moneyes: (girlfriends!)
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Frank was beginning to suspect that his life was a living hell.

The problem with this--other than the living hell part, which was its own problem and didn't need or want to be lumped in with the other, less significant problems--was that there was no specific way to say that shit. Usually, when people come out of the blue to announce that their lives were a living hell, they were ungrateful little assholes who wouldn't know a hell, living or otherwise, and proclaimed this sacred statement as little as five times a day, followed with a dose of 'fuck my life' or a splash of 'I want die.' Frank wasn't that and didn't want to seem like that, so this created a little pang of frustration along with his general 'my-life-really-is-a-living-hell' ness and it got to the point where those two ran together and slipped and slid down to the very bottom of his belly and threw a fucking party.

When 'jesus-christ-my-knee-fucking-hurts' crashed said party, Frank decided to just come out with it. "My life is a living hell."

Gerard, from the kitchen, made a grunting noise and then hissed, jerking his hand back from the freezer. He sounded extremely noncommittal when he said, "Don't be so dramatic, babe."

Frank tried to twist around to glare at him, but the angle from where he was sitting--excuse me, lying in fucking pain--prohibited him from getting any more than the back of Gerard's head, and even that was upside down and all around and not really worth the pain in the small of his back. He sighed, turned right side up and inhaled from his cigarette, but didn't give up the fight. "No, really. My life fucking sucks."

It took Gerard a moment to return with the ice pack. There were five different canvases all lying on the floor of their apartment, and there were already three sets of sneaker prints, all Frank's, from the last few times where he couldn't remember which canvas was being commissioned and which one was going to hang on their walls once Gerard painted the last vampire. Gerard never really cared about those canvases; he thought the shoe prints over Dracula's face or the spilled hummus on Wolverine's chin added flair and Frank never argued with his boyfriend when he was in 'artist-mode' if he could help it.

When he finally did reach the recesses of Frank's knee, he plopped the ice pack unceremoniously onto it, then crashed next to Frank's toes, pulling his feet onto his lap. "You don't really mean that," he added, flicking one big toe absent-mindedly. "I mean, it could always be worse. You could be dead."

"Do people actually think that cheers anyone up?" Frank had to wonder aloud, "'Cause the clouds aren't parting, man. In fact, I think that's just about the worst possible thing you could say to me right now, congratulations."

Gerard wrinkled his nose, "I'm just saying. I mean, think about all the corpses in all those coffins out there. You think they're having a fucking party?"

"I'm not talking about zombies," Frank rolled his eyes, leaning over to ash into the tray on the table, "Not every conversation is about zombies, Gerard."

"It's really hard to sympathize with you when you do that," Gerard sniped, but he sat back and patted Frank's shin in a way that didn't seem annoyed at all. "You think you can go back tomorrow, straighten things out with Matt?"

Frank scowled and didn't answer, choosing instead to drag on his cigarette again. Matt's big, fat fucking face danced across his mind in particular ways he didn't enjoy, and just thinking about Matt's Music Empire, his place of work until two hours ago, just made him feel worse than he already did, and apparently there were levels on the Scale of Fucked-Up Feelings that were lower than i feel like a piece of shit.

Frank really did feel like a piece of shit, though. He'd felt like one this morning when he'd woken up thirty minutes late, and he didn't feel any fucking better when he'd fell in the shower trying to rush the work, and slamming his foot into the table didn't improve anything (except the number on Frank's accident count.) The car was still in the shop--ten more points deducted--and the bus had decided he suddenly did not exist, which was weird, since he'd chased it for six and half blocks before he realized it could go fuck itself. When that was all said and done, and he'd finally made up his mind to just walk the rest of the goddamn way, he turned and slammed his knee into a fire hydrant.

Matt had overreacted, really, because okay, this was the sixth time this month, and okay, Frank's paycheck was getting smaller and smaller, and okay, fine--who gave a shit if Patrick had to cover his shift for an hour; Patrick was really fucking good at what he did and it's not like he minded, but Matt was saying things like enough is enough and I know we're friends, but this shit has to be done. Therefore, Matt did the shit, and Frank was out of a job for the fourth time in six months, which made no amount of sense at all.

Many things lately weren't making a lot of sense at all. Thinking about that dropped him to why am still breathing?

"I don't think Matt's ready to straighten shit out," Frank muttered, and the minute he said it, he knew it was true. Somehow just knowing he'd sealed his own fate put him into contemplative silence for about seven minutes. After the seventh minute Gerard sighed, leaned over to kiss him (Frank took the kiss with an appreciative noise, because Gerard's kisses were fucking incredible every time and he always managed to feel a tiny bit better after each one) and promised to blow him after dinner if he still felt like shit.

"I think I'm going to feel like shit for a few more hours," Frank called, "if you want to fuck me too." Gerard snorted and commenced his daily banging around the kitchen for dinner.

Frank's knee throbbed, and his back throbbed, and his shin piped up a little and it was a wonder he didn't have a fucking headache, feeling like he did. Mostly he just felt tired, a deep kind of tired, the kind you get where you find enough energy to stand up and beat your head against a wall until you black out. This was another week, this was another month, this was another fucking fuck-up that he could toss into his imaginary basket of failures that was getting alarmingly full right about now and wish he could go back and fix, because it wasn't fair, it wasn't fucking fair, and it hadn't been fucking fair in forever.

Frank never felt the need to lie and say he wasn’t superstitious, but he wasn’t exactly wrapping himself in twenty pounds of gold crosses and sprinkling garlic on his head before walking out the door. But hell, shit had just not been right for a while now, and it was getting to him, more than he would say out loud to anyone. It wasn't getting fired and it wasn't the accidents and it sure as hell wasn't the freak fire that melted the doors of his car and fucking killed the upholstery, although this was close. It was that these continued without fail, time after time, not waiting for the last one to correct itself or just stop being a fucking nuisance; no, they came as an army, as a team, pummeling and kicking and scratching Frank's eyes out and making him slam his knee into a fire hydrant that miraculously wasn't there ten minutes ago. Most people have bad days, Frank knew. He'd been having bad months. He'd been having really bad months.

Months that walked up to his door and rang the bell, months that passed away two grandmothers and lost his dog and threw him out of two apartment buildings, months that put him and Gerard through hell (it was really a place he never wanted to go back to again, and just thinking about it made him sit up and just stare at Gerard and wonder why and how he'd even managed to stick around after. It always astonished him, it really did.) Frank knew the more he complained, the more crazy and paranoid he seemed to become, but he couldn't help it. It sat in the back of his brain and put its tent and pissed the shit out of Frank, that notion. Just not right, it told him, I'm just not right.

Gerard made a dinner that steered his mind off it for a while, and then gave him a blowjob that erased it completely until morning, when Frank heard him banging around for breakfast and sat up to join him, only to remember that wait, he didn't have a job anymore. For a moment he felt the same feeling everyone usually felt when they realized they could trade the morning 'fuck, I need to get the fuck out of here' routine for morning television and the couch, then he just felt like shit. Gerard, however, was magical and also possibly a unicorn, and brought him coffee and another pack before throwing his scarf over one shoulder and preparing for work. Frank guessed that working in an art gallery must really be the greatest thing on Earth.

"You gonna be okay?" Gerard stopped to slip in next to him, curling up tight. "Want me to stay and yell at Maury with you?"

"You hate Maury," Frank grinned, "Unless there're transvestites."

"Are there transvestites?" Gerard asked, widening his eyes and sounding really hopeful. Frank really fucking loved him, it was true.

"Not this time, I think." Frank kissed him, nice and slow and okay, maybe he really did want Gerard to stay. Judging from the way Gerard wriggled against him and kissed back, he knew the feeling was most definitely mutual, just like he knew they'd cut the lights again if they didn't pay their bill this time. Gerard looked disappointed when Frank pulled away and lay back, netting his hands behind his head, "See you when I get home?"

"Mm," Gerard agreed, just like he always did. "Try not to eat everything. And call Matt!"

Frank most definitely knew he was not going to call Matt. He'd sooner call whatever was taking immense pleasure out of fucking up his life.

What he did do was spend a few hours in front of trash television before calling Mikey.

It was weird enough just to know both the Ways, but it was also weird to date one and still manage to remain friends with the other. Frank had watched friendships end like car crashes (with the same amount of interest), watched friends and relationship drain to the point where it's too awkward to admit you've put your dick in that person or hung out with this one. He'd cringed in all the right places and shared the mandatory drunk conversations where you learn everything you didn't need to know about the ones involved, but it'd never been like that with him and Gerard and Mikey. For that, he was fucking grateful, that he could have the amazing boyfriend and his brother who liked pro wrestling just as much as Frank did.

Regardless, Frank still had his 'oh my God, I know what your brother's dick looks like' moments during otherwise awkward conversations with Mikey sometimes, and it really was the creepiest feeling in the world. Frank didn't like feeling like a creep, so he ended up feeling the conversation holes with stupid shit, and somehow Mikey still always understood. Frank will never get how he gets it.

If you didn't know Mikey, you'd hang up a few seconds after the phone stopped ringing. You'd think there was a glitch with the phone, or the machine randomly picked shit up and didn't work on occasion. In reality, Mikey just never answered with a hello or anything, so when the phone stopped ringing and Frank could detect some breathing, he said, "I am so fucking bored and you should come over and watch Maury with me."

"Gerard's not watching with you?"

"There are no transvestites. Also, he had to go to work."

Mikey made an understanding noise, "And um. Work. You know. Shouldn't you be going there?"

"Shouldn't you be going there?" Frank countered, flipping a few channels. Mikey made another noise that sounded less understanding and more indifferent. "Ah, yeah, that's fucking right. Fuck you and your fucking record company, Mikey Way."

"You could get a job here, you know."

"And watch you pick up and work your way through every girl there? Hell, no, man--high school was enough."

"The offer's still open," Mikey muttered, then, "So, wait, what about work?"

"Got fired. Matt pulled some 'I am head manager, hear me roar' bullshit and now I'm watching Maury calm down pregnant fifteen year old chicks." Frank suddenly needed a cigarette, it sounded that pathetic. "Fuck, I need a cigarette."

"Are you gonna look for a new job?"

"No, I'm going to drown in my sorrows and shit and get me and your brother thrown out on the street again."

"It's been hard, I know--"

"Yeah, well," Frank cut him off, waving a hand Mikey couldn't see, "We're dealing. I'm just gonna give myself the obligatory 'it's okay, baby, your time will come' resting period and then I'll look for a job."

"Sounds good," Mikey drones. "Are you going to listen to uplifting 80s pop?"

"Yeah, that reminds me--what'd you do with my Cure record I lent you last month?"

Mikey makes another noise, but this one sounded less indifferent and more apologetic. "Got stolen." After a beat, he adds, "Some chick."

Frank sighed. "You really need to stop bringing them home, man."

Mikey made a sound that agreed, then fell silent. They spent the rest of the conversation phone watching the rest of Maury--Mikey didn't like transvestites but was always down with DNA testing--then Mikey performed his infamous 'gotta go not spend the rest of my day with you' trick and left Frank to wallow in his misery.

And wallowed Frank did. Sometime during the day, the scale dropped to i'd rather be six feet under.

*

Gabe never woke up a like a normal person, mortal or otherwise.

Gabe woke every morning, pushed his purple silken sheets back, sat up, stretched here and there and back again, yawning and moaning and scratching the appropriate places, slipped out of bed, padded over to one of the full length mirrors surrounding his bed, smiled at the gorgeous beast staring back at him, then grinned and said, "You are amazing, a fabulous dresser, and any man or woman alive wants to fuck you."

He said these things because he knew they were true and also they just improved his morning. Really, he'd already recommended this to just about every one he knew (with the added hint of changing the words around a little, because not every one was as attractive, and some were just plain hopeless) and although he'd gotten back mixed reviews for his help, he'd never planned to stop. It made him feel fantastic, even a little bit more fantastic than knowing who he was and what he was going to do all day.

It was fucking amazing, being the Lord of Mischief.

It made putting on the clothes (a specially-tailored suit, a rich deep blue and high in thread count, black or a deep purple tie if he was feeling particularly feisty, shiny snake-skin shoes) a little better; it made breakfast a little tastier, it made the walk out of his four story palace and into the Cobra Clan's little garden side shed a little happier, it made hefting the four pound bell and grabbing the stone ringer a little more bearable and it made walking into the shed and pounding the shit out of that little fucker of a bell absolutely orgasmic.

Of course, the looks on all of their faces were just mere bonuses, like winning the lottery on your birthday. Gabe liked watching the way Alex fell out of bed or the (admittedly hot) glares Victoria threw his way as she shuffled onto her feet. It made Nate and Ryland's unintentional collide all the more hilarious, but it did nothing, absolutely nothing, for the irritation he felt whenever he watched the Other One.

Not a day went by where Gabe didn't wish he hadn't acquired the Other One. The Other One wasn't like the Cobra Clan, who Gabe had picked out personally in the way one might pick out tomatoes in a nearly empty supermarket: taking his time, testing their weight, tasting them. No, the Other One was a gift from Bert McCracken, who Gabe liked but really wouldn't hesitate to throw off a cliff if he ever really got the chance, and Gabe was beginning to think, within reason, that Bert was trying to do something here. Maybe fuck him up, or play his own little tricks. Maybe, Gabe mused, being the motherfucking Lord of Mischief meant nothing, these days.

Gabe always promised himself, every morning as he watched the Other One shuffle quietly out of bed without as so much breaking a leg or tripping himself on the way to the bathroom, that he would someday do something about Bert. He wasn't sure what that was just yet, but hell, he had time. He was fucking Gabe Saporta, for fuck's sake; he had a date with Time this very evening, and he was hoping she'd wear that sparkly little cranberry dress he liked so much.

He waited patiently, as he always did, for them to shower and plot his death amongst themselves. When they'd finish showering and plotting, they presented themselves to him, as was the standard. His little minions: Ryland, Alex, Nate, Victoria and lastly, The Other One, who also liked to be called Bob.

"Right," Gabe preened and clapped his hands together. "Breakfast, my darlings?"

The walk back to the palace wasn't that life threatening or anything since Gabe sent the cobras away. It was bad enough the palace itself was so freaking huge and intimidating, although Gabe really couldn't see it that way. It was just a palace, like any other palace would be, and filled to the brim with stuff he liked or had acquired in his years (a brief glance would prove that he'd liked and acquired a lot of cobra related things over said years.) But he'd heard rumors, and then he'd heard complaints, mostly shit about people getting lost on the way to the bathrooms or skeletons falling out of closets, or ghosts in his attics. There were no ghosts, he knew that. He would've heard them.

The Cobra Clan marched respectfully in front of him, heading directly for the breakfast nook where they had their morning meals. Gabe sat at the head of the table, being owner and most badass person in the place, and The Other One, not having a spot assigned to him yet, sat directly across from him, bookending the other side of the hugeass Victorian table Gabe loved. Breakfast, expansive and grand and delicious, was already served, and the Cobra Clan dug in enthusiastically, murmuring their daily thanks.

It always took the Other One a while to dig in, because he liked to glare at his food first, and then he liked to glare at Gabe, but today, this morning? Gabe wasn't having it. So he kept grinning and returned the Other One's glare and without breaking it, asked Victoria who she was going to haunt today.

Haunting was his own little euphemism; they were way better than ghosts. They were almost considered spirits, but the human kind of spirits, the ones you could touch and slap if you could see them. Being the Lord of Mischief meant perks, meant having slaves that you granted a portion of your powers to and set free, leaving them to torment mortals and other magical deities. Gabe would be lying if he said he didn't love these perks; he adored these perks, they were his reason for living, and they meant he could sleep to just about any time he fucking wanted.

Victoria wiped her mouth cautiously, having been asked this question yesterday, and stuttered, "Uh. The Greta girl. Still haunting her."

Gabe held the Other One's blue, blue eyes. "And how is that going?"

Victoria hurriedly shoved a bit of eggs into her mouth, prolonging her answer. "It's okay? Got her boyfriend to pause the relationship a bit, something about 'not wanting to go too fast.' I think she's going to get probation at work today after she pounds on the vending machine for not giving her a Snickers Bar."

Gabe snorted, "That's old news, Victoria. You have to be bigger, grander--" he waved his arms around to punctuate how bigger and grander she needed to be, "--have her send an embarrassing email to her boss."

Victoria blinked, nodded, and went back to her eggs. The Other One had finally picked up his fork and began to eat, taking small, concentrated chews. He still hadn't looked away from Gabe.

Gabe considered asking Nate if his Brendon subject was going to fail at getting laid again this night, but screwed it over, and got to the point. "And you, the Ot--" he paused, "Bob?"

Bob shrugged. Gabe smiled, "Come now. How is your subject--?" He left the air empty, momentarily forgetting the name.

"Frank," Bob supplied, after a mouthful of orange juice. He shrugged again. "He's fine."

"I really hope not," Gabe trilled, "because that would mean someone wasn't doing their job."

Bob ducked his head and quite possibly rolled his eyes, then faced Gabe again. "He's lost his job again, his knee and back still hurts, and the cable is going to go out today, due to an afternoon thunderstorm. His boyfriend is going to come home late and pissed because of some work stuff gone wrong, and they'll order really bad Chinese takeout for dinner instead."

Nate whistled in awe. Ryland feigned clapping. Gabe pretended to look bored, "Why is it bad takeout, Bob?"

"There's going to be a roach in the cold noodles." Bob deadpanned, and took a bite of toast.

Gabe really despised the Other One, but he couldn't deny that he was good. It was, unfortunately, deliciously ironic. "Splendid. See to it that it's there." He turned to the rest and raised one brow, "Are we all finished with breakfast, then?"

A chorus of empty plates, and a round of stony faces. Gabe smiled again and stood, spreading his arms, then his fingers. "Good. Great. Let's go, lady and gentlemen."

"We've got some lives to ruin."

It was a daily thing, really, and it never did anything for them, but they all stood and marched out of the breakfast nook anyway. "Lunch starts at twelve," Gabe called after their retreating backs, and was pretty damn sure he sounded like a desperate, busybody mother watching her kindergartners head into the first fresh hours of a new, beautiful school day.

The thought kind of made him want to vomit, actually. Gabe despised kindergarten mothers. They made peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, ew. But there was no denying that he was proud of his team, and watching them go gave him a really great view of each of their asses.

*

"Oh shit--" Gerard choked suddenly, and threw the carton of cold noodles across the room. Frank didn't move, or look up from his sweet and sour pork, "I was going to eat that, you know."

"Frank, " Gerard rasped and pointed. Frank followed his finger and immediately regretted it. The carton of noodles had turned up side down, dumping a huge mound of wet, greasy food onto one of Gerard's canvases. Sitting on top of this mound was probably the hugest roach Frank had ever seen.

"Fuck, fuck, fuck," Frank muttered, and made to grab one of Gerard's boots from the floor. The roach, suspecting this and him and the world, made off like a rocket, skittering and coming close enough to shock the shit out of Gerard and trip him, making him stumble back a few paces and crash onto the couch, legs flying into the air. Frank chased it into the kitchen, smacking the ground in futile with the boot, then cursed as it disappeared under the oven forever, maybe to go brag to his other piece-of-shit roach buddies.

Gerard was still shaky and a little breathless when Frank returned, one hand clapped over his eyes. "This is really what I fucking needed today," he moaned, "Really, I swear. After dealing with that asshole Mark--"

"Asshole," Frank agreed, because he'd fucked up the store's inventory paperwork another fucking time, which led to Gerard having to clean that shit up another fucking time, which led to Gerard coming home late and them having to suck down crappy ass Chinese food in result. As far as Frank was concerned, everything was Mark's damn fault. Gerard barreled on, "--and the traffic, Jesus Christ. Today just sucked balls. It really did."

Frank picked up his pork, studied it, and put it down again. He wasn't hungry anymore. Gerard didn't respond when he climbed over to him, and he didn't respond when Frank took his chin, but he did, thankfully, whimper a little bit when Frank bit down on one lip and mouthed along his jaw, and yeah, Frank would gladly take sex over stupid, roach-y Chinese anyway.

"Did you call Matt today?" Gerard gasped a little later, and Frank had to look up from the crease of one thigh and Gerard's crotch to answer the question, honestly. His dick twitched in annoyance but Gerard was looking down at him expectantly: whether he wanted Frank to keep going or answer his question, Frank wasn't sure.

He sighed, "No, but I called your brother."

"Mikey?"

"You have another brother I don't know about?" Frank leaned down again to lick one stripe up Gerard's cock. Gerard moaned a little, but still managed to shift his hips away. Oh god, Frank thought, he's wants a conversation. His dick made another annoyed twitch, and pointed out that losing his job, suffering accidents and Mark's stupid fuck-ups meant that it hadn't been touched this often in about two weeks and would kindly like to remedy this fact, so do something, dumbass.

Gerard shook his head, petting Frank's cheek, "No, just. How is he? He okay?"

Frank kissed the inside of one thigh, "He's fine."

"Did you call anyone for a job today? Did you at least get the classifieds?"

Frank sighed again, "No, Gerard, I did not. I watched shitty television all day and jerked off in our bed for two hours before you came home."

Gerard made his 'I'm worried, but I'm trying not to show you' face. "Frank, I'm not saying I'm worried, but."

Frank's dick also sighed, and muttered, screw it. Frank could feel himself winding down, "I know. But this isn't like last time. Last time, it was hard and Matt helped us out, but this time. I'll get one on my own. With my skills."

Gerard made his 'Babe, you can't use those kinds of skills in a work setting' face. Frank rolled his eyes, "I'm serious. I'll find a job. I'm just--resting."

"You're resting," Gerard parroted, skeptically. Frank nodded and Gerard nodded and Frank nodded again, "Can I blow you now?"

"Are you going to get the classifieds tomorrow?"

"Yes."

Gerard leaned back without answer, and spread his legs.

(Frank really did fucking love him, it was fucking true.)

The rest of the week went smoothly: no Mark, some classifieds, some phone calls. Frank even called Matt and calmly told him to suck his dick and that no, he would not be returning to work any time soon, even if Matt begged and also that he really sucked for letting Frank go, knowing what he and Gerard were currently going through. Then he hung up and hoped Matt's answering machine hadn't cut him off.

Then Saturday tapped on Friday's shoulder and told him to beat it, this was his town now, and it sure as hell wasn't big enough for the two of them.

Saturday then blew the smoke from his gun (Friday had refused, and promptly received a shiny bullet in his head for it) and had Terry the Mechanic call Frank's phone.

Terry the Mechanic was a mechanic (obviously), and a good one (occasionally.) He was also the cheapest mechanic around who was most likely not going to perform unspeakable acts to your car or chop and sell it to the highest bidder. Frank wasn't swimming in cash and Terry the Mechanic had handled Frank's sort of car before, believe him. The melted paint and ruined fabric was his thing, really! The exploding reflex was not.

Apparently, said Terry the Mechanic, John the Assistant Mechanic had accidentally left some oil out after a change and it spilled. Then Lisa, wife of John the Assistant Mechanic, had dropped her cigarette after hearing a really funny joke about a gorilla and a chiropractor (no, Frank did not want to hear the joke) and it lit the tiny stream of oil, as hot burning cinders do.

The oil did its job, and the heat did its job, and Frank's car did its job too, by exploding into billions of little tiny bite-sized pieces.

"Look at it this way," Terry the Mechanic added, his voice trying (and failing) to be a bit jovial, ”At least it wasn't a freak fire this time."

Frank opened his mouth, swallowed, opened his mouth again, and then closed it. "Do I still have to pay you?"

Terry the Mechanic said no, and managed to sound incredibly disappointed. "And ah--look, buddy. About your car. If you're thinking about suing, I mean--we can get you a new car, cover all of it up..."

"Nah," Frank croaked, and tried to make more words appear, "I mean. I need to go right now, can I call you back?”

Terry the Mechanic said he could, so Frank dropped the phone, and proceeding in calling the ceiling some really horrible things. The ceiling was a fucker, and it was also a stupid fucking prick, and a little idiot bitchface that was going to get lung cancer hopefully, and it could suck his cock and eat his ass and burn in hell and if he ever got close enough to wring its fucking neck he would, and after it was dead he was going to bring it back to life just to kill it again.

When he was done, he called Gerard.

"You are fucking kidding me," Gerard zombied. There was a bit of static as he fidgeted, "You want to know the real irony of all of this?"

Frank was shaking, and was currently making his way through his third cigarette. He did not want to know the real irony of all of this. "What?"

"I'm on the bus right now."

Frank laughed. "Jesus Christ, Gerard. I mean, really. It exploded."

"Did he use those exact words? Exploded?"

"Who gives a shit?" Frank exclaimed, "Point is: my fucking car's dead and from a different fire and my fucking boyfriend is going to have to drive smelly stupid fucking buses until we get a new one, which will happen when fucking DaVinci walks out of my ass because I lost my goddamn fucking job. Shit, shit, fuck, fuck and Jesus, I love this fucking cigarette right now." He stopped to puff furiously, "I don't know why you quit."

"I remember having anger issues," Gerard joked, "And these buses are fine, they aren't the problem, dude. Just. Are you okay?"

"My life is a living hell, " Frank hissed, and inhaled some more. "It just is. I don't even know anymore, Gerard."

Gerard paused and Frank could hear him getting off the bus. There was the sound of a wailing baby, a thump, and then Gerard apologizing. The baby was strangely silent after that. Then Frank could hear people, hundreds of them, and Gerard spoke up again, "I'm coming home. Just--heat up some chili or something and we can sort this shit out."

"There's nothing to sort out," Frank spat, "Unless you can sort out how shitty my life is turning out to be."

"...Frank."

"Gerard."

Gerard sighed, "I'm coming home, okay? There's extra cigarettes in the cookie jar; smoke them if you run out."

"Why do you have extra cigarettes, man?"

"And heat up the chili."

"In the cookie jar? Do we even have a cookie jar?"

Gerard sighed again and hung up, and Frank inhaled one last time before stubbing the cigarette. Not having something to cling to and inhale insane amounts of smoke from actually made him more anxious, so he lit up another and inhaled from that a couple of times before fucking it all together. He was pissed, end of story; he was pissed and he was fucked and he was screwed, and most of all he was paranoid: the glance-over-your-shoulder kind, the kind you inherit from too many horror movies and faux-haunted houses.

Frank didn't glance over his shoulder. He wasn't sure he wasn't going to find something if he did.

*

There weren't many notable things about Ray, to be honest. There weren't things he could put on a wall or hang by a trophy or put in a "skills" box for a resume or online dating plan. There was a list, however, and while it wasn't exactly littering the floor or tumbling down a long set of steps, it was impressive in its own stance, which was exactly the way Ray wanted it.

An example. One thing Ray's known for doing and doing well is this: he's able to say "I Sense for a Living" in the same tone of voice, with the same sort of face, as someone who would say "I drive trucks for a Living" or "I train dolphins."

It wasn't easy, and it was actually one of the (very) few things in the world that prompted Ray to make a face before he announced it. But it was what he did, and it was also something he did very well (it did make the list), and when you did things well enough, you got paid for it. When you received enough money for doing things well, you opened a shop downtown--a small one, with a leaky roof and rotting floorboards and an equally shabby one room apartment above it so you have absolutely nowhere to go and become even more of a workaholic, if that was even possible in your case, but a shop nonetheless.

You also become disowned from the family because you turned the sacred, highly dangerous and clearly insane family business into an actual business, with taxes and deductions and a website and phone number. You break your poor father's heart and own your mother's silence and, in the end, you move out three days after your father's funeral because you can't stand to see the look on her face whenever you enter the room or the stony silences you know you can hear when you're not.

This is what happens, when you do things well.

Running the shop wasn't a complete disappointment, however. Business was always good, surprisingly: you never knew when someone needed a expulsion charm or a protection figurine, and kids were always clamoring for a Devil Detector (a tiny plastic magnifying glass that revealed all the "devils" hiding in the room when ran under a cold spray of water.) Any serious Senser could buy the thousand upon thousands of books Ray had shelved on the slanting walls for an honest, reasonable price, minus tax. Ray was always there to clarify that it wasn't exactly witchcraft or you weren't going to expel that demon with that spell or no, those herbs would not make your soup any spicier, this wasn't a supermarket. It wasn't a disappointment and it wasn't the height of the day, but it was something, and it was his.

Ray had come to think of the store as a day persona, like a superhero would. During the day, he was top-notch, dependable, a gift from the heavens. He was the best fucking thing you'd ever seen, when it came to Sensing or running His Own Business. If that wasn't enough, Ray was also his own receptionist and a damn good one at that; he'd answered his own phone long enough to know that the initial silence on the other line did not mean it was a bunk call or the caller had passed out from the overwhelming shock of having to call him in the first place. Knowing this, Ray waited patiently, half-focused on the weird breathing noises coming in tinny and weak as he penned down a list of new shipments. The newest batch of Sensing and You had sold like crazy this week and he'd need twice as many boxes this time, and he'd need more fake crystal balls before the tourists came in.

The breaths finally stopped and the voice barged in like it was afraid of time ending before it could speak fully, "Okay, so I have a problem."

"Do you?" Ray asked, while the voice continued with, "Well, actually. My boyfriend has a problem. Which makes it my problem, I guess. But it's our problem, and I'm dealing with it, but it's a problem."

"Is it?" Ray kept his voice level. There really wasn't anyone who didn't freak out over the first phone call, and as the professional, Ray believed it was his job to calm them down to point of rational, sense-making conversation. It was yet another thing he did, and did well. "How bad is your problem?"

"My name is Gerard, by the way, " the voice blurted further, then paused. Ray imagined a wince at this point; maybe Gerard would mouth something to himself, something to cure him of whatever form of stupidity that decided to seize his mouth at this very moment. "Way," he added, timidly. Then, "It's. It's a...it's hard to explain."

"I've got time," Ray promised him, "And my name is Ray, by the way."

Gerard paused again, most likely testing out Ray's name. Ray tapped his fingers a bit and tried to remember what else he had to do before the store closed. People were still ambling about, this being the weirdly occupied hour after the evening rush, but the number was dying by the minute, and really, he wouldn't mind an early closing so much. Maybe there'd be something good on tonight, and his mom had finally caved in and sent him a couple of meals--

"It's an energy problem," Gerard rushed, "Like, bad energy. Do you do bad energy? Or like--like, would I call it bad luck, because it really sounds more appropriate to call it that. I can't think of anything else it would be." Yet another pause. "So, what? Bad energy--bad luck?"

"Either works," Ray affirmed, "but--but they're sort of different. But not that different, just different. Who has the bad luck, though?"

"We do." Pause. "He does. He does, but it gets in my way, sort of? But he has it. At least, he thinks he has it."

"Explain it to me."

There was something about the way Gerard paused this time that signified that a lot of time was going to be spent in a chair of some kind. Ray was never one to ignore or doubt his instincts, they'd been very good to him over the years. As of now, they assured him of two things: this was not something he was going to want to miss, and if he sat in that chair he was going to have back cramps in the morning.

The couch was a better bet, and Ray sat there attentively for forty-five whole minutes while Gerard explained, and then for fifteen more minutes when he tried to reassure himself that this really wasn't the biggest thing he'd ever handled, really. He was probably over thinking things or confusing it or making it seem like something it really wasn't. Really. He'd tackled larger things, he had. He just couldn't remember any at the moment.

"Ray?" came Gerard's tinny phone voice, and Ray jumped and tried not to jump at the same time.

"Yeah?" Ray mumbled, feeling like less of a professional every minute. He cleared his throat and tried again, "I mean. I understand what's going on. You're right--it is a...problem."

Gerard took another pause. "But you can help us, right? It's so weird and just. We don't exactly know how to deal with it."

"I can," here Ray paused himself, "I can help you. But you're going to need to come down here. I mean, for...to. I really need to hear this from him. If what you're telling me is true--"

Gerard made a spluttering noise, "It is!"

"--then I'm going to need to see him in person," Ray spoke slowly, washing the words in comforting tones. Professionalism, yes. He needed to hold on to that.

Gerard breathed and then paused. "Okay. I'll bring him. I’ll bring him soon."

Ray nodded before realizing Gerard couldn't actually see him, "Any day's fine. Just bring him."

It was only after Gerard had hung up that Ray heard the soothing tones in his own voice, and it was something he couldn't begin to make anything out of. That in itself just added to the confusion, the inexplicable sudden feeling of hopeless, and the excitement that wrapped itself around these two and squeezed, making a lump of nothing in the bottom of Ray's stomach before expanding everywhere, filling his head and thoughts and.

He really had handled bigger things before, though. Honestly.

The stream of visitors died immediately after that (and it wasn't an omen, not in the fucking slightest) and Ray shut and secured each lock twice before having to fight out the urge to bar the thing. That would've been unprofessional and just plain crazy, and he had more than enough of that in an hour's worth of phone time. What he was going to do was settle in for some television and not think about what he'd just agreed to for the rest of the night.

Brains really are peculiar things, though, maybe even cruel in their infinite processing and structure. The night did end with television and a homemade meal, as planned, but as the entertainment increased, Ray's focus decreased. By the time he'd crawled into bed, Ray could get nothing else out of his mind, not the fear or the hope or the excitement, so when he was done convincing himself that convincing himself was not going to work, he pushed back his sheets and sat up.

Fuck it; he had a lot of work to do.

*

Gerard loved Frank, he really did. This was a fact, and a very unarguable fact. It was exactly like stating that gravity kept people glued to the ground, and then checking your feet to make sure it was true; there wasn't any evidence against it, and he'd be the first to open his mouth and argue whatever motherfucker decided to pull any shit against it down. Like most of his comic books and three of his five G.I Joe action figures (the other two were bought used, and therefore less valuable), that shit was just untouchable.

Another fact: he was one person. Not five or ten (he didn't have any superpowers, another fact that was unarguable, but unlike the previous, he'd actually tried to argue this fact down. It never budged), or an army of himself. Just one person. And as much as he did love Frank, he was one person who was most likely going to lose his own shit and fuck off to a place far, far away from him if this continued.

The car was fucked up and they both knew it. Frank had been eerily quiet when Gerard had gotten home, and was increasingly stony during dinner, and was pure granite during Gerard's post-'your car is fucked up' conversation with Terry the Mechanic. Terry the Mechanic was very detailed in describing the exact same details to Gerard while he chomped down chili (he was not ashamed to say that each and every chunk of meat in each and every spoon was Terry's head or John the Assistant Mechanic's wife's face), which left Gerard feeling a bit disturbed.

"He could've lied, at least," he'd muttered after hanging up. Frank just snorted and lit up another cigarette. They'd been two statues on the couch for a while after that, before Gerard decided he'd rather be a statue in bed and Frank had just followed, not saying anything. The morning after wasn't any better: Frank had graduated to the odd grunt or noise every once in a while, but he still hadn't completed a sentence before Gerard had taken for work, and was still close lipped when he returned for lunch. By then Gerard wasn't sure if he was pissed or worried.

There were only so many awkward conversations you could make, he soon learned, or how many favorite dishes you could prepare, or how many failed blowjobs you could initiate before you were completely convinced your boyfriend had sulked for too many days and had rejected your mouth too many times. For any normal person capable of tolerance skills, this count would end somewhere around the end of the month, maybe just before the calendar turned. For Gerard, this lasted to about Wednesday.

"Get the fuck up," he told Frank and flung a pair of jeans at his face that morning. "We're going out."

Frank stared at the pair of jeans once they'd slithered down enough of his face for him to see them. Then he stared at Gerard. Then he turned over and resumed his previous activity, which was sleeping. Gerard paused and rolled his eyes, then turned on all the lights, one by one. "I'm not joking. We're going out."

Frank groaned, long and loud and much like the dead. "I'm not going anywhere, man, leave me alone."

Gerard leaned against the doorframe and waited for two reasons. One, it was actually really fucking hard to properly sleep with the lights on without doing that eye squinty thing to diminish how much light was actually invading your eyeballs. (Gerard was only sympathetic in a half sense, since this was a move he could do in his...er, sleep. Frank could usually make it all of two minutes before releasing one of those really loudly frustrated groans that could only mean he was getting out of bed, finally.) Two, he just wasn't going away, and Frank knew he wasn't going away, and it was hard to sleep when you knew someone wasn't going to go away and they knew you knew that they weren't going away.

Frank shuffled, turned, shuffled again and finally sat up, glaring. "Where are we going?"

Gerard nodded towards the jeans and didn't say another word. Watching Frank dress was akin to watching paint dry: very slow and sort of painful once he'd knocked his knee into the bedside table. It sounded like hurt, and it looked like it hurt, and Frank's face assured him that it hurt, but Gerard didn't have to watch his face to know that Frank was just tallying it in his mental ledger, making it yet another point for his epic battle against the world. It was actually a little depressing, so Gerard couldn't not give him a kiss, which Frank took in a normal-Frank way. It made him feel a little better, but just a little.

Breakfast was a short affair, and walking to the bus stop was even shorter. Frank still wasn't speaking and Gerard wasn't speaking because Frank wasn't speaking, and since it was morning, the early risers and the single mothers on their way to daycare weren't speaking either (but this was more of an 'I really don't want to be on this crappy, smelly bus this early in the fucking morning, oh my God' sort of not-speaking, not their kind of not-speaking, Gerard mused) and in result, it was quiet as fucking sin.

It was pretty much a relief to get off ten minutes later--or at least, it would've been, if Frank didn't choose that very moment to plant himself on the sidewalk and freeze.

There was freezing, Gerard knew, and then there was freezing, and Frank's freezing went from head to toe and probably extended to other areas Gerard wasn't prepared to check in public daylight. The cigarette he'd started on the bus, much to glares and dirty looks of the other passengers, hung limply between his two fingers, which hung limply two inches away from his mouth, mid-smoke. All in all, Gerard concluded in his head silently, Frank looked as if he'd suddenly suffered the worst case of brain freeze ever.

"You're taking me to a psychic?" Frank asked calmly.

Gerard squirmed, "No?"

Frank indicated with his chin that the World of the Otherworlds: Books, Maps, Accessories and Otherworldy Assistance sign couldn't exactly mean anything else. Gerard indicated with his chin that the We Don't Associate with Witchcraft/Voodoo, sorry sign meant exactly what it meant, and more. When Frank didn't move, Gerard shuffled his cards and dealt: "Do you have any better ideas?"

Frank did not. They entered the store.

It was almost like an optical illusion was being played; from the outside, the store was small and concave, almost pulling inwardly on itself, stuffed between two office buildings and even managed to look intimidated at this very fact, like it knew it was in a helpless situation it could not even begin to think its way out of. Inside, it stretched and zoomed and curled and curled and curled. Shelves extended from floors to ceilings, and people extended between these shelves, taking books and replacing books and reading back covers and comparing prices. Toys and tiny boxes sat on the floor next to the shelves, and children crowded these boxes in small clumps, ooh-ing and aah-ing and running back to their mothers with their latest discovery.

Frank snorted. "You have got to be fucking with me."

"I'm not," Gerard muttered, and to prove that he wasn't, he marched through the shelves, through the people and through the books, right up to the small desk in the back of the store, right up to an old, rusted bell, and gave it a sharp ring.

Hair popped up from behind the counter. There was a man underneath it. "Yes?"

"I'm Gerard," Gerard said, convincingly. He wasn't really sure how shit like this was done, but usually in movies, the hero (and this time, yeah, he was the hero, he was going to be the hero, because he was going to sort this shit out) would say something--just a phrase, maybe even a name--and the recognition would shine on the shopkeeper's face and he would grin and extend his hands and be absolutely delighted to meet them.

The man frowned, "I'm sorry?"

Gerard could feel Frank and Frank's amusement behind him. He squared his shoulders and pressed on, "I'm Gerard. We spoke on the phone? About," he leaned in closer (they also did this in the movies, if the aforementioned scene didn't go as planned), "about our bad luck?"

The man nodded once, eyes swiveling to Gerard's right. Then, "Is that Frank?"

Gerard nodded, which made the man nod again. "Good. Okay." Pause. "Good. I'm Ray."

There was a pause again, while Gerard tried to figure out what the hero would say next (he should've studied more movies, damn) before Ray cleared his throat and stood further. "Can't do this out here, sorry. Just--just give me a moment? It's always crazy, running this thing--"

A customer came up then, eyes wide in confusion and fingers like steel on the spine of a book, so Gerard and Frank waited while Ray slowly talked the customer through details and prices and sent them on their way with a smile. It was a completely comforting experience, with Ray's voice barely above a whisper and smiling at every question, and maybe, Gerard thought, maybe they weren't too deep in this. Looking at Ray felt secure, it felt exactly like things feel when everything is really right with the world, save a few spare problems.

Frank's face obviously didn't feel the same, but fuck it, he was quiet and he smoked and didn't say a word until the last customer was politely shooed from the premises. Ray rummaged around the counter a bit before leaning back to blow a few sheets of dust from a Will Be Back in __ Minutes sign. "Haven't had to use this in a while," he muttered.

Gerard nodded again, out of a weird, rapidly growing habit. "So, like. How do we do this? Do you need to--?"

Ray held up a hand and shook his head. His hair bounced. "In the back. I mean, I have a room. In the back."

The room looked more like an apartment, with a messy bed and a messy counter and an equally messy desk with two chairs. Ray pointed and they followed, Gerard speaking over the shuffled papers on Ray's desk, "Do you want Frank to just--?"

"What is it that you do, really?" Frank asked, using the same brand of calm again. It seemed like the type of calm Ray was used to, maybe even expecting, because he shifted around comfortably and laced his fingers and for the first time, smiled. "I'm a Senser."

"Senser."

"Yes."

"As in, sixth sense? I see dead people?"

Ray didn't stop smiling. "Yes and no."

"Explain the yes."

"I'd rather," and here Ray leaned forward, like a good hero would (Gerard was not jealous), "I'd rather hear your story, if that's okay."

Frank made a face that didn't care about being hidden. It was annoyed and exasperated and really needed another smoke and still had no fucking clue why it was pretending to go along with this in the first place. It didn't trust Ray, and it was ready to poke holes in whatever operation he was trying to pull, but for now, he'd go along with this. For now. "Where do you want to start?"

"I'd like dates," Ray shuffled around some papers, produced a pen, "When they first started, how serious, that kind of thing."

"Lost my dog," Frank monotoned, "A week after my birthday."

Ray looked up, "Twenty?"

"Twenty-two."

"Keep talking."

So Frank did, fingers worrying a loose thread in the armrest of his chair, then a hole in his jeans. There were stories Gerard remembered and there were stories Gerard didn't want to visit again, and there were small rips in time he'd never heard of before, things that made him sit up and take a closer look at Frank as he spoke: the way his body hunched in the already uncomfortable chair, how small he looked. Frank was tired. He was tired.

Every once in a while, Ray would ask a question, then nod and record, but otherwise he listened dutifully, eyes concentrated on one lone spot on the floor. His hand would trickle up a few times to take notes, but he didn't move, and he didn't make sounds of affirmation or understanding or any kind of sound; he just listened, and he kept listening long after Frank was done. No one moved or breathed. Frank had closed his eyes, head tipped back onto the seat, and promptly opened them when Ray spoke.

"Shit."

Ray had dropped the pen and was currently in the process of toppling his chair over, "Shit shit shit, fucking shit."

Frank and Gerard exchanged glances. Gerard cleared his throat and tried, "Ray? Is that...is that bad or good?"

Ray did not answer. Ray was gone, fingers tugging at his hair as he began to pace the room. Gerard and Frank exchanged glances, one worried frown for one extra-large "I told you so" smirk. This exchange lasted for as long as five seconds, Ray barging in to ask, in a mad-scientist sort of way, "How long ago did you say all of this started?"

"Right after my birthday," Frank sniped, eyeing Ray with major annoyance, teeth gritted. "Six months ago. What, is it supposed to mean something?"

There was obvious hostility and a good dash of mocking in the former, which prompted Gerard to sit up tall in his chair and glare at Frank, but Ray just waved him off, waved them all of again, still lost in thought. Mostly his thinking was reduced to a steady stream of mumbling and curses and trundling around the small apartment, disappearing and returning with books to add to already growing piles.

"Ray," Gerard poked, "I mean, no rush, but we'd sort of like to know--"

Ray jumped and paused, his expression looking as if he'd just found them in the bottom of a shoebox after a particularly long period without them. One book still clung to his hand, and he gave his hair a few more frustrated tugs before turning to flip through it, eyes roaming the pages in a deep search, "...Yeah. I--hold on."

Frank scowled when he didn't move, "You can't help us, can you?"

"Frank," Gerard warned, but Frank ignored him, all eyes and ears and snarl for Ray, "I knew it, it's a fucking sham. This otherworldly assistance crap, this store, him. What were you even thinking, bringing it here? He's not--this isn't--"

He paused, struggling for words, leaving Ray to state, with all the air of a businessperson coming to a conclusion after an hour-long speech, "You're being Haunted."

Gerard's first reaction was to smile, and while he did not understand this action, he followed through, giving the entire room a smile that had almost nothing to do with humor. Frank stared at Ray. To his credit, Ray didn't flinch or pull a cheesy smile of his own and chuckle, "Gotcha!" with an accompanying finger gun. Gerard had to marvel at this; at the moment, it felt like the thing to do, like the right thing to do. The entire situation was practically screaming for it--hell, the entire world was begging to put be put out of its misery with this one, tiny act of cheap entertainment.

"Haunted," Frank repeated.

Ray nodded, "Yes. By the Lord of Mischief, for specifics." He stopped to consider something, "You do want specifics, don't you?"

"The Lord of..." Gerard, gathering Frank's expression, spared the room the last word. Instead, he mouthed it silently to himself, then smiled the humorless smile some more. "Are you...you can't be serious."

Ray smiled too, but this one had heard this all before, this one was completely full of humor and still managed to stay professional. "I'm not. I'm really not." More consideration. "Sorry."

"But he's..." Gerard gestured helplessly, "...we don't have an attic."

"What?"

"To keep the ghosts," Gerard explained, more insistently, "We don't have an attic to keep any ghosts. You can't be haunted if you don't have an attic."

"The Lord of Mischief isn't a ghost, not really." Ray smiled again, "Not a spirit, either. Just. He's sort of like. He's real, but he's not. He's two things at once. He's the spirit of Mischief, but he's--well, he's real. He's very, really real."

Frank had dropped his jaw for no apparent reason. He snapped it. "You're insane."

"Look," Ray hefted one large book and flipped through a couple of pages, "I know it's kind of hard, but this is--this is huge. This is big. I mean, it's not, really; the Lord isn't exactly the biggest thing you can run into in The Untitled, but I mean. I haven't heard about this kind of thing in years." He stopped at a page and stabbed once, making a stifled aha! noise beneath his breath, "Here."

There were words, small ones, but there was also a picture: a large Victorian M, old and cracked and rough looking, with a small, winding cobra looking through the available holes, its head resting on the space between the upper crack. It seemed to be hissing at them, and Gerard had to remind himself that it was just a picture, just a freaky cobra picture, nothing big, not at all. Ray stabbed the emblem again, "The Lord of Mischief, his mark. Known to plenty in The Untitled."

It was as if Gerard had realized his life long dream to become Ray's personal tape recorder, "The Untitled?"

Ray exhaled a breath, and still managed to sound as if he'd heard this before. "The Untitled is...complicated."

"How complicated?"

"Alternate universe complicated," Ray was flipping through another book, "It's...you ever read fantasy books? Fairy tales, knights, wizards, that sort of thing? You've read just one, and you've read The Untitled. It's that--it's magic and hidden and everything else, but it's--it's a lot more. I'm sorry," and he really did look it, "I'm sorry, but that's as far as I can get. It's always hard to explain to people that there's another infinite world that they can go their entire lives without knowing about. But," and he was smiling again, "you've probably never had that problem."

Frank had stood up during this, although no one had taken notice. He was still surveying Ray with a now unreadable expression, and looked as if he had no idea whether he wanted to bolt to or from him. "I can't...you're serious."

Ray frowned confusedly. "Of course I'm serious. You're really--"

"Haunted?" Frank giggled (it wasn't a happy giggle.) "Haunted? By some fairy you think is the Lord of Mischief?"

"Not so much think, no," corrected Ray, "but if you give me two--two seconds, I can--"

Frank laughs again. "I can not believe this. I cannot fucking believe that you're trying to pull this shit over our heads, over my head, and I cannot fucking believe," he added, turning his voice down considerably as he switched to Gerard, "you actually brought me to a goddamn psychic--"

"Senser," Ray winced.

But Frank wasn't to be stopped, now that there was a considerable amount of steam in his engine."This is fucking insane, okay. It's just--I'm not being Haunted, or Hunted, or anything with a fucking capital H. There's no fairies, no unicorns, no alternate universe and even if there was, I sure as hell wouldn't take some fucking psychic's--"

"Senser," Gerard piped up, looking incredibly nervous. Frank stopped short, and surveyed the ceiling as if it'd given him some questionable news, then muttered "Fucking insane" again (loudly enough to hear and sting anyone who had heard it), before tumbling out of the room, smacking the door open as a surly teenager would. Gerard and Ray paused, both sharing looks that weren't complacent in the slightest. Then Gerard gave Ray another long, "I'm not sure what to do with this, exactly" grin, "He's, uh...thanks?" Then he made like Frank, and bolted.

It was still warm when Gerard rounded the last step outside, and Frank was several steps ahead, one foot out to cross the street, hands jammed in his pockets and head down. Gerard shifted through crowds like he'd never shifted before his life, treaded on some toes, and maybe sent certain knees to their cement-filled death before he finally caught Frank on the second block, "I was just trying to help!"

Frank smiled mirthlessly. "So you brought me to a psychic?"

"I couldn't think of anything else to do!" Gerard protested, then frowned when Frank scoffed again, "What, like you had any better ideas?"

"This doesn't need an idea!" Frank whirled to a stop, "This doesn't need fucking anything, because it's just...it's a phase. It's something, but it sure as hell isn't big enough for a psychic, Gee, fuck." He glared at his feet for a second, bouncing lightly, before taking off again. Gerard counted to ten, swallowed his complete and utter disappointment, and followed after.

"I was really just trying to help, you know," he mumbled when he'd caught up again. Frank nodded and stopped him for a quick kiss, "I know."

They caught a quick lunch at a nearby diner, where neither of them said much of anything besides their orders, and the walk home was long enough for Gerard's insides to decide whether or not he was being an asshole about the entire situation. It was an epic battle, one with lots of mentions of Frank and whether or not he was the being the asshole, and in the end, Gerard didn't come off feeling any better than he had half an hour ago.

Frank grabbed his hand then, and laced their fingers tight in his familiar way. Gerard mentally killed the rest of his troops, one by one.

They didn't live on the best side of town, really--there's not many choices you can make when you're dragging down art-kid money or music-store paychecks--so Gerard didn't make much of anything when they turned the last corner to their complex and found a couple of police wagons out front. There were people too, uniformed and not, and it was depressingly easy for Gerard to pick out the basic form of chatter you usually got when you gathered hundreds of bystanders with nothing better to do together. Frank tensed up immediately, curled his fingers tighter, but Gerard was tired enough to convince himself that walking was magical, walking was a gift from nature, walking would get them far away from here and into the apartment and bed he'd been dreaming about during the entire walk back.

The crowd, however, parted like the Red Sea. It was a breath-taking experience, to be honest; one Gerard would never recommend to anyone, simply for the fact that other side featured a policeman who looked emotionally incapable of releasing whatever news he had on his shiny neon-green clipboard. He hesitated, took a step forward and back and, upon making his decision, squared his chest and made it down the walkway before drawing his eyes over to Frank. "Frank Iero?"

Frank pulled on another blank face, "Yeah, that's me."

"Apartment 603?"

"Yeah."

The officer lost his stance then, dropped his shoulders and slumped inwardly a bit. He glanced quickly at the clipboard, "Um. We got a call here today, from your supervisor--" and just in case they didn't know who their supervisor was, he gestured towards Lucinda, a small, extremely excitable old woman who lived a floor above them. Lucinda still looked terrified and yet, exerted a small wave in their direction. The officer gave her a smile and looked as if he'd given this one several times before, "--well, she got a little...zealous about your problem, really. It's not very huge, we assure you--"

Frank hadn't broken the face, "Problem?"

"Yes," the officer rocked on his heels and waited. Then, "Oh, yeah. Your problem. At the time of her calling, um. At the time of her calling, she informed us she'd visited your tenement on account of several insects traveling through her walls--"

When neither of them responded, he swallowed guiltily and offered, "When no one answered, she took herself in and, well. You currently have a roach infestation."

Gerard nodded tiredly, "Of course we do." The officer blinked in surprise (usually, when things like this went down and he delivered his mandatory "this is what's wrong with your life" speech, people froze, or sometimes cried, and in the most extreme of situations, fell to their knees and curses Cthullu for their troubles. He'd never seen anyone react as if he'd told them they'd filed paperwork incorrectly or something equally as tedious. It was both astounding and deeply disturbing.) Gerard nodded again, this time in Frank's direction, and made off for the fence to sit.

Frank talked a while longer with the officer, then watched as the officer cleared everyone out with wide hand movements and the occasional siren before making his way over to Gerard. It was heading into evening now, and it was sort of difficult to see, but not to miss, when Frank lit up a cigarette. Gerard watched the orange glow from the lighter rise and fall in one quick movement, then listened to Frank inhale and exhale in another. "Pass it over."

Frank obliged without even the mandatory victory smirk. They smoked in silence until the cherry was the only thing Frank could pass into Gerard's fingers, then Frank exhaled and muttered, "Let's go."

Gerard glanced over at him through the haze of smoke. "Go where?" He waited until Frank had pulled himself up and dusted various places of his body free from gravel, "Where exactly do we have to go, Frank?"

Frank wasn't looking at him directly, choosing instead to swipe a bit at his pants leg. "We're going to the psychic's."

"Senser," Gerard rebuffed automatically, then stood. Frank shuffled a bit, still not looking directly at him, "Whatever. We're going to see him."

Gerard had to ask; there was no way he couldn't, after what'd happened. "It took an infestation of roaches to convince you to deal with this?"

Frank shrugged, "I might as well now, before the rats come."

Gerard gave him a look, which Frank accepted with one of his own, and together, they made their way down the block. It was completely quiet for a moment, then Gerard allowed himself a superior grin, "I told you so."

"Shut up."

*
Ray was minutes away from bed and a good mental lashing before the knocks came.

That wasn't exactly true, but it'd sounded really good, not at all like spending two hours searching for Gerard's phone number (which he could've sworn in seven different ways he'd written down somewhere) because being Haunted by the Lord of Mischief, or the Lord of anything, for that matter, was not something you could simply walk away from and declare insanity. That shit was real, and it was dangerous, and if Ray wasn't such a nice person he could've spent five minutes convincing himself that he really didn't care about any of these factors instead.

But, as things go, he was a nice person, and he did care, and he wanted to at least sit Frank down and explain the consequences of not dealing with Untitled sooner or later. The Untitled was a place that didn't go away, unlike fairy tales, and it was never ambiguous. You could not close the book on it and place it on your highest shelf, and you sure as hell couldn't forget about it, despite how much you wanted to. It stuck. It poked. It wheeled and it elbowed. It was what it was, and it was real, and if Frank couldn't deal with it, tough shit. Ray was willing to tone down the niceness in areas that most called for it, and this area had already tattooed it all over its body and rolled itself down the street.

In the end, it was a lost cause, and Ray's energy was a lost cause, and keeping up shop was a lost cause times two. He hadn't even bothered to remove the sign from the door, just closed the curtains and heated up some dinner when evening came and the rush was winding down. Several television shows later reminded him that he'd rather be sleeping, and just as he'd been crawling into at least one place that didn't reject him even if it wanted to, he'd heard the first knock, then the first pound. It had transformed itself into a steady stream of bangs and taps by the time he'd gotten to the shop's door, but he decided that it was all-fucking-right with him if whoever he thought was on the other side of that door was actually on the other side of that door.

He opened the door, and sagged. Frank stood before him, hand raised in mid-knock, Gerard biting his lip and looking extremely tired behind him. "We need to talk to you."

Ray almost wanted to kiss him, he was that relieved. "Yes, I thought so. Come in."

Frank waited semi-patiently until Ray had boarded the doors again, then burst out with, "This Untitled shit--"

"It's not shit," Ray interrupted, "It's real, Frank."

"Right," Frank had not lost the skepticism, Ray could see. He paced one length of the room nervously, then made a face, "I need you to tell me everything about it."

It was only by Ray's nearly disturbing need for an air of professionalism that he didn't cheer. "Follow me."

The walk upstairs this time was much quicker, Ray snapping on every light he could on the way. It made the apartment feel small again, and much less gloomier, and the television added great background noise for the most awkward of pauses. Ray stopped to tug out three or four books from his previous pile before settling the biggest one, the one with the Mischief emblem, before them.

Frank looked significantly more tired in the night's light, and neither of them looked as if they'd seen the inside of a home for a while. Ray spent twenty seconds debating, then decided to ask, "Is there something wrong? Something happened?"

"Roach infestation," Gerard monotoned, and swiped a hand over his eyes. A flitter of guilt came and went across Frank's face--Ray watched it with some interest and surprise--before he sat up straighter. "It’s nothing, Ray. Everything. The Untitled."

"It's not that simple, sorry," Ray sighed, flipping through a few pages, "I really did give you everything I could with that explanation. The Untitled is really just that: alternate universe, fairy-tale based, completely utterly real. There’s not much history to it, or at least, there is much history that we know. The only difference between some few and the rest of the world is their belief in it. Some gather this themselves, and some--" he shrugged out of sympathy here, "some just get dragged into it."

Gerard peered at him questioningly, "How do you know about it?"

"I'm a Senser," explained Ray, "meaning that I can recognize most of these creatures when they come in contact with, or when they're in, our world. It's not that much of a life, really--most of them hate this part of the town and avoid coming here if they can. They prefer what they know. The more eccentric of them base their lives, or in the Lord's case, their work around here. You do remember me comparing him the spirit of mischief, right?"

Frank and Gerard nodded. Ray stopped on a page suddenly, pointing at a list of oddly shaped figures, some human and some not. "There's no right way to explain this part either, but some human qualities do have a human shape once they enter the Untitled. Not all of them, actually—I’m not really sure of the hierarchy there, but most of them. When they're in our world, their characteristics apply to us—they are us-- but everything we feel or know or touch usually ends up as something once they cross that border. There's love, hate, pain, lust--" he indicated a couple of figures, "--a long time ago, mischief chose to be whatever it wanted to be. In this case, it chose to be itself, and have a master."

"So it's not controlled by this Lord guy," Frank frowned confusedly, "It's just fucking with me for fun?"

"No, it is controlled by this Lord Guy," Ray flipped to the emblem's page, "Heavily controlled. All the mischief that ever was or is controlled by the Lord, and I guess he's got it out for you."

"But that doesn't make any sense," Gerard glanced between them, urgently, "Why Frank? He's never done anything to him; we've never done jack shit to offend this guy."

Ray shrugged sympathetically again. "Can't explain that. I don't know his methods anymore than anyone else does. It could be something hereditary--your father, or your father's father, and so on. Could've been your birthday, the way you were born, something you did as a kid, or it could be nothing at all. He's mischief, he doesn't need a reason to Haunt you. He just will."

Frank spoke quietly, determinedly. "Unless I do something about it."

Ray glanced up, his expression noncommittal. "What did you have in mind?"

"How do I..." Frank hesitated, stealing a quick glimpse of Gerard, "How do I go there? To the Untitled?"

"Are you sure you want to do that?"

For the first time since any talk of this had begun, Frank leaned back and smiled. It was a genuine smile, and sort of relieved that it was getting somewhere, and almost (nearly, maybe) didn't mind the last few months of hell as long as it got the answer it expected to receive. "Do I want to get rid of whatever shit's been putting me and mine through hell?"

Ray grinned, "Good point. Very good point. But it's not as easy as it seems, Frank. You can be killed, or maimed, and still sustain these types of injuries when you return--if you return. Whatever happens there happens here. There's no get out of free card. There’s no putting anything back together again. And I have to ask,” he leaned in curiously, “If you do end up finding the Lord, what exactly do you plan on doing?"

Frank fidgeted slightly, the smile shrinking somewhat. "I don't know, but hell, what other choice do I have? Let it continue to fuck me up? Let it continue to make me miserable? No, I can deal with this for the rest of my life, or I can do something about it. This shit cannot last forever."

Ray studied him briefly, searching for signs or doubt or hesitation. Frank seemed serious enough, he seemed tired enough, the kind of tired where you know you should care, you really fucking should, but you never quite make it there. Ray had seen all kinds of variations of this face, more than any man had any right to, but he knew that this was the first time he'd seen Frank's kind of tired, and if he left Frank continue--if he let him do this--it was mostly likely also his last. It was an unsettling thought, and for a moment, the refusal almost made it out of his tongue and onto his lips.

But hell, there'd been a lot of risk taking today anyway. One more wouldn't kill him.

He ducked his head and smiled, "You're going to laugh when you see it. The entrance."

"I'm sure it's a spectacular little surprise," Frank teased, standing automatically, "Just like this entire day has been."

Ray was sure it was a surprise as well; it had always been a surprise. Not everyone expected the entrance to another, still-possibly fictional unknown world to be a walk-in closet, and the ones who did weren't really to be trusted. Frank, thankfully, had the normal reaction--gaping, then a stutter of skeptical laughter--and Gerard pushed a lock of hair behind his ear nervously, nodding a bit at the Thundercats poster. "Fan?"

"Biggest," Ray couldn't stop smiling, for some reason. "I know it's funny, laugh it up. It'll still take you were you need to go."

Frank stepped closer, peering at the posters as if he expected a code word. Ray coughed politely, then reached around him to slide the door open. Inside were more Thundercats posters and Ray's clothes, and at their bemused glances, Ray suffered a bit of dust in his eye. He wiped it away cautiously, avoiding their eyes. "It's, uh...further in."

Frank glanced at Gerard quickly, then at the door, then Gerard again. Ray could see him wavering so he stepped back, always mindful of last words and goodbyes or confessions or whatever people felt the need to say at times like these.
Frank took it as his cue. "Well--"

Gerard stopped him dead with a forward tilt of his chin, eyes set, "I'm coming with you."

"But," Frank started, then shook his head, "I'm not going to fight with you."

"Good," Gerard retorted, "It'll make it easier." Lowering his voice, he added, "You really fucking thought I'd let you do this alone?"
With that, he turned, stepping, once, twice, into Ray's closet and prodded forward. His walk was light and still utterly confused, but surely enough, after four minutes of waiting, he didn't come back. Frank checked the closet, found a wall, and stuck his head out again, voice tinged with an edge of panic, "Ray...?"

"He'll be on the other side," Ray guaranteed him, and because it seemed to make others feel better, he added, "I promise."

Frank stepped back out again, then stuck his right foot in, testing the atmosphere. He replaced it on the ground, then muttered, "Fuck it," before standing all the way in, his back to Ray. He gave another step, paused, then stuck his head back out again, "I'm guessing you don't have a guide for this sort of thing?"

Ray smiled apologetically. Frank sighed. "Yeah."

Then, he too entered Ray's closet.

*

Later, Frank won't remember much of anything about the tunnel. It was a tunnel, and it was long and narrow and dark, like any other tunnel he'd ever had the pleasure or displeasure (depended on what happened in said tunnel) of visiting. The only difference between those tunnels and this tunnel was that this tunnel was completely and utterly unremarkable and disappointingly anticlimactic. Frank also won't realize that this, at heart, was just a defense mechanism, as the tunnel was growing increasingly tired of cleaning up after the fainters and the pukers and the weak at heart and had just decided to do its damn job and become as insignificant as humanly possible. This led to Frank experiencing and immediately forgetting what was most likely a thirty minute walk before being spat out onto a meadow.

Of course it was a meadow. Of course it was an unusually bright, annoyingly breezy, flower stuffed, bee raided meadow because, Frank snarked in his head philosophically, what else would it be?

"Of course it's a meadow," Gerard grumbled, but he didn't seem especially annoyed. He looked around, hopped on his toes again, looked around some more, then kicked at a daffodil, "It's real."

This was a conclusion Frank had come to a few seconds ago; there was no way this all couldn't be real--the sun hanging above them couldn't be a giant lamp anymore than the grass beneath them could be paper-mache. The bee in his ear (ow) was not a robot, and the birds were not sound effects, unless they were, and were consequently the best he'd ever heard. "Guess Ray wasn't entirely batshit crazy," he joked, and picked a daisy. It felt like a daisy, it smelled like a daisy, it tasted like a daisy (Frank promptly spat it out.) Logic is logic, his brain shrugged, motherfucker is a daisy. Next to him, Gerard inspected a honeysuckle from all sides, face contorted from concentration. Then he sighed, "We could just be dreaming."

"You know better than that," Frank nudged him and grinned. "Come on, man."

"You just couldn't play along." Gerard tilted his chin in the same sort of way he had in Ray's apartment. It was a look, Frank was beginning to suspect, that was rapidly becoming his decision making chin-tilt. He gave the meadow a final blink, then began to make his way down it--of course they were on a hill--stopping once in a while to inspect a random flower. Frank followed serenely, hands stuffed in his pockets, "Where are we going?"

Gerard shrugged, "I don't know. It's your Lord we have to find. We should've gotten a fucking map."

Frank's face made an annoyed expression. A map, of course, was one of those things you forgot once you were actually on the other side of...whatever this was. On the other hand, it wasn't as if they planned summer vacations to alternate universes or anything like that. This was one of those situations that required a bunch of slack that Frank was all too ready to give.

They walked in contemplative silence, and while Frank hadn't exactly been counting, it still seemed a while before the flowers became sparse, and what little clumps did appear were growing gray and frayed, easily falling apart in Gerard's hands. Neither of them was surprised when the meadow suddenly halted several steps after, giving way to a gravel path.

They exchanged looks, Gerard's painfully stoic, Frank's blank, and took the first step together.

It was surprisingly comfortable that it was surprisingly and obviously daylight, despite the time of their world. Although it was a small factor in proving that they sure as hell weren't in Jersey anymore, it was also one more thing they quickly had to adjust themselves to. In Jersey, it'd been both warm and cold enough for a sweater, only being April and not sure where it wanted to be in terms of weather, but here they were shedding their jackets and bundling their scarves, sweat pooling in the familiarly awkward places it usually did. The walk went from hesitatingly tolerable to reproachfully long, and every once in a while Gerard bounded off the path to pluck at something, gave it the inspector's treatment, and disguised his alarm when everything continued to exist.

They finally decided to rest once Gerard, with inspiration, had rummaged around in his pocket for his cell phone, only to discover that it had stopped. They picked one of the numerous, unnamed trees to settle under, dumping their things unceremoniously and collapsing along with them. It was impossible to tell from the sky what time of the day it was; it didn't even look as if much time, if any, had passed. Frank's mind instantly called bullshit, but the sky remained impassive and unreadable.

He wiped hurriedly at a few beads of sweat, and huffed his thanks when Gerard passed him his scarf, "Fuck, this is getting us nowhere."

"We don't even know where we're going," Gerard pointed out tiredly. "We could be going in the right direction."

Frank peered at him inquiringly. Gerard frowned and flipped him off, "I’m tired, okay? This is no time for pessimistic statements of obviousness."

Frank had to agree, so he swallowed two or three more obviously pessimistic phrases and tried, "You think we should wait?"

"For what?"

"For," and here Frank had to pause, because he wasn't sure what, just, "something."

Gerard shrugged, and they waited. When something didn't traipse along in the following five minutes, or the ten, Frank took it upon himself to look around, leaving Gerard to dose underneath the tree. The path didn't look special, or call any attention to itself; there was nothing that leaped from between the trees or followed him with curious eyes in the grass. It was a path, and it was all Frank could possibly ever say about it. It looked long coming and going, and Frank watched the going for a while, although he knew he couldn't calculate how long it would take for them to get to wherever the hell it was they were going.

Then he dosed, tiredly and lacking dreams, until a skip in his spine put him awake again.

He felt weird when he woke: his skin was on edge, and there was a buzz beginning in the back of his skull, and he knew instantly that he was paranoid, without knowing why he was paranoid. He sat still, waiting for something and anything to attack him, but nothing so much as breathed. The feeling didn't go away after a while of just sitting, and slowly resigning himself to it, Frank chanced another glance down the path. "Gerard."

Gerard shuffled awake immediately, emitting a small yawn, "What's wrong? Is it people?"

Frank waited until he recognized the unsteady movements of the approaching shapes, their rise and fall. His brain helpfully supplied him with the word seconds later, but Frank was in no mood to attempt them right then, and still wasn't when he said, "Knights."

The closer they got, the less he could plead insanity: the shapes became less blinding and more mannish, and once they lapped the last smallish hill on the path their horses were in sight, now at a trot. They were fairly tale knights with thick armors and grilles that covered their face and body, light pining off of them as they moved. Frank wasn't sure to make himself known or to hide, and his body made several attempts at both before the knights reached him. Their horses slowed gradually, bucking their heads and snorting as their riders tugged gently on their reigns.

Frank stared. The knights stared back, faces hidden beneath their grilles. Then slowly, very consciously, they exchanged faces, expressions still carefully hidden. One made the means to climb down from his horse, his suit protesting the entire way, and took calm, sure steps to where Frank was standing.

There was really no correct way to greet a knight, Frank realized. "Um...hello?"

The knight didn't respond and stood, hands at his side. There wasn't much to make of him, and that managed to make Frank even more nervous. "We're..." he started, and ended up with, "Can you help us? We're not sure...we're not sure where we are right now, exactly."

Nothing.

"Just got here, we've been walking for a while. We're looking for someone. The Lord of Mischief?"

"What is your business with him?" the knight barked, voice muffled heavily. Frank felt a strange sort of pride rise within him for not jumping, "I need to talk to him." And because something told him to spare details, he added, "It's sort of personal."

The knight considered this, "It doesn't matter. Personal or not, your business will not make it to the Lord's palace."

"Why not?"

"Your business," the knight repeated, stepping forward slightly and leaning in, "will not make it to the Lord's palace. Believe me, I am doing you a favor. Turn back now and go. It will be easier for you that way."

Frank glared, "You don't know my business, so back the fuck off." They held their stances for a long moment, then the guard's suit squeaked again as he tilted his head to one side, watching him. "Very well. But I did warn you." He turned to clank and creak back to his horse, mounting it quickly. One quick cry and a tug on the reins pushed him pass Frank and Gerard and down the path, his partner behind him. They were well on their way when Frank muttered, "Asshole."

Gerard, oddly, looked amused. "I don't think I've ever seen you stand up to a knight before."

"Yeah, well--this isn't Jersey," Frank exhaled, smiling at the relief of tension, "Fuck him, fuck them. Let's keep moving. I'm pretty sure the Lord's that way--" he pointed, "Shiny-ass didn't look to keen on us going there."

Gerard returned to the tree for their things, and they took to the path silently. The paranoia hadn't settled in all this time; in fact, it'd gotten stronger, jumping and skipping its way from Frank's spine to his skull and back again.

*

Gabe considered himself a lot of things--a lot of horrible, wonderful, frightfully disturbing things--but a finicky bitch wasn't high on that list. In fact, it wasn't even on the list, as the list was mentally updated every three months or so. Gabe had realized, to his immense pleasure, that he'd stopped his daily bitch fits and hour-long sulk sessions. Well, not stopped, exactly, but had cut down significantly. He was now known for the curt name call or two, and only sulked for fifteen minutes on the dot (twenty, if the situation at hand was a complete disaster and he couldn't bring himself to cut down at the considered time limit.)

The point was, he wasn't finicky, but he had rules in his home, and he liked these rules because he’d written them himself. He even picked out the frame for them, and took delight in seeing it in every hallway, constantly reminding his Cobra Clan and his visitors of the way things were done in his palace. One of these rules, and this one was of the more important rules, was that there were to be no interruptions during dinner. This was partly because Matthew had Travis prepare the best meals for dinner, and partly because hearing about the Clan's day was pretty much the highlight of Gabe's day.

That being said, he was somewhat annoyed when Matthew approached him during said dinner, and tapped one long, skinny finger on the shoulder of Gabe's dinner suit. Gabe ignored him at first, taking another bite of ravioli and laughing too hard at one of Nate's otherwise dreadfully boring jokes, but when Matthew insisted on repeating the action, Gabe glowered and set down his wine goblet, "What?"

"A visitor to see you, my Lord," Matthew whispered nervously. He should’ve been nervous; he knew the rules, after all.

"No visitors."

"But sir," Matthew pushed further, "It's a special kind of visitor. Your...uh, only special visitor."

Gabe stared at him blankly, the wheels cranking beneath the armor. Then he grinned, clapped his hands, nearly knocked over his goblet (Matthew rushed to it, fearing for the clean, white linen), "Oh. Oh. Is he here? Is he here now?"

"In the foyer." Gabe had already sauntered out of the room before Matthew could finish. The Cobra Clan continued their conversations, oblivious to Gabe's departure; that is, everyone but the Other One, who stared impassively at Matthew before returning to his dish.

Gabe strolled down several staircases--honestly, living in a place like this was going to get to him someday if he didn't do something about, like maybe knocking down a few walls--whistling a tune whose name he could not remember. He sighed happily to himself as he finally turned the last corner, throwing out his arms in one, huge grand gesture, "William, you came!"

William stood a few walks down from him inspecting, as he always did, one of Gabe's golden cobra statues. Then he smirked at Gabe, fingers still tucked beneath his chin, "That will get very old someday."

"I know, sweetie, come here," Gabe cooed, and William rolled his eyes as he went. They didn't kiss--they were far beyond that now, or at least that was what William told him every time Gabe tried to kiss him--but the hug they shared was friendly in some places that had not been friendly with each other for a while. Gabe felt a pang of sadness at this; he really did miss William sometimes.

"Whatever brings you here?" he asked once they'd let go. William looked good, he looked better than the last time he'd been in Gabe's home, which had been a very messy and disappointing time for both of them. It was a place Gabe did not like thinking about at all, really. William kept smirking and played with a lock of his hair, and smirked some more, "I've come into some news."

Gabe, not even remotely sure where this was going, put on a smile anyway. "Wonderful. This news concern me in any way?"

"It's all about you," William assured him, and it was almost sad how excited Gabe became at that. William's smirk became a sarcastic smile that knew how excited he was about that. "I was actually talking to two of Bert's minions today--the knights. Daniel and Quinn?"

"Talking," Gabe repeated dubiously. William's smile went cold, "Well, yes. We were talking."

"And that's all you did? Talk?" Gabe pressed. He wasn't trying to be a complete dick about this, but he knew William, and well. He knew William, that was all.

"We talked, Gabe, yes," William spat, annoyed. "And while we were talking, one of them--Quinn, I think. I can never tell those two by face--mentioned two travelers who had expressed the notion of meeting you."

"Meeting me?"

"They were looking for you," clarified William, "and were walking directly on the Endless Path, and the smaller one of them, the one Quinn talked to, became quite angry when Quinn told him close his search."

Gabe made a face of genuine concern, "Why ever would Quinn do that?"

William's voice had gone indifferent, "Quinn wasn't sure, but the way he asked about you. He seemed to have business that he wanted conducted with you. Asking business."

Gabe groaned with understanding. Probably another disgruntled customer, he never seemed to please them these days. It was a fact that was slowly becoming a nuisance and really only managed to make him up the ante, so to speak. William nodded, sympathizing, "Yes, well. I thought I should call it to your attention immediately. I have to say--well, Quinn has to say, actually--they seemed very determined. The little one didn't even flinch at Quinn's intimidation piece. Quinn seemed quite discontent about that," he added, thoughtfully.

Gabe smiled again, but the wheels turned even faster beneath this one. "I'm grateful to you, William, I really am. But I'm sure there's nothing to worry about. They'll probably die before they reach the palace."

"You're so sure." William eyed him skeptically. "I mean, I went so far as to deliver this to you. Maybe I thought it was important?"

"Well," Gabe explained coolly, "You do know what they say. Never trust a minx."

William frowned, and he nodded (this was what they said, after all), and turned to leave. He paused, turned back to face Gabe, and slapped him quickly before taking off down the hall. "I do remember a time," he called back, mockingly, "When I was more than that to you."

Gabe didn't touch his cheek, even though it hurt, and didn't stop smiling. "I do too, honey. Trust me, I do."

He waited patiently in the hall until the door slammed, then dropped the smile, dropped the cool and yelled, "Matthew! In here now."

Two seconds, three. Five, and Matthew was puffing down the hall, one plate still gripped tightly in his hands. "Yes, my Lord?"

Gabe's eyes had narrowed, and his lips had pursed, and all in all, it made his normally extremely attractive face extremely unattractive. It also doubled as a frightening face, and Matthew never took any pleasure in seeing it, not that he took much pleasure in most of Gabe's faces anyway. "Send for Bert McCracken, of the Destroyer lands. I want him here, in my home, in absolutely no time."

Matthew fidgeted, "But--but my Lord, the Destroyer lands are quite a bit away. It will take at least a day for him to--"

Gabe flapped a hand at him impatiently, half-focusing on the words. Matthew shushed at once, swallowing any other protests, and watched his master step forward, step back, then shakily continued his travel down the foyer.

(part two)
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