"We were invincible, Frank. Right then. We had the world at our feet."
When the final cord comes
And the chorus start to play
You're The Conversation (I'm The Game), Chris Corner and Sude Denim
Frank took a deep breath.
He shivered slightly as the winter cold bit in, took another sip of his beer.
Gerard was standing a few feet away from him, not completely drunk but definitely tipsy and, with no doubt, with the very lucid intention of drinking himself into oblivion.
Neither of them had been in the mood for sex that evening, and they hadn't really been for a while.
How easily it had all fallen apart, how a simple twist of fate had completely broken the already fragile skeleton of a pained and difficult love made Frank's throat close up and his voice break in all the wrong places whenever he thought of it.
For now, they'd decided to climb onto the motel rooftop and get drunk.
Who knew, maybe they would've even kissed, fueled by alcohol and by what little remained of the roaring, vibrant creature their love had been. Maybe they would've even remembered how it felt to be touched by the hands of the man they loved. Maybe the touching and kissing would've lead to something else, some place long forgotten - or so it seemed - by both of them, a place of muffled moans and the smell of gunpowder, of nails dragged along naked and scarred backs and rough, savage lovemaking dictated by the constant fear of losing each other to the folly known to mankind as war. Times when Gerard would giggle and smile and yelp, always wanting more. Times when Frank would desperately try to keep down his moans, eyes shut tight as his hips would rock faster and faster, and the only thing that mattered was them, and feeling each other, sweetly trapped and intoxicated in a moment that seemed eternal.
But it wasn't eternal, it never had been. Reality had bit in, like always, and they'd nearly suddenly found themselves on the rooftop of a sickening green motel, a place so God-forsaken it had been the only one where - up to then - they'd managed to find peace.
But yet, the place was dying. Fewer and fewer customers came, not even whores stopped by any more.
They were dying, too. They were both realizing it, slowly, inevitably, as the years went by and every month that passed made climbing up the stairs a little more difficult.
One broken by the addiction he would've never been able to quell, the other devoured by his own demons, by the sadness that never seemed to leave.
But everything dies - and Frank knew it far too well - even things that seem eternal.
The old stray dog who always lied next to the entrance to your bookstore was run over last week.
Your pretty rose tree died last summer: you forgot to water it.
Your Dad's old Chevy broke down.
Your old records got lost.
Your childhood toys were grown out of.
Your mother - a single mom who worked hard enough to put you through a decent school, the strongest woman you've ever known.
You saw her, when you were seven, sobbing hysterically at your grandfather's funeral. For the first time you were fully aware of how fragile the things we love are, a realization that became so much clearer twenty two years later, as you were holding your lover while he mourned the death of his brother, killed by German soldiers on far away Norway beaches.
Everything dies. Everything hurts.
Even your lover's wife, who's suffered years of abuse and pain and denial but still manages to keep her family somehow intact, and her daughter is one of the smartest and prettiest kids you'll ever have the chance to meet.
She's dying of cancer.
She's beautiful and strong, and she's dying of cancer.
The guilt born from what he's done to her is starting to take a toll on her husband's mind. He's slipping away, Frank, and there's nothing you can do about it. You can dig your nails into him all you want, and cry and scream, but you're losing him.
Truth is, you started losing him fourteen years ago.
But he and Gerard had thought and had hoped - oh, how they'd hoped that maybe all hadn't been lost in the fire, that maybe they could still kindle something from the ashes. Ashes that had run cold. Ashes that had run dry.
Had they acted foolishly? Had they been nothing but old men longing for something gone forever? Yes, they had, but for a moment they'd tasted paradise again, and feeling it against their skin had been worth the pain, the suffering.
Even Frank's guilt had been worth it - guilt that was clothes smelling of someone else, that was seeing Jamia's eyes and knowing that she suspected, that his slipping out each Sunday evening hadn't gone unnoticed.
"Do you remember, Frank, when you said we could've still been beautiful?"
Gerard's voice was low and distant and soft. Frank looked up from the concrete he'd been staring at, and saw the man he loved standing on the very edge of the roof.
"Do you?" Gerard asked again.
Frank walked up next to him.
"Yes, yes I do."
"We were invincible, Frank. Right then, we had the world at our feet."
He took a drag from his cigarette.
They were quiet for a while, as they both realized that all they'd fought for was slowly disappearing. Maybe they didn't really know what to say. Maybe they were trying to hold onto that one moment, maybe they were trying not to forget.
"She's dying." Gerard suddenly whispered.
Frank looked at him: his eyes were hurt and distant and lost.
"I know, Gerard."
"She's my wife, Frank. She's the mother of my child, and she's not gonna survive the winter."
He shook his head.
"After all the shit she's gone through, she's dying of cancer. Of goddamn, fucking terminal breast cancer."
Frank squeezed his shoulder as Gerard's voice started to break.
"I gave her the shittiest life possible, and she was supposed to come out of it alive. I gave Bandit a lousy excuse for a father, and Lindsay was supposed to be her anchor of salvation. She was supposed to be her safe place - he turned to face Frank, and now he was sobbing, scared and lonely and guilty - I wasn't supposed to watch her die. I wasn't supposed to watch Lindsay die, Frank. I wasn't supposed to hold my brother's dead body. I wasn't supposed to fuck everybody's life up--"
"Gerard, you didn't."
"I did, Frank - he smiled to himself - All I did was screw you over."
His voice had turned, suddenly, scarily low, and he stopped talking abruptly.
Something inside of him had broken and come unhinged. Something had slipped out of place.
He was tired.
Frank had sensed that.
"I could just jump, Frankie-boy."
"I could. It could be over."
He looked at the parking lot beneath them, at the cars and at the flickering lights, at the highway.
Frank knotted his fingers with Gerard's, squeezed his hand tight. The other man didn't move.
"Could you imagine it, Frank? Imagine how it could be? The quiet? The stillness, the emptiness."
And his body sprawled against the asphalt. The blood and the odd angles of his arms and limbs.
The wail of a siren, rushing to save something broken beyond repair.
Never being able to see him smile again. Never being able to make love to him again.
"Don't do this to me."
Gerard had turned to face him once more.
"But I need this, Frank."
"You don't. God,you don't."
But he was on the edge, both of his sanity and of the roof. All it would've taken was a little push.
The weight of his world crashing down was more than a little push.
Twice in a lifetime he'd found himself confronting the knowledge of losing all he cherished. Or, in this case, a major part of his life, and of his world. Which was more or less the same thing, even if it had taken Gerard far too much time to realize that.
"I can't do this anymore, Frank."
"Then do it for me. Do it for Bandit."
At the mention of his daughter's name Gerard started crying again.
Deep, pained sobs that were born from the bottom of his throat and made their way violently into his mouth, sobs that tore through his throat, that physically hurt him.
He was ready to go, a fraction of a second away from the nerve impulse that would've told his muscles to work so that he could've jumped.
Frank grabbed him, pulled him away from the edge. They lost their balance, fell to the ground.
Iero held a thrashing, screaming Way, he held him tight.
Frank pressed his lips against Gerard's forehead, cradled him. He squeezed his eyes and choked back a sob as Gerard dug his nails into his back, crying harder than he had in what seemed a lifetime.
Because Lindsay was dying.
Because Bandit was going to be the only thing left of the woman who had been his wife.
Because his world was disappearing.
Frank forced Gerard to look at him. They kissed and then Frank wrapped his arms around him again.
"I'll take you home now, okay baby?"
He helped a babbling, hysterical Gerard up the stairs.
The house was semi-dark, and Frank hoped not to wake anyone up.
But the bedroom was empty, the bed was still made.
Lindsay hadn't had the energy to climb up the stairs, to drag herself into bed. More and more often she'd fall asleep in the armchair in the living room, wrapped up in a blanket Gerard would put on her.
Sometimes he'd watch her sleep after he'd done so. Most of the times he'd smoke. Maybe he'd even cry a little.
Gerard crawled into the bed.
"I--I'm sorry, Frank."
"There's nothing to be sorry about, baby. Nothing at all."
"No. Hush now. Hush."
He quickly kissed Gerard, who grabbed his face and drew him closer. Frank realized how heavily they both smelled of alcohol. How drunk Gerard actually was.
How scarily lucid he'd been half an hour earlier, standing on that roof.
"I love you."
"I love you too, old man. Now sleep. Just...just sleep."
"I can't. Not without you next to me."
"You know I can't stay."
"Just for a moment. Just for a second."
"Don't leave me."
Gerard's plea was quiet and desperate as he grabbed onto Frank's sleeve.
It meant: I need you to keep me sane.
It meant: I don't know what I might do to myself if I'm alone.
Frank sighed. Gerard's eyes were begging him in a way he'd only seen once before, when he'd made the hardest and most painful decision of his life.
He stared at them for a few seconds, then finally crawled under the covers next to Gerard, scooped him up in his arms so that Way's head rested against his chest.
He counted his breaths, counted their blessings in those fifteen minutes that felt like a lifetime as Gerard finally passed out, exhausted mentally and physically, as his breathing slowed down to a calm, restful pace, and Frank prayed for his sleep to be dreamless.
He slowly got up, looked at Gerard one last time.
He smiled gloomily at the eery beauty of the sleeping man's face.
Frank creeped down the stairs, and the floorboards creaked and moaned as he quietly opened the front door.
Lindsay's voice had been nearly inaudible, but Frank froze in place and turned around.
She was tiny: scarily thin, dark eyes made even bigger by the cheekbones sticking out, by a skin that seemed too tired to even keep her flesh in place. She was nearly buried under a blanket, curled up on her trusty old armchair.
"Shut the door."
He did as she told him, and she smiled at him in return, kind.
Frank avoided her eyes, too scared of seeing the pain inside of them. Too scared of letting his mind dwell on her hurt, sickly and skeletal form. Too scared of acknowledging the fact that she was dying under their very eyes, as cancerous cells ate away at her body.
"How are you, Frank?"
He arched an eyebrow, somehow puzzled.
He'd nearly added "And you?", he'd nearly said something extremely foolish, something that would've even more accentuated the fact that no, she wasn't okay.
That she would've never been.
A spiderweb was hanging from the small lamp on a table next to the couches and armchair. It hung loosely, guarding its hidden, delicate treasure of tiny spider and her pray.
Iero was surprised, for a moment, realizing that it hadn't been cleaned.
But then he remembered that Lindsay was too sick to tend to the house anymore, Gerard was too broken, Bandit simply didn't care.
Frank decided to concentrate on that instead of her, on the perfect delicacy of nature's finest, simplest work.
Her voice brought him back to the human world, to the damaged world man had damned himself into, a world that was spiraling into self-destruction at the same speed human relationships were created, were nourished, were broken.
The blink of an eye.
"I spent my entire life loving a man who loved someone else."
Her voice was the voice of a woman who knew too much about a person she would've, deep down, preferred knowing nothing.
His throat went dry when she said this, and he surprised himself tugging at a small cuticle next to his right index fingernail.
"And all this time I tried to understand who it was. Was it his sister-in-law? An old high school sweetheart?"
Frank bit his lower lip and felt the tears push against the back of his neck.
He'd known for a while, since she'd been diagnosed, that this moment was bound to come.
"It was you."
He sobbed once, loudly, and pressed his hand against his mouth, shut his eyes, tried to keep back the tears.
She looked at him look away from her.
"His best friend."
Frank could feel the warmth of tears against his cheeks. And the shaking in his hands. And his body go cold and then warm as all sense of emotion was completely snuffed out.
"Who told you?" he finally managed to whisper.
"Oh. Oh God. Oh. Oh--"
"It's OK, Frank. Hush. I don't hate you."
She stood up, grabbed his shaking hands, squeezed them.
"Or maybe I do, a little. I hate you because you have the one and only thing I ever wanted."
She caressed his cheek, brushed her fingers against his stubble, felt them wet with tears.
"You're a lucky man."
"I'm so, so sorry for...for-."
"There's nothing you should apologize for, Frank. You did nothing wrong."
"I ruined your life."
She swallowed, knowing it was, sadly, partially true. But they all were to blame, somehow. And, somehow still, they all had no fault.
She seemed to stop to think for a moment.
"Will you promise me a thing, Frank?"
He managed to nod.
"When I'm gone...will you take care of them? Of my family?"
His breathing rattled in his chest.
"Will you hold him for me? Will you make her smile?"
She hugged him all of a sudden.
"Will you do that for me?"
"Thank you, Frank. Thank you."