It was the early morning when Frank was displaced. He didn’t realize that something was different -- wrong -- until he was lifting his head off the cold, damp ground. Not until after all the blood had drained out of his skull, leaving him breathless.
There was a chill to the air; his sudden and ragged breaths left his lips in small clouds. Unfocused and near translucent in the glow of this place.
He couldn’t remember anything. Who he was. Where he had been what felt like no more than five seconds before. Why he was here to begin with. All he knew was that he was one place, and then another. He was somewhere else. But now he was here, in the middle of some square in the city.
He was lying on his back on the hard ground, now, the lingering sensation of falling still jostling his bones. And that appeared to be the only thing his five-seconds-ago-self, his five-seconds-ago-place of being, had left him with.
As soon as he pulled himself into a sitting position, he regained his bearings at least somewhat momentarily. Everything hurt. But everything also tingled.
It scared him, to think that he never wanted that tingle to leave him. It was a prickly warmth, right underneath his white-plastic skin. It felt like colors, and trickling water, and the sun.
But just like that, it was gone.
Frank took in his surroundings with dark, half-lidded eyes. Tall buildings and skyscrapers rose up around him, still and grey in the paling light. The description held for just about everything else: colorless, lifeless, sad.
He inhaled sharply, then. He didn’t know anything, but he realized everything. He was alone. No other people filled the sidewalks or the streets. And Frank somehow knew it, then. That he was the only soul in the entire city.
He didn’t let go of that lingering hope, though, not after he stood on his wobbly legs and started a meaningless meander around the square. Not after he had peaked into about a dozen dark, empty alleyways and the large windows of about a dozen or so more department stores.
By the time he reached the front of a towering building, the biggest mall in the city, it was already snowing faintly. The sky only grew greyer and sadder as the morning dimmed, and evening dissolved into night. Frank knew he had to find cover for the night. He knew he had to find somewhere safe. But was there really anywhere he could be safe here? He knew this place. He knew the city well, as he’d lived here almost all his life. But he felt different. Displaced.
Like he wasn’t really where he thought he was.
Frank made his way to the back of Macy’s, only stopping once in the electronics sections, when the black face of the biggest flatscreen tv he had ever seen stared back at him. The air drooped, then. Grew heavier. And an eerie static filled the white room. He flinched away from the tv and diverted his gaze to the bright, rectangular lights overhead.
He made himself as comfortable as he could on one of the display beds. It was white and puffy -- a comforter worthy of a princess. But he was a small boy, and had no trouble slipping under the cold covers and fitting on the mattress.
He thought briefly of food. How he wasn’t hungry at all. He thought of his bed back home in his apartment. How it wouldn’t miss him. He thought of how there were now two cold, empty spots on it -- wherever he thought it may be in time, certainly not in this one. Another empty spot to keep the other one company.
He couldn’t cry. Or wonder why he was here, in this grey world -- that is, he knew it couldn’t be his world. It was suddenly coming to dawn on him that he would always be alone. He didn’t know how he knew, or why the thought flooded his mind to begin with. But he held onto it all the same.
Everyone was dead, and somehow he had survived this. Whatever this was.
He rubbed his numb face, retrieving his fingers to find them covered in feathery soft ash.
He wasn’t going to let himself cry. At least, not yet. But his bones did start to ache again. His lungs, throbbing. His chest, burning.
“Not yet,” he told himself.
And just as if on cue, the translucent white lights overhead clicked off.
The next few days, as well as the next two weeks, went along just the same as that first day. Frank wandered around for hours in the snow, the raining ash, only to find nothing new. Everything was abandoned, forgotten. He along with it. He somehow made his way back to his apartment, but it changed nothing. He still felt empty inside. Like he was lost and no one was looking for him.
If this was the apocalypse, he didn’t want to survive it any longer.
His apartment was just as he left it. Papers from his work were still spread out in a mess on his kitchen table. His fridge only held a half pack of beer -- just as he left that, too. There were leftovers from when he went out for chinese on the counter by the sink. Nothing had molded over in his few weeks absence; he didn’t trust that fact enough to eat anything.
The only noticeable difference was the thin layer of dust and soot and ash everywhere.
Everything was the same unnatural shade of grey here. The walls of the apartment. The crumpled pile of bedsheets on his unmade bed.
Frank wasn’t in the mood to continue his stroll around the dismal and silent city. Nor was he ready for more traumatic attempts at remembering anything, anything at all.
So instead, he let himself fall into a heap on his bed. And, quietly, inaudibly, he drowned his heavy shudders and choked sobs in the cool sheets.
Around midday the next day, Frank found himself back in the city square. The place where his nightmare had begun. He felt drawn to it, pulled almost. The weather was worse than usual -- ash and half melted snow rained down in small clumps. It stuck to Frank’s short matted hair and his dark, dark lashes.
Not long after taking a seat by the worn and dried up center fountain, did he feel a sudden uneasiness overtake him. Fill his bones with soot. Freeze his weak lungs.
Was he finally coming to terms with that fact that he was going to die here, alone?
He liked to think it was just homesickness. And with that, he brushed the feeling away.
He made to explore one of the smaller department stores again, and so got up tiredly and walked the few required blocks with slow and dragging feet. It was a video and cd store that he used to come to all the time when he was in highschool.
Huh. Frank wondered absently how he could remember something as trivial as that, but not how and why he was in the situation that he was now
His next movements happened in slow motion. Frank opened the glass door and took one step inside, when he was all so suddenly pushed backwards. His body crashed to the ground with a bone-jarring thump.
“Who -- who are you?” There was fear and shock and eagerness, all in that one voice. That one question.
Frank had closed his eyes in the rush of the moment. But at the sound of the voice, his eyes flew open.
Another pair of eyes stared back at him, only an inch away. They were as wide as the plates his ma used for the Turkey at Thanksgiving. Pupils blown black. Just like all those nights Frank had spent alone.
“I think I’m Frank.”
There was a pause. And all Frank could do was stare. There was definitely a boy on him. There was definitely a boy sitting on his chest, staring at him with dark and calculating eyes like Frank was an angel. Or something.
Long, matted black hair framed the other boy’s pale face. He was leaning forward over Frank, just staring intently and letting the tips of his hair tickle Frank’s cheeks.
Frank sort of nodded, then. Or. Well. As best he could in his current, er, position.
“I think I’m Gerard,” the other finally responded. His eyes were still tearing into Frank, sending a chill of goosebumps ripping up his naked arms and spine.
There was another awkward pause. And then: “You. You’re sitting on my chest.” It came out as sort of a wheeze. But what can you expect? This is Frank we’re talking about.
“Oh.” The other boy -- he was older than Frank, but probably not by much -- didn’t move. Just kept staring with his big owl eyes.
Another beat, and Frank tried again, his wheezing and gasping slightly more pronounced, “You’re sitting on my chest.”
“Oh,” came that high and nasally voice again. The weight lifted from Frank’s chest -- fucking finally -- and Frank got a good, full swig of cold air and ash. If he didn’t know any better, he’d think he was taking a much needed drag.
It was weird. Frank had been alone for so long with nothing for company but that isolated ache in his chest. But it was just weird. Seeing another person here.
But, ugh, words. Somehow in only a couple weeks time, Frank had forgotten how to speak properly. But now was his chance. He found someone else. And wasn’t that something?
This couldn’t be his hell after all.
“How long?” He managed to choke out the question as he re-acquainted his lungs with the truly unbreathable air.
Gerard’s eyebrows knitted together. Oh, Frank thought in parallel of the other boy’s simple utterance.
“How long have you been,” Frank gestured to the still, grey world around them “here?”
Gerard sucked his lower lip into his mouth and chewed it thoughtfully. “Not long.”
It wouldn’t be until later that Frank realized that not long probably meant days, weeks. What with how easy it was to lose track of time here.
“Well, welcome to purgatory,” he snorted. It was meant to be a joke to lighten the unnaturally dank mood. But, of course, Gerard’s face took a free fall.
Frank pulled himself up into a sitting position on the pavement. This was just all too weird. Not the talking -- he loved the talking. To another human being. I mean, Frank had been talking to himself for so long now. But the way Gerard looked at him. Like he really was the messiah.
It just didn’t sit right in his chest.
Gerard continued to stare, hunched over in his own lap, his legs tucked underneath him. The guy couldn’t have been any whiter.
Like newly fallen snow, Franks stupid brain didn’t forget to add.
Almost like...like an angel. And -- and oh, that was why Gerard was staring at him like that. Frank’s face probably looked exactly the same.
Frank’s mouth opened. And closed. Then opened again. What was he supposed to say? Honestly, though, Gerard was having the same problem. His lips were parted slightly, his breathing even and only the slightest tendrils of his warm breath could be seen against all this grey.
They both struggled for words, when really they didn’t need any at all. It was strange. And uncomfortably...natural? Like there really wasn’t any awkwardness. Even though they were total strangers.
They both shivered at the exact same time. And Gerard seized the moment to reach forward and cup Frank’s cheek with his ghostly hand. He just needed the contact. They both did.
“It’s gonna be a cold night out tonight,” Frank started. He couldn’t even imagine where Gerard was hiding out with that white and -- jeez, were his hands cold -- and frail body of his. Frank had a better idea. “I have an apartment, do you want to --”
“Yes,” Gerard whispered, hoarse and strained against the cold and -- and something else, really. Frank couldn’t exactly pinpoint it. It was almost like there were years in that voice. Weather-worn, tangible, knowing.
They sat there for another moment, both shuddering against the slight wind that had picked up and blinking away ash as it heavied their lashes.
Gerard retrieved his hand from Frank’s face and started tugging at his dark, ruffled hair. It was like a nervous twitch or something. Frank couldn’t tell for now. But he felt like it was important.
“Come on,” he whispered back, rising and holding out his hand for the other boy to take. “We can’t stay here.”
They didn’t say anything at first. Not even after stumbling into Frank’s dust-filled apartment. He turned around at one point, and upon looking back found Gerard gone. Something tugged at his heart, forcefully and all too desperate.
Move your fucking feet, his brain clarified.
He was running down the hallway towards his bedroom half a heartbeat later. He didn’t know why he was so relieved, when he stepped into the doorway and saw Gerard sprawled out on top of his tangle of grey sheets, eyes fixated on something far far beyond his ceiling.
Frank joined him with a sigh, making himself comfortable against the headboard. They talked the rest of the day and all through that night, neither one wishing to abandon the other for thoughts of sleep. It was too real. Too fleeting. They were afraid of waking up and finding themselves alone once again.
There was much talk of the apocalypse, of zombies, of make-believe things that only found their way into nightmares. Gerard’s hands made motions in tune with the conversation. He talked of vampires and other undead things of the like.
They laughed a lot, if only to pretend they were something else for only that moment. Frank’s was childish and giggly while Gerard’s was like a goose honk -- if geese talked high and nasally with their little pixie noses and lopsided grins.
There wasn’t any talk of their lives before. Or of remembering. They were just there, and, really, all they wanted was each other's company in this world. Which they both agreed -- this place wasn’t home.
But for some reason it was trying really hard to be just that.
The next few days went along just the same. They went everywhere together, weaving out of buildings and alleyways as they trekked through a long abandoned city. Gerard took Frank’s hand in his, and they shared in the cold touch.
After that first day, Frank smiled a lot. More than he ever remembered doing in his entire life before.
They gathered twigs and sticks from the park before heading back to the apartment. Gerard suggested making a fire to warm things up, and Frank wanted nothing more than to grant his wish. To make him happy -- if not happier.
Because that’s just it. They were both happy. Just like smiling, it felt unfamiliar. And warm. And -- and like Gerard when they would curl up together in his cold bed. He never thought it would be possible here, like back when he was by himself in this apartment. Like he had for so long before.
But now he had Gerard, and Gerard had him. They needed each other. It was enough, and they found themselves happier than in any of those fleeting memories.
A while later, they were tucked close together on the kitchen floor. The air was filled with nothing but snaps of the warm fire and their own hushed whispers. Like voices nearly drowned out in the rain.
"Part of me is not okay with -- with all this.” Gerard started, motioning around the room with his pale hands. In another life, Frank guessed that he was one to talk for hours on nothing in particular, in that same emphatic way of his. He found himself loving it, missing it in those small intervals between their conversations -- wondering where it had been all his life. His life before all this.
“Everything. Like, okay, in a totally freaking out kinda way. But there's another part of me that's...I dunno. Comfortable. Or at least --"
"Now." Frank finished the thought.
"Yeah. Yeah, really. It's just -- I'm not --"
A smile made its way onto Gerard's dry lips, so purple from the cold and ash, and just everything. Frank would've been something less than human to not be pulled into it almost immediately. And smile back, he did.
The silence enveloped them, then. In the growing darkness. This place. Far away from all life and humanity and that same everything, as it was.
There was the silence, and then there were Gerard's eyes on his, his cold fingers reaching out to lightly trace along Frank's unnaturally thin cheekbones, and then a whispered correction by his ear.
If their souls were bound together in this eternity, Frank no longer minded the cold and the emptiness. He wanted to rub out the coarseness of that voice, fill its hollow longing. All those cracks that spoke of another life. One before this that didn’t involve Frank or the cold or the closeness they now held so dear. He wanted to give Gerard something to finally have and hold on to.
Frank didn't realize how tight he was holding on, himself. Not until more weeks came and passed, and he slowly realized that there were no more tear stains on his cheeks or the sheets whenever he awoke to the grey morning light. Every morning his eyes fluttered open to find only one thing; that thing was Gerard, staring back with dark eyes and a genuinely happy smile playing at his numb lips.
And he placed a gentle kiss on those lips. Every morning in the same grey light.
The weeks dragged on and on.
There was one morning where Gerard was sitting in the window seat at the end of the hallway. The window itself was large and stunningly white, drenched in sunlight.
Frank came up from behind him, resting one of his hands on Gerard’s shoulder.
Gerard turned, then, eyes as wide as the first time they met, grey and white light playing across his beautiful face. “Frank.”
His look was knowing. And Frank understood what it meant, more than either of them could ever understand why or how. But he did.
“We have to leave.”
They didn’t have much to pack. A couple blankets and a lighter for a fire. When, really, they didn’t need anything all.
They didn’t know where they were even going, at first. But Gerard offered Frank his hand, and he took it.
The avenue outside the apartment building stretched far in either direction, empty and unconquerable to anyone other than them. Gerard closed the door behind him, stepped out into the pale light, and took Frank’s hand again.
They turned left and never looked back.
It took them an entire day to reach the next town over. Frank was a little weary about stopping; he felt restless. A pull that was hooked underneath his skin. Egging his tired feet on.
Gerard gave him a once over, at one point, and nodded short and jerkily. He felt it, too.
By nightfall they came across a small little chapel on a hillside. The wrought iron gates fell away to a garden overrun with brambles and weeds. Like death had warmed over. But Gerard pulled him along until they were pushing through the big wooden doors and into the sea of pews.
Frank had the biggest, stupidest smile on his lips the entire way.
And then Gerard looked at Frank with a face that seemed to fill him. Make him whole. Or at least, fill his mind with more of the delusions they kept close to heart in this world.
Because Frank knew, deep down, that what they had together was denial.
“Marry me,” Frank shuddered out. There was just so much adrenaline and happiness coursing through him, in his veins.
Gerard’s smile was childish, stretched from ear to ear -- but so much Gerard that Frank wanted to somehow capture it in his sweaty palms and lock it away, far far away where the grey and the cold could not reach.
The darkness was filled only by their giggles and giddy laughter as they sprinted back down the hill towards the convenience store across the street. They hung close, never breaking their touch. Frank overturned one of the gumball dispensers in the back, and the jagged glass splayed out across the linoleum floor. He collected two of the plastic capsules. One for him, one for Gerard.
He tried not to notice the way Gerard stared longingly at one of the dust laden expreso machines on the counter. He knew that he was remembering a sensation. A long forgotten taste. Frank didn’t want to be reminded of anything from before. Not anymore. Not when he was finally happy.
They made their way back up to the church, Gerard practically hanging off of Frank’s cold arm. Beneath the dim lights high in the rafters above, Frank had never realized how faintly blue-ish his skin really was.
He lost all plausible thought, though, when he turned around in his spot before the front alter. Gerard had stepped back outside into the cold night. Pulled a thin and fragile finger to his numb lips. And winked at him.
Frank stood as still and as tall as he could with his hands clasped behind his back. Like a gentleman. Like a groom.
It was hard with all the giddiness welling up inside him. It felt so good, so explosive. Frank never wanted to let go of it. Of this. Of everything he had with Gerard.
But then, the door burst open in a fantastic rush. Gerard took his steps one at a time, hands cupped against his chest. They both knew what they were really seeing. But right then. In that moment. The moment was theirs, and theirs alone. Gerard was holding a bouquet of the most beautiful flowers -- a much needed rainbow to break all those months of snow and ash and harsh rain.
The biggest grin just near split Frank’s delicate face in half. He couldn’t help it.
All Frank knew in that moment was that Gerard was wearing the most amazing white dress he had ever seen. It had a brilliant train, trailing behind him with those same vibrant flower petals scattered about it.
All Frank knew was that Gerard was gorgeous. He always was.
Gerard finally made it down the long aisle and up the brick steps to stand beside him. His smile mirrored Frank’s, yet still with that childish edge.
If they were both children, Frank didn’t mind it. It would just make it easier to pretend. To pretend they weren’t alone in the void and drowning in all this grey.
Frank fumbled for a moment with the tiny capsules that were tucked safely in his pocket. Two plastic rings tumbled out and onto his palm. He slipped the one with a small molding of a giraffe on Gerard’s shaking finger -- shaking with all the emotions, of happiness and excitement and finally, finally the consummation of their love. Frank’s...well, Frank got the Panda one.
They leaned forward in a mutual agreement. Mutual feelings. Sensations. Their icy lips pressed together for what felt like the thousandth time. And, really, it probably was.
Even later, after all the giddiness and butterflies had all but completely washed away, they still held on. Their lips melted together, seeking a warmth that neither could ever find. They sat down on a bench in the garden and stared up at the sky. The darkness. The ghostly moon that was hardly there.
Frank felt another pang. Another ache. He felt as if the sky wasn’t supposed to be so dark, so much of a void that threatened to collapse upon their world. In another life, he guessed that there were tiny lights up there to keep the moon company. But he couldn’t imagine what that looked liked.
Gerard leaned into him, then, his nose pressed into the soft skin right below his chin. Come back to me, Gerard’s body language always said. Don’t leave me for those thoughts of anything before this.
“Do you believe in fate, Frankie?” Gerard finally asked, breaking their comfortable silence.
Frank took a deep breath and allowed the question to mull over, if just for a second. “I’m not sure.” Maybe. “I never really thought about it. Just. What happens happens. Nothing's planned. Like, like being here. I think. Meeting -- meeting you. It was just an accident --"
"An accident?" Gerard's voice broke, and Frank almost clutched his chest, his heart lurched so hard.
"No! I mean. A happy accident. Like, God, I'm-the-luckiest-bastard-ever kind of accident.”
It wasn't fate; it was luck. Just luck.
He felt Gerard's small smile against his throat, subtle as it was in the numbing cold.
"Yeah. Feels that way, doesn't it."
He didn't need to ask to know how Gerard felt. It was clear enough in the way he looked at him. Like Frank was precious. Like they were meant to hold each other on those lonely nights, when limbs and fingers chilled and the wind moaned against the windows with the voices of lost souls.
Like they were meant to find each other here, not before. And love as much as they could before time ran out.
It was just nice to pretend. That this was a forever. That reasons were pointless and everything was about the now. Not the past. The whys and the what ifs.
Like when Gerard was walking down the aisle towards him, and he was truly the most beautiful thing in Frank's world. The only thing. He could ignore the way Gerard's hospital gown rucked up along his deathly-white thighs. Imagine a wedding dress worthy of angels in its place. Or the way he tugged at his dark hair, like he wasn't used to it actually being there at all.
Or maybe, just maybe, Gerard really did notice the pale blue tint to Frank's skin. Maybe he wasn't really asleep all those nights that Frank woke up screaming, gasping for air, but lying still with his back to him and eyes closed tightly. Those nights Frank woke up in a cold sweat, when it wasn't really the sweat that kept him so chilled down to his bonesockets.
Frank would fall back asleep, always forgetting it by morning. But Gerard didn't.
And if Frank did remember those fits, maybe, just maybe, he'd understand why, during them, his hair and skin would drip with icy river water.
But Gerard didn't say anything, neither of them did.
It was all too easy to simply pretend.
The first sign that the city was almost upon them was when the train tracks -- worn and overgrown with mangled weeds, but still visible peaking over the ash and snow -- gave way to the end terminal. Gerard and Frank walked around it, letting their purple fingertips skim along the old, graffiti marked bricks.
The air in the city was still. Still, and numbingly silent. Their first steps out on the black streets felt oddly surreal. Like they weren’t really there. In this world. Or at least, not until they rounded the corner of a side street and stepped out in one of the wider, main ones.
They stood shoulder to shoulder. Familiar, cold skin brushing reassuringly. Or seeking reassurance. They never knew.
There was a crowd of people moving down the street in one long procession. No. Not a procession. More like. Like a --
“A parade,” Gerard stated but didn’t question.
If it had been Frank to say the words, he was so sure his voice and lips would have quivered.
The street was still black like the others. An ocean of pavement that would never brighten beneath the white sun.
But the people in the parade. They all seemed grey. Grey like this world, like the light, like the ash and the snow and dirtied bedsheets. Like Frank and Gerard.
They had always known. But they never wanted to say it aloud.
All part of the illusion, right? The illusion that they didn’t belong here, or anywhere. They didn’t even belong in the Before.
“Gerard,” Frank whispered, and turned to meet his eyes. Those dark eyes, hazel and flecked with bits of green and gold.
The only color Frank could ever love.
Gerard didn’t say anything, simply beamed at him. Bright like the sun he never thought he’d see again.
They laced their fingers together and set off down the street, joining in the last solemn march of bodies and souls and all the colors of the in between.
They could hear the music. The chorus that rippled through the crowd of bodies. It echoed in their bones and their rib cages. It didn’t feel wrong, though. It felt like the inevitable.
They had been holding off the inevitable for too long, now.
At one point, Gerard squeezed Frank’s hand extra hard. Frank wouldn’t look up to meet his steady gaze, but let him be pulled off into yet another side street. They could still hear the singing, humming of instruments, flutter of upturned ash, crumpling black ribbon and streamers.
Why were these people so happy? Maybe they were just pretending. Just for today.
Yeah, that sounded really nice.
They made their way slowly down the shadowed, paved street until it opened up into a smaller square. More buildings rose up around them, towering in a circle of mechanical monsters.
They stopped short, still clutching fast to each other, when it appeared before them. At first it was a blinding light. At first, it was warmth. They both shut their eyes from the intensity of it all, alone. But, upon opening them, knew they had nothing to fear ever again.
It had to be an angel. Frank knew, and Gerard knew. And they hadn’t been more sure of anything in their lives. Well, other then their love.
It was huge, looming, yet small and confined all in one. Its brilliant white wings spread outwards and filled the entire square. They had to crane their necks to look up at its face. Empty and white. That’s what it was.
The angel didn’t have a face.
Long, bone white hair hung like vines from its head. Everything was just so white. Wings. Skin. Its entire body. Frank had never seen anything so beautiful and captivating. He wanted to move closer, drown himself in its warm flesh and soft feathers. But he knew he couldn’t. Neither of them could.
They were frozen to the spot.
The creature before them, now, wore nothing but the smooth and flawless skin that wedded its bones. It had a long, long neck. Like, jeez, how could Frank even begin to describe it? One that allowed it to sit back on its haunches while also bringing its face forward to scan them over. Or so he liked to believe. It didn’t even have eyes. Just the slightest shadowed impressions upon its round face where they might’ve been. It was like it had stepped right out of Pan’s Labyrinth or something.
After a moment, it started to hum ever so softly. Like a certain lull. The flesh of its neck quivered with it, especially near the strangest slits on the sides, where he was so sure the sound was coming from.
And then it stopped, bobbing its beautifully carved head expectantly.
Frank looked at Gerard, then. What did this mean?
But when Gerard looked back, he didn’t even know that he was expecting it in his dark eyes. Everything. That’s what he saw. His reflection. Himself. He remembered what he couldn’t all those times before. Why he was here. And why -- why Gerard was probably here. They saw it every day in their clothes, in the subtle nuances that told of their afflictions.
Gerard was the first one to unclench their hands. He brought his right arm up, as if presenting it to the curious face above them. His skin had been painted with the purest milk, long ago. Frank was sure of it.
There was something printed in the crook of his elbow, small and seemingly burned into the soft and vulnerable skin.
They were numbers. Black ink. Frank’s stomach clenched and unclenched in infinite loop.
He recognized the first few as a date. Year. Month. Day. And then the last few, which all too suddenly made him want to vomit. It was the time. From the exact hour to the very precise millisecond.
Frank didn’t lift his own arm up to compare. He caught a glance down at it, though, quickly before he hid it against his side again.
It was off from Gerard’s by only one digit.
Hesitantly, he nodded back at him. He understood now.
But could they say it aloud?
Gerard squeezed his hand again, starting to lead him back the way they came. Away from the shadowed square, just as the wind began to pick up and the ashfall thickened.
We are the dead.
It all started to fall into place. Gerard probably realized what they had to do a second or two before Frank did.
They ran down the streets, then. Jerking each other along, even though they knew how willing the other really was. It was kind of funny. How different it was from when they were at that little chapel set on a hill. It was so far away now, settled somewhere deep in the grey and the fog.
They probably wouldn’t be able to find that place again if they tried. Not in their chilled hearts. But maybe in their minds, their memories. If they didn’t forget after, that is. If they never forgot.
All too suddenly, they came upon their first destination. It was a rectangular, eerily white building. Tall and box shaped like a prison, a holding cell. Frank couldn’t stop his heart from jumping near right out of his throat the second they stepped through the automatic glass doors.
The lobby was grey and uninviting. But they pressed on down one of the many long and blindingly white corridors.
Up two flights of stairs.
Down another empty hallway.
Frank noticed how the bright hospital lights overhead left no room for the imagination. No shadows.
But then they found it. Room 308, the plaque read. Frank’s dead heart might’ve even started beating again. Right then. It would’ve pounded against the inside of his slightly arched ribs, throbbed in his cold veins.
He’d passed by this room so many times, but never went in. Even though he should have.
Gerard was the one to finally turn the dull, metal handle. To take the first step into the room. His movements were fast and motivated at first. Like he knew what he was doing.
But then he slowed to a standstill, no more than a few feet from the only bed in the room. The lone bed in this sickeningly white room.
Gerard remembered what it was like to spend your last days in one of these rooms.
He stood still, so very still. Frank finally forced his feet to shuffle forward; he stopped when he was right beside the bed, looking down at the face of the boy -- the man -- who lay there. Stiff and unmoving.
His hands clenched tightly at his sides. It was Gerard. Where he had died. Alone. Clothed only in that thin hospital gown to brave a cold death. He looked different, but he also looked so very much the same. Just like Gerard. His Gerard. The only difference might have been the way his sickly thin skin clung to his high cheekbones. The shaggy, bleach white hair that had just barely started to grow back in.
His eyes were closed, but the deep contours of them were filled with dark grey shadow.
If only he’d open those beautiful eyes again. Just for Frank.
“I...,” the Gerard right behind him started, voice failing -- the Gerard he had spent so many of the past months with, the one that he had offered his stilled heart to.
The one that had accepted it.
“Ssh,” Frank drew out in a soft coo as he craned his neck to look at him. “It’s okay, Gee. It’s okay.”
He didn’t need to explain anything because Frank already knew. They both did.
There was another prolonged silence, a few more dozen hesitant heartbeats -- the room was far too silent, as there wasn’t a single pulse in the room -- before Frank decided to reach a timid hand out.
He watched Gerard’s face, then. The one that was lying still and -- and dead before him. He watched it closely and with so much delicate attention as he left his fingers brush his white cheek. Feather light and brief, the most fleeting touch Frank’s heart could bare to make.
And when he retrieved his hand, and slowly turned back around, his back to the metal hospital bed, he smiled.
The other Gerard, with that stupidly adorable halo of crazy black hair, had brought his hand to that same cheek. His eyes were wide again. Like a surprised owlet, as Frank liked to think.
“I...I felt that,” he managed. But why did he sound like he was breaking?
“Frankie, I felt that. And -- and I’ve never felt so...”
There were no more words, because Gerard picked his gaze up from off the floor and shoved his tired body forward. Their lips met again that very same moment, feeling like the first time. Just like it always did.
And there were no more words, even after that. Frank pulled back after another minute; they did it mutually. Satisfied with the transferal of their feelings.
Frank smiled sleepily, then. They were both just so tired. So ready.
But it wasn’t over. Not yet.
Frank took Gerard’s hand again, and they couldn’t have left that room faster if they tried. Everything after leaving the hospital was just as much a blur as everything before. They moved fast, touching each other reassuringly with finger pricks and shoulder nudges.
It was a blur of everything that had brought them to this spot. This place in time. And Frank dreaded it, so much. Especially when they were standing at the end of the bridge.
Especially then, when Frank saw the black tire marks on the iced-over pavement and the broken guard railing.
The next thing he knew, he had doubled over in a tight ball. His shoulders shaking. Gerard was right there beside him, rubbing his back in slow circles. Whispering things he actually wished he could forget, for once.
How could he have been so stupid? How could he have done all...all that? Because that was just it. He was the reason they were both there.
Frank did remember everything. Getting painfully drunk that night, when all he wanted was to drown out the pain. The pain of being worthless. Of being alone.
But nothing could’ve been more painful than being late for work the next day. Rolling out of bed, not really caring. Not until he got the call.
And everything turned frantic. The long drive over -- he’d missed his fucking train, dammit.
Or maybe what was really so scary, so easy for him to forget, was when he was speeding across the bridge. Five seconds after it happened, after he took his last desperate gulp of air, of life, Frank forgot everything. He forgot how his tires sounded when they screeched across the slippery ice and ripped through the concrete barrier. Hell, he even forgot what it felt like to fall forward in his seat. Down, down into the dark, icy water a hundred feet below.
Or maybe he had remembered that. Yeah. He had taken that tingle with him into death, hadn’t he?
“G-Gerard,” he stammered. “Gerard, Gerard.”
Gerard didn’t say anything, just continued to soothe him as best he could.
“Gerard, I’m sorry. I -- God, so sorry. I’m so --”
It was his fault. All his fault. He could’ve been there. Should’ve been there.
But then, Gerard tucked his fingers under Frank’s chin and lifted his head.
“It wouldn’t have changed anything, Frankie.” Gerard’s voice was flat. Total deadpan.
It would’ve, though. It just had to.
“But. Gerard, I -- I was late to work. I should’ve been there, I could’ve --”
And he had to stop himself there. Because. Because Gerard was right. Waking up on time, instead of claiming that extra hour of sleep so selfishly. Would that have really made a difference?
Sixty seconds made a difference.
It made a difference of monstrous proportions. The difference between life, and death. Especially those five seconds before Frank woke up that first time on the ground, remembering nothing but a fall. Sixty seconds even before that, when Gerard Way, aged twenty five with a confirmed full recovery after months of chemo, went into cardiac arrest on his last day.
So it must’ve been luck then, sixty seconds later, as Frank’s tires were marking the pavement and Gerard was losing control. Shock. Seizure. The nurses with those skeletal faces surrounding him.
And then his body stilled for the last time, on that lonely bed in that silenced room. And sixty seconds thereafter a car hit the river bottom.
They could’ve heard the shrill horn as it cried, then became muffled and fully drowned out by the rushing water.
It was strange to think it all came to this. That involuntarily, unbeknownst to the proximity of their souls in the Before, they were the death of each other.
“Do you believe in fate, Frankie?”
Frank didn’t have an answer anymore. He couldn’t even find the words. So he stood up, then, taking Gerard’s hand again.
Again, he thought idly and all to himself.
They set off back down the bridge, not even bothering to stare over the edge into the dark oblivion below. That wasn’t what Frank needed.
What he needed was right beside him the whole time.
There wasn’t anything else, now. Nothing but the fading bridge beneath their feet. Unravelling. No longer completely tangible. Just them, a bridge, and the white light at the very end. They were walking towards it, never intending to look back over their shoulders again.
Gerard squeezed Frank’s hand.
And Frank...well, Frank liked to pretend again. Just for a moment. Pretend that things had been different. He could see it, far off in another reality. Another world. He wasn’t lonely there. He had -- he had his Gerard. He was punctual. He made it to work on time. He didn’t overlook certain patients that he felt weren’t worth his time.
Because in that reality, he was there. He warmed that hospital room. He pushed those nurses out of the way, and did his job right.
He saved a life.
And when Gerard looked up at him, sweaty and pale but alive on that pillow, Frank finally smiled.
“Don’t leave me alone again,” Frank told him.
And Gerard smiled right back. Even as they approached the white light at the end of the bridge, the tunnel they braved together.
Don’t forget again, was what he really wanted to say. Don’t forget me.
Because they forgot everything once before. Once when they tried to crossover, but something stopped them. Held them down.
There was a flurry of feathers and white light -- none of the dark water, or the greys of the in between -- and...and God, Gerard’s stupid smile.
It’s okay, Frankie. I won’t.