Who dreams about Freddie Mercury telling them they're dying?
Gerard slumped back in his chair, eyes closed. Family court. Ugh. These sessions never ended well, and this was bound to be the worst one yet. He hadn't slept well the night before; the thirty-five pots of coffee had seen to that. And this morning, he had avoided coffee altogether, out of fear that his body would decide it had had enough of his shit and simply shut down in the middle of the proceedings. On top of the exhaustion was a burning desperation for a cigarette, and on top of that, one hell of a headache and a general sense of ill-being and God, Gerard was just not ready for this. Not today. His nerves were fried. If they were going to make him sit and listen to Lindsey's asshole lawyer prattle on about reasons X, Y, and Z Gerard was a failure of a human being, then Asshole Lawyer and everyone else in the room was going to get to witness a grown man dissolve into a neurotic puddle.
"Mr. Way, will you kindly deign to pay some modicum of attention to the proceedings?"
He gave a silent groan, and sat up. Eyes still closed, he leaned forward to brace his elbows against the table he'd spread all of his paperwork out over, and was startled awake when instead he fell all the way over and nearly toppled out of his chair. He jerked up straight, staring wide-eyed at the sudden change in his surroundings. Gone was the bland courtroom, with its plastic chairs and state seals; he now found himself in what looked like a leftover set from Harry Potter. A vast stone dungeon, constructed like a small-scale arena, with a round clearing at the bottom that Gerard was sitting in. Around the clearing, stone benches were stacked in rings, and above them, Gerard could see impossibly high rib-vaulted ceilings with huge skylights that let in stormy gray light. The benches were packed all the way around with people, and alarmingly enough, Gerard recognized almost every face. Lindsey was there. So was Asshole Lawyer. They, along with the judge (who looked suspiciously similar to Dr. Hale) and Gerard's own lawyer Brian, were seated on the bench closest to the ground directly in front of him. The crowd got steadily stranger as Gerard's eyes traveled up and around: his mother, Mikey, people from the publishing firm, ex-girlfriends, ex-boyfriends, fans he'd met over the years, even his high school teachers. He felt his jaw drop when he looked up to the highest bench and saw Freddie Mercury, then Iggy Pop, and David Bowie, all sitting beside each other. Gerard suddenly noticed, too, that every person on the benches was glaring at him. All of them. Even his mother. Even David Bowie.
"W-What," Gerard stammered, and shook his head hard. "What are you all...." He trailed off helplessly and glanced at Iggy, who narrowed his eyes and scowled. "Where am I?"
"Silence from the defendant," Judge/Dr. Hale demanded, slamming her gavel against the stone. Gerard winced as the crack ricocheted around the dungeon. "You are not to speak unless prompted to do so. Do you understand?"
Gerard nodded, terrified. The judge gestured to Asshole Lawyer, who smirked and got to his feet.
"Mr. Way," he boomed, in that slimy condescending way Gerard loathed, "do you know why this court has assembled?"
He swallowed. "Uh. Ch-child support. And custody. Right?"
The dungeon erupted in cruel laughter. Gerard sunk down lower in the chair, and saw that it, too, had changed, from yellow plastic and metal to a silvery wood with armrests that had chains dangling from the ends. He gulped and gazed down at the dusty floor.
"We're somewhat beyond mundane 'child support,'" said the judge, once the noise had settled. She primly fixed her glasses on the bridge of her nose. "Today, we are here to discuss your last will and testament."
Gerard's head shot up. Will?
"Not that what you have to say about it will make much of a difference," Asshole Lawyer cut in with a leer.
Gerard was too stunned to find words. His mouth opened and closed and his face got steadily hotter and eventually he was just barely able to choke out a "What?"
"We expect you to die any day now," said Freddie Mercury, his arms crossed over his chest. Gerard's head reeled.
"You have lung cancer, Gerard," Mikey spat, and Gerard started, jerking to stare at him open-mouthed. "That's how it works. You die."
At last, Gerard found his tongue again. "How did you know I - what? I haven't told anyone yet! The doctors don't even know if it's malignant!" he cried, and tried to stand up, but found himself unable to move. He looked down and yelped in shock; instead of the chair, he was strapped to a gurney. Thick bands were stretched taut over his chest, waist, and knees. The tie and blazer he'd put on that morning had been replaced by a hospital gown, and there were heart monitor pads stuck to his exposed chest. IVs snaked out of his arms. He could see his reflection in the vital signs monitor screen, and saw that his hair was gone. "What the fuck!"
"Any day now," his mother hissed.
He thrashed frantically against the restraints. "I'm not dying!" he screamed. "Let me go!" He kept screaming as two nurses appeared out of nowhere to hold him down. Around him, the crowd had started climbing down from the benches, grinning and jeering as they came closer and closer. Out of the corner of his eye, Gerard saw the nurses nod to each other, and one pulled a cartoonish hypodermic needle out of her apron labeled in big black letters as "SEDATIVE."
What the fuck is going on, he thought helplessly, and let out a short shriek as she suddenly jammed it into his arm. His head filled with static. The crowd disappeared into a black void, and just before he passed out, he heard crackly telephone thunder and a high-pitched voice calling "Daddy? Are you okay?"
Gerard woke up on the floor next to his bed, sweaty and tangled up in the comforter. Afternoon sunlight was pouring into his bedroom. The moment he realized where he was, he dragged a hand free from the blankets and swiped it over the top of his head. His hair was still there. He flopped back with a sigh of relief. Dreaming, he'd been dreaming. Jesus Christ. What the fuck was wrong with his subconscious? He knew his imagination was overactive, but that was insane. Who dreams about Freddie Mercury telling them they're dying? It must have been the nicotine withdrawal. That, the lack of sleep, the poisonous levels of caffeine he'd ingested, and hell; for all he knew, cancer gave you weird nightmares.
With a yawn, he sat up, dislodged his limbs from the comforter cocoon, and hauled himself to his feet with the aid of the mattress. Squinting against the bright sunlight, he checked the alarm clock on the side table and balked. Three-thirty P.M. - that meant he'd been asleep for more than fourteen hours. Straight. He rolled his eyes; peachy. He'd probably missed a meeting or an important phone call or an angry phone call from Lindsey about the night before. As if on cue, his phone chimed. He blearily scanned the room until he found his jeans, and plucked them from the crumpled heap they'd ended up in before fishing his phone from a pocket.
New text message from Mikey Way: You alive?
He smiled a little. Barely, he typed back one-handed, while his other hand busied itself with getting the jeans on. Just woke up.
While Gerard was pulling an acceptable-smelling t-shirt over his head, his phone chimed again. How convenient, I'm on my way over. Want me to bring coffee?
NEVER MENTION THAT BEVERAGE TO ME EVER AGAIN.
Yeesh, fine. Tell me when I get there.
Gerard left his phone on the bedside table while he shuffled off to the bathroom to take the longest piss of his life (seriously, it took almost five minutes, had he liquidated internal organs or something?), and to cough more bloody crap into the sink. He wiped his mouth with the back of his hand, and stared at himself in the mirror. Jesus, he looked awful. Bordering on zombie-like. He was even paler than usual, the lines around his eyes and mouth were well on their way to becoming crevasses, his eyes were much more brown than green, and the dark circles underneath them were bad enough to make it look like he'd gotten punched. He blew his bangs out of his eyes and looked down at the counter instead; he splashed water on his face, and didn't glance up at himself again as he left the bathroom.
On his way to the stairs, he passed by his writing office, and felt the first pang of desire for a cigarette that morning. He shook his head, remembering the dream and the blood in the sink. Couldn't risk it. It was good he had held onto the self-control he'd learned the first time he'd quit something, or he'd most likely be dead in a month.
That's how lung cancer works. You die.
He shivered, and headed down the stairs. The sooner he forgot about that dream, the better.
Gerard's kitchen was huge and updated, with two ovens and a walk-in pantry that had a skylight. The cabinets were frosted glass and chrome, the fixtures were chrome, the countertops were made of marble, and Gerard didn't have any use for a single part of it outside of the coffee pot and the microwave. He used the fridge and the pantry, too, but the fridge was mostly to hold milk and wine and the pantry was mostly to hold cereal and instant ramen. He didn't have enough custody of Bandit to keep food on hand for her, and it wasn't like people were coming over all the time. Well, except Mikey, but he didn't count. Mikey ate about once a week, and it was never at home, be it Gerard's or his own. So Gerard had no idea what to do with himself once he got down there; he couldn't make coffee, and he wasn't hungry. Eventually, he settled for grabbing the milk jug out of the fridge and wandering around the downstairs with it.
When Mikey let himself in the front door, he found Gerard holding the now half-empty milk jug and staring at the painting in the living room that hung over the piano.
"Hey," said Mikey, caution in his voice. He walked up to Gerard, and put a hand on his shoulder. "You okay?"
Gerard said nothing for a few seconds, just swigged some milk and gazed at the painting awhile longer. "Define 'okay,'" he said at last.
"Nothing too weird happened?"
Gerard quirked an eyebrow. "Define weird."
Mikey sighed. "You. You are the definition of weird." He took the milk jug from Gerard and set it onto the piano. "Something's up. You're acting even stranger than you usually do."
"And you figured that out from being here for all of two minutes?"
"That really shouldn't even have been something you'd question." Mikey wrapped an arm around Gerard's shoulders and leaned his head against Gerard's. "Plus you said you didn't want coffee, and that's a sure sign of the impending apocalypse."
Gerard managed a laugh at that. "Yeah, you'd think." He slipped his arm around Mikey's waist and sighed. "It's been a strange week. I just quit smoking - "
"You did what?" Mikey took a dramatic step sideways and stared open-mouthed at Gerard. "Oh my God, the apocalypse really is upon us."
"Shut up." Gerard rolled his eyes. "It's not that big of a deal."
"No, you shut up, I'm being serious. What's gotten into you? First you quit coffee, and now you quit smoking?" Mikey lowered his voice. "Is this because of the divorce? Did they tell you that you had to quit in order to get more custody? Cause if they did, that's bullshit and probably illegal - "
"Calm down, they didn't say anything like that. Lindsey wouldn't grant me more custody if I turned out to be the second coming of Christ." Gerard buried his hands in his pockets. "I quit because I wanted to, okay? Don't freak out. Plenty of other people quit smoking every day."
"Yeah, the key word there being 'other.' This is coming from the man who once told me that smoking is a pillar of his existence?"
Gerard gave him a look. "I'm almost forty, Mikes. I have to start worrying about shit like emphysema. And I actually want to be around when Bandit graduates high school and all."
Mikey studied him for a long few moments. "Something happened," he announced. "Something big. That's why you're making all these out-of-character changes, isn't it?" He took a step closer. "And you're paler than death. Honestly, Gerard, you look like shit."
"Gee, thanks," Gerard snapped. This was starting to hit way too close to home. He couldn't tell Mikey about the tumor yet; not until he knew for certain whether it was going to get bigger or not. "Why did you come over, anyway?"
Mikey's face hardened. "Because I didn't know that pod people had stolen my brother and replaced him with some asshole doppelganger. What the hell is your problem?"
"What's my problem? You showed up at my house without asking, and started in on me for no reason!"
"Gerard, you were staring at a painting you've never so much as glanced at like it held the key to happiness! And you were holding a gallon of milk! You don't even drink milk!" Mikey ran a hand through his hair and gave a helpless shrug. "I'm just trying to figure out what's going on with you. You look terrible, Gerard. Did something happen with the publisher?"
Gerard crossed his arms over his chest. "No."
"Did you read a bad review?"
Mikey heaved a sigh. "So you expect me to believe that this is just withdrawal."
"If you want."
"I'm not buying it." Mikey stepped forward, and hugged him. "Please tell me," he said softly. "Now I'm worried about you."
"You're always worried about me," said Gerard, muffled by Mikey's jacket pressed against his mouth.
"More so than usual. C'mon, you know you can tell me." He pulled back and smiled. "Besides, you know I'm going to wheedle it out of you somehow."
Gerard stared at him hollowly. Seconds passed. Mikey's smile gradually disappeared, replaced by the line that his lips turned into just before he officially started freaking out.
"Speak," Mikey demanded, nudging his shoulder. "Blink. Breathe. Something."
Without a word, Gerard turned and picked up the milk jug, shuffling back toward the kitchen to put it back in the fridge.
He kept walking. Any more questioning, and Gerard was gonna crack, and he wasn't ready to tell Mikey, because as logic-missing as it was he was terrified his dream was going to become his life if he told anyone. Numb, he placed the milk jug inside the largely bare fridge, and made to take a seat at the kitchen table. Mikey was right behind him, though, and stopped him, locking his long fingers around Gerard's wrist and spinning him around.
"Stop fucking with me," he said, low and what sounded dangerously close to tears. "Whatever it is, I can handle it. Please, Gerard, you're scaring me."
Gerard gently tugged his arm away, and shook his head. "I can't tell you."
Mikey looked like he'd been slapped. "What?"
"I can't tell you, because then it's real, and I have to start actually dealing with it." There. Vague honesty was always good. He walked over to one of the huge western-facing windows, and shut his eyes against the sun, leaning his forehead against the warm glass.
"Oh my God." Mikey sounded horrified. "You're dying."
"Not yet," said Gerard, his eyes still closed. "It ain't over till it's over."
There was a scraping sound. Gerard opened his eyes, and turned back to face the kitchen, leaning against the window. Mikey had fallen against the table, and was now using it to hold himself up. He looked like he couldn't decide whether he wanted to throw up, or scream. "What is it?" he croaked.
Gerard held Mikey's gaze with as much composure as he could muster. "Cancer," he said flatly. "Lung cancer. They found a tumor in my right lung. Dunno if it's malignant or not, but it's there." He swallowed. "Hence the weirdness."