerard calls, still perched on top of the rubble, and she looks up, meeting his eyes.
“Gerard,” she replies calmly.
“Jeanne d’Arc,” he says, and then regrets it instantly—she flinches at the name, as if he’d struck her.
“Jeanne d’Arc died long ago,” she says, eyes downcast. “I’m only Jeanne now.”
“I’m sorry,” Gerard says. “I didn’t—”
“You didn’t know, and could not have meant any offense,” she finishes gently. “I don’t tell people. If they realize it on their own, that can’t be helped.”
Gerard starts climbing down, trying to be careful, and lasts about ten seconds before he loses his footing, then loses his grip, and then slides down the rest of the way to land in a heap.
“Gerard!” When the dust from his fall clears, Jeanne’s kneeling over him with a look of concern. “Are you all right?”
“…Ow,” he says, and then, “Yeah, I think.”
He’s probably bruised and scraped in a few places, but nothing feels sprained or broken. Jeanne helps him up, with that surprising strength he remembers from when they first met, and they sit facing each other.
“So,” she says. “You know.”
“Yes,” Gerard says, awkward now. “Um. It’s really, really okay if you don’t want to talk about it, but—”
“Why don’t I tell people?”
“Yeah,” he says. “I mean, I wouldn’t expect you to go around carrying a banner with your name on it, or anything, but…why don’t you use your surname anymore?”
Jeanne looks down again. The curve of her neck and the line of her jaw strike Gerard as beautiful, unexpectedly and completely, and he wishes he’d brought his sketchbook.
After a few moments’ silence, she begins. “You know my story? What I did, and why I did it?”
“Yes,” Gerard says. What he does not
say is I was a little obsessed with you for a while, and by the way, you’re more beautiful than any actress who ever played you in a movie.
Even though she is—some of those actresses might have been prettier
than she is, but that’s not the same thing.
“I thought it was God,” Jeanne goes on, so quietly that he can barely hear her. “I thought it was His saints who spoke to me, and His will that I did. I fought for that belief. I burned for it. And as the flames rose around me, I prayed that Christ would take my soul to Paradise.” She looks up at him, gray eyes wide and solemn and old in her young face. “And when I opened my eyes, I was here. And there was no one but the twins and their Mother.”
Gerard reaches out without thinking, and she takes his hand. “I’m sorry,” he whispers.
“I’ve had centuries to come to terms with it,” Jeanne says. “But sometimes I still wonder—was I wrong to believe what I did? Was I never in God’s grace, or did I fall from it? Or is this some further test of my faith—is it His will that I have been here so long, waiting for some sign that that faith was not in vain?”
Gerard bites his lower lip, looking down at their clasped hands. “…I hope those are all rhetorical questions, because I’m a pretty confirmed agnostic.”
She shakes her head. “I don’t know if my questions will ever be answered. But can you see why I no longer care to be recognized as the Maid of Orleans?”
“Yeah, definitely,” Gerard agrees. Hesitantly, he goes on, “Um. I saw the twins and Mother War yesterday, actually, and Regret said you might be able to help me with something? She, uh, called you one of Mother War’s chosen ones.”
Jeanne meets his eyes steadily. “So they have told me, as well.”
“I’m one, too, apparently,” Gerard says, and her eyes widen a bit. “I’m supposed to do—something she wants, I guess, but they haven’t really told me why I need to do it.”
“But…you’re not a soldier,” Jeanne says. “Or you haven’t struck me as one, at least, and I’ve known many soldiers.”
“You’re right, I’m not,” Gerard tells her, and then shrugs helplessly. “So what does she want with me
Jeanne shakes her head. “I cannot imagine—though I suppose fighting needn’t take place on the battlefield.”
“I guess not,” Gerard agrees, thinking of the book he has back at home, gradually filling up with words as well as drawings. “I wish they’d just tell
me what they want.”
“I wish I could,” Jeanne says, and looks at him, her expression solemn. “There is something I can
tell you, though.”
“Anything you think might help,” Gerard says earnestly.
“There are many things I haven’t been sure of, since I died. But I’ve given much thought to it, and I still believe that what I did in life was right—whether it was God who guided me in it, or not, it was right for my country and my people.” She’s holding her head up proudly now, jaw set in a firm line. “So I believe that war can be right. But I don’t believe that it is ever kind.”
Gerard nods. “Not like I have any personal experience, but I’d say you’re right.”
“And I think the Mother is the same way,” Jeanne continues. “Whatever she wants of you, it’s likely to be a just cause. But I doubt she cares greatly about whatever casualties there may be in the name of that cause. Even if those casualties are suffered by you or those you love.”
Gerard looks down at that, brow furrowed. “I have a brother here, now. And—friends.” He’s not sure what to call Frank—or at least, not sure what Frank would care to be called. “They’re involved in this, and I don’t want them hurt.”
“All I can say is that you should be cautious, and careful of those you hold dear,” Jeanne tells him. “The Mother’s favor is both a powerful and a dangerous thing to have. Remember that, Gerard.”
He nods. “I will. Thank you, Jeanne.”
She smiles at him. “It was good to speak with you again.”
“You too, definitely.” Gerard returns the smile, feeling maybe a little bit like a kid with a stupid crush. On Joan of Arc
, which is kind of weird, but weird seems to be the norm for him these days. “Maybe we’ll talk again, sometime?”
“I would like that,” she replies. “As rarely as I enter the city, I do tend to stay close to it. I’m not very hard to find.”
“Then I’ll come and see you again,” Gerard promises as he gets to his feet.
Gerard returns from the outskirts of the city solemn and quiet, but he tells Ray and Frank and Mikey about his conversation with Jeanne, the four of them crowded around the kitchen table as Gerard smokes two cigarettes and drinks three cups of coffee.
“What I said before still stands,” he says, when he gets to the end, “if any of you don’t want to be involved in this, you don’t have to be.”
Mikey leans forward a little, looking at Gerard across the table. “Gee. If you’re involved in this, do you seriously think I could not be?”
Gerard meets his eyes. “Mikey…I don’t want any of you to get hurt.”It’s a little late for that,
Mikey thinks, but saying that would just upset Gerard.
It’s Ray who replies, instead. “I think the twins made it pretty clear that we’re all involved,” he points out. “As clear as they made anything, anyway.”
I guess so,” Gerard agrees reluctantly. Rising from the table, he adds, “Speaking of which…I guess it’s about time I let you guys know what I have figured out so far.”
He heads for his and Frank’s room, coming back a few seconds later with his journal. Sitting down again, he opens it, holding it so that only he can see the pages as he flips through them.
“You guys all know I’ve been writing a lot, lately,” Gerard begins. “I wasn’t sure, at first, if it had anything to do with this, but…for one thing, a lot of it’s song lyrics, which I’ve never written before. And after running into Mother War and the twins, yesterday, I was looking at one thing I wrote, in particular, and, well…”
He lays the journal flat on and turns it around, pushing it to the middle of the table. The other three lean forward to read the words scrawled across the page, and Mikey feels the back of his neck prickle from the first line.Mama, we all go to hell.
“I think it’s for her,” Gerard says after a moment. “Whatever she wants, I think this is at least a part of it.”
Frank glances up from the page, eyebrows raised. “You think she wants you to write songs
Gerard spreads his hands. “They said to trust my intuition. And this is what I keep coming back to. And they said to let you guys help me, and if this is what I’m supposed to be doing…”
“You think there’s a way we can help with this?” Ray asks.
“I think that since I wouldn’t have the first clue about writing music, it’s a pretty lucky break that I live with two guitarists,” Gerard finishes.
Ray looks at him for a moment. “Gee, if you’re sure about this, I’m on board. Are
you sure about it?”
Gerard shoves a hand through his hair, looking down. “Not a hundred percent,” he says, eventually. “But I think the only way I’m going to ever be
sure is to go forward with this and see what happens. Like an experiment, kind of.”
Frank reaches for Gerard’s hand, exchanging a glance with Ray as he speaks. “Let’s see what we can do with it, then.”
Turning Gerard’s words into an actual song is a team effort, with Gerard describing whatever ideas he has for how it should sound, and Ray and Frank working together to turn that into melodies and harmonies. Mikey can’t help much with writing
the music, but he can give an outside perspective on how it sounds, and he gets used to hearing “hey, Mikey, come listen to this” at all hours.
He’s also working on learning bass. Ray’s covered the basics and laid out a course of songs for Mikey to learn, easy to hard, and he’s making quick progress with it. Ray says he’s a natural; all Mikey knows is that if Ray and Frank get to a point where can play Gerard’s songs, there’s no way he’s not going to be a part of it.
Sometimes, though, he does find himself wanting to not be part of the process of getting there. Mikey doesn’t know whether to be surprised or not surprised at all that the other three are actually getting into fights
over things like chord progressions and how well the chorus and verse fit together, but there’s a point at which the only thing for Mikey to do is sneak down to the House on his own for a while, and it’s the point where Ray’s standing in the living room, waving his hands around and talking about Russian polkas while Frank and Gerard eye him skeptically from the couch.
Mikey’s not really looking where he’s going—all he has to do is cross the street, after all—which is how he ends up walking straight into Bob Bryar’s back.
“Careful,” Bob rumbles at him automatically, and then turns. “Hey. Mikey Way, right?”
“Yeah,” Mikey replies, checking to make sure he hasn’t knocked anything off the hand truck Bob’s wheeling in front of him, which is stacked with what looks like cases of beer. “Sorry, Bob.”
“No harm done,” Bob says. The top case is jostled to the side a little, but he pushes it back into place before gripping the cart’s handles again. “If you want to make it up to me, though, you could get the door.”
“Sure,” Mikey says, darting in front of him.
Inside, Mikey waves to Brian and heads behind the bar, holding the door to the back room open as well and helping Bob deposit the beer in the cooler. When they’re done, Bob snags one that’s already cold, muttering “Payment. You want one?” and grabbing another when Mikey nods.
They sit down at one end of the relatively empty bar, drinking in companionable silence for a few seconds.
“So how’s it going?” Bob asks eventually.
Mikey considers for a moment before answering simply, “Weird.”
“Yeah?” Bob looks at him, eyebrows raised slightly. “How weird?”
Mikey doesn’t exactly mean
to unload everything on Bob. It’s just that once he starts, it feels surprisingly good
to talk about it to someone who isn’t Gerard or Ray or Frank. And Bob turns out, unsurprisingly, to be a fantastic listener, making encouraging or sympathetic noises here and there but never interrupting.
“So…what do you think?” Mikey asks eventually.
Bob takes a slow sip of his beer before answering. “I think you were right about it being weird.”
Mikey laughs in spite of himself. “Yeah, no shit.”
“And I think it sounds like Gerard already knows this, but you guys should be careful,” Bob goes on. “Mother War…she fucks people up. I don’t think she even means to, but…it’s what she is, y’know?”
Mikey glances at him. “You sound like you’re speaking from experience.”
Bob shrugs. “I was a soldier, once. World War II. Not like those poor bastards in the trenches, though, I got out before I died.”
“Oh,” Mikey says quietly.
Things get quiet for a few seconds. Then, Bob gives Mikey a considering look. “You think you guys are gonna need a drummer for this?”
Mikey blinks. “I guess. Um…are you offering?”
Bob shrugs again. “I’d kind of been thinking about seeing if Ray and Frank were gonna need someone new. I’m a little rusty, but I know my way around a kit.”
Mikey looks at him for a moment, biting his lower lip. “I should talk to the other guys. But thanks for the offer, dude, seriously.”
When Mikey brings the idea to the others, Gerard seems…uncertain. Not set against it, but uncertain, which could still be a deal-breaker.
“I’m just not sure about bringing someone else into this,” he says. “Especially—and this is nothing against Bob—someone I don’t know all that well.”
“We do need a drummer, though,” Ray points out. “I’d like to think we could count on Matt, but…I’m really not sure about him, anymore, he’s kind of been acting like he wants to take off.”
“And Bob’s solid, I can vouch for him,” Frank puts in eagerly. “Kind of a loner, but he doesn’t flake out when there’s a job to do.”
Gerard hesitates, looking between the two of them. “You guys’ve been working on a drum part for the song?”
“Working on it? Yes,” Frank says. “Finishing, not so much.”
Gerard thinks about it for another moment, then spreads his hands. “Show Bob what you’ve got so far. See what he makes of it.”
Little by little, the song takes shape, separate elements that they’ll hopefully
be able to piece together into a whole. Mikey starts learning the baseline as soon as Ray finishes it, and catches Gerard singing a few times, though he usually clams up fast if anyone other than Mikey comes within earshot.
“You know you’re gonna have to get over that eventually, right?” Mikey asks after the fourth time, sitting down next to him. “Assuming you’re actually planning on singing this.”
“I know,” Gerard says, ducking his head. “And…I don’t know, I’m nervous about it? But at the same time, I can’t imagine letting anyone else
Mikey reaches out, squeezing the back of Gerard’s neck with one hand. “You’ll do fine, Gee.”
Gerard slumps to the side a little, leaning against Mikey. “You really think so?”
“‘Course,” Mikey says firmly. In the back of his mind, he’s not as sure as he’d like to be. He doesn’t tell Gerard that. “We’re both gonna do fine.”VI.