Good things aren't made to last.
The sound of a car pulling up.
Bandit felt her heart quiver and scream and die, all in the space of one single breath. She peeked out of her bedroom window, managed to catch a glimpse of her mother tiredly walking up the driveway, still wearing her Sunday coat.
But it wasn't a Sunday.
The front door opened. The front door slammed shut.
Bandit held her breath for a fraction of an instant.
Gerard rested his forehead against the hood of his car.
He lighted a cigarette and let himself slump to the ground, back resting against the Volvo.
“Shit. Shit – he tugged at his hair with his free hand - Shit.”
He sighed and took a deep breath and stared at his cigarette without actually smoking it, waiting for it to burn away and scorch his fingers.
It did, and he cursed, and threw the still burning butt into the garden.
The emptiness and shock he was so accustomed to slowly started to fill every fibre of his body, easily snuffing out the whiff of life he'd started to feel again in the last few months and weeks, as he traced his fingers along stretches of skin Frank's hands had brushed against oh so very delicately, and felt his stomach retch for no apparent reason other than self-hatred.
Deep, dark, boiling self-hatred and regret.
He felt the tears coming even before they started rolling, his throat closing up, the pain in the back of his neck when he tried to control himself. He felt everything crash on top of him, and he felt everything slowly start to ebb away again.
He needed a drink.
Bandit saw her father slump to the ground.
She saw him tug at his hair and burn his fingers with the cigarette and curse as he did so. She saw him hug himself and choke back a sob, wrinkling his precious little tweed jacket. She peeked through the window and saw how desperate that man was, and suddenly and violently wished to have gotten to know him, or his life, or his family.
She wished to have gotten to know the man hiding inside, instead of the alcohol-addicted closeted fag she'd convinced herself he was.
She'd only seen the 'real' Gerard in his poems and sketches and paintings - sudden and precious and rare bursts of the color and variety hidden within him.
Bandit hid in her father's studio every night not only because the room smelled of him, but because she could brush her fingers against the tangible, crumpled up spawn of the many crevices of Gerard's mind, she could dip her fingertips into the iridescent blood of his art: acrylics and ink and glue, or the murky grey and blue remnants of watercoloring.
She knew that he knew. Many times, when she was littler, she'd fallen asleep on his big, leather chair and woken up magically tucked into her bed. This, obviously, up to when she was seven or eight, light enough to carry.
After she'd hit eight he'd just delicately wake her up, and smile at her, and whisper that it was time for her to go to bed and she'd smile back and everything, for a fraction of an instant, would've still been okay.
The studio was their haven. Their safe place. Their mental safekeeping.
The studio gave a little balance to an otherwise wrecked and disastrous situation.
It gave a shrivel of father-daughter bonding. A breath of normal.
Gerard shut his eyes, listened to summer slowly flowing into early autumn, the air becoming cooler every day. He, for some reason, had just become aware of that. The panic and the confusion of the last weeks had pretty much erased everything else in his and Lindsay's lives.
Days at the hospital, exams, x-rays, doctors who didn't really give a shit about who was sitting in front of them, but pretended to. All of those things, and so much more, had prevented Gerard from noticing that life was going on without them. That summer was becoming autumn, and then autumn would've become winter and winter spring, until spring would've exploded into summer and the cycle would've started again.
And it was pretty. The death and decay of summer's green would've birthed the vibrant reds and yellows of autumn, the life you could see in every branch or bush. Life that smelled of firewood and 'not-cold-enough-for-snow' cold, of cookies and little children's laughter. Life that had the taste of pumpkin soup and the toasty feel of hot chocolate. Life that was Halloween and the voice of Lindsay helping Bandit with her homework, and then the thought of maybe losing all of that made his hands tremble violently as his mind rebelled at the thought of death and he suddenly found himself loving life with such a desperate force he'd felt only one time before, and that had been during the war, when he'd lost Michael.
He lighted another cigarette - this time with the intention of smoking it - and shut his eyes again.
She was standing a few feet away from him, with her bare feet pressing against the more-cold-than-warm lukewarm asphalt of the driveway and her nightgown flapping in the slight breeze.
“You should cover up, kid. It's getting chilly.”
He smiled at her, kind.
“I don't care.” She shrugged, rolled her eyes.
They were quiet suddenly, sensing each other's tension.
Bandit wanted to ask about that morning's doctor appointment and the test results, but she was too scared of the answer. On the other hand, she was fully aware of the fact that her father didn't have the courage to speak first. Not about that.
Not about cancer.
Not about the big black monster that had taken over their lives. No, oh no. If she wanted to know, it was up to her.
She looked at her father take a long, sad drag of his cigarette, and mustered up the tiny and incredibly heavy amount of courage she needed to open her mouth.
“Is—is it big??”
Gerard looked at her, lonely eyes meeting hers.
Her voice had come out lower than she expected, and more scared. She felt her jaw start to tremble and hated herself for being so weak, for breaking down in front of her father. But the sob started deep in her chest and quickly made its way through her throat and into her skull. She pressed a hand to her mouth, tried to muffle the sound as she started to cry as silently as possible, more scared of being noticed than of the actual pain she was feeling.
“Hey. Baby. Kiddo. Hey.”
Gerard stood up abruptly and grabbed his daughter, pressing her tight against his chest, cradling her.
It was the most physical contact they'd ever had in a long time.
But he'd started to feel his own voice breaking again, and the danger of starting to cry was ever so present.
“Baby, it's okay. Everything's gonna be okay.”
He was lying.
They both knew he was lying.
September 8th, 1958
Frank sat on the side of the bed, bare back sticky with sweat. He'd put his pants back on.
He swallowed and tried to ignore the light sound of Gerard's breathing, and the thousands of emotions and questions that were swirling and screaming inside of him but trapped under a thin film of numbness.
There was the click of a lighter being used, and then the smell of cigarette smoke slithered into the air around them. Gerard leaned his head back as he inhaled the smoke, still lying naked on the bed they'd just fucked in.
Iero sighed, tried to understand thanks to the man's breathing how Gerard was lying among the torn sheets and crumpled pillows, realized with a pang of guilt and panic he couldn't. But it was only a brief emotion, something feeble and small and unnoticeable. Then, he went blank again.
He ran a hand through his hair.
“You—you didn't come.”
It hurt to say those words.
Gerard clicked his tongue.
“I know, Frank.”
The hands of the clock that was hanging over the bed struck eleven thirty.
“Did I do something wrong?”
“It's not your fault.”
Frank sighed and pulled himself up. He picked his shirt up from off of the floor, slipped it on. He glanced at Gerard.
The man was lying on his back, eyes lost in space. His right hand was holding the cigarette, dangling - Frank assumed since he couldn't see it - off the edge of the bed, while his left hand was tapping against his sternum.
Iero started buttoning his shirt. He tried to swallow but found it impossible to do so: he was too tense, too sad.
“How did it go?”
He blurted out the question without even thinking.
“How did what go?”
“The hospital, Gerard. How did it go?”
Gerard took a drag and smirked, bitter.
Frank felt his hands slip as he tried to button his collar and he lowered his eyes.
Gerard stood up and walked to the bathroom, slammed the door shut behind him and locked it.
Frank distinctly felt as if he were losing complete and utter control over everything. The realization and the terror and the pain and fear pinned him down.
Somehow, neither of them had yet managed to wrap their heads around the enormity of what was happening. Maybe they didn't want to let that happen.
He heard the shower getting switched on, childishly imagined the warm water flowing along Gerard's body, and he thought of what had just happened, and of what they'd just done.
Because even though the sex had become stale and emotionless lately because of tension, and pain, and guilt they had both always managed to come. Sure, it would take a little longer: more rubbing, more licking, more teasing. But something would always happen.
Gerard not coming that night made Frank feel as if he'd used the man he loved for his silly little purposes. He was surprised, actually, that the guilt born from the illness hadn't pushed Gerard to stop seeing him altogether. But he knew, he'd always known, that they would've both died without one another.
They were each part of the other's world, and there was no going back.
Frank sighed, feeling worse than he had in a long time.
He grabbed his jacket and put it on along with his coat, the sound of the shower filling up the space in his head.
“Well...goodnight.” he said to no one in particular, vaguely looking towards the bathroom door but not directly at it, because he knew that if he did he would've broken down and cried.
“I love you” seemed a silly thing to say, but he said it anyway.