Gerard starts to grieve.
Frank woke up suddenly, desperately gasping for air and feeling his skin scream and burn. He started shaking, and he squeezed his fists.
Do you know how faggots fuck?
Jesus. Get a grip, Iero.
He ran a hand through his hair, and coughed again.
They had marched for most of the day and night, undisturbed, and had stopped for shelter in an old abandoned barn; he and Gerard had fallen asleep in each other's arms (they'd chosen a high-up – and hidden - platform, reachable through an old, rotten ladder) but had eventually drifted apart from each other whilst sleeping, and Frank had found himself face down, mouth full of dust. He coughed again and spat, then turned around to look for Way.
Gerard was awake, but it didn't surprise Frank. Way was staring at the ceiling, eyes wide.
His cheeks were wet.
Iero felt a deep, heavy sadness fill him noticing this. In the darkness he sighed, and reached for Gerard's shoulder, squeezing it. Way didn't move for a while, but then he looked towards Iero. Frank smiled at him and, even though the other man didn't smile back, pulled him against his chest.
He felt Gerard's hands lace behind his back, pull him closer. Frank cradled him.
Iero could still feel Billie Poe's breath against his neck, and it chilled his bones, and it made him want to scream, but he still held onto Gerard. Maybe holding him would've helped.
He kissed the top of the other man's head, as his lover continued to sob into his shirt.
“It's okay. Everything's okay.”
But he knew that Gerard wouldn't have stopped. Not soon, at least. Frank could sense he'd started, finally, to process and understand that his brother was gone. He'd finally started living his pain, instead of hiding away from it, instead of avoiding it. He'd, simply put, finally started to grieve.
Even though the word 'finally' implied something strictly positive. Which it wasn't. Which it would've never been.
What Gerard was about to enter was a never-ending process of grieving. Of desperately trying to let go and always failing. Of slipping into alcohol because cocktails and whisky are the only things you know will never leave you.
But Frank couldn't know that. Not then, not there. For now, all he did was cradle him, and let him break free. Break the black cocoon of delusion he'd created for himself. Have him face the truth. Or rather, have him admit to himself that facing the truth was necessary for him to be able to move on.
He wished to be able to shield him from the pain. He wished for everything to be okay. He wished for happiness. He wished, silent and still as Way continued to sob quietly against his chest, for the war to have never started. He wished for a million things and nothing.
He wished to be able to call Gerard his own even when they would've gone back to the US. He wished for everything to fall into place.
He wished for things to work out. For him. For them.
“He's really gone, isn't he?”
Gerard's voice was scarily low: barely a whisper. A desperate whisper, a whisper that quietly dug its nails into the hope that came from the answer that was about to come. A whisper that made Frank's heart ache a little more. A whisper so sweet, so childish, so sad.
“He's really gone, isn't he?” Gerard asked again.
Frank swallowed, and debated wether answering or not. Wether hurting him, or hurting him worse.
He decided it was childish. He decided it was necessary.
“Yeah, he is.”
“And he isn't coming back, is he?”
“No...no, he isn't.”
“It isn't fair.”
He felt Gerard tighten his grip around him.
“I was supposed to protect him.”
“If I'd been there--”
“You would've been dead too.”
“But he was my brother.”
And Frank knew he was both right and wrong.
“He was my little brother and I had sworn to protect him.”
“But you would've died.”
“But he would still be here.”
Frank's throat dried up. He suddenly realized how precious the life he was holding in his arms was. That no other living creature breathed just like Gerard, smiled just like Gerard, laughed, thought, acted, drunk, read, ate, lived just like Gerard. That Way was unique and perfect and ever so frail, ever so precious. Weirdly, he thought they both were.
He hugged him a little tighter.
“I wouldn't have been able to bear my life without you, Gerard.”
“I can't bear my life without him.”
Gerard felt the same way he'd felt the night Mikey had died. Raw emotion, nothing else. Raw emotion that made breathing hard and talking nearly impossible. And he was so scared. Gerard was so scared.
He wanted it all to go away but for some reason seeing Ray under that tree and listening to what he'd said had opened the gates, had broken the dam, had set the river flowing.
“I'm never going to see him again. Ever. They shipped his body off back overseas and I'm not even going to be at his funeral. I could take a leave but I can't bring myself to do it. I'm a coward, Frank...I'm a--”
“But you're not.”
He kissed him delicately.
“You're not a coward, Gerard.”
“I'll never be able to look Alicia in the face. Her husband died because I wasn't there.”
“No. Her husband died because war, this war, is useless. Because he moved two seconds too early. Or too late. Because he was in the wrong place at the wrong time. He died for a million different reasons, all ridiculous, all wrong. But he certainly didn't die because of you.”
Gerard licked his lips, looked away from Frank.
“He was my responsibility. I should've run--”
“I was holding you down. Me and Bob were holding you down.”
“You should've let me go.”
“I wasn't going to let you get killed.”
“But he'd still behere.”
“But you'd be dead. You'd be dead.”
“You'd probably both be dead.”
Frank kissed the top of his head.
“Don't blame yourself. Please.”
“I can't help it.”
“You're the bravest man I know.”
Gerard shook his head.
“Because you loved me back.”
He heard Gerard gasp. Way suddenly broke away from the hug, lied on his back. Frank felt cold.
Gerard opened his mouth to speak, shut it again. He wiped his cheeks with the back of his hand.
“I—I think I need some time to think.”
He stood up before Frank could reply. Iero shut his eyes and listened to his footsteps, the sound of him climbing down the ladder, trudging across the hay, the barn's doors creaking open, then shutting ever so softly.
He sighed and wondered what he'd said wrong. He sighed and longed for Gerard's warm body, the feeling of his bare chest pressing against his shirt.
The talk they'd just had felt fuzzy, something out of dreams, something he still could barely make out. It had been quick and slow at the same time, and it had left a bittersweet taste in the back of his mouth. Something more bitter than sweet, but the sweet was different from anything he'd ever experienced.
Frank lost himself in the sound of night unraveling around them all. He listened to time flow and ebb, mold all living things. Darkness filled the spaces between solid shapes, creeping, flowing in the thin layer that separates skin from muscle, muscle from bone.
Life from death. Memory from hope.
Frank hugged himself and pretended to ignore the sobbing he thought came from outside.
Everything is going to be fine.