Title: The Keys to Unlock You
Fandom: Bandom MCR and pre-split Panic.
Rating: Hard R
Word Count: 32,000
Summary: AU. People are going missing and the police aren't looking. When Mikey and Ryan disappear, can the others find them?
Warnings Torture, kidnapping, scenes of non-sexual violence. For more detailed warnings please go here
Author's note: Thank you to sperrywink and themoononastick for beta reading, any remaining mistakes are mine and mine alone.
For arsenicjade. Happy birthday.
There's no actual evidence that Ryan's been taken, but Spencer knows -- he knows.
It's there in the way Ryan's bedroom is the same as always, books still stacked on his bedside table and an ironed uniform shirt hanging on the closet door. The sheets are still crumpled and the pillow indented and if Spencer looks over his shoulder he can almost believe he'll see Ryan sitting propped up against the blue-padded headboard, knees sharp points under the blanket as he leans forward, squinting slightly as he reads.
Spencer leaves the room and goes downstairs, he doesn’t need a reminder Ryan’s not there.
"They need to do something, look for him," Brendon says, his words tight. He's standing at the kitchen table, chopping the carrots he'd bought the day before. The knife thuds against the marble chopping board, the blade perilously close to Brendon's fingertips. Spencer tenses with every cut.
"They said they...."
"They think he's out getting drunk somewhere, fucking around, I know," Brendon says bitterly. He pushes the carrot slices aside and picks up an onion; the skin is dry and wrinkled, obviously past its best. "So what, we do nothing?"
"No," Spencer says. "We do what they say and file an official report if he's not back in forty-eight hours." He keeps his back to the stairs, needing the emotional distance as he picks up a book. It's one of Ryan's and most of the pages are covered in tightly-packed sentences, some scribbled out under messy clouds of black ink. On the back page are Spencer's words, a short list of names and dates, the jagged column evidence of hours of talk. He sits opposite Brendon and opens the book. "Last night, I couldn't sleep and you know there's been rumors about people going missing."
"Yeah," Brendon sets down the knife but he clenches his hand, fingernails digging in; the room is filled with the sharp scent of onion. "So what? You snuck out of the house so you could ask questions? When Ryan's already missing."
"I did," Spencer says simply. He reads through the list of names. "When Ryan didn't come home, I needed to know, so I talked to some people. The ones who've lost people, too."
"You should have told me."
Spencer remembers the sickening realization that Ryan was late; far too late, and how he wasn't answering his phone. The futile phone call to the police and the hours Brendon had stood at the window, holding back the curtain so he could look outside as Jon tried repeatedly to not look at his watch and all Spencer could do was pace. "I could have been wrong."
"So you went alone?" Brendon's mouth is a thin line and he deliberately sets down the onion. It rolls, coming to rest against the knife. "At night, when you knew people are vanishing."
"I had to do something, I couldn't stay here and just wait."
"Fuck, Spencer." Brendon shakes his head, anger bleeding into exhaustion he's trying to keep hidden. He wipes his hands on his thighs and reaches for the book, turning it so he can read. "So what, all these people are missing?"
"They're the ones people remembered." Spencer had spent hours talking. To the people that gathered outside the clubs and the all night cafes, listening to stories of friends and acquaintances who didn't come home. In quantity they're not that many, but there's enough to make Spencer worry.
Brendon's folded forward, his hair falling into his eyes as he reads. When he suddenly looks up he brushes it back impatiently. "Mikey really is missing, I saw the posters, but didn't want to believe."
Spencer's seen the posters too, they're plastered all over town and he looks at the list, reads down two weeks worth of dates before he sees Mikey's name and remembers arriving at one of the underground clubs, talking to some kid with wild hair and black ink swirling around her forearm. She'd chewed on her bottom lip, sharp teeth against glossy red, and scuffed the pointed toes of her shoes in the dirt as she told him how Mikey had vanished, at the club one moment and gone the next. "You know him?"
"Ryan does," Brendon says. "He's a friend of Pete's, remember, we saw him that time, at the party for Joe."
"Hmm, maybe." They go out clubbing most weekends, more often on the weeks they get paid, and the nights tend to blend together in a whir of lights and noise. "Pete knows everyone."
"Yeah," Brendon acknowledges. "He tends to keep Mikey close, skinny, blond hair and glasses. He talked to Ryan that one time and Ryan had to hide a smile for hours."
Spencer nods. "Right." He looks at the list again, linking the name with the memory of Mikey sitting with Pete, holding court at a table close to the dance floor and the way Ryan tried to act cool when they told him to sit down. Ryan had worn glitter that day, a stripe along each cheekbone and when they'd finally left glitter had sparkled in Mikey's hair. "He was nice."
"Was?" Brendon frowns. "You think he's dead, because if he is..."
"No!" Spencer cuts in before Brendon can finish his thought. "I think he's missing and the police aren't helping."
"We need to find Ryan."
Spencer says, "Yeah."
Consciousness returns in an abrupt start, and Ryan snaps opens his eyes. He's being tightly held, hands gripping his upper arm and he's feeling so drained that he's unable to keep himself upright, his feet scraping along the floor as he's dragged forward, looking down at the pine-needle covered ground. Nausea rolls in his stomach, making him swallow hard as he's hauled up two wooden steps and into some kind of cabin. Ryan starts to look up, but the grip on his arm tightens and all he can see is a black mask and the glint of eyes.
Letting his head drop he looks at his hands, his palms are covered in dried blood and he flexes his fingers, blinking slowly at the disconnection between the movement and the ability to feel. Panic surging, Ryan moves his fingers again, but again there's nothing, like the hands belong to somebody else. Ryan pulls in a series of shallow breaths, feeling light-headed. "Where..." Ryan swallows again, trying to get moisture into his mouth. "Why..."
There's no reply. All there is is the sound of footsteps, the slither of Ryan's feet against the floor until they stop, standing close to a door. There's a horseshoe nailed near the top and Ryan wants to laugh, because there's no luck here, only helplessness, something he remembers well. It's an old sense memory, but powerful enough to make sweat break out at the back of Ryan's neck, hot and cold all at once as the man holding him unlocks the door.
As soon as there's enough room, Ryan's thrown inside. He collapses forward, his hands and knees striking the hard floor, his mouth is open as he gasps for air, the room swirling around him in dizzying circles as the door is slammed shut behind him.
"Oh, hell no, not you."
Ryan tries to focus on who's talking. It's impossible, all he can see are swirling brown walls and a dark shape toward the back of the room.
"Ryan, shit, just keep breathing, it's the drugs, they're a bitch but it'll pass."
Ryan wants it to pass now, he hates feeling so weak, unable to do anything but collapse fully to the floor. He presses his hands against the ground, but it's like every nerve ending is concentrated on his stomach and head, leaving none for his fingers at all. "My hands, I can't feel...."
"That'll come back too."
Slightly relieved, Ryan stops scrabbling at the floor and lies still. His heart is thundering painfully and when he cautiously opens his eyes everything tilts in dizzying waves. Still, he keeps them open because there's something in that voice, a familiarity that makes him look up. "Mikey?"
There's hesitancy, because while Ryan's sure it is Mikey, he doesn't want it to be. Mikey's meant for dark corners and late nights observing the world go by, not like this, curled on his side on a messy pile of dirty blankets, knees drawn up and his hair tangled around his face. He's not wearing his glasses and there are deep shadows under his eyes, and his cheek bones are sharp, the skin pulled tight. He's wearing pants pushed low on his hips, and Ryan draws in a sharp breath when he sees the bruises that blacken his stomach and chest, the deep cuts that crisscross and curve over his skin and one that follows the curve of his jaw. The way he's got his left hand cradled close.
Mikey pulls his lips into the slightest of smiles. "Not looking my best, yeah?"
Ryan swallows and shakes his head as he pushes himself back onto his knees. Mikey's a mess of bruising and inflamed tissue. It's one of the most horrifying things Ryan's ever seen, worse even than the time Jon managed to step on a broken bottle and nearly sever a toe.
Ryan considers a lie, but Mikey's looking right at him, one eyebrow raised in query like he's not curled up looking half-dead. "It's kind of gross."
Mikey doesn't look surprised. "You should see my ankle."
Despite himself Ryan looks down, following the line of Mikey's legs until he sees his bare feet, and one ankle that's bruised and swollen.
"The bastard took a hammer to it when I tried to escape. I got as far as the front door when he caught me."
Instantly Ryan imagines a hammer crashing against bone and the dizziness of before is replaced by sheer overwhelming fear. The last thing he remembers is walking toward home and now he's here, and he doesn't understand why. Or how, or where here even is. Curling his hands into fists, Ryan fights against the urge to scream.
"Jesus, fuck, Ryan. Don't make me have to move," Mikey says, but he's already hauling himself up onto his knees, the movement makes him gasp and fresh blood trickles from one of the cuts, over his hip and under the waistband of his pants. He looks up and his bottom lip shows the imprints of his teeth and his eyes are damp.
Ryan takes a deep breath and concentrates on pushing back his fear. Normally he's better at control, but today it takes a while, enough that Mikey's managed to get close before lowering himself back to the ground. He reaches out and rests his fingers against Ryan's knee -- Mikey's hands are blood-stained, too.
"Where are we?" Ryan manages to say.
Mikey shakes his head, says, "I don't know."
Spencer drains his coffee in one long gulp. It's overly sweet and too strong but it's exactly what he needs. Ryan's been missing two nights now and Spencer's managed maybe a few hours sleep, and even that was cramped in a corner of the sofa, laptop and lists of names on his knees, Brendon on the other side, so obviously wanting to move while needing to stay close. Last night Jon had sat on the floor, legs crossed and feet bare as he methodically phoned his network of friends yet again. Bar keepers and baristas. Guitar techs and kindergarten teachers. Jon called them all, no matter how unlikely they'd know anything that would help.
By the second hour his questions had merged into an intermittent stream. Ryan. Missing. Have you seen? Anything unusual? Do you know? Each reply carefully noted until Jon was surrounded by paper, words and numbers and jagged holes where his pen had ripped through the page. Spencer had hoped for some answers, that somewhere someone had seen something -- they hadn't.
"You should have woken me up." Jon's still sitting on the floor, arms on the coffee table and his cheek resting on an old newspaper. He's been drooling and when he sits up there's ink transfer on his face.
"I was about to," Spencer says. He refills his mug and perches himself on the edge of the sofa, careful not to sit on Brendon who finally fell asleep only hours before. "Here."
Jon takes the offered mug, screwing up his face when Spencer licks his thumb and then drags it over Jon's cheek. "Seriously, gross."
Spencer smiles, Jon's expected griping driving away fear for a few welcome seconds. "Suck it up, print face."
"Print face. Really?" Jon takes a long drink then puts down the mug, sliding it between the others on the table. He yawns and stretches, scratches at the stubble on his cheeks. "So, what now?"
It's a question Spencer hates, because he's got no real answer. Ryan's gone and no ones seen a thing. It's like he's just disappeared into thin air, which is ridiculous because Ryan wouldn't. He got his job and his friends and no matter what the police seem to believe, he always comes home. Stomach aching, Spencer looks at his watch. It's been thirty-six hours, countless phone calls and text messages. Ryan should be stumbling through the apartment, bitching about the early hour and eating the toast that he always steals from Spencer's plate.
"Spencer?" Jon pushes himself to his feet, looking uncertain. "If we go to the station in person they might take more notice. We can insist they take a report."
Spencer wishes he could believe that, he suspects if they do go in person they'll still get the same answer, but they have to do something. He turns and shakes Brendon's shoulder. "Brendon, hey. Hi, Brendon. We're going to the station."
"Hmm," Brendon says, and he opens his eyes, looking dazed until his mouth tightens as he looks past Spencer to the room behind. "He didn't come back when I was asleep."
"No," Spencer says. "I would have woken you if he did."
"I know." Brendon curls up, swinging his legs over Spencer's head as he sits. "You said we're going to the station?"
"We're going to make them listen," Jon says. "We'll stay until we do."
Brendon stands, says, "Good."
Ryan knows Mikey enough to know he unashamedly likes drinks that stain his tongue green and that his eyes light up when he hears a favorite song. He knows that his hands tend to be cold and he can make Ryan's name sound like a caress at the end of the night. Now he knows more. That Mikey's lips turn white with pain, and that he whimpers when he throws up, his hand pressed against his stomach as he fights against dry-heaves.
Mikey lowers his gaze, says, "sorry," as Ryan helps him settle himself on the pile of the blankets. The air is thick with the scent of vomit and Mikey rubs at his mouth, wiping off his chin.
"What for?" Ryan's still terrified but he's got years of practice at pushing aside the things that scare him. If he concentrates on getting Mikey comfortable he can ignore the way his stomach is clenched in knots and how his hands shake as he picks up a red plastic bucket that's half-full with water.
"I just puked on your shoes," Mikey says. "Most people would think that deserves a sorry."
"Most people aren't here." Ryan sticks his finger into the water, it's warm and there's stuff floating on top. Blades of grass and what looks like a dead fly. "Is this even fit to drink?"
"It hasn't killed me yet."
Ryan doesn't say that Mikey looks half-dead already, he knows it's a moot point. Kneeling on the blankets, he sets the bucket on the floor and takes off his work shirt, eyeing it before ripping at a seam with his teeth. The material tears easily and Ryan vows to never complain about the quality of his uniform again. Holding a large piece -- half of the front, Pets a and part of an embroidered dog at the side, he starts to dip it into the water, then stops, realizing he's about to engage in familiarity that's not his to take. "I never, I mean, do you even want..."
Mikey says, "Please."
Ryan nods and dips the material in the water, soaking it before wringing it out. "My shirt's clean, relatively anyway. After, we'll still be able to drink."
"Good," he doesn't change it often." Mikey closes his eyes, and there's a blob of liner clumped in his bottom lashes, a reminder of before that makes Ryan's stomach twist as he runs his shirt over Mikey's mouth, careful of the cracked skin. "When I first arrived I did this too."
"Yeah?" Ryan says, and concentrates on the way Mikey's shivering and how his skin feels hot and dry.
"There was this kid. I thought he was dead at first, but he wasn't. Not then."
There are multiple questions Ryan wants to ask, but he doesn't know where to start. The enormity of the situation too much. He settles for wiping the cloth over Mikey's forehead, hoping it'll cool him down. "The kid, he's...."
"Gone now," Mikey says, and for an instant fear breaks through his schooled expression. "I knew him, by sight anyway. When I got here he told me how things were, calmed me down when I was about falling apart. I guess it's my turn to be Yoda."
"So that makes me Luke." Ryan drops the cloth on the ground, not about to put it in the water, no matter how dirty it looks already. "Figures. I suck as a blond." He stands, looking around the small room, taking in the lack of windows and a pile of clothes throw into a corner. Ryan walks closer, gagging at the stench, piss, shit and blood and the wooden floor dark with stains. Breathing through his mouth he looks at the clothes, seeing the t-shirts and pants and multiple pairs of shoes. "There's, how many?"
"I counted seven pairs," Mikey says, with the slightest shrug of one shoulder. He watches as Ryan toes at the pile with his shoe. "He's got this sick fucking schedule. Keeps people a week with someone, a week alone, a week with someone new."
"You've been alone a week?"
Mikey pulls at one of the blankets, uncovering a floorboard scored with small lines of dried blood, dark against the battered floorboards, says, "Yeah."
Ryan counts each line, and he's never felt so scared.
"I had to bury him." Mikey flips back the blanket, and it sounds like he's reciting some kind of shopping list, his words measured as opposed to the tremor of his hands. "Outside, there's like, a line of disturbed earth and the bastard stood there with that fucking gun, watching as I dug."
Mikey hesitates, and Ryan's caught between wanting to know and hiding away. He moves a step closer to Mikey.
"It takes a long time to dig a grave," Mikey says, like he's conveying some perfectly normal tidbit. "No one ever shows that in movies, a few seconds and it's done, but it took me forever. I had blisters after." Mikey holds up his hands, and Ryan can just about see evidence of new skin under the patches of dried blood.
"I've never dug a grave, or anything really. Except in a sandbox." Ryan thinks about hot summer days and sand trickling through his fingers, memories that are helping him breathe. "Spencer always gave me the yellow bucket."
"Spencer's your friend, yeah? The one at the club."
Sandboxes turn to memories of a late night and Spencer's grin, wide and amused as he gave Ryan a thumbs up. It makes Ryan ache, needing Spencer while being fervently glad he's not here. "That's him, he'll be looking for me by now."
"Gerard will too."
Ryan thinks about the night they met and tries to remember names. "Gerard?"
"My brother," Mikey says, and the lines of his face soften the slightest amount. "He always makes me pancakes on a Sunday. He'll be frantic by now."
Ryan nods and walks to the door, desperation bone-deep as he hooks his fingernails between door and frame. "We need to get out."
Mikey keeps watching but doesn't reply.
The police station is an exercise in frustration. Poor planning means there are too many people crowded in too small a place, an old woman sitting primly on an orange plastic chair, a canvas bag clutched on her knee as she glances suspiciously at the man who's standing close to the door, bundled inside a black hoodie despite the heat of the day. A girl sitting cross-legged, headphones in, dark mascara lines tracking her cheeks while two men stand against the wall discussing some game, their voices rising as they rehash each play with accompanying waves of their hands. There's a plant in an orange-spotted pot on the counter, an apple core lying on the dry soil. When Spencer moves the leaves brush against his arm. He steps to the side slightly, pressing further against Jon.
The police-officer behind the counter is in uniform, his forehead is shiny, despite the small fan that's revolving on the desk. He taps some buttons on his computer, says, "I'm sorry, we're limited in what we can do. We'll circulate the report but unless Mr. Ross is a danger to himself or others he's not a priority. We're overstretched as it is."
"So, what? You're not going to look?" Brendon's got his hands braced against the counter and he's leaning in, obviously angry. There's a recent photo of Ryan next to his hand and a print out of information -- what Ryan was wearing, when and where he was last seen. Brendon snatches up the photo, holding it in the air. "This is Ryan, he always comes home and he hasn't. You need to start looking for him, something's wrong. People are going missing."
"Look, we can't go off looking for every kid who decides to take off. He's probably off having fun someplace and forgot the time. We see it all the time. If he's not back in a few days come back, we'll talk again." The officer makes it sound like he's granting them some kind of favor by allowing that much. Spencer wants to punch him in his face.
"Well, thanks for your time," Spencer says shortly, making the words an insult as he steps away from the counter. The headache that's been a mostly background ache has become a fully-formed thing, and Spencer rubs above his eyes as pushes his way outside.
“What are you doing? They're supposed to go look for him!" Brendon crowds close and grabs a handful of Spencer's t-shirt, crumpling it in his fist so they're both standing just outside of the door. "We can't just leave."
"They're not going to do anything," Spencer says. Pain throbs harder and he fights against the urge to push Brendon away. "You heard them, they think he's off fucking around somewhere."
Brendon shakes his head. "He wouldn't do that, not without telling us."
"I know that!" Spencer yells. "I know that," he repeats, quieter this time. "They don't know him like we do."
"So we go in and tell them." Brendon takes an abortive step back. "We'll tell them that Ryan loves his job and that he walks the dogs and cleans the bunny cages and he's got a home, he's got us."
"Brendon." Uncaring of anyone watching, Jon steps forward and pulls Brendon's into a hug, holding him close even as Brendon stands motionless, refusing to relax. "We'll find him."
"How? How are we supposed to find him?" Brendon says, and his voice is panicked, sharp with fear. "All of those people missing, and no one cares, no one's looking."
Spencer looks over Brendon and Jon, at the man who's just spoken -- the man from inside, still bundled in his black hoodie. In the natural light he looks washed out, his face pale and eyes darkened with shadows, and while he doesn't know him, there's a hint of recognition that Spencer can't place.
Keeping his arm around Brendon, Jon steps to the side, watchful despite his passive expression. "Sorry, we'll get out of your way."
"No, you're not in the way. I was listening."
"Well, that was your first mistake, the second was admitting it." Temper made razor fine, Spencer deliberately turns away, addressing Brendon and Jon. "Come on, we'll go and talk somewhere private."
"No, wait." The man steps forward despite the way Spencer bristles. "I heard you talking, and you're right. There are people going missing, but they won't look. They never do, no matter how often we ask."
"You know something?" Brendon asks. There's hope in his tone and Spencer wants to warn him not to be fooled, but he doesn't. Despite himself Spencer needs this hope too. Brendon pulls out of Jon's hold. "You've seen Ryan?"
"Not recently," the man says, his whole attention on the photo that Brendon's holding out.
Furious at allowing himself a moment of false hope, Spencer starts to walk. "Come on."
"No, wait!" The man says, he moves so he's standing in front of them, his arm outstretched. "I haven't seen him recently, but someone will have. We've been looking on our own, trying to find people because the police don't care." He drops his arm, looking utterly dejected, then seems to push that aside. "My name's Gerard, two weeks ago someone took my brother. We've been looking for him ever since."
"And you think you can help us?" Jon says.
Gerard looks at them all, says, "We'll try."
Mikey's sitting up, his knee bent and foot pulled in toward him. He's carefully rubbing along the instep of his foot and Ryan stares at the concentration of colors, dark bruising spreading from Mikey's ankle, the dried blood under his nails. It's pretty in a way that makes Ryan feel sick. He looks away and lifts up his own hands, taking in his broken nails and reddened knuckles. He thinks maybe there should be more, that he should have fought harder when he was taken. Ryan makes a fist, his nails jagged against his palm. "When he took you, did you fight?"
"I tried." Mikey stops rubbing his foot and rests his hand loosely over his ankle. "I got in a couple of punches but I'd been drinking and I didn't expect to be jumped. One minute I was heading for home, the next I was being bundled into the back of a van with a fucking needle shoved in my arm."
"Right," Ryan says. He remembers the sting of a needle in his own arm, the confusion at suddenly being punched in the face and the pain of his knees impacting against the sidewalk. He'd tried desperately to defend himself, throwing punches as he was picked up and thrown in the back of the van, but it was all so sudden and unexpected. Ryan knows he couldn't have done more, but he can't help feeling that somehow he should have escaped.
"Sometimes I think, why me?" Mikey says, grimacing as he straightens his leg. "Did he see me and think I looked weak? That I wouldn't fight back. But it's not me, it's him. He's fucking psychotic."
Ryan crosses his arms, hugging his own chest. He can feel the thump of his heart and he concentrates on that, letting the beat wash over memories of cruel hands and dark eyes. He looks at Mikey, seeing the cuts that decorate his body, swirls and straight lines and if Ryan looks long enough, some kind of design that runs over Mikey's ribs.
"He thinks he's some kind of artist," Mikey says, interpreting Ryan's look. "He's got this whole spiel about blood on a skin canvas, and it could be cool, but he makes it into a fucking cliché."
"Cool?" Pointedly, Ryan looks around, there's nothing cool about being here.
"Well, not the whole kidnapping and torture disguised as art thing," Mikey says. "But the skin as a canvas, yeah. Just, some other medium besides knives."
"Glitter gel, maybe," Ryan says, trying to distract himself from thoughts of blades against skin. "It would sparkle, and wouldn't hurt."
"I'm not one for sparkles, but I'd go for less hurt." Mikey holds out his hand, showing the spiral that's been cut into his palm.
It looks nasty, the skin puffy and the cut oozing. Ryan swallows and steels himself to ask another question, something that's been on his mind since he saw Mikey's lack of clothes. "He doesn't, I mean, you're only wearing pants."
It takes Mikey a moment to catch on, then he shakes his head. "No, thank god. Nothing sexual. He cut off my t-shirt to see more skin."
Good," Ryan says, and then realizes what he's said. "I mean, it's not good, just...."
"I know what you mean," Mikey interrupts. "I guess it's our silver fucking lining."
Ryan will take that silver lining, even if it is small. He stands. "I'm going to try the door again."
"The best chance is when he takes you out." Mikey sounds sad, also, reluctant, like he's admitting something that he'd rather be kept hidden. Ryan looks at the heavy wooden door. There are scratches and gouges around the frame, some stained with blood, and Ryan's fingertips are throbbing. There's no way to get out that way, not without a key.
"You said you managed to escape before?"
"As far as the porch. Escape's pushing it," Mikey says.
"But you got out." That's a distinction that Ryan's not going to brush away. If Mikey got out once it means it can happen again, Ryan just needs to know how. "How?"
"He had me on the table then went for something in another room, there was some slack in the restraints and I managed to slip out of them." Mikey wraps his fingers around his wrist, over the bruising and raw skin. "It was the day of the grave, I was so freaked I'd have chopped off my hands to get out. I ran , got as far as the front door when he came back. I was lucky he didn't have his gun or I'd have been dead. Instead he stopped me running again." Mikey eases himself back down and turns his head so he can see Ryan. "A hammer to your ankle fucking hurts."
There isn't a thing Ryan can think to say, he sits back down, close to Mikey's side. "I'm sorry."
"Not your fault," Mikey says, then turns his head, looking tense at the sound of a door being opened. "Look, Ryan, don't try anything when he comes in. He'll have a gun and he'll use it. This isn't the time. I mean it, no matter what he does, just stay back."
"What? I don't...."
There's the sound of heavy footsteps and Mikey looks stricken, the fear pouring from him in waves. "Promise me."
"Okay, fine, I promise," Ryan says, and he's taking shallow gulps of air when the door to the room is thrown open and the man steps inside. He's still dressed all in black, a gun held in one hand, but this time he's not wearing a mask -- Ryan knows that's not a good sign. About to reach out and grab Mikey's arm, Ryan stills when Mikey minutely shakes his head.
"Do you like your new friend?" The man steps into the room, a looming presence as he keeps the gun pointed at Ryan's head. One-handed, he grabs hold of Mikey's upper arm and pulls him to his feet. He's taller than Mikey, much broader and he holds onto him easily. "I thought you'd like him, he's like you, has so much usable skin."
"Fuck you," Mikey says bitterly, and Ryan wants to tell him to shut up, because how can he tell Ryan not to do anything and then stand there and retaliate himself?
The man laughs. "Look who's found his spirit? I'm going to enjoy our session this afternoon." Always looking at Ryan, he starts to drag Mikey toward the door, pulling at his arm and paying no heed to the way Mikey stumbles as he tries to keep the weight off his injured ankle. "I'll bring your little friend back soon, don't get too lonely." He steps outside and slams the door.
Gerard takes them to an apartment block on the outskirts of the city. It's an ugly building, squat with dingy grey walls, a rickety-looking fire-escape clinging to one side; Spencer hopes there's never an actual fire, because the thing will never hold weight. The main door is propped open with a brick, a man sitting on the sidewalk to the side. He's leaning heavily against the wall, head back and eyes closed, a lit cigarette held between two fingers, a cell phone in his other hand.
"Frank, anything?" Spencer recognizes the careful hope in Gerard's question; it's painfully obvious despite the way his expression hasn't changed at all.
"No calls, but we've tweets about seeing the van." Frank opens his eyes then, looking past Gerard to Spencer, Brendon and Jon. "More of Mikey's friends?"
Gerard shakes his head. "This is Brendon, Jon and Spencer, their friend's missing."
"Jesus fucking Christ!" In a split second exhaustion turns to anger and Frank slams his fist against the sidewalk. "How many more?"
"I know, I know," Gerard says, he crouches down, gently uncurling Frank's hand so the cigarette falls to the ground, crumpled and surrounded by the droplets of blood from Frank's knuckles. "You need to stop doing that."
"When I find out who's doing this I'm going to fucking kill the bastard."
"Join the line," Gerard says, and while he's got none of the outward anger of Frank, there's a steel to his voice that suggests he's the most dangerous of all. A last searching look at Frank and Gerard stands. "This is Frank, he lives here with Mikey."
"Hi," Brendon says, polite despite the way he's staring at the blood trailing down Frank's fingers. Spencer steps closer, resting his hand on the small of Brendon's back.
"Hey." Frank stands slowly, looking worn, edges frayed and obviously exhausted. "Come in."
They go inside, Frank leading the way. It's stifling hot as they climb the stairs, four flights before they stop outside an apartment with a pale blue door, M. Way and F. Iero written on a sheet of neon green cardboard tacked to the middle. There's a bike to one side, the wheels deflated, a plushie monkey balanced on the seat. A giant plant pot containing a plastic cactus surrounded by tiny green dinosaurs, fun things that seem out of place in this strained atmosphere.
Frank opens the door and steps inside, leading the way along a narrow corridor that within a few steps leads into what had to have been a living room, but what's now some kind of make-shift control center. The edges of band posters are just visible behind large sheets of paper stuck to the walls, each one filled with names, times and locations. A table is in the middle of the room and on it are three laptops, surrounded by notebooks and empty mugs. There's a pile of pizza boxes in one corner and on the couch, someone is sprawled out asleep, a phone close at hand.
"Bob, you here?" Frank says. He walks further into the room, stepping over the takeout cartons that are heaped near the door. Most are still half-full, and Spencer wrinkles his nose at the smell.
There's the sound of someone moving and then a man appears in a doorway. He's holding a mug, cradling it close. He looks tired too, unshaven and rumpled in a dark hoodie and long shorts, one of his red striped socks crumpled around his ankle. "More friends of Mikey's?"
Gerard shakes his head. "They've lost someone, too."
"Fuck," Bob says, and Spencer's half-expecting another violent reaction, but all Bob does is move to sit at the table, holding onto the mug as he leans in and checks something on one of the laptops. He taps a button and then looks up. "Same bullshit at the station?"
"I didn't get to see anyone," Gerard says. He pushes his hair out of his eyes and then stands behind Bob, looking over his shoulder at the screen. "Frank says there's more van sightings."
"Over on twelfth, first at seven then..."
"Hold on," Spencer interrupts, because he's had enough. They've followed Gerard here, holding onto the faintest of hope, and no one's explaining anything. Spencer's head is still pounding, enough that all he wants to do is lie down and sleep, but he can't; not until he finds Ryan. "Tell us what's going on. Please."
"Sorry," Gerard says, looking apologetic. He straightens and looks around, Spencer suspects he's going to tell them to sit down, but there's nowhere to sit. Every seat is either in use or covered in papers and trash, and the man on the couch isn't moving at all. "Erm, right, sorry. You've met Frank, this is Bob, and that's Ray on the couch." Gerard turns and perches against the edge of the table, making Bob grab for a mug of cold something that's about to tip over. Gerard doesn't notice, just brings his hand to his face and bites at his thumbnail before he speaks. "I told you, two weeks ago Mikey, my brother, didn't come home. I tried to report it, but they gave some bullshit about him being an adult."
"Bastards," Brendon mutters.
Gerard shrugs a little. "I couldn't just sit and wait, so me and Frank started calling Mikey's friends. The fucker knows everyone, and the ones he doesn't, his friend Pete does. Next thing I know there's this phone tree going and I'm getting calls all the time. Then it just, grew."
Jon's walked further into the room and is looking at the names on the walls. "How're you even getting all these?"
"Social networking." A clatter of keys and Bob types something before looking back at Jon. "We started on Twitter, Mikey's friends started asking questions, then it spread to Facebook and the blogging sites. We know Mikey was last seen at one fifteen on the corner of Matlock Street and that a black van has been hanging around for weeks. It’s been seen at Catalpa Avenue, over on Depot Street and at Twelfth last night."
"That's near Ryan's pet-shop," Spencer says and the realization of his worst fears makes him stagger slightly, the enormity of the situation pressing close. "I thought, I thought that..."
"He'd lost track of time and would walk in the door any moment," Gerard finishes. "I still expect Mikey to walk through the door, even now."
"He will," Frank says fiercely. He pulls out a chair, moving a pile of papers before he sits down. On the top is a picture, Gerard with Mikey, and Spencer remembers, the club late at night, the way Ryan tried not to smile when Mikey waved goodbye.
"If you tell Bob Ryan's details he'll add him to the search." Gerard steps away from the table, making some room. "I'm going to..." He looks around, seemingly lost as Spencer stands next to Bob, watching as he refreshes Twitter, before bringing up a spreadsheet, one already full of names.
"How about we help you tidy up a bit while they do that?" Spencer looks over his shoulder when Jon speaks. He's poking at the pile of take-out cartons with the toe of his flip-flop, but also watching Brendon, who's almost vibrating with suppressed nervous energy. "Where are your garbage bags?"
"We'll tweet first, get the word out that Ryan's gone." Bob's typing fast, and Spencer looks away from Jon's quiet calming attempts and watches as Bob begins a tweet. "I need his second name, what he was wearing, what he looks like and where he could have been."
Bob's all business, and that helps as Spencer lays the picture of Ryan on the table. "Ryan Ross, he was wearing tan pants and his work uniform, a red polo-shirt with Pets at Home on the front. He's got light brown hair that's long right now. He's thin and got these freakishly long fingers, most times he doesn't smile, but..."
"That's enough," Bob interrupts, and Spencer leans in, checking the message. Ryan Ross Missing since ystrday pets at home unform thin brwn hr check blog for more.
"That'll work?" Spencer's dubious, it seems so little and he can't see how something like this will help find Ryan, but Bob just nods as he sends the tweet.
"It'll be seen and passed on. Just watch." Bob brings up a blog page and starts to fill in details but before he's even finished the title Twitter Fox displays a new tweet Think I saw him on Hudson checking blog now.
For the first time Spencer thinks this might work.
Ryan walks slowly around the room. He's methodically checking every wall, hoping for some hollow spot that he can break through. His knuckles ache from tapping and he concentrates on that throb instead of the fear that he's finally managed to push down -- enough that he can function at least. When he gets close to the door he slows. There's a weird sound from the other side and Ryan presses his head against the wall, ear directly on the wood. When he distinguishes Mikey's cries of pain Ryan jerks back, hands jammed over his ears and his eyes closed. He sinks to the ground, curled up small, and can't help feeling that he's betraying Mikey somehow, that Ryan should keep listening to those pained sounds. But he can't -- he can't.
Normally Ryan finds it easy to get lost in his own head, it's saved him before, when the outside world is too painful and all he needs is an escape. Today he can't get lost at all, he tries, frantically thinking of friends, books he's enjoyed, the words that usually buffer and keep him safe. None of it works, Ryan's too aware of where he is, the thumps and thuds from outside the room, the ticking of his watch, the sound of his own breathing. He's hyper-aware while being unable to move, curled forward, mouthing words, for Spencer, for Brendon, for Jon, anyone to come and help.
Of course they don't, and Ryan jerks upright, dizzy, his heart racing when the door is abruptly opened and Mikey thrown into the room. He hits the ground and crumples, a mess of fresh blood and bruises. At first Ryan's shocked frozen, barely able to comprehend that something like this could happen, then he's surging to his feet, so angry that all he can do is attack. He runs, yelling as he makes for the door and the man who's standing watching, blood coating his hands a smear on his cheek, seemingly unconcerned as he smiles before shutting the door in Ryan's face.
"Open the door! Open the fucking door!" Ryan screams, close to losing control. He keeps his hands fisted, forehead against the door as he takes gulping breaths of air.
"Ryan." Mikey's voice is hoarse, hardly audible over the roaring in Ryan's ears. "Ryan, you can't get out that way."
This close the door is rough, knots of wood and abstract patterns. If he keeps looking Ryan won't have to see Mikey or the room they're locked in, because he doesn't want to deal. He wants to be home eating in front of the TV. Telling Spencer about his day while Brendon gets ready to teach his class and Jon plays with Clover.
"Ryan," Mikey says again, softer this time. Ryan turns.
Mikey's still lying in the same place. Fresh cuts run along his ribs and there's one just below his right shoulder, deeper than the others and snaking in a pattern toward his neck. There's blood on Mikey's chin and tear tracks on both cheeks. Ryan kneels, feeling helpless as he rests his hand on Mikey's wrist, feeling sick and helpless.
"Ryan." Mikey turns his hand and wraps his fingers around Ryan's hand. "He'll be coming for you, if you get a chance, you need to run."
Mikey's hand is warm in Ryan's, his fingers dark with dried blood. "What about you?"
"Forget about me," Mikey says. "Just go."
Logically, Ryan knows he should agree, but the thought of leaving Mikey here is wrong, he shakes his head. "Mikey, I can't..."
"You do what you have to. You need to stay alive, get out of here. You don't want to end like this." Mikey indicates his body, and the movement widens the cut on his shoulder, the skin and flesh pulling apart. "He's fucking sick, while you're still strong, run."
"No." Ryan sits back a little and doesn't look away from Mikey's stare. "I'm going to get out of here and I'm going to take you with me."
The door opens, and Mikey stops speaking, just squeezes Ryan's hand.
Spencer has got his own twitter, a My Space, a Face Book page. Occasionally he'll remember to log in and share what he's doing that day, throw a few sheep and post comments to the pictures Jon uploads. Today he's watching the sites be used for so much more.
For the last two hours Bob's sat hunched over his laptop, methodically writing down every reply they receive. When he's finished he'll nod slightly and Gerard will read the note, then transfer it to one of the sheets of paper on the wall. Ryan's got his own sheet now, Spencer keeps looking at it, Ryan's name, what he was wearing, where he was last seen. He's been sighted six times so far, always before seven, the sightings tracking his journey toward Twelfth Street; and maybe the black van.
Despite never seeing the van, it's all too easy to imagine Ryan being pulled inside, and the mental images run through Spencer's head like a horror movie with no end. Needing distraction he goes to the window, it's got a wide sill and someone's left a cushion propped against the smeared glass, stuffing poking out of a hole at the corner. Spencer pushes the cushion to one side and sits, looking outside. There's not much of a view, an expanse of roof littered with cigarette butts, rows of buildings and congested roads. The sun shines high overhead, and Spencer hopes that somewhere Ryan's seeing it too.
"Why won't they listen?" The front of Brendon's t-shirt is wet through, and bubbles cling to his hands. He's looking around, but he's already washed all the dirty cups and dishes. His fingers twitch as he looks away from the lists of names. "You've got all of these names and times."
"It's not enough for them," Bob says shortly. "The people going missing are all young, they think they're off partying or something."
"That shouldn't matter." Brendon's pacing now, his disillusionment with the police showing even stronger. Yet another institution that's let Brendon down.
"We took them all our data, they said they'd look into it." Ray's sitting in the corner of the couch, still looking half-asleep.
"So what now?" Brendon demands. "We wait?"
Gerard shakes his head, says, "No, we find them."
At first Ryan thinks about fighting, but seeing the gun is enough to change his mind. It's no good resisting, and the man jerks Ryan to his feet, making his hand slip out of Mikey's.
"No struggling," the man says, and he's holding on tight, fingers digging into the muscles of Ryan's arm. "If you struggle I'll kill you."
"Not struggling," Ryan says, because he's not, and has no intention of doing so, not now when the results would be so predictably bad. Looking over his shoulder, Ryan manages a look at Mikey, who's pushed himself up on one elbow, his expression blank as Ryan's taken away. Trying for reassuring, Ryan attempts to convey that he'll be fine, somehow managing to keep up the facade until the door slams closed. Taking a moment to turn the key, the man hauls Ryan toward another room -- the door to this one is open and inside there's nothing but a table and cart. The table is solid, dented and scarred wood, with leather straps at each end, the cart shining metal, an assortment of knives arranged in a careful size-sorted line.
Terrified, Ryan looks away, but all that means is he sees the pictures attached to the walls. Glossy photographs that make no sense at first, then Ryan sees a male chest, a gaping wound between the nipples, the side of a stomach complete with a circling cut, everywhere he looks there are more pictures and he's breathing fast, feeling faint.
"Get up and lie down."
The muzzle of the gun is jammed against Ryan's temple, and he swallows hard as he slides onto the table. It feels wrong under his hands, the grain of the wood coated and when Ryan lies down all he can smell is old blood, so strong he tries to breathe through his mouth, small pants for air, as leather straps are tied around his ankles and wrists, the leather nipping against skin as they're pulled tight.
"Don't fight it," the man says, and his voice is low, assessing as he circles the table. "This is my art, my designs and you're my canvas. It's an honor to have them etched into your skin. Your designs will grace walls, bring meaning to your pitiful life."
"I like my skin how it is." Ryan knows the protest won't help, and he clenches his hands when the man moves to the cart and picks up a knife. It's small, the blade curved slightly and Ryan can't look away, watching as the man slices into the hem of Ryan's t-shirt, then up, easily cutting through the fabric.
"I was thinking a spiral, right here." Ryan looks down his body and tries to pull back from where the man is sliding his finger in a spiral that extends over Ryan's ribs, the touch makes him shiver and Ryan starts to tug at his restraints, unable to remain still as he imagines the blade cut into his skin.
"A spiral?" Ryan swallows, needing to talk through his fear. "For an artist you're not very original."
"It doesn't have to be."
"For a psychotic murderer you're very conformist," Ryan says, and he's determined to conceal his fear, because even if he’s helpless right now, he's not giving up everything, his reactions are his own. Knowing he needs distance from the situation, Ryan focuses on memories of his morning walk with Bess, a dog from the shelter attached to the shop. She's got brown glossy fur and she'd jumped up at Ryan, paws against his shoulders as he laughed and pushed her down. They'd walked around the field and Bess had run from end to end, tail wagging and mouth open, but when he'd called she'd come straight back.
Ryan stiffens at the sensation of something sharp against his skin. Gasps as that sensation flairs into pain that elongates, trailing around -- Remembers how Bess sat at his feet, panting, her tongue lolling from her mouth -- The pain gets more, burning hot, something running down his side -- Bess looked up, at that moment Ryan her whole world -- pain flowing upwards, becoming more over Ryan's ribs -- a wet nose against his hand and Ryan's hanging onto that, desperate.
The knife digs in, clipping bone. Ryan screams.
Spencer's boss isn't exactly thrilled about him calling in sick, but she'll have to deal because even the thought of serving ice-cream makes Spencer feel nauseous. He sips at a glass of water before checking his phone. It's something they all do constantly, eyes going to displays even though they never ring with the news that they need.
It's only been hours but it feels like they've been holed up in this apartment for days. The window is pushed wide and the door open but still it's too hot, and people are constantly calling or arriving in person. Spencer's seen some of them before, kids from the scene that seem wrong in this environment. They're subdued as they talk and even when they do laugh it sounds forced, like they're masking fear rather than genuinely amused.
The latest visitors leave with reminders to be told of any news, Spencer watches them go then looks at his watch. It's nearly six and Spencer's about out of his mind, he doesn't know how Mikey's friends have made it to two weeks.
"I'm going to go put out more posters." Frank's standing at the doorway, rocking from foot to foot as he looks toward the landing. "I'll do the west side."
"Can I come?" Brendon asks, and Spencer hopes Frank says yes, because Brendon needs room to let off steam, already he's resorting to obsessively tidying things that are perfectly clean.
Frank takes his cigarettes out of his back pocket, pulling one from the packet. "You can handle a stapler?"
Brendon nods, says, "I'm a pro."
Frank says, "The posters are in Mikey's room."
"I'll show you." Gerard stands and indicates a door, it's decorated with an old Smiths poster, the corners curling and a splash of something brown across Morrisey's face. Gerard beckons Brendon to follow him inside.
"I'll walk with them to the corner of Burlington, I need to feed Clover, and Ryan might, might have... there may be a message." Jon stops talking for a moment. "You never know."
"You shouldn't go alone," Spencer says, and he knows that this is where he should say he'll go too, keep Jon company on the walk home. The problem is, Spencer wants to be here, he needs to be here, ready and waiting for a report about Ryan's whereabouts to come in, and it will. Spencer has to believe that. He stands, despite everything, he's not letting Jon walk alone.
"He should be safe," Bob says, never looking up from the screen. "People have only gone missing on Saturdays so far, and he doesn't meet the profile, he's not thin or tall enough."
"See, I'm short and fat, I'll be fine," Jon says, and Bob does look then, turning slightly in his chair.
"I didn't say that."
"I know." Jon smiles, and if Spencer didn't know him so well he'd miss the signs, that Jon needs to get out, that his shoulders are too tight and his smile too wide, nothing like his usual lazy smile.
"I'll go with you," Spencer says firmly.
"Or he can come with us, we can do the posters on the way, or after," Frank says. He steps back further, unlit cigarette hanging from the corner of his mouth. "If you want posters of Ryan I'll take you to the print store, we get a discount."
"Please." Spencer pulls his wallet out of his pants and looks inside. He's got the money he set aside for rent and he hands it over without a second thought. "Get as many as I can afford."
"We can afford," Jon corrects. He tucks the money in his wallet, wedging it back in his pocket when Brendon comes out of the bedroom. He's cradling a stack of posters against his chest, the top one showing a picture of Mikey and the details that are unforgettable now, where and when Mikey was last seen, what he was wearing, phone numbers and URLs, Gerard's personal plea If you have Mikey, let him go. We miss him, I need my brother. Let him go, please .
"I'm coming with you," Jon says. He waits as Brendon crosses the room and they stand side by side, presenting a united front as Ray pushes himself up off the coach. He groans as he stretches and his t-shirt is stretched out and grubby. It makes Spencer wonder how much time they're taking for themselves -- but whatever the answer, it's clearly not enough.
"I need to go to the grocery store, we're about out of everything." Ray says. "I'll be as quick as I can."
Bob rolls his head around his neck and rotates his shoulders. "I'll try not to pine away in your absence."
"Right," Ray says, but he's still not leaving, none of them are, until Frank suddenly whirls around and stalks away, the others following his lead.
They leave the door open and Spencer listens to them walk downstairs, the thump of feet and the faint sound of the main door slamming shut. He looks out of the window, fingers curled around the frame and watches as they walk along the street, Frank taking the lead, Ray hanging back a little so he's close to Brendon and Jon. Spencer keeps watching until they turn a corner and he second-guesses himself all the time. Whether he should be going home, because what if Ryan's back there? What if he's called the landline and there's nobody home? Needing reassurances, Spencer looks at the lists and the laptops and the way Bob's scowling intently as he watches the screen.
As if he's aware of being watched, Bob looks up, says, "There's coffee in the kitchen."
Spencer's been drinking water, but he's not about to turn down a distraction. He goes into the kitchen and it smells strongly of bleach. The counters are sparkling and mugs are lined up on the drainer, Star Wars and My Little Pony and one mug that's three times the size of the others. There's about half a jug of warming coffee, looking black and thick and Spencer thinks about making more but he can hear Bob yawning and for all he knows they drink it this way. Selecting two mugs, Spencer fills them and takes one out to Bob.
Unsure, Spencer keeps hold of the other and looks toward Mikey's room, because Gerard still hasn't come out and it's not Spencer's place to just walk in. "Should I leave Gerard's here?"
Bob takes a drink of his own coffee, grimacing a little and Spencer glances at the bedroom and then back at Bob, and Bob looks right back, unashamedly staring, as if he's somehow measuring Spencer's worth. Eventually he nods slightly, says, "Take it in, he won't mind."
"Okay." Spencer doesn't know what he expected when he walks into the bedroom. Some kind of shrine or Gerard weeping on the floor. What he finds is a room that looks like controlled chaos, CDs stacked into piles, a computer in one corner and clothes in messy heaps. The bed is unmade, duvet, sheets and pillows strewn around and there's an open book on the bedside table, crowded with a pair of glasses and a clock that flashes zeros.
"I caught the wire with my foot the day after he went missing, I was looking for something. I don't even know what." Gerard's sitting on the bed, a hoodie on his lap. He's twisting the hood string around his fingers, binding them until his fingertips go white, then loosening it, over and over again. "I come in here when I need to feel him, it's fucking stupid because he's not dead, I'd know if he was. I'd know." He looks up then, looking fierce. "You believe me, right?"
Spencer thinks about Ryan, how he can tell if he's had a bad day or know how he's feeling by the minutest gesture invisible to other eyes. It's not mind-reading, it's nothing that easily explained. It's being Ryan's best friend, and Spencer knows he'd feel it if Ryan was dead. It's why he says, "I believe you."
"Right. Right," Gerard says. He holds out his hand. "Is that for me?"
Spencer hands over the coffee and Gerard drinks over half in one long swallow and then cradles the mugs in his hands, says miserably, "I just want him to come home."
Spencer says, "I know."
Ryan wakes with his head on Mikey's lap. The last thing he remembers is the knife cutting deep, and his body throbs along with those memories, pain burning along his stomach and side. His mouth feels dry and his eyes gritty and when he tries to move he can't help but groan.
"We're still here." It's not a question, Ryan's knows he's in the same room, the stench is unmistakable, so strong it seems to stick in the back of his throat. It makes him gag as Mikey's shifts a little, reaching out for the bucket which he drags forward. There's a splash, then Mikey puts his hand close to Ryan's mouth, water cupped in his palm.
"It's the best I can do, sorry."
Ryan opens his mouth and Mikey tilts his hand, letting the water trickle into Ryan's mouth. It makes Ryan feel helpless, so weak that he can't even drink on his own, and the water tastes wrong; warm and gritty. He keeps swallowing anyway, until finally, after the third time he says, "Enough. Thank you."
The temptation to lie still is immense. Mikey's hardly moving, and the room is warm, making Ryan feel drowsy, like his body and thoughts are weighed down. It would be easy to lie still and just sleep, but Ryan pushes himself up, one hand over his side. He can feel that his skin is wet, but he deliberately doesn't look as he tries to get comfortable, sitting hunched over slightly, his free hand braced against the ground.
"Will he come back today?" Ryan asks. Mikey's turned fully on his back, so pale and still that only his shallow breathing shows he's alive. Ryan knows if they're going to escape it'll have to be soon.
"Probably not, it's usually one session a day."
Ryan looks around the room, at the solid door and walls, all scarred with the evidence of attempts at escape. Frantically he tries to pull his thoughts in order all too aware that each day is bringing them closer to death. In the end he can only think of one way out, that they have to go on the offensive and be ready the next time the man opens the door. "Tomorrow, I'm going to jump him."
"He could shoot you," Mikey says, and Ryan shrugs his shoulders, because it's not something he doesn't know.
"Seems to me I'm going to die in a few weeks anyway." Ryan keeps his words even, in comparison to the way he twists up inside as he imagines the hit of a bullet and his body rotting in an unmarked grave.
"All or nothing." Mikey sounds serious and he holds up his hand. Puzzled, Ryan looks at him for a long moment before slapping it with his own, almost topping over when he removes his support. Mikey sighs. "Talk about a miss-matched fight."
Ryan thinks about Spencer, Brendon and Jon. The animals at the pet store and the life he's not ready to leave. "I've a lot to fight for."
Mikey nods, says, "Me too."