Michael really didn’t want to leave Jeremy alone after meeting Squip, but Mr. Heere had insisted that he come home for the weekend, just so that he could have a fresh start on Monday and hopefully put the whole ‘fight’ incident behind him.
Which was how Michael found himself out on Saturday afternoon, stocking up on soda, snacks and grabbing a new game he’d been eyeing up for the inevitable crash both he and Jeremy would suffer through Monday night. School was tiring enough, it was even worse when there was a directed vendetta against you.
Making sure to grab Jeremy some Dr. Pepper at his Seven-Eleven haul, he walked out of the convenience store and started heading to the local game store. He only stopped when he saw Jeremy. He was out with Squip, across the street. Wasn’t he supposed to be chilling at home with his dad? What happened?
Jeremy was actually talking , his mouth moving a mile a minute as he gestured wildly with whatever story he was telling. Michael only ever saw Jeremy this comfortable and animated at home, and yet here he was, in public , more comfortable than Michael had ever seen him. Squip was watching Jeremy with rapt attention, clearly fascinated with what Jeremy was telling him.
After checking on Sunny quickly, who was working but clearly on edge, Michael crossed the street and called out for Jeremy. “Remy! Hey!”
Jeremy turned and his already happy expression lit up to the point where it could conceivably light up an entire city. Maybe a whole state.
“Mikey! Hiya!” Jeremy called back, stopping with Squip and rushing over to Michael, grabbing him in a hug as soon as he was on the sidewalk. “Out getting some snackage or...?”
“Yeah, I was getting stuff for when we’d inevitably crash at my house on Monday. I’ve already got the snacks, but I was going to pick up a game from Level-Up,” Michael explained as he smiled at Jeremy, doing his best to ignore Squip. “What are you doing out?”
“Oh, Er, well dad got called away on an emergency case so I decided I’d chat with Squip. And he suggested that we go out so he can start teaching me how to suppress my aura!” Jeremy cried excitedly. God, he looked so happy.
“He’s a natural.” Squip beamed. “Soon enough he won’t even need me to supply him energy for it, he’ll be totally self sufficient.” Sunny pressed closer to Michael when Squip started talking, clearly uncomfortable as she stared hard at him.
“Yeah, it’s been awesome .” Jeremy nodded, glancing up at Squip before grinning at Michael. “Not only did I manage to get the shopping done without getting shoved or having every bag searched, some of the assistants actually came over and talked to me. Just because!“
That was... almost insane progress. “That’s amazing, Jeremy. I’m so happy for you. It’s not tiring or draining to try to suppress your aura though, right?”
Jeremy shook his head, clearly riding the high from the positive human interaction. “Nope! Squip is giving me energy so I can learn how to do it before I try and do it solo. So it’s all his energy doing it, I’m just directing it,” he explained. He looked like a giddy schoolboy who just got told he was top of the class or something.
“Well that’s great. Will it drain you in the future though?” Michael just couldn’t help but worry, even if he was so happy for his best friend.
Jeremy nodded, looking a little upset. Why was he upset?
“It will at first,” Squip interjected, “but with time it’ll get easier and easier, just like any skill.”
Michael nodded in understanding before giving Jeremy a smile. “If you’re a natural at this, it won’t take that long for you to get to that level.”
Jeremy’s smile got a little brighter, regaining some of the energy he lost. “Yeah! I’m gonna finally get to see what it’s like to not be universally hated.”
“Aww, slugger, you know I don’t hate you.” Squip chuckled, pulling Jeremy into a noogie. Jeremy squealed in surprise, bursting into happy giggles as he flailed and tried in vain to push Squip off of him.
Squip released him a moment later, earning himself a brief touch on the shoulder by an old woman passing by.
“It’s so nice to see a father be so affectionate with his son. Good job, sir,” she cooed, shooting Jeremy a smile before continuing on her way. Jeremy just beamed, his cheeks lighting up in a happy blush. Michael knew it was from the ‘son’ comment, he didn’t get those too often even when Michael was around.
But what if Jeremy regarded Squip as a fatherly figure? Granted, he was Jeremy’s birth dad, which was weird as all hell, but... God, he really had a bad overall feeling about this whole situation, but he wanted Jeremy to be this happy all the time and to be loved like he deserved to be.
Jeremy was still beaming as he reached over to hug Michael again. Except this time, he stopped short when Sunny let out a clearly agitated bark, one that Michael knew meant ‘back off’. Michael also knew it was aimed at Squip, who had taken a step closer, but Jeremy didn’t.
He also knew what the bark meant, and he started curling away from Michael as soon as Sunny did it. His expression and jovial mood dropped instantly, replaced with a vulnerable, hurt expression. That was soon hidden as well as he ducked his head, picking at his cardigan instead. “Sorry,” he murmured, voice dropping back to the more familiar, near silent volume level that Michael was used to in public. He wasn’t happy about it.
“No no, that wasn’t to you. Sunny barked at Squip who was walking closer,” Michael quickly assured as he reached his hands out to Jeremy. “She would never tell you to back off, Remy.”
Jeremy stared at Michael’s hands, slowly reaching out before pulling back and shaking his head. “Don’t wanna risk it.”
“Hey, he’s right, Jere. You didn’t do anything wrong here, I should have been more respectful of Michael’s space.” Squip swooped in, scooping Jeremy into a gentle hug and setting about soothing him. He shot Sunny a look, which Michael couldn’t quite decipher before focusing back on Jeremy.
The boy in question was letting himself be hugged and seemed to be leaning into it somewhat, even if he wasn’t returning it. He looked so utterly devastated and scared and it just broke Michael’s heart to see.
“I think I’ve done enough here for today. Why don’t you head over to Michael’s place, go relax there for a bit. I’m sure Sunny will make you feel loved again in no time,” Squip suggested gently. “I’ll keep the energy coming your way until I sense you’re back at your house, so no worries about your aura.”
It wasn’t like Sunny had been the problem. Squip was framing it like she was though, and that added another thing onto Michael’s mental checklist against the demon. He could also feel Sunny’s anger subsiding and being replaced with worry and concern for Jeremy. “I’ll drop you back off at your house later after we hang for a bit.”
Jeremy nodded, still muted and sad looking, before looking up at Squip. “When will you be back?” he asked.
“Whenever you call me, kiddo. Same as today, I promise I’ll be there if you ever wanna talk or anything else.” Squip smiled and ruffled Jeremy’s hair affectionately. “See you later, Jeremy. Michael, Sunny, it was nice to see you. Bye!” With a jaunty wave, Squip turned and left, ducking into an alleyway. Michael saw a bunch of what looked to be shadows emerge a second later.
Jeremy remained standing where he was, keeping a respectable distance from Michael and picking at his cardigan. He looked so sad and Michael knew that even if it was Squip’s fault, he had to do something to help. He couldn’t just leave Jeremy feeling so upset.
Turning to his bag of treats, he pulled out the Dr. Pepper and offered it to Jeremy. “Hey, I got you this. Also, do you wanna come with me to pick up the game? We can play it and geek out. I know it’s not as fun as hanging out in public like this, but it’s still fun. Also, I got another treat you can have now that I was also planning to give you Monday.”
Jeremy hesitated before taking the soda. “Sure, if that’s what you wanna do... you didn’t have to get me anything, though.” Oh no, he was deferring the choices to Michael; that meant he was really upset. Such a small thing must have really shaken him. Michael would need to find out exactly why once Jeremy was more relaxed. Maybe it would be worth getting the weed out when they got home, Jeremy seemed like he could use some.
"You're my best friend and favorite person, of course I'd get you stuff. And I'll do it if you want to do it. You can just nod or shake your head," Michael said before offering his free hand to Jeremy. Simple stuff would help right now.
Jeremy hesitated, staring at Michael’s hand again before glancing over at Sunny. Very slowly, Jeremy reached out and took Michael’s hand. When Sunny didn’t bark, and even looked at Jeremy apologetically, her tail wagging slowly, Jeremy relaxed a little and nodded.
Intertwining their fingers, Michael gave Jeremy a soft and reassuring smile. "Alright, so I need to know, and just nod or shake your head to this: Do you want to go get the game before we head back to my house?"
Jeremy nodded after a second, still watching Sunny almost warily.
Sunny still had her apologetic look, pressed to Michael's side as she always was when Michael was still and she was working. "When we get back, do you want Sunny to smother you in love 'cause of how sorry she is? I know she didn't mean to make it seem like she was barking at you. She was barking at Squip, I promise. She really doesn't like him."
Jeremy nodded again. “That would be nice... I really don’t want her to be upset with me, ever. I love her so much,” he mumbled, picking at his cardigan with his free hand.
"I know she feels the same about you. That's why she looks so sad. Look, even if she's working, her tail's barely wagging and her ears are drooped!"
Jeremy looked conflicted before reaching out and holding his hand close to Sunny. It was far enough away to still be respectful but close enough that she could touch him if she wanted to. Of course, as soon as he was in range, she leant up and nuzzled into his hand, her tail wagging more noticeably. She whined softly and licked his wrist before getting back into work mode. Jeremy, while it wasn’t the brilliant grin from before, smiled and relaxed again. Michael counted that as a win.
"Let's go get that game and then hang out," Michael said, cheering softly and squeezing Jeremy's hand.
Saturday was fun, but Jeremy was exhausted come Sunday. More because he was focusing so hard on not upsetting Sunny again that he tired himself out.
He really didn’t want to make her upset with him, but it was something he was always scared of.
Which was why, come Sunday evening, after his dad had come home and collapsed in bed after a good dinner, Jeremy decided to summon Squip again.
He set out the candle and lit it, following the instructions which just seemed to make sense to him beyond what Squip had said. “Squip. I want to talk to you,” he whispered, blowing out the candle in the same breath. The smoke curled away from the wick before spiralling to the side. A moment later, Squip formed at the end of the smoke trail, smiling over at Jeremy.
"Hi there, son," Squip said, holding his arms out in a hug that Jeremy instantly took. It felt nice to have someone who understood all about him and how to help him. His dad, Michael, his moms, and Christine were all great, but they didn't completely get it. Squip did.
“Hi Squip.” He wasn’t dad. Jeremy doubted Squip would ever be dad, since Jeremy already had a dad who he adored. “You said yesterday that you wanted to teach me some other powers, right? I was wondering if I could learn some of those...” He liked doing demon stuff, surprisingly. It was nice to have such a patient teacher, and have something he was innately good at, like his art.
"Yes, of course. Which ones out of the list I gave you yesterday do you want to work on?"
“Can we try the illusion?” Jeremy asked softly. “Not the changing my actual appearance-“ He could actually manipulate how he looked on a physical scale, something he and his binder were very much looking forward to. “-just the removal of my... human shape...”
Squip nodded as he stood back. "So you want to shift your body shape to your ideal image?" Jeremy nodded. "You are limited in what you can do, and if you want to try actually removing something, that's something else entirely different that we can cover later. To have the illusion of something being gone, however, that takes some energy usage and manipulation. It also takes imagining and then believing that you look the way you want to."
Jeremy nodded. “I can do that. Are we... are we gonna try doing the revealing the demon skin thing first? Or is that later?” For as nervous as he was, Jeremy was also so excited. This was gonna be so cool and Michael would freak out when Jeremy showed him later.
"Would you like to do that first? It is a bit easier to remove the human appearance you have first, but doing it all at once may be too overwhelming."
Jeremy shrugged. “Whatever you think would be best, Squip. I... I trust you.” He actually did, despite what Michael had said. Squip had only helped Jeremy this far, and he said he even planned to go and apologize to Michael after their first meeting on Thursday. Jeremy was feeling pretty good about Squip, if he were honest.
"I think we should do whichever you're more excited about first," Squip said as he sat down on Jeremy's bed.
Jeremy grinned, flapping his hands a little in his excitement. “Can we show my demon skin first please?” He remembered that Squip mentioned that once Jeremy got control over that, he could more easily manipulate his own energy for other magic, diverting it from the illusion to the spell. He really wanted to be able to do that.
Squip nodded as he smiled before holding out his hand. "So, this is going to sound odd, but I want you to imagine a shell peeling away from your hand and stopping at your wrist." As he spoke, Squip's skin shifted to show his true demon skin. "This will happen."
It made sense. It would be like Jeremy was erasing part of a top layer in a digital canvas. He was just showing what was underneath.
Holding out his right hand, Jeremy focused on it, imagining the shell of the top layer and mentally erasing it to show what was underneath. He huffed when it didn’t work and tried again, this time tracing down his hand with his left hand instead, using his fingertips as an eraser of sorts.
Sure enough, following the same path his finger took, Jeremy saw the freckled, pale pink of his skin shimmer and fade to reveal the soft, smoky gray with the electric blue markings. From the initial line, the rest of the layer peeled away, leaving his hand totally changed and, honestly, hauntingly beautiful. Jeremy had never thought of himself as beautiful before, but his demon skin, his true skin, honestly was.
"And there you go. You're really a natural. It normally takes people a day to learn how to do that at least and you're already doing this with ease."
Jeremy beamed, his cheeks lighting up in a blush. He noticed that the blue markings seemed to glow brighter when he blushed.
“Well, it just made sense to me... like erasing a layer when I draw on my computer.” He shrugged shyly. He hadn’t really spoken about his art much to Squip thus far. He was honestly a little nervous as to how Squip would react.
"Erasing a layer on the computer? Oh, like digital art! Yes, it's just like that." Squip smiled before he patted Jeremy's shoulder. "You're already making connections, and making those'll help strengthen your control of your energy and power."
Jeremy lit up (literally, where he was pulling back the illusion even more down his arm). “Would you... like to see some of my digital art? I’ve done a few pieces that I’m pretty proud of, even if I’m better with traditional stuff.” He had his full right arm exposed now, and it felt amazing. The energy rushing through him was setting him off, making him more excitable and hyperactive than he could ever remember being. Was this how much energy he used just covering the one arm? If so, the rest of his body would be super intense!
"Yes, I would love to. Be sure not to reveal too much of your actual skin yet though. Too much energy compared to normal will overwhelm you," Squip warned.
Jeremy nodded. “Yeah, this is already a lot.” He hopped up and ran over to his laptop, quickly logging on and pulling up some of his pictures he did for commissions online, as well as some he did just for fun.
The one with the icy blue flames and sparks with the angel with the broken wings silhouetted against them was one of his favorite pieces of all, not just of his digital art portfolio.
When he showed that to Squip, he let out a low, impressed whistle. "My god, Jeremy, you have such a talent for art. What inspired you to make this? It's breathtaking."
Jeremy shrugged, blush and markings still glowing brightly. “I dunno. It just sort of... came to me, one day. It’s one of my favorites.”
"Are you proud of this? You really ought to be if you aren't."
“I really am!” Squip was proud of Jeremy’s art! Oh this was an amazing feeling. The buzz from his arm combined so beautifully with the energy from knowing someone important liked his work.
"Good. Now, are you taking an art class? You should be with these kinds of skills."
Jeremy shook his head. “I’ve wanted to, but I’ve always been too scared,” he admitted. “Not because I think I’m bad or anything, I’ve just been scared of the art teacher. I’m pretty sure she wants to kill me just with how she looks at me.”
“That’s only because of your aura. If you can learn to control it as quickly as you learned how to reveal your own skin, you could easily take that class and excel.” Squip seemed to pause in thought. “I know a way to make that happen even quicker for you, actually.”
“Wait, really?” If there was a way to dull his aura quickly, then Jeremy could have a chance at a properly normal life even when he wasn’t around Michael!
“If you’re alright with it, I can reside in your head with you and help you learn to dull your aura. It’s a quicker way to learn since I can slowly wean you onto dulling it fully.”
That... It was a little weird but it sounded possible. And Jeremy didn’t think Squip would put him in any danger, so... “Okay then. Let’s try it.”
Squip smiled and looked so happy. Surely this was good. “Alright, great. I can help by doing this now so you have some practice in for tomorrow at school. Is that alright?”
Jeremy nodded. “So I need to brace myself or...?”
“Just accept me into your head when I try to enter.”
With another nod, Jeremy closed his eyes and relaxed. This was fine. He trusted Squip.
He didn’t wait long to feel the mental prodding from Squip. It was an odd sensation, but he let the demon in.
It felt even weirder to share the space of his mind with another, but it somehow felt... cozy. It felt right. Squip was just helping him.
“So-“ It felt strange to be talking to an empty room. “What now?” After a second, Jeremy got a sort of... warm, tingling sensation which took a second for him to recognise as Squip hugging him. It lasted a moment before Squip actually spoke.
“ You think at me while I’m in your head to make things easier. And for now, you do nothing. Go about your normal business and tell me if anything feels different to you. ”
Jeremy nodded and stood up from the bed. “ I’ve got nothing else to do for today so I think I’m just gonna... chill and play some video games? I’ve got all my homework done and everything... ” He didn’t know why he felt the need to justify playing to Squip, but it was there. Maybe because Squip was being like dad, since he was Jeremy’s biological dad.
“ Do whatever you want. Just make sure to make yourself something for dinner since your father is asleep and won’t be able to make anything. ”
“ I’ll do that first, and I’ll make sure to leave something out for him to reheat. ” Jeremy shrugged. His dad always woke up about two hours after crashing to grab some food. Jeremy was used to taking care of him during hard cases, after all, he took care of Jeremy the rest of the time. “ I think I’ll just make some chicken. ”
“ That sounds like a great idea. I’ll check in with you soon, son. ” With another mental hug, Jeremy felt Squip’s presence fade into the back of his mind.
It was more than a little strange, but it was comforting in a way Jeremy didn’t really know how to articulate. Squip’s presence was warm, even if he was cold to the touch, and he made Jeremy feel safe. It was... nice. He felt loved. And he didn’t really want this feeling to stop any time soon. So, hopefully, it wouldn’t.