Geoff calls from a bathroom at some rest stop outside of Atlanta, and when Gerard picks up, he barely recognizes his voice. It's usually so strong, so full of conviction; god knows at concerts it never wavers. His "it's me" is a new kind of hollow now. Young, defenseless.
It frightens Gerard, and he tries to hold him off with small talk. "God, I wish you'd been here last night," he says over the terrible silence. "The crowd was fucking rad." He leaves out the part where he's always ad libbing the whole thing, where even half-drunk the idea of hundreds of kids screaming for him makes him panic and he's resolved to have a better buzz next time. He leaves out that he wishes Geoff was there to tell him it's okay, to have someone who knows what this is like.
He leaves it out, because after all, he's just saying it all to not hear what comes next, to build a wall against a flood that's already risen. His stomach twists, gnaws. He thinks bitterly how ironic that is.
"I think I'm dying," Geoff says.
Gerard cradles the phone against his shoulder, hunches his back against the world. "No. No, you're not, it's just...you're just sick, right? You just drank some kind of bad water, picked up a bug."
There's an incredible resignation to Geoff's voice that scares Gerard more than, he thinks, anything ever has. When Elena died, it was far away, far enough that he felt guilty for not being there, heard about it in phone conversations, but saw nothing. But that was at the end of a life, and however abrupt her notbeinghere is to him, however bizarre it is that he can't call her, this is far different.
This is Geoff. This is someone he loves in a different, surprising way; someone that a day ago was singing, screaming, holding people, and is now bleeding in a bathroom somewhere. This is being told that death isn't a silent stalker that snatches you up quite suddenly; that there isn't a getaway car or a plan B or a deal to make. That sometimes death is warm and wet under your hands, and it is just you, being too weak to hurt anymore.
Gerard shakes his head again and says, "You're wrong." He's not sure himself whether this is disagreement or refusal. This can't be happening, because he isn't there to stop it, isn't there to forcibly hold Geoff to life with both hands. It can't be happening, because Geoff is the survivor, the one who watches everyone else die and memorializes it, the one who talks about epilepsy and drugs and a million other events but is never in real danger.
It can't be happening, because if it does, the memory of Geoff's hands, the paths his own fingers took over unfamiliar hips and spine, events that happened briefly and without any endearments but their eyes, will fade into the dreams they already seem. How can someone who has been mapped onto your skin disappear?
"Go to a doctor," he says, finally. "Even if I'm right and it's nothing. Even if you're right and there's nothing to do. Go to a doctor." For a moment he wishes all their affection wasn't implied.
"I don't have time. We've got a show tomorrow." Geoff's voice climbs the hill towards routine, towards strength.
"Fuck it, Geoff, stop worrying about the kids." Gerard's hand shakes on the phone. "If I don't make you, Tom will. You know I'm right. What are you going to do, die on tour?" His face twists into a painful smirk. "Think of the fans."
Geoff pauses on the other end and says, "I'll think about it." He's silent another moment and says, "Look. I just needed to tell you." There is no in case or because now.
Gerard says, "Thank you," and if it would seem odd to anyone else, Geoff doesn't mention it. They say casual goodbyes, as if they'll be seeing each other next week, not in months or maybe never. Gerard sits down and stares out of the window.
That night, he dreams of his grandmother again, himself as a child drawing with pastels. Behind her, there is a form he can't see that he keeps trying to see the face of to draw; he never can. When he wakes, he tries to call Geoff, but the cell phone won't connect.