Mike visits every weekend.
"You know you don't have to do this, right, homie?" Josh says early on, in his rough Cali drawl, looking out the window instead of meeting the other guy's eyes.
"What, show up to see my good buddy Josh?"
Josh winces. It makes the scars on the side of his face starker. "I mean it, though. You did your penance, man, you got me outta there. That's it. You're done."
Mike huffs an amused noise. "I mean, for one thing, that's not how penance works. For second? Just because I'm a lapsed Catholic don't make this some — guilt thing. I'm not atoning by showing up for you."
Josh shakes his head slowly.
Despite that no, Mike comes back the next weekend, and the next. Sometimes they don't say anything — what is there to say? Sometimes it feels like what happened to them is the sum total of their whole lives, and neither of them are ready to discuss that. Or, Mike's not. He presumes the head shrinks here are making Josh.
Visiting like this means he notices the teeth thing, even though they grow as slowly as Josh's defrosting.
"You gonna get surgery for your mouth again?" Mike asks. Josh's green eyes watch him warily, turning over the question for cruelty. But Mike really wants to know, earnest. The teeth don't bother him, just like the milky white in one eye, the chalky pallor of Josh's skin, the way he wears a hoodie all the time to cover up how his hair falls out in patches sometimes. He's accepted that Josh isn't actually a wendigo, even if it must have been a close fucking call. That whatever exorcism shit his rich-ass parents paid for, the team sent to the mountains, the drugs and therapy, that's all working like it's supposed to. "It's just, they're gonna rip your mouth open all over again at this rate."
"Yeah." Josh doesn't seem to have a problem with that. Or maybe he's just too dosed on medication to care.
Mike's leg bounces where he sits, and he rubs a hand over the denim. "Could I uh." Already aware this is weird. "Take a look?"
But Josh has always been kind of comfortable with stuff other people maybe wouldn't be, and after a moment he nods. "Sure." Tips his head back laconically.
Mike gets up out of the chair and comes over, peers down into Josh's mouth like he's a dentist.
"Wow," he says, not sure what else to say. The teeth are needle sharp, three long vicious canine-like protrusions pushing Josh's flat omnivore teeth in towards his tongue. "Can I... touch 'em?"
Josh opens his mouth, and Mike reaches in. Bad hand, because Josh is the only person he doesn't keep poor maimed Lefty tucked away around. And because if he's gonna stick his fingers where they could get bitten off, might as well be the brothers of the ones that got amputated by a bear trap.
But Josh doesn't bite.
The teeth are teeth, Mike wasn't really expecting anything else. They're still coming through; he pokes the gums and Josh flinches in hurt. But what Mike really wanted to do was feel around the inside of his cheek for fresh wounds, hooking his fingers in and feeling the bumps of the scarring. He doesn't actually get a lot of good sensation from these guys, since the whole hand had nerve damage that's still healing, but he can gather that Josh's new teeth haven't yet made mincemeat of the soft skin.
Mike looks down, at his fingers in Josh's mouth, at the way they bulge out his cheek some, and things, ineloquently: Whoa.
Pulls his hand back.
"Yeah, uh, all good in there," he says awkwardly, good hand scratching the back of his neck where it's flushed. "Cool. Should probably get a real dentist to look at those, though."
"Probably," Josh agrees, three distinct syllables. He's watching Mike with heavy-lidded eyes the way a cat watches a moth, and it's the most focused attention he's shown since Mike started showing up.
"Hey," says Mike. "You wanna do something?" Josh's eyebrows raise immediately, and Mike isn't a blusher but for some reason he can feel his ears get hot, and he stammers to explain. "Like a board game or something. Or I could take you out to a movie — they let you leave this place?"
"They do," says Josh, "If I wanna."
"So a movie," says Mike.
Josh presses his lips together. "I dunno if that's a great idea. Besides, you hate film."
"I don't hate film, I just don't have an hour and a half of staring at a screen in me," admits Mike. "What about dinner, then, we could get pizza or something?"
"One," says Josh, "It's fuckin' four in the afternoon. Two, I can barely leave this goddamn room so I dunno how the outside world is gonna go. Three, are you trying to ask me on a date, man?"
Mike is taken aback a bit by the question. "What? No! Just — buddy hangs. Just..." his brow creases, and he chews his lower lip. "I mean, do you want it to be a date?" He feels kind of weird about the offer, since he's not sure he really sees Josh that way, just by dint of him being a dude and Mike being straight, but maybe if it was a date it would feel less like he was trying to replace Chris. If it's supposed to be just the two of them maybe they won't notice all the empty space around them.
"I'm not seeing much action here in Arkham Asylum," Josh says, because he's a nerd. He sits forwards, elbows on his knees. "Can't lock the door but they'll let me close it for a visitor. Wanna make out?"
Mike white guy blinks at this straight up proposition. "I..." he says, and maybe he isn't so straight after all, because he isn't immediately jumping to no.
Josh laughs suddenly, though it's a little forced. "Oh man. Your face! Ha. Just kidding, man, I know that's not what you meant. Besides, who'd wanna kiss a guy with these teeth?"
Is that a fleeting moment of bitterness Mike espies? It makes his chest clench up for Josh. "I might could go for kissing you," he admits slowly, puts aside the vast pit of questioning his sexuality for later-Mike to deal with. "But — call me old-fashioned, I'd rather hang out a little first."
Now it's Josh's turn to blink. "You really mean that, huh. You like me."
Mike shrugs. It's complicated. They both know it's complicated. They both know why. Neither of them say her name — or anything, for long moments.
One of the nurses, Joyce, raps lightly on the door. "Visiting hours are almost up, Mr Munroe," she reminds them both kindly, then moves along to the next door. The tension in the room deflates, and Mike exhales.
"Next weekend," he says, "We're going to go on a date. You won't have to leave the room, or even close the door. All right?"
"Sure," says Josh, something so intensely hopeful in his eyes now that it about tears Michael's heart out. "And I'll... speak to my doctor. About the teeth."
"Do that," agrees Mike, and impromptu takes Josh's hand. Squeezes it. It's not quite a handshake, and Josh squeezes back, then reaches for his other one, Lefty. Michael's first response is to pull away, but then he lets it happen, lets Josh hold the mangled digits, thumb gently across the scarred knuckles. "I'll see you next weekend."
"See you, homie," says Josh quietly, and watches him leave.