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A Crack in the Sky

It starts when Gerard is seven and Mikey is four. That's when Gerard starts to hear voices in their bedroom, and after a while he starts talking back. Mikey can’t hear them, but Gerard tells him about them--what each of the voices sounds like and what they say--and Mikey never doubts him for a second.

It's fun, at first—a game, a secret, something for just the two of them. The voices tell Gerard things, and he turns them into stories or drawings that he only shows Mikey. They're all about things that happened a long time ago, stuff Gerard would have no way of knowing if the voices hadn’t told him.

But then they start to tell him other things. Bad, scary things, things Gerard doesn't share with Mikey because he doesn't want to know them himself. He stops talking back, hoping the voices will leave him alone—and, eventually, they do.

They start talking to Mikey instead.

That's when Gerard finally tells his parents about the voices and shows them his notebook full of stories and drawings. He doesn't care if they don’t believe him, or if they're angry with him for keeping secrets. None of those things matter anymore. Only Mikey matters.

They aren't angry, and they believe him at least enough to get help. Donna calls an old friend, who knows someone who knows someone else, and a few days later five strangers arrive at the house. Two of them carry backpacks full of equipment: cameras and tape recorders and weird devices Gerard can't identify. One of them carries a Bible.

One of them, a man with gray hair and glasses, sits down with Gerard and asks him questions. Gerard tells him all about the voices, and he never laughs or scoffs, just listens.

"Do you believe me?" Gerard asks eventually.

The man nods. "Of course I do. And I need you do something."

"What?" Gerard asks.

"Take care of Mikey. Keep an eye on him, and tell one of us right away if you think there's something wrong. We'll do our best to look after him, too, but you’re his big brother, so we need your help. Can you do that?"

Gerard nods. "I will. I promise. Are you going to make the voices go away?"

The man puts a hand on his shoulder, squeezing gently. "We're going to do our best."

The strange grownups leave a few days later. Gerard doesn't see them go--they're in the house with all their equipment set up when he and Mikey leave for school, and gone when they come home. So Gerard doesn't know what they did before they left, but whatever it was, the voices are gone, too.

The next day Gerard goes to the library and checks out a bunch of books on ghosts. He promised to take care of Mikey, after all, and if the voices come back he's going to be ready for them.




2007

Mikey wakes up in a cold sweat, his heart pounding. He can't remember his dream—he doesn't want to remember it—but it leaves him with his heart pounding, a feeling like a lead weight in the pit of his stomach, and an overwhelming urge to call Gerard.

He sits up in bed, casting an instinctive glance around the room. Everything's bathed in the warm glow of the night light (he still can't sleep in total darkness): the simple, utilitarian furniture, the books and CDs and pictures he's filled his room with, the soothingly bland off-white walls and tan carpet.

He gets up and heads into the bathroom, turning on the faucet. He splashes water on his face, then braces his hands on the edge of the sink and leans forward a little, staring at his reflection in the mirror.

It's been a while since he's had a nightmare this bad. Dr. Fass says he's been making progress.

He goes back into the bedroom and sits on the edge of the bed, glancing at the clock. It's a little after three in the morning, but he knows it's not too late to call Gerard if he needs to.




Gerard never admits it to the others, but he actually kind of likes driving the graveyard shift. With a giant truck stop coffee in the cupholder, the radio turned low so it doesn't keep the others awake, and nothing but highway stretching out in front of him, he gets to this place that's a weird combination of wired and peaceful. He has to stay focused on driving, but after years of late night drives he can do that with part of his mind and let the rest wander.

It's always a good way to let himself work through things after finishing up a case, and after a case like this he needs it. He can still see the little girl's face in his mind. She'd gone missing years ago and had never been found. At least now her parents know what happened, though part of Gerard wishes he hadn't been the one saddled with the job of telling them. And the girl's at peace, finally. Gerard talked to her, let her rage at him—no, it wasn't fair, and no, he didn’t understand why it had happened to her, either—and then sent her off into the dark, to face whatever came next.

He doesn’t know what happens to them after that, if there's some kind of afterlife or just oblivion. None of the ghosts he’s ever talked to have known, either. As far as Gerard can tell, no one who takes that final step ever comes back to tell about it.

Shit like this is why he doesn’t drink anymore. He can imagine how last night would have gone if he did—a drink or two to unwind, then another to try and forget the dead child’s face, and then another when that one didn’t work, and so on. Better to just not let himself start.

His phone rings, shrill in the quiet, startling Gerard out of his thoughts. He grabs for it before it wakes someone up, and a flash of intuition tells him who it's going to be without even looking at the screen.

"Hey, Mikey," he says as he lifts the phone to his ear.

"Hey," Mikey says. He sounds tired. "I didn't wake you, did I?"

"Nah, I'm driving right now. Case is done, so we're on the way home. How's everything there?"

"Okay," Mikey says, but then adds, "I had a bad dream."

"Anything you want to talk about?" Gerard asks.

"Not much to talk about, really. Just...uneasiness. I was worried it might have something to do with your case; you didn't have any trouble, did you?"

"Not really," Gerard tells him. "I mean, it was a kid; those are always kind of rough. But she went pretty easy."

"Guess it's nothing, then," Mikey says, though he still sounds a little worried. "Just be careful on the road, okay?"

"Sure," Gerard assures him. "And I'll come see you once we're home, okay?"

"Sure."




They get back into Jersey an hour later. Gerard drops the others off one by one--Lindsey, then Ray, then Frank--and finally pulls into the driveway of his parents' house. They're both still asleep, but the coffee maker's already set up, so Gerard brews a pot and pours himself a bowl of cereal. He pulls his laptop out of his bag and sets it up on the kitchen island while he eats, finishes up the case report and emails it to Grant. Then he drops his bowl in the sink, takes his coffee downstairs, and collapses into bed, not bothering to undress.

He drags himself out of bed around eleven and makes it to the hospital in time to have lunch with Mikey. The cafeteria food kind of sucks, but it's the first time they've seen each other in almost a month.

"How is everyone?" Mikey asks, half-heartedly poking his Jell-O with a spoon.

"Good," Gerard tells him. "They all say hi, and Frank says he'll be by soon but he didn't want to horn in on brother time."

Mikey smiles a little at that, then asks, "How's Lindsey doing?"

"Good," Gerard repeats. "It's still an adjustment having someone new on the team, but I think she's fitting in pretty well."

What he doesn't say, and does his best to keep Mikey from picking up on: She's not you or Bob, and we can't stop thinking about that and I think she knows it, and it's not fair to her but we can't help that we miss you. None of that is Mikey's problem right now. Mikey's supposed to come back when (if) he wants to come back, with no pressure from Gerard. Gerard can't tell how successfully he shields his thoughts--that's always been tricky between the two of them--but Mikey just nods.

"Good."

Before Gerard leaves, he stops by to see Dr. Fass. It's mostly just to say hi, but he can't help but ask how she thinks Mikey's doing, even though he knows there's only so much she can tell him.

"Your brother's continuing to make progress," Dr. Fass says as they sit in her office together. "I can't give you details, of course, but things are going well."

"Do you think he might be ready to leave the hospital soon?" Gerard asks. "I mean, I don't want to rush anything, I'm just wondering."

Dr. Fass looks at him for a moment, considering, before she answers. "We haven't talked about that directly. In some ways, I think he's ready--I certainly don't think he'd be a danger to himself or anyone else, which was our primary concern when he came here. However, I don't think Mikey thinks he's ready to leave. Now, I could simply discharge him, but I think if I did that before he's ready, I would be doing him more harm than good."

Gerard's brow furrows. "What if he never thinks he's ready?"

"Well, you've known him much longer than I have," Dr. Fass points out, and raises her eyebrows slightly. "Do you think he won't?"

Gerard shakes his head. "No." I'm just selfish and impatient and I want him back.

"Well, then." Dr. Fass smiles and pats his arm. "I've got an appointment I need to get ready for, but it was good to see you again, Gerard. Tell your parents hello for me."




Gerard goes back home and spends the rest of the day doing laundry and watching TV. They haven't taken on a new case yet, so there's not much to do but relax and do whatever needs doing around the house. Which is good, he tells himself. He could use a break.

He's already getting antsy by around noon the next day, which is when Frank calls.

"So, are you as ready to get out of the house as I am?" Frank asks as soon as Gerard answers.

"I don't know," Gerard says casually. "I was thinking I might just hang out here, y'know, watch some soaps, maybe do some Sudoku..."

"Yeah, okay, I'm picking you up in ten minutes," Frank says.

They get lunch and then just drive around aimlessly, working their way through the CDs in Frank's glove compartment. When that gets old, they end up at the park they weren't allowed to play at as kids, taking over the abandoned playground. Frank tries to get Gerard to push him on the swings, but as short as he is, his feet still scrape the ground awkwardly with every swing. Besides which, the swingset is rusty and shaky enough that Gerard's sure it's about to collapse, and keeps saying so until Frank rolls his eyes and gets up. They get on the merry-go-round instead, lying in opposite directions with their heads next to each other. Frank keeps one foot dangling off the edge, pushing them in creaky, lazy circles. Gerard smokes a cigarette and watches the afternoon sky spin above them for a while, then turns his head to look at Frank, who has his eyes closed.

Frank's been keeping his hair cropped close these days, simple and practical. Gerard was keeping his own short for a while, but it's gotten long again. The only time it's been longer than this was back when the team was first starting out. When Gerard looks at pictures from those days he has to laugh at himself, at how young he looks in spite of his serious, brooding expression. Now his face is thinner, the shadows in his eyes are deeper, and he can't remember how it felt to be that young.

Frank still looks younger than his age, because Frank is probably going to look younger than his age until the day he dies, but he's changed, too, gotten more serious and thoughtful. Right now his brow's furrowed a little, and Gerard wonders what he's thinking about. He wants to reach out and rub his thumb over Frank's forehead, smooth all the worry off his face. He doesn't, of course. Wanting to touch Frank and not doing so is pretty old hat by now.

Frank opens his eyes, like he can feel himself being watched, and looks over at Gerard. "What?" he asks.

"Nothing," Gerard says, looking away, and Frank doesn't press.

He thinks about bringing up his visit with Mikey, but doesn't. Frank will go see him, if he hasn't already, and draw his own conclusions about how Mikey's doing. They don't talk about him much, although Gerard's sure Frank and Ray think about Mikey as often as he does, and when they do talk it's awkward and stilted. They don't talk much about what happened a year ago, in general. It's like a wound that's still healing--they poke at it cautiously now and then, and leave it be the rest of the time.

It's funny, in a way. They've dedicated themselves to helping other people face their ghosts, but they can't seem to face their own.




1993

The poltergeist shows up a little while after Gerard's sixteenth birthday. It seems like nothing at first. The floorboards in their house creak a little more than usual, doors they could swear were shut swing open, but those sort of things just happen sometimes. Then there's more. A glass tips over even though Mikey's sure he didn't touch it. The shelf over Gerard's desk comes loose, scattering comic books everywhere. Things that could also just happen, but they keep happening, and they keep getting worse.

And as they get worse, there's something else--a creeping, growing sense of otherness, of something here that shouldn't be. Mikey tells himself it's his imagination, even though deep down, he has a feeling it's not.

Later that spring, Gerard and his girlfriend break up. Mikey already suspects that Gerard would probably rather have a boyfriend, but that's Gerard's business unless he wants to talk to Mikey about it, and right now he doesn't seem to want to talk about anything. He spends a lot of time moping around his and Mikey's room with his headphones on, and Mikey leaves him alone.

Mikey's in the living room watching TV when the phone rings. His mom answers it, then yells down the stairs that it's for Gerard. He comes up, takes the phone, and instantly goes around the corner to stand in the hall, stretching the cord as far as it will go. He sounds angry and upset, like he doesn't want to be heard, so Mikey turns up the volume on the TV.

After a few minutes, Gerard stomps back into the room, looking like he wants to cry or yell or draw a really gruesome picture of someone getting eaten by zombies, and slams the phone back down on its cradle, hard enough to rattle the lamp that's sitting next to it.

And then the bulb in the lamp explodes.

The lampshade gets the worst of the impact, but a few shards of glass fly out of the top, and Mikey watches, paralyzed, as Gerard throws his hands up to shield his face. As the glass falls to the carpet, Donna rushes across the room and grabs Gerard's wrists, pulling them down so she can see his face. There are a few scratches on the backs of his hands, but his face is fine.

"What the hell was that?" Donna asks.

Gerard blinks at her for a moment, looking dazed, and then twists out of her grip and runs back down the stairs. Mikey hears their bedroom door slam. He glances up to find their mother looking at him now, uncertain and concerned.

"Mikey?" she asks, and Mikey swallows hard and makes himself say it.

"I think there's something in the house, Mom."




When Mikey goes downstairs, Gerard is sitting cross-legged on his bed with a book open in front of him. It's one of his ghost books. He's been collecting them since he and Mikey were little, moving from children's books full of watered-down spooky stories to serious research books.

"I think it's a poltergeist," he says, without looking up.

Mikey sits down on his own bed, looking across at Gerard. "Like in the movie?"

"Kind of," Gerard says. "Some of the stuff in the movie isn't much like the real poltergeist cases I've been reading about. It seems like they mostly just move stuff around or make weird noises."

"Gee," Mikey interrupts softly. "Are you okay?"

Gerard doesn't answer right away. He looks down at his book, rifling the edges of the pages with his thumb.

"When the light blew up," he says after a moment. "For a second, I thought I did it."

Mikey's brow furrows. "How?"

"I don't know," Gerard says. "But I was so angry I wanted to break something, and then it happened."

Mikey looks at him for a moment, then says, "But it was the poltergeist, right? Not you."

"Right," Gerard says, but there's still an uncertain note in his voice.

Mikey looks down, swinging his feet back and forth a little. "Mom's calling those people," he tells Gerard. "The ones from before. They'll be able to get rid of it, right?"

Gerard flops backward on his bed, staring up at the ceiling. "I hope so."




Instead of a whole group of people, just one man shows up at the house this time. He's bald and Scottish and sort of fascinating, and he doesn't talk down to either Mikey or Gerard, which Mikey likes right away. He even tells them both to call him Grant, not Dr. Morrison.

Donna makes coffee (the cupboards rattle ominously a few times during the process, but she doesn't react beyond giving them a stern glance), and they all gather in the living room: Don and Donna on the sofa, Gerard and Mikey on the loveseat to one side, Grant in the armchair to the other. Grant listens, intent but not interrupting, as Gerard explains everything that's been happening. Gerard looks over at Mikey now and then, for confirmation or to see if Mikey wants to add anything, maybe. But Gerard pretty much covers everything, so Mikey just nods.

"That sounds like a poltergeist, all right," Grant says when Gerard finishes. "They can be nasty buggers, but they're usually simple enough to handle."

Gerard nods. "So the books I've been reading are right? About how to tell if you've got one?"

Grant nods, giving Gerard an assessing look and a faint smile. "Yes."

Don leans forward, setting his coffee mug down on the table. "Donna and I have been doing some reading of our own, Dr. Morrison. Apparently some people think poltergeists aren't ghosts at all, they're some kind of...psychic thing?"

Grant nods. "Psychokinesis. Usually thought to be centered around adolescents."

Gerard looks between the two of them warily. "So this could all be my fault after all?"

Donna reaches over and pats his knee. "It's not your fault, honey. We just want to make sure we know what we're dealing with."

"You don't have to worry about that," Grant tells him. "The psychokinesis theory makes some good points--many poltergeist cases do involve adolescents, especially those with strong psychic energy. But make no mistake, poltergeists are spirits. They draw their energy from human emotions, the stronger and more uncontrolled the better. And who has more strong, uncontrolled emotions than a teenager?"

"That makes sense," Gerard says. "Wait, does that mean I have--what'd you call it, strong psychic energy?"

Grant smiles faintly. "Oh, yes. I was sure of that as soon as we met."

"Oh," Gerard says, sounding pleased. "Huh."

"You get that from my side of the family," Donna says wryly, and Gerard and Grant both look over at her. "I only got a little of it, just enough to be able to recognize it in you, but your grandmother--she had it for sure."

Gerard stares at her, and she smiles faintly, looking proud and worried at the same time. "I guess I should have talked to you about it before, but I was never sure how to, or sure you were ready to hear it," she goes on. "But if you can sit here and have a discussion like this, I guess you're ready."

Don puts his arm around her shoulders and squeezes gently, then looks over at Grant. "So what do we do about this poltergeist?"

"Assuming it is nothing more than a poltergeist, I can exorcise it with no difficulty," Grant says. "But if it's all right with Gerard--and you, of course--I'd like to see if he can get rid of it."

"Me?" Gerard asks, his eyebrows going up. "How?"

"Talk to it," Grant tells him. "It's attached itself to you; if you tell it to go away, it might listen."

"Might?" Don asks, raising an eyebrow.

"Or it might get angry," Grant goes on. "But I promise, if I think Gerard's in danger at any time, I'll step in."

Donna shakes her head. "I'm not sure I like the sound of this."

"Ma, I want to try it," Gerard says.

"This isn't like trying out for the school play, Gerard," she replies tersely.

"I know," he says, and turns a little on the loveseat so he can look at her directly. "Look, this is the second time in sixteen years we've had a ghost in our house--what do you think the odds of that are? You heard Grant, the poltergeist attached itself to me, just like the voices did when we were little. If things like this are going to keep happening--if I'm, like, some sort of ghost magnet--then I need to learn how to deal with them."

Donna studies his face for a second, then looks back at Grant. "You'll take over if you think he's in danger?"

"Yes, ma'am," he says, nodding. "I won't pretend it's not dangerous, but I know what I'm doing, and I'll do my best to make sure your boy stays safe."

Don and Donna both glance at Gerard, then each other, clearly still hesitant. Grant watches them both in that calm, assessing way he has, then speaks again.

"We don't have to decide right away. What I'd suggest is that I can set things up for the exorcism tomorrow. Then, if you're all right with it and Gerard feels up to the task, he can give it a try, or I can go ahead."

When Gerard and Mikey go back down to their room, the furniture's been rearranged. Mikey's bed is blocking the door, Gerard's is wedged diagonally across the corner where the dresser usually is, and the dresser itself is in the middle of the room.

"Shit," Mikey says.

Gerard sighs. "I thought it was being too quiet while we were upstairs."

Moving everything back is tough, especially the dresser, but between the two of them they manage it. When it's finally done, they collapse side-by-side on Mikey's bed, and Gerard reaches down and pulls out the cigarettes he knows are wedged between the mattress and the box spring.

"I think it's trying to play with us," he says as he passes one to Mikey.

"Yeah?" Mikey says, not really a question or an agreement so much as encouragement to go on.

"Well, I mean," Gerard says. "You can sense it too, right? Have you ever got the feeling that it wants to hurt us?"

Mikey thinks about it for a few seconds. "Not really."

"And all the stuff it's done--like when it broke my comics shelf? It could have done it while I was sitting there, dropped everything on my head, but it didn't. Just now it could've pushed the dresser over on both of us, but it didn't. Either it wants to hurt us and it's being really, really slow about it, or it just wants our attention."

"But the lamp--" Mikey starts.

Gerard shrugs. "Like I said, when that happened I was so angry I wanted to break something. Maybe the poltergeist broke it for me. Maybe it didn't realize that I might get hurt--from what I've read about them they seem pretty simple. Like little kids."

"Like little kids who can move heavy furniture around and break shit," Mikey points out.

"Well, yeah, I'm not saying we don't need to get rid of it," Gerard says. "But I do kind of feel sorry for it. Imagine having no way to communicate with people besides doing shit that makes them scared and angry. It's gotta suck."

"Yeah," Mikey agrees. "You think we'll be able to get rid of it?"

"If I can't, I'm sure Grant can," Gerard says, admiration clear in his voice.




The next day, Grant sets up in the living room. Gerard and Mikey lurk in the doorway, trying to stay out of his way and watch everything he does at the same time.

He pushes the furniture to the edges of the room and rolls up the rug, then produces a piece of chalk and draws a big circle with strange symbols all around it on the floor. When that's done, he opens the big, sturdy bag he's got with him and starts laying things out inside the circle--some candles, a metal bowl, a leather-bound journal and a big silver talisman that looks like an eight-pointed star.

"Would one of you fetch me some salt?" he asks. "I'll need quite a bit of it."

Gerard rushes into the kitchen, coming back with the big canister their mom uses to fill the salt shakers. "Can I do anything else to help?" he asks.

"You can fill the bowl, if you like," Grant tells him.

Gerard does so, pouring carefully and glancing up at Grant. "I thought only priests could perform exorcisms," he says.

"That's according to the Catholic Church," Grant tells him. "They try to keep a tight lid on it so people don't run around performing amateur exorcisms. But I don't take orders from Rome."

"Yeah, but, like--I thought what you did in an exorcism was summon the power of God," Gerard goes on. "Can people who aren't priests do that?"

"What you do in an exorcism depends on what you believe," Grant tells him. "For me, it's not connected to any particular religion--what I do, essentially, is assert my will over the will of the spirit. A priest or a rabbi who performs an exorcism does so by calling on his god. Either method can yield successful results. The key is belief, no matter what--belief in the existence of what you're dealing with, a religious person's belief in their god or gods, and in my case, belief in my own ability to overpower the spirit."

Gerard listens to Grant with rapt attention, nodding when he finishes. "But you do use some kind of ritual, right? That's what the circle's for?"

Grant nods. "All the ritual trappings in the world won't help you if you don't believe, but as a way of enacting that belief they can be extremely useful tools. What I use is a blending of different magical traditions. It's a little unorthodox, but it works well for me." He gestures to the symbols drawn around the edge of the circle. "These are binding spells, or will be when they're activated. You can stand inside a circle like this and keep things out, or you can stand outside the circle and use it to keep something in."

"Something like a ghost?" Gerard asks. "Or...a demon? Do demons really exist?"

"They do," Grant tells him solemnly. "Pray you never have to deal with one of those."

By the time Don and Donna are both home from work, everything's ready. Grant instructs the entire family to stand inside the circle, which is wide enough for them to do so without crowding each other too much. Once they're in, he picks up the metal bowl and walks around them, slowly pouring salt along the edge of the circle.

"The salt is for extra protection," he explains as he walks. "Whatever happens, as long as none of us breaks the circle or steps out of it, we should be safe."

When he finishes lining the circle with salt, Grant lights a candle at each compass point, then picks up the journal and the silver talisman and says a few words in some strange language. Nothing that Mikey can see or hear happens, but the room suddenly feels different--charged, somehow, like the air before a lightning storm.

"All right, Gerard," Grant says. "Can you sense it?"

Gerard closes his eyes and furrows his brow a little, focusing. Mikey knows what his answer's going to be, because he can feel it, too.

"Yeah," Gerard says. "Yeah, it's in the room with us. I think it's curious about what we're doing."

"Go ahead when you're ready, then," Grant tells him.

Gerard stands in the center of the circle, eyes closed, hands loose at his sides. Everyone's watching him. Mikey takes a step closer and slips his hand into Gerard's, and Gerard squeezes it tight, then clears his throat and speaks.

"Hi," he says. "Uh. It's been a while since I talked to anyone like this, so I feel a little weird, but I know you're there and I know you can hear me. The thing is, I don't want you to take this the wrong way, but we'd all feel better if you left."

The overhead light flickers.

"I know you're lonely," Gerard says, "And I don't think you've been meaning to cause any trouble, but you keep breaking stuff, and we're worried that sooner or later you're going to hurt someone. So we want you to go away."

At that, there's a sound of breaking glass from the kitchen. Gerard jumps a little, and then opens his eyes, staring straight ahead.

"You think that's going to change my mind?" he asks. "You're just proving my point. And if you won't go away on your own, we're going to have to exorcise you, so--"

The coffee table moves suddenly, sliding across the room towards them. Mikey flinches backward, but when the table touches the edge of the circle it stops and tips over like it hit a wall.

"Stop it," Gerard says, his voice tightening in anger. The couch moves next, lurching forward threateningly, and he snaps, "I said stop it! I don't care what you do, it's not going to change my mind. This is our house and we don't want you in it, so just get out!"

He shouts the last words, and as he finishes, everything in the house starts shaking and rattling, like there's an earthquake. A picture falls off the wall. Mikey grips Gerard's hand tightly, their parents move in closer behind them, and Grant raises his book, poised and wary.

And then the rattling stops, and everything goes still and quiet.

No one says anything for a second. Then Don asks, warily, "Is it...?"

Gerard doesn't answer--he's still staring at nothing, like he hasn't heard--so Mikey nods. "Yeah, Dad. It's gone."




Grant gets ready to leave the next day. Gerard and Mikey help him wash the chalk circle off the floor and put the rug and furniture back, then watch as he carefully packs all his equipment away. He glances up at them while he's going through his bag, then reaches into one of its many compartments and produces a deck of cards.

"If you don't mind, Gerard, I'd like to do a test before I go," he says.

"Sure," Gerard says eagerly.

Grant gestures for him to sit down on the couch, drawing a chair up to sit across from him. Mikey wonders for a second if he should go, but Gerard looks around for him and then pats the couch cushions next to him, so Mikey joins him there, wrapping his arms around his knees and watching quietly.

Grant removes the rubber band wrapped around the deck and lays five cards down on the coffee table, face-up. Each of them has a different picture on it--a square, a circle, a cross, a star, and three wavy lines.

"These are called Zener cards," he says. "Have you ever heard of them?"

"They're in one of the books I have," Gerard says excitedly. "They're a test for ESP, aren't they?"

Grant nods. "They are. We've already established that you have psychic ability, but this is a more specific way to measure it." He sweeps the cards on the table together and back into the deck, shuffling it. "Take a moment to clear your mind, try to center yourself. When I start drawing cards, don't focus on the card. That's a mistake beginners make sometimes--they stare and stare at the back of the card, as if the test was for X-ray vision."

Gerard smiles. "So what should I do?"

"Focus on me," Grant tells him. "Try to see the card through my eyes."

"Okay," Gerard says. He closes his eyes and takes a deep breath, then opens them. "I think I'm ready."

"Very well," Grant says, and holds the first one up, turned so that only he can see it, and looks at it intently.

Gerard narrows his eyes a little, peering at Grant's face. "Star," he says after a moment.

Grant's expression stays perfectly neutral. He sets the card face-down on the table, and pulls the next one.

"Circle," Gerard says, faster this time.

They go on like that, Grant stoically pulling cards, Gerard responding quickly and calmly, until they've gone through the whole pack.

"So how many did I get?" Gerard asks eagerly as Grant picks up the cards and reshuffles them.

Grant doesn't answer right away--he shuffles the deck carefully, then looks up, studying Gerard's face. "Twenty-one."

Gerard eyebrows shoot up. "But--there's only twenty-five in the whole deck."

"Indeed," Grant says calmly.

"You're saying I got all but four right on my first try?" Gerard asks. "Is that--that's good, right?"

"It's remarkable," Grant tells him. "Particularly for someone whose talent is so undeveloped."

Gerard looks almost dazed, but there's a cautious smile starting at the corners of his mouth. "And...if I want to develop it?" he asks after a moment.

"There are programs. Research foundations. Books like the ones you've already started reading," Grant tells him. "There are also charlatans, misinformation and, frankly, quite a bit of bullshit, and it can be hard to sort out true from false if you're inexperienced. If you'd like, I can help you with that, give you some recommendations of where to go from here."

Gerard nods. "I--yeah, I'd like that a lot. Thank you."

Grant smiles at him. "You have a great deal of potential, Gerard. Only you can decide what to do with it, but I'll be glad to help."

"What about you?" Gerard asks him. "Are you psychic?"

"I have a touch of it," Grant tells him. "Not as strong as you. For me it's like having particularly good instincts."

"How did you find out about all this?" Gerard asks.

"I learned from my mother," Grant says. "She used to read tea leaves and hold seances in the living room." He smiles crookedly. "When you grow up with it like that, it's the rest of the world that seems strange for not believing."

Gerard returns the smile. "I know what you mean."

Grant glances over at Mikey, raising his eyebrows. "And what about you?"

Mikey starts a little. "What about me?"

"I'd be glad to run through the cards with you as well, if you like," Grant says, gesturing to the deck.

Mikey eyes the deck for a moment, then shakes his head. "No, I--I don't think I want to."

"Why not?" Gerard asks, seeming confused. "I bet you could do pretty well."

Mikey tightens his arms around his knees, drawing himself into a ball. "I just don't want to."

"But--" Gerard starts.

"Gerard," Grant says gently. "If Mikey doesn't want to, it's up to him."

Gerard sits back, clearly unsatisfied. "Okay."

He doesn't push it any further while Grant is still there, but Mikey knows he wants to, and that night in their room Gerard brings it up again.

"How come you didn't want to try the cards?"

Gerard's tone is gentle, but the question still makes Mikey tense a little, shoulders hunching. Gerard looks at him for a second, then crosses the room to sit next to him. "Mikey, it's okay, I just want to talk about it."

"You like this stuff so much," Mikey says in a low voice. "Even when it's scary, part of you likes that, too."

Gerard nods. "Yeah, I do."

"It makes me feel weird that you like it so much and I don't," Mikey goes on. "But I really don't. And it's not just the ghosts, I don't like being able to know things the way we do. Whatever you want to call it, ESP or whatever, I don't like it and I don't want it. I wish I could just...be a normal kid."

Gerard sits next to him in silence for a moment, then puts his arm around Mikey's shoulders. "I guess I already knew that. I just...didn't want to admit it because I like it so much. Or I was hoping you might come around to it." He looks at Mikey and adds, quickly, "But it's okay. You don't need to like it for my sake, I'll get over it."

"Sometimes I wish I did," Mikey admits. "And Grant was so nice and good at explaining stuff that I thought maybe he could help me get over it. But when he asked if I wanted to try the cards, I just..." he trails off and shakes his head.

"It's okay," Gerard says again, tightening his arm around Mikey. "You don't have to do anything you don't want to."




The year after the poltergeist, Grant invites Gerard to a parapsychology conference he's attending in New York and Gerard's parents agree to let him go. They've kept in touch through email since last May, and Gerard's read every book Grant's recommended to him, done every psychic exercise Grant's told him about. He's immersed himself in studying the paranormal, and if his parents are sometimes a little concerned about how absorbed he gets, they seem to be glad he's taking all this seriously and not treating it like a game. Or maybe they're just relieved he's not doing drugs.

The conference is small enough to fit in one meeting room at the hotel. The attendees are an interesting mix, men and women of all different ages with their attire ranging from suits and ties to flowy skirts and peasant blouses to black leather and vinyl.

Grant ushers him through the room to a table with two people at it--a dark-haired man in a leather jacket and a woman in a maxi dress and cardigan with long, curly red hair.

"Gerard, this is Neil Gaiman and Jill Thompson, two associates and friends of mine," Grant says. "Neil and Jill, this is Gerard Way."

"'Sent a poltergeist packing at the age of sixteen' Gerard Way?" Jill asks, looking impressed.

Gerard nods, feeling himself blush a little. He knows Grant wrote up a case file on what happened last year and shared it with other parapsychologists, because Grant asked for his permission to do so. But it's one thing to know that and another to meet people who already know who he is.

"That makes it sound really impressive," he says as he sits down. "I pretty much just stumbled my way through the whole thing."

"Stumbling your way through a thing like that correctly is what I'd call impressive," Neil points out in a melodic British accent.

Gerard ducks his head, smiling shyly. "I guess."

"Grant tells us you've really thrown yourself into studying the paranormal since then," Jill says. "Have we got a future colleague in our midst?"

"Maybe," Gerard says. He usually doesn't talk about this with anyone but Grant, because most people would probably think he's crazy, but he figures if he can talk about it anywhere, it's here. "I've thought about applying to UVA; Grant says they have a good center for paranormal research there."

Neil nods. "One of the best in the States. I've given a few lectures there."

"It's still a little weird to think about doing this for real," Gerard admits. "Like, it's not exactly something you see a booth for at Career Day, y'know? But I can't think of anything else I'd rather do."

Jill grins at him. "Welcome to the club. We're probably all crazy to do this, but I like to think we're the best kind of crazy."




Officially, Gerard double-majors in history and psychology. Ghosts start out as people, after all, so he figures the better his chances of understanding who they were and where and when they come from, the better his chances of being able to communicate with them. But when he's not busy with history or psych classes, he spends as much time as he can in the paranormal research center, studying case histories of hauntings and ESP experiments and other phenomena.

He becomes kind of a sensation in the center pretty fast because of his talents. It's not just the ability to tell what's on a Zener card or a TV monitor turned away from him--the more he practices, the better he gets at reading people. It's not, like, Professor X levels of telepathy, but he's okay with that because he doesn't think he'd feel comfortable actually hearing people's thoughts. What he gets instead is kind of like psychic feedback; the hum of surface emotions, the ability to tell if someone's lying to him, quick flashes of intuition that sometimes tell him more about a person than conversation does. It can be overwhelming sometimes, so he also works on building mental shields, on trying to limit how much gets into his mind without his permission.

Students at the center tend to be a tight-knit group, and he makes a lot of good friends there. There's Becky, James, the twins Gabriel and Fabio, and others, all with their own stories of how and when they got interested in the paranormal. But the best friend Gerard makes is Ray, who it turns out grew up not far from him in Jersey. Ray's official field of study is audio-visual technology, and his interest in parapsychology is also tech-flavored--he's a complete dud in every test for ESP the center has, but he's been studying things like electronic voice phenomena and spirit photography since he was a kid. He's also one of the most genuinely good-natured people Gerard's ever met, something Gerard knows about him from their very first meeting.

In his time at UVA Gerard learns a lot, develops his talents a lot, and meets a lot of people he's glad to know, but he doesn't encounter any more ghosts or spirits. When he graduates, he moves back home and finds a part-time job, and starts to wonder what to do next. He could keep studying, go on to get a Master's or even a Ph.D. like Grant has, but what he wants most isn't going to be found in any classroom.

He knows it's possible to make a full-time job out of parapsychology, but how well you can do that depends on your ability to build a reputation for yourself and cultivate a network of people who know what you can do and can help you find cases. So far Gerard's network consists of his immediate family, several parapsychologists who are all older and more experienced than him, and the friends and contacts he made in college. And until his networking turns up something that seems like a good case for a budding parapsychologist with lots of education but limited field experience, all he can do is wait.

Then Mikey comes home from Rutgers one weekend and says he thinks his friend Frank's dorm room is haunted.




2000

Mikey's friend Frank is a freshman who just turned nineteen and looks about fifteen. His hair is shaved and dyed red on the sides, he has a lip ring and a nose ring and tattoos everywhere, and he's seriously short and baby-faced. In spite of the last part, he almost succeeds in looking tough, except that he can't keep from giggling like a kid whenever anyone says anything remotely funny.

Gerard meets up with him and Mikey at a diner halfway between campus and the Way house, and one of the first things Frank says to him is, "So Mikey told me you've dealt with ghosts before."

"Uh," Gerard says, because Mikey pretty much never says a word about the voices or the poltergeist to anyone outside the family. He glances in his brother's direction, but Mikey's got his inscrutable face on, and the only thing Gerard's getting from him right now is concern for Frank. He turns back to Frank. "Yeah. He told me you might have a problem with one?"

Frank shrugs. "All I know is there's some kind of weird shit going on that I can't come up with any explanation for. Before now I would've said ghosts don't exist, but, I mean--there's a lot of shit out there in the world that I don't know jack about, so who am I to say what does and doesn't exist, y'know? And Mikey told me about your ghosts, and I don't think he's fucking with me 'cause I don't think he'd do that." He finally pauses, takes a sip of coffee, and finishes, "And like I said, weird shit's going on, so I figure if you can stop it, great, and if not I won't be any worse off than before. Right?"

Gerard's trying to look serious and professional, but a smile starts to tug at the corners of his mouth while Frank talks. Frank's kind of loud, psychically speaking, and even with the short amount of time they've spent together Gerard would be willing to bet money that Frank has a short temper, that he's a fiercely loyal friend, that he speaks before he thinks often enough to get himself in trouble, and that he's a great kisser.

"Right," he says. "So when you say 'weird shit', what exactly are we talking about?"

Frank pauses, as if not sure how to answer. "It's...mostly the way it feels? Like, I haven't seen anything weird or had stuff move around or anything like that. But there are some serious bad vibes in the place, and everyone who comes in the room can feel it. And when Mikey brought up ghosts and convinced me he wasn't joking, we did some research."

"And?" Gerard presses, eyebrows raised slightly.

"Ten years ago, a guy who lived there killed his roommate and then himself," Mikey says. "Just sort of...snapped. Since then, a bunch of the people who've had that room have asked Res Life to move them somewhere else. They all gave different reasons for it. One guy said it always smelled like rotting garbage in there no matter how clean he kept it, and another said he could never sleep in there. One of them even had a breakdown--he didn't hurt himself or anyone else, but he dropped all his classes and spent the rest of the semester in a psych ward."

"And I really don't have time for a nervous breakdown right now," Frank adds emphatically.

Gerard scribbles a few things in the notebook he brought as they talk, nodding again when Frank finishes. "Yeah, let's avoid that if we can. I'll see what I can do."




Grant's told Gerard plenty of times to call any time he thinks he needs to, time zones be damned. Gerard still doesn't like to do it if it's super late or early in Scotland, but when he gets home, he does the math and figures out it's late afternoon over there, so he calls.

"Gerard, hello," Grant says when he answers, with the casual warmth Gerard's familiar with. "How are you?"

"I'm good," Gerard says. "How about you? Did you finish that case with the portrait?"

"I was just putting the finishing touches on the case file, as a matter of fact," Grant says. "I can send you a copy, if you'd like."

"Yeah, that'd be great." Grant's case files are always awesome to read, with a lot of descriptive detail along with the facts of the case. "So, speaking of cases, did you get my email about Mikey's friend Frank?"

"Yes, I'm sorry for not replying," Grant says. "I got a bit caught up with writing. Did you meet with him?"

Gerard relays his conversation with Frank, tells Grant what Frank's experienced in the room and the history he and Mikey dug up on it.

"I can go tomorrow and check the room out for myself," he says. "I just thought I should touch base with you before I get too far into this."

"You already know every bit of advice I could give you," Grant says, with a hint of pride that makes Gerard smiles, his face warming up a little.

"I know, it's just...my first real case," Gerard says. "You could say I've been preparing for this my whole life, but now that it comes down to it I wonder if I'm really ready."

"Well, I certainly think you are. But you're the only one who can answer that question for yourself, Gerard," Grant tells him. "That may sound like a cliche, but it's true."

Gerard sighs, sitting down on the edge of his bed. "I guess... I feel like I won't really know until I'm in there. So what if I get in there and it turns out I'm not?"

"Then you disengage as quickly as you can and hand the case over to someone else," Grant says. Gerard already knows that and Grant knows he knows, but the reminder is soothing. "I think some anxiety before your first solo case is unavoidable. I know I felt it. But you have an advantage in the fact that it won't be the first time you've dealt with a spirit. And between the way you handled yourself then and everything you've learned since, I have every confidence in you."

As far as morale boosters go, Gerard can't think of many better ones than hearing those words from Grant. "Thanks. I'll let you know what happens."

"I'll be waiting to hear from you," Grant tells him.

When he gets off the phone with Grant, Gerard calls Ray, who of course wants in. Gerard can hear an undercurrent of excitement in Ray's voice as they discuss it, and Gerard feels an echoing flutter of excitement in his stomach, nervous though it may be.

Mikey comes downstairs while Gerard's talking to Ray, and after Gerard hangs up they sit there in silence for a little while. Gerard figures it's up to him to speak first--it usually is--but he has to figure out what to say.

"You told Frank about our ghosts?" he tries eventually.

Mikey shrugs. "I went in his room," he says. "I think he's got a bad one, Gee. Like, I think it will hurt him if no one gets rid of it. And I'm not gonna let him get hurt just because I don't like talking about ghosts."

Gerard nods. The air's still thick with things they don't talk about: how uncomfortable Mikey still is with all of this, how Gerard pretends not to know how much Mikey holds himself back. But Gerard knows why Mikey decided to speak up now, and that's all he needs to know.

"You could stay home tomorrow," he suggests. "Let Ray and I take it from here."

"I could," Mikey agrees. "But Frank's my friend and you're my big brother."

Gerard looks at him for a moment, then crosses the room to sit next to Mikey and throw an arm around his shoulders.

"I don't tell you often enough that you're the best, do I?" he says.

"Nope." Mikey's tone is deadpan, but there's a smile tugging at the corner of his mouth.

"Well, you are," Gerard tells him. "And whatever's in Frank's room, we're gonna kick its ass."




As soon as Gerard walks into Frank's room, he knows Mikey was right. It's a good ten degrees colder than the hallway, and there's a sense of malevolence, of anger, that strikes him as quickly and obviously as the cold.

Aside from that, it's pretty standard for a freshman dorm room: two beds, two desks, a lot of posters on the wall and a vague smell of unwashed socks. When Frank lets them in, there's a guy with tattoos on his arms and spacers in his ears standing by the dresser, putting clothes in a backpack.

"Hey, Matt," Frank says. "This is Mikey's brother Gerard, he thinks our room's haunted and he's gonna try to exorcise it. You cool with that?"

Matt looks from Frank to Gerard and back, eyebrows raised. "Uh. Okay? Let me know how that works out, I'm heading back to Katie's in a minute."

Frank makes a face at him. "Sure, leave the single roommate to deal with the ghost infestation."

After Matt leaves, they start setting up. Ray unpacks the EMF equipment he brought, and Gerard gets out his notebook and chalk. There's not much room for a protective circle on the floor but he does his best, referring to the drawings in his notebook now and then but mostly able to draw the symbols from memory.

"I feel like I should warn you guys," he says as he works, "I've practiced these a lot, but I've never actually had to keep anything out with one, so I'm not really sure how good I am at it."

"Uh." Frank looks dubious. "And that means what, exactly?"

"It means we have to be extra careful," Gerard tells him, standing up and dusting chalk off his hands.

Frank snorts. "As opposed to whatever normal levels of being careful around ghosts are, I guess. Great."

Ray's EMF meter crackles loudly, and he looks up. "Hey, guys? I think we've got company."

Gerard can hear the same thread of excitement as last night in Ray's voice, and feels an answering thrill of his own. "Right, everyone in."

They're packed tight in the circle. Gerard lights the candles with difficulty, then pulls out the salt, wondering how he's going to do this. He's still looking around the circle dubiously with the canister in his hand when Ray touches his shoulder from behind and Frank swears under his breath and Mikey says "Gee," in a low, tight voice.

Gerard looks up at once, and stares. He knows what he's looking at right away, but it's the first time he's ever seen one with his own eyes. It's too vague and undefined for him to ascribe age or race or gender to it, but it's definitely humanoid, transparent and faintly luminous, hovering a few feet away from their circle.

For a moment he forgets all his tools and training, absorbed in watching it. The ghost doesn't move, doesn't do anything, but he gets the sense that it's poised and ready to react, just waiting for one of them to make the first move.

Over his shoulder, Frank speaks. "That's...you guys all see that, right? I didn't just go crazy and start hallucinating?"

"We see it, Frankie," Mikey answers softly.

"And--it's--Jesus fucking Christ, that's a motherfucking ghost."

Frank's edging close to panic, and without thinking Gerard reaches back to grab his hand and squeeze it. "Yes, it is. Deep breaths, sit down and put your head between your knees if you want. Stay with us."

Frank squeezes Gerard's hand and and goes "okay, okay," under his breath, more to himself than Gerard, it sounds like.

The exchange with Frank helps Gerard center himself and get back to work. He puts the salt away--no time for that, he's just going to have to hope the symbols and candles are enough--and opens the notebook he brought to the Latin ritual he copied out last night. He knows the ritual trappings are extra, knows the power has to come from him, not from the words on the page, but he still feels a lot better having the ritual to work with.

He finds the right page and looks back up at the apparition, which hasn't moved.

"You need to leave this place," Gerard tells it calmly. "If there's a way I can help you find peace, I'm willing to do that. But one way or another, you need to leave."

The ghost cocks its head to one side, as if curious. The lights flicker and dim, and there's no other discernible response.

"That's not going to work," Gerard says. "I'd just as soon not have to do this the hard way, but I will if you don't give me another option." He keeps his voice as steady as he can, but he can't avoid a slight tremor. The last time he was in a situation like this, Grant was with him, ready to step in and take over if Gerard couldn't do it alone. Now it's just him.

The ghost doesn't move. The lights flicker again, and the temperature in the room drops another five degrees or so.

"All right," Gerard says. He raises his book, takes a deep breath, and starts reading.

The Latin's a little awkward on his tongue, for all that he's practiced it. He tries to make up for that by speaking loudly and firmly, putting all the mental force he can behind the words. Leave this place now. Get out of here. Get out.

The ghost's image starts to flicker, like a candle about to go out, and Gerard feels another little thrill. It's working.

It draws backwards, and Gerard takes that as another good sign--and realizes too late that it was the ghost gathering itself for an attack. It surges forward, hands outstretched, fingers elongated and bent into claws.

The apparition itself doesn't enter the circle, doesn't touch him. The ghost hits his mind instead, a sharp, overwhelming rush of cold and fury and pure hate. What Gerard felt when he walked in the room was just the tip of the iceberg--the ghost hates them all for still being alive, hates them for trying to drive it out, and now it's directing the full force of that hate at him, trying to drown him in it. His head snaps back like he's been punched and there's a dull ringing in his ears, and he falls back against the others, unable to keep his feet.

For a second, everything goes blank. Then there are hands on his shoulders and arms. Voices. Mikey speaking to him directly, Frank yelling something he can't make out, Ray responding. Something wet on his face; he tastes copper and salt and realizes it's a nosebleed. Mikey touches his face, speaking more insistently, and Gerard's eyes flutter open. Frank's still yelling, but it just sounds like gibberish, and for a second Gerard worries that means he's got some kind of serious head wound. Then his head clears a little more and he realizes that it's not gibberish, it's Latin.

Gerard blinks a few times, wipes his nose on his sleeve and looks around. He's sprawled on the ground, half in Mikey's lap, and Ray's crouched protectively near both of them, gripping his EMF meter in one hand. Frank's standing in front of them, legs braced wide apart and shoulders squared, holding Gerard's notebook.

His Latin's good, but there's a slight tremor to his voice, not as much strength as there needs to be. The ghost is still there, hovering in front of him and probably gathering itself to attack again. Gerard knows he's in no shape to take over, so he does the only other thing he can think of, which is to push himself up onto his knees and yell to Frank.

"Finish it, Frankie," he shouts. "This is your room. Drive it out."

It's a gamble, and if it turns out Frank's not strong enough for this Gerard's never going to forgive himself. But Frank stands a little straighter, and the next words out of his mouth are firmer, surer. He finishes the ritual, and punctuates it by switching back to English to yell, "Now get the fuck out, motherfucker!"

The ghost rushes forward again, and Frank flinches back, throwing one arm up defensively. But the apparition's rapidly getting fainter, and at the edge of the circle it dissipates like mist, leaving nothing but a faint breeze that doesn't do more than stir Frank's hair.

Frank lowers his arm and stares, Gerard's notebook dropping from suddenly limp fingers. Gerard gestures for Ray and Mikey to help him up, and when they do he staggers over to Matt's bed and collapses on it, breathing heavily.

Frank turns to face him, an astonished look on his face. "Did I just--?"

Gerard gives him the best smile he can manage. "Congratulations, dude, you just performed a successful exorcism on your first try."

"...Dude." Frank raises both hands, running them into his hair and pressing down like he's trying to keep his head on. "Dude."

"Believe in what you're dealing with and exert your will over its will," Gerard says. "I guess you already had the willpower, you just needed the belief."

"You speak pretty good Latin, too," Ray comments. "Catholic school?"

"Kindergarten through twelfth fucking grade," Frank answers distractedly, still gripping his hair.

Gerard watches his face as he works through everything that just happened, and adds 'surprisingly resilient' to his assessment of Frank's character. Frank stands like that for another moment, and then lets out a whoop.

"Dude," he yells, punching the air. "I'm like a motherfucking Ghostbuster!"




Frank doesn't know much about Grant Morrison aside from the basics--he's one of the top parapsychologists working today, he's basically the Obi-Wan to Gerard's Luke Skywalker, and he lives in Scotland. That's enough to make it really impressive that Dr. Morrison wants to come to Belleville to meet him.

"Of course he wants to meet you," Gerard says when Frank expresses his surprise. "You're a natural talent."

They meet for dinner at the Ways' house, the whole family along with Frank, Ray, and Grant.
Mr. and Mrs. Way want to hear about Frank's ghost as much as Grant does, and it's weird but cool how they're totally down with their son wanting to mess around with ghosts for a living (Frank hasn't said a word about the ghost to his own parents, and has no idea how he'd begin to do so). Grant's awesome, and by the end of the meal Frank knows one more thing about him: Gerard's totally in love with him. Frank doesn't think there's actually anything going on between them--if there is, it might be on the down-low, because they're not acting like a couple. But the way Gerard looks at Grant, hangs on his words, and blushes furiously when Grant congratulates him on the case makes it pretty obvious there are some non-platonic feelings on his side, at least. Truth be told, it's making Frank a little jealous--he hasn't known Gerard very long, but apparently long enough to develop some feelings of his own.

After dinner, Gerard, Grant, and Frank go off into the kitchen. Grant gets out his Zener cards, which are cool, except that Frank gets, like, three of them right, which doesn't seem very cool at all.

"So...that means I don't have any ESP?" Frank asks when they're done. Gerard looks disappointed.

"The cards are just one way of testing," Grant tells him. "But based on them, it's not likely--getting just a few right is more likely chance than anything."

"So how come I can exorcise stuff?" Frank asks.

"You don't have to have ESP to be able to do that," Gerard points out. "I mean, some people who have it couldn't perform a successful exorcism if their life depended on it, stands to reason it would go both ways."

"He's right," Grant says. "Although it is rarer for people like you to get involved with the paranormal. Even without a haunting in his childhood, Gerard would likely have discovered his talents sooner or later. If you hadn't happened to be assigned a haunted dorm room, you might have gone your whole life without knowing you could do this."

"So you think I could do it again?" Frank asks.

"There's no reason to think you couldn't," Grant tells him.

"But hopefully you'll never have to," Gerard says. "I made pretty sure your room is clean now."

Frank blinks, then shakes his head. "No, dude, I'm talking about with other ghosts. I want in. I mean, if you'll let me."

Gerard looks surprised, and then his brow furrows in concern. "Frank, I don't think--this is serious stuff, it's not something to get involved in lightly."

"I know that," Frank tells him. "I felt what that thing in my room was like. I saw what it did to you. Look, I might be tempted to drop a Ghostbusters quote or five now and then, but that doesn't mean I'm not taking this seriously. Juvenile humor is just how I deal with the world."

Gerard still seems hesitant. "There's still so much you don't know," he says. "I mean, I studied for years and I still wasn't totally ready for what happened in your room. Natural talent or not, it'd be irresponsible of me to just let you jump in like this."

"So tell me what to study," Frank says. "Teach me."

Gerard glances uncertainly at Grant, who spreads his hands. "He's asking you, Gerard. I'll advise you however I can, of course, but it's your decision."

Gerard bites his lip, looking back at Frank. He still looks concerned, but also kind of excited, like he still thinks this is a bad idea but likes it anyway. "I guess we can give it a shot, at least."

Frank pumps his fist in the air. "Yes! This is awesome. Awesome yet totally serious business that I am going to treat with appropriate seriousness."

Gerard drops his face into his palm. "I'm going to regret this, aren't I?"

Grant chuckles at them, shuffling his Zener cards and putting them away. "Well, it looks like my work here is done. Unless you have any other questions for me, Frank."

Frank looks at him, twisting his mouth to the side thoughtfully. "Well...I've got one. It might seem kind of out of left field."

Grant smiles. "Those are usually the sorts of questions I enjoy the most."

Frank smirks. "I was just wondering, I know you've been doing this for a long time and probably dealt with a lot of weird stuff, and, well--do you believe in God?"

Grant sits back in his chair, serious and thoughtful. "I believe in the possibility of many gods," he says after a moment. "I believe the universe is full of limitless possibilities, and belief can make a thing real for one person even if it isn't real for another."

It's food for thought, but it doesn't help Frank much with what's bothering him. "It's just--I was raised Catholic, okay? Really Catholic."

Grant tilts his head, glancing at Frank's forearm. "The sort of Catholic that leads to having a tattoo of the Virgin Mary in her personification as Our Lady of Sorrows?"

Frank smiles crookedly, rubbing his arm. "Yeah. Even though I haven't believed in a long time, there's still something about the iconography...but that's the thing, I've been a pretty hardcore atheist for a couple of years now."

Grant nods understandingly. "And being confronted with the existence of ghosts is making you question that?"

"Yeah. It's like...if they exist, what else does? Angels and demons? God? Fuckin' Santa Claus?"

Grant's mouth quirks up in a smile, but he answers seriously. "Demons are very real, I can tell you that much. Their existence doesn't necessarily imply the existence of any god. But when you're dealing with supernatural things of a malevolent nature, it can certainly help to have faith in someone or something benevolent."

Frank makes a face. "Yeah, but if I start believing again just to make myself feel better, isn't that kind of a cop-out? Is it even really belief?"

"It's no cop-out to reevaluate your view of things after a profound experience like this," Grant tells him. "It would probably be greater cause for concern if you didn't."

Frank looks over at Gerard, who's been watching them talk silently. "What do you think?"

Gerard shrugs. "I'm not really religious at all, but...yeah, I'd like to think God exists in some form or another. It's like Grant said, about how belief in something benevolent can help. The boogeyman's been real for me since I was seven, I'd like to think there's something good out there, too."

"Yeah, I get that," Frank concedes. "I just...I don't know what I believe anymore."

"You needn't make your mind up right now," Grant points out. "These are complex questions with different answers for everyone, Frank. I hope you can find yours, in time."




Gerard takes Frank asking to be taught really seriously; Frank goes home from dinner with a stack of borrowed books so tall he can barely carry it, and Gerard informs him there will be a quiz.

Frank doesn't mind. It can be scary to read about all this horror-movie shit and know that it actually happened to people, and he's still in a pretty serious philosophical quandary over it, but it's fucking fascinating. Definitely more interesting than his homework--which he's starting to seriously neglect, and he knows he shouldn't, but he can't bring himself to care with Gerard's books beckoning to him.

A few months after the ghost in Frank's dorm room, Ray's mom finds them their second case. A woman she works with tells her about a friend who's having a hard time dealing with her daughter's recent death--such a hard time, in fact, that she seems convinced her daughter's still in the house, and she's thinking about hiring a medium to try and contact her.

They meet in the same diner where Mikey took Frank to meet Gerard, and when Ray explains the situation, Gerard seems uncertain.

"Recent deaths are one of the biggest sources of false alarms," he says. "You know that."

Ray nods. "Yeah, but I also know they're the biggest targets for fake psychics," he counters. "If we check it out and there's nothing, maybe we can at least keep her from being cheated by some scam artist."

Frank looks between the two of them, and then raises a hand. "Uh, still new to all this--why do we think this might be a false alarm?"

"People who've lost someone recently are really likely to imagine a haunting," Gerard tells him. "If they want the person they've lost to still be with them badly enough, they'll convince themselves their loved one's come back as a ghost, even when there's no actual evidence of that. But Ray's right, that makes them really vulnerable to scams."

Frank listens eagerly, nodding. "So are we gonna take the case?"

Gerard looks around at the rest of them, and then shrugs. "Seems worth checking out, at least."




Even if there's no ghost here, Frank thinks, keeping some faker from scamming Ms. Flores is a job worth doing. She's a nice lady, formerly a single mom, now all alone in her small, well-kept house.

She serves them lemonade and cookies in her living room, and they talk. Or, well, she and Gerard talk and the rest of them listen.

"Everyone I've told about this says it's just my imagination," she says. "But I keep hearing Anna's voice, and I swear to God, it's not in my head. I'm as sure of that as I am of anything."

"What are you hearing?" Gerard asks her. "Like, specifically, what does she say?"

"She keeps calling me," Ms. Flores tells him. "The way her voice sounds, it's like she wants to tell me something, like it's urgent. But when I ask what she wants, she never answers, she just...goes quiet for a while and then starts calling again."

Gerard nods thoughtfully, and leans forward a little, elbows on knees and hands clasped in front of him. "I want to be honest with you--I have some experience communicating with ghosts, but I've only done it a few times. I can't promise I'll be able to make contact with Anna. But I'll try, if you want me to, and if I can't I'll put you in contact with people who can."

Ms. Flores nods. "I'd like you to try."

Gerard looks down at his hands for a moment and then closes his eyes, drawing in a deep breath. The only other time Frank's ever seen him talk to a ghost was a lot different from this, so he watches intently; Gerard's face goes slack, loses the slight tension it had as he was talking to Ms. Flores, and he's still and quiet except for his slow, deep breathing. Then, after a few seconds, he speaks.

"Anna?" he begins, voice low and gentle, like he's afraid of startling her. "Anna, are you there? My name's Gerard, and I'd like to talk to you, if that's okay."

Frank waits for something--a gust of wind, a sudden drop in temperature, maybe even an apparition like the one in his room, he doesn't know--but nothing like that happens. Gerard just sits there for a few seconds, head cocked to the side as if he's listening to something.

"Yes," he says. "Yes, she told me--she's been trying to answer you, but she can't hear everything you're saying. Yeah--yeah, she's right here. Hold on a second, okay?" He opens his eyes, looking back at Ms. Flores.

"Is that her?" she asks before he can say anything, her voice shaking a little. "Is it really--can you find out what she was trying to tell me?"

Gerard nods. "It is, and I can, but I'd like to try something else first. This'll be the first time I've ever done it, so it might not work. But if you want, I can try to act as sort of a...conduit, I guess."

"What do you mean?" Ms. Flores asks uncertainly.

"I mean I might be able to let her talk to you through me," Gerard says, and then glances around at the others. "Would you guys mind waiting outside?"

Frank wants to see if it works, but he also figures some pretty personal shit is about to go down, so he stands with Ray and Mikey. He glances over his shoulder once as they leave, sees Gerard holding out his hands and Ms. Flores reaching to take them, and then he shuts the living room door and follows Ray and Mikey down the hall. They head out to the front porch, where Mikey takes a seat on the swing, Ray sits down next to him, and Frank considers the tiny amount of space left and then sits on Mikey's lap instead. Mikey makes a grumpy noise, but slings an arm around Frank to hold him in place.

"So," Frank says after a minute. "It's not always angry ghosts and exorcisms, huh?"

"No," Mikey says quietly. "It's not."

They're out there maybe half an hour before the front door opens suddenly and Gerard comes out. He crosses the porch in a few quick strides and stands with his back to the rest of them, hands wrapped around the porch railing, shoulders hunched. Frank gets to him first, puts a hand on his shoulder, and Gerard looks over at him, his eyes wet and red-rimmed.

"So...I guess it worked?" Frank asks.

Gerard nods, then swipes at his eyes with one hand. "Fuck, I need a drink. And a cigarette."

Frank gets his pack out and offers it; Gerard lights up and takes a drag, exhaling slowly. He smokes in silence for a few seconds, still hunched over and facing away from the rest of them. Then he wipes his eyes again, straightens up and turns around, calm and composed.

"Ms. Flores needs a minute on her own," he tells them. "She said not to go yet, though, she wants to thank us."

It turns out Ms. Flores doesn't just want to thank them, she wants to thank them and give them a check. Gerard balks at the amount, but she insists, and hugs him tightly when they say goodbye.

They go back to the diner, and Gerard puts the check down on the table in front of him.

"We got paid," he says quietly. "Someone paid us."

"We might be able to make an actual job out of this after all," Ray says. He raises his coffee, and they all clink their mugs together.

"I mean, it's not really about the money," Gerard says earnestly, folding the check back up and tucking it carefully in his wallet. "I'd like to be able to do this full-time, sure, but the real point is to help people, not turn a profit. I think we did something really, really good today."

"You did it," Mikey reminds him.

Gerard shrugs. "I wouldn't have been able to do anything for Ms. Flores if it wasn't for Ray," he says. "Just like Frank would still have an angry ghost in his room if you hadn't known what to do about it. We're a team."

Frank raises his coffee again. "I'll drink to that."

Gerard looks over at him and smiles crookedly. "You wanna do it with something stronger than coffee?"




A few hours later, Frank's stretched out on the floor of Gerard and Mikey's bedroom, thoroughly and awesomely trashed. The Way brothers have the contents of a small liquor store in their closet, an awesome music collection, and parents who are either very tolerant or very good at sleeping through noise, and Frank would be really happy to just stay here until someone peels him off the floor.

Ray's fallen asleep on Mikey's bed in spite of the fact that they're listening to Iron Maiden, and Mikey's at his computer, splitting his attention between playing DJ and talking to someone online. Gerard's been sitting on his own bed talking to Frank, but apparently he's worried that Frank might have fallen asleep, because he thumps down onto the floor next to Frank and leans over him, chin-length black hair falling across his face.

"Hey," Frank says sleepily. "You're really--smart." He says 'smart' because he almost said 'pretty', but he doesn't know if saying that's a good idea, even though it's true. Smart's also true, anyway. "You're a good talker."

"You're a good listener," Gerard says, and returns the smile. "Works out pretty well, huh?"

"Yep," Frank agrees.

They stay down there on the floor, and eventually Gerard falls asleep with his head on Frank's shoulder. The next morning, when Frank is painfully sober, he tells himself not to read anything into it, because that's the sort of thing that happens when you get cosmically trashed and talk all night.

Once again, it's months afterward before they find another case. Then Gerard gets an email from Neil about a haunting in Pennsylvania. The client contacted Neil at first, but he's
finishing up another case, so he wonders if Gerard's team (Neil calls them that in the email, "you and your team", and even though they've been referring to themselves that way for a while it's exciting to have someone else do so) might be interested in scouting it out. They can take a shot at it themselves if they think they can handle it, or wait for someone more experienced to get there if they think they can't.

It's the first case they'll be going out of town for. Frank has a midterm on Monday, and promises his mom he won't let the road trip (he tells her it's for a concert) keep him from studying.

It's an eventful weekend. Frank gets an antique silver gravy boat hurled at his head by a ghost, he and Gerard perform an exorcism together, gripping each other's hands tightly and shouting Latin more or less in unison, and the nice elderly couple who now have an unhaunted bed and breakfast give the team their second check.

On Monday, Frank fails his midterm.




After a while, Gerard stops offering Mikey an out. On their first couple of cases, he always says it--"You don't have to be a part of this, you know,"--and Mikey always says "I know", and other than that they don't discuss it much. After a while, Mikey figures Gerard doesn't think it needs to be said anymore.

The paranormal doesn't freak him out to the degree it used to anymore, but he doesn't think he'll ever be totally comfortable with it. In a way, that actually helps keep him on the team, because he thinks they need someone like him. Gerard is still as drawn to the paranormal as he always has been, and Mikey never really loses his nagging worry that it might be too much for his own good. Ray would walk headlong into mortal peril if the EMF readings he was getting were interesting enough, and now Frank's thrown himself into it with the same fascination and intensity. They're all smart and they all take the dangerous aspects of it seriously, but Mikey still worries that they need someone around to ground them--and maybe someone to pull them back if they ever go too far.

As they get more cases, they get better and better at functioning as a team, finding what each of them can do best. Gerard does a lot of the heavy lifting, being the one who's best at detecting and communicating with ghosts. Ray covers the tech stuff, records and monitors signs of paranormal activity and keeps detailed logs of everything. Frank will step in to help Gerard if it turns out they need to perform an exorcism, but those don't happen every case. The rest of the time, he and Mikey both help with research, make supply runs, and do whatever other random stuff needs to be done. And as they go on, it turns out there's something else Mikey's really good at.

"Hey, are you Mikey Way?"

Mikey looks up from the textbook in front of him. He was hoping to cram in some studying during lunch--his grades have been slipping lately, the inevitable result of too many late nights and weekends spent with his mind anywhere but on his classes. But when he looks at the girl who just came up to his table, he gets the feeling he's not going to get much studying done.

"Yeah, I am," he says.

He nods toward the empty chair across from him and the girl sits down. There's an awkwardness about her that's familiar--Mikey knows what it means when people come up to him looking like that.

"My name's Lauren," she says. "I'm friends with Katie, Matt Cortez's girlfriend? And, well, I heard about what happened in Matt and Frank's room."

Mikey nods. "Yeah?" he prompts gently.

Lauren hesitates. "Look, I've never--I've never told anyone about this, ever. I've always been sure anyone I told would just laugh or think I was crazy."

"I won't," Mikey tells her earnestly. "No matter what you tell me, I promise I won't do either of those things."

He doesn't know exactly what it is that always makes people believe him when he says that--something in his face, his voice, maybe both. Maybe the fact that he really knows this stuff is real shows through somehow.

Whatever it is, Lauren studies his face for a moment, and then nods. "Okay. So, my family has this lake house in upstate New York..."




"So, are you guys really a ghosthunting team?"

Mikey looks up, blinking. Gerard's sitting right next to him, Frank on the other side of the booth, but the waitress who's pouring their coffee is looking right at him. She's been their waitress at the diner--which has pretty much become their default meeting place--enough times that he knows her name is Alicia without even having to glance at her nametag.

She's still looking at him curiously. "Uh," Mikey starts. "We don't really use the term 'ghosthunters'? But, uh, yeah, we do investigate ghosts."

Alicia quirks an eyebrow. "So you're ghost detectives?"

Mikey smiles. "The preferred term is 'paranormal investigators'. But to be honest, I feel a little weird calling myself that."

"Really?" Gerard says from next to him. "I don't."

"That's 'cause you're weird already," Frank chimes in, and Gerard throws a sugar packet at him.

Alicia glances briefly at the two of them, then back at Mikey. "What's wrong with 'ghosthunters'?" she asks.

"It's kind of hostile?" Mikey explains. "Like, we don't really hunt them, or catch them, or bust them or anything like that. We just...look for them and try to talk to them."

"I see," Alicia says, smiling a little.

"Do you think we're crazy?" Mikey asks her, only half-joking.

"I would never call you crazy," she replies, her smile widening. "You guys tip too well."

She heads back toward the counter, still smiling, and Mikey watches her for a moment. When he turns back to the table, Gerard and Frank are both watching him.

"Shut up," Mikey says automatically, reaching for his coffee.

"I didn't say anything," Frank says innocently. Gerard just smiles.

Ray arrives a few minutes later, sliding in next to Frank. "Did I miss anything?" he asks.

"You missed the hot waitress flirting with Mikey," Frank says.

Mikey rolls his eyes. "Dude, don't call her 'the hot waitress'. Her name's Alicia."

"Ohh, so you're on a first-name basis with the hot waitress," Frank says, clearly just being a little shit now.

"...She wears a nametag," Mikey points out.

They get down to business now that Ray's here, discussing a potential case up in Maine. If they take it, it'll be the farthest from home they've gone for a case yet.

"So that's what, an eight-hour drive, give or take?" Mikey asks once they've talked through the details of the case. "That's gonna be a fun ride." With all the stuff they bring with them, it can get kind of cramped in Gerard's car.

"Actually, about that," Ray says. "There's a guy on my street who's looking to sell his van. I think it's about time we trade up."




"Okay, so...when you said 'trade up', you were just talking space-wise, huh?" Gerard asks as they look at the van.

"...There's a wizard painted on the side," Frank observes.

"Okay, it needs some work," Ray concedes. "That's why it's so cheap!"

"There's a wizard painted on the side," Frank repeats.

"The way you're saying that, I can't tell if you think it's awesome or ridiculous," Mikey says.

"I can't tell," Frank replies. "Both?"

Gerard's still eyeing the van, his expression dubious. "I don't know about this," he says.

"Come on, we can all fix it up together," Ray says eagerly. "It'll be fun."

Gerard looks over at him, smiling a little. "I'd say you have a weird idea of fun, but I don't think I'm one to talk."




After the case in Maine they take one in Vermont, then one down in Baltimore. They're at a point by now where when one case wraps up, it's not a question of if they'll get another one, just when. Their reputation keeps growing by word of mouth; a client they help one month has a friend who has a cousin who calls them the next, or another parapsychologist Gerard knows asks for their help with something, or they get written about on some paranormal website.

As they go on, the whole operation gets bigger and more complicated. Ray brings in more sophisticated equipment, and more of it. Their original billing system, which wasn't so much an actual system as it was taking whatever people were willing to give them, in cash or checks, doesn't work so well anymore, so Mikey takes it on himself to work out a better one. The fixed-up van runs okay most of the time, but more than once they end up broken down on the side of the road at night, struggling to carry all their stuff to the nearest motel.

When they start talking about bringing someone else in as sort of a roadie, Mikey can tell Gerard's a little skeptical. The four of them all do this for a reason; it isn't just a job to them, and the idea of bringing someone in from outside seems iffy. But they could definitely use another set of hands, especially if it's someone good with tech stuff like Ray. So Ray talks to some friends, who talk to their friends, and a few days later the team meets Bob.

"I'm gonna ask the obvious question first," Gerard tells him. "Do you believe in the paranormal?"

"You could say I'm open-minded?" Bob replies genially. "I figure if I work with you guys, I'll find out pretty quick one way or another."

Gerard smiles faintly. "Yeah, you will. I'm a little surprised someone who doesn't already believe would want to come work with us, though."

Bob shrugs. "Call it curiosity. And since the job I moved to Jersey for fell through I've been chasing down pretty much any lead I can get. Frankly, it doesn't really matter to me if ghosts are real or not--if there's a paycheck in this, I'm gonna take it seriously."

Mikey wonders if Bob's still gonna feel that way when he finds out just how real they are. But he seems like a good guy, and it's pretty clear they all like him.

A few weeks later, Bob gets treated to his very first apparition. Not a particularly nasty one, thankfully, but it still shakes him up.

"You having any second thoughts?" Ray asks him while they're packing up, and Bob hesitates, but then shakes his head.

"Maybe I just need more time to process, but not yet, anyway. Tell you what, though, I could use a drink."

Gerard smiles as he comes up, clapping Bob on the back. "Now you're really starting to sound like one of us."




Frank doesn't think anything of Gerard's drinking at first, and no one else seems to, either. Getting drunk after they wrap up a case is common practice. In the early days every successful case had them celebrating, full of camaraderie, exhilarated, sometimes a little bit scared and all the more defiantly joyful because of it. As they get more experienced, the partying gets less intense, but post-case drinks are a tradition by then, and still a good way to unwind.

And if Gerard tends to drink more heavily than the rest of them, frankly, it seems like he's earned it. He's the one who usually bears the brunt of communicating with ghosts, the one passing on final messages to loved ones, calling the local police to leave an anonymous tip about the location of some remains that will clear up an unsolved missing persons case. Anyone would want to crawl into a bottle for a little while after doing the kind of things he does.

Only eventually it's not just a little while, and it's a hell of a lot of bottles. But even when they can't pretend it's not a problem anymore, it's easier to make excuses and deny how much of a problem it is than face up to it. When Gerard's badly hungover on a day they're supposed to meet with a client, that should be a red flag, but Mikey just steps up and leads the meeting himself. Same thing when Gerard's normally meticulous case notes get sloppy, and Ray just doubles his own efforts to keep a log of everything. But there's finally something that none of them, not even Gerard, can make excuses for.

So far Gerard's drinking hasn't seemed to affect the heart of what he does. He may be hungover the day before and getting drunk again immediately after, but when it's time to draw a protective circle or reach out to a spirit, he always manages to sober up and do his thing.

Until the day he pulls Frank aside while they're getting ready to exorcise a poltergeist and asks, "Do you think you can do this one without me?"

Frank stares at him, taken aback. "What?"

Gerard's looking down, refusing to meet Frank's eyes. "I don't--" he says hesitantly. "I don't think I'm in the shape I ought to be to do this."

Frank has no idea what to say. He hasn't performed an exorcism without Gerard since...well, since his first one.

Gerard glances up at him furtively. "Frankie. Can you do it?"

Frank tightens his jaw and nods. He may be totally at a loss with Gerard, but he can take a fucking poltergeist. "Yeah. I'm good."

After that, they don't take any more cases for a while. Mikey fields would-be clients with a short, polite response explaining that Gerard is on sabbatical, which sounds a lot nicer than "getting sober and going through hell". Everyone does whatever they can to help him, especially Mikey, and including Grant--talking to someone who's a little more removed from the situation seems to help Gerard a lot, so he spends a lot of time on the phone with Grant. But he has to go through the worst of it on his own.




Getting sober leads to a lot of personal revelations for Gerard--among them, the realization that he's managed to paint himself into a really awkward corner.

That he has feelings for Grant isn't news. He's been hung up on Grant so long it's hard to remember what it felt like not to be. The revelation there is how much his feelings have grown, from a boy's crush--part hero worship, part kinship, part having eyes and thus being unable to escape the fact that Grant is incredibly attractive--into something much deeper.

And he doesn't know what to do about it, because it's Grant. Grant who's known him since he was sixteen and helped make him the man he is. Grant who could probably have anyone he wanted. Outside the realm of romantic daydreams, Gerard has a hard time imagining Grant ever seeing him as anything more than a friend. And even if there might be a chance, he's afraid to find out, because making their friendship weird and awkward would be one of the most horrible things he could do.

His feelings for Frank are a revelation, although by all rights they shouldn't be. Frank's always been there being funny and smart and an asshole and incredibly loyal and unfairly gorgeous. But Gerard's been hung up on Grant, and wrapped up in cases, and caught up in dealing with all his issues, so he's maybe been a little bit oblivious to what was going on in his own heart.

He realizes how screwed he is a few days into sobriety. He's past the worst of the withdrawal, but the world still seems too bright, too sharply focused, and Gerard feels like he's being held together with Scotch tape. Frank is keeping him company, making sure he's constantly supplied with coffee and cigarettes and cracking dumb jokes to make him feel better. He stopped shaving the sides of his head a while ago, and his hair's grown out enough that it's falling over his forehead and ears in perfect fucking Renaissance curls, and Gerard looks at him while Frank lights a cigarette and thinks, very clearly, Oh, fuck.

He doesn't know what to do about Frank any more than he knows what to do about Grant. Screwing up his friendship with Frank would be just as awful. He feels incredibly ill-equipped to deal with having feelings like this for either one of them, let alone feelings that seem equally strong for both.

Fortunately, he has other things to focus on. When they start taking cases again, he goes into every one with a newfound clarity, a new level of self-awareness, and things seem to go better than ever. And yeah, maybe he is throwing himself into his work to avoid dealing with his romantic dilemma, but it's so good to be on his game again that he can't feel too guilty about it.

When he gets an email from the owners of a supposedly haunted mansion in Los Angeles, it's a sign of how much the team's reputation has grown. And when he checks out the basics of the case, he's instantly intrigued enough to bring it to the team.




2006

"The house is known as the Paramour," Gerard tells them. "It's this big mansion that was built in 1923 and was originally the home of a silent movie star and his wife. After that it was a school for girls, and then a convent for a pretty long time. Since 1998 it's been primarily a recording studio, and it's also been used as a film set. Its paranormal history is kind of spotty--most of the people who've stayed there have never reported anything out of the ordinary, but some have been incredibly disturbed by it. Reports of actual apparitions are low. Mostly people who feel affected by the house report sudden feelings of depression or a sense of malevolence, very intense in some cases. Those reports are spread out over time and come from very different sources, from the diaries of girls who were sent to the school to interviews from musicians who've recorded there."

"Any likely sources for a haunting?" Ray asks.

Gerard nods. "Yeah, there's a huge one. The actor and his wife I mentioned, who lived there originally? They were Antonio Moreno and Daisy Canfield Danziger. In 1933, Daisy died in a car crash and was buried on the grounds of the Paramour. When apparitions have been reported, they've usually been of a woman."

"Have any parapsychologists ever checked it out before?" Frank asks.

"Not that the current owners could tell me about," Gerard says. "They said the reason they're interested in bringing someone in now is there's been an increase in reports of weirdness--as many in the past few months as there were in the past few years before that." He looks up from his notebook, glancing around at the others eagerly. "So, you guys want to go check it out?"




It's raining when they land in Los Angeles. After a difficult descent, they have to sit on the tarmac for what feels like years, waiting for the rain to let up a little. Frank wants a cigarette, a beer, and a nap, in that order. He drapes himself over the row in front of him, between Gerard and Mikey.

"Welcome to beautiful, sunny L.A.," he says.

They finally get off the plane, through the baggage claim and into their rented van. It was afternoon when they landed, but between the distance from LAX, the traffic, and the rain, it's dark by the time they get to the Paramour.

Whether or not it's actually haunted, it's definitely atmospheric. The property's big enough that by the time they make it up the long, tree-lined drive, Frank feels kind of cut off from the rest of the world. He guesses that cut-off feeling was a selling point back when Hollywood people lived here, but to Frank it makes the house seem a little creepy right off the bat.

They roll to a stop in front of a big metal gate, and Ray rolls down the window and leans out to talk to someone through an intercom. There's a loud buzz and the gate swings open, rusty metal squealing a little. Not helping to decrease the creepiness factor, really.

As they drive up to the house itself, Frank turns in his seat to look up at it, and stops when he catches sight of Mikey's face. It's a total cliche that Frank tries not to use in this line of work, but, well, Mikey looks like someone walked over his grave.

"You okay, Mikeyway?" Frank asks softly.

Mikey looks over at him and blinks, like he'd forgotten where he was for a moment. "I--"

Gerard turns around from the front seat. His expression is solemn, but there's a familiar manic gleam in his eyes.

"You feel it, don't you?" he asks Mikey, and Mikey nods.

"Feel what?" Bob asks.

Gerard looks back up at the house. "Like we just walked into The Shining."

They're met at the front door by a guy named Rob Cavallo, who works for the owner. He shows them to their rooms.

"I hope you'll forgive my not giving you a full tour tonight," he says as they walk through the halls. It seems a little chilly inside to Frank, but maybe that's just because of the storm. "I've got a floor plan I can give you, and I can come back out tomorrow if you want, or just answer any questions you have by phone."

"I'm sure we'll be fine," Gerard says. "Is there anyone else on the property?"

"Not just now," Rob says. "There'll be caretaking staff around during the day, but no one's using the property right now, so you'll be alone at night. The house is yours for at least the next three weeks, and I guess we'll go from there depending on what you find out." He pauses, looking them over a little dubiously. "You really think this place is haunted?"

Gerard shrugs with an easy smile and gives his standard answer to that question. "That's what we're here to find out."




They set up the next day, establishing their base camp in the big ballroom on the first floor. The very first step, like always, is Gerard drawing a protective circle on the floor, big enough for all of them to stand in if they need to. Next, they unpack the rest of their equipment. Ray sets up his laptop, from which he'll monitor their various recording devices, and distributes the equipment everyone carries while they're on a case: flashlights, walkie-talkies, and little EMF readers that clip onto their belts.

After that it's time to set up the cameras and microphones. There's a lot of ground to cover, so Frank and Bob go one way while Gerard and Mikey go another, with Ray staying behind to confirm that everything's online.

Frank can't feel any of what Gerard and Mikey say they're feeling in the house. It seems creepy to him, sure, but that's because it's a big old isolated house with a history of alleged hauntings, not because he senses anything paranormal from it. That's not unusual; he's not like Gerard and Mikey, so sometimes he gets stuff and sometimes he doesn't. It depends on a bunch of different factors, but mostly the particular thing they're dealing with and what it's sending out. And so far he's not getting anything here.

He and Bob are almost done when his walkie-talkie crackles.

"Guys, camera four just went down."

"Damn--I'll get it," Frank says to Bob, and heads back through the last couple of rooms, picking up his walkie-talkie. "On it, Ray."

The camera looks fine when he gets there, but he double-checks everything, before talking to Ray again. "Anything?"

"Yeah, it looks fine now," Ray tells him.

Frank heads to meet back up with Bob, frowning a little when he comes to a closed door he knows he didn't shut. He grabs the handle and turns it, but the door's locked. Frank tries it again, jimmying the handle, and then presses the button on his walkie-talkie for Bob's channel.

"Uh, Bob? You didn't by any chance decide to lock me in this part of the house, did you?"

"What?" Frank hears Bob's footsteps coming down the hall, and then the handle turns and the door opens. "...Okay, that's weird."

"You're telling me," Frank says, walking through before the door gets any funny ideas.

"Not just the fact that it closed," Bob says, and points. "There's no lock on the door at all."

They report back to the ballroom and relate the door incident to Ray, who writes it down along with what happened with the camera. Gerard and Mikey get back while they're finishing up.

"Hey, you guys have anything weird happen?" Ray asks.

Gerard shakes his head, glancing at Frank and Bob. "No, did you?"

"I was attacked by a door," Frank tells him. "It was harrowing."

They've got full use of the kitchen while they're in the house, so Frank and Mikey make a grocery run before lunch. If there's one part of the house Frank actually likes, it's the kitchen--it's huge, and at some point in the recent past the owners fit it with modern appliances but left all the original tile and wood. There's nothing else pressing to do that day--the plan at this point is just to hang out in the house for a while and record anything weird that happens--so that afternoon he goes ahead and starts on a lasagna for dinner. He still hasn't managed to get the Iero family recipe exactly right on his own, but practice makes perfect.

The weather's cleared, so they eat out on the patio, and Frank has to grudgingly admit it's nice sitting out there in the warm California evening. The sun's going down, and he can hear a dog barking somewhere.

"That dog sounds pretty close, is there one on the property?" he asks.

"Not, like, a pet," Gerard replies. "Rob said there are a lot of strays in the area and sometimes they get in through the gate."

"No, Frankie, you're not allowed to catch one and bring it home," Ray interjects quickly, and Frank cheerfully flips him off.

Everyone just kind of mills around doing their own thing after dinner, and Frank and Gerard both end up reading in the living room--or, well, one of the house's several living rooms--curled up on either end of a big sofa. When Frank decides to head up to his room around midnight, he looks up to tell Gerard, and then pauses. Gerard's book is open on his lap, but he's glancing off to the side a little, staring at nothing. Something about the look on his face is arresting, and Frank pauses, listening to the tinny music leaking out from Gerard's earbuds and waiting for him to move or blink or something. When nearly a minute passes and Gerard still hasn't budged, Frank clears his throat awkwardly and shuts his own book, and Gerard blinks, looking up at him and pulling out one earbud.

"Well, I'm done for the night," Frank says, standing.

"I think I'm gonna stay down here a little longer," Gerard says. "'Night, Frankie."

"'Night." Frank almost says something about that odd moment just now, but Gerard's already put his earbud back in, so Frank just heads upstairs.




Gerard doesn't think he's ever been in a place that felt this pervasively creepy. What's frustrating is the feeling doesn't help him at all, doesn't tell him anything he needs to know. It's just...there, like a thin blanket of fog covering the ground.

Their first week at the Paramour goes on like their first day--nothing big, but lots of little moments of weirdness. Doors shut on their own, lights turn themselves on and off. The light in Mikey's room, which has an oddly bluish tinge, keeps flickering even after they change the bulb and check the wiring. One morning Bob finds the tub in the bathroom connecting his and Ray's rooms full of water, both taps shut off tightly without so much as a drip. None of their cameras catch anything suspicious-looking, but sometimes one of the feeds will go black for a random length of time--a minute, an hour, several--and then come back on with no sign of damage.

Toward the end of the first week, the dreams start.




Gerard jolts awake with a shout, heart pounding in his ears. His sheets suddenly feel suffocating, and he kicks them away, gasping for breath.

"You okay?" a muffled voice from below him says.

"Bad dream," Gerard says automatically, and then leans over the edge of the bed. "...What are you doing in here?"

"My room was creeping me out," Mikey explains, from where he's lying on the floor.

"And my room isn't?" Gerard asks.

Mikey thinks for a moment. "Nah, your room's creepy, too," he says. "But at least I'm not on my own in here."

Gerard moves over. "Well, come on."

Mikey climbs into bed next to him, and they both lie flat on their backs, looking up at the ceiling.

"So what was your dream like?" Mikey asks.

Gerard thinks back to it. Mostly what he remembers is darkness and closeness, and feeling like he couldn't breath when he woke up. "I think I was in a coffin," he says. "I think I was buried."

Mikey glances over at him. "Daisy Moreno's buried on the property, isn't she?"

"Yeah," Gerard says, and then yawns. Considering how scared he was when he woke, his uneasiness is fading really rapidly, leaving him wanting to get back to sleep. "Remind me to write this down tomorrow."

Gerard has another night terror the next night, and then two in a row the night after that. He starts thinking that of them that way, as terrors, because that seems like the only fitting word for how he feels when he wakes up from them--terrified. He writes down everything he can remember about them.

He has the coffin dream again, and one where the house in on fire and he can hear the guys yelling but he just stands in the middle of the room and watches the flames sweep closer, and one where he's trying to call home but the phone just rings and rings and he knows with absolute certainty it's because both his parents are dead.

"So what is this?" Ray asks at breakfast. "An attempt at communication, a warning, what?"

"I don't know," Gerard says tiredly. "Could be either of those, could be nothing that has a specific message, just an overflow of bad psychic energy. I can't tell yet."

"Should we be getting worried?" Frank asks, eyeing Gerard over his coffee. "It's been like this three nights in a row now."

"I can deal with a handful of nightmares," Gerard says. It comes out sounding more dismissive than he means it, and he rubs at his forehead with one hand. "Even if they make me a little cranky. Sorry."

Frank looks down, stabbing at his eggs a little more forcefully than necessary. "It's fine."

Gerard wakes up that night gasping and coughing, clawing for the hands he can feel around his throat only to find nothing there. Someone touches his shoulder and he flinches away automatically, then hears Mikey say, "Hey, hey, it's me."

Gerard pushes himself up and slumps back against the headboard, rubbing one hand over his face.

"They're getting worse, aren't they?" Mikey asks. "You looked like you were really having trouble breathing just now."

"I'm fine," Gerard rasps. "I'm fine now."

Mikey doesn't argue, but his worried look follows Gerard out of the room and downstairs. It's almost five, and he doesn't think he's getting back to sleep this time.

Gerard goes down to the ballroom and sits cross-legged in the middle of the circle. The binding spells aren't activated, but it's still comforting. There's a dull throbbing in his head, and he raises both hands to massage his temples gently.

"What are you trying to tell me?" he asks the empty room. "What do you want? I'm right here, I want to communicate with you. Just...do it in a way I can make some sense of."

He gets nothing, and when the others start stirring Gerard goes for a walk on the property before any of them makes it downstairs. He feels like what he needs most, aside from answers that the house and whatever's in it seem determined not to give him, is to talk to someone who's not here in the house, not rubbing elbows with him every day. So he calls Grant, who lets him talk it out, vent his growing frustration.

"I just wish I could feel like I'm making some kind of progress," Gerard tells him. "Something to make all this worth it."

"Do you think you have a handle on things?" Grant asks him. "I don't mean to call your abilities into question, but there's no shame in taking a step back if you think you need to."

Gerard knows that, but he instantly resists the idea of pulling back. There's something here to find, maybe something big, and he just needs to find a way to push through to where he can reach it.

"I think I mostly just needed to get everything off my chest," he says. "I think if I can keep myself from getting this tightly wound again, I can stay on top of it."

"Very well," Grant says. "But call me again if you think you need to. Anytime."

"Time zones be damned?" Gerard asks, smiling.

"Indeed," Grant replies, and Gerard can tell he's smiling, too. "Although, actually, we'll be in the same time zone soon. I'm leaving tomorrow for Nevada."

"Really? Awesome," Gerard says. "For a case?"

"No, I'm getting together with some friends. You might call it a sort of retreat."

"You're going to get stoned as fuck in the desert, aren't you?" Gerard asks.

"I confess, the use of mind-altering substances is a definite possibility," Grant replies innocently.

Gerard smirks. "Well, you'll be pretty close to us, then."

Come to L.A., he suddenly wants to ask. Help me make sense of this place. I think I need you. He swallows the words, embarrassed by how childish and weak they sound in his head.

"Perhaps I could stop by and see you before I head home?" Grant suggests, as if he can tell what Gerard's thinking. "Not to imply that you need my help with the case, or anything like that, but it would be a shame to be so close and not see each other."

"Yeah, it would," Gerard agrees, trying not to sound too relieved. "Sounds good to me."

"I'll talk to you soon, then," Grant says. "Take care, Gerard."




Two days after his phone call with Grant, Gerard still doesn't feel like he's getting anywhere. He hasn't had an uninterrupted night's sleep in almost a week, he's running on coffee and Red Bull, and he can feel how worried and disapproving the rest of the team is. A confrontation seems inevitable, and it happens one evening when he tries to put his coffee mug down on the kitchen table and misses, sending it crashing to the floor.

Mikey grabs a broom and dustpan to sweep the shattered mug up, and when Gerard tries to help he says "I've got it," in this tense, awful voice that makes Gerard take a step back. He backs up against the counter, arms folded awkwardly, feeling everyone's eyes on him.

"This has gotta stop," Frank says in a low voice, and Gerard tells himself to take a deep breath and count to ten before answering, he really does, but he only makes it to three.

"What exactly do you want me to do, Frank?" he snaps.

"I want you to stop letting this house fucking torture you," Frank snaps back, bracing his hands on the table. "I want you to stop shuffling around like a goddamn zombie and jumping down my throat when I express my concerns as your friend and teammate."

"Frank--" Ray starts, hands lifted in a let's all calm down gesture, but Frank ignores him.

"I want you to admit that we're getting fucking nowhere playing it this way and try something else."

"Like what?" Gerard asks defensively, but it's hard to muster any steam in the face of Frank's anger.

"I don't know," Frank says flatly. "Figure it out."

Gerard looks around at the rest of them. "You all feel this way?"

"We're all worried about you," Ray says. "Really worried. I mean, can you blame us?"

Gerard looks down, shifting uncomfortably. "I guess not. I just...I feel like I'm close to something here. And I know it's been hard on all of you, and I'm sorry, but I feel like I can't just stop--"

Frank makes a frustrated noise, turning away. "Jesus, it's like talking to a fucking wall."

"Frankie, wait," Gerard says, but Frank's already stalking out of the kitchen.

"Let him go blow off some steam," Ray advises. "And seriously, Gee? I don't think he's wrong. Maybe there's a better way we could be doing this. If I were you, I'd think it over."

Gerard goes for a walk outside. It's a clear evening, and the stars are starting to come out. He paces around on the lawn for a little while, then goes over to kneel by the pool, trailing his fingers through the cool water.

He leans over to look at his reflection in the water, and yeah, he does get why the guys are so worried about him. He looks...unhinged, frankly, crazy hair and bags under his eyes and several days worth of stubble. He rubs a hand over his face tiredly, and when he looks again, that's when he sees the woman standing behind him.

She's standing right over his shoulder--or at least, her reflection is standing right over his reflection's shoulder. Instinct tells Gerard that if he turns around, there won't be anything there, and he's afraid that if he takes his eyes off the image in the pool it'll disappear. She looks to be in early middle age, dark-haired and pretty, with a solemn expression. Her clothes are old fashioned, could easily be from the 1930s. Gerard has no doubts whatsoever about who she is.

Daisy raises one finger to her lips, and then beckons him closer. Gerard leans forward.

He has no idea how much time passes--a minute, an hour. He just knows that suddenly it's very dark and he can hear shouting, and he crashes back into his body from what seems like a very long way off.

He gasps for breath only to have cool, murky water fill his mouth, and he thrashes around in a panic as he realizes he's in the pool. There are hands on his shoulders, gripping tightly and keeping him from kicking toward the surface. He opens his eyes to see who's holding him under, and it's Frank, his face distorted both by the rippling water and by a snarl that makes him almost unrecognizable. He's shouting something, but Gerard can't make it out through the water, and he doesn't waste time trying, just swings.

The punch is uncoordinated and desperate, but it connects. Frank falls back suddenly, letting go, and Gerard immediately pushes himself up. He breaks the surface and gasps for air, and then there are more hands on him, this time pulling him up. The concrete side of the pool scrapes his hip roughly as Ray hauls him out, and then he's sprawled on the ground, dripping and coughing.

He looks up as he finally gets a little breath back, and they're all there--Ray behind him, Mikey rushing to kneel at his side, and Bob kneeling with one hand on Frank's shoulder while Frank rubs his jaw, his expression dazed.

"Gerard, what--" Ray begins, but Gerard cuts him off, scrambling to his knees and facing Frank.

"What the hell is wrong with you?" he shouts, throat raw from coughing, and Frank stares at him.

"What's wrong with me?" Frank echoes, and the only emotion in his voice is confusion.

Gerard looks around at the others, and sees the same bafflement echoed on all their faces. They're staring at him like he's the one acting crazy, like Frank wasn't just--

"He was holding me under!" he says, and if anything, the confusion on their faces only gets worse. "He was--" He breaks off, because something's obviously not right, and for a few seconds that seem to stretch out much longer than they should, no one says or does anything.

"I was trying to pull you out," Frank says eventually, very quietly and calmly.

Gerard's the confused one now--he looks around at the others again, but no one contradicts Frank's statement. After another moment, Frank goes on, and now his voice is rising.

"I was trying to save your life, you dumb motherfucker, and you fucking decked me for it!"

He's shouting by now, and he starts forward, fists clenched like he's about to pay Gerard back. Bob grabs his arms and holds him. Gerard looks at Mikey, and Mikey swallows hard and then nods.

"You walked into the pool, Gee" he says in a low voice. "Frank and I saw it from inside--we shouted, but it was like you couldn't hear us."

Gerard tries to think, tries to remember if what Mikey's saying is right, but he can't. Between the moment when he was crouched at the pool's edge, leaning forward, and the moment he realized he'd gone under, he has no idea what he might have done. And Frank--when Gerard was panicking, he'd been so sure that Frank was holding him down, but now he's suddenly not sure of anything.

"Frank--" he begins, helplessly.

"Fuck it," Frank growls, jerking out of Bob's grip. He turns and stalks back toward the house.

"Bob, go with him," Gerard says instantly, and then turns to Mikey and Ray. "I think we'd better start using the buddy system."

"Okay." Ray nods, and then reaches to help him up. "Come on, let's get you dried off."




Mikey stays in Gerard's room while he towels off and changes, and then they meet back up with the others in the ballroom. Frank's still radiating anger, shoulders hunched and arms crossed, a bruise starting to form on his jaw.

Gerard goes up to him cautiously. "Can we talk for a second?" he asks in a low voice.

Frank glares at him. "Why?"

Gerard closes his eyes for a moment, sighing. "So I can fucking apologize, Frankie. I'm sorry."

He opens his eyes to find Frank wavering a little, his mouth trembling. "I was so goddamn scared for you out there," he whispers fiercely. "And then you--fuck, Gerard, you know I would never hurt you."

"I do," Gerard assures him, laying a tentative hand on Frank's arm. "Of course I do. The only way I can explain it is that the house was fucking with my head. And I'm sorry."

Frank just looks at him for a moment, then launches himself at Gerard, hugging him tightly. Gerard puts his arms around Frank, squeezing him gratefully. He can't help but cling a little; Frank is warm and solid, and lately Gerard's felt, even more than usual, like he's stuck in a ghost world full of cobwebs and shadows. He lets himself hang onto Frank for just a moment, then pulls back and turns to face the others.

"We need to talk," he says. "And I think we'd better do it in the circle."




Ray made coffee while Gerard and Mikey were upstairs, so they bring it into the circle with them in a carafe. Mikey takes the cup Frank passes him distractedly, keeping his eyes on Gerard, who's looking down with his hands wrapped around his mug, water still dripping from the ends of his hair.

It's awful, but Mikey feels a kind of sick relief that this happened. The house has felt like it was building up to something big for a while now. Maybe this was it.

"Well?" Ray asks after a moment. "What is it you want to tell us?"

Gerard takes a slow sip of coffee, and then speaks in a low voice. "I saw things. When I was underwater, or maybe before I went in, I'm not sure. A lot of it's hazy and It's getting fainter by the second, like a dream. But I know I saw Daisy, and she showed me things."

"So she is here?" Mikey asks. "It is her that's haunting the house?"

Gerard shakes his head. "She's here, but that's just the tip of the iceberg. There's something else here with her. It was here when she was alive, when the house was first built. I think maybe it was here before L.A. was a city. Whatever it is, wherever it came from, I think it's been here for a very, very long time."

"'It'?" Frank echoes. "Is that 'it' as in you don't know what sort of person it was, or as in...not a person?"

"I don't think it was ever a person," Gerard says. "I still can't say what it is, not at this point, but I know Daisy's terrified of it. And I'm pretty sure it made me go under."

No one says anything for a few seconds. Mikey thinks they're all just taking it in. In all the cases they've worked, they've never dealt with something like this--something this old, something that Gerard thinks was never human.

"So what do we do now?" Bob asks.

The answer to that question seems pretty obvious to Mikey--they're in way over their heads here, what they need to do is take a step back and reassess the case.

"I've been thinking about that," Gerard says. "First of all, I want to try to reestablish contact with Daisy, now that I know she and I can reach each other. She's been sharing the house with this thing for decades--unwillingly, I'm pretty sure. Hopefully she can tell me more about it."

He sounds pretty damn excited for someone who almost got drowned by a very old and powerful spirit. Mikey's taken aback, and looking around, he doesn't think he's the only one.

"You really think that's a good idea?" Mikey asks. "I mean, I think it's safe to assume the...whatever it is doesn't really want you talking to her."

"Oh, I'm sure it doesn't," Gerard says. There's a dismissive note in his voice that Mikey's not used to hearing, and it stings a little. "That's why I think I need to."

"You don't think...maybe we should back off a little?" Mikey suggests hesitantly.

Gerard's brow furrows. "What are you saying, Mikey?"

Mikey takes a deep breath, glancing around at the others for support. He thinks they're with him, but apparently he's going to have to be the one to say it. "I think we should probably leave the house."

"What?" Gerard asks, seeming shocked. "You mean...just give up on the case?"

"I didn't say that," Mikey replies. "I just think it might be better to not stay on the property while we figure out what we're dealing with. What if we just go check into a hotel or something and wait until Grant or someone else can come out and help us?"

"I don't need to go running to Grant for help every time a case gets difficult," Gerard says. Almost snaps. "Whatever's going on here, we can handle it."

"I'm not so sure we can," Mikey says. "This is turning out to be so much bigger than we thought--"

"Exactly, which is why we can't just stop," Gerard argues. "If we pull back now, we lose time, we lose momentum--"

"And if we stay we could lose a lot more than that," Mikey counters. "Look, you know I'm usually more than happy to leave the sensing stuff to you. I wouldn't be saying this if I didn't feel strongly about it. I really think we should leave."

"And I think if I'd never taken a risk and done something you had a bad feeling about, we'd never have achieved anything," Gerard says harshly, and then stops, shaking his head. "I'm sorry, that was--"

"No, it's fine," Mikey says tightly. "If it were just me who wants to get out of here, that would be one thing. But I don't think it is."

Gerard looks around at the others. "Guys?"

The other guys all glance around uncomfortably, and then Ray speaks up. "I think Mikey's right. If whatever's here has been here for as long as you say, it'll keep for a while longer."

Bob nods. "Yeah, I'm kind of leaning toward 'let's get out of here', too."

Gerard looks at both of them, surprised. He turns to Frank, who shifts awkwardly, not meeting Gerard's eyes, and then nods.

"I don't believe this," Gerard says. "Guys, this could be the biggest case we've ever had--"

"Or it could be the last case we ever have," Ray interjects.

Gerard looks back to Frank--out of all of them, he seems to be having the most trouble with the fact that Frank is siding against him. "Frankie, come on, since when do you back down from a fight?"

"Since when do you try to push me into one?" Frank counters. "Gee, you've always told me how important it was to be careful, and now this? Something's not right here, man."

Gerard folds his arms. "Fine, the rest of you can leave if you want. I'm staying."

"Absolutely not," Mikey says at once. "Come on, Gee, I know you know better than that." He moves closer, laying his hands on top of Gerard's folded arms. "Look, I know what you're going through. I know how the house is making you feel, I feel it too. I need you to trust me now. Do you trust me?"

Gerard meets his eyes almost reluctantly, holds them for a moment, and then nods.

Mikey turns toward the others. "Let's go."

They leave all their equipment for now, just grab their overnight bags and head out to the van. They pile in and Bob gets in the driver's seat, turning the keys in the ignition.

Nothing happens. Bob turns the key again, then scowls. "What the hell? We didn't leave the headlights on, did we? Ray, weren't you the last to drive?"

Ray leans forward, his brow furrowed. "Yeah. I could swear I turned them off, but that was days ago."

"Guess we're calling a cab," Frank says, and pulls out his phone, only to frown at it. "Goddamn it, stupid shitty reception out here."

"I don't have any signal either," Gerard says, looking at his phone.

Mikey, Bob, and Ray all pull out their phones simultaneously, look at the screens and then up at each other.

"...Well, this is getting creepy," Ray says.

Mikey could swear the house feels smug as they troop back inside. He ignores it, walking quickly to the phone in the foyer and snatching it out the cradle. When he puts it to his ear, the complete lack of a dial tone isn't much of a surprise.

"Okay, I'm getting past 'this is weird' and into 'oh, shit' territory," he says as he puts the phone down, trying to keep his voice from trembling. "What now?"

"Let's just walk down to the gate," Bob says. "See if we can get it open, try to climb over if we can't."

They stay in a tight knot as they walk down the drive, as if expecting an attack to come from somewhere. Punching the gate code into the keypad gets no response. Mikey sizes up the gate; it's tall, the bars are narrow, and the spikes at the top look pretty wicked.

Frank grasps two of the bars and swings himself up, bracing his sneakered feet on the metal and starting to pull himself up little by little. It's slow going, but he starts to make some progress, and Ray starts up after him.

Mikey's so absorbed in watching them that the sound of barking doesn't register until Bob says, "Hey, do you guys hear that?"

Before anyone can answer, four or five big dogs come racing around the corner and up the drive. They must be some of the strays that always seem to hang around the property, but Mikey's never seen them this riled up. They lunge for the gate, barking and growling, and Ray shouts and falls to the ground. Frank's up about halfway; one of the dogs jumps for him and just misses, and he looks around desperately.

"Frankie, come on!" Bob runs forward, holding up his arms, and Frank jumps, knocking Bob to the ground when he lands.

Mikey and Gerard gather around Ray, who's got both hands wrapped around his ankle. Mikey can see blood on his fingers. The dogs are still leaping and pawing at the gate, wild-eyed and barking loudly.

"You guys okay?" Gerard calls as Bob and Frank roll to their knees. Bob nods, dusting himself off, and Frank flashes a thumbs-up. Gerard looks back at Mikey and Ray. "We need to get back to the house for the first aid kit. And...I think maybe we should stop trying to leave."

"The fuck?" Frank asks.

"We need to get out of here, Gee," Mikey says.

"Look, you want to know what the house is making me feel right now?" Gerard asks. "It's making me feel like if we stay put and don't provoke it, it won't try to hurt us, but if we keep trying to leave it'll do everything it can to stop us. Even if we get past the gate and the dogs, we're still on the property for another mile or so, in the dark, on foot, with one of us wounded in the leg. I'm not sure we'd actually make it. And even if we did, unless we want to walk several more miles we're just gonna have to hope that someone'll pick up five guys whose only explanation for being on the highway on foot at night is that we're trying to escape from a haunted house. Would you let us in your car?"

He looks around at them all. "I'm not saying we just give up. At this point I'm pretty fucking convinced we need to find a way out," he says. "But at the very least, we need to take care of Ray's leg, and I think after that we should just sit tight and wait for morning. If nothing else, it'll be easier trying to get out of here in the daylight."




Aside from the fact that they're cut off from the outside world--no internet, either--everything in the house is still working fine. They go back to the ballroom and Mikey cleans and bandages the bite on Ray's ankle. They drink more coffee. Periodically, someone checks their phone or the landline to see if anything's changed.

Gerard leafs through the books and journals he has in the ballroom, only to discard them all, looking unsatisfied.

"I need to check some things I have upstairs," he says. "Mikey, can you come with me?"

"Should we all go?" Bob asks as Mikey stands.

Gerard shakes his head. "I think as long as we stay in groups of two or more, we'll be fine. You guys try to get some rest, if you can."

He and Mikey head upstairs, to where Gerard has even more books and journals in his room. Gerard dumps a stack of things onto the bed and sits down against the headboard, and Mikey takes a seat at the foot of the bed, grabbing a book from the pile.

"What are we looking for?" Mikey asks.

"Anything like the situation we're in now," Gerard says. "Anything that seems vaguely helpful."

Mikey leafs through the book, scanning page after page of old case files. He doesn't see anything that jumps out at him, but that might just be because it's hard to concentrate on reading right now.

The sense of dread he's had since they arrived here, that feeling of being trapped in a horror movie, is still with him, and now there's something else. It makes him think of scenes in books or movies where someone drowns or freezes to death, and there's a moment where they just...stop struggling and let themselves sink or lie down in the snow. Mikey feels like he's about five minutes away from lying down in the snow, whatever that means in this situation.

All he has to do is open his mouth and tell Gerard about it. He has no idea what Gerard could do, but at least then he'd know how bad it's gotten for Mikey, and Mikey has to believe that Gerard knowing would make it better somehow. He should tell Gerard right now, he knows he should, and yet it seems like he can't open his mouth.

"I'm sorry," Gerard says softly. "For the way I was acting earlier. Looking back, I can't believe I fought the idea of leaving so hard."

Mikey swallows hard. "It's like you said to Frank, the house has been messing with you."

"Yeah, but...it's been messing with you, too, hasn't it?" Gerard asks. "And you were all for getting out."

And here's another chance for Mikey to tell him how bad it's gotten, but he just nods and says, "But it's been affecting us in different ways. And maybe me wanting to go and you wanting to stay was the whole idea, maybe it wanted us at odds with each other."

"Maybe," Gerard agrees, and holds out a hand. "But we're not gonna let it do that, right?"

Mikey moves up to sit against the headboard next to Gerard, taking his hand and trying to smile. "Right."

They sit in silence for a while, and Gerard leans back against the headboard, tilting his face up and squeezing his eyes shut. He stays like that for several moments, until Mikey asks, "What are you doing?"

Gerard responds without opening his eyes. "I'm trying really hard to send a psychic distress call to a Scot who's probably tripping balls on a mesa right now."

"You think that's gonna work?" Mikey asks.

"No idea," Gerard says. "Never tried it. But if he is tripping on a mesa he's probably pretty open to getting, like, signals from the cosmos or whatever. Maybe I can get one in."




Mikey starts awake a little while later, still sitting next to Gerard. He has no idea what time it is, but it feels really late and he has to pee. In a weird way, it's kind of a relief to feel something that mundane.

He looks over at Gerard, who's fast asleep. Mikey shakes his shoulder gently.

"Gee. Gee, hey," he says, but Gerard doesn't stir.

Mikey glances over at the bathroom door. It's technically going into another room by himself, but he'll be about five feet from Gerard for about a minute. He still leaves the door ajar when he goes in.

He pees and washes his hands, then splashes some cold water on his face. The overhead light flickers, and Mikey looks up and then stares at his reflection in the mirror, caught by it. There's something subtly but inescapably wrong about his face in the mirror, like the glass is warped, but when he passes a hand over it it's completely smooth.

And then, over his shoulder, he sees the door swing shut.

Mikey turns and reaches for the doorknob, but it doesn't turn. He raps his knuckles on the door, loudly.

"Gerard!" he calls. "Gee, wake up!"

Mikey waits a second, but nothing happens, and he can't even hear anything on the other side of the door. He knocks again and yells, then pounds on the door hard enough to make his hand ache, shouting. Nothing.

He turns back to face the mirror, alone with his reflection.




Downstairs, Frank stirs awake. He, Ray, and Bob had migrated from the ballroom to the living room a little while ago, and Frank's curled up on the loveseat with an ache in his neck from sleeping at a bad angle. He rubs his neck and squints up at the ceiling.

"Hey, did you guys hear that?" he asks.

Ray stirs, blinking. "Wha?"

"I thought I heard something from upstairs," Frank says, and then looks around. "Gerard and Mikey never came back down?"

Bob sits up, looking around. "I guess not."

"I think we should go check on them," Frank says, getting to his feet.

As they troop up the stairs and down the hallway that leads to the wing where their rooms are, Frank tries to ignore the gnawing worry in the pit of his stomach. They probably just fell asleep up here. They're probably fine.

He pushes the door to Gerard's room open and sees Gerard lying on the bed, a couple of books spread out on the mattress. There's no sign of Mikey.

"Guys, check the other bedrooms," Frank says urgently, and then crosses to the bed and shakes Gerard's shoulder. "Gerard?"

Gerard lets out a low moan, his eyelashes fluttering slightly. Frank shakes him harder, and Gerard starts awake. His wide eyes dart around the room like he doesn't know where he is, and then he focuses on Frank, grabbing his arm.

"I saw Daisy again," he says in a rush. "She told me everything, what happened to her, what the other presence in the house is--"

Frank tries to interrupt. "Gerard--"

"It's bad, Frankie. We need to get out of here--"

"Gerard!" Frank shouts. "Where's Mikey?"

Gerard stops, then glances around. "Oh my God. He--he was right here next to me--"

From the bathroom, there's a sound of breaking glass.

Frank and Gerard both freeze up for a moment, staring at each other, and Frank knows, knows beyond any doubt, that the source of that noise is going to be something very, very bad.

He rushes over to the door, rapping on it and trying the knob. "Mikey?" he calls. "Mikey, are you in there?"

The only answer that comes is a low noise that sounds like someone in pain, and Frank throws himself at the door, banging against it with his shoulder. Gerard joins him and they ram the door together, then again, and it bursts open.

Frank freezes again in the doorway, staring in horror. Gerard moves, but Frank just stands there, taking it in--Mikey sitting on the floor, slumped against the tub, the shattered mirror, the jagged glass shard still held loosely in one of Mikey's hands and the blood on his wrists.

Gerard's voice brings Frank back to his senses--he's screaming, dropping to his knees and wrapping his hands around Mikey's wrists. Frank moves then, even though everything is weirdly distant and muted, like he's watching it happen to someone else. He's acting on autopilot as strips off his hoodie and grabs a towel from the rack, as he drops to his knees and pries Gerard's fingers up so he can wrap the towel and hoodie around Mikey's wrists. He doesn't even notice Ray and Bob finding them, but then they show up with the first aid kit and Frank backs out of the bathroom to let Ray take over, because his hands are shaking and he feels kind of lightheaded. Gerard stays where he is, kneeling on Mikey's other side, and Frank can hardly bear to look at the expression on his face.

Frank sinks down on the edge of Gerard's bed, staring blankly at Mikey's blood on his hands. Bob's standing nearby, pale, hands clenching and unclenching helplessly.

"We have to get him out of here," Bob says. "Maybe if we can make it off the property our phones will work again and we can call an ambulance. We have to at least try."

"You're right," Frank says, standing. It doesn't matter if they have to fight a pack of dogs off single-handedly or walk ten miles in the dark. "Let's go."

At that moment, Gerard's phone rings.

It's sitting on the nightstand, and for a second Frank and Bob both just stare at it like they've forgotten how phones work. It rings again and Frank dives for it.

"Hello?" he says, bringing it to his ear.

"Frank?" It's Grant. "Is Gerard there?"

"Grant! Look, I can't take time to explain much so you've just gotta go with me here," Frank says. "We need an ambulance at the Paramour about five minutes ago and we haven't been able to call anyone or leave the house all night. Since you got through to us I'm gonna try to call out, but I don't know if it'll work."

"...Right." Grant's clearly taken aback, but rolls with it. "I'll do my best to get someone to you as soon as possible."

"Thanks. I'll call you back and explain when I can," Frank says. He hangs up and instantly dials 911, holding his breath, but it won't go through. "Damn it!"

"You think Grant'll come through?" Bob asks.

"I know he will," Frank says. "I just don't know how long it'll take whoever he gets to make it out here." He looks back toward the bathroom; Ray's wrapped tape over the hoodie and towel to keep them in place on Mikey's wrists, and he's trying to talk to Gerard, who seems to have lapsed into shock, still kneeling at Mikey's side. "And I don't think I can just sit and wait."

There's no sign of the dogs when Frank and Bob get out to the gate. Bob shines the flashlight he brought in a wide arc and Frank rattles the gate loudly, waiting for them to run out from the trees again, but nothing happens. They get over the fence without too much difficulty and start heading down the road.

"So what do you think happened back there?" Bob asks after they walk in silence for a minute or two.

"What do you mean?" Frank's still reeling from it, but he thinks it's pretty fucking clear what happened.

"I mean--whatever this big bad thing in the house is, it must've made Mikey do that, right?" Bob asks. "He wouldn't...he just wouldn't. Right?"

Frank worries his lower lip with his teeth, thinking about how badly off Mikey's seemed lately. A lot of that probably has been the house, yeah, but that's really just the latest in a long line of shit that's been rough on Mikey. The Paramour's been rough on Mikey, and Gerard's drinking was rough on Mikey, and the fact that he's always been the most reluctant member of the team while also being stuck with psychic ability he's never wanted has been rough on Mikey, and maybe when he managed to convince Gerard they needed to leave the Paramour and then they couldn't, it was just one bad thing too many.

"I don't know," he says. "I don't want to think he would, but I can't help wondering if maybe we missed some kind of warning signs. I mean, it's Mikey, he just flies under the radar sometimes."

Frank has a horrible feeling that he missed what's been going on with Mikey because he's been so focused on what was going on with Gerard. Gerard draws attention to himself and Mikey deflects it, and Frank's spent so much time lately worrying about Gerard, but he knows better than that and he should have watched out for Mikey.

They walk a little further, and then flashing red and blue lights come into view, up ahead where the road curves out of sight. Frank lets out a shout of relief, and a moment later an ambulance comes around the bend, slowing when the paramedics see Frank and Bob standing by the side of the road.

"Keep going!" Frank calls, waving them toward the house. "And you might have to ram the gate. Long story."

The ambulance speeds up again, and Frank and Bob turn to watch it drive toward the house.

"So...do we go back or keep going?" Bob asks.

Frank thinks for a moment. "I say keep going," he says. "We won't all be able to ride in the ambulance, the rest of us still need to find a ride somehow."

As if conjured up by those words, there's the sound of another car approaching, and they turn as it comes around the bend. The driver eases to a stop next to them and rolls the window down, leaning out.

"Are you guys with Gerard's team?" he asks.

"Maybe," Frank replies. "Who're you?"

"My name's Geoff, I'm a friend of Grant's," the driver tells him. "He called me and said you might need a ride."




Frank calls Grant on the way to the hospital--sure enough, once they leave the property their phones work again.

"Thank you," he says with feeling. "I don't know what we would've done if you hadn't sent the cavalry."

"I'm glad I could help," Grant tells him. "But if you have time to talk now, would you mind telling me exactly who I called an ambulance for?"

Frank realizes what Grant might be thinking, with Frank answering Gerard's phone, and winces. "Mikey's hurt. Gerard's...well, he's okay physically, but, y'know. He's riding along in the ambulance. Where are you right now, by the way?"

"On the road," Grant tells him. "I woke up a short while ago with an overwhelming feeling that I needed to be in Los Angeles. What exactly happened, can you tell me?"

Frank rubs a hand over his eyes tiredly. "I'm still not totally sure. I can tell you what I know."

He covers everything he can: what happened by the pool, not being able to leave, Gerard's conviction that there's something a lot worse than an ordinary ghost in the house and his brief mention of having talked to Daisy again before they found Mikey...and the way they found Mikey.

"So what do you think?" he finally asks.

"I think it's a very good thing you're all out of that house," Grant says. "And I know I don't need to tell you to keep an eye on Gerard, but I think it's particularly important that you do so now."

"Right. Hey, we're almost at the hospital," Frank says. "See you when you get here."

It takes some talking to get the receptionist to give them Mikey's room number and let them go upstairs at this hour, but eventually she agrees to let them at least look in on Mikey and Gerard. Mikey's sleeping, hooked up to an IV drip, his wrists stitched up and bandaged. Someone gave Gerard a pair of scrubs to wear instead of clothes with his brother's blood all over them, and he's sitting at Mikey's bedside, shoulders slumped, hair hanging in his face.

"They think he's gonna be okay," Gerard says in a calm, flat voice. "We managed to keep him from losing too much blood."

There's another chair in the room; Frank draws it up next to Gerard and put a hand on his shoulder. "Gee..."

Gerard looks down, drawing in a shaky breath. "I was right there," he says, voice breaking on the last words. "I was in the next room. How the fuck did this happen?"

Frank slips his arm around Gerard, tugging gently, and Gerard lets himself sag against Frank. He doesn't make a lot of noise, but his shoulders shake, and Frank can feel the front of his shirt getting wet.

"It's okay," Frank murmurs, raising one hand to stroke Gerard's hair. "He's gonna be okay. We're gonna be okay."

It's the only thing he can think to say right now. He just wishes it felt more true.




Gerard wakes up stiff and groggy. He's slumped sideways in his chair, his head on Frank's thigh, and Frank's shaking his shoulder gently.

"Mmf," Gerard says, sitting up. Mikey's still out, he notices, and Ray and Bob are gone from the room. "What time is it?"

"A little after five," Frank says. "Ray and Bob went to find coffee, and Grant just got here."

"Grant's here?" Gerard vaguely remembers someone saying he was on his way, but the past few hours are kind of a blur. Except, of course, for the parts that are burned into his mind forever.

"Yeah, he texted me from the lobby," Frank tells him. "If he can talk his way past reception, he should be here in a minute."

"'If'? I should think by now you would have more faith in me than that, Frank."

Frank smiles as he turns toward the doorway; smiling's a little more than Gerard's capable of right now, but he still feels a surge of grateful relief when he sees Grant standing there. He stands as Grant comes into the room, and when they meet Grant envelops him in a hug immediately. Gerard slides his arms around Grant's back and holds on tight, burying his face in Grant's shoulder.

"I'm so sorry," Grant says. "I should have come sooner, or told you to leave."

"I wouldn't have listened," Gerard says, voice muffled by Grant's jacket. "There's no one but me to blame for the fact that we stayed there so long."

Grant shakes his head. "Don't. You ran up against something very powerful here, don't blame yourself for what you did under its influence."

Mikey lets out a low moan just then, and they all turn instantly toward the bed. Gerard rushes over, taking his hand.

"Hey," he says softly as Mikey's eyes flutter open. "Hey, you're okay. You're in the hospital."

Mikey's eyes open wide, and he looks around. "We're out of the house?" he asks. "We got out?"

Gerard lifts his free hand to cup Mikey's cheek, leaning forward until their foreheads touch. "Yeah," he says softly. "We're out."

They wait until Ray and Bob get back with coffee to talk. Gerard clutches his styrofoam cup like a lifeline as the others find places to sit or lean against the wall.

Mikey drinks some water a nurse brought him, propped up on the bed, and looks down at his wrists as he starts to speak.

"I'm trying to figure out how to describe what happened in that bathroom," he says in a low voice. "I felt like...like I was being taken over. Like something was trying to get inside me and there was nothing I could do, no way to stop it."

"Are you saying it made you hurt yourself?" Bob asks.

Mikey shakes his head. "No, you don't get it. That was me. I did it because it was the only way I could think to keep from being taken over completely. I--the part I can't describe is what it felt like to have that thing inside me. I would've done anything to stop it."

"Why didn't you try to wake me up?" Gerard asks. "Maybe I could've done something."

Mikey bites his lip. "I did try," he says, very softly. "I yelled, I banged on the door--I guess you couldn't hear me."

Gerard stares at him for a moment, then looks down, trying to swallow past the lump of horrified guilt in his throat.

Mikey's hand covers his. "I'm not blaming you," Mikey says, low but forceful. "I think the house wouldn't let you hear me."

And you wouldn't have been in the house if it wasn't for me, Gerard doesn't say out loud. Mikey probably knows he's thinking it. Gerard grips his hand tightly.

Frank clears his throat softly and speaks up. "Gee, when I woke you up, you said you'd seen Daisy again...?"

Gerard nods. "Yeah, she came to me again--shit, I just realized she was probably able to do it because the other presence in the house was distracted. I got everything she had to tell me this time, and it pretty much lines up with what Mikey felt."

"You said you knew what the other thing in the house is," Frank prompts.

Gerard takes a deep breath. "It's a demon," he says. "At least, that's what it feels like to me based on what I know about them, and that's what Daisy thought it was." He looks over at Mikey. "Turns out she was like us. And--"

"She drove off that cliff trying to get away from it, didn't she?" Mikey finishes.

Gerard nods. "Because it was trying to possess her. Like it's been trying to do to both of us."

"Wait a second," Bob says. "A demon? Like, we're talking Exorcist-style here?"

"More or less," Gerard says, running a hand through his hair. "I was right about this being the biggest case we've ever had. And wrong about everything else."

"So what do we do now?" Ray asks.

Grant speaks up, leaning against the wall with his arms folded. "With respect, I think the five of you should take a step back. I'll get some people here as soon as possible to go out to the Paramour with me and see what we can do."

"People who've got more experience than us with demons and hopefully won't get their asses handed to them?" Frank asks, and Grant nods.

"Fine by me," Bob says.

"Me too," Ray says. "But would it be okay if I go back out there with you and just observe?"

"I think it would," Grant says. "Frank, Bob, you could observe as well, if you want to."

"But not me," Gerard says, unsurprised.

Grant looks over at him, and Gerard can see in his eyes how worried--scared, really--Grant is for him. "No. I don't think you should set foot on that property again."

My case, a corner of Gerard's mind whispers, sullen and rebellious. Mine, you can't just come in and take it over.

He fights the thought down at once, horrified at himself. Thinking like that is what got them into this mess, and if Grant hadn't helped them get out of the house...

He looks down, nodding. "Okay."




When the nurses finally drive them out of Mikey's hospital room, they pile in Grant's rental car to find a hotel nearby. Frank, Ray, and Bob had the presence of mind to grab the overnight bags when they left the Paramour, so everyone's got a change of clothes, their wallets and phones, and other essentials, but all their equipment is still up at the house. As soon as they're checked in to two connecting rooms, Grant's on the phone in search of other parapsychologists who can be in L.A. on short notice. The rest of them just sit on the beds in the other room and look at each other, too keyed-up to lie down and try to sleep, too tired to do anything else.

Gerard's phone rings, still in Frank's jacket pocket, and Frank pulls it out and winces at the display.

"Shit, it's Rob. The groundskeeper must've gotten to the house and found the gate busted open." He looks up at Gerard, eyebrows raised slightly. "Want me to handle it?"

Gerard almost says yes, then shakes his head. "What the hell, I need something to do," he says, taking the phone and heading into the bathroom.

Rob's understandably pissed, and skeptical when Gerard says they couldn't open the gate or call anyone, but hearing that Mikey was badly hurt in an "accident" defuses his anger a little, as does Gerard's offer to pay for the damages.

"I'll have the gate looked at," he says. "If there's some sign it was really malfunctioning--"

"I'll pretty sure there won't be," Gerard says tiredly. "We'll pay for the mirror, too."

"What mirror?"

Gerard sighs. "You'll find out. Look, Rob, is there any way you can keep everyone away from the house for a few days? I know you don't really believe in all this, but I don't think it's safe for any of the staff to be there right now."

"I never said I don't believe in it," Rob says.

"No, but you've been thinking it during every conversation we've had," Gerard says wryly.

"All right, I don't. But the owners do, or we wouldn't be having this conversation. I'll see what I can do."

"All right," Gerard says. "Thanks."

When he emerges from the bathroom, Frank, Ray, and Bob are in the middle of a conversation.

"Here's the thing I don't get," Bob is saying. "If this is what demons are like, then they seem pretty good at fucking shit up without bodies. Like, not just the usual haunted house crap--it made Gerard walk into the pool, it made the dogs attack Ray, it can physically hurt us. So why does it need to possess anyone at all?"

"The way I understand it, demons come from somewhere else," Frank says. "Some people say Hell, some people say another dimension, but whatever it is it's just..." he waves a hand. "Out there, somewhere. And they can sort of cross over to our world, dimension, whatever, but it's like trying to be in two places at once, it's hard. In order to cross over completely, they need something to anchor them. And it can be a thing or a place, but they seem to like it better if it's a person."

"It's more fun," Gerard says, and they all look over at him. He folds his arms, leaning against the wall by the bathroom door. "That's what I've been taught, anyway. They take over human bodies and use them to commit atrocities because it's fun for them." He walks over, sinking down on the bed next to Ray. "I'm sorry, guys. I should never have gotten us into this."

"Hey." Ray puts a hand on his shoulder. "You didn't 'get us' into anything, we were all part of the decision to come here." He shrugs. "We've never run into something like this before, sure. But the risk has always been there, with every case we've taken, and we all know it."

Frank makes a noise of assent. Bob nods, but he's quiet. Gerard's a little worried about him right now--Bob didn't even believe when he first joined the team, and he's always been really game, but now he kind of looks like he's wishing the ride he's on would stop and let him get off.

Before Gerard can say anything, Grant comes back into the room.

"How's it going?" Gerard asks him. "Have you got anyone yet?"

Grant nods, smiling faintly. "I have indeed."




It's nothing short of amazing that Grant's been able to pull together a team like this in the space of a few days. Jill's here, and Neil and his partner Amanda, and people Gerard's only met a few times in person but knows very well by reputation, like Mark Waid and Jim Lee and Karen Berger. And some of them are only here because Grant called in favors, but some of them agreed to come as soon as they heard that Gerard's team needed help.

Once everyone's arrived, they all meet at Geoff's house to go over the case--including Mikey, who's been released from the hospital by now. It's important that the team Grant's assembled knows everything, so Gerard doesn't hold anything back. He tells them all about the influence the house had on him, his visions and dreams, and what happened to Mikey. Mikey sits in the back between Frank and Ray, the sleeves of his hoodie tugged over the bandages on his wrists, staring fixedly at the ground.

Everyone except Gerard and Mikey goes out to the house the next day. In a way, it feel reminiscent of when they were kids, the two of them sent off out of the way while others deal with the danger.

"Can we get out of here for a while?" Mikey asks after they see the others off. "Go get some coffee or something?"

There's an edge to his voice, and Gerard looks over at him in concern. "Sure. You okay?"

Mikey shrugs. "Yeah, just...we were cooped up in the house and then I was cooped up in a hospital room, I'd kind of like to not be cooped up in a hotel room."

They walk to the nearest Starbucks, sitting at a table outside in heavy, awkward silence. Gerard isn't actively trying to touch Mikey's mind, but he can't help but get echoes of pain and anger and lingering confusion, like on some level he's still struggling to come to terms with everything that's happened.

"I'm sorry," Gerard murmurs, looking down at his coffee. He has no idea if that'll help or just make it worse, feels compelled to say it anyway. "I'm sorry I let this happen."

"You didn't," Mikey protests.

"I should have--"

"I let it happen," Mikey says, and Gerard looks up at him, startled.

"When we were going through your books," Mikey goes on in a low voice. "I had this feeling, I could tell something really bad was about to happen. And I wanted to tell you, but I just...I just didn't." He looks down at his hands, picks at the edge of one of his bandages and then clenches his hand into a fist. "And maybe part of that was the demon influencing me, but part of it was just that I didn't know how to tell you. I couldn't get myself to open my mouth and ask my brother for help."

"I should have known anyway," Gerard protests, and rubs a hand over his face tiredly. "I should have been able to sense it." He reaches out, closing his hand around Mikey's fingers tightly. "I'm supposed to take care of you."

"You got us out of the house," Mikey points out, squeezing his hand. "Grant only knew we needed help because of you. None of the rest of us could have done that."

Gerard's not so sure that's true, but now is really not the time for a discussion about Mikey stifling his talents. As as much as he still feels compelled to heap all the blame for what happened on himself, arguing about who's fault it is isn't going to help Mikey now, either. He just holds Mikey's hand, like he needs the tangible reminder that he's still here, and Mikey grips his hand back just as tight.




The others don't get back until evening. Gerard and Mikey are back at the hotel, idly channel-surfing, and Gerard looks up as the door opens.

They file into the room quietly, all seemingly unhurt. But Gerard doesn't like the looks he sees on all their faces, wary and uncertain.

"Are you all okay?" he asks, standing.

Frank offers a faint smile. "Yeah, we're fine."

"And the demon?" Mikey asks.

"Very strong and extremely bad-tempered," Grant says. "It wasn't best pleased to have the two of you gone from the property."

"But...did you beat it?" Gerard asks, looking around at them all. "Is it gone?"

Ray and Frank exchange a glance, and then Ray says, "As far as anyone who was out there today could tell, there's no sign of it still being there."

"...That kind of sounds like you're not sure it's gone," Gerard says, and looks at Grant. "Why aren't you sure?"

Grant sighs. "It seemed too easy," he says. "After everything you described to me, everything it put you and Mikey through--it simply felt too easy. As if it let us win."

Gerard's silent for a moment, mulling that over. "I want to go back there with you and check it out."

Grant shakes his head. "I still don't think you should go back."

"There's no reason for you to think that unless you think the demon might still be there," Gerard points out. "And that's why I want to go. We need to make sure. I need to make sure. What if the reason none of you can feel it anymore is because it's lying dormant, waiting for either Mikey or I to come back? Look me in the eye and tell me you don't think that's a possibility."

Grant doesn't deny it. "I can't let you go back there," he says instead.

"I have to," Gerard protests. "Grant, it tried to take my brother."

Grant raises one hand to Gerard's cheek, cupping it gently and looking into his eyes. "It tried to take you, too," he says softly. "And you're asking me to give it another chance."

Gerard looks down, feeling his face grow warm. He can't take that look in Grant's eyes, not now, can't stand to look over at Frank. He can't struggle with his feelings for them when he's still got so much else to struggle with.

"I need to make sure," he repeats. "I can't walk away from this case without being sure, it'll drive me crazy. Please."




Even though he's only been away for a few days, going back to the Paramour feels like confronting an old enemy. He's nervous, of course, but in a way it feels satisfying to return instead of just slinking away. It appeals to his sense of drama.

That's dangerous thinking and he knows it, but as he gets out of the van he's flanked on either side by Grant and by his boys. They'll take him out of here by force if they need to, he knows. They won't let him succumb to the house's influence again.

But as he walks toward the house, he gets the sense that maybe he doesn't need them, because he can't feel anything from the house. Not a goddamn thing.

They walk through the house and he gets nothing. He stands for almost half an hour in the bathroom where Mikey hurt himself, staring into the shattered mirror. Finally they head back outside and he goes to the pool, crouching by the edge and dipping his fingers in the water.

Come on, he thinks. Don't you want another shot? I'm right here. Come on.

He sees Frank's reflection in the water as Frank kneels down next to him. "Anything?"

Gerard shakes his head.

"You don't look happy," Bob observes. "I mean, this is good, right? It's gone."

"That depends," Grant says. "There's a chance that we really succeeded in driving it from this plane of existence, which, yes, would be good."

"And there's a chance it just fled the house," Gerard says. "In which case it's still out there, somewhere, and it could come back. Or just move on to another place and try to possess someone else."

They go down to Daisy's grave, and Gerard stands with his hand on it for a few moments.

"She's gone, too," he says. "I think maybe she only stayed here to try to warn people away from the house. I hope she's at rest now."

There's nothing else to do here--all their stuff is packed up, and anything that needs to be settled with the owners can be taken care of from their hotel. As they drive away, Gerard can't help but look back at the house, until they round a curve and it disappears from sight.




Mikey tries to stick it out for about a month after they get home, then goes to Gerard and tells him they need to talk. Gerard doesn't seem surprised.

Mikey knows they're all having a hard time dealing with what happened at the Paramour. Every time he sees Frank or Ray or Bob, it's obvious. They thought they were so experienced, they thought they knew what they were doing, and this case knocked them off their feet so hard they still haven't gotten back up.

And Mikey knows Gerard has it worse than anyone else besides himself. They're both having night terrors now; they rearranged the furniture in their room so they could push their beds together weeks ago, so that now when one of them wakes up terrified the other is right there. Gerard's face is shadowed and haunted in a way it hasn't been since his drinking was at its worst.

But Gerard never had to feel that thing inside him. It tried, it might have gotten close, but it never got in, and that makes all the difference between their experiences. And Mikey knows what will help Gerard. Eventually Gerard will be ready to go back to work. He'll be ready, even eager, to take on another case, to learn from his mistakes and go forward.

Mikey doesn't know what will help him. But he's pretty sure it isn't that.

"I can't do this anymore," he tells Gerard. "Not right now, maybe not ever again, I don't know. All I know right now is I need some time, and I don't want to hold the rest of you back."

He's sitting with his legs drawn up, talking to his knees, afraid to even look at Gerard. Then Gerard puts an arm around him, and Mikey knows it's okay. Well, 'okay' doesn't really seem to fit. Gerard's disappointed, but he's not angry.

"Okay," Gerard says. "I'm not gonna bother pretending I'm not upset. But I'd never ask you to stay in this if you don't want to."

He wants to ask, wants to so bad Mikey can feel it coming off him in waves, and that's giving him more than enough guilt to deal with. But as badly as Gerard wants ask, he doesn't, and Mikey loves him for that.

"Okay," he says, leaning against Gerard's shoulder.

Gerard kisses the top of his head. "You'll always have a place on my team if you want it," he says. "Always. But only if you want it."

They sit in silence for a few moments, until Gerard asks, "So, what's the other thing you want to tell me?"

Because of course he can tell there's another thing. Mikey takes a deep breath. "I've been doing some research on inpatient psych treatment."

Gerard pulls back a little to look at him. "Inpatient?"

There's no judgment in his voice, but there is a little bit of hurt, and Mikey gets it. They're not just talking about him leaving the team anymore, they're talking about him leaving the house. Leaving Gerard.

"You know I haven't been sleeping well," Mikey says. That's an understatement; most of the night he lies in bed with his headphones on, so that he's there if Gerard has a night terror, but he only sleeps when he's too exhausted not to. "Every time I dream, I'm back there. I can't look in a mirror. I have a hard time being in a room by myself. I don't know how much longer I can live like this." He lowers his voice, even though there's no one else around to overhear. "Honestly, I'm starting to feel like my surviving was a mistake. A mistake I could correct."

Gerard tightens his arm around Mikey and just looks at him, stricken and seemingly at a loss.

"I know you would all help me with this if you could--you, Mom and Dad, the guys, Alicia--but I don't think you can," Mikey goes on. "And I think it would have to be inpatient, because I think I need people around to make sure I don't try anything, and I can't ask any of you to do that."

"You did it for me," Gerard says, voice rough.

"Because I could make taking care of you my job," Mikey says. "I can't be your job. You have a job to get back to, and I can't be the one to keep you from doing that, it'll just make me feel even more like shit."

Gerard looks away, swallowing hard. "You really think going into a psychiatric hospital is the right thing to do?" he asks. "I mean, you know I have nothing against psychiatry in principle. I just think most psychiatrists are best suited to treating people who aren't going to be listing 'firsthand encounter with a demon' as the source of their problems."

Mikey nods. "I've thought about that. That's why I emailed Grant last week and asked if he could recommend someone who's not likely to stick me in a straightjacket right away." Gerard looks surprised at that, and Mikey smiles sadly as he goes on. "Don't be mad at him, I made him promise you'd hear about all this from me. Anyway, he gave me the name of someone who works at a hospital in New York, Dr. Stacy Fass. If I go there I won't be very far from home. And I've already left her a message to see if she'll meet with me."




As much as Mikey wants to see if Dr. Fass can help him, the thought of sitting in her office explaining all this stuff at their first meeting is sort of overwhelming. He writes it all out instead and emails it to her before they meet.

Dr. Fass's whole office seems designed to inspire calm and quiet, all soft carpeting and comfy chairs and soothing colors on the walls, but Mikey's still tense as he sits across from her.

"I'm glad to finally meet face-to-face," Dr. Fass tells him. "I hope I can help you, I know from your email that you've been having trouble dealing with the things you experienced recently."

"The things I experienced?" Mikey echoes. "Is that a polite way of saying you think it was all in my head?"

"It seemed like the most diplomatic way to refer to your situation." Dr. Fass folds her hands together on top of her desk, giving him a calm, steady look. "You came to me, Mikey. I just want to figure out the best way I can help you."

Mikey looks down. "You're right, I'm sorry. I don't know why I'm being so defensive. I guess I just came in here really ready for you to call me crazy."

"That's one thing I'm never going to call you," Dr. Fass assures him solemnly. "No matter what I think about what you have to tell me."

"I appreciate that," Mikey says, looking back up at her. "But I think I need to know what you think before I can go on with this. Whether you believe my story at all."

She takes a moment to answer, looking down at her hands. "Well, to be honest, I'm not very inclined to believe in anything paranormal or supernatural. It doesn't fit in very easily with the way I view the world. It challenges me." Looking up at him, she continues. "But I also don't like to dismiss things just because I find the idea of them challenging. Especially not when someone like Dr. Morrison, who's one of the most intelligent people I've ever met, believes in them very strongly."

She sits back in her chair, lowering her hands to her lap. "Now, looking at your situation...you describe a lot of strange things happening, over the course of most of your life, all of them involving other people who I assume would back you up if I sought them out and asked them. So I can believe that you and all your close family and friends have been prone to mass hallucinations over a period of twenty years, or are all part of an elaborate hoax...or I can accept that these things have happened to you. I may not feel very comfortable using the terms 'ghost' or 'demon', but to say that things I don't have a scientific explanation for have happened to you? I can do that."

Mikey smiles wryly. "So...you don't not believe me."

"You could put it that way," Dr. Fass says. "And here's what I do believe--I believe that whatever you've experienced, whatever the exact nature of it was, you've been left profoundly disturbed by it. And that's what you've asked for my help with. If you were confused about your experiences and asked me to help you make sense of them, that would be one thing. But you haven't. You've asked me to help you through the aftermath. I think that gives us enough to go on for now."

"For now?" Mikey asks.

Dr. Fass gives him a faint smile. "For now. Moving forward, who knows? You might just make a believer out of me."




Gerard tries not to think of it as Mikey being gone. He's not all that far away--they were farther apart when Gerard went to college. Gerard can visit him, they can talk on the phone or by email. He's not really gone.

Except he is. Because he's off dealing with something that Gerard fully understand. There's a gulf between them now that's greater than any physical distance, and Gerard doesn't know how to deal with that. And because however many times Gerard offered Mikey an out, told him he didn't have to be part of the team if he didn't want to be, and swore to himself he'd abide by any decision Mikey made, he never really let himself think about what it would be like if Mikey wanted out.

Bob comes to him a week later, while Gerard's still working through the fact that Mikey's gone. He's obviously been struggling with whatever it is he wants to say, and Gerard feels like he has a pretty good idea what it is.

"I feel like such an asshole doing this now, after Mikey and everything," Bob says, looking down at his clasped hands. "But I figure I'd be even more of an asshole to wait until you get a new case and drop it on you then."

"It's okay," Gerard tells him. "Whatever it is, just say what you've gotta say."

Bob looks up, meeting his eyes. "I can't do this anymore," he says frankly, and it's the second time Gerard's heard those words, words he hoped he'd never hear from anyone on his team. "I thought I knew what I was getting myself into once I learned all this stuff was real. I thought I was completely on board. But what happened at the Paramour was so far beyond what I expected, and...I just can't."

It's hard to hear, yes, and especially after Mikey leaving, but Gerard nods. "To be honest, I'm not that surprised to hear it. I've--"

"--had a feeling," Bob finishes in unison with him, and they both smile wryly.

"Of course I'm not gonna try to make you stay if you don't want to," Gerard tells him. "It's your decision. I'm gonna miss working with you, though, and I'd welcome you back if you ever change your mind."

"I'm gonna miss you, too," Bob says regretfully. "All of you."

"You want me to talk to Ray and Frank?" Gerard asks, and Bob shakes his head.

"No, I will," Bob says. "I owe them that much. I just wanted to let you know first."

Bob breaks the news at the diner, and Gerard can tell Ray and Frank both take it hard, but neither of them question his decision. This is the sort of work where if someone says they can't do it anymore, you take them at their word. It's too potentially dangerous to do anything else.

They send Bob off with hugs and handshakes and promises to try and keep in touch, and then the three of them linger over their coffee.

"Well, this sucks," Frank says.

"After everything that happened in the Paramour, the one thing I kept focusing on was that we all made it through," Ray says. "That it didn't beat us."

"It hasn't beaten us," Gerard says forcefully.

"Gee, we're down by two," Frank points out.

"And there are still three of us, assuming both of you are still in it with me," Gerard counters, looking between the two of them. "Are you?"

"Of course," Ray says at once, and Frank nods.

"Then we aren't beaten," Gerard says. "We keep going. We do the work. We help as many people, as much as we can, for as long as we can." He puts his hand on the center of the table. "Right?"

With no hesitation, Ray and Frank put their hands on top of his.

"Right," Frank says.




2007

Frank likes being home. He does. He gets to eat his mom's cooking, sleep in his own bed, and do laundry without hoarding quarters. It's also easier to keep up with coursework, which increases his chances of getting better than Cs for once.

Back when things started to take off with the team, when it started to look like they might actually be able to make a living off of this, and at the same time got harder and harder to spare the time and concentration for school, he'd just dropped out. That had led to one of the biggest fights he'd ever had with his parents, even worse than the one they'd had when he came home with a tattoo a few days after his eighteenth birthday. Even when he got them to accept that their son not only believed in ghosts now but wanted to make a career out of dealing with them--and that wasn't exactly a cakewalk--they'd never stopped being disappointed that he'd dropped out of school to do it. And while he doesn't regret what he did, he's always understood their concern over it, which is why he started taking online classes part-time a few years ago. It's still not always easy to balance that with the job, but he's only two semesters away from a Bachelor's in psychology now, and since their last case wrapped up he's finished two papers and gotten Bs on both of them.

So, being home is good for a bunch of reasons. And it's good to just be able to live normally for a while, no ghosts, no EMF readers, no chalk circles drawn on the floor. So the fact that Frank's starting to look forward to their next case is clearly a sign that there's something wrong in his brain, and it's probably Gerard's fault, because Gerard has something wrong in his brain that is, apparently, contagious.

It's been a few weeks since the last case wrapped up--not the biggest stretch of downtime they've ever had, but enough for Frank to be getting stir-crazy. Aside from finishing his papers, he's caught up with all the people in town he wants to catch up with, made his best lasagna yet, and reorganized his entire bedroom, and he's running out of things to do besides just bum around. He's considering asking his mom to teach him to knit--he could make the whole team matching scarves--when he gets a text from Gerard.

Got a lead on a potential case. Diner tonight? 9ish?




Alicia's behind the counter when Frank walks into the diner, somehow managing to look good in her ugly waitress uniform. She's busy texting, which Frank's pretty sure she's not supposed to be doing on duty, but when she glances up and sees it's him, she doesn't even lower her phone.

"Hey, Frankie," she says. "Something strange in the neighborhood?"

"Looks like," he replies.

Alicia jerks her head toward the big curving booth in the back, and Frank sees Ray, Lindsey and Gerard there. "If Gerard's already drunk all the coffee I left back there, just yell," she tells him, and then turns her attention back to her phone.

Frank heads back. It's still jarring to not see Mikey or Bob at a team meeting, but there's a plate of cheese fries on the table and a cup of coffee waiting for him by the empty spot next to Gerard. Some things haven't changed.

And on the other hand, some things have. Lindsey's sitting next to Ray, and it's getting more and more familiar to see her there. She joined a couple of months ago, when they were finally forced to admit they needed someone. As long as Bob's been gone, it still felt weird and a little wrong to hire his replacement, but with a formerly five-person team down to three, they couldn't get around it.

And Lindsey's been great so far. She knew Gerard and Ray at UVA, she wasn't heavily into paranormal stuff before she joined but was already a believer, she's easy to work with and good at learning on the job. Plus she's just kind of awesome, which is good. Frank supposes they wouldn't strictly speaking need everyone on the team to be friends, but as closely as they work together, it definitely helps.

"So what's up?" Frank asks as he sits down, and Gerard pulls out his notebook.

"It's a house in the suburbs outside Chicago," he says. "The current owner inherited it a few months ago, but she's suspected it of being haunted for a long time. Now that it's hers, she wants to know for sure, and deal with anything that might be there before she does anything with the house."

"What sort of history are we looking at?" Ray asks.

"It's a pretty old house," Gerard says. "Victorian. There've been a couple of deaths there, but everything on record is from natural causes or diseases that are pretty common for the time when they happened. From what I heard no one's been hurt by the potential haunting, just creeped out a lot." He looks up from his notebook. "The owner offered to put us up while we check it out, and I don't see any reason not to do that much."

He glances around at them all, and they nod one by one. Gerard smiles.

"All right. I'll let her know we're coming."




Frank goes to see Mikey before they leave. Gerard's already let him know that they took a case and what the basics of the case are, so they spend most of Frank's visit talking about other stuff. It's not until Frank's getting ready to leave that Mikey brings the case up.

"Hey, about the case...be careful, okay?"

Frank raises his eyebrows slightly. "Is that a standard-issue 'be careful', or...?"

"I don't know," Mikey says, his voice a little strained. "I've been having weird dreams. At least, I feel weird when I wake up from them, and that's about all I can tell you because I can never remember the dreams themselves."

Frank studies his face, concerned. "What are you trying to tell me, Mikeyway?"

Mikey makes a face, seeming frustrated with his inability to find the right words. "It feels like something's coming," he says eventually. "But I don't know what, so I don't know what to look out for. Or what to tell you guys to look out for. And I keep thinking maybe it's just me, y'know, just in my head? But it's been going on for a while now."

"Does Gee know about this?" Frank asks.

"Yeah. I told him to be careful," Mikey says. "But we both know being careful isn't always his strong suit."

"...Yeah." Frank knows, all right. "I'll do my best to look out for him, you know that, right?"

Mikey smiles faintly. "Yeah, I know. But look out for yourself, too, okay?"

"Of course," Frank says, and pulls him into a one-armed hug. "See you when we get back."




Two days later, they're sitting in a cafe in a Chicago suburb, meeting with a young woman named Greta Salpeter. Gerard opens his notebook to a fresh page, and Ray gets out his tape recorder, setting it in the middle of the table.

"I'd like you to tell us everything from the beginning," Gerard says to Greta. "I know I'm asking you to go over stuff we've already talked about, but I'd like for everyone to hear it, and to get it on tape."

Greta nods, sitting across from him with her hands wrapped around a cup of coffee. "The house belonged to my grandfather," she begins. "When I was little, my parents and I lived really close, and I used to spend a lot of time there. Then when I was about seven, we moved more than an hour away, and it seemed like we hardly ever saw my grandfather any more. Looking back, I think maybe he and my parents had a falling out, because even with the distance, we could have seen him a lot more than we did."

Gerard nods. "And you think all of that--moving away, the falling out--had to do with the house?"

"I think so, yeah," Greta says, a little hesitant. "I...I remember some stuff from when I was little. And I remember talking to a counselor who told me none of it really happened, that it was just my imagination. And there's a lot about my time in the house I don't remember all that well, but..."

She trails off, a faraway look on her face.

"Go on," Gerard prompts. "Whatever you remember."

"I remember a little girl," Greta says. "I remember playing with her in the attic, and my parents talking about her like she was an imaginary friend, but I was sure she was really there. I remember a rocking chair that would rock with no one in it, and one time, just once, I saw an old woman sitting in it. She scared me. I remember noises in the kitchen when no one was there, and things going missing and turning up in unexpected places. My parents say they don't remember any of this stuff, by the way, except me talking about the little girl."

"When did you first start thinking the house might have been haunted?" Gerard asks.

Greta shrugs. "High school, I guess? Maybe a little earlier? Like I said, my parents sent me to a counselor after we moved, and then I didn't think about the house much for a long time. But you hear enough ghost stories and watch enough scary movies that bear a strong resemblance to your early childhood, and at some point you start to do the math, y'know?"

"Did you ever go back?" Gerard asks.

Greta shakes her head. "No. I really wasn't close at all with my grandfather anymore, and I was also kind of scared to. But then my grandfather died and left the house to me. I've gone out there just once since then. I didn't see or hear anything unusual--it felt kind of spooky, but I don't know, maybe that's just because I was expecting it to? But if there's anything there, I just feel like...it's mine now. I have to deal with it."




They drive to the house from the cafe, following Greta in her car. It's a sprawling Victorian mansion, beautiful if in a little bit of disrepair. Greta gets out of her car and walks up to the porch, waiting for them, and as she stands there in an old-fashioned peacoat with her long blonde hair spilling out from under a knit cap, she and the house seem to suit each other.

Greta opens the door and they step into the foyer, and immediately Frank sees Gerard stand up a little straighter, sees his face take on that intense, watchful look. There's something here, all right.

"The first thing we should do is establish sort of a base camp," he tells Greta. "Somewhere we can set up our equipment and establish a safe space--a living room or parlor, maybe?"

Greta nods, and leads them down the hall a little to a spacious room full of ornate rugs and old-fashioned furniture.

"Everything's a little dusty," she says apologetically. "My grandfather used to have a cleaning service come out sometimes, but no one's been here since he died."

"It's fine," Gerard tells her. "Do you mind if we move stuff around?"

Greta waves a hand. "Do whatever you need to do," she says.

They push all the furniture back against the walls and roll up the rugs, stirring up a metric fuckton of dust in the process.

"Okay, we gotta fucking sweep in here before we set up," Frank declares. Greta shows him where the broom closet is, and they clean up the parlor, just sweeping everything down the hallway and out the open door. After that, Gerard draws the circle, and the team brings in their equipment to start setting up.

"I can tell you guys right away that I'm feeling a strong paranormal presence here," Gerard says as they work. "Definitely at least one spirit, probably more. So far there's nothing malevolent, as far as I can tell. I think we can stay here without being in any danger, assuming that's all right with you, Greta."

Greta nods. "Like I said, the house is a mess, but it's not like there's not plenty of room. So, what happens now?"

"We'll put cameras and microphones up around the house," Gerard tells her. "Then I'd like to wait for a while and see if anyone or anything reveals itself to us. If we don't get anything that way, I'll try reaching out."

Later, they get settled in rooms on the second floor. Frank and Gerard end up sharing what seems to have once been a kids' room, judging from the twin beds and the faded, peeling wallpaper, which is printed with zoo animals.

"You really can't feel anything malevolent here?" Frank asks Gerard.

"Yeah," Gerard replies. "I mean, I wouldn't swear to there being nothing bad here based on one day, but if there's anything, I can't feel it yet."

"Okay," Frank says.

Gerard looks over at him, both of them sitting on the edge of their respective beds. "Any particular reason you ask?"

Frank shrugs. "Just...what Mikey said before we left home."

Gerard looks down, hair falling over his eyes. "Yeah, I'm keeping that in mind."

Frank looks at him, wishing, like always, that he knew what to say when Mikey comes up. Everything that ever comes to mind seems stupid or cliche or not actually helpful, things like I miss him too, you know and Maybe he'll come back soon and You've gotta stop blaming yourself for what happened. None of those things is what Gerard needs to hear. Frank just wishes he knew what he does need to hear.

Besides, Frank totally hasn't stopped blaming himself for what happened at the Paramour, so it'd be sort of hypocritical of him.

Gerard looks up at him and cracks a smile that doesn't touch his eyes. "Come on, let's see what everyone wants to do for dinner."




The first tangible sign of ghost activity in the house is in the kitchen. The cameras don't catch anything, because it all happens with the drawers and cabinets shut tight. But the microphones pick up clattering and shifting sounds, after which dishes and silverware and even the food in the fridge turn up rearranged. Gerard sits up in the kitchen one night, reading and hoping something decides to show itself to him, but that night nothing happens.

They find Greta's rocking chair next, up on the third floor. It's as she described it, rocking slowly back and forth with no one visible in it and no wind or anything else to make it move--Ray even measures the floor to make sure it's level, and it is. Once again, Gerard spends a night in that room, and once again he gets nothing.

Other than that, they don't pick up anything that can't be attributed to average old-house creakiness. After a few days, Gerard decides it's time to step things up a little. They've been doing some research at the local library and town hall, trying to find records of former inhabitants of the house, and Gerard thinks they may have found Greta's ghost playmate.

"If this is the same girl, her name was Elizabeth Marchand," he begins when he sits down with Greta in the parlor. "Her family was one of the first to live in the house, and Elizabeth died of scarlet fever in 1865. She was seven."

Greta takes the copy of the death notice Gerard printed out, scanning it briefly. "Elizabeth..."

"Does that ring any bells?" Gerard asks. "During the interview, it seemed like the little girl in the attic was the ghost that made the biggest impression on you."

"I don't remember her name," Greta tells him. "I do remember her, but...not a lot of specifics. But she was about that age, and I think she wore a pinafore and button shoes, so nineteenth century sounds right."

"I want to try and make contact with her," Gerard says. "The fact that you saw her enough to remember her after all this time...it could just be that she reached out to you because you were another child, but it could also mean she's a particularly strong presence here. Did you always see her in the attic?"

"Yeah--or at least, that's the only place I remember seeing her," Greta says.

"Then that's where I'll look," Gerard says.




The attic rooms are cool and dusty, with that comforting smell that old, dry wood gets. The windows are shuttered, but bright slashes of afternoon sunlight come through where they can. Gerard walks lightly, trying not to make the floorboards creak more than he can help.

"Elizabeth?" he calls out, low and gentle. "Are you up here?"

He looks around as he passes from room to room, searching for any signs of movement. It looks like no one's used this part of the house in a long time; all the furniture's draped and there's a thick layer of dust over everything.

He tries again. "Elizabeth?"

"I'm not Elizabeth," a small voice from behind him says.

Gerard turns around very slowly, not wanting to startle her. She's standing a few feet behind him--solid, but everything from her hair to her clothes seems to have had some of the color leached out of it, like a faded photograph. True to Greta's description, she looks about seven years old, wearing a green dress, white pinafore and button shoes, with her hair braided in pigtails.

"I'm sorry," Gerard tells her. "I thought that was your name."

"My mama's Elizabeth," she tells him. "I'm named after her, but everyone calls me Betsy."

Gerard smiles. "All right then, Betsy. My name's Gerard."

She reaches into the pocket of her pinafore, producing a cloth bag. "Would you like to play jacks with me?"

"Sure," Gerard says easily. "But I haven't played jacks in a really long time, so go easy on me."

He settles onto the floor, folding his legs under himself. Betsy comes closer and sits down across from him, shaking her jacks out of their bag. Gerard notices, briefly, that they don't disturb the dust on the floor.

"You can go first," she tells him.

"Thanks," Gerard says, reaching out. He's not totally sure he's going to be able to touch the rubber ball until his hand closes around it. He bounces it, grabs one jack, and then catches the ball.

Betsy takes her turn--her fingers, when she takes the ball from Gerard's open palm, feel like the pages of an old book--and snatches several jacks easily before looking up at him.

"Are you and your friends going to stay here?" she asks.

"Just for a little while," Gerard tells her as he takes his turn. "Do you like having people here?"

"Oh, yes," Betsy says. "For the longest time there wasn't anyone here but the old man. And he wasn't nice at all--whenever he saw me he would tell me to go away, and once he threw a book at me."

"You're right, that's not very nice," Gerard says. "Has there ever been anyone else here?"

"There used to be people who would visit the old man," Betsy tells him. "But they haven't come in a long while, and then the old man left, too, so I don't suppose they'll come back." She looks sad. "I liked it when they came. They had a little girl who used to play with me."

"Anyone else?" Gerard asks, eying her cautiously. "Do you have any family here, maybe?"

Betsy freezes, her hand poised above the jacks, and then looks at him reproachfully as the ball comes down. "You've made me spoil my turn."

"I'm sorry, I didn't mean to," Gerard says. "Do you want to take another one?"

Betsy nods and does so, and doesn't look at him again until she's finished. "My mama and papa used to live here with me," she says softly. "And my nurse, and Cook. But they all went away. I think it was because I made them angry."

"What makes you think that?" Gerard asks her.

"They stopped talking to me," Betsy says, sounding on the verge of tears now. "They wouldn't even look at me, even if I shouted or stamped my foot. And then they went away and left me here by myself."

"Did something happen to you before that?" Gerard asks. "Like...maybe you got sick? Do you remember?"

"I had a fever," Betsy says. "It seemed to last an awfully long time. And when I got better I thought Mama and Papa would be pleased, but that was when they started acting strangely."

"I don't think they were mad at you, honey," Gerard says, and then hesitates. It's always tricky figuring out how to phrase this, because some ghosts react okay when he says the d-word and some of them flip out. "I think the sickness you caught made it so that no one else in the house could see or hear you anymore. So maybe your mom and dad thought that you'd left, and didn't want to stay here without you anymore."

"I never thought of that," Betsy says, and then her eyes widen. "Why, perhaps they left to look for me!"

"Could be," Gerard agrees.

"Do you think--?" Betsy hesitates, looking toward one of the shuttered windows. "Do you think if I left the house I could find them?"

"Maybe," Gerard says. "I can't say for sure, but it might be worth a try."

"Only...I haven't left the house in such a very long time," Betsy says, sounding nervous. "I'm not sure I can."

Gerard watches her, measuring his words carefully. "I think I could help you leave. If you wanted."

Betsy looks back at him, eyes bright in her sharp little face. "Could you help me find my mama and papa?"

Gerard shakes his head slowly. "I don't think so, honey. I can help you leave the house so you can go look for them, but you'd have to find them on your own."

"Why?" Betsy asks, frowning.

"Because they went somewhere I can't go," Gerard tells her. "You can go there, because you're special, but I can't tell you what you'll find there. You might find your parents, but I can't promise you that."

Betsy looks at him, cocking her head to the side curiously. "You're not like other grownups."

Gerard raises an eyebrow. "How so?"

"You're honest about not knowing things," she tells him. "Other grownups make things up to make it seem as if they know. Or they tell me not to ask so many questions."

"You deserve honesty, Betsy," Gerard tells her. He looks down, focusing on the jacks for a moment, and then asks, "So what do you think?"

"I don't know," Betsy says warily. "What if I left and I couldn't find them?"

"That would be sad," Gerard concedes. "But what if you stay here and they never come back?"

"I'm scared," Betsy whispers.

"That's okay," Gerard says. "It's natural to be scared of what you don't know. And you don't have to make up your mind right now. Think about it, okay?"

Betsy looks at him for a long moment, and then nods. "All right."

Gerard smiles at her. "Okay." He glances at his watch. "I should probably go back downstairs."

"Will you talk to me again?" Betsy asks.

"Sure," Gerard assures her. "Anytime you want to talk to me, I'll be listening."

A loud creak from across the room startles him, and he looks over, but there's nothing there. When he turns back, Betsy and her jacks are gone.




When Gerard gets back downstairs, he checks the footage from the attic camera--he's there, but there's no sign of Betsy. He calls everyone together and tells them about her, the tape recorder running as he talks.

"It's interesting," he says, turning to Greta. "She's aware of our presence here, and she remembers you as a little girl, but she makes no connection between your child and adult selves. I don't think she's very aware of the passage of time. Which makes sense, knowing how long she's been here would make it harder for her to stay in denial about being dead."

"How can she not know she's dead?" Greta asks.

"It's pretty common," Gerard explains. "The mind shields itself from what it can't handle, and that doesn't stop when we die. It's easier for Betsy to believe she's still alive, even though that leaves her with an incredibly lonely existence."

"Can you help her?" Frank asks.

"I think so," Gerard says. "She needs some time to come around to the idea of moving on, but she didn't react badly to it."




Gerard goes to bed that night feeling really good about the day's progress. He wakes up in a cold sweat, heart pounding. Frank's shaking his shoulder, kneeling on the floor between the twin beds, and Gerard's dream is already slipping away from him, but he knows where he was.

"Gee, what's wrong?" Frank's asking. "What is it?"

Gerard grabs for him, clutching at Frank's hand, and gasps out one word. "Paramour."

"Shit." Frank climbs onto the bed, wrapping both arms around Gerard, and Gerard huddles against him, pressing his face into the curve of Frank's shoulder. "You said you weren't dreaming about it so much anymore."

"I haven't," Gerard says, clinging to Frank's arm where it crosses his chest. "I haven't in months."

Frank rubs his back soothingly. "Can I do anything?" he asks.

Gerard wants to say "yes" and kiss him. Instead he asks, "What time is it?", and Frank reaches for his phone on the nightstand.

"Quarter after five."

"You can come downstairs and have coffee with me so I don't feel like a total weirdo drinking coffee alone at quarter after five in the morning," Gerard says.

Frank gives him a quick squeeze before easing away. "Hate to break it to you, dude, but that ship sailed a long time ago."

The now-familiar rattling in the kitchen goes silent as Gerard flips the light on, and he mutters "Sorry," as he crosses to the coffee maker. They drink their coffee as the sky outside gets light, and by the time the others in the house are stirring, Gerard's a little more prepared to shake what happened off. It's the same bad dream he's had about the Paramour a million times. He just thought he was past that by now.




Gerard doesn't really deal in technical terms--that's Ray's department--but sometimes he finds they make useful metaphors for psychic stuff he doesn't have a better term for. In this case, he thinks of the spiritual energy in the house like a radio frequency--in order to communicate with the ghosts in the house, he had to tune into the right wavelength. Once he's established contact with Betsy, it's easier to do so with the others.

A few days after talking to Betsy, he finally sees the inhabitant of the rocking chair, an old woman who looks to be from the turn of the 20th century. She's appalled by Gerard's "unkempt appearance" but impressed by his manners. Two days after that, the source of the nighttime kitchen rearrangements turns out to be a cook who dropped dead of a brain aneurysm in the middle of preparing a meal one night in 1882. Gerard dutifully records every encounter, both on tape and in his notebook. The whole team, plus Greta, have daily meetings where they discuss anything they saw or heard or felt the night before.

He can tell he hasn't seen or talked to every ghost in the house, but he thinks some of them aren't strong enough to manifest that way. They still make themselves known--the sound of whispering voices, a breeze with no discernible source on his cheek or the back of his neck, footsteps hurrying past the door of his and Frank's room at night. It's hard to know if those things are caused by multiple spirits or the same one, but even if it's just one, that's a minimum of four ghosts in a single house.

"It's what we call a hotspot," he explains at that day's meeting. "It's not known exactly what causes them, but it means that people who die in this house are more likely to stick around. And it means that instead of dealing with them one-by-one, it might work better to try a mass exorcism."

"We've never done that," Ray says, a hint of excitement in his voice.

"Which is why we're not going to do it just yet," Gerard says. "I want to wait a few more days to see if any other presences in the house make themselves known--I still haven't encountered anything that seems dangerous, but I want to be as sure as we can. And in the meantime I can give you all some stuff to read up on the procedure. We're all going to need to be on the same page for it."

Gerard dreams about the Paramour again a few nights later, and wakes up on his own this time, starting awake with one hand already clamped over his mouth as if to hold in a scream.

He looks over at the other bed, but he hasn't woken Frank. Gerard slips out of bed as quietly as he can, takes his phone and goes out and down the stairs, sitting on the bottom step.

"Gerard?" Grant sounds curious as he answers the phone.

"Hi, Grant," Gerard says. It's been a little while since they've talked, and it's good to hear his voice.

"Is everything all right?" Grant asks him. "It's rather late where you are, isn't it? Or early, I suppose."

"I had a bad dream--" Gerard stops himself, because "dream" doesn't cut it. "I had a night terror. About the Paramour. The second one I've had in a week."

"Are you all right otherwise?" Grant asks at once.

Gerard nods. "Yeah, I've been fine. This case has been about as close to a cakewalk as working with ghosts ever gets."

"Be that as it may, do you think you might need to leave the house you're in now?" Grant goes on.

Gerard thinks about it--really thinks. He's made this mistake before. "My instinct says no," he says after a moment. "Instinct says it's not coming from the house."

"Do you want me to come there?" Grant asks.

Gerard hesitates. "You're all the way at home in Scotland..."

"And I have no pressing obligations, so I can be on a plane tomorrow," Grant tells him.

"What if it turns out to be nothing?" Gerard asks.

"Gerard," Grant says gently. "If there's even a chance you could be in trouble, I can't get to the airport fast enough. I would think you'd know that by now."

Gerard smiles faintly. "I do. If you're sure you don't mind..."

"I'll call you when I land in Chicago," Grant says with an air of finality.

"All right," Gerard says. "Thank you."

He goes back upstairs and slips back into bed. Frank's still asleep. Gerard thinks about waking him up and telling him that he had another dream, and finds himself reluctant to do so. Frank can't do anything but worry and watch Gerard, but he'd do plenty of that, and the thought of that kind of scrutiny seems a little too much to deal with right now, well-meaning as it would be. Besides, Frank will find out when Grant gets here. Keeping it from him for another day seems harmless enough.




Gerard thinks long and hard about going through with the mass exorcism, but whatever's going on with him, he still feels good about the case. The spirits here need peace, and he can give it to them.

They all gather in the parlor, and Gerard gathers everyone into the circle, then lights the candles and activates the binding spells.

"Everyone stand around and join hands," he says. "We need to be a circle, too."

They follow his instructions, and Gerard takes Frank and Greta's hands. He closes his eyes.

"Everyone breathe deeply," he says. "I'm gonna try to sort of link us all up, so if you feel something weird in your mind, that's me. If it gets to be too much for anyone, say the word."

He takes a few deep breaths himself, in and out, and then reaches out with his mind. He touches Frank and Ray first, because they're the most familiar: Frank's glowing warmth and the rough edges he tries to hide it with, Ray's particular mix of keen intelligence and firm, steady support. Then he branches out a little further and finds Lindsey, bright and sharp like a polished gem, and finally Greta, who even though he's never touched her mind before feels somewhat familiar. She's curious and eager, but there's a sense of melancholy to her, and Gerard understands--she's a kindred spirit. She knows what it's like to be haunted.

Greta makes a small noise, like she's uncomfortable but doesn't want to complain.

"You okay?" Gerard asks her.

"This is weird," she says. "But...yeah, I think I'm okay."

"All right," he says. "What we're gonna do now is a little bit like guided meditation, only, y'know, with ghosts. I want you all to imagine a long hallway with a door at the end of it, and then picture the door swinging open. What's on the other side of the door is totally up to you, the hallway and the door are the vital things here."

He pauses for a few moments, letting everyone fix the image in their minds, then goes on.

"That door is where all the spirits in the house need to go, but they can't find their way. If you all hold the image of the door in your minds, I can try to guide them there."

He waits a little longer, breathing slowly, then directs his mind outward. He finds the other presences in the house, one by one. It takes a lot of concentration, trying to hold them all in his mind at once, but it's doable.

Come on, he thinks, gentle, coaxing. Come on, all of you. It's time to move on.

He feels them start to gather, drawn to him, and he holds the image of the door in his head, picturing the spirits moving toward it. The whole time, he tries to keep up a monologue of positive, comforting thoughts. It's okay. Everything's okay. You can go now.

For just a moment, Gerard thinks he sees something--a shadow across the threshold of the door. He frowns, but then it's gone, so quickly Gerard's left wondering if he saw anything at all.

He holds onto the image of the door until he's pretty sure he's felt every presence in the house go through it.

"Okay," he says slowly. "We can let the door close now. Everyone keep breathing deeply and let the image fade to black in your head." As they follow his instructions, Gerard disengages from each of their minds gently, and opens his eyes. "And that's it."

They all open their eyes, blinking and looking around at each other.

"That was incredible," Greta says. "So...they're gone now? All of them?"

"I think so," Gerard says. "I'll walk the house tonight, see if I can find any trace of anyone left. And if you don't mind putting us all up for a little longer, I'll check again in a few days."




Later that night, Gerard walks through the house by himself, lingering in every place he's ever felt a ghostly presence. He gets nothing--nothing in the kitchen, nothing in the room with the rocking chair or the hallways where phantom footsteps used to run up and down.

He goes up to the attic last, searching the dusty rooms for any sign of Betsy. In one of the rooms he sees movement out of the corner of his eye and turns, but it's just a mirror. The drape that was covering it must have slid off. Gerard crosses the room to pick the drape up, then pauses, looking at his reflection in the mirror. His eyes widen.

"No," he whispers.




Mikey jolts awake, sitting up in bed. He hadn't fallen asleep too long ago--it's almost one, he sees, glancing at his clock--and he doesn't think he's getting back to sleep any time soon. He gropes for his phone.

"Hey, Mikey?" Frank answers, sounding curious about why he's calling right now.

"Frank. You need to watch Gerard, okay?" Mikey says frantically. "I think he's in trouble."

"What kind of trouble?" Frank asks. "What are you--"

Mikey cuts him off. "I don't have time to explain. Just...watch him, okay? I'll be there as soon as I can."

"...You'll be here? Mikey, what--"

Mikey feels bad hanging up on him, but he doesn't have any time to explain. He finds Dr. Fass's number in his phone and dials, praying that she picks up.




"Mikey, you need to calm down."

"I can't calm down!" he says, pacing back and forth in Dr. Fass's office. "Look, you said you thought I was ready to leave--"

"That was before you started trying to leave in the middle of the night while obviously agitated," Dr. Fass replies. "You have to realize that gives me pause."

Mikey makes himself stop pacing, struggling to calm down. "Look, I get how this looks. I know it's late. But my brother's in danger, and I need to get to him."

Dr. Fass looks at him calmly, leaning over and bracing her hands on her desk. "What makes you so sure he's in danger?"

Mikey takes a deep breath. "I had a dream."

"And what makes you think this wasn't just a dream?" she asks.

Mikey sighs, rubbing a hand over his face. "I just know. I can't explain it." He looks up, meeting her eyes steadily. "If you believe in what Gerard and I can do even a little bit, if what I've told you since I came here has convinced you at all, please listen to me. I know he's in trouble, and I know he needs me."

Her eyes search his for a moment, and then she looks down at the desk. "Where is he, exactly?"

"Just outside Chicago," Mikey says.

"You have a way to get there?"

"I was going to try to call Alicia," he says. "Or my parents, even though I'd hate to involve them in this. If both those plans fall through, I guess I'm buying a bus ticket."

Dr. Fass looks up at him and nods. "Call Alicia. I'll get the paperwork you need to get out of here."

Mikey closes his eyes, sighing in relief. "Thank you."

"I'm going to need you to call me," she says firmly. "As soon as you can and as often as you can."

Mikey nods. "All right."

"And be careful. I know you're concerned for your brother right now, but my main concern is still you. Take care of yourself."

Half an hour later, Alicia pulls up outside of the hospital. Mikey's standing on the front steps, leaving a message for Grant. He finishes up just as his phone beeps a low battery warning at him--he forgot to charge it last night. Hopefully if he gets there soon enough, it won't matter.

"Thanks for coming," he says as he throws his overnight bag into the back seat and gets in. "I know this is a big thing to drop on you--"

Alicia just leans over and kisses him, smiling a little when she pulls back. "We're going straight there?"

Mikey nods. "Yeah, I think we need to get there as soon as we can."

"Good thing I bought a case of Red Bull, then," she says, and turns toward the road.




Frank's reading in his and Gerard's room when his phone rings. He blinks at the display--it seems a little late for Mikey to be calling--and answers. "Hey, Mikey?"

"Frank." Mikey sounds urgent, even frantic. "You need to watch Gerard, okay? I think he's in trouble."

"What kind of trouble?" Frank asks. "What are you--"

"I don't have time to explain," Mikey says. "Just...watch him, okay? I'll be there as soon as I can."

"...You'll be here? Mikey, what--" The line goes dead. Frank stares at his phone.

He hears footsteps in the hallway and looks up as Gerard comes into the room, and Frank may not be sensitive like Gerard and Mikey are, but he has instincts, you don't do this kind of work and not develop certain instincts, and right now they tell him not to share the conversation that just took place with Gerard. He puts his phone aside.

"Hey," he says. "All clear?"

"Seems like." Gerard sits down on the edge of the bed next to Frank. "I know we've got to be thorough, but I really don't think I'm gonna get anything else."

"So we get a few more days of hanging out in an old, weird, but ghost-free house," Frank says easily. "Could be worse."

"Yeah," Gerard agrees, looking down.

Frank scans his face, trying to figure out if there's anything wrong with him. He just looks like Gerard--a little tired, maybe a little wrapped up in his head, but neither of those is unusual when they're at the end of a case.

Gerard looks up, noticing Frank watching him, and smiles crookedly. "Hey," he says softly.

Frank looks at him, eyebrows raised slightly. "Hey yourself."

Gerard leans in and kisses him.

Frank freezes, his hands raised a little and hovering awkwardly. Gerard shuffles closer on the bed, raising his hands to cup Frank's face and slipping his tongue into Frank's mouth, and Frank closes his hands around Gerard's wrists and kisses him back hard.

Gerard draws back after a few moments, flushed and smiling. "I've wanted to do that for a long time," he says softly.

"Then why aren't you still doing it?" Frank asks, and leans in for another kiss.

Gerard scrambles closer, half-climbing into Frank's lap, and Frank slides both arms around his waist as they fall back against the pillows. Mikey's words are still echoing in Frank's head and there's a little curl of anxiety in the pit of his stomach, but Gerard is kissing him and he doesn't know what to do but kiss back.

Then Gerard's hand slides under his shirt, wandering over his stomach and ribs, and Frank breaks the kiss, gasping.

"Whoa, whoa, slow down a second," he whispers.

Gerard just moves his mouth to Frank's neck, teeth scraping Frank's skin lightly. "Want you so much," he murmurs. "Frankie--"

"Gee--" Frank starts, and then grabs Gerard's wrist when Gerard reaches for his fly. "Gerard, wait."

Gerard draws back with a worried expression, his eyes wide. "You don't want to?"

"I want to more than fucking anything," Frank says emphatically. "But, I mean...right now? Here?"

Gerard laughs sheepishly, pulling his hand away. "I guess I wasn't really thinking."

Frank scoots away a little , propping his head up on one arm. "Yeah, I'm pretty proud of myself for being capable of coherent thought right now."

Gerard smiles sweetly, leaning in for a brief, light kiss. They lie there for a few moments, still close together. Gerard traces little patterns on the back of Frank's hand with his fingertips, and Frank nudges Gerard's calf with his toes.

"Hey, uh--I must be an idiot to be raising even more objections right now," Frank says eventually. "But...what about Grant?"

"What about him?" Gerard asks, seeming puzzled.

Frank shrugs. "Well, I've always thought you had a thing for him," Frank says. "It's kind of why I never made a move, I thought you'd turn me down."

Gerard looks down at the bedspread, biting his lip. "I guess I have, a little?" he says. "I mean, it's tough to know Grant and not have at least a little bit of a crush on him." He looks back up at Frank. "But he's not you."

Frank smiles, and when Gerard leans in to kiss him again he kisses back gently, but pulls away when Gerard tries to deepen it. "Gee..."

"Right, okay," Gerard says, scooting back a little. There's a teasing note in his voice as he says, "I'll behave myself. But can we stay like this for a while? I just want to be close to you."

Frank lays one hand on Gerard's arm, rubbing gently. "Yeah."

Gerard smiles at him, head pillowed on his arm, and lets his eyes drift closed. Frank watches him for a few moments, brow furrowed. He's confused and wary, he feels like his heart's about to beat its way right out of his chest and he still can't quite believe Gerard came on to him and he put the brakes on. He doesn't know what's going on or what to do--except watch Gerard, and wait for Mikey. If that's all he can do, he'll do it.




Frank still feels all mixed-up the next day. He gets up while Gerard's still asleep and tries to call Mikey, but gets no answer. Not knowing what else to do, he goes to tell the others about the cryptic call he got last night--including Greta, since he figures she has a right to know what's going on in the house.

"That's all Mikey said to do, watch him?" Ray asks, brow furrowed.

"That's it," Frank says, "And he said he was coming here, which, I don't even know what the fuck to do with that, except be on the lookout for him."

Looking at Ray, Frank can tell he's feeling some of the same stuff Frank is--a weird mix of excitement and confusion at the thought of Mikey showing up here, along with their concern for Gerard.

"And you don't think we should tell Gerard about any of this?" Lindsey asks.

Frank shakes his head. "I can't even explain why that's a bad idea, I just...think it's a bad idea. I think we need to wait, maybe for Mikey to get here, maybe for something else. Shit, I sound like a Way."

"Yeah, you kinda do," Ray says, then looks over at Greta. "You okay with this? We can clear out of here if you want, find somewhere else to wait for Mikey."

Greta looks uncertain, but she shakes her head. "You guys just helped me get rid of about a hundred and fifty years worth of ghosts. You were the first people to ever believe me about this place being haunted. If Gerard's in some kind of trouble, I just hope I can help you help him."

Ray nods. "Okay. We wait and keep an eye on him for now."

They wait and watch, but all morning Gerard seems to pretty much be himself. They hang around Greta's house in post-case wind-down mode, they make lunch. Frank goes upstairs to get his book--Ray's keeping an eye on Gerard right now, he knows--and when his phone rings, he grabs it instantly, thinking it might be Mikey again. It's not. "Grant?"

"Frank, hello," Grant says. "I've been calling Gerard, but I can't seem to reach him. Is he all right?"

With all Frank's confusion and worry right now, it's a huge relief just to hear Grant's voice. Even though what he's saying just confuses Frank even more. "Uh," Frank says. "That's...kind of the question of the day. It's weird you can't get in touch with him."

"Yes, I thought so, too," Grant says. "Anyway, I've been trying to get directions to the house you're staying in. As charming as O'Hare is, I'd like to be on my way."

Frank blinks. "Wait, you're here? You're in Chicago?"

"Yes," Grant says slowly. "Did Gerard not tell you I was coming?"

"No, he hasn't mentioned it," Frank says. That's...really weird. "You weren't coming to help with the case, were you? Because we've pretty much wrapped that up."

"No," Grant tells him. "I offered to come when Gerard told me about the dreams he's been having, about the Paramour. Did he tell you about those, at least?"

"Dreams?" Frank echoes. "I knew he'd had one, he didn't tell me anything about any others."

"So he's kept two things from you--things which are arguably important--in as many days," Grant says, sounding worried.

"...Yeah, let me get you that address," Frank says. "I think you'd better get here as soon as you can."

He's frowning as he hangs up; Gerard keeping things from him, being worried enough to get Grant to come out here and then not telling anyone he'd done so, this shit is weird and bad and Frank doesn't like it. But Grant's coming. Confusing as that is, it's also a huge relief.

It's probably going to take him at least an hour to get here from O'Hare, though, and Frank doesn't really know what to do until then. He goes downstairs and finds Gerard in the kitchen, helping Greta clean up from lunch. Frank leans in the doorway, watching him for a minute.

Gerard glances up at him, setting a plate down on the drying rack. "You okay, Frankie?"

"Funny, I was going to ask you that," Frank says. "I just got off the phone with Grant."

Gerard's hands go still, and he sets down the cup he was drying.

Ray looks up from where he's sitting at the kitchen table. "What's up, guys?"

"You want to tell him, or should I?" Frank asks, eyes still fixed on Gerard.

Gerard gives a nervous laugh, turning around to lean against the counter. "It's...kind of dumb, really. I got wigged out by a dream I had the other night, I called Grant, he offered to come out here and I took him up on it. I felt really stupid for it the next day and tried to tell him not to come, but I couldn't reach him, I guess he was already in the air."

"And then you just...didn't tell us?" Ray asks.

Gerard shrugs. "I guess I forgot. I had kind of a lot on my mind yesterday."

"Have you still got a lot on your mind today?" Frank asks. "Is that why he can't get you on the phone and he had to call me to get directions to the house?"

Gerard pushes off the counter, folding his arms. "What's with the interrogation? He got hold of you, he's on this way here even though there's nothing for him to do. Fine."

Frank frown. "Gee, come on, I'm not trying to interrogate you, I'm just a little worried about you." He steps closer, lowering his voice a little. "You've been having more Paramour dreams and you didn't tell me?"

Gerard's eyes flick up to meet his, and Frank's taken aback by the hostility in them. "So what if I didn't? Maybe there are some things I'd like to keep to myself, Frank. If I'd wanted to talk about my dreams, I would've brought it up."

Frank hasn't heard him talk like this since--well, since the Paramour. And back then he was under huge amounts of stress, having terrors every night. A case they wrapped up with no trouble and a couple of bad dreams shouldn't be enough to get him back there.

Ray seems to think so, too. He steps forward, brow furrowed. "Gee, are you okay?"

"I'm fine, Ray," Gerard says tersely. "Leave it alone."

"Gerard--" Frank begins.

"I said leave it," Gerard snaps, and heads for the door, pushing his way past Frank

They all watch him as he leaves the kitchen.

"What was that?" Ray asks.

"I wish I knew," Frank replies.

"...Does someone want to tell me who Grant is?" Greta asks.

Frank looks over at her. "Shit, sorry. He's sort of Gerard's mentor--well, our whole team's mentor, really. Whatever's going on with Gerard, having Grant here will help, trust me."




A little while later, the doorbell rings and Frank rushes to get it, beating everyone else there.

"Hey," he says as he lets Grant in. "So, things are weird here. Can you make them be less weird, please?"

"That rather depends on your definition of 'weird'," Grant tells him as he sets his bags down in the foyer. "There's something I ought to tell you. When my flight landed, I found I had a voicemail from Mikey."

"Yeah, I got a call from him," Frank says. "Did he tell you anything besides 'I think Gerard's in trouble, watch him'?"

"That was the gist of it," Grant says. "But between that and Gerard's recent dreams, I'm afraid..." he trails off, then puts a hand on Frank's shoulder, looking at him intently. "If this turns out to be what I think it is, things are probably going to get ugly fairly quickly, and I'm going to need you to trust me."

"Of course I trust you," Frank says, looking up at him. "But--Grant, what are you talking about? What do you think's going on?"

Grant opens his mouth to reply, and then pauses, looking over Frank's shoulder. "Hello, Gerard," he says.

Frank turns. Everyone else has come into the foyer while he and Grant were talking, and Gerard's standing in the doorway with his arms folded.

"Grant," he says coolly. Frank has never once heard Gerard talk to Grant that way.

"Your brother is evidently very concerned about you," Grant says, taking off his jacket. "Do you know why that might be?"

"Mikey? You know he's always been a worrier," Gerard says dismissively, and then looks between Grant and Frank. "What worries me is that all of you have apparently been talking about me behind my back."

"Then let's put everything out in the open," Grant says, stepping toward him. "From what I hear, you haven't been acting like yourself lately. What's wrong?"

Gerard scoffs. "There's nothing wrong. Since when do I have to explain all my actions to you? To any of you?"

"Whoa, calm down," Ray says, stepping further into the room. He raises one hand toward Gerard's shoulder, only to have Gerard knock it away.

"Don't tell me to calm down," he snaps.

Ray's visibly surprised, and Frank scowls, starting toward Gerard.

"Gee, what's wrong?" he asks. "We want to help you, just...tell us what's up."

Gerard looks down, letting out a humorless laugh. "You want to help me," he repeats, and then looks up. "And you're so sure that I need your help, aren't you? Or that I want it? How about you all just leave me alone instead?"

"Gerard, what the hell?" Frank asks, moving closer.

He reaches out, and Gerard reacts suddenly, violently, bringing his hands up and shoving Frank away. Frank stumbles back, hitting the coat rack and knocking it over.

"I said leave me alone," Gerard shouts, his face distorted with anger.

Ray reaches out next, and Gerard swings a fist at him. It's uncoordinated and easy to dodge, but Ray barely managed to do so, he's so clearly shocked by the way Gerard's acting. He glances over at Frank, who's just as floored, so he just looks at Grant, silently begging him to do something, or tell them what to do.

Grant moves in, reaching for Gerard's arm, and Gerard rounds on him, throwing another punch with his free hand. Grant grabs his arm, and Gerard just launches at him with a snarl. Grant reacts quickly, catching hold of both Gerard's arms and bearing him down toward the floor, while the others are all just staring, frozen. The brief struggle ends with Grant straddling Gerard's legs and pinning his wrists to the floor on either side.

"Get off of me!" Gerard yells angrily.

"No, I don't think so," Grant says. His voice and expression both seem oddly calm, like he's ready for this. Like it's what he expected to find when he got here.

Gerard bucks up, trying to throw him off, and almost succeeds, but Grant steadies himself. As Gerard keeps struggling, his face twists into a malicious smile.

"You're enjoying this, aren't you?" he say. He shoves his hips against Grant's again, but he's not trying to throw him off this time. "You've wanted to do this for a long time."

Grant ignores him, raising his voice to address the room at large. "In the front pocket of my black bag there's a small case with a syringe in it," he says. His voice is still steady, but it's a little strained now. "Would one of you bring it to me?"

At Grant's words, Ray shakes himself out of his horrified staring and goes for the bag, having evidently made the call to just trust Grant and do as he says. Frank feels useless and stupid just standing there, but he's still caught in horrified staring mode, watching Gerard rut up against Grant with that horrible smile on his face.

"You've always wanted him, ever since you first met," Gerard goes on. "Even when he was a teenager."

Grant turns his head, looking over at Ray, who's digging through the bag. "Quickly, please."

Gerard stretches up and licks Grant's cheek, then lunges for his ear, teeth bared. Grant jerks his head away and Gerard's teeth snap closed on empty air. Lindsey rushes forward and drops to her knees in front of Gerard and Grant, putting a hand on either side of Gerard's head and trying to hold him still. Gerard thrashes and snaps, trying to bite her fingers.

"Got it!" Ray shouts, holding up the syringe.

"Frank, get over here, we need to hold him steady," Grant calls, and looks over at him when Frank still doesn't move. "Frank?"

Frank shakes himself out of it, finally, and runs over. Grant shifts his weight to Gerard's left side and Frank takes the right, throwing his whole body over Gerard's. With the extra help holding him down, Grant's able to free one hand and cup Gerard's chin, helping Lindsey hold his head still while Ray hovers nearby with the syringe.

"Now, Ray," Grant says, and Ray jabs the needle into the side of Gerard's neck and pushes the plunger. Gerard thrashes even more wildly for a second and then goes still, eyes closed, head lolling to the side.

Lindsey waits a second, as if not trusting he's really out, then takes her hands off his head. "What the fuck was that?" she asks.

Grant sighs, and for a moment his age shows more than usual. "An old friend," he says. "Unless I'm very much mistaken, it's the demon from the Paramour."

Ray goes pale. "Fuck."

Lindsey looks between the two of them. "You're serious? Wait, dumb question, I can tell you're serious. Shit."

Frank doesn't say anything. He's staring at Gerard and trying to tamp down on the sick feeling in his stomach.

Grant gets to his feet. "We need to move quickly, I don't know how long that sedative will last." He looks around and finds Greta, who's still standing in the corner, looking shell-shocked. "I take it you're Miss Salpeter?"

Greta nods, then swallows hard and speaks. "Yes."

"I know you've already been through a lot, and I completely understand if you're unwilling to let us stay here any longer," Grant tells her. "But if we try to move Gerard out of the house, it could be dangerous for all of us."

Greta's eyes dart to where Gerard's sprawled on the floor, then back to Grant. "You want to keep him here while you--what, try to exorcise him? Isn't that dangerous, too?"

"Yes," Grant tells her frankly. "But I can restrain him here. If we try to take him elsewhere and he wakes up in the van--well, then we have everyone else in the van very probably dead, and a demon running loose in a very powerful psychic's body."

Greta looks at Gerard again. "Can you get it out of him? Will he be okay?"

"I'm going to do absolutely everything I can for him," Grant assures her.

Greta watches Gerard a moment longer, then looks back at Grant and nods. "Okay."

"Thank you," Grant tells her with feeling. He bends down, lifting one of Gerard's arms. "Ray, help me with him? And if someone else can bring my bag--I assume you have a circle drawn somewhere?"

"Yeah, through here," Lindsey stands to lead the way. Grant and Ray carry Gerard between them, and Frank and Greta bring up the rear, Frank scooping up Grant's bag on the way.

They lay Gerard down outside the circle so Grant can check it out. He walks around the edge, examining the symbols, and nods.

"Yes, this will work," he says, quietly, like he's talking more to himself than any of them. "He drew it perfectly."

"Shouldn't we do something else to restrain him?" Ray asks. "We've got rope."

"It probably won't hold him, but it's worth a try, I suppose," Grant says. "I wish we had something heavier."

"Wait, won't the circle hold him?" Lindsey asks, even as she goes to grab the rope from their supplies.

"I should be able to keep him in the circle," Grant assures her. "Which will keep him from hurting any of us. The trick is to keep him from hurting himself while he's in there."

Gerard stirs a little while Ray's tying his wrists behind his back, letting out a low moan.

"Quickly," Grant says, low and urgent. "Lindsey, salt."

Ray scoops Gerard up and lays him down in the circle, leaning over the edge and taking care not to touch any of the symbols. Lindsey walks around the circle, pouring the salt carefully. Grant's taken his eight-pointed star talisman out of his jacket pocket; he holds it up and says a few words in some language--not Latin, Frank thinks it might be Scottish Gaelic--and the air feels charged the same way it does whenever Gerard consecrates a circle.

"What now?" Ray asks. They all keep their eyes on Gerard, who's gone still and quiet again.

"If we succeed in driving it out of him, it will likely try to anchor itself in the house," Grant says. "There are wards we can set to prevent that."

"Burnt sage and salt?" Ray asks.

Grant nods. "On every windowsill and across every doorway. I need Frank with me--Ray, Lindsey, can you take care of the wards?"

Greta speaks up. "Can I help?" Her face is pale and drawn, but she's lost the shocked look somewhat, and she's coping with all of this better than a lot of people probably would.

Ray looks her over and nods. "If you're sure you want to."

"Just show me what to do," she says.

Ray talks her through what they're doing as he and Lindsey set the wards for the parlor. Frank watches them, still standing with Grant's bag dangling from his shoulder. It's like he's forgotten how to talk or move, or like they're all in some kind of play and he never got the script or any of the memos about rehearsal. He can feel Grant's eyes on him, but Grant waits until the others leave the room to approach him.

"Frank, if you've got any doubts about helping me with this, now's the time to tell me." Frank doesn't reply right away, and Grant lifts a hand to his shoulder. "Frank?"

Frank starts a little, looking up at him.

"We made out last night," he says. He doesn't mean to, it just starts coming out. "We almost--" he pauses, swallowing hard. "He wanted to do more, but it didn't feel right, y'know, in a client's house with everyone else right down the hall." He looks back at where Gerard lies in the circle. "And Mikey had already told me to watch him, but I didn't know what he meant, I never thought it meant Gerard wasn't Gerard anymore. How could I not know something like that?"

Grant turns Frank back towards him with both hands on his shoulders now. "Because these things are fiendishly clever, and experts at using our own emotions against us. You know that."

Frank shakes his head. "Yeah, but--"

"I need you with me on this, Frank," Grant tells him, looking into his eyes. "I may be good at seeming confident, but honestly, I don't think I can do this alone. Put what happened out of your mind and focus on getting Gerard back, can you do that?"

Frank meets his eyes for a moment, then nods, trying to gather himself. "I'll try."

Grant squeezes his shoulders gently before letting go, taking his bag as he does so. "All right. Do whatever you need to prepare yourself, we need to be as ready as we can when he wakes up."

"Okay," Frank says, taking some deep breaths. Grant sets his bag down on the floor and crouches to rifle through it, and Frank watches him for a moment before he speaks again. "Did you know? When we talked on the phone, did you know this was happening to him?"

Grant takes a moment to answer. "I knew it was a possibility. I'd hoped I was just worrying unnecessarily, but when he reacted the way he did to my arrival, I knew I wasn't."

Frank runs a hand through his hair, looking at Grant uncertainly. "And, um--I wouldn't bring this up right now, except I think maybe we shouldn't start without addressing it..."

Grant looks up at him and smiles without much humor in it. "You're wondering about what the demon said to me, back there."

"I'm not saying I think what it was actually saying is true," Frank says hastily. "But I know they'll take something that is true and twist it, and I'm just wondering how much might be true here."

Grant nods, standing, and looks at Gerard for a moment before he replies. "He was a remarkable young man when we met, in more ways than one." He looks back at Frank, his expression honest and open. "And he was sixteen. Whatever my reputation might suggest, I do have lines."

"Okay," Frank says, nodding. "But when he got older?"

Grant looks down, a wistful look crossing his face. "I couldn't tell you exactly when my feelings toward him started to change. Only that I realized they had shortly before he took on his first case--the one where he met you."

"Why didn't you ever say anything?" Frank asks. "I mean, when we met I thought it was pretty obvious he had feelings for you, too."

Grant shrugs. "Because I'd known him since he was sixteen. Because I was his teacher, and I'd always tried to be a good one." He looks back up at Frank, smiling wryly. "And because from the first moment I saw the two of you together, I was certain I'd missed whatever chance I had."

Frank snorts. "So we've all been trapped in a triangle of pining where no one gets any for the past seven years. Great."

"I'm afraid so," Grant says, sounding bitterly amused by it. He glances at Gerard again and his expression turns serious. "Frank, it's going to try to turn our feelings for him into a weakness. I think--I hope--we can turn them into strength instead, but only if we're united against it."

"Right," Frank says. "We can worry about the feelings triangle once we get him back."

"Exactly," Grant says. He holds out a hand, and Frank takes it, gripping tightly. "Right now I don't care about the rest. There's no one else I'd rather have at my side fighting for him than you."

Behind them, Gerard stirs, groaning in pain, and Frank turns. Gerard sits up, tugging at his arms, and then looks around, his expression a wide-eyed mix of confusion and fear.

"What's going on?" he asks, looking between the two of them. "Grant? Frank? What are you doing?"

"I hope you know you're only wasting everyone's time," Grant says as he flips through his notebook, and Gerard's expression changes with startling speed, going sharp and angry.

"Very well," he says in a smooth, velvety voice that doesn't match his expression at all. "Let's not pretend."

He swings his bound arms all the way over his head, twisting like a contortionist, then jerks his wrists apart, and the rope snaps like a rubber band.

"That's better," he says, rubbing his wrists. "So, is this the part where you say whatever little words you think will get me to leave? Because if it is, I'm not the one wasting time."

Frank rolls his eyes. "Yeah, you'll forgive us if we don't take your word for that, buddy."

"Don't let it bait you, Frank," Grant says, and Frank knows he's right, knows he shouldn't even look at Gerard right now, but he can't stop staring at this thing that's wearing his face and talking in his voice but isn't him.

"You're only going to hurt your precious Gerard," Gerard goes on. "Whereas I, if you let me go without a fight? Not only will I not hurt him, I'll treasure him."

Frank doesn't reply to that, but his expression must be pretty clear, because Gerard raises one eyebrow.

"You don't believe me? When a vessel like this comes along, you don't waste it." He shifts into a more comfortable position, cross-legged with his elbows resting on his knees. "Do you know why there are so few reported cases of demonic possession, Frankie? It's not just because our presence gets mistaken for other ailments, or because churches try to cover it up to keep their flocks pacified. It's because most of the people we enter simply die before anyone realizes we're there. The truth of having one of us inside you isn't like any movie or book portrays it. We burn you. Most humans simply go out like candles. Someone like you or Grant, strong-willed and with a knowledge of what's out there in the darkness, might last a little longer, but you still disappoint. And then every so often, a human comes along who shines like a jewel among filth. Who has the strength and potential to be a truly fitting host for one of us."

Frank looks away, trying to center himself, trying to ignore it. If the demon wants to waste breath talking, let it talk.

"When you came to the Paramour, I'd never felt potential in a human like I found in Gerard and his brother. Gerard put up more resistance than I expected, but Mikey...Gerard should have known better than to ever bring him into the house, as afraid as he was to look inside himself. It was almost too easy--but then he surprised me, too. I thought I'd missed my chance to have either of them. And then I heard Gerard's voice, calling out into the dark. Practically inviting me to try again. It was so much easier to get inside this time than when I tried before. I'm not sure what to thank for that--his brother's absence, the memory of the Paramour still haunting him, perhaps the two of you for distracting him. But whatever it is, now that we're together I won't be driven out. He's mine."

"The fuck he is," Frank bursts out, unable to hold back any longer.

Gerard shoots him a knowing look. "Jealous, Frankie? You could have had him years ago if you'd gone for it. All those chances wasted." He smiles horribly, leaning forward and speaking confidentially. "You can have him right now if you let me out of the circle. He won't mind."

Frank turns away, his jaw tightening. "Are we gonna keep listening to this shit or kick this thing's ass?"

"The latter, I very much hope," Grant says. "Let's begin."




Frank's exorcised spirits from houses, cars, antique jewelry, paintings, and on one memorably creepy occasion, a porcelain doll. But he's never once had to deal with something inside a person. He's only studied that. And from his studies, he knows this would put him through the wringer even if it were a total stranger. The fact that it's Gerard makes it so, so much worse.

When Frank and Grant start the ritual, Gerard's pacing back and forth within the confines of the circle, hands clenched into fists. His face is a distorted snarl and he spits profanity in their direction now and then. That's not exactly a cakewalk, but Frank can deal with it. Then all of a sudden Gerard screams, making Frank jump a little, and starts clawing at his face and arms with his fingernails. Frank tries to keep going, but he stutters to a halt when he sees Gerard draw blood.

"Grant--" Frank yells.

Grant's already on it, stepping forward with his star talisman upraised. "Stop," he commands, voice strong and stern, and for just a second Frank swears the symbols on the edge of the circles glow white. Gerard snarls at Grant wordlessly and rakes his nails across his cheek again.

"Stop," Grant says again, and both Gerard's hands drop to his sides abruptly. He makes an abortive, jerky motion, but then holds still. "You will not hurt him again," Grant says firmly.

He nods to Frank, who starts up again. Gerard doesn't make any more attempts at self-harm, but they're out of the woods yet. He rocks back and forth on his knees, cursing at them and saying terrible things. He tells them they'll have to kill Gerard to get the demon out of his body, that if they don't he'll break free from the circle and do horrible things to them, to the other people in the house, to himself. Now and then he abandons words entirely and just screams, awful, bloodcurdling screams that tear at Frank like knives.

Frank focuses on the words he's reading and does his best to tune everything else out. He loses track of time like that, and it feels like years later when he realizes Grant is shaking his shoulder and calling his name.

"Frank!" Grant shouts. "Frank, stop!"

"What?" Frank asks, only realizing now how hoarse he is.

"You need to stop for a while," Grant says gently. "You need to take a break."

"What?" Frank repeats, and then shakes his head. "No, I can't--"

"You can and you will," Grant says firmly, and then, softer, "Look at yourself, Frank. It's running you ragged."

He's right, Frank realizes--his clothes are soaked through with sweat, his heart's pounding and his arms and legs are trembling. But--

"I can't stop," he pants, shaking his head. "I can't--it's Gerard--"

"Which is why I need you in fighting shape," Grant tells him, his hand on Frank's shoulder gentle now. "Go splash some water on your face, lie down for a while, eat something if you can. I'll take over by myself for now and then we can switch."

"All right," Frank agrees, but lingers, still getting his breath back. "You do realize this is reminding me of the part in The Exorcist where Merrin sends Karras out of the room and then has a heart attack, right?"

"My heart is in excellent condition," Grant replies solemnly.

"Good, 'cause I'm not jumping out any windows," Frank says, and then grabs Grant's hand for a second. "Seriously, you get out too or call me back in if you need to. Be careful."

"I will," Grant assures him, pressing his hand before letting go. "Go."

Frank goes into the bathroom, turns on the faucet and splashes water on his face with both hands. He knows he probably looks like shit, but when he glances up at the mirror he's still taken aback by how much he looks like shit. He backs up to lean against the wall and then just lets himself slide to the floor, knees drawn up, and stays there until he stops trembling. With two closed doors and a hallway between them, he can still hear Grant and Gerard's voices.

He goes into the kitchen and finds Ray, Lindsey, and Greta there, all of them pale and drawn. Greta hands him a water bottle wordlessly, and Frank twists the top off and drains half the bottle before he lowers it.

"Do you think you're getting anywhere?" Ray asks in a low voice.

Frank lets out a sigh, shrugging. "I don't know."

He stays in the kitchen with them for a little while, until Lindsey glances at the door.

"Hey, is it just me, or have they quieted down?"

Frank looks up, listening. "Yeah, they have."

He takes another water bottle and goes back down the hall. When he steps back into the room, Gerard is lying down in the circle, turned on his side. He looks almost peaceful, like he's just asleep.

Grant's sitting in an armchair, fingers steepled, watching Gerard. If Frank's face in the mirror looked like shit, Grant looks even worse. He stands as Frank comes into the room and nods gratefully as Frank hands him the water bottle.

"I'd like to take it as a good sign that he's not fighting anymore," he says hoarsely. "But I can't tell if the demon's hold on him is getting weaker or if he's just exhausted."

Frank looks over at Gerard. "Can't we try to give him some water or something? What if you weakened the binding for, like, just a second and I tossed it in?"

"It's too risky," Grant tells him. "Even for a second."

"What if he gets dehydrated?" Frank asks. "Isn't that why a lot of people die in exorcisms, exhaustion and dehydration?"

"I won't let that happen," Grant says, his voice strained.

"How are you going to stop it?" Frank replies, his own voice dangerously close to breaking.

"Frank--" Grant puts a hand on his back, resting between his shoulderblades. Frank turns and Grant is right there, and then Frank's face is pressed against Grant's shoulder and Grant's hand is on the back of his neck, and Frank would feel kind of shitty about Grant comforting him right now, but he gets the feeling this is as much for Grant's benefit as his.

When Frank looks back at the circle, Gerard is watching them.

"Well, now," he says in that voice that makes Frank want to break the circle just to grab him and shake him. "Isn't that interesting."

"You shut your mouth," Frank says angrily.

Gerard smiles obscenely. "Come in here and shut it for me."

"Frank," Grant says tiredly, squeezing his shoulder. "Come on, we'd better begin again."

"Oh, I don't think so," Gerard says, sitting up. "It's my turn now."

He rolls his head from side to side, neck popping a little, and stretches both arms over his head.

"Grant, what's he doing?" Frank asks warily.

Grant frowns. "I don't--"

Gerard swings his arms down and slams both hands against the floor, and the floorboards shudder and crack, little lines in the wood radiating out from under Gerard's palms. The symbols in the circle flicker.

"Grant!" Frank shouts.

Grant goes for his talisman, but before he can reach it Gerard raises his hands and brings them down again. The symbols flare white and then go dark, nothing but chalk lines on the floor now, and Gerard starts to stand.

Frank dives at him, ignoring Grant's shout of "Frank, no!" He struggles with Gerard, trying to pin his arms, but Gerard flips them easily and then his hand is around Frank's throat. He's laughing. Frank scrabbles at his hand, trying to pry his fingers up, but Gerard's grip is like steel. Frank gasps vainly for breath, his struggles getting weaker and dark spots starting to swim at the edges of his vision.

Something barrels into Gerard from one side and then his hand is gone; Frank gasps and coughs, raising his own hand to rub at the bruised skin there. He can hear the sounds of a struggle, and then something thuds against the wall and he hears Grant let out a noise of pain. Frank rolls to his knees and looks up just in time to see Gerard striding out of the room. Grant's struggling to stand. His lip is split, and he wipes at the trickle of blood there carelessly.

"We can't let him leave the house," he tells Frank, lurching to his feet. He makes for the door and Frank scrambles after him.

They run down the hall toward the foyer, only to stumble back as Ray comes hurtling toward them, looking dazed. Grant catches him and Frank ducks out of the way to look. Lindsey's jumped on Gerard's back and managed to get him in a chokehold with one arm, but it doesn't even slow him down. He just backs up and slams her into a wall, and she shouts in pain, losing her grip.

Greta's put herself in front of the door; she's wide-eyed and white as a sheet, but her feet are planted firmly and her hands are curled into fists. Gerard just smiles and takes one step toward her, and she flinches out of the way.

"That's what I thought," he says, and reaches for the knob, flinging the door open.

Mikey hurtles through the doorway, tackling Gerard to the ground.

Frank starts forward and sees Ray do the same, and Alicia rushes through the door after Mikey, but Mikey shouts "Stay back!" and they freeze. Mikey gets both hands on Gerard's head, cupping his face and leaning forward to press their foreheads together. Gerard screams and spits in his face, clawing at Mikey's forearms until he draws blood, and Mikey just hangs on.

"Get out of him!" Mikey's shouting, over and over. "Get out of him, get the fuck out!"

Gerard convulses violently, back arching. He retches, coughing up blood so dark it's almost black, and then goes limp. After a moment, he lifts his hands to Mikey's arms again, gently this time.

"Mikey?" he says in a small, lost voice.

Mikey lets out a sob of relief, pulling Gerard up into a tight hug. "I'm here."

Gerard clutches at him, face buried in Mikey's shoulder. He says something else, and Mikey replies, but it's too low for Frank to hear and he figures he's not meant to. He looks away. Everyone gathers around, anxious to know that Gerard's okay, but letting the brothers have their moment.

Eventually Gerard looks up and around at them all. His expression of relief starts to turn to one of horror, and Frank can tell he's looking at Grant's bloody lip, the way Lindsey's favoring one leg and holding her stomach, the red finger-shaped marks on Frank's neck.

"God, what did I do to you all?" he murmurs.

"You didn't do anything," Frank points out.

"...Is that it?" Lindsey asks. "Is it over?"

Gerard closes his eyes for a moment, and then shakes his head. "It's gone from me," he says. "But it's like at the Paramour, I don't think it's gone."

Ray makes a noise of frustration. "Fuck, this thing's like the cockroach of the spirit world. So where is it?"

Mikey looks around, head tilted slightly, as if listening for something. "It's still close, but it's not really settled in any one place--I think it's trying to anchor itself in the house, but it can't. You guys put wards up?" he asks, and Ray nods.

"Should we get out of here?" Greta asks.

"There's nothing to keep it from following us," Grant says. "Even without a place to settle, it can lurk on the edges of this plane for a very long time, if it wants to."

"So we're as safe here as we are anywhere," Mikey says. "But--"

"But it'll try to get inside me again," Gerard says, sounding bone-tired. "When it's recovered, when it's strong enough."

"So what do we do?" Frank asks.

"The only thing we can do," Grant says, reaching a hand down to help Gerard up. "Try to be ready for it."




Gerard's pretty sure he's never been in this much physical pain, but in a way even the pain is a comfort, because it's his pain, because he's feeling it.

He doesn't feel capable of doing much more than breathing right now, but no one seems to expect more than that from him. Grant and Mikey guide him upstairs, half-carrying him between them, and Greta tells them to just take him into the master bedroom. Someone hands him a plastic bottle, and the ice-cold water inside it is the best thing he's ever tasted. Frank brings the first aid kit and tends to everyone else's scratches and cuts, unmindful of his own bruises. When he's done, they sit in a tight cluster on the bed, Gerard and Mikey still clinging to each other, Frank and Grant hovering nearby.

"Do you remember anything?" Frank asks him.

"Some," Gerard croaks, hoarse from screaming. "A lot of it was like being asleep, but I was awake for some parts. I think it wanted me awake for those parts, to taunt me. I remember it said awful things to both of you." He swallows hard, and adds, "And I remember it kissed Frank."

In the awkward silence that follows, Mikey presses a kiss to Gerard's temple, then starts to draw back.

"I'm just gonna...go downstairs," he says. "We'll talk later, okay?"

Gerard nods, squeezing Mikey's arm before letting him go. He watches Mikey leave the room, then looks back at Grant and Frank.

"This...isn't exactly how I thought I'd end up coming clean with either of you," he says.

Grant puts his hand on Gerard's head, ruffling his hair. "We needn't talk about it just now," he says gently. "We're all in rough shape, you most of all."

Gerard shakes his head. "I can't leave it like this, not after what that thing did...especially to you, Frankie," he says, gripping Frank's hand. "Besides, it turns out having a demon inside you makes you want to tell the truth while you can." He pauses, drawing in a deep breath. "And the truth is I've been in love with both of you for years."

Neither of them says anything--maybe they don't know what to say--but they both stay pressed close, still touching him.

"I'm not asking for anything from either of you, I don't have any expectations," he goes on. "I just...I need you both to know, and I need it to come from me."

Grant slides his hand down to cup the back of Gerard's neck, leaning in to press his forehead to Gerard's temple. Frank moves in on the other side, still clutching Gerard's hand and curling his other arm around his waist. Gerard's breath hitches on a sob, a few tears spilling down his cheeks. Grant makes a low, soothing noise, reaching to wipe them away with his thumb.

"Shh, sweetheart," he murmurs. Gerard leans into the touch, and Grant strokes his cheek for a moment before moving back, pressing on Gerard's shoulder gently. "Lie down," he says softly. "Both of you, come on."

Gerard obeys, still hanging onto Frank, and Frank slides both arms around Gerard and pulls him close, so that they're chest-to-chest. Grant lies down on Gerard's other side and puts his arms around both of them, pressing a brief kiss to Gerard's hair. Gerard's caught between them, held tight, and in different circumstances it might be a little claustrophobic but right now it's the only thing in the world he wants.

"I don't think I can sleep," Gerard says after a few moments. He's afraid to even close his eyes, which means he's staring at Frank's scorpion from an inch away.

"Then just rest," Grant tells him, breath tickling Gerard's ear. "It's all right now. We've got you, both of us. It's all right."




Gerard does fall asleep at some point, though, because later he stirs awake, sore all over, still wrapped in Frank and Grant's arms. As nice as it is lying with them like this, he seriously wants to crawl out of bed and go investigate what kind of painkillers they have around. But the pain isn't what woke him. He sits up, glancing around the dark room, and reaches out to Frank and Grant, shaking them both.

"Wake up," he says, low but urgent. "I need you both to wake up now."

Frank stirs, blinking awake quickly as he hears the urgency in Gerard's voice. "Gee?"

"What is it?" Grant asks from the other side, his hand resting gently on Gerard's arm.

"I think it's back," Gerard whispers. "I think it's--"

He breaks off suddenly as pain hits him, sharp and cold like an icicle in his forehead. He falls back on the bed with a shout, back arching. This isn't like before, when the demon crept in slowly and hid in the corners of his mind until it was ready to reveal itself. This is an all-out attack.

He can feel Grant's hands on his face, hear Grant's voice telling him to fight it, to try to hold onto himself. Frank's gripping his hand and screaming for Mikey. Gerard can barely think through the pain, but he grits his teeth and throws up every mental shield he has.

He hears running footsteps and then there's another weight on the bed, and Mikey grabs his free hand. It's like a sudden beam of light--Mikey's mind touching his, the mind he's known better and longer than any except his own. He grips Mikey's hand and pushes back as hard as he can against the demon.

He feels when it goes, when it breaks off its attack on him, but then Mikey stiffens and Gerard realizes what it's doing.

"No," Mikey says through clenched teeth, eyes squeezed shut. "No, fuck you, not this time."

Gerard squeezes his hand. "Not ever again," he says. "Fight it, Mikey, I know you can. I know you're strong enough."

Mikey lets out a shout and then slumps forward a little, and Gerard catches him. He sits up a little, looking around. Everyone's in the room by now, gathered around and watching them. Grant and Frank are standing alongside the bed, Grant a little behind Frank with both hands on Frank's shoulders. Alicia has one hand pressed over her mouth and tears welling up in her eyes.

"Are you guys okay?" Ray asks softly.

It's Mikey who answers. "Yeah," he says in a low voice, straightening up. "Yeah, I think we--"

Before he can finish, the whole house starts shaking. Gerard can hear glass shattering and things falling.

"What's happening?" Greta asks as everyone braces themselves.

"It's the demon," Gerard says at once, with utter certainty. "It's gonna bring the whole house down."

"If it can't get either of us, it's going to bury us," Mikey says, stumbling as he tries to stand.

"Well, come on!" Frank yells, grabbing for Gerard's hand.

They all stagger out of the room and down the hall, helping each other when they stumble. The grandfather clock in the hall tips over and narrowly misses Lindsey, and several of them almost end up going headlong down the stairs. They make it downstairs and spill out of the door, and as Gerard's feet hit the lawn he halts suddenly, tugging on Frank's hand.

"Wait!" he shouts, and they all look at him like he's crazy, which, under the circumstances, he gets. "I'm not waiting for this thing to try again. There's nowhere it won't be able to find us and it can wait years if it wants. We need to finish this."

"How?" Ray asks.

"By doing what we didn't do at the Paramour," Gerard says, looking over at Mikey. "We need to drive it off this plane of existence."

"You think we can?" Mikey asks.

The house is still groaning and rattling, and a couple of windows shatter, raining glass down on the porch.

"Okay, either we all need to get clear or you guys need to do something," Lindsey shouts.

Gerard looks around at them. "You all have some of the strongest minds I've ever known," he says. "If you want to help, we can use you. Otherwise, get clear."

"All right!" Frank shouts. He's still holding onto Gerard's hand, and he reaches for Grant's. "I love this plan! I'm excited to be a part of it!"

Gerard reaches for Mikey with his other hand and watches as Ray and Lindsey join the growing circle--and then Greta and Alicia, too.

"Alicia, you don't have to--" Mikey starts, and she cuts him off.

"The hell I don't," she says, grabbing his hand. "You think I don't want a piece of this thing after what it did to you?"

Gerard takes a deep breath and then reaches out to everyone psychically, no time to be delicate about it. With three more minds present, one of them Mikey's, it's like plugging into an electric current.

"Like we did for the ghosts in the house," he shouts, trusting the images in his mind to get the idea across to Grant, Mikey, and Alicia. "But this time we're not just showing it the door. We're kicking it the fuck out."

He doesn't have to search for the demon--it's right there, still trying to tear the house apart with its rage. He aims his mind at it, picturing something like a spear or a sword, and strikes.

"Get out of here," he yells. "Go back to whatever hellhole you crawled out of and fucking stay there!"

He can hear some of the others shouting similar things, and he feels the demon react, starting to withdraw. They have to finish it before it can, they have to make sure it doesn't get away. He drives forward with his mind again, feeling Mikey beside him and the accumulated strength of all the others behind them.

"Get out!" he shouts. "Go on, you miserable bastard, there's nothing for you here. Nothing."

He feels it happen--a sudden vacuum where the demon's dark presence was a moment before, while the ground shakes violently under their feet. Every window in the house that's still intact blows outward, and there's a noise like many voices screaming at once--ten voices, fifty, a hundred, ranging from a low rumble that's more felt than heard to a shriek so high and piercing Gerard almost lets go of Mikey and Frank to clap his hands over his ears. They all huddle on the lawn together, heads ducked and shoulders turned against the rain of glass, and they stay that way until everything goes still and quiet.

Gerard's ears are ringing, but he hears someone ask if it's gone.

"It's gone," he says, breathing in the smell of the grass he's kneeling on. "We did it."




Gerard's only vaguely aware of what happens after that. Someone tugs him to his feet and herds him into the van. He ends up in the back seat between Frank and Grant, who both look as exhausted as he feels, and there are so many things he wants to say to both of them but for now he just tucks his hand into the crook of Frank's arm and lets his head fall on Grant's shoulder.

After a while the van stops and Ray makes them get out, which is really mean because Gerard is totally comfortable and doesn't see why they can't just sleep here. He realizes that the building they're shuffling into is a hotel, that Alicia and Greta are talking to the desk clerk. They come back to the group with a handful of room keys, and after that Gerard just goes where people point him until he's in a room and sitting on the edge of a bed, toeing off his shoes. That's as far as he gets before he just flops onto the mattress. On the other bed, Frank's already sprawled on his stomach with his eyes closed, and Grant's sitting on the edge of the bed taking Frank's shoes off for him. Gerard feels someone settle down behind him and lay a hand on his back, and knows without turning over that it's Mikey. He closes his eyes and lets himself slip into the darkness with no fear this time.




When Gerard opens his eyes, the first thing he sees is Frank and Grant spooning. He's pretty sure they didn't fall asleep like that, from the glimpse he got last night, but now they're both turned on their sides, Frank tucked into the curve of Grant's body. Grant's arm is draped around Frank's waist and Frank's hand is covering Grant's, hugging him close like a human blanket.

Gerard just watches them for a moment, a funny feeling in his chest. Then he rolls over. Mikey's eyes are still closed, but almost as soon as Gerard turns over and looks at him they open.

"Hey," he says sleepily.

"Hey," Gerard replies in a low voice. "You okay?"

Mikey thinks about it for a moment, then nods, hair rustling against the pillow. "I'm...yeah, actually, I feel pretty good," he says quietly. "It helps that we sent the demon home with a fucking rupture this time."

"Yeah," Gerard says, smiling at him. "Thanks to you."

"Thanks to everyone," Mikey says. "We all beat it, together."

"Yeah, but you--" Gerard puts a hand on his shoulder. "Mikey, you saved me."

Mikey just looks at him for a moment, then smiles gently. "Yeah, well, you're my brother. I'm supposed to take care of you."

He sits up, running his hands through his hair, which only makes it stick up more, and looks down at Gerard. "I'm never gonna be you," he says softly. "I still don't think I'm ever gonna be at home with this the way you are."

"Maybe not," Gerard concedes.

"But I can still be part of what you do," Mikey goes on. "Helping people is the only thing that's ever made me feel good about being this way. I miss that."

Gerard smiles faintly. "You saying you want back in?"

Mikey nods. "Yeah, I think I do."

Gerard sits up and reaches for him, pulling him into a hug. Mikey squeezes him around the waist, resting his bony chin on Gerard's shoulder, and they stay like that for a long moment until Mikey pulls back.

"Thanks for staying with me last night," Gerard says. Now that he's not so out of it, he feels a little guilty that Mikey stayed with him and not Alicia. "You didn't have to--"

Mikey shrugs. "I wanted to make sure you were okay," he says softly. "But now I'm gonna go find Alicia, and give you some alone time with your boyfriends, if they ever wake up."

Gerard grabs a pillow and swats at Mikey's head, feeling himself blush. "They are not my boyfriends."

Mikey dodges, smirking. "Dude, they so are. Or at least they want to be. You guys should work that out."

Gerard flops back on the bed, covering his face with the pillow. "Ugh, you're the worst."

"I love you, too," Mikey says over his shoulder on his way to the door.

After he leaves, Gerard sits up, looking at Grant and Frank again. He doesn't want to wake them just yet, so he goes into the bathroom to pee and brush his teeth. When he comes back out, he sits on the edge of Frank and Grant's bed, the mattress dipping under his weight. Frank doesn't stir--after years of sleeping in the van or cramming as many people into one hotel bed as they can, he doesn't wake easy--but Grant rolls onto his back and squints his eyes open.

Gerard smiles at him. "Hey."

Grant rubs at his eyes and then pushes himself up on one elbow. "How do you feel?"

"Kind of like I got chewed up and spit out, to be honest," Gerard tells him, but then he smiles even wider. "But you should see the other guy."

Grant sits up a little further, putting his hand on Gerard's knee. "I'm very, very glad that's not a possibility," he says.

"Mmf," Frank says into his pillow. "Why is there talking and moving? I'm not okay with there being talking and moving."

Grant smiles, looking down at him. "Good morning to you, too," he says, and leans over, kissing the top of Frank's head. He does it so carelessly and naturally, like they wake up in bed together all the time, and Gerard feels that tug in his chest again.

Frank rolls over, scrubbing at his eyes. He looks at Gerard and Grant and his mouth quirks up in a smile. "I guess it is a pretty good morning. I've had worse, anyway."

Gerard looks at him for a moment, then back at Grant. Grant squeezes Gerard's knee, his eyes soft and warm, and then glances at Frank. Frank looks between the two of them and then ducks his head.

"Okay, somebody do something or I'm gonna starting humming music from Sergio Leone movies," he says.

Gerard smiles, scooting forward on the bed. "Well, if you say so." He reaches out and puts two fingers under Frank's chin, tilting his head up. "I believe I owe you a real first kiss."

He hears Frank's tiny intake of breath as he leans in, and then he's pressing his lips to Frank's gently. Gerard keeps it light, waiting for Frank to respond, and after a moment Frank's hands come up to frame his face and Frank's mouth opens against his. Gerard tilts his head for a better angle, opening his mouth as well. Frank tightens his grip on Gerard and dives into the kiss, his tongue in Gerard's mouth and his hands in Gerard's hair. Gerard curls one hand around the back of Frank's neck and strokes his cheek gently with the other, and when the kiss finally breaks he stays close, pressing his forehead against Frank's and just breathing him in.

Frank lets out a little sigh, stroking his fingers through Gerard's hair. "I love you," he murmurs. "I always will."

Gerard kisses him again. "Love you," he replies softly.

They kiss once more, slow and sweet, and then Gerard pulls back and turns to face Grant.

Grant reaches out to brush Gerard's hair away from his face, tucking it behind his ear and cupping Gerard's cheek in his hand. For a long moment he just looks at Gerard, and the depth of feeling in his eyes takes Gerard's breath away.

"Grant," he whispers.

Grant leans in and kisses him deeply. He slides his free arm around Gerard's waist, pressing his hand against Gerard's lower back to urge him closer, and Gerard goes willingly, slips his arms around Grant's neck. By the time the kiss breaks, Gerard's head is spinning, and he ducks his head to lean against Grant's shoulder, drawing in a deep breath.

He's always tried to keep his shields up around Grant and Frank the way he does with everyone in his personal life, to avoid reading them. He guesses his shields are a little battered after everything that's happened, but he doesn't think either of them would object to him reading them right now, anyway, and what he's getting is incredible. The love they're both feeling is overwhelming, surrounding the three of them and filling the room--and it's not just directed at him.

He draws back, tilting his head to kiss Grant's cheek as he goes, and sits back on his heels. Grant looks at Frank, holding out a hand. Frank darts a look at Gerard, who just smiles at him, unable to find words, and Frank holds his eyes for a moment and then takes Grant's hand, moving closer on the bed. He leans in and touches his lips to Grant's gently, and Grant raises his free hand to Frank's face. He touches him almost cautiously at first, ghosting his fingers across Frank's cheek, then reaches back and tangles his hand in Frank's hair as the kiss deepens.

Watching them, Gerard can't help but make a soft noise in the back of his throat. Frank reaches a hand out blindly and Gerard grabs it, twining their fingers together. Frank squeezes his hand tightly, and as soon as the kiss with Grant breaks Frank tugs Gerard closer, letting go of both their hands to take hold of Gerard's waist as he kisses him again. Gerard puts his hands on Frank's shoulders, leaning into the kiss, and then feels Grant's hands on him. Grant trails his fingers up and down Gerard's spine, making him arch and gasp into Frank's mouth, and cards a hand through Gerard's hair, pushing it back and then bending to kiss the juncture of his neck and shoulder. Grant's hand tightens a little in Gerard's hair and Gerard lets out a little moan as Grant's mouth trails up his neck.

"So beautiful," Grant whispers in his ear. "Both of you." He leans over, and from the noise Frank makes Gerard guesses he's getting the same treatment Grant just gave him.

Frank slips his fingers under Gerard's t-shirt, brushing his bare skin. "So we're doing this?" Frank murmurs, close to Gerard's skin but loud enough for Grant to hear. "Right now?"

"I don't want to waste any more time," Gerard replies, and sits back, raising his arms. Frank and Grant both take hold of the hem of his shirt, pulling it over his head. Grant skims a hand down over the pale skin of Gerard's arm, touching him carefully, gently, as if Gerard is something precious, and Gerard catches Grant's hand and brings it to his lips.

Frank pulls his own shirt off, and Grant turns to him, his fingers going instantly to trace the lines of Frank's chest piece. Gerard undoes his fly and wriggles out of his jeans and briefs, kicking them away. As soon as he has them off, Grant reaches for him, moving over on the bed and pulling Gerard down in between him and Frank. Grant leans over and Gerard reaches up to pull him down into a kiss. He runs a hand over the back of Grant's head, tracing the shape of his skull and rubbing against the stubble from a few days without shaving. After a long moment Grant pulls back and looks down at him, stroking Gerard's hair back from his forehead.

"I love you," Gerard tells him.

Grant brushes a tiny kiss across Gerard's lips before drawing back again to look into his eyes. "I love you, too," he says softly.

"And you're wearing too much clothing," Gerard informs him solemnly.

Grant smirks, glancing between Gerard and Frank. "Well. Someone had better do something about that, then."

Frank and Gerard exchange a look, smiling, and Gerard sits up and pushes Grant down gently. He pushes Grant's t-shirt up, and Grant raises his arms to let him take it off. While his arms are still raised Gerard grabs his wrists, pressing them down onto the pillow above his head. Grant could break his grip easily, but he doesn't, just arches up slightly when Gerard leans down to kiss him.

Frank moves around on the bed, reaching for Grant's fly, and Gerard stops kissing Grant for a moment to watch him. Frank takes his time, easing the zipper down slowly, and slips his fingers just past the waistband of Grant's jeans, stroking his stomach. His other hand is splayed on Grant's hip, and he leans down to press a kiss just over Grant's heart, then another one lower, making his way down Grant's body. Grant makes a strangled noise and Gerard tilts his head, planting tiny kisses anywhere he can reach, but trying to keep his eyes on Frank.

Frank slides down and off the bed, tugging Grant's pants and briefs off as he goes. Gerard can't help but stare, admiring Grant's body, and he lets go of Grant's wrists to put a hand on his chest, stroking down to his stomach. Grant covers Gerard's hand with his own and turns his head to kiss him briefly, then raises an eyebrow at Frank, who's just watching them with bright, eager eyes.

"Now who's the one with too much clothing?" Grant asks.

Gerard pushes himself up on his knees and crawls to the edge of the bed, reaching for Frank's hips to tug him closer. He undoes Frank's fly and slides his hands past the waistband of his boxers to push them down, then leans in to kiss Frank's belly. Frank's fingers curl into his hair and Gerard stays where he is, nuzzling Frank's skin gently. Behind him, he feels Grant push himself up on the bed and lean over him, hears him and Frank kissing. Grant's hand settles on the back of Gerard's neck, gentle but firm, and a little shiver of pleasure runs through Gerard at the possessiveness in the gesture, at the way Frank's hands tighten in his hair. They've got him, they won't let him go. Safe. Theirs.

"So...how are we doing this?" Frank asks after a moment.

Grant slips an arm around Gerard to tug him up, pulling Gerard back against his chest. He nuzzles Gerard's neck and then whispers in his ear. "What do you want, sweetheart?"

Gerard wants everything, in every possible combination, but most of all he just wants that feeling of being held between them, surrounded and loved and safe. He tugs at Frank until he climbs up on the bed with them, legs bracketing Gerard's knees. Frank wobbles a little on the edge of the mattress and reaches around Gerard to hold onto Grant's hips, and Gerard slides his arms around Frank's neck and buries his face in his shoulder.

"This," he murmurs, just loud enough to be heard. "I want this."

Grant kisses the back of his neck and then moves back on the bed, pulling Gerard with him. They fall back against the pillows, and Frank joins them a second later, lying down on Gerard's other side.

"Here," Grant murmurs. "Let me--"

He puts his hands on Gerard's waist and back, and Gerard lets Grant turn him toward Frank. Frank moves in close, cupping Gerard's face in his hands and kissing him slowly and thoroughly. Frank's cock slides against his and Gerard moans, arching against him and pressing closer. On his other side, he can feel Grant's hands on him and Grant's breath on the back of his neck, but it's still not enough.

"Grant--" he says desperately, twisting his neck to look over his shoulder, and Grant leans over and kisses him.

"Right here," he says, and moves closer. His chest presses against Gerard's back and his cock slides between Gerard's thighs, rubbing against the cleft of his ass. It feels incredible, and Gerard pushes back against him and then forward against Frank.

Grant reaches over him to put a hand on Frank's hip and guides them into a steady rhythm. His other hand tangles in Gerard's hair, pulling his head back to kiss him deeply, his tongue in Gerard's mouth. Frank's biting and sucking at Gerard's neck--he's going to leave marks, Gerard can tell, and he wants them.

He doesn't ever want it to stop, wants to keep them this close and keep feeling this good, but he can feel the tension building in his body. He tries to draw it out until the last possible second, biting his lip and screwing up his eyes. Grant presses his thumb against Gerard's lips until Gerard parts them, catching Grant's thumb between his teeth instead.

"Come on," Grant whispers in his ear. "I want to watch you come. Now, Gerard."

Gerard cries out, shuddering hard, and comes all over himself and Frank. Grant moves his hand from Frank's hip to Gerard's belly, fingers trailing through the mess.

"That's it," he murmurs, stroking Gerard's skin. "That's it, that's perfect."

Gerard gasps, all the tension seeping out of his body. They're both still hard, still moving against him; Grant's still steady, controlled, but Frank's getting more frantic.

"Look at Frank," Grant instructs Gerard. "Look how close he's getting."

Gerard can tell he's right--Frank's as taut as a bowstring, eyes squeezed shut, mouth a wide O. Gerard reaches down between their bodies and wraps a hand, slick with his own come, around Frank's cock, stroking him hard and fast. Frank fucking keens, thrusting into Gerard's hand.

"Come on, Frankie," Gerard whispers, echoing Grant, and Frank lets out a strangled moan and comes hard. Gerard strokes him through it, scattering kisses across Frank's face.

"Grant," Frank gasps as soon as he gets his breath back.

"Almost there," Grant replies. His breath is coming unsteadily now, and his hips are starting to lose their smooth rhythm. Gerard thrusts back against him, wanting to push Grant over the edge, make him lose control. He lets go of Frank's cock to cover Grant's hand on his stomach, both their hands covered in come, and twists his head back, seeking Grant's mouth.

Grant's lips brush Gerard's, his mouth open and panting, and Frank reaches over, his fingertips brushing Grant's cheek and the line of his jaw. Grant moves his hand to Gerard's hip and pulls Gerard's body back against his as he thrusts hard once, twice, and then a final time, moaning into Gerard's mouth as he comes.

For a little while they all just lie there, wrung out. They're a tangled mess of sweat and come, but Gerard doesn't want to move, and it seems like neither Frank nor Grant do, either.

Finally Frank rolls onto his back, stretching his arms over his head. "We're going to have to leave housekeeping one hell of a good tip," he says.

"Speaking of which," Grant pushes himself up on one elbow to look at the clock on the nightstand. "We'd better get moving if we're all going to be presentable by checkout time."

Gerard groans, rolling over and burying his face in a pillow. Grant laughs softly, running a hand up and down his back, and Frank leans in, resting his chin on Gerard's shoulder.

"I'm sure we can make it worth your while," he murmurs, and then sits up. "Hey, you think the tub is big enough for all of us to shower at once?"

"Let's find out," Grant replies, sliding off the bed.

It's a close fit, but none of them mind being pressed together. Grant maneuvers Gerard in front of him, back to front, to wash his hair, and Frank stands in front of Gerard to soap him up, and it's kind of perfect. Frank drops to his knees and runs soapy hands over Gerard's thighs and calves, and Gerard leans back against Grant and closes his eyes and thinks about all the things he wants to do with them when they have time.

He and Frank switch places and they repeat the process, and then Frank takes the soap back to wash Grant. Grant shaves in front of the sink while Frank and Gerard are towelling off. Gerard watches, fascinated, and when Grant notices him he smirks, reaching out to grab Gerard around the waist and pull him in for a kiss. Gerard grins and raises his hands to Grant's head, rubbing his fingers over the newly-smooth skin.

Getting dressed and getting their stuff together takes a while, because they keep getting distracted. Frank strips the sheets off the messy bed and balls them up, so that things aren't any more gross for housekeeping than they can help. Finally they're ready to go, which means they don't have more excuses to linger in the room, but they do, sitting on the edge of one of the beds.

"You're sure we have to go out?" Frank asks, his head tucked against Grant's shoulder and his arm reaching around to Gerard. "We can't just order all the room service and stay here forever?"

Gerard smiles at him from Grant's other side. "Time to go home."




They meet up with everyone else in the lobby. To the casual observer, Gerard thinks, they probably look like they're coming off an epic bender, pale faces and slightly dazed expressions, hiding behind hoodies and sunglasses.

"Please tell me there's a diner or something nearby," Mikey mutters.

"You think I'd take us to a hotel that didn't have a diner next door?" Ray asks, leading the way. "Please."

Once they're seated around a table and Gerard has some coffee in him, he looks around the table. Given how out of it he was last night, it feels like the first time he's really seen them all since everything went down.

"I feel like I should say something here, but I don't really know what," Gerard says. "We did something really awesome yesterday, you guys. We kicked ass."

"I almost can't believe all of that happened, and I was part of it," Greta says softly. "And now...what, I just go back to my normal life like it never happened?"

"Not like it never happened," Gerard tells her. "It happened, and it'll change your life forever." He glances around at the others--at his family--and then looks back at Greta, meeting her eyes. "Find a way to make that a good thing."

Greta nods. "I'll try."

The table breaks up into smaller conversations after that, and Gerard sits back in his chair, sipping his coffee. Frank and Grant are talking on one side of him, and Grant reaches over now and then, brushing his knuckles gently against the back of Gerard's hand. Mikey's on Gerard's other side, talking to Alicia, but when Gerard glances at him Mikey meets his eyes and smiles.

Epilogue

Date: 2012-07-10 05:43 am (UTC)
tabulaxrasa: mistress of heaven (mcr otp)
From: [personal profile] tabulaxrasa
Just saying I am so, so, so, so excited to read this! \o/

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