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There were three things Mikey knew about Bryar:

1) He was in for grand theft auto.

2) He had his eye on Gerard.

3) No other information was available, not even for the best blowjob information could buy.

It was a worrisome collection of knowledge. The gta part wasn't so bad. It didn't mean anything particularly positive, but it wasn't murder or rape. Those were always the worst ones.
Mikey had tried talking to Gerard about it, tried telling him to be careful, but Gerard's smack habit--which had been pretty bad even before they got busted for dealing--was at an all time high for level of abusiveness. Ray, who had been Gerard's only protection in the place, had been paroled about a month before, and ever since it was pretty much impossible to catch Gerard when he wasn't high as a fucking zeppelin. Mikey didn't blame him, not really, not when the Ways were well known as anybody and everybody's territory, but it would have been easier watching out for them if Gerard could see straight at least some of the time.

Gerard was clearly going to be of no help in the Bryar situation, so all that was left was for Mikey to go to the man himself, offer up what Mikey had. It wasn't much. He managed to work it so that he and Bryar were in the library, relatively alone. He said, "Stay away from my brother."

Bryar didn't even look up from the magazine he was perusing. "Or?"

Mikey could threaten him, he could, but he'd tried that sort of backless bluffing before and it generally only got him into trouble. Bryar had only been here a couple of weeks but there wasn't an inmate in the place who didn't know that the Ways were on their own and available to all within a day of internment. He couldn't pretend allegiance with any group and threatening to shiv Bryar was only going to get him laughed at. Mikey said, "Not, not or. Just, you can have me. No fighting, nothing."

Bryar did look up at that. He considered Mikey for a few seconds. Then he said, "You're kinda skinny," and went back to his checking out the new Aston Martin in all it's glossy, photographed glory.

Mikey bit the inside of his cheek. It wasn't his fault he was skinny. The kitchen was run by the Italians, and they had a thing for Mikey, liked to take his meals out in "trade". "I could gain weight." The Italians would be thrilled, but Gerard would be safe, at least in this instance, and maybe, maybe Mikey could get him to cut back on the drugs a bit, just a little. Enough for Mikey to have some company in this place.

Bryar said, "Not interested."


"Not. Interested."

Mikey said, "Yeah, okay. Yeah."


Bryar somehow aligned himself with the Russians, which was odd, because he clearly wasn't Russian, but he must have had something they wanted. Mikey couldn't think of what. It was problematic, because it gave him a power base and before Mikey knew it, Gerard had been moved into Bryar's pod.

Mikey was distracted by this, by trying to make sure Gerard was all right, which was how the Skinheads caught him unawares while he was working the laundry. Mikey spent three days in the hospital wing when they were done, one of them feeling nothing and the other two wishing he could go back to that, but desperate to get out, back to the ward where he could keep an eye on Gerard. Mikey had no idea what he'd do if Bryar decided to work out a humiliation or abuse kink on Gerard, but there had to be something, something. Regardless, he needed to at least be there.

When he returned though, Gerard was decently lucid, enough to look Mikey over and ask, "You okay, Mikey?"

He was still high, Mikey could tell, but not like it had been before. Mikey said, "Hi, Gee," and despite the fact that he was still healing, sort of felt better than he had in a long time.

Gerard slipped under the stairs to the second level where they could talk a little privately and smiled at Mikey, a real smile, the secret one that Gerard had always kept just for him. He said, "Bob totally beat the hell out of Niguero yesterday, just for calling me a cunt."

"Um, Bob?" Mikey asked.

"Bryar. That's his first name, Bob."

"Oh. Um. He--"

Gerard nodded, his secret smile small at this point, small and scared, but a little bit hopeful and Mikey really wished he could hug him, but that sort of thing wasn't safe, not even under the stairs, so he just said, "Good, Gee. That's... That's good."


The showers were a problem, always a problem, and it didn't pass Mikey's attention that occasionally Bob would join him, any more than it passed Mikey's attention that Bob's presence negated most of the threat to Mikey. Mikey wanted to thank him--for the shower thing, but mostly for Gerard, Gerard who was getting cleaner every day, and seemed to be drawing again--but he knew that a "thank you" was the quickest way to bring end to aid, so instead he just took the help silently, and tried his best not to do something stupid like smile at the guy.

Things were slightly worse now that Gerard was seemingly off the market, leaving Mikey as the lone open prag. Mikey knew all he had to do was hold out, that someone else would come along. The problem with the other prags was that they were forever dying or getting transferred and once again leaving the job to Mikey and Gerard. Mikey, now.

It was easier, not having to worry about Gerard, but Mikey wasn't getting much sleep, was having a hard time coming off the days of having to be constantly at his own back. Gerard could watch it for a few hours at a time, but Bob had gotten him transferred out of laundry duty, so that meant hours and hours of Mikey having nobody but himself. Mikey's podmate actually wasn't so bad at the moment. He was in for murder, but could mostly be kept happy with a quick blowjob or fuck before bed. It was just that once Mikey was left to himself he was still too keyed up to actually rest and since he wasn't any more willing to give in to the Italians these days than in the past, he wasn't getting much to eat, either.

The entire effect left him half-dead. Gerard, though, Gerard had given Mikey a full sketch that week, an entire row of boxes filled with men and women with superpowers. The comic showed them rescuing Mikey. Mikey'd folded it up as small as he could and hidden it in the library. The library was a good place to hide things because the Muslims who ran the library actually liked Mikey and so Mikey knew most of the places where nobody would ever, ever think to look. It was much safer than his pod, or any of his belongings.

Mikey tried not to take it out too often, look at it too hard, for fear that someone would find it. But every once in awhile, when he'd given in to the Italians, or the Skinheads caught him at the wrong place, wrong time, or the Latinos decided they hadn't had some fun in too long, if he could he would sneak to the library, and take the book where he'd hidden it from the shelf and look at what Gerard had drawn him, and think about the way Gerard was safe enough to put pencil to paper, safe enough to dream up an escape.


Frank Anthony Iero was in on a murder charge. Nobody seemed to know the details, but the guy was fucking crazy. Within the first twelve hours of his incarceration he'd beaten up one of the Homeboys and made an in with the Italians. Mikey was actually pretty sure he was Italian, just not Family, but it didn't matter, because they'd taken to him like he was.

Mikey didn't need to know what the circumstances of his crime were to know to stay far the hell away from him. He managed, too, for three weeks, until the need to eat something more substantial than the starvation portions they doled out unless Mikey paid up drove him to nod at Ricci, who made kissy motions at him and said, "Give him what he wants, boys."

Mikey didn't take that much. It wouldn't pay to, not when he was going to get "charged" for every last thing, and eating too much would only end in him puking. He took enough though, enough that he'd be able to scavenge some of it, keep some of the bread, maybe the apple, for later. He slipped back to the kitchens in the free hour after dinner, before lights out. He made it to the storage room where these assignations always took place.

He waited for Ricci--probably Moretti and Luca, too--but it was Iero who showed. Mikey didn't really have the energy to be either all that surprised, or that scared. He just said, "What's your poison?"

Frank pulled some stuff from his pockets, a roll, an orange, an entire yogurt. He said, "Here, um, you should probably eat the yogurt kinda soon, just because it won't keep, but the other stuff, maybe save that for throughout the day tomorrow?"

"Yeah," Mikey said, "Uh, that's really sweet and all, but I'm good."

"No, man, I think you might be starving to death."

Mikey was full just then, but he knew it was a false feeling, something that only the shrunken size of his stomach was providing. He considered the offerings. "How much for each one?"

Iero shook his head. "On the house, just, no tattling, right?"

Mikey knew all about the nice ones, though. The nice ones were the ones who buttered you up until you trusted them enough to follow them places where they could gang rape you with their friends. The nice ones where the ones who liked to see you break as your trust was shattered. The nice ones were the fucking worst. Mikey said, "Fuck that, just take whatever you plan on taking tonight and I'm out."

"Way-- You're Way, right? Mikey?"

Mikey didn't say anything one way or another.

"Look, is there anything I can say to get you to take the food?"

"I told you you could name your price."

Iero asked, "And if my price is that you eat it?"

Mikey said, "You don't like'em skinny, is that it?"

"I like skinny. Emaciated isn't so much my speed."

Mikey looked away. "Look, whatever. Lights out is in thirty minutes and if you don't mind, I'd like to have a few minutes to--" Talk to my brother. Mikey wasn't going to say that to Iero, couldn't imagine why he'd even started the sentence. "Can we just get on with this?"

Iero set the food on a nearby surface and walked to the door. "Take the food or don't, Way. I'm not touching your bony ass."

Mikey tried, tried so hard to walk out after him without scooping the offerings up. He made it to the door twice, and turned back both times. Finally, he grabbed the food, pocketed it in his jacket and went to see if he could grab a few minutes with Gerard before it was time for his podmate's evening servicing.


Gerard said, "You're looking...better."

Gerard was looking worse, but that was because he was just coming off the worst of the withdrawal. It would get better. Mikey said, "Thanks," and didn't elaborate. He didn't want to talk about the food Iero kept leaving for him, and the fact that Mikey kept being stupid enough to take it. Gerard knew all about the Italians. They had played their games with him, too. Gerard had just been high enough all the time that he was willing to play right back.

Gerard didn't push. He asked, "Wanna know a secret?"

They were sitting side-by-side on Gerard's bunk in their free hour. They weren't really supposed to be in their pods, but the hacks, whether out of pity or the awareness that Mikey and Gerard just weren't the types to cause much trouble, generally let them do whatever they wanted. Mikey nodded. Gerard had the best secrets.

Gerard rummaged around behind his bunk and brought up an iPod shuffle. Mikey stared at it, aware that his mouth was hanging open. He shut it forcefully. "Gerard, how--"

"I didn't ask. Not how he got it, not how it had the entire collection of the Smiths on it, not how he managed to get Anthrax and Thursday when I asked, not even how he recharges. I don't want to know."

Mikey said, "Yeah, okay, and he just--"

"He said it was for getting clean. He-- He acted kinda proud." Gerard looked away at that, like Mikey might make fun of him for caring.

Mikey said, "Yeah, well, he should be. I am."

Gerard nudged his shoulder against Mikey's. Mikey said, "Thursday, really?"

Gerard said, "It's not like I don't know I've been kind of a crap brother."

Mikey just shook his head, taking the earbud Gerard was offering him.


Mikey couldn't even feel surprised when it happened. Cornered, terrified, sure, but surprised was just beyond reach. Ricci met him in the room behind the stores and Mikey knew in the second he stepped in there that something had gone wrong. Ricci dragged him by the back of his shirt into the kitchens and Mikey didn't even try to resist. There were six other Italians waiting in there, nothing Mikey did was going to make a blessed bit of difference.

Ricci asked, "You been skimming on us, prag?"

He sounded amused, Mikey thought. Mikey couldn't really concentrate for the absolute panic that was scrolling through his brain. There was a right and wrong answer here, he knew, but he had no idea what each was. "I-- What? Skimming?"

"Costa's inventories keep coming out off. The hacks've been riding our asses about it. Now why would that be, Mikey?"

Mikey looked around. Seven Italians and not one of them with the last name Iero standing there. Of course. Of course. Mikey just laughed. It was hysterical, mindless laughter and he didn't care, couldn't be bothered. So what if he had finally broken, finally gone crazy? Gerard was as safe as he was ever going to be in here, Mikey could do whatever he wanted. He could feel the frowns focusing on him, but it didn't matter, it just didn't fucking matter. Ricci grabbed him and said, "You're not gonna be laughing when I show you what I do to prags who steal from me."

Mikey was moving again then, being pushed over a surface, his shirt torn from him. Someone put their hand over his mouth, and Mikey just laughed harder, laughed until his entire lower back seemingly caught on fire, the smell of flesh turning to cinder choking him; then he screamed into the hand, screamed and screamed until he passed out.


He woke up on the cement floor. A hand was at his back, something was managing to sting through all the pain. A voice said, "Way? Mikey? I'm gonna get a hack, just, just--"

The voice registered. There was only one person in this place--other than Gerard--who ever called him Mikey in a way that wasn't condescending. Mikey managed, "Don't fucking touch me," and passed right back out.


They had branded him, several times over. There was no design, just lines over his lower back, again and again, as nonsensical as the violence of the act itself. The doctor told Mikey, his eyes pitying, asking who did it. Mikey said he couldn't remember and went back to sleep. They had him on the nice stuff, and he could sleep easily. People died in the infirmary all the time but a) Mikey didn't give a crap whether someone got him in his sleep or not, and b) Mikey wasn't that lucky. They all liked his ass too much.

When he woke up, Mikey took the pain pills they provided him, and didn't even bother to hide them from his pod-mate, who immediately took them as spoils-of-whatfuckingever. He was sweet, real sweet, only had Mikey give him a welcome back blowjob. Mikey curled up in his bunk when he was done and slept until he had to be at work.

He noticed, once he got there, that it was possible the hacks were watching out for him a little, since they seemed to be paying more attention to him in the laundry. Suarez was still able to land an elbow to Mikey's back which had him puking on the floor--and then, predictably, being yelled at by Torres to clean it up--but mostly he was left alone to do the laundry, which was enough of a struggle for the time being.

Mikey got through his day, but when it came to going to get dinner, he found himself unable to do so. He tried to just walk to the mess, get in line, the same thing he had done every night for almost two years now. He couldn't do it. It was all right, though. He'd eaten well in the infirmary, he always did. The doctors weren't going to allow patients not to have the necessary nutrients for healing. He managed to stay at the back of the line until he could slip to Gerard's table, sit next to him. Gerard said, "Mikey, um--"

Mikey said, "Just not hungry."

Gerard said, "Here," and put his fork in Mikey's hand.

Mikey shook his head, "No, Gee--"

"Let me, okay, Mikey? Let me do this?"

Mikey was silent for a second. Then he took a couple of bites and gave the fork back to Gerard. "Share."

Gerard sighed. "Okay."


Mikey awoke on the second day to the kind of buzz that generally meant something had happened. Mikey didn't care. Whatever it was, he would find out sooner or later. Generally, changes in climate were only the difference between whether someone liked or hated Mikey, and bizarrely, either emotion seemed to inspire the same reactions to him.

He found out at breakfast, when he was doing his best to avoid going up through the line. He found out because he looked, and sure enough, Ricci wasn't there. He couldn't help it, couldn't stop the, "What happened to Ricci?" that poured from his mouth.

One of the Homeboys laughed. "Asshole caught himself on fucking fire while checking the stove last night. Burned right to a fucking crisp before the hacks could get to him."

Mikey frowned. "Must've taken'im a while."

More laughter. "Yeah, evidently the dumbass left flour bags in front of the door. Fifty pound fuckers."

Mikey looked up at the line of Italians, Iero standing where Ricci had always stood before. Iero caught Mikey looking at him after a moment and looked back. Nothing more, not a wink, not a laugh, not a nod, just a look. Mikey went through the line, and when he got up to the front, nobody said anything to him, nobody did anything other than give him breakfast. For the first time, it occurred to Mikey that there was another answer for why Iero hadn't been in the room the night of the branding: he hadn't known to be there.


Iero sat down at the table where Mikey was watching Gerard draw. Bob was off with a few of the Bikers, engaged in some kind of card game that seemed a lot like poker, only nastier. Iero looked at the drawing and said, "That's some talent you've got there, man."

Gerard smiled sweetly at him. "Fuck off."

Iero raised his hands. "I'm not staying, I just wanted to ask Mikey how his back is."

Gerard was looking over at where Bob was, so Mikey said, "It's okay, Gee."

Gerard backed down, returned to his drawing. Mikey said, "I'm fine, you can go now."

Mikey felt something at his leg and then Iero was gone. When he looked down, there was a Three Musketeers bar resting on his thigh.


Mikey was reassigned to a new pod a week later. It made him nervous. His pod-mate had been a Homeboy, which meant that for the most part the Homeboys left him alone so long as Mikey kept the guy happy. When he got to his new pod and Iero asked from the top bunk, "You like bottom or top best? Because I really could care less," Mikey said, "What's-- What do you want?"

He was tired of waiting to find out. Whatever it was, Iero had taken care of Ricci for him. That was worth some serious payback. Iero tilted his head. "A kiss."

"A kiss," Mikey said, letting the full measure of his doubt inform the echo.

Iero hopped off the bunk and stood facing Mikey. For the first time, Mikey caught what he had never noticed amidst the tattoos and the muscles and the deceptively sweet features: Iero was tiny, almost impossibly so. Iero said, "It's lonely in here, Mikeyway," his voice making Mikey's name sound like a children's rhyme.

Without knowing why it mattered, or even why he was asking, Mikey asked, "Who'd you kill?"

"My downstairs neighbor."

Mikey blinked. He'd sort of expected the rote claim of innocence that was standard in this place. Or at least an answer that made sense, a dealer, a wife, somebody who could incite a crime. "Uh, why?"

"He was beating his kid."

Nothing more than that, no elaboration, no excuses, nothing. Mikey leaned in a little and saw how Iero went to his tip-toes in anticipation. Mikey kissed him, like he'd asked, only not like he'd asked, because once he was kissing him, there was really no way to stop, Iero's lips warm and undemanding against his, Iero's hands gentle where they clung to Mikey's arms. Everything about it was out of place in the pod, in the center of this prison, everything about it was part of what Mikey missed from when his life had been something other than this, something more. Mikey made himself pull back, made himself say, "Iero--"

"Frank," Iero told him.

"Frank, fine, Frank, I'm-- You can't have me, the others--"

"Let me worry about that, okay?"

Mikey tried to say, "That's my problem," or just, "No," or anything but what he said. Mikey opened his mouth and said, "Be my fucking guest."

When Frank went in for another kiss--tell himself what he would--it wasn't out of gratitude that Mikey let him have it.

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Skin by egelantier, photo by microbophile