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Mikey cajoled Jon into taking him to pick up Tommy by putting on his most innocent face and saying, "You're going to be working with him on photography. You might as well meet him."

Spencer wandered in as Mikey was asking and said, "I could take you, Mikey. Jon's been working on the Valentines Day thing, and besides, I can get Brian to give me directions."

Mikey didn't really care who took him, so long as there was a car and someone knew how to drive it. "Okay."

Jon said, "I'm almost done with that. And Mikey has a point. I should meet this guy."

"You'll meet him when I bring them back here," Spencer said, and it was a perfectly reasonable point except for how there was now a weird vibe between the two of them that Mikey wasn't getting.

It was setting him a little on edge. "Guys?"

They were engaged in a staring contest. Spencer broke off first. "Fine, whatever. I've got shit to do around here, anyway." He stalked off with what Mikey had long learned to read as his warning posture: you can talk to me, but it will probably end in death--yours.

Jon sighed. "I'm gonna--" he said and gestured at the retreating Spencer. "We had a--" He waved a hand. "Nevermind."

"'Kay," Mikey said and watched as Jon went. Then he got back to mopping. Whatever it was, he was sure it would blow over. Spencer, for all his pissiness, never stayed mad at any of them for very long. Now, if someone from the outside hurt one of them, that was a different story--usually one that had maiming and some grown men crying in it. But Spencer was crap at holding out against any of them. Whatever Jon had done or said, Spencer would be forgiving him by the time they got back with Tommy.


Mikey had been visiting Tommy semi-regularly since that first time, but it had been about a month, and Tommy had definitely dropped weight. Mikey knew how that felt, the terror of the unknown and the way everything else--even food--started to seem unimportant, unappealing. Linda was going to go on a holy mission, Mikey could feel it. She was still on one with him, and Mikey had been out for over three years now. Mikey unlocked the back door and said, "Hey, Tommy."

Tommy climbed in, and put his backpack on his lap, hugging it to his chest. Mikey was pretty sure he didn't know he was doing it. It was the sort of unconscious body behavior that had gotten Mikey and Gerard into trouble in the first place. Mikey had to force himself not to blink at just how safe Frank must have kept Tommy. Jon said, "Hi, I'm Jon."

Tommy said, "Jon the camera guy?"

"Nicer than most the things I've been called. I hang with a rough crowd."

Tommy laughed. "I've seen pictures, you know?"

"Gerard just makes them look nice so they won't come after him in his sleep."

"If you say so," Tommy agreed easily. Jon chuckled. Mikey looked out the window and smiled. This was maybe going to be easier than he'd thought.


Linda's War Upon Skinniness had been totally predictable, perhaps even pedestrian in the best of possible ways. What hadn't been, was Alex's. As far as Mikey could tell, it started from the first day, when Mikey took Tommy over to the church to meet Brendon and Greta. Tommy lagged a little behind, noticeably wary at the thought of a religious institution. Mikey turned to face him before they went in the door. "Raised Catholic?"

Tommy rolled his eyes. "Irish."

"Yeah, okay, forget all that shit you learned about G-d."

Tommy muttered, "Just like that, huh?" but Mikey ignored him, and went inside. Tommy waited a second, then followed.

Mikey found Brendon in his office and said, "Hey, I wanted to introduce you to a friend." Tommy visibly relaxed a notch at the descriptor.

Brendon stood and held out his hand. "Hello, I'm Brendon."

Tommy shook the hand. "Tommy, Father."

"Oh hell no," Brendon said. "You might as well call me dickface if you're going to use that tone. I'd prefer it, actually."

Tommy blinked, which Mikey got, because it had been a tone of utmost respect. But Brendon was used to working with people who'd fled previously scarring religious experiences of all sorts. If Mikey had learned nothing else about Brendon, it was that he knew what he was doing. Brendon said, "Brendon, please. And I'll call you Tommy. It'll be awesome."

Tommy said, "Um, all right."

Mikey told Brendon, "I was gonna go bug Greta, see if she'd take pity on a couple of poor young boys."

"Incorrigible, Mikeyway."

"You coming?" Mikey asked.

"Oh yeah."

Tommy laughed and followed them down to the kitchen, where Greta and Alex were in the midst of preparing dinner for all those who would come through the doors. Greta said, "How many times have I told you, Mikeyway? You're only allowed to bring Brendon in here in case of emergency."

"It was an emergency, Miss Greta," Brendon said sincerely. "An emergency of the stomach."

"The only reason I'm not kicking you straight out is because we clearly have company, and I hate seeming like a bitch upon first impression," she told Brendon firmly.

"Yes, ma'am." He smiled his sweetest smile. Greta was not fooled. Greta was wise and venerable.

She asked, "So, Mikeyway, who else have you brought me?"

Mikey grinned. "This is Tommy. Tommy, Greta, and the guy making the bread is Alex."

Alex wandered over, taking a glove off and brushing hair out of his eyes with a hand that had managed to get flour-covered even with the gloves on. As a result, half his face ended up covered in flour. He didn't seem to notice. "Hey," he said, "welcome to the Quadruple B."

Tommy held his hand for a little longer than it took to shake it. "Quadruple B?"

"Brian and Brendon's Bed and Breakfast," the four people who were not Tommy all said together. Greta and Brendon giggled.

Mikey explained, "It's what we call this corner of our world."

"Oh," Tommy said, and let go of Alex's hand.

Alex said, "You want some bread? I've got some coming out of the oven pretty soon."

Even from the side, Mikey could see Tommy's eyes go wide with interest. Brendon said, "You're going straight to heaven Alex Suarez, you know that, right?"

Alex snickered. "Whatever," and went off to begin what Mikey had no way of predicting would become a one man campaign to see Tommy fattened right up.


Just when he sensed that Tommy was about to spontaneously combust from all the new stimuli being put in front of him, Mikey told Brian, "I'll put in extra hours tomorrow."

Brian said, "You realize you don't actually get paid for most of the work you do around here?"

Mikey shrugged. "I guess maybe from your perspective." He gathered Tommy--who was hiding in the center's makeshift darkroom with Jon--up and took him home. Gerard wasn't there yet, but Mikey could hear the shower running. Bob tended to like to get the car grease off of him before he traipsed around their shared living space. There was a note on the fridge that said, "There's pizza on the way."

"Hope you like lots of meat on your pizza," Mikey said. "I think Bob would be a straight carnivore if his digestive system could handle it."

"Hamburger?" Tommy asked, with a muted edge of hope to the question.

"And any other product that was once part of a living being. Oh, and onions. Gee insists and Bob--"

"Yeah," Tommy said.

Mikey raised an eyebrow, but didn't say anything. Tommy said, "I'm stupid but not completely brain dead."

Mikey leaned a hip against the counter. "You so sure you're stupid?"

"Pretty sure," Tommy nodded.

"I was too. When I first got out. Really sure, even."

Tommy shook his head. "That's different."

"Um." Mikey blinked. "How?"

"They put those ideas in your head, right? The people in there?"

Mikey just tilted his head, let Tommy read what he would into it. Tommy said, "Yeah, no, I've always known I wasn't much good for things." He shrugged.

Softly, Mikey said, "We'll see about that."

Tommy opened his mouth, but whatever he was about to say got lost as Bob came out in sweats and said, "Tommy."

"Pizza, huh?" Mikey asked.

Bob threw Mikey an innocent look. "Celebration, right?"

Mikey looked at Tommy. "Indeed."



Those are my chocolate chip cookies I sent you for y'know, the fourteenth. Well, okay, really Alex came over and helped Bob and me both make them, and Bob was better about actually following the directions and making sure Gerard didn't eat any of the raw dough, but still, it counts. I spooned the dough out and put it on the baking sheets. That might be why they're kinda funny looking. But they taste good. We made sure for you.

Tommy's doing okay. We haven't exactly found him a job-job yet, but it's not the worst situation in the world. He's picking up about ten hours a week at Gabriel and Fabio's place, and another ten or so helping out with filing and stuff at the center. Jon says he's really fucking awesome with a camera, and Jon's nice but he's also not into feeding people's delusions. If he says there's something there, there is. Tommy can evidently ride a bike like mad--that was how he used to get to school and stuff--so Pete's trying to get him a sort of under the table gig as a messenger for the studio. Andy's seriously into green initiatives and he has like three bikes; he said Tommy could use one. He's making enough to help us with food and utilities, and it's a start. He doesn't seem to mind being here so much. I can't say I'm surprised, as Phyllis and Linda have both decided he's their long lost child.

With Ryland's help I made a B in stats, and I'm maintaining a 3.0, which means that when I finish the last of my requirements, I can apply to go to a four year. Your mom has been helping me figure out scholarships, and Joe Sr. knows a lot about them because they had to do it for Joe, so it looks like maybe I can actually go. I try not the think about it, but there's a school near here that has a bio major, which could help me get into the occupational therapy program. Brian's been talking to me about switching up my hours, maybe, paying me for time spent in the local hospital working with neighborhood kids who would otherwise be at the center. It's kind of a big step. No, no, it
is a big step. It makes me kind of freak out, just thinking about it. But then I look at Tommy and think maybe that's why I should do it.

It's cold out here. I miss my blanket.




Your chocolate chip cookies were just the right size, funny shaped or no. And everyone knows it's size that matters. Everyone in here, at least.

I looked up occupational therapy on the web. A couple of times, actually. There are a lot of bad explanations out there. But Brian has a good idea, there. With the hospital. I mean, at least you could see if you liked it. If not you can choose something else.

Speaking of jobs and school, did my mom tell you I'm graduating next month? Frank Anthony Iero, BA in business administration. It's like the most boring degree ever, but I read a lot before deciding on it, it looks like the kind of thing that might at least get me an entry-level job somewhere. Anyway, I'm finally done, which is pretty much the best news I've had since I got in this place. Well, excluding a few specific moments related to someone else.

Tommy rides a bike? Who knew. Who's Alex? I don't think I got a picture of him. Make Gee draw me one. And remind him not to die of salmonella, at least not until I've given him one more noogie.

It's cold in here, too. Cold and hard and I miss my pillow.


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Skin by egelantier, photo by microbophile