He was dead.
"Gerard. Gerard, look at me. Focus."
Gerard was slumped against one of the pews, a strikingly light figure in devil's clothing, burning to exhaustion and run around the hamster wheel until life threatened to collapse in on itself. I kneeled down, my knees protesting as they hit the hard wood floor, and grabbed his hand in mine.
"Gerard. You're pale. I...What can I do?"
"I left him, Frank," Gerard replied softly, eyes gazing up towards the ceiling. "I left him there, tied to the bed with burning wrists and hollow eyes. I left my brother to die."
I opened my mouth to deny it, to claim that it wasn't true, that it would be okay. That we'd be okay. But my jaw clenched shut like the twist fingers of denial and truth had pressed against my throat, holding in the words of encouragement that had never failed me before. My fingers were trembling in his stark white hands, and I couldn't tell where fright began and the death of a soul ended.
I was terrified.
His eyes were reckless as he processed his decision through his head, and I could see the regret on every fleck of green in his eyes; I could feel the rue as he shivered.
He got up.
My hand slid from his.
And he was running running running, straight past the pews blanketed with thick maroon fabric; past the mosaic windows with angels of God and Saint Peter and protection; past the blurs of colour and heightened ceilings and candles that flickered against the waves of air that wisped past them, like ghosts, thriving on heat and craving a breeze to send them higher and stronger into the dawning air.
I knew where he was going. What he wanted.
I tore after him, my feet pounding into the wood as the thoughts in my head sprang to life, smacking against the surface of my nerves and the marrow of my bone, screaming.
Stop him. They know where you are. Stop him.
"STOP!" I screamed, pleaded, but whether for the words I was hearing, for Gerard to cease, or for the whole world to just quit spinning, just for this moment, I didn't know. But I couldn't let Gerard go out that door.
The doors banged open revealing a distant pale pink sky, and I barely had time to grab onto Gerard's shirt sleeve, shouting, "They'll be waiting!" before he was yanked out of my grasp.
With a small cry of shock, Gerard was pulled against Lincoln's chest quicker than lightening, and all I could make out the shadows of their facial features in the darkness as Lincoln's mouth opened, wide, wide, little points of perfect white curving over his other teeth.
I saw the glimmer before I saw the blood.
With a satisfied sigh, like the whole world had just suddenly become right, Lincoln sunk his teeth into the tender flesh of Gerard's neck, drawing blood deeply out of the wound while Gerard fell limp, motionless in Lincoln's clutches, his eyes wide in shock and pain.
I screamed. Something. Words fell from my lips like ice in a numbed mouth; I lost all control and my skin tingled with the undeniable. Gerard was bitten. I was too late.
I rushed forward, as in a dream, my hands looking more like pale globs of melted rubber gloves than anything that could possibly do any significant damage. But I felt my fist ball up in rage, fear, hatred, denial, madness, and I slid down the first step just in time to allow my anger to come into straight contact with Lincoln's face, breaking his teeth away from Gerard as his head was jerked back.
I saw Gerard's skin tear as the teeth were ripped out savagely, and he let out a strangled cry as blood spurted out of the wound and rushed down his shoulder, soaking his t-shirt crimson with surprising speed. He reached out, groping for my hand blindly.
I grabbed him, fingers splayed across wrist bones, and dragged him up the few sets of steps he managed to cover before Lincoln had taken him. He was choking, one hand held up to his throat as blood rushed past the splits between his fingers.
"Good luck with him, Bird!" I heard Lincoln shout, spitting up blood onto the grass as I pushed Gerard through the doorway into the church.
"I left you a little present in his bloodstream! He'll be coming along quite nicely soon enough!"
I slammed the heavy doors behind me.
"I'm so sorry, Frank."
I tore off another strip of my jacket, pressing it against the tender flesh around his wound. The bleeding had stopped, and miraculously, the marks seemed to be healing at an almost inhuman speed.
I had laid him against one of the pews, never allowing him to rest on his back for my fear of his asphyxiation on his own blood, if the wound was even that severe.
"It's alright," I replied gently, pushing a stray strand of hair behind his ear while holding the cloth to his neck. "It was just instinct. And you got away, that's what matters. We're here and we're safe and we're together, right?"
"I just wanted to see Mikey again," Gerard swallowed, his black hair ruffled by the course cloth and wood of the pew. "I felt so guilty. So guilty. I couldn't just leave him there. He's my little brother. My responsibility."
"Gerard," I whispered softly, "You did everything you could for Mikey. Everything that could have been done while we had the chance, you did it. You took good care of him, baby. He loves you."
Gerard smiled, a weak grin that lasted only seconds before his head nodded to the side and his eyes slipped shut.
"I'm just going to... sleep for a bit, okay?" he asked me, and before I had a chance to reply, his head flopped onto his shoulder and his breathing deepened.
"Okay," I responded quietly, running a finger down the side of his cheek and pretending I couldn't hear the sound of voices outside of the mosaic windows.
"Ray turned this morning."
"Are you alright?" I whispered urgently, trying not to wake Gerard. He had only been sleeping for around ten minutes, chest rising and falling steadily, but his peace looked too divine to be interfered with.
"Yeah. Yeah we're okay," Bob's strong voice replied in my ear. "We tied him up in the back of the van, and he keeps calling us whiney, insecure little peasants, but besides that, everything is okay. I guess. How's Gerard? And Mikey? Are you still at the motel?"
I hesitated, wondering how to reply. The truth seemed more believable, but far less tragic. And in the back of my mind, I knew we were all dead anyway.
So I lied.
"Yeah, we're still here. Gerard's asleep right now, and Mikey's still being a little bitch, and I'm still mankind's last hope, apparently."
Give them bliss in ignorance, Frank.
"How is he? Gerard, I mean," Bob lowered his voice slowly. "I know him and Mikey are--were--really close. Is he alright?"
I looked down at Gerard's body, embraced by the warmth of candles and the comfort of slumber, and nearly managed a smile.
"Yeah, he's okay. A little out of it, but okay."
Bliss in ignorance.
We're all dead anyway.
Bliss in ignorance.
"Listen, Bob--my battery's dying. I've got to cut you short."
"Yeah, I understand. Call us when the coast is clear, yeah? We'll be waiting to hear from you."
"Sure thing," I choked, and hung up, the full bar of my battery blinking back at me mockingly. I stole another glance at Gerard, then immediately dropped the phone in shock.
It fell to the floor and landed with a hard crack, shattering the front cover and causing the battery to skid across the ground and underneath a pew.
Rushing over, I grabbed Gerard's arms and tried to stop the awful shaking that racked his body.
"Gerard! Christ, wake up...."
His skin was pasty white. Unhealthy. Inhuman. Sweat was beginning to blossom on his face and the pores along his arms, while he convulsed alarmingly, his eyes fluttering open.
He twitched his head and fingers, blinking to get his eyes focused long enough to remember his current residence. After a short and mildly confused pan of the room, he looked up to meet my eyes in the hollow monstrosity that was the church.
"Frank," he stated suddenly, my name falling from his lips like a rip in a basket of water, pouring out and leaving a trail of mess and discord behind it. "Frank, I don't feel well."
My heart leapt into my throat until I struggled to swallow, forcing it back down until it hit my lower stomach and churned the acid around, spreading it in thin layers all over my insides so that I was burning. Burning alive from the inside out. And the look he shot me was of innocent, blatant confusion as to why he hurt. Why it had to happen this way.
"Where does it hurt? Tell me."
His face was drooping, the lines in his smile beginning to frown as his expression shifted from one extreme to the other; he was terrified; lonely; absent. Absent.
And suddenly, his body convulsed again until his eyes rolled into the back of his head as all his limbs twitched horribly, jerking off of the floor and jumping inches into the air.
"Gerard! Jesus...! I--"
I took hold of his arms, trying to help him steady himself because honestly, I had no idea what to do. All the things I had read about what to do in a situation like this began blurring together. Do I lay him on his back, or would that kill him? Do I talk to him and hold him, or will that make it worse?
But as suddenly as he began, he stopped. His eyes returned to their normal position (though his focus was off), and though his body continued to quiver, the violent shakes had ceased.
"Gerard," I said softly to the broken body before me, slumped against the pew. My eyes were blurring.
Gerard blinked heavily once. Twice. Then, with a look that clearly stated it was taking everything in him not to pass out, he opened his mouth to say, "He's coming," while blood splattered out of his lips from the back of his throat, dribbling into his shirt and onto the floors of the House of God. I barely had time to gape at his blood-stained teeth before the door flew open, revealing Lincoln, a beacon of darkness that stood out against the light of approaching dawn.
I yelled, pointing at him. I told him to leave. Leave and never show his face again. I screamed at him for defying the rules again, for cheating. For coming out in the day, for entering a building uninvited, for stepping inside of a church. I yelled and screamed and cursed.
"I do what I wish," he said, and I was falling deeper.
"LEAVE US ALONE!" I screamed madly, jumping up and starting towards him. He smirked lightly, head cocking in a manner of playful curiosity as he waited for me to reach him.
A sudden shiver racked through my body, and I knew I couldn't make it. I knew I would die trying to kill this creature, this beast, this thing that crawled through the night and sinned against God in His very own house. We were all dead, and I was going to be killed while trying to bring down a monster I had no chance against.
But fuck if I wasn't going to try.
"You're dead, motherfucker," I said, stepping towards him, feeling so out of body and out of mind, that I thought I might already be dead.
"Yes, I suppose I am," Lincoln responded cheerfully, "But before we get into discussion about my existence on this planet, perhaps you'd better take another look at your little friend over there, eh?"
I swivelled around. Gerard was convulsing again.
"Shit!" I cried, rushing back over to him and throwing myself onto the floor next to his body, which was changing temperature so rapidly I had no idea what to do for him. His eyes were closed, clenched tight shut in pain as his mouth fell open, deep harsh breaths falling from his lips as he jumped at every sharp pain coursing through his body.
"What did you do to him?!" I shouted back at Lincoln, taking Gerard's hand in my own.
Lincoln smiled calmly from across the church. "It's a nifty little trick we picked up; a torture device, if you will, though we rarely use it. I believe that Mr. Edgar Allen Poe called it 'The Red Death'?"
He grinned, and I could feel any form of anger melting off my face, replaced by pure terror.
"He was infected nearly twenty minutes ago," Lincoln added, "The final effects should be taking their toll on the poor chap."
And with that, Gerard's eyes sprang open as he gasped in agony. His hand clutched mine painfully, squeezing as each agonizing throb passed through his body, and his eyes remained unfocused. He stared past me--above me--to things only he could see. Things I couldn't. Things that weren't there.
"Gerard..." I cried, tears welling in my eyes so badly that I had to blink several times to see clearly. They fell on his arm and rolled off delicately, a perfect compliment to Gerard's beauty.
His eyes finally settled on me as he let out another shaky breath, hand still gripping mine like I would disappear if he released me. Maybe I would. Maybe he would.
Then, to my horror, I saw little red glistening drops building up in the dips of his eyelids, shimmering like tiny pearls against his hazel orbs. And when he blinked, tears of blood cascaded down his face and collected underneath his chin, soaking into the collar of his already blood-stained shirt.
I sobbed, wetly and choked, muttering to him sweetly. Pleading.
"Gerard. Please, don't leave me. Don't go. I can't..."
I was crying, translucent tears to match his on my face, while Lincoln snickered in the background. His plan was finally being carried out. I would be alone, defenceless, and hurt. Hurt so badly that he could just take me alive or claw straight through my chest; whichever he saw fit.
Gerard wasn't going to live. Neither was I.
"I love you," I whispered, leaning down to his kiss lips chastely, but to my surprise he reached up and gripped my shirt, holding me close as he moved and struggled to choke words in my ear.
"Sing, Bird. Sing."
Then he pushed me away, screaming at the top of his lungs. I fell to the floor and looked back in time to watch blood begin to leak out of all the pores on his body; his arms and face held little red needle points that glimmered in the colourful light that was dawn on the windows, and blood was now forming at the corners of his eyes as he clenched them shut in pain. He was bleeding. He was in agony. His skin was on fire, ripping itself apart at the seams.
"It is time," I heard Lincoln say smoothly.
But at his words, my shaking hands became steadier. My heart hammered more dutifully against my ribcage, and my red, tearful eyes narrowed in rage.
I wouldn't sit back and watch Gerard die. I wouldn't.
It wasn't my purpose.
Sing, Bird. Sing.
I rose to my feet and turned to face him with an air of purpose. Of mindless action. Of recklessness. He caught the electricity in the air and his smile wavered. I stood at one end of the aisle. He stood at the other. I knew I had to destroy him, but the fight was one-sided; I didn't even have a weapon; I would barely feel his body before I would be torn open alive.
But somehow, I knew. I knew this wasn't it. This wasn't my time. Whether I died or not, it didn't matter. I wasn't supposed to.
It's not your time.
"You'll be sorry you fucked with us," I said calmly, waiting for him to rush me.
And rush he did. With a grin, he replied, "The Bird must be killed," and soon he was moving, only seconds away with the speed that he travelled. I kept my eyes open, waiting for the impact, ready to embrace it.
But it never came.
A loud crash sounded behind me, echoing off of the wooden walls and upsetting the perfection the church. With a united cry of pure hatred, hundreds of birds smashed through the glass of the high mosaic window, sending the pieces tinkling to the ground in a colourful, graceful rain. They bounced off the floor and reflected each pale sunbeam that was dawn filtering in through the broken window, a light upon the ages; a beauty unknown to man.
The flew at Lincoln, knocking off his glasses so that he hissed and turned away from the sun. The sound was dizzying. The cries of birds and the soft rain of broken glass littering the floor mixed together to create a symphony so powerful that I felt strengthened. I felt invincible. I didn't want to die.
Lincoln looked at me, confusion and fear plastered onto his pale, exposed eyes, and I knew this was my chance. He was lost. Unsure. I could kill him.
But a sudden, horrible pain racked through my body, chilling me to the core, inside and out. My blood turned to ice and my heartbeat stopped, quickened, then pounded and the ache in my very bones set a fire in my flesh, as a sick, sudden agony of overwhelming hurt coursed through my veins. With a shock of understanding, I turned to look at Gerard.
The glass had cut part of his face, but no blood flowed from it. The dried tears on his face hid his pale skin behind a blood-red mask, and his body was uncommonly still. No breath. No bleeding. No life.
Part of me was ripped savagely from my body, carried away to heaven and hell, and I nearly collapsed.
Gerard was gone.
He was dead.
Memories and thoughts flooded back to me, but they were blurred and I couldn't understand. All I knew is that Gerard was dead, never to hold me again. Never to laugh, to sing, to cry. Never to paint on the couch with my fingers trailing in his hair; never to listen to a fan's child recreate a song; never to play best man at Mikey's wedding.
With a inhuman cry of rage, I gave everything I had. I welled up my anger, fear, sadness, and deep, deep depression and slammed my fist hard. Hard. Into Lincoln's chest.
It broke the skin. It broke the muscle. He took a step backwards in shock and pain and I followed him, my fist stuck inside of his chest, my fingers closing around his heart. I said nothing, no comeback for my honour, no vengeance for Gerard, nothing, as I ripped out the small red organ, still beating in my bloodied hand.
I shredded it, tearing at the veins and arteries and until there was nothing left but a bloody mess, a ripped pile of tissue and muscle, and Lincoln fell to the ground. Throwing down the remains of his heart, I slammed my foot into his neck as he managed to choke out, his mouth bleeding profusely, "Good show, chap."
And then there was ash, and nothing more. The birds swarmed down upon Lincoln's remains, and I flinched and backed away, unsure. But when they flew away, nothing remained. Just wood and blood and the aura of something surely evil.
Lincoln was gone.
Without another thought I rushed over to Gerard. His skin was deathly white and his shirt was soaked with blood, like his skin and when I checked his pulse I found nothing, but the pain in my heart could have told me that.
I pulled his dead body into my arms and cried. Cried for everything I had lost, cried for Mikey, for Gerard, for everyone that went through hell along with us. And the high ceilings of the church echoed my anguish, reverberating all of my sorrow back to me in a sick, cruel game. The lights never went out, and the birds never sang. The tragedy hung over my head like a weight iron, the ropes slipping, slipping, slipping, letting it crash upon me.
But I felt a pressure. Something pulling him away from me and I looked up, curious, wiping the tears away with a shaking hand so as to see better. Gerard's face was level with mine now, but he was still most certainly dead.
"What is..." I mumbled, transfixed to the spot as I realized Gerard was being lifted into the air, supported only by the atmosphere around him. Mouth hanging agape, I watched as he was raised high above me, his black hair falling around his face as blood dripped from his arms to land with gentle splatters in front of my feet.
The light from the broken window became blinding, and I covered my eyes at the intensity. Then, a voice that sent waves after waves of hope through my spine spoke through the church, a powerful booming that I had only read about, listened about at Sunday school.
"Look upon me, child."
The light was staggering. I was in reverie. A dream. This wasn't happening.
Had I died?
"You have done well; I thank you."
Oh, I'm dead. I'm dead I'm dead, I'm so dead. This isn't real.
"For that, I give you my forgiveness. And the gift of life."
We stepped through the doorway, carefully avoiding the broken glass and shattered wood. His hand was linked with mine, and had been the entire walk over here; It was something I had never wanted to give up now, never again.
He was still tied to the bed, his head drooping to side. When he heard the voices, however, he jumped clear out of his skin and whipped his head around to look at us, a hopeful grin gracing his features.
And there was Mikey.
Mikey's eyes, Mikey's soul, Mikey's body.
"Mikey, Jesus," Gerard mumbled, throwing himself on the ground next to Mikey and holding him, restraints and all, kissing his cheek and running a hand through his hair.
"Oh Mikey, I thought you were dead. You...oh my god. Mikey. Christ. I love you so much."
Mikey squirmed uncomfortably, but he laughed nonetheless. "Gerard! Gerard, wait--no, Gee, seriously! Haha, no, come on. Hey--HEY! You going to untie me, or what?"
Five months later, and the world had started to clean itself back up again. Gerard and I had gotten an apartment in Queens in the same building as Mikey and Alicia's, so that Gerard would never have to be too far from his brother. Ray (full transformed back), Bob, and Brian, had met up with us on the interstate, travelling back through the ghost of the nightmare. I told them Lincoln was dead, and that's all that mattered to them. The church was kept a secret. I always got the hint that he never wanted to talk about anyway.
Life was getting back on track, slowly but surely, and life was still prospering. The effect Lincoln and his kind had was harsh, but could be reconstructed. The only thing that we couldn't undo was the countless deaths, which had numbered high and painful. I clutched onto Gerard's arm harder as I thought about it, sitting in the comfort of our living room and watching movies.
"Hey," Gerard whispered to me gently, kissing the top of my head, "You have yet to ask me what it feels like to be dead."
I searched his face, rememorizing every detail that I already knew by heart, and recalled the pain I felt when I realized he had left this world. How deep I had been cut. How the will to live had been ripped clean out of me. Leaning up and kissing him tenderly on the lips, I whispered back.
"I think I already know."