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These Little Things Define Us

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The binding was pinching his back, in his haste to leave that morning he had definitely wound the bandages too tight.

It had been months since he’d had to resort to the ace bandage, something he should have never used in the first place but, until he was able to save up and buy a proper binder, he hadn’t known any different. It was just his luck that today, his first day at a new school, his Mother decided to be present and attentive until literally minutes before he had to leave for the bus; follow that up with the, heavily annoying, fact that his binder had decided to disappear into the void of his bedroom, and it left him with no other choice but to fish out the black, ace bandage that had moved from house to house with him ever since he first realised who he really was.

Way to start off the new school year, he had thought as he wrapped up his chest with the bandage, wincing at the tightness, but really having no time to fix it yet. His double-layered shirt hid any remaining bulk as he swung his backpack over his shoulder and practically sprinted to the bus stop. The other boys and girls laughed at him as he skidded to a stop, red faced and out of breath, just as the bus was about to leave; but he took solace in the fact that they were laughing at him and not her.

At least he had signed up to his new school as Michael.

---

His Mom was inattentive, rude, and unsupportive but that had come out - for once in his goddamn life - to Michael’s favor because it meant that she had sent him on his own to register for classes and his birth name didn’t come into play even once. That was going to cut out so much grief later on.

He supposed he couldn’t blame her. First her highschool-sweetheart husband leaves her for a girl so young she was practically a high-schooler herself, and then her rough and tumble, tomboy of a daughter tells her that she’s really a boy inside and puts a halt to any and all bonding that they had built up between them. Because she didn’t want a son, she wanted a daughter; and, as far as she was concerned, she had one.

With or without her support, Samantha became Michael but, due to the woman’s ‘complete and utter shame’ they left their home in New Jersey and moved south. Well, admittedly it wasn’t entirely down to that, but his Mom sure made him feel that way.

---

He entered the high school with his head tucked down low. The office was his first port of call, where he received his class schedule, a welcome letter, and a locker combination. His locker was on the third floor, found after an embarrassingly long time searching. Although he had arrived on time, he found himself now almost late and prayed that his first class would be easy to find.

No such luck and he skidded into the science lab as the late bell rang out which gained him a sharp look from the professor who pointed at a seat near the middle and Michael slid down to sit behind the bench, smiling at the red haired girl beside him. Panting, he tugged at the binding, feeling it start to constrict around him. It didn’t take long for him to loosen it off and he let the shirt fabric fall back into place as the assignments began being handed out.

“I’m Lindsay,” the girl whispered, opening her notebook to a clean page.

“Michael,” he replied.

She smiled at him, “you’re new?”

He hummed in affirmation, scanning the words on the paper as the professor slid it onto the bench before him.

“You any good at Biology?”

No, he wasn’t, “uhh mita...tosis is...something?” he tried pathetically.

She giggled and started to move equipment around on the bench, “that’s okay, I have a 4.0 GPA,” she paused in her movements and studied him carefully, “but don’t expect to ride that through this class, you’re gonna work just as hard as I am.”

He smiled, content with the comfort he felt when speaking to her, “I wouldn’t dream of it.”

“Good,” she nodded, pleased, “oh and it’s mitochondria is the powerhouse of the cell, everybody knows it, nobody needs it.”

They laughed together, settling down to work on the papers before them.

His first meeting with Lindsay had set Michael up for a good first day, his first period passed quickly, and his new friend helpfully pointed him in the direction of his second. English passed in silent study, his professor was old, snippy, and obviously a force to be reckoned with. EIther way it passed much slower, the warmer air in the room settling heavy in Michael compacted lungs.

If the binding had been pinching at the start of the day, it was acting very much like a python crushing him now.

By the end of lunch he was fully prepared to skip into the nearest bathroom, slip into a stall and grab a chance to take a proper breath, vowing to spend every minute once he got home searching for his missing binder. He wasn’t sure how he’d managed to lose it.

 

Standing at his locker, he tossed his bag inside and took a close look at the school map. It was blotchy and badly printed, the words too chunky to read in places and missing some joining lines but he could just about identify a bathroom one floor below him. He just had to get there and he could-

A hand slammed down on the locket to Michael’s left, snapping him out of his thoughts. Whipping his head around he came face to face with a tall, muscular boy with menacingly dark eyes and a smirk on his face that was partially hidden by a green baseball cap.

Goddamnit, can’t I just get through my first day?

“Hey, pretty boy, haven’t seen you before,” he said in a sickeningly sweet voice, sending a shiver down Michael’s spine.

"You're new, aren't you? I remember when people like you roll up.” Michael gulped, subconsciously glancing down at his chest thinking maybe the binding had slipped, even though he could definitely feel the awkward tightness still there. In fact it seemed to be getting tighter.

“P-people like me?” Michael stammered, cursing his own vocal chords, don’t girl out on me now.

The guy scoffed, "Well, look at you. You're definitely one of the dick squad, aren't you?"

Michael’s heart was beating a sharp rhythm against his ribs, threatening to crack them on top of the crushing feeling that the binding was causing.

Disregarding - or enjoying - Michael’s obvious nerves, the guy carried on, "You know everybody's talking about you, right? We don’t get many transfers over this way and news spreads fast. Here I was expecting some tough nut being from Jersey, but, well... all we get is a dick sucking faggot boy.”

As the guy stepped closer, his lackeys - who Michael hadn’t noticed until that moment - closed in from behind until Michael was being crowded tightly against his locker, Michael could feel his breath starting to come out in panicked gasps.

"What's wrong, pretty boy?” he cooed menacingly, “Am I too close to you? Isn’t this what your sort like?”

His heart beat was becoming painful now, his whole bloodstream feeling like it was turning to sludge.

“So, just between us,” he whispered, so close to Michael’s ear now that he could feel hot breath on his neck, “How many dicks have you sucked with those lady lips of yours.”

“Coming over to the dark side, Ross?” Michael’s head shot up at the appearance of another voice, relief washing over him as a space of air appeared between he and the other boy. Two others stood beside them, both tall, one with a pale, drawn face and shadows under his eyes, the other stoic and broad with sleek blond hair.

Ross seemed unaffected by their arrival, “You and your fag boyfriends still here then, Ramsey?” Ross countered, lips twisted into a sneer.

The boy behind Ramsey stepped forward, folding his muscular arms across his chest, “Sorry that your weak taunts and mediocre insults didn’t emotionally traumatize us enough to make us drop out of high school.”

Ross easily shook off the insult, “It doesn’t matter anyway, run along freak shows, I’m busy.”

Ramsey wasn’t backing down, it seemed, as he stepped forward enough for him next muttered words to hit home.

“Really Ross? I mean I knew you were an asshole but I never would have taken you for a rapist.” The second the word left Ramsey’s lips, Ross leapt back as if something had burned him.

“Fuck you, Ramsey,” he hissed, shooting Michael a hesitant look, “you aren’t worth this anyway,” he sneered, turning his back and stalking away with his lackeys in tow.

As soon as he’d gone, Michael felt the air lighten though his chest was still tight as hell and he closed his eyes, drawing in a few hard breaths.

Ramsey looked concerned, “Hey, are you okay?”

“I’m fine,” he wheezed, “I just thought-”

The boy shook his head, “Ross is a moron but he’s not that bad, he wouldn’t have done anything to you, promise.”

The relief didn’t show, instead he could feel his face paling and head reeling.

The second boy stepped forward, “You look like you need a minute, come on we’ve got a place you can sit,” he said slowly, gesturing for Michael to follow as they started to walk away.

As they were swallowed up by the sea of students - who hadn’t even noticed that anything had happened apparently - they left Michael pressed tightly against the locker afraid to move. He was hesitant. Dizziness was creeping up on him slowly, his head spinning from the lack of full breaths being drawn in. If he stayed there he was pretty certain he was going to pass out in the hallway. Deciding that following the boys who had defended him wasn’t the worst decision he could make right now, he sighed and pushed away from the locker. Without something solid behind him he swayed, but the staggering movement only lasted a few steps before he was following behind more easily.

“The names Geoff, by the way,” Ramsey said, glancing back to check Michael was actually following him.

“Ryan,” the other one said, giving a small, polite wave.

“I’m M-michael.” Damn, his voice was starting to shake badly, not being able to remain steady while his lungs were struggling. His breathing was definitely too strained at this point, the light headedness becoming overwhelming.

That made the two ahead of him stop suddenly. They spun around and regarded him carefully.

“Are you sure you’re okay?” Ryan asked, reaching out for him cautiously and Michael didn’t have the energy to move back, “You look kind of pale.”

“I- I don’t feel good.” Michael admitted.

He knew he would have to get the binding off, otherwise there would be no way of avoiding passing out.

“He just needs to sit,” Geoff said firmly, gently taking Michael’s arm and leading the dazed boy across the hallway to a door tucked into the corner, “It’s right here.”

Inside it appeared to be an old classroom, if the broken desks - not that there were many - and the lack of light was anything to go by, it hadn’t been used for learning in quite a while. The blinds had been pulled all the way up, bar the window on the far right which didn’t appear to have blinds at all, letting in as much natural light as possible.

The light showed three others sitting in the middle of the floor, cross legged with a pile of cards between them. They barely glanced up as Geoff and Ryan pushed open the door and led Michael inside but did a double take when they noticed the new face.

“ey-up, who’s this?” One said, a skinny boy with birds nest hair and a hilariously large nose. His accent was different, but Michael couldn’t identify it while trying so hard not to collapse.

“Michael,” Geoff replied, leading him by the elbow further into the room as Ryan closed the door behind them, “Ross was giving him shit in the hall.”

“No shit,” A black haired boy leapt to his feet, brushing off his shorts as he approached, “he doesn’t look good.”

“Just needs to sit down, right Michael?” Geoff said, nudging Michael and hinting at him to do just that.

It took a second for Michael to gaze up at him, dazed, but he dimly nodded and allowed himself to sink to the floor. Across the way, the final boy had started to crawl towards him. He was chunky and ginger haired with a kind look on his face and glasses sitting high on the bridge of his nose.

“I’m Jack,” he said politely, pointing to the first two boys in succession he said, “that’s Gavin and Ray.”

Michael found himself nodding though even that simple movement sent his head reeling and he nearly blacked out. The binding had tightened even further for the nerves and staggering movements, restricting his breathing too much and the world has started to blacken at the edges. Fuck.

“Uhh, Geoff… he really doesn’t look good.” Michael wasn’t surprised that Ray wasn’t addressing him, he wasn’t sure he could trust his ears since that sense seemed to be going next. He really needed to get the binding off.

“Uhh, fuck, are you gonna pass out? Please don’t pass out.” Geoff urged nervously. He was hovering like he wasn’t sure what to do, and Michael knew if he didn’t do something soon he would be flat on the floor within the minute.

Fuck it, he had to.

“Can you- can you turn around?” Michael choked out, begging with his eyes more than his shaking voice.

They stared at him warily but Michael was insistent.

“Please?” he must have looked as pathetic as he sounded because they obliged, albeit questioningly, taking a few paces away as they turned to face the wall.

As soon as he left their sights, Michael lifted his shirt and started to unravel the binding, wincing as his ribs strained.

Ray laughed nervously ahead of him, “You aren’t uhhh, this isn’t a trick right? we’re gonna turn around and you’re like a werewolf or some other teen wolf shit?”

Geoff kicked him in the shin and hissed his name but Michael laughed breathily and carried on his work, with each layer of unwrapping his chest began to expand easier, the skin that unveiled beneath the bandages was red and swollen, imprinted with the pattern of the tight fabric.

“Is that a haha yes, or a haha no?” Ray continued, barking in pain when two feet met both of his shins this time.

Meanwhile, Michael drew in a full ragged breath as his lungs were finally unconstricted. The world cleared as he coughed harshly, letting his shirt drop back over his exposed chest. The t-shirt no longer lay flat, instead obstructed by two large lumps that made michael feel sick.

His heart was racing as Geoff asked if they could turn around again, because facing the wall was boring as hell. Although Michael crossed his arms as tightly across his chest as he could when he replied affirmatively, the shape of his revealed body was undeniable.

“Oh,” Ryan said, “do you feel better now?”

Surprisingly the only thing emotion in his eyes was concern and he wasn’t even looking down at Michael’s chest.

“No,” Michael replied honestly.

“Oh, sorry, I mean does your chest feel better?” Ryan corrected, sitting down to match Michael’s level as the others did the same behind him.

Michael shrugged, not about to trust his voice, even though his breaths came easier, the anxiety coursing through his veins was working like the bandages to keep his chest tight.

Jack let out a low whistle, “No wonder you couldn’t breathe,” he said, picking up the ace bandage and scrunching it in his hands, “I don’t think this is safe.”

They weren’t saying anything, they weren’t even looking at his chest.

“Aren’t you gonna...you know…” he gulped, taking in their expectant expressions, “Laugh because I’m a girl.”

Ray scrunched up his face and the others shared a look, “but you’re not a girl,” he said slowly.

You’re not a girl

The words radiated through Michael’s head and settled heavily on his heart.

These guys, they had known Michael for less than a half hour, they only knew his name, yet they accepted who he was faster than anyone else. Hell, they were actually accepting him which sure as hell hadn’t happened before.

Tears pricked at the corners of his eyes, moisture building before the dam broke and hot tears streamed down his face.

Geoff scooted closer and put a gentle hand on his knee, “hey, what’s wrong? Does your chest hurt?”

“Sorry,” he choked, “sorry I just- look at me crying like a fucking weak ass,”

“Ray cried at the end of the walking dead game,” Jack said in lieu of a response, nudging the youngest with his foot.

“Clem and Lee were such a good team!” Ray defended, taking the hint from the other boy, “well, Jack sobbed like a baby at the notebook,”

“You’re an asshole,” Jack muttered, shooting a sharp look at Geoff who snorted with laughter. “I don’t know what you’re laughing at, you couldn’t even make it through a minute of the dead island trailer without breaking down,”

“She was just a child!” Geoff whined, his voice cracking comically, “any Dad would cry!”

“You’re not a dad!”

“Hey, that’s debateable,” Geoff replied, giving Gavin and Ray a pointed look, Michael watched as Ryan shrugged and leaned back.

“Fair point.”

Ryan glanced at him, motioning for him to wipe his tears, “Don’t be ashamed of crying, dude.”

The next moment the bell for next classes was echoing around the small space, crawling under the door and setting Michael into a panic again.

He moved to grab the bandage from the floor, intending to wind them back around his chest no matter the consequences, but a hand on his arm stopped him. The fabric was taken from his reach and passed to Gavin who tucked it into his bag.

"You can't put that back on," Ryan said firmly.

"You don't understand," Michael panted, his breath starting to hitch at the prospect of going out into the school halls with his disgusting shape on show for anyone to see. Or the idea that he may have to fight these guys in order to get his chest wrapped, "I can't go out there like this."

He crossed his arms over his chest, cringing at the fleshy lumps beneath his shirt.

"Let me have the bandages," he begged Gavin.

"And let you suffocate? No way man, sorry."

Ray moved from one foot to the other, looking contemplative. "wait here," he said before darting out of the room.

Michael watched him go and stood in uncomfortable silence as he listened to the hurrying footsteps of students outside rushing to make their classes before the late bell. Michael would ideally have liked to be doing the same - starting off in a new place being late for class wasn’t high on his priorities - but without his binding, he didn’t want to be seen.

Luckily he didn’t have to wait long before Ray crashed through the door, shutting it quickly behind him and panting as if he’d run a marathon.

“Hey so I’m sure I read somewhere on the internet that you can use these?” he crossed the room holding out two identical, black sports bras.

“I got them from Barb and Arryn,” he panted, urging Michael to take them, “don’t worry they’re clean.”

As Michael’s hands closed around the fabric, his stomach dropped,“You told someone?”

Ray scoffed, “Please, we’ve asked for weirder stuff and never explained ourselves,” he said, grinning mischievously, “as long as they get them back eventually, we’ll be fine.”

“Your secrets safe with us,” Ryan assured.

Michael smiled gratefully and hurried into a corner behind two tables. He had to remove his shirt completely to get the bras over his head. They were, surprisingly, quite appropriately sized for him, fitting snuggly and pulling in the flesh on his chest until it was as flat as he would be able to get it. Again, his shirt hid the excess shape.

As Michael edged back over, Gavin was shifting his weight from one foot to the other, “Sorry to cut this short but we need to get to class, I have geometry,” he said quickly.

Geoff scoffed, “since when have you cared about being on time?”

“With Tanner,” Gavin finished and an understanding groan echoed around the room before Ryan was ushering him out of the door.

“Just go, I’m not waiting for you after another detention.”

“Bye Michael! See you again!” The Brit called out as he and Ryan disappeared down the hall. Ryan waved a hand behind him, but said nothing.

“I’m gonna stick around here for a while,” Geoff said, collecting up the cards from the floor where the others had left them, “I haven’t skipped anything yet this week.”

Jack rolled his eyes pointedly, making a this fucking guy gesture with his hands. Michael laughed, glancing at Ray who had slung his bag over his shoulder.

“Where you off to now?” he asked and Michael worked through his brain to try and remember, his schedule was still tucked into his bag in his locker. He would definitely need to fetch that.

“Art,” he recalled, “N-103?”

Ray’s face lit up, “Dude, sweet, that’s with me!” he hooked his arm through Michael’s and started leading him to the door.

“Good luck with your truancy, Geoffrey!” he called over his shoulder.

“Wait!” Geoff barked, jumping forward and spinning Michael around, planting his hands on the boys shoulders firmly.

“Gavin’s not giving you the bandage back, you know that right?” Michael nodded, sighing.

“I shouldn’t have used it in the first place, I just...couldn’t find my...binder,” he wasn’t quite sure why saying that word to another person was so hard, especially someone he just met and had been nothing but happy for him. Either way the word came out bitter on his tongue.

Geoff dismissed the reaction, relief showing in his eyes, “oh good, you do have something professional then. What you did today...you shouldn’t have to do that.”

“I won’t do it again,”

“Good because I’ll be making sure, I hope we get to see a lot more of you, Michael.” Geoff said sincerely, behind him Jack nodded in agreement.

“Well you’ll be seeing less of him if he gets detention, there’s only so much leeway he can get for being with me.” Ray urged, tugging him back towards the hallway.

Michael followed behind obediently, his shoulders feeling incredibly light all of a sudden.