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When he awakens, the world is a sharply cut edge of pain, ragged in the way Gerard imagines the edge of a piece of paper really is, if one has the tools to look. Even through all that, he can feel Mikey and Ray and Frank, can feel them waiting for him.

He makes himself open his eyes. It's a bad idea, but they seem to know that, and Ray's hauling him up, over the toilet just in time.

When he's done it's all he can do to cling to the structure of toilet, keep himself upright. He shakes with the effort of doing so.

Ray picks him back up and this time Mikey's there, too, stripping him down. They put him in the shower, and the hot water helps with the shakes, a little bit. It won't for long, but for the moment Gerard soaks it up, the same way he soaks up the feeling of Ray wrapping him in a towel.

Frank has changed Gerard's sheets for him.

Even clean the world is heavy, sodden, something he would prefer to slip out from underneath. "I called Brian," he says.

Mikey climbs in the bunk with him, folds Gerard up in his arms like he's always done when Gerard couldn't move, when there was nothing but the molasses of deadened inertia for him. Nothing but Mikey.

Ray says, "He called us. You scared him, buddy."

Gerard's still pretty scared. Terrified. Petrified. Thinking of synonyms is just scaring him more, so he stops.

Frank is sitting next to the bunk, on the floor, his head resting against the side of the bunk. Gerard can smell his shampoo and it's reassuring, even if his body is telling him it makes him want to puke.

"Sorry," Gerard says. "Sorry." He can feel the tears on his face, but he can't feel them coming, falling.

Mikey holds him tighter. "Later, okay, Gee? That's for later. When you know why you're saying it."

He knows now. He couldn't say, if asked, but he's not sure he could say his whole name, if asked, at the moment. And it's only going to get worse.

But Mikey has told him to wait, and Mikey is generally right about these things. Gerard says, "Stay?" and falls back asleep without waiting to see if they will.


It gets worse.

The word "pain" does not encompass the way Gerard's skin wants to peel itself off, devour itself, regurgitate itself. There is only the subarctic and the Saharan, his body refuses to recognize any temperature in between. And there is the need, the need so bad that the word "need" is meaningless, significant of nothing.

Mikey and Frank and Ray will not help him and he hates them, hates them in ways he didn't know he could hate another being, hates them with every molecule of his body that seems to want to slip away from him.

He holds on. He needs the fervency of his hatred.


It gets better, too.

The need does not go away. Gerard does not think it ever will. But it lessens, rides out on the tide that takes the pain and the fever and the sickness with it.

He tells Mikey, "I don't really hate you."

Mikey says, "I know."

And because maybe this is the time to say it, before he has to say other things, before he has to apologize again with words that mean something, Gerard says, "I love you."

Mikey says, "I know."

Gerard would smile, but this isn't Star Wars and he needs to hear Mikey say it, needs it like he needed the smack and he opens his mouth to say so but Mikey beats him there, with, "I love you more."

"So not," Gerard says, a little weakly, but it's the thought that counts.

Mikey nods, "So."

Gerard shakes his head.

Frank finds them like that ten minutes later and says, "Whatever it is, you're both wrong."

Gerard thinks maybe they're both right.


They have a show planned for when Gerard's just barely on his feet.

Even from backstage the lights are too bright and the crowd is too sharp and all Gerard can think is, nononono, but he has told Brian all of that, and Brian has said, "Yes," and Gerard owes Brian.

He is busy trying to remember the lyrics to their songs, any of their songs, when Ray and Frank and Mikey slip up behind him, a sneak attack.

Ray says, "It looks scarier from back here."

Gerard thinks he's lying, but nods, because Ray's allowed to lie if he wants to.

Mikey says, "Just listen for us."

Frank says, "Or, if you need to, turn to us."

"We'll be there," Ray tells him.

"I know. I know." Gerard does.

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Skin by egelantier, photo by microbophile