all the lost things: gift for [ profile] littlblackghost

Dec. 26th, 2012 08:41 pm
[identity profile] posting in [community profile] bandomstuffsit
Title: all the lost things
Author: [ profile] akamine_chan
Pairing: Frank Iero/Gerard Way
Rating: R
Warnings: none
Word count: ~9,400 words
Summary: Gee has always felt that something was missing from his life. Now he was living out his dream: he had a beautiful beach house, created comics with his brother and best friend, had everything he could have ever asked for. And still, there was an empty space in his life for something more.

"Hey, Gee!"

Gee heard Mikey thundering down the stairs, but Gee was so intent on getting the shading perfect on the zombie-like Draculoid that it all was background noise.

"Look what I found up in the attic!" With a loud clatter, Mikey hefted the large canvas up against the edge of the table, bumping hard and rattling the spoon in Gee's coffee mug.

"Grandma's magic painting!" Gee exclaimed in surprise. "I didn't know she still had it!"

Mikey grinned in agreement. "I thought she'd gotten rid of it, years ago."

Gee nodded, examining the painting with a practiced, and professional, eye. It was a big canvas, about three feet across and two high, simply framed, realistically depicting a crowded section of beach and boardwalk during the 20's. Gee and Mikey had researched some of the distinctive buildings in the painting and found that the scene was from Asbury Park, further south. It had hung on their Grandma Elena's dining room wall for years, the focal point of the room.

They'd called it a magic painting, because there was something different every time they looked at it, a face they hadn't noticed before, or the way a figure seemed to change position or even location. It was mysterious to their young minds, and the name had stuck.

Mikey and Gee had spent every summer (except for a single memorable summer at camp) from the time they were toddlers until they went off to college at Elena's house on the beach, and they had whiled away many evenings staring at the people in the painting. Gee brushed his fingers against the canvas, touching the faces that had once been as familiar as family to them.

He and Mikey had created elaborate histories for them: Sarah and her dashing fiancé John, a proper upper-class couple doomed to become desperate criminals due to a tragic comedy-of-errors, Martha and her three kids, matriarch of a clan of grifters taking the opportunity to work the boardwalk, and Sad Simon, who'd walked the beach every day for forty years, looking for the wedding ring he'd lost in the sand and—

"Oh." He'd forgotten (made himself forget, his brain whispered) about the handsome young man leaning back against the wooden railing, looking directly at the artist with a defiant, unsmiling face. He was lean and small, with shiny dark hair falling into his face. Improbable tattoos peeked out from under his shirt collar and sleeves, and Gee had been in love with him since he was old enough to feel the surge of hormones through his blood. "Frank." He'd seemed like a Frank.

"You had such a crush on him," Mikey teased gently.

Gee blushed, and shook his head ruefully. "Still do." Gee had spent so much time mooning over Frank, painting a rich history for him, Frank growing up poor and wild, joining a gang of bank robbers in order to support his widowed mother. Or Frank, the long-lost heir to an obscure kingdom in Italy, kidnapped as an infant by anti-monarchist forces and struggling to rediscover his heritage. . .

Mikey sighed. "I wonder why Grandma took it down. I found it in the attic, hidden behind some boxes." He shook his head. "It's a mess up there, Gee. It's going to take a long time to organize and go through all of the stuff she saved."

Gee had been afraid of that; it had been one of the reasons he'd put off coming back to Elena's house until now. She'd been gone for a little more than a year and he'd dreaded the idea of going through a lifetime of her belongings, rich with memories. He closed his eyes and breathed deep. "I don't know if I can do this."

Mikey propped the painting against the wall and wrapped himself around Gee, knobby knees poking awkwardly as Mikey tried to climb into his lap. "I miss her, too, Gee," he whispered into Gee's hair.

Gee held on tight.

They settled into a easy routine. They'd spend a couple of hours each morning going through boxes in the attic, sifting through heirlooms and keepsakes and photographs. Usually that would open a floodgate of memories and Mikey and Gee would lose time reminiscing about their childhood.

It wasn't as painful as Gee had expected, but there were still times that the grief would creep up on him and squeeze his throat until he couldn't breathe. Mikey would hold him close, rubbing soothing circles on his back, until it passed.

The rest of the time they spent on their comics. Gee was working on the next arc of Danger Days, their Killjoys comic, sketching out ideas and roughing out the script. Mikey was doing inking for a friend's robotic superhero comic and Ray kept sending the completed color pages from issue #6 of the first arc of Danger Days for approval.

Gee set up his workspace in Elena's office, and hung the magic painting on the wall. The room faced the ocean, and most days Gee would open the windows and let the sea breeze in, watching the gauzy curtains flutter gently. It was soothing and peaceful, so different from the roach-infested, overpriced shoebox he'd shared with Mikey in the city. There were things they'd really enjoyed about living in the city, but the rent had been exorbitant, and their apartment had been broken into three times over a two year span. And then Elena had died and left the beach house to them in her will. . .

His computer made the distinctive pew pew sound of a TIE fighter firing its laser cannon and brought up his email. Ray had sent more pages for proof and approval, and Gee spent a few moments in awe over Ray's coloring. Maybe it was because part of the storyline took place in a totalitarian pseudo-utopian city that was drawn in stark black and white, but the way Ray splashed the bright colors across the page and out of the panels was just breathtaking. He would never get enough of the vibrancy of the Killjoys: Party Poison's bright red hair, the colorful ray guns and clothing. Rough and raw and so alive.

Gee loved what they were doing with Danger Days, loved writing about the Killjoys fighting against Better Living Industries, fast cars and desert gunfights. The series was selling surprisingly well, not like Parade had, but Parade had broken all the rules. And, in the end, Parade had nearly ruined his partnership with Mikey and Ray, and had almost destroyed them all.

It had been unexpected, because it should have been Bullets that tore them apart, their first, self-published comic. They'd put it together in someone else's basement studio, late at night after their shitty internships, running low on sleep and energy after ten hour days being photocopy boys and go-fers.

They'd been hungry for success and desperate, but that had only solidified their partnership. Once people had started noticing Bullets and publishers had started sniffing around them, interested in their next comic, that was when the pressure sent Gee skidding out of control on an alcohol- and pill-fueled spiral to rock bottom. But even through the mess of detox and sobriety, Ray and Mikey had been there for him. Working on Revenge had been a joy, the three of them working as a cohesive unit, family.

And then came Parade.

As much as he loved The Black Parade, he hated it in equal measure, because it'd taken so much out of them, they'd bled for that storyline, and it had pushed them up against their worst fears to test their strength and resolve.

They'd come out the better for it, but had been a bitter struggle. And they all had the scars to prove it.

Gee sighed. Parade was the past, Danger Days was the future. He was years sober and in therapy; Mikey was on medication to help with his particular issues and was seeing a wonderful girl in the city. Ray was still Ray, a perfectionist who pushed them to be better, best friend with a big heart who forgave them when they fucked up. Their odd little comic nerd family.

He replied to Ray's email, okaying the pages and promising to call in a couple of days. Gee rested his chin in his hand and stared at the magic painting, eyes tracing over Frank's face. He wondered who Frank really was, if the artist had painted the scene from life, or if Frank was a figment of their imagination. There was a squiggle of a signature in the corner of the painting; he'd asked Elena about it, but she'd been vague and noncommittal about the artist's identity.

Gee had spent his teenage years daydreaming about Frank and it had carried over into his real life. The last few guys he'd dated were small and dark with tattoos, guys from the punk music scene. He'd realized early on that he'd had a type, but he'd tried not to think too hard about where his preferences had originated from.


He sighed and reluctantly turned to a clean page in his sketchbook. It was useless to moon over an imaginary person in a painting; if he was based on a real person, he was long dead and buried by now. The thought shouldn't have made him as melancholy as it did.

He dreamed of Frank that night, walking along the boardwalk with him, sometimes talking, but mostly enjoying a strangely companionable silence with him. The dream was vivid; Gee could smell the ocean, hear the soft crashing of the waves, could taste the salt in the air. The wood of the boardwalk thumped hollowly under their feet and he could feel the heat of the sun against his skin. It felt good.

Frank smiled at him, and Gee's heart skipped a beat, because he'd never seen anything so beautiful in his life. He looked out at the ocean, entranced by the way the light danced over the waves, and then glanced shyly back at Frank. He felt like a kid with a crush, breathless and light-headed, a stupid smile that he couldn't get rid of plastered across his face. It was ridiculous.

Gee slowly drifted awake, feeling warm and comfortable in his bed. He rolled over onto his stomach and realized, with a pang of loneliness, that he was alone. He curled around his pillow and tried to burrow into it, wanting to fall back into his dream, feeling like a vital part of himself was missing.

"Fuck," he sighed softly, and made himself get out of bed and start his day, pushing away the dream, and the way Frank had made him feel. "Fuck."

"Is it me, or has the magic painting actually changed?" Mikey asked.

"Hmmmm?" Gee looked up and pushed his reading glasses further up his nose. His eye doctor had insisted he use them if he was going to be spending a lot of time in front of the computer; he'd gotten some vicious headaches from eyestrain. They were big black nerd glasses and Mikey was good about not teasing him too much.

Mikey was intently studying the painting. "I mean, I know we thought the painting was magic when we were kids. But now, I'm almost convinced that it is magical."

Gee frowned. "Mikey, it's a painting. I think it's because there's so many people in the painting, so much in the way of detail that it seems like things change."

"Dunno, Gee," Mikey said doubtfully. "I was pretty sure that this lady was turned around yesterday."

"Let me see." Gee got up, taking the opportunity to shake the kinks out of his arms and hands, rolling his shoulders to get rid of the tension that built up there. "Show me."

He peered over Mikey's shoulder as he pointed out a woman dressed in a dark, frumpy dress, her face shadowed by a large, beribboned hat. "Her. I would swear that yesterday she was facing the other direction, because I remember she had a big bow on the back of her dress."

"Hmmm." Gee looked, and spotted another female figure nearby, turned the proper direction to show off her bow. "Maybe you're thinking of her."

"Oh. Maybe?" Mikey looked perplexed, his forehead scrunching up. "Weird." He bumped shoulders with Gee, smiling sheepishly. "Need more coffee, I guess. You need a refill?"

Gee eyed his empty coffee mug. "Please?" Not like he would ever turn down coffee. Mikey grabbed Gee's mug off of the desk and headed toward the kitchen. Turning back to the painting, Gee's eyes automatically sought out the figure of Frank and he froze, a weird feeling of disconnection washing over him.

Frank's figure normally leaned back against the railing, elbows resting against the wood, hands at waist level, a sort of Prohibition-era James Dean kind of pose, cool and collected and all attitude.

But now, Frank was brushing his long hair out of his eyes with one hand.

Gee had spent literally years studying Frank and he knew, without a doubt, that the painting had changed.

He was still examining the painting when Mikey came back in with coffee.

"Gee?" Mikey seemed to sense that something was amiss.

"You're right. The painting has changed."

"What?" Mikey moved close. "What's changed?"


Mikey looked, and cursed softly under his breath.

Mikey spent the rest of the day taking detailed, close up photographs of the entire painting. If anything else changed, he wanted to be able to document it. Personally, Gee thought that maybe Mikey had watched a few too many episodes of those ghost hunting reality shows, but he wasn't going to say so out loud.

Gee went back to work, or tried to. He couldn't concentrate at all; his eyes kept straying back to Frank and the fall of hair he was pushing off of his face. And he wouldn't swear to it, but it almost seemed like Frank was smiling a little, now.

After a while, Gee gave up and went for a walk on the beach. It was early evening and the sun was low; the distant horizon was dark. He rolled up his pants and let the waves lap at his feet, cool and soothing. He squished sand between his toes and chased a few crabs, and found a sand dollar, perfect and unbroken. He put it into his pocket to give to Mikey.

He stayed on the beach until the air got a little chilly and he didn't feel quite so tense anymore.

Gee dreamed about Frank again that night, walking along the shore together, throwing scraps of bread up in the air for the seagulls to catch. Gee found the sand dollar in his pocket and presented it to Frank, gravely, and Frank smiled.

Gee was lost.

They talked as they meandered along the shore, long, involved conversations about shared interests and experiences; Gee spent a lot of time gesturing animatedly while Frank watched, fondly amused. Frank playfully kicked a splash of water at Gee, and he woke himself up with the joyful sound of his own laughter.

Finding himself alone was a terrible disappointment, and the threads of their conversation were fading like morning mist even as he reached for them.

By mid-afternoon, Gee couldn't remember what Frank's voice sounded like and he was pissed at himself for letting it matter.

Mikey took pictures of the painting every morning and downloaded them onto his computer. He would digitally stitch the individual shots together into a composite, and then overlay it with the previous day's to see if anything had changed.

And things did change.

The differences were subtle, almost unnoticeable: the minute shift of a shadow, the slight turning of a body, the expansion of a wave in the ocean, the higher position of a leg. Mikey tracked the irregularities and recorded them and babbled excitedly to Ray over the phone about the weirdness of their grandma's magic picture.

Gee spent hours walking the shore line and then staying up late, until he was nodding tiredly in front of his computer, in an effort to exhaust himself. Maybe he'd be able to fall into a deep sleep and not dream.

Or at least not remember his dreams, because his heart ached when he woke up reaching for Frank, his hands grasping for him and only meeting emptiness.

After three days of being short-tempered, snapping at Mikey and ruining an ink sketch when he'd fallen asleep in the middle of drawing it, he gave it up as a lost cause and resigned himself to missing someone he'd never met.

On the fourth day, Mikey pushed Gee onto the couch in his office and sat on him, tickling his ribs until he told Mikey what was going on.

"That's really weird, Gee." Mikey eyed the painting from his perch. "Do you think we should call a priest?"

Gee tried to get up; Mikey was a heavy motherfucker. "What? Why?" He wasn't sure exactly what a priest could do.


Gee honked out a laugh, a knee-jerk reaction. "Don't you think that's going a little overboard? Nothing about this feels bad, or wrong, or evil. . ."

Mikey huffed. "Isn't that what makes evil, well, evil? That fact that you don't realize, that it pretends to be good. . .this Frank could totally be a malevolent spirit trying to steal your soul, Gee."

"Or he could be the product of my overactive imagination. Given my artistic tendencies, which do you think is more likely?" Gee shrugged. He was pretty sure that Frank wasn't an evil ghost or demon of some sort. Just a detailed character in Gee's dreamscape. "Besides, Grandma had it for years and nothing ever happened to her."

"I'm gonna be pissed if I have to rescue you from the clutches of some sort of hell-spawn," Mikey muttered darkly.

Snorting, Gee struggled under Mikey. "It'll be great material for our next comic," he said. "In the vein of Hellblazer, and look how well that's done." He slithered off the couch and turned the tables, digging his fingers into Mikey's armpits until Mikey squirmed and shrieked and scrambled away.

Gee felt better after that, and went to bed early, resigned to simply deal with any dreams that might plague his sleep.

It wasn't that easy; he should have known it wouldn't be.

Gee woke tired and grouchy, missing Frank so badly he wanted to cry. He stumbled into the bathroom to take a piss, and as he washed his hands he glanced in the mirror, and was taken aback by how he looked.

There were deep, dark circles under his eyes, like he'd put on black eyeliner (he'd done that, back when he'd hang out at the punk clubs) and then smudged it with a generous thumb. It made the rest of his face look drawn and pale, like he hadn't slept in weeks.

He looked like a zombie, or maybe a vampire, and that thought should totally have cheered him, but didn't.

"Fuck this," he told his reflection. His brain was obviously having some kind of meltdown, and if there was one thing he'd learned from sobriety and therapy, it was to pay attention when things like this happened. He'd call his therapist first thing Monday morning and schedule a session.

This shit was so not on.

He staggered downstairs and into the kitchen, hovering over the coffee machine until he could pour himself a mug. Gee lingered over it, strangely hesitant to go into his office and face the magic painting, and Frank.

Pouring a second cup, he let himself procrastinate for a little while longer before refilling his mug and going into his office. He deliberately didn't look at the painting, concentrating on turning on his computer and letting it boot up. He checked his email, composing answers to the more pressing ones, and making a mental note to deal with the others later.

Pulling out his sketchbook, he turned to a blank page and stared at it for a moment, fighting the almost irresistible urge to look at the painting and search for Frank, to see if anything else had changed. Gee bit down on his lip, trying to focus on his work, on the new character designs that he had in mind for the next story arc, but—

Gee's chair fell back with a clatter as he stood up abruptly, striding over to the painting. Frank was gone, and his eyes searched the canvas frantically, looking for dark hair and bright eyes, a smile that haunted his heart. Behind him, he heard Mikey calling his name, and Gee reached out in disbelief, touching the space that Frank's figure had occupied.

He had a split-second to be surprised as his hand went through the painting, and then he was somehow being yanked into it, Mikey's yelp of surprise echoing in his ears as the darkness closed around him.

"Hey, mister, wake up."

Gee groaned, because he wanted to sleep a little bit longer, and someone was shaking his shoulder insistently, making it impossible. He tried to burrow under his pillow, but his sheets were suddenly damp and sandpaper-rough under his cheek.

He cracked open his eyes and was boggled by the sand that he was resting his face against. He pushed himself up quickly, his skull connecting painfully with something hard and unforgiving.

"Ow," someone said.

Gee's eyes flew open and he scrambled away from the person kneeling next to him on the damp sand, who was rubbing at his chin and blinking rapidly, because— "Holy shit! Frank!"

The guy frowned. "How'd you know my name?"

"Where the fuck am I?" Gee looked around as he got to his feet, recognizing some of the scenery from the magic painting, but where was everyone? The painting was full of people, crowding the boardwalk and the beach, but now there was no one except Frank.

In the distance, he could hear the cries of seagulls over the soothing murmur of the waves. It didn't seem real. "The painting," he muttered. "The fucking painting."

"Got you, too, huh? Too bad."

Gee looked at Frank, really looked at him for the first time. He looked younger than Gee had expected, dressed in an old fashioned suit jacket over a white shirt, both unbuttoned in deference to the warmth of the afternoon. His feet were bare and the hems of his slacks were rolled up.

He looked good. Gee felt a blush stealing across his face, but then Frank's words registered. "Wait, what? What do you mean?"

"The painting." Frank waved his hand around, indicating the beach and boardwalk. "It caught you, too."

Gee looked around, marveling at the fact he was somehow inside his grandma's fucking painting. "Yeah, I guess it did."

"What's your name, mister?"

"Can we get out of the sun?" Gee asked. He was in his usual bedtime attire of a ripped long-sleeved Iron Maiden shirt and comfy pajama pants, both of which were black and hot. The sand was warm under his bare feet. "And my name's Gee."

"Gee?" Frank asked dubiously as they walked closer to the boardwalk.

There was a strip of shade next to the elevated wooden walkway and Gee dropped down to sit cross-legged. Gee wished he'd been wearing his sunglasses this morning; the glare off the sand was ferocious. "It's short for Gerard."

Frank dropped down across from him, not too close, Gee noticed. "How did you know my name?"

Gee shrugged. "I don't know. When I was a kid, that's what felt right."

"When you were a kid," Frank repeated softly. "You don't look that old."

With a laugh, Gee ran his hands through his hair, probably making it stand up crazily. "I'm old enough. Just turned thirty-four this year. You?"

Frank smiled, and something about the smile was bittersweet. "I don't know. What year is it?"

"Uh, 2012," Gee said, wincing, because Frank must have been trapped in the painting for a long time.

"Oh." Frank looked shocked. "Oh," he repeated with a sigh. "It was 1927 when the painting took me, and I had just turned thirty. So, I'm, ummm—" Frank wiggled his fingers, counting under his breath. "One hundred and fifteen?"

And what exactly was Gee supposed to say to that? "I'm sorry."

Shrugging, Frank tucked some of his wayward hair behind his ear. "You wanna get some coffee?"

Gee tried to not scare Frank with his eagerness. "Yes, please." He had the feeling he was going to need a hell of a lot more coffee to get through this.

There was a little Italian café on the boardwalk; Frank went behind the counter and brewed coffee in an old-fashioned stove-top coffee pot, the kind that Gee had seen at the antique flea markets he and Mikey had been dragged to as kids. Frank pour two cups, offered cream and sugar. Gee tried not to goggle too much at the actual ice box that Frank got the cream from, which wasn't even electrified.

The coffee was hot and bitter, almost too strong, but it certainly chased away any cobwebs still lingering in Gee's brain. There were a couple of shaded tables set up in front of the café; they sat across from each other and sipped their coffee. There was a great view of the ocean and Gee could imagine sitting here, daydreaming.

"I don't understand what's going on," he finally murmured, setting his cup carefully back onto the saucer. "It doesn't make any sense. How is this happening?" He peered at Frank from under his bangs, still amazed that he was real. Unless—

He reached out and touched the back of Frank's wrist, for just a moment, reassuring himself. Frank's skin was warm and smooth and solid.

"Worried about your sanity?" Frank asked, mouth quirking upwards.

"Yeah, a little," he confessed. "You have to admit that getting pulled into a painting seems a little insane."

"Yeah." Frank cradled his cup in his hands, staring at it. "It does seem pretty crazy."

"Tell me what happened to you, about how you got here." Gee had spent so much time making up stories about Frank's life that he really wanted to know the truth. He wanted to know everything about Frank.

"I was working as a runner for Richie the Boot—"

Gee wrinkled his nose, but waved at Frank to continue. His grasp of American history wasn't great, but he and Mikey had a fascination with gangsters during the Prohibition. Jersey had been the center of a lot of criminal activity as smugglers moved alcohol up the coast to New York City.

"—bringing in shipments of rum and transporting them to Newark. It was a decent job, you know?" Frank pulled out a pack of cigarettes and offered one to Gee, who couldn't take his eyes off the familiar Camel packaging.

Gee'd quit smoking when he'd sobered up, but this seemed like a good time to start again. "Thanks," he said, taking the box of matches from Frank and lighting his cigarette.

"I didn't have a lot of prospects; my Pop had passed and Ma didn't have anyone of her own, and Pop's family wouldn't take her in. . .I did what I needed to do to support us." He met Gee's eyes, earnest. "I never hurt anyone, I only moved the rum."

"You do what you have to and take care of your family." Gee knew that he could be fiercely protective of Mikey and his parents, so he got it.

Frank nodded and flicked his cigarette butt away. "I got a message to meet with the local capo, Jo Jo Pecora. I kept my nose clean, so I knew I wasn't in trouble. Figured maybe they liked my work, maybe a promotion. It woulda been good." He shrugged, a bare movement of his shoulders. "Moving up would mean more money. I'd planned on paying off my Ma's house, and I had a girl, and I was thinking of asking her to marry me." He looked at Gee out of the corner of his eyes.

Gee breathed in, slow and steady, trying to get past the razor sharp pain in his chest. He knew it was stupid to feel anything; up until a hour ago Frank had been nothing more than a particularly vivid dream that he'd been having on and off since he was a teenager. Frank had been imaginary.

"I've always been different," Frank said, and his voice was quiet, so quiet, that Gee had to strain to hear him over the sound of the distant waves. "And sometimes I'd read about men like me living out their lives in Paris and Berlin, even in New York City, and I'd think about running away." He sighed. "But I couldn't, you know? No matter how much I wanted to, I couldn't leave my ma alone like that."

Frank looked at Gee then, a faint flush high on his cheeks. "I dreamed about you, too, even before I got stuck here. And I wondered if you were waiting for me, in Paris, or Berlin. . ."

"Oh," Gee said softly, totally charmed. He reached out and brushed his fingertips over the curve of Frank's lips. "I'm sorry you had to wait so long for me."

Frank laughed. "I think it's going to be worth it." He reached into his pocket and pulled out a sand dollar. "I dreamed you gave me this, and in the morning, it was in my pocket. . ."

Gee sighed and made himself stop touching Frank. "So you went to see your capo. And then?"

"His girl ushered me into his office, telling me to wait." He hesitated, eyes half-closed, like he was trying to remember the details. "There was this huge desk, and some fancy leather chairs, and I was afraid to sit in them because they looked really expensive and I'd come in straight from a run. . ."

Gee could almost see it in his head, the dark office, heavy wood furnishings, masculine and intimidating, to match the gangsters of the era.

"I stood waiting for a little bit, then I wandered over to look at a painting that Jo Jo had on one wall. It was the boardwalk. . ." Frank arched an eyebrow. "Sound familiar?"

Nodding, Gee made a sweeping motion for Frank to continue.

"I was leaning toward the painting, and the door opened, and I could hear Jo Jo talking to his girl. I was distracted and off balance, and I fell forward. And I kept falling, into darkness. . ."

Gee tried to remember how it felt, the black surrounding him, pulling him under, but his strongest memory was of the wave of vertigo that had washed over him.

"I woke up here, and I've been here ever since."

They sat outside the cafe, the cool sea breeze keeping them comfortable in spite of the day's heat. Summers in Jersey could be brutal, but between the wind and the shade, it was actually nice.

At one point, when Gee's stomach growled loudly enough to interrupt their conversation, Frank went back into the caf&eactue; and returned triumphantly with a pair of hearty sandwiches, crusty bread and thick sliced tomatoes, meat and cheese and frilly lettuce. And more coffee.

Gee could have kissed Frank, but didn't.

Afterwards, they talked, bellies full and smoking Frank's cigarettes.

"The first time I saw the painting, I must have been six or so," Gee murmured. "Mikey was just a toddler, and Grandma let me stand on a chair so I could get a closer look. Mikey kept trying to climb up with me. . ."

"Your younger brother?" There was something wistful in Frank's voice.

"Yeah." Gee couldn't help but grin. "The best little brother in the world. We publish comics, with our friend Ray."

"Comics? Colored drawings? Like in the newspaper? Krazy Kat, Katzenjammer Kids?"

Gee's eyes grew wide when he realized that Frank had fallen into the painting before the Golden Age of comic books had begun with Superman Action Comics #1. "Uh, sorta." It was going to take a lot of explaining. "When we get out, I'll show you."

"Out?" Frank tilted his head. "There is no out, Gee. I've spent years looking, and there's no escape. We're trapped here." He sounded resigned, and Gee wondered how long it had taken for Frank to give up on ever finding his way free of this weird place.

"Oh, no," Gee said. "Mikey'll rescue us. He was right behind me when the painting pulled me in, so he saw what happened. He'll figure out what's going on and find a way to help." Frank looked dubious, so Gee smiled reassuringly. Mikey was one stubborn motherfucker, and if there was anyone in the world who could save them, it was Mikey.

He was sure of it.

As late afternoon settled into evening, Gee helped Frank make dinner, pasta with fresh vegetables. Gee and Mikey learned to cook the basics out of self-defense: spaghetti sauce out of a jar, tacos, various types of casserole dishes (Tuna Surprise!) and pancakes; breakfast-as-dinner was a popular meal in the Way beach house and Mikey made a mean omelet.

Frank was a really good cook, and Gee hesitated before asking him about it. Frank smiled a little. "My grandma taught me a lot." He shrugged and refrained from pointing out that he'd had a lot of time to refine his skills.

With a dollop of cream, some garlic and a twist of Parmesan, Frank portioned out the the food and they went back outside. Gee took a bite and couldn't stop the happy little moan that escaped. It was delicious and Frank looked oddly pleased at Gee's reaction.

They lingered over dinner, taking their time and talking about trivialities, sharing bits and pieces of their lives, taking a quiet joy in getting to know each other. As dusk fell, the street lamps along the boardwalk hummed to life, casting a soft glow. In the distance, the Ferris wheel lit up with bright colored lights.

"It's beautiful," Gee said, voice hushed. Past the boardwalk, where the sand dunes were covered with scraggly sea grasses, Gee could see the twinkling of lightning bugs. He reached out and grabbed Frank's hand, threading their fingers together. "Let's take a walk."

They fell asleep, hours later, curled up together in front of a small fire they'd made out of driftwood they'd scavenged as they'd walked. Frank had made them a comfortable nest out of lounge cushions and blankets.

"What do you do when it gets cold?" Gee had asked as he covered them with a blanket.

Frank had been puzzled. "It doesn't. The season never changes."

A warm day, followed by a mild night. Over and over and over again. Gee didn't like the cold, but he wasn't sure about the idea of an endless summer. There was something to be said about the tang of autumn, and the way spring brought a taste of fresh air and rain.

When Gee woke in the morning, the sun was barely rising. He blinked, and Frank was staring at him, their heads close together on the same pillow. In the dawn light, Frank looked beautiful. Gee's daydreams couldn't compete with the reality. "Hi," he whispered.

"Hi," Frank whispered back. "I was afraid I'd dreamed you, again."

"Mmm." Without giving himself a chance to second guess himself, Gee leaned forward and pressed their lips together in a chaste kiss. He pulled back and looked at Frank, watching the surprise and pleasure bloom across his face.

"Oh," Frank breathed with a shiver. "More."

Gee obliged, brushing his mouth against Frank's, humming softly. Daringly, he let his tongue sneak out, and when Frank gasped in surprise, Gee slid between Frank's lips and tasted him for the first time. Cigarettes and coffee, familiar and known. Frank's hands clenched on the sleeves of Gee's shirt and Gee broke the kiss, resting their foreheads against each other.

Frank wiggled closer, sliding his arms around Gee's neck and pressing his face to the line of Gee's jaw. Gee tangled his fingers in Frank's hair and held him near as the morning slowly lightened and warmed into day.

They spent the day exploring the town together, after a leisurely breakfast of pancakes and coffee, of course. Gee gallantly offered to cook for Frank; pancakes he could do, though he wasn't used to cast iron pans and he singed the first few. Frank ate them anyway.

Asbury Park during the 20's was a very different place than the mostly run-down, past-it-prime seaside resort town of Gee's time. It had still been a mecca for the rough-and-tumble sound of Jersey music, though. He and Mikey had hit Asbury Park a few times over the years, catching bands at some of the historic venues, and it had always been obvious that Asbury Park's heyday had long since passed.

This Asbury Park, though devoid of people, reflected a life and vibrancy that was missing in its modern counterpart. Looking around, Gee could almost see the crowds of people walking along the Boardwalk, the hucksters selling saltwater taffy and pretzels and popcorn. It was easy to imagine the beach covered with families on a summer outing; children running around while their parents watched indulgently.

There were a succession of stores lining the boardwalk, everything from Madame Mysterio's Palmistry and Fortune-Telling to a movie theater, Uncle Mario's Supper Club and a cigar store, something simply labeled Amusements which was similar to the carnival booths that Gee was familiar with. Skee-ball, ring tosses, and the like. For a moment, Gee was glad that the place was empty, because he just knew he would make a total fool out of himself trying to win a stuffed animal for Frank.

(He'd won a fuzzy unicorn for Mikey once, their dad holding him up in his arms so that Gee could toss the softball at the stack of milk bottles. Mikey had insisted on carrying it around until it'd started falling apart at the seams and Elena had sewed it back together at least twice.)

They passed by a fancy hotel, the Grand Atlantic, and they peeked into the lobby. It was a magnificent space, filled with chandeliers and luxurious furnishings. Gee was delighted by the clearly Art Deco-influenced interior design and babbled for ten minutes straight about the use of geometric forms and modern materials before he caught himself. "Sorry, sorry, I tend to get carried away. I took an architecture class in college. . ."

"No, it's okay," Frank said. "I like listening to you talk. After all this time alone, I'm tired of the silence." Frank shrugged like it didn't matter, but Gee could clearly see that it did.

He wrapped his hand around the nape of Frank's neck and pulled him in for a soft kiss. Frank's hands rested on his waist briefly before stealing around to slide under the ragged hem of Gee's tee shirt. It felt good, the touch of Frank's hands against his skin, the heat of his body pressed close.

Gee couldn't imagine surviving what Frank had gone through. His profession was a solitary one, but by nature Gee was outgoing and gregarious. He loved surrounding himself with interesting people. A couple times a month he would head up to the city and meet up with friends to catch shows of all sorts: poetry slams and art exhibits, music and book readings. Sometimes Mikey and his girl would come along; sometimes Gee would go with Ray. It was always a good time.

But years and years of being alone, with no one's voice but your own for company—

Gee wasn't sure he could have survived that with his sanity intact.

The painting wasn't large, a couple of feet on a side, brown and yellowish squares outlined in black, weird Cubist shapes in the middle. The word cafe was written at the top of the painting, and Gee tilted his head a little, squinting. A little bird foot reached upward. "I think—I think it's a Picasso."

"A what?" Frank's hand, resting in Gee's, twitched a little.

"A Picasso. Probably one of the most famous artists of the 20th century. Though. . ." Gee tipped his head in the other direction, staring at the picture. "I'm not a big fan of abstract art, but I think this is his Pigeon and Peas painting."

Frank raised an eyebrow. "Pigeon and Peas?"

Grinning, Gee shook his head. "It has a fancy French name." He squeezed Frank's hand. "It's got to be a reproduction, though, because the original was stolen and then destroyed. . ." He touched the front of the painting, surprised to find that the surface was rough with layers of thick paint. A prickling sensation shivered through him. "Weird. . ."


"Yeah," Gee nodded. He'd come back later and examine the painting more closely. There was other art in the lobby, sculpture and paintings, including what looked like a Vermeer. Which was pretty amazing, even for a fancy hotel on the Jersey shore.

They meandered down the boardwalk, idly talking, until Frank stopped in front of a bookstore. "This is what kept me sane," he said, leading Gee inside. It was cozy space, bookshelves crammed full of books, with comfortable chairs and couches wedged into corners. It was the kind of bookstore that usually had a cat or two for patrons to pet.

"I didn't have a lot of schooling, but my ma taught me to read for pleasure." Frank looked almost defiant, like he wasn't sure how Gee was going to react.

"I like to read, too," Gee replied simply. He started poking around on the shelves, pulling out a book at random. "Huh, I don't remember ever seeing this before," he muttered, holding a leather bound book. The front cover was decorated with a tree in gold leaf, The Battle of Gladden Fields and Other Tales of Sorrow by J.R.R. Tolkien spelled out in runic-looking letters. The next book he pulled out sent an eerie frisson down his spine when he flipped to the front cover and boggled at the publication date. 2016. "I don't understand."

"What's wrong?" Frank peered over Gee's arm at the book.

"This book doesn't exist yet. And I'm pretty sure the other book doesn't exist in my world at all. I think it's one of Tolkien's unfinished works. . ." Gee took a deep breath and carefully put both back on the shelf. He staggered a little and let Frank lead him to a chair.

"It's okay, Gee," Frank murmured, as Gee dropped his head between his knees. Frank rubbed at Gee's back, soothing circles. "It's okay."

Gee lifted his head and laughed, only slightly hysterical.

Their days fell into a simple rhythm, a tangle of togetherness, of quiet talks and exploration. Most of their nights they spent on the beach, even though the Grand Atlantic was full of empty rooms. It bothered Frank, a visible reminder of how alone they were, and Gee had no desire to force the issue. He was perfectly content curled up with Frank on their cushions, the sound of the waves and Frank's breathing lulling him to sleep.

Sometimes Gee pinched himself when Frank wasn't looking, to make sure he wasn't dreaming.

They spent a lot of time in the bookstore, Gee oohing and aaaaahing over various discoveries. Frank shook his head in bemusement as Gee talked about the books he found, lost manuscripts and stories that hadn't been written yet. Frank just went back to his reading.

"Oh." Gee couldn't look away from the slim volume he'd discovered wedged between a future-Gaiman book and the Complete Comedies of Aristophanes. Conventional Weapons, it said on the spine. Way, Way and Toro. He ran his finger along the narrow binding and wondered what was inside.

"Gee?" Frank was looking concerned, and Gee made an effort to smile.

"It's a book I haven't created yet. I don't know what it's about, and I'm a little afraid to look inside."

"Then don't," Frank said simply. "Wait until you figure it out on your own."

With a snort, Gee turned away. "You make it sound so easy. I'm dying of curiosity."

Frank held out a hand. "Then come over here and let me distract you."

Gee grinned, because Frank's mouth was one hell of a distraction. "Okay."

"Are you okay, Gee?"

Gee knew it was a dream, because Mikey was dressed in clanking armor and riding a unicorn. "Uh, you're riding a unicorn."

Mikey looked impatient. "Yeah, and you're wearing one of those princess dresses with the pointy hat. What's your point?"

"I am not," Gee replied hotly, and then looked down and— "Oh." The dress was seafoam green and sparkly.

"Gee, are you all right?" he repeated. "Ray and I are trying to find a way to get you out of the painting, but we haven't had much luck yet."

"Yeah, I'm okay." He couldn't help the bashful smile that crept across his face. "Frank's here, too. You'll have to figure out how to rescue both of us."

Rolling his eyes, Mikey looked supremely put-upon, but Gee wasn't fooled for a minute. "Are you okay, Mikey?"

Mikey leaned down, shifting a little as the unicorn pawed at the ground. He swung out of the saddle and brushed the veil out of his way so he could kiss Gee's cheek. "Yeah, I'm fine. Other that being worried about the fact that an evil painting has taken my brother hostage and the only way I can talk to him is in my dreams, while riding a unicorn."

"It's not evil, Mikey." Gee pouted a little. "And at least you're not in a dress."

"Very true," Mikey grinned. "Take care of yourself, Gee. I'll get you out as soon as I can. Just hang on."

"Hanging on," Gee said, and the sound of his own voice pulled him out of his dream.

"Wha'?" Frank mumbled, rolling over and burrowing closer to Gee.

"Just talkin' to Mikey. Go back to sleep, Frank."


Gee and Mikey had always talked about the fact that they would not deal well with being trapped on a desert island. They were firmly in the grip of the modern world, and had a pretty severe video game and cell phone addiction that their lifestyle didn't discourage.

He was sure that eventually that he would get bored, not with Frank, but with a world without the electronic distractions that he was used to. Frank only had a limited understanding of what Gee's world was like; he'd read some books that took place in the future, but reading about computers and video games and HD television is not the same as experiencing them. But Gee was sure he'd start to feel antsy, like the year he turned thirteen and he and Mikey got sent to summer camp, far away from music and television and their Sega Genesis and SNES consoles. (They'd managed to escape and hitchhike back to civilization; they were grounded for the rest of the summer, but at least they were home.)

It turned out, though, not so much.

Gee suspected it was like he was trying to catch up on years of being Frank-less; he wanted to know everything there was to know about Frank. Frank's dreams and wishes, what his favorite foods were, what kind of music he liked listening to, what scared him. And Gee wanted Frank to know all of that about him, too.

"Being alone," Frank confessed. "Even before I got trapped here, I was afraid of living out my life alone."

That kind of raw honesty deserved the truth in return. "Failure," Gee said, picking at a hole in his pajama pants. "Everyone told me I had such talent, and I was always afraid that I would fail to make a mark on the world."

"Yeah," Frank said, bumping their shoulders companionably.

If you'd met Frank on the street, you'd hesitate, because he totally threw off some tough-guy vibes. Dark hair, tattoos, cigarettes, and a fuck you sneer. Inside, though, he was silly and funny and so damn sweet. He made Gee laugh, and that was one of the best things about him.

Frank would read out loud from books, sometimes, making up voices to go with each character and Gee would listen, spellbound, thinking about how much of a performer Frank was, and how he'd shine up on a stage.

"Do you play a musical instrument, Frankie?"

"Piano, a little. My pop had been a musician, and we'd had a piano when I was a kid, before Ma had to sell it. I had a guitar, once. I liked playing that," he said diffidently.

"We'll have to look into it, when Mikey gets us out of here. I think that might be something you'd enjoy."

"Hmmmm." His tone was noncommittal, like it always was when Gee brought up being freed from the painting. Gee knew that Frank didn't believe it, and honestly, Gee couldn't blame him. He didn't know Mikey, didn't know the kid's sheer determination. But Gee had faith in Mikey. Always had, always would.

Gee made a happy sound when he found a blank pad of paper in one of the stores, along with a handful of pencils. It wasn't the best paper ever, and most of the pencils were stubs, but at this point Gee wasn't going to be picky. He'd been itching to sketch Frank since he'd fallen into the painting and now he had the tools to do just that.

It took a little convincing to get Frank to sit still. At first, he was self-conscious, noticeably so, and constantly trying to see what Gee was drawing. But Gee distracted him with a book and managed to get a pretty good likeness done. He smudged a couple more lines, fixed the point of Frank's chin and looked it over with a critical eye.

"Here," Gee murmured, pushing the pad over to Frank, who took it and stared down at the drawing. As Gee watched, Frank's eyes grew wide. "Frank?"

Frank traced the shape of his own face with a fingertip. "You make me look handsome."

"You are."

Frank shook his head. "The way you see me. . ." His voice trailed off. "It's different."

"It's love," Gee whispered, and Frank threw himself at Gee, arms tight around his neck almost toppling them both out of the chair. "It's always been love."

"Why do you always get to be the knight? I wanna wear the armor." Gee gestured at the dress he was wearing. "This is ridiculous." He scratched at his arm. "And itchy." The fabric was woven through with glittery threads that were pretty but rough and irritating.

Mikey's lips twitched, but he managed to refrain from laughing. "The armor's uncomfortable, too," he said, but Gee wasn't convinced it was as bad as the dress was.

Gee frowned and waved his hand around, like he was trying to sweep the subject of dresses away. "Any luck? Not that I'm complaining, but it's been months—"

"You're totally complaining, and huh. It's only been a couple of weeks out here. Time moves faster in there, then. Cool." Mikey looked thoughtful for a minute. "Anyway, yeah, totally figured out what to do to get you outta here."

Gee's heart started racing, and he bounced excitedly on the balls of his feet a little, startling Mikey's unicorn. "Sorry."

Mikey shrugged and patted the unicorn's neck and explained to Gee what he needed to do to escape the painting.

Gee woke before Frank did, so he took advantage of it and watched Frank's face as he slept. People were supposed to look younger when they were asleep, more innocent somehow, but Frank just looked like Frank. He had a face that aged well, a few fine lines developing at the corners of his eyes where they crinkled when he laughed.

Closing his eyes, Gee tried to imagine what Frank would look like in forty years, wrinkled and grey-haired and old. He simply looked like Frank, someone Gee had grown to know intimately.

As the sun got higher in the sky, Frank's sleep grew restless; he tossed and turned, scrunching his nose in an attempt to keep from waking up. Eventually, his eyes fluttered open and Gee just smiled. "Hi."

Frank rolled his eyes and licked his dry lips. "Hi. You're up awful early." He didn't seem to be particularly disturbed by Gee staring at him as he slept.

"Excited," Gee confirmed, wriggling a little. "Mikey figured out how to get us out of the painting."

"Oh," Frank yawned. "That's good, I guess."

Gee frowned. "You could at least pretend to be interested. I know you're not convinced that this is going to work, but still—" Gee decided to take advantage of Frank's stretch and ran his hands down Frank's ribs, eliciting a ripple of giggles from Frank as he squirmed to get away.

"I give, I give," Frank squawked, and Gee stopped tickling him, leaning in to kiss him, instead.

"C'mon, Frank, let's blow this popsicle stand. There's a whole world out there, waiting for you. For us."

Frank closed his eyes and took a deep breath. "As long as I'm with you, it doesn't matter where I am."

Gee kissed him again. "Same here. But I want to show you everything."

"Tall order," Frank said, and grunted as Gee pulled him to his feet.

"Yeah," Gee agreed. "We need a full-length mirror. Do you know where we can find one?"

There was a shop on the boardwalk, one that declared Altering and Repairing! Pressing, Cleaning, Dyeing!. Inside, there was a big mirror attached to one wall. It was perfect.

Gee touched it with a cautious finger, unsure what to expect, but the glass was solid under his touch. He hesitated, wondering if they should have stopped for coffee first. Coffee was a wonderful idea, but he really wanted coffee in his own house, in his own future, sitting across from Mikey and Frank.

"So, what happens now?"

Raising a shoulder, Gee said, "We have to concentrate real hard on wanting to get out, and Mikey gave me some magic words to say." He held out a hand to Frank, and Frank didn't hesitate, just linked their fingers together, which made Gee's heart flutter in his chest. "Kiss me once for luck?"

"Once for luck," Frank agreed, pushing up onto his toes for a quick kiss. "And once for love." The second kiss was longer and sweeter. "Okay?"

"Perfect," Gee breathed. He tightened his hand around Frank's. "Ready?"

"Rodger dodger."

Gee grinned and moved them closer to the wall. His heart was racing with excitement and a little bit of fear. He cleared his throat, inhaled and enunciated, "Klaatu barada nikto," and stepped forward into the mirror, pulling Frank with him.

The mirror shimmered like water and Gee had a moment to feel triumphant before everything went black.

It wasn't as bad as falling into the painting had been; they stumbled a little but managed to keep each other upright. Mikey was there, and Ray, wrapping Gee and Frank in hard hugs.

"Gee, Gee, Gee, Gee," Mikey mumbled against his hair, while Ray tried to shuffle the whole group toward the couch. "Hi Frank," he said, patting Frank's shoulder while still clinging to Gee. "Glad to finally meet you."

Ray rumbled a laugh and maneuvered them into sitting, Mikey curling next to Gee, Frank in Gee's lap.

"Klaatu barada nikto? Really, Mikey?" Gee asked. "Those really weren't the magic words, were they?"

"Told you," Ray said to Mikey. "I knew Gee'd recognize it."

"Yeah, well, whatever. It worked, didn't it?" Mikey shrugged. "Getting out of the painting just required belief. Figured having 'magic words' couldn't hurt."

"How did you figure it out?" Gee asked, curious.

"Well, we tried Google first, because you know that Google usually has the answer."

"But nada," Ray interjected. "'Magic painting' mostly gets you optical illusion art."

"So I asked Mom, and it turned out the damn thing's been in our family for generations. The painting itself has changed over time, but she knew exactly how to get you guys out." Mikey grinned.

Frank giggled at Gee's affronted look before scrambling up to his feet, bouncing a little in excitement. "Can we go outside, Gee? Just for a bit? I wanna—" He waved his hands around, and Gee knew exactly what Frank was trying to say.

"We'll be back in a little while," he said, taking Frank's hand and leading him to the front door, and the wider world beyond.
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January 2013

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