Sometimes holding on isn't enough.
She died quietly, in her sleep.
She died quietly, curled up in Bandit's arms.
She died quietly, and it snowed the very next day.
Frank took a sip of his drink.
Gerard's house was unnaturally quiet now that everybody had left. He was the only one who'd stayed, and he'd done so just because Gerard had begged him, digging his nails into his arm and sleeve.
He felt empty.
They all did.
The funeral had been quiet and intimate: Frank and his family, Gerard, Bandit, the few surviving relatives Lindsay had had, and a few of her colleagues.
Nobody had been ready for this. Nobody had ever even expected it happening.
It wasn't supposed to happen. Lindsay wasn't supposed to die.
But she had.
Just like Mikey had.
People aren't supposed to die, but they do.
And you're supposed to accept it, right?
Because that's just how life goes.
He ran a hand through his hair and over his face, rubbing it, trying to squeeze the enormous and heavy notion of death out of his mind.
Frank needed something to distract him from the scream blossoming between his eyes, something different and healthier than a drink, so he wandered towards the bookcase, tomes piled up and hardly ever read.
Some were Mikey's - Alicia had given many of his things away when she'd moved to Florida.
Others were Lindsay's.
Many were Gerard's: old, fat books that Frank hadn't really ever noticed, despite the many times he'd come there. But then he peered over and stared blankly at one of the titles, as he realized that it was a book about World War Two.
He glanced quickly: the others were, too.
Pictures. Testimonies. Analysis of when and where and why. Analysis of the Third Reich.
Gerard had collected as many books as he could over the years. He'd fed obsessions. He'd tried to answer questions they all knew would've never found closure.
Books over books over books.
Frank pulled one out: The Rise And Fall Of The Third Reich: A History Of Nazi Germany, and ran his fingers against the cover, sniffed it.
He'd always loved books. They were a key part of his life, books that, at times, made him feel more real than he actually was.
He flipped it open. Two pieces of paper, yellow and old, fell out and landed on the carpet softly.
He bent down, picked them up, turned them.
He felt his heart skip a beat, and his breath caught in his chest.
The first one was a pencil sketch. He recognized the face portrayed far too well, a face he'd seen every morning in the mirror all his life, a face he knew every nick and cranny of, a face he'd hated at times.
Frank stared at a drawing of sleeping Frank, a drawing sketched fourteen years earlier in a tiny house in Valognes, France.
A small, insignificant drawing Gerard had done as Frank slept over the stress and trauma of having to rip Ray Toro's arm off, as Way dutifully, lovingly, watched him sleep. As Gerard drew him, drew his neck and the way his hair flowed and the single line of worry on his forehead.
He smiled as he looked at it, and then turned his attention to the other, smaller piece of paper.
It was a photograph of them when they were young, a photograph he didn't even remember being taken.
But it was him and Gerard, Mikey, Ray.
Them, the Gang.
Incredibly happy, incredibly naive, incredibly blissful.
Four teenage boys, ready to take on the world.
He swallowed past the knot of tears that had formed somewhere in his throat. He swallowed past the guilt. Past the regret. But he didn't cry.
He didn't feel enough to be able cry. Emotions were still buried deep under the shock of losing Lindsay.
His hands trembled, ever so slightly, and his mouth tasted bitter.
"I wanted to know."
Frank looked up, startled.
Gerard was standing in the doorway. He took a sip from the bottle he clutched in his hand, licked his lips and nudged towards the book still in Iero's hands.
Frank smiled weakly at him.
"I wanted to know if Michael's death was really worth it."
Gerard placed the bottle on the table nearby, hugged himself.
They were quiet. Footsteps could be heard coming from upstairs: Bandit had hidden in her room for the past hour and a half.
Gerard shut his eyes, and a sad, sad smile blossomed on his lips while he listened to his daughter move around.
"Her mommy's dead."
"Lindsay's dead, Frank. - Gerard's voice croaked - She's dead."
Way's face contorted as he sniffled.
Frank set the book down, slipped the drawing and the photograph back into it and walked towards Gerard. He wrapped him in his arms, felt Way press his hot cheek against his.
Frank ran his hands through Way's hair as Gerard moved his head and buried himself against Frank's chest, face scrunched up.
Iero delicately guided him onto the couch. They were curled up against each other, listening to each other's heartbeat.
They were both stunned. They were both in pain.
Neither of them had really fully grasped her absence, the fact that she was gone from theirs - from everybody's lives.
And there was a hole where she'd been, yet another hole that went on to dig even deeper into Gerard, a hole that slipped right next to the one that had been left by Mikey, right next to the half-healed hole that had been left by Frank.
But, even though he'd just tried to do so, Gerard didn't have the energy to sob or cry or scream anymore.
He just limply let himself go into Frank's arms, eyes wide and shining and stunned. He rested his head against Frank's shoulder, concentrated on the feeling of their bodies pressed together, of the black suits crumpling, of skin feeling far too tight.
Frank delicately brushed the back of his hand against Gerard's cheek, who reacted ever so slightly by shutting his eyes and gasping softly.
Frank continued on caressing him: a soft, sweet movement that, for a heartbeat, seemed to ease their pain.
Gerard suddenly tilted his head, let his lips brush against Frank's hand. He grabbed it, squeezed it tight. But it was a second, nothing more.
Iero held Gerard's face as they leaned towards each other, pain digging and clawing away at their chests, foreheads pressed together.
"Tell me everything will be okay." Gerard whispered.
"Everything will be okay" Frank lied.
"Tell me I'm a good man."
"You're a good man." Frank whispered back, this time knowing it was true. Even though Gerard had done his fair dose of sinning, he was a good man. Deep down.
Iero ran a knuckle against Gerard's cheek.
They were quiet for a while, unable to make the pain completely and fully stop.
Frank stared at Gerard for a moment, bewildered. He hadn't asked something like that for so long. Not when he was this lucid, at least.
"Kiss me, Frank. I need you to kiss me."
Frank pressed both hands to the back of Gerard's head, pulled him forward.
Their lips pressed together, once, twice, and then Gerard slightly opened his mouth and let Frank's tongue slip inside.
They kissed, a kiss deeper than the ones they'd had in a long time, a kiss that tasted bittersweet to say the least.
Frank felt Gerard's breath catch in his throat, and he shut his eyes slightly, running his tongue along Gerard's lips, a tiny quirk he'd always had, a tiny quirk that had, in days long gone, made Gerard shiver.
But they were older now. Childish games had been forgotten.
The taste of each other's lips, on the other hand, had never been truly lost.
They came up for air, and Frank nibbled at Gerard's neck almost against his own will. Frank then looked up. He thought he'd heard footsteps.
He was right.
Bandit was standing a few feet away from them, a kitten in her arms, black lace dress wrapping a body that was just now slipping into young adulthood.
No longer a child, not yet a woman.
She was staring at them, and her jaw trembled violently.
Frank let go of Gerard almost instantly and half stood up, hovering over his lover's body. He knew his chest was rising and falling a little too fast.
Gerard twisted his head to see what he'd seen, and his eyes met his daughter's, black staring into even deeper black. His eyes widened. Hers looked away in disgust and pain.
Frank stood up fully and regret and guilt for what they'd just done - for what they were probably about to do - poured out and started to drown him, one pore at a time.
He ran a hand through his hair, looked at the floor.
"Can--can you leave, Frank?"
Gerard's voice was low, a whisper. Iero glanced at him quickly, and noticed how pale he'd suddenly gone. Gerard swallowed, glared at him.
Frank looked at Bandit, who blatantly ignored his gaze.
He saw her pain, the desperate need to cry that they all felt that she was trying to suppress.
He started walking towards the door, passed her. Frank tried to place a hand on her shoulder.
She moved away, avoiding any contact with him.
She'd just found herself confronting something big, something scary, something she thought she'd never have to face. The drawings were enough. Knowing her father's secret was enough.
But seeing it, realizing it was real, that her father was, after all, a homosexual - even the word felt dirty in her mind - a man who fell in love with men, scared her, confused her. And seeing Frank and Gerard kissing the same day that her mother had been buried made her want to hurt Gerard, hurt him for hurting her, hurt him for being what he was.
And this thought filled her with guilt.
She loved her father. She hated him for loving him.
But, most of the times, she just missed him.
Gerard opened his kitchen door. Frank was sleeping, head resting on his arms, sitting at the table. He'd crept in there as he and Bandit argued, fought and cried. He'd eventually fallen asleep there, and Gerard hadn't dared to wake him up.
Way looked at the man he loved's face, looked at the slightly open mouth, at the way his chest was rising and falling, the way his hands twitched while dreaming.
He brushed a lock of hair out of Frank's face, smiled as he squirmed but didn't wake up.
He pressed his lips against Frank's ear, wondered if he could hear his whispers in his dreams.
"I love you, little one."
I always will.
He kissed his cheek - a quick peck - and then was gone.
Frank suddenly opened his eyes. His back screamed as he did so, as he pulled his head up, emerging from throbbing dreams and scary emptiness.
His mouth was dry, and there was a heavy feeling inside of him.
The first thing he did was pour himself a glass of water, and as he blinked sleep out of his eyes and scratched a three-day beard he remembered that Lindsay was gone, that they'd buried her, that he was in Gerard's house.
That Bandit had seen them.
He shut his eyes as the glass nearly slipped out of his grasp, and then realized how unnaturally quiet everything felt.
He stepped out of the kitchen, glass of water still in hand.
The house was empty.
That was the first thing he noticed, even though for the first few seconds he refused to accept it.
But the house was empty, and there was no car in the driveway except for Frank's.
A kitten sleeping on the couch. A note taped to the front door.
The house was empty.
Gerard was gone. Bandit was gone.
The house was empty.
And then Frank dropped the glass and it shattered as his ears started ringing and bile churned in his stomach, climbed up his throat.
He grabbed the note, the top of it ripped as he tore it off the door.
Anything of mine - books, drawings, letters - that you want, you can have.
The kitten's name was Blossom. You can rename her if you want.
I love you, little one.
Will you be able to forgive me?
I love you. I love you. I love you.
Frank's head was still spinning as he dialed the only number that could come to mind, the only number except for Gerard's that he knew by heart.
Jamia's voice was thick with sleep.
"Frank--Frank is that you?"
"Do you know what time it is?"
"Yeah, yeah. I know what time it is. I'm sorry--"
"Are you crying?"
"No--No, I'm not." he said, and wiped his cheeks dry with the back of his hand.
"Gerard and Bandit. They fucking left. They're gone. He left - he caught himself on time, before he said me, before he slipped - he--he left."
"Are you sure?"
"Of course I'm fucking sure!"
There was a long silence on the other side, after his outburst.
"Mia, Mia, Mia--I'm sorry, I...I--"
"It's okay." Jamia finally whispered. "Do you know where they went?"
"No, no I don't fucking know where they went, I don't--"
The words died in his throat, and he started tugging at his hair, holding back the tears.
"I don't know." he squealed.
Not knowing scared him.
"It'll be okay, Frank. They probably went to New York - Gerard has friends there."
Frank slipped to the ground, back resting against the wall.
The conversation was starting to suck him in, and he desperately needed to cry and scream and tear.
"I'll be home in a little bit, okay?" he finally managed to whisper.
"Okay. I love you."
"I love you too" he mechanically said, and wanted to scream.
There was a soft click on the other side, and then the phone's lifeless beeping started again.
He didn't even bother hanging it up. He just let it fall as his hands went limp.
The phone clunked to the floor and Frank stared into space.
The sob started deep in his throat and suddenly exploded. He cried.
Frank screamed, as he found himself on the floor in a fetal position.
He screamed and wished for his entire life to come back to him, because he knew, right then and there, that Gerard was gone forever.
And Frank hugged himself and pressed his face to his knees and lied there for a long, long time, for minutes that felt like hours, for hours that felt like days.
The thought that Gerard had left him was the only one he could manage to grasp and understand.
Gerard was gone.
For better, for worse.
He tugged at his hair. He ripped to shreds the note that Gerard had left him.
Frank cried and cried and cried. He cried until crying lost all meaning.
Until there weren't any tears left.
Until there was nothing but the sound of his sobbing, chest rattling, windpipe shaking.
And then he grew too tired even to sob, so he lied on the floor for a little longer, pitying himself.
Hating Gerard. Hating himself for hating Gerard.
Wishing he was there to hold him.
Trying to cry again. Failing to do so.
And then he stood up. Frank stood up, not feeling anywhere near real.
Feeling empty and drained and lonely. Feeling nothing at all and everything all at once.
He wobbled to his feet, lost his balance a couple of times and then climbed upstairs, turned right, straight down the hall, up to the door that led to Gerard's studio.
What came after was an impulse, an act of freedom, and, maybe, even an act of revenge.
But suddenly Frank found himself standing outside, in the cold December air, wearing nothing but a shirt and a pair of fancy pants.
There was a cardboard box at his feet, a box that held memories he felt and recollected on his very own skin each and every night. Memories sweeter than ambrosia. Memories he would've never forgotten, never let go of.
Memories he needed to erase.
Frank sighed, hands shaking ever so slightly as he stared at the pretty orange flame his Zippo had produced with just the simple click of a tiny little cog.
"I love you." he whispered.
The paper burned quickly, curling up, bleeding smoke into the crisp, cold air.
The paper burned quickly, erased it all in the space of mere heartbeats.
Frank clenched his fists, waited until the ashes melted with the freezing snow, swirled away.
Gone, but never lost.