Six months later
Monsieur Way was, by now, widely regarded as the town fool, with his ridiculous tales of a monstrous beast who lived in a castle in the forest. He claimed the creature had kidnapped his son, and begged the villagers to do something about it, to slaughter the terrible creature, to save his dear Gerard. But nobody listened, preferring instead to live inside their bubble of safety where there never was and never would be any beasts.
Michael Way was quite sure he had taken care of the problem. His brother was soft, but not so soft that he would hesitate to defend himself when faced with a monster. Frank, as far as he was concerned, did not exist. Gerard was daft for believing his invisible fiancé to be human. The beast was likely dead by now, as he thought them to be one in the same.
The Beast was not dead.
"Oh, come now, you must at least try!" Gerard huffed at the worried looking Beast, who was hovering unsurely in the threshold of the stables. The horses whuffed nervously upon seeing him, ears pinned back, but Raymond, the head groom, calmed them with a few quiet words. Though they could not see him, Raymond had a marvelous way with all animals, especially the fine beasts of the stable.
"But…" the Beast chewed his lip and immediately winced. His teeth were too sharp. "They see me as a predator."
"Because you look like a predator," Gerard replied, and the Beast glared at him. "I mean to say," Gerard sighed, "that you need to prove the horses otherwise."
"I do not think this will end particularly well," the Beast warned, and he stepped into the stable. One of the horses, a yearling, screamed in terror, not having seen him before, and the Beast flinched slightly. Gerard saw it, though, and came closer, gently patting the Beast's arm. He glanced down at the pale hand and Gerard smiled at him. The horses paused in their panic, increased by their comrade's cries. The human was standing near to the predator. The predator was not harming him. They were quite perplexed. Raymond hummed encouragement to them, and there was a soft ripple in the air as he came to stand next to the predator as well. The creature did not harm the Invisible Man, either, and the Invisible Man told them the Beast was good.
"There," Gerard said, hushed, still with his hand on the Beast's arm, "see, they are getting used to you."
Raymond spoke in his incredibly soothing voice, somehow like both honey and water in the way it flowed, rose and fell. "You should try Bleu; he will take to you, Master." Raymond drifted through the air with small disturbances in the dust upon the floor, making his way to a stall near the end, where a huge blue roan Andalusian stallion watched them with mild interest. His ears flicked as the Beast came closer, and his tail switched, but he gave no other reaction.
"Hello," the Beast rumbled, extending a paw awkwardly, tentatively reaching to stroke the horse's broad nose. It snorted, and he exhaled hard when his fur met the horse's velvety muzzle. "Hello, Bleu."
Its ears pricked up, and Bleu snorted again, kicking his large hooves up in a kind of resigned excitement. Gerard smiled again, and the Beats bared his teeth back.
It had taken several tries, but eventually they got the Beast safely situated on the back of Bleu, who was actually acting a little uneasy now that he had a creature vaguely resembling a wolf, a panther, and a man atop him. But Raymond assured them that Bleu was a cocky stallion who would eventually flaunt the fact that his rider was not human.
Raymond, as always, was right. In no time, Gerard and the Beast were riding Belle and Bleu through the forest and into the mountains with very little trouble. Belle was jumpy around the Beast, but she trusted her human to keep her safe, for the most part, and this Beast did not smell as though he meant any harm.
They rode faster and faster through the wild wood, startling pheasants that scattered from the underbrush with shrieking calls, making the twigs and leaves crackle under the horses' pounding hooves. It was, Gerard decided, quite exhilarating. The pheasants agreed, with their harsh kok, kok, kok calls.
After much perspiring and the rocking motions of the cantering steeds, they came upon a place where the trees parted and revealed a cliff edge, looking down into the city in the distance, the whole world seeming to stretch out before them. They were on the foothills of the mountains, the very mountains Gerard's husband had hunted in.
He suddenly became very somber.
"Frank was hunting a white stag in these woods," he said quietly, dismounting and leading Belle towards the cliff, staring down at the city he'd never been to, the entire world beyond which he often dreamed of visiting. No, not dreamed…craved. He was nineteen now, and he thirsted for adventure beyond the walls of the castle and this safe little valley he'd lived in for all of his small existence.
"Was he?" The Beast had slid from Bleu's back as well, and stood now beside Gerard, his eyes distant. "How very peculiar."
"Yes," Gerard said. "A white stag. He seemed quite intrigued by it…he told me he didn't wish to hurt it, only to…have it as his own. It was most strange." The Beast did not reply. Gerard licked his lips and glanced down. "I sometimes wonder if…if he left me to search for the stag."
Gerard did not speak about Frank nowadays, and the Beast never brought up the subject. Thus, he wasn't at all surprised when the Beast started and blinked hard, staring at him. He was, however, a little surprised when the Beast pulled Gerard around to face him, claws digging in the smallest bit. Gerard, uncomprehending, blinked right back.
"Frank didn't do that," the Beast said in earnest. "He wouldn't do that, Gerard. He loved you, and he never really left you-" Something quite curious happened then, and the Beast coughed, a paw flying to his throat at once, face twisting up in pain. He bent double, still gasping and hacking, and when he straightened up again, there was red on his paw. Gerard's eyes widened.
"Beast?" he asked nervously. "Is that…are you bleeding?"
The Beast ducked his head, mouth twisted up in a grimace. Gerard cautiously touched his shoulder, and got a low growl in response. He snatched his hand back, nervous. The Beast growled again, and when the creature turned around, he looked…terrified.
"Beast?" Gerard whispered again. "Are you alright?"
The Beast whimpered, holding both hands over his mouth. He shook his head violently, refusing to meet Gerard's eyes. The other gently pried the paws from the Beast's mouth, and gaped when he succeeded. The leathery pads of the paws were covered in scarlet blood, dripping from the black claws and staining the dark fur.
"Beast," Gerard cried, "what's happening to you?"
He whined in response, and winced as soon as he did, clutching his neck again, agony distorting his features even further. His mouth opened and he tried to form words, but they came out as pitiful grunts, animal noises, nothing more.
Gerard could see, though, that the intelligence was still there, that the Beast didn't know what was happening now, either. "The castle," he said firmly, "we must get you back to the castle." The Beast agreed with a miserable, anguished groan, allowing Gerard to lead him to Bleu, who shied away at the sharp, metallic smell of blood.
Frustrated, Gerard pleaded with the horse, wishing he had Raymond's expertise, but in the end it was Belle who nudged the obstinate stallion's shoulder, nickering and saying in her own way, It is his own blood, not from another. He needs your help.
The stallion was won over by this, smitten by the idea that this pretty mare thought he could help another creature. Thus he let the Beast collapse onto his back, and only recoiled a little when the hot droplets of blood occasionally splattered across his regal neck.
Within the walls of the castle, the Beast lay curled in his bed, and Gerard thought for a moment how strangely small he looked, so vulnerable and weak behind his matted fur, curling horns, and pointed teeth. The creature held a cloth to his mouth, coughing into it and making the crimson seep through, his shoulders hunched.
Gerard did not understand what the cause of the bleeding was. No amount of tea, compresses, honey, water, or herbs had helped. Gerard feared it might be something to do with the Beast's lungs, something internal and impossible to fix, but he hoped that was not the case. The Beast was the only one he had left, after Frank had gone. The servants were friendly, but living such an insubstantial existence made them forgetful and oftentimes quite irritating and unhelpful. The Beast was the one who seemed closest to a human, though in appearances, the invisible people beat him by a mile.
But if something happened…Gerard would be lost. He was bound to stay here, though if the Beast died perhaps he could escape. But then where would he go? His family – not just his father, Mikey, too – had betrayed him. It was his father's fault he was here. It was Mikey's fault Frank was gone, and, well, partly Gerard's fault, too.
But he mustn't think about Frank, so he didn't.
He had a sneaking suspicion that the Beast knew what the problem was, why he suddenly couldn't speak and was coughing up his insides. But he couldn't say, and anyway, he made no attempt to communicate it to Gerard, just lay there looking wretched and feverish. To check this, Gerard laid his palm over the Beast's forehead. It was very hot, and he drew away quickly, though not before the dim eyes caught his, sad and green. The Beast did open its mouth then, as though to talk, but Gerard stopped it before the action caused the creature even more pain.
"Don't speak," he murmured, petting the Beast's ears in a way meant to be calming. His fur was quite soft, he felt then. "Just sleep."
The Beast stared at him a while longer before shutting his eyes obediently and settling down, still holding the cloth close to his mouth so he wouldn't stain the pillow. Gerard continued to stroke the fur of his ears and neck, and eventually the Beast sank into a light slumber, his breath raspy and rattling in his suffering lungs.
Gerard awoke in the chair he'd dragged next to the bed the next morning, his neck sore and his eyes encrusted with sleep. His mood was foul, but when he was more alert, he saw the Beast on the other side of the room, tugging on a shirt with some difficulty. Gerard stood up, ready to send him back to bed like a protective mother, but the Beast said without turning, "Do not fear. It seems I have made a miraculous recovery." Gerard froze before relaxing. The Beast had animal senses; surely it had heard him wake up. And then it processed through his tired mind.
"You can talk! Oh, Beast, thank the Lord." Gerard breathed a sigh of relief, beaming widely. "Your throat, does it hurt much?"
The Beast's tone was dark. "Oh, no, not much at all. Only as though a mousquetaire slashed it repeatedly with a bayonet. Other than that, I am right as rain."
Gerard's face fell. "Beast, I'm sorry. I did all I could, but nothing helped."
"No!" bellowed the Beast, and he turned now, the rage on his face alarming. "You did not do all you could have! You could have saved me! You could have stopped this long ago!"
Gerard turned ashen, eyes large. "W-what do you mean? Beast, please, tell me, I shall help you in any way I can-"
"I cannot tell you! I tried-" at this a cough started, but the Beast pushed it down. "You did not understand! You will never understand, you stupid boy!"
Gerard took a step back. The words, so similar to those words Frank had said six months ago, hit home, and he did not like the feeling. This time, of course, they were not followed by a desperate noise or a soft kiss, but instead a scorching glare. The Beast was furious, but he was also broken and despairing, although Gerard did not know why, or what had caused it. He only knew that the Beast had called him stupid, had said he would never understand, said that Gerard could have saved him, and Gerard failed.
That hurt more than anything. He'd hated seeing the Beast as he had been last night, as he was now, and to think he could have prevented that and had failed? No, it was too much. And so, like a coward, he shrank back, away from the accusing jade eyes and the beastly Beast, running through the corridors of his beautiful prison.
Gerard did not answer, keeping his eyes fixed quite determinedly on the text in front of him. It was a book about a man who killed for fun, and it was very depressing, suiting his mood quite well, though he found it only made him feel worse. And every time the novel mentioned blood, his mind flashed back to the blood upon the Beast's hands, the horror in his eyes. He tried to piece it all together. He could not concentrate. He failed.
He failed again.
"Gerard!" The door to his bedroom – no, not his and Frank's anymore, just his – and an invisible presence entered.
"Leave!" Gerard commanded, voice trembling. He did not wish to put up with the exasperating servants of the household, especially not now.
"Oh, Gerard," said the voice, and it settled down next to him, sitting on the bed and making a small indent. It was Pete, Gerard was almost sure of it. Oh, wonderful. The worst of the worst.
"What do you want of me?" he asked wearily, throwing down the book. It fell open to a gory picture of the man grinning in front of a pile of burning bodies. An invisible foot quickly kicked it closed.
"I must tell you something," Pete said seriously.
"What have you to tell me?" Gerard snapped. "That I have failed in whatever I am supposed to do?"
"You have not failed!" Pete exclaimed. "That is what I wish to tell you. The Beast has a temper, and it has condemned him before. But he was wrong – you have not failed, and you will not. You must not."
"What must I do to succeed?"
"Meet the Beast in the ballroom at nine o'clock tonight. And do not forget to wear your new attire." Pete dipped his head (or at least, Gerard assumed he did), and left the room.
Gerard stood slowly. New attire? Whatever did Pete mean by that? He guardedly crossed the bedroom and opened the huge wardrobe he hardly ever used, thinking this would be the only place for clothes.
Sure enough, a suit was hanging there, and it was yellow. Gerard eyed it critically. It was very flowy, unnecessarily so, and a very distinct shade of saffron. He didn't think it would look very good at all. But…would it help him, somehow, in this thing he was supposed to achieve? Perhaps. In which case…he should wear it. Sighing resignedly, he pulled it out and changed.
He walked down the grand, spiraling staircase, feeling ridiculous and clumsy in the tight fitting golden silk suit. He wasn't sure if he liked the way it hugged every feminine curve and dip of his body, or how it made his pale skin shine even paler and his black hair even darker. He didn't know if the way it contrasted with his eyes and turned them light hazel was good or not, he only knew that this was the finest thing he had ever worn, and there must be some purpose behind it. There was no need for him to fuss over his appearance, anyway. He kept telling himself that as he walked down the staircase, step after step after step until his feet – clad in soft jonquil slippers – touched the shining ballroom floor.
And there was the Beast, in a royal blue and gold suit, a broach at his throat, glittering turquoise. Gerard swallowed, all of this feeling very fancy and formal all of a sudden. The crystals of the chandelier sparkled like so many stars above their heads.
"The suit fits," the Beast remarked, and Gerard was relieved to find that his voice was not at all angry, and he had a voice, which was very good.
"Just barely, I think," Gerard joked, but it was weak and in the end he just felt awkward and exposed.
"No," the Beast said seriously, "it looks handsome, Gerard."
"Thank you," he replied, a bit surprised. But, as he would learn soon, that was not the first surprise he'd receive that night.
"Would you like to dance?" the Beast asked politely, extending a paw. It was scrubbed free of blood, Gerard thought morbidly, and he gingerly accepted it, his hand feeling very small in comparison. But, he decided, that was not a bad thing, somehow. Just different.
Music started from seemingly out of nowhere, but when Gerard peered over his shoulder to see instruments floating in midair and piano keys moving without being pressed, he knew its source. The Beast chuckled at the sight and swung Gerard into a rather fast waltz, the silk slippers slipping on the floor every now and then, almost sending the smaller crashing to the tiles, but the Beast always caught him long before that happened.
But then the tempo slowed, and the violins and cellos and piano stopped their rousing tune and adapted a more unhurried melody, forcing the two dancers to cease in their informal, rough-and-tumble sort of tango.
They weren't really dancing, after a while, just kind of swaying, and Gerard thought it was much easier to keep up now. Silence wrapped around them in the form of comfortable music notes, rising to a crescendo and settling back down into mezzo piano. Gerard, without really thinking about it, leaned forward, closer into the circle of the Beast's arms, and rested his head against the Beast's chest. It was very warm. He felt the tremor of shock go through the creature before the arms tightened, just a bit. They danced like this for a while before Gerard squeezed the Beast's paw tighter and poked at the sort of misshapen thumb there. "How does using your hands work for you?" he asked, hoping he wasn't being insensitive or breaking some unspoken rule of the Beast's Book of Conduct.
But the Beast just laughed, a little puzzled. "What do you mean?"
"I mean," Gerard said, pulling away to peer closer at the paw, "can you paint with these paws? Can you even write with them?"
The Beast smiled then, and somehow it was a fairly pleasant smile, with big teeth, but still. "Guitar," he said simply.
"Guitar? As in the baroque guitar?"
"Yes," the Beast said, still smiling. "Although I do not think my style of playing is what you would think of when someone refers to the instrument." He paused. "It's rather…intense."
"And you can play it?" Gerard asked, thoroughly intrigued. "With your…er, paws?"
"I break a lot of strings. But, yes."
"What?" The Beast appeared curious now.
"I'm glad, that you have a…a passion, I suppose you might call it. I think everyone needs a passion of some sort. Is the guitar your passion?"
The Beast thought about this for what seemed like a very long time. And then, "Yes. Among other things."
And that was how their dance ended, the Beast's words spoken over the smooth, last sweep of the bow over the strings of the bass.
Michael was quite upset.
The Beast was not dead. He knew this, because he had gone into the forest that day, just to check, because Gerard had not come home. He had thought initially that his brother had been murdered by the Beast while killing him, which would be most unfortunate, but then had begun to suspect the latter.
So he'd ventured to the edge of the woods, where the castle grounds began, and he squinted up into the tower window, which was lit up with candles, it seemed.
And then – the hideous face appeared at the window, and Michael sneered in disgust at the unnatural…thing. His brother, the coward, he thought bitterly. Gerard hadn't slain it at all. And then, as if that wasn't enough, the castle doors opened and Gerard himself came out, walking towards the stables and pushing away what looked like nothing at all, rolling his eyes. Michael was furious! Gerard had befriended the Beast, was still living here, unaware of the evil creature's intentions! Michael turned away, quite irate.
It was time to take action.
He stood now in the town square on a raised platform, telling the villagers of the unholy demon in their woods and what they must do about it. His father, Monsieur Way – he was a lunatic. But Michael Way…he had what could only be described as a silver tongue. They understood him, and they were furious about what he said. A beast, in their forest, so close to their own safe little town?! And Gerard, he was not being held captive, but instead, he was siding with the Beast. Michael told the villagers of the horrible plans to enslave the village, plans hatched by the Beast, and poor, naïve Gerard knew no better but to agree!
The Ballatos, the family whose daughter, Lindsey, Gerard would have married, were Michael's most devout followers in his plan to lay siege to the castle and kill the Beast. Lindsey, especially, was worried about Gerard and did not wish for him to stay prey to the Beast's schemes. She knew no better – she'd met Gerard and seen him as a sweet boy who could be manipulated all too easily, and she didn't want that.
And then, there was Jamia. Jamia Nestor was the oddity of the village in many ways. She was pale and pretty and dark-haired, not unlike Gerard, but she was too pale and pretty and dark haired. She was like a doll, yet, a somewhat menacing doll. Michael wasn't sure what to think of her. She seemed very neutral on the subject of his ideas.
But none of that mattered, because tonight, he was going to take that castle as his own, and he would rid of anyone who stood in his way.
Gerard bolted upright in bed to the sound of an angry mob.
It was not an exaggeration, not at all, for though he was sure his ears deceived him, when he looked out the tower window, there they were. An angry mob, armed with pitchforks and torches and…and at the head of the mob was his little brother.
The Beast. They were coming for the Beast, they must have been! Mikey must have told them…oh, how stupid Gerard was! Frank and the Beast were right, he thought miserably, racing towards where he thought – no, he knew – that the Beast spent his nights.
He flung open the door to the second tower room, the West Wing. Sure enough, the Beast was there, but he was awake, looking impassively out the window.
The rose under the bell shaped jar was wilting. It had one petal left.
"Beast!" Gerard shouted, trying to rouse the creature from his odd stupor, "They've come to…to kill you! We must get away-"
"No," growled the Beast, facing him. There was a steely glint in his eyes, a spark of purpose. "I stay here and fight. You ought to go to the dungeons; you'll be safest there, below the ground. They won't think to look for you."
Gerard's face went very still. "You're not actually suggesting…"
"No, I'm not. I'm ordering. Gerard, go to the dungeons and don't come back out until it's safe."
"Gerard. It's not up to discussion."
"I said no!" Gerard yelled, eyes stinging. The Beast was silenced. "I'm not leaving you."
"Why not?" the Beast wondered, and he looked…hopeful.
Gerard swallowed. "Because….because…I…"
There was a tremendous boom, and both of them jumped. The moment was lost. The battle had begun.
The Beast flashed a look at him which Gerard couldn't really comprehend, and then dropped to all fours and bounded downstairs, which Gerard supposed was faster than walking for him. The invisible servants, if he looked outside, were doing their fair part in defending the castle, but one of them was set alight, and the flaming figure of a woman screamed and swayed before falling to the ground. Gerard stared in horror. His own people were doing this. This was all his fault.
"Mea maxima culpa," he muttered, turning away, and then he stumbled back in astonishment.
There was a woman in the room, a slender, petite woman with curled, short black hair and large, pale eyes. She was tracing a fingertip over the curve of the bell shaped jar holding the rose, and the petal within shivered.
"Who are you?" Gerard asked, shivering. It was very cold in the room, suddenly.
"My name is Jamia Nestor," she said imperturbably, meeting his eyes. A bolt of frigid numbness went through him at once, something ancient, powerful, and yet oh so familiar. "I'm an enchantress."
"Don't flatter yourself," Gerard said, but his voice quavered.
"No, really," Jamia continued. "I'm an enchantress, and I placed a spell on this castle. Old magic…very complex, yet very simple. It can be broken by only one thing."
"And what would that be?"
"You shall figure that out, I presume," Jamia said, looking amused. "If not, then I am indeed sorry." She raised an elegant eyebrow. "If I were you, I would highly recommend taking a visit to the roof."
"Wait, I-" But she was gone.
Gerard had nothing else to go by, so he did what she said.
He went to the roof.
It took some time, but eventually he found a trap door in a hallway on the upper floor. The trap door was, suspiciously enough, already open, and he climbed the ladder with trepidation.
The wind buffeted him straight in the face as soon as he peered over the edge of the entrance, but what he saw was what really almost made him fall.
Michael was there, and so was the Beast, and they were circling each other very, very close to the edge of the roof. Gerard's voice caught. Surely…
He saw the musket in Michael's hands. He saw the predatory stance of the Beast, the curve of his paws and claws, all the gentleness and tenderness gone, replaced by only this defensive, desperate creature which lived off of instinct.
Michael had a gun. The Beast…he had nothing, nothing but for his claws and horns. Gerard already knew how this would end, and he could do nothing about it.
Failure, he wanted to scream to the world, because that's what he was. He climbed out onto the roof, just in time for Michael to fire the gun.
The Beast howled in agony as the bullet embedded itself in his shoulder, and Gerard couldn't take it anymore – he ran forward, screaming and trying to reason with his brother. He wasn't even sure what he was saying, but his mouth felt dry and raw from his words, and he saw Michael wasn't going to back down.
And the Beast…he wasn't going to go down without a fight. Michael's shot to his shoulder didn't seem to have handicapped him – instead, it made him bolder, more dangerous, more desperate. But Michael was darting backwards, reloading, and Gerard felt sick.
"No!" he cried, but he knew it would do nothing, and he knew it even more as the gun fired and the bullet sliced through fur and skin and muscle and tissue and settled in the Beast's chest. Michael and the Beast were close, then, Michael's face victorious, the Beast's stunned – and then the paws flew out in front of him and pushed, and Michael fell.
Gerard could see the moment his brother's knees buckled and his expression changed from superior to frightened. He saw him go over the edge, and he heard his cry as he fell the very long way to the ground.
But Michael was dead now, it couldn't be helped. The Beast wasn't, not yet. Gerard rushed to his side.
"Beast," he whispered, his eyes extraordinarily dry, "you're going to be alright."
But he knew it wasn't true. The bullet was somewhere in the creature's lung, likelier than not, and there was no way to get it out. His Beast would die, and yet…he could not think of it, could not accept it.
"Not alright, no," the Beast replied, his voice tired and hoarse. "I'm afraid not."
Gerard bowed his head, pressing his face into the fabric of the Beast's suit, which was stained with blood. The unmistakable tang of it was all around them, along with the warm smell of the Beast, which seemed to be fading – or perhaps that was just the Beast himself.
"Please don't go," Gerard begged, twisting his hands into the Beast's fur. "Don't leave me as Frank did."
The Beast laughed then, real and loud and genuine. "Frank never left."
Gerard didn't understand. Of course he didn't understand, he would never understand now. But he might as well try to. "What do you mean, Beast?"
The Beast just smiled and shook his head ever so slightly. "If I told you, it wouldn't really work." His green eyes looked dimmer.
His green eyes.
Gerard's own eyes widened, and the memories in his head began to play. This was the Beast, the one who his father had made the deal to originally. The Beast who was there only during the day…Frank was there only during the night. The Beast who showed up right after Frank had fled. The Beast who had reacted to him mentioning 'the white stag'…the white stag who was him, Gerard. The Beast who had tried to tell him about Frank and lost his voice. The Beast who had said such similar things as Frank, even acted similarly at times, the Beast with the sudden rages always followed by quiet apologies. The Beast who had danced with him. The Beast with the green eyes, the eyes which were the same as Frank's. The Beast who lay dying in front of him.
The Beast who was Frank.
But, Gerard realized with a sense of giddiness, it didn't matter who the Beast was, except that he was himself. Because Gerard, strange and backwards as it was, didn't need to fall for Frank. He didn't need to because now…now he knew who he'd fallen for all along.
"Beast," he gasped, and now the tears came, but they were not sad tears. "Frank," he whispered, and then he kissed the Beast very softly, only to find that the lips were unmoving beneath his. "Beast?" he asked, confused, blinking his eyes open and then blinking some more.
The Beast did not move. His eyes were closed, the wound on his chest gaping and vermillion, slowly darkening to burgundy as the blood dried. The chest of the creature did not rise or fall; the lips did not stir with breath.
The tears were no longer tears of happiness.
"Frank!" he cried, cupping the still very beastly face between his palms; already the warmth was receding from the large body. Dead. No. No!
"He's dead," said Jamia from behind him.
Gerard whirled up to his feet, glaring at her fiercely, savagely. "How could you do this?!" he asked her, voice rising.
She pursed her lips. "The mechanics of it are rather difficult, and I doubt you would understand it. Anyway, the point is that it's been done, and not by me – by your brother, in fact."
"You did this to him," Gerard whispered, gesturing to the corpse, the corpse which was now, to the normal observer, an ugly hybrid animal in a bloodstained suit. But to him…
"Listen, your Frank Iero was not a good man," she snapped, her eyes icy. "I taught him a lesson."
"And he died from it," Gerard whispered, his voice cracking. "Did you want that?"
"I wanted someone to fall in love with him not for his looks, but for who he really is."
"And I did," Gerard pleaded, "I did, and he's not a human! He's a beast, he's the Beast, and now that's all he'll ever be! I don't know what he was like before, but he changed, trust me, he did! He didn't deserve this."
"You want him to be human? Fine." Jamia waved her hand and the Beast's form shifted, melting away to reveal the crumpled form of none other than the Frank whom he'd thought had left him, his body so tiny against the ripped suit, the wounds on his pale chest horrible and deadly. This was Gerard's true failure.
"What if I jumped off this roof?" Gerard asked dully, not looking at her.
"You might end up just like your brother," she said, and Gerard thought she would say, "Dead," but instead she waved her hands and a fluffy brown kitten appeared, looking dazed and miffed.
Hot anger boiled inside of him. "You let him live, but not the Beast?" Gerard asked. "Michael killed him, and you rewarded him?"
Jamia hissed, and Michael did, too. "This is hardly a reward for him."
"But he's still alive," Gerard repeated, numb. He just felt numb, now. He had nobody left, really. Frank and the Beast were dead. Michael was a cat and a murderer. His father had sacrificed his own son to save himself.
"Yes, apparently so."
And then she and Michael vanished.
Gerard looked back down at Frank, and very slowly touched his face, the waxy skin. "I'm sorry," he choked out. "I love you."
He knelt down, held the limp body against his chest and cried, when something soft fell onto his arm.
Gerard blinked and drew away, staring at the small oval. It was a rose petal.
Another fell, and then, another. Gerard released Frank, trying to see where the petals were coming from. They just kept falling, and all of them…all of them were falling on Frank, covering his body, covering the wounds, covering his face.
Gerard frowned, bewildered, leaning forwards and trying to brush them off, but there was a burst of light and he fell back, holding a hand over his eyes, spots swimming through his vision. He could still see the light, a huge glow that made his eyelids let in a faint red glow.
And then it went very dark.
Gerard didn't open his eyes.
"Why am I covered in roses?"
Gerard's eyes flashed open at that, because…
"Frank!" he gasped, and he lunged forward and embraced him tightly, burying his face in Frank's neck before pulling away in fear, thinking he might have somehow hurt him because, well, he had just died, hadn't he? But when he looked at Frank's chest and shoulder, the skin was bare, flawless – there weren't even any scars.
"Gerard," Frank murmured, staring at him. "I'm…you're…you…"
"We're together," Gerard replied. "That's all that matters." And then he kissed the Beast, no, Frank, properly this time, and they both couldn't help but sigh very, very happily, because it had been a while. Gerard thought he should have been at least a little disturbed about kissing someone who had just died, but Frank was alive now, and it was magic – both the kiss and his resurrection.
That was confirmed when they both pulled away, Frank giggling and pointing at something on the roof which somehow hadn't yet blown away.
It was a message, written in rose petals, and it read, I can be cruel, but I'm not that cruel.
"Thank you," Gerard breathed to the enchantress, thinking that maybe she could hear him.
Frank smiled and pushed a hand – not a paw, a hand – into his hair, and kissed him again, chaste and long and so sweet Gerard felt dizzy. They leaned their foreheads together after, just looking at each other, really looking, for the first time.
"Now what?" Frank asked quizzically.
Gerard grinned. "Anything," he said. "Now, we do anything."
"Anything?" Frank asked, his eyes sparkling with mischief.
Gerard nodded. "We can travel the world, we can travel France, we can sail to America, we can write a book, we can play guitar, we can dance, we can even…" He trailed off. "Anything," he repeated.
"Mm, anything," Frank hummed, "I do like the sound of that."