sparsenicjade
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Delta evidently decided that TWA was onto something with using prisoners to book reservations, since they brought in a team to train a select core of prisoners, try it out. A "pilot" program, according to them. Frank--who liked puns--rolled his eyes. Then he noticed that Mikey was listening. He didn't look like it, Mikey never looked like he was paying attention. There were ways to tell, though, and Frank had devoted a fair amount of time and attention to figuring out the signs.

At the moment, it was that Mikey's hands were still. They weren't usually, not unless he was focusing on something. Frank winced. He'd tried everything he could think of to get Mikey out of the damn laundry, but he couldn't bring Mikey into the kitchens--that would just cause more problems than it would solve--and Frank was wary of asking favors from other groups. He was essentially on his own as it was; the Italians tolerated him, would even have his back if it meant pissing off someone they liked less, but he wasn't one of them, not really. He'd tried to get Mikey into the chaplain's office or even the warden's, but there were long-term prisoners in those positions and they weren't going anywhere. All in all, Frank had met with dead-ends at every turn.

Mikey's interest was well-founded, though. Mikey was good for this kind of thing. His English was clear and he could be polite when he chose and if Frank could just figure out which gang was going to get in on this action and sort of squeeze Mikey in with them, this could actually work out. It was going to take some maneuvering, though. Frank was getting good at that.

*


The Chinese ended up taking it over, largely because their main competition were the Latinos and the Bikers, and the airline seemed to buy into the idea of a model minority, despite the fact that this particular minority was made up entirely of thieves and psychopaths. Frank really didn't give a shit, since the Chinese for the most part left Mikey the fuck alone. They didn't like to touch or be touched outside of their own. Which also made it a little harder to figure out how to get them to allow Mikey in.

In the end, Frank went with the fairly straightforward approach of cutting a deal with their leader. An expensive one, but when the Delta rep read Mikey's name from the list Mikey actually looked up from his lap, actually straightened out a little for a moment. Frank would have given the Chinese anything they wanted.

*


Frank slid in next to Mikey when all the prisoners had been served and asked, "How was your first day?"

"People are crazy," Mikey observed, but he sounded pretty okay with this fact.

"Yeah?"

Mikey shrugged. "They're just plane tickets, you know?"

"People yell?" Frank had worked enough retail and food service in his life to know all about that.

Mikey said, "Whatever, they can't get to me through the phone."

"And the Chinese?" Frank asked softly.

"They leave me alone. Yao," he said, mimicking what the Chinese called him, called anyone who wasn't one of them. Frank had looked it up. It meant "devil". He found their application of it to Mikey to be a bit ironic, all things told. Mikey started talking again. "What'd you promise them?"

Frank thought about playing innocent, but in this case, playing innocent was also a bit like pretending Mikey was stupid, and Frank wasn't going to do that. "They wanted some imported stuff. The Chinese New Year is coming up."

"Uh huh," Mikey said, and Frank thought he was going to leave well enough alone--Mikey was good at knowing when to ask and when not to--until he said, "How're you affording that?"

"My mom let me take a loan out, free of interest." Frank smiled.

Mikey said, "Frank."

"You like it better than the laundry, right?"

Mikey just looked at him. Frank nodded. "Okay, then."



Sometimes, in the twenty minutes between lockdown and lights out, when Frank would tell Mikey funny stories about the dumb shit that went on in the kitchens during the day, Mikey would tell him about the crazier customers, the ones who wanted airline tickets to places that didn't exist or who yelled at the Chinese in some Asian language that they'd made up or any of the other things that actually made Mikey want to laugh during the day. Most of the time it was boring or the customers were rude or a million other things, but Mikey found the moments that were amusing or just okay, just everyday, and kept them to share with Frank. It was a big change from the days of the laundry.

In his second month, Mikey started helping some of the younger Chinese boys with some English idioms that made the booking process much simpler. The prominent members of the gang still ignored him, but Mikey said, "I dunno, I think they're getting used to me."

Frank wasn't surprised. The Chinese were insular, but they weren't stupid. Mikey wasn't a threat to them and if he was going to help them stay in control of their newly acquired domain, they weren't going to turn down the assistance. Frank was pretty sure Mikey had been looking for a way to make himself useful. Mikey was quietly sharp about how things worked, and he listened more than anybody gave him credit for.

In his third month, Mikey gave Frank an envelope one night and Frank opened it to discover what had to be all two and a half months worth of pay. He said, "Um--"

"I don't know what the hell you imported, and I don't want to know. I doubt that's even half of it, but it's something. If you told me, I'd keep giving you the money until it was paid off."

Frank thought about refusing, but if this was about Mikey's need to stand on his own two feet, Frank wasn't going to be the one to push him off. "This about you feeling like you owe me?"

"I do owe you, Frank."

Frank played the tone over and over in his head and, when he realized he couldn't precisely place it, asked, "But that isn't why you're giving me this?"

Mikey shook his head and left the rest blank, for Frank to fill in. Frank had always been good at that part of tests. If Mikey was allowing himself to be in debt to Frank, then he was also acknowledging that whatever Frank asked in return--if he asked for anything--wouldn't be too high a price for Mikey to pay. Frank tucked the money into one of his safe places. "Thanks."

"You're welcome," Mikey said, polite as you please.

*


If Frank could have, if any part of Frank's mind would have let him, he would have given up on trying to get Mikey to trust him, to return some small percentage of the way Frank felt about him. Frank had tried, even, tried letting go, but whether it was that Mikey was what he had in here, or that Mikey was just Mikey, Frank couldn't. At the same time, he was at a dead-end as far as ideas went. He went to Gerard not really expecting anything--he was fairly certain Gerard trusted him even less than Mikey--but desperate. Gerard knew Mikey better than anyone in the world.

Frank wasn't going to get to Gerard alone, but he could get to him with Bob, and that was good enough. He could say what he needed to say in front of Bob. He could do that for Mikey. He managed one night when Mikey had gotten permission to sleep early--he'd been feeling a little run down. Gerard said, "Hi," and didn't give him trouble about sitting down with them, which was a step in the right direction. Frank said, "He's taking vitamin C. We both are."

Bob made a sound that might have been a laugh. It was hard to tell these things with Bob. Gerard said, "There's an echinacea trade going on with the Chinese. He should see if he can cut in on that."

Mikey probably already knew, but Frank would tell him anyway. "Echinacea? Really?"

Gerard shrugged. "Maybe they know something we don't."

Frank pressed his lips together and raised his eyebrows toward the center of his forehead. "Maybe."

"That what you've been waiting days to tell him?" Bob asked. Bob kind of freaked Frank out with his bizarre observational skills.

"Not exactly," Frank admitted. He took a breath. "Look, I know you-- Well, I don't exactly know what bothers you about me, except that he's Mikey, so your trust is going to be a little hard won, or a lot, and since he doesn't trust me it's only natural that you don't, but I think if you can't trust me enough to help me get him to trust me-- I don't think it's going to happen." Frank did his best to keep his voice level, matter of fact.

Gerard traced at the table top with a finger. "Tell me why I should care."

Frank could think of a million reasons, but none of them were good enough to outweigh the fact that Mikey was Gerard's main priority in here, none except that Frank loved Mikey, which was the one thing he could not, could not risk saying aloud in this place. In the end he did his best to smile and say, "Yeah, you're right, no reason," and get up before he lost his ability to keep it together.

Bob said, "Sit down."

Bob really wasn't the kind of guy you argued with if you didn't have to. And Frank was all about avoiding fights if he could. Fights got a person into the hole, and left Mikey on his own. Frank sat down. Bob looked at Gerard and said, "Draw him."

Gerard sat, as if considering whether he was going to for a minute, then shrugged, opened the pad that he generally had near him whenever he wasn't at work, and laid in with a charcoal pencil. Frank tried to peek, but Bob said, "Sit still."

Sitting still wasn't one of Frank's better abilities, but he did as told. If this worked, he was totally going to owe Bob a kidney, or something more valuable. He listened to the scratch of Gerard's pencil, meeting Gerard's eyes when he would look up, keeping his gaze ahead when Gerard went back to paying attention to his art. Frank had no idea how long it took. It felt like a long time, but they only had an hour of free time, and the guards hadn't called the five minute warning, so probably no more than twenty minutes or so. Gerard said, "Okay, you can move."

Frank looked at where Gerard was studying what he'd done. He opened his mouth to say something but Bob shook his head minutely, and Frank shut up. After a while, Gerard said, "Oh."

Frank couldn't help it, he asked, "Oh?" Gerard and Mikey had the same "ohs." On Mikey he was pretty sure that would have been promising, but he didn't want to make any assumptions with Gerard.

Gerard turned the drawing around and pushed it toward Frank. "See?" he asked.

Frank looked at it. "Um."

Gerard smiled, a secret, maybe even dangerous smile. It was softer on him than it would have been on most people. "It's all the things you weren't saying."

The thought caused Frank's heart to seize with a bit of panic. "Ger--"

"We'll dispose of it," Bob said. Frank knew he didn't mean just in the trash. He calmed some.

He said, fully meaning it, "You're kind of amazing with those pencils."

"They're better than my eyes."

Frank looked at Bob. Bob looked away. Gerard said, "Okay."

"Okay?" Frank asked.

"Okay we can be friends."

"I don't--"

"That was the answer you were looking for," Gerard told him. "Mikey will trust you if I choose to."

Now that Gerard had said it, it seemed obvious, and Frank kind of wondered why he hadn't seen that before. He had, of course, had his mind on other things. "That's--"

"But if you fuck it up, I'll have Bob here turn you over to the Russians."

"Right, I totally know that. I totally know."

"Good," Gerard said. "Tell Mikey I hope he feels better."

*


The idea came to Frank one day while watching Gerard draw. He liked watching. Gerard's hands were always graceful and sure, the brush of pencil against paper smooth. Mostly Gerard would draw while doing something else, talking or listening or laughing. Unlike Mikey, Gerard would do the last. Without realizing he was going to say a word, Frank asked, "Would you design a tattoo for me?"

Gerard tilted his head, but didn't look up. "What sort?"

"Something..." Frank lowered his voice. "Something that only Mikey and you would recognize. Something that meant him, on my skin."

Gerard stopped drawing for a second. Then he went on as if nothing had happened. "I'll think it over."

*


Frank said to Bob, "You know guys who could put this on me, right?" and showed him the paper Gerard had given him. On it were the red, elongated eyes of The Punisher's logo, with eight legs sprouting from them as though they were the body of a spider.

Frank had asked Gerard, "Really?" and Gerard had said, "What, don't trust me?"

Frank scowled. "You're so enjoying this."

Gerard did his best to look innocent, but Frank knew better. Nobody in here was innocent. Bob hooked him up with the guy who had inked the tatts Bob had gotten inside. The artist looked at Frank's skin and said, "I see you have some experience."

Frank laughed and offered up the space right over his heart. The artist nodded, and got to work.

*


Mikey first saw it in the showers on the second day. It was still in the early healing stages and Frank would have liked to have waited, liked for him to see it as a finished product. He realized it sort of didn't matter when Mikey's eyes caught on it, flickered back and then looked quickly away.

It wasn't until later, though, in their pod, when Mikey quietly said, "That's Gee's art."

Frank asked, "You talk to him?"

Mikey bit at this lower lip and then said, "He said it was your thing to tell."

In another lifetime, Frank realized, he might have been completely in love with Gerard Way. "Sort of."

"Sort of?"

Frank sat down on the side of Mikey's bunk. "I asked him for something you would understand, only you and him. But I didn't ask-- I don't know--"

"What it means?"

Frank nodded. "You don't have to--"

"It's my superhero logo. Gee made it up for me when we were kids. The Punisher, because he fought to avenge his family, and that was Gee and me, you know? And Spiderman because he was my favorite, the geek who was always trying to do the right thing, the guy who never really got noticed."

Frank smiled slowly. "It's a cool logo."

Mikey rolled his eyes. "It's a kid thing, I can't believe Gerard had you put it on your skin."

"My heart," Frank said softly, so softly he wasn't even sure Mikey would hear him. He shouldn't be saying it aloud at all, but he had to, or all this would be for naught.

"Did he--"

"No, that was my choice. I asked him for the design, and he gave it to me. It was mine to do what I wanted with."

Slowly, Mikey walked over and sat down next to Frank. After a long moment he said, "This is not a good idea, Frank."

Frank nodded and told him, with all the gravity the situation warranted, "I don't care."

Mikey touched gentle fingers to the spot where the tattoo lay under Frank's t-shirt. He asked, "Does it hurt?"

Frank watched Mikey for a moment, looked at the concentration in his eyes and said, "Not as much anymore."


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Skin by egelantier, photo by microbophile