Jae (jae_w) wrote in popoffacork,
Jae
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Taken My Place (Mikey/Ray)

Title: Taken My Place
Recipient: dancinbutterfly
Author: harborshore
Pairing: Mikey/Ray, background Brian/Gerard, Frank/Jamia and Alicia/Lyn-Z.
Rating: PG-13
Summary: Mikey's new roommate is hot, but his house is really fucking weird.

Notes: This is sort of a close-to-canon AU. With magical realism. My apologies, it totally snuck up on me. Thanks to C. and L. for stellar betas.



The house is old. Really, the house is practically ancient; it groans and complains when the fall storms come calling, and the shed in the garden is holding itself together through sheer will and the last rusty nails clinging to the walls.

No one has lived in the house for a long time. Its last owners moved forty years ago, when the upkeep of a three-story Victorian townhouse became too much to handle, and an apartment in the city was more in sync with where they were at in their lives (up-and-coming). Periodically, someone has stopped by to rake the leaves and clear off the roof, but no one has lived here.

Until now.

A week ago, someone with rather alarming hair forced the gate open (it was resisting him quite strenuously) and wandered up the front steps, humming. He had a key, even. A key!

It becomes more and more clear every day that this person is moving in.

"He's loud," say the snakes carved on the banister, winding their way up the stairs.

"He's making a mess!" groan the walls, upset at having old paintings taken down and something as modern as a vacuum cleaner brought into this house.

"His hair is dreadful," says the shepherdess in the second floor bathroom. Then she grins and adds, "But he's, um, rather pleasant to look at otherwise," and her lewd gesture leaves very little to the imagination.

Her sheep titter and giggle and think to themselves that at least something is happening at last. This is much more exciting than their monthly expedition to the third floor bathroom, which is mostly the same as the one on the second floor, except that the figurines are different. And the ladybugs are very rude.

The teapot likes him, but she doesn't talk much. Not yet, anyway.

--

Mikey isn't having a very good month. First, his brother informed him that he's moving in with his boyfriend, and that unless Mikey wants to stay in their shitty apartment, Mikey has to figure out something else. Since it's an expensive apartment as well as a shitty one, and Mikey only likes living there because he's living with Gerard, Mikey's obviously moving out. Sure, Gerard did offer their couch, but Brian and Gerard are loud; Mikey knows this from experience. Ew.

Then Mikey's on-and-off boyfriend had to go and find the love of his life right as it would have been convenient for Mikey to move in with him. It's true that living with Pete wouldn't have been the best idea ever (their respective shades of crazy "clash," as Pete puts it). Mikey likes Ashlee, and love is cool, love is great, but he doesn't have anywhere to live, and that sucks.

To crush the camel's back, as it were, his boss told him that they had to either cut down on everyone's hours or fire people, and so everyone opted for less pay for all instead of no pay for some. It made sense, but Mikey now definitely needs a roommate in order to afford rent.

Mikey's spent a lot of time on Craigslist and he's met a lot of prospective roommates, but he's basically down to one option: this dude living at the very end of Main Street in some enormous house. Said dude isn't asking for much, rent-wise, which is the only reason Mikey's bothering to even go look at a house on Main.

The house he's currently looking at, in fact. It's tall and dark with seriously creepy overhanging eaves, and the dusk of early fall makes it look like the house is looming over the garden. Mikey pulls his coat tighter.

This has to work out.

He's already slept on Frank's couch for a week, and he doesn't want to do it anymore. Granted, Frank's couch is about twenty feet from the main bedroom instead of the ten at Brian's, and while that makes it marginally easier to ignore the moaning, it's still fucking hard to sleep. Also, the couch likes it when Jamia and Frank have sex, and that's really disturbing, especially when you're trying to sleep on said couch.

"Please open," he tells the gate, and it creaks angrily at him but swings open.

Whatever, right. Creepy house or not, living here would mean a bed.

Mikey knocks on the door and waits while the house shifts and shivers in the wind, and then he waits some more.

Mikey knocks again. He's pretty sure the guy on the phone, Ray, that's what his name was, had said to come over tomorrow night at seven. Which was a good time, in Mikey's opinion, because he isn't at his best in the morning and so when he has to convince prospective roommates of his awesomeness (extreme awesomeness, his brother always said) over breakfast, it leads to sad misadventures of spilled coffee and toast crumbs all over the table.

Knocking for a third time, Mikey decides he must have heard Ray wrong. Probably he said seven in the morning, in which case Mikey's already missed it. Chalk it up to the month of fan-fucking-tasticness; he should just go back to Frank's and call all his friends again. Maybe this time one of them will have a lead on an apartment or a second job or, or anything. Whatever.

When Mikey turns to walk down the steps and out of the garden, he hears the door behind him. He turns back and is met by the most amazing hair he's ever seen. That's not what he expected from the squeaky voice on the phone. Also, arms.

"Mikey Way?" But that is the voice, okay, yeah.

Mikey lifts his hand in a half-wave. "Me. I mean, um, I'm Mikey." That was articulate, great. If this one also decides that Mikey's "weird as fuck," like that asshole Lincoln did when Mikey met him last Tuesday, Mikey might as well move back in with his mom.

"Awesome! Great. Sorry it took me so long to get the door, I had to—" and Ray mumbles something that sounds like "wrestle with the broom" but that can't be right. Brooms are pretty docile, in Mikey's experience.

"No worries," Mikey says, "I'm late a lot. I should have expected something to go wrong when I was actually on time getting here, it's some kind of law or something."

Ray grins. "Yeah, I wouldn't know, normally I'm on time for, uh, most stuff. But since you're here and I'm here, why don't you come on in?"

Mikey nods, and Ray backs up so Mikey can get past him, the door falling shut behind them.

Well, damn. The interior doesn't exactly match the exterior, except perhaps in weirdness.

"I know," Ray says apologetically.

"Bigger on the inside, isn't it?" Mikey says, looking around.

The ceiling is high, and the wallpaper is brightly colored. Actually, that should be wallpapers, plural: it looks as though someone kept getting bored of the old wallpaper and kept putting up new ones but didn't take down or cover up the old ones entirely. So to the left of Mikey are climbing roses, beyond that he can see dancing animals (including unicorns), and the next one is, huh, maybe cubist-inspired?

"I like it," he says honestly, "It has character."

"A little too much character," Ray says darkly, but shakes his head when Mikey looks at him questioningly. "Never mind, just, through that door, that's the kitchen."

The kitchen's also old, fading cabinets and a stove Mikey thinks belongs in a museum. But whatever, as long as everything works. He doesn't cook a lot or anything, and Gerard's kitchen is a lot dirtier than this, no matter how often Brian makes significant noises about the mold turning sentient.

Gerard always laughs and says, "Damn, that'd be fucking sweet. Oh, hey, maybe that could be my next—"

At which point someone (usually Brian) sits him down and explains that comic books about mold may not be all that marketable, and that he should probably stick to writing about vampires.

"The people do want their blood," Frank always says wisely, then ruins it by giggling.

Mikey thinks mold might not be a bad idea: Gerard wrote a comic about killer dustbunnies from Mars once, which sold really well.

But Gerard might approve of this kitchen, even if it's clean. It has all these carvings around the edges and ornate ladles hanging on the wall—it reminds Mikey of Elena's kitchen, actually. Which is nice.

He looks at Ray, who is looking expectant. Shit, he probably said something and Mikey wasn't paying attention.

"Sorry, I got distracted, this is really cool," Mikey says, and gestures at the kitchen.

Ray blinks at that. "Cool? I suppose. It's mostly—the oven doesn't really work right, unless you poke at the glass for a while, and only two of the burners on the stove are safe to use."

That's a strange way of putting it. "What's wrong with the others?"

Ray looks decidedly shifty. "Just stick to the ones in the back."

At least that sounds like he's counting on Mikey staying. Good, very good.

They sit down at the kitchen table, and Mikey traces a whorl in the wood grain with his finger. "So, what were you thinking for rent and stuff?" In case Ray's ad had been lowballing it so he got people to come here and look.

Ray looks perplexed. "Uh, what I put in the ad. It's more that I can't handle the upkeep on my own, so I'll be needing help with some projects?"

 "What kind of projects?" Mikey's dad always does this to him, asks for help in some completely vague manner, and then Mikey ends up cleaning the garage for days.

Or Gerard, who will tell you, "No, seriously, I'm stuck at this tiny insignificant plot point, I just need to talk it out," and the next thing you know it's the following morning and you haven't slept at all, but you know everything there is to know about the latest turn in the saga of the feuding werewolf clans.

Okay, fine, so that's fun. But upkeep, Mikey's not a fan of upkeep.

"Some projects, nothing major, repairs and stuff." Ray is definitely being cagey about this, which puts Mikey off for a second. But honestly, he's desperate here. If he has to rake leaves, so be it.

"I'm not super-handy or anything," he cautions, because Ray shouldn't have him fixing drains or rewiring things. He can hammer, though.

Ray shrugs, so okay. Maybe this'll work.

And when Ray shows him the room that would be his, the one that is bigger than Mikey's old apartment, with ridiculously detailed curtains that are full of weird sharp flowers and pirates and monkeys and an honest-to-God Narnia closet, well.

"Yeah, okay. When can I move in?"

Ray breaks out into a grin at that, wide and bright, and says something about "As soon as possible!" which, thank fuck.

--

On Mikey's first morning in the house, he wakes up tied to the bed. Great, the nice guy is a serial killer, he thinks, and starts trying to pull at whatever is restraining him.

Wait.

The restraints are, like, actual vines. That seems a little elaborate. Mikey manages to raise his head enough to see that damn, the vines are growing out of the wall. That's, um. It's possible Mikey's freaking out.

"Ray! Ray, get the fuck in here!" Definitely freaking out. But if he's right about Ray, he'll already be up, and that means—

"Oh, shit, not again." Right on cue.

"What do you mean, not again?" Mikey's voice is cracking.

Ray's at his bedside, pulling at the vines. It's interesting, in that it definitely does good things for his arm muscles, except usually Mikey doesn't want to be untied at this point. But they're getting tighter, the vines, and Mikey's trying not to think about the one that's creeping closer to his throat.

It takes blunt force, a lot of yelling, and very vigorous pulling, before Ray is able to completely free Mikey from the vines. By the time he's done, Ray's hair is even frizzier than normal, and he looks apologetic when he suggests they go downstairs so he can tell Mikey the whole story.

And explain it he does, sheepishly turning his coffee mug around in his hands. Apparently it's a temperamental house, which, uh, okay. Mikey's not entirely unfamiliar with those.

"I guess my grandmother's house was a little like this one? Old and crotchety?"

"No, I know, that's what I said too," Ray says, his hair nodding right along with him. "But I swear to god, this house is just fucking difficult. I keep finding all these—anyway, fucking difficult. I'm sorry I didn't tell you, but I thought you wouldn't want to live here if you knew."

Mikey shrugs. "I have to admit, I actually didn't think was possible to have a house that's weirder than Elena's was. But I genuinely do think it's cool. Apart from waking up tied to the bed this morning. Do you know if your great-grandmother was kinky?"

Oops. He didn't mean to make that joke.

Ray is—Ray's totally blushing. That's fun. "Um, no, that's never happened before, actually."

Mikey can't help it, he has to tease Ray some more. "Wait, you mean no one's ever been tied up in bed in this house at all? That's kind of sad."

"Uh, well, I wouldn't know, I guess. And it's sort of a house I inherited from my family, right, so—"

"Right, right, got it. No kinky sex jokes about grandma."

Ray nods emphatically. "Right, that'd be good."

--

The days go on.

Frissons of irritation shiver through the walls every time the one with frightful hair ("Ray," the soft-looking rug on the third floor insists) sits down to play one of his noisy songs. Also, the one who is normally quiet ("Michael," huffs the coffee table—it is quite fine and well-polished, and so it is offended by the fact that Michael doesn't seem to wash himself very much. After all, what is the point of having a table shiny enough to see your own reflection in, if your reflection is so grubby?) brings home records once or twice a week and plays them very loudly, shouting at Ray for opinions on the bands.

"Favorite part of my job," he claims, and the hallway lights swing slightly in disapproval.

The living room chairs have fond memories of the classical concertos that used to lightly tiptoe through the rooms, and complain loudly to each other about this new-fangled and very silly music—or, at least, they do so until the TV starts blaring Fuse at them to shut them up.

In the bathroom on the second floor, the sheep are giggling, because they've overheard some very, very interesting things (it's Ray's bathroom, and Mikey sometimes accidentally walks in on him); relatedly, the shepherdess now leers at Ray even before he's taken off his pants.

Once Mikey walked in on Ray when Ray was already in the shower; that time Mikey was the one blushing, and the shepherdess succumbed to helpless laughter when she saw the look on his face as he backed out through the door. Frantically apologizing, of course.

The house as a whole is making its disapproval clear of this scandalous conduct. This cannot continue, or everything will fall apart from the strange new energy and the tremors and the noise. There is an accord (mostly): the boys need to leave, that's all there is to it.

--

It's a late Friday night in early December, and Mikey's struggling to get through the gate without dropping the groceries he actually remembered to pick up this time, when he looks up and almost drops them anyway.

The garden is empty. There is—there's nothing there, nothing where there is supposed to be a house, shit, what the fuck? And Ray's home, Ray called him half an hour ago and sounded really pleased when Mikey told him he already was at the grocery store, of course he could pick up some cookie cutters.

(Apparently Ray bakes. When you add that to the stuff Mikey's found out over the past month—such as the fact that Ray writes music. Ray builds guitars. Ray sometimes carries heavy boxes around without a shirt on.—well, yeah.

Last week, Lyn-Z started laughing when he got to the part about the guitars, and she was flat on the floor by the time he mentioned the shirt thing. Alicia grinned and told him to "get on that shit." And then she joined Lyn-Z on the floor, and Mikey promptly showed himself out.)

But that's neither here nor there, because seriously, where the fuck did the house go?

“Please come back,” he tries, and feels really silly standing there with groceries in his arms (yep, the bag is about to fall apart) in the dark garden, talking to the air. But he knows theirs is not like other houses—and he smirks at that thought, because "not like other houses" is an understatement, for sure. But it's never disappeared before, fucking hell.

"Come on," he whispers, "Come on," and then he hears it. A few faint notes, but it's the solo of 'Stairway to Heaven,' and that's Ray playing, so there's gotta—"Come on," he says insistently, and it's as though the air shimmers for a second, shimmers and slides sideways, as if it were curtains—and there it is. Looking exactly like it did when Mikey left to go to work ten hours ago.

He hurries up the steps so it doesn't have time to disappear again, and puts the food away in the kitchen before going to find Ray.

Ray's in his music room, still running through "Stairway to Heaven," and Mikey remembers Ray is playing with that Led Zeppelin tribute band next month. He made Mikey sit through six different versions of eight songs two weekends ago so he could decide on styles, and Mikey made fun of him. Only a little bit, though.

"So, the house was gone when I got home," he says, instead of something totally stupid about guitar and the way Ray's face goes still and intent when he's playing. Which it does.

"That's new," Ray says, frowning.

"It was kind of freaky," Mikey says, shrugging. "But then I heard your playing, and it, like, slid back."

"I wish I'd come here when I was younger," Ray says, switching to 'Golden Slumbers' in some version that sounds like a slower, gentler rendition of "Master of Puppets," and Mikey reminds himself again that he needs to get Ray and Gerard in the same room when there is enough time for the musical extravaganza that is sure to ensue.

"You think you'd know more about the house then?"

"Uh-huh. Maybe then I wouldn't be getting locked in the attic because apparently the attic door is only open on Tuesdays, and I hadn't figured that out because Tuesday is the one day I get off work before four, so that's when I was always moving stuff downstairs."

Mikey stifles a snort. It had taken him three hours to figure out that Ray was missing, and by the time he'd found him in, Ray was happily reading old books about a brave WWII pilot.

"Don't think I missed that, Mikeyway," Ray says, fingers moving easily over the frets. "But I'll forgive you this time. Answer this, though, do you think our kitchen is strange somehow? I can't put my finger on it."

Mikey nods. "Well, the whole house is weird, but the kitchen, uh, I guess I can't get the toaster to toast things?"

"I think your toaster problems are different."

Rolling his eyes, Mikey says, "No, I mean, it's not exactly that it won't toast things. I put the bread back in three times because it keeps coming out pasty white, and then the fourth time it turns into charcoal. I don't think the toaster likes me."

"Right." Ray sounds skeptical, but also like he's laughing at Mikey. Fair enough, Mikey does tend toward the unsafe right when he's gotten out of bed. It's not his fault, coffee is totally necessary for things like fine motor function.

"Whatever," he says. "You're the one who was wondering about the kitchen, I was only sharing my personal expertise here."

"Such as it is."

"Don't be mean."

Ray smiles a tiny little smile and nods at the acoustic bass in the corner. "Fine, I'll stop messing with you, but you have to come play with me."

Mikey shakes his head. "You're too good," he says honestly, because really, the whole bass thing was never—he's not very good, that's all.

"Shut up," Ray says, and nods at the bass again. "You're not as bad as you think you are."

"You'll regret it," Mikey warns him, and grabs the bass and the other chair, and sits down. And it's hard at first, it's been a while, but Ray starts them out doing easy pieces, and Mikey remembers that Ray's actual job-job is teaching kids how to play instruments. Evidently it works on adults too.

They play until Mikey can feel his fingers hurting and stops for a second, because hey, look at that.

"It's snowing," he says, reaching out and poking Ray.

"Huh," Ray says, and then grins, switching to something Mikey doesn't recognize right away, not until Ray starts humming.

"Hello Bing," he says then, to keep himself from beaming stupidly. Jesus fuck, Way, stop crushing on the straight boy. Ray wears Iron Maiden t-shirts, he wouldn't go for Mikey.

Besides, they're living together. Mikey's convinced the only reason Brian and Gerard are managing to live together and be together at the same time is that Gerard will do anything you ask if it's reasonable and Brian is freakishly devoted to Gerard. Also Gerard loves Brian. The love part is probably key, and so Ray and him would just be a mess.

It's not like Mikey's in love.

He realizes Ray's expectant look is because he said something Mikey was supposed to respond to. "Sorry, what?"

"We'll probably have to shovel in the morning."

"Well, we all know who has the upper-body strength out of the two of us," Mikey says and tries out Frank's patented puppy-dog look on Ray. It gets him a blush, which is weird, and a sigh, which he was expecting.

"As long as you make me hot chocolate," Ray says.

Mikey grins.

--

The morning, though, doesn't quite go as planned.

Mikey does make it out of bed (the blankets are oddly heavy, but he mutters at them until they shift for him) and he does start putting cocoa in a mug to make real hot chocolate for Ray. Then he hears a panicked yell from outside and runs for the front door, snagging his coat on the way.

Ray is—wrestling with a snow shovel. This should not be surprising, except that it is.

Mikey tries to pull at the shovel, which is not having it, and fuck, fuck, Ray's arm is definitely bleeding. Mikey finds himself yelling at the shovel, using the voice he's only ever used on assholes at shows, and the shovel shudders and goes quiescent in his hand.

"It likes you," Ray says tightly, right hand coming up to clamp onto his left shoulder.

"How's your arm?" Mikey says. "Come on, take your jacket off."

"I don't think it's too bad," Ray says, but he's still holding onto his arm. Shit.

"You should go take care of it," Mikey tells him, shifting his grip on the shovel.

"We have to shovel," Ray says, "Remember the flyer we got about keeping the neighborhood tip-top in the winter?"

Mikey does, and grimaces. "I'll shovel," he says. "It doesn't seem to be attacking me."

"That's how it lures you in," Ray says darkly.

"If it attacks me, I'll go by a new one." There, that's totally reasonable.

Ray rolls his eyes but struggles to his feet and goes inside, so he must have agreed.

Mikey looks at the garden and sighs. There's a lot of snow.

"I swear, if you don't behave—" The shovel twitches in his hand but makes no other move to attack him or anything. Excellent. Except now he has to shovel.

--

Half an hour later, Mikey is sore in places he didn't know he had. If he said that to Frank, he'd be subjected to some pretty terrible jokes, but Mikey only wishes he had actual dirty reasons to be this sore. Instead, he just hurts, and all he has to show for it is a garden that is mostly free of snow. Mostly.

He hobbles up the steps and goes inside.

"Ray?" he calls.

"Living room," is the response.

Mikey divests himself of his jacket and his shoes (they're soaked all the way through) and finds a pair of woolen socks in their scarves-an'-tings drawer (Gerard named it).

The living room is blessedly warm, and Ray is huddled under a blanket on the couch, sipping on what smells like hot chocolate. There's a second mug on the table.

"Did you make me hot chocolate?"

"Fair's fair," Ray says. "You did the shoveling."

"You got attacked," Mikey points out. "Couldn't complete the job. That's gotta count as wounded in battle or something."

"Still."

"How's your arm?"

"Okay," Ray says. "It was pretty easy to clean, mostly a scratch on top of a really big bruise. I took some Tylenol, though."

"Wise man," Mikey says, and curls up on the couch next to Ray. "Share the blanket."

"Fine, fine."

"Wanna watch TV?"

"Mmm," Ray says, groping for the remote, but the TV turns on before he touches a button. It does that. (Once Mikey fell asleep on the couch and woke up to Saturday morning cartoons that had come on by themselves.)

"Classics, huh," Mikey says when the TV flickers into To Catch a Thief.

"Hey, Hitchcock," Ray says happily.

"Grace Kelly," Mikey says, and Ray sneaks a glance at him.

"Right, yeah."

Somehow they end up watching that whole movie and the next one, and before Mikey knows it, he is hungry.

"We should order pizza," he says, eyeing his phone. He put it on the living room table after Frank texted him eight times, freaking out about buying Christmas presents for Jamia.

"Pizza sounds great," Ray says. "Just, no pineapple—"

Mikey interrupts him. "Shut up, I know my shit. No pineapple, no pepperoni, extra cheese."

He does. He knows how Ray likes his pizza, he knows to buy him cupcakes, not muffins, he knows how Ray takes his coffee and how long he showers in the morning. He also knows what Ray looks like when he's only wearing a towel, but he's actively trying to forget that part. Most of the time. For the sake of his sanity.

Their Saturday on the couch is only sort of interrupted when Frank comes over to model the three scarves he's bought for Jamia, because he couldn't figure out how to email pictures with his phone and wanted input. Halfway through that, Gerard and Brian show up, bickering about where they're spending Christmas and which traditions are important to them both. (They have the same argument every year.)

It was a good night, Mikey thinks at the end of it, going upstairs to crawl into bed and hoping he won't ache so fucking much when he wakes up.

--

Of course, this state of affairs cannot be allowed to continue. The house is most upset. The living room furniture bemoan their wear-and-tear and the smell of smoke. ("It is sure to be the end of us!" the tapestries wail.)

"We have to do something," the kitchen table says ominously, and there is nodding all around.

Meanwhile, the teapot is quietly staging a mutiny amongst the silverware and the bowls, because she really does like these boys. The coffee maker agrees with her, primarily because the skinny one talks to it when he comes downstairs in the morning.

--

Things come to a head the morning of December 17th, when Mikey stumbles downstairs to make coffee before he heads to work for his yearly review (he's really hoping he can get some of his hours back). He's leaning against the counter, eyes closed, when something nudges his hand.

It's the teapot.

"Um," Mikey says, and wishes he had had some coffee already. "Hi?"

It whistles at him.

"I don't know—" and then he turns around, and holy shit. The doorways to the kitchen are filling up with furniture and lamps and, and porcelain shepherdesses with their fucking sheep, what the fuck—

"Ray," he calls, and then again, louder, when the crowd edges closer. "Ray!"

"Mikey! Fuck, help, Mikey!"

Shit. "What'd you do to him?" No one responds.

"Ray, Ray, where are you?"

"Um, they have me cornered in the living room, no, wait, we're moving now—" and the stove behind Mikey roars to life, all four burners suddenly on high, gas flame flickering.

Fuck. "Ray, your house has gone fucking insane!"

"Yeah, I'd gotten as much," Ray says from the doorway, and Mikey whirls again. He's pale and limping, but it doesn't look like he's seriously hurt.

"You okay?" he says anyway.

"Mostly. Just freaked out."

Yeah. Ray is surrounded by a group of straight-backed dining room chairs that have totally pointy edges (Mikey has at least three bruises on his legs from walking into them, and now he's thinking these bruises may not just be his fault) and are herding him closer to the stove. This shit is ridiculous.

"What the hell is this?" Mikey asks the kitchen at large, and of course gets no answer, but a couple of cupboards flap at him.

"I feel like I'm in fucking Beauty and the Beast," Ray says, and Mikey grins.

"Don't tell me that makes me Belle," he says.

Ray nods solemnly. "I'm pretty sure it does," he says, and adds, "So, any plans?"

"Not really." The teapot nudges at Mikey's hand again. "Do you have a plan?" he asks it in an undertone, and if he didn't know better, he'd say it looked smug.

"Have at it, by all means," he says, and casts about for anything he can use to prevent the, uh, furniture, from doing whatever it wants to do to them.

The teapot whistles shrilly, and all the cupboards spring open. The knives are standing up straight, the plates, the bowls, then everything is moving, and Mikey's gripping hard at Ray's hand now, because this is actually seriously happening. In no time at all, the crowds (Armies? Groups? Cutlery vs. Upholstery?) are facing off in the doorways, and Mikey has no idea how this is going to end.

And then he hears it. A voice, wavering and thin, but it's coming from the painting to the left of the stove. It's a still life of a country kitchen, and he can't tell who's talking, but he can hear what it's saying.

"We are meant for life," it says. "Houses are meant to live. We are not meant for silence or dust or giving in to the weather. We are meant to live, that's what she would have wanted." Somehow the way it pronounces "she" leaves no doubt at all that it means Ray's great-grandmother.

There's a stillness in the kitchen now, and Mikey can't figure out if it means that they're basically dead or, well, not. He nudges Ray, who looks helplessly at Mikey before clearing his throat.

"Um, okay. I kind of love this house a lot? My mom told me about how it used to be this completely magical and crazy place, and that Nonnie always had a bunch of people staying here, and that they made music together. It sounded so awesome. I want to do that, but I haven't been able to, I have to get the house back in shape first. You, you know there's stuff needing to be done. I'll make it good again, I promise, I'll make it live again."

"I'll help," Mikey says, and after about twenty seconds of agonized consideration, he adds, "I'll smoke in the garden from now on, too."

Behind him the burners turn off, just like that. Slowly, slowly, the silverware and the china swirl back into their cupboards; slowly, slowly the furniture edges out of the doorway.

Before the last shepherdess leaves, Mikey could swear she winks at him.

He looks at Ray, at a loss for words. The coffee maker is still puttering away behind them, and Mikey tries not to listen too closely, because it's starting to sound like words to him. Also, it looks like Ray needs support. Or something.

"That was the craziest shit, that was—" Ray says, trailing off. "I don't even know how to—" He's staring at Mikey. No, he's staring at Mikey's mouth.

This is a now-or-never moment, Mikey decides, and one of the kittens on the wallpaper winks at him. Okay then. "You should kiss me," he says.

Ray splutters. "What?"

"Near-death experience, right? It's supposed to make you realize what you really want."

"You're—are you for real?" Ray's hand clenches, as if he wants to reach out.

Mikey nods, heart in his throat, and Ray starts smiling. "Come here then, Mikeyway," he says gently, and Mikey goes, reaching out to touch the kitten briefly in gratitude.

Ray is slow and careful, and Mikey grins inwardly, thinking about what to do to make him go faster. He likes slow and sweet, sure, but he wants more than that.

For a second, he considers the fact that he now knows that most of the things in their kitchen have some kind of intelligence, and he wonders whether he should be feeling weird about making out with Ray here. But then he looks up, looks at Ray, and shit, he has to touch him.

He turns them around and crowds Ray into the counter, nosing behind his ear and scraping his teeth over the skin. The way Ray's breath hitches makes him bite his own lip, because fuck.

Wait. Ray's pushing him away. What the hell? Mikey hopes it's not the teapot whistling that put him off. (At least it sounds approving?) Or the bowls that are still spinning on the counter, a low contented hum.

"Mikey, I want, I have to—"

Oh, okay. "Tell me what you want," he says and grins. Sweet, Ray's blushing again.

"We should take this upstairs," Ray says, and Mikey nods. Hell yes, they're taking this upstairs.

"Your bed though," he says, and Ray's eyes go dark. "Unless you want to wake up to vines all over you."

"That might be fun, some other time anyway."

"I like you, Ray Toro, I really do."

Ray's hands on his hips get tighter and Mikey tries to get even closer. Fuck, but he wants so much.

"Upstairs," he manages, "Come on now."

That's definitely hesitancy in Ray's eyes, like he wants and doesn't, at the same time.

"Did you change your mind?"

"No, I was…" Ray trails off.

Mikey moves closer again and leans in. "You were what?" He smiles when he feels Ray shiver.

"Is this going to be, um, if we do this now, will we do it again?"

"I fucking hope so," Mikey says.

Ray shakes his head. "We live together, Mikey, I'm trying to figure out—if you want sex, I'm game, but if you want more than that…"

Mikey swallows. "If I want more than that?" He doesn't move away.

"I'd be game for that too," Ray says quietly.

"That'd be good," Mikey says, and has to kiss him again, even though Ray's grinning too hard to make it any good at all. He breaks away, because seriously: "Now we're going right the fuck upstairs, or I swear I will blow you right here and we'll traumatize all the nice appliances and, and knives and stuff, which they don't deserve."

"Upstairs it is!" Ray says, voice going high on the last word.

Upstairs it is, indeed.

--

Around them, the house is settling back in, breathing easier now that things have been settled. Even if it's not exactly sure what happened. (The TV is satisfied, at any rate, and seems to be sticking to soft and sweet shows.) Perhaps these boys will work out, after all. And there's something nice about their energy together, the way they are so much happier when the other one is around, the way even Michael ("So quiet," sighs the shepherdess on the second floor) can be seen smiling widely.

The nights are a bit unsettling, but the house suspects it will learn to hande those, too. Anyway, Ray's starting a school, and the many children running around will surely cause more damage than Michael or Ray ever could and will (yes, this includes the incident with the chocolate sauce on the upholstery). What the house discovers, though, is that it likes the music they make, the children and Ray, or Michael and Ray, or Michael and a very smelly fellow and Ray. There's something very real about it.

A lot has changed quickly: the gate no longer shrieks when you open it; the shovel no longer attacks those who attempt to lift it; Michael's room has better things to do than to tie him to the bed every morning. Mostly, though, the house is warmer, less chaotic, more real. It never disappears, now, but the attic door refuses to open if it is not Tuesday.

"Plenty of magic left," as Ray puts it.

"You call it magic, I call it being fucking stubborn," Mikey says,

"It means the house won't break," Ray says patiently, and Mikey smiles at him.

"That's good, I mean, it's not like I want to move."

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