1944. Promises are broken.
Frank peered into the room. Gerard was sleeping, curled onto the bed, hurt leg outstretched and clad in white plasters, resting on a pillow.
Seeing him so vulnerable made him quiver, it made him scared. It made him sad.
It was funny how places had switched so fast, how Frank had gone from patient to caretaker all in the space of a few weeks.
A different town, a different doctor.
But the smell of blood was the same, the smell of pain, the smell of healing flesh.
He tilted his head to the side, and looked at the man he loved sleep.
He'd nearly lost him. Gerard had nearly slipped away - or, better, had nearly been ripped away from him and drowned in the red and black pain that was death, the whiteness that came after.
In truth, he didn't know. The things he'd seen - the things he'd done, all of that had taught him, had insinuated inside of his already impressionable mind that maybe, after all, there wasn't any Heaven or Purgatory or Hell, there was only emptiness. A milky white that creeped into your nose and snuffed it all out, every single bit of awareness you'd ever had. Every little memory.
Your life, wiped out in an instant.
He smiled to himself at the thought of the amount of death he'd witnessed, death that sometimes he would've never grown accustomed to, death that sometimes seemed more normal than walking the dogs.
He smiled to himself, leaned against the doorway - facing the small hall that ended with a perfectly rectangular window - and lighted a cigarette.
The smoke burnt into the back of his throat and made his nerves shake with pleasure, it satisfied the craving.
One of the many he had, even though some were unmentionable even to himself, some were buried deep into his subconscious, locked away, never to be seen.
He sighed as the ash fluttered to the ground, and he lost himself while staring at nothing. There was a tingling in his mind. There was a tingling in the air.
Gerard was going to go home. The wound was too deep, it was too bad for him to even imagine going back into the battlefield.
So he was going to get sent home.
Just like Ray.
Just like Mikey's body.
He swallowed the thought of his friends away with the discomfort that came from it, swallowed it down and tasted the ashy sweet smoke. Swallowed it down and realized that the situation they'd created - delicate love, ready to break at every twist of fate - was bigger than either of them could handle.
Once you're home, you can't just simply walk out each night and screw your boyfriend in some sleazy motel up the highway.
Once you're home, you have responsibilities, you have a job, you have a family: a wife and children.
You can't lie to them each day.
No matter how much you need it.
But did he really need it? Did he really need Gerard as much as he thought?
He did. Of course he did. Frank needed Gerard more than the air he breathed, for Gerard was the air he breathed, Gerard was the blood pumping through his veins, Gerard was moonlight in a tiny lake and the sand against his back. Gerard was midnight and noon and every moment in between.
Gerard was life. Gerard was his life.
And he thought of this and his heart winced in pain, because Frank was fully aware of the fact that he had to forget Gerard in order to be able to move on, that even though he'd tasted Heaven (and once you taste Heaven you can never go back) he knew Heaven could've also become Hell, and Heaven, if left unguarded, was bound to destroy his life, Gerard's, the life of their families.
Part of him (all of him, deep down) wasn't ready to say goodbye.
He thought, for a moment, of setting this decision back for another day.
Of making amends with himself overnight.
Maybe he could've tasted Gerard once again. Maybe he could've.
Maybe he couldn't.
He felt the tears start to choke him, and realized how desperately he didn't want to do this, he realized how necessary it was.
He knew that, in the long run, it would've destroyed them both.
He knew that, sooner or later, the truth would've come out anyway.
But he had to let Gerard go.
And Gerard had to let go of him.
It's better, he told himself, it's the best solution.
Slowly but surely, he started to convince himself that he didn't need Gerard after all. He told himself this, and it pained him.
It was a lie.
A necessary lie, or so he thought.
But a lie nonetheless.
He lighted another cigarette and looked at Gerard again. The man he so desperately needed. The man he could never have again: the freedom they'd had in those months - and he knew that far too well - would've never come back. Not in ten years.
Not in a million.
But it was time to do this. Now, that he'd picked up enough courage.
Frank turned and knocked on the already half-open door. He knocked, and some part of him hoped for Gerard not to hear him.
But he did.
His voice was low and tired, raspy.
Frank sighed quietly.
He was ready.
Frank Iero was about to make the best - and worst - decision of his life, and he was ready to do so with a clear mind. And a not-so-steady heart.
Gerard tried to sit up, flinched.
"Wait. Gee--Gerard. Wait."
Frank rushed to his side, helped him sit the same way Gerard had done with him.
Frank suddenly found himself with screaming thoughts, and it was fast, rabid, hysterical thoughts: Memorize each gesture. Memorize each word, the way he looks at you. The way his skin feels. If you kiss, memorize the shape of his lips, memorize his taste. Remember each expression, each way he looks. If he smiles, remember that. This is the last time he'll look at you that way and know he can have you. This is the last time you'll look at him that way and know you can have him.
Gerard smiled at him and grabbed his hand, squeezed it.
Eyes shining and the small dent on his right index finger, you never noticed it, you never truly felt it up till now. God why didn't you notice it before. There's so many things you never noticed, like his slightly crooked tooth, or the way he has tiny dimples, the fact that he has eyes only for you.
Frank felt a little piece of himself start to die.
That piece would've never come back to life. Ever. Even though they would've both tried, years and years later, to revive that tiny bit of their heart, they would've never made it.
At first, maybe yes.
But a broken heart is sometimes beyond repair, and it is exceptionally hard for the one who broke it to be the same who puts it back.
There will always be resentment.
There will always be guilt.
You can put it on life support for a little while, but its internal organs will start to fail again. Its gears and nuts and bolts will shake and rattle and break.
Sometimes, a broken heart doesn't really want to be mended.
"How do you feel, Gerard?"
Frank smiled, one of his twisted, pushed-to-the side smiles, one of those where only one corner of his mouth really moved.
"I'm getting sent home, though."
Gerard looked out the window.
Frank sat on the edge of the bed, cigarette dangling from his lip. He offered Gerard one, who gladly took it.
Life itself seemed to move slowly for Frank, as his decision made him evaluate and look at everything in a different light. Strangely, deciding to leave him made Frank love Gerard even more: he appreciated each and every detail. Even the smallest ones, the ones he'd never noticed.
Gerard seemed to notice, for he kissed Frank's cheek without really saying a word. He'd noticed his discomfort. He'd realized something wasn't quite right.
Frank surprised himself placing a hand on the back of Gerard's head, pressing their lips together, hard, as he furrowed his brow and fed on the feeling of air tearing through their nostrils.
The last kiss is always the sweetest.
Gerard pulled away, half surprised. Then he smiled, intrigued.
"What's that about, Frankie-boy?" he whispered, smiles dancing in his eyes.
Their lips were inches away from each other's, and Frank's body couldn't help but stir and tingle as Gerard pressed his lips against his again.
But Iero pushed him away, stood up as his heart beat a little too fast and he realized that if they made love then and there he would've never been able to let him go.
The puzzled look in Gerard's eyes hurt more than he'd ever imagined.
"What's going on, Frank?"
"We can't do this anymore."
There. He'd said it. He'd blurted it out, almost against his own will. Five words. Nothing less, nothing more.
Frank Iero had just made the hardest and most painful decision of his life.
"This. This, Gerard - he gestured around the room, as if their very life was playing out in front of them, written in the particles of dust that shone with the light coming from the window - This."
Their eyes met, and Gerard looked away, chewing on his lower lip. It trembled.
He'd understood what Frank meant. He'd understood it oh so very well.
"But I love you."
"We have responsibilities, Gerard--"
"You said you loved me."
Frank's entire body seemed to sink an inch into the ground. His shoulders slumped as he gasped for words.
"I do. That's why I'm doing this."
"You know once I come home, you know we won't be able to do what we did here."
"We can always give it a try."
And now Gerard was looking at him, square in the face, and he wanted to see Frank realize how badly he was getting hurt.
"I killed for you. I fought for you. You're the only reason I'm still here. You're my best friend, you're my lover. You're the reason I'm alive."
"And so are you, Gerard--"
"You once said I was the bravest man you knew because I'd had the courage to love you back. I want you to have that same courage. Through and through."
He smiled at him, cruel and mad.
"I thought you'd have the same courage."
His eyes left Gerard's, and Way was fighting hard to hold back tears.
"That's all I ask for. Do you have the courage to love me against all odds, Frank? Can you?"
Frank wished to be able to do so, oh, how he wished.
But what Gerard was insinuating was right. He was scared. Terrified.
Frank looked outside the window, swallowed.
He was about to cry.
They both were.
"You don't, do you?"
It was a painful question to ask. He already knew the answer.
"No. No. - Frank shook his head - I don't."
Gerard nodded, sad.
"I thought you were different, Frank. That's all."
"This--this doesn't mean I love you any less."
Gerard hugged himself.
The spark in his eyes was gone, as easily as it had been awakened at the beginning of it all.
It was gone.
It had died out.
All it had taken were five words, skillfully crafted, stupidly said.
"And that's that, isn't it."
"Gerard, believe me when I say that I love--"
But Gerard shook his head.
His voice was firm and pain-filled.
"Get out, Frank."
Iero dug his teeth into his lower lip, tried to keep its trembling controlled.
"Get out, Frank. GET OUT!"
Frank slammed the door behind him as the tears choked him completely. He moaned, gasped for air as his shoulders hit the wall and he slumped to the ground.
And he felt a weight lift off his shoulders, and he felt another one take its place.
He was gone, he'd let him go.
He'd lost him.
And it was all his fault.
Frank dug his nails in his hair, tugged at it as the tears started flowing violently, as he started rocking back and forth.
He clasped a hand to his mouth, eyes staring into nothing, shoulders shaking.
His mind screamed, and Frank crawled onto the floor, cradling himself, as his very own world fell apart.
And he was the only one to blame.