Frank shuddered as he sat down on the edge of a chair, not the chair, not yet, just a chair, from which he could watch the artist, Charles, get ready. He watched as he prepped the area, filling those little plastic cups with color and putting something sticky underneath them to make sure they didn't fall over. He watched as Charles got out fresh, sterilized needles and placed them in the machines, muttering something about how, back in the day, before they knew anything about diseases and shit, all they did between clients was wipe the needle off with a rag.
Frank forced himself to snort at the joke, but he didn't smile, and it didn't matter because Charles weren't looking his way, but down at his setup, making sure he had all the things he needed for Frank's tattoo. He slapped on a couple of latex gloves and motioned Frank to take a seat in the chair he had previously avoided, not feeling quite ready for it. He still didn't feel ready, but this was it, there was no backing down. He was going to do this.
He opened up his shirt, revealing his bare chest which he had waxed the previous day, just for this. He didn't want any icky regrowth during the healing process, and Charles nodded approvingly as he wiped off the skin with some probably alcohol based shit. Frank shuddered again as Charles picked up the stencil, holding the edges lightly with his fingertips and slowly lowering it down to Frank's chest. When it was in place, Charles held up a mirror for Frank to see that it was where he wanted it, and Frank nodded. It looked perfect.
Then they finally got started, and fuck, it fucking hurt. It was fucking excruciating, and he wanted it to go away, but he needed this tattoo, so he simply tried to take slow, deep breaths and relaxed, focusing on the buzzing sound of the machine.
"It helps not to think about it," Charles said when he paused and looked up at Frank's face. "Wanna tell me about the tattoo? It's, it's pretty special."
Frank sighed, because he didn't really want to talk about it, but at the same time, he really did want to talk about it, he wanted to tell the whole world about it, shout it out at the top of his lungs and let the world know how much it hurt. Let them know how much pain he was in all the time, every single second of every single day. "It's about my boyfriend," he whispered, not sure why. "Though, I guess I'll have to get used to calling him my ex-boyfriend now."
He sighed and relaxed a little as Charles paused again, dipping the needle in some more black before bringing it back to Frank's already tender and red skin. "His name's Gerard," Frank said, and just like that, he started talking for real.
The first time Frank ever met Gerard, he was sixteen and at a party. His band at the time had played there, and it was really awful, and all they got in return was really shitty beer and to hang out at the party. There were mostly College kids there, too, and they weren't too fond of hanging out with a bunch of High Schoolers, so Frank and his band just hung out in the backyard, smoking and drinking their shitty beer.
A while after midnight, a couple of guys had come out, and one of them knew the drummer in Frank's band because they had English together, or something, so they joined them. They were introduced as Gerard and Mikey, and Frank's first impression of Gerard was that he was quiet and awkward, smoked a lot and mostly just listened to other people talk until the subject of comic books or horror movies was brought up. Mikey, on the other hand, was one of the most talkative and outgoing people Frank had ever met. He was weird looking, tall and skinny with weird hair and huge glasses that he wore on the end of his nose, but he knew almost everyone at the entire party, and no one even objected to him being in High School.
They were both really cool, and as soon as they left, hours later, Frank wished they would meet again, or would somehow keep in touch. It would be years, though, until they met again.
They started meeting at a lot of parties and gigs after that, and Mikey even auditioned when Pencey needed a new guitarist, but although Frank would have liked to have him, he wasn't a good fit for the band.
He didn't meet Gerard again until after 9/11 happened. Mikey had called him up one day and told him about how Gerard had started this band as a reaction to what had happened, and how he was going to play bass. "I have to learn how to do it first, I guess, but it's only four strings. How hard can it be?"
Before Frank knew it, he had tapes of the so called 'attic demos' with the name My Chemical Romance scribbled on the side, that he just couldn't stop listening to. It kind of sucked, because the instruments weren't in tune, the drummer kept falling behind and noting was in sync, but with the right amount of imagination, Frank knew how amazing it could be. He offered to share Pencey's practice space with them, and sat in on My Chem's practices as often as he could, and before he knew it, they were opening for Pencey at a show Frank's cousin had put on.
Otter and Ray, the drummer and guitarist, had been pretty cool about it. They were nervous, but it was the healthy kind, whereas Gerard and Mikey were complete wrecks, sitting in Pencey's van outside, drinking beer and smoking until Frank though Mikey wouldn't be able to make it up on stage, or that Gerard had ruined his voice with the smokes. They proved him wrong, though, and despite a lot of mistakes, they were amazing. Something special happened that night, and Frank was never going to forget it.
He got used to Gerard's post-show smell, though, because one show with Pencey and My Chem turned into a lot of shows with Pencey and My Chem. Time flew by and My Chemical Romance got better, and eventually they go into a studio to record, first just one song, and then an entire album which they barely even had enough material for.
During this time, Pencey Prep broke up, so Frank started another band, but that didn't work out either. Then, seemingly out of nowhere, when Frank was sitting in on another one of My Chem's practices, they asked Frank if he wanted to join them. Frank was sure it was a joke, or that he had heard it wrong, that really, they were just asking if he wanted to jam right now, but Gerard repeated the question.
Still, it didn't make any sense to Frank, because they were like, two days from going into the studio to record a fucking album, and Frank didn't even have anything to play on most of their songs. And, to play with Ray Toro? He was like a guitar God, and his approach to it, his way of playing, was so fucking far from how Frank did it that it wasn't even funny. Frank could hardly even imagine how they were supposed to work together.
"Are you sure?" he asked. "Are you really sure that's a good idea? I mean—"
"Yes," Gerard had said, not letting him finish.
"We need another guitarist," Ray said. "And you're already part of the family, Frankie. There's nobody else we could even consider." Frank was a little speechless at that. He hadn't known they considered him part of the family. He always thought he was just the annoying kid who kept hanging around, going on nerdy rants about how Spiderman and Superman both sucked, which only ever Gerard seemed interested in hearing. "You're an important part of the puzzle, Frank."
"Look, Frank, if you don't want to be in the band, it's okay. We know you have other things going on and shit," Gerard said, face falling.
"No, no, of course I want to be in the band," Frank protested. "I just, you know. . . Are you sure you want me?"
"Yes, of course we fucking are," Gerard said, and hugged him. Mikey latched on to Frank's back, and Ray and Otter must have thought "Meh, why not?" and joined the group hug as well. Frank felt kind of crushed, but in an absolutely awesome way.
The next day, he was sitting in a van with a guitar that kept going out of tune because of the fucking cold. He was writing his first parts ever for My Chemical Romance, and he could hardly feel his fingers because the stupid car didn't have a working heater. He did his best with what he had, though, and that must have been pretty good, because he's almost certain he saw tears in Ray's eyes when he played it for him.
"Hey, didn't you say you dated this guy?" Charles asked, probably a little confused because Frank was not only telling the story about Gerard and his relationship, but of the band's history. "When did that happen?"
"Later," Frank replied, and kept talking. It wasn't long now.
They hired him a year later, or so, and he got them on all these tours with so many amazing bands, it was unbelievable. The shows were great too, and they just kept getting better. It was on stage that Frank realized that his feelings towards Gerard might not be exactly the same as his feelings towards the other guys. He wasn't sure what it was, if it was because Gerard was such a different, outgoing person on stage, or if it was the adrenaline pumping through his veins that made him want Gerard. He pressed up against the lead singer at every opportunity, went over and sang in his mic and kneeled in front of him, and it should have been awkward, and it would have been if it hadn't been going both ways. Gerard was totally into it as well, and would walk up to Frank and sing all the time, holding on to his waist as Frank leaned back against him.
Their fans, or whatever you want to call it at that stage when they were still pretty unknown, seemed to appreciate it too, which was a big fucking relief. Frank wasn't sure he could have stopped doing that just because people didn't like it, or had a problem with the band being pro-gay, or whatever.
They started writing material for their second album during the fall of 2003. Gerard had this amazing story he wanted to tell about a guy who made a deal with the devil to bring his lover back to life, but as we were working on it Gerard and Mikey's grandma died, and so everything changed. They finished the album and everything, although it changed a lot from what it had been intended to be, and Gerard. . . Gerard disappeared into a very dark place.
Gerard was drinking a lot, way too much, actually, and everybody knew it. Frank knew it, and Mikey knew it, but no one could really do anything because they were pretty fucked up themselves. It wasn't so bad during spring that year, but in the summer they went out with Warped for the first time, and Gerard went downhill so fast it was a miracle he survived.
"Was it just alcohol?"
"No, it was a whole bunch of prescription drugs too. Antidepressants and other shit. And towards the end of it he started doing cocaine as well." Frank wasn't sure why he was talking about it like this, why he was telling a man that was really just a stranger about Gerard and all that Gerard had been through. It felt a little like therapy, though, only better. He had been to real therapy, but he never felt comfortable around his therapist, so he quit.
"But he got clean?" Charles wiped off some excess ink and Frank winced at the dry wad of paper dragging over the sore skin.
"Yeah, he got clean and sober in August that year. Brian, our manager was a great help, and we also got a new drummer around that time. I guess I forgot to mention that Otter wasn't a very stable drummer, and he refused to use a click, so we had to let him go. Otter's last show with us was Gerard's last show before getting sober.”
Another change, which came with Gerard being sober, was Gerard getting up early. Frank remembered the first time he realized this, because Gerard had woken Frank up by accident while he was getting dressed, and when Frank couldn't go back to sleep, he went up and joined Gerard in the lounge.
"Hey, what are you doing up?" Gerard asked when he saw Frank, who just shrugged, muttering, "Couldn't go back to sleep."
He sat down on the couch, next to Gerard, and said, "I suppose I could ask you the same, but I guess this isn't the first time you've been up before six am." Gerard shrugged, which Frank took as a yes. He scooted closer to Gerard and down at the sketchpad in his lap, noting that he was drawing those cool comic book figures of his. It was this awesome idea that Gerard had been working on since he got sober, about this weird, really maladjusted family of superheroes. Frank loved it, and not only because it was Gerard's.
"It looks good," he whispered, and Gerard visibly shuddered. Frank's feet were cold, so he took them off the floor and folded them up on the couch before reaching for the blanket that was draped over the back of the couch on the other side of Gerard. He draped it over himself, before snuggling in to Gerard, head on his shoulder and hands clutching Gerard's arm in a loose grip.
"Do you do this every morning? Get up and work when everyone is still sleeping?" Frank asked softly as Gerard worked on a sketch of the character he called, at the moment, the Darwinist.
"Yeah, it's peaceful." Gerard took a sip from a mug of coffee Frank hadn't even known he had, and when Gerard put it back down, Frank realized that Gerard had squeezed in between his thigh and the armrest of the couch. There was a high risk of spilling, but it was very much Gerard, rather having it like that than on the coffee table so that he didn't have to lean over and reach for it.
"It reminds me of when we were in the van," Frank said, without even realizing he had meant to. "When you'd always be up half the night, sketching shit. You'd always sit at the very back so that whoever was driving wouldn't think you were interested in talking."
"What can I say, insomnia's a bitch. And I wanted to draw, so it was better to sit in the back." Gerard suddenly turned his head and gave Frank a totally smug look. "Not that I could get away from you. You always insisted on sitting in the back with me."
"It's not my fault that you give the best cuddles in the band. And I liked watching you work. I still do." Gerard smiled at that, and leaned his head against Frank as he kept working.
They filmed the Helena video a few months later, and although Gerard had come a long way from the dark pit created by his grandmother's death, he was deeply affected by the shoot. There was a part where Tracy, who played the dead girl, danced down the aisle, and as they watched it, Frank could see, just out of the corner of his eye, Gerard leaving the room. Frank knew that he should probably have let him go, that he should have let Gerard have a moment to himself, but he couldn't help feeling scared that Gerard would lose himself again if he was left alone for too long.
"If he wanted just anyone to comfort him, he could just as well have stayed where he was with all of you, couldn't he?" Charles pointed out. "Maybe he knew that the only one who would follow him was you?"
"Yeah, maybe." Frank had never asked.
"Hey, hey, don't say that," Frank said, kneeling a little on the edge of the toilet seat, between Gerard's parted knees. He brushed Gerard's hair out of his face and wiped off the tears. "You can do anything, anything you want." He cupped Gerard's face as he stared into his eyes, and Gerard placed his warm hands on his wrists. "Gee, you're the strongest, most admirable man I've ever met. You can do anything."
Apparently, anything was to kiss Frank. Gerard's lips were soft and warm, and Frank's first impulse was to kiss back. Gerard's hands slipped into Frank's hair, but he kept his own right where they were as Gerard teased his mouth open with his tongue on Frank's lip ring. Gerard tasted like cigarettes, coffee and cinnamon, something that Frank had never noticed before when they had kissed on stage or when they were more or less drunk. Gerard's mouth was hot and wet, and Frank didn't even realize how much he wanted it until it was happening.
Frank panted when they broke off, and he instantly wanted to dive back in for more, but then he felt guilt bubbling up in his chest. Gerard was upset about his dead grandmother and everything he had been through, and Frank was practically taking advantage of him.
"What?" Gerard whispered softly, probably seeing the look on Frank's face change. "Frankie, don't tell me you don't want to." Frank's face softened again.
"Gee, it's not that I don't want to, but I can't ask that of you, not right now, or today. You're upset right now, and I want you to be sure."
"You think I don't know what I want?" Gerard sounded wounded. "You just said I could do anything, and now you don't trust my judgment?"
"Gee, all I'm saying is that we're in a weird position with the band and all, and I'm giving you an out. Just think about it for a few days, maybe a week," Frank said, standing back up.
"No, not when I said it, at least. But it was for both of our sakes. I had hardly even realized how I felt about him before that kiss. I needed to think about it too, possibly even more than he did. I couldn't just tell him that, it would be too much of a rejection, and I couldn't do that to my best friend."
"Did it work out?"
"Hi," he said, letting Gerard in.
"Hey." Gerard took of his gloves and unbuttoned his coat, turning to Frank. "I. . . I don't really know what to say. I didn't actually plan to say anything. I was just gonna kiss you and hope for the best." He eyed Frank, who was pretty much speechless by then, a little uncertainly. "Okay?"
"Okay," Frank replied breathlessly, and Gerard closed the gap between their bodies and kissed him like he had never been kissed before. Gerard's arms were all around him, and he wrapped his own around Gerard's neck, pulling him close as Gerard kissed him so good he could feel it in his toes.
"I love you, Frank," Gerard whispered against his lips when they broke off. "I love you, and if you don't want me, if we can't be together, I don't know what to do." His eyes were wide open and desperate, and the only thing Frank could think to do was to kiss him again.
"I love you, too, Gee. I always have." He thought about the first time they met, at the dorky twenty year old who didn't mind hanging out with High School kids and talking about comic books, and he knew it was true. Gerard had always had a special place in his heart.
They didn't tell the guys about it until after the holidays, except for Mikey, because Gerard was sure he'd be okay about it, and in case the others had negative reactions, they wanted someone on their side. Ray and Bob didn't care much, though, they just muttered something about the "No sex on the bus rule" still applying to Gerard and Frank. Brian and the record label wasn't as easy to convince, though Brian gave in after a month or two of glaring whenever he saw Frank and Gerard holding hands or kissing. The label, on the other hand, still wasn’t okay about it, but Gerard and Frank dating was not enough for Reprise to break their contract, in which they were signed to make two albums.
That year, 2005, was the best one in Frank's entire life. Things had never been so perfect. The band was doing great, the second album was more popular than anyone had ever dared imagine, and they were touring what felt like all over the world, although it was really still just North America and Europe. Everyone he loved was doing great too, living healthy and happy lives, and Frank himself was happier than anyone, because he got to share all of this with Gerard.
"Honestly, I don't really know," Frank replied, glancing down at his chest where Charles was doing some shading. "Everything was pretty much perfect that entire year, like I said. We were happy. We were on Warped Tour again, and it was the most amazing tour I've ever been on. Mikey started dating this guy in Fall Out Boy, and they were really happy, so we were happy for him. That ended, of course, but it was okay because not long after, Mikey met this amazing girl who he even got engaged to, and Gerard and I were fucking ecstatic."
Frank paused, for too long apparently, because Charles stopped tattooing and just looked at him. "And?"
"It made me realize that I wanted to take that next step, too. Of course, marriage wasn't really an option, so I was going to start out by asking him to move in with me."
"But he said no, and you broke up?"
"He didn't say no."
This time he really wished he had, though.
The door was locked, so he let himself in with his own key. "Gee?" he called when he got in and found the house eerily silent. It was strange, because Gerard's car was in the driveway, so it looked as if he was home, but if Gerard had actually been there, it wouldn't have been so fucking silent. Gerard was never quiet when he was at home, no matter what he was doing. He would always sing, or even talk to himself, or he would listen to music and sing along.
Frank figured that maybe he was still sleeping, or taking a nap, but the bedroom was empty, and the bed made, just like Frank had left it the previous day, which meant that Gerard hadn't slept there at all. He wasn't sure Gerard was even in the house anymore, but he still looked everywhere, until he tried the bathroom door and found it locked. He sighed in relief at having found him, but when he knocked on the door, saying, "Hey, Gee, didn't you hear me yell before?" he didn't get any reply.
"Gerard?" he said again, louder, and pounded on the door. "Gerard, if you're in there, fucking answer me?" Frank had been worried before, when he couldn't find Gerard, but now that he had found a locked bathroom door and got no reply from the other side he was freaking the fuck out. "Gerard, fucking say something!"
Images flashed through his head, images of worst case scenarios. Never the best case ones. He probably knew before he had even gotten the door open that it wasn't as simple as Gerard having hit his head and passed out, or passed out and hit his head.
He slammed his shoulder against the door twice before it slammed open, and he walked into an empty bathroom. He was just about to turn and leave, believe that the room had been locked from the outside after all, when he realized the bathtub was full of water, on the brink of overflowing. Frank had reached into the water before he was even thinking. He got a handful of Gerard's hair and pulled, his other hand gripping one of the sleeves of the shirt Gerard was wearing, and somehow he managed to heave the unnaturally heavy body out of the tub.
He landed on his ass with Gerard sprawled over his lap, wet and cold, lifeless, but still beautiful. "Gerard, Gerard, Gee, baby," Frank was saying, but he didn't recognize his voice. He brushed Gerard's hair out of his face, caressed his pale cheeks, begging him to wake up. "Gee, please, please, don't do this to me. You can't leave me. I love you." His voice broke, and he was suddenly aware of tears in his eyes, streaming down his face, dripping into Gerard's already soaked hair.
He pressed a kiss to Gerard's cold lips and was suddenly by the idea of CPR. He lay Gerard on the floor and scrambled up onto his knees and started doing it like they did on TV. One, two, three, four, five, blow twice; repeat. He wasn't sure how many times he repeated it, how long he sat there, trying but failing to revive his dead boyfriend, before he gave up and collapsed on the floor, exhausted. He pulled Gerard close and let the tears flow freely again.
The next time he pulled himself together he got his cell phone out and called Mikey. When Mikey answered, "Hello? Frank?" he lost his ability to talk though, and could only sob softly for a couple of minutes while Mikey asked him frantically what was wrong.
"He won't wake up," Frank finally whispered. "I tried, I really tried, Mikey, but he won't wake up."
Mikey and Alicia, his fiancée, were there ten minutes later, just before the ambulance that they had called arrived. Frank had sat up again and pulled Gerard's head into his lap and was combing through his long hair with his fingers, caressing his cheeks, touching his lips. It was weird, because he was still wearing clothes. Jeans and a halfway buttoned shirt, a wristwatch that was now ruined, not that Frank could imagine anyone else using it anyway.
"Frank, Frankie, you have to let him go now," Mikey said, gently prying Frank's hands off Gerard. "Come on, you have to let them take him now, okay?" Frank looked up at him for the first time and saw tears still running down his cheeks.
"Take him where?" he asked dumbly, not wanting to leave Gerard alone.
"To the morgue." Frank could tell how much it hurt Mikey to say it, and he understood. He could feel it too.
"Yeah, right." He let Gerard's body down on the floor again, and with Mikey's help he stood up. He looked around the room again, and noticed a bottle of pills on the counter by the sink. He started to reach out for it, but Mikey's hand on his wrist stopped him.
"They're sleeping pills. He told me he was having trouble sleeping again." Mikey sounded guilty, and Frank could understand why. He felt guilty, too, because he hadn't even known about Gerard having trouble sleeping, and he was his boyfriend. Frank didn't blame Mikey, he blamed himself.
They stepped out in the hallway with Alicia, and let the guys from the ambulance come inside and put the body on a gurney. They brought the bottle of pills with them, too, to make it easier to determine if he had overdosed or not, or something like that. Frank didn't want to think about the cause of death or whatever. Gerard was dead, that was it.
"Frank," Alicia said when the ambulance had driven off. He looked at her, but it was as if there was a veil over his face because he couldn't really see her. "I found something in Gerard's studio that you might want to see."
"Is it a note?" He cleared his throat, but it just hurt, and he didn't think it made much difference to how he sounded.
"Not exactly." She took his hand and led him upstairs to the studio, Mikey walking close behind them.
It was weird that Frank hadn't noticed it before, when he had been all over the house looking for Gerard, because it was on an easel in the middle of the room, with a hot pink post it note stuck to it. The note said "For Frank." and that was all it was. But the painting, the painting that Gerard had left for Frank, it was so much more.
"Yes." Frank looked down at his chest, where the masterpiece was almost finished. It was a beautiful painting, and a perfect tattoo.
It was a Mexican Day of the Dead skull, full of pretty patterns and bright colors, surrounded by flowers all over Frank's chest. It was the most colorful of all Frank's tattoos, and it was definitely the biggest, and the most meaningful. At the bottom, below the actual skull, were five red roses. They were all in different stages of their lives, and the one in the middle had already wilted away. The one to the right was just about to open up and bloom, but the one to the left of it was still not much more than a bud. It was beginning to open up, but it wasn't ready yet. The ones on the sides were already in full bloom, and they were strong and beautiful specimens that were going to have long lives. Frank was sure of that.
"So what does it mean? The painting?" Charles asked, still not understanding.
Frank thought about it. He had been thinking about it ever since the day he had found Gerard in the bathtub. He was still thinking about it.
"It means that death is a beautiful thing that shouldn't be feared," he said, and he could even hear Gerard's voice speaking the words in his head. "But that life is beautiful and precious too, and it shouldn't be wasted, but nurtured and taken care of." The room was quiet all of a sudden; the buzz of the tattooing machine had died down.
"It means that you should love life."