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Breathing Room

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"Have you been here all day?"

Mikey raised his head and blinked slowly. Frank was kneeling on the edge of the bed, stroking slowly over the thin fabric of Mikey's pajama pants.

"Huh?" Mikey said.

"Can I help?"

"With..." Mikey blinked a second time. He hadn't noticed just how slow his eyelids were moving before Frank got home. And he hadn't noticed the sting behind his eyelids. Or the clenching of his chest, like there was a black hole in his rib cage. "Oh."

Frank eased onto the mattress next to Mikey. He was still fully dressed; he'd had some kind of interview earlier, one just involving him that was on Fuse or Rolling Stone's website or something. Mikey had meant to get up before Frank came back. He just...hadn't.

"Can I?" Frank asked again.

"Yes. Please."

Frank kissed Mikey's cheek and went to the closet without another word.

It had taken a lot of trial-and-error to figure out what would help on bad days. It was harder in the years before therapy and pills, back when they were a couple kids still not used to anything resembling success and fame. But when they found words for the problems with Mikey's brain, it was like finding a Mikey-to-English dictionary that translated everything else. Mikey still had bad days sometimes, when he needed to switch meds or things just dipped that way, but he could say most of what he needed, and Frank figured out the rest.

Which is why, when Frank rolled Mikey onto his side, he watched Mikey's face the entire time. They both knew how it could ache when Mikey moved. It was that way with breathing as well, but it felt like the soreness was happening to someone else and Mikey was just watching from the corner of the room. Days without the buffer were much worse.

Their eyes met, and Mikey shifted enough to pull his hands behind him. Frank took a hold of Mikey's right wrist, dragging his thumb over the skin. Mikey shivered.

"You good?" Frank asked.

Mikey nodded.

The first black cuff slipped around his wrist, and as Frank tightened it, the fog thinned a little. The padding on the inside of the cuff rubbed against his skin, and it did a lot for Mikey's focus, even if he didn't have strong opinions on the sensation one way or the other. He did normally, and it was likely he would tomorrow. But today, it wasn't the point.

Frank slipped a finger between the padding and Mikey's skin to test the tightness before placing the matching cuff on Mikey's left wrist. The lying position was pulling Mikey's right shoulder, and not in a good way, so Mikey said, "Need to move."

"Where's it hurt?"

Mikey wiggled his shoulder.

Frank slipped his hands between Mikey and the mattress and took his weight again. "Can you sit up for a second?"

Mikey bit his lip, but he nodded.

Sitting up was easier than rolling over. Not because it ached any less, but because Frank had control, and Mikey's brain was recognizing it. The concept wasn't getting Mikey revved up like it might have on another day. It was closer to the exact opposite. Like how meditation was supposed to feel.

Frank pulled Mikey's hands around to rest in his lap and finished buckling the cuff on Mikey's left wrist, checking it like he checked the other cuff.

"My hands."

"I know," Frank said, even though Mikey didn't elaborate. "But I've got an idea."

Mikey nodded once, and Frank smiled. In this context, it was a gesture of understanding, not the beaming grin he loved to give. That was too much for Mikey when he was in this kind of place.

Frank grabbed a metal chain and hooked it between the two D-rings on the cuffs. Mikey tested the pull, and as usual, there was little give. His wrists weren't going anywhere.

"Now," Frank said, moving behind Mikey. "Lean against me."

Mikey did.

Usually, they cuffed Mikey's hands behind his back and leaned him on a chair to keep from lying awkwardly. It was tiring, but worth it. Seeing his hands meant he focused less on the sensation of being held and more on the idea that he was trapped.

But this time, Frank slipped his arms inside of Mikey's and wrapped them loosely around Mikey's chest. It was snuggling without suffocation, and that, along with the pressure on his wrists, was perfect.

"Breathe," Frank whispered in Mikey's ear, like he could hear what he was thinking.

It was hard at first. Just the shallow breaths while lying in bed alone had been tricky enough; what Frank was asking - no, ordering - was tougher. Mikey had to push his stomach out, and when his arms pushed forward with him, the weight on his wrists was that much more present. Frank's chest expanded behind him, and, as Mikey exhaled, Frank let his own breath tickle Mikey's neck.

In, out. Over and over.

Mikey must have fallen asleep because the next thing he knew, the sun outside the window was gone, and the light on the bedside table was on. Most of all, Mikey felt like he was settled into his own bones again. Blinking happened at normal speed, and breathing only seemed a little difficult.

As his eyes focused, he could see the cuffs next to the lamp. But just because the cuff weight was gone didn't mean nothing held him. Frank's thumbs rubbed the inside of his wrists gently while the rest of his hands curved around the outside. He didn't need to work any stiffness out of Mikey because of the cuffs, but Mikey still ached all over, and the pressure was perfect. He let his eyelids flutter closed again and sighed quietly.

"Better?" Frank asked quietly by Mikey's ear.

Mikey nodded.

"You can call me, you know. Even if I'm on-air. I'll call you back the second I can."

Mikey did know. And Frank knew that Mikey knew, or he would've said should instead of can. "Yeah."

"Awesome. Now go back to sleep so I can tie you up again tomorrow."

As Mikey tipped his head back on Frank's shoulder, Frank only pulled away long enough to click the light off. When his hands came back, he pulled Mikey's arms gently against his torso.

The last thing Mikey noticed before he fell asleep was that, for the first time all day, he was breathing easily.