After Death’s Clutch they traveled quickly through the jungle. The Forest of the Dead was just as creepy as they remembered, with its bare-branched trees and filmy cobwebs, and scattered graveyards and gallows. The persistent cloud cover cast a permanent gloom over the place. Oddly, putting their uniforms back on made them feel better. They were warmer now, at least.
They had barely entered the Dry Ice Mines (which was actually more of a quarry) when they were attacked. The Drowning Doom had never assaulted The Black Parade until now. This time, they were more like classic horror-movie zombies. They looked much more decayed, grayish bone showing through in places, flesh torn and seeping darkness.
Mikey ran from the Frightwig-possessed Razor Girl. His bass was so, so close. The Thunderhogs were around, sure, but if the rest of his friends had to be mixed up in this, then he'd be the one doing the healing. Of course it helped that his playing drained their enemies as much as it fortified their allies.
There was a sharp pain in his back. Mikey stumbled, wavering but quickly regaining his footing on the rocky ground. His side throbbed a little, slowing him down slightly, but he still made good headway. He grabbed his bass and started in, threading the low thrum through Bob's stun-force drumbeats and making the guitarist’s lightning that much more powerful.
It was over pretty quickly. The group that had attacked was small. With a couple of well-timed riffs by Frank, it was done.
Mikey joined his friends in the huddle they'd formed after the battle.
Gerard made a noise that greatly resembled his complaints when they were filming the video for "Ghost of You." Namely, when they'd been getting up to Take Nine of Mikey’s death scene.
"Gee, what's the matter?" he worriedly asked his brother. "We're all fine. I ran for my bass the minute the fighting started."
"Erm," Frank said haltingly. "Not that fine. You've got an arrow in your back."
Mikey awkwardly felt around. "Oh." It was a little wet around the shaft, and that was it. He tugged at it. It took a little contorting, but he pulled it out over the loud complaints of his brother.
"Huh." He examined the dark red slickness on the bolt. He shrugged. "Doesn't even hurt," he said thoughtfully.
"Guess I better get it looked at," Mikey conceded, taking off his jacket.
Logically, there should've been something. Blood, a gaping wound. Frank poked Mikey and then rucked up his t-shirt. There was nothing there but smooth pale skin and a red spot of irritation where the arrow had hit. He shook out the jacket, which didn’t have so much as a stray thread where the bolt had gone in.
“No point when there’s nothing to see,” Frank said quietly.
They just looked at each other, thinking of what Brian had told them just yesterday.
It had taken Brian a few weeks to actually notice what was off. To be fair, they’d been busy. The guys had gotten their own instruments, and made good use of them in a few skirmishes. MCR going into battle against demons and zombies, now that was something that had to be seen to be believed.
Still, they were coping about as well could be expected. They were a bunch of geeks, really, so they probably thought they just had to finish some quest and they’d find a path home. Brian wasn’t quite so optimistic, but he couldn’t help holding on to the hope that they were right. If anyone could do it, it would be them.
Brian stared at Gerard, suddenly feeling something was out of place, but he couldn't tell what. He looked after all the guys of course, but it was Gerard that held most of Brian's attention lately. Maybe it was the wings. But aside from that fantastic sight, there was something else niggling at the edge of his mind.
As a troop of Razor Girls walked by, chatting animatedly, their hair perfectly flipped and feathered (Brian still had no idea how they did it), the realization of exactly what was off hit him like a punch to the head.
It had been three weeks now since they’d arrived, and Gerard’s hair was still white as snow. Of course, he’d been keeping it up on tour so far, but here? Hair dye was one of the things that DIDN’T grow on trees.
He tried to be subtle about it.
“Noticed anything unusual with you lately?” he asked the singer.
“Aside from being stuck in an insane yet completely awesome heavy metal fantasy world? Nooo,” he drawled, still sketching a fierce portrait of Bob riding a Lazer Panther. Bob was looking on and appeared to approve of the drawing very much.
“Gerard. There are
Brian gave up. “Your hair. It’s been weeks since you got here, and there’s no sign of your roots.”
“Huh?” Gerard squinted at him in confusion. Mikey, who was coaxing Kitty into making guitar strings, looked up and stared at his brother’s head, frowning.
“He’s right,” he concluded.
“What?” Gerard said, bewildered.
“It’s as white as the day you bleached it, which I definitely know wasn’t yesterday,” Mikey said. “But that’s what it looks like.”
Brian could practically see Gerard thinking. “And before you ask, it’s not us. I’ve had to do all those little things like shaving, but neither you or Frank or any of the guys need so much as a trim, even after all this time.”
“Great, another mark for the freak column,” Bob muttered.
Gerard climbed onto the stage at the other end of the quarry. Wisps of dry ice fog curled around his feet.
"Wow." He tapped the mic at center stage. It was live. Frank and Ray had drifted to their usual places by instinct.
"It's for us," he realized. "Brian said they'd found a few of these already, scattered all over, like they were waiting for something."
“There was that one at Death’s Clutch,” Frank mused. “Didn’t really believe him about these until I saw this one.”
“They've been waiting for us all this time. We...we really are the Black Parade, at least for them.”
“That last time, it wasn’t so much a battle as a show. They didn't just vanish like the others, there were these flashes of light...they’re not zombies, not really, more like ghosts? Maybe it really was the same people coming back,” Mikey said thoughtfully.
“We have to do this. That whole area got tainted after the war, maybe if we can help ease the pain that made it like that, actually help them move on, it...” Gerard swallowed.
He took a deep breath, voice on the verge of breaking. "Fuck. This is too fucking much. Dammit, I know our fans love us and I've always wanted to save lives, you guys know that, but we're actually seeing it happen here.”
“We’re half reapers, half exorcists,” spoke Bob.
“But let's hurry. Sure the powers are cool, but... What if we get back and we stay...like this? We're only human, really, what if...I don't want to get used to it. I mean, yeah, it’s cool to think about, but it's not supposed to happen, not really, we don't belong here.”
"God yeah," Brian agreed. "I held on alright, but then you guys showed up and...I want to go home as much as you do. I missed you guys, I miss having my life where zombies don't walk the earth, the moon is not a skull, and definitely I don't need Frank in control of assorted forces of nature."
The Black Parade had just finished setting up when the next wave of the Drowning Doom appeared. Unlike the previous shows, several vehicles accompanied them, including a Dirgible. It was the latter that seemed most ominous - the coffin was held aloft by a large Victorian-styled balloon and hung above them like the dark new moon.
“To un-explain the unforgivable..." Gerard started to sing softly as the revenants advanced. He was at full volume by the time he got to “There are things that I have done, you never should ever know!” The Brides at the front of the crowd stopped cold. A ripple of stillness spread through the crowd of the Drowned.
By the time he'd finished the song, it was calm and quiet, except for the barely audible whirring of the Dirgible's propellers.
Gerard let the quiet continue for a few heavy seconds before nodding to his band, and they launched into “Cancer”. He hardly gave a thought as to what song to do next, just went with what felt like it would fit best, his band not even hesitating to follow.
"… You might wake up and notice you're someone you're not..." he continued, stalking along the stage.
The band crashed yelling into "Dead!" and by then he’d let it bloom in his heart, that indescribable feeling of being on stage, nothing could touch him, he could do anything, he could help them all.
He strutted and paraded down the stage, wings trailing behind him like banners. He saw the Dirgible and had a crazy idea. With a jump and a flap like a murder of crows taking off, he was digging his talons into the elaborately carved framing surrounding the coffin.
Beneath the music from his band, he could hear a raspy, rustling laughter coming from within the coffin.
With the last crash of cymbals, and the final scream of “DEAD!”, the wood dissolved into silvery fog beneath his fingers.
His wings flared and Gerard landed lightly on his feet. The rest of their audience had also faded away into mist, bright points of iridescent light visible among the haze.
He looked back at the stage. The ravens that seemed to be following them everywhere were still roosting in the large tree growing off to the side, perched like big feathery fruit on the bare branches arching out above the stage. It made a pretty frame. He took a deep breath. Freshly turned dirt, a cool misting drizzle of rain, and traces of copper. It was a good sort of smell. He spied Brian by the side of the stage, and smiled.
It came to a head, as things do, following this suitably dramatic event. After the concert…ritual…show…thing, Brian found Gerard standing at the edge of the hilltop graveyard. The hillside facing the entrance to the quarry resembled a giant cathedral. A rickety-looking bridge from a neighboring mound was the only path up to the flat-topped hill. He was staring down the canyon path, the rocky dark ground covered in a layer of frost. It was a stark scene. Gerard was in his uniform, hair nearly as white as the snow on the ground, the buttons on his jacket all done up and gleaming dully in the cool sunlight.
"If I stepped off the edge right now, I wouldn’t even get hurt," Gerard said as he heard the crunch of Brian's footsteps in the snow.
Brian rushed forward and tackled the singer to the ground. "You don't joke about that!" he said fiercely, the snow touching his hands liquefying and then immediately hissing into steam in his anger.
"Don't," he begged, fingers clenching tightly in Gerard’s jacket, the fleeting touch of memories of terrible, desperate nights putting a desperate edge in his voice.
“Don’t,” Brian whispered again, taking in this flawed, beautiful man and finally he gave in and put his mouth on his, kissing him frantically, like he was trying to give all the warmth he felt back to him, to use the glow of heat that suffused his heart whenever Gerard was around to keep him from falling into that gloom again. They’d circled around this for too long.
The other man seemed surprised at first, but then melted into the kiss, making delighted little noises in the back of his throat.
Brian finally broke off the kiss and opened his eyes. Gerard was looking up fondly at him. He clearly wouldn't let him get up until he was reassured. He hugged him tightly.
"You're so warm," he said. A beat. "And I won't. ‘Course I know better than that." He let Brian pull him up, brushing off the snow and dirt.
"So," Brian said, attempting for lightheartedness. "You gonna brood out here all day? Then I better make sure you don't freeze to death."
Gerard gave him a shy but pleased little smile. Then he grew melancholy. "How much longer do you think we'll be here? I miss...everything. It's great that you and the guys are here, but..."
"Yeah. I know."
"Sure, it's great than we can help them, and I never thought we'd be an actual Black Parade for anyone. Helping put troubled souls to rest, it's like we're in a movie or something. Our own comic book, but we never signed up for that. We don't really belong here." His shadow-wings manifested and flared outward. "I can put on a great show, but that’s not really me. We're not really superheroes,” he said as he examined his darkness-sheathed hands.
"Oh fuck you Gerard," Brian retorted. "Not superheroes my ass! You do save lives, before you even thought of The Black Parade. I always believed in you. I had to MAKE you take me on as manager, remember?"
Gerard gave him a thin smile. "Thanks." He sighed. "I miss being just...me. We were all made different in this crazy world." He drew his wings around him like a cloak and watched the edges float around and throw off black wisps on the ice-crusted snow. "I don't know how much more weirdness I can take. It was insane enough when we actually got famous."
Brian rubbed his hands together, watching the small ball of fire form between his fingers. "Yeah. I know, Gee. But I'm here for you. So's Mikey, Frank, and everyone else. This is a cool place, ya gotta admit, but I'd rather not live here forever."
“And I don’t think I really like the thought of actually
living forever,” said Gerard. “You saw what happened, what I did today.”
He did indeed. After the concert, Bob was fatally impaled by collapsing scaffolding. That is to say, he should've been. The drummer had dug himself out, and it was only when he was dusting himself off that he saw the matching wounds on either side of his torso. The edges were damp and red, but his blood wasn’t going anywhere.
It kept happening. In the days they’d stayed in the Dry Ice Mines, they found that what should be fatal wounds just caused twinges and aches. Frank had been dropped off a cliff, lots of rocks at the bottom, naturally, and all he’d gotten were a few bruises.
After that, Gerard had to test it. It took a little convincing, but one of the Zaulia who was good with knives agreed to help him with the experiment.
He closed his eyes. "Do it."
There was a slight rustle as she threw the knives, followed by dull thoks
as they made contact. Points of focused pressure bloomed down his limbs and over his torso. It felt a lot like being poked all over by a big and very pointy pencil. After the quick initial pressure, the area started throbbing with a hot pins and needles sensation.
He kept his eyes closed as she retrieved them with soft squelches. The searing pins and needles cooled into a tingle and quickly faded away completely.
“So that’s it then,” he had murmured to himself as he examined the complete lack of damage to the uniform. “We are The Black Parade.”
A soft kiss behind his ear shook Gerard from the unsettling memory.
“Hey,” Brian said softly. “Let’s focus on being alive, alright? And you know what’s good for that? Sex.” He leaned in to whisper the details of what he’d do.
,” the singer said breathily, flushing red. “Yeah. Yeah, that sounds good,” Gerard said as Brian led him back to the camp.
It took only a day for them to make a decision.
Lita watched as The Black Parade busied itself with packing. Given how things had been going lately, she found herself kind of...glad they were leaving. She felt a little pang of shame over it. They were technically human after all, but...they were eerie. Even when they’d been out of uniform, there was an air of creepiness to those five young men. She’d expected it ever since they’d finishing cobbling together that vehicle of theirs, made from the remains of a Headsplitter and Drowned Ophelia’s hearse-mobile. It had shocked everyone, Frank included, when he’d played the vehicle summoning solo and the old car had materialized.
To her surprise, she found Brian among them.
"You're going too?" Lita exclaimed.
Brian nodded. "I have to. Come on Lita, you must've known I'd leave with them. The Black Parade marches on.”
"I tried not to think about it, honestly. You've found a place here."
"But I know
my place is with them," he replied simply. "I never really belonged here. I'm not like Eddie. I always missed those guys, and I miss Earth."
She grew thoughtful, and had to admit it was true. She'd suspected that ever since the night he'd vanished from the Fire Baron camp and could mainly be found by the tents of The Black Parade.
"Thanks for everything, Lita. Send on my regards to everyone else. I certainly won't forget my time here."
With that, he walked out into the clearing. "Time to get moving, guys! Gerard, you better let Bob have the wheel, cuz you're riding bitch with me!" Brian yelled, adding a saucy grin.
Gerard let out a sharp little chuckle and climbed onto the bike. It was an odd sight, this laughing young man in such a somber uniform. They were followed by darkness, but still could find joy.
Lita watched as they drove off, their dark figures vanishing quickly in the fog that had rolled in. Haziness like that wasn’t uncommon in the Dry Ice Mines, but…
She stared into the mist for a while. She felt Ophelia and Eddie come up next to her. Ophelia was looking into the distance where they’d faded from sight. “I really liked their music,” she said wistfully as the mist cleared.
Lita made her decision. Not everyone would agree with it, but it felt right. “We’ll follow them. We need to see this through. We shouldn’t forget the battles the people before us fought, though they may have failed.”
Miles away, memories of a different sort were being made. The Black Parade had stopped for the night, but not everyone was asleep, instead taking advantage of the relative solitude.
"Come on, Gerard, don't make me MAKE you," Brian said. He struggled with the jacket for a few moments, cursing its hundred stupid fucking buttons. Jesus, Gerard, you and your costumes,
But it was so fun getting him out of the outfits. His impatience was settled by the knowledge that Gerard wanted this too, wanted him
, fire-starting freak of nature and all.
Peeling off his layers felt like a deconstruction. The otherness that seemed to come with the uniforms fell away as the jacket and pants were tossed into a corner.
Brian had to stop for a while and just look. It had been way too long since any of them had really been able to rest and just be themselves. Gerard’s skin was pale and soft. He hitched up his black t-shirt and nuzzled his stomach, then moved to his neck, nibbling along the way.
Soon enough Gerard was laid bare on the blankets. "There. Nothing else getting in the way." Brian stripped quickly and pulled him on top, cupping his ass and kissing Gerard fiercely. "It's just you, and me, and we are gonna fuck and it’s gonna be awesome,” he informed him.
The singer cuddled in closer to Brian's heated body. "Shut up and do it then," Gerard murmured in his ear in a soft, inviting voice.
In response, Brian just gave his ass a squeeze and rolled them over, blanketing the singer’s body with his own. For a while they just made out, kissing and stroking each other.
It was only when Gerard made this little complaining whiny noise that Brian snapped out of the world of warm pale skin and heat that he'd fallen into.
His mouth curled into a smirk. "Oh, do you want something, Gee?" he asked casually.
Gerard made a sound of annoyance and pushed his hips up.
"Heh, okay, fine," Brian said, with a happy smile in his voice. He felt light and happy and he was quite pleased at being able to shut him up this way. He fumbled around and found the lightly-scented oil he'd gotten for just this purpose.
Gerard really does make the best noises, thought Brian as he used slick fingers to open him up. He was sliding inside and fuck yeah, it was good. Gerard thought so too, judging by the moans.
For all the anticipation, it was over way too fast. Ah well, there was always next time. And there’d be plenty of next times; Gerard would make sure of that, judging by the pleased squirming going on underneath him.
Brian flopped onto his back, still catching his breath. For a while, they just looked at each other.
"You, me, we still got this, no matter what happens. I won’t leave, and neither will the other guys. We were all in this together from the start.”
It ended where it had started. The car stopped outside the entrance to the Sea of Black Tears. Interestingly, the shallow creek of black water that had threaded through the canyon beside the opening in the mountain was now dry. Maybe it was because there was less of the Drowning Doomed that its power could work through. Or, and Gerard liked this idea much better, it was a sign of how they were healing this land by finally allowing the restless revenants to be at peace.
It really was astounding how much power music had. A few chords could heal, or cause a lot of destruction. It always stunned him to see the effect their songs had on the Drowned. He really hoped they weren't all so Doomed anymore.
This was a perfect spot for the last concert. And it would be. He could feel it. They'd kinda been working up to it, but this one would be where they'd play the whole album through, give voice to the entire journey.
He knew some of Ironheade was trailing behind them. The Black Parade was powerful indeed - he couldn’t fault them for freaking out. He still freaked out a little bit each time he remembered what they could do in this world. And when he saw the edges of his wings.
The road to the Sea sloped downward. If they really had to, the other humans could get rid of the remaining Drowned before they became a risk. They’d set up above the entrance to the Sea, leaving the way clear for the Drowned, but close enough to see them off.
Without him even thinking about it, the wings settled around him like a soft cloak. He flew to the top of the round skull sculpture that acted as the entrance to the Sea. Or was it a lake? It did seem more like a lake, but given that it was actually salty, perhaps Sea really was more accurate.
He shook off the silly thoughts about semantics and perched on the top of the carved hill. The walls of the short dried out canyon were carved and contained window-like panels, much like the interior of the cave that held the Sea of Black Tears. There was a graveyard on one side, just one of many dotted across this region. Thorny bushes blooming with black roses were scattered among the plots. All of the headstones had been too worn or overgrown to read clearly, but he thought he'd seen a few familiar Ironheade names among them.
His heart panged fiercely at the thought of all those people, tears starting to prick at his eyes again. So many had been lost in the last war for human freedom. He couldn't blame the Black Tear Rebellion. The demons were intimidating, and the people had grabbed onto the only source of power they could find that they'd thought would finally bring them victory.
This whole place was full of ghosts, and they were all waiting for The Black Parade.
The stage was absolutely amazing. It hadn’t been here last time they’d passed this way, of course. It looked like an elegant gothic house. The ‘roof’ was a tarnished silver-gray, aged and comfortable. There were spires and wrought iron curlicues and deep crimson curtains. From here, he could barely make out the faded white stars on the backdrop.
This would be the last concert. He could feel it. They all did. Brian would remain side-stage and control the pyrotechnics, as usual, while they played.
Gerard stepped off the edge and swooped gently down. It wouldn’t be long before the audience was here. It was time for the penitence ball.
It was the most intense thing any of them had ever felt. There was an amazing energy in the air, driving them on. They poured everything they had into the music. Gerard felt wild, swept up in the force yet still completely in control. He could stop, but better not to, it felt right, this was the only thing he could
do. This was where everything led.
Gerard strutted and preened and it was a grand spectacle indeed. He slumped dramatically to the floor as “The Sharpest Lives” stuttered to its end.
It took only moments for the warmth of Brian’s presence to appear by his side. He’d been standing watch from side-stage. He said nothing, just bent down to kiss Gerard and be enveloped in shadowy wings. He pulled the singer to his feet, still sharing the intensity of being here and now, exactly where they were, in this shattering instance of change.
Gerard opened his eyes to see Brian smiling at him. And so, the concert went on. "Mama" had a particularly electrifying effect. The previous stillness became a swirl of movement. The Gravediggers especially really seemed to like it. Several even went so far as to start twirling the Brides into an insane sort of waltz.
Wow, that's something you don't see every day.
Inspired by this, Gerard sashayed over to Brian and dragged him out on stage, more or less copying the waltzing dance as he sang.
“Through fortune and flame we fall...”
As they went into the final notes of “Famous Last Words”, those that remained of the Drowning Doom were dissolving into motes of light. Soon it was like they were in the center of a field of exploding stars, flooded with warmth and radiance. It felt like they could taste the freedom of those that were finally at peace.
In the last ringing echoes of the music, the band’s final words were spoken. “We are The Black Parade. And so are you,” Gerard’s voice rang out, and was echoed by his band.
It was like being illuminated by a hundred spotlights, everything became clear, and they saw things were right. Something in the world shifted at that moment. The fires behind them blazed and began to consume the top of the stage. Then there was a moment of darkness as the curtain dropped.
The music was done but it still felt like it had left behind…something. Something too big for anyone to really put into words at the moment. Soon enough, the words would return and would be written down and preserved for the rest of time. Many would later say there was exhilaration, a feeling of rightness to the world, a sense of purity found in this voyage through the darkness. It was something they hadn’t felt even after the end of the war, it was…peace. Peace with themselves and with the world, redeeming the ugliness of the past.
As the lights faded away, and people blinked away the floating spots in their eyes, they saw that The Black Parade had vanished as quietly as they’d arrived in this world. Fire had seared the top of the stage, and the curtain was pooled on the floor. Behind it, the band was nowhere to be seen. Their instruments still gleamed, standing out brightly against the sooty structure. The cymbals were as still as stone.
Behind the stage, they would discover more changes. In the wall of the canyon there were now multiple stained glass windows. The first was a group shot, showing their instruments and abilities. Gerard was at the peak of the window, wings arching out. Brian glowered from the bottom, yellow-white flames threading their way upwards. The rest of the windows displayed the story of The Black Parade. The colors seemed to glow, even the black. It was more light than that land had seen in ages.
The Black Parade would stand guard over the Sea now.
Brian woke slowly. He was lying on something warm.
He gripped the surface experimentally. Soft, covered in some kinda of fabric. Warm and yielding. Oh. It was a someone
. He cracked open an eye and saw short white hair. Gerard. He cuddled closer. His Gee. Yeah. He’d have to tell him about that crazy dream he’d had. There was fire and demons and emo zombie-ghouls. Gerard had been there, and the rest of the guys too.
The door clicked open.
“Hey guys!” boomed Worm. “Bus call in fifteen! You worn out already? You’ve played more intense shows than that!”
This startled the rest of them awake. They all looked around, as if consciousness was a new and confusing experience. Frank greatly resembled a puppy suddenly awoken from a nap. Bob was not at all pleased either, as the short guitarist was sitting on the drummer’s back.
They staggered to their feet and wondered what the hell had just happened to them.
My Chemical Romance and their band manager somehow all managed to change out of their stage costumes and stagger onto the tour bus. That being accomplished, they collapsed onto the couch, the floor, or any other surface that would hold their weight. Gerard was clinging to Brian like a limpet.
They all stared at each other in what would be surprise if they weren't so tired.
Bob finally spoke up. "Please tell me I wasn't the only one that had the dream with the fire and demons and us playing reaper to a whole undead army."
There was a collective sigh of relief. "Nope," Brian said tiredly, stroking Gerard's hair.
"Well, maybe we all had the same collective hallucination," Ray said unhappily.
Frank suddenly sat up, clambering over the older Way to scrabble at the sleeves of Brian's t-shirt.
"Come on Bri, take off your shirt, that'll settle it!"
Brian looked at the guitarist like he was insane, but was too tired to argue.
"There it is!" Frank crowed. On his bicep was a demonic bird surrounded by swirling flames, all inked in black.
"You didn't have that before, did you," Mikey said flatly.
Brian was staring at the tattoo. It was pretty good - it had a sort of minimalist feel to it. “No,” He said. “No I didn’t.”
Bob was hugging one of the pillows. At Brian’s words, he sat up and took a gleaming object out of his pocket.
"I found this in the coat," he said, letting the glossy black-enameled pocketwatch dangle on its silver chain. He popped it open to show them. It didn't look too strange at first glance. Then they realized the fancy watch hands were unmoving, and longer than most, decorated with little flourishes and oriented to the four compass points. Not especially functional, but familiar all the same.
“Like the drum kit,” Ray murmured. “It happened. It was all real.”
“Yeah. I’d say so,” Gerard murmured, staring at the deep black wisps of shadows around his hands.ArtFanmix