1957. An old song brings back memories.
His head was starting to hurt.
The usual throb was starting: he could feel the blood start to press against the back of his head. He started to become painfully aware of every heartbeat.
Would've that stopped him from drinking?
No. Absolutely not.
He couldn't risk it. He couldn't take it.
Pain was so much better than emotion. Pain was so much better than remembering. Pain. Pain. Physical pain.
Gerard's head was starting to hurt. He blinked a few times, as his brain desperately tried to swim through the thick molasses he had created for himself.
He didn't even know what time it was. He let his head slump against the bar, and asked for a refill.
He didn't care. He was beyond caring.
He asked for a refill and watched as liquid amber got poured into a glass at a speed he couldn't decipher nor understand. He vaguely and faintly started to wonder if he would've been able to drive back home.
But the thought lasted only a moment: it quickly dissolved, as whisky clawed at the back of his throat. His leg was hurting more than usual.
That was one of the only two things he was conscious of: that there was so much pain, and that he wasn't there.
He wasn't there.
Simply put. Frank wasn't there.
The memories, the scent of his skin, his lips. His laugh and his smile. His voice.
Nothing. It was all gone.
He'd managed to drown them out. He'd managed to erase them.
He knew, instantly, that getting home was definitely out of the question. That this was the direct consequence of being wasted out of his mind.That he would've have to call Lindsay and asked her to pick him up. And that thinking of doing that made him want to drink even more.
Drink and drink and drink. Drink the pain away. Drink the sorrow away.
Drink your life away.
Drink away the thought of teachers phoning because Bandit punched another kid. The reason? The boy had called Gerard a faggot. He'd said he was a drunk, a poor excuse for a man. She'd attacked him: she broke his jaw, knocked out three teeth.
Then had come the late-night fights with Lindsay because “your alcoholism is getting out of hand”, and he'd just laugh in her face whenever he heard this because he hated her, because he knew he'd lost control over his addiction a long time ago. They'd fight over a million things and none. They'd fight because he'd lost his job, again. They'd fight because, sometimes, she couldn't muster the energy to crawl out of bed. They'd fight and fight and fight, and then, by the end, she'd try to make love to him, and he'd push her away.
He'd always push her away, and then he'd pour himself a drink. And sometimes she'd have one too.
But it always ended with a drink. Always. This made him think about needing to get home, and he somehow managed to notice that someone else had walked into the bar, and sat down next to him, and ordered a drink. And the voice had sounded somehow familiar, but everybody's voice was familiar when he was that intoxicated.
And then he'd looked up and seen the clock.
Late. Early. It could've been both things, depended all on your point of view. His mind frantically hoped he would've been able to stand up and crawl to a payphone and have enough cash left after paying the check to call Lindsay, but he doubted it, and besides, another drink wouldn't have hurt, right?
Another drink never hurts. Besides, it might just kill you.
He signaled for the barman to come over, but the newcomer's hand immediately placed itself onto the top of his glass, covering it.
“I think that's enough.”
The gesture stung Gerard. His head snapped up, and he was ready to have a go at the other man's throat, but then his eyes met eyes that, he knew so damn well, shone golden with the right light.
Sweet, hazel eyes. Eyes he loved. Eyes he hated.
His mouth went dry, his voice died away.
“I think that's really, really enough.”
Frank Iero talked slowly to him, and his voice trickled inside Gerard's bones. Somehow, having him right there in front of him made the pain thousands of time stronger, and thousands of times sweeter.
Gerard started to shake. Frank had probably noticed, because he placed a hand on Way's shoulder and gently squeezed it.
“Don't fucking touch me.”
“I said, don't fucking touch me!” Gerard moved briskly to shake the hand off, but he was so drunk he fell of the chair, crashed to the ground.
“Jesus fucking - Frank immediately stood up and kneeled next to him - Are you okay?”
“Haven't been since 1944.”
Jesus, Gerard. Jesus.
“I'm taking you home.”
“No, you're not.”
Iero slapped a fifty dollar bill onto the bar - “Just pay for everything, both his and mine.” - and pulled Way up. Gerard resisted. At least tried to.
“You can't even fight. Come on, Gerard. Please.”
“Just—just fuck you.”
“It's too late to get in a fight. Just stand up, and I'll take you home.”
“But I don't want to--”
“You sound like a toddler.”
“I'm not coming home. Not with you. Never.”
Frank tried to tug at his sleeve, but Gerard briskly pulled it away.
“Okay. Sure. Sure.”
Frank let go of his arm and slumped against the nearest barstool. He tried to keep his voice from shaking.
“You're making a spectacle of yourself.”
“I don't give a shit.”
“Just stand up.”
Frank looked away, licked his lips, looked back at Gerard.
He stood up, roughly grabbed Gerard by his shirt collar and dragged him out of the bar.
He pushed him against his car.
“There. I got you out.”
Gerard bended over and vomited.
“Careful, Way. I just washed it.”
Frank shrugged, pretended that seeing Gerard like that didn't hurt and opened the car.
“Are you planning on getting in?”
“I can drive.”
Even Gerard knew that the word's he'd just spoken were beyond ridiculous: it was difficult for him to even stand up. But he couldn't bear the idea of having to ride with Frank. They hadn't been alone together since that night at the party, two years before.
“Just get into the car.”
“I'm a grown—I'm a grown man. I can do whatever I want.”
“This – Frank swallowed and fought back the tears. He ran a hand through his hair – this is not the man I fell in love with.”
Gerard looked up. His eyes were shining with a desperate, sad light. He was a hollow man, Frank realized. The shell of what he'd been.
“You're such a good liar, Iero.”
“I'm not lying.”
“I—Jesus. I'm not. Just get into the car.”
“You never loved--”
“JUST GET INTO THE GODDAMN, FUCKING CAR!”
“Get in the car, Gerard.”
Way knew Frank's level of rage was reaching a dangerous level. That it was better not to argue. He was happy he wasn't that drunk, that he'd been able to realize it, that he was still able to read his friend so well. Or maybe he was that drunk.
Maybe it was just survival instincts.
Frank slowed down the car, stopped at a red light.
He looked towards Gerard. The older man was huddled against the car door, hugging himself, wrapped in his coat. His eyes were half closed, and he was slightly slobbering. Iero couldn't tell wether he was sleeping or not.
The silence and the nighttime were making him feel lonelier than usual. He switched the radio on, fumbled with the knob.
And it has been officially proven that the USSR...fzzzzack...the Communist Minister of Foreign Affairs, Gromyko has yet to release a...fzzzz...
The light turned green. Frank started the car, leaving the dial onto static noise. It calmed him, for some reason. Static noise and Gerard's light, regular breathing. His two favorite sounds, even though it was hard for him to admit it. He turned right.
Gerard stirred, and snorted. He coughed suddenly and opened his eyes. He kept on coughing.
“Are you okay?” Frank asked softly.
“I—God. I don't know.”
“Do you need to vomit?”
Way managed to nod.
Frank pulled over. Gerard opened the car door, relieved his stomach onto the side of the curb. Somebody's dog started barking.
Frank leaned back, shut his eyes. He was tired, exhausted. He had no idea why he'd gone looking for Gerard. He just had. Crawled out, creeped out, left Jamia sleeping peacefully.
Luckily, he'd found him. Or better, he'd found what little remained of him.
He tweaked the radio knobs again, landed on a music station.
Some Elvis song was playing. He started absent-mindedly tapping the rhythm against the steering wheel. Gerard heaved a couple of other times.
“I—I think I'm done.”
Gerard shut the door. Frank nodded sadly and got the car back on the road. The song had finished, and the cheery speaker made him want to claw his hair out. He switched the radio off.
Gerard was breathing hard.
“That hurt.” He smiled, for no reason at all. But seeing him smile made Frank's heart race.
“Yeah. Vomiting hurts.”
They were both silent again. Frank was starting to feel uneasy once more. Having Gerard so close was fucking with his head. Seeing him so broken was fucking with his head.
There were so many words hanging in the silence. So many memories. So many things he should've done and said. So many things Gerard hadn't done. Mistakes. Regret. The ever-present doubt about how things would've gone if they'd given it a try. The many nights spent wishing for each other.
He switched the radio back on and tried to fill the void.
...but why should I try to resist when, baby I know down well...
Sinatra. God, he loved Sinatra.
“...I've got you under my skin...”
He'd started singing it, whispering it, and hadn't even noticed. Gerard had shut his eyes again.
“I would sacrifice everything, come what might, for the sake of having you near...”
...in spite of the warning voice that comes in the night...
“And repeats, repeats in my ear-”
“Turn that fucking shit off.”
Frank snapped his head around. Gerard was staring at him.
“Turn it off. Please.”
“But I like it.”
“But it gives me chills.”
...but each time I do, just the thought of you makes me stop before I begin...
“No. I like it.”
...'cause I've got you under my skin...
“Besides, we're nearly home.”
He turned left, and they found themselves on the street where Gerard lived. Cutesy little middle-class suburban street, with its cutesy little yards and its cutesy perfectly trimmed grass and its cutesy American flags and its cutesy white houses.
Frank tried to avoid Gerard's gaze. He knew that, for some reason, the man felt betrayed. Iero longed for Gerard's lips just as much as Way longed for his, and they both knew it, and it was killing them both.
Gerard suddenly started shaking, pale.
Frank quickly pulled up in front of Way's house. He saw that the kitchen light was switched on, pictured Lindsay huddled against a window, coffee cup in hand, waiting. She did it every night.
Gerard flung the car door open and rolled out onto his lawn, coughing bile and vomit and spit.
He vomited again, still lying in the grass. Frank grabbed him, pulled him up. He wasn't mad. He wasn't disappointed. He was just sad. Terribly, terribly sad.
“Come on, soldier. Let's get you on your feet.”
The front door opened, and Lindsay came running outside.
“Is he okay?”
The worry in her voice struck Frank. She still cared about Gerard, no matter the pain he put her through every day. Somehow, she still loved him.
“I'm fine, you whore.”
Lindsay stopped in her tracks, swallowed. Her eyes glistened with tears.
“It's just the alcohol speaking.”
She'd said it out loud: saying it made her believe it a little more.
She and Frank both dragged Gerard up to the front door. Way was sobbing, completely out of it.
The door had been left open.
Lindsay's head snapped up. Bandit was standing at the bottom of the stairs. She had a blanket wrapped around her.
“Oh Gosh, sweetie...go...go back upstairs.”
“Is Dad okay?”
“Is he dying? Is Dad going to die?”
Frank stepped forward.
“Bandit, hey, mind if I take you back up?”
Lindsay mouthed a silent 'thank you'.
“Is he going to be okay?”
The girl looked towards her mother, panic-stricken.
“He isn't dying, is he?”
“No, Bandit. Your father's going to be fine.” Lindsay hissed, nearly hysterical.
This is too much.
I can't do this anymore.
I just can't.
“I don't believe you.”
“Your Dad's going to be fine. Now, sweetie, how about you go up with Frank, okay?”
Iero outstretched his hand. “C'mon, kiddo.”
“Please, baby. Please. Do this for mommy, okay? Do it for me.”
Frank smiled at her.
She looked at him, then back at her mother. Lindsay was crying silent tears: her face was stained with makeup.
Do it for her.
“You're not going to leave, right?”
“It's late, I'll have to head back home eventually.”
“But they'll start fighting soon. I hate to be alone when they fight.”
Bandit lowered her gaze. She was sitting on her bed. Frank was standing next to the window, resisting the urge to light a cigarette in the girl's room.
“Do they fight a lot?”
“All the time. Sometimes I think I'll get used to it. But I never do.”
Frank shook his head, remembering when he was a kid.
“Yeah. It's hard.”
“Your parents are divorced, aren't they?”
Frank looked towards her.
“As a matter of fact, yes.”
“I remember my father mentioning it once.”
“How old are you, Bandit?”
They were silent for a while. Frank heard some commotion coming from downstairs. And then their screaming started.
Bandit moaned softly, buried her face in her arms, covering her eyes and ears.
“Could you switch the light on and close the door?”
Frank nodded, did as he'd been instructed.
She curled up in a fetal position. He looked at her, pathetic little thing, and sat on the bed next to her.
He delicately rested a hand on her hip, not stopping to wonder wether it was an appropriate thing or not.
“And you go through this every night, huh?”
“Yes.” Bandit said softly.
She's a hero.
“Talk to me, Frank. Fill the silence.”
“I...I don't know--”
“Can I ask you a question, then?”
“I don't see why not.”
She sat back up.
“Promise you won't get mad?”
He was starting to feel uneasy.
“You and my Dad were in love at a certain point, weren't you?”
Frank felt air getting crushed out of his lungs, and cold sweat and panic. He knew his hands were shaking. His jaw dropped.
He swallowed, tried to seem calm.
“Jesus. Oh, God. Jesus.”
“How was it?”
“How was he?”
He realized Bandit had no idea what true love was. He realized all she'd ever seen were broken smiles and desperation.
“He... - Frank's throat closed up – He was...oh God.”
He couldn't help but smile as he remembered.
He missed Gerard.
“He was special.”
He had no idea why he was talking about this to her. Gerard's fifteen year old daughter. His lover's fifteen year old daughter. Maybe he needed to get it out of his system. Seeing a therapist once a month wasn't enough.
“Tell me more.”
“How did you realize it, Bandit?”
“Us. Me and your Dad.”
“I have to show you something.”
Bandit stopped in front of the door at the end of the hall.
“It's his studio.”
Frank nodded. Downstairs, they were still screaming. At least, Gerard was. Lindsay was sobbing.
Bandit didn't seem to care. Or maybe she just didn't show it.
“I come here at night, usually, while they're fighting. It's the only room he doesn't drink in. It's the only room that still smells of Gerard. At least how I remembered his smell to be, before it just became the smell of bad scotch and sweat.”
He'd started drinking right after the war.
She was two.
She opened the door. It creaked and she froze, but Frank doubted anybody would've heard, seeing what was going on downstairs. Lindsay and Gerard certainly wouldn't.
She switched the light on.
It was a large room. Walls covered in paper and sketches and newspaper cutouts, an old guitar, lyrics for songs nobody would've ever heard scrawled onto tabletops. Most were just desperate ramblings of a sad, disenchanted man. But some things were good. Frank could see, in some sketches, that Gerard was still there. His soul, the driving light of his art, was still there.
He suddenly and very clearly felt the desperate need to be part of Gerard's world. The regret of not having left it all behind and followed him, like he'd fantasized so many years before, bit down, and bit down hard. He pictured himself just sitting there, listening for hours at end to Way speak as he let his wild imagination run free, marvel at the complexity of the man he loved's mind.
He pictured them. Their happiness. How it could've all been.
“Are you okay?”
Bandit's voice seemed to come from miles away.
The man he loved was nothing but a drunk. A sad, depressed drunk. A failure. A joke.
“I'm fine, kiddo.”
“I guess you're right.”
God, she's smart.
She went towards the table, kneeled under it and pulled out a box.
He kneeled over her shoulder.
Drawings. Most were graphite sketches. Some were watercolor.
But there was one thing that tied them all together.
It was scenes from the war. In chronological order. Starting from their kiss. The first one.
Frank's head started to spin.
Jesus. Jesus. Jesus fucking Christ.
He shook more violently as he quickly flipped through it all. Drawings. Over drawings. Hundreds of drawings.
Those entire months were all there. Everything was there. From the kiss to that day Ray had killed the girl, and what he'd done to Ray, what he'd been forced to do to Toro.
Every little moment. Even the sex.
“And you...you saw these?”
“Does your mom know?”
His voice must've sounded more hysterical than he intended, because she took a step back.
“No. Of course not. I'm not stupid.”
Frank slumped into a chair. His breathing was heavy.
“I'm pretty sure he's loved you all his life. That's why he drinks. Because he can never have you again.”
Frank looked up at her. In her eyes, he saw she blamed him for her family falling apart.
He put the drawings down.
“I—I think I'm going home now.”
He needed to get out.
Seeing the drawings had opened old wounds. Still, the wounds would open each morning, but he'd patch them up during the day.
He didn't need to be reminded.
“Do you still love him?”
Frank didn't answer. He just stood up, rushed down the stairs.
The girl knows. She knows.
He drinks because he can never have you again.
Lindsay was standing in the doorway, smoking a cigarette. Her eyes were puffy and red.
Frank caught a glimpse of Gerard passed out on the couch, and his stomach retched.
The man I fell in love with is dead. He died a long time ago.
And you killed him.
Lindsay looked at him.
“I don't think I'll ever be able to thank you enough.”
“It's fine. Lyn – keep your voice calm - it's the least I could do.”
“You're a good friend.”
She smiled, exhausted.
“How's my little girl?”
He opened the door.
“Keep an eye on her. She's a smart kid.”
“I never let her out of my sight, Frank. She's all I've got.”
He nodded, yearning to get back to his car. He was tired, too.
'Well, goodnight, Lyn.”
He shut the door behind him, walked down the driveway, trying not to run. He surprised himself humming that Sinatra song.
It made him sad.
He started the car, drove off.
I'd sacrifice everything Come what might For the sake of having you near - “I've Got You Under My Skin”, by Frank Sinatra