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Sleep in the Snow

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The shrill sound of his doorbell repeatedly ringing roused Gerard from his lazy weekend slumber.

“Fuck, I’m coming, I'm coming,” Gerard grumbled into his pillow as the doorbell rang yet again. He swung his legs around and sat on the edge of his mattress, rubbing his eyes and groaning. He must've slept only half an hour last night in total, and that was being generous. The alarm clock beside his bed told him it was eight, or maybe nine, he couldn't fucking read because his eyes were blurry and he still felt like he was in a sleep coma and his head was pounding and he needed his fucking coffee. And Jesus Christ, the doorbell was still ringing. It was too early for this shit.

He grunted and shoved his bedroom door open, less than pleased at having to answer to his brother this early on a Saturday morning. It had to be Mikey; no one else would incessantly ring his buzzer like this. It was a well-known fact that Mikey was not so much “bad at manners” but rather, “bad at human interaction in general.” Gerard shuffled to the door, unlocked the deadbolt, and flung it open, shivering when a gust of crisp air flooded inside.

“Hello, Mikey,” he said, his voice flat. It was far too early in the morning for him to muster the energy to convey enthusiasm. Fuck that noise.

“You look like shit,” Mikey said, equally as monotonous, but in his own, purposeful way. He looked Gerard up and down and furrowed his brow, squinting at the raccoon-ish dark circles around his brother’s eyes. Somehow, Gerard always managed to look more worse for the wear than him, including today, despite the fact that Mikey had stayed up late every night the past week studying for midterms.

“I know. You woke me up, jackass. Wanna come in?” Gerard stepped aside and Mikey breached the entrance, standing just inside the doorway. Gerard stepped around him and leant back against the door until it clicked shut. He noticed that his brother’s nose and the tips of his ears were red and shiny, a sure sign that it was still freezing outside. Mikey’s hair was messy and unstraightened underneath his beanie. He was also holding onto a steaming Starbucks coffee cup. That lucky bastard.

Gerard trudged into the kitchen and went about starting a pot of coffee while Mikey unbuttoned his black pea coat, shrugging it off and draping it over the back of the couch. There were several long moments of silent tension, the only sound present the rustling of the coffee filters as Gerard dug one out of the cabinet. He placed one in the machine, dumped in some ground coffee, and snapped the lid shut. He filled the carafe in the sink and reopened the machine to pour the water into the reservoir, replaced the carafe, then snapped the plastic lid shut again, forcefully. WHAP. Mikey flinched.

“If you wanna say something, just say it,” Gerard said, turning to Mikey with an empty mug in hand. The coffee machine let out a loud gurgle and began its steady drip. Mikey eyed Gerard’s patterned Batman pajama pants instead of looking at his face, and swallowed.

“Where's the kid?”

“Resting,” Gerard answered. “And you shouldn't really call him a kid. He's your age, you know.”

“He's seventeen?” Mikey asked incredulously. When Gerard told him that he'd rescued a “kid” who had been left outside, he had thought that this kid had got to be a toddler, maybe. His mind scrambled to view the situation from the radically new angle that this kid was in fact an older teen, just like him.

“Yeah,” Gerard said, feeling worry build up in the back of his throat again as he thought of Frank sleeping like the dead, sick and alone. Fuck, he really should've checked on Frank when he got up. Fuck. He looked back up at Mikey and gave him a thin smile, feeling his undereye bags creasing with it.

“Why don't we sit down, hm?”

Mikey nodded imperceptibly and moved to perch himself on the edge of a couch cushion, much like Frank had done the previous day. He was tense, not as rigid as Frank had been, but tense nonetheless. Gerard flopped down onto the couch beside his little brother, letting his entire being just collapse backwards into the sagging furniture. Mikey took this as a cue to relax and sat back a bit, folding both hands around his coffee cup and analyzing Gerard expectantly. Gerard closed his eyes and breathed out slowly. It almost looked like he was asleep, but Mikey knew he was just psyching himself up for whatever his brother might ask him.

“How is he?” Mikey asked finally, unsure of what to say. Gerard sighed.

“Nonverbal,” Gerard said.

Mikey’s eyebrows shot up.

“He’s really fucking scared,” Gerard continued. “Jumpy as hell. Since he can't talk, I’ve been having him write on this old legal pad I found in the junk drawer. Hasn't told me much, though.” Gerard paused and tilted his head back, eyes opening to the ceiling. “He’s pretty fucking injured, and really fuckin’ sick. And I've gotta take him to a hospital but I think he’s saying that if I take him to a hospital someone is gonna catch him and take him back to wherever he was before, which is a really abusive place if how I found him is anything to go on, and he also maybe insinuated that it would put me in danger as well, but he's really sick, Mikey, and—”

“Gerard,” Mikey cut him off. His brother was getting nearly hysterical, and it wasn't even nine in the morning. Gerard had to be guided through conversation sometimes, especially this early. “Slow down. What exactly is wrong with him?”

Gerard took in a fast, shaky breath, finally looking at Mikey.

“In short, he’s got a really fuckin’ broken hand, and maybe a broken rib? And a killer concussion, and like, a dislocated shoulder or something? God, you should see that hand, Jesus Christ, it’s totally fucking mangled, I don't even know how that could've happened…” he trailed off, silent for a few seconds until Mikey motioned for him to get on with it. “His throat is also really wrecked somehow, but I don't think that's the real reason he can't talk.” Gerard’s brow was furrowed in genuine concern, and he took on a worried, pondering expression. “And he looks like he’s been starved to death in the dark somewhere, all ghostly white, skin and bone. I gave him some food last night and he wolfed it down like some kind of wild animal, like he hadn't seen food in years. It was terrifying.”

Mikey nodded grimly to himself, the guy’s situation seeming more and more sinister the more Gerard described it. Gerard shot up from the couch as soon as the coffee machine chimed, an almost desperate look in his eyes.

“And you said he was sick?”

Gerard sighed again, loud enough for Mikey to hear it from the other room. He was exhausted.

“Yeah. The reason why I haven't slept for the past two nights, I guess. He woke me up at like, three in the morning last night, ‘cuz he was coughin’ like he was dying. The walls aren't that thin, it was fuckin’ loud.” Gerard plopped himself back down onto the couch and shuddered, remembering those wet, whooping coughs. “I asked him to open the door so I could check up on him and he got up to unlock it but he was so weak he just fell, Mikey. He just collapsed right there on the floor. Like, whump. I don't know if it was weakness from illness, or some other injury, or what, but it was fucking scary.” Gerard decided to leave out the part where Frank pissed his pants, feeling he owed him at least some dignity.

Mikey nodded again, feeling really sorry for both the boy and Gerard. The situation might've been even worse than he thought. Gerard looked almost hysterical again.

“So I unlocked the door and carried him into the bathroom and he had a panic attack, and hell if I know what those are like, I used to get them all the time, but it was so scary watching someone else have one. And there was nothing I could do because, did I mention, he's super touch-averse. Like, he flinches whenever I even go near him. I didn't want to make him feel worse, so I just sat there on the floor while he cried and coughed and cried. Afterward he seemed really surprised that I sat there and waited for him to be alright, but I don't know what else I would've done. I felt so fucking guilty. I feel so fucking guilty, Mikes, and I don't even have anything to feel guilty for.”

Gerard slumped into Mikey’s side and Mikey rubbed his brother's shoulder, albeit a bit awkwardly because of how close together they were. His wrist rested against Gerard’s neck, where he could feel Gerard’s pulse beating fast from stress. Gerard took a sip of his coffee—scalding, black—and began to speak again, unprompted.

“I-I dunno, I think he has pneumonia or something. Or maybe like, really bad bronchitis. I don't know how long he was out in that storm the other night, but it must've been a while. His lungs sound like they're shaking when he breathes, and he was coughing up blood last night. Not a lot, but a good fuckin’ amount. I'm not a doctor, Mikes, but I know he's in bad shape.”

“I know, Gee, I know,” Mikey said, truly feeling much worse for Gerard now that he’d actually learned the extent of the predicament he was in. He hadn't seen Gerard this worried about someone in ages, not since a few years ago when their grandmother, Elena, had been in the hospital. Something about it was really heartwarming, seeing Gerard care so deeply about someone like this, but Mikey could see it in Gerard’s eyes that he was legitimately afraid of this kid dying. And he knew, he just knew, that Gerard would blame himself entirely for it if the kid did croak. Something that Gerard had said earlier suddenly tickled the back of Mikey’s mind.

“He said you can't take him to the hospital? Why?”

Gerard shuddered slightly. “That’s the worst of it. Wherever I rescued him from, that house—it’s fucking dangerous. I'm absolutely sure that whoever hurt him so bad, whoever crushed his hand and beat up his face and bruised him all over and nearly starved him to death, it's the same person who tied him up that night to die in the freezing rain. Someone there hurt him, has been hurting him, and I don't think it was just physical. Oh God, it's not just physical.” Gerard sat forward and put his face in his hands, dragging his palms down his cheeks.

“He’s fucking terrified, like I said. But it goes so fucking deep. He doesn't let me touch him, not even go near him, really, without freaking out. He flinched when I just moved my arms up to stretch, like I was going to...to hit him.” Gerard stopped and took a deep breath, his hands clenching tightly around the hot mug. “All he does is nod, whatever I say to him, he just blankly nods, like it would kill him to disagree, and it's unnerving to say the least, to imagine what could have happened to him to make him so afraid to say no. He can't talk and it's not just because of his fucked up throat, no, someone actually made him scared to speak.”

Gerard paused, trying to catch his breath.

“And he thinks that if I take him to the hospital, someone there will recognize him and take him back to that wretched place. And also somehow put me in danger as well.” Gerard twisted his fingers in his hair.

“I don't know what to fucking do,” he said, his voice cracking. “He’s so fragile, Mikey. Nobody is born that way. He's so young, Mikey.”

“Holy shit, Gerard,” Mikey said softly. Because, holy shit. “What’s his name?”

“Oh. Frank,” Gerard said, a ghost of a smile on his otherwise distressed face. “I'm glad he told me at least that. It's a nice name, I think.”

“Yeah,” Mikey said, because he really didn't have anything more to say in response to everything Gerard had just told him.

“Sorry for dumping all this on you, man,” Gerard said suddenly, sitting up. “I know you're just a kid too and it's gotta suck that I keep dragging you into my shit.”

Mikey shook his head. “It's okay.” Mikey and Gerard had been unloading their problems on each other for years, helping each other out when things got rough. It was just what brothers did, but Gerard needed reminding sometimes that his problems were valid too. Gerard nodded to himself for a moment before looking back up, an earnest expression on his face.

“So what do you think I should do about the hospital thing? He really needs some medical attention,” Gerard said, chewing on his lip.

“Don't worry, Gee, we’ll figure something out,” Mikey said as he rubbed Gerard’s shoulder comfortingly again, ideas already forming in his head.

As if on cue, a loud, wet cough sounded from down the hallway. Gerard jumped, almost dropping his mug to the floor. Frank was up. Gerard shot to his feet and set the the mug on the coffee table, fidgeting as he looked down at Mikey.

“I better go check up on Frank. He might be scared if he, uh...if he wakes up and he's all alone. But, um, it would probably be better if you stayed here. Meeting a new person first thing in the morning might be too overwhelming for him, y’know?”

Mikey nodded, almost smiling. It really was nice to see Gerard so concerned about someone else.

“Go check, I’ll wait here. I can meet Frank when he’s ready. I don't have any plans today.” He took a moment to look Gerard sincerely in the eyes. “I want to help, if I can.” He hesitated. “...as long as you're safe, Gee.”

Gerard gave his brother a relieved, thankful look and took off down the hall, stopping outside the guest room door. He heard a few more muffled coughs from inside, and a faint groan. Gerard had left the door unlocked last night after sending Frank to bed, but he knocked anyway, not wanting to just barge in.

“Frank? It’s Gerard,” he called. The coughing immediately ceased, like Frank was holding his breath. “Can I come in?” Silence. Gerard waited a few beats before saying, “Okay, I'm coming in.”

Gerard gently opened the door and stepped inside. He left it open a wide crack behind him and stood just inside the door frame, not wanting to make Frank uncomfortable with his proximity or enclose him in any way. Frank looked at him with wide eyes, scarcely blinking. He really was holding his breath, poised perfectly still, like a statue. The bruises of his black eye and broken nose looked gnarly, deep purples and blues surrounding the eye socket and bridge of his nose and a pale green color bleeding down onto his cheek, but he was able to mostly open his eye today, which at least meant he was healing. The room smelled sharply of vomit and faintly of urine, from last night. Gerard spotted the room’s small, bagless wastebasket beside the side of the bed where Frank was and cringed internally, but said nothing. He would just clean it up later. Frank looked incredibly ill, his ghostly pallor somehow even more strikingly pale than yesterday and his forehead coated in a sheen of sweat, small strands of hair plastered to the sides of his face.

“Good morning, Frank,” Gerard said softly, taking a few steps into the room. Frank jerked like he had been burned and started to shake. Gerard stopped, feeling lost. What could he have possibly said wrong? Good morning?

“G-G-Goo-Good m-m-morning,” Frank brokenly rasped out, eyes squeezed shut. His voice sounded terrible, scratched up like he was speaking through vocal chords of rust and wobbling like he was about to cry. His hand was fisted in the white duvet cover, which Gerard noticed was flecked with tiny specks of blood.

Gerard stood in shock for a moment before he rushed over to the bedside, momentarily forgetting his mental boundaries. He wrinkled his nose at the increased vomit smell but crouched and pried white-knuckled Frank’s hand from the blanket to take it into both of his, gently shushing him. Frank tried to pull his hand away at first, but eventually let it relax into Gerard’s hands as the man rubbed his sore knuckles. Some of them were split and scabbed over, like he’d been punching a wall repeatedly, hitting something. His skin was dry and cracked.

“Shh, shh, hey. You don't have to force yourself to respond if talking hurts you. It's okay, Frank, just relax.”

Frank clenched his hand tightly around one of Gerard’s, surprising Gerard with his iron grip. He shook his head, faster and faster. Gerard could almost feel his heart beating in his trembling hand, fast and erratic, like that of a mouse.

“I-I’m s-s-sorr-ry,” he choked out, barely audible, still shaking his head. “I-I-’m s-sorr—” He was cut off by a coughing fit, sounding even worse than he had last night. “I—”

“Frank,” Gerard said again, trying to sound firm yet unperturbed. “It's okay. It’s okay, you're alright. Just relax. You don't have to speak if you can't. I don't expect a ‘good morning’ from someone who doesn't feel good speaking, y’know? That would be ridiculous! Just a nod to show that you've heard is fine.” Frank paused and nodded his head a little, and Gerard tried to smile through his concern. “You don't have to apologize. Just please, try to calm down. Deep breaths, yeah?”

Frank nodded again, taking shuddery breaths that were frequently interrupted with small, phlegmy coughs. Gerard’s heart hurt from knowing how close Frank had been to crying just then, and he didn't even know why. Frank still had his eyes closed tightly, as if against a memory that he was trying to banish from his head.

Gerard just continued to rub small circles into Frank’s knuckles until the boy’s grip relaxed. He continued the calming gesture, making low shushing noises and massaging Frank’s uninjured hand with both of his own. He couldn't help but notice the ring of scars and marred flesh around Frank’s thin wrist, looking to confirm that it was on his other wrist as well. Some of the sores and cuts there looked fresh, no longer bleeding but still moist and reddish. Frank opened his watery eyes and saw Gerard staring, so he retracted his hand, looking embarrassed.

“Frank?” Gerard looked up, inquiring, and Frank suddenly became fascinated with the window across the room. “Can I bandage your wrists? I don't want them to get infected.”

It wasn't really a question, because Gerard was going to bandage Frank’s wrists regardless of what he had to say about it. Frank nodded shortly after a few seconds, though—not looking at Gerard, but consenting to care nonetheless. Gerard made a small affirmative noise and went to fetch the first aid kit from the bathroom closet, wondering all the way what kind of awful constraints could have caused that kind of damage to Frank’s wrists. Shackles? Rope? Gerard shivered. He would never forget how he found Frank tied up two nights ago, a noose of rough twine snug around his neck. Some of the wrist lacerations were fresh, but most of the others looked much less recent. If Frank had been struggling against forced restraints in the recent past, it definitely hadn't been the first time, or even the second.

When Gerard returned, Frank was biting the cuticles of his right hand, obviously a nervous habit. Gerard noticed that aside from his bitten-down nails, Frank had blood and scarring there as well, around his fingers. But, unlike his wrists, this was certainly his own doing. When he saw Gerard he instantly took his hand away and shoved it under the blankets, looking guilty. Gerard ignored this and sat on the edge of the bed, setting the kit down beside him.

Sorry, Frank mouthed. Gerard shook his head lightly and inconspicuously nudged the puke-filled bin away with his foot so that he wouldn't have to smell it so strongly.

“It's no problem, we all have bad habits like that,” Gerard spoke easily, glancing down at some of his own stubby nails. “Hand?” Gerard flipped open the clasps on the case and held out his left hand, palm up, while he searched the kit for what he needed. A few seconds went by before Frank apprehensively set his wrist in Gerard’s hand. Gerard looked up when he felt the light warmth against his open palm. Frank was trembling slightly, but he now appeared more nervous than frightened, if anything. Gerard smiled and took out the gauze. “Okay.”

Frank watched, rapt, as Gerard applied a liberal layer of Neosporin over his wounds and carefully sheathed his wrist in white. Gerard couldn't help but find it adorable how fascinated Frank appeared to be with the process, his eyes wide and focused as Gerard wrapped the roll of gauze around and around his wrist. A long, dark lock of hair fell into Frank’s face, and Gerard had to physically restrain himself from brushing it behind his ear. Gerard shook his head slightly and mentally scolded himself, earning him a puzzled look from Frank before the boy returned his attention to his wrist, as Gerard haltingly began wrapping the gauze around again. He grimaced to himself. What was he, some sort of doting foster mother?

Frank was a handsome young man. Gerard couldn't deny this to himself. Just looking at his face made Gerard want to care for him, love him, keep him safe. He stole a quick glance up, looking at Frank’s sharp jawline and the faint scruff there, the bob of his Adam's apple as he thickly swallowed down his injured throat, his dark hair falling across his face and curling behind his ears. Gerard felt his face heat up and silently prayed that Frank wouldn't notice. He continued staring at Frank’s face, feeling suddenly unable to look away. He stared at Frank’s thin, pink lips with their defined Cupid’s bow, the way he bit one edge of his chapped bottom lip between his teeth. His round cheeks up against sharp cheekbones, his button nose, his delicate eyelashes, his heavy, smooth eyelids, his—

Frank sensed Gerard staring and briefly looked up, but Gerard was already looking back down.

—his eyes.

Gerard had subconsciously wrapped the gauze around too many times while he was distracted by Frank’s fucking face, almost using the entire roll on just one hand. He cursed once under his breath and unrolled several lengths of gauze before snipping it and fastening it with a clip. Gerard’s face was burning with shame, and he hoped Frank wouldn't notice—but he knew he turned red as a tomato when he was embarrassed, and he could feel Frank giving him that puzzled look again, and he totally noticed. Gerard set Frank’s hand down and swallowed nervously, beckoning wordlessly for Frank’s other hand. Why the fuck was he nervous? Images of Frank’s gaze danced around in his head like strange, stilted camera flashes.

Frank very gingerly placed his injured hand in Gerard’s palm and Gerard busied himself once again. He took the opportunity to completely encase Frank’s broken hand using the rest of the gauze in an attempt to prevent the bones from shifting any more. Frank barely even winced. His pain tolerance must be incredible, Gerard thought. Gerard knew that if he had broken his hand and someone kept jerking it around with a roll of gauze, he'd be crying like a baby. He tried to focus on this realization, but more pressing thoughts kept crowding it out of his head.

Frank may have been a handsome young man, but his eyes were so big and round and guileless; they had that hint of curiosity and hint of fear gleaming in them that made him look so young, too young. It was like staring into the eyes of a child. Frank was a child, for fuck’s sake. A child who had definitely been through some whacked-out shit. Gerard could feel Frank looking at him now instead of down at his wrists, but he couldn't find it in himself yet to look back up. He had no business looking at Frank like he just had been, especially with the knowledge that Frank had just escaped a life of some sort of abuse. Gerard set his jaw affirmatively. Frank would be a friend, if anything. Nothing more. He barely even knew the guy. This was ridiculous. He clipped and fastened the gauze and finally looked up to give Frank a small smile, realizing how scary he must've looked just scowling deep in thought for several minutes. The corner of Frank’s mouth twitched. It reminded Gerard of Mikey’s smile—he would take it.

“Here, let's get you up,” Gerard prompted. Frank nodded and pushed back the blankets and slowly swung his legs around, but then stopped, staring at the floor below him. Frank suddenly tensed and let out a wracking cough, his shoulders shaking with it. He had taken off the socks, and he curled his toes against the cool air. He sniffed and continued to regard the floor with apprehension, until Gerard realized he might still be too weak to walk.

“Oh, do you need help? Of course you do, c’mere,” Gerard said, realizing his error. He leant back against the bed to the right of Frank and cautiously looped an arm around his back and under his arm. Frank twitched at the contact but otherwise didn't react as Gerard set his hand on his waist.

“Put your arm around my shoulders,” Gerard instructed, waiting for Frank to do so. Frank hesitantly put his arm around Gerard and grabbed onto his shoulder, much tighter than Gerard had been expecting. Gerard stood and Frank stood with him, but Frank winced at the movement, and Gerard suddenly remembered Frank’s bad shoulder.

“Oh fuck, sorry, your shoulder,” Gerard apologized, stopping. “I would go around your other side, but…” Gerard regarded Frank’s limp left hand, mummified in gauze and rendered useless. Frank shrugged and nodded his head toward the door, obviously not keen on discussing his injuries and seemed to be growing squirmy under Gerard’s touch. Gerard once again recalled Frank’s deathly hospital phobia and gulped anxiously.

“Right. Okay.”

Gerard felt Frank shivering under his arm as they made their way into the hall, but his face at a glance appeared impassive, not fearful. Then again, he couldn't see Frank’s eyes, as they were trained at the carpet beneath his feet. Gerard noticed the goosebumps dotting Frank’s pale arms, the way he seemed to be sweating buckets but the inside of his forearm felt cold and clammy against the back of Gerard’s neck where his t-shirt collar had ridden down. Frank must actually be cold this time, he thought, as Frank’s body gave another involuntary twitch. Gerard wrinkled his nose at the thought of how uncomfortable Frank must've been bogged down with fever and weakness, and at the sheer air of cloying sickness that Frank was currently giving off, in copious heat and humidity and stench. At this rate, he would have to take a shower every other hour. The sound of Mikey tunelessly humming to himself came faintly from down the hall, and Gerard was about to smile when he felt Frank tense and stop in his arms. Shit, he forgot to tell Frank.

Frank maneuvered out of Gerard’s grasp, but kept his hand tight on the other man’s shoulder. He whipped his head to the side and gazed down the hallway, rigid and poised. He was faced closer to the hallway than Gerard, and an undiscerning eye might deem Frank’s actions noble and protective, guarding Gerard from a potential intruder. However, Gerard knew that Frank’s ever-tightening grip on his shoulder was one of fear, that one look into his eyes would show a churning sea of abject terror. Gerard felt guilt wash over him. Why hadn't he just mentioned Mikey’s presence to Frank when he had woken him up? He'd been too distracted ogling Frank’s stupid, beautiful face. Fuck.

“Frank, it's okay. I know that guy, I know that he's here. It's just my little brother,” Gerard quietly reassured. Mikey seemed to hear them and stopped humming, and Frank ducked out of view from the end of the short hallway to press his back against the hall closet outside the bathroom. He looked visibly less frightened, but wore a vaguely distrustful expression. He narrowed his eyes and cocked his head inquisitively, asking for more information. A spark of fear still glinted in his pupils.

“His name is Mikey,” Gerard elaborated. “He's your age, but he visits me on his own because he can drive and my parents don't live very far away.”

Frank only narrowed his eyes more. Mikey? he mouthed. Gerard nodded, wondering what he was getting at. Frank coughed into his elbow and cleared his throat loudly, staring at Gerard’s chest rather than his face.

“He—He y-yelled at you f-for taking me in,” he whispered. Frank’s voice was still so hoarse and quiet and phlegmy that his true voice was probably much different from how he currently sounded, but he was talking. It was something. Gerard blinked in surprise for a few seconds before responding.

“Fuck, you heard that.”

It was not a question, but a statement of fact. Frank nodded. Gerard sighed.

“He really didn't mean anything by that, I promise you he was just looking out for me. We're pretty protective of each other, yknow? He loves me. He just wants me safe.”

Frank made a face that almost looked like pure bewilderment, but it was gone quickly. He nodded slowly.

“Mikey is here to help us,” Gerard said. “He's going to help get you to a hospital where you'll be safe.”

Frank visibly tensed up again, then shook his head vehemently. His shaking returned with a vengeance, so bad that he sank to the floor after a couple of seconds, wrapping his arms around his knees.

“N-n-no,” he choked out, still very quiet but noticeably louder than he'd been whispering before. He hacked again. The way Frank was talking sounded painful, not only physically but emotionally as well. His stutter was also worse, something Gerard realized must be another nervous habit. Gerard crouched down and put his hand on Frank’s knee in what he hoped was a reassuring gesture, but Frank jerked his leg away and curled up tighter.

“Frank—”

“D-d-don't t-t-t-touch m-me,” Frank shook out, barely audible. He coughed again, wheezing a bit.

Gerard backed up a little and put his hands up.

“Hands off,” he said. “But Frank, you've gotta understand why we're doing this. You're really weak and hurt pretty bad. You need the emergency room.”

Frank shook his head again and Gerard sighed. The one thing that Frank would refuse was the thing that he needed most.

“Frank, can you tell me why you hate hospitals so much?”

Frank paused for a moment and then shook his head, squeezing his eyes shut. His breath was still uneven and shaky and Gerard’s heart was back to aching in his chest. Frank still hadn't broken down once since Gerard had rescued him, and Gerard wasn't about to be the one to cause it.

“Well, I don't know what happened to you last time you went,” Gerard began, and Frank’s whole body shuddered, “but I won't let that happen to you again. I'll be right there the whole time.” He paused, taking in Frank’s cowering figure. “Can you trust me?”

Frank seemed to realize that Gerard wasn't going to give this up and slumped his shoulders, defeated. He nodded slightly, but he looked miserable. Gerard couldn't help but feel like he was forcing Frank into this, even though he hadn't been forceful at all. It was a nasty feeling.

“Come on, use the bathroom and then I'll take you to meet Mikey. He's not scary, I promise. The kid wouldn't hurt a fly.” Gerard gently hoisted Frank to his feet and coaxed him into the bathroom. Frank gave one last distrustful look in Gerard’s general direction before he shut the door firmly, probably much louder than he'd intended. The door swung open again a few seconds later, Frank cowering into the side of the doorframe and looking up at Gerard with a panicked expression. Gerard stepped back and tried to make himself appear non-threatening.

“Hey, I'm not your mother,” he said. “You can slam doors here, I don't mind. I know you're stressed. You're okay.”

Frank let out a wheezy sigh and looked visibly relieved for a moment before giving the air in the middle ground between them another dirty look and closing the door again, much softer this time.

Gerard waited outside the door for a few more seconds before he untensed himself and retreated back to his own room to wait for Frank. He flopped down onto his bed and sighed, listening to the sounds of birds chirping outside his window and cringing at the way the sunlight fell just so he couldn't face any direction without being blinded by its rays. He rolled over and pulled the pillow over his head. It was going to be a long day.

( ) ( ) ( )

Frank gripped the counter in front of the bathroom mirror and breathed slowly, trying to collect himself. That had been too close for comfort; average people got angry at slammed doors, not just sick people like X. Gerard hadn't gotten mad, but he easily could've yelled at Frank for being so rude. Frank shuddered. Yelling was the worst—pure, concentrated rage that worked its way underneath his skin and made him prickle with fear every time, even when the yelling wasn't even directed at him.

He hoped Gerard would never raise his voice at him. Frank didn't know what he'd do if he found himself feeling unsafe with the people he was living with again. The only thing that was keeping him together right now was pretending that this place was safe, when in reality, he didn't know this for certain at all. And he wasn't even keeping it together, he was falling apart. He’d had a panic attack when Gerard just said “good morning” to him, such a benign phrase, but it reminded Frank so strongly of what X had said to him the last time he was raped that it had left him a babbling mess.

Too good to say ‘good morning’ to me now, huh, bitch?

Frank breathed out through his nose and bit his tongue, trying to swallow back his nausea. He felt like he was dying, and it wasn't just the pneumonia. Frank grimaced as he looked at his face and arms covered in bruises and scars, his bandaged wrists, his bloody knuckles, his sweaty, sallow skin. Once he felt steady enough, he made his way to the toilet and sat down to pee, still feeling too weak to stand. He stared blankly at the tiny closet opposite him and contemplated what he'd just gotten himself into.

He had agreed to let Gerard take him to the hospital. How, he wasn't quite sure. Gerard had just laid out the situation, plain and simple, so if anyone had tricked Frank into agreeing to go through with this insane plan, it was himself. He had tricked himself into trusting Gerard, Gerard with his soft, gentle hands and fretful, sort-of-nasally voice. Or maybe Gerard had tricked him. Frank frowned. Either way, someone had tricked someone. It just didn't check out. Frank didn't trust people, and people didn't trust him because he was often more of an object in a room than a person. Even before the basement, he was pretty sure he had been regarded as a bit of a weaselly kid, or otherwise ignored altogether, as he'd never been very popular. Trust was not a word in his mental vocabulary.

Can you trust me?

Frank couldn't figure out why it was this one line that made him finally crack and agree with Gerard, going against his every gut instinct to avoid the hospital at all costs. He didn't know why he agreed at all. He didn't trust Gerard, at least, he thought he didn't, and the now-very-real prospect of being taken outside this home where he could be recognized in public filled him with dread.

Gerard may have rescued him, but Frank didn't know a thing about the guy. He could still have some sort of motive, for all Frank knew. Frank took a moment to consider his hapless savior, then shook his head, smiling faintly. Nah.

Then he shook himself, reminding himself that nobody is ever quite who they appear to be. He was once again startled that his brain was so quick to rule out Gerard Way as a potential threat. Even if Gerard didn't have a conscious motive, everyone has demons, and Frank would've liked to avoid having to fight Gerard’s. He would have to remain vigilant.

Frank pulled up the baggy sweatpants and sighed when they dropped down almost to the tops of his thighs. He kind of wished that Gerard had given him jeans or something so that he could wear a belt. The string was missing from the sweatpants, and Frank wondered if Gerard had removed it on purpose. Christ, it was like being in a mental hospital here. Frank was simultaneously touched that Gerard would even think about something like that and infuriated that Gerard assumed him to be so weak. Frank caught another glimpse of his hideous face in the mirror as he washed his hands and suppressed the urge to vomit. But was it really such a wrong assumption to make?

Frank felt sticky from sweat, but Gerard hadn't given him another change of clothes yet and he wasn't about to ask for one. He felt himself struggling to breathe just from standing up and tried to even out his breaths. He was so frail now, his lungs so weak from malady and his muscles so weak from staying mostly latent for over a year, he was sure he’d pass out from just going up a flight of stairs. It was a good thing Gerard’s house was only one level. He splashed some water on his face and winced when he touched his nose. Even though he’d set it, it still hurt like hell. He hoped that it would heal right; he didn't think he could deal with his face looking even stupider than it already did.

Frank slowly cracked open the door and peered into the hallway. Gerard was absent from his post outside the door. He had probably retreated to his room, which meant Frank was going to have to go find him, because there was no way Frank was facing Gerard’s brother himself. The sounds of Gerard's brother—Mikey—clanging around in the kitchen and quietly humming filtered down the hall. Frank noticed his hands shaking again and balled them into fists to get himself to stop. This was it. He was going to come out of the bathroom and virtually sacrifice himself to these men, be completely at their will. He knew he was too weak at the moment to protect himself or fight back if anything went wrong, and the thought was terrifying. They wanted to take him out there, where he could easily run into someone who…knew him.

Fucked you, he thought to himself. He thudded his forehead gently against the door. Fuck.

Frank took a shallow breath, as not to cause another coughing fit. This didn't feel like it would help him at all, the sense of impending doom churning in his belly like a restless fire. As he bit the bullet and slipped into the hall, it felt more like he was slipping into the unknown. What do I have to lose? he thought to himself. He stopped and shuddered.

Everything.