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Older Than Water (Stubborn As Stone)

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History, Gerard - and every kid like him - had learned from a young age, was important. From the very first moment the first Twain set joined claw and foot on earth, to the seconds leading up to the current moment in time - every bit of it was vital to the success of those Chosen.

History, Gerard had also learned, was incredibly boring. Like his grandmother had always said, he was a free spirit and, Chosen or not, history could only keep him at attention for so long before the sands of time lost him, as well. In Gerard’s opinion, the only history lesson he needed was the history of the first Twain and he knew that one by heart.

Long ago, some say hundreds of years, humanity was at war with the Great Dragons. While humans had vast numbers and advanced technology, the Great Dragons were fierce and deadly with built in weaponry and the strength of ten men. For all of time, the two had been the worst of enemies, death and destruction wrought upon every scrap of land the war touched. For generations, from the dawn of time, the two had never ceased their battle and the lost lives of millions throughout the years, on both sides, had caused great grief and anger. There was no end in sight and, to many, all hope was lost. But, without warning, a girl was born. Hair of fire and eyes of earth, she befriended a Great Dragon of unimaginable strength, who adored her beyond any she’d adored before. Their friendship grew and grew, strengthened by blood and trust, until a bond so powerful was born that their souls became one. Together, the Great Dragon and the girl with hair of fire and eyes of earth became soulmates - the first Twain. Their bond sent shockwaves through the fighting forces and they realized that they could live in peace together, like the Great Dragon and the girl had done, and thus the war ended. Dragon and Man became one, and the Twain was born.

Gerard loved when his grandmother would settle him on her lap and tell him the story. Mikey was too young to understand, barely old enough to walk on his own and his hair barely brushing his ears, but he laughed and clapped in all the right places when Gerard set on the floor with him and listened to his grandmother weave the tale of The Original and The Mother. As much as Gerard loved that story, though, he still got a thrill when, late at night and after his parents had retired,  she told him the story of the Chosen.

"Once, long ago," she'd always start with, because history was always long ago when it was worth telling, "The Original and The Mother were old and gray, though still as powerful and bright as ever. Her hair was still the color of fire, though smoke had begun to show and her eyes were still earth, though rain and time had muddied them. The Mother was just as powerful, awe-inspiring and dangerous as the day she'd risen from ash, though her scales had dulled and her feathers had thinned. The two were beckons of hope for their peoples, the ideal to which all Twain after them aspired to. Sadly, what one loves most is often hated deeply by another - as was the case with the first Twain. When finally The Original passed on to the next life, The Mother passed with her and her body turned to ash.”

At this point, Gerard would be squirming because, as much as he loved when she told him stories because they were cool and her voice was soothing and made him happy-sleepy when he was getting ready for bed, the beginning of the Chosens’ story was always a little boring and sad. She would always just give him an amused, but firm, look - history, after all, was not made just of action.

“When The Mother turned to ash, she was placed within the inner sanctum of the Cathedral in Cathedral City, the capital of the peaceful state she and her partner had created together for their friends and loved ones. The Original’s ashes, forged within a stone as bright as her hair had been, was meant to be placed with The Mother, so their remains could be united in this world as their soul had become in the afterlife. But tragedy struck and the stone was lost to their kin, for what some would say forever. You see, Gerard, the violence of war...some people, even some dragons, they thrive on it. By ending the warring, the first Twain did indeed make allies - but their enemies were vast and powerful, as well. Powerful enough to rip a soul in half from another world. With the disappearance of The Original stone, the eggs of unborn dragons disappeared as well - lost halves of souls yet unborn. For a whole generation, dragons and humans both believed that it would be the end of not only the dragons, but of what made people human. It was not until the last Twain in the world died out, and the last leaf of the breeding grounds had withered away, that a new egg was born from the ashes of The Mother in Cathedral City. The Prime Minister scryed for the egg’s partner, and on her fifth birthday, he brought her the only dragon egg to be born since The Original was stolen away and severed from her soulmate. And thus, life in what we know as the Great Waste became possible - hard but possible - and the first of the Chosen were born.”
“And what are the Chosen!?” Gerard would ask, every time, in the same eager, excited voice as the time before and the time before and the time before, since the first time he’d heard the story when he was too young to remember.

“The Chosen, my dear, are the very special people born who have been Chosen by those in the afterlife to protect those of this world and search for The Original stone. Once that stone has been found, and reunited with The Mother, the dragons will return and all will be right in the world, once again. They’re special, of course, because they get to live with their other half on this world, as well as the next.”
“Wow…” Gerard would breathe, as starry eyed as any toddler, “And I’m…?”
“And you,” She’d nod, “As the first born of the Way line, are one of those special people - like your uncle and your other grandmother, and every first born of the Way line since the Way line was.”

And Gerard would always laugh, because even without her saying it, he knew he’d been Chosen. Not only because he was the first of the newest Way generation, but because he could feel the place in his heart where his soulmate was waiting, safe in Cathedral City until he was five years old, when they would be brought to him by Prime Minister Pop for him to love and cherish until they hatched and were reunited with him in this world.

-

There were two kinds of people in the world, he knew. When Gerard was young, he’d understood that just as well as he did now. Of course, when he was four years and three hundred and sixty four days old, he’d thought that those two types of people were Chosen and Not Chosen. Now, he knew better. There were two kinds of people, but the categories were nowhere near as specific as Chosen or not. What Gerard had learned, since his fifth birthday, was that the world had been split strictly down the middle between those who were lucky and those who weren’t.

Lucky, Gerard had discovered on that fateful day, were the ones who got their soulmates when they were lucky enough to be Chosen. Lucky were the ones who, if they had come into their category late, got their soulmate a year later when the Prime Minister caught his mistake and brought their newly hatched partner to them - missing a whole year of needed time to bond healthily but far behind the ten year limit marking just how long soulmates could go without each other. Lucky were the ones who were taken to Cathedral City to train as guards with their other halves like they’d been meant to from the very second they were born. Lucky were the ones with families who believed them when they said they were Chosen, lucky were the ones with families who didn’t send them fucking packing to the Great Waste when they finally lost hope of being able to use what had been meant to be their next step to adding into the family fortune.

Gerard, despite what he’d thought for the first four years and three hundred and sixty four days of his life, was not one of the lucky ones. He hadn’t been united with his missing half on his fifth birthday, he sure as hell hadn’t been surprised with his late, but there, soulmate on his sixth. Nor was he taken to the Guardianship at ten with his missing half.

Gerard hadn’t thought of himself as unlucky before though, not until the day he’d turned fifteen and he’d been put on the annual train from his home city to the Great Waste to hide away his family’s shame - the first firstborn Way to not be Chosen, the horror. He’d watched his grandmother collapse against the wall of the station in shock, weeping, and watched his little brother try to chase after the train with his own tears streaming. And as he’d watched his father turn his back on the train, without even a wave, and his mother follow without a glance behind her, Gerard had finally understood: He was nowhere near the category of people that he’d always thought himself to be.

In short, Gerard Arthur Way, the firstborn of the first Way generation without a Chosen, was one of the unlucky ones. And for all that Gerard had been through in his fifteen years, as he set in the back of the last box car trundling down the rail line, watching all he’d ever known and all who’d ever loved him disappear into sandy dust and a backdrop of dusk, the thing that made him the most unlucky of all was that he could still feel where his other half was suffering - just as lonely and angry and hurting as him. The thing that made him the most unlucky of all was that there was nothing he could do to stop it.

-

Gerard jumped. Faced with the choice between falling over the edge of the building and being caught by the brutes he’d stolen from, he saw no reason not to.

“Get him!”

“He stole our gold!”

Gerard just laughed. They wouldn’t catch him - Couldn’t catch the likes of him if they had a thousand men and a five minute head start. He fell and, for just a moment, he enjoyed the feeling of complete freedom, complete removal from the ground. For just a moment, he pretended he was flying.

And then he reached out with sure hands and swung from the closest windowsill. He felt the brick break skin, felt the blood warm the chilled tips of his fingers, but he slowed his descent enough to land lightly on his feet, bending at the knee and throwing his arms out to keep balance.

“Later, losers!” he couldn’t help but shout towards the roof, where the two of them were scowling down at them, one holding a lethal looking butcher knife from the kitchen he’d recently vacated and the other a roughed up bat. He could only imagine what those things would feel like, but he wasn’t in the habit of letting himself get caught when he knew the result would hurt so badly. Often, anyway.

With the sandy cobblestones under his feet, a bag of gold on his hip, and a package of what was either cheese or ham in his bag, he was gone.

He didn’t stop running for a while on the off chance they were closer behind him than he was thinking but, eventually, even he had to take a break. He chose a shadowy little grove of wasted trees, all thick with gray, limp branches and tilting into each other to create a safe haven of sorts, if one could manage to wiggle into the middle. Gerard, luckily he thought with irony, was able to do so, and he settled in the middle of his little, prickly nest. The first thing he did was count the gold.

“Twenty...twenty five...thirty…”

When the last gold piece had landed in the pile, he nearly yelled in excitement. Thirty seven gold pieces! That was more than enough for his purposes. With all this gold, he had plenty of money to apply and still be able to afford new clothes, new shoes - things that would make him look like a respectable member of the Great Waste’s society, or, at least, what passed for respectable in a place like the Great Waste.

Maybe, if he spent it all right and looked carefully for a deal, he could afford a new sketchbook and some grease pencils and charcoal. He’d used the last of his only sketchpad to practice and then finish the project he’d be sending in along with his application and he was all out of any materials after he’d given them up to get Grant the rent.

With thirty seven gold pieces, Grant could pay off his debts and be a free wizard again.

Gerard looked at the gold and, after a moment’s hesitation, brushed them all back into the little bundle. He shoved it into the inner pocket between his thighs, the only place he felt anything was safe when it wasn’t in his hand and eyesight, and dug into what had turned out to be cold roasted ham. He hadn’t eaten properly in a few days and the fat and grease ran down his fingers and chin, but he couldn’t bring himself to give a single shit. He could vaguely remember when he was younger, all the rules and manners he’d had to follow just to eat a snack. Somewhere, far away from him, his soulmate ached for him, as he ached for them. But he was used to that, and it didn’t bother him. The pain of being so empty, so alone and yet so close to everything he needed to be whole, it had become a constant - and comfort - to him. It was proof that he’d not been wrong, that somewhere out there, his partner was waiting for him and he’d one day come for them. When he’d finished picking the last of the meat off , he buried the bone in the dirt of the inner grove to hide any evidence and crawled out of his hiding spot. Night had fallen while he’d been enjoying his prize, but he was most comfortable with night, anyway. The red of his hair was eye-catching under the bright of the street magic, broadcasting his approach to any in his way. Most of the time, people moved when they saw him coming because his reputation for a hair trigger temper and a willingness to fight anyone who offered was earned and earned well, but every once in a while he’d meet someone who was new in the Great Waste and wanted to test their arts against his. Gerard might not have had the brute strength necessary to pummel anyone into the dirt, but he was smart and fast and he had a working knowledge of his surroundings at all time. It came with the territory of being Chosen, having that enhanced sense of one’s surroundings, but his had been honed through the harsh living conditions of a barren wasteland full of societal outcasts and magic rather than the Guardianship in Cathedral City. He couldn’t say he’d let his gifts go to waste, at least. Hopefully, his partner wouldn’t be too disappointed when he finally got to them.

The night was good to him for once, a lucky night for an unlucky person in a land of unlucky people, and he made it home without incident. His key stuck in the lock like usual and he had to jiggle the handle - which meant shaking the whole door until the lock gave out and disengaged, before he could shove it open and get out of the cold. He always forgot what warmth felt like, when he was out in the coolness of the Great Waste. The sun shone just as bright here as it did in his hometown, but somehow it was like the heat of its rays just couldn’t manage to penetrate the heavy atmosphere of the fabled land of the dragons. Like even the sunshine had abandoned it to dreary hopelessness.

It didn’t bother Gerard, not now. For a long time, from when he’d first arrived at fifteen, through the years he spent in a haze of dragon dust and alcohol and people he thought had been there to help, he’d felt it too - the all-consuming powerlessness of a world broken by more than just a curse. For a long time he’d been hanging by a thread, a single string made of nothing but the feeling inside of him that told him his soulmate was out there and waiting for him, feeling just as lost and angry as him and just as scared and alone. It wasn’t until he’d found Grant, finally figured out that there was nothing stopping him from finding his partner instead of his partner finding him, that he’d been able to shed that thought of never feeling the sun on his skin again. He’d escaped, in everything but body, and soon it would be time for that to get out, too. Just a few more years, and he’d find them. Free them.

With or without the thirty seven gold pieces Grant could use to free himself.

“Gerard!?” Grant shouted from the top floor, “That you!?”
“Yeah!” Gerard called up, knocking on the wall three times to make more noise, “I found something!”
“Found?” Grant laughed, making his way down the short staircase leading up to the second floor apartment. Gerard dodged through the bookshelves, sidestepped the small tables and couches, and finally made his way to the back desk, where Grant had stopped to start cleaning up papers for the night. “Did you find it, or did your sticky fingers?”
“Both,” Gerard decided to agree, grinning at him. Grant just rolled his eyes, but he reached out and ruffled Gerard’s hair affectionately, so he wasn’t too upset. Even though he was nearly twenty four, it still felt nice to that that affection. Grant was the only person Gerard could trust in the Great Waste, one of what had once been three but, as of three years ago, had been dropped to two, people he could trust in the whole world. If it hadn’t been for him, Gerard would have died of starvation and exposure long ago, determination or not. Gerard’s eyes fell to the black cuff around Grant’s wrist, a single chain link hanging off of it to get the point across.

“Did he come by today?” Gerard couldn’t help but ask, knowing that he wouldn’t like the answer either way. ‘No’ meant he’d be by tomorrow, ‘Yes’ meant he’d been in their home.

“Yeah,” Grant nodded, dropping his wrist so he could finish cleaning up the desk. There was a small pile of coins under a few stacks of paper, and he scooped the silver up into his little brown draw string and tied it off so he could slip it into his pocket. The gold burned against Gerard’s thigh.

“Shit.” Gerard bit his lip, “How much did he add?”
“Two gold pieces.” Grant sighed, his hand tensing around the brown bag in his pocket, “It brings the total up to forty six gold, seventeen silver and two copper.”
“Shit,” Gerard repeated, “And how much…?”

“Ten gold, twenty silver and five copper.” Grant smiled, and it hurt how much Gerard knew he meant what he was about to say, “At this rate, I’ll be out in no time.”
Gerard shifted. “Grant...There’s something I need to talk to you about. When do you close?”

“About an hour,” Grant shrugged, “Go ahead upstairs and get yourself cleaned up. You look like you spent the day in a briar patch.”

“It was only a few hours.” Gerard grinned, brushing previously unnoticed thorns out of his hair with his gloved hand, “I’ll start dinner.”
“Something simple.” Grant reminded as Gerard started up the staircase. What he meant was: something small and as cheap as possible. Gerard understood and tossed a hand at him as he disappeared through the door to their apartment.

While Grant stayed in the store, Gerard went about putting together something for him to eat. Gerard was still full from that ham and he wouldn’t be hungry again until tomorrow, so he pulled some bread and cheese from the icebox and started toasting the bread over the cooking flame.

By the time the cheese had been melted on warm toast and the coffee had finished brewing, Grant had locked up early downstairs and collapsed onto the table.

“Here you go,” Gerard slid the plate into place with a flourish of fingers, “Bread á la cheese á la Gerard, made special for you.”
“Gee, thanks,” Grant laughed again and dug in. He didn’t talk while he ate and Gerard sipped at his coffee and waited, the gold now heavy in his sleeve and waiting to be announced. He waited until the food was gone, the coffee drank, and the dishes washed before he finally let the sack drop into his palm and then onto the table.

“This is what my sticky fingers found.” He admitted, then went quiet and let Grant see for himself.

“Gerard…” Grant barely breathed when the shine of the gold broke through the slight opening, “Gerard, where…”
“The rich trashcan,” Gerard shrugged, “They left their back door open. It wasn’t hard to take some clothes and…”
“And relieve their safe?” Grant raised an eyebrow, trying to look both unamused, and not in awe of the sack. There was more in that bag than he’d see for quite a while.

“Like they needed it,” Gerard shrugged, looking down at the tabletop. It was warped, old and frayed and it had been in Grant’s possession for far longer than Gerard had. “Not like we do.”
“You mean like I do, right?” Grant sighed. He closed the sack, “Gerard, with this...you could-”
“I know.” He interrupted, “I know what I could do. But I know you need it more. I’m only a few gold pieces away from sending my materials in,”
“The cutoff date is fast approaching,” Grant sighed, “And then you’ll have to wait a whole nother year. Who knows what could happen to your entrance project?”

“I’ll make a new one. It wasn’t that hard,” Gerard lied, “A few pages of paper, a stick of charcoal, it’ll be good as-”
“You’ll never get those colors here again,” Grant pressed his hand on top of Gerard’s and Gerard tried not to notice how hard Grant shook. “This is the last chance. By this time next year...too much could happen. Too much for me to risk it. You take that gold and you get into that school, do you understand?”
“No,” Gerard shook his head, “No, Grant, if you don't pay now, when we've got the gold, you'll never be free! You'll never use your magic for yourself again!"

"Gerard," Grant squeezed his hand, "Let me worry about my debt."

"It’s my debt!" Gerard couldn't help but shout, standing up too fast and sending his chair to the floor with a loud bang. "It's my fault you're in debt in the first place! If I hadn't fallen off the wagon so fucking hard, we never would have needed that loan! If I hadn't been such a dumbfuck and broken our promise, you'd still be free!"

"Gerard," Grant sighed, looking far too sad for Gerard's heart, "I don't for a single moment regret borrowing from Mister Forgers."

"It doesn't matter." Gerard pressed the sack back in front of Grant. "I got us into this mess. No way am I leaving you to clean it up. Not again."

"Hey," Grant frowned and he straightened up. When he looked like that, he reminded Gerard of the powerful wizard he'd known when they had first met. Grant had been so strong when Gerard was eighteen, supporting himself and living happily all alone in a shop he loved. Now, he was a slave, chained to some rich asshole until he could make some sickeningly large amount of money that got higher and higher every two days. "You are not a mess I had to clean up, do you understand? You made a mistake, and I made the decision to borrow money. Don’t blame yourself for this.”

“There are thirty seven gold pieces,” Gerard got out, feeling his throat tighten, “They’re yours. I won’t take them.”
“Gerard,” Grant started, but Gerard shook his head and turned, walking out of the room before Grant could say another word. The sack of gold stayed on the table, looking innocent and dull.

With the matter settled, as far as Gerard was concerned, lift went back to normal for him. He had almost enough to put into his application, but by the time he’d made just a few pieces short of the amount, he’d missed the deadline. His soulmate would have to wait, just a little longer.

With the deadline missed, and not enough to apply in his savings even if it hadn’t been, he hadn’t been expecting anything when he collected the mail a month later. The familiar emblem, the Bartskull, made him drop the stack onto clean, wooden floors, bills and a few postcards from Grant’s wizard friends scattering along the boards while Gerard gripped at the big, cream envelope in his hands.

“Grant! Grant, what the fuck is this!?”

Gerard hadn’t thought an acceptance letter to the Wentz Arts and Music School could have made him so angry, but there it was. The bright red of the ‘Congratulations’ message, laying against the dust of the doorway floor, made his blood pump fast and loud, almost to the point that - for just a few seconds - it was all he could hear.

“Gerard? What’s wrong, what - oh.”

“Oh, is right, Grant Morrison, what the hell is this!?”
“It’s...it looks to be the acceptance letter to WAMS,” Grant smiled, crossing his arms, “Gerard, that’s great!”
“How did I get that letter, Grant?” Gerard demanded, “Because I specifically remember that there was just enough in that bag for your payment and this would have cost seven gold pieces to get all the way across the Great Waste.”
“Well, you did say the gold was mine to do with what I pleased.”
“I meant you needed to pay off your debt!”

“And I told you.” Grant kneeled down and picked up the paper, traced his fingers along the Bartskull carefully, “You are going to this school. You’re going to be whatever you want to be, and Mister Forgers be damned if paying off this bloody debt means you can’t go.”

“But Grant,”
“No more arguments.” Grant shook his head, stopping Gerard before he could continue, “This is the last chance we had for you to get in. I wasn’t going to risk it. I wasn’t going to risk your future for-”
“For you.” Gerard finished, feeling a little faint, “You couldn’t risk my future for yours.”
“Exactly.” Grant nodded, smiling again, “I’ve had my chances, lived my life happily. It’s your turn now.”
“I just wanted you to be-” Gerard started, choking, “I just wanted you,”
“I know.” Grant nodded, “And I love you for it, Gee. But you’re my best friend, and I need you to be what you were meant to be. Your soulmate is out there, waiting for you. Find them, and then…”
“And then I’ll come back for you.” Gerard promised, rubbing at his eyes, “I’ll-I’ll pay off your debt, and you can use your magic again and run your shop however you want, set whatever prices you want, sell whatever you-whatever you-”

Grant laughed and hugged him. Gerard hoped that Grant’s shaking hid his own.

-

“Wow…”

“It’s a castle!”

“This is so cool!”

The mass of incoming students were vastly different from the types of people Gerard was used to seeing. He could tell that some of them were from closer to Cathedral City, like he’d once been, that others were from the nicer parts of the Great Waste, and that there were even a few from a background like his own - with eyes too guarded and smiles to forced to be real. It didn’t much matter to him, he hadn’t come to socialize. In four years, once he’d completed his studies, he would be chosen as his graduating class’ top artist, alongside whichever top musician was able to find a place next to him, and taken to Cathedral City to be shown off. There, he would find his soulmate.

Everything hinged on showing that, out of every one of these other people, he was the best.

Eventually, the lot of them were herded into the castle - all gothic architecture and gargoyles like warped dragons - and led through hallways by a short, redheaded man. He looked to be younger than Gerard, but magic crackled off of him in such amounts that Gerard wouldn’t have been surprised if he was over a hundred years old. Grant had been similar, before the debt curse that had bound his magic to Mister Forgers, and he’d always looked to be in his early twenties before his magic had revealed his true age.

“Welcome to the Wentz Art and Music School, or WAMS.” The man announced, once Gerard’s new class had been led into a large, high-ceilinged ballroom. “My name is Patrick Stump. You may call me Patrick, or Mister Stump. No nicknames, no shortenings, and especially no copying anything Mister Wentz calls me if you are so unlucky as to hear it.”

His face did not change, and so no one laughed. He continued on after a few short moments of allowing the rule to sink in.

“Here at WAMS, we demand the absolute best of every one of our students and staff. For the next four years, you will be trained in the arts of your chosen styles and given opportunities to find both patrons and employment. At the end of your stay here, two of you - the highest ranking artistic student and the highest ranking musician - will be chosen to follow Mister Wentz back to Cathedral City as his personal students, where you will find both reputation and riches. As for those not chosen, our school has a ninety-six percent employment placement record, for those who make it to the end of the four years. Please endeavor to not include yourself in that final four percent, if you find yourself in the graduating class. If you are a musician, you may come to me with any problems you have not been able to work out yourself. If you are an artist, which includes any student specializing in prose or poetry, you may make an appointment with Mister Wentz.”

He bowed, “Please work hard and enjoy your stay with us. Your dorms and any information you may need can be found in your personalized entrance packages. Take the day to familiarize yourself with the castle and any classes you may have.”

Gerard blinked and, within that miniscule time frame, Stump disappeared. All that remained was what appeared to be sparkles, little confetti pieces falling from what could only be thin air. While the rest of the student body dispersed, to find roommates and friends and classes, Gerard moved the opposite way - towards where Stump had disappeared. He hadn’t seen magic in a while, Grant wasn’t permitted to use it outside of Mister Forgers’ presence and Gerard wasn’t really allowed near Forgers’ after that ball-kicking incident, and he wanted a closer look at someone else’s. Magic, and magicians of any kind, weren’t allowed in Cathedral City or any of its surrounding towns and villages and most of them were born in the Great Waste anyway. The legends said that people with magic were born with it because their soulmates’ gave up the chance to live in this life with them in exchange for giving them their power. Gerard couldn’t imagine what that would be like, knowing that even if - by some miracle - The Original stone and The Mother were reunited, you’d still not get to be with your soulmate. He’d been jealous of Grant, until he’d heard the legends. After, he’d just ached for his partner all the more.

He felt his heart pulse to a different beat, faster and harder and just strong enough to knock the breath from his lungs, and he pressed a hand to his chest and tried to open his airways again. He didn’t panic, it happened more and more often now-and-days. Sometimes, he wondered if it was his partner going insane. Sometimes, he wondered if it was his own mind that was going insane. Ten years was the maximum length two soulmates could go without each other, as far as Gerard had heard, and yet here he and his partner were - twenty years apart without a single meeting and the only problems he had come across were his explosive temper and the occasional medical emergency.

The confetti, laying on the ground where Stump had stood, was shaped like the school emblem and Gerard couldn’t help but laugh. Wentz, whatever type of man he might have been, at least knew how to joke around. He couldn’t imagine Stump thinking of disappearing into a cloud of bat-shaped confetti all on his own.

Classes, Gerard came to learn the next week, weren’t easy, and neither was a social life. He was rooming with a man who appeared to despise clothes and wore as little as possible, and demanded Gerard call him ‘The Butcher’ rather than ‘Andrew’ or even ‘Andy’, and he always had friends over from the musical classes. Gerard liked music as much as the next art student, and he even played a little when he had the time, but his classes were early and he didn’t have the patience or levelheadedness it would take to deal with the Butcher’s fucking friends laughing and playing it up on the other side of the room when he had classes so early the next morning that not even the sky would be awake when he was. Gerard had never been very social, that he had befriended Grant was just a strange stroke of luck on his part, and even surrounded for the first time in his life by people his own age, it was too much effort to try to form connections when he’d be beating them for the spot at Pete’s side.

He sent letters to Grant, when he could, telling him about his time in WAMS, what the classes were like - hard, but refreshing and challenging - and what he thought of the students - both talented and idiotic in equal measure - and how school life was treating him. He missed Grant, missed having someone to talk to and someone he could stand with, who he knew had his back. The town surrounding the castle was interesting, at least, with a bar Gerard steadfastly avoided but herds of students frequented and an untold number of book shops. His favorite was a small, dusty, old building hidden behind two competing restaurants. It reminded him of his grandmother and of Mikey, when it didn’t hurt too much to think about them, and he would spend hours and hours of his time away from the school in its depths, looking at old, dusty books well-loved and well read. He told Grant about it, but he wasn’t sure he was able to get exactly how it made him feel on to paper right.

His chest hurt more often. The part of him he’d always thought of as ‘other’, as his soulmate’s place in his body, was a near constant ache - different from the pain of before. That pain he’d grown used to even without the help of drugs and drink, to the point that he almost couldn’t imagine life without it. Now, it was more than that, a deeper hurt. At night, it was almost unbearable, in the silence of the dark and the massive space between them.

Gerard felt it in his bones, that he was going to die. They’d lasted so long he was almost proud, but no Twain could be without each other for so long, it just wasn’t possible. He was going to die, just four years shy of finding his soulmate.

-

“Master Gerard Way!” Someone shouted from behind him. Gerard clenched at his chest, where his hand had found an almost constant place, like holding onto his pain could protect him from it. He almost pretended that he hadn’t heard, almost kept walking, but the person shouted again and other people were beginning to take notice so Gerard straightened up and turned on his heels to face whomever was calling his name.

It was a boy, still in his teens, but familiar enough to Gerard that he was able to place him without much effort.
“Brendon.”

“Hi!” Brendon smiled at him, warm and friendly, “Patrick wanted me to come and fetch you. There’s something he needs to talk to you about.”
“Me?” Gerard frowned, “What is it?”
Gerard, being an art student, had very little contact with the headmaster of WAMS. While Wentz was off in Cathedral City being a Twain and a guardian, the running of his school was left to Patrick Stump, headmaster and head of the music department. To get a hold of Wentz, a student had to fill out a form and turn it into the Headmasters’ office. If it was deemed worthy of a session with Wentz, than he was called on a special phone in Stump’s office and the student was allowed to converse with him. Gerard remembered, vaguely, having a telephone in the house when he was young, but they were expensive and not many people had them if they weren’t rich like Gerard had been.

Either way, Gerard couldn’t think of a reason Stump would be calling him into his office barely a month into the school year.

“No clue,” Brendon laughed, scratching at his hair, “But it’s probably no big deal. He sends Ryan or Spencer out when people are in trouble.”

Gerard didn’t know what to say to that so he just nodded and shouldered his bag, “Lead the way, then.”
“Got it!” Brendon turned and began to march - full tilt marching where he lifted his leg all the way up and kept a one-two count - to Stump’s office.

Gerard followed him, half wondering where he had the energy to march from one side of the castle to the other without breaking stride. He was still watching Brendon in confused wonder when he was led into what appeared to be the main office, where Stump was standing in the middle of the room looking at paperwork in his hands.

“Ah, Master Way,” Stump smiled at him, smooth and formal, “I’ve been waiting for you. There are things I have been meaning to discuss with you.”
“With me?”
“Please, step into my office.”

Gerard moved to do so, but between lifting his foot and placing it down, he was in another room. It was warm, woods and carpets rather than the stone and marble flooring of the castle. Records lined three of the wall almost from ceiling to floor, different record players lining against the small places where record shelves weren’t taking up space. There was a desk towards the back of the room, with a big, plush chair and what appeared to be some sort of dog sleeping in its clutches. Along the only free wall were instruments of all kinds, guitars and trumpets, tambourines and a set of drums. A grand piano set in the corner, well taken care of and polished.

“Um,” Gerard started, “Sir?”
“Just Patrick,” Stump laughed, sitting in another plush chair almost identical to the one behind his desk. Gerard could have sworn it hadn’t been there before Patrick had set down, but who was Gerard to argue. “Take a seat, Gerard.”
Gerard shrugged and glanced behind him, and sure enough, there was a chair waiting. He fell into it, crossing his arms and looking at Stump.

“What can I help you with?”

“As you know,” Stump began, holding out his hand. A file appeared, and Gerard didn’t doubt that it was his. “I have a considerable amount of magic. As headmaster, I’m tied to this castle. I can leave, of course, but I know when something is wrong. And something, Gerard, is definitely wrong.”
“Whatever could you mean,” Gerard intoned, crossing his ankles as well. He didn’t particularly want Stump, or anyone, in his business. He felt like he was on the brink of death, sure, but he didn’t need anyone sticking their nose where it didn’t belong.

“What I mean,” Stump opened his file, “Is that you’ve been separated from your partner and it’s killing you. Did you know you were Chosen, Gerard?”
Gerard didn’t say anything, mostly because he couldn’t open his mouth, too shocked to say anything. No one except Grant had ever said it out loud after he’d been sent away, that he was Chosen. It had, initially, been why Grant had sought him out. Magic users, Gerard had learned, always knew, in a way normal people couldn’t.

“I’ll take that silence as a ‘yes’,” Stump smiled, “Gerard Way, right? I did some digging, hope you don’t mind. You came to us as Gerard Morrison, but something just wasn’t right when I felt you come into the castle.”
“You’re reading up on me!?”

“Yes,” Stump shrugged, “What did you expect me to do when a kid not even a quarter of a century old is leaking literal death all over my castle? You’re dying, Gerard.”
“You think I don’t know that?” Gerard snapped, “I can feel it, better than some magician in a castle. I’ve lived with it my whole fucking life. That was a gross invasion of privacy, Stump, especially for a school that prides itself on-”
“Yes, yes,” Stump waved his hand, “You’re very upset, this is all very inappropriate, blah, blah, are you finished?”
“No, I am not finished!” Gerard stood up, curling his hands into fists, “What business is it of yours if I’m dying!?”

“My business? None.” Stump shrugged, “My friend’s, on the other hand...Let’s just say, Pete has a vested interest in Chosen. I’ll explain, if you’re interested. It might help you out. I assume you’re trying to get Cathedral, find your partner?”
Gerard narrowed his eyes and looked at Stump, tried to find any deception in his face. Gerard had gotten good at reading people, something he’d picked up in the Great Waste along with his skills in both fighting and flighting, but even he couldn’t read anything on Stump other than a benign, but otherwise disinterested, offer.

“Fine.” He finally snapped, falling back into the chair, “I’ll hear you out.”
“Wonderful.” Stump smiled again, “As I was saying, I did a little reading up. You’re from the Way family, right? You were sent to the Great Waste,"

"When I was fifteen." Gerard sighed, "Yes, I know."

"But you lost contact with your family?"

"I've received a single letter since they disowned me." Gerard shrugged, crossing his arms again, "What does it matter? They don't want me, I don't want them."

"No matter," Stump closed the file, "I'll get to business now, if you don't mind. Rarely do I have to do something like this, but unlike my last few cases, you don't seem at all interested in anything other than your partner."

"If you were me," Gerard couldn't help but smile grimly. It felt more like a grimace, "All you would care about is your soulmate, too."

Stump gave him another look, longer and a little more shrewd, but no less disinterestedly kind than before, "Of course, Mister Way. You don't seem to be adjusting."

"Adjusting?"

"Socializing."

"I don't do that."

"Socialize?"

"It’s hard to make friends when half your time is spent in agony, and the other half is trying to rank higher than anyone else in the class."

"So you are heading for Cathedral City?"

"That's where my heart is, isn't it?"

Stump laughed, nodding, "You're very driven. And I take it you plan on getting there through Pete?"

"Yes." Gerard said stiffly, "Problem?"

"We have quite a bit of talent at WAMS. Have you thought of your options for if you don't win the position?"

"You do have a lot of talent." Gerard agreed, shrugging, "But none like me. They don't have what it takes, not to beat me."

“And what do you have that’s so great?” Stump raised an eyebrow, “Are you truly that great of an artist?”

“I’m going to win because I’m the best.” Gerard sighed, “I’m doing it for the most obvious reason of all. It’s not fucking love or some shit. I’m doing it for myself. Something was taken from me, Stump, and I’m going to get it back if I have to set Cathedral City on fire to do it.”

“You’d do that? Just to make yourself better?”

“For me? Probably not. I don’t mind the pain anymore. It’s a part of me now, I can’t imagine what life would be without it. But for my soulmate? For them, I’ll do it. Great Wasters’ aren’t allowed into the towns and civilians can’t get into the Cathedral, I know that. But if I’m with Wentz, I’m not a civilian and I'm more than a Waster, aren't I?”

“I get it,” Stump raised his hands, looking a little more interested, “And what if the Crows approach you?”
“The Crows?” Gerard laughed, running a hand through his hair. Crimson tips caught his eyes and he held a strand in front of his face let the light reflect off of it. The red was still bright, Grant’s potion wouldn’t wear off for months, and Gerard let himself be distracted for just a moment, let himself get lost in the fantasy of being with his soulmate, of finding them after all this time.

“If they’ll get me to my soulmate, I’d be willing to listen, honestly.”
“So you would really do anything for the chance to get to your soulmate, huh?”
“Anything.” Gerard nodded, “But why do you care, Stump? What does it matter to you, or Wentz, if some kid in your school is trying to get to Cathedral?”
“Ask me yourself, Way!” A new voice said, sounding a little too big and excited for Gerard's tastes. Gerard didn’t jump, but he did turn around in his chair to try to find the man who had spoken, irritation on his face.

“Pete!” Stump smiled, standing, “I was wondering when you’d get here.”
“I’ve been here awhile now, Lunchbox. Thanks for calling him in, I fuckin’ hate protocol.”

"Master Way," Stump grinned and his face finally transformed into a real smile. Gerard realized that Stump had been holding a glamour, and he only saw through it when it was dropped for Wentz. It irritated him that he hadn't noticed it. It had been so long since he'd seen magic that he'd lost his touch at pinpointing it.

"This is Pete Wentz, my partner. Pete, this is your runaway Chosen."

"Wow, you're a doll, aren't you?" Wentz grinned, big and wide and warm. His eyes were kohl-lined, like dark raccoon masks, and his mouth was big - teeth bright and exposed in a smile that made Gerard's cheeks hurt.

"You're Pete Wentz?" Gerard narrowed his eyes, "What as you doing here?"

"Well, I'm here to meet my new apprentice."

"It’s the beginning of the year," Gerard argued, outraged, "You haven't given me a chance to prove how good I am yet!"

"Gerard," Stump gave him an exasperated look. He was much more expressive, without the glamour, and Gerard really did want to kick himself for missing both of those things, "Gerard, you're the apprentice."

"What?"

"What, indeed!" Wentz laughed, shoving his hands into the pockets of his too-tight pants, "I was seriously impressed by your admissions project, Way. Those colors, the self-portrait. Like a photograph. Who were your models? Not many Chosen in the Great Waste."

"Um," Gerard hesitated, thrown off, "My dreams, I guess...I used my dreams. Of what my soulmate looks like."

"And that blue? Great contrast. Where'd you get it?"

"I found it." Gerard said, immediately.

"Found it?" Stump raised an eyebrow, "Really, now?"

"I found it and you can't prove otherwise." Gerard snapped, "Is there a problem?"

"No problem," Wentz laughed, slinging an arm around Patrick, "Do you remember when we would find supplies, Pattycakes?"

"Hey," Stump elbowed him, "No reminiscing in front of the students, Wentz."

"Sorry, sorry," Wentz laughed again, rubbing at the begrieved spot, "Purely business, sweetheart."

Gerard suddenly remembered Stump's warning, all the nicknames the students weren't allowed to copy, and it all made a lot more sense.

"Anyway, I loved your work. I wouldn't say you're wasted here, because my professors are top notch, but when Patrick told me he thought that you were Chosen, I just had to meet you. And you've got spunk! You'd fit right in at Cathedral."

"You want to take me to the city, what, now? No waiting?"

"Would you even survive four years?"

Gerard glared but Stump just shrugged at him. “What’s in it for you? I’m not stupid. Something like this, it always comes at a price.”
Wentz grinned and flopped himself into Stump’s vacated chair, pulling Stump along with him so he was sitting on the arm. They looked comfortable, familiar with each other, like this was an everyday occurrence. Lovers or brothers, Gerard couldn’t tell because their body language was too intimate for anything he’d ever had. To intimate to be anything he’d ever seen in the Great Waste.

“Talented, cute, and smart. You’d of definitely won, anyway. The ‘price,’” He made quotations with his fingers, “Is a single favor. I’m speeding up the process here, but it’s definitely unfair. If you weren’t on the brink of death, I’d of made you compete for a spot at my side with the rest of our students. As it stands, you need me and I’ll come to need you, soon.”
“What kind of favor?” Gerard asked, feeling his stomach roll just a little. A sharp pain burst through his chest and he started to wheeze, collapsing back into his chair and curling in on himself. He heard one of them call his name and there was a hand on his shoulder, but he shrugged it off and took deep, gulping breaths until his lungs started working again. By the time the pain had dissipated, he wasn’t sure how much time had passed. He just knew he was sweaty, and someone had given him a bucket to throw up in. He set the bucket down and leaned back against the chair, exhausted and aching.

“Shit,” Wentz said from the other chair, eyebrow raised, “You’ve got a lot of guts, kid. You’ve been kept from each other for, what, twenty? Twenty years, and you’re able to still move and walk and talk and think. I’ve seen people separated from their partners for just a few weeks and they go insane.”
“I’m strong.” Gerard snapped, “And so is my partner. What kind of favor, Wentz?”
“What kind of favor, he asks!” Wentz laughed, looking at Gerard with a little bit of awe, “When the time comes, I’ll ask you to put your life on the line for everything you’ve ever cared about. What do you say? Will you take the deal? In my humble opinion, you won’t last the month, anyway. What’s a little death defying mission, am I right?”

“You’re an idiot,” Stump said fondly, but he didn’t take his eyes of Gerard, “What do you say, Gerard? Are you willing?”
Gerard didn’t have to think much about it, the stabbing aches still prevalent and the need to see his partner, of being so close to his goal, four years early, left no room in his head for doubt.

“You’ve got a fucking deal. Take me to Cathedral City and I’ll put my life on the line for whatever missions you could want.”
“Great!” Wentz stood, whisked Stump up in a fast stepped, spinning dance that Stump put a stop to quickly - but only after the first few twirls. “The others will be ecstatic! And I even have an idea of where your partner might be!”

Gerard didn’t say anything, but when Wentz offered his hand, long fingers and tanned skin and scars too numerous to be seen from afar, Gerard didn’t hesitate to reach out and take it.

When the world went white, fuzzing out as soon as their skin connected, he wasn’t scared.

-

Gerard never wanted to travel by magic again. Yes, it was cheaper and faster, but he was already fucking dying and disintegrating into the air only to resolidify somewhere else hadn’t fucking helped the stabbing pain in his chest.

“And that’s that!” Wentz clapped, “Welcome to Cathedral City!”

“What about my stuff?” Gerard frowned, “All my money, my clothes, my supplies,”
“Pattycakes will send that our way. You’ll find it all in your room by tonight.”
“My room?”
“Your room,” Wentz repeated, “I’ll find it for you, soon. For now, just wait here. I’ll be back in a little bit with everyone who needs to meet you. As incompetent as you must think us, after so long, it’s not often that someone Chosen remains unfound for so long. Usually, you’d of died by now.”
“I told you.” Gerard crossed his arms around his stomach, like he could hold his guts in place through the pain, “I’m strong. I won’t die until I find my partner.”
“Your partner,” Wentz grinned a little, “Yeah. I’ll go get the squad leaders. You’ll be with your partner soon, Gerard. Then it’ll all seem inconsequential.”
“Speaking of,” Gerard hissed, sitting onto one of the many pews in the room he’d been fucking teleported into, “Where is yours?”

“My partner?” Wentz smiled, “He’s been watching my office. I’m not technically part of the squads, a pacifist and all that, but I’m a historian. My office isn’t allowed to be left unattended, so when I go to WAMS, Pale Horse stays here.”
“Pale Horse? How long have you guys been apart?” Gerard blinked at him, rubbing absentmindedly at a bruise he’d gotten on his stomach. It had appeared this morning, the beginnings of a more physical and lasting damage. It was the beginning of the end, Gerard knew.

Pete grinned and pulled up his sleeve. Bruises littered his arm, enough that his skin almost looked molten, “Just the day. I’m already in late stages of separation damages, and it’s only been twelve hours. You, though...You’re nowhere near as advanced as I am and you’ve never even met your partner.”

“I’m getting there,” Gerard admitted, “Hurry and get back to your office, Wentz. If you die, I won’t be getting anywhere.”
“You’d of figured something out,” Wentz smirked, “You’re resourceful. I’ll be back soon. Try not to die, kid.”
“It’s Gerard,” Gerard narrowed his eyes, “I’m not a kid.”
Wentz waved him off as he turned, sticking his hands in his pockets as he walked away.

Gerard watched him disappear through a pair of giant doors and closed his eyes as soon as he was out of sight, listening to the doors close after him, leaving Gerard alone in the room.

It was huge, with a ceiling so high Gerard wasn’t even sure he could actually see it, and windows tall and beautiful with depictions of The Mother and The Original, stained glass formed in jagged angles to create murals and beautiful art. He was entranced with them, for a while, enough that his pains stopped bothering him so much. He wanted to try it himself, wanted to fit broken pieces of glass together to create, make something beautiful. It would be a fun project, a challenge, maybe, or a test of his skills. He could stain the glass himself, maybe break it all up into shards and rearrange the different colors into the pictures he wanted to show. Maybe he could tell his own story, the story of his partner, when he finally found them.

The thought of losing the pain in him, of living without the constant ache inside, it almost scared him. He couldn’t imagine not having that in him, that insistent proof that he was alive and still fighting. Would he even feel whole without it?

Shouting brought his attention back to the room, to a door behind the altar that he hadn’t noticed before. It was big, but not as large as the double doors Wentz had fled through, and cracked open just enough for the yelling down what could have been a hallway to echo into the large room.

Gerard, by nature of being Chosen, was an adventurer and lived by his curiosity. It got him into trouble often, into pain even more so, but trouble and pain had never deterred him before and they didn’t this time, either. Though he tried to resist the urge, he found himself standing, creeping closer to the doorway until he could peek through it, into the dimly lit hall behind. The yelling was echoing down a long passageway covered in drapes with pictures and paintings, little tables with expensive looking vases and flowers. Gerard ignored the decorations for now as unimportant. Instead, he focused his eyes on the moving figures towards the end. He couldn’t quite make them out from his distance, but he could see that people were in a big circle, blocking the beginning of the hallway from something. He was just about to step into it, follow its path to see what the problem was, when the circle broke.

A dark figure, big and swift, pounced into the hallway and began racing towards Gerard’s door. Without hesitation, Gerard slammed the door shut and bolted it. Just as the bolt slid into place, a powerful force rammed into the door.

Gerard wasn’t afraid to admit that he screamed, jumped back and almost tripped over himself as the door was rammed into again. The place where the bolt was holding it in place began to split and splinter and Gerard realized that it wouldn’t hold for long.

“Shit.” He breathed, “Shit, shit, shit,”

He turned, raced for the double doors but they were too far away to reach before the - before the fucking dragon got through the door and was on him. He changed course halfway there, slid between two pews and slithered under one, hoping as hard as he could that his scent had permeated the room enough that it would be harder to find him. Hard enough for the people still on the other side of the hallway to get to him before the dragon did.

The door burst open with a great sound, and a dragon’s scream bounced off the stone walls over and over, until it was all Gerard could hear - even over his own heartbeat, which had previously been the only thing filling his ears over the cracking of the wooden door.

He heard the beast enter, slowly and without fear, claws click-clacking against the stone floor. A heavy tail dragged behind it, and he could hear the fluttering and readjusting of wings, big and dangerous. He heard it sniffing, breathing in the scents of the room, taking it all in. When the sniffing stopped, Gerard held his breath. The dragon wailed again and was off, claws clanging against the stone to a pattern that matched Gerard’s racing heart. He’d been found

He didn’t have enough room to roll, but he was fast enough to shove out of the way, knocking the pew over and onto the dragon just as razor sharp claws reached under for him. He didn’t stop to see if it connected, just started running, jumping from the seat of one pew to the next. His only hope were the double doors, to get out of the square grave with nowhere to run except away.

The dragon followed, he’d known the pew wouldn’t hold it for long, and it was faster than him and infinitely stronger for all that he’d trained while in the Great Waste. Gerard wondered, as he raced against a beast mere feet behind him, if this was where his life would end.

Something caught his foot and he went down, the dragon zooming over him, going too fast to stop so suddenly. Gerard didn’t hesitate, just stumbled up and raced into the center of the rows. He grabbed up the long, narrow carpet - all reds and golds to match the altar’s set up - in some futile hope of using it as a weapon, but before he could think of just how, a force too strong to describe shoved him to the ground. He rolled onto his back, lifted his arms and the carpet without thought, and the carpet slid between the dragon’s teeth just as it was about to chow down on Gerard’s fucking face. All the way to the hilt of its jaw, Gerard struggled to hold his arms straight, to keep the dragon away from him. It tried to snap through the thick rug, but it wouldn’t work, and so it began to bear down. Gerard nearly screamed when claws dug into his shoulders, but he bit it back and locked his elbows. No matter how much weight the dragon could pile on, he wouldn’t let it go. He was in Cathedral City, he was going to find his partner, and he wasn’t going to die under some deranged fucking dragon after he’d been through everything he’d been through. It did kind of suck that his first look at a real dragon, one not in a book or his dreams, was as it tried to gouge him to pieces.

“Get off, you fucker!” He snarled, bringing his leg up in an angry kick. It connected and the dragon tore into his side, scraping from shoulder to hip. It wasn’t deep, he could tell, but it was bleeding like a bitch and it hurt almost as much as the chest aches did when he was alone. He kicked at it again, hoping to knock against something vulnerable, but it didn’t work. It tore into his other side and this time he did scream, because it was a little deeper, and a fucking lot more pain, but it wasn’t close to what he’d been through yet, so he sucked it up.

Instead, he brought his knee into its side with as much force as he could. The dragon reared back and Gerard shot off, this time towards the altar. He’d seen a sword earlier, golden and probably useless in a real fight, but it was long and, even if it was dull, sharp enough to hurt.

He made it, by some miracle, and yanked the sword from its place in the setup, turning to brandish it towards his attacker. The dragon paused, for just a moment, in its predator’s crouch and Gerard met its eyes. It was dark, though more blue than black, with eyes a bright orange that almost looked red with the rage in its gaze. Gerard had been in Cathedral for less than an hour and had no idea what he’d done to piss it off, but here it was, out for his blood. It watched him as he held the sword, pointed it straight at the fucking dragon and gave it his best ‘I’ve stolen your money and you can do jackshit about it’ look.

“Fucking come at me,” Gerard taunted, “I dare you.”

He shouldn't have been so cocky and, to tell the truth, it was mostly bluff, but Gerard had learned long ago that at least half of every fight was how well you could bluff.

The dragon called him on it, because it was a dragon and, Chosen or not, Gerard was no match for it if it got the sword away from him.

It charged at him, with no fear, and maybe it was the anger, maybe it was the pain and rage and betrayal he could feel just radiating off of it, but Gerard knew without a doubt that he wouldn't be able to use the sword against it. For just a second, Gerard couldn't even comprehend trying to hurt it, even in defending himself.

He tossed the sword away just before it lunged at him and they both screamed when they went down, a loud cry of pain and a screech of anger, bouncing together until they collided into a single noise.

Gerard, pinned, clenched his eyes and breathed out when the dragon closed its fangs around his neck, counting down. He felt the fangs break skin and prepared himself. He knew he couldn't get out of this. Grant had wasted so much on him. Even Wentz and Stump, who had put their faith in him to complete some mission. His partner, still out there and waiting for him, still hurting and as angry as him at the world for failing them.

The dragon clenched its jaw, but nothing happened after skin was broken. He could feel the dragon trembling, feel the rage boiling under skin and scale, but he wasn't dead. It pulled back from him like he had burnt it, and screamed again, sounding even angrier than before. It bit him on the shoulder this time, but after skin was broken it went no deeper. Gerard could feel the desperation in it, feel how much it wanted to hurt him but, at the same time, couldn't. Could feel how, like him, it was throwing away the sword after each threat of violence.

On the fourth bite, Gerard felt tears. He knew dragons could cry, though it was through a different physiological system than humans, but he hadn't quite believed it until then, when, through the growling and biting, tears dripped onto him.

Gerard felt his eyes well and, without reason, he began to sob. The dragon reared back and he reached out, caught her face in his and pressed their foreheads together. There was a light, so bright it blinded, but it was gone almost before it had begun as the dragon broke the connection. She slammed her clawed foot into his chest, breaking through shirt and skin again, and snarled at him.

"How could you leave me!?" She shouted, her wings spreading wide, to intimidate, "How could you leave me!?"

"I didn't!" Gerard said desperately, "I could never-"

"Now!" A new voice unnoticed and loud, yelled. There was a thin sound and she went down on top of him, tears still streaming from her hazing eyes. Gerard gasped, felt his vision darken and his lungs collapse on him like she had. He was out before the people from before were on them. Somehow, even unconscious, Gerard had to be peeled away from his grip on her.

-

Gerard woke up in a cell.

It was a nice cell, with a clean bathroom with a door and a nice bed, and his wounds had been cleaned and wrapped, but it was still a cell and he had no clue why he was there.

"Ah, Master Way."

Gerard blinked and there was a man by the bars. He couldn't tell if it had been magic, or if he just hadn't noticed before, but it didn't much matter.

"Where am I?"

"You've been arrested for harassing a dragon, Master Way. Is that at all familiar to you?"

"I remember being attacked by a deranged dragon," Gerard snapped in annoyance, "Do strangers usually get assaulted after being invited in?"

"Invited?" The stranger frowned, "By who?"

"By Peter Wentz," Gerard glared, "I'm one of his students."

"Bullshit," the man grinned. He was tan, dark hair and eyes with a pretty, disarming grin. It didn't work on Gerard, not this time, but it might have if he'd been in a more agreeable mood. "His students don't come in until the end of the academic year."

"I'm a special case, asshole." Gerard tried to get off the bed, but it hurt too much and he'd rather avoid that.

"I'll call him down to check. In the meantime, why don't you tell me what you did to piss off my friend? She's got it hard enough without assholes messing with her."

"Fuck off," Gerard laid back down, "She attacked me. I was just sitting in a room, admiring the fucking scenery. I heard yelling, went to check it out, and a fucking dragon comes bounding down the hallway, hell-bent on eating me. Look at my neck and shoulders, dude, I look like a fucking chew toy!"

"The story I heard was she was on her daily walk around the Cathedral when she suddenly heard or smelled something, broke away from her usual caretakers, and came to the prayer room. So tell me exactly what you were when she - a dragon with rock steady control and no prior violent attacks - 'attacked' you. From when you came into the room to when she did, if you please."

"I was with Wentz. He told me he had to go to his office, and that he'd be back with some people. He left, I stayed. I was in pain, so I started planning a new art project to distract myself. I heard yelling and looked through the door to see what was going on. I was about to follow, but she came at me so I closed the door and bolted it. I was running to the double doors but she burst the door so I hid. She found me, I threw a pew. We had a bit of a chase, she caught me on the carpet and we struggled. I kicked her off and grabbed the sword I saw on the altar, but she got around it and mauled me."

"And what were you yelling when we came to help you, Way?"

"Yelling?" Gerard hesitated, "I don't remember anything after...after she started crying."

"Crying." The man said without feeling, "She was crying."

"Yes," Gerard snapped back, "She was crying. Crying and yelling something. That's all I remember. I want to talk to Wentz, now."

"I'll call him," the man agreed, "Here's to hoping he's in the mood to corroborate your story."

"Corroborate?" Gerard scoffed, "I'm going to chew his ass out for leaving me to get attacked by crazed dragons. I'd sue, If I had rights, I mean.”

“Please, she isn’t dangerous.” The man crossed his arms after he finished pressing something into the wall, “She’s Chosenless, so a lot of people think she’s unstable, but she isn’t. I don’t believe you were just innocently sitting around when she attacked you for no reason. You did something to provoke her. She’s been perfectly kind to people who don’t piss her off for twenty, years. Why would she stop now?”

“Excuse me?” Gerard grabbed the blanket around his hips, “What did you say?”
“I said,” The man began, only to stop suddenly, “Wentz is here.”

“No, what were you saying?” Gerard demanded, trying to get up again, but the man was already disappearing, going off to retrieve Wentz and probably bring him back to Gerard.

Gerard set, trying to breath. He closed his eyes, tried to feel under all the aches and pains of his wounds. He tried to find the pain inside of him, that place where his partner always was. It still hurt, like burning, but when he poked at it, it didn’t flare like usual. Didn’t rush over him in waves and waves that consumed him until he blacked out. Instead, it felt like a new scar, slowly healing but still sore and bloody and ready to pop back open at any wrong move.

Oh God.

“Gerard!” Wentz’s voice broke through him again and Gerard almost had to wonder if that was purposeful, if Wentz had some sort of magic that always broke into his thoughts and dragged him back out and into the real world again.

“Wentz,” Gerard nodded, “Tell me about the dragon that attacked me.”
“Call me Pete from now and I just might,” Wentz grinned, big and wide and unworried, “I left you alone for half an hour and you’ve got the whole Cathedral in an uproar over your poor partner.”
“Don’t fuck with me.” Gerard snapped, finally struggling onto his feet and pushing himself to the bars, “Don’t tease me about this, Pete, was that, was she…”
“She’s yours.” Pete nodded, eyes sparkling in a maddening way, “You’ve finally met your partner, Way. What do you think?”
Gerard wasn’t sure what to think. He stumbled, lost his knees under him and ended up collapsed onto the floor. When he covered his face and tasted tears between sobs, Pete didn’t say anything.

Gerard wasn’t sure how long he stayed on the floor, shaking hard enough that the bars shuddered with him. He cried into his knees, gripped them to his face to hide himself from the world for a few minutes and just tried to breath.

“Tell me about her,” He finally gasped out when he could get his lungs to work, scraping at his face to make sure the tears were truly gone before he looked at Pete, “Why did she attack me?”

“Truthfully?” Pete asked, and even waited for Gerard’s nod before he continued, “She thought she was abandoned. It doesn’t happen often, but sometimes people just don’t show up when we scry for them. Sometimes, they don’t want to live after so long without their soulmates, when they are found. They’re too damaged, believe that nothing can take the pain away. And who are we to tell them otherwise? None of us have ever been separated for as long as you and she have been. Before her, the longest anyone had been separated was ten years and eleven months. You two have a record of almost twenty years, Gerard. She should have gone crazy by now. Hell, you should have gone crazy by now. She’s managed to keep her head though. She’s never attacked anyone, never raged around before now. She’s a great dragon, I love her to pieces. But she’s...she’s hurt. Just as much as you. But just imagine, being alone in a place like this, surrounded by other Twain. Never knowing when your Chosen is going to show up, never knowing just who they were or if they were even looking for her.”
“Of course I was!” Gerard cried, “I looked every god damned day of my life! I’ve damned Grant to a near lifetime of debt, I lost my family - my grandmother, my little brother, all so I could be with her! Look at me! I’m covered in bandages, bandages that she put on me, and I didn’t even scratch her with a sword in my hand!”

Pete shrugged, “I’m just telling you. She’s volatile, testy. I can take you to see her, but I can’t guarantee that you’ll be welcomed with open wings.”

“Take me to her,” Gerard demanded immediately, “Please, Pete.”
“I’ll try,” Pete sighed, “Let me talk to Armstrong, see what he thinks. She’s sedated, so she won’t be too happy, even without you there.”
“I don’t care,” Gerard shook his head, “I need to…”
“I know.” Pete reached into the cell and touched his hand, “Don’t worry. You’ve found her Gerard, isn’t that something?”

Gerard didn’t say anything back. Instead, he closed his eyes and rested his head against his knees, waiting for Pete to get him out.

“You’re telling me.” He heard the man from before, probably Armstrong, say incredulously, “That the kid in that cell is her Chosen?”
“That’s what I’m saying,” Pete agreed, sounding a little too jovial for Gerard’s tastes, once again, “I brought him all the way from the Great Waste. He’s Gerard Way, the first born of the Way family. Remember, that big uproar when they didn’t have a Chosen this generation? They were wrong. We were wrong, Billie. He slipped through the scry.”
“And found himself in the Great Waste.” Armstrong sighed, “And you’re positive?”
“Absolutely. She went crazy when she fucking smelled him, man. He’s already looking like he took a few steps away from the cliff. They’re Twain. We need to put them back together.”
“Fine, fine, say they are. Say they’re Twain and they’ve finally been reunited. Why would she attack him? Does she even want to see him?”
“Does it matter? If they aren’t reunited, they’ll die.”

Armstrong didn’t say anything back and Gerard held his breath for what felt like almost too long of a time. Finally, the cell door clicked and creaked open. Gerard pushed himself up against the wall to stand, and walked out.

He was going to find his dragon. Again. And this time, there would hopefully be a lot less blood involved.

-

She was beautiful. He’d realized it back when she’d been trying to kill him, in the seconds he had to really look at her before she pounced, but seeing her again only reminded him. She was on a nest of blankets and pillows, blue-black scales shiny against the pale pinks and purples of the clothes, resting not quite peacefully. Gerard wanted to touch her, run his fingers down her spin and prove to himself that she was real, wasn’t just another dream he had like the thousands before.

Instead, he watched her. She’d opened her eyes when Pete and Armstrong had led him in but, as soon as she’d seen him, she’d turned her head away. Gerard wanted to hear her talk, to understand her and let her tell him about her life. He wanted to tell her about his brother and grandmother, about Grant, and the Great Waste and WAMS, about all of the things he’d learned. He wanted to hear about Cathedral City from her point of view, listen to all the stories she had of growing up in the supreme Cathedral, just hallways from The Mother.

But she wouldn’t talk to him. He wanted to call out to her, cry her name until she just looked at him, but she didn’t have one. He was supposed to have given her one, as was custom between dragon and human, but he hadn’t been there to do so and so she’d gone unnamed. Pete and Armstrong called her ‘friend’, like a title until her name was revealed, but she didn’t respond to them much. Gerard knew it was because he was there, and it hurt somewhere inside, hurt more than any of the wounds or even the pain he’d felt being away from her for so fucking long.

“This has to end.” Pete sighed between them, looking back and forth. “If you two don’t bond, you’ll die. Do you want that, friend?”

She didn’t respond and Gerard threw his hands up, “If you would just listen to me instead of being a child about this!” He snapped, “You weren’t the only one who felt abandoned, you know! You’re the one with wings, why didn’t you find me!?”

“You knew where I was!” She suddenly roared. To Pete and Armstrong, Gerard knew, she wasn’t saying anything they could understand, but to Gerard, it was clear as day, “I’ve always been here and where were you!? It’s been twenty years, human! Twenty years you’ve left me with this pain!”
“You weren’t the only one!” Gerard hissed, “I lost everything because of you! Because I was born with you! My grandmother is dead and I wasn’t at her side! My brother is lost somewhere in the world, I’ve no idea where; my best friend can’t use his gifts because he borrowed money to keep me alive, I’ve spent twenty five years waiting for you! Anything from you, a fucking feeling, a stray thought, a mental fucking picture!”
She smoked at him, sitting up from the nest. He mirrored her, spreading his feet so he could dodge if she attacked him again.

“I’ve been waiting.” She finally seethed out. Fire licked at her teeth with each word and Gerard tried not to let it bother him, that she was ready to burn him alive, and herself with him, “I’ve been waiting from the day The Mother brought me from her ashes. I’ve been waiting for you and if it weren’t for my determination to see you dead myself, we would have died together years ago.”
“Then you should have just fucking died,” Gerard glared, “Because you aren’t going to kill me, not after everything I’ve gone through to find you.”

Pete threw himself against the wall and Armstrong called out in shock when she charged him, but Gerard had known she was going to do it practically years before she did it. He wasn’t sure what made him stand his ground with a ton of pissed off dragon throwing herself into him, but he did it. He should have run, maybe jumped behind Armstrong in the hopes of letting him take the hit, but instead he just braced himself and reached out. She rammed into him without pause and he slammed into the door behind him, wood and stone rattling dangerously. It knocked the air from his lungs and his eyes went hazy with pain, the wounds along his sides and shoulders screaming under the pressure of a new attack so soon after the first. He felt his skin reopen, blood warm the places wrapped with bandages, and he reacted without thought. His hands found her head, his fingers locking behind her jaws. He shoved her head up, forcing her eyes to meet his and that was all he needed to lean down and press their foreheads together. The connection from before awakened without hesitation and the world went colorful this time, bright and crazy in a way he couldn’t ever explain. She tried to pull away but he wouldn’t let go this time, couldn’t with the connection between them forming again. He’d waited so long, struggled so hard, and she had to. He couldn’t let her go now, not after he’d finally found his missing half.

He felt her resistance, snapping at him through the forming bond like her teeth against his neck again, but not even her anger could fight against it, the destiny that was their connection. Gerard wasn’t all that sure he wanted it either, not with a dragon as selfish and bitter as her, but he’d begun to taste life without the pain in him, what it would be like to wake up without a constant ache, a new bruise he couldn’t explain, and a constant fear of death in his sleep. Gerard didn’t want to die. He didn’t want to die and, as much as he disliked her, he didn’t want the dragon to die either. And she didn’t either, he could tell from where they were meeting, a space somehow between them but inside of them both, where their minds were connecting into one. She didn’t want to die either, so she let the connection through. He could feel how they molded to each other, jagged edges smoothed into a single plane of existence. He could feel her reaching out to him, coming closer and he reached out desperately, needing to be with her. Claw to fingertip, so close to the end, when they would finally be everything they were always meant to be.

No! He heard her shout in their shared mind, a sudden rush of anger and fear and bitter, bitter resentment, and his eyes snapped open. He set up with a shocked groan, grabbing at his head without even bothering to wonder how he’d gone from pinned to a wall by a feral dragon to laying on another bed. At least he wasn’t in a cell, this time.

His fingers tingled, from the tip of the nail to the knuckles, and when he looked, claw marks raked down from tip to crease in the palm. They weren’t deep enough to hinder anything, thank God, but it showed that she finally knew him enough to understand what was important. The connection hadn’t been completed, he could still feel it in him, a broken and uneasy edge, but it had been started and that was all he needed for the time being.

“This feels suspiciously like the last time you woke up after she attacked you.” Pete commented, bringing Gerard’s attention away from his own thoughts, “Is it going to be how you end every encounter, do you think?”
“Fuck off,” Gerard snipped, rubbing at his head, “What happened?”
“After you grabbed her head like an idiot or after she banged you so hard against the wall to get you off that you blacked out?”
“That last one.” Gerard grinned a little, sharp and unamused, “And where is she?”
“After you went dark, Pale Horse pulled her off you. He’s a lot bigger than her, so it wasn’t too hard between him and Basket.”
“Basket?”
“Armstrong’s partner,” Pete shrugged, “He was with Pale Horse, waiting outside for us. We figured we’d let you two have it out before we got you covered in other dragon scent. Didn’t go as well as you’d hoped, huh?”
“It went great.” Gerard slowly laid back down, holding his head like he had to or it would fall apart onto the pillow, blood and brain matter over white lace. “I reopened the connection. I knew I’d fucked with it in the Cathedral, even though I can’t remember. I can feel her now, and I know she feels me. It isn’t complete yet, but it’s somewhere. I’m not ready to die, Pete. I thought...once I found her,”
“Everything in the world would be right.” Pete voice for him when he didn’t continue, “That she’d fix everything.”
“Yeah, I guess. Maybe not everything, but I thought that, at least with her at my side, things would be a little easier to hold on my shoulders. But it’s just made it all worse. I don’t have a choice anymore. I gave everything up for her. I left Grant in massive debt, I let my family disappear...If I can’t have my soul, then I’ll settle for my friend and the only family left who loves me safe. And I have to be alive to do that. No more games.”
“You’re going to force the connection?” Pete raised an eyebrow, “No idea what kind of toll that could have on the two of you. I’ve never heard of a dragon refusing to bond, let alone of a Chosen trying to force it.”
“I don’t care.” Gerard stared up at the ceiling, “I’ve got to help them, now.”
“Has it ever occurred to you,” Pete smiled a little, “That you haven’t gone a day in your life without having a mission entirely focused on something that wasn’t just yourself?"
Gerard slid his eyes to Pete, frowning.

“Since the day you were born,” Pete ticked off one finger, “All you heard about was how you were going to be the pride of the family Way. The Chosen of the generation. You were probably bred for that exact purpose, and you lived for it. You couldn’t have even known if it were true after she wasn’t brought to you, but you were already going to make it happen. Then,” He ticked off another finger, “You’re entire life was spent pining after a dragon you didn’t even know. soulmate or not, the two of you are different entities, different personalities. You need each other to complete yourselves, but the way you talk...It’s almost like you don’t even know who you are without her. She was your goal. And now, you’ve found her. You’ve met your mark.” He ticked his last finger, “You won’t even give yourself a few days to work it out with her, and you’re already trying to force something that should never be forced, and setting a newly impossible goal for yourself.”
“That’s who I am.” Gerard said tightly, “If I don’t have goals, I’ll get nothing done. Nothing’s impossible, Wentz. I’m here, aren’t I?”
“With a dragon who can barely stand you and who you can barely stand.”
“I don’t need opinions.” Gerard closed his eyes, “She’s my partner, and I’m her Chosen. That’s how it is. How we bond, deal with each other, and anything that has to do with the two of us in a personal capacity, has nothing to do with you.”
“You’re my apprentice.” Pete pointed out, “So you’ve kind of got some standing in my books.”
“About that,” A voice Gerard didn’t recognize said, “Historian Wentz, I do apologize, but I believe I will be stealing Master Way from your grips.”

“Minister Pop?”

Gerard didn’t sit up, but that might have only been because he wasn’t sure if he could move at all. When he finally opened his eyes, it was to an older man, with bright white hair in a tight bun wrapped in dark ribbon and a matching suit. Gerard had only ever seen his face on notes before, coins and the like when he was a kid and he still had access to government sanctioned coin, but it was instantly recognizable to him in the same way that snow, even for those who had never been caught in it before, was known to be white.

“I’ve come myself to apologize to Gerard.”

“Me?” Gerard said slowly, “You’ve come to apologize to me?”
“Of course,” Pop nodded, looking as contrite as a politician could, “I’ve come to offer my most sincere apologizes, Gerard. As relatively rare as it is to overlook someone, scrying is not an exact magic and so some people...fall through the cracks. I am deeply begrieved that you and your partner had to suffer for so long, and so deeply. I am even more so that it was not fixed through my actions, but through the determination of yourself and your partner’s tenacity.”
Gerard just shrugged at him. He wasn’t going to say it was okay, wasn’t going to say that he forgave Pop or any one of them for the oversight, but he wasn’t going to rail on the Prime Minister, either. Especially not with Armstrong, and three other important looking men, behind him.

“While I am sorry that we were unable to unite the two of you, I hope that my offer will, perhaps, heal the rift that our oversight has caused. I’ve spoken to Historian Wentz, and I reached out to Master Morrison, and with the information I’ve gathered, I believe that you have what it takes to skip the basic training of the Guardianship.”
“What?”

“The Guardianship. As a Chosen, it is your right to join the Guard and protect Cathedral City. Once you’ve been approved by my squad leaders,” Pop motioned behind him and Armstrong waved with a manic grin. One of the others followed his lead, but the other two kept a more reserved stance, “You’ll be allowed to choose which squad you enter.”
“Which…?”

Gerard wondered if he would be able to say anything other than the beginning of a question in this conversation, but he didn’t think so. Pete didn’t look much better, confused and a little suspicious.

“Each of my squads specialize in a specific part of my city,” Pop explained, “Generals Hoppus and Delonge, as well as General Barker, who could not be here at this time, patrol and protect the inner city and are in charge of the Cathedral security, while General Whibley is in charge of the wall, and outer city. You’ve met General Armstrong.”
“My squad is outside of Cathedral,” Armstrong smirked, “We’re in charge of searching for The Original stone.”
“Yes,” Pop nodded, “The five of them are my top military experts. As I was saying, though Historian Wentz has prior claim to your time here at Cathedral, I must insist that the skills you have learned in the Great Waste, and throughout your life, would be an asset to my Guards.”
“Are you telling me that you’re forcing me to join the Guard?”
Pop looked affronted, and it took Gerard a moment to figure out that he’d actually managed to say something. Of course, it just had to be something confrontational, because he was still himself, and, of course, it had to be directed at the leader of the world.

“I would never force you to join my Guard.” Pop disagreeing, “But if you chose not to enter, I’ll have to place you under watch. The Crows have been...active in recruitment, and with the grudge you might hold against us, and the power of...well, it would be a liability to allow you out of my sight before I know I can...trust you, Master Way. You understand.”

“Sure.” Gerard got out, dry mouthed, “I understand.”
“Wonderful. I’ll leave your introductions to my men, while I attend to farther business. Good day, Gerard.”
“Yeah.” Gerard clenched his fists, “Whatever, man.”

Pop sighed, but left without another word. Gerard hadn’t realized how oppressive the room had been until he could breathe again, take in air and let it expand his lungs without feeling like there was something on his chest.

“You’re quite a cheeky one.” Hoppus settled himself on Gerard’s bed, but Gerard waved him off.

“Where’s my dragon?”
“Friend?” Hoppus asked, and Gerard shrugged. "She's under lock and key for now. Pop wasn't sure if your arrival and subsequent tries to force an already frayed connection had set her off."

"She's perfectly stable," Gerard couldn't help but snap back, affronted.

"Be that as it may,” Armstrong shrugged a little, "Seeing it with my own eyes, this time, I was forced to make the call. She was the aggressor, so she went behind bars."

Gerard didn't even like her, but the thought of her in a cell - even one like he'd been in - sent his blood boiling. "I want her released. Right fucking now."

"She almost ripped your throat out, Way, I really-"

"I don't give a single fucking shit, Armstrong! Get her out of that cage right fucking now!"

Pete pressed a calming hand to Gerard's arm, “Gerard, please. She's comfortable, and it's for your protection."

"I don't care!" Gerard seethed, "Get. Her. Out."

Armstrong held up his hands, defensive yet dryly amused and it made Gerard's skin crawl. He had hated being in the cell, even though he’d only been awake in it for a little under an hour. Just the thought of her in a cage made him want to throw up and rage around like fire burning. To be locked away was unacceptable, even for a dragon who had attacked him like she had.

“Okay, okay,” Pete said gently, “How about this. If the two of you can have a civil conversation, we’ll unlock the door.”

“Not good enough, Wentz,” Gerard shoved the blanket off his lap and stood up, “Take me to her.”
“Gerard,” Armstrong started but Gerard gave him the most hostile look he could. It must have worked because he took a step back and a little of the amusement left his face, “Right this way.”
Gerard shoved a hand through his hair and stopped after him, plastering the most dangerous look he could onto his face and not letting it drop when he passed the other squad captains.

He followed Armstrong into a hallway and didn’t bother looking around. At this rate, he’d be spending more time passed out in a bed than he would actually in the Cathedral proper. The best thing he could hope for would be getting into Armstrong’s team, somehow convincing his dragon to run away with him, and disappearing into the Great Waste with some savings. He could rob Cathedral, there were plenty of rich opportunities in the city, and when he had enough, he’d find Grant and pay his debts off. After he had Grant and his partner at his side, he’d find Mikey. He wasn’t sure what he’d do after that, but he’d figure it out then.

“You know,” He heard one of the generals behind him say, talking to Pete maybe. He wouldn’t look over his shoulder, wouldn’t move his eyes from straight ahead because he was aching deep in his bones, “When Armstrong told her he was in a cell, she had the same reaction.”

-

“Leave us alone.”

“I really don’t think that’s a good idea,” Armstrong frowned, “The two of you obviously can’t be left alone.”
“Come on, Billie Joe.” Pete nudged him, “It’s their lives. If she hurts him, she’ll hurt, too.”
“Didn’t stop her last time,” Armstrong frowned, but he looked at her anyway, “Can I trust you, friend?”
She sneered her teeth at him, but it wasn’t hostile enough to cause a problem because he nodded after a few seconds of consideration and turned back to the door.

Gerard watched him leave, joined the other generals outside the room. Pete hesitated at the door and gave Gerard a worried look.

“It’ll be fine. We’re going to have a civil conversation.” Gerard frowned, “It’s about time we got to talk.”

Pete nodded, but didn’t say anything back. His answer was to shut the door behind him, leaving Gerard alone.

Gerard turned back to the room, trying to take it in. There were three other cells, empty and just as furnished as his had been and her’s was, but the bars were thick and Gerard didn’t have a key.

He wanted to turn around and demand the key from Armstrong so he could open her door, but for all that he hated it, the bars would be good until they could come to an understanding.

“Hey.”

She opened an eye, staring at him balefully, and didn’t respond.

“Look.” He sighed, dropping onto the ground and crossing his legs, “We don’t like each other. What the fuck ever. You’re a bitter jerk, I’m an abandoning asshole. I can get behind that. Honestly, I don’t want you as a partner, either. You were supposed to be...something. I dunno. I’m disappointed. You’re disappointed. Sorry I couldn’t be all that you thought I’d be.”
“I’d thought you to be a lot better than what you are.” She agreed, her teeth gleaming. It stung, he wasn’t gonna lie, but it was the truth and Gerard hadn’t gotten where he was by lying. To himself, at least.

“Be that as it may, we’re at an impasse.” Gerard frowned, “If we don’t cooperate, they’ll kill us.”

“Kill us?”
“So we can’t join the Crows. If we can’t work together, the risk for them is too much. We could blame them for what’s happened to us and we’re sympathetic enough that we could get a handy bit of the population on our side if the Crows recruited us.”

She sniffed, frowning thoughtfully, “As much as I despise you, I don’t want to die yet.”

“Me neither,” Gerard hesitated, “That’s why we need to work together. I’ve got a plan, it’ll get us out of here. After that, we’ll figure something out. Maybe if I cut a toe off and you cut a toe off, we can have pieces of each other and we’ll be able to be separated. Maybe we can find a place we both like and live there. Maybe, a lot of things. But I need time to get everything ready. Can you work with me until then?”
“What does that entail, human?”
“It’s Gerard,” Gerard couldn’t help but snap, “If we’re going to do this, then fucking call me by my name. We’re supposed to be two halves of a whole. It entails working together. No more attacking me when you’re pissed off, training with the squads, somehow getting to join Armstrong. After that…”
“Freedom.” She set up, “Anywhere we want?”

“Anywhere. Leaving Cathedral City, man. If you’re even kind of a part of me, I know you hate being cooped up in this fucking cathedral.”

She didn’t say anything for a minute, but her tail began to sway and Gerard took a breath, held out his arm to her.

“What do you say? Just a few months putting up with me, and you can get out of here. No more cage, no matter the size.”

Carefully, she reached out of the cage with one of her front legs and pressed the pad of her foot to his palm. Her claws dug into his wrist, but he wasn’t scared.

“I’ll work with you, then...Gerard. But remember this. I’ll not complete our connection. I’ll never call you mine, partner or friend. We’re...business associates, until Cathedral is dust in my path.”

Gerard squeezed her extended paw, and nodded. “I’ll take it.”

She withdrew her leg and Gerard stood, “Let me get Armstrong to unlock this fucking door.”

She waited patiently while Gerard opened the door and nodded, “We’ve worked it out.”

“That’s great!” Pete said excitedly, “I knew you’d do it.”

Armstrong gave him a suspicious look, but he still walked passed Gerard to unlock the cell.

“Sorry, friend,” He sighed, “I just didn’t know what to do. You can’t go around attacking people. Even people as...well, like Way.”

“Fuck you,” Gerard couldn’t help but mutter. He crossed his arms when she walked out of the cell, defensive but not truly worried. She didn’t attack him though, barely even acknowledged him until Armstrong had relocked the cell and closed the bars again.

“Now that this has been settled, let’s walk. Hoppus and Delonge have patrol, so Whibley and I  will explain everything about the squads to you, and then Delonge can fit the two of you for training, later.”
“We’ll start tomorrow,” Delonge agreed, “Give you some time to heal up, Way. You won’t be fighting fit for at least a week with those side wounds, but we can practice a little for now.”

Gerard nodded, not quite sure what to say. For some reason, he was of the mind that what he called fighting and what they called fighting were two very different things. With these aches and pains, he'd be perfectly capable in the Great Waste. Whatever 'training' they had in mind, he wasn't looking forward to it.

"And I've got to get to work." Pete waved at him, all smiles again, "I'll come check on you tonight, show you to your rooms.”

“What about my apprenticeship?” Gerard couldn’t help but ask. He’d be lying if he said he hadn’t actually wanted it, for more than just the chance to find his partner. Pop had said he’d be taking Gerard from Pete, whatever that meant, and the internship had been a paid one. If he still had it, it would only increase the money he had for when they both escaped into the Great Waste.

“We’ll talk about it,” Pete promised, “Rarely does a warrior make a good artist, or an artist a good warrior, case in point.” he motioned to himself, “But we’ll talk about it. See if you can convince me with your words, like you did with your painting. I’m a poet, you know.”
Gerard nodded, and Pete disappeared down one of the corridors branching off from the hall they stood in. A pale tail whipped into sight for just a moment and Gerard caught his breathe. The first signs of other dragons he’d seen.

“Where are…” He started, but Whibley was already walking and Armstrong was following. His partner gazed at him for just a moment before turning to do the same, her tail dragging behind her.

Gerard rubbed his face and followed them, shoving his hands in his pockets.

“As Minister Pop told you, there are three Squads. Squad A, which consists of Hoppus and Delong along with another General you haven’t met. Squad A is the largest, which is why it has three leading Generals, and it encompasses both Cathedral security and  patrolling the city. Most likely, that’s the Squad you’ll be assigned to, unless you choose to join Squad B or C.” Whibley called over his shoulder, hands locked behind his head, “You’ll be assigned to them, though you’ll train with me. I’m the head of Squad B, and we protect the outer city and the wall. As everyone knows, the wall protects the city from the Great Beyond, where the Crows control everything. Squad B is the second line of defense if there’s an attack, and we’re the last line before the city is breached.”

“Don’t be so modest,” Armstrong laughed, pausing to scratch at his head. Gerard had to admit, none of the supposedly strongest men in Cathedral had impressed him yet. They were all so carefree, not like he thought they’d be after leading the Guardianship for years. Admired by thousands, feared by every criminal in Cathedral, the Generals of the Ministry were not what he’d been expecting.

“Whibley here can take me and Delong on any day, two on one, and whip our asses. He’s the strongest General there is and it’d be an honor to serve under him. He’s a real hardass though, so watch out.”  

“Anyway,” Whibley continued, smiling a little, “Armstrong heads Squad C. Squad C is outfield, going into both the Great Waste, and the Great Beyond. Their main objective is to find hidey-holes for Crows and exterminate the problem before it reaches the wall.”
“Our other objective,” Armstrong chimed in, “Is to find The Other stone. That’s-”
“I know what it is.” Gerard cut him off, “Everyone knows what that is. It’s why we’re here.”
“Exactly,” Armstrong nodded, pleased, “Good job. We were Chosen by...something. Fate, destiny, The Mother, whatever it was. Either way, we were Chosen to find the stone and reunite it with The Mother. Release those still on the other side.”
“And the Crows?” Gerard couldn’t help but ask, “What are they, if they aren’t one of us?”
“The Crows are fucking traitors,” Whibley frowned, “They think the world is good how it is, now. They only think that because they’ve been lucky enough to be united with their soulmates in life. None of us know what it’s like to be in a world without our partners. How lonely it must be, for more than just us on this side, but for the ones on the other side, too.”

“How often do they attack?” Gerard looked out a passing window, looked over the big city surrounding the Cathedral. It was the first time he’d seen the outside world since Patrick had transported he and Pete, and finally seeing the dream city was a little surreal. The sky was blue, bluer than the Great Waste, and Gerard could actually feel the sunshine through the glass panes separating the Cathedral’s innards from the outside world.

“Weekly, usually. Sometimes more, sometimes less. They haven’t been around recently, leading us to believe there is going to be a large movement soon. You’ve come just in time to risk your lives, Way. How lucky.”
“I’ve always been a lucky one,” Gerard couldn’t help but smile a little bitterly, wondering if the irony of the statement had gone over their heads.

Whibley smirked at him, casting an eye over him that made Gerard wonder if he’d somehow managed to impress one of the Generals. His partner stayed quiet, as she had been since she was let out of the cell, but not even she could resist moving to the windows and looking out across the city. Gerard was both impressed by its beauty and stuck wondering if he’d be able to cut his time here in half. There was no way it would take over a month to pickpocket as much money as he could carry. Then he’d melt it down somewhere, see if her fire was hot enough to melt precious metals until he could use them in the Great Waste. At this rate, it would be easier to just sneak out and never come back. If he could get Whibley to like him, he wouldn’t be suspicious of a nightly walk along the wall.

“Come along, Way,” Armstrong called and Gerard looked away from the city, realized that the others had made it almost to the end of the hall while he’d been thinking. “A few more things and then we’ll find you some food.”

-

“And this is it,” Pete waved with an extravagant flourish, shoving the double doors open to reveal a large, stone room. There were...rugs, on the walls and being used as curtains. Gerard half wanted to rip them down and use them for warmth. He’d known Cathedral was well off, but it was ridiculous just how wasteful the whole place was. Nights he’d spent near death, shivering under dead leaves and rotted clothes, when they had fucking thick blankets as wall decorations. He’d be taking one of them, when they left, if he had the chance to.

“Do you like it?”
“It’s great,” Gerard had to admit, looking around. There was a big fireplace, stocked well with firewood and ready for use, and two couches surrounding it. One was large, big enough for a dragon to stretch out or curl up as they pleased, and the other was just the right size for Gerard to hang out. There were no windows, but plenty of light lit the room due to the many lanterns and fire fixtures along the way. “But wouldn’t magic be a better alternative than all of this fire?”
“Magic is outlawed,” Pete laughed, “Which brings up a little favor I need to ask you. Don’t mention Patrick’s, um, gift. Got it? If Pop found out I, uh, consorted with a wizard - especially one as talented as Pattycakes, there’d be hell to pay and I’d rather avoid it if I could.”

“What the fuck?” Gerard frowned, “Why the hell would they care about Patrick?”
“Because Cathedral is nowhere near as perfect as the government would like you to think. I’m already in a precarious position with Pop because I found you and brought you back. Now, he looks like an idiot because he fucked up and lost you for not one, not two, not even ten, but twenty years and it was my school that stumbled across you instead of his all-knowing powers. If he finds out about Patrick, he’ll come down on me and the school with the fires of hell at the ready. Most students are cursed to never be able to speak about him, but that kind of magic wouldn’t work on a Chosen like yourself. So swear to me.”

It wasn’t his words, but the serious look on Pete’s face, more serious than he’d ever looked in Gerard’s presence, that made Gerard promise him not to breathe a word about Patrick to anyone.

“Now that that is settled,” Pete grinned again, back to his normal face, “What do you think of the room, friend?”

Gerard’s partner lifted her head high, sniffed the air around them like that was what was going to decide her opinion on the room, and finally nodded. Rather than elaborate to Gerard, she ambled over to her couch and flopped down - somehow still graceful.  

“Perfect,” Pete nodded, “Any questions?”
“Who live in those rooms?” Gerard asked, pointing at the four other doors leading into the room, “And which one is ours?”

“Stupid,” Pete smirked, “All of them are yours. That is your bedroom,” he pointed his finger at the door farthest away from them, and it took Gerard’s gob smacked mind a few seconds to catch up, “Next door is the bathroom, next to that is friend’s room, and the place next to that is the guest room. You’re Chosen now, Gerard. You’re the highest class there is. You get it?”
“Not really.” Gerard shook his head, “I don’t understand why being born with my whole soul means I get more than anyone else.”
“Too bad.” Pete shrugged, patting his shoulder, “This is our culture, and it kind of sucks sometimes. But not always. Mark will wake you up tomorrow.”
“Mark?”
“Hoppus,” Pete clarified, “He and Tom - Delonge - will come get you for breakfast. You’ll meet their squad tomorrow, then move onto Deryck once they clear you, and finally you’ll get to see the wall with Billie Joe.”
“The wall,” Gerard couldn’t help but repeat, “We’ll see the wall?”
“If you can get that far,” Pete crossed his arms, “Good night Gerard, friend. I’ll see the two of you tomorrow.”
“Yeah,”

Gerard shut and bolted the door closed behind him and took a breath.

“You’re becoming overwhelmed.”

“Shut up,” He scrubbed at his head, shook his hair out, and went to lay down - much less gracefully than his dragon, “This is really new. We didn’t all get the luxury of living in Cathedral our whole lives.”
She snapped at him and he twisted his foot out of the way just in time to avoid getting it eaten by a ravenous dragon, “You’d call being locked in this castle a luxury?”
“Beats being locked outside of it,” Gerard muttered, curling up. He thought about starting a fire, but it would involve getting up and he was through with that after the day he’d had. His sides, his arms and thighs, his back and his neck, everything hurt and pulsed where she’d dug into him, broken skin and scrapped muscles. It wasn’t the worst he’d ever faced, but it was up there and he wasn’t looking forward to any kind of training until he could breathe without wincing.

They set in silence for a while, not comfortable but not hostile either, just the two of them resting in the same space. Gerard was pretty sure he drifted in and out of sleep a little, lying in the plush softness of the couch, basking in the expensive and fine materials that made up his new furniture. On one hand, he was beyond furious that the Chosen were given such special treatment, allowed such luxuries as something like this, all because they were born lucky. On the other hand, he was pretty sure the couch was conforming to his shape and hugging his body in a firm, but lovingly comfortable, embrace that made his aching flesh feel like coming home.

“Hey,” He finally breathed, “Hey, why didn’t you ever name yourself?”

He was expecting her to snap at him again, say something biting and mean, but she must have been too comfortable because she only flapped a wing uselessly at him.

“No one would have recognized it. And, I suppose, I was saving the tradition. I hadn’t expected to be so disappointed.”
“That’s me,” Gerard nodded, pushing back the hurt at the comment. This was a two way street, and she hadn’t tried to eat him since the agreement. He’d just have to keep a tight hold on his temper and feelings, “The disappointment, even to myself. Do you still want a name?”

“From you? Not particularly.” She began to blow smoke and Gerard turned onto his back to watch the dark masses, rising up lazily and dispersing into their surroundings. He should open a window so he didn’t end up asphyxiating, but that would involve getting up and he was ready to sleep. If this was the couch, he didn’t think he could imagine what the bed was going to feel like.

“But,” She continued after a few moments of silence, “But I might as well. I’m getting tired of being called ‘friend’ or ‘the Chosenless dragon.’ It was fine when I thought I was to die, but now that I have a chance at a longer life, I’d rather have a name.”
Gerard hummed, closing his eyes, “What about Margaret?”
“Take this seriously,” she snapped back at him and Gerard smirked just a little.

“Sorry, sorry. I will, I promise.”
She snorted and he felt the heat of the flames almost lick against him for just a moment.

They went back and forth, Gerard trying his hardest to think of a name that fit her and being mercilessly shot down. After almost half an hour, he’d lost interest and was trying his hardest not to grow annoyed at her constant negatives.

“Fuck!” He finally snapped, sitting up, when she knocked down what must have been his twentieth name, “I don’t know what you want!”

He looked around, looking for inspiration around them. He saw one of the wall carpets, embroidered with the Guardianship creed, and tried to make something up out of the words.

One way shall join ash to ash and, from death, birth flame. One way shall join ash to ash and, from reunion, severe ties. The true way is through action.

Nothing came to mind and he groaned, moving his eyes to the window. Though he was high in the Cathedral, so far up that he didn’t think anything but the dragons had ever seen the outside of the building up close, he still saw a cat. It was perched, comfortably, on one of the flat roofs, basking in the moonlight and letting the stars bring out the white of its fur.

“Is that a cat?” He couldn’t help but ask, distracted from his previous job.

“Stay on task, human!” She snapped back at him, her wings flapping harshly. His hair blew back and Gerard lost his hold on his temper just a little.

“Fucking, I don’t know, fucking action! Cat!”

“Action...Cat?”

Gerard smirked, “Yes, Action Cat. What do you think? It fits, right?”

Gerard expected her to yell at him again, snap at him to take things seriously and stop being an asshole. Instead, she stayed quiet. Thoughtful.

Gerard turned and looked at her and she - as best a dragon could - smiled.

“No, I was just joking.”
“Action Cat,” She decided firmly, “Sounds perfect to me.”
“I’m not going to call you fucking Action Cat, man.” Gerard glared, “It’s not going to happen.”
“I’ve decided to accept the name you’ve given me, Gerard.” She snipped, “If you don’t like it, blame yourself. Had you not been, in your own words, an asshole,”

“Shut up,” Gerard crossed his arms, “You’re getting a nickname. I’m not going to introduce you to anyone as Action Cat.”
She shrugged her great shoulders, wings fluttering gently behind her, “If you can think of a nickname for Action Cat, be my guest.”
Gerard laid back down with a huff, closed his eyes again, and thought hard. Action Cat. Act Cat? Actacat?
“Actta.” He finally said out loud, “I’m going to call you Actta.”
“How, exactly, did you get Actta out of Action Cat?” She huffed back at him, “How does your mind work, human?”
“If you’d complete the connection, you’d know. Until then, you’ll just have to imagine.”

She gave him an unamused look, and he couldn’t help but laugh.

“So, Actta. How does it feel to have a name?”
She smiled again, a little more real than before.

“I’m not sure. Ask me tomorrow, when someone else says it.”
“I’ll do that,” Gerard nodded, crossing his arms behind his head and breathing out. He relaxed.

He heard her, Actta, breathing slowly and evenly across the small space from him, and he let it lull him to sleep.

-

Gerard’s training started early the next day. He hadn’t expected the first task to be a patience exercise, but that was almost what breakfast turned out to be. He’d been shuffled out of his room, barely awake and Actta in toe, with Hoppus pushing behind him and Delonge leading the way, until they’d managed to lead him into a room he hadn’t been in the day before. It was just as big as any of the rooms he had been in, but with two long, wooden tables filled with people and dragons. They were all laughing and eating, an easy companionship formed after years and years of growing together. Gerard had missed out on that, hadn’t grown where he should have, hadn’t formed those connections. From the way Actta avoided the other dragons, Gerard had a feeling she hadn’t, either. Perfect, they were both totally worthless at connecting with people or dragons. She really was a part of him. Or was it that he was a part of her?

“Listen up, guys!” Hoppus shouted above the noise, knocking hard against wood to get everyone’s attention, “I just wanted to introduce the newbie! This is Gerard Way. He and our friend here finally were reunited yesterday, isn’t that great!?”

A cheer went up and Gerard tried to keep his face as blank as possible to avoid the grimace he wanted to make.

“Actually,” He cleared his throat, “She has name now. Right?”
He looked at Actta, and she nodded, preening a little. For all that she acted like she didn’t care, Gerard just knew in that small part of them that they shared, that having something of her own - a name to be known by everyone, was something she’d wanted for too long. He was almost angry that she hadn’t been able to name herself, had had to wait for him to turn up.

“And that would be?” Delonge raised an eyebrow, looking interested.

“It’s Actta.” Gerard crossed his arms, “Her name is Actta.”
“Actta.” Hoppus blinked, a small grin on his face, “I like it.”
Actta smirked at him as they were forced deeper into the room.

“Well then, now that Gerard and Actta have been introduced, I want you guys to take them in and treat them like some of our own - Because they are now, for all that they’ve taken their sweet time getting here.”

A friendly cheer went up around the table and Gerard was pulled away from Actta, tossed from hand to hand to be introduced. He tried to keep track of the names, put them to faces as he met them, but after the first ten, he realized that there was no helping it. He didn’t try to remember after that, just let all of the people wash over him, and tried to plaster an appropriately friendly and polite smile on his face throughout. Actta wasn’t as uncomfortable with him, having grown up around her peers for all that she hadn’t been raised like them, but he knew she was feeling his growing anxiety and was crossed between amused at his pain and worried he’d somehow fuck it up.

He tried to eat, but his body was aching even worse than the day before and food made his stomach roll. He’d probably regret it later, but all he could down was a sweet roll and a mug of dark, sludgy coffee, take the offered pain pills when Delonge slipped them into his palm after the meals had been cleaned up, and wish hard for a pain spell instead. What he wouldn’t give for just one fucking moment in his life without some sort of constant ache. Even his chest still hurt, just a little, a small reminder that the connection - as far as he’d forced it - wasn’t complete.

Actta didn’t seem to hurt at all, though he knew she did. She stayed near to him, but not close enough that anyone would have assumed they were Twain had they not been introduced as such. She focused on talking to the other dragons, though Gerard could only understand half of the conversations. It was weird, still hearing growls or purrs, little keening noises from the others, and knowing that they were words that meant something, words that translated into his own language, that he just couldn’t understand.

“Okay, boys!” The man sitting next to Hoppus, probably the General Barker he’d been told about, stood up and threw his arms into the air, “Today, group two and five are going to patrol the Cathedral. Groups one and three are on ground duty, and group four is on watch, working with Whibley. Any questions?”

Another loud cheer went up and Gerard held back from rubbing his head. He’d never imagined the Guard would be so...cheerful. The stories always made them out to be the top of the elite, born with sophistication and class in every step. No story had ever made it to Gerard’s home with a hint of what he’d seen today - playful shoving and fighting over the last scraps of breakfast, back clapping and shoulder grabbing and laughing like idiots.

As one, everyone stood up - except for Gerard, who scurried up a little behind everyone else - and started marching out of the room. Gerard hung behind, just a little, and waiting until Hoppus and he were the last ones to leave the room. Actta waited for him by the door, looking impatient and annoyed.

“Where am I supposed to go?”
Hoppus grinned, “Didn’t you hear, Way? Group four is working with Whibley today. You’ll shadow them. Lucky for you, I’m with them today so you’re still technically with your group leader.”
“Where’s your partner?” Gerard hesitated, looking around. He hadn’t actually been introduced to any other dragon. Pete had mentioned, when the others hadn’t been listening, that they’d purposefully kept him separate from other partners so their smells wouldn’t set Actta off until they’d been bonded, but he still found it a little strange that he’d spent so much time with the Generals, and hadn’t seen a single piece of dragon near them other than Pale Horse’s tail.

“Cheshire?” Hoppus held up his hands in an ‘I dunno’ gesture, “Probably with Tom. She and Buddha are besties.”

“Um,” Gerard frowned, “Doesn’t it hurt to be so far away? Actta and I can barely make it across the room from each other before it starts hurting.”

“Your connection isn’t complete,” Hoppus nodded, “That means that your soul is still unsure if the two of you are together. It can’t feel it’s other half from too far away because it hasn’t been joined together, yet. Imagine a piece of thread - that’s the only thing holding you and Actta together. The only thing keeping the both of you alive. Too far and,” Hoppus snapped, “The thread breaks. You both die. Get it?”
“So if we leave each other’s sides, we die.” Gerard crossed his arms, “But if we complete the connection, we’ll be able to.”
“For prolonged periods, a month at the most before your soul begins to unravel. Maybe longer, since you two have such intense willpower” Hoppus smiled, “Cheshire and I have an unusually strong bond, though. We can go almost three months apart. I know she’ll always come back to me, and she knows I’ll always come back to her. Can you two say the same?”
“No.” Gerard shook his head, not having to think about it, “No, we can’t.”

“That’s your problem.” Hoppus agreed, “Until you two learn to trust each other, full connection or not, you’ll never be joined properly, and you’ll never be able to leave each other’s sides. Your soulmates, sure, but you can have your own lives - even apart - if you chose to. But the way you two are...I’d be surprised if you managed to make it through a single fight with a Crow before your connection snapped.”

“We’ll work on it,” Gerard said with empty promise.

“Make sure you do.” Hoppus put his hands on his hips, “You hear, Actta?”
She made a noncommittal noise through her nose and Hoppus laughed, “Okay, you two. Follow me. We’re off to see the Whibley, the wonderful Whibley of Oz!”

Gerard just shook his head, and followed Hoppus out, close on Actta’s tail but not quite touching.

They caught up with the rest of group four soon enough, a collection of mismatched individuals all congregated by a pair of doors similar to the ones that had been in the alter room, but less ornamented.

“We were waiting for you, General,” The tallest one, Travie or something, nodded at Hoppus. His partner set next to him, straight and alert, just like his Chosen, all dark scales and calm eyes. They looked like a Twain, like they belonged together. Looking the group over, Gerard realized that all of them did. There was something about each of them, something that made Gerard just know which one belonged to the other.

Looking at Actta, he couldn’t see how she could possibly be his. There was a space between them, a space he couldn’t close by himself. A space he wasn’t sure he wanted to close, by himself or not.

Following them, Gerard stayed towards the back. His thoughts depressed him, like usual, and he didn’t want to quite face anyone yet. Actta stayed by his side, that unclosable space between them making itself known as they walked.

It was the first time he’d been outside of the Cathedral, when they opened the doors, and he had to pause for just a moment to enjoy it. The sun, for the first time in almost two decades, felt like burning against his skin. It was the kind of burning that felt almost cleansing, like the pain was just from the dirt and filth being seared from pores previously clogged.

“Beautiful, isn’t it?” Actta flapped her wings just a bit, wind picking up around them and whipping Gerard’s hair all over the place. He shoved his hand through his bangs and held them against his head so he could look around unhindered, trying not to show his amazement. The sky was blue, and that had been true in the Great Waste, but compared to the blue of Cathedral, it was a pale imitation.

“It’s okay.”
Actta just snorted at him, a little amused, a little annoyed, and shoved past him. Gerard wondered if he had said something wrong, and went after her. The group marched, though Gerard did not, all the way out of the Cathedral, and onto a pathway through the bright, lush green of the land surrounding it. He looked around as they walked, taking in the heat, the sweet smell of nature in the air, the way the wind pressed against him soothingly as he walked. The Great Waste had never seemed as terrible to him as he knew it to be, not after the first year or so of living there, but with all of the things he’d missed out on - all of the things that had been stolen from him, he felt rage in himself. It was a familiar feeling, angry and bitter and desperate, familiar enough that he could recognize exactly what part of himself Actta was mirroring.

“Gerard.” Actta’s voice, echoing through his mind, brought him away from it all.

He breathed in, unclenched his fists, and let the burning in his lungs block out the rage.

Actta looked at him, eyes unreadable, but not as alienating as before. For all that they might of disliked each other - she knew his pain. Maybe she hadn’t grown up in the Great Waste, but she’d grown up just as wrongly as he had - robbed of just as much as he had been.

He nodded at her, unable to reply with anything properly just yet, and they continued walking.

What they found out what their first actual lesson would be, that brief moment of mutual understanding - of companionship - ended.

“Flying!?” She roared, almost before Whibley had finished speaking. Hoppus and the rest of group four had continued ahead, all already paired and in the sky, while Gerard and she had stayed behind to get a little bit of further instruction. Gerard knew that the others had been flying for a while, since they were eleven at the oldest, and he knew that he and Actta had a long way to go before they were anywhere near as good as the others, but it still made him feel competitive - like he and Actta could outfly them all if she’d only calm down.

“Actta,” He started, trying not to sound too irritated, “We have to do this.”
“No,” She snapped, “I will not be demoted to some beast of burden!”
“What are you even talking about!? Horses can’t fly, you fucking lizard! Does it look like they’re riding donkeys up there?!”

“The only ass I see here,” She hissed back, “Is you, human.”
“Oh, fuck off.” Gerard snapped back, “We agreed to compromise here. Remember?”

“And what, exactly, would you be giving up in this exchange?” She flicked her ears hard, as if flicking off a fly. It looked so equine that Gerard almost pointed it out to her, but maybe it wasn’t the time.

“How about my sense of fucking safety? I have no guarantee that you won’t just drop me on my ass two hundred feet over the road.”

“What happened to trusting each other, Gerard?” She threw back, “I’m giving up my dignity and becoming your steed while you get to ride around like you own me!”

“Own you!?” Gerard spluttered, more offended than he’d ever been before, “You think I’d want to own you?!”

“Okay, okay, knock it off!” Whibley shouted, tossing his hands between them, “The two of you need to get your shit together! Obviously flying is a little too advanced if the two of you can’t even trust that you won’t murder yourselves in the sky!”

They both went quiet, ashamed, and Whibley crossed his arms, frowning.

“Listen up. This is serious, do you understand? The Guardianship is an important role in the world, and we’re the only defense between the Crows and the Unchosen. Do you understand that? This is a job, like any other, and it requires effort and teamwork. The two of you need to stop fucking around and get your acts together.”

Gerard muttered something close to an apology and Actta did the same, grunting her words into the dirt between her feet. Whibley, still frowning, nodded and unsheathed his sword. He tossed it to Gerard without fanfare, and unhooked his shield from his back.

“We’ll do some drills. The two of you will be fighting together, against a common enemy.”
“Enemy?” Gerard frowned, looking around slowly, “What enemy?”

“Well, pretend enemy,” Whibley clarified, “Disaster, come here.”

From behind a narrow pillar, a bright green dragon appeared, like magic. How it had managed to hide itself behind that pillar, Gerard had no idea, because it was a bulky, muscular thing with thick limbs and a short, stubby tail to match.

“Guys, this is Disaster. Disaster, this is Gerard, and you know Actta.”

Actta nodded at him slowly and Gerard avoided eye contact. He dropped the sword so it was pointed towards the ground and tried his best to look as unimposing as possible.

“This isn’t how I fight,” He tried, “I don’t go out of my way to look imposing.”
“That’s the point. You’re a Guard now, Gerard. You need to look imposing. Like when you demanded Actta be let go. You could have taken on a whole Crow platoon with that face alone. Now, you do it with a sword and shield.”

He held the shield out and, hesitantly, Gerard reached forward and grabbed it. When Whibley let go, Gerard almost dropped the heavy burden.

“How the fuck do you fight with this!?”

“You’ve just got to grow some arm muscles.”
“I’ve got plenty of arm muscles!” Gerard groaned, “But all this shield will do is slow me down!”

“Better pick up the pace, then,” Whibley smirked, stepping back. “The two of you need to work together on this. Disaster won’t be easy to take down, even without me. On the count of three, start the fight.”
Disaster immediately dropped into an attack position and Gerard panicked. The only dragon he’d ever faced were in his dreams, and Actta. One of those was a dream, and the other was the other half of his soul. He couldn’t fight without his speed and the battleground was the opposite of his comfort zone - bright and open with little space to hide and no place to run. And he couldn’t run, even if he had the chance, because the sword and shield were almost too heavy for him to keep up for over a few seconds.

“One!”

His only hope was Actta, but one glance at her told him all he needed to know. She had no idea what she was doing. She’d never faced combat before, not even a practice round, and her claws weren’t even poised to fight back with any good defense in mind.

“Two!”
If they could fly, they could be out before  he even had the chance to go at them. Even with Gerard on her back, Actta was half Disaster’s size and her wing span was much greater. She could outfly him any day and he knew it, which was why he’d pressed them under the thin shade of a fruitless tree as the countdown went on.

“Three!”

Without thought, Gerard dropped the sword and brought the shield up in a defensive duck-and-flop. Disaster rammed into his shield and it took all of Gerard effort just to keep him on the shield, and off of his own limbs. Actta growled out loud and attacked, but all she managed to do was unpin Gerard when she tackled Disaster from the side. Their grapple didn’t last long and Gerard didn’t hesitate to drop the shield when it became apparent that Disaster had her at death row.

“Good,” Whibley tried, only to shake his head, “No, I lied. That was terrible. You didn’t even last a minute. What kind of communication was that? Where were your heads? Gerard, you just abandoned your partner to fight the enemy and hid behind a shield! And Actta, what kind of plan was ‘attack from the side?’ Again! And this time, try to use some teamwork, guys!”

-

They went at it. They fought Disaster for hours, becoming more and more exhausted by the minute. They didn’t beat him once. Not once.

Gerard was seventy percent sure it was all Actta’s fault, but there was also a thirty percent chance that it was his own. Mostly, he blamed Actta, but he could see where he’d gone a little wrong, too. They needed to work together, but working together implied that they had to function as a team and Actta would have none of it. Talking the talk and even walking the walk in front of others were acceptable, but the moment that they actually had to trust one another, she wanted nothing to do with him. Truthfully, he wanted nothing to do with her.

Whibley had said, at the end of their first failure of a day, that the reason they sucked so badly was because of their connection. Like Hoppus had pointed out, they were a mere threat away from breaking apart and dying and fighting together in no way made that threat strengthen itself. They needed to complete their bond to fight like a true Twain but Actta would have none of that. If Gerard hadn’t cared about living, he wouldn’t have wanted to, either. Actta was difficult, prickly at the best of times and downright aggressive at the worst. Sometimes, she acted like she cared about him, and other times, she acted as though she’d like to do the deed herself - fuck living on if it meant she was the one who got to drag his half of the soul out of his body.

The hole in him, the one Actta had been meant to fill since he was born, was something he’d been used to since the day he realized it was there. Where she should have been, an empty, all-consuming longing had joined. And no matter how close he stood to her, that longing grew only stronger. It was almost scary, imagining life without it. Like the pain in him, it was a constant that had been with him for his whole life. The pain in his chest, for all that he’d been worried, wasn’t so bad to live without. The gashes and aches from Actta’s claws made up for it and Gerard knew he’d slowly wean himself off, live life with a little bit less pain each day until he could breathe easier. It was that longing, the empty part of him that he was afraid to fill. He couldn’t trust Actta to take him into the sky. How could he trust her enough to allow her in, let her fill that part of himself up so much that it was almost like she’d always been there, without worrying that any second she’d hurt him?

He wished he could just go back to the Great Waste, before he’d ever come to the city. He wished he was one of the lucky ones. He wished he’d never been Chosen.

Each day, he would join Whibley, and he and Actta would spend hours of time losing to an endlessly patient Whibley and Disaster. Then they would lick their wounds, sitting away from the other squad members and blaming each other. Gerard knew that this wasn’t how it was meant to be, that he and Actta weren’t working according to the plan he’d set up when he first got here, but it was all they could do to stand next to each other. Gerard, for the first time in years, since Grant had picked him up and helped him to see the light at the end of his life, thought about killing himself, just jumping out of a window and letting the separation between he and Actta kill them both, or taking a little too many of his medicines. This wasn’t how it was supposed to be. He’d said it before, but no one seemed to understand. No one could relate to how he was feeling - no one but Actta, but she wouldn’t even talk to him unless it was to snip at his fighting skills or his lack of grace.

Without her, no one could ever understand just what Gerard was trying to say when he said that nothing was supposed to be like how it was. How could any one of them understand what it was like to go your whole life, dreaming and wishing and hoping, all of it riding on a single person, a single being who was supposed to love and accept you above everything - be worth everything that you’d ever lost in your whole life, only to finally meet them and...nothing. He and Actta were supposed to be soulmates. He knew they were.

But it was wrong, it was so, so fucking wrong, and there was nothing he could do about it. And that scared him. More than anything, it scared him just how much of this fell on trusting her, trusting his own soul, and knowing that he could never do it.

“Look,” Whibley said, giving them disappointed looks that really should have been too familiar to be effective, “The two of you are nearly hopeless.”

Gerard shrugged, sitting up from where he’d been knocked over by Actta’s bulk. She snapped at him when he touched her foot on accident and he nearly hit her back in frustration, good idea or not.

"Enough!" Whibley interrupted, looking even more annoyed than before.

"Get up," he kicked at them both until Gerard had hussled off the ground and Actta had heaved herself to her feet, "We're going on a fucking field trip."

"Fieldtrip?"

"You heard me, kid," Whibley sheathed his sword and put his shield back in place, "I think it might be time to show you two exactly what you're fighting for."

That hadn't cleared anything up for him, for either of them, but Whibley was looking soured enough that even Disaster seemed ready to rip them new ones.

Whibley slid onto Disaster's back without thought, some sort of magic by Gerard's standards, and they took off without hesitation.

"Shit," Gerard grunted, starting after them with little happiness. They flew far enough that Gerard had trouble keeping up. He watched them disappear over the top of the wall, and then he watched Actta race after them, too fast for him to keep up with.

"Jerk,” He couldn’t help but mutter, hunching his shoulders and trudging on. By the time he’d climbed the steps leading to the wall, he was out of breath and panting, holding the ache in his side and pissed.

“What the fuck, Whibley,” He started, searching his squad leader out. Whibley, Disaster, and Actta stood by the edge of the wall, looking towards the Great Beyond. Gerard didn’t bother looking, crossing his arms, “What the hell is so important up here that you made us-”
“I told you,” Whibley motioned him forward. Gerard glanced at Actta, but she was transfixed, looking straight over the wall and towards the horizon. “I’m showing you what you’re fighting for.”
Gerard hesitated, not sure what hemeant, but Whibley looked too intense to disobey, so Gerard didn't ask anything else. He turned, shifted his gaze to the line where sky met earth, and caught his breathe.

Smoke rose in increments from each other, some thicker columns, and some smaller, but all a pitch, pitch black. They brought a terrible feeling to his gut, something dark twisting in him.

“What…”
“Crows,” Whibley explained, “Too many to attack head on. They’re amassing, coming together for a battle of some sort. Our intelligence can’t get anything out of anyone other than that their leader has given them a sign.”
“Leader?”
“Korse,” Whibley nodded, “They’re leader. He’s given the order to take Cathedral. Do you get it now? Any family that might be here, any friends you might come to care about in the Great Waste….all of them are in danger. All of the Great Beyond is in danger. The Mother, The Original stone, every soul still locked in halves, they’re all riding on us to save them.”
“But how can we save them?” Gerard clenched his fingers, “Actta and I can barely stand each other.”
“We can’t trust each other,” Actta agreed, and Whibley nodded. Disaster said something, a low, curling noise in his throat, but Gerard didn’t have Actta in his head, translating, like the other Chosen, and he was left to guess what Disaster had meant.

“What he’s trying to say,” Whibley clarified, “Is that the two of you, more than anyone here right now, have faced hardships unimaginable to even the likes of me. To be separate for so long, to survive, only to be met with the challenge of shoving two decades worth of growth and bonding into a single instance of time, those are hurdles only the best could face. The two of you, together, are the best. Just as The Mother and The Original,  there must be two to Twain. Otherwise, there is only tragedy. The two of you need to stay up here, look out across the barren plains of what once was luscious growth, and think about that.”
Whibley and Disaster both waved them off, hand and tail, and were gone again, this time stepping down the stairs Gerard had just come from.

When they were gone, Gerard dropped to the ground next to Actta and cleared his throat awkwardly. Neither of them said anything for a long time and he shifted, tried to think of some way to break through the tense wall between them.
“Sorry.” He finally offered, “I’ve been purposefully difficult.”
“Me, as well.” She slowly agreed, curling her wings over her side, “Apologies.”
“Accepted,” Gerard nodded, pulling his legs to his chest. “Look. I know you don’t want to be friends, or whatever, but we need to work together. We can’t get out if we aren’t compromising. Sometimes, you’ll be bending a little more than me. Other times, I’ll be bending more than you. The point is, we’re both bending, just in different spots. We’re about to go into a bit of trouble here, if those smoke stacks mean anything. I don’t have the people I had behind me, anymore. Neither do you. We’re all we’ve got, you and me.”
“All we’ve got,” She sighed, her tail twitching, “I see. Putting it that way, it seems we might have to work on our communication and teamwork.”
Gerard laughed, nodding, “Yeah, that might be for the best. What do you think, Action Cat? I think we’d be pretty badass, showing these old assholes how it’s done. We could beat a whole army, just the two of us. Wanna give it a try?”
“I suppose I must,” She shook her head, but he could hear the playful tone underneath, the little laughing noises she was making, “But don’t go getting a big head. You still can’t ride me.”
“We’ll work on it.” Gerard promised. She laughed again and went quiet. Neither of them moved, just set, staring out over the Great Beyond, at the approaching Crows. There would be a battle, something Gerard had never wanted to be a part of, but it was what it was and he was through trying to fight destiny. He’d always been one of the unlucky ones, it figured that his soulmate would be.

And looking at her, at his side, the bright of the sun and the blue of the Cathedral City sky outlining her dark scales, her bright eyes, he could see it. Exactly how they fit together.

Soulmates.