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Dance While the Sky Crashes Down

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Frank wakes up, his feet tangled up in his sheets, his skin drenched in a cold sweat.

He opens his mouth and gulps a lungful of air. He coughs. His lungs are stuffy. His head feels like it’s been wrapped in cotton.

It’s his second pneumonia this year. Frank is starting to get used to them even though he fucking hates this. He hates feeling useless and small. He hates not being able to breathe. He hates coughing up a lung when he wakes up. He hates this feeling of drowning in his own snot when he goes to bed.

Frank checks his alarm clock on the nightstand. It’s barely morning. He shouldn’t be up.

Fucking nightmares. He gets them a lot lately. They seem to be a side effect of the pneumonia or maybe a side effect of the drugs.

All Frank knows is that it’s still night outside his window and he’s wide awake, sweating like he just ran a fucking marathon, his breath hitching, his throat raw.

He checks the bottle of water on his nightstand and realizes it’s empty. Fuck. He hates getting up like this in the middle of the night. He hates waking up his mom for no reason but she has supersonic ears or something and always hears Frank as soon as he opens his door.

She’s supposed to wake up soon to go to work though. She has an early shift at the diner.

Frank rolls out of bed and his mattress creaks. He shuffles across the room in his boxer shorts and wraps a hand around the door handle. He presses it carefully and pulls the door open.

The air in the hallway is cold. Frank shivers and runs back to his bed to grab his hoodie.

In and out. He just needs to get to the kitchen and then he can go back to bed and bury himself under his duvet.

When he passes his mom’s room, Frank notices the door is ajar. He takes a step forward and peeks inside.

His mom isn’t there. Her bed is unmade. It smells strange, not like his mom usually smells like. There’s something odd going on but Frank can’t really tell what it is. Maybe he’s just imagining things. Maybe he’s just feeling like this because of the nightmare. Maybe the silence swallowing him isn’t anything strange.

Frank shrugs. Maybe his mom is getting ready for work.

There’s a light in the kitchen. It’s pale and cold.

It takes Frank a few seconds to realize the light is coming from the fridge. The door is gaping open. There’s a carton of milk on the floor, its contents spilt on the tiles, pooling under the table.

Frank circles the kitchen counter to pick up a rag to clean up the mess and finds his mother lying down, face down on the floor, her fingers clenched around shards of glass that used to be her favorite mug, the one Frank got her for mother’s day a couple of years ago and that said All Star Mom.

The only word Frank can make out now is Mom.

“Mom.”

Frank kneels down at her side and grabs her shoulder.

“Mom.”

Mom doesn’t wake up so Frank shakes her. He pulls her up into his lap and pushes her hair out of her face.

Her eyes are closed. Her face is pale, almost as pale as the pool of milk spreading in front of the fridge.

“Mom.”

Frank doesn’t remember his first aid class a lot but he knows he’s supposed to check his mom’s pulse. He’s supposed to tilt her head back and blow air into her lungs.

He presses his fingers to his mom’s jugular. But maybe it’s not her jugular. He presses his fingers a little on the left of that and a little on the right. There’s nothing. He’s probably doing it wrong though.

“Mom,” he calls out, his voice a little more high pitched than usual. He cannot fucking panic now. His mom needs help.

Then Frank remembers he should probably call 911.

He could hurt his mom if he tried to help her. Fuck. Frank is only sixteen. He’s not a fucking doctor.

Letting go of his mom is the hardest part. He pulls her in a sitting position and props her against the fridge. Her head falls back and knocks a Tupperware with last night’s zucchini casserole out of its shelf.

The food spills onto the floor and mixes with the milk. It looks like guts from where Frank is kneeling. Gross.

“Stay here, mom,” he whispers as he gets up and goes to look for the phone. He feels a little stupid just saying that because it looks like she’s not going anywhere now.

Frank grabs the cordless phone and dials 911. The buttons feel too small and Frank’s fingers feel too big.

He presses the phone against his ear and waits for it to ring.

*

When Gerard wakes up, it’s still night outside. He shouldn’t have drunk all the coffee in the world last night. The bed next to his is empty. Mikey isn’t home yet. Maybe he decided to sleep over at Pete’s. It wouldn’t be the first time.

Gerard grabs the remote from the floor and turns on the TV. If there’s something that can send him back to the land of slumber, it’s the weather channel. It never fails him but the screen stays desperately black. Gerard punches the buttons but nothing happens.

It can’t be because there’s a blackout. He can see a light, filtering through the door, and his alarm clock is working, big red digits and blinking dots. The TV set is old. It’s been down in their room for years now. It's probably fucked.

Gerard kicks his blankets down and throws the remote back on the floor. He grabs his head between his hands and rubs at his eyelids. He yawns and slowly gets up. He trips a couple of times as he drags his feet upstairs. He is more awake by the time he reaches the basement door.

As he pushes it open, the door creaks and the sound echoes through the house. There’s a strange smell in the air. It smells like metal. The air is heavy, stuffy.

Gerard heads straight for the living room and crashes on the couch. He pulls out a blanket because it’s a little chilly inside the house and turns on the TV. It blares, too loud at 5 am and Gerard fumbles with remote, his heart racing. He presses the mute button and settles under the fleece blanket that smells like beer and coffee. He ventures a quick glance back at the corridor, hoping he didn’t wake his parents up and to his relief, their door stays closed.

The image appearing on TV isn’t what Gerard expected. Usually, at 5 am, there’s always something on, reruns of game shows or documentaries. But this morning, there’s nothing on, just a message stating that the channel is experiencing technical difficulties.

Gerard flips the channels and everywhere, it’s the same. Local stations appear as snow. He’s about to turn off the TV when Gerard hears something behind him. It’s a thud and a muffled crash. Then he can hear someone murmuring.

Maybe his parents are up after all. Gerard turns off the TV and sinks deeper on the couch. He pulls the blanket up to his nose and listens to the sounds of the house. The walls crack. There’s another murmur and then silence comes back.

A car alarm goes off somewhere in the neighborhood. A dog barks and then another one joins it. By the time Gerard closes his eyes, the sun is slowly coming up and the car alarm is still sounding in the distance.

It doesn’t really bother Gerard. He’s been known to sleep like the dead and block out all outside interference, car alarms, dogs howling, his fucking alarm clock or even his mom when she tries to shake him awake when he’s getting late for class.

The chorus of dogs swells up to the point where it doesn’t even sound like dogs anymore. It sounds like an uninterrupted chant, like a thousand voices singing Gerard to sleep.

*

The ambulance never comes.

Frank tries to call 911 but the line is busy. Then he tries to call his dad. He tries to call his aunt Libby and his friend Hambone. He tries every single fucking number he can remember but no one picks up.

The sun rises, cold, bright, unwelcome. Frank drops the phone at his feet and pulls his mom into a hug. She feels so cold now. Her skin feels like plastic, hard and lifeless.

“Mom,” he whispers against her ear.

Now that the sun is up, everything looks more real, more definite. Frank stares at the spilled milk and the zucchini casserole, spread on the tiled floor. He should probably clean this. Although, does it really matter now?

It takes Frank a few minutes, maybe an hour before he lets go of his mom. He’s not really sure how long it’s been but when he finally puts her down, she’s colder, rigid. He plants a kiss on her forehead and that’s when it hits him. His mom is long gone. This isn’t her. This is an empty shell.

His stomach flips and then Frank has to scramble up on his feet and run to the sink. He pukes until his insides hurt, until he’s crying and shuddering, hunched over the sink, his fingers latched onto the ledge, his knees slowly giving out under him. He pukes until he doesn’t have anything left in him and slumps down on the floor.

Mom is still where he left her. Frank studies her for a few seconds, wishing she could just move a finger or blink at him. But there’s nothing. Frank’s shoulders shake. His throat closes. There’s something wet streaming down his face. He wipes it off with the back of his hand and sniffles.

She’s dead.

*

It’s supposed to be a school day today. Gerard doesn’t need to check the clock in the kitchen to know he’s late for class. He probably missed the bus too. His stomach growls loudly.

Gerard rolls down the couch and wraps the blanket around his shoulders. Maybe his mom decided to let him sleep in today. Or maybe Gerard got the days mixed up again and it’s really Saturday.

Either way, Gerard goes to the bathroom and empties his bladder. He makes a face at the mirror as he passes in front of it and tousles his hair. He doesn’t need a fucking shower today.

There’s no note for him on the kitchen counter. There’s no plate ready for him with jam and toast, and the coffee inside the pot is cold. Gerard is pouring himself a cup when he notices his mom and dad’s cars are still parked in the driveway.

It seems like Gerard got the days wrong again. He just doesn’t remember Friday at all. Maybe he should lay off the pills and the booze for a while. Gerard pops two slices of bread in the toaster and sits up on the kitchen counter.

He shakes his head. No. He’s pretty sure today is Friday. He remembers now because last night, Ray called him and asked him if he wanted to go see The Bouncing Souls play in downtown Newark on Friday night. Tonight.

Gerard’s stomach twists. He jumps down the counter and grabs his cup of coffee.

Maybe they slept in. Maybe they’re both late for work. Gerard will have to be the grown up for once. He will sit back and watch as they run around like Muppets, trying to get ready for work. His dad will be looking for his car keys and his mom will be hoarding the bathroom.

When he reaches their door, Gerard ponders. He shouldn’t go in. He should let them sleep. They can always call in sick later. It’s not like they do this a lot, take a day off from work to catch up on sleep.

After a minute, Gerard pushes the door open. He doesn’t knock. He just steps inside the room and waits for his eyes to get accustomed to the darkness.

Everything is quiet. There’s no snoring, no ruffling of sheets. There’s nothing but the smell of metal and sweat. Gerard takes a careful step inside and draws the curtains open.

When he turns around, Gerard gasps. He presses a hand over his mouth to muffle a scream. His cup of coffee slides out of his grasp and crashes on the floor. Mom is lying on the floor, curled up on the rug, her face blue, deep cuts on her hands. Her eyes are wide open and glassy. Her nightgown is wrinkled and pulled up to her thighs.

There’s blood everywhere on the bed. Dad is lying face down in a pool of what appears to be his own blood, his throat slashed, his fingers closed around a shard of glass that used to be part of a table lamp that’s shattered on the nightstand.

Gerard drops to his knees. He opens his mouth but closes it back almost right away. This cannot be happening.

Someone. Something. Someone killed his parents. Someone attacked them in their sleep while Gerard was on the couch. Someone was inside his house.

His next thought is for Mikey. Gerard needs to call Mikey. He needs to make sure Mikey is alright. He needs to call the police too. Fuck. Gerard can’t get up. He falls on his hands and knees and crawls out of the room, panting. He grabs the phone that’s hanging up on the kitchen wall and dials 911.

*

The air outside is cold. Frank shivers in his t-shirt. It feels like his pneumonia was in another life. It doesn’t matter anymore. Nothing matters. The neighbors’ dog is barking in its kennel.

Frank sits down on the porch steps and stares down at his hands. They look too small. They look like they’re not his. They look useless.

Useless. That’s how Frank feels right now, among a multitude of other things. He’s feeling too many things at the same time. It’s overwhelming.

Someone screams. Frank can’t really tell where it came from but it could have been his next door neighbors having one of their screaming matches.

It’s Friday morning. Frank isn’t wearing his watch right now but it should be around the time when everybody heads off to work. Slowly, everyone is going to come out of their house. They’re going to walk up to their cars and drive to work, like it’s just another day. They’re going to do what they do every single day and Frank’s mom won’t. She’s not going to go to work today. She’s not going to make Frank his breakfast. She’s not going to drive him to school because he missed the bus. She’s not going to call every other hour to check up on him and make sure he didn’t die. She’s not going to come home with a pizza and a movie.

She’s not going to wake up. She’s never going to wake up.

Frank wraps his arms around himself and starts rocking back and forth on the stairs. It’s really cold now. He pulls his t-shirt around his knees and stretches it as far as it can go. He should probably go back inside. He will go back inside eventually. Just not now.

It takes Frank a little while, maybe a couple of hours before he realizes something’s wrong. His neighbors’ dog is howling but it’s the only sound Frank can hear. He cannot hear the sound of traffic in the nearby otherwise busy streets. He can hear a siren somewhere, in the distance but that’s all.

Frank gets up and starts walking. He’s not sure where he’s going, barefoot, in his boxer shorts and his stretched out Black Flag t-shirt. He just walks. The sidewalk is hard and cold under his feet, just like his mom when he kissed her.

His neighbor, Mrs. Serano, who usually sits on her front porch as soon as the sun rises isn’t here this morning. Her chair is empty. Her blinds are closed. There is no newspaper on her well trimmed lawn.

It’s like the entire world disappeared.

*

“Gerard?” Mikey’s voice comes muffled, raspy at the other end of the line but it’s his voice and Gerard can’t believe he’s finally able to talk to his brother.

“Mikes. Mikey. Something happened,” Gerard stutters. It’s not going to be easy. Gerard doesn’t even know where to begin. How do you tell your little brother that you’re suddenly orphans; that you found your father face down in a pool of his own blood.

“I know,” Mikey replies with a croak.

He knows? How does he know? “How?”

“Pete’s mom tried to kill me with a letter opener this morning. I had to lock her up in a closet. And Pete…”

For a second, Gerard thinks the line is gone. His phone has been acting out this morning. He couldn’t even call 911.

“Mom and dad,” Gerard says before swallowing the lump in his throat. “They’re…” He cannot bring himself to finish. Saying it would make it real and he’s not ready yet to accept it.

“Pete’s... I don’t think he’s going to be okay. I don’t know what’s wrong with him. His dad is dead. I found him on the couch. I thought he was sleeping but then I couldn’t wake him up. I tried calling 911 but the line is busy. How can the line be busy when I have an emergency?”

This cannot be a coincidence. People don’t just die like this. They don’t try to kill each other with letter openers. Or table lamps. Something’s happened.

“I’m gonna pick you up,” Gerard says. He feels numb. He feels like this has to be a dream. Everything looks like it’s wrapped in a cloud of smoke. Colors are dull. Gerard can taste bile on his tongue. He can still smell the coffee he spilled all over the carpet in his parents’ bedroom and over his shoes.

There’s a loud thud on Mikey’s end and Gerard stops breathing. He listens, waiting for Mikey to say something, tell him he’s waiting for him and that he’s safe for now, but the line cuts off.

“Mikey?” he calls but it’s useless because the line is dead. He hangs up and calls back. The call goes straight to voicemail. Gerard doesn’t leave a message. He doesn’t have any time to waste. He scrambles up to his feet and pockets his phone.

He stumbles into his parents’ bedroom and dry heaves as the smell of death and cold coffee fills up his lungs.

Dad usually leaves his keys on the dresser but this morning they’re not here. He doesn’t have the heart to search the pockets of the pair of slacks that’s neatly folded on the chair next to the nightstand.

He doesn’t want to be here longer than he has to.

Gerard runs out of the room and heads for the kitchen. He hunches over the sink for a few seconds but manages to keep his meager breakfast (if you can actually call two sips of cold coffee, breakfast) down.

He gasps for air. It smells like something burnt in here. Then Gerard remembers he never got the slices of bread out of the toaster. They’re cold now and blackened. Gerard stares at them for an instant, not knowing what to do with them. He’s not hungry anymore. He just wants to see Mikey.

The only keys he manages to find are his mom’s. Gerard never drove her minuscule car before but it’s probably just as easy as driving his dad’s Volvo.

Except it’s not.

*

The first, living, breathing person Frank sees is a one of his neighbors, Mr. Chalmers. The man is old, almost a fossil. He likes to talk about conspiracies and the government constantly trying to kill him. This morning, he’s running down the street in his slippers and his bathrobe. He’s running faster than Frank has ever seen him but Frank doesn’t know what he’s running after. Or from.

Then he sees the little girl.

Thank God, the little girl doesn’t see him.

Frank knows her. She’s his dentist’s daughter. Marla or Maria. She’s barely seven years old but this morning, she doesn’t look innocent or like a kid at all. She’s brandishing a pair of shears over her head and she’s screaming. She’s saying things Frank has never heard a kid her age say (well, that is if he doesn’t count his cousins Gino and Tony who swear like fucking sailors at the tender ages of six and eight years old).

Mr. Chalmers is running away from her. He’s running towards Salter Place looking like he just escaped the local old folks home.

Dr Parvano’s little angel looks more like she escaped the looney bin as she chases poor Mr. Chalmers, her shears high above her head, opening and closing the blades rapidly. click click click.

Frank shakes his head. This doesn’t feel like reality. This feels more like he fell into some kind of crazy alternate universe where little girls want to cut old dudes in half and where Frank’s mom is dead. A universe where Frank is walking down the street he grew up in, wearing only boxer shorts and a t-shirt.

It’s freezing outside and Frank’s lungs seem to remember that they’re still full of mucus from the pneumonia. Frank hunches over and coughs until he can’t breathe, until he can’t see anything, until he’s crying.

When he finally manages to take a breath, the streets are empty again. He slowly makes his way back to the house, wondering if he should knock on his neighbors’ doors or if he should just hide from them.

Maybe the little girl is not the only psychopath around.

Frank climbs up the stairs and locks the front door. He picks up a pair of jeans, a hoodie and a pair of socks from his room. He goes into his mother’s bedroom to grab a sheet and lays it over her. Then he sits still on the kitchen floor and waits for this day to end.

*

Gerard manages to not kill anyone or himself on his way to Pete’s house. Surprisingly, the streets are empty. He passes a couple of cars on his way but that’s all. Which is strange considering it’s Friday morning. A lot of cars are still parked along the curb or in the driveways.

The suburb seems asleep.

Mikey is sat outside of Pete’s house. He looks very tiny. His face is pale and closed. He gets up and walks towards the house.

“Mikes?”

Mikey turns around and beckons Gerard to follow him inside. Gerard’s never been inside Pete’s house before. He usually stays in the car when he picks Mikey up.

It’s really bright inside, light coming from large bay windows and walls painted in white and cream. The paintings and art decorating the living room all seem pricey. There’s a leather couch and a flat screen TV that probably costs more than Gerard’s dad makes in a month.

All of this makes the scene even more surreal.

“I tried 911 again but I don’t think they’ll come,” Mikey says in a flat tone as he pulls off the jacket covering Pete’s body.

Pete’s eyes are wide open. His mouth is open too, stuck in an expression of pure panic. There’s no blood. Gerard cannot see any wound. It looks like he might have died of natural causes, which is pretty weird considering Pete is sixteen. Sixteen year olds rarely die of heart attacks.

“Maybe it was an aneurism?” he says, thinking out loud.

Mikey shakes his head. “I don’t know but his dad had the same thing,” he replies, laying the jacket of Pete again.

They’re walking towards the couch to inspect Pete’s father when a loud bang startles them.

“I couldn’t let her out of the closet,” Mikey says before biting the corner of his bottom lip. “I don’t know what’s wrong with her but she’s not usually a psycho.”

Gerard grabs Mikey’s wrist and pulls him out of the house. He doesn’t need to see Pete’s father. He doesn’t need to see Pete’s mother either. He’s had his share of dead bodies for the day. Maybe even for the year or maybe for his entire life.

“I didn’t know what else to do,” Mikey says and Gerard can see he’s on the verge of crying. It’s probably not the right time to tell him their parents are dead too.

“We need to go now,” he says, wrapping his arms around Mikey and pulling him in for a quick hug. “We need to pack our shit and just leave.” But first Gerard needs to make sure Ray’s okay.

“Are mom and dad alright?” Mikey asks, probably aware that Gerard is hiding something from him. He’s never been a good liar. Not even when it matters.

Gerard shakes his head. Mikey doesn’t struggle. He doesn’t hit Gerard. He doesn’t break down and cry. He just stays still and quiet for a minute before tightening his hold on Gerard.

They stay like this for a few minutes, in a warm, comforting embrace. Gerard is afraid to let go of Mikey. He’s afraid to open his eyes and see this is all real. If he keeps his eyes closed, he can pretend he’s at home, in his room, hugging his brother just because it feels nice.

Maybe they can both pretend a little longer.

When they reach Ray’s neighborhood ten minutes later, the mailbox and part of the driveway is all that’s left of the Toro’s. The house has been replaced by a big burning crater, like it was hit by a meteor, like it was annihilated by some kind of a nuclear explosion, pieces of wall and furniture scattered across the street and on the neighbors’ lawns.
Mikey motions to his door but Gerard stops him. There’s nothing they can do at this point.

They both sit still in their mom’s car for a few minutes, and Gerard stares at a singed tablecloth that managed to fly up into a nearby tree. The pattern’s familiar. Gerard ate a few meals on that thing when he was over at Ray’s.

There’s a piece of the couch Gerard used to sleep on, torn to shreds and crushing the roof of a car that might belong to Ray’s older brother, Lou.

This doesn’t mean Ray’s dead. This doesn’t mean that anyone is dead. Ray could be anywhere. Maybe his family got out before the house blew up.

Maybe.

*

Night falls and Frank’s stomach starts stirring and growling. It fucking hurts. It makes him feel sick. Then he remembers it’s what being hungry feels like.

He punches himself in the stomach. He shouldn’t be hungry. His mom is right there, lying under a sheet that smells like apple, and she’s not hungry.

Frank crawls up on his feet. He stares out the window and shudders when he notices how everything is pitch black now. There are no lights on in the neighborhood beside the street lights.

He closes the blinds and turns on all the lights in the house, one by one. He turns the TV on and switches channels quickly. There’s nothing on. There’s an emergency broadcast on what used to be NBC. The image is blurry and barely readable. It doesn’t really tell what’s going on. All it says is that the government is urging people to stay inside their homes.

So, it looks like this thing isn’t just here. Whatever is going on, whatever killed his mom and turned Marla (or is it fucking Martha?) into a hedge trimmer killer, it’s everywhere. It’s not just this street and it’s not just Belleville.

Frank turns off the TV. He curls up in a ball on the couch and stares at his own reflection in the black TV set. He looks like he died too, dark circles under his puffy eyes, lips chapped.

Maybe it’s the zombie apocalypse he’s been preparing for all these years. Maybe his mom is going to wake up and try to eat his fucking brains out. It doesn’t seem likely, though. She would have done so by now. Frank’s been staring at her for hours and there was no movement coming from under the sheets.

Frank doesn’t sleep much that night. He doesn’t manage to shut off his brain. He thinks about possible scenarios. He thinks about what he’s going to tell his dad when he calls. Then he remembers he didn’t check back on his dad.

Fuck. How fucking stupid is he? He should have tried to call him back.

Frank fumbles for the phone on the coffee table. He dials his dad’s number and waits, his patience running out as the fourth ring sounds. It rings five more times and then there’s a click. Frank gasps. He needs to tell his dad what happened but first he needs to make sure he’s okay.

“Dad?”

“You’ve reached Cheech Iero. I’m not here at the moment but you can leave me a message after the beep.”

There’s a beep. Frank hangs up and throws the phone across the room. It crashes against the wall, little bits of plastic and wires flying everywhere, sliding along the wooden floorboards. It doesn’t matter anymore. Everyone is dead. He’s the only one left. Or maybe Mr. Chalmers is still alive. Maybe the little girl never caught up to him. Maybe there’s someone else, somewhere.

*

They spend the night huddled in Gerard’s tiny bed. Mikey sobs, his fingers latched onto Gerard’s t-shirt, his body shaking. He grows still after a little while but Gerard doesn’t stop petting his hair.

Gerard doesn’t get any sleep. He cannot stop thinking about how his mom looked, her face blue; how much blood there was on his parents’ bed. He cannot chase the image of his dad, a shard of glass in his hand, his throat cut open. He sees Ray’s house too; the couch and the tablecloth and Lou’s car, mere relics of what used to be one of Gerard’s favorite place in Belleville.

Mikey sleeps. Maybe not for long but he does sleep. He stops sniffling and then his breathing gets more regular. His fingers slowly let go of Gerard’s t-shirt. He goes limp in Gerard’s arms.

Gerard needs a plan. He needs to be the grown up now that his parents are gone, now that it’s just the two of them against the world or what’s left of it. He needs to take care of Mikey and keep him safe but he’s not even sure how to do that or where to start.

It seems obvious now that they should go. They can’t keep hiding in the basement forever while his parents’ corpses are rotting in the upstairs bedroom.

But where would they go? Where is safe? Gerard doesn’t even know.

Mikey stirs against him and Gerard heaves a sigh of relief. Mikey’s alive. Mikey’s warm. Mikey’s the only thing he has left. At one point during the night, the lights outside Gerard’s window flicker. Then it starts raining. Gerard shivers and pulls an extra blanket from Mikey’s bed on top of them.

Mikey mumbles something in his sleep. He’s probably having a nightmare.

It’s eerily quiet in the house. It’s eerily quiet in the neighborhood. Gerard can’t hear any car alarm. He can’t hear police or ambulance sirens, or the planes taking off from Newark.

He shuts his eyes, hoping the sound of the rain will help him drift off, but then he sees his mom and his dad again and has to open them again. Gerard might never be able to fall asleep again.

*

When Frank wakes up, he’s curled up on the floor at the foot of the couch, shivering in his hoodie. His stomach growls. His head is throbbing.

It takes him a couple of seconds to adjust to his surroundings. He’s not in his bed because his mom is dead. His mom died yesterday and Frank might be the last person alive in all of Belleville.

As soon as he sits up, Frank starts coughing. He feels like shit. Maybe he shouldn’t have been wandering the streets in his underwear.

He grabs the remote and turns the TV on, more out of habit than anything. The emergency broadcast is gone. It’s all just snow now. Frank turns it back off and scrambles to his feet. When he gets to the kitchen, his mom is still where he left her. She didn’t turn into a zombie overnight.

The leftover zucchini and the milk are still there too, looking grosser than ever.

Frank tears off a few paper towels off the roll and starts cleaning up the mess. Mom would have never left this on the floor for so long. She would have cleaned it up right away.

The neighbors’ dog starts howling in its kennel. Frank wonders how long it’s been doing that.

The pantry and the fridge are both stocked full of things Frank doesn’t feel like eating. Nothing looks even remotely appetizing. Frank knows he has to eat something though. His stomach’s been grumbling for hours. It’s probably shriveled down to the size of a peanut by now.

So Frank reluctantly grabs something off the freezer, frozen waffles. He can do frozen waffles.

He doesn’t burn the kitchen down. He takes the waffles to the living room and sits down in a corner. He doesn’t want to open the blinds today. Maybe it’s safer this way. Maybe he should turn the house into a bunker and stay here until he runs out of food.

*

“We’re out of food?” Mikey asks as they stare at the fridge which is desperately empty.

They didn’t have time to go grocery shopping this week and the only things that are left in there are a bottle of old ketchup, a jar of mayonnaise they never opened because they all hate fucking mayonnaise, a tiny box of Chinese leftovers from two days ago and something wrapped in aluminum foil that vaguely looks like bacon.

“Looks like we’re gonna have to share that jar of peanut butter,” Gerard mumbles. He closes the fridge and grabs the jar of Skippy from the pantry. It’s almost empty. How could this happen? “Why is there no fucking food in this house when you need it?” he asks out loud, slamming the jar of peanut butter on the counter.

Mikey shrugs, grabs the peanut butter, and heads back downstairs. He hasn’t been in their parents’ bedroom yet and hopefully, he won’t ever have to go in.

They pack a few things. Gerard retrieves a couple of old backpacks they used to drag along when their dad took them camping, what feels like ages ago. He finds them tucked into a corner of the closet where all of their old stuff ends up taking dust.

Gerard has always been terrible at packing. He doesn’t know what he’s supposed to be carrying along with him now. Should he bring an extra pair of pants or should he just stuff his bag with comic books so they never get bored?

“We need food,” Mikey says, interrupting his meticulous packing of hair products and band t-shirts.

“I guess,” Gerard replies. They could always drop by Pathmark on their way out of the city. If fucking Pathmark is open in the midst of all of this bullshit apocalypse.

“You know who has tons of food?” Mikey asks as he slumps down Gerard’s bed. “Mrs. Milner.”

The crazy cat lady, as everyone calls her around the block, used to be an elementary school teacher. She used to be married to a guy who, one day, decided to build a bomb shelter in his backyard and stock it up with canned food. Just in case. Just in case something like this ever happened. Her husband was long gone but the shelter was still there, only a few houses down the street.

“We should just go knock on her door. I’m sure she wouldn’t mind sharing with us,” Mikey says, pressing a hand over his stomach. It grumbles loudly.

Gerard nods. He’s fucking starving too.

*

The dog doesn’t fucking stop howling. It gets to the point where Frank can’t hear himself think. It’s 9.35am according to the clock in the kitchen when Frank decides he’s had enough of this. He puts on a pair of sneakers, takes a quick glance at the form under the sheet that used to be his mom and heads out.

It’s been raining. The pavement is glistening. Frank’s shoes squeak with every step he takes. He pulls the hood of his sweater on his head and tucks his hands inside his sleeves. He looks left and right before crossing the street. Obviously, he doesn’t need to do this anymore because there are no fucking cars driving down here anymore but once again, he does it out of habit.

The dog’s called Herbert. Frank heard the neighbors’ say that name a few times before. It’s a fucking ridiculous name for a dog but whatever. Frank isn’t here to adopt a fucking dog. Frank doesn’t know if he should be doing this, if he should be here, but when he circles the house and gets to the kennel, he knows he has to do something.

Herbert is sat on its hind legs, barking, its voice breaking. It’s probably been barking since yesterday morning. It’s probably been trying to get out of the kennel too judging by the holes it’s dug out in all four corners of the fence.

“Hey, Herbert,” Frank says but the dog doesn’t stop barking. It gets up and growls at Frank, exposing its teeth before lunging at the fence.

Frank jumps back. This is going to be harder than he thought. Frank has had a few dogs before but they were tiny and they never tried to fucking eat him.

“Are you hungry?” he asks and the dog just keeps on barking.

But of course, it’s a fucking dog and dogs can’t really understand English. Frank reaches out, his hand shaking as he tries to unlock the gate of the kennel. There’s a fucking padlock on it. Who fucking puts a padlock on a dog kennel? Seriously.

The dog stops barking for a moment and whines.

“You wanna get out of here, don’t you?” Frank asks, and the dog whines even louder.

Frank never tried to break into a house before. He was accused of being a delinquent but breaking into someone’s house to steal a fucking key is not really something he’s ever tried before. Actually, Frank never stole anything from anyone, besides the popcorn and the candy he forgot to pay for that one time he went to the movies with his dad. But that was totally not intentional.

The front door is locked. Frank knocks a couple of times, just in case there’s someone inside, someone alive and not crazy.

After a minute, since no one answers, Frank starts searching for a spare key. People sometimes put keys under their doormat. His mom used to put one under a rock in a flower pot, just in case Frank forgot his keys. It turned out to be pretty fucking useful because Frank has this bad habit of losing things, mostly his keys. He used to sneak out of the house to go to punk rock shows and sneaking in was always easier when there were keys waiting for him under that one big rock in the flower pot.

There’s nothing under the doormat and no flower pot to hide any keys in. There’s a flower bed but Frank doesn’t really feel like digging through the mud to find what he’s looking for.

Frank circles the house again, looking for an open window. The back door is locked too but it’s a glass door. Frank could just break it to get in. He takes a step back, coughs up a lung when tries to take a deep breath and then tucks his hand in the sleeve of his hoodie.

The glass panel breaks easily with one punch. It’s fucking noisy though and Frank looks over his shoulder to make sure no one is watching him. He knocks the remaining shards of glass out of the way and slides a hand inside to unlock the door.

There’s no burglar alarm and no one is waiting for him on the other side with a shotgun. Everything is quiet inside the house, just the tick tock of a clock counting the seconds.

Frank starts his exploration of the house with the kitchen. He finds a corkboard with keys but none of them are labeled. He grabs them all and shoves them inside the front pocket of his hoodie.

“Anyone here?” he calls, just to be sure.

No answer.

The house is plunged into darkness. Frank walks down a narrow corridor, his fingers running on the wall, touching pictures frames and every crease in the wallpaper.

The house isn’t that big. There are only three doors at the end of the corridor. One is open. It’s a bathroom.

Frank knocks on the second door, waits for a few seconds before entering. It doesn’t smell too bad inside, just a little rancid. Frank can’t really see shit for a minute. He ambles forward, trying not to trip on anything. He walks towards the only source of light coming into the room, a crack in the curtains.

He pulls them open and slowly turns around.

The bed is made and empty. The walls are decorated with posters of bands, mostly pretty boys who probably don’t even know how to make music. There’s a lot of pink around the room and a name on the door that reads Ashley.

Frank’s never met her. He just saw her coming in and out of the house. Ashley. He didn’t even know that was her name. She was older than Frank. She went to college somewhere around here. That’s all Frank knows about her and that is all he is ever going to know.

The third door is locked. Frank doesn’t want to try and get in. The smell seeping under the door is enough. There’s someone dead inside. He presses his ear against the door and listens. It doesn’t sound like anyone’s alive in here.

Frank makes it back to the kitchen a few minutes later, the keys rattling inside his pocket. There’s a bag of dog food sticking out of a cupboard. Frank pulls it out and drags it back outside. The dog starts wagging its tail as soon as Frank appears with the food. Frank cracks the bag open and throws a handful of kibbles through the fence. The dog goes nuts. It starts jumping all over the place.

There’s a fuck load of keys that could open this particular lock and Frank has to try them all. He throws another handful of kibbles at the dog and starts working on the lock. It takes him only three tries and about half a bag of Pedigree Low Sodium kibbles, but Frank manages to find the right key.

“Ok, dude. There will be no biting,” he says and the dog wags its tail at him. “I mean, we’re buddies now, right?”

Frank really hopes that they are buddies, because this is not how he imagined he would go, eaten by the neighbors’ dog Herbert. If he’s the last living person on the planet, he better watch his ass.

As soon as Frank turns the key inside the lock, the gate opens with a loud creak.

Herbert jumps out like a Jack in a box and has Frank pinned down to the ground within seconds. It’s a fucking big dog. Low sodium kibbles or not, the dog is heavy and huge and it could eat Frank whole in less time than it takes to say Don’t eat me.

Frank cannot move. He cannot breathe either because there’s a fucking dog on his chest. He coughs and puts an arm up to protect his neck. He tries to push the dog away but it’s useless. Herbert doesn’t attack him. He just licks Frank’s face like a Popsicle and shoves his cold and wet nose in Frank’s armpit.

“Erm.” Frank pets the dog and manages to slide away after a minute. “You’re welcome, dude,” he says as he scrambles back to his feet. The back of his hoodie is covered in mud. His ass is wet too. He has fucking gunk in his hair and dog saliva on his face. And it fucking smells too.

Frank wipes off his face with the hem of his hoodie and heads back to his house, leaving the dog to take care of the bag of kibble. He also leaves the back door of his neighbors’ house open in case Herbert wants to go inside.

His owners are dead now so they probably don’t mind it if their dog puts hairs everywhere on the furniture and munches the feet of their coffee table.

*

It becomes apparent that the crazy cat lady is actually crazy when Gerard literally runs into her on his way out of the kitchen.

She doesn’t look dangerous, just batshit insane as she mumbles to herself. She’s wearing a long nightgown that’s stained with something brown that smells horrible. Probably shit she rubbed on herself. Her eyes look weird, like there’s no one in there, like she’s just going through the motions like a zombie.

She doesn’t try to bite or attack Gerard although he’s carrying a bag full of things he stole from her pantry, mostly cans of peas and baked beans. Mikey fucking hates baked beans but it’s not like they have a choice at this point. It’s this or starving to death.

Mikey is busy raiding the bomb shelter in the garden so he doesn’t really have a say in this anyway.

“Mrs. Milner,” Gerard says, putting the bag of food down and tentatively wrapping a hand around the lady’s wrist. “Are you okay?”

She keeps on mumbling incoherent things. Her skin is warm. Too warm.

Gerard takes a step back and lets her go. She looks sick. Maybe he should leave now before he catches whatever she has. Or maybe he could do the right thing and take her back to bed.

“Mrs. Milner,” he tries again but this time, he doesn’t touch her. “I think you should go lie down now.”

The crazy cat lady stares at Gerard but she doesn’t seem to be able to focus on his face. She’s staring past him as if he wasn’t even there.

“I’m just borrowing this from you. My brother and I are hungry,” he explains, grabbing the bag and slinging it over his shoulder. “We’re not stealing from you. We’ll pay you back for everything,” he adds, and he feels really stupid for saying that. He feels like an asshole. He drops the bag on the kitchen table and empties it.

She probably needs food just as much. Sick or not, she’s still a human being.

“I’m gonna go now,” he says, slowly backing away towards the back door.

Mrs. Milner doesn’t try to stop him. She starts swinging back and forth, her hands clawing at her shit covered nightgown. Then, just as Gerard is about to climb down the stairs, he notices the smell. He didn’t notice it until now because the smell of shit was just too strong. This smells more like someone burnt something; something that could be meat. He looks around the kitchen but doesn’t find the source.

Mrs. Milner mumbles something about cats.

But Gerard hasn’t seen one cat since he came in. He hasn’t heard anything, no purring, no meowing. He hasn’t even seen any evidence that a cat was ever there if he doesn’t count the shit smeared all over Mrs. Milner’s nightgown and the scent of ammonia that could actually be cat pee.

Mrs. Milner has at least nine cats, maybe more since she picks up all the strays she can find. That’s something everyone in the neighborhood knows. She dresses them in stupid clothes and calls them her babies. She takes silly pictures of them too. Mrs. Milner loves her cats more than she loves anyone else and until now, Gerard thought it wasn’t such a big deal. He would probably dress his pets up in costumes too if he had any.

Gerard takes a quick look around the living room. There’s nothing there but the smell seems stronger. Then he sees the smoke coming out of Mrs. Milner’s chimney and he runs out to find Mikey, so fast that he can barely see where he’s going.

*

There’s no easy way to do this but it has to be done.

The body is heavier than Frank had thought. It feels like he’s carrying a pile of rocks over his shoulder.

Frank’s not a fucking wimp; he works out when he can (if naked push-ups and jerking off can be called a work out). He can hold his own in a fist fight too, but this is different.

After a few failed attempts, Frank decides to drag the body across the house. It’s easier this way. He grabs a shovel from the garden shed and starts digging a hole under the oak tree. It’s a pretty fucking stupid idea though because the tree has roots everywhere.

Frank picks another spot. It’s not like his mom actually cares where he buries her body.

Last year, they planted pumpkins and zucchini in a corner of the garden. The soil is more manageable there even more so now that it’s damp with rain. Frank digs a hole where the plants used to grow. He makes it as large and long as he can. Mom wasn’t much taller than he is so she probably won’t need all that space.

Frank crouches down at the edge of the grave and stares at the body. It’s still wrapped in the sheet. He doesn’t want to just push her inside the hole and rolling her down there seems fucking horrible too. So he stays there, staring at the sheet.

It gets really cold at one point and Frank wishes he had put on a jacket before going outside. Mom would have yelled at him to come inside. She would have forced some fucking soup in him too.

His stomach growls. It’s probably lunch time. Or maybe it’s already dinner time. It’s really hard to keep track of that sort of thing now.

He gets up and kneels down at his mother’s side. He pats her hair as it sticks out from under the sheet. It’s not as soft as it used to be. There’s a dead leaf caught in it. Frank picks it off and pulls the sheet up.

There’s nothing Frank can say. He wants to do or say something meaningful but he’s just too angry and too sad, and too scared to find the right words. He grabs the body by the shoulders and drags it towards the hole. He jumps down first, getting mud all over the cuff of his jeans.

It’s not as easy as Frank thought it would be but it’s something he needed to do. He’s been staring at his dead mother for too long now and nothing he does now can ever bring her back.

He climbs out of the hole a minute later, smeared in mud all over again. He crawls on his knees and grabs the shovel. Putting the dirt back inside the hole is easy. It’s too easy.

Then his mom’s body disappears. Frank lets go of the shovel, curls up next to the grave and starts crying.

*

They put all the bags in the back of their mom’s car. The trunk is tiny but for now, they just need to fit in as much food as they can. The bomb shelter was a pretty fucking good idea. Mrs. Milner’s late husband had planned everything. There were enough cans of food to last them for weeks. Gerard also found chocolate bars and army rations. Fucking jackpot.

“What did you see?” Mikey asks as Gerard closes the trunk. “Her cats ate her. Is that it?”

No. It’s not what Gerard saw but he doesn’t even want to talk about it. He doesn’t even want to think about what he might have seen. It’s just too horrible to process. Gerard shakes his head.

“I’m sorry, dude,” Mikey says, grabbing Gerard’s shoulder and squeezing it lightly. “Next time, I go in the house.”

“No you don’t. It’s not fucking safe out there.”

Nothing is safe anymore. Old ladies throw their cats into fires. People slit their throats. Who knows what else is happening behind all of these locked doors?

Gerard leaves the keys in the ignition while they go inside to pick up the rest of their stuff. He doesn’t really think anyone is going to snatch their only mode of transportation while they’re in the house anyway.

The bags are heavy. Gerard put all he could fit inside his, mostly books and jackets, a handful of t-shirts, a scarf, a pair of gloves and some clean underwear. It doesn’t feel like he’s packing for a long trip. It feels more like he’s going away to camp.

They throw their bags on the couch and go through the kitchen one last time. They pack knives and paper plates in a grocery bag. Mikey tucks a can opener into his bag and Gerard snatches all of the lighters he can find lying around.

“This is crazy,” he says as he stands in the doorway, adjusting his pack on his shoulders. Maybe they should stay and figure out what to do. Maybe they should think this through, try calling 911 again, knock on everyone’s door and see if anyone can help them.

“You want to stay?” Mikey asks, cocking his head to the side. He quirks an eyebrow at him.

“I don’t know,” Gerard replies as he opens the door and steps outside.

When he looks up at the car, there’s someone sitting behind the wheel. The engine roars.

Fuck. This cannot be happening. Someone is stealing their car and all of their food.

Gerard drops his backpack and starts running after the car. It’s fucking useless because he can’t run for shit. He’s out of breath a few seconds into his sprint. Mikey catches up with him at the end of the street. He’s walking.

“I guess we’re not the only ones alive then,” he says, bumping his shoulder against Gerard.

“I guess we’re not.”

*

Frank takes a shower. It doesn’t make him feel better about his mom being dead but it makes him feel a little warmer.

He puts his mud covered clothes in the laundry basket and ambles around the house with not much but a towel wrapped around his hips. He makes himself a grilled cheese sandwich and goes to sit in his little corner of the living room.

Night falls pretty quickly. Frank wraps himself up in a blanket and watches the street lights flicker outside the window.

If everything was normal, he would be watching Jersey Shore with his mom. Mom likes to make him spaghetti on Jersey Shore night. She makes the best tomato sauce Frank has ever had, with onions and basil in it.

Frank curls up at the foot of the couch and starts crying again. He’s going to be alone now. That’s his life. He’s going to be alone and die alone. Maybe the little girl with the hedge trimmers will find him eventually and rip him open. The strangest thing is that Frank doesn’t even care. He has no one now. He has no family left. He doesn’t even have Herbert to keep him company.

Frank went back to check on the dog after he buried his mom. Herbert was gone. The bag of kibbles was empty. Frank didn’t want to go inside the house and check if the dog was in there. He’s had his share of dead bodies.

*

It’s late when they get back from another trip to Mrs. Milner’s bomb shelter. Gerard doesn’t even attempt to go inside her house this time. They each have a can of baked beans and a slice of toasted bread for dinner. Mikey dry heaves a couple of times while he’s eating the beans.

“I fucking hate that shit,” he comments before swallowing another spoonful with a grimace.

They both finish their cans though because it’s the only thing they have. By the time they’re done eating, it’s too late to go anywhere. Gerard is still hungry. He doesn’t tell Mikey because there’s nothing they can do about it.

“I’m sorry I left the keys in the car,” he mumbles as he takes the empty can of beans from Mikey’s hands and throws it in his trashcan.

“That was pretty stupid,” Mikey says in a flat tone. “I hope they like baked beans because they’re gonna have enough of that shit to last them for decades.”

Gerard barricades the door and sets up camp in the basement. It feels weird to spend another night in this house. It feels like, maybe, staying here is their best bet, the safest choice for now.

“Maybe we could go and knock on doors tomorrow,” Gerard says as he pats under his bed, looking for his stash of candy bars. He used to have Paydays under here in a box, something he saved for rainy days or for when he had the munchies. There’s only one left. Gerard splits it in half.

“Do you think there’s someone else out there? Someone who could help us?” Mikey asks as he starts to take small bites out if the chocolate bar. “I mean. We’re not dealing with zombies here, are we? Mom and dad are still,” he pauses.

“They’re still dead, yeah.” Gerard ducks his head. He doesn’t want to meet Mikey’s eyes now. He eats his chocolate bar in silence and waits for Mikey to say something.

“I think we should find out if we’re the only ones,” Mikey finally says. He climbs into Gerard’s bed and tosses the empty Payday wrapper with the empty cans of beans. “I think we can’t stay here forever.”

Gerard joins him under the duvet. He doesn’t mind if they share a bed for the rest of their lives. Feeling someone next to him, breathing, living Mikey, makes him feel better.

“We’ll go find people tomorrow,” he says before planting a kiss on the crown of Mikey’s head. “We’ll be okay.”

*

This is probably the worst night of Frank’s life since his mom died.

It can’t be later than 2 in the morning when his cough worsens to the point where he cannot breathe. He pukes his dinner on the rug because he can’t get to the bathroom or the kitchen sink in time. What a fucking waste.

He misses his mom. He misses her hands pushing back his hair while he’s gasping for air. He misses her kind words and the warmth of her lap against his cheek.

If he dies tonight, no one will ever know. No one will even care. He’ll just be another dead body no one will even bother to bury.

Frank doesn’t know what time it is when the coughing stops. For a while, he swings back and forth, his arms wrapped around his legs, his lungs full, his throat raw. It feels like it’s just going to be another night he spends curled up at the foot of the couch, not sleeping; a night spent thinking about his mom and the smell of her hair, but then he hears someone scream right outside his door and his heart skips a beat.

It’s high pitched at first. Then as it dies down, it sounds more like a death rattle.

There’s a loud thump against the front door. And then another one. Someone is knocking on Frank’s door. Someone is trying to get in and they’re probably carrying something sharp with them to gut Frank like a fish. They probably heard him cough and now they’re coming to finish him off.

There’s no way in hell Frank is going to open the door. No fucking way. He gets up and tip toes towards the kitchen. He cranes his neck and peers out of a tiny hole in the blinds. He can’t see shit. It’s really dark out now.

Maybe they’re gone. Maybe they decided to go die on someone else’s doorstep. Maybe they decided to go kill an easier target. Frank slides down the counter and sits on the cold kitchen tiles. He shivers, his towel sliding off his hips.

It’s really fucking cold inside the house tonight. Frank swears he can see steam rise every time he exhales. Maybe that’s how he’s going to die. He’s going to die of exposure inside his own fucking house. That would be fucking irony.

Frank picks himself off the floor and shuffles back to his room. The least he can do now is to die in clothes he wouldn’t be ashamed of wearing. Or at least, clothes. Any clothes so he doesn’t die buck naked.

*

Gerard waits until the early lights of dawn to shake Mikey awake. They have a long day ahead. A possibly very dangerous one, at that.

“If it’s the apocalypse, I think we should be able to sleep in once in a while,” Mikey mumbles as he pulls the duvet up to his nose.

“Sleeping in is what kills us all, Mikey. It’s just a waste of time,” Gerard says, kicking the duvet down and rolling out of bed.

The last time Gerard told that to someone, it was Ray.

Ray. Gerard wonders if he made it. He tried to call him a couple of times since that morning when he found his parents and went by his burnt down house, but Ray never answered. It seemed pointless to leave a voicemail so Gerard just hung up. Ray could still be alive somewhere. He could be trying to get to them now.

Mikey moans and protests for a few minutes. Then he has to get up because he’s too hungry to function. They share a slice of toasted bread for breakfast, smeared with what’s left of the peanut butter. There’s not enough coffee left for the two of them, just a sip.

“You need it more than I do,” Mikey says, handing Gerard the mug.

The peanut butter and the coffee don’t calm Gerard’s stomach. If anything, eating so little makes him hungrier.

“We need food and we fucking need it now,” Mikey says, rubbing his stomach through his t-shirt.

Gerard nods.

The first house they hit is their next door neighbors’.

The Wilsons have a fucking great house, two stories, a pool in the backyard and a porch swing.

Gerard manages to break in by climbing through the living room window. Gerard opens it easily. It shouldn’t be so fucking easy to sneak into someone’s house but right now, Gerard is grateful. He’s grateful for the lack of security system too.

The Wilsons have a huge kitchen and a huge fridge to go with it. It’s the first thing Gerard sees when he gets inside the house, like a beacon of hope, only with more magnets and report cards stuck to it.

Gerard never really got to talk to the Wilsons. Their interactions over the years boiled down to the essential, mostly hello and have a good day.

“Start with the fridge,” Gerard says as he’s browsing the pantry. They have a fucking jar of Nutella in there. Fucking Wilsons. Gerard could kiss them.

Gerard pops the lid open and sticks his finger inside the jar. He’s sucking the Nutella from his finger, moaning with how good this feels, when Mikey calls him.

“I think the power’s out,” he says as he pulls the fridge door open all the way.

There’s no light inside. It doesn’t smell too bad. Not yet. But some of the vegetables in the bottom tray have already started to grow mold. One of the zucchinis looks like it’s sentient and about to walk out of the fridge on its own and start a revolution.

“Take only what’s still wrapped. No leftovers. Nothing that smells,” Gerard says, pushing the open jar of Nutella under Mikey’s nose. “I’m gonna take a look around. Make sure it’s safe for us to be here,” he adds as he finishes licking the chocolate goodness off his finger.

Mikey hums. He puts his finger inside the jar of Nutella just like Gerard did. He doesn’t moan when he sucks the paste on his finger but lets out an obscene noise that Gerard’s never heard before.

Gerard finds four bodies in total inside the house. He finds Mr. and Mrs. Wilson in their bed. It seems they might have died in their sleep. Gerard covers the bodies by pulling a sheet up over their heads and then makes his way to the next room.

Calvin, their eldest son is curled up at the foot of the bed, his face blue, his eyes wide open, staring into nothingness. Gerard knows Calvin. They’re both seniors. Calvin likes to spread rumors about girls he might have banged. Gerard never really liked the guy but it doesn’t make this any easier.

He finds Calvin’s little sister the bathroom, her body spread over the rug, her limbs bent at awkward angles, as if she had died convulsing, foam around her mouth, her eyes empty and white.

When Gerard comes back to the kitchen, Mikey has a Wal-mart bag full of provisions in his hands and a mouth full of Lucky Charms.

“You want some fucking Lucky Charms,” he asks, handing the box of cereal to Gerard.

“Let’s go,” Gerard says before grabbing Mikey’s shoulder. They need to try another house. They need to make sure there’s not someone else out there. Breakfast will have to wait a little longer.

*

Frank finds a body slumped against his front door.

The man isn’t carrying any weapon. He doesn’t look like he received any fatal wounds either. His mouth is open in an endless cry; his pupils are fixed, glassy; his fingers are grasping at something invisible, looking more like claws than regular, human being fingers.

As soon as Frank opens his door, the body falls at his feet. The man’s head crashes against the floorboards with a loud and disgusting crack.

Frank covers his mouth and crouches over the body. It’s fucking cold and the skin is hard under Frank’s fingers. He tries to lift it but it’s too heavy. It’s about twice or maybe even three times as heavy as his mom was.

After a minute, Frank drags it out of the house, using every little bit of strength he has to pull it down the stairs, along the driveway and across the lawn. He drops it on the neighbor’s lawn. Mrs. Serano probably doesn’t mind that there’s a dead body rotting on her lawn right now. She didn’t say anything when a dog (Frank thinks it might be Herbert but he can’t be sure) took a dump next to her mailbox. Besides, she’s most likely a dead body too by now.

The air is brisk this morning and Frank doesn’t want to linger outside for too long. He might still die of the pneumonia he thought was ancient history two days ago.

He’s making his way back to the house, wrapped up in a hoodie when he hears the screeching of tires in the distance. Well, it’s not really in the distance. It sounds a little too fucking close to home for comfort.

Frank rushes back inside the house and slams the door shut just as a car drives past. He doesn’t recognize the car. It’s not someone from around here.

Maybe Frank should let them know he’s here. Maybe he should run after them and ask them for help.

The coughing starts again and with it, the sinking feeling that Frank might not make it another day. His heart is racing in his chest. He can’t breathe. He has to kneel down for a few minutes, his hands clawing and pounding on the floor.

He crawls to the kitchen and levers himself up using the stove. He opens the blinds just a tiny bit; just enough so he can have a good view of the entire street.

The car is stopped in the middle of the road. It crashed into a lamppost. There’s smoke rising from the engine and bits and pieces of metal and other things Frank can’t identify spread around it over a mile.

Frank gasps.

So this is how it’s going to be. People are going to keep dropping around him like flies and he’s probably next. He’s going to die alone, most likely from the pneumonia; if little Martha and her garden tool don’t find him first.

*

The man looks dead when Gerard finds him, lying on the floor in the middle of his living room, his pants rolled down to his knees. But he’s not. He’s really not.

That’s the fifth house they try. The second was a complete bust in terms of food. There was a body in each of the third and the fourth houses, both mutilated, guts spilling out of their bellies and Gerard pushed Mikey outside so fast they couldn’t get anything to eat.

That’s the fifth house they try and they’re already two blocks away from their own house, in a neighborhood Gerard’s never been. He drove past some of these houses before but that’s all.

The man in the fifth house grabs Gerard’s ankle and pulls him down. He’s mumbling but Gerard can’t make out any words. He sounds a little like Mrs. Milner, the crazy cat killer but Gerard finds it scarier this time because the man could easily kick the shit out of him if he tried. He’s twice Gerard’s size.

There’s something in his eyes that screams psychopath. They’re bloodshot and wide, his teeth are bare. His fingers are clenched tight around Gerard’s ankle, so tight they will leave a bruise.

Gerard tries to make the man let go. He tries to take a step back but his feet get caught in the leopard print rug and he tumbles backward.

The man clings to Gerard like he’s never going to let go.

Gerard could call Mikey. He could ask him for help but who knows what the man is capable of doing.

“Please, let me go,” Gerard mutters through gritted teeth, shaking his leg as the man crawls closer and closer.

He’s not a zombie. Zombies have to be dead and this man is breathing. He’s also talking which is something zombies rarely do in movies unless they’re terrible movies.

The man talks and talks and doesn’t shut up.

Then Mikey calls from the kitchen. “Gee, you better come see that.” His voice is getting closer.

Gerard doesn’t see any other way to make the man let go of him. He takes a deep breath, purses his lips and says, “Let me go or I’ll have to fucking kick your teeth in.” Gerard rarely uses violence. He doesn’t pick fights in school or anything of the sort but at this point, he’s ready to kick the shit out of this guy.

The man doesn’t seem very receptive to threats. He doesn’t let go, just crawls into Gerard’s lap and tries to punch Gerard in the guts. He starts pulling Gerard’s shirt, tries to claw it off of him.

OK. That’s it. Gerard bends his knee and kicks the man in the face, the sole of his shoe leaving a mark on the man’s cheek. Since the man doesn’t let go, Gerard kicks him again and again and again and fucking again until the man’s face is nothing but blood and broken teeth.

The man screams. He lets go of Gerard and puts his hands over his broken face. Then he snarls and shouts at Gerard.

“I’m gonna kill you and rape you in your sleep and make you eat your own ballsack, you fucking cuntbag.”

Gerard springs up and staggers across the house to find Mikey, the man still shouting insults from the living room.

“What the fuck was that?” Mikey asks when he runs into Gerard in the hallway.

“We need to go,” Gerard replies, once again dragging Mikey out of the house. “Now.”

*

Maybe it’s just out of morbid curiosity, but Frank walks out of the house an hour or two later and heads straight for the wreckage.

The car is folded around the lamppost like it’s made out of butter. The windshield is hanging by a thread, shattered in circular patterns. The man behind the wheel is safely strapped behind the wheel by his seatbelt. What’s strange about such a gruesome accident is that there’s almost no blood. It’s almost like the man was dead seconds before the impact.

His face looks blue; his eyes are wide open and glassy. Frank backs away. Fuck. This thing is still killing people left and right.

The sprint Frank takes is probably not a good idea for his lungs and how fucked up they are at this point but he just needs to put as much distance he can between him and all the dead people. For all he knows, they can still infect him.

When he gets back to the house, Frank is panting and coughing. He flops onto the couch and wraps a blanket over him. He’s so tired. He’s tired of this, of surviving, of being alone. He’s tired of not being able to hear the sound of his own voice.

He’s about to fall asleep, the first time in days when he hears something outside.

Click click click.

Frank shudders. He locked the door behind him and closed all the blinds again. But maybe Martha saw him come in. Maybe she followed him here.

The house isn’t a fortress. It’s just a house with one bolt on the front door. It has windows that can be easily broken and—

Someone shouts. Frank doesn’t hear what they’re saying but it sounds like little Martha got them. It’s a woman’s voice or at least it sounds like it. Frank is too fucking scared to go and check.

There’s more clicking from the shears and then nothing. Everything is quiet again.

But it’s too late. Frank can’t fall asleep. Not after that. He sits up and rocks back and forth on the couch.

*

They can’t try another house after that because they run into a little girl right outside this one.

There’s an actual living little girl standing right in front of them, blocking their way out to the street. Her head is cocked to the side. She’s grinning and staring at them, examining them. There’s blood all over her Spongebob Squarepants pajamas and her pink bunny slippers.

Gerard can’t see her hands right away. Her arms are folded behind her back. She grins at Gerard and Mikey, and Gerard is only seconds away from shitting his pants.

“Are you okay?” Mikey asks, and the little girl starts laughing.

Her eyes are bloodshot. Just like the man with the broken nose inside the house.

Mikey reaches out to touch her and that’s when Gerard notices the blood dripping behind her. He grabs Mikey’s hand at the last minute and pulls him back.

The little girl doesn’t look older than five or six and yet, she’s holding a pair of hedge trimmers that should be too heavy for her. She lifts it above her head and starts opening and closing the blade under Mikey’s nose.

“Fuck,” Mikey shouts as the blade cuts through the sleeve of his t-shirt. He lets go of his plastic bags full of pancake syrup and strawberry jelly and canned raviolis, and presses a hand over his wound.

Little girl or not, Gerard needs to get out of here before she cuts them in half like in a bad slasher flick. He pushes her out of his way and drags Mikey behind him.

Gerard still sucks at running long distances and Mikey’s not that great at it either. Every time Gerard looks over his shoulder, the little girl is there, on their heels, her fucking garden tool pointed at them, clicking endlessly. Her laugh fills Gerard with terror.

He almost forgets the searing pain in his left side because of that.

They turn around a corner and end up in another neighborhood. The houses are smaller here, more modest.

There’s a car in the middle of the road, the hood exploded onto a lamppost. There’s a body sat behind the wheel. There’s also a body on the lawn of one house and another one on the steps of the next house.

There’s a parked car in the driveway, with bloody handprints all over it. Gerard pulls Mikey behind the car before rolling under it.

Mikey’s arm is bleeding profusely but Gerard cannot do anything about it right now. All he can do is put a hand over Mikey’s mouth so he stays quiet.

The little girl is not running anymore.

Gerard can see her walk down the street, the blades of her garden shears clicking together, blood dripping from it onto the pavement. She’s mumbling to herself. It sounds vaguely like she’s singing.

Mikey’s eyes widen as she passes only a few feet from them.

Gerard stops breathing. Breathing too loud could mean their death, and Gerard is not ready to let Mikey die. He’s already doing a shitty job at keeping him safe.

The little girl keeps walking. She doesn’t stop to look for them. She walks into a house at the end of the street, maybe her own, and slams the door shut.

When he’s sure the little maniac won’t come back to cut them to pieces, Gerard removes his hand from Mikey’s mouth and rolls out from under the car, crawling on his hands and knees on the gravel.

He helps Mikey up and crouches next to him to examine his wound. It looks kind of gross. The blade cut right through the fabric, through skin and flesh. Hopefully, the little asshole didn’t knick an artery.

“It hurts like a motherfucker,” Mikey whispers, his eyes screwed shut. He sucks in a breath and opens them again.

“We need a place to lay low until night fall,” Gerard says, eyeing at the house with the dead body on its front steps. This should do. The blinds are closed. Hopefully, the occupants died in their sleep.

They get up and walk up the steps, avoiding the body of a woman who was gutted and left there to rot, intestines and blood spilled all over the porch like some kind of artwork.

Gerard tries the door but it’s locked. He doesn’t know how to pick locks. That would have been really useful today. He circles the house and tries the windows. All of them are safely locked. He could break one of them but that might be too loud and the little girl could come at them once more.

He’s about to give up – they can always find another house, it’s not like they’re in short supply of them – when he reaches the driveway and realizes Mikey isn’t standing by the front door anymore. He’s sat on the ground, dangling a key under Gerard’s nose and giving him a smug look, a hand pressed against his shoulder.

“Where did you find this?” Gerard asks, grabbing the key and climbing up the stairs. He tries it in the lock and door clicks open.

“It was under a rock over there,” he replies before pointing at a flower pot.

Gerard sighs and takes a step inside the house. It’s kind of dark inside and a little cold too.

Then, something hard hits him in the face and Gerard blacks out for a few seconds.

*

Frank’s knuckles hurt. The guy’s skull feels like it’s made of fucking cement. Frank would punch him again but it looks like he managed to knock him out on the first try.

“Gee?” a voice calls from behind the guy Frank just punched.

There’s another one. Frank takes a step back and braces himself, clenching his fists tight, ignoring the pain in his knuckles.

He knows he should have gotten something to defend himself, to defend his house, like a fucking baseball bat or a crocket mallet, but it’s not like he had time to grab a blunt object. Besides, he doesn’t have either of those things handy.

The guy on the floor presses a hand over his nose and mumbles something that sounds like “asshole”. It sure took him a while to come to. Frank is getting better at punching the lights out of people.

The second guy pushes through the door and quickly closes it behind him. He looks a little like the guy Frank just punched but with different hair and glasses and with more pimples on his face. Maybe they’re related.

Frank runs off to the kitchen and grabs the first thing he finds, a butter knife he left in the sink this morning. The blade is all sticky with jelly but it should work.

“Fucking hit him, Mikes,” the guy on the floor (G? Frank definitely heard the guy call this one G) says in a duck voice. He gets back on his feet and spits a wad of blood on the floor.

The other guy stands there for the longest time. He doesn’t hit Frank. He stares at him and his eyes narrow. It’s really dark inside the house because the power went out a couple of hours ago and Frank didn’t want to open the blinds but he can see how the guy is looking at him, like he fucking knows him.

“Frank,” he croaks. “Frank Iero?”

Frank doesn’t recognize the voice. He doesn’t recognize the face either. He’s fucking terrified and his lungs are quickly filling up with mucus again. He drops his knife on the floor when a violent coughing fit hits him.

“You know him?” the guy asks, stumbling inside the kitchen.

“Yeah. It’s Frank. We had PE together for a while.”

Frank hasn’t gone to PE in forever. He got a note from his doctor and got excused from that shit for the rest of the year.

“Let me see his eyes,” G. says, getting dangerously close to Frank.

Frank jumps back and his hip checks a corner of the counter. He cringes and picks up his butter knife off the floor before the guy can get to it.

“I’m not gonna hurt you. I just wanna make sure you’re not like them,” G. says, grabbing Frank’s face with one hand and prying the knife out of Frank’s finger with the other. His fingers are cold but soft as he cups Frank’s face.

“I’m Mikey Way,” the guy with the glasses says. “I used to hang out with Pete’s crew. I think you were friends with a guy called Matt and another called John.”

Frank shrugs the guy’s hand away from his face. This is fucking uncomfortable and weird and Frank doesn’t like people who are not his mom touching him like this.

“I don’t know, Gerard. He looks alright,” Mikey Way comments as he quirks an eyebrow at Frank. “You’re alright, Frank?”

There’s a deep gash right under his shoulder. There’s blood everywhere, soaking through his Metallica t-shirt, rolling down his arm, pooling on the kitchen tiles.

Frank reaches out and dabs a tentative finger over the wound. He knows Mikey. They weren’t really friends or anything like that but they knew each other. They had some friends in common. They used to run into each other at shows too, back when Frank snuck out of his house every weekend. Frank’s seen Mikey at Barnes and Noble a couple of times too.

“Why is he not talking?” Gerard asks Mikey before turning the question over to Frank. “Why are you not talking?”

Frank shrugs. He doesn’t know why he’s not talking. He used to be able to do it. Maybe it’s because he grew so accustomed to silence over the past few days. Gerard and Mikey are loud though. Very loud. Probably too loud for it to be safe.

“Maybe he can’t. Remember when you lost your voice after the Green Day show in New York?” Mikey asks. He walks off to the living room and looks through the blinds. “Did you go to a show, Frank? Is that how you lost your voice?”

Frank shakes his head. He can totally do this. He opens his mouth but nothing happens. He doesn’t really have anything to say actually.

“Do you have a first aid kit,” Gerard asks, pointing at Mikey in the other room with his chin. “Some batshit insane little girl came at us with scissors.”

“Garden shears,” Mikey corrects him.

Frank nods. He coughs and leads Gerard to the bathroom. His mom always kept a shit load of things in the cupboard under the sink. Frank used to come home every other day with grazed knees, cuts and bruises, bloody noses. It wasn’t his fault most of the time. Apparently, he was just a little more breakable than anyone else in school and also a little more adventurous.

“I know you’re probably sorry for punching me but that was really uncalled for,” Gerard mumbles as he leans against the doorframe, posing in an awkward stance. Frank notices the holes in his jeans, strategically placed on his crotch, and the way his t-shirt sticks to his chest. He smells like he hasn’t had a shower in days.

Frank isn’t fucking sorry for shit. Gerard deserved the punch. Breaking into someone’s house deserves just that if not more. Then Frank remembers he broke into someone house just a couple of days ago and feels just a tiny bit sorry.

“Are you here on your own?” Gerard asks before grabbing the gauze and scissors from Frank’s hands.

It takes Frank a minute to answer because for a minute, he wants to say no. He’s not alone. His mom lives here too. He eventually nods. He’s all alone now.

“Mikey and I lost our parents too,” Gerard says, his voice trembling a little.

Frank ducks his head and grabs the disinfectant from the cupboard. They’re out of cotton balls so he takes a roll of toilet paper and takes everything to the living room.

Mikey is sat on the armchair Frank’s mom used to like. When he sees Frank and Gerard come back, he takes off his shirt with a grimace. He’s really scrawny and pale. He wipes off the blood on his arm with the t-shirt and throws it on the floor.

Frank kneels in front of him. He pours some disinfectant on a square of toilet paper and presses it on Mikey’s wound.

Next to him, Gerard is making a weird, disgusted face. Frank can hear him sigh too. He’s probably not a big fan of blood.

“Did you know you have a dead woman on your front porch?” Mikey asks, his eyes filling up with tears.

Frank nods as he starts wrapping the gauze around Mikey’s arm.

The woman in question was actually one of his teachers back in junior high. Her name was Mrs. Kapolski. She was a really nice lady.

“Is it okay if we stay here for a while?” Gerard asks. He sits down on the couch and tries the remote. The TV stays black. Frank doesn’t feel like telling him the power’s been out for a few hours. “I mean, we would gladly go back out there but there’s a psychopath on the loose.”

“And our fridge is empty,” Mikey adds with a pointed look at Gerard.

“Yeah. That too. We had shitty luck while trying to stock up,” Gerard explains before throwing the remote back on the couch.

Frank’s fridge isn’t empty but most of the food left in it is going to spoil pretty quickly. Frank was considering eating everything that’s frozen or fresh but his stomach didn’t want to comply with much more than a couple of grilled cheese sandwiches.

Maybe these guys need the food more than he does. It’s not like they’re planning to stay, but Frank still wants to make sure they’re well fed before they go back out there.

*

Gerard’s nose still hurts like a bitch hours later. He’s never been punched by a guy half his size. Frank isn’t really half his size though. He’s just a little shorter than he is. But still, the tiny asshole can throw a punch.

It’s a little odd to think they went to the same school all year and Gerard’s never even seen Frank. He would have remembered him.

Frank’s features are delicate, his cheeks round, his eyes big and hazel, almost green. His lashes are long. If it were under any other circumstances, Gerard would have found incredibly hot. But the circumstances are what they are and Frank is just another survivor with probably a lot on his plate and on his mind.

They eat so much Gerard’s stomach is ready to pop. They have eggs and some kind of fake bacon that tastes better than the real thing. Frank makes them some pasta too but ends up overcooking them. They still taste great though. Mikey eats two servings of those before calling it a night.

Frank gives his bed to Mikey and Gerard. He doesn’t say anything but it looks like he hasn’t been sleeping there for a while anyway.

His room is pretty cool. It’s filled with books and posters of band Gerard loves. There’s a Playstation 2 in a corner that they can’t even use because there’s no power but still, it’s a fucking Playstation 2. Frank has all the cool games Gerard likes to play at home.

From what Gerard can see in Frank’s record bin, Frank seems to like Black Flag and The Misfits a lot. He also has tons of stuff by the Bouncing Souls, all of them in vinyl, some of them signed.

They leave Mikey to change in the room (Frank gives him one of his t-shirts to replace the one the little girl mutilated, a Dawn of the Dead t-shirt, no less) and head back to the living room.

Gerard doesn’t ask anything because he knows Frank isn’t going to answer. It doesn’t stop him from talking though.

“I don’t want Mikey to see all the shit that’s been going on out there,” he says, leaning against the kitchen counter and watching as Frank does the dishes. It’s a little weird to see someone actually do the dishes. It almost feels like everything is normal. The feeling doesn’t last though.

“I found our parents. I had never seen that much blood in real life,” he says, clutching the edge of the counter until his fingers hurt. “It doesn’t look like anything they show you in the movies, you know?”

Frank looks up from his dirty plates smeared with tomato sauce and stares into Gerard’s eyes for a moment. Gerard can’t read him very well but it looks like he knows. He probably saw some horrible things himself.

Mikey walks out of Frank’s room a minute later, wearing Frank’s bright red Dawn of the Dead t-shirt.

*

There’s not much to do besides waiting for night to fall.

When it finally comes, Frank is ready. He lights up a few candles, a couple in the living room, one in his room and one in the kitchen and gives Gerard a flashlight.

Mikey is the first to go to bed. His head keeps drooping as Gerard talks about modern art and French painters from the eighteenth century and how everything relates to what’s happening today. Frank doesn’t really get the connection but it sure sounds fascinating and it will probably make more sense when Frank isn’t about to pass out from the lack of sleep.

“You sure it’s okay if we use your room?” Mikey asks as he gets off the couch and puts down one of Frank’s issues of Uncanny X-Men on the coffee table.

Apparently, Gerard has a whole bunch of comics stacked in a backpack he left at their house. A backpack he wants to get back even if it means having to run into a town full of psychopaths.

Frank hums and nods. It’s not like he has been using his room a lot in the past few days. His room is not the tidiest but it’s probably better than sleeping on the living room floor.

A few minutes later, Gerard excuses himself and heads off to bed too.

The house grows quiet again.

Frank can’t sleep, not when he knows little Martha is still out there with her fucking shears, cutting holes into people. So he doesn’t sleep. He doesn’t even attempt to lie down on the couch. He goes to his corner of the living room, wraps a blanket around his shoulders and starts humming along to a tune that’s been stuck in his head for a little while.

It’s maybe one in the morning when he gets up and takes a stroll around the house. All but one of the candles have burnt out now. Frank isn’t really bothered by the obscurity. He knows his house. He doesn’t bump into things as he makes his way to his room, his feet shuffling along the thick carpet.

He cracks his door open and peers inside. He doesn’t see much for a few seconds but he can hear Mikey and Gerard, breathing slow and steady. He manages to make out their silhouettes, their bodies wrapped up in each other on Frank’s bed.

For a second there, Frank wants to join them. They just seem so peaceful, so carefree. They look safe and warm under Frank’s duvet.

Frank grabs a book at random from one of the shelves and closes the door. He goes back to sit in his tiny spot in the corner of the living room and reads until the last of the candle dies.

*

Gerard gets maybe an hour of sleep before he wakes up mumbling and sweating profusely. He’s clinging to Mikey, in a bed that’s not his own. The duvet smells like cigarettes and pot, and there’s a ticking sound coming from behind his shoulder.

Mikey stirs at his side but doesn’t seem to be awake.

Gerard lets go of him and disentangles his arms and legs off of Mikey’s. He rolls out of bed and grabs the flashlight on the nightstand.

There’s no light filtering through the blinds or under the door. It’s probably the middle of the night.

Gerard stares at Mikey for a while. The bandages are still there, wrapped around his arm, blood stained. Mikey doesn’t seem in any pain now. His face looks peaceful; his features don’t betray any emotion. Although, Mikey’s never really been an open book.

A dog barks outside and Gerard jumps. The world still has dogs. He almost forgot about them. Somehow, it’s comforting to know some things are still the same.

Gerard is beyond tired but he cannot go back to sleep. His nightmares are full of dead bodies, people trying to hurt him and Mikey. They’re also full of people hurting his mom and dad.

There’s a pack of smokes on one of the bookshelves. Gerard picks it up. It hasn’t been opened yet. Gerard hasn’t had a cigarette in so long he cannot stop his hands from peeling the plastic wrapper off the pack. It’s been almost a day actually which is longer than Gerard ever had to go without a cigarette before. It’s a pack of Camel. They’re not Gerard’s favorite but it beats quitting.

Gerard pockets the pack and tip toes out of the bedroom. He holds his flashlight with shaky hands (it got really fucking cold inside the house) and slowly makes his way to the living room.

The couch is empty. Gerard flashes his light around, suddenly panicked. He’s starting to think Frank left them, that he might have died or maybe that he became one of them, when he sees him, curled up in a ball in a corner of the living room, a tiny form hidden behind the TV set, barely moving.

His eyes are open. He shuts them as soon as a beam of light hits his face.

“I’m sorry,” Gerard says, fumbling to turn off the flashlight.

There’s some ruffling and then Frank coughs.

Gerard tries not to trip over the couch or the rug as he makes his way to Frank. He sits down next to him and pulls a corner of Frank’s blanket over his shoulders. It’s not really comfortable here. The floor is hard and cold.

“I couldn’t sleep,” Gerard whispers. He examines Frank’s face in the dark, only managing to catch a glimpse of his eyes, blinking at him. “I don’t know how Mikey does it. He’s been sleeping every single night.”

Frank hums.

“I take it you haven’t been sleeping either,” Gerard says, bumping his knee against Frank’s.

Frank pulls away and shifts a little further down the corner. He probably doesn’t want to be touched.

“Listen. I found a pack of smokes in your room,” Gerard says, tucking his hand in his pocket to make sure he didn’t dream about the pack of smokes. “Is it okay if I bum one?”

Frank mumbles something, really low.

“Was that a yes?” Gerard can’t fucking tell if that was a yes. Frank needs to start speaking up now before Gerard chain-smokes the entire pack.

“Yeah,” Frank mumbles a little louder. His voice is gravely and deep. It doesn’t really sound like what Gerard had in mind. When Gerard tried to imagine what Frank sounded like, it was more high pitched.

“Thanks,” Gerard says before pulling the pack of Camel out of his pocket. He takes one out and fishes for a lighter on the coffee table. He lights up and inhales. The first drag feels like heaven. He tries to keep it inside his lungs for as long as he can before blowing it upwards.

“My mom doesn’t want me to smoke inside the house,” Frank mumbles, in his deep voice. “Especially not when I’m sick.”

“Shit. You’re sick.”

Frank’s been coughing a lot since they got here. He shouldn’t be smoking next to him like an asshole.

“Pneumonia,” Frank adds with a small smile, like it’s fucking nothing serious.

“Oh shit.” Gerard really is an asshole. He didn’t even ask if Frank was okay with him smoking in here. “Sorry. I’ll put it out now,” he says, taking one last drag before looking for something to put the cigarette out. There’s a vase up on a cupboard but no ashtray. He could always crush the Camel against the sole of his shoe though.

“No. Don’t worry,” Frank says, grabbing an empty bottle of juice off the coffee table and handing it to Gerard.

Gerard takes the hint and tips the ashes inside the bottle. He takes another drag but makes sure the smoke doesn’t go anywhere near Frank. “I’m sorry I didn’t ask you if it was okay.”

“You should blow the smoke in my face actually,” Frank says, shifting back against Gerard. “I’ve missed the smell.”

“Are you sure?”

Frank nods and grabs Gerard’s wrist. “Yeah,” he says, taking a small drag on the cigarette through Gerard’s fingers.

He coughs up the smoke pretty quickly and hunches over himself. His breath is shaky. The air whistles through his lungs. He’s obviously very sick and Gerard can do nothing about it but pat Frank’s back and wait for his breathing to steady.

They stay in the corner until dawn.

Gerard doesn’t smoke another cigarette after this one. It just doesn’t feel like the thing to do.

Frank doesn’t fall asleep. Not for one minute. He just stares at the pack of cigarettes in Gerard’s lap and nods when Gerard asks him if it’s okay if he keeps the pack.

There’s no incident during the night. The little girl doesn’t come rushing through the door to kill them all and Mikey doesn’t come out of Frank’s room.

At the first light of day, shy sunbeams filtering through the tiny holes in the blinds, Frank crawls up to his feet. He walks into the kitchen and starts making them breakfast, frozen waffles drowning in syrup, and Gerard watches him the entire time, impressed at how easy it is to pretend everything is normal when Frank is around.

*

“I think you should come with us,” Gerard offers as they’re finishing up their breakfast.

The waffles feel heavy on Frank’s stomach this morning. He has a bad taste in his mouth. He swallows the last bit of waffle on his plate and shakes his head. He can’t go anywhere. He cannot leave his house. He’s not ready to leave his mom or his living room floor. He doesn’t want to get out of the house when he knows what’s waiting for him out there.

“There’s nothing here for you,” Gerard says and the thing is, he’s not completely wrong. “You could stay with us. Mikey is a good kid and I could protect you.”

Frank doubts Gerard can actually protect him, judging by the way he blacked out after only one punch, but he’s ready to hear what he has to say.

“Where would we go?” he asks before getting up and clearing the plates off the table. “You know it’s the same everywhere.”

It’s probably even worse in larger cities but Frank doesn’t even want to think about it.

Gerard drags his chair across the floor as he gets up and leans against the counter. “I don’t think it is. It can’t be.”

Frank coughs and spits a wad of mucus down the drain.

“I’m sick,” he says as he wipes off his mouth. “You don’t want someone coughing up blood on you, and that’s what’s gonna happen if I leave now. You two are healthy. You shouldn’t hang out with sick people.”

Frank doubts he can actually contaminate Gerard and Mikey but it could happen. He didn’t get a vaccine for that new super strength flu because he was in bed with a bout of bronchitis. He could still get that shit and die overnight like his mom.

“I’m not leaving you behind,” Gerard says just as a door creaks down the hallway. It’s the bedroom door. Mikey is awake now.

Frank turns around and watches as Mikey stumbles into the kitchen, his eyes full of sleep and the t-shirt Frank gave him riding up his pale and thin hips.

“I’m not leaving,” he says, turning back to Gerard and giving him a meaningful glance.

Gerard heaves a sigh. “Then we’ll stay a little bit longer,” he says as he walks across the room to give his brother a hug.

*

They both decide to stay.

Gerard thinks that maybe, Frank is going to change his mind. After a couple of days, the provisions in his fridge and his pantry are starting to disappear faster.

They are bound to go outside to find food eventually. Staying here is not the solution. Driving in any direction and hoping they run into more people might not be either but it’s all Gerard can think about right now.

Gerard doesn’t like feeling locked up like this with nothing to do, so he picks up one of Frank’s school notebooks from his desk and starts doodling in it, slowly covering up Frank biology notes with black spirals and zombies armed with shears.

Frank coughs a lot, all the time. It gets a bit alarming sometimes, the way he stops breathing and falls to his knees, his face red, his eyes full of tears, a hand pressed over his chest and one over his mouth. He doesn’t cough up blood but it’s just as worrisome.

Gerard sits next to him through it all and pats his back until the coughing fits stop.

After a few days, Frank doesn’t seem too bothered by Gerard’s hand on his back and doesn’t shy away from the contact anymore.

When Gerard got sick as a kid, his mom made him a cup of hot water with lemon and honey. It’s not a miraculous remedy and probably doesn’t do shit when you have pneumonia but it’s better than sitting and doing nothing.

Gerard forces Frank into bed the afternoon of their fifth day in the house, and brings him a cup of lemon and honey in bed. It doesn’t really taste like the one his mom used to make but maybe it’s not really what matters. He just wants to make Frank feel better.

Frank drinks it all up with a grimace but doesn’t protest. He’s probably too tired to try and fight Gerard over this.

While Gerard forces some lukewarm soup into Frank, Mikey raids the pharmacy and comes up with a handful of bottles that have Frank A. Iero on the labels.

“I don’t know if these will help,” he says, dropping the bottles on Frank’s bed.

They examine the bottles for a while. Frank reads through the labels and picks a couple of vials of the dozens Mikey brought.

“Mom made me take these,” he says, frowning as he pops a handful of pills in his mouth. He washes them down with the rest of the lemon and honey and mutters, “Guess I should have kept taking them.”

Mikey goes to make them some food while Gerard chooses to stay with Frank. He feels his forehead with his hand and Frank is a little warm but nothing too bad.

“Can you please think about what I said the other day?” Gerard pleads as he crouches at the foot of the bed.

When Frank is better, he should leave with them. Frank is still a kid. He’s Mikey’s age. He might not look like he needs someone to take care of him but he does. Just like Gerard needs his company, all the time but especially during those long sleepless nights they spend sat in the living room.

“It’s not that I wouldn’t like to come with you,” Frank mumbles as he crawls down under his duvet. “But my dad could still be around. I want him to be able to find me, you know?”

Gerard sits down on the floor and nods. “I guess we could stay a little longer. If you don’t mind the company.”

Frank smiles, lopsided and a little sad.

At the end of the day, Frank still shuffles back to the living room and forfeits his bed to Mikey and Gerard. Except this time, Gerard doesn’t even join Mikey and heads straight for that little corner in the living room where Frank is waiting for him, curled up in their fleece blanket.

*

One morning, they fight over the stupidest thing.

Gerard left a couple of dirty dishes on the coffee table and Frank snaps at him like a fucking douchebag.

He realizes he’s been a douchebag about two seconds after yelling at Gerard some things he should have kept to himself, but it’s like his mouth isn’t connected to his brain anymore so he just keeps on yelling. The things he’s saying don’t even make sense. He doesn’t want to fight Gerard over dirty dishes. He wants him to stop trying so hard to get him out of the house.

“It’s not your fucking house. Don’t fucking put your shit all over my mom’s coffee table,” he shouts, way too loud, way too angry. His throat hurts and he starts coughing again.

He’s been feeling better for the past couple of days. The pills helped and so did Gerard’s attentions.

“If you can’t follow my rules, then don’t fucking stay here,” he adds, wiping a string of saliva off his chin.

Gerard is in his face within seconds. He grabs Frank by the collar of his t-shirt and doesn’t say anything back. He doesn’t look angry which makes Frank even angrier at him.

Then Gerard lets go and whispers, “I’m sorry, Frank but I really think you need to get out of this house now before you’re just as insane as your fucking neighbors.”

Frank pushes him back and starts running some water on the plates. They don’t have any hot water anymore so icy cold will have to do this time.

“I’m not fucking insane,” he says, trying to sound less like he’s, well, insane. “My mom doesn’t like it when I leave dirty dishes everywhere. It stinks up the place and then it starts growing hair,” he explains and yeah. He totally has a point but he still sounds like a crazy motherfucker.

“Your mom’s not gonna say anything because she’s dead, Frank,” Gerard says, pushing Frank back against the sink. “She’s dead; just like my mom and my dad except my dad didn’t die peacefully in his sleep. He didn’t just drop dead in our kitchen or slipped into the shower. He fucking ripped his throat out after strangling my mom.”

“Shit.” Frank drops a plate and it clinks loudly into the sink.

Frank turns off the water and turns around to face Gerard. He had no idea. He didn’t know this shit could happen. Gerard doesn’t have anything written on his forehead saying Hey. My dad killed my mom and then slit his throat so Frank couldn’t have known.

Gerard stares at Frank with so much intent that Frank barely resists the urge to grab him and kiss the shit out of him. He’s not sure where this is coming from but it’s not really the time or place to figure it out.

“Please. Come with us,” Gerard says, weaving his fingers together before ducking his head. “It can’t be healthy for you to live all alone. I want you to be safe. I want you to be with us. You need to be with us. I need you to be with us.”

Frank doesn’t answer. He doesn’t even have time to think about it, about Gerard’s words and how desperate they sound.

The window above the sink shatters and a pair of blood stained garden shears pierces a hole in the blinds.

Frank jumps back but a shard of glass cuts his hand, right above the bone of his middle finger. There’s no blood at first, just pain, a lot of pain.

Gerard pulls him just in time before the little girl tears the blinds off the window. He grabs him by the hips and hauls him back behind the kitchen table.

The little girl grins; a thing nightmares are made of, and starts cackling. The blades are covered in dry blood. She pulls them back and tries to climb up the window. It seems like she doesn’t feel pain as the glass cuts through her pajamas, cuts her hands and grazes her arms.

She crawls like a snake through the debris but doesn’t get much farther than the sink. She doesn’t have the strength to pull herself inside. She’s not a monster and still possesses the strength of a little girl her age.

“Mikey,” Gerard shouts over his shoulder, his arms tightly wound around Frank’s hips. “Mike.”

Frank stares down at his hand and there’s blood everywhere. The wound is open and blood flows out of it, uninterrupted, staining the front of his t-shirt and his jeans. It drips onto his sneakers and the kitchen tiles.

The little girl slowly crawls back out of the window. She groans and mutters through her teeth.

Mikey comes into the kitchen a few seconds later, just as Martha starts pounding on the back door. He looks terrified, his eyes huge. He sees the little girl right away and starts shaking his head. “No,” he mumbles as he recoils in a corner of the room. “How did she find us?” he asks, his eyes finally settling into Frank’s.

“Grab the keys,” Gerard urges him. “We’re leaving.”

Frank could say something, he could argue with Gerard about how he wants to stay here because it’s his house but he doesn’t. He lets Gerard manhandle him through the corridor because he’s too scared to die.

The little girl is trying to get inside through the back door. Gerard makes sure it’s locked and drags Frank to the front door.

There’s the sound of shattered glass again behind them. Martha is breaking her way inside. She’s going to kill them. She’s going to fucking cut them to pieces and all Frank can think about is how he needs to pack. He needs to grab something of his before they get in the car because he knows they might never come back.

Except he doesn’t have time. Gerard doesn’t leave him any time.

They almost trip over the decaying corpse of Mrs. Kapolski as they run down the driveway. The steps are slippery with her blood. Or maybe it’s Frank’s.

Gerard hurls Frank into the backseat of his mom’s car and slides behind the wheel. The engine starts with a roar. Gerard barely waits for Mikey to fasten his seat belt before pushing the gas pedal.

Frank watches as his house grows smaller into the back window of the car. He doesn’t have a house anymore. He doesn’t have a thing in the world anymore; just the clothes on his back and his mom’s old Camry.

*

They make a quick stop at their house to grab their backpacks. It’s a necessary stop now since they’re out of food and out of everything that could be useful to their survival.

Frank doesn’t protest. He’s been quiet since they had to run away from the girl with the shears.

Gerard parks the car across the street and doesn’t turn off the engine. They might need to make a rushed exit again.

The front door is ajar when they get here. Gerard forgot to lock it before they left. It seemed kind of pointless at the time.

“You stay in the car,” he tells Mikey but his brother steps out anyway and makes a beeline to the door.

Frank’s gaze is lost somewhere past the driver’s seat. He’s cradling his hand against his stomach, blood seeping into the fabric of his t-shirt.

There’s not much Gerard can do at this point. He didn’t pack any gauze or disinfectant. With any luck, Frank is not going to bleed out on the backseat.

Nothing looks disturbed when Gerard steps inside the hallway. The backpacks are still where they left them, slumped over the back of the couch. The kitchen is still a mess of empty cans of beans and empty jars of peanut butter and jelly.

Mikey walks up to the couch and grabs the bags. He looks up at Gerard and quirks an eyebrow at him.

Something’s not right.

Gerard doesn’t want to check if anyone’s been here. He doesn’t want to run into someone armed with a sharp object. But it becomes clear that they’re not alone in the house when the basement stairs crack.

There’s not fucking way Gerard is going to stand here any longer.

The bags are too heavy for Mikey and Gerard rushes across the room to help him drag them outside.

Gerard hears a voice, barely a murmur coming from downstairs as picks up his pack and slings it over his shoulder. He knows that if he turns around now, he’s not going to be able to forget what he sees. He knows that the person standing behind him is one of them. He can just feel it.

Someone breathes down Gerard’s neck. It’s hot and putrid.

Mikey lets out a strangled cry as he tumbles down the stairs and makes a run for the car.

Gerard doesn’t know if he saw something, nevertheless it makes him run faster and that’s probably for the best.

Frank hasn’t moved from his seat but he’s staring at Gerard now. His mouth is moving, forming words Gerard can’t hear. Then he points at the house and Gerard picks up the pace, the bag bouncing against his leg, making his movements awkward.

They don’t have time to put the bags in the trunk. Gerard doesn’t even know if they have the key to the trunk.

Frank opens his door, grabs the bags and throws them next to him on the seat.

Mikey gets to the car first. He jumps in and crawls over to the driver’s seat. He had a few driving lessons at school and Gerard let him drive that one time on the empty Wal-mart parking lot. He doesn’t have his license yet but that doesn’t really matter here and now. What matters is that they need to go now, go before that thing catches up with them.

Gerard hears mumbles and footsteps behind him.

He throws himself into the backseat and climbs into Frank’s lap, pulling himself over the bags.

Frank slams the door shut and the car pulls away from the curb. The tires screech.

Gerard hears something else over that, a loud thud against the window. Then a voice starts screaming, insults mostly but also words that don’t even make sense.

“Fuck,” Mikey says though his teeth.

Gerard shifts out of Frank’s lap and crams into the small space left between Frank and the backpacks. He catches Mikey’s eyes in the rearview mirror. He doesn’t only look terrified now. His eyes are about to pop out of his skull. There’s something else there but Gerard can’t make out what it is. It fucking terrifies him even more.

*

Belleville has changed since the last time Frank stepped outside of his house, a couple of weeks ago.

The last time Frank was there, he was walking home from the comic book store and the streets were full of people. There were cars everywhere; parked in front of the bakery that sold the best cannoli in all fucking North Jersey, even better than the ones his Mema Angelina made.

There were cars lining up to get gas at Wawa too, impatient assholes honking. There was traffic and there were people, coming out of stores, sat on the front steps of houses. Some were walking their dogs. There were kids coming home from school.

Frank bites the inside of his cheek so he doesn’t start crying; so he doesn’t betray how fucking disturbing this is.

The streets are empty, completely void of human life. There are cars in the middle of Main Street, wrecked corpses of people Frank probably knew rotting inside their metal carcasses.

There’s a pack of dogs eating what’s left of a man outside of Dunkin Donuts. It could be a woman for all he knows. There’s no way to identify the remains now.

The dry cleaner’s where his mom used to go once a month is gutted. A car crashed through its window. There’s a woman hanging from the passenger side, her skull crushed, blood and brains oozing from a crack.

“Keep your eyes on the road, Mikes,” Gerard says as he climbs over Frank and flops into the passenger seat.

They cross the center of Belleville and then make their way out of the city. They head towards Newark although it’s probably a stupid idea. Whatever happened here probably happened there too.

There are more cars abandoned along the roads and a few more bodies too.

A man in a fancy suit spots them just a few miles out of Newark. He gets up and starts running after the car.

Frank wants to tell Gerard they should stop and check if he’s alright when he notices the blood covering his shirt and the scalp in his hand. A fucking human scalp. The man is holding a fucking human scalp and is running after their car on the freeway.

“We’re gonna need gas soon,” Mikey points out as the car slaloms along the road, making its way around a bus and a fucking huge truck that’s laying on its side.

“There’s a Wawa over there by that exit,” Gerard says, turning around to look at Frank. “Do you know what your mom puts into the tank?” he asks.

Frank shrugs. Probably fucking Regular. He never really asked her. He never even had to drive that thing in his life so he knows just as much as Mikey and Gerard.

Mikey takes the next exit and pulls out into the gas station. He parks a few feet too far from the pump and has to back up a bit. For someone who doesn’t have a license, he’s doing pretty damn well.

“I’ve never pumped my own gas,” Gerard says, looking at Mikey and Frank like they can something about it.

“Me neither, dude,” Mikey mumbles before adding, “Remember? I don’t have a driving license. You should take the wheel from now on.”

“Frank?” Gerard asks, and there’s just a hint of desperation in his voice.

Frank shrugs. He’s never had to pump his own gas either because he’s never even learnt how to drive. He saw his mom do it once though while they were on a road trip to see Frank’s great aunt up in Philly.

They stare at each other for the longest time, looking fucking pathetic, before Frank sighs and steps out of the car.

It doesn’t look that complicated. There’s just a cap to unscrew on the side of the car.

What’s a little more tricky is how there’s like three different sorts of gas to choose from and Frank doesn’t even know if picking the wrong one will kill the car.

Gerard gets out of the passenger seat and stands next to Frank, hovering like he’s placed all of his hopes and expectations in him.

Regular. That sounds about right. Whenever his mom got gas at Wawa, she always told the dude with the ridiculous hat that she wanted him to fill her up with Regular. Yeah. That’s it.

Frank unhooks the pistol and pushes it in the tank.

Nothing happens.

“I think you’re supposed to pull on that trigger thing,” Gerard says, reaching out to grab the pistol just as Frank pulls the trigger. Gerard’s fingers brush up against the back of Frank’s hand. It feels really fucking good.

They’re fucking rock stars. Who knew pumping your own gas was so fucking easy?

“Guys?” Mikey calls out from the car. “Don’t you think we should go in and grab some food?”

The place looks deserted but you never know. There could be someone ambushed behind the counter with a shotgun, ready to explode their heads like fucking watermelons.

“I don’t think it’s the best place to stop. We need to get as far away as possible—“

“They’re gonna have cigarettes in there,” Mikey says and he has a fucking point.

It’s been two weeks since Frank smoked his last cigarette (that puff he got the other night doesn’t count because he didn’t even get to enjoy it) and he could use one right now. Some kind of reward.

Gerard turns to Frank and gives him a lopsided smile. “Do you want to try?” he asks, pulling the pistol out of the tank before it overflows.

Frank smiles. “Fuck yeah.”

*

There’s only one car beside theirs on the parking lot, a black Ford F-150 truck covered in bumper stickers urging people to vote Republican.

The guy is still sat behind the wheel, his window rolled down, a bird pecking his eyes out. It caws as Gerard approaches and flaps its wings before resuming tearing the poor guy’s eyes right out of their sockets.

Gerard’s stomach flips but he manages to not throw up on his shoes. He’s getting better at this. He can keep his food down now.

He walks in first. There’s a fridge buzzing in the back and some static coming from a radio.

The place looks empty but it also looks like someone had the same idea and looted it before them.

Most of the shelves are empty. There’s a pack of beef jerky on the floor and Gerard picks it up and tucks it in his pocket.

Gerard comes out of the place with a half eaten bag of Lays, a Toblerone the dead guy behind the counter probably stashed under the cash register for later consumption and a bottle of Coke. Mikey hits the jackpot though and scores a couple of cans of soup and a handful of candy bars while Frank manages to find a carton of Lucky Strikes in the storage room out back as well as a box of Hostess cupcakes.

They go back to the car and drop their loot on the roof of the car. It looks impressive when it only took them five minutes in and out. They cram the carton of cigarettes between the seats and the candy bars in the glove box.

“That’s a fucking lot of chocolate,” Mikey comments as he digs a cupcake out of the Hostess box. He sits down in the backseat and tears through the wrapper.

Gerard grabs a cupcake for himself and tosses one over to Frank. They sit down on the little bit of sidewalk by the pumps and eat in silence.

“I couldn’t find any bandages in there,” Gerard says when he notices Frank’s bloody hand. It looks really bad now. The blood dried up but the cut seems deep. Gerard didn’t look very hard though. He could always go back and search the back office for some first aid kit. There’s always a first aid kit.

Frank shrugs. “T’s okay, really.” He looks down at the wound and presses the tip of his index finger on its ragged edges. He sucks in a breath and cradles his hand in his lap. “Doesn’t hurt that much.” He’s obviously lying.

Gerard gets up and circles the car. He pulls his pack out of the backseat and starts rummaging through it. He doesn’t have bandages in there but he has a bottle of water and an old t-shirt he can rip and turn into a makeshift bandage.

It’s a Madonna t-shirt Gerard has had since he can remember. He barely wears it anymore because there’s a huge hole in the back and his mom said it made him look homeless. Gerard never really cared about the way he looked but his mom did so he had to stop wearing it.

Gerard tears a long strip in it and pours some water on it. He crouches down in front of Frank and waits for Frank to hold his hand out.

Frank stays mostly still while Gerard cleans up the wound. He winces and coughs a couple of times but he doesn’t try to pull his hand away.

Once Gerard manages to clean off all the dry blood, the wound looks even deeper. Gerard rips another bit of t-shirt and clamps it over the wound, wraps it around Frank’s hand and ties it up with a quick knot that’s probably not going to hold for long.

“Thanks,” Frank mumbles with a tiny smile. He gets up and flops down in the passenger seat. He reaches for the carton of Lucky Strike and tears it open with his bandaged hand.

He tosses a pack in the back. Mikey catches it and tucks it in his back pocket. He throws one in Gerard’s general direction too but Gerard is shit at catching things and the pack lands at his feet.

Gerard picks it up and tears the wrapper open. He is about to ask Frank if he could pop the trunk open for him so he can make some room in the backseat when he hears something loud, something that makes his hair stand on end. It’s the sound of a car or maybe several cars, fast approaching. There’s the sound of tires screeching and something that strangely sounds like gunshots.

“Time to hit the road,” he says, shoving the box of cupcakes and the rest of their loot in Mikey’s lap.

There’s no way to know if these people are like them or if they are just as fucking insane as anyone they’ve ran into so far. Gerard doesn’t want to know. He doesn’t want to stay here any longer to find out.

*

“Where are we going?” Mikey asks when they pull out of the Wawa parking lot.

It’s a valid question. Frank doesn’t mind taking a road trip but he’d rather know where Gerard is planning to take them.

“I’ve been thinking about our options,” Gerard says, his eyes trailing off the road ahead to search the rear view and side mirrors. It’s like he’s expecting someone to follow them. “I think heading south is a smart move.”

South. “What’s south?” Frank asks in a low voice. He pops the glove box open and starts looking for the tapes he left in his mom’s car. He’s pretty sure there’s some good stuff buried under all the shit, maybe something they could listen too, Danzig or fucking Jawbreaker.

“The nights are cold and you’ve been sick. I’m thinking we should go somewhere warm.”

“Like Florida? Or Cali? Can we go to Cali?” Mikey asks and Frank can feel how excited he is at the prospect by the way he kicks the back of Frank’s seat.

“I don’t know. Anywhere but here seems pretty tempting right now,” Gerard replies with a sigh. He turns to Frank and stares into his eyes for a few seconds before training his eyes back on the road.

Frank doesn’t agree. New Jersey is still more tempting than any other place because it’s familiar and home and who knows what’s going on in fucking Florida and fucking California.

He doesn’t say anything though; pretends he’s not even part of the discussion. It’s not like he has any say in this. He’s just along for the ride. He’s not family. He’s not their friend. Gerard and Mikey are probably going to dump his ass on the side of the road soon when they realize he doesn’t agree with their plan.

Gerard starts fiddling with the radio a few minutes later. There’s nothing on. It’s just fucking static and some beeping on what used to be a news station.

Frank finds an old mixtape he forgot in the car probably years ago, under a pile of receipts. He pops it into the stereo, hoping it’s not something really embarrassing. Frank always had great taste in music but there could be some guilty pleasure songs on there.

The tape is old and the sound is shitty. After a little silence, Aretha Franklin starts singing and Frank reaches for the stereo to skip the song. Gerard stops him, his hand closing around Frank’s.

“I like it,” he says and Frank pulls his hand away with a smile.

“Me too,” he replies.

This song always makes him feel good, but today, it just makes him feel sad and bitter. He thinks about his mom and how lonely she probably is now, all alone in her hole in the backyard.

Frank thinks about his things too, the photographs plastered on his walls, the clothes in his closet, his pair of Chucks with Greg Attonito’s signature on them, his bed, his fucking Playstation. He thinks about all the things he left behind, but he mostly thinks about his mom.

He thinks about his dad too. He thinks about the weekly trip to the movies they went on and how he always bought a copy of Fangoria on his way home from his dad’s.

The song ends. Frank swallows the lump in his throat and starts pulling on the loose threads of his makeshift bandage. Gerard’s done a pretty good job considering what he had to work with, but now it’s coming apart.

Frank’s hand hurts but it’s not too bad. Mikey’s arm probably hurts more and he hasn’t even said anything about it.

*

They stop on the side of the road after a couple of hours.

Mikey needs to empty his bladder and Gerard could use a little break. His eyes are burning and his eyelids keep twitching. It’s been harder and harder to focus and pretty much impossible to read signs.

He pulls over behind to a huge Winnebago with Carolina license plates and turns off the engine but leaves the key in the ignition so the music doesn’t stop.

Mikey climbs out of the backseat while Gerard rubs at his eyes. He’s running on pure adrenalin at this point because he hasn’t slept in days. He is beyond exhausted, beyond the need for a cup of coffee although he would still kill for one.

He digs through the pockets of his jacket for his pack of smokes.

Frank hasn’t said much for the past couple of hours. He follows Mikey out of the car a minute later, leaving Gerard alone with Danzig’s Mother.

Gerard lights up and stumbles out of the car. His legs feel like they’re made out of rubber. He takes a deep drag on his cigarette and scans the area.

There’s a car overturned in the lanes, blocking most of the road. Gerard is going to have to do some kind of ninja driving to get around it.

He turns around to check on Mikey and Frank and finds them sat on the concrete, sharing a cigarette.

Gerard’s stomach grumbles. He doesn’t know what time it is and how long they’ve been on the road but it feels like a long time. The sun is slowly setting in the horizon, behind what could be Baltimore.

They need to find a place to spend the night soon. Somewhere that’s a little safer than the side of the road. Somewhere warmer too.

Gerard shuffles towards the Winnebago.

There’s no one behind the wheel, no decaying corpse.

He circles it and tries the side door. It’s unlocked.

The smell of rotting flesh hits him like a wrecking ball. He steps back, barely missing tripping over his own feet. He drops his cigarette and stomps it out. Then he pulls the collar of his shirt over his nose and steps inside.

At first, he doesn’t see anything. There’s a small table and a stove. The curtains are closed. There’s a door that leads to a tiny bathroom.

There’s a body in the bedroom, a man in his forties or maybe older. He’s curled up in a ball, his eyes open, his mouth open wide. He’s clutching the sheets with his scrawny fingers.

It’s not the worst thing Gerard has seen in the past few days although it gets a little more disgusting when a fly comes out of the man’s mouth and flies past Gerard.

They could have used the comfort of the motor home but the smell is just too horrible. Gerard doubts they could ever get rid of it.

He decides to make the best of this by searching the cabinets for anything that could be useful. There’s some stale bread that’s so hard and dry it shriveled up on the kitchen counter. There’s a bottle of Vodka, half empty and open. Gerard screws the cap back on and tucks the bottle inside his hoodie. If they don’t drink it, they could at least use it as disinfectant.

A tiny voice mumbles behind him and Gerard turns around just in time to see a boy, barely a teenager, sat under the table.

Gerard leans over carefully.

The boy mumbles and rocks back and forth, grasping a handful of hair he seemed to have tore from his own scalp.

He looks up and whispers, “I tried to stop them from growing but they keep growing. They’re inside my head.”

Gerard doesn’t know what he’s supposed to do. He wants to help the kid. He wants to pull him out from under the table and calm him down. But the boy’s eyes are tainted. They’re bloodshot and wide, and fucking crazy.

The boy reaches out to grab Gerard’s arm but Gerard pulls away.

He climbs out of the RV and closes the door before joining Frank and Mikey back in the car.

He doesn’t tell them about the boy.

*

The night comes too quickly. Frank didn’t realize how long they’d been on the road until he sees a sign greeting them to the wonderful state of Virginia.

The parking lot outside the diner is deserted.

Gerard parks the car right by the exit, across two handicapped spots.

Frank staggers out of the car and walks up to the door. There’s a sign there letting the customers know the diner is closed because half of the staff is sick.

Gerard breaks a window to get in.

They all climb in through the broken glass one at a time. Frank gets in last. He tries turning the lights on but the power is out here too.

No power means no fridge. No fridge means they might not find food here.

They have enough left from the gas station though so it doesn’t really matter.

Frank explores the back while Gerard and Mikey bring in the bags, the smokes and the cupcakes.

There’s an office with a sign on the door that says Private. Staff only. Frank tries to open the door anyway, because who cares if he’s not staff, but it’s locked.

The kitchen is huge, five times the size of his mom’s. It looks like someone cleaned the place thoroughly. It smells like disinfectant and a bit like citrus. Frank opens every cabinet, searches every corner. The giant fridge is stock full of food but Frank doesn’t find much they can salvage.

They eat dinner at one of the tables; spam sandwiches for Mikey and Gerard, cheese and tomato for Frank. It’s nothing spectacular but it’s more filling than anything Frank ate in the past few days. The bread is just on the verge of stale but it doesn’t taste bad.

“I think we should try and get in that office out back,” Gerard says through a mouthful of sandwich. A few crumbs spray out onto the table and Frank spends a few seconds staring at them, strangely entranced.

He doesn’t hear what Mikey replies to that. He looks down at his sandwich and starts picking the cheese out of it. He’s lactose intolerant but he figured it wouldn’t make a big difference. That shit they serve in diners is not even real cheese. It might not even contain any dairy.

When they’re done, Frank helps Gerard barricade the doors with everything they manage to move, broken chairs and tables they find in a storage room.

“It’s going to get really cold in here if we don’t find something to block that window,” Gerard says pointing at the window he smashed to get in.

It’s already cold, really fucking cold. Frank can almost see steam rise when he exhales.

Mikey comes up with the idea to tape a bunch of menus to the frame. The only thing they’re missing to carry out his plan is a roll of tape.

“There could be tape back there,” Mikey says, pointing at the Private. Staff only door.

“Can you pick locks?” Gerard asks him.

Mikey mumbles, “I could try. You guys managed to fill up the car so the least I could do is try and break into a room, ninja style.”

The room remains locked.

Mikey spends an hour shoving safety pins and knifes at the lock but nothing works.

They cover the window with a bit of plastic that only holds by a tiny corner. The cold wind blows through it and the temperature in the diner keeps dropping.

Frank doesn’t have a jacket. He doesn’t have anything but his t-shirt and his hoodie. He zips it all the way up and puts the hood on. He sits down in a corner of the booth and shivers, his knees knocking together.

Mikey falls asleep on the bench right across from him. The cold doesn’t seem to bother him that much.

“We could drag this bench and put it over by Mikey’s,” Gerard says, gesturing all over the place. Some ashes fall from the cigarette in his hand onto the multicolored tiles on the floor. He stares down at them and pushes them aside with the tip of his boot.

Frank resists the urge to tell him to go get a fucking broom and clean up his shit. They’re not staying here longer than a night anyway.

Gerard leans against the back of Mikey’s bench and says, “We should keep each other warm. If we all huddle together, we will be okay.”

Frank won’t sleep. He doesn’t see the point in building a fucking blanket fort when he’s not even going to be able to close an eye. However, Gerard gives him another one of his intent looks and Frank slides down off his bench.

They pull the table out of the way and push the benches together. It’s a little tight to fit three people but Gerard seems to think they don’t need more space.

Gerard pulls out a blanket out of his backpack and spreads it over Mikey. He climbs on the bench with him and sits there, beckoning Frank to join him under the blanket.

“I won’t fit,” Frank says and Gerard frowns.

“You’re like, what? Four feet tall? Your ribs are sticking out. You would fit in a letterbox,” he says.

It would be the perfect time to call Gerard an asshole but Frank lacks the energy. Besides, it’s true that he lost a lot of weight lately, not just because of his mom’s death. The fucking pneumonia has a lot to do with this.

He kneels on the edge of the bench and slowly slides next to Gerard.

“I’m not four feet tall,” he mumbles just as Gerard pulls the blanket and wraps it behind Frank’s back.

Frank shifts but nothing feels comfortable. He doesn’t want to be too close to Gerard. The only time he shared a bed, Frank was ten and it was with his cousin George.

It feels fucking weird and Gerard smells like old sweat and tobacco.

“Come here,” Gerard whispers, his hand suddenly up against Frank’s back. He pulls him in until they’re stuck to each other, Frank’s knee bumping against Gerard’s.

Frank can feel the warmth radiating out of Gerard. He relaxes a little and presses his cheek against the imitation leather of the bench.

Behind Gerard’s shoulder, Mikey stirs and wraps himself against Gerard’s back.

Frank’s never been this close to anyone. When he was kid, he often wished he had a brother or a sister, someone he could have talked to about his trouble at school; an older brother who could have kicked some ass for him without breaking a sweat.

Mikey starts snoring, soft, his nose buried in the nape of Gerard’s neck.

Frank watches him. Then he studies Gerard’s face. He looks exhausted but his eyes are still wide open.

“When was the last time you slept?” he asks in a whisper.

Frank hums. “I don’t know.” He barely remembers what sleeping feels like.

“Me neither,” Gerard whispers.

Gerard’s fingers find their way up Frank’s back and are suddenly on Frank’s cheeks, brushing a lock of hair off his face.

Frank can feel himself blush.

“Mikey has this superpower,” Gerard says with a crooked grin. “He can fall asleep anywhere.”

“Yeah?”

“When we were kids, I remember we had to go visit an aunt in Oregon. I fucking hate flying. Mikey too. Anyway. We were at the airport, waiting for our flight to start boarding. It couldn’t have been longer than thirty minutes.”

Gerard shifts and then he’s pressed so tightly against Frank that Frank can actually feel his heart beat though three or four layers of clothes.

“So he fell asleep and it was so noisy in there. And then when we had to board, I couldn’t wake him up.” Gerard laughs. “Mom had to carry him inside the plane and put him in his seat. He freaked out when he woke up halfway to Oregon.”

Mikey mumbles against Gerard’s neck.

“I used to sleep like a rock too,” Gerard whispers, his smile fading behind a mask of sadness. His fingers slide off Frank’s face, along his jaw, down his neck and then disappear behind the blanket.

*

Gerard doesn’t manage to fall asleep. He spends the better part of the night touching Frank’s face and his chest, and telling him about his favorite diner in Belleville.

“The portions are so fucking huge there I always have to ask for a doggy bag halfway through,” he says, a bit too loud but he can’t help it. He feels a surge of excitement even though there’s no reason to feel excited.

Maybe it’s because Frank looks like he’s earnestly interested in what Gerard has to say. He even smiles when Gerard mentions the coffee and how fantastic it is.

“I went there a few times,” Frank whispers in his deep raspy voice. “With my pals Hambone and Shaun. Shaun had a crush on that girl who worked only on Sundays.”

“Delilah,” Gerard says. He knows her. He probably knows Shaun and Hambone too but probably not by name.

“Belleville is smaller than I thought,” Frank says with a small smile.

Gerard would have remembered Frank. He would have remembered a guy like him, how pretty he is with his long bangs, his low riding jeans ridden with holes and his band shirts. He would have remembered seeing him at school or at the diner. Frank is just that unforgettable.

Gerard grabs Frank’s bandaged hand under the blanket and pulls it up. The bandage is still on. He examines Frank’s fingers one by one, pokes Frank’s knuckles and touches his wrist with his thumb.

Frank feels warm and soft.

“I could use a walk,” he says as he eventually pulls away from Gerard.

Gerard lets go of Frank’s hand and looks over his shoulder at his brother who is still fast asleep. He shifts away from him slowly and tucks him back under the blanket. “Me too,” he says as he gets up.

The air is cold and Gerard grabs his jacket from the back of the bench.

It’s pitch black outside the diner. Gerard can’t see the car anymore but hopefully, it’s still there.

Frank uses his lighter and leads him to the kitchen, their feet shuffling on the floor.

Gerard grabs the back of Frank’s hoodie so he doesn’t lose him in the dark. He wants to grab his hips too but he’s not sure he should. Touching Frank’s face and his hand felt good and completely appropriate. It felt natural. It felt a little like touching Mikey but somehow better.

They stumble around for a little while until Frank finds a handful of birthday candles in one of the drawers. Frank lights a huge 2 and Gerard takes another that says 1.

“Why do they even have birthday candles in here?” Gerard asks as he lets go of Frank’s hoodie.

Frank doesn’t answer. He trudges across the room and grabs something off a large corkboard.

Gerard can’t see what it is but it’s something small. He goes over to Frank and pries his hand open.

It’s a key. Maybe it’s the key that opens that stupid locked door in the back.

Frank seems to have the same thought. He marches over to the staff only door and tries the key in the lock.

It clicks and Frank pushes the door open.

Gerard is fucking tired of finding bodies wherever they go. This one is sat in a chair, face down on a desk, its skin a light shade of green.

It’s warmer here than it is in the diner. Probably because the windows are intact.

Gerard walks in and starts looking through the cabinets and drawers. There’s a wallet with a driver’s license. The guy in the picture looks nothing like the guy who died in his chair. The body looks bloated. The guy’s name is Andy. He lives in Wilmington and carries a picture of a dog in his wallet.

Frank coughs and whispers, “I found this.”

Gerard looks up and Frank is holding a gun. He holds it like it’s covered in slime, away from him. He puts it down on the desk and pushes it over to Gerard.

Gerard never fired a gun in his life. And yet he grabs it and tucks it in his belt. It might come in handy sooner or later.

After a thorough exploration of the office, they come up with a roll of tape, a pair of scissors and a sheet of paper to tape on the window.

“Where do you want to go?” Frank asks him when they’re back under the blanket with Mikey.

There’s a crease on his forehead that makes him look older. He looks weary and anxious too.

Gerard wants to make it all go away. He wants Frank to feel hopeful and happy but he’s not sure how.

He has been thinking about this for a couple of days now. He’s been thinking about this place down in Georgia where he went camping with Mikey and Ray this one time.

It was in a completely deserted area, just a stone’s throw off this little town. One of his dad’s friends owned a little cabin there. He remembers it now because he felt safe there. He felt like nothing could hurt him. There were no bullies. He didn’t have to pretend like he was cool. He didn’t even care about cool back then.

Mikey was just a baby at the time so he probably doesn’t remember the place as vividly as Gerard does.

“I know this place in Georgia,” he says, twisting his fingers in the hem of Frank’s hoodie. “I think we should go there.”

*

They pack up the next morning.

Frank manages to wash himself in the bathroom sink while Mikey and Gerard are discussing logistics and how they should get gas soon.

He listens to them from the bathroom and wonders if Gerard’s idea to go to Georgia is just something he thought of on the spot or if he actually has a definite plan.

“Can I borrow one of your t-shirts?” Frank asks when he walks out of the bathroom, feeling a little more like a human being. He couldn’t wash his hair in the sink but he can always do that the next time they stop. Maybe there’s going to be an actual shower next time.

Gerard looks a little surprised when he sees Frank without his shirt on. He blinks at Frank and pushes his backpack towards him.

“Take whatever you need,” he replies, ducking his head.

Frank picks a paint stained sleeveless black shirt. It doesn’t smell like it’s clean but it’s this or not changing clothes for the rest of his life. He tucks his dirty t-shirt in the bottom of Gerard’s bag and puts on his hoodie.

The car is still where they left it the night before.

Gerard lights up a cigarette and leans against the passenger door and watches as Frank fiddles with the levers under the wheel to pop the trunk open.

“Have you tried the key? Like the actual key you use to start the car?” Frank asks and Gerard stares at him with huge eyes. Then he shakes his head and fishes the key out of the pocket of his jeans.

He slides them over to Frank on the roof of the car.

There’s a bunch of crap his mom forgot to throw away in the trunk. There’s a couple of plastic bags from the last time they went grocery shopping, a receipt from Friendly’s and a pair of fancy high heel shoes she never wore but liked to keep handy.

He pushes the shoes in a corner and pockets the receipt before tucking the huge backpacks inside the trunk.

He wishes his mom had left more of her stuff in there. He doesn’t have a picture of her or something that smells like her.

They eat whatever they can find in the kitchens.

Then Frank and Mikey chain smoke and talk about famous monsters on the parking lot while Gerard goes to find coffee at the donut shop across the way.

“Dracula is a fucking pussy,” Frank comments when Mikey calls Frankenstein’s monster a retard. “Frankie’s just misunderstood.”

Gerard comes back a few minutes later looking disappointed and empty handed.

“I need to find coffee, guys,” he says, looking jittery and also a little sick.

Frank rides shotgun once more even though he doesn’t really ask for that privilege. Mikey seems to like the backseat, probably because it’s big enough in case he wants to take a nap.

They drive for a few hours on roads that are blocked by abandoned cars and buses. They have to stop a couple of times and find alternative routes but always manage to find the freeway again.

There’s a Greyhound bus blocking the turnpike right outside of a town called Colonial Heights and Gerard has to turn back and take the nearest exit.

They end up driving up an avenue that has a Subway sandwich shop, a pizza place, a mattress store and a fucking Toys R Us.

Naturally, Gerard parks the car right next to the Subway, and it feels like fucking Christmas has come early this year.

*

Gerard gets his coffee fix at the Subway. He can’t believe how good it feels. It’s the first cup he had since they had to flee the comfort of Frank’s house and it’s actually not that great because it’s been sitting in a pot for probably a few days but it’s still coffee.

Frank jumps on the counter and tosses bags of chips at Gerard and Mikey. There’s an entire shelf of these, sour cream and onion and barbecue flavored.

They feast on the chips, on a couple of dry bagels and brownies Mikey finds in a takeaway box. They grab more chips and shove them in their backpacks.

Their next stop is Toys R Us. Gerard knows there’s probably nothing useful there because it’s a toy store. There won’t be food there. There won’t be weapons either but that’s where he wants to go next and no one argues with him on this.

It’s not like they’re on a rush to get to Georgia anyway.

Gerard parks the car by the loading dock so it doesn’t stand out on the empty parking lot. Frank breaks the padlock on a door with a massive rock and then they’re in.

What’s surprising about the store is that there’s still power. Most of the lights are on and there’s some annoying music coming out of speakers, something that sounds like it’s sung by a choir of chipmunks.

“Dibs on the robots and the tiny cars,” Mikey shouts over his shoulder taking a sprint through the alleys and disappearing behind a corner.

“You can’t call dibs on anything here, Mikes,” Gerard shouts back at him, not really sure Mikey can hear him.

Mikey’s voice comes muffled from behind the shelves. “Yes I can and I just did. Suck on that, Gerard.”

Gerard hasn’t set foot in a Toys R Us since that interview he had for a job last year. He tanked it so bad it was embarrassing. He made a joke about behind a weirdo and a creep that wasn’t even funny, and the guy interviewing him had glared at him for a moment before showing him the door.

“We’ll call you back,” the guy said, pushing Gerard out of his office.

Of course, he never called back.

This place is huge. It’s bigger than the Toys R Us they have in West Orange. It’s a fucking maze compared to it.

It takes Gerard a minute to get used to his surroundings. He’s standing in an endless row of stuffed animals and glittery Christmas cards. Everything looks so surreal and it smells like bubblegum.

Gerard grabs Frank’s hand on a whim and squeezes it.

Frank gives him a small smile and drags Gerard along as he takes off after Mikey.

“Can I call dibs on things too?” he asks, a little breathless now as they explore another aisle full of Barbie dolls.

It’s an explosion of pink everywhere Gerard looks. Pink and a gross misrepresentation of women. He wants to tell Frank how it’s a shame Barbie is such an archetype for everything that’s wrong with society and that little girls should be able to play with G.I Joes if they fucking want, but he’s too out of breath to even form actual words.

“I could call dibs on those badass light sabers,” Frank says when they’re at the end of the Barbie aisle, plunging into another one with board games and checkers.

They stop long enough for Gerard to take a huge gulp of air. “No cause that would be cheating,” he replies with a smirk.

When they reach the part of the store with all the Lord of The Rings replicas, the Harry Potter wands and the Doctor Who toys, Gerard geeks out so much he can barely restrain himself. The one ring is behind a glass panel and Gerard puts his fingers all over it. He could break the glass and grab the ring for himself but it seems a bit rude.

Gerard hears some mumbling in the distance which turns out to be Mikey. He’s making appreciative sounds, hmmms and oooooohs meaning he probably found a shelf full of Transformers.

They keep running along the aisles and find a bouncy castle that’s probably too small for them but Gerard doesn’t fucking care. He takes off his shoes and pulls Frank in with him.

Frank giggles as he toes off his sneakers and crawls in after Gerard. He sounds so childish and happy for a second that it makes Gerard’s stomach leap.

Gerard realizes it’s the first time ever he’s heard Frank laugh and it’s a fantastic sound.

The castle is really tiny so they have to stay crouched. Frank pushes Gerard and jumps on top of him. He starts tickling Gerard but then suddenly stops, looking a little ill at ease. He crawls away and bounces back out of the inflatable castle.

They play with everything they can get their hands on for rest of the day.

They attack each other with bouncy balls, play tag football even though they make up their own rules, steal tiny bikes with glitter and cute Hello Kitty stickers on them and ride through the store. They play Magic the assembly and Gerard has to teach Frank the ropes.

When Gerard’s stomach starts growling, they head back to the car but it’s already too late to find another place to set up camp.

*

The bouncy castle has deflated a little but it still makes an okay bed for Mikey.

It’s really amazing how he can just lie down and sleep anywhere, even with loud obnoxious music as a background. Frank wishes he could do that too.

“You want to grab a smoke with me?” Gerard offers as he slowly scrambles to his feet. The inflatable floor of the castle rises and Frank bounces off it and lands on his knees and his bandaged hand. He cringes and curses through gritted teeth.

“Oh fuck. Sorry,” Gerard says before helping Frank up. “How’s your hand?” he asks, frowning.

“It’s fine,” Frank replies as he digs his lighter out of the front pocket of his hoodie.

They walk down the aisle and sit down by a check-out counter.

Gerard grabs Frank’s hand and starts undoing his bandages.

The area around the wound is swollen and purple. Gerard pokes it with his fingers and Frank whimpers.

He has had worse in the past. He’s managed to break bones and get bruises since kindergarten. They all knew his name at the hospital and he had a chart the size of a phone book. He might as well have gotten some kind of loyalty program with them. It was weird being some kind of celebrity among the staff but it had its perks. The nurses were all so nice to him and they always got him Twizzlers from the machine because they all knew the strawberry ones were his favorite.

Gerard lets go of Frank’s hand and crawls up to his backpack. He comes back with a bottle of Vodka Frank didn’t even know they had and offers it to him.

“I don’t know if you drink—” Gerard says, unscrewing the cap and holding the bottle to Frank’s nose.

It smells terrible and yet, Frank takes a swig. “Where did you find it?” he asks, grimacing. The alcohol slides down his throat, hot and bitter. He hands the bottle back to Gerard and slides his wounded hand in the pocket of his hoodie.

“Found it a couple of days ago,” Gerard mumbles, taking a big gulp of booze. “I used to drink all the fucking time back home. My friend Ray has the coolest parents so they didn’t care that much that we came home every weekend completely drunk off our asses.”

“I used to do a lot of pot in my free time,” Frank confesses, reaching into his pocket for his smokes. He needs to grab a new pack from the car soon. He only has two cigarettes left in this one.

“We are the role models of our generation,” Gerard laughs, punctuating this statement by taking another shot of Vodka.

“Have you tried calling your friend?” Frank asks, lighting a cigarette and handing it to Gerard.

Gerard accepts it and takes a drag before handing it back to Frank. “Yeah. Once. Didn’t work out,” he replies, ducking his head.

“I want to try and call my dad.”

Actually, Frank’s been thinking about it all day. It’s not like he knows for sure his dad died. He could still be out there, trying to get to his family, wondering where Frank has gone and if he’s still alive. There’s a slim chance of that being true but Frank still wants to know.

“I still have my phone in there somewhere,” Gerard says, pointing at his bag with the bottle. “You want to try?”

“Yeah. Thanks.”

Gerard puts the bottle of vodka in Frank’s lap and crawls up to his bag. He rummages through it for a few minutes, digging out packets of chips, dirty shirts and a pair of Batman underwear before coming back with his phone.

“I’m almost out of battery,” he announces, handing the phone to Frank almost ceremoniously.

Indeed, there’s only one bar left and the signal is not so good either.

Frank has to dig in his memory for his dad’s number. When he gets it right, his call gets to his dad’s voicemail.

He shifts on the hard tiled floor and clears his throat. He wishes he had had thought more about what he was going to say.

“Erm. Dad. It’s Frankie. I guess you might never get this. But, hmm. I just wanted to tell you I’m alright. I’m not on my own. I’m with some friends. I love you and I forgive you for not being there on my birthday.” Frank pauses. He feels a little uncomfortable about bringing up his birthday when this is probably the last thing he’s ever going to be able to tell his dad. He shuts his eyes and whispers, “Well, I guess. Bye.”

He hangs up and tosses the phone back at Gerard. He takes a deep breath and pushes the bottle of Vodka towards Gerard.

Somehow, this feels good. It feels so liberating to be able to do this even though Dad will probably never get the message. Maybe he should have said more. Maybe he should have said something about Mom and how she died.

Gerard puts his hand on Frank’s elbow and pats it through his hoodie. He lets go and flips through the contacts on his phone for a few seconds. Then he gets up and starts pacing around the cash register.

“Hey, Ray. It’s me. Just calling to say I’m safe and Mikey’s with me. I hope you’re safe too. I’m not really sure what happened and I doubt we’ll ever know. I have some theories but nothing solid. I wish you could be here with us. We’re in a fucking Toys R Us and they have the ray guns we’ve talked about getting. Anyway. I’m running out of battery. If you get this, stay safe. We’re heading to that camping place in Georgia. Until we meet again, may the force be with you or something. Yeah. Bye, man.”

Frank takes a deep drag on his cigarette and starts humming along with the stupid pseudo music the store has been playing all day. It sounds like really bad techno pop with a chipmunk doing the vocals. But fuck if it isn’t going to get stuck in his head for the next couple of days.

Gerard sits back down next to Frank and steals the smoke right from between his lips.

“Battery just died,” he announces, poking Frank’s knee with his.

They stay there and smoke the last two cigarettes in Frank’s pack until the lights in the store start to dim, until the music dies and the power goes out in the building.

It was fun while it lasted though.

*

Gerard falls asleep for three minutes. That’s what Frank tells him when he wakes up with a bit of a crick in his neck, his head on Frank’s shoulder, his cheek pressed on Frank’s hoodie.

He doesn’t get any nightmares because three minutes is not enough and can be barely qualified as sleeping.

Frank goes to wake Mikey up in the morning by bouncing on top of him in the inflatable castle. Since the power went out, the floor collapses under them and the roof caves in and buries them.

They make it out of the rubble a couple of minutes later, laughing. Frank’s hair looks ridiculous and messy. He keeps tucking it behind his ears as he crawls out of the castle.

“I broke Mikey’s castle and it’s not even a metaphor for his penis,” Frank says, using Gerard to lever himself up, his fingers tugging on the hem of Gerard’s jacket.

“Off with his head,” Mikey shouts from behind Frank’s shoulder.

Gerard watches them argue and laugh like perfect idiots as he packs.

Frank disappears in the bathroom for a few minutes with one of Gerard’s t-shirts and a piece of soap he stole at the diner while Mikey and Gerard get some breakfast.

As they walk out of the store, Gerard feels something stir in the pit of his stomach. He feels a pang, a weird taste in his mouth. He wishes they could have stayed here a little while longer but it’s probably not safe. Gerard’s never been to Colonial Heights before but it looks like a big city with a lot of potential maniacs who could storm in through the doors and kill them all in their sleep. If they ever sleep.

They hit the road and Gerard manages to find a way to get back on the turnpike and avoid the Greyhound bus which is still parked right in the middle of the lanes.

They drive for an hour or so and Frank finds another one of his mix tapes under his seat which makes the commute more bearable.

A light starts blinking on the dashboard, warning Gerard that the tank is nearly empty. The next gas station is only a few miles away.

It’s a tiny gas station outside of a tiny town. Still, when Gerard steers the car next to the pumps, there are two other cars there, a large hummer and a tiny Sedan.

There’s a body rotting in the hummer, its hands firmly clamped around the wheel, flesh decomposing on the upholstery.

Gerard wishes he didn’t even look inside the Sedan because it’s worse. What he sees, the bodies of an entire family including a toddler, is probably going to stay engraved in his brain for a long time.

“Shit,” Frank mutters next to the pump.

Gerard turns on his heels and stares at Frank, expectant.

“There’s no juice,” Frank explains before slamming the pistol back on the pump. “The pumps don’t work without it. We’re fucking fucked.”

Well. Fuck.

Frank slides down against the side of the car and buries his face in his hands.

Gerard slumps down at his side, pushes Frank’s hair away from his face and tucks a cigarette between Frank’s pursed lips.

“You’re not supposed to smoke next to a gas pump,” Frank mumbles, digging his lighter out of his hoodie pocket anyway.

This is ridiculous.

Mikey joins them a couple of minutes later.

“We could, you know, take it elsewhere. Like, I’ve never done it but if you have some kind of hose,” he says with wide gestures. “You could stick it in that car and suck it out to put it in ours?”

“Or we could steal that car over there,” Gerard says although it’s a terrible idea. He’s not going to be the one pulling all the bodies out of the Sedan. No fucking way.

“Or we could let Mikey do his thing,” Frank mumbles, the cigarette dangling out of his mouth and ash falling on the front of his hoodie.

“I was just saying. I’m not doing it,” Mikey says and Gerard eyes at him reproachfully. “What?” Mikey shrugs. “If I do it I’m probably gonna choke on it and die. You don’t want me to die, do you?”

Gerard rolls his eyes. They’re going to be stuck in this hole for a while if no one comes up with a better solution.

Frank clears his throat and blows smoke in Gerard’s neck. “I could do it,” he says, passing the cigarette to Mikey. “I could. We fucking made it here. I’m not walking the rest of the way.”

He gets up and marches down to the gas station, brushing the ashes off his hoodie.

Gerard and Mikey exchange a skeptic look before scrambling up to their feet.

Frank comes back with a hose and a bucket. “I couldn’t find anything else back there. It’s too fucking dark in that shit,” he says before kneeling next to the Sedan.

The cap has a lock on it.

“Key, anyone?” Frank asks, holding out a hand to Mikey and Gerard.

Inside the car is the worst smell Gerard has ever encountered in his life. It’s even worse than the time Mikey lit a dead squirrel on fire in the basement. It’s way worse than the time their little cousin Parker puked under Gerard’s bed and it took Gerard three days to clean it up because he didn’t even know it was there until he noticed the smell. That smell is worse.

Gerard snakes a hand inside through the open door and pats on the side of the dashboard to find the keys. Breathing through his mouth doesn’t really help with how disgusting it smells. Gerard’s stomach churns and protests.

He looks up just for a second and the glassy dead eyes of the man sitting next to him are fixed on him. His tongue is swollen and black inside his open mouth.

Gerard shuts his eyes and focuses on his task and his task alone.

He pulls the keys out of the ignition and hands them to Frank. He crawls away from the car, so fast that he falls back on his ass.

The driver’s arm falls to his side with a distinctive crack and hangs there, limp and emaciated.

Gerard has to force the arm back inside the car before kicking the door shut. He kneels down next to Frank and coughs.

Frank gives him a sympathetic lukewarm smile.

“I fucking hate you guys,” Gerard says before spitting at his feet.

Gerard doesn’t really mean it. What he hates is that his skin is going to keep this smell. It’s going to stay there until he showers which is probably not going to happen until they reach the cabin. If there’s a shower there. Gerard doesn’t remember that part.

 

*

Frank doesn’t know what he’s doing so he just wings it, pretends he’s totally cool and does that shit every day.

When he sucks the gas out of the tank, he’s not really prepared for what comes next.

The gas gets to his end of the hose too fast and he gets some in his mouth, in his fucking throat. The taste is so horrible that he gags and lets go of the hose. The gas stops flowing out.

Frank spits out a wad of saliva laced with Regular Unleaded or whatever that shit is.

“Are you okay?” Gerard asks him, patting Frank’s shoulder.

Frank shakes his head. He’s not fucking okay. He’s a little pissed off at himself for not being able to pull this off like they do it in the movies so he grabs the hose again and puts his lips over the end.

“Man, you look like you’re gonna puke. Sick,” Mikey drawls.

Frank flips him off and pulls away from the hose just a second too late. He spits again, this time in Mikey’s direction because, seriously, fuck Mikey.

He gets some on his t-shirt and on his jeans. He doubts this shit comes off if he washes it with cold water and soap.

After a few minutes of careful tweaking, Frank finally gets how it works. Holding the end of the hose too high or too low and Frank is forced to do his trick again. So he just keeps perfectly still while the bucket fills up.

Gerard finds a funnel in the trunk of the Sedan. It makes filling their car easier and Frank is grateful he won’t have to swallow any more fuel today.

“I’d understand if you don’t want to do this ever again,” Gerard says when they’re done filling up the tank.

“I don’t fucking care. If it’s not the right kind of gas, I’ll set you both on fire,” Frank spits out.

He grabs a change of shirt in Mikey’s bag because Gerard is out of clean t-shirts now. He shuffles to the restrooms and frowns at how fucking bad he smells.

There’s only one tiny sink and barely any room to move but Frank doesn’t care. He gargles over the sink, some water and hand soap until the taste of gas is gone. The soap tastes foul but it’s still an improvement.

He’s soaking his oil stained t-shirt in the sink and scrubbing the smell off his skin and the front of his jeans when Gerard walks in.

Frank didn’t lock the door. He just didn’t think anyone but him ever washed anyway. Gerard and his brother have strange personal hygiene habits.

Gerard mumbles something Frank doesn’t catch and takes a couple of steps back, letting some cool air inside the room.

“You need to use the little boys’ room?” Frank asks, shivering, and Gerard shakes his head.

“Did you make sure the car started?” he asks, splashing water over his naked arms and chest to rinse off the soap.

“Yeah. It’s fine.”

Frank wants to ask Gerard if he’s okay and why he’s acting so weird all of a sudden but it’s probably pointless. He knows what’s on Gerard’s mind already. There are probably a lot of things in his head right now, like rotten corpses and dead babies still strapped to their car seats.

“How is that place in Georgia?” he asks after a minute, putting Mikey’s Joy Division t-shirt on. The fabric is soft on his skin. This feels like it’s been washed. It’s nice to know Mikey does his laundry more often than Gerard.

“It’s isolated but not too far away from the main road if we need to get supplies,” Gerard says, his eyes suddenly alive, full of…Frank isn’t sure but it looks like hope. “There’s a garden. My uncle grew vegetables there so we wouldn’t go hungry.”

“How long until we get there?” Frank asks and Gerard shrugs.

He could have been a little more convincing.

*

They set up camp at a truck stop not too far from Greensboro, North Carolina.

Gerard doesn’t want to stop there for the night because it’s way too exposed but he’s too tired to keep driving, his eyes are crossing, and Mikey insists that they stop for some food.

There’s an IHOP and a Starbucks though which is what makes Gerard’s will bend. The idea of getting some coffee in his system is just too tempting, even though what he ends up finding is less than satisfying and tastes like sock juice.

They eat a light dinner inside the car while Mikey fiddles with the radio to try and find something besides static.

Frank is sat in the back, quiet as he smokes another cigarette and reads through a newspaper from two weeks ago they found during their exploration.

Gerard saw the headlines when he grabbed it from the counter at Starbucks. It’s all about the new vaccine Gerard managed to avoid getting and how it will be the end of the new strain of flu. It was the end of it, in a way.

“If you excuse me, gentlemen,” Mikey says before letting out a noisy burp. “I’m gonna head to bed now.”

“You should sleep in the car,” Gerard says just as Mikey climbs out and walks up to the IHOP.

They didn’t find bodies in there. Not even one. But Gerard still thinks it’s too exposed. The windows are large. It’s too easy to get in.

“I could leave you the backseat,” Frank calls from his open window. “I’m not gonna do any sleeping anyway.”

Mikey waves at him dismissively. He mumbles something about the IHOP being more comfortable than the backseat which is probably true.

After Mikey has disappeared through the doors of the IHOP, Gerard doesn’t say anything for the longest time. He finishes his cold hash browns and tosses the wrapper through his window.

Frank is slumped down on the backseat, smiling at Gerard as he rubs his stomach. “You should come back here,” he says with a sigh.

Gerard ponders over the invitation for two seconds. Then he climbs over the seats and falls head first into Frank’s lap. He quickly sits up and pretends this didn’t happen, that he wasn’t anywhere near Frank’s crotch. He lets out a nervous laugh, hopping it will make this moment less awkward but it does the complete opposite.

Before he knows what’s happening to him, Frank is shifting closer. He stretches his legs across Gerard’s and runs a hand through Gerard’s greasy hair.

“You need to wash that shit,” he mumbles, letting of Gerard’s hair with a grimace. He rests his head on Gerard’s shoulder and nuzzles at his neck, the tip of his nose cold against Gerard’s skin.

Gerard doesn’t even want to try and make sense of what’s happening. He just wraps his arm around Frank and pulls him all the way into his lap.

Frank isn’t heavy, Gerard realizes as he balances him on his thighs.

Gerard wishes he could kiss him but it doesn’t seem like the right thing to do at this moment. Maybe it will never be the right moment. Maybe if the circumstances were different…

This isn’t about kissing anyway.

Gerard isn’t sure what it is about actually. It could be about Frank looking for warmth. Maybe he’s just feeling lonely. Gerard does.

Then Frank’s teeth graze Gerard’s jaw, and Gerard realizes it could also be about sex, pure and simple as that. It could be about scratching an itch and forgetting the outside world for a few minutes.

In his eighteen years of existence, Gerard had sex exactly one time and it wasn’t even good.

The girl was older. She was in college. Gerard doesn’t even remember her name. Maybe she never told him. He was sixteen and he met her at a Smashing Pumpkins show in New York. They made out during Today and then had a quickie in the back of his mom’s car while Mikey was trying to meet the band.

It’s been a while and Gerard isn’t really sure what he’s supposed to be doing with his hands.

However, Frank seems to know precisely what to do with his. He works on Gerard’s belt and then unzips his jeans. He slides a cold hand inside Gerard’s jeans which makes Gerard jump a little. He grins and pulls Gerard’s dick out of his underwear. His fingers start moving quickly, as if he was too impatient, too eager to get his hands on Gerard.

Gerard stares at Frank’s fingers, incredulous.

He’s getting a handjob in the backseat of a car in the middle of a motherfucking apocalypse. A hand job. People are dead or insane everywhere around them and a guy he’s met not a week ago is jerking him off at a truck stop.

Gerard can’t remember how to breathe for a few seconds. He needs Frank to slow down or stop.

He looks up, and Frank is staring at him, licking his lips, his eyelids drooping, looking like the sexiest thing Gerard’s ever seen. He bites his bottom lip and strokes faster, tugs and squeezes harder. He grabs a handful of Gerard’s hair again with his other hand and pulls.

It’s not tender. It’s sloppy and messy. The car starts smelling like sweat as the temperature rises, as their bodies move, as they slide against each other.

Gerard arches up and pushes inside Frank’s fist. He tilts his head back but his eyes never leave Frank’s face.

Frank starts shifting up and down Gerard’s lap now. He lets go of Gerard’s hair and presses his hand to his obvious hard on. He palms himself through his jeans and matches the rhythm of his other hand, which seems to have picked up the pace. Frank lets out a hiccup and his hair falls over his face as he ducks his head.

That’s the exact moment Gerard’s brain short-circuits. His stomach tenses, his toes curl up in his boots and he shivers as he spills in Frank’s fist. He gets some on the front of his jeans too and— fuck. He managed to come all over Frank’s t-shirt. Mikey’s t-shirt.

There’s no moaning, no exchange of words; just heavy breathing and a heavy silence that Gerard wants to break.

Maybe it’s because he’s exhausted or maybe it’s because he lost his parents last week but Gerard starts sobbing. He sobs like a fucking idiot while Frank is cleaning them up with a tissue. His shoulders shake and his eyes fill up with tears.

He can barely see Frank slide out of his lap through the tears. He just feels his weight shift and then the door opens and Frank is gone.

Gerard is probably terrible at this; at sex. It’s not like he’s had much experience before. Frank probably knows more about the proper behavior to adopt in case of handjob. Maybe he should say thank you and ask if Frank needs him to reciprocate. Even though he’s not up for it right now. He’s too busy crying his fucking eyes out for no reason and every reason.

It takes him five minutes to stop crying and regain some sense of composure. He feels ridiculous as he tucks himself back inside his pants.

He shouldn’t have done that. He should have let Frank do that. If there’s an inappropriate moment to be having sex, it’s probably this one. People shouldn’t get each other off during the apocalypse.

Gerard wipes the tears off his face with the sleeve of his jacket and sniffs. He peers through the window and sees that Frank is leaning against a truck, smoking and watching the stars. He wants to go out there and keep him company but he’s not sure Frank wants him there at all.

*

Frank’s never done this before. He never gave another guy a handjob. He’s never had sex. He fucking sure as hell never came in his pants while having a guy come all over him either. It should feel gross and weird but it doesn’t. It feels fucking great and in a way, freeing.

What bugs him is that he left Gerard in the backseat, sobbing, and now he feels like such an asshole, like he used Gerard. He didn’t mean to use him. It might have been out of boredom but it doesn’t feel like it. It feels like it was something else, something meaningful and shit, not a random act of desperation but something he really needed.

Frank finishes his third cigarette and stomps it out with the sole of his Chucks.

It’s fucking cold out here. He can’t wait until they get to Georgia. It should be warmer there in theory. Frank’s never been there. Hopefully, even in the middle of December, it’s warmer than fucking North Carolina.

He ducks back inside the car a few minutes later.

Gerard is curled up in a corner of the seat, looking miserable, shivering in his jacket.

Frank isn’t sure if it’s okay for him to curl up by Gerard’s side or if it’s inappropriate after what just happened, but it’s cold and he could use a bit of Gerard’s warmth.

He slides across the seat and presses himself up against Gerard.

“I’m sorry,” he whispers in Gerard’s ear. He doesn’t know if it’s going to make things okay again but it’s worth trying.

Gerard sniffles. He doesn’t say anything which is weird because Gerard always seems to have something to say.

Frank stays firmly wrapped around him and rests his head on Gerard’s side. He can hear his heart beat right next to his ear. It’s beating so fast. He closes his eyes just for a second. His eyelids are heavy and sore. He lets out a sigh and opens his eyes again to look at Gerard.

He’s staring out the window at the woods across the freeway. His eyes are still red and puffy from crying too much but he looks alright now.

Frank wouldn’t have thought he could make a dude cry just by giving him a hand job. This needs to never happen again. He doesn’t want Gerard to leave him at the next gas station because he doesn’t want to travel with an asshole who doesn’t know he should keep his hands in his own pants.

He’s really starting to think of Gerard and Mikey as his family now, and he would hate himself forever if he managed to screw that up.

A few hours later, Frank watches the sun rise out of the window. He watches how it moves behind the clouds and the hills, how it hides behind the trees across the road before reappearing, all red and orange and fucking beautiful.

When Frank looks up at Gerard a moment later – he wants to share the sunrise with him. It’s that fucking beautiful – he notices Gerard is asleep.

*

Mikey takes the wheel the next morning because Gerard can’t see straight. The lack of sleep is getting to him and the few minutes he managed to steal this morning made him even more tired.

He slumps in the backseat while Frank rides shotgun. Frank picks the perfect soundtrack to their road trip, some loud, fist pumping, old school rock.

The road is a bit bumpier than it was the day before but Mikey handles it pretty well. Maybe Gerard should let him drive more from now on.

“Every week should be shark week,” Mikey argues with Frank, his hands leaving the wheel for a few seconds too long so he can make wide shark-like motions at Frank. “Sharks are twenty percent more awesome than any other animal and they deserve more than just the week dedicated to their radness. Everyone agrees. Look it up.”

“You’re making this shit up, asshole,” Frank says, punching Mikey’s shoulder. “Godzilla or fucking King Kong. They’re more awesome than any living thing and they could double team a shark any day of the week.”

The discussion goes on for a while and Gerard manages to tune out. He only nods when Mikey asks him for his support. Gerard can see valid arguments on both sides anyway.

It’s not until someone is shaking him, violently at that, that he realizes he’s actually managed to fall asleep.

He blinks at Frank and at Mikey who are both staring at him, looking worried, Frank’s eyebrows furrowed, Mikey staring at him with huge eyes and a grimace.

“It’s okay, I was just resting my eyes,” Gerard mumbles, rubbing his eyes as he sits up and runs a hand through his hair. He couldn’t have been asleep more than fifteen minutes. It’s not a big deal. He’s not sick, just beyond tired.

“Fucking look,” Mikey says as he points at the road ahead.

They’re not on the freeway anymore. That’s the first thing Gerard notices. They’re on a narrow road in the middle of the woods. The pavement shines like it’s been raining.

Then he sees the guy standing in the middle of the road, waving his arms at them.

There’s no way to tell if he’s one of them. It’s impossible to see his eyes from here. He doesn’t seem to be carrying any weapons though.

“I think we should check up on him,” Mikey says, turning off the engine and pulling the keys out of the ignition.

“Just go around him,” Gerard suggests. They can always hand him some food out of the window and be on their way. There are a few cars parked around alongside the road that the dude can borrow, and he doesn’t look like he’s hurt.

“I’m not leaving a poor guy out on the road all by himself,” Mikey says before opening his door.

Frank remains silent. He shoots a glance at Gerard and follows Mikey outside.

Gerard pats the pocket of his jacket just to make sure he still has the gun. It’s here; just as heavy as it was when he grabbed it at the diner.

There’s something off about this place, wherever they are. The wind carries an odd smell; the smell of burnt meat. On each side of the road, trees with large trunks with markings carved in their bark; words and symbols Gerard can’t make out at this distance.

The guy’s head is cocked to the side. His bangs are covering his eyes, making it difficult to figure out if he’s one of them. If he’s sick, they could probably fend off his attack by running back to the car. They don’t really need to get any closer.

“Are you okay, dude?” Mikey asks. He is the first to reach the man. He stops just a couple of feet in front of him and turns around to look at Gerard and Frank.

“I think he needs some help,” Mikey mumbles just as Frank reaches them.

It all happens really fast but Gerard feels like it’s all in slow motion.

The man grabs Mikey from behind and lets out a shriek that scares the shit out of Gerard.

Mikey squirms and elbows the guy in the stomach to get free. The guy is not really strong because he lets go of Mikey easily.

Gerard runs towards them and pulls Mikey behind him, to safety.

The guy is sick, no doubt. His eyes are bloodshot and he’s foaming at the mouth. But this guy is not really their biggest problem anymore.

One by one, others appear out of the shadows of the trees and from behind one of the cars; four, five and then six of them. A couple of men are armed with knives, and one of them is carrying an axe. Their weapons and clothes are covered in a crust of dry, dark blood.

It was a fucking trap and they fell for it.

Gerard turns around, grabs Mikey and is ready to make a run for the car when he sees two of the men have Frank cornered against a car.

Frank is tiny but he knows how to throw a punch. Gerard should know. His face still hurts. Frank tries to fight for a few seconds, punches and kicks at random but one of the guys has a big knife and is twice his size.

The man grabs him and Frank struggles to get free.

“Give us your keys,” one of the guys mumbles behind Gerard.

“Hand me the keys,” Gerard whispers and Mikey gives him a surprised look. “Get in the car,” Gerard adds and Mikey hands the keys over without a word.

“Keys or your midget gets it,” the guy holding Frank shouts. He grins, exposing a row of yellow crooked teeth. He presses the blade of his knife to Frank’s jugular and shoves him forward towards the rest of the group. He puts his nose on Frank’s neck and licks a stripe of skin.

Frank grimaces. Gerard can see him grit his teeth.

They all laugh; insane, blood chilling laughs, and for a second, Gerard wants to run. He wants to leave Frank and drive away while they still can.

But he just can’t. Frank is family. Frank is his friend. Frank is more important than he thought and he’s not going to leave him. He could never do that. Gerard is going to protect him whatever it takes, even if it means he has to kill someone or die in the process.

“I can’t wait to eat you, pretty boy,” the sick fuck says and Frank starts struggling again.

The blade sinks into his skin. He groans and grows still, his eyes huge, staring directly into Gerard’s.

They’re not after the car. They’re after them, Gerard thinks as he slides a hand in his jacket pocket and grabs the gun.

It should be loaded. He hopes it is. He never checked. He knows there’s something about a safety thing he has to pull first if he wants to shoot the motherfucker.

When he pulls the gun out, the men start laughing again like this is all a joke.

The only one who isn’t laughing is Sick Fuck and his hunting knife. He presses the blade against Frank’s neck even tighter and sticks his nose in Frank’s hair.

“I bet you taste delicious, kid,” he groans.

Gerard is going to fucking kill him for that, for hurting Frank and for how he’s touching him. No one gets to touch Frank. His Frank.

He looks around and sees how they’re surrounded now.

Inside the car, Mikey is staring at him. He’s expecting him to do something, to save them, to find a way out of this.

The gun in Gerard’s hand doesn’t seem to impress anyone but it’s probably because that fucking safety is on and the men are all so close now, ready to drag Mikey out of the car and chop Gerard’s head.

It takes him a few seconds but Gerard manages to work out the safety.

Frank gives him a small smile and blinks at him. He’s asking Gerard to do it; to do something, anything.

Gerard has never shot a gun before and he has no idea what he’s doing. He points it at the guy’s head, first, before realizing that he should aim lower. If he misses, he won’t have to scrape Frank’s brain off the pavement.

He lowers his gun and aims for the guy’s knee. He takes a deep breath and pulls the trigger as he exhales but nothing happens. He presses again and again and nothing happens.

The men all laugh again and one of them starts marching towards Gerard. He’s the motherfucker with the axe.

Gerard’s hands shake. He can do this. Frank needs him to.

The next shot Gerard takes digs a hole in Sick Fuck’s calf. The guy lets go of Frank, his knife leaving a bloody imprint on Frank’s neck.

Frank clasps a hand at the cut and makes a run for the car.

Gerard shoots once more and sick fuck’s other knee shatters.

The next bullet is for the guy advancing on him. It hits him right in the chest.

The man stares at the hole in his shirt for a few seconds, laughs and then collapses on the road, finally letting go of his axe. It clicks on the wet pavement.

Gerard can’t believe he actually shot someone. He can’t believe he shot a guy in the chest and probably killed him. He fucking killed someone.

“I’ll fucking eat your eyeballs for breakfast,” Sick Fuck mumbles, his legs a mess of blood and shattered bones.

Frank grabs Gerard’s hand and pulls him inside the car. He’s limping and there’s some blood on his jeans. He doesn’t seem to notice though. The blood might not be his.

He grabs the keys off Gerard and throws them at Mikey.

“Fucking go,” he urges him, slamming the door shut.

The group of men is still standing in the middle of the road, still laughing while one of them is dying and another is crawling towards the car, holding his bloody knife up at Gerard.

Mikey starts off the engine and presses the gas pedal. They’re off in a screech of tires, rock music blaring through the speakers and Mikey cursing through his teeth.

He doesn’t drive around the men in the middle of road. There’s no time to avoid them. He hits a couple of them as he drives away but they’ll probably live.

“Give me that,” Frank says, taking the gun from Gerard’s hands. They’re not shaking anymore.

*

Frank throws the gun out the window. It doesn’t have any bullets left so it’s useless now.

Then he slumps back and turns to Gerard.

He doesn’t say anything but stares into Gerard’s eyes and mouths a silent thank you. Gerard fucking saved his life and he’s not even sure how to express how grateful he is. He fucking loves Gerard. He wants to tell him just that.

“Everyone okay?” Mikey calls from the driver’s seat.

Frank hums. He props his feet up on the empty passenger seat, and swallows a lump in his throat. He can feel the blood pump through his veins, so fucking full of adrenalin.

The hole in his jeans is not new. The blood smeared on the denim is though, and definitely his.

Gerard pokes a finger inside the hole and pulls until the fabric rips wider.

Frank sucks in a breath and puts his hand over Gerard’s. It’s fine. His leg is fine. Gerard didn’t shoot him. He shot the asshole who was trying to slit his throat.

Gerard examines the wound; if this can be called a wound.

The bullet grazed his skin, barely. There’s a line of blood right above his knee and the skin around it burns a little. He’ll live.

“I’ll live,” he tells Gerard out loud, squeezing Gerard’s hand.

Gerard nods. Then, he slides down the backseat and starts examining the cut on Frank’s neck.

Frank can’t really tell if it’s deep or not but it does hurt like a bitch.

“It’s bleeding,” Gerard whispers, wiping the blood off his hands on his jeans. “Not a lot though.”

Frank shifts until he’s only a few inches away from Gerard’s face and licks his lips because, fuck, he wants to kiss Gerard right the fuck now. It would be a proper thank you for saving my life thing to do but he doesn’t.

Instead he engages in a short staring contest that would look awkward and ridiculous to the outside observer but is actually hot as hell.

Gerard reaches up and starts caressing Frank’s lips. He licks his lips too, like he might want to kiss Frank.

Frank is pretty sure at that point he’s not imagining things. The longing is there, it’s in Gerard’s eyes and the way he touches him. He wants it just as much as Frank.

“I don’t need sutures, right?” Frank asks with a smile.

“No,” Gerard whispers. Then his fingers are back on Frank’s lips, drawing slow circles around them. “I couldn’t let him hurt you,” he says, his voice breaking.

Frank knows. He saw it in Gerard’s eyes back there. He saw Gerard wasn’t going to let anything happen to him, ever.

He runs his fingers up Gerard’s thigh, over his hipbone, along his side before reaching for Gerard’s lips.

They could have kissed last night. Frank had Gerard in his hands. He had him arching up under him, ready and aching for it. He could have kissed Gerard instead of being a fucking jerk and leaving him crying in the backseat. But Frank is far from perfect and he freaked the fuck out when he should have been there for Gerard.

The sound of the engine carries Frank to sleep, or maybe it’s how good Gerard’s fingers feel on his face, so hot and soft.

He welcomes it, this warm feeling in his groin, this abandon. He feels safe in the back of the car with Gerard in his arms. He lets his eyes close a few minutes after Gerard closed his and lets his hand trail down Gerard’s chest.

*

“I’m so fucking sorry, dude,” Mikey tells Frank as he slams the hood of the car shut.

There’s nothing they can do but it’s not his fault that the car decided to die on them before they reached their destination. If it’s anyone’s fault then it’s Gerard’s for not looking at the dashboard and at that stupid service engine light before he left Mikey drive.

“Not your fault. You don’t need to apologize,” Frank says, pulling Mikey in for a hug. “That thing was old. I’m surprised it made it so far.”

Mikey pulls one of his faces, one that means he’s still sorry. “I guess we need to walk the rest of the way,” he says, sitting down on the pavement. “Where is the place again?”

“Hmm.” Quick, Gerard needs to think. “It’s…It’s not too far from Gainsville?” he stutters.

“Man, that’s like, really far,” Mikey whines.

“Two days on foot at the most?” Gerard says, trying to sound convincing which would have worked better if it didn’t sound like a question. He remembers the cabin being somewhere near a town called Blair or maybe Blairsville. It would really help if they had a map of the area.

Mikey shrugs. “Hmm, okay.”

Either Gerard is getting better at lying or Mikey is too tired to argue with him.

They sit for a while in the middle of the road and share a cigarette.

“We could go anywhere,” Frank says as he blows his smoke in Gerard’s neck. “I don’t care where we go as long as we’re far away from crazy people.” He puts his head down on Gerard’s shoulder and presses himself closer. He shivers and rearranges his limbs so they fit around Gerard.

Gerard shrugs his jacket off and throws it over Frank’s shoulders. They really need to find him warmer clothes if he wants to live through the next winter.

“I think we should start packing. Or unpacking. Just, you know. Get rid of some shit,” Mikey says as he scrambles up to his feet.

Gerard nods. “Yeah.” The backpacks are way too heavy to carry right now. They should get rid of everything they don’t need. Everything that is not food or warm clothes.

He gets up and leaves Frank sat on the pavement. He watches him as he opens the trunk, and notices how Frank is watching him too, the jacket wrapped around his shoulders, his hair brushing up against his cheeks and a hint of a smile on the corner of his lips.

Maybe this is it. Maybe it’s going to be just the three of them for the rest of their lives and Gerard is alright with this.

They rummage through their bags and pull out things not essential to their survival which sadly include all of Gerard’s comics (he’s still keeping Preacher at the bottom because it doesn’t take much room if it’s just one comic book, and there’s no way he’s leaving this one behind), Mikey’s hair products, and some things they don’t really need anymore, like forks and pans, because the cabin should have everything they can ever need. Perhaps.

*

They have to leave the car parked in the middle of the road with some of their things locked in the trunk.

“If we ever find another car, we can come back and get the rest of our things,” Gerard says but Frank doubts it will happen. Besides, these are just things.

Frank tries not to think about how that car saved their asses multiple times. He tries not to think about how it was the last thing that still linked him to his mom and to his home; to his past. He doesn’t want to think at all about what that piece of junk means...meant to him.

They start walking half an hour later and Frank keeps turning back to look at the car. He stops after a few minutes though because it makes him fucking sad and he refuses to be sad for a car. It’s just a fucking car after all.

The road is long and winding, and it doesn’t take them more than a few minutes before they’re all dragging their feet along. At this rate, they’re going to need more than two days to reach the cabin.

Frank carries Gerard’s bag for an hour and then switches for Mikey’s. Even without all the shit they left behind, the bags are heavy, probably because of all the cans of food Mikey salvaged at the truck stop last night.

“We should stay off the road for a while,” Gerard suggests and Frank doesn’t really understand why until he hears the sound of an engine behind them.

The woods are dark and menacing and anything or anyone could be hiding in the shadows but it’s a better alternative to having another knife to his throat.

They keep walking long after sunset, and keep on even though their feet can’t carry them anymore.

Frank is about to collapse against a tree because his leg hurts too much, when he sees something through the trees; a structure that can’t be farther than a couple of miles.

“Do you see that?” he asks, turning to Gerard.

“Yeah,” Gerard says, out of breath as he drags his backpack behind him.

He leans against Frank’s side and asks, “How’s your leg?”

Frank forces himself to smile through the pain. He doesn’t want Gerard to know how horrible he feels and how he has to bite the inside of his cheek so he doesn’t start screaming but Gerard isn’t stupid. He probably noticed how his limping got progressively worse.

“Alright,” he mutters.

“See what?” Mikey asks as he stops behind them and hooks his chin over Frank’s shoulder. “What am I supposed to—”

Frank doesn’t even need to point at what appears to be a metallic construction because Mikey is on the same page now. He detaches himself off Frank and heads back on the road.

Gerard wraps an arm around Frank’s waist and helps him walk the rest of the way.

When they reach the place, it’s actually not a building but a UPS truck parked on the side of the road.

There’s no corpse behind the wheel but the keys are still on the ignition. Mikey tries starting it even though they don’t know how to drive a truck that size. The engine doesn’t even cough. The battery is dead.

They go around the back and Mikey opens the trailer.

It’s warm inside, really fucking warm and Frank is the first to climb inside. He cringes when his knee slides against the floor but doesn’t make a sound.

He lands in something soft. He can’t really see all that well but he can make out mountains of packages in the trailer.

Gerard climbs after Frank and helps him up.

This could work, Frank thinks as he stares at Gerard and then at the packages. They could sleep in here for the night. It’s warmer than any place they picked so far.

“Do you guys want to take turns to sleep?” Mikey asks as he crawls inside the truck. “I could sit in the cabin for a while and let you guys rest.”

“Sleep, Mikey,” Gerard says, patting his shoulder. “We’ll keep an eye out.”

Mikey doesn’t argue. It seems obvious that walking for hours with a pack that weighs a ton strapped on his back really took a toll on him.

Fuck. It took its toll on Frank too. He just needs to lie down for a while and put his leg up. He probably won’t be able to sleep anyway.

“Do you mind if I take my shoes off?” Gerard asks before toeing his boots off.

Frank wants to tell him that, no, he stinks like a dead rat and the smell is going to kill them all, but he just shrugs. Actually, he could take his shoes off too. Fuck the smell.

Gerard walks up to the door and stares at the road for a few minutes. Besides the chirping of birds and the hoot of an owl, the night is calm.

As soon as Gerard shuts the door, it gets really dark inside the trailer and Frank can’t see shit. He knows Mikey is somewhere on his left because he can hear him curse as he settles for the night, shifting through the parcels, mumbling to himself.

Frank sits down in the middle of the packages and kicks his shoes off. He wishes he could take off his jeans. The fabric is encrusted in dry blood and it sticks to the wound.

“Are you there?” Gerard’s voice whispers in the dark, just a couple of feet ahead.

“Right here,” Frank whispers back, reaching up to touch Gerard and let him know where he is.

Gerard flops down at Frank’s side and pats around blindly. His fingers close around Frank’s wrist.

“Are you comfortable?” he asks as his fingers travel up Frank’s arm.

“Could be worse,” Frank replies as he lies down and pulls a clump of plastic under his head. The makeshift pillow is a little hard but it’s been ages since Frank had a pillow to sleep on.

He hears some ruffling next to him and then Gerard is right there.

“Does it hurt a lot?” Gerard asks, his fingers tracing the contours of Frank’s knee, brushing over the scab.

Frank hums. It doesn’t hurt so badly now that he’s off his feet.

“How about this?” Gerard asks and his fingers stroke Frank’s neck. He tucks Frank’s hair behind his ears and blows some cool air on the wound.

“Not when you’re touching it,” Frank replies, scooting over closer to Gerard.

Frank can’t see Gerard’s face in the dark but he doesn’t need to. He closes his eyes and there he is, smiling at him, licking his lips. He can see him blush too when Frank wraps an arm around Gerard’s waist and pulls him so much closer.

“You’re going to have a scar,” Gerard says, his fingers sliding off the cut. They are quickly replaced by Gerard’s lips. They smear along Frank’s throat, wet and hot; so hot.

Frank lets out a whine. It’s not because it hurts but because he can feel himself hardening in his jeans.

It’s so not the right time for this.

He grabs Gerard’s hand, plants a kiss on his knuckles, before lacing their fingers together.

“I wonder if there’s something for me in there?” Frank asks after a few minutes, when he can hear Mikey snore in the back of the trailer.

It occurs to Frank that they’re sitting, or actually, lying on top of a ton of cool shit they could keep. It’s like Christmas without the tree and the silly music.

“What?” Gerard’s voice comes a little rough, like he might have been ready to fall asleep.

“I ordered a t-shirt online,” Frank replies, squeezing Gerard’s fingers. “I wonder if it’s in there somewhere.”

“Could be.”

“Can we look tomorrow?”

“Yeah,” Gerard mumbles, breathing down Frank’s neck. “Do you have your UPS tracking number with you?”

Frank laughs. Then he doesn’t only hear Gerard laugh too but he can feel it in the crook of his neck.

When Gerard grows still again, Frank hooks his leg over him and says, “I fucking love getting mail. It’s weird to think I won’t be getting anymore. Like ever. I even ordered shit with my mom’s credit cards all the time just so I could have mail. She was pissed but I didn’t care ‘cause I knew the postman had something cool for me.”

She got more than pissed that one time Frank ordered for more than a hundred bucks worth of video games. He tried to explain to her they were on sale but she didn’t seem to get it. She started keeping her credit card locked in one of her jewelry boxes after that. It sucked.

“I could send you mail,” Gerard whispers, pulling away from Frank’s neck before resting his head on Frank’s chest. “Well, not really send but. You know, I could write you stuff,” he says, his fingers running around Frank’s chest as they draw shapes and words. “If you don’t mind boring long ass letters with doodles in the margins. I tend to digress a lot too and it gets really confusing. I have a lot of shit stirring inside my brain.”

Frank would have loved to get letters from Gerard before this. He would have loved to hang out with him when things were different. They would have gone to the movies together or smoked pot together. It would have been amazing. Gerard is amazing.

“You’re rad and so is your brain,” he says, planting a kiss on the crown of Gerard’s head. Fuck, his hair is gross now. “Did anyone ever tell you how rad you are?”

“No.”

“That’s a downright shame.”

They lie still for a little while and then Frank’s stomach starts growling loudly.

“There could be really cool stuff in those packages,” Gerard says as he rubs Frank’s stomach through his hoodie. He lifts it up, slides his fingers underneath Frank’s shirt and starts stroking circles around Frank’s belly button.

“Like what?” Frank asks, momentarily forgetting that Gerard is touching him. “Like my fucking Circle Jerk t-shirt?” Fucking online store took the money off his account and that was three weeks ago. How long does it take to deliver a stupid shirt?

“Like. I don’t know.” Gerard’s fingers stop. “Expensive chocolate. Stuff people order off Amazon. Like Frankenberry or Count fucking Chocula.”

Frank stomach growls even louder at that. He hasn’t had Frankenberry in so long. His mom never finds it at the store anymore which is a complete shame because they’re the best kind of cereal.

Gerard resumes stroking Frank’s stomach and says, “We should pick one at random and wait ‘til tomorrow to see what’s inside. I know it’s not Christmas for another week but it could be cool.”

His mom always got extra crazy around Christmas. She probably already had something picked out for Frank. She had a sixth sense for that kind of stuff. Maybe Mom just did that to outdo Frank’s dad, outshine him in every possible way, which, she totally did most days.

Frank sighs. He shouldn’t be thinking about this now. He’s with his new family now. Mikey is like a brother and Gerard is like…something else. Not his brother. He wouldn’t want to have sex with his brother so much it makes his chest hurt.

“I like the one I’m using as a pillow,” he says, patting his makeshift pillow. “It feels like a shoe box.”

“I’m gonna go with this one,” Gerard says, his hand snaking under Frank and pulling one of the packages from under the small of his back. “It’s kinda soft and squishy.”

“Yeah. I probably squashed it by laying my fat ass on it.”

“Your ass is not fat. I like your ass. It’s a very fine ass.”

Fuck. Holy shit. Frank almost swallows his tongue because that is some serious flirting. Gerard is actually flirting with him openly. There is no way things can go any better than this tonight.

He wraps his arms around Gerard and hugs him as hard as he can. His knee hurts and he should probably turn around but it would mean letting go of Gerard and sleeping with his back to him which, Frank doesn’t want to think about right now. “Can you not let go?” he whispers when he feels Gerard going limp in his arms.

“I’m not going anywhere.”

*

Gerard sleeps a little. It might not be a full night but he’ll take anything. He doesn’t get any nightmares this time which is also nice. He dreams about going back to the cabin in the woods. He sees it clearly. He sees himself walking in the small garden out back and picking flowers. In his dream, Frank is there and he’s holding his hand.

When he wakes up, there’s light flowing inside the truck and a chilling air that makes Gerard want to recoil all the way to the back of truck. The door is open and Mikey is gone.

Frank is wide awake but he’s still lying next to him, his arms firmly wrapped around Gerard’s waist.

“Hey,” he says, his voice gravely.

“I slept,” Gerard announces as he sits up. He’s surprised he managed to sleep after what happened yesterday. “Where’s Mikey?”

“He’s pissing in the woods,” Frank replies. He coughs for a few seconds and then rolls onto his stomach. “I found us some breakfast.”

He reaches up for one of the packages and shoves it in Gerard’s lap.

“I only had to eviscerate six or seven packages to find these,” he says, pointing at the Oreos; all thirty or maybe forty boxes of them (forty eight according to the label but there are already a few missing).

“I might have eaten already eight boxes,” Frank says, crawling up to the edge of the trailer. “But Mikey had five when he woke up.”

Gerard slides up next to him and tears the wrapper off one of the boxes. He starts wolfing down on the cookies and doesn’t stop until he’s had at least three boxes.

Frank grabs Gerard’s hand in the middle of his Oreo binge, and doesn’t let go as he lights a cigarette and shares it with Gerard. He doesn’t let go either when Mikey comes back from his little trip through the woods.

Mikey sits down next to Frank and steals one of the cookies in Gerard’s lap. “I vote we open everything and keep what we need,” he mumbles with his mouth full.

“I think I’m going to keep a couple of these wrapped,” Gerard says, glancing at Frank. He wants to keep the packages they picked last night for later. Even if there’s useless junk in them, it will still be nice to get a Christmas present.

Frank smiles and strokes the back of Gerard’s hand with his thumb.

Gerard shivers. He can’t believe he almost lost Frank yesterday.

*

Their bags are much heavier when they’re done packing all the things they find in the UPS truck.

Frank volunteers to carry their loot the rest of the way and Mikey finds him a pink, sparkly bag among the packages to put everything.

Frank’s knee feels a little better when they start off later that morning. He’s still limping a lot but the pain is less. It will probably come back to bite him in the ass later anyway.

They stop five or six times to rest along the road. By the time their stomachs start growling, Frank’s watch tells him it’s two hours past their sort of usual lunch time.

“I don’t think we can reach the cabin tonight,” Gerard says as he digs through Frank’s bag for a box of shortbread. “We could walk all night if you’re up for it.”

Frank nods. If they take breaks every hour or so, he should be good to go on for a few more hours. Providing his knee doesn’t start hurting like a motherfucker.

Mikey doesn’t seem much enthused by the idea but doesn’t say as much.

They walk for seven hours, taking short breaks that are not so short by the end of the day.

Occasionally, they find a car on the side of the road. Most of them have dead bodies in them. One doesn’t but it fell into the ditch and no one can figure out a way to get it out of there.

The night comes faster than Frank was expecting because heavy rainclouds are blocking the sun. They keep walking anyway even though Frank can barely see the road ahead.

Then it starts raining and everything goes to shit.

They’re in the middle of the woods and there’s nowhere to sit and wait for the rain to stop.

Frank is soaked in less than two minutes. Everything is damp and cold and squeaky, from his socks to his hoodie and his boxer shorts.

Things wouldn’t be too bad if it wasn’t the middle of December but it’s really fucking cold and Frank can’t stay like this for long unless he wants to have to battle another bout of pneumonia.

“We need to find some shelter,” he mumbles. Of course no one can hear him because the rain is too loud. He’s about to shout his request when Mikey starts sprinting towards something Frank can’t see. It would be easier to see the road if his hair wasn’t blocking his view. It’s all clumped over his forehead and dripping with rain. It gets into his eyes and Frank has to rub them with his wet hands, which doesn’t help at all.

Gerard grabs his hand and drags him along. He starts running after Mikey but Frank has a hard time keeping up. His stupid knee is killing him by the time they stop.

Frank pushes his hair out of his face and looks at the car. There’s blood on the dented hood and the windshield is busted. It’s still hanging on but the glass is cracked in a spider web shape.

There’s also the rotting carcass of a dead animal right in front of the vehicle, maybe a deer or a fucking gazelle, the fuck if Frank knows. It’s just a mess of fur and hooves and guts.

“Get in,” Gerard says before pushing Frank in the backseat.

It’s cold inside the car but it’s better than being outside in the rain.

Frank scouts over to the end of the seat and shivers. He wants to take off his clothes right now and change into things that are not wet but there’s very little space to move.

Mikey slumps into the front seats and lets out a deep sigh of relief.

“I know I should have packed an umbrella,” he mumbles as he starts fiddling with the dashboard. Maybe he’s trying to put the heater on but that won’t work because they don’t have the keys and Frank is pretty sure Mikey needs them.

Gerard takes off his jacket and dumps it in the back.

Something clicks and a tiny ceiling light turns on.

“I’m the Duke of Awesome. You may bow before me,” Mikey says with a half smile.

It’s nice to be able to see anything and it’s even nicer when Frank manages to squirm out of his damp hoodie which is starting to smell like a wet rat. He shakes his head and runs a hand through his hair, squeezing the rain out of it.

“I have a bunch of dry t-shirts in my pack,” Gerard points out as he grabs Frank’s hoodie and chucks it in with his jacket.

Even though all of Gerard’s shirt are dirty and probably smell like ass, Frank grabs one of them. He’s not going to be picky today.

He takes off his shirt and throws it on the pile of wet clothes in the back. Gerard’s t-shirt feels so nice and warm on his skin. It actually smells a lot like Gerard himself which isn’t a bad thing at all.

They all change their shirts but that’s all. They don’t have extra sweaters hidden at the bottom of their packs and no change of socks.

Frank’s jeans stick to his legs. It’s too uncomfortable to move, too tight.

“I’m gonna take five,” Mikey mumbles as he turns off the light and lies down across the seats, his legs awkwardly spread on the dashboard and his head propped up against the window in a position that cannot be comfortable at all.

And yet, Mikey falls asleep.

“It’s like his superpower,” Frank whispers after a few minutes as he shifts on the seat to get closer to Gerard and share his warmth.

The denim of his wet pants clings to his knees, which brings forth a lot of pain; so much pain Frank bites hard into his bottom lip so he doesn’t cry.

“Let me see,” Gerard says, lifting Frank’s leg up and pulling it across his lap. He slips his hand through the hole in Frank’s jeans and drags his fingers along the cut, slow and soothing. “We’ll take longer breaks tomorrow,” he adds with a frown.

“I’m fine. I can walk for a few more hours.”

“How about your neck? Does that still hurt?”

Frank shakes his head. It stings a bit when he touches it or when his clothes rub against it but that’s all. It could have been much worse if Gerard hadn’t been there.

Gerard leans in and plants a kiss on the cut. He wraps his arms around him, hooks his chin on Frank’s shoulder and murmurs, “Are you warm?”

“Not really. Are you?”

Gerard shakes his head. He slides in closer and lies down before pulling Frank beside him.

The seat is a little narrow to fit two people but they manage, mostly because Gerard is holding Frank really tight against him.

Gerard pulls something out of his backpack, another pair of shirts and lays them on top of them, makeshift blankets that smell fucking rancid. Their only real blanket is still in Mikey’s bag but Frank doesn’t want to wake him up just for that.

It feels really nice. The seats are comfortable and Gerard is really warm. Frank could probably fall asleep if he tried really hard.

“Will you hate me forever if I tell you I’m not exactly sure where we are right now?” Gerard asks, his knee shifting up and down the back of Frank’s leg. It feels so good that Frank’s can’t really be mad at Gerard about anything.

“N-no,” he stutters, closing his eyes as Gerard starts kissing the nape of his neck.

Frank doesn’t really give a shit where they are. He’s just glad Gerard and Mikey are here.

“I don’t know how to get to the place because I don’t know where we are,” Gerard says and then he’s not kissing Frank’s neck anymore and it doesn’t feel right.

Frank looks over his shoulder and gives Gerard a small smile he hopes looks reassuring enough. He doesn’t care if they don’t find the place. As long as Gerard and Mikey are here, he’s happy. “We’ll figure it out.”

*

Gerard wakes up to the sound of an engine roaring and freaks out.

He sits up so fast his head spins and gasps in horror. They are under attack. Someone is trying to hurt Mikey or Frank or both and he fell asleep and they’re all dead and—

Gerard sees Frank sat in front of him and then he notices Mikey is driving. They’re not dead. They’re all here and they have a new car.

He blinks at the road for a few seconds and how strange it looks through their broken windshield before shifting forward to touch Frank’s shoulder.

“Good morning, baby,” Frank says, turning back to give Gerard a bright smile, so bright that it makes Gerard’s heart skip a beat.

“Morning, loser,” Mikey mumbles, his eyes leaving the road only for a second. “We thought you were dead.”

Frank laughs, breathy and raw. “Look who’s fucking talking. Isn’t that the Duke of I-fucking-sleep-standing-up?”

“What? I’m awake right now and I’ve been driving around for two hours. So don’t even start.”

Frank puts his hand over Gerard’s and gives it a soft pat.

“And it’s Duke of Awesome,” Mikey protests.

“Where are we?” Gerard asks. He doesn’t recognize anything and yet it all looks the same, like Mikey’s been driving in circle all morning and they’re about to see the dead deer again.

Frank shrugs. “We’re not sure but we’re heading west. We need to stop for gas really soon.”

Gerard eats what’s left of the Oreos for breakfast or lunch. He’s not really sure what time it is. Frank is the only one to bother with time anymore.

They drive for another hour or so before they find a gas station, just a stone’s throw away from a tiny town Gerard has never heard of.

He doesn’t want to tell Mikey they’re lost; that he got them lost by being an idiot and by not planning this more carefully.

There are a few cars parked outside the station and Frank does his pumping thing on a few of them which shouldn’t look sexy at all but kind of does after a while.

It’s weird how Frank can tell the difference between all the kinds of fuels just by tasting them, but it’s also pretty impressive.

“You’re never going to want to kiss me now that I taste like fuel,” he says, coughing, spitting and wiping his mouth on the sleeve of his hoodie.

“Gross,” Gerard says even though he doesn’t think it is.

They haven’t kissed yet. Gerard is starting to think it may never happen because he missed his chance about ten or twenty times already, and Frank might realize how lame he really is soon and that he should have picked Mikey to make out with from the start.

“My life sucks. You have no idea,” Frank says as he gets up and buries his nose in the collar of Gerard’s jacket. Then he coughs for so long that Gerard thinks he might be dying right here and right now under his very terrified eyes.

Gerard pats his back and waits for Frank’s coughing fit to stop, feeling helpless.

Their clothes are still humid and Frank’s jeans look really tight on him today. He looks like he has more trouble walking around too; probably because of his knee.

Once Frank is done filling up the tank, they all march down the gas station. It looks empty, safe. There’s not much there, just some beef jerky and gum and also a few packs of cigarettes Gerard grabs off the shelves before Mikey can call dibs on them.

However, Mikey doesn’t seem to care much about the cigarettes for now. He’s hovering by the checkout counter, humming under his breath. When he notices Gerard, he grabs something, maybe a book or a newspaper and hides it behind his back.

“Tell me I’m awesome.”

Gerard doesn’t really have time to waste playing games. “What did you find?”

“Tell me I’m awesome first and I’ll tell you,” Mikey says, his lips pursed.

Gerard sighs and rolls his eyes. “You’re awesome,” he mumbles, half-assed.

Mikey cocks his head to the side and mumbles something Gerard doesn’t catch before pulling a booklet under Gerard’s nose. “I found a map,” he says with a smug look.

Frank snakes an arm around Gerard and snags the map from Mikey’s scrawny fingers.

“Yeah. I told Mikey I’d like to know where we’re heading. Thought you might want it,” he says, unfolding the map on the counter after giving Gerard a wink and a smile.

Gerard fucking loves him.

“Hmm. So we’re going there. Blairsville,” he says, pointing at their destination. It’s definitely Blairsville.

“And we are?” Mikey asks, looking at Gerard from above his glasses.

Gerard has no fucking idea so he just points at a dot on the map at random. “Here.” They should be close to that place anyway. “Or possibly here?”

“Yeah. That name looks familiar,” Frank says as he pulls his arm from Gerard’s waist.

Gerard is about to fold the map when Mikey grabs it.

“Fuck you. I know what I saw. You were snoring while I was driving, remember? We’re here,” he says, pointing at a dot that’s not anywhere near Blairsville. If he’s right, they went too far down south and are about to reach Gainesville.

Gerard reaches for the map but Mikey doesn’t want to let it go.

“I should drive from now on,” Gerard says, cornering Mikey against a slushie machine and tickling that spot above Mikey’s hip that always makes him squirm. “You didn’t even get your license,” Gerard mumbles, stealing the map back.

“Are you fucking kidding me? Using torture on your own brother now?”

“Why are you guys even fighting?” Frank asks, looking slightly worried and a lot confused as they make their way back to the car.

Gerard gives him a lopsided smile. “We’re not fighting. He’s just being a dick.”

Mikey glares at him. “You’re the dick. Dick, dick, dick.”

“Give me the keys, dick.”

“You should reconsider making out with my brother,” Mikey tells Frank as he throws the keys in Gerard’s direction. “He’s too much of a dick.”

“I like dicks,” Frank says with a huge grin. He bites his bottom lip and Gerard feels really warm all of a sudden. Like, his cheeks are probably bright red and he’s starting to sweat profusely.

“I figured, yeah,” Mikey mumbles as he climbs in the backseat. “Now, could we stop talking about dicks?”

*

They’re lost but Gerard seems to hide it pretty well from his brother, or at least for a little while. He occasionally glances at the map, frowns at the road signs and chain smokes to hide his nervousness.

Frank doesn’t know where the cabin is so he doesn’t open his mouth while Gerard is taking them through narrow dirt roads that never lead anywhere.

Gerard looks already stressed by the whole thing. He probably doesn’t need Frank asking him if they’re close to their destination every five minutes. Mikey is doing that pretty well on his own.

They don’t reach the cabin by nightfall but Gerard refuses to spend another night in the car.

“I don’t mind sleeping in the back with you,” Frank says but Gerard ignores his comment and keeps driving.

The cracked windshield makes it nearly impossible to see anything and Gerard has to pull over so he can check the map in Frank’s lap.

“I know where we are. I just,” he mumbles, looking in the rearview mirror at his sleeping brother. “I want you to sleep in a real bed tonight. Mikey too.”

Frank shrugs. “I don’t care about a fucking bed.” He really doesn’t. He could sleep in the backseat with Gerard again. He likes having him close by, so warm and so tender.

Gerard reaches up and runs a hand in Frank’s hair, scratching his skull. “You haven’t been sleeping for days and you’ve been coughing again.”

“I’m not getting sick,” Frank says which happens to be a lie. He’s been feeling tired and sore for a while now but the coughing started again this morning. He shouldn’t have stayed in his wet clothes since his immune system is crap. It’s his own fault, really.

Gerard doesn’t seem convinced but he lets go of Frank’s hair and pulls back onto the road after a minute.

They get lost two or three more times but Gerard seems too resolute to give up and then, just as Frank is starting to doze off, they find it.

It’s early the next morning when Gerard parks the car in a narrow road in the middle of the woods. He turns off the engine and stares at the big wooden sign ahead.

“I think this is it,” he says, his voice shaking with what could be anticipation.

The sign says the place is a camping area and that visitors should keep it clean but that’s it. It doesn’t say anything about a cabin or how big and comfy it is or if it has hot water so Frank can shower. It doesn’t say anything about a King size bed where he could sleep for two straight weeks.

“Mikey?” Gerard says, turning to his brother and shaking his knee vigorously. “We’re here.”

Mikey mumbles and swats at his brother’s hand. Then he stirs, moans and yawns before finally opening his eyes to stare at Gerard and Frank.

“Is it morning already?” he asks in a rough voice.

“Yeah. Time to go for a walk,” Gerard says, pocketing the keys and climbing out of the car.

They take most of their things out of the trunk and head down a narrow and somewhat steep trail.

It takes them less than five minutes to get there. The cabin is standing in the middle of a meadow, a bit run down, but Frank is willing to work with it. It has four walls, a door and a roof and it’s what really matters to him right now.

Mikey rushes in first and the door falls on the floor as he pushes it open. A cloud of dust billows around him and Mikey is forced to retreat back on the porch.

They walk through the front door together, a united front in the face of…whatever the cabin is going to throw at them next. Maybe a flock of bats or a lumberjack with crazy eyes and a chainsaw.

When Frank steps inside the cabin though, he notices how comfortable it could be, once they fix that huge hole in the roof and once they put the door back on its hinge. There’s a smell of pine and rain in the air. It’s dusty and old but it’s perfect for them.

There’s no bed to sleep on, and no other furniture than a sturdy looking wooden table and a chair, right in the center of the room. There’s also a fireplace which is probably the best thing about this cabin.

Frank drops his bag by the door and coughs. The dust isn’t so bad now. He probably has a cold, nothing a little fire can’t fix.

Mikey stares at the hole in the ceiling, looking a little perplexed and turns to Frank.

“I could fix this or I could leave it like that and say it’s a window,” he says with a half grin.

Frank laughs and turns to Gerard.

He is oddly quiet as he leans on the door frame and scans the place.

“It’s not bad,” Frank says with a smile. He likes it a lot. He could live here.

“I’m gonna,” Gerard starts, looking unimpressed and maybe a bit disappointed as his shoulders drop. “Gonna get stuff from the car,” he finishes before climbing down the porch and shuffling back to the car.

“I don’t think Gerard likes the extra window idea as much as we do,” Frank says, pulling the door off the floor and propping it against the wall.

“Wood,” Mikey says, looking unfazed. Then he’s rushing past Frank and disappearing into the forest.

Frank shrugs and heads back to the car, his enthusiasm slowly receding. They have a lot of work if they want to fix this place before nightfall and they might as well start now. Frank would be alright with that if he wasn’t so damn tired.

*

He fucked up. He fucked everything up. He asked Frank to follow them. He forced Mikey to leave their home and now they have nothing. They can’t live in this place. It looks nothing like he remembered.

It used to have bunk beds and armchairs and pictures on the walls. There used to be an ugly rug and a pantry with all kinds of delicious snacks and lampshades with animals on them.

Now it’s too wrecked, too small, and too dark. There’s no food and nowhere they can sleep.

Gerard should have just let Mikey decide. He should have gone to Florida or fucking California because this place is just as cold as New Jersey or maybe even colder.

Maybe they can leave now and find a better place. Gerard isn’t even sure there’s a better place anywhere in the world but it can’t be much worse than here. He could drive them to California and camp out by the ocean.

There’s a knock on the window.

Gerard lifts his head up from the steering wheel and looks at Frank through the broken windshield.

He’s smiling like nothing’s wrong, like he’s not mad at Gerard for taking them to this shit hole. He knocks on the window once more and says, “Let me in.”

Gerard unlocks the passenger door and watches as Frank slides in next to him.

“Everything alright?” he asks, his hand resting on Gerard’s thigh. “You look like someone just insulted Batman.”

“I’m sorry.”

“What? Why?” Frank squeezes Gerard’s knee and starts stroking him. “Why are you apologizing?”

“I shouldn’t have brought you into this. I should have left you in Jersey like you wanted to. You wouldn’t be hurt. You wouldn’t be forced to sleep in the backseat of a car.”

Frank shakes his head and shifts on his seat until he’s almost straddling the gearbox. “No. I wouldn’t be hurt. I would be dead. Gerard.” He lets go of Gerard’s knee and gives him a strange look, like he’s about to burst into tears. “You don’t get it, do you? I was ready to die. I didn’t care anymore. I was going to die alone in that house and you rescued me. You protected me. You saved my life twice.”

“I didn’t.”

“Yes you did and I’m glad you did. You and Mikey, you’re all I’ve got. You’re my family. I love you,” he says as his voice breaks. He coughs, his lungs making a strange whistling sound as he inhales.

“And you’re like a brother to me,” Gerard says, patting his back. He loves Frank too. He loves him more than he ever loved anyone. He loves him so much more than he thought he loved Charlotte Euringer, the girl he had a crush on for two long years until she moved to stupid Pennsylvania.

Frank quirks an eyebrow at him. “Really? Wow. That’s awkward.”

“No. Not like. You’re not like a brother. You’re. I don’t.” Gerard is so screwed. He should learn to shut his mouth. It’s definitely not what he meant to say.

Frank laughs, breathy and smug. He is clearly an asshole whose only goal in life is to torture Gerard; only he’s not really an asshole and Gerard wants to kiss him right the fuck now before the moment passes. And so he does.

Although Gerard is not sure who kisses who first, probably because he leans in at the moment Frank licks his lips and leans in too. It seems like they had the same idea.

It’s just a peck at first, and then Frank grabs Gerard by the hips and Gerard takes a handful of Frank’s hair, and the kiss deepens.

It’s much better than he thought it would be even though he thought it would be pretty fantastic.

Their lips lock and then Gerard’s tongue darts out of his mouth and slides into Frank’s before he even thinks about what he’s doing.

Frank lets out a muffled moan but lets Gerard in, his lips opening and his tongue twisting around Gerard’s.

He doesn’t taste like fuel, not that Gerard knows what it tastes like. Frank tastes like tobacco and Ding Dongs; so good, so sweet. His skin is soft and cold under Gerard’s fingers. His hair smells like sweat and cheap hand soap. Gerard wants to get lost in him. He never wants to stop, never wants to let go of Frank.

When Frank pulls away, Gerard opens his eyes and he sees how heavy Frank’s eyelids look. His pupils are blown and his lips are red and shiny with spit. His hair is a mess too, like they did a lot more than just kissing.

Of course, Mikey is standing by the passenger door, looking pissed with his arms crossed over his chest, his foot tapping. Gerard doesn’t know how long he’s been standing there, watching them but by the way he’s glaring at Gerard, it’s probably been a while.

“Are you going to make out all day or are you going to give me a hand with the wood?” he asks, opening the door and sticking his head inside the car.

Frank snorts. “I’d rather help Gerard with his wood.”

“Oh my God.” Gerard wants to hide in the car forever and never go out. Frank is an obnoxious little asshole. Besides, he’s only half hard in his pants and doesn’t need any help.

“Help,” Mikey says, glaring at Gerard and judging him quietly. “Now.”

“Yeah. Sure. Help.” Gerard wipes Frank’s and his spit off his lips and stumbles out of the car. The windows are fogged up and his t-shirt is riding up his stomach. His belt is undone which is weird because he doesn’t remember that happening. Apparently, Frank’s fingers are stealthy.

He tucks his shirt back in and follows Mikey back to the house, moaning a little when Frank slips a hand in the back pocket of his jeans.

*

Frank can’t fucking get enough of Gerard. He thought kissing him would make it better, would calm him down or something, but it doesn’t help. It makes things even worse because as soon as they’re back inside the cabin, Frank wants to push Gerard in a corner and make out with him until he can’t breathe.

It’s like his skin is on fire, like he’s running a fever. He needs this so much it hurts.

There’s a major setback to his plan to get into Gerard’s pants though. Mikey is right there, going in and out of the cabin, and Gerard looks uneasy enough as it with Frank’s fingers stroking his ass as he builds a fire in the old fireplace.

“I think I’m getting sick,” Frank announces when Mikey walks out of the cabin again.

Gerard turns to him, frowning, looking alarmed. “Do you need to lie down?” he asks, putting his hand on Frank’s forehead. Gerard gingers are cold as ice, or maybe it’s Frank who is burning up. “I could walk you back to the car and you can sleep in there or I could fix some kind of bed for you in here.”

Frank shakes his head. “I’ll stay here.” He’s not feeling too great but it’s not that bad. He’s just tired and sore and his lungs are making that weird death rattle again which is never a good sign. But he’s been worse and a good night sleep is probably the only thing he needs right now.

Gerard pets Frank’s cheeks and then starts poking around his backpack for a blanket. He spreads it down on the floor and grimaces.

“In case you need to lie down,” Gerard says, rolling a pile of dirty clothes into a pillow. “It’s shit but the only mattress here is covered in dead spiders and bird crap and something gooey we shouldn’t touch in case it’s radioactive.”

“It’s totally radioactive,” Mikey calls as he comes in and drags a piss stained mattress out the door. “I’m turning into Spider Bird Man as we speak.”

Gerard smiles, leans in and plants a quick kiss on Frank’s lips. “I don’t want you to be sick again.”

“Me neither,” Frank replies with a whine. He sits down on the blanket and watches Gerard and Mikey move about the cabin for a little while, his eyelids growing heavier.

Mikey is very serious about fixing the hole on the roof. He doesn’t let Gerard in on his project because he says, “You’re gonna fuck up my chi. I know what I’m doing.”

Frank curls up in the blanket and shivers. He should probably do something, like maybe help Gerard clean up the place and throw moldy furniture out but as much as he wants to, he can’t move. He’s getting sick again. He can feel it now, how hard it is to draw a simple breath.

It’s probably the lack of sleep finally catching up to him that’s making things worse. He can’t get sick again. Not now. There’s no fucking way he’s getting fucking pneumonia after making it to their new home.

Frank fights sleep for a couple of hours. He’s aware Mikey is talking to him and he can feel Gerard touching him every once in a while but by the time they stop moving in and out of the cabin and settle for dinner, Frank accepts his defeat.

Maybe sleep will make him feel better.

*

They spend most of their first night huddled together on the floor.

It’s not the most comfortable set-up they’ve had since they ran away from Belleville. Also the car isn’t that far away, it has a large backseat and it’s a bit warmer than the cabin, but Frank looks too exhausted and too sick to move so they decide to stay put.

Gerard doesn’t get much sleep. He wakes up every once in a while and checks up on Frank and Mikey. He gets up and checks on the door too, making sure it holds in place. He paces around the cabin, lies back down next to Frank and then gets up again. He does this until dawn, watching as the sun, pale and round, rises behind a coat of white snow clouds.

He shivers and throws some more wood into the fire. He glances back at Frank and Mikey’s sleeping forms and gets up. He’s about to head back, and try and get a few more minutes of sleep, when he hears footsteps out on the porch.

He freezes and stares at the handle for the longest time. It doesn’t budge and the footsteps seem to be going away.

Someone’s out there and they’re coming to kill them. They’re probably going to kick the door down and all Gerard can do is stare at the fucking door like an idiot.

Gerard shakes himself off and starts searching for something sharp or heavy, a weapon, anything he could defend himself with in case of an attack. All he comes up with is an empty bottle. Now he kind of wishes they had kept the gun.

The footsteps get closer again, shuffle around for a bit and Gerard tip toes towards the door with his plastic bottle clasped in his clammy fingers.

The door opens and Gerard swings the plastic bottle at the intruder. It doesn’t do much damage and bounces off the guy’s chest. Fuck fuck fuck.

“Are you kidding me,” the guy says, grabbing Gerard’s wrist and squeezing it. “You were trying to hit me with a bottle of Mountain Dew?”

Everything stops; like someone hit the pause button on a remote. Gerard drops the bottle and blinks. He cannot believe what he’s seeing. Maybe sleep deprivation messed up with his brain and now he’s seeing things; things that cannot be real.

“You’re a very hard man to find,” Ray says as he walks in, he lets go of Gerard’s wrist and drops a heavy looking backpack on the floor. “Nice little dig you have going on here.”

Gerard’s jaw drops. Then, before he can think, he has his arms wrapped around Ray and they’re hugging.

“Ray,” he whispers, his throat closing. His eyes fill with tears and he chokes up. “Ray,” he repeats and Ray pats his back.

“I’m here, Gee. I’m here now.”

Gerard shuts his eyes and holds on to Ray tighter. This doesn’t feel real. Maybe he’s having one of these vivid dreams he sometimes gets. The only thing missing from the picture is the cute guy who used to sit next to him in digital art class. The cute guy riding a fucking unicorn.

“I got your message,” Ray says in a low, soothing voice. “Took me a while to remember where this place was.”

“How? I mean, did you?” Gerard has so many questions he doesn’t even know where to start. But for now, all he wants is to hug the shit out of his best friend.

*

Frank freaks out when he sees Gerard hugging someone he’s never seen before. He’s pretty sure it’s not Mikey because Mikey is here, lying next to Frank and puling all the blankets to himself like a selfish asshole.

For a second, Frank thinks some guy with too much hair is trying to choke Gerard by squeezing the shit out of him. He tries to get up so he can throw some punches; do something, save Gerard; but his legs don’t seem to want to move.

Then Gerard starts laughing which means there’s no real danger and he doesn’t need to be saved which is probably for the best.

They all slept here last night on the hard cold floor of the cabin. Frank’s brain is a bit fuzzy about everything but he manages to sit up and mumbles a quiet, “Who’s that?” He coughs and doubles over as he tries to catch his next breath. This is going to be fucking hell all over again; he can feel it in his lungs.

The tall guy with the big frizzy hair lets go of Gerard and grins at Frank.

“I’m Ray,” he says, walking up to him, a huge grin on his face.

“That’s Frank,” Gerard says as he rushes over to Frank and kneels down in front of him. He feels his forehead, grimaces and turns over to Ray. “He’s been with us since Belleville. He went to our school.”

Then Gerard stares into Frank’s eyes and whispers, “You need to lie down. You’re very hot today.”

Frank nods and it feels like his brain is about to leak out of his ears. “You look very hot too. Thank you very much,” he mumbles as his head hits the floor.

Mikey groans and throws his corner of the blanket on Frank.

“Why are you so fucking loud so early in the morning,” he grumbles, rolling over Frank and pressing his stupid bony elbows into Frank’s side. “It’s not like I have to go to school today.”

Frank pushes him away with what’s left of his strength. He’s fucking sore all over and he doesn’t need Mikey climbing over him like that in front of strangers. Besides, he’s too hot to cuddle right now.

“Breakfast?” Gerard asks no one in particular and Frank curls back up under the blanket. Eating is pretty much the last thing he wants to be doing right now.

He shuts his eyes and listens. There’s a lot of scuffling around and conversations in hushed tones about Frank and how sick he looks.

Then Frank drifts off and wakes up just as Ray is saying, “—had to avoid any big city after that. It hasn’t been easy but I’m glad I still had my phone with me.”

“I’m glad you had it too,” Gerard whispers.

“Seems like it was the Fluzemil,” Ray announces and Frank isn’t sure what he means. “That’s what I heard from the guy I hung out with back in Jersey. He said he didn’t get the shot and since none of us did—”

“You think the vaccine did that to people? That it turned them into psychopaths?” Mikey asks, his voice suddenly a bit louder and Frank’s fuzzy brain manages to piece most of what Ray’s saying together.

“Or killed them, yeah. I think skipping the mandatory Fluzemil shot to smoke pot in the janitor’s closet was the best idea we ever had.”

Mikey mumbles something with his mouth full and Ray replies something Frank doesn’t manage to catch.

Frank feels a hand on his forehead a couple of times while he’s in and out of it. Gerard’s. It can only be Gerard by the way his fingers linger on Frank’s damp skin. Gerard’s breath brushes up against Frank’s neck as he whispers, “You get some sleep. I’ll be right here.”

“How is he doing?” says a voice Frank doesn’t recognize. Maybe it’s Gerard’s friend.

Fuck. He’s really out of it now. He can’t even remember what that guy’s name was.

Frank doesn’t hear a reply. Actually, he doesn’t hear anything anymore because he’s slipping out of consciousness again.

*

Mikey and Ray go to sleep in the car while Gerard volunteers to stay in the cabin with Frank.

He’s been shivering and coughing a lot more today and Gerard feels responsible for this. He should have found him a real bed a long time ago and he should have kept him warm and dry at night.

The fireplace provides some much needed heat to the place but it’s not enough. The cabin is bare and wrecked even though Mikey managed to find a temporary fix for the hole in the roof. At least, the rain isn’t coming in anymore so there’s that.

Gerard waits for a few minutes, making sure the door holds in place and that all of the windows are shut, before lying down by Frank’s side. He wraps the blanket around them and feels Frank’s forehead to make sure he’s not running a fever.

He was really hot earlier but now, Frank is cold. He’s actually colder than he’s supposed to be and Gerard worries that he might have caught something deadly, like the thing that killed everyone in the first place.

Out here in the woods, there’s nothing he can do, no drugs, no hot soup or tea. There’s just the blanket he set on the floor and a fire that might die soon.

Gerard should be happy though. Ray is here. He’s alive and well, and even though he had to deal with a lot over the past few weeks, he’s still Ray. He lost most of his family (he didn’t say if his brother Lou made it out of the house) in a fire his dad started but somehow, he looks like he’s alright now, like he came to terms with what happened. Just like Gerard came to terms with the fact that his entire family is here now. Mikey and Ray and Frank.

So Gerard spends the night petting Frank’s side and watching him sleep because it’s the only thing he can do. He even gets a couple of hours sleep himself even though the sound of the wind blowing though the trees is freaking him out just a little bit. He doesn’t remember the cabin being this creepy place in the middle of a creepy and dangerous fairytale forest.

When Gerard wakes up the next morning, he decides his only course of action is to take the car and drive around until he finds a town and a pharmacy. He doesn’t want Frank to die. He’d rather have to deal with crazy psychopaths with knives and shears than doing nothing to save Frank.

He kisses Frank’s cool forehead before scrambling up to his feet. He checks that the fire hasn’t died down and adds a handful of sticks in it, blowing on the embers and on his cold hands.

Frank whines in his sleep and twists and turns inside the blanket. He should be warm.

Gerard doesn’t want to leave Frank on his own but he needs to go. Besides, he’s going to send Ray in to watch over him. Maybe Frank will still be asleep by the time Gerard comes back.

He picks up his jacket off the floor and tip toes out of the cabin, the wood cracking under his feet with each of his steps.

When Gerard gets back to the car, Mikey is asleep in the backseat and Ray is sat outside on a tree stump, smoking a cigarette and staring into the distance.

“Morning,” he says as he tucks his cigarette between Gerard’s fingers.

“Morning.” Gerard nods and raps his knuckles against the window but Mikey doesn’t wake up.

“Is Frank better today?” Ray asks, looking genuinely concerned about Frank’s health, his eyebrows furrowed and his fingers twitching on his knees.

Gerard shakes his head and takes a quick drag before handing the cigarette back to Ray. “He’s worse. I was thinking about going into town now to get him some drugs. Would you—”

Ray gets up and nods. “I’ll stay with him. Don’t worry about him.”

“Thanks, man.”

Ray stubs his cigarette on the tree stump and says, “It’s good to be here. I was going crazy all by myself. It wasn’t always easy.”

“I’m sorry I didn’t look for you.” Ray was on his own for weeks. Gerard should have been looking for him harder. He should have kicked every door down until he found him. He should have been a better friend.

“You did look. It wasn’t your fault,” Ray says as he grabs Gerard’s shoulder and squeezes it. “I wouldn’t be here if you hadn’t left that message.”

Gerard smiles. He’s glad Frank gave him the idea.

“Did you sleep alright?” he asks, pressing his nose against the window and fogging it up. Mikey is still asleep.

“Yeah. An hour or two. Your brother slept like a baby though.”

Gerard laughs and watches as Ray makes his way back to the cabin. Of course, Mikey slept like a baby. Gerard didn’t have to worry about him too much last night. Now that Ray’s here, things are going to be easier. Gerard won’t have to protect everyone.

The passenger door isn’t locked so Gerard slides in and shakes Mikey’s shoulder. “Hey, wake up, Mikes.”

Mikey mumbles something and swats at Gerard’s hand. “What time is it?”

“It’s morning,” Gerard replies. He has no idea what time it is. “Let’s go into town to pick up shit for Frank,” he adds, poking at Mikey’s exposed stomach.

Mikey yawns and sits up. “Is he still sick?”

Gerard nods. “I think he’s really fucking sick.”

“Ok. Should we get him? Like, shove him in the backseat or something.”

“No. He needs to sleep,” Gerard says as he takes a glance at the trail leading down to the cabin. “Ray said he’ll keep an eye on him.”

If they go now and grab whatever they can find at the closest pharmacy, they can be back in half an hour, maybe an hour tops. He doesn’t want to go into town alone because he might need Mikey to have his back out there.

“Let’s make this quick,” he mumbles.

“I’m driving,” Mikey says as he climbs awkwardly between the seats and flops behind the wheel in a mess of lanky limbs.

“Fine.” Gerard doesn’t care who’s driving as long as they do this fast.

*

When Frank wakes up, he’s confused about everything. The floor is hard under him and he’s wrapped in a smelly blanket. He takes a deep breath as he tries to sit up and coughs, his throat raw, his lungs congested.

He scans his surroundings and then remembers he’s in the cabin. He opens his mouth to call Gerard but no sound comes out of his throat. He kneels down and coughs until he’s almost puking his lungs out on the floor and until his stomach hurts.

There’s no sign of Gerard and Mikey inside the cabin. The fire they managed to get going yesterday is dead and it’s fucking freezing inside.

Frank gets on his feet and staggers up to the fireplace. He throws a log in the ashes but it’s fucking useless. He steps back and picks up the blanket off the floor. He wraps it around his shoulders and shuffles out of the cabin.

The sun is bright and high in the sky.

Frank coughs, spits out on the porch and walks up the trail.

Gerard and Mikey are probably grabbing something from the car. They wouldn’t leave him in the middle of the woods by himself. It would be too fucking stupid.

Frank wipes the sweat off his forehead with the back of his arm. He shouldn’t be sweating this much. It’s really cold out here and he’s shivering.

He walks farther and farther away from the cabin, limping along the trail, his teeth chattering.

It takes him a few minutes to realize the car is gone. He should have walked right past it by now but there’s nothing, no one. He’s alone and sick and his brain is a little fuzzy.

He turns around and heads back to the cabin. Or at least he thinks that might be the right way to the cabin. The woods are dense and unfamiliar. He tries to stay on the trail but it disappears after a few minutes.

Maybe if he heads back in the other direction – Maybe he can find his way back.

By the time he finds the trail again, he’s out of breath and too feverish to know which way he should go.

“Gerard,” he shouts and his voice echoes, bouncing off the trees. He lets go of the blanket. He’s too hot. He needs to find the cabin. There’s water in the cabin. He needs water. He needs to sit down.

The grass is wet under him as he falls on his back. He’s dizzy. The trees seem so tall. He reaches up and he’s almost there. He can almost touch the top of a pine tree.

The cool air brushes up his hot skin and Frank trembles. He pushes his hair off his face and tucks it behind his ears. It sticks to his forehead.

Maybe he should stay here and wait until Gerard and Mikey come back. They have to come back for him. He doesn’t want to be alone. He needs Gerard to take his hand and pet his hair and tell him everything’s alright.

Frank crawls up and his knee hurts. He pokes at it through the hole in his jeans.

If only he could find Gerard and Mikey – They’re probably looking for him. They need to be looking for him.

Frank doesn’t want to die alone. He doesn’t want Gerard and Mikey to leave him.

In the distance, Frank hears a melody. It’s familiar, something he used to play on his guitar after school. Something by…Frank doesn’t remember. It feels like his brain is floating in a sea of cotton.

He sits up against a tree and wipes the sweat off his forehead. After a few seconds, the tree behind him vanishes and Frank is laying face down into the wet grass. It smells like rain.

The ground here is softer than inside the cabin. Frank could sleep out here.

He shuts his eyes and drifts off as the music grows closer.

*

The radio Mikey found at the store works. There’s some old song by Jim Carroll playing, The People Who Died. That’s kind of ironic, Gerard thinks as he parks the car at the end of the trail.

The nearest town isn’t really that big which is probably a good thing, but still big enough that they managed to find a CVS right away.

There are plenty of drugs in the bag Gerard is carrying in his lap. He grabbed everything that looked like it could help Frank; Theraflu, Paracetamol, VICKS, cough syrup and drops as well as a bunch of other stuff they might need in the future: gauze, Band-Aids and Tums.

They’ve been gone a couple of hours, longer than Gerard expected to be gone but they have valid reasons. They have food now, cans of soup and Spaghettio, chips, Hershey chocolate bars, blankets and flashlights. Mikey also found that old radio that seems to be only playing old rock songs.

When Gerard pushes the door of the cabin open, Frank isn’t here. The blanket is gone too and it’s freezing.

Ray is standing in the corner where Frank’s been sleeping, his eyes huge. “I went out to get firewood and he was gone when I came back,” he says, shaking his head.

“How long were you out?” Mikey asks.

“Five minutes tops. I swear it wasn’t that long,” Ray replies, looking straight at Gerard, his eyes pleading for forgiveness.

“Maybe he went to take a piss,” Mikey says, heading back on the porch. “Frank,” he calls, craning his neck to look at the side of the cabin.

“I’m so sorry. He just looked cold and I wanted to—“

“It’s not your fault,” Mikey says as he climbs down the porch.

No. It’s really not Ray’s fault. It’s Gerard’s fault. It was his job to take care of Mikey and Frank and he failed.

Gerard drops the CVS bags on the floor and joins Mikey outside. “What if he freaked the fuck out because he thought I abandoned him here? What if someone took him?”

Mikey shakes his head. “No. I’ll go look in the woods. He’s probably around here.”

“I’ll—” Gerard doesn’t know where to look. “I don’t fucking know.” He shouldn’t have left the cabin. He should have made sure Frank was alright or at least awake before he left. He should have found a way to lock the door. He shouldn’t have left Frank with someone he doesn’t know.

“Frank?” Gerard shouts and his voice comes back to him, shaky and panicked. He starts walking. Maybe Frank tried to go back to the car. Maybe he didn’t see it and decided to walk up to the main road.

“We should maybe stick together,” Mikey says, following Gerard up the trail. “You have like, zero sense of orientation.”

Gerard nods. He’s too fucking scared to do this alone anyway.

“I’ll stay here in case he comes back,” Ray shouts from the cabin.

They walk up and down the trail three times, look around the cabin, and hike through the woods for two hours. Everything looks the same. It feels like they’re going deeper and deeper into the forest and that they might reach the main road if they keep going any longer.

If Frank reached the main road, maybe someone saw him. Maybe someone hurt him. Maybe his body is lying in a ditch, cut open, bleeding.

“I shouldn’t have left him all alone,” Gerard says as they reach a trail that doesn’t seem to lead anywhere.

Mikey glares at the sky and zips up his jacket. “You didn’t. You left him with Ray. You did what you had to do.”

It’s just starting to snow when they find him. Frank is curled up in a ball under to a tree, shivering and mumbling to himself, flustered, his breath coming out in ominous rattles, snowflakes dancing around him and getting caught in his long eyelashes.

Gerard kneels down at his side and feels his forehead.

Frank is so cold, cold like death, cold like he’s been lying outside for hours. His clothes are soaked and his lips are white and cracked.

Gerard takes off his jacket and wraps it around Frank shoulders. He leans in and whispers in Frank’s ear, “Baby, wake up. Frankie. Open your eyes now.”

Frank’s eyes stay closed and his breath becomes even more hectic, like he’s about to stop breathing altogether.

“I found his blanket,” Mikey says, covering up Frank’s frail body. “We should take him back before it gets dark.”

Frank is surprisingly heavy for someone who hasn’t had any food in a few days. Actually, it seems that his clothes are heavier than he is because they’re wet. Underneath his grass stained red hoodie, Frank is probably nothing but skin and bones.

They carry him back inside the cabin and their progression through the woods is slow. Gerard keeps sliding in the mud and Mikey stops every minute or so to catch his breath.

When they reach the cabin, the porch is covered in a thin layer of snow and the wind carried some of the snowflakes inside through the open door.

“I’m gonna get some more wood,” Ray announces as they lay Frank down on the floor.

Gerard nods. They need to make a fire now and they need to shut that stupid door before they all freeze to death.

Mikey follows Ray outside and shuts the door behind them to keep the snow from coming in.

Frank looks really pale in the dim light coming in through the small window, his hair plastered to his face, his cheeks smeared with mud.

Gerard pulls the old blanket off. It’s wet now. He chucks it in a corner and grabs a dry one, a Dora the Explorer fleece blanket that’s too tiny to fit two people, from one of the CVS bags. He lays it on the floor and kneels down at Frank’s side.

Everything is wet. His hoodie, his jeans, his hair.

Gerard starts undressing him by taking off Frank’s sneaker. He rolls off his socks and takes off his jeans. They’re clinging to his skin so Gerard has to tug on them hard.

Frank feels boneless under Gerard’s fingers, pliable and so defenseless.

Gerard makes a pile with Frank’s clothes and pushes them closer to the fireplace. He doesn’t take Frank’s underwear off. They’re not as wet as the rest of his clothes and Gerard doesn’t feel like taking them off anyway.

It’s the first time he sees Frank this naked though and it makes him a little uncomfortable, like he’s doing something wrong just by looking at him. Frank’s skin is pale and soft, his chest hairless. There’s a scar and a bruise on his left knee where the bullet grazed him. He has other bruises on his thighs, on his arms like he’s been in a fight recently.

Gerard grabs Frank by the shoulders and pulls him onto the fleece blanket. He grabs one of his old t-shirt from his backpack and uses it to dry Frank’s hair.

When Mikey and Ray come back a few minutes later, snowflakes in their hair and on Mikey’s glasses, Gerard is in the middle of taking off his clothes.

“I saw this in a movie once,” he explains and Mikey just shrugs at him like he doesn’t even care what Gerard does while Ray nods.

Skin against skin is the best way to warm up Frank, and Gerard doesn’t care if it means he has to get naked in front of Mikey and Ray.

He grabs another blanket off the bag, this one bright red and blue with white stars on it and lies down by Frank’s side. He pulls Frank in his arms and strokes his cold skin vigorously, his fingers running along the curve of Frank’s spine, down to the small of his back and up again.

“Should we give him something to eat?” Mikey asks as he kneels behind Gerard. “I could try and warm up some soup over the fire.”

“I don’t think I can force feed him.” Maybe he can try tomorrow if Frank’s not better.

Gerard stays curled up next to Frank while Mikey fixes himself some dinner, a can of Spaghettios barely heated over the fire, and Ray sits in a corner, quiet and looking pretty miserable.

He eventually falls asleep or maybe he’s just pretending to be asleep. Gerard can’t really tell because his hair is all over his face. Mikey throws a blanket over him and Ray mumbles a low “thank you” before curling up in a ball.

Then Mikey hands Gerard his can of Spaghettio.

“Are you going to starve yourself until he gets better?” he asks when Gerard grimaces at the pasta floating in the tomato and cheese sauce.

“No. I’ll eat later.” The truth is that Gerard is starving but he’s afraid Frank will die if he leaves him even for a minute. It seems ridiculous but Gerard can’t help it.

“Well, I’m spending the night with you,” Mikey says as he kicks off his shoes and grabs an extra blanket from their bags. He lays it on top of Gerard and wraps himself around Frank’s back. He looks at Gerard from across Frank’s still body and gives him a worried look, his forehead creased. “He’s not gonna die, right?” he asks, his hands running over the blanket, petting Frank’s side.

“I don’t know.”

Gerard might as well be honest. Frank seems much worse than he was yesterday. It’s not the coughing that worries Gerard the most because Frank’s been doing that for a while now, but how cold and hard his body feels, like he’s already dead.

Mikey buries his nose in Frank’s hair and shuts his eyes.

“I never told you about that movie. It has shark people in it, Frank. They basically have shark heads but human bodies and they’re ugly as fuck. Kinda like Gerard but with better teeth.”

Gerard gives Mikey a crooked smile and whispers, “Fuck off.”

“So the thing is, they don’t even attack people. The point of the movie is to show they’re butt ugly,” Mikey adds, his hand closing over Gerard’s on top of the blanket. “You would love the shit of that movie, let me tell you.”

Gerard squeezes Mikey’s fingers and watches Frank’s face, waiting for him to open his eyes or smile.

*

Frank can hear voices, far, far away, and music, sometimes broken by static. Then there’s Gerard’s voice, closer than the other voices, more insistent. There’s warmth too, Gerard’s, wrapped all around Frank, protecting him, making him feel safe.

He’s pretty sure he’s not dreaming Gerard’s voice. He’s pretty sure he’s not still laid in the grass outside, watching the snow fall all around him. It’s too warm for that.

He can smell Gerard’s unwashed scent too and he can feel his fingers all over his face, brushing hair behind his ears, running over his lips.

The strangest thing is that every time Frank tries to open his eyes, he can’t remember how to work his eyelids. He tries to say something, tell Gerard he is fine, but his throat is too raw and his lips stay shut. He tries to move closer to Gerard’s voice but his body aches everywhere. It hurts to breathe. It hurts to be awake.

So Frank sleeps.

Now he knows they didn’t leave him. They’re here, surrounding him, taking care of him. And even if he dies, he won’t be alone.

*

They spend the next day watching over Frank, barely sleeping and barely getting out of the cabin. Gerard is afraid Frank might wake up while he’s outside and freak out again so he stays inside. He wants to be there for him; be the first thing, the first face, Frank sees when he finally opens his eyes.

Gerard forces some food in him, gives him drugs that are supposed to kill the fever and make him feel better. He rubs gooey things on his chest that smell like peppermint and Mikey makes fun of him because he’s actually enjoying this way more than he should be.

They do this for a couple of days and Frank’s health doesn’t seem to improve. It doesn’t decline either. Frank doesn’t wake up but he doesn’t die. He just stays the same.

On the third night, Mikey goes to sleep in the car.

“I’m sorry, Gee, but I really need to sleep on something more,” he starts, gesturing at the blanket.

Gerard gets it. He doesn’t want to sleep on the floor anymore which is understandable. Besides, Mikey’s been awake most nights since they got here, talking to Frank like he could actually hear him, and fiddling with the radio, trying to find another station, maybe a voice breaking through the static. He deserves to sleep.

“Don’t worry. I’ll stay with him,” Ray says, getting up and grabbing a couple of blankets off the floor. He trails off after Mikey, his feet dragging on the hardwood floor.

“Ray?”

Ray stops and turns around. He clutches the blankets over his chest and says, “Yeah.”

“You didn’t do anything wrong. Frank was sick before you got here. Don’t beat yourself over it.”

“Yeah,” Ray nods before adding, “Right back at you.”

As soon as Ray leaves, Gerard clings to Frank and doesn’t let go. He kisses his cool forehead and starts murmuring over and over, “Please, don’t die, Frank. Don’t die. I need you to not die.”

He caresses Frank’s neck, his thumb sliding over the cut the knife left a few days ago and kisses the tip of his nose.

“If you live, I swear I’ll make it up to you. I will…” Gerard stops and ponders. “I will find you a real bed. I will find you a real fucking bed and I will carry it all the way down here. And I’ll give you all of the Reese’s peanut butter cups I grabbed at the store. You can have them.”

Frank snores softly in the crook of Gerard’s neck but doesn’t wake up.

The night feels like the longest Gerard ever had to sit through. He wishes Mikey was here to talk to him about stupid looking monsters and B-movies. He wishes Frank could be awake and talking to him about all the letters he’s never going to receive, and the time he spray painted a dick on his Math teacher’s house because he falsely accused him of cheating on a test.

Mostly, he misses Frank and the sound of his voice.

Gerard listens to Frank’s heavy breathing and to the sounds of the night; the owls, the insects and the raccoons lurking right outside the door. He watches the snow twirl outside the window.

His fingers itch for a pen and paper. He wants to write Frank a letter and tell him how beautiful the night is. He wants to tell him how it started snowing when they found him and how it didn’t stop since then. He wants to tell him how much he loves being here even though the cabin is still a rat hole. He wants to tell him how much he loves having Frank in his arms and how good his hair smells and how much he loves him.

Gerard wants to tell Frank so many things that he ends up writing up a long letter in his head for three hours, thinking about all the things he’ll tell him when Frank finally wakes up.

When morning comes, Frank is cold next to Gerard, his eyes still closed, his breathing slow but steady.

He’s still breathing. He’s alive. He made it through another night.

Gerard pets his hair and leans in to kiss Frank like he’s been doing every morning. But this time, it’s different.

Frank’s lips are chapped and dry but as soon as Gerard kisses them, Frank comes back to life, like they’re in a fairytale and Frank is his Snow White, which makes him the fucking prince.

Frank kisses Gerard back and squirms out of the blanket. He blinks into the muted sunlight and gives Gerard a crooked smile. “You’re here,” he murmurs in a hoarse voice.

“I’m here.”

“Did I scare you?” he asks when Gerard inches away to grab a bottle of Vitamin Water on the chair.

He looks so much better this morning. His cheeks have more color in them. It’s nice to see his eyes again, their hazel, green gleaming in the sun.

“You scared the shit out of me,” Gerard admits as Frank pulls the blanket on top of them.

He grabs the bottle from Gerard’s hand and drinks.

“You scared the shit out of Mikey and Ray too. We thought you—” Gerard’s next words get strangled in his throat.

The floor is cold and hard under Gerard’s back. It feels humid too and it smells like rain.

Frank rolls on top of Gerard and whispers against his mouth, “Sorry.”

He buries his face in Gerard’s neck and leaves it there so long that Gerard thinks Frank might be asleep again.

Gerard is pinned down to the hardwood floor, Frank’s compact and light body attached to his, and even though he could easily move, he doesn’t feel like it. He starts stroking Frank’s back slowly, his fingers finding the edge of the blanket and sliding underneath to find Frank’s cool, soft skin.

Frank lets out a muffled groan and his lips smear against Gerard’s neck.

“Do you need to sleep more?” Gerard asks, nuzzling at Frank’s hair.

“No. I think I’m alright,” he whispers, planting a kiss on the underside of Gerard’s jaw. “How long was I out?”

“Three days. We took turns to warm you up.”

“Fuck.” Frank pulls away and stares at Gerard, a frown creasing his forehead. “You guys saw me naked? Like, Mikey was naked and he slept with me. While I was naked?”

Gerard laughs. It sounds strange, probably because he hasn’t laughed in so long. “You weren’t completely naked and he kept his clothes on the entire time.”

Frank shivers and coughs. “I bet you both enjoyed seeing me naked.”

“Hmm. We really need to find you a bed,” Gerard says as he tries to sit up, completely deflecting the subject of how much he enjoyed seeing Frank naked. He would have enjoyed it more if he hadn’t been so worried about him though. “A bed and a good mattress to go with it.”

Frank hums and takes another gulp from the bottle.

Gerard manages to sit up against the wall and cringes. His back hurts. “I feel like I’m two hundred years old.”

Frank puts down the bottle and lies down on his back, his head in Gerard’s lap. “I like what you did with the place while I was out cold,” he comments, fucking smug bastard. “You guys hired a decorator or something?”

“We didn’t have time to pick curtains and bedside tables. We had a sick kid at home.”

Frank groans and looks up at Gerard. “First I’m your brother and now I’m your kid? You have some serious issues, dude,” he says, crawling on his hands and knees and climbing into Gerard’s lap again.

“You’re not,” Gerard starts and then Frank giggles at him. “Oh shut up. You know what I mean.”

“Yeah.” Frank pulls the blanket on top of his head and wraps his arms around Gerard. “I have a boner, you giant perv. Wanna take care of it?”

Gerard’s jaw drops.

Frank was so close to dying in his arms last night and now he has a fucking boner.

“I don’t think we should do this,” Gerard whispers as Frank starts sliding along Gerard’s thigh.

“I think we should,” Frank replies in a low gruff voice. “Mikey’s not around. Ray’s not around, and I’m not unconscious. It’s perfect.”

Gerard really wants to do this with Frank but not here. Not now. “Please, Frank. Not here. I think you should—”

“Yeah,” Frank whispers as he keeps rubbing up and down Gerard’s leg, like it’s beyond his control.

“I should get you some clothes.” Gerard kisses Frank before gently pushing him away.

Frank looks a little disappointed as he climbs off Gerard’s lap. He sits down crossed legged on the blanket and crooks his mouth. “What did you do to my clothes anyway? Am I supposed to walk around in your Batman Underoos for the rest of my life?”

“I burnt them,” Gerard says as he gets up and grabs his backpacks. He finds a pair of slacks and a t-shirt that doesn’t smell too bad and throws them at Frank. He didn’t really burn Frank’s clothes. He just managed to singe Frank’s jeans by putting them too close to the fire while attempting to dry them.

“Lucky Charms for breakfast?” Gerard offers and Frank grins happily at him.

“I’m fucking starving, man.”

*

The radio on the kitchen table is new. Well, it’s old as shit but it’s new to Frank and it’s definitely not something they could have found in the cabin.

Frank turns it on, expecting to hear the usual static or the beeping noises all the national stations have been making since the world went to shit, but there’s a Led Zeppelin song playing; Immigrant Song.

When did they get a radio and when did it start playing music? Does it mean there’s someone out there who likes good old rock n’ roll?

Frank turns the volume way up, taps his foot on the floor and strums an invisible guitar, his fingers finding the right chords instinctively. He misses his guitar.

He plays for a few minutes, rocking out in his underwear, in the middle of the cabin, and then Led Zeppelin ends and is replaced by Queen. Frank mumbles the lyrics as he jumps into his pants.

He’s still squirming into Gerard’s tight jeans when Gerard, Mikey and Ray stagger in through the door. Gerard is carrying a huge box that hopefully contains Frank’s breakfast.

They’re getting snow everywhere on the floor and letting an icy wind inside through the open door.

“When did we get a radio station?” Frank asks as he steps away from the radio to put on a t-shirt.

Gerard drops the box on the table and starts unpacking boxes of cereal from it. “Mikey found it. We thought it was like, a tape player but it’s not.”

Frank grabs a blanket off the floor and wraps it around his shoulders. He needs to find a jacket soon or maybe steal one off a dead body.

“So there’s someone out there playing some motherfucking rock n’ roll?” he asks, grabbing a box of Lucky Charms on the table and tearing it open.

“We think so,” Mikey says in a high pitched voice. “They played The Smiths yesterday.”

Gerard snorts. “You should have seen Mikey’s face. He almost peed himself.”

Frank shoves a handful of cereal in his mouth and smiles. He would have loved to see that.

Mikey glares at his brother and then at Frank. “And Gerard sung to you. It was horrible. It’s probably why you didn’t wake up sooner.”

“Did he ever say anything? I mean, the guy on the radio?” Frank asks before plunging his hand inside the box of cereal again and passing it to Mikey. He needs to talk to Gerard about this singing thing later. He’s pretty sure it wasn’t horrible. Gerard has a lovely singing voice as far as he can tell.

“Or the girl,” Gerard quickly adds as he sits down on their only chair. “We can’t make assumptions.”

Frank nods and sits down in Gerard’s lap, pulling the blanket off so he can wrap it around the both of them. “Yeah. Did they ever talk? Did they ever say where they are and if there’s more people out there besides us?”

“No. It’s just music so far,” Ray says with a shrug. “But pretty damn good music.”

Gerard snakes an arm around Frank’s hips and pulls him closer. “Hmm. So, I was wondering if we should go into town tomorrow,” Gerard whispers before giving Mikey a shifty glance, like it’s some kind of big secret. “When you’re feeling better,” he adds, tucking Frank’s hair behind his ear.

Frank is dying to get out of the cabin. It feels like he’s been cooped up in here for weeks even though it’s only been a few days. “Yeah. Of fucking course. I’m feeling okay,” he says, a little too excited. He coughs and gives Gerard a half smile. “I wouldn’t be able to run a marathon in the snow but I’d like to go out, yeah.”

“Just us. I mean. You know?” Gerard asks, his cheeks flushed, and yeah. Frank knows. Or at least he thinks he does.

“Oh,” Frank says with a huge grin.

Gerard has plans and Frank definitely wants in.

*

Frank is all bundled up in his hoodie, two t-shirts and two pairs of socks when they walk out of the cabin the next morning.

Gerard would feel better if Frank took his fucking jacket, but Frank can be a bit stubborn and a bit of a dickhead too, so Gerard doesn’t argue with him longer than necessary. They have things to do and places to be and arguing about a fucking jacket is not really how Gerard wants to spend the afternoon.

Mikey is splayed over the backseat, not sleeping but doing crossword puzzles in an old newspaper and possibly still being mad at Gerard and Frank for their semi-public displays of affection of last night.

It’s not Gerard’s fault if Frank likes to sit in his lap a lot and kiss his neck while they’re having dinner or lunch or just when they’re waiting for the night to fall. It’s not like he can or wants to tell Frank to fuck off. He likes it when Frank uses him as a chair anyway.

“We need the car,” Frank says as he flops into the passenger seat.

“To do what?” Mikey asks, eyeing at Frank and Gerard suspiciously. He knows. Mikey is not a fucking idiot. He can always tell when Gerard is about to do something stupid.

Because let’s face it, Gerard’s plans for the day involve some pretty stupid and reckless things.

Gerard ducks his head and stutters, “Get more food and we need tools. Hmm tools to repair the roof. And get some more drugs for Frank too. He’s still sick.”

“Yeah. I’m fucking sick, man.” Frank coughs to make it sound more believable. Although it doesn’t seem like it requires much faking from his part. Maybe Gerard should have waited an extra day for this trip into town.

“Are you going to fuck in the car?” Mikey asks, sitting up and throwing his newspaper at Frank’s head. “Cause it’s my car. I stole it and I sleep in it and it’s my fucking ride.”

Frank frowns and dumps the newspaper into the backseat. “We need to get supplies, fucker. Don’t be a little shit and give us the keys. Ray needs you in the cabin anyway.”

“You were planning to fuck in my car. I know you guys. You’ve been basically humping each other since the UPS truck.” Mikey’s eyes widen, like he just realized something, something terrible. “Did you fuck in the truck? Oh my God. I was right there,” he whines, getting out of the car. “Did you fuck while I was there?”

“There was no fucking.”

“Nothing happened in the truck. I swear to God, man,” Frank says in his gruff voice.

“You were planning to fuck in my car though,” Mikey mumbles before fishing the car keys out of his pocket and throwing them in Frank’s lap.

Gerard shakes his head. “We weren’t. I swear.”

Mikey gives Gerard a reproachful glare. “If I find come stains on my seats, I will strangle you until you’re dead. Got it?”

“Yeah. Got it. No come stains,” Frank says. He looks very serious for about two seconds and then he cracks up and giggles.

Gerard can’t help but join him as he slides behind the wheel.

“We weren’t planning to, you know?” Frank whispers, leaning over Gerard’s shoulder. “I was really hoping we were.”

“We were,” Gerard says as he starts the engine. “But I guess we’ll have to behave.”

*

The place looks like a ghost town.

There’s a burnt down Wendy’s, a Waffle House with a car embedded in its front window and a café with dead bodies still sat at the counter.

Gerard keeps driving down the main avenue for a minute and then there’s a CVS and a Home Depot and a book store called Book Nook and a fucking furniture store and it feels a little like they’ve hit the jackpot.

Frank is grinning like an idiot when he gets out of the car. His foot slips on a patch of snow and he has to cling to Gerard’s hand so he doesn’t fall on his ass on the sidewalk.

“Home Depot?” he asks, taking a few steps into the fresh snow and listening to it crunch under his feet.

Gerard smiles. “Sure. We can go wherever you like.”

They set off for Home Depot which is right across the street from where they’re parked. It might be a bit tricky if they actually decide to get stuff from there, but Frank is pretty sure they can manage. It’s not like they’re going to walk out of there with a shower cubicle or anything.

They have to break in through the loading dock. Well, Frank has to because Gerard is shit at picking locks and Frank doesn’t mind breaking stuff.

The store is empty but they already had their Christmas decorations out when the world ended so it’s all pretty and colorful.

Frank picks up a green garland and wraps it around Gerard’s neck. He uses it to pull Gerard closer and gives him a kiss.

“Mistletoe,” he mumbles against Gerard’s mouth.

“Where?”

“Somewhere in the store,” he replies, stealing another kiss from Gerard before adding, “I’m just getting a head start.”

Frank pulls away to run up to the front of the store and wheel in a shopping cart. He throws a few decorations in the cart and gives it a hard push, sending the cart against a pile of Teddy Bears that would be awesome used as pillows.

“What else do we need? Curtains? Drapes? Persian rugs? Sex toys?” Frank asks, dragging the cart towards the first aisle.

“Stuff to fix the roof?” Gerard says without much enthusiasm.

“How about we get you some paint and shit?” Frank asks and Gerard’s face lights up like he’s a five year old about to get his first puppy.

“I fucking love the way you think,” he says, planting a kiss on Frank’s temple.

Frank watches as Gerard stands in the art supply aisle, without taking anything, just staring at everything like he’s fascinated or confused by everything. He rubs at his chin like it’s some kind of bad remake of Sophie’s choice, picks up a tube of paint before putting it back on its shelf.

“Take everything,” Frank says after a few minutes. He wouldn’t mind standing here all day and watch Gerard being a dork because Gerard is really pretty when he’s being a dork but they should probably get going while they’re still young.

Gerard turns to him and bites his bottom lip. “I don’t know. I wish they had brush pens here and they don’t. I lost mine and I really want new ones.”

“You’re not gonna ink a comic book, baby. I thought you might want to paint the cabin. Make it look prettier.”

Gerard takes a step away from the shelves. He seems to consider what Frank just said and then, suddenly, he starts gesturing and putting things in the cart. “Oh. Fuck. I’m getting paint cans. Fucking cans so we can spray paint shit on the walls. Like, slogans and zombies and whatever.”

Frank laughs. Gerard is fucking crazy and so into this that it’s adorable. “I love the way you think,” he says as he takes Gerard’s hand.

They abandon the shopping cart and Frank drags Gerard across the store. They end up in the bathroom section of the store. Frank could kill for a shower.

“Too bad these don’t work,” he mumbles as he climbs into a tub. He sits down and slides up to the end. “You need a bath. You’re starting to smell.”

“You love how I smell.”

That’s true but Frank doesn’t want to say as much. He would really like to drag Gerard into a shower someday soon and telling him he loves his dirty on-the-run smell would be a mistake.

“Come here,” he says, reaching out to Gerard.

Gerard grimaces but takes Frank’s hands anyway. He climbs into the tub and sits down across from him. He stares at Frank, intent and ridiculously pretty before moving in closer, his knees gliding on the porcelain with a squeaky noise.

He grabs a hold of Frank’s legs and spreads them along the tub. Then he settles in, lying down on top of Frank, his elbows on each side of Frank’s chest and kisses him. He laces his fingers in Frank’s hair and pulls away.

“I wouldn’t mind sleeping in this bathtub,” he says with a deep sigh. He rests his head on Frank’s chest and kisses him through his hoodie. “But I don’t think Mikey would like it if we came back with this. We really need to get something bigger to sleep in. Ray probably wants to sleep in a real bed too.”

“Yeah. I know.”

Gerard’s fingers skate along Frank’s side and find the hem of his hoodie. They slither underneath his t-shirt and on his skin, warm and slow.

Frank tilts his head back over the hard lip of the tub and shuts his eyes. He feels Gerard’s weight shift a few seconds later as he kneels between Frank’s legs.

“We should head out,” he says, his hot breath brushing over Frank’s lips.

“Yeah,” Frank says as he opens his eyes again. He smiles at Gerard and grabs his wrist. He pulls Gerard’s hand to his mouth and plants a small kiss on his fingers. “Your fingers are starting to be all pruny.”

“Next time we find a shower or a bathtub, I’ll come with you.”

God. Frank really needs to find a fucking shower now. It’s not a question of personal hygiene anymore. It’s a fucking necessity.

Getting out of the bathtub is not easy. And not just because Gerard keeps sliding down Frank’s crotch when he tries to get up. It’s not easy because Frank doesn’t want to go back out there in the cold.

They stop to get a generator on their way out of Home Depot to make their trip worthwhile and head out of the store through the loading docks.

*

The first furniture store they find is only a block away from the Home Depot. It’s not really big and there doesn’t seem to be many options to choose from, but Gerard doesn’t want to have to drive any further into town. He’s never been that far and there could be danger.

Once they’re inside Shawn’s Home Furnishings, Frank drags Gerard along the aisle and shoves him down a leather couch.

“Do we need a couch in our new place?” he asks before flopping down on top of Gerard and biting his neck. “I don’t like leather but I’m flexible on the subject.”

“Umpph,” Gerard mumbles which means no. Frank doesn’t get it though.

“I vote we try every piece of furniture here and see what’s best. I mean, I’m not sleeping on the floor anymore, you know,” he says, bouncing up and down the cushions.

Gerard manages to sit up and slides back against the armrest. He fixes his hair and says, “We need a mattress. I doubt we can fit a couch in the trunk.”

They won’t be able to carry anything too heavy but maybe they could find a small one, maybe for a kid’s bed.

Frank grins and grabs Gerard’s hand. “Yeah. That’s it. Mattresses. Come on.” He pulls Gerard up and drags him into the next aisles. Bedrooms.

They have a few king size beds with plastic covers on the mattresses and a couple of kids beds with Disney themed linen but that’s all.

Frank jumps onto the first one and lies down, his legs spread, his hair pooling around his head. He stares at the high ceiling and then rolls onto his side.

“I think this one is too firm.” He holds out his hands and beckons Gerard to join him. “But if you like this one, we can get this one. I don’t mind.”

Gerard doubts they can fit this in the car but they could probably tie it up to the roof rack. He sits down on the edge of the mattress, the plastic ruffling under him. Frank is right. It’s a bit too firm.

He’s about to get up and go try another one when Frank grabs him from behind and pulls him down. He wraps his legs around Gerard’s hips and plants a kiss in the crook of his neck.

“I think we need to test it properly,” he says, laughing as he starts taking Gerard’s shirt off.

The store is empty and they seem to be the only two people in this part of town so this shouldn’t be too dangerous. Besides, there’s always someone around at the cabin so this might be their best and only chance to make out properly.

Gerard flips around and helps Frank taking off his t-shirt. The plastic is cold and Gerard decides to rip it off the mattress. They might as well get comfortable if they’re going to be here for a little while.

Frank doesn’t stop laughing as he squirms onto the mattress. He laughs until Gerard has him pinned down and panting.

Gerard presses his lips over Frank’s and strokes Frank’s sides, his fingers tracing the shape of his hips, the crook of his armpit, the scar on his neck.

“Gerard,” Frank croons, his words muffled as Gerard’s tongue slides inside his mouth. “Mah fink eeh foud,” he mumbles.

“What?”

Frank licks his already slick lips and says, “I don’t like this mattress. Let’s try another one.”

“Are you serious?”

“Deadly.” Frank says with a shit eating grin.

Gerard’s lips smear away from Frank’s chin. He crawls up and jumps off the mattress.

“We need something a bit more,” Frank starts as he collapses onto the next mattress. “A bit more soft. Like this one.”

Gerard didn’t really think they were here to actually test every mattress in the store but this isn’t a bad idea. Besides, testing them by making out with Frank on each and every one of them is the greatest thing to happen to Gerard.

“I like this one better,” Frank says, pulling Gerard on top of him. “Don’t you like it?”

Gerard shrugs and smirks. He needs further testing.

Frank squeaks when Gerard starts kissing a path from his neck down to his stomach. He tilts his head back and grabs a handful of plastic, ripping the cover off the mattress.

“Fuck I like this one,” he mumbles before letting out a low groan.

Gerard’s tongue twists as it licks around Frank’s belly button. He plants a kiss just above Frank’s waistband and pops the first button of his fly open.

“God. I love this one. Can we get this one?” Frank asks, breathless, his fingers running through Gerard’s hair. He tugs on it a little and Gerard looks up at him.

Frank is looking at him too, through heavy-lidded eyes, his lips shiny and so fucking hot that Gerard wants to fuck him on every single bed in the store. Jesus. He’s too fucking gorgeous. He’d fuck him on every available surface.

Gerard grabs the waistband of Frank’s jeans and pulls them down. Much to Gerard’s surprise, Frank is not wearing anything underneath and Gerard has a hard time focusing on what he’s trying to do, which is taking off Frank’s pants because all he can see now is Frank’s dick, hard and so ready to be touched.

“You need help?” Frank asks, pushing on his elbows to help Gerard take off his pants.

Gerard shakes his head. “I. No. I’m fine.” He pulls Frank’s jeans all the way down and throws them over the headboard.

Then he stares for a few seconds at Frank’s naked body and this time, he’s not feeling ashamed or guilty or anything. He plants a kiss on each of Frank’s knees and makes his way up, a kiss on the inside of Frank’s thigh and one on his hip. He kisses his way up to Frank’s jaw and wraps his fingers around Frank’s dick.

Frank makes a tiny, surprised sound, barely a hiccup and arches up, pushing into Gerard’s fist.

“What if someone comes in now?” he asks, sucking in a breath and catching Gerard’s mouth in a sloppy kiss.

“I’ll kill them,” Gerard mumbles, his hand tugging just a little harder. “Whoever the fuck they are. I’ll kill them and I’ll come back to finish jerking you off.”

The thing is, Gerard is dead serious. He’s set on making Frank come and no power in the universe can distract him from his mission.

Frank whines and squirms. Then he giggles and whispers, “You sound like a fucking badass.”

“Yeah?”

“Fuck yeah.”

Gerard licks a path down Frank’s throat and nibbles on his Adam’s apple.

Frank pulls on Gerard’s hair a little harder and he mumbles something, the sound of his voice stifled as he bites on his wrist.

Gerard’s lips leave a wet trail up Frank’s chin as Gerard moves up.

“Take it off,” Frank says and at first Gerard doesn’t get what “it” is. “Take your fucking pants off,” Frank says as he tugs on Gerard’s hair again. Then he lets go and slides up on the bed.

Gerard struggles with his jeans but manages to take them off. He throws them on the floor and then settles back between Frank’s legs.

“These too,” Frank says, his fingers hooking in the elastic of Gerard’s boxer briefs.

Gerard takes them off. For a minute, he feels self conscious and ridiculous. Then he sees how Frank is looking at him, eager and happy and Gerard doesn’t care anymore.

They kiss, sloppy and mind numbing, Gerard’s tongue exploring every inch of Frank’s hot mouth. Frank’s taste is the same as always, sweet with a hint of tobacco. His tongue is skillful and his lips soft. He’s a great kisser. Maybe they should have been doing this a long time ago.

“I want to try something,” Frank says as he breaks the kiss. He pushes Gerard onto his back and gets off the bed.

Gerard is pretty sure he knows what’s going to happen next and he’s a little scared and excited at the same time. Gerard never got a blowjob before in his life.

Frank kneels down on the floor with a grimace. His knee is probably still sore. He pulls Gerard up to the edge of the bed and takes him in his mouth. He doesn’t look too comfortable doing this. He licks the tip and pumps with his fist, slow and erratic. He covers his teeth with his lips and goes almost all the way down in one move.

Gerard groans and forces himself to remain perfectly still. He clenches his fists and twists them in the plastic cover of the mattress.

Frank pulls away, wipes his mouth with the back of his hand and then slides his slick lips around Gerard again. He swallows around him, his throat contracting around Gerard. He lets out a low gurgle and pulls back again.

He grabs Gerard in his fist and gives a couple of sharp tugs. Then he lets out a breathy laugh and sits up in Gerard’s lap.

“My jaw hurts,” he says, smiling as he leans down to plant a kiss on Gerard’s open lips.

Gerard kisses Frank back and nods. He hopes he can hide his disappointment from Frank, because he was enjoying this a lot more than he thought. It’s like jerking off but better, tight, wet, and messy.

“I’d rather try this again another time. When you’ve washed down there,” Frank adds before bursting out laughing. “You smell like ass.”

“Asshole.” Of course he smells like ass. Showering is definitely not one of his priorities. They’re on the run and people are supposed to smell when they’re on the run. “I’m sure your junk smells like roses and daisies,” he mumbles, just a tiny bit vexed.

Frank kneels back up and says, “It does.”

Before Gerard can argue with him and call on his bullshit, Frank is grabbing Gerard’s dick and stroking it again. His fingers run smoothly and fast. Gerard is already slick with Frank’s spit.

Gerard bites his bottom lip and looks up at Frank, his fingers skating over his stomach and down to his groin.

Frank hisses when Gerard’s fingers latch on his dick. He grabs Gerard’s hand and pulls it away. Then he spits in the palm of Gerard’s hand and in his own hand and starts stroking Gerard again.

This time, he strokes Gerard faster, like this is some kind of competition and whoever comes first loses.

Gerard doesn’t mind a bit of competition so he squeezes Frank tighter and rubs faster, with more intent, rubbing until his wrist hurts and Frank’s dick is leaking precome all over his fingers.

It’s been a really long time since Gerard jerked off. It feels like it was in another life. And really, it was. He arches up and thrusts in Frank’s hand, his ass bouncing up and down the mattress with weird noises that sound like he’s farting. It’s the most ridiculous thing and yet it doesn’t keep him from pushing up and up and up again until he can’t breathe, until the muscles in his thighs are sore. Then he comes harder than he ever did, harder than he thought possible and for so long that his brain kind of short circuits and all he can feel is Frank’s fist pumping him until he can’t come anymore.

Frank laughs, tiny and a bit gruff, probably because of the stupid sounds the plastic cover is making under Gerard. Then his eyes roll back and his smile turns into a grimace, his teeth sinking into his lip. He throws his head back, his hair sliding off his cheeks and groans. He comes only a few seconds before Gerard does, spilling all over Gerard’s belly, hot and slick.

Gerard strokes Frank until he grows soft in his hand, until Frank falls on top of him and pants in the crook of Gerard’s neck.

“We’re,” he starts, stopping to take a deep breath. “We’re taking this one.”

Gerard kisses Frank’s eyelids and holds him tight, his fingers tracing the curves of Frank’s shoulder blades.

“I’d like to try another mattress before making a decision,” Gerard mumbles. “It’s a very important decision to make and I’d like to know all of my options.”

It’s supposed to be a joke but, apparently Frank doesn’t get Gerard’s brand of humor or maybe he’s being a dick. He gives Gerard a devilish grin and rolls off him.

“The next one, you get to suck my cock,” he announces as he gets up and jumps onto the next bed. “Do we have a deal?”

Gerard rolls his eyes. He can get hard again but not right now. Maybe if Frank gives him five minutes. Maybe ten. The thing is, Gerard really wants to suck Frank off.

*

Frank comes in Gerard’s mouth so fast that it’s ridiculous. He didn’t time himself or anything but it sure didn’t feel long.

He’s not embarrassed by how fast he came though. Gerard is just really good at this whole blowjob thing.

Frank doesn’t even have time to warn Gerard that he’s about to come. He groans and pants like he’s dying, and then his toes curl and he shoots his load down Gerard’s throat.

This has to be one of the best orgasms Frank’s ever had in his life. Another great one being five minutes ago when Gerard jerked him off. If sex is always this great, Frank might need to do it at least six times a day from now on.

Frank caresses the nape of Gerard’s neck and ruffles his already messy hair. He doesn’t want to go back to the cabin now. He wants to stay here, naked and with Gerard forever. Although, he would probably miss Mikey too much if he did. He’d miss Ray too even though they just met. He’s a pretty cool guy from what Frank gathered. They’re into the same bands and the same movies too which is always a great start to a friendship.

In this moment, it feels like everything is perfect. There is nothing bad or dangerous outside. It’s just the two of them, sweaty, naked, happy, and sprawled on a king sized mattress.

Gerard takes a lot of time to pull away and when he does, he licks his lips and plants a kiss on Frank’s belly. “Awesome,” he whispers against Frank’s skin.

“You swallowed?” Frank asks, petting Gerard’s hair. He stares at Gerard’s mouth and runs a finger over his lips.

Gerard smiles. “Yeah. So?”

“Gross.” Frank grimaces. He doesn’t really think it’s that gross. It’s just something he wouldn’t like to do personally.

“What’s gross about swallowing come?” Gerard asks as he crawls up and kisses Frank on the lips. “Your come tastes awesome.”

Frank can’t taste himself on Gerard’s lips. Gerard just tastes like Gerard. “I don’t know if I should take this as a compliment—”

“It is.”

Frank snorts. It’s not every day he hears someone say his come tastes awesome. Actually, it’s probably the only time he’s going to hear this.

“Are you sure you never sucked cock before?” he asks just as Gerard starts thrusting up against Frank’s thigh. “You’re fucking great at it.”

Gerard grins wide and happy. The motherfucker is proud of his cock sucking skills. “Never.”

Maybe Frank should give this another try. It didn’t look too complicated. Besides, Gerard is hard again.

“I want to try again. On you,” Frank says as he grabs Gerard’s dick between them and starts stroking it. It’s slick with precome and Frank’s fingers slide along easily.

“You said I smelled,” Gerard mumbles.

Frank laughs. He didn’t mean to hurt Gerard’s feelings. He was just stating a fact. “It’s not that bad.”

“That’s the most romantic thing anyone’s ever said to me,” Gerard says, running both his hands in Frank’s hair and tugging on it.

Frank smirks. He loves it when Gerard touches his hair.

“I’m a hopeless romantic,” he whispers. Then he kisses the crook of Gerard’s elbow and says, “Lie down.”

He pushes Gerard down onto the bed and takes him in his mouth again. But this time, Frank is determined to keep at it until Gerard comes. It’s only fair.

He licks the tip and goes down slowly, twisting his tongue around Gerard, one hand caressing Gerard’s stomach and the other wrapped in a firm grip around the base of Gerard’s dick.

“Aah.” Gerard squeezes his eyes shut and pulls on Frank’s hair. He licks his lips and kicks his feet against the wooden bed frame.

Frank takes it as a sign of encouragement and slides his lips as far down as he can without choking up.

Gerard is big and Frank can’t take him all the way down. He pulls away, saliva dripping from his lips and along the shaft of Gerard’s hard, fucking hard cock.

“Am I doing alright?” he asks before dragging his fingers from Gerard’s stomach down to his thighs.

Gerard opens his eyes and nods. “Yeah. Just. Keep going.”

Frank smiles and starts stroking Gerard a little faster. Then he takes Gerard in his mouth again and tries to match the rhythm of his hand. It’s not easy at first but Frank doesn’t give up. He keeps going until Gerard is shuddering under him and calling his name. Then Frank feels Gerard’s dick throb in his mouth and he pulls away. He doesn’t stop stroking Gerard though.

Gerard’s fingers twist in Frank’s hair and scratch the base of his skull. They pull just a little harder just as Frank is about to take Gerard in his mouth again. Then Gerard is coming with a shout, his knees shaking and Frank gets most of the spunk on his face which is actually not at all disgusting but pretty hot.

Gerard squirms and whines and whispers, “I love you, Frank,” which might be only true because Gerard is in the middle of an orgasm and people say weird things when they’re coming.

Although, it’s possible he loves Frank for real. They haven’t put words to what they are to each other or what it is that they’re doing but Frank is pretty sure it’s love. Frank wipes his face with the back of his hand and laughs. He licks his lips and the salty taste of Gerard’s spunk is there.

“I’m sorry,” Gerard whispers, his fingers running on Frank’s jaw. He wipes Frank’s face with his thumb and kisses the tip of Frank’s nose.

“It’s fucking fine, really,” Frank says before climbing back up on the bed. He lies down next to Gerard and strokes Gerard’s chest, his fingers skating on his hot skin, sticky with sweat.

“I love you, Frank,” Gerard says as he rolls onto his side and nuzzles Frank’s neck. “I really really love you.”

“Love you too,” Frank murmurs, a huge happy grin on his face. It’s the first time someone who isn’t his mom said that to him. It feels pretty great. “But I still don’t know which mattress we’re taking home.”

“Let’s take a nap on this one for now,” Gerard suggest as he stretches and yawns.

“Yeah.” Frank kisses Gerard, slow and tender. Then he rests his head in Gerard’s neck and falls asleep.

*

When Gerard wakes up from their nap, it’s dark inside the store and so cold, too cold to be naked.

He nudges Frank awake and sits up, the plastic crunching under him.

“What’s goin’on?” Frank mumbles as he rolls off Gerard and curls up on the mattress.

Gerard wraps himself around Frank’s back and says, “We should head back now. It’s night out.”

“Fuck, really?” Frank asks with a sigh. He plants a kiss on Gerard’s wrists and then gets up. “Mikey’s gonna freak the fuck out.”

“I’ll tell him we got lost on our way back,” Gerard says when Frank grabs his hand and pulls him off the bed.

“Yeah. Ray’s with him. I’m sure he won’t even notice we’ve been gone all fucking day, right?”

Gerard detects the irony in Frank’s voice. He has a point. Mikey is going to freak the fuck out.

It takes them a little while to locate their clothes and it takes them even longer to put them on. There’s the fact that they can’t see shit anymore and there’s also the fact that Gerard can’t stop kissing Frank every other minute. It feels like kissing at the end of a date except it’s not a date.

Gerard sits down to tie his shoelaces and Frank sits down at his side before melting to Gerard’s back, his arms around Gerard’s chest and his chin hooked on the nape of Gerard’s neck.

It’s really difficult to push Frank away.

They pick the last mattress they tried and carry it back to the car. They tie it up on the roof with some string and slowly make their way back to the cabin, Frank checking that the mattress is still up there every time they drive into a pothole.

It’s snowing really hard by the time they reach the cabin.

Pulling the mattress down off the roof of the car is less tricky than it was putting it up there in the first place, although the thing falls on Frank and knocks him down.

“Fuck, help me,” he mumbles from under the mattress, his feet kicking in the snow.

Gerard helps him up and they carry the king sized mattress down the trail, their feet slipping in the snow, trying to keep it from getting wet (most of the plastic cover ripped as they were pulling it down the roof).

When they get to the cabin, exhausted from carrying the mattress down the steep hill, Mikey is waiting for them on the front porch, his silhouette barely visible in the dim light of the candles inside.

“I thought you were dead, you assholes,” he mumbles before storming back inside the cabin. He slams the door in Gerard’s face which wouldn’t be a big deal if the thing wasn’t in such a bad state.

It falls off its hinges and they have to climb over it to carry the heavy mattress inside.

“I guess that means he won’t help us unload the car,” Frank says with a shrug.

“I guess not.”

Ray rushes over to help them. He picks up the door and manages to put it back on its hinges.

They set up their new bed in the area where they’ve been sleeping, right in the corner, just a few feet away from the fireplace. Frank kicks their pile of blankets out of the way and lets go of his end of the mattress.

“You’ve been gone all fucking day and that’s all you got?” Mikey asks as he fumbles with their dinner, a can of…something that could be green beans. “A fucking lousy mattress. How are we gonna fit four people on this thing?”

“We got a generator too,” Frank says with a lopsided smile. He crashes down on the mattress and sighs. “And awesome shit to paint the cabin.”

Mikey grimaces. He’s pissed off at them but it’s understandable. They’ve been gone for hours and anything could have happened to them out there.

“I was very careful with your car, Mikes,” Gerard says, ruffling Mikey’s hair and hoping it will make him a bit less angry. He drops the car keys in Mikey’s fingers and kneels down by Frank’s side.

They’re exhausted but it’s good. Gerard could probably sleep for ten more hours.

Frank looks up at him with sleepy eyes and grins. “Do we have to go get the other shit?” he asks, taking Gerard’s hand and petting it.

“You could stay in. Mikey and Ray can help me.” He’s pretty sure he can convince Mikey to come out and trudge around in the snow if there’s something as cool as a generator involved.

Frank looks like he’s about to pass out from exhaustion. He shakes his head and squeezes Gerard’s arm. “Nah. Help me up.”

They’re holding hands when they walk up the trail, trying really hard to stay upright. The snow is starting to freeze and it looks like they might have to avoid getting out of the cabin at least for a few days or until the snow melts away.

“There’s a girl,” Ray says as Mikey is popping the trunk open.

Gerard turns to Ray, so fast that his head spins. “What? Where?” He scans the dark woods, his heart skipping a beat and then realizes they’re alone.

“On the radio. There’s a girl. She’s the one who’s been playing all the music,” Mikey says with a shrug. “She has a nice voice too.”

“Oh?”

Mikey doesn’t say anything else for the longest time. It’s like he forgot he was saying something really fucking important.

Gerard isn’t really surprised they’re not the only survivors but he’s surprised when Ray says, “She says she’s in Knoxville. Well, right outside of Knoxville. In some kind of camp.”

Knoxville isn’t that far from here. It’s just across the mountains up north.

Frank stumbles back inside the cabin as he carries the generator through the threshold. Gerard helps him set it up in a corner while Ray is putting away the rest of their supplies from Home Depot in the cabinet under the broken sink.

“Did she say more? Did she say if she has food?” Frank asks, his fingers trailing up and down Gerard’s spine.

“She asked if anyone could hear her. She gave out a number but I couldn’t write it down. Besides, my phone died ages ago so I couldn’t have called or anything.”

“Mine died too,” Ray says with a shrug. “I used up all the battery trying to call you and then I chucked it. I figured I wouldn’t need it.”

Gerard kept his phone even though the battery was dead. Maybe he could charge it now that they have a generator. He just needs to remember where he put it.

“She said her name’s Alicia and she and a bunch of other people are in a refugee camp thing in the Smokey Mountains.”

“So, it’s not just us,” Gerard says. He pets Frank’s head and plants a kiss on his cheek.

Mikey goes over to the radio and switches it on.

“Yeah. I guess not,” Ray replies just as the music breaks through the static.

Frank rests his head on Gerard’s shoulder and mumbles, “It’s not just us.”

Gerard smiles. It’s not just them anymore, but right now, it sort of is and he’s alright with this.

He takes Frank’s hand and leads him to bed. They sit down, wrapped around each other. Ray and Mikey join them a few minutes later with their food, canned soup, and canned peaches for dessert.

They eat by the light of the fireplace. They will have to figure out the generator tomorrow morning.

*

Frank sleeps for hours. He sleeps for ten maybe twelve hours straight. When he wakes up, he feels more rested than ever.

The radio is playing an old song by Joni Mitchell that always makes him think about Christmas and about his mom and how she always let him open a present before he went to bed on Christmas Eve.

He rolls onto his back. Gerard is still asleep, looking peaceful and so beautiful in the cold light.

Mikey is sat by the fireplace, poking at the embers with a stick and rocking back and forth to the sound of the music.

It’s still snowing outside.

Frank sits up and slides down the edge of the bed. He looks up at the radio and wonders about the girl. He wonders who she is and if she had to go through the same things they did to get where she is now. He wonders if she’s safe and with people she loves or if she’s on her own.

“Good morning,” Ray says as he walks in through the squeaky front door, carrying a load of firewood. He ruffles his hair and stomps his feet on the floor to get rid of the snow stuck to the soles of his shoes.

“Morning,” Frank mumbles back. He crawls up to his feet and goes over to the table to grab some breakfast.

“Morning,” Mikey echoes before getting up and throwing his wooden stick into the fire.

“Merry Christmas, everyone,” a voice says on the radio. It’s a woman’s voice, young, sweet and almost happy. “Because, yeah. It’s Christmas. Can you believe it? I sure can’t.”

“It’s Christmas?” Frank asks, looking at Mikey and then at Ray doubtfully. It’s a little strange how the days go by out here. It’s different. It’s like the days of the week don’t exist anymore. It’s like everything just melts together.

“Apparently, yeah,” Mikey says, kicking the mattress next to where Gerard’s head is.

Gerard groans and grabs Mikey’s ankle. “Woooaaaf?” he mumbles, his face pressed into the mattress.

“If you can hear me and if you’re not fucked up in the head, then, I hope you’re not alone and that you decorated a tree. Here, we have a very nice pine tree right outside the window and we put some kind of…” The girl mumbles something to someone but Frank can’t hear what she’s saying or what the other person replies. “Yeah, we put paper strings and my buddy Lindsey made these really cool ornaments she painted with nail polish.”

“Did we buy those garlands?” Gerard asks as he crawls to the edge of the mattress and stares up at Frank with a frown. “Cause I could make shit like they did. I could paint the fucking decorations directly on the walls,” he says, making wide gestures at the bare walls.

Frank nods. He’s pretty sure they shoved some decorations in one of the bags they brought from the Home Depot but if Gerard wants to go crazy with the paint, he’s cool with that too.

“This is Alicia Simmons for Radio Espoir. The only radio. Or at least in the area. If you have requests, things you’d like me to play, call me. We have a CB radio in here and I have a cellphone. It seems to be working fine. So call me and tell me you’re alive. In the meantime, stay warm and stay sharp.”

Her voice cracks and is replaced by silence.

“Hmm. Yeah. Patrick requested that I did the weather and a traffic report. So hmm. I guess it’s snowing. Yeah. I don’t know when it’s going to stop. Just look out your window and you’ll know. The traffic. All roads up to here are closed because of the snow. I wouldn’t recommend driving here now. Also, I’m pretty sure there are no traffic jams. It’s a pretty awesome time for you if you hate those fucking traffic jams as much as I do. Anyway, Alicia out.”

“I like her,” Frank says, grabbing a box of cereal on the table and pouring a bowl. They have a lot of these still packed in their pantry; maybe enough to last them all winter. It feels good not to have to starve himself anymore.

“Yeah. She’s funny,” Mikey says with a grin, handing Frank a carton of milk. “And she said she would air The Empire Strikes Back tonight as a Christmas movie special. The Empire Strikes back!”

“That’s awesome.”

“And tomorrow it’s Jaws. Fucking Jaws for the holidays. That’s like, my favorite movie,” Mikey says as he sits down between Gerard and Frank.

“That’s mine too. That and fucking Die Hard,” Frank says just as Gerard steals his breakfast.

“Yeah. I like how Jaws has different layers,” Mikey continues, turning to Gerard and looking at him like he’s expecting some kind of approval.

Gerard smiles and nods. “Totally.”

“We should call in with a request as soon as we get the generator running. I haven’t watched the Goonies in ages,” Ray says as he crashes down on the mattress, pushing Gerard’s leg out of the way before sitting down next to him.

“The Goonies are my jam,” Gerard says. “Oh the Temple of Doom! We should call in to request she puts that on.”

“But you wouldn’t be able to see when they eat the monkey brains. That would be such a fucking shame,” Mikey mumbles and they all nod in agreement.

Frank watches them for a few seconds; how happy and normal they look, and for a while, he forgets what they went through to get here. He shifts closer to Mikey and snakes an arm behind his back, reaching out to touch the small of Gerard’s back.

The radio starts playing a song by Otis Reading and Frank closes his eyes. Things couldn’t be any more perfect than they are given the circumstances.