The calm after the storm.
June 20th, 1944
Frank's eyes opened suddenly, and it hurt.
His brain was attacked by light coming from somewhere; bright, vicious light that made him squint.
He blinked a few times. Coming from the room was the smell of wood, of warmth, of blood.
Far away, the smell of iodine tint, and the smell of food cooking.
His mind was still on the brink of sleep, barely starting to hum, or be active. The smells were the first things he noticed.
Close by, the smell of sweat, of old leather, of dirt.
He tried to force himself completely awake.
Morphine. Taste of morphine. Of bitterness.
Screams still ringing in his ears.
He tried to sit up, and his back and his hips and his chest groaned and creaked. He winced in pain.
Hands, delicately helping him sit up. Warm hands. Familiar hands, brushing against his aching back.
This made him realize he was shirtless.
Gerard's voice felt like warm honey, slipping into his bones. It soothed him in ways nobody else's voice could.
Frank shut his eyes again as Gerard helped him lean against a pillow, an inch at a time, a second of pain at a time.
“Could I have a glass of water?”
Frank breathed deeply. Sharp jabs of pain. He realized, faintly, that his entire chest was bind tightly with bandages.
“Sure, little one.”
There was noise, a chair being moved, the distinct sound of liquid being poured into something.
He opened his eyes as Gerard held his head, carefully helping him drink.
He gasped and leaned back again. Breathing was difficult, his mind felt as if it had been trapped down, bound. It wasn't roaring. It wasn't screaming.
It was barely there. Barely breathing at all.
“You bruised your ribs.”
“Yeah. That's what the local doc said. From what I understood.”
“I guess the adrenaline was so high last night you didn't really notice.”
Frank's chest raised and fell in quick, conceit movements. It limited the pain.
He licked his lips, winced again. It was hard to remember what had happened earlier, all he could visualize was Ray's screaming, and the sound of his bones snapping, one after another. The smell of blood and the sound his flesh made as he cut through, wet.
“He's asleep. They gave him morphine. Lots and lots of morphine. But he'll make it through.”
“Can I see him?”
“No. He's asleep. He's fine. You need rest, too.”
“When are they sending him home?”
“As soon as he can walk.”
“It really happened, didn't it?”
The complete innocence in Frank's words made Gerard smile, sad, and caress his lover's cheek with the back of his hand.
“Yes.” he said in a whisper.
“So he's lost an arm.”
“And he's never gonna play guitar again.”
“No. He isn't.”
“He...he was good.”
“He was brilliant.”
“So was your brother.” Frank said without thinking.
Gerard's hand snapped away from Frank's cheek all of a sudden. He hugged himself, weary. Ghosts danced for a moment behind his eyes, dragged him away from the present.
“Yeah. Mikey...Mikey was good.”
Gerard sighed. He missed his brother.
More than he was glad to admit. More than anybody could ever imagine.
Every day he'd miss something different, let it be the way he laughed, or the way he would raise an eyebrow quizzically whenever he didn't understand something, or the way he said “Jeez.”
Little things, tiny things, insignificant things.
Things that meant the world.
They both fell silent for a few moments, Gerard absent-mindedly rubbing his arms as if he were cold.
Frank looked at him.
Gerard went back to working on something that looked like a sketch pad. Concentrating helped him calm down. It made him avoid awkward conversations
Frank tilted his head to the side. It made his muscles flex, and pain, obnoxious and burning, once again attacked his nerves.
“Whatcha drawing?” he asked, massaging his neck which, for some reason, hurt too.
“You. - He grinned - Don't move.” Gerard gently pushed Frank's chin so that the man's head was straight again.
“It's not that I really can.”
Way didn't reply: he was too busy erasing something.
“Can I...can I at least see?”
“Please?” Frank moaned.
“I said, later.” Gerard giggled.
Frank stuck his tongue out at him, but it made him wince with pain.
Constant, exhausting pain.
But it's nothing compared to what Ray's been through.
He decided to lean back against the pillows and shut his eyes, maybe try to sleep some more.
Gerard smiled while looking at the man lying in front of him. He smiled without realizing it, as he taught his hands how to trace the contours of his skin, and the way light fell along his cheekbones, and how to convey onto something as dead as paper the simple, yet so extravagantly complicated concept of a living, breathing thing. Something with thoughts, and emotions. A life.
He shaded Frank's hair in. It surprised him how difficult it was to draw something he knew so intimately well.
But did he know Frank at all? He realized with a pang of guilt he didn't. Not really, not completely.
He still didn't know why he cried in his sleep every night. Why he'd done so so for years now.
He still didn't know why he'd disappeared from school for a week after the Poe kid had been murdered, or why he'd been shy and quiet for a while after that. He didn't know why Iero had, all of a sudden, started hating Ray.
Or why he had scars all over his back and neck, thick scars that clearly came from something burning him.
But what it had been, he couldn't possibly know.
He didn't know anything about the man he'd chosen to love. But had he really chosen to love him? Or had falling in love with Frank been something completely different? Had it been something natural, like breathing? It had just happened.
Gerard gave one last look at Frank. Iero had slipped back into sleep, a restless, dream plagued sleep. But, on the outside, he seemed calm.
Gerard shut the pad and tucked the pencil behind his ear.
He delicately kissed Frank's sweaty forehead.
“Goodnight, my hero.”
Way crept out of the room, shutting the door behind him as quietly as he could.
The floorboards creaked as he walked by the room Ray had been put in. The door had been left ajar.
Gerard absent-mindedly peeked inside.
Toro was awake. His deep brown eyes had luckily regained some kind of spark, but it was a faint, feeble light, still masked and covered by clouds.
But it had managed to shine through. It had managed to survive. It was there, it was faintly throbbing.
Ray was looking out of the window.
His voice sounded as if it came from some place terrifying, some place dark, and scarred, and hurt. But it was some place where hope still lived, no matter what.
Gerard tentatively stepped inside.
Ray smiled, pointed at the window.
The other man tried not to stare at the right side of his friend's body, at the emptiness that there was.
Luckily, his gaze fell onto where Ray was pointing.
“Isn't she beautiful, Gee?”
A tiny sparrow, eyes black and bright, was perched on the windowsill.
Her head was tilted to the side. She hopped a few times and peered in through the glass, curious.
Ray's smile widened an inch, and he laughed, or at least tried to.
The bird pecked a few times at the glass, shook her head when she realized it wasn't edible, and flew away.
Ray's eyes were shining.
“Do you think she knows about the madness?”
“What madness, Ray?” Gerard asked, even though he knew perfectly well what he was talking about.
“Ray, it's nothing but a bird.”
“But the war's changed their world, too. It's changed everybody's world.”
Ray's smiled slipped a little.
“We're all going home with something missing, Way. Our minds, our hopes. Dreams.”
“Your best friend.”
Toro looked up at Gerard.
“No, Gerard. My brother.”
And, without a word, Gerard hugged Ray for no apparent reason. He hugged Ray because he was scared of losing him, he hugged Ray because he'd loved Michael just as much as he had, if not more. He hugged Ray because he was his best friend. He hugged Ray because it felt as if they were both losing their minds.