Author's Notes: Yes, there is a significance to this piece. Yes, you have to be reading closely to catch it. No, I didn't screw something up horribly. Yes, I did this on purpose. And no, I really don't want to be flamed.

x-x-x

Release

Three to five years later...

The warden stood at the window, watching the escort pull up to the prison gate, stop, and then proceed into the small world he ran inside the prison's imposing walls. Prisoners left the prison all the time, paroles granted, sentences served, and usually he was glad to see them go, but he couldn't help feeling a deep twinge of regret that this particular prisoner was leaving his care.

He had asked to be informed when the inmate was ready to go, and he raised his head at the knock on his office door. "Come in," he said, not turning around to greet the prisoner one final time. He waited until he heard the door shut with a quiet click before finally turning around to study the prisoner. Neither of them said a word, just stared at each other, until finally the warden broke the silence.

"Stay out of trouble out there, you hear?" he said, looking away from his soon-to-be ex-prisoner. "If your ass winds up in trouble again, you're gonna end up right back here."

"Because I know you wouldn't have it any other way, Warden," said the prisoner, the smile evident in his voice. "I get busted for speeding and I might end up serving a two year sentence at Allenville."

The warden chuckled. "Do you even have a valid driver's license anymore?"

"Probably not," said the prisoner, cracking his infamous boyish grin. Watching him, the warden felt the feeling growing in his stomach, the tightness growing in his chest. Three to five years hadn't seemed like long enough.

"I'm serious now. Take care of yourself." He stepped closer to the prisoner, taking in each of his features, knowing that it could be years before he would next see the prisoner. "And feel free to stop by from time to time," the warden added, though he knew the prisoner likely never would.

"I might," said the prisoner, his face and eyes serious.

"For the most part, you've been a damned good prisoner," said the warden, breaking the uncomfortable silence that had fallen in his office. "And it's been a real pleasure to have you here."

The prisoner merely nodded - there was not much left to say. Three to five years of history between them came flooding back, and they stared at each other, both uncomfortable but both not wanting this last moment to come to such a quick end. "Well, I'll... go now," said the prisoner, turning for the door.

"Crewe."

Paul Crewe turned back around, meeting the warden's gaze. "Yeah?"

The warden could only shake his head. "Never mind. Good luck."

"Uh... same to you." He extended a hand.

The warden glanced at his hand, then back at Crewe's face, reached out, and clasped his hand. The touch evaporated the wall of tension between them that had built itself as soon as Crewe had stepped into the office for his last meeting with the warden. Just like they had done so many times in the past three to five years, they kissed deeply, melting against each other just like it felt natural to do. But there was a definite air of sadness and longing to the kiss, and as the warden kissed his ex-prisoner, he fought back the lump of emotion that had gathered in his throat. He'd never been so emotional about anything or anyone before, but Paul Crewe had made sure, like he had done so many times in the past few years, that he was first in the warden's life.

Wrapping his arms around Crewe, not wanting to let him go, the warden tried to say everything he was feeling, but could only manage another warning. "Take care of yourself, hear? I mean it."

"You don't have to worry about me," said Crewe, stroking the warden's back with his thumb. "Five years in this joint has taught me how not to fuck up the best thing that ever happened to me."

The warden choked on a laugh, caught somewhere between screaming in anger and heartbreak, and laughing at how Crewe brightened his world. "I never know with you. You might try some crazy shit to end up back here."

"I just might." Crewe laughed, hugging the warden closer.

The warden returned the embrace, not wanting to think about a life without Crewe in his prison. Lost for words, he could only hope that Crewe understood what he meant when he spoke. "I love you, Paul."

Paul's eyes smiled as he kissed the warden again, a soft light kiss that the warden would remember forever. "I love you too." And with one more tight squeeze, one last gentle kiss, Paul Crewe, the man the warden had come to love, turned to the door and opened it. He glanced once more over his shoulder, and, winking, closed it behind him, walking out of the warden's life.

The warden was watching at the window ten minutes later as the escort approached the gates, carrying Paul Crewe inside it, stopped, and proceeded into the outside world. And for the first time in his life, Warden Knauer broke down and cried.