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The center's New Years Party took place until one in the morning every year. Ryan was very careful to make sure all of the kids had safe rides home--it was a dry party, but that didn't mean there wasn't a fair amount of mischief year in and year out--or places to go at that time. The staff, however, generally stayed the night, half to help Mikey get the place cleaned up, half because it was tradition, and really, where the hell else were they all going to go?

Matt had dropped in the last few years, but this year he stayed, and Mikey couldn't help but notice the way he held onto Jon when they kissed at midnight. It would have made him happy if he'd had it in him to be happy. No, it did make him happy, he just couldn't access that spot of happiness, even knowing it existed. Mikey spent midnight with the kids, listening to them make noises of pre-adolescent disgust at all the adults and their kissing. It was easier for him. The lights were already out where Frank was.

Being with the kids didn't stop him from noticing that Alex and Tommy seemed to have disappeared. They came back looking like naughty teenagers who had been caught making out under the bleachers. Only neither their clothes nor their lips suggested any kind of making out had been going on. Mikey took Tommy with him on recycling duty--going through the center, finding and sorting all cans, bottles and paper goods the kids left in their wake--so that he could try and pry some information out of him. It was actually surprisingly easy. Mikey said, "So, uh--"

And Tommy interrupted with, "Alex kissed me. Kind of."

"How do you kind of kiss someone? Did he not use his lips?"

It got Tommy to laugh, which was something, even if Mikey had been partially serious because, the fuck? Tommy said, "Here, it was here," and put a finger to the place on his jaw just below the webbing of his ear.

Mikey said, "Oh," and didn't think about the times Frank had done that for him, the way Frank's lips could be chapped but still warm, still know all the right spots to make Mikey lose all his bones, all his tendons, everything that kept him upright. "Was it..." Mikey refused to use the word "nice." If it was nice, Tommy needed to move on.

"I didn't know how to-- I mean, do you just kiss a dude on the mouth? It's different. With girls, I dunno, I would have at least, like, indicated or something. But he, his lips, Mikey."

And despite everything, Mikey grinned. "Yeah?"

Tommy nodded vehemently. Mikey said, "I'm, um, I'm not sure. Frank asked for a kiss, but I was pretty, uh, I was no good for much by that time. Alex, you can probably lock him in one of the classrooms with you and go to, if that's your style. Or you could ask. Either would probably work, I think."

"You were good for Frank," Tommy said quietly.

It took Mikey a second to connect two and two. "Not for a while, actually."

Tommy stared at Mikey for a moment before shaking his head. "No, Mikeyway. I may not know much about it, and maybe Frank never told me any of the important parts, but you were good for Frank from the instant he fucking saw you. The first thing he ever said to me about you that mattered at all, that was even a little real was, 'I saw Mikey my first day in here' and he didn't have to stress the word 'saw', it just--" Tommy broke off. "You were always good for him."

Mikey wanted to believe Tommy. He said, "Okay," because Tommy so clearly needed to hear it. "Okay," he repeated, mostly to hear the word again, to try and drown out the words, four years changes a lot that were reverberating in his own mind.



I'm full of useless advice about your parole hearing. Things like "make sure your tie is straight" and "remember to tell them that you earned a BA while in prison." Is you lawyer good? I hope you and your lawyer have managed a good working relationship.

I'm trying to think about other things. There are other things to think about. Tommy's working on molesting Alex. It's pretty much the most romantic thing ever. Bob loves his new car more than his own dick, but luckily not more than my brother. Spencer's moving in with Brian and Ryan finally convinced Brendon to move out of the church and in with him. Ryan refuses to have sex in a church, even if Brendon's apartment isn't technically in a holy space. I think, faced with lifelong celibacy despite having an uber-hot boyfriend, Brendon came to recognize the folly of his ways.

Pete, Patrick, Andy and Joe have a tour break in February. It'll be good to see them. Gee's been getting more and more contracts for cover or promo or merch art, so Tommy's been picking up more and more of his hours at the store. But even Tommy's starting to see some pretty serious offers. The National's CD art came out last week and even though label people are the only ones to have seen it, they're all pretty impressed. It's a relief, because I admittedly worry about him getting hit by a bus when he does messenger duties in the winter. Summer, too, but winter involves ice and is therefore scarier by default.

I can't fucking sleep. Classes this semester are going more easily than last. I'm done with all of my core requirements, so now it's just major stuff and electives. I think I might take a poetry course. See if things sound different this time around. At the very least, it'll mean Gee reading to me in funny voices.

You know you wanna hear that. Mikeyway


Mikey tried not to prowl the apartment at night. Tommy was on the couch and Mikey didn't want anybody else not sleeping just because he was on some kind of hellish adrenaline high. Mizzy was willing to stay up with him, sleeping instead in the day, but there wasn't much for the two of them to do in Mikey's room that didn't involve thinking about Frank, and really? That was the problem in the first place.

Gerard figured it out pretty quickly, as Mikey put all his energy into being coherent and on top of things when he was at work, so what Gerard got was the leftovers. Mikey knew that he could be flaky on a regular basis, but he wasn't generally incapable of finishing basic sentences. Gerard didn't ask what was going on, because Gerard was, at times, a little oblivious, but he wasn't a blithering moron. Also, he knew Mikey. Instead, he just pulled Mikey into the bed he and Bob shared.

The first night, Bob went and slept in Mikey's bed. The second night, Gerard said, "Nope, we need you, too," because having Gerard had at least kept Mikey calm, but it hadn't gotten him to sleep. Their bed was really too small for three people, but Bob just spooned Mikey gently between the two of them, rubbing in circles at his wrist while Gerard sang softly in his hear, things that Gerard hadn't sang to him since they were little kids and Mikey was afraid of the monsters under his bed. Mikey couldn't help wishing that his adult monsters were so easily vanquished.

It took two hours, but they actually managed to get him to sleep. When he woke up almost sixteen hours later, Tommy said, "They called in sick for you," and made Mikey sit on the couch with him and watch TV until it was time for Tommy's shift. Mikey took Mizzy on a walk just to get himself moving. When he came back Bob was on the side of the building, working on his car. He said, "How you feeling?"

Mikey said, "Coherent," and sort of wished it weren't the truth.


The day of the hearing, Mikey couldn't even keep water down. Brian made him stop cleaning and the hospital sent him home early. He went back to the center. Being at the apartment was just going to drive him completely insane. Jon let him lick envelopes. Mikey said, "You are a man of mercy."

Jon ruffled his hair and didn't say a word. Linda called as soon as she was off prison grounds, at nearly four. Mikey's tongue was so full of envelope glue he could barely say, "Mom?"

"He's paroled, baby. He's coming home. He's coming home."

Mikey sat and mouthed the word "home" at least three times before Linda asked, "Mikey?"

"Can you please come get me?" he asked, pretty sure he was in slight shock.

"You at the center?"


"Be there in about half an hour."

After a few seconds, Jon reached out and closed Mikey's phone. He said, "Mikey?"

Mikey looked up at Jon and formed the word, "Frank." It took a couple of tries, but he was eventually able to actually push it past his lips. It was as though hearing the name in his own voice broke through whatever barrier the shock had been erecting and Mikey said, "Frank! Frank Frank Frank!" jumping up and down until Jon caught him in a hug, laughing along with him.

"C'mon," Jon said, grabbing his hand and taking him to run crazily through the halls of the center, shouting the news to everyone in hearing range.


They had dinner at the Fatone's restaurant on the house. Phyllis insisted. Mikey said, "We should wait till Frank's here," and she said, "Trust me, sweetheart, there's more pasta where that came from."

Linda told them, with shaking hands, about how the board had asked about the fights he'd been in at the beginning of his prison stay, but how Frank's lawyer had pointed out his progress and really pressed the issue of the BA and it had taken the board, "...fucking forever to really say anything, and I kept trying to remember if long deliberation was good or bad, and if that even mattered when it wasn't actually a jury and I couldn't even touch him, because the room just wasn't set up that way, but finally they came back and said, 'Your parole has been approved' just like that, like it was a simple thing, like it wasn't everything we had been waiting for, and they stamped the papers and said he was free as of Friday."

It was Wednesday. It hadn't taken as long for Mikey's papers, but then, Mikey hadn't been in as long and his charge had been drug-related, not man 1. It just seemed kind of cruel, that he'd had to wait for four years, and now another full day. Realistically, it was a drop in the bucket. It felt like forever.

Linda said, "Pick you Friday morning?" Mikey nodded. He was at the center on Fridays and Brian had already told him to do whatever he needed to do. He planned on it.


Mikey changed shirts three times Friday morning before Gerard caught him in his grip, dragged him to the mirror, stood in back of him and said, "Mikey. Mikey. This," he plucked at the hoodie that was Mikey's most recent choice, "is not what he's going to see. Trust me, okay?"

Mikey wanted to, because he had always trusted Gerard, even the times when he maybe shouldn't have. And Gerard had done this, had gone and picked up Bob. But Bob had seen Gerard while he was inside and it had been two years, not four, and "You're sure? One hundred percent positive I-can-disown-you-as-my-brother-if-you-are-wrong sure?"

"Yes," Gerard said without hesitation.

"Besides," Tommy said from the door, "you look hot." Bob had a blank look on his face that generally meant he was in agreement.

"Hoodie it is," Mikey said, and then went and messed with his hair until Linda came and manhandled him out of the bathroom.

She put him in the backseat of the car and when he started to protest said, "No point in you sitting up here, sweetie, it'll just occasion a Chinese Fire Drill."

Mikey couldn't sit still on the ride there. He could barely breathe. When Linda put the car in park, a tiny figure separated itself from the larger husk of the prison. Mikey all but pressed his nose to the glass of the window. Frank was skinnier than Mikey remembered him being, and there were definitely new tattoos since the last time he'd seen him, and something more careful about the way he walked, held himself. But he was Frank. He was...perfect. Mikey wasn't even bothered by the obvious stupidity of the thought.

Linda got out of the car because she could, it was perfectly fine for her to go and kiss and hug her son, hold him like she would never, ever let him go again. Mikey wasn't sure she would. He wasn't sure she should. She whispered something in Frank's ear and Frank nodded, pulling away from her. He slipped into the backseat and the first thing Mikey said to him after four years of not seeing him was, "You don't want to sit up front with your mom?"

The first thing Frank said to him was after Frank's fingers settled lightly on Mikey's cheek, traced over the bridge of his nose, down to his lips, over the line of his throat, resting his palm against the center of Mikey's hoodie-encased chest. The first thing Frank said was, "You're real," soft, like the saying of it might make Mikey disappear, blow away into dust.

Mikey made a noise in his throat, one Frank probably felt against his palm. "Frank, Jesus, Frank." And Linda was in the front seat and totally Frank's mom and Mikey didn't care, didn't imagine she'd care if he pulled Frank in, pressed Frank to him, said, "Real, so fucking real, so fucking yours," and then kissed the words into Frank's lips so that they would be imprinted there, so that Frank couldn't escape them.

Frank kissed back frantically, without any of the technique Mikey remembered and he absolutely didn't give a fuck, preferred this, preferred Frank all over him, against him, nearly in him. Frank whispered, "Real, real, real," into the kisses and Mikey just kept on proving the truth of his words.

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Skin by egelantier, photo by microbophile