30th October, 1900
The carriage came to a halt on the gravel path, and Gerard woke with a start. His left cheek was numb from where it had been pressed onto the icy window, and he was fairly certain that was a coffee stain on his rumpled dress shirt. Oh, well. He barely had time to straighten out his clothes and readjust his tie before the footman opened the door with a click. Trying not to wince at the October chill (winters in Aquilla were particularly vicious), he gave a quick nod to the servant before stepping off the carriage.
“I’d like my trunks brought to my room, please.” The footman, a frightened young lad of about seventeen, nodded frantically, blue eyes wide. “Yessir, right away, sir.”
He hoped they weren’t all this terrified of him- he’d specifically requested for a less glamorous title to masquerade under. There were only five servants, he’d been told, none of whom were all the wiser about exactly who they were serving.
Starting down the front path, he took in the estate for the first time- a majestic, cream-bricked affair of a mansion, with curving French windows and flanked by two midnight blue turrets, from which fluttering banners with the Way family crest hung. Gerard tried not to notice the curious stares from the servants as he ascended the front steps.
He was greeted at the front door by an elegant woman with a warm smile. Clad in a black satin dress, her greying hair was gathered in a neat bun at the nape of her neck and her rain-coloured eyes glimmered with humour. Gerard liked her right away.
She pulled open the mahogany double doors, revealing a cozy foyer. “My Lord,” she said, bowing her head in a clearly unaccustomed manner. Unacquainted with nobility, then. All the better.
He stepped inside. “Thank you. And please, dispense with the formalities. Call me Gerard.”
Her eyes flickered with surprise. “It’s a pleasure to meet you, then, Gerard. My name is Eileen.”
“Likewise. I take it you are the housekeeper, Eileen?” His eyes roved around the room, taking in the thick blue carpet, crystal chandelier and engraved wooden staircases curving gracefully upwards.
“Yes, I am.”
“From what I’ve seen, the mansion is beautifully kept.”
He was proven correct. Upon being shown to his chambers, he was immediately pleased with its cheerful atmosphere and light decor. He collapsed, admittedly in an undignified manner, into a plush armchair the minute the doors were closed and he was left in blissful silence.
“I simply have to write to Michael,” he murmured to himself. The country estate was nowhere as uptight as the palace, and the small number of servants and their friendliness did wonders for his usual anxious manner.
For the first time, he felt as though he could truly breathe.
“I must admit, you don’t look much of a gentleman as of now,” said a voice from behind him, and he jumped, startled. He whipped around to find the source. “I must admit, that wasn’t exactly polite of you-”
His mouth went dry when he saw the boy perched upon the windowsill. He was dressed in all black, in a dress shirt and vest a size too large for him. His hair was windblown and tousled, black like the coal in his grate. Yet the young man seemed to hold a certain kind of regalness, perhaps in the mischievous grin his pink lips formed or the little spark in his emerald-hazel eyes. But his beauty was not the reason Gerard and his traitorous heart stopped and stared. Well, not the only reason.
The boy was translucent.
Gerard could see the garden with its hedges and flower beds beyond his glowing form, a little hazy but without a doubt there. He swallowed. Swallowed again.
Jumping off the windowsill with a catlike grace, the boy pranced over to him with a smile. “Nice to meet you.”
Gerard finally found his voice. “I- what- who are you and what the hell- I mean, what are you doing in my rooms?” he demanded.
He grinned. “Would never have guessed you were a nobleman with the manners you have, dear lord.” He giggled, honest to God giggled , and Gerard could see a million different colours swirl in his eyes. Fuck. This had to be a dream.
Might as well take his time with it, then.
“I’m Frank,” the boy said, with an air of pride. “Frank Iero. And you are?”
“You’re standing in my bedroom and you don’t know my name,” Gerard deadpanned. “I’m wounded.”
“Oh, please, save the theatrics,” Frank said, rolling his eyes. “Are you going to tell me or not?”
He feigned annoyance. “Fine. My name is Gerard Way and I have the power to throw you out of this mansion.”
Frank clicked his tongue. “My, my, what a way to treat a guest. What is it they say, never speak ill of the dead?”
Gerard stopped cold. “Wait, what ?”
Frank shrugged, a devilish look in his eyes. “Oh, I must have missed that part out in my introductions, pray pardon me, Lord Way,” he said with a simpering smile and voice dripping with honeyed sweetness. “Dear God, Gerard, how dense are you? I’m half transparent and I materialised in your room. I believe that’s the definition of a ghost, isn’t it?”
“I-” Gerard’s voice chose yet another convenient time to abandon him. It was a moment before he regained control. “I knew there was something ghostly about you, but- but you’re dead ?”
Frank sighed and flopped down on the armchair beside Gerard’s. “Died of illness at age twenty, yes. And that happened about… five years ago, I’d say? Just before this mansion got sold to your family.”
Gerard furrowed his brow. “Oh. I’m sorry to hear that. I never knew about the family that inhabited this place before us.”
Frank coughed, looking slightly uncomfortable. “Yes, well.”
“I suppose we’re around the same age then,” Gerard said, just to break the tension. “I’m twenty four, and if it’s been five years, that makes you twenty five?”
Frank shook his head. “I haven’t aged since,” he admitted. He clapped his hands and the liveliness returned to his eyes. “But enough about me. What brings you here to these lonely, lonely moors?” He grinned at Gerard. “Any tragically romantic story you’d care to share, my lord?”
Gerard pointedly ignored the skip of his heart. God, he had to stop. He laughed, a beat too late.
“I’m afraid I don’t have many tales of grandeur to indulge you in, Frank,” he said apologetically. “The real reason I moved here is a lot less dramatic.”
Frank nodded invitingly, a prompt to continue, and he took a deep breath. “I couldn’t stand the stuffiess of noble life,” he explained, feeling his face flush. “That sounds really ungrateful of me, I realise, but I couldn’t- I can’t-”
He was stopped by Frank laying a gentle hand on his arm. His touch was warm, not cold as he’d expected, and it was as though a thin veil had been draped over his skin. Gerard shivered. “Anyway. I’d stiffen up every time I had to speak to important people, or people that weren’t my family in general. I get anxious around crowds and at events and things, I-” He waved a hand. “It’s hard to describe. It’s usually just this overwhelming urge to hide,” he confessed. He really was pouring his heart out to a stranger, wasn’t he?
“My parents realised soon that I was an inadequate heir. Their original plan was to marry me off to some well-off lady early on, hoping that my title alone would be appealing enough. And it was, for many. But I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t marry someone like that,” he said with a sheepish smile. Conveniently omitting the part that “someone like that” encompassed the entirety of the female gender.
“So I asked to move to the country estate, be alone for a few years. My mother begged me to find a wife before I left.” He gave a dry laugh. “I suppose that’s better than my father, who didn’t give a rat’s ass. My brother Michael is the only one who truly cares about me.”
Frank rubbed his thumb along the back of Gerard’s hand. “I’m sorry about your parents. Michael is the one you were speaking of writing to, isn’t he?”
Gerard snorted. “Eavesdropper.”
“You were talking to yourself,” he pointed out.
“Exactly. Not to you.” It came out slightly colder than he intended, possibly due to the fact that the ghost’s hand remained on his arm.
Frank raised an appraising eyebrow. “You can play the standoffish duke rather well when you try.”
Gerard blushed, facade already forgotten. Matters would be much, much simpler if he were but a mere duke.
“Thank you, I suppose?” It came out sounding more like a question. He suddenly straightened in his seat. “Oh God, where are my manners? I- wait, can you eat?”
“Firstly, judging by the direction of this conversation, I think I can safely say neither of us give a fuck about manners, Gerard,” Frank said, laughing. “And yes, I can eat.”
Frank gave him an approving look. “Someone’s been paying attention. Secondly , I wouldn’t mind if you did that voice again.”
The room seemed to abruptly increase in temperature. “What voice?”
Frank smirked, curling up in his armchair like the Cheshire Cat. “The one where you sound all commanding.”
Oh fuck, he couldn’t just say things like that, Jesus Christ. “I demand you leave my estate,” he snarled, channeling his nervousness into hostility. He fixed a glare upon the ghost. “ Now .”
Frank looked positively delighted, collapsing into laughter mere moments after. “My word, you are amusing,” he chuckled, wiping at his eyes.
Slightly mortified, Gerard twisted his hands in his lap. “Nice to hear,” he said, a little stiffly. Amusing. Right. He plastered on a smile. “I’ll go get us some refreshments from the kitchens. Wait here.”
Ignoring Frank’s little cry of protest, he hurried out of the chamber and down the carpeted staircase. Under normal circumstances, he’d have been reveling in the utter emptiness of it all, but right now, his head was bursting at the seams with thoughts.
Ghosts existed. Or the undead, however you liked to put it. Despite his childhood love for horror stories, he’d never expected them to be like this, though. All soft-lipped smiles and twinkling eyes and smirks that sent his mind reeling-
Shaking off the thoughts like snow off a coat, he stopped himself in time with his arrival at the kitchens. He rapped on the door. “Eileen?” he called.
She arrived at the door, straightening down her dress with flour-dusted hands. “Oh, Gerard! You could have rung the bell, you know,” she said with a fond smile.
“I’m perfectly happy to come down,” he said as Eileen bustled him into the kitchen, already picking up a ladle to stir a pot of soup. He inhaled the scent appreciatively. “It smells heavenly. You remind me of my grandmother, actually,” he said quietly.
Something in Eileen’s eyes softened and she opened her arms. “Come here, sweetie,” she whispered, and he stepped into her embrace gratefully. “You miss her, don’t you?”
He nodded. How she knew, he couldn’t fathom. Perhaps it was a grandmotherly trait; they just knew things.
He managed a smile, remembering Frank. “I was just wondering, could I have some refreshments? For myself and a… a guest.”
“I see you’ve met Frank.”
His eyes widened. “You know?”
She smiled, planting her hands on her hips. “I run this household, remember?” She started pulling items out of cupboards- sliced hams, hunks of cheese, loaves of bread. “Just don’t let that boy give you trouble,” she said.
Gerard laughed. “I’m afraid it’s a bit late for that.”
Eileen only smiled.
Within a few minutes, he was sent staggering back upstairs with a heavy tray laden with enough to feed the entire mansion. She’d managed to whip up a pudding, buttered bread rolls, tarts, hard boiled eggs and a selection of cheese along with a generous serving of fruit.
Frank lit up the minute he walked back in. “You brought food!”
Gerard bit back a smile at his childish joyfulness. “I hope it’s to your liking. When’s the last time you ate something?”
“Worrying about me now, are you? I’m touched.” He laughed, clear and bright, yet again defying Gerard’s expectations of ghostly beings. “Eileen insists on feeding me so much, I suppose it’s fortunate I’m incapable of gaining weight.”
Gerard nodded. “Can’t say I’m as blessed.”
“Oh, shut it, your figure is perfectly adequate,” Frank quipped, and was he batting his eyelashes?
“Anyway,” he said, in a pitifully obvious attempt to change the subject, “my family is visiting tomorrow. More a social obligation than anything- I’m fairly certain my mother insisted on it, to see me settled and all that.”
Frank picked up a bread roll and started chewing with reckless abandon. “Well, it’s just one night,” he garbled. “At least here they can’t line up suitors to seduce you.”
He snorted and nibbled at a piece of cheese. “That’s half my purpose for moving here, Frank. And they say it’s cursed to take a bride on All Hallows’ Eve, don’t they? It’s All Hallows’ tomorrow.”
“Bit rude, considering that’s my birthday.”
Gerard’s eyebrows shot to his forehead. “Your birthday is All Hallows’ Eve?” He gave him a reproachful look. “I must admit I’m rather envious.”
Frank laughed again. “Good. Glad to see I’ve still some merits.” He was making quick work of the pudding, looking at the dessert as though it were a lover.
“Look at a girl like that, and she’ll fall for you, no doubt,” Gerard deadpanned. He’d never been particularly eager to keep up the charade of heterosexuality, but what had to be done, had to be done, he supposed.
“Now whoever said that had ever been a concern of mine?”
Gerard’s heart was pounding so hard in his chest, he was certain the entire mansion could hear it. Surely he didn’t mean-
Frank stood up with a laugh, brushing the crumbs off his trousers and sending the chair screeching back on the polished wooden floor. The tray was already empty.
He flashed Gerard a wicked grin. “It’s been a pleasure meeting you, Gerard of Aquilla.” He grabbed his hand and brushed a feather-light kiss across his knuckles. Gerard couldn’t breathe.