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The Embers Never Fade

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September 11, 2001

 

Gerard was drawing, when the first plane hit.

He had headphones on, Iron Maiden blasting in his ears -- basic commuter survival tactic, especially on the 8.20 train to the city -- so it wasn’t a sound that made him look up, it wasn’t panicked screams. It was the stillness. The one split second where everyone froze, when their breaths caught in their chest, before being expelled and turning into panic and fear and grief. He glanced out the window and felt his heart stop, seeing the smoke coming out of one of the towers, his eyes taking in something that his brain was telling him simply couldn’t be real.

By the time the second plane hit, Gerard was out on the train platform with all the other passengers, thrown out into the chaos of stopped trains, stopped traffic… stopped lives. The smoke, the debris, the bodies falling. The broken city sky. The crushing certainty that everything had changed, that they’d all been changed.

He tried to explain it, afterwards, to himself, to Mikey, to Elena and to his parents. But he never could quite put it into words that made sense -- he drew it, and he dreamt it, and he felt it, the horror of that moment, yes, and also the challenge it meant.

What the fuck was he doing with his life? Drinking, doing pills, drudging from day to day in a cubicle job, not even pretending that he was just getting his foot in the door anymore. He was still living in his parents’ fucking basement, for fuck’s sake.

When he got home that day, after hugging Mikey and Elena and his mom and dad, the first thing he did was get rid of all the pills and the booze. He was done. Mikey didn’t say anything as he watched Gerard flush all the bottles he’d stashed in his room, but he stayed with him in the bathroom that night, and the whole day after, while Gerard threw up and shivered, and when Gerard felt up to it, he went with him to an AA meeting.

Looking around the room, hearing the stories, Gerard realized just how close he’d been to becoming a cautionary tale, to hitting rock bottom. How maybe he was just like them, no close about it, and he’d just gotten lucky.

He knew he’d made the right choice. But it was only the first step.

He talked to Elena about it, first. He purposefully helped her set up the living room for her bridge club, clearing the tables they used and setting up chairs, moving his mom’s doll collection, and when he actually offered to pour drinks she was alarmed enough that she forced him to sit down on the couch and spit out whatever was bothering him.

“Not that I don’t appreciate the help, hon, but you’re so jumpy it’s giving me heartburn. Now, what is it?” she asked.

Gerard sighed. “I -- I need to leave, Grams. I need to leave, and to live, and to see. Just. Fuck. I need to do something.”

Elena gave him a piercing look, that look that had always figured him out, from when he was four and broke the heel of one of her shoes after unsuccessful tap-dancing, to now, a confused twenty-four year old. “I understand, sweetheart. Believe me, I do.” She nodded to herself, as if confirming something she’d figured out already, and put a comforting hand on his arm. “Listen -- take my car. And I’ve got a little something saved up, to get you on your way.”

“No, grandma, that’s too much. I couldn’t…”

“You aren’t asking. I’m giving,” she told him, in that half-stern, half-fond tone which meant she was getting her way or else. “What good are grandmothers if not to fund such ventures, hmm? Just remember to draw me a postcard every once in a while.”

Gerard reached across to hug her. “Thank you, Grams.”

Fuck, he loved her.

Telling Mikey was harder, and easier. Gerard didn’t need to explain -- he knew Mikey had known, from the moment Gerard got home and was crushed into his spindly arms, that something was different, that Gerard had gone through a fundamental change. And if the hug didn’t tell him, there’s no way he’d have missed the flushed pills and the sobriety. He’d known, and he’d waited Gerard out, until he was ready. The problem was convincing Mikey that his plan wasn’t going to end up with Gerard broke and lost somewhere in a backroad of the Midwest.

“Gee, no.”

“Mikey, you haven’t even let me…”

Mikey raised an eyebrow.

Gerard twisted his mouth, fidgeting a little. “I know it’s a little crazy, but I have to do it, Mikes.”

Mikey raised both eyebrows.

“I really, really do. It’s just -- I need to be better, Mikey. I need to stop wasting my life and my time and fucking be something. I don’t know what, yet, but getting the fuck out of the basement seems like a good start.”

Mikey sighed. “You already are something, Gee. You’re fucking special.”

Jesus. His little brother, seriously.

“I fucking love you, Mikeyway,” Gerard told him, pulling him into a hug. “I promise I’ll write, okay? I’ll write, I’ll draw, I’ll fucking sculpt. I -- I’m not leaving you. I just need to go.”

“I know,” Mikey nodded. “But come back. I’ll be waiting, you asshole.”

And so, after packing Elena’s junker with too many art supplies and comic books, and possibly too little common sense, Gerard waved his family goodbye and drove off; off to whatever waited for him.

+++

From a letter written September 24th, 2011, somewhere off I-676 N:

Hey, Mikeyway.

On the back of this is a drawing of the motel I’m staying at tonight -- I thought you’d appreciate the Swiss chalet motif. It feels weird, being away from you, from Jersey, from the city.

It’s only been one day, and I already wish I could turn back. But I also feel free, you know? It’s kind of weird. I just, I keep thinking of the bodies falling, of the broken skyline… I keep thinking of what I’d say.

You’re not in this alone. Let me go on record, be the first to say I’m sorry… this broken city sky, like butane on my skin, stolen from my eyes… hello angel, tell me where are you? tell me where we go from here.

+

From: Gerard
October 16 2001, 15:04
Just drove past a shrub that totally looked like Jabba the Hut. Kinda.

+

From: Gerard
October 31 2001, 00:03
Sounds like an awesome party. Tell Frank happy birthday and sorry I didn’t say goodbye

+

From a letter written November 2nd, 2001:

It’s actually kind of awesome. I keep meeting all these people, grandma, and they all have so many stories. I got some work painting a mural for a school in Newton Falls, Ohio, because I was drawing by the school yard and the principal was really relieved I was an artist instead of a pedophile, I guess. They’re giving me room and board, and, like, gas money. It’s cool. I’ll send you a picture when I finish it.

+

From: Gerard
December 3rd 2001, 16:05
Indiana is weird

+

From a letter written December 20th, 2001 on the back of a random set list:

Hey, Mikey,

So I think I’m staying in Chicago for a while. It’s a fucking great city. Late dawns and early sunsets...

Thanks for hooking me up with Bob, Mikes, he’s really fucking cool. He’s taken me to a few gigs, says that they pay him little enough that he should be able to take a guest for free.

How’s everything going at Eyeball?

+

From: Gerard
January 1 2002, 00:01
Happy new year, Mikeyway.

From: Gerard
January 1 2002, 00:04
No, not hanging out by myself, I’m at a party with Bob. Everyone’s celebrating the end of things with cheap champagne. I’m drinking coke like a loser.

From: Gerard
January 1 2002, 00:07
Okay, okay, like a responsible person. It’s not easy, but I’m okay, Mikes. Promise.

+

From a letter written January 1st, 2001, on the back of a sketch of the New York skyline:

It’s a new year. New beginnings, new views, new everythings. I kinda feel my new year started after that day, though. If I look back, I think I’ll think of things before September and after September, and not in years. It feels like everything’s more fragile, but also stronger. Like we all broke, but we’re strong at the broken places.

Happy new year, grandma. Thank you so much.

+

From a note left on Bob Bryar’s refrigerator, February 24th, 2002:

Thanks for everything, Bob. You’re fucking amazing. If I ever start a band, I’m gonna force you to be in it, okay?

PS: Sorry about stealing your socks.

+

From a letter written March 15th, 2002, on the back of a Denny’s menu in black sharpie:

I’m kind of a terrible waiter, but there’s not much to do in Iowa, and I needed some cash. The manager’s pretty cool, though, they let me put up the daily specials with that window paint restaurants use in Christmas to draw snowmen and shit.

I don’t know, Mikes. It’s not that being a seasonal waiter is my dream come true, but I feel better about this than I would filling a vacant 3-by-4. I’m drawing a lot, too. A comic, actually, it’s kinda coming together in my head. I’ll send you some stuff soon.

+

From: Gerard
April 3 2002, 02:23
What’s a better name for a superhero who’s a a guy with the body of a chimp, Dr. Darwin or Spaceboy?

 

From: Gerard
April 3 2002, 02:24
also wouldn’t it be cool if there was this guy who could communicate with dead superheroes?

 

From: Gerard
April 3 2002, 02:26
I was on the closing shift, we all get free coffee. Why?

+

From a letter written May 27th, 2002:

Sorry I haven’t written for a while, Grams.

I’ve just been driving, really, thinking. I saved up enough working that I can afford to just do that for a while. It’s -- it’s tough, some days. I kinda wish I could just buy a fifth and fucking forget about all this. Things get really dark, you know? I just. Sometimes I think I’ll die alone. But my head’s clearer than it’s been in a long time -- I’m writing, I’m drawing, I even did a canvas a while ago, sold it at a farmer’s market somewhere near Lincoln.

Even when it’s really bad, it’s better.
+

From: Gerard
June 7 2002, 16:31
Wyoming’s sad. Not in a bad way. Just sparse and mournful. It kind of made me think about vampires.

+

From a letter written June 17th, 2002:

… and if the sun comes up will it tear the skin right off our bones, and then as razor sharp white teeth rip out our necks I saw you there. Someone get me to the doctor, someone get me to a church where they can pump this venom gaping hole. And you must keep your soul like a secret in your throat. And if they come and get me what if you put the spike in my heart...
+

From a letter written July 21st, 2002, on the back of a sketch of the Great Salt Lake:

This is a weird place, Grandma. Like -- beautiful in an unexpected way. I spent a while just floating, looking up at the sky. It felt like I was dead, but in a good way.

I think I know where I’m going now. It’s kind of where I’ve been going all along, but I just wanted to take my time, make sure. I’ll let you know when I get there.
+

From: Gerard
August 3 2002, 11:43
Reno is like being stuck in the ass-end of the seventies forever. Also it’s fucking hot. Ugh.

+

From a letter written August 24th, 2002:

I actually really like Sacramento. It’s, I don’t know. I think maybe you’d like it too, Mikes. It’s like a city that forgot it’s a city, so it’s a small town which happens to have a Capitol. Also, the park by the Capitol has trees from all around the world, it’s crazy. But, fuck, it’s too hot.

I’m glad Frank’s band is doing good. How’s Ray Toro doing? Is he playing with someone? He’s so fucking good, I hope he is. Remember that show he played, with that band? When we had those umbrella drinks because Geoff treated us all and then we watched Empire Strikes Back? That was fucking cool.
+

From: Gerard
September 11 2002, 00:04
I love you, Mikeyway. Miss you. Be safe.

+

From a letter written September 19th, 2002, on the back of a sketch of the Golden Gate:

I think this is it. I’m sticking around here for a while. Maybe I’ll find what I’m looking for.

I got a job at a Barnes&Noble for now (wouldn’t have gotten it without having worked at one back home with you -- you totally have to pretend to be the manager if they call, Mikes) but I’m looking around for other stuff. I’m selling the car so I can pay the deposit on an apartment and a few months of rent. I’ll call you as soon as I have a landline (promise, grams) and you can stop enduring my horrible handwriting.

Love you both.
+

From: Unknown
October 1 2002, 11:13
Mikeyway, I lost my cellphone. Probably won’t get a new one for a while, so get over your aversion to phone calls and call my landline. Love you

+++
November 5, 2003

 

Gerard was painting, when the phone rang.

He almost let it go to the machine, actually, because he was on a fucking roll and he really needed to have the piece ready, but something made him put down his brush and his cigarette and pick up.

“Hello?”

“Gee?”

All it really took was hearing Mikey’s voice.

“What. What happened.”

“Gee. It’s. It’s Elena.”

Gerard closed his eyes, tried to remember how to breathe. For one horrible, never-ending second, he wanted a drink so badly his hands shook with it -- a drink, a hit, fucking anything. And then he heard Mikey breathing on the phone, and it passed.

“I’ll be home as soon as I can get a flight, okay?”

“Yeah. Just… hurry.”

And with that phone call, for the second time in three years, Gerard’s entire world changed, just like that.

+

From notes written November 6, 2003 on the flight from SFO to Newark:

we are so very far from you… burning on just like a match you strike to incinerate the lives of everyone you know
and what’s the world to take, from every heart you break, and like the blade you stain i’ll be holding on tonight
came the time when every star fall brought you to tears again, we are the very hurt you sold
can you hear me? are you near me?

I miss you, Grams...
so long and goodnight
+

Mikey was waiting for him at the airport, pale-faced and dressed in black.

The moment Mikey was within reach, Gerard crushed him into a hug, the familiar spindly arms and bony ribs making him feel immediately better. They didn’t say anything; they didn’t need to. Gerard just held on, and eventually Mikey pulled back, wiping at his eyes under his glasses. He tilted his head, and led the way out of the airport, towards the parking lot.

“Mom?” Gerard asked, once they got to Mikey’s car.

Mikey shrugged. “She’s, y’know. Mom.”

Gerard nodded. He could all too easily imagine the flurry of activity, from copious terrible cooking to phone-calls, church services and, of course, a lot of hairspray.

“Dad?”

“Handling it, mostly.”

Gerard nodded again, and looked out the window to see Jersey flash by. It was weird, being back. He hadn’t planned to be, not for a while. Maybe not ever, regardless of what he’d promised Mikey. Leaving Jersey behind had helped him to leave behind everything else, too: the darkness, the booze, the erstwhile friends, the hopelessness he’d been infected with. He’d also left behind the good parts, from Mikey and Elena and his parents to his favorite comic book shop, the great coffee in shitty diners, the maelstrom of creativity and crazy that this tiny fucking state was. The problem hadn’t ever really been Jersey -- the problem had been him.

He didn’t know if the progress he’d made these past couple of years would stick; he didn’t know if he was strong enough not to fall back into all his bad habits. He’d bought a round ticket he couldn’t quite afford anyway, as a way to calm his impending anxiety. If things got hairy, he could just remember he’d be going back to San Francisco, back to his tiny apartment and his canvases, back to his job at Marshall Elementary. Jesus fucking Christ, he was an art teacher. How the hell had that even happened?

Shaking himself out of his reverie, he turned to look at Mikey again, because he had the luxury of doing so. It’s not like they hadn’t kept in touch -- letters, first, and texts, and when Gerard lost his phone and couldn’t be bothered to replace it, long phone calls every other day. But all that couldn’t be compared to sitting next to this brother and being able to tell the minutiae of his mood by the way his shoulders shifted, or exactly how unimpressed he was by how high his eyebrows rose. He was pretty good at reading Mikey no matter the medium, but he winced when remembering how, after a sleepless night driving through Wyoming two years ago he’d confused post-orgasmic Mikey with depressed Mikey and called in a panic. Yeah, Mikey hadn’t been too thrilled about that call.

“So, how’s everyone at Eyeball?” he asked. “You told me last time that Geoff had found an interesting band?”

“Yeah, he did,” Mikey replied, sounding a little weird, “I mean, sort of -- they’re kind of missing something.”

“Missing something? Are they too raw or whatever?” Gerard asked, confused. Geoff wouldn’t care too much about something like that, he didn’t think.

“Uh. More like missing a lead singer.”

That brought Gerard up short. “Oh. Well, I hope they find someone soon. They seemed interesting, from what you’ve told me.”

“They are. They have a lot of potential,” Mikey said, shifting in his seat in a way that meant Gerard wasn’t going to get more out of him than that.

“And what about Frank Iero’s band?” he asked, trying for a different tack.

“They broke up,” Mikey replied, shrugging one shoulder.

Gerard frowned. Frank had always been such a whirlwind of energy on stage; Gerard could never take his eyes off him when Pencey was playing. He’d always hoped Frank would make it with them.

“That sucks. Is Frank starting another band?”

Mikey shot him another glance. “Well, actually -- I’ve kind of been jamming with him. And with Ray.”

“Ray… Toro?”

He knew Mikey and Ray had hit it off after Sean introduced them all, and obviously Mikey was hanging out with Frank and him because of Eyeball and the scene and everything, but he hadn’t realized how close they were.

“Yeah. He was drumming for this other band that never took off,” Mikey said, mouth twisting.

Gerard commiserated. Ray was one of the best guitar players he’d ever seen, he couldn’t just stop. Still, Mikey jamming with Frank and Ray. That was kind of unexpected.

“And you’ve been playing bass?”

Mikey nodded. “Yeah, I took it up again after you left. It’s -- it’s going well.”

“I’m glad, Mikes.”

And he was, honestly. Mikey’d always wanted to play in a band, and their attempts before and during college hadn’t gone anywhere. But it felt a little weird, that Mikey was doing it without Gerard this time.

All too soon, they were home, and the reason for it came crashing down on Gerard. Mikey parked, but didn’t make a move to get out of the car, which Gerard appreciated. He needed a moment to get himself together before facing the onslaught of hugs and sympathy.

“Okay,” he breathed out, after a moment. “I’m ready.”

They walked up the driveway together, but when the door was flung open and their mom hurtled out to hug Gerard within an inch of his life, Mikey quickly disappeared inside. Traitor.

Gerard, hon,” she said, and Gerard couldn’t help the slight hitch in his breath as he heard her say his name. He’d never thought he’d miss a Jersey accent as much as he had. “I’m so glad you’re home. I -- oh, I’m just so glad,” she said, clinging to him. “I missed you, we all missed you.”

“Missed you, too, mom,” he whispered, hugging her back.

“Come on, let’s go inside. I have dinner ready,” she told him, leading him into the house by the hand.

Gerard summoned what he hoped was a convincing facsimile of a smile. It clearly wasn’t convincing at all, because his mom rolled her eyes.

“I didn’t do the cooking, promise. Linda Iero came by with Frank today, brought us eggplant parmesan and a tuna casserole.”

“That was nice of her,” Gerard said, looking around, taking everything in.

The house looked the same, pretty much, living room cluttered as ever, although there were way more flowers than usual. Probably from Elena’s bridge club.

His mom smiled. “She’s been a doll. And Frank and Ray, those boys have been amazing. So helpful.”

“Really?” he asked.

“Yeah, he and Frank were here all day yesterday, after,” she paused, swallowed, “well. After it happened. They were here today, too, before Mikey left to pick you up.”

“Oh.”

“Donna? Gerard?” His dad came out of the kitchen. “Coming to dinner anytime soon?”

“Sorry, hon, we got caught up talking,” his mom said, pushing past him into the kitchen.

Don smiled. “Do I get a hug, Gerard?”

Gerard smiled back, and allowed himself to be pulled into his dad’s arms. “Hey, dad. How’re you?”

Don shrugged. “Could be better, of course. Good to have you home, though.” He left a hand on Gerard’s shoulder, looked him up and down critically. “You look good, son. San Francisco agrees with you.” His dad hadn’t been particularly thrilled about Gerard’s choice to leave, but he’d come around eventually.

“Thanks, dad. It’s been -- it’s been great.” Not perfect, but good enough.

“Will you go back? Or stay? We all miss you.”

“I -- I don’t know,” Gerard replied, biting his lip. His mind flashed to the ticket stashed in his bag that said he was due to leave in four days.

Don gave him a searching look. “Well. You don’t have to decide right now. Come on, let’s go eat something. I’ve been dying for a taste of that eggplant parm all day.”

Dinner was… it was weird. In a way, it felt like old times, like all the times they had dinner before Gerard left -- albeit with far better food, his mom was no Linda Iero when it came to the kitchen -- but every few minutes Gerard kept glancing to the chair on his left, expecting Elena to be in her usual place, and the loss would wash over him all over again. And Mikey would notice, hunch his shoulders, his mom would pause in whatever story she was saying until his dad prompted her, and they all pretended they were handling it a lot better than they were.

“The funeral’s going to be the day after tomorrow,” his mom said, after a particularly awkward pause. “We wanted to make sure you’d be here, have a day to settle in.”

Gerard swallowed hard, hands clenching on his knife and fork. “Thank you, mom. I appreciate it.”

Mikey nudged his foot, and Gerard breathed out, kept eating. He could do this. They could do this. It would just take a while.

He excused himself after he finished eating and went upstairs to Elena’s room. He opened the door slowly and stepped inside. Everything was exactly like Elena had left it, from the vases she kept with dried flowers to the perfume bottles scattered in front of her vanity, pictures of him and Mikey interspersed among them.

He ran a feather-soft hand over everything, pausing over trinkets he’d asked her about many times. He lingered on one of her scarves, a beautiful red silky thing that had always felt unsubstantial in his fingers, and gently tugged it free.

He moved to sit on her bed, closing his eyes and taking a deep breath. It smelled like her.

Can you hear me? Are you near me?

“Miss you, Grams,” he whispered, feeling like he couldn’t quite breathe, like he was being crushed by the weight of missing her, and yet, tears wouldn’t come. He hadn’t cried, not even when Mikey called. He didn’t know what the fuck was wrong with him.

He didn’t realize how much time passed as he sat there, holding on to Elena’s red scarf with burning eyes.

Eventually, Mikey came in and sat down next to him. He took the scarf from Gerard’s hands and wound it around Gerard’s neck, before resting his head on Gerard’s shoulder. They stayed like that for hours.

+

Gerard woke up late the next day, having made it down to the basement eventually. Mikey was still snoring lightly next to him, so Gerard blinked blearily, wondering what had woken him up. His eyes eventually landed on a short, tattooed, really very fucking hot guy, who was staring back at him with a mixture of concern and fondness.

“Hi, Gerard. It’s good to have you home,” he said.

The tiny hot guy knew his name. Gerard blinked some more, trying to nudge his sleepy brain along. It couldn’t be… could it?

“Ray! They’re awake! You can come down now!” the guy yelled.

Mikey groaned and flailed his way out of the covers, almost punching Gerard in the process. Gerard dodged easily, the instincts developed after all those years of sharing a bed kicking in.

“Fuck you, Frank. We so weren’t awake,” Mikey complained, blindly groping around the bedside table for his glasses, knocking down a couple of comics.

It was. Fucking Frank Iero. Jesus. The last time Gerard had seen him he’d been chubbier, and sporting dreads. Even then he’d been cute -- sort of mind-boggingly pretty -- but now, fuck.

Frank had moved closer while Gerard had his epiphany - he’d found Mikey’s glasses and handed them to him before flopping down on the bed in front of them.

Mikey poked at him grumpily. “What’re you doing here, anyway?”

“Ray and I are taking you guys out today. We decided.”

Mikey raised an eyebrow and opened his mouth, but whatever he was about to say was interrupted by Ray stepping into the basement, carefully balancing two cups of coffee. The smell was enough to make both Gerard and Mikey sit up straight, and Gerard had to stop himself from making grabby-hands.

“Frank, I thought you said they were awake,” Ray said, frowning.

“They are!” Frank gestured a with lazy hand in their direction.

“They’re still in bed!”

“Yeah, well, you can’t have everything.”

Ray shook his head, but stepped closer, carefully handing a cup to Mikey and Gerard each. Mikey started drinking immediately, making a pleased noise in the back of his throat, but Gerard paused long enough to say, “Thanks, Ray.”

“You’re welcome,” Ray replied with a small smile. He fidgeted for a moment, running a hand through his hair, as unruly as ever, before saying, “Uh, Gerard, I just -- I wanted to say how sorry I am.”

Gerard breathed in sharply. It still wasn’t getting any easier to hear that.

“Thanks, Ray,” he repeated. “I appreciate it.” And he really did. Maybe they hadn’t been crazy close before he left, but Gerard liked Ray. Always had.

Frank interrupted, then, sitting up and pointing a finger at them. “Drink your coffee. We’re going for breakfast.”

“Isn’t it kind of late for breakfast?” Mikey piped up.

Frank shrugged. “Maybe, but I’m still getting pancakes.”

“A man after my own heart,” Gerard said.

Frank shot him a wide, pleased smile, and Gerard couldn’t stop himself from smiling back, the constant ache in his chest easing, somehow.

Somehow, Frank and Ray managed to hustle the both of them out of bed and into some clothes -- Gerard drew the line at a shower -- and they were in Ray’s car and heading to a diner Frank knew where, he swore, the pancakes would make angels sing. Ray turned on the radio and absently sang along to Iron Maiden, while Frank ribbed Mikey about something that had happened at work a couple of weeks ago, which made Gerard smile.

When they got to the diner, Gerard paused outside the car, suddenly unable to make his feet move further. He recognized the place, he’d been here with Elena and Mikey a handful of times. He took a deep breath, another one. He could do this. It was just a diner.

“Okay?” Frank asked, pausing by his side while Mikey and Ray went ahead.

Gerard glanced at him, wavering between being honest and spinning some bull, but Frank’s earnest face convinced him to be truthful. “I just - it’s weird, you know? I’m okay, and then something reminds me,” he gestured at the diner, “and I’m not, anymore. I just. I hate how I can’t seem to get a handle on myself.”

“Your grandmother just died, Gerard. You’re not supposed to have a handle on anything,” Frank said, matter-of-factly. “There are no rules for grieving, man, emotions are fucking weird. You can laugh one second and cry the next, and that’s okay. Cut yourself some slack.”

“Yeah. Yeah, you’re right. Thanks, Frank.”

Frank smiled. “Anytime.”

True to his word, Frank ordered a huge stack of pancakes. Gerard didn’t really feel hungry, but he thought going through today on nothing but coffee was probably a terrible idea, so he ordered half a stack. Mikey ordered waffles, eggs and a side of hash browns, and Ray ordered an omelette.

“So, Gerard, what have you been up to in San Francisco?” Ray asked. “Mikey said you were teaching?”

“Uh, yeah, actually,” Gerard replied. “Elementary school art. Most of the time it’s just, like, trying to referee controlled chaos -- kids throwing paint on each other, gluing macaroni to their noses and stuff like that -- but, y’know. It’s fun. And the kids appreciate the fact that I try not to stifle their creativity.”

“Which is code for helping them glue the macaroni to their nose yourself?” Frank inquired, grinning.

Gerard let out a short laugh. “Yeah, pretty much. It’s a cool job. Doesn’t pay too much, but it keeps me in rent, coffee and art supplies, and I have enough time to work on my own pieces.”

“Are you still writing that comic book?”

Gerard threw Frank a surprised look.

“Mikey told me about it. It sounded fucking awesome,” Frank explained. “My favorite’s Rumor, man. Shit you say happened becomes real? Fucking best superpower ever.”

“Oh, thank you. I’ve got a lot of the story written, actually, but I’ve kind of kept it in the back-burner lately.”

“I hope you get to publish it. It really is fucking cool,” Frank said.

“Thanks,” Gerard replied, hoping he wasn’t blushing. Mikey looked way too amused.

“Hey, did you guys read the new Doom Patrol yet?” Ray asked, and they were off, Mikey, Frank and him, talking about the new issue.

Gerard drank two cups of coffee in a row and nibbled on his pancakes, tried to contribute to the conversation, but soon enough he was looking around for something to draw on or write on, patting himself down for a pen.

“Hey, Mikes, do you--”

Before he could finish his question, Mikey’d pulled out Gerard’s sketchbook and his favorite pencils from his backpack and set them down in front of him.

“Thanks,” Gerard said, and started sketching, the chatter surrounding him comfortable background noise.

He was vaguely aware of his coffee cup being replenished every once in a while, and of a Batman versus Superman argument, at some point, followed by The Misfits versus Metallica, but he kept drawing and writing down a few phrases as they came to him. Eventually, his hand felt cramped and he dropped his pencil, stretching it out. He noticed that the light outside had changed, the day was sliding into evening, and that Frank, Mikey and Ray were working on sandwiches and fries.

“Shit, guys, I’m sorry -- what time is it?”

“Don’t sweat it, Gee,” Frank said. “It’s cool. You hungry?”

Gerard looked around the table, at Ray’s smile and Mikey’s easy posture, then back to Frank. That ease he’d felt this morning, when Frank smiled, suffused him again. “Yeah, little bit. I think I’ll have some fries.”

They stayed for a while longer, Gerard sharing some of the shit he’d done on what Mikey affectionally called “his epic emo roadtrip”, and then they headed back to the house.

Gerard stopped, when he walked inside. The living room had been transformed into a place that’d be ready to receive the people they’d be hosting after the funeral tomorrow. It made him feel uncomfortable, like he’d walked into the wrong house.

“Gee?”

Gerard waved vaguely at the living room, knowing Mikey would understand, and walked down to the basement as quickly as he could. He climbed into his bed, sat up against the headboard, and closed his eyes, letting his head fall back, making a dull thump as it hit the wood.

Mikey showed a few minutes later, wedging himself against Gerard immediately. Frank followed, then Ray. They climbed into the bed, too, a solid, silent presence that Gerard appreciated more than he could say.

After a while, Mikey rummaged around for the remote and turned on the TV and the VCR, and The Empire Strikes Back came on.

Frank wrinkled his nose. “My least favorite.”

“No fucking way,” Ray said immediately. “Luke, I am your father! It’s seminal!”

“Yeah, but, it’s still not as awesome as the first one, or Return of the Jedi.”

And, okay, Gerard had to interrupt. “Is it seriously your least favorite? Of all six?”

Frank glanced at him, surprised, but then he grinned. “Well, no, not of all six. I mean, Jar Jar fucking Binks, man. Nothing is worse than that.”

“I like Jar Jar Binks,” Mikey said.

Frank rolled his eyes. “Of course you do. Fuckin’ Mikeyway, man.”

They bickered amiably for the rest of the movie, and when it was over, Ray volunteered to put on Return of the Jedi, because they had to finish now that they’d started.

It wasn’t avoidance, not exactly. It was just comfort. Hanging out with the three of them made Gerard feel like he’d okay again, eventually, like this grief would pass. He felt effortlessly understood, accepted, in a way that he hadn’t found even by driving across the country and meeting all sorts of people, in a way that he hadn’t found with his few friends in San Francisco. Anne the English teacher and Dan who lived downstairs and forced Gerard to hear about every single one of his hook-ups -- or “brief but magnificent forays into love” as he liked to call them, and, seriously, Gerard was all about free self-expression, but call a one-night stand a one-night stand -- were nice, and sweet, but they weren’t this. They weren’t home.

His mom brought them down food at some point, shaking her head at them fondly, before going back upstairs. Finally, when the movie was over, Frank and Ray clambered out of the bed.

“See you tomorrow, guys,” Ray said, a sad smile sketching over his face. Frank gave them both hugs.

“Yeah. Thanks -- thanks for today,” Gerard said.

Against all odds, today hadn’t sucked. Tomorrow, though, tomorrow was going to.

+

Mikey shook Gerard awake the next day. “Time to wake up, Gee,” he said softly.

God. He wished it wasn’t. He rubbed his eyes and glanced out at the window. It was sunny outside. Probably very cold -- Jersey in November, after all -- but sunny. Gerard frowned. The weather could have the decency and cooperate, throw in some rain, at least. Then again, Elena hadn’t liked the rain, so this was actually fitting.

“Gerard! Mikey! Hurry up!” Donna yelled, her voice easily carrying from upstairs.

With a sigh, Gerard heaved himself out of bed and trudged to the bathroom, throwing a glance at his black suit. He thought Elena would’ve appreciated the red tie.

+

The funeral was beautiful.

Or, at least, that’s what everyone told Gerard -- Elena’s friends, long unseen aunts and uncles, neighbors.

For Gerard, it was a haze. He remembered Mikey herding him to his seat at the front. He remembered staring at the casket, thinking how incongruous it was that something so solemn held Elena, who’d once bet her bridge friends she could convince the local handsome widower that she was actually a drag queen and won; who’d died her hair bright pink for a month at age sixty because, “Seriously, hon, I’m sixty. Who gives a shit what my hair looks like?”

He remembered walking forward and tossing a rose down. So long and goodnight. Frank gently leading him back to Mikey, Ray shielding both of them from well-meaning strangers.

He remembered that. But beautiful? No. He still hadn’t been able to cry, either. It hadn’t felt real, it hadn’t felt like that thing being put in the ground was Elena.

They had a few people over at the house, after, for food. Gerard was barely holding it together. It wasn’t that he was ungrateful -- he appreciated people being there, he did, he loved that so many people had loved Elena -- but he just. He couldn’t handle the “Oh, she was wonderful, your grandmother” and “We’ll sure miss her” because, damn it, he knew she was wonderful, and they’d never miss Elena like he would. It was selfish, but he couldn’t handle their grief and his, too.

Still, he played the dutiful grandson, commiserating with the bridge club, pretending he could remember the sundry relatives that patted him on the back or the head or the arm. Frank and Ray ran interference, when they could, and Gerard tried to stick close to them and to Mikey, but his mom had them passing around food and drinks, so it wasn’t that easy.

The day dragged on into the evening, and then, just when Gerard thought he’d be able to escape downstairs, a lawyer showed up.

“Hello, I’m John Brennan -- your grandmother’s lawyer? You are Gerard, right? Elena talked about you quite a bit.” Gerard nodded mutely, and the guy kept talking. “I’m so sorry to be showing up so late, but there was some work being done on the turnpike and I got held up in traffic,” he explained.

“Um, okay. Come in, I guess,” Gerard told him, stepping aside to let him inside.

“Gerard, honey, who is -?” Donna asked, coming out of the kitchen. “Mr. Brennan, hello,” she said, and, okay, was Gerard supposed to know this guy? He shot his mom an inquisitive look. “He’s here about Elena’s will,” she explained, gesturing toward the lawyer’s bulging briefcase.

“Yes, exactly,” the lawyer interjected. He looked between Gerard and his mom for a second, and cleared his throat. “Well, uh. Would you like to get down to business? Is everyone here?”

“Yes. Let me go get Mikey and my husband -- Gerard, show Mr. Brennan to the kitchen. We’ll talk there.”

Gerard looked at the lawyer in silence for a moment. Elena’s will. It didn’t get more final than that. Mr. Brennan cleared his throat again, and Gerard snapped out his thoughts.

“Right, uh. Follow me, I guess.”

Mr. Brennan sat down at the kitchen table while Gerard fiddled with a glass, filling it with water as slowly as he could. He really didn’t want to do hear this.

After a second, Mikey and his parents walked into the kitchen, Mikey glancing at him with a raised eyebrow. Gerard shrugged, grimacing, and Mikey nodded, sitting down like he did whenever he was steeling himself to hear something unpleasant.

“Gerard?” his mom asked, using her you-are-trying-my-patience voice.

Gerard sighed, and finally sat down across from his dad, who gave him a sympathetic smile before turning to look at Mr. Brennan expectantly.

“Right, well. Regarding the estate of Elena Lee Rush…”” Mr. Brennan said, clearing his throat one more time and what was it with this guy? Did he have throat problems? Could you be a lawyer with throat problems?

His mom nudged his foot, and Gerard tried to pay attention, he did, but, fuck. It was Elena’s will. He just -- he needed a pen, some paper. He grabbed one of the napkins littering the table and dug a pen out from his pocket, and, ignoring his mom’s glare, started drawing. Gerard zoned out as the guy described Elena’s holdings and what would pass on to Donna, but he was shocked back into paying attention when he heard his name.

“Wait, what? Can you repeat that?”

The lawyer gave him an exasperated look, but repeated, “To Gerard Arthur Way, my grandson, I leave the house on 24 Oak Street, so that he has a place to come home to, when he feels ready. To Michael James Way…”

“Wait, she left me a house? Her house? But -- but I thought she sold that, when she moved in with us?”

“No, hon, she just rented it out, but the lease finished a couple of months ago, and she didn’t renew it,” his mom explained. “She always intended for you to have it.”

“A house? Here? I don’t know. I -- I’m not even staying, my flight back leaves tomorrow,” Gerard told them, standing up, suddenly needing to get away, feeling panicky. He couldn’t do this, he couldn’t think straight about owning a house in Jersey. About coming home to Jersey. “I need to get out of here.”

He practically ran out of the house, ignoring his dad’s concerned call after him.

He walked quickly down the street, willing his sudden panic to subside. Panic was no good -- it led to bad ideas, and from there to bad decisions. The last thing he needed was to end up drunk in some nameless bar.

After a few minutes, his heart-rate calmed down, and he shivered, aware for the first time that he’d run out of the house without a jacket in the middle of November, at night.

Great fucking going, Gerard.

A car stopped next to him, then, startling him.

“Gerard, man, get in.”

Gerard squinted, and blinked in surprise. “Frank?”

“No, it’s Superman. Come on, get in. I have your jacket, and it’s cold as fuck out there.”

Gerard hesitated for a couple of seconds, but he got in. He was cold, and, well. He liked Frank.

“You came after me,” he said, after a couple of beats of silence.

“Yeah. Mikey wanted to come, but I convinced him of letting me do this by myself. There’s somewhere I’d like to take you. If that’s okay.” Frank glanced at him, looking hopeful.

“Okay.”

“Awesome.”

They drove, out of Belleville, and kept driving, until they were nowhere Gerard recognized. Eventually, Frank maneuvered the car into a dirt road and turned into an empty field.

“Should we be here?” Gerard asked, suddenly wary of an angry guy and a shotgun.

“It’s fine. The owner’s my dad’s friend, he lets me drive in sometimes”, Frank replied. “I like it here -- it’s a good place to vent. Come on, let’s go outside. But put on your jacket -- Mikey’ll never forgive me if I return you with a cold.” A beat. “Well, he’d forgive me, but it would cost me at least a couple of issues of Doom Patrol.”

Gerard snorted, but obeyed, slowly getting out of the car. Frank was busy spreading a blanket over the hood and climbing up, settling against the windshield. Gerard followed his example, and breathed out, taking in the night-sky, the quiet.

“Here,” Frank offered him a thermos. “You look like you need it.”

“Oh, Frank… thanks, but, uh, I don’t drink anymore.”

Frank rolled his eyes. “I know that, you idiot. It’s coffee.”

“Oh!” Gerard twisted the lid and breathed in the comforting smell wafting from inside. He took a long drink, closing his eyes. He felt far more calm when he opened them again. “Thank you, Frank.”

Frank just smiled, a tiny, kind smile that Gerard couldn’t help return. They shared the thermos back and forth, just sitting quietly together, looking out at the dark night.

“So. Want to tell me why you ran out of your house like you were trying to get hypothermia?” Frank finally asked, his soft voice breaking the silence. “I mean. You don’t have to tell me if you don’t want to. We can just sit here, for as long as you need.”

Gerard glanced at Frank, trying to gauge his sincerity. There was no indication that Frank minded just sitting here forever, no judgement. But Gerard hadn’t been able to talk about this with Mikey, and Frank had been -- he’d been pretty fucking incredible, these past few days. Maybe he’d understand. “It was Elena’s will,” he told him. “She -- she left me her old house, on Oak.”

“And… you don’t like houses?”

“No. I mean, yes, I do like houses, but it’s not that,” Gerard replied, waving a hand around before running it through his hair. Fuck. How to put it? “It’s -- it’s what the house means. It’s, fuck. I don’t know if I can explain it.”

“Try,” Frank prompted him. “It doesn’t have to make sense, Gee. Just spit it out, whatever it is.”

“I just - I feel so fucking guilty, Frank,” Gerard confessed in a whisper.

“About what?”

“About everything!” Gerard exclaimed, and it just poured out of him, then. “About leaving and not being here with her, not being here when she died, about not being able to fucking cry… I just. Fuck. Why the fuck did I leave? It was so selfish. She probably knew she was sick and didn’t tell me so I’d go,” he finished, looking down at his lap.

Frank didn’t say anything for a while, and then he grabbed one of Gerard’s hands. “Hey, listen. It’s what you needed to do, Gerard. You needed to leave,” he said, squeezing it.

“How are you so sure?” Gerard asked quietly, still downcast.

“Mikey told me about it. So did Elena, actually.” Frank shrugged when Gerard looked up at him, surprised. “Hey, she was a fucking cool lady. We talked sometimes. She liked my tattoos.”

Gerard smiled a little. That was just like Elena.

“Listen to me, Gee,” Frank told him, not letting him look away again. “You wanted, you needed to go. Elena knew that. She was so fucking proud of you for going, for taking the chance. You shoulda seen how she talked about you. She was so happy for you.”

Gerard swallowed. “I miss her.”

“It’s okay to miss her.”

“It’s so fucking unfair.”

“It is,” Frank agreed, solemn-eyed and calm.

“So -- so what do I do?” Gerard asked, floundering.

“Let it out,” Frank said. He gestured to the empty field in front of them. “Nobody’s watching, Gee. Nobody’s judging. Let go.”

“How?”

Frank gave him a considering look, jumped down from the hood of the car and then took a deep breath before screaming his heart out. “Aaaaaaaaaaaarghhh!” The night swallowed the noise, but it also seemed to amplify it. Nothing stirred, and, yeah. Nobody was watching.

“Like that. Say it. Scream it,” Frank said, a little breathless. He held out a hand, helping Gerard off the car. “Let go.”

Gerard bit his lip, and tried to go for it. “I miss you,” he shouted.

“Again. Louder.”

“I miss you!”

“Again, Gee. Fucking scream.”

“I miss you! I miss you so fucking much!” Gerard screamed, his voice breaking. “I miss you,” he whispered, and he just broke down, started crying.

Frank caught him, then, pulling him into a hug, not shushing him, not saying any platitudes, just holding on. Gerard didn’t know how much time went by, how much he cried and shook. Frank felt impossibly solid, his arms the only thing keeping Gerard together. He let go, until he felt emptied, until he felt he could breathe again.



Eventually, they hopped back onto the hood of Frank’s car, Frank shifting around until he was close enough that Gerard could feel his warmth, and he took Gerard’s hand in his again. Gerard didn’t let go. He traced Frank’s tattoos absent-mindedly -- each of the letters that made up Halloween, the broken heart near his thumb. He fell asleep like that, head resting on Frank’s shoulder.

The next thing he knew, Frank was gently shaking him awake. “Gerard. Gee. Wake up -- sun’s gonna rise soon.”

“What? Oh. Oh, Frank, I’m so sorry, I totally crashed,” Gerard said rubbing sleep out of his eyes and sitting up.

“Don’t sweat it. You’re cute when you sleep,” Frank told him.

Gerard blushed. Things came back to him, then: the funeral, the stupid will. Running out of the house and Frank coming after him. Breaking down, breaking open.

“Sorry about freaking out like that, last night. I probably covered your shirt in snot,” Gerard whispered.

“Hey, no. You don’t ever, ever need to apologize for that. It was my privilege, okay? Thank you, for trusting me like that. As for the shirt -- well. I’ll just have to steal one of yours,” Frank said, lips quirking into a lopsided smile. “Now shut up and watch the sunrise. You’re ruining the moment.”

Gerard snorted, but complied.

They stared at the field until the sky began to lighten, the sun a promise in the horizon.

“What do I do now?” Gerard asked, his voice slightly hoarse.

“You could come home,” Frank replied. “We’d all like that. I - I’d like that.”

Gerard turned to look at him, taking in the almost perfect features, the curve of his eyebrows.

“I don’t know if I can,” he said.

“Why? What’re you scared of?”

“Just. Falling back into bad habits -- the drinking, the pills. That I’ll be stuck in the same life I left,” Gerard confessed.

Frank was silent for a moment, looking at him. “I understand that. I do. But, Gee -- you’re not the same person you were. You’re different, in a good way. I don’t think that can be erased just because you come back to Jersey. The change depended on you, not on a location.”

“You really believe that?”

“I believe in you,” Frank told him softly.

“Oh.”

Gerard looked at the horizon again, where the sun was finally rising. It was a new day. He’d be leaving in the evening, if he caught his flight. Did he want to, still? Going back would mean retreating to safety, sure, to a something he already knew he could live with, but was that enough? Wasn’t he setting himself up for the same stagnation that drove him out of Jersey? Maybe not, though. Maybe some sort of safety, some form of contentment, was the best he could hope for. Fuck, he didn’t know.

“D’you want me to take you home?” Frank asked, interrupting his line of thought.

“Yeah. Mikey’ll be wondering where I am.”

They drove back in the quiet dawn, something soft filtering through the speakers. Frank parked in front of his house, but Gerard didn’t get out right away.

“Frank -- thank you,” he said, shifting in his seat so he faced Frank. “You’ve been amazing. Just, thank you.”

Frank smiled, then, hazel eyes fond and warm, and Gerard couldn’t help himself, he didn’t even try. He leaned forward and kissed Frank, as easy as a key fitting in the right lock, Frank’s lips soft and yielding against his.

Gerard pulled back eventually. “I should go in,” he whispered.

“Yeah,” Frank agreed, equally soft.

Gerard leaned for another quick kiss and got out of the car, staying on the driveway until Frank’s car turned the corner. Then he walked inside, heading straight to Mikey’s room.

+

Mikey woke up when Gerard climbed into bed with him.

“You okay?”

“I -- I think so. I will be, anyway.”

“Good.”

“Mikes. I kissed Frank. I like him.”

“I know. He’s had a crush on you since forever.”

Gerard looked at Mikey, incredulous. “What? But -- really?” They’d hardly known each other well, before. And Frank had always been Mikey’s friend, not his.

“Yeah. He was really bummed out when you left.”

“Oh. I didn’t know.”

Mikey rolled his eyes. “Obviously. You’re really dumb sometimes, for such a smart guy.”

Gerard nudged Mikey in the ribs. “Shut up. What about you and that girl, who worked at that place?”

“That was totally different!”

“Was not.”

“Was, too.”

“So totally not.”

“I hate you.”

“You love me.”

“Yeah. I do,” Mikey said quietly, and they subsided back into silence for a while.

Gerard looked around Mikey’s room, utterly familiar, the worn Star Wars posters, interspersed with shit Gerard had drawn for Mikey, the piles of old mix-tapes they’d passed back and forth, the comic books and CDs they’d hoarded, like a time-capsule of their childhood and adolescence together. He’d missed feeling like this, like he belonged to a place, that a place belonged to him. But he didn’t know if he could belong in Jersey anymore, and that was the problem.

“So what are you going to do? Are you keeping the house?” Mikey asked.

“I don’t know, Mikeyway. I’m not sure if it’s the best idea.”

“You should come home, Gee. We miss you. I miss you.”

“I miss you, too,” Gerard replied. “But I need to go back today, anyway. Even if I do decide to come back to Jersey, I need to give in my notice, deal with my lease…”

“Right,” Mikey said, quietly. He got out of bed, then. “Gonna shower. Let me know if you need help packing or something.”

Gerard watched him go, sighed. He hated hurting Mikey.

Frank showed up a couple of hours later, when Gerard was mid-packing down at the basement. Or, well. He should’ve been packing, but he was actually sitting on the floor re-reading old Batman issues, his bag open and his clothes an explosion of black and random paint-splatters around him.

“You’re leaving?”

“Oh! Uh, hi, Frank,” Gerard said, startled, hiding Anarky # 3 under some pants and ineffectually trying to shove the whole thing into his duffel. “Um, my flight’s in a few hours, yeah.”

“But -- what about, I mean. You’re leaving?”

Gerard stood up and walked closer to him, taking one of his hands. “Frankie. I -- I need to go deal with my apartment, my job. I can’t just decide to come home, there’s shit in San Francisco I have to take care of.”

Frank nodded, staring down at their joined hands. “Right, of course.” He let go of Gerard’s hand, cleared his throat. “Can I come to the airport with you, at least?”

“Yeah, of course.” He looked around the packing detritus. “Um. I need to finish packing, though.”

Frank huffed out an amused breath and started grabbing stuff, folding and packing with frankly frightening efficiency.

“Hmm. So you’re a neat freak, huh?” Gerard asked.

“Yep. Pass me that towel, slob.”

“Jeez, bossy,” Gerard said, but complied.

Man. He was gonna miss Frank. Gerard didn’t know how he’d gotten into his skin so fast, but he couldn’t deny that leaving Frank behind was going to suck.

+

All too soon, Gerard was hugging his mom and dad goodbye, promising to call as soon as he got in, trying to avoid a promise to come back as soon as possible.

“I know the house was a shock, hon, but Elena just wanted you to have a place. You don’t even need to keep it -- you can sell it, if you want to live somewhere else. She just hoped that, eventually, you’d find your way back.”

“I know, mom. I’m thinking about it. Promise.”

“Okay. Be safe.”

The drive to the airport was awkwardly silent. Gerard kept opening his mouth, but he couldn’t think of what to say that would reassure Mikey and Frank, or himself, really. They got to Newark before he figured anything out.

He checked in but he was early, so he sat down next to Mikey and Frank on the uncomfortable plastic chairs, suddenly unwilling to go through the insanity that security was, nowadays, get to his gate. Leave, when things were like this.

“Fuck this,” Frank said, startling him. “Why the fuck are you leaving?”

“Frank, you know why, I --”

“Right, yeah. Your lease, your job,” Frank said, sighing. He opened his mouth to say something else, but then closed it, shaking his head. “I -- I’ll be back. I need some fucking coffee.”

Gerard watched him go, biting his lip. He looked at Mikey, who raised both eyebrows.

“Okay, okay. I’m going.” You just didn’t disobey dual-eyebrow commands from Mikey. Not that Gerard really wanted to disobey.

He caught up with Frank at the Starbucks, and, jesus. Nobody should look that miserable when look down at a cup of coffee. Gerard felt like a shit.

“Frankie, I --” Gerard started, and then just shook his head helplessly. “I’m sorry. I do need to go, but it won’t be forever. I’ll come back, as soon as I can.”

“Bullshit. Gerard, you and I both know that if you walk through that gate, you’ll go back to San Francisco and never look back,” Frank said, forcefully. “You’ll settle back into your routine and forget forget about Jersey. Forget about -- about me,” he trailed off, grimacing like he hadn’t expected to say that much.

“I won’t. I couldn’t.”

“Yes, you will,” Frank countered, voice sad. “And, I mean. You don’t have to remember me, Gee. You don’t have to stick around if you don’t want to. But I just want you honest with yourself for a second. If you’re seriously happy back there, if teaching and the Golden Gate is everything you’ve ever dreamed of, then,” he paused, swallowed. “Then go. Go, and be happy. But if it isn’t…” he shrugged, “then stay here. With me. We’ll figure out together.”

“Yeah?”

“Fuck yeah,” Frank said, smiling, and that smile hit Gerard like a punch in the gut, in the best way.

“So, you staying?”

Frank and Gerard whirled to see Mikey, who was lounging by the entrance of the Starbucks

Gerard looked at Frank, at Mikey, and closed his eyes, pinching the bridge of his nose. He was -- he was content, back in San Francisco. Not unhappy. And, somehow, he’d made himself accept that as the best he was going to get; he’d forgotten that he’d left, after the towers, to find something extraordinary, not just okay. And being back here with Mikey, this thing with Frank… could he really just walk away?

“Maybe you’re right,” he replied, and he saw Frank breathe out in relief, Mikey relax. “Teaching elementary school art isn’t my dream come true. I’m -- I’m okay, in San Francisco. But just okay,” he said with a shrug, “and maybe that’s not enough. Maybe I can do better, be better, here, with you guys.”

“Fuck yes, you can,” Frank said, and grabbed Gerard’s face, pulled him in for a kiss, fast and deep and dirty, and Gerard gladly surrendered to it with a groan.

“Ugh, guys! Happy for you, whatever, but can you not make out in front of me?” Mikey complained, but his lips were quirked into a grin.

Gerard pulled back, laughing a bit. “Sorry, Mikes.” He couldn’t stop smiling, and Frank was beaming. “I still need to quit, though, still need to take care of my lease.”

“Call them,” Frank said. “The school, your landlord. It is the twenty-first century.”

Gerard smiled. “Thanks, smart-ass. I need to go get my stuff, too. I mean. I have canvases back there, clothes...”

“So we’ll drive you,” Mikey said. “We’ll take the car, do your epic road-trip again. We could see your mural in Ohio, catch a show in Chicago...”

“We’d need to do it shorter this time, though,” Frank put in.

“Well, yeah,” Mikey concurred. “And maybe we could skip Indiana. Indiana is weird.”

Gerard could already see it -- driving down the same roads he’d gone down two years ago, but so different. Better. “You guys would do that? Really?” he asked.

“Uh. Duh,” Mikey said.

Frank rolled his eyes. “I can’t believe I like you so much. You’re kind of slow, Gerard Way.”

Gerard smiled again. “You like me a lot, huh?”

Frank blushed. “Well. I thought it was obvious.”

Gerard grabbed one of Frank’s hands. “Yeah. I am kind of slow, though.”

Frank squeezed his hand back and darted in for a small kiss.

“Oh, god. I’m gonna puke,” Mikey said. “So, road-trip, lovebirds? We’ll need to take Ray, he’s the only one of us who can navigate worth a damn.”

“Road-trip,” Gerard confirmed. He felt incredibly relieved, somehow. As if a weight he hadn’t noticed had been lifted from him. This was the right choice.

He was coming home.

+++
Epilogue

“Last time we help you move anywhere, guys. How the hell do you have so much shit?” Ray asked, from where he lay prone on Gerard’s bed.

Gerard smirked, but didn’t answer. He couldn’t really say anything, either, Ray was right. They’d finished moving all of his and Mikey’s things into Elena’s house, their house, and they were exhausted.

“Agreed,” Frank said, shooting Gerard a mischievous smile. “Except that you’re helping me move my things next weekend.”

“Ugh. I hate you all.”

“No, you don’t.”

They all fell quiet, not moving from where they’d fallen on top of the bed.

Eventually, Mikey clambered out of bed and put on some music -- the Pumpkins. The mournful strains of ‘To Sheila’ filled the room, and Gerard smiled.

“Hey, Mikes, remember that concert?”

“Yeah. At the Madison Square Garden. It was fucking amazing.” His lips quirked into a grin. “I told you we needed to start a band.”

“You did.”

Gerard remembered it like it was yesterday. Mikey, flushed with happiness, turning to him and saying ‘I want to do that’, finger pointed at the stage. Gerard telling him they’d do it. That day, everything had felt possible.

“How old were you guys?” Ray asked, curiously.

“I was 19. Mikey was 16.”

“Did you start a band?”

“A couple,” Gerard replied, thinking of the short-lived Raygun Jones. “They didn’t really go anywhere. Maybe it wasn’t meant to be.”

“What if it is, though?” Mikey asked.

“What do you mean?”

Mikey looked at Ray and Frank before answering. “Well, uh. You know how I told you we’d been jamming? And about that band that Geoff liked, that needed a lead singer?”

“… yeah?”

“Well. Um. That’s us, kind of.”

“So -- you guys are a band?” Gerard asked, feeling confused, and, deep down, a little left out.

“Almost,” Frank was the one that replied.

“We’ve been,” Mikey started, then stopped. “Gee, we -- well, you know your letters? From the roadtrip? The first, I mean.”

“Uh-huh.”

“Well, I was re-reading them a few months ago, and Ray showed up, and he read the one about vampires in Wyoming, and he thought it sounded kind of like a song…”

“A song?” Gerard looked at the three of them, trying to figure out if they were joking.

“Yeah,” Ray said. “Gerard, the way you write -- it’s amazing. Powerful and sad. I don’t know what you were thinking, when you wrote. But they read like lyrics.”

“They do?”

The three of them nodded.

“Can I hear, then?”

Ray stood up and grabbed Gerard’s beat up acoustic guitar, which had been gathering dust for the better part of five years. He tuned it carefully, and started playing. He sang in a soft voice, and it wasn’t about vampires -- it was the first letter Gerard had written, about 9/11.

It sounded so much better like this, than like dead words on a page. Almost immediately, Gerard could picture how he’d sing it, words he’d add, things he’d take away. He hummed a couple of things, instinctively, and Ray trailed off, the song dying.

“Gee?” Mikey asked.

“Sorry, I just -- sorry.”

“No, that’s. I mean. We need a lead singer. They’re your words. We’d like it if you were,” Mikey said.

“Me? I can’t sing that well.”

“Yes, you can. You stopped, after the play, but you were amazing, Gee. That doesn’t go away.”

Gerard bit his lip, glanced from Mikey’s expectant face to Ray and Frank.

“What’s the band called?”

“My Chemical Romance.”

“Fuck. That’s a good name,” Gerard said. He couldn’t believe he was doing this, but. It felt right. There were all those other things he’d written, scattered among his sketches… Yeah. It was right. “Okay. But we need a drummer -- I think I know one who’d be interested.”

“So you’re in?” Mikey asked.

“Count me in, Mikeyway. But you’re not allowed to hate me if I suck.”

“You won’t suck, Gee. You’re amazing,” Mikey replied, launching himself across the bed to hug Gerard.

“Hey, I want some of that action, too!” Frank exclaimed, and tackled them both. “Come on Toro, what’re you waiting for?”

Soon enough they were in a crazy pile and Gerard couldn’t really breathe, so he shoved and wriggled until he managed to topple Ray and Mikey to the ground. Frank held on, though, and he raised himself over Gerard, his elbows on either side of his face.

“So we’re doing this?” he asked, his beautiful face serious.

Gerard traced one of his eyebrows, his cheekbone. “We’re doing this.”

Frank smiled, that smile Gerard couldn’t resist, and leaned down to kiss him. It was a soft kiss, full of promise.

“Dude! No kissing my brother while I’m in the room!”

“Seconded!”

Gerard broke apart from the kiss, laughing, and looked down at Mikey and Ray, then back at Frank, who was kissing his neck, unrepentant.

Yeah, they were doing this.