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Sometimes I think he did it because he could get away with it...and sometimes I think he did it because he felt he had no other choice.

Stan would bring his girlfriend around the bowling alley I got stuck working a. The South Park High school poster couple waltzing in for their Friday night dates while I polished the counter or did whatever daunting, brainless task assigned to me. Clean the bathroom, mop the floors, fix the soda machine. All for minimum wage. As if watching the redneck citizens of Southpark come in and out on the daily wasn't annoying enough, I had to clean up after them for practically nothing.

On top of that Stan just had to come in on Fridays. Every single Friday. The day I could never get off. And he had to bring his girlfriend. I recognized their heads of black hair instantly, my peripheral vision trained to spot them whenever they entered. The electronic beep of the door would go off as someone entered and if it was them I'd know immediately.

She always hung off his arm like a damn accessory, Wendy. Stan's hand would be in his jacket pocket and she'd have her arm linked through his, her body pressed up alongside him. It was like they were joined at the hip. I wasn't clingy like that, there was no need for her to be. Stan gave her all the attention she needed and more.

I never looked at him directly when he was with her...but he always looked at me. Every single time, like everything was fine. Like I wasn't working my ass off in a ratty bowling alley having to watch my boyfriend tote around some honor roll floozy. .Friday.

"Hey Pete" He'd greet me, smiling with all his teeth. The pearly whites his parents paid for in full years ago while mine couldn't even bother to make sure I was even alive half the time. "How's it going?"

"Could be better" I told him bluntly.

Because it was true. Things could've been a lot better. Things could be immensely easier on the both of us if he'd just ditch the broad he had glued to him. The one he knew I could not stand with every fiber of my being. The one who had no idea her boyfriend was actually supposed to be just mine...that he didn't fit in to the stereotype box he oh so strived to construct around himself.

The highschool Jock.

Captain of the football team, star player and all around liked guy. He was handsome with large blue eyes that could melt just about anybody. His smile was radiant as was his reputation. Everyone liked him, the school loved him . He could make friends with idle conversation he was so charismatic. He had it all. Reputation, talent, family, even the valedictorian girlfriend. He had everything

Even secrets.

He was Gay...and didn't want anyone else to know. Hence his goddamn tag along. Behind that masculine fascade of lady killer was a young man who'd spent months before football season in my room after school, "studying". That was is excuse to his little jock friends when they asked why he was hanging with the 'queer emo kid'. Fucking ignorant assholes thought they knew everything.

"I'm sorry to hear that, Man." Stan told me, vibrant smile waning just enough to convey sympathy although he already knew what had my ass in a pinch. "Think we can get a round?"

"You two? Sure. Wouldn't be a Friday if you didn't." I answered him monotonely, punching in the buttons on the register. Didn't even have to tell him the price since he'd gone bowling so many times, he already had the cash ready. "Lane twelve."

Taking the money for the round and shoe rental, I put it in the register and let it shut with an aggravated swat as him and Wendy grabbed their shoes from the cubicles around the corner. He heard the register all but slam shut, and as a result he knew I was not happy. Not a peep from him came from around the corner though, not until Wendy ran ahead of him to get to the lane they'd been assigned.

"Come on, Stan!"

" Coming..."

He crept out from behind the corner and I caught him doing his damned best not to make eye contact with me. But when he nervously peeked over, he caught my eyes and flinched. I pursed my lips sourly, sucking my teeth inside my mouth. I shifted my eyes over towards Wendy where she happily trotted over to the bowling lanes and shook my head.

"I'm sorry." He mouthed, walking by.

"Fuck you."

Just as always he gave up and carried on, knowing I wouldn't entertain any half ass apologies. Redundant fucking words that literally meant nothing. When Stan made his way over to Wendy she was already punching in their names for the score board and Stan took a seat next to her, wrapping his arm around her just as she liked.

"Fucking asshole"

I'd already had enough and they just got there. Fifteen minutes later and I couldn't take it. Luckily for me, the annoying ass ball of sunshine I had for a co-worker came waltzing in from the backroom. Shoving the keys to the register in his hand, I gave him a brief explanation that I was stepping out.

"Here, I'm going out for a smoke."

Through the back door I went after mycoworker just barely managed to get a hold of the keys I shoved upon him without warning. He dropped them after a brief fumble before bending over to pick them back up.

"Oh hamburgers..." he mumbled, picking them up before taking my post.

Outside by the dumpster I took my usual place. Leaning up against the building I fished in my pocket for a pack of ciggarettes and flipped open the lid before pulling one out. With the stick between my lips I brought my rusty old lighter up to the end of it, lighting it with a deep inhale.

The taste of tobacco was awful, but I loved it. It was familiar and I could always count on it being the same everytime I wanted it. Everytime. Sucking down drag after drag, I took a moment to pause. With my bud held down by my side, the smoke wafted up as I looked to the sky. Clouds rolled in over the darkening sky and I watched, just lost in thought.

"Didn't think you were one to day dream."

"Mm"

I hummed in response to my apparent guest. Looking down from the sky I was faced with a pair of khol circled eyes, heavy curly black hair set over them. Michael sidled up next to me and the door leading back in to the bowling alley shut closed. Leaning on the wall with me, he looked down.

"Your roots are showing again"

"Yeah?" I responded plainly, handing him over the cigarette.

"Yeah."

He took a drag and I rolled my eyes. I was annoyed, for more reasons than one.

"I'm not exactly concerned with keeping up with my roots. What do I look like? Some Barbie school slut? "

"No. But you look pissed."

"What else is new?"

I shook my head in aggravation and Michael handed me back my cigarette. Michael rubbed down the red cowlicks at the crown of my head, looking over choppy grown-out roots. His bony fingers lingered before I handed him back the cigarette.

"Henrietta wants to know how you're doing, Pete."

"She has a phone, doesn't she?"

"It's not like you answer it."

"I feel that should convey a message of sorts."

Flicking ashes to the ground Michael scoffed. He went silent again befores speaking up. His gravely voice was low, monotone. He looked past his big nose at the graffiti painted on the parallel wall of the building across the back alley.

"Her and Georgie miss you, you know."

"Mm."

Silence took over again. I'd lost my motivation to talk monthes prior and my friends dealt with it. Still they reached out for me and I just drifted through my existence. Not caring to interact with people past what was needed, my life consisted of school, work and Stan. Stan wasn't around much though, obviously. Thanks to football season he was either at practice or with Wendy, leaving massive gaps of time for me to be by myself.

Michael showed up often, filling those gaps. No matter how withdrawn I was. I never outright pushed him away, I was used to him. Just like the taste of a cigarette, he was always there. Consistant and unwavering. 'Friend' wasn't a word I used really, because people were so fickle. But Michael was the best one I had, even by our standards.

Back and forth we smoked, ignoring his last statement. I knew what he wanted. And he knew how I felt about it. Still, he always brought it up. He never outright bad talked Stan but he made no secret that he hated him. Quite often I was faced with those brown eyes of his watching me, waiting for me to accept the reality I was faced with.

Waiting for me to replace Stan.

As he handed me the cigarette, I was faced with those brown eyes again. And the taste of tobacco with another reliable drag.

"I need to go back in soon."

"He's in there with Wendy."

"I know."

Michael wasn't one to give up.

"Want to come over after your shift?" He offered. "I can wait for you."

"I don't get off for hours. Have a long shift"

"I said I can wait for you."

I shook my head at him, filling my lungs again. The smoke came out my nose and took another drag before sighing. The long night ahead of me was going to drain me, I already knew it. Fridays, I fucking hated them.

"I'm tired."

"I'll go get you a coffee."

I handed off the cigarette to him and he took it, holding it between his index and middle finger. But he didn't smoke it. He stared at me and I stared back, blinking apathetically at him. In truth I wasn't feeling apathetic at all. I was pissed. Michael knew deep down I wanted nothing more to just walk away from the bowling alley with him. Walk away from Stan.

"I'll go get you a coffee" he repeated to me, reassuring me without blatantly doing so. "You're not scheduled to close today, are you?"

"Nope. Just stuck here till nine."

"Alright."

After a drag the ciggarette was back to me. Ready to take my final drag for the night, I brought it towards my lips waiting for that familiar taste I could count on. Michael came in close and I breathed the smoke out over his face. He took the little bud left and flicked it aside.

"That conformist is garbage." He told me, snuffing out the bud with his heavy black boot. "You're better off throwing him away in that fucking dumpster."

Watching him closely, I waited for him to do something. And was surprised when he actually did.

He kissed me.

"Michael-"

"I'll be back."

He walked awaythen without another word. His trenchcoat disspaeared around the corner, his boots scuffing the alley pavement. He was just a big pillar of black sulking off, but it was what I was used to. Out of my line of sight, I was left with the dumpster.

"Ugh."

After looking down at my ugly ass uniform, splotched with bright tacky colors, I went back inside. Then upon entering, the door almost hit someone. My dumb co-worker stood there, rubbing his knuckles together after he recoiled from nearly getting whacked.

"Pete, the manager doesn't like it when customers go through the back. Your friend could get you in trouble."

"Whatever. Just give me the register keys, I'm done with my smoke break."

"Okay...here ya go..."

Keys back in my possession, I stalked back to the front counter with him behind me. Before he could follow me behind the counter, our boss called out for him.

"Butters! Spill clean up, hop to it!"

"Right away, Sir!"

Obiediant Butters went off to clean up some dumbass's spill and I grit my teeth. Right in my line of view was Wendy and Stan. She hit a winning strike and hopped up and down, barreling herself in to Stan for a hug. Without even hesitating, he leaned down to kiss her. She proposed another anound and he went off to fufill her request.

Except Butters wasn't the one at the register anymore. He hadn't known that. With full trepedation after his little display, he came over. Another round paid for and I sent him off with another sour scowl. He didn't say anything at first. Then he gathered the nerve to try.

"Pete don't look at me like that, you know-"

"Sir, keep the line moving."

"...There's noone behind me-"

"Bye."

Defeated he walked away. He tried making eye contact with me various times, looking for sympathy. It didn't work. Not at all. By the time Michael came back with my coffee I was fucking aggravated. He handed it to me and I took a sip, burning myself but not caring. I gulped down another scalding, black and bitter mouthful from the styrofoam cup and Michael reflexively looked over to where Stan and Wendy were.

"Your boss won't care if I sit at the counter until nine, right?"

"So long as you buy something." I answered, knowing he really didn't give a rat's ass about what my boss wanted. "It's not like we're busy. Who goes bowling on a Friday night?"

"The rest of the football team's at Bebe's, so I heard. Some stupid party. Guess your boyfriend had better things to do."

The crappy kitchen we did have at the bowling alley served the typical junk food you could find at any attraction. Michael ordered French fries. He reached for his wallet but I shook my head. Making sure my boss wasn't in sight, I opened and shut the register to keep up appearances before sending the order to the kitchen.

Soon after an order of fries was rung up at the kitchen window and I got it for him. At the front counter Michael took a seat on one of the worn, tacky red leather stools to eat. Looking over to Stan again, he followed my gaze. Neither of us were impressed.

Xxxx

"Pete. Take out the garbage before you leave. You're free to clock out now."

The manager gave me my final task while passing on permission to leave. Nodding, I gave him the keys to the register before going to gather the garbage bags. After pulling the black bags from the barrel and replacing them, I dragged them out to the back. Michael followed me out.

"Enough of this shit" I grunted, hoisting the bags in to the dumpster. "I'm free to go."

"You're coming over, right?"

Before I could answer, the back door opened. From it came Stan, breathing heavily as if he'd ran. He stopped on a dime, looking to me.

"Pete-" He began before spotting Michael. "Oh...Hey, Michael."

Michael didn't respond. Stan knew his place with Michael and didn't bother trying further. The beloved star player whom so loved showing off for a crowd quickly shrunk under Michael's eyes. With an audience, he suddenly lost his nerve.

"If only all the garbage took itself out to the dumpster." Michael told me, still staring down Stan with those dark eyes he hated. "Your stupid job would be so much easier."

I almost snorted in dry humor at his remark. He wasn't wrong.

"Your girlfriend's waiting for you inside" Michael told him, effectively drawing a cringe from a mute Stan. "Go bother her."

"Um...I wanted to talk to Pete."

I was fully capable of speaking for myself but I stood by and let Michael go on. It was easier, letting him curb Stan's bullshit. He'd never done it before but I wasn't unwelcome to it. It was luxerious, almost. Letting Michael do the dirty work and to his own delight. If you could call it that, his bitter resentment.

"Fuck off, Marsh." Michael dismissed him. "You overglorified nobody."

"Do you know who you're talking to?"

"I really couldn't care less about your social status, Ken doll. You're a highschool football captain, so what?"

Stan glared, Michael having stabbed him right where it hurt. Little did Michael really know, it was a double hit. Unable to retort, Stan was silent. Michael wasn't.

"What, you going to kick my ass? No? Go back to your woman, Retard."

Without giving Stan the opportunity to retort back, Michael began walking away. With a bored look to Stan, I followed. My sleeve was grabbed and I yanked it away, following Michael. Literally leaving Stan to stand alone, mouth agape. Satisfied, Michael led me away.

"You can't hate me for this. It's not fair."

I stopped in my tracks as Stan called out what was supposed to be some reasoning reach for understanding. As if I were supposed to emphasize with him for being an asshole. I could have walked away, but I didn't. Ahead of me stood Michael, looking over his shoulder. He flicked his eyes over to Stan, then back to me.

Turning around to face Stan, I took a second to debate how to respond. I began approaching him and he visably stiffened, panicing as I slowly closed in. He didn't think it through, unsurprisingly.

"Pete, you know I'm sorry."

Still closing in, I said nothing. Stan grew nervous as I came to stand right in front of him. Looking straight at him, I stared him down with the sour scowl he hated so much. He was adamant to defend himself.

"I'm doing all I can. You know I'm sorry" he insisted.

Silence filled the space between us and he watched me with those big blue eyes, expecting me to cave. Looking away, I took a deep breath through my nose. I nodded in bitter humor, feeling almost amused with him. Just almost. If I weren't so fucking pissed on top of being tired, I may have been amused at just how dumb he was.

"You know what I know, Stan? That you're a fucking asshole. You're an asshole and I can't stand you."

Stan opened his mouth to talk but I interjected, too tired both mentally and phsyically to hear his voice just yet.

"You're pathetic. You truly are pathetic"

It took a moment for him to recover from the blow but when he did, he was mad. Retaliating, he tried grabbing me to pull me close against his better judgment. He knew not to touch me like that. With the second strike, I yanked myself away from him, keeping my distance with a wordless warning. He didn't try to grab me again, but he clenched his fingers in frustration. I could already hear the words about to come from his mouth.

"What do you want me to do!? You think the state is gonna fund some fag a sport's scholarship?"

And there it was. His little sob story.

"What? Do you think I'm going to forgive you?"

"I'm not asking for forgiveness, I'm asking for a little slack."

"Well you should have thought of that before showing up every fucking Friday to sabotage my peace of mind, asshole."

Stan was caught at a loss for words, wetting his lips as he looked away to the ground. He ran his fingers through his hair. Clenching at the roots, those naturally black roots. I waited for him to walk away, but he didn't. I wasn't impressed with his stubbornness, I was just tired.

"How else am I supposed to see you?" He argued, defeated. No longer caring that Michael was audience to our one sided spat. "You're here every Friday so I-"

"You show up with your dumb broad." Michael snapped.

Michael encouraged me to walk away, just as sick of Stan as I was. He, of course, had his own bias on top of my own. But Looking at Stan's face, I was hit with disgust. He would sit there and argue his excuses all night if I let him.

I just didn't have the patience or energy anymore.

"Bye Stan" I told him bluntly in dismissal, ready to follow Michael.

Stan reached for me again, effectively earning him his third strike. I shoved him away with a huff, his hands leaving hot imprints on my skin, invisable to everyone but me. I clammed up, the hairs on the nape of my neck standing.

"You know better, don't fucking touch me like that."

"I know, I'm sorry. Just- just, don't go. I want you around! " he pleaded, fighting the urge to reach for me again. "I barely see you!"

"And who's fault is that, Mr. 'All Star Scholarship'?"

Nodding my head, I gestured for Michael to lead the way out as he lit a cigarette behind me. With my shoulders back and my spine rigid, I stalked away behind Michael. He handed back the lit bud and I took it, sucking in the bitter tobacco with a vengeance. Stan knew there was no way he would reel me back, keep me from going. Lost, he called out after me.

"At least come to the game tomorrow!"

"Fuck off."

I was sick of being put after his reputation. I was repulsed being put after his repuation and Wendy on top of that. He didn't need to drag them both to my job and display it where I couldn't escape. It hurt, and I hated to admit it. It tore me up inside.

Sometimes I think he did it because he could get away with it...and sometimes I think he did it because he felt he had no other choice.

My anger aside, I knew his choices were limited. Playing meant alot to him, more than I did. As much as I liked to blame him for that I knew he couldn't help it. He made his effort to see me, with what little choices he had. But it wasn't enough. Stan wasn't consistent, he never was. And I needed consistency. More than anything.

And only two things in my life were consistent. One was held between my fingertips.

The other walked right ahead of me.

xxxx

Chapter Text

AUTHOR'S NOTE: This story was originally meant to be just a one shot. But,I felt inspired. Thanks for reading!

Xxxxx

Saturdays were never particularly spectacular. For me, at least. Well, that's not entirely true. They were great before football season started. As if I were trying to hold on to some sliver of my time spent with Stan, I sat under the bleachers during his big game.

Mr. Football star wasn't at his best. He couldn't focus, and Coach was losing his patience. Stan was tackled to the ground and didn't make an immediate effort to get up. Flicking cigarette ashes aside, I rolled my eyes.

I should've been happy he was tanking. But, I wasn't. I wanted to go out there and shake him by the shirt, tell him to get his shit together. Whack him upside the head a few times because damn it, that helmet would protect him, anyways.

He gave up so much to have that fucking sport. Why was he lying there like a sack of shit?

"Stan!" His dumb ass dad called out from the bleacher right above me.

Looking up, I could see Randy through the steps of the bleachers. He wasn't drunk and causing a scene. That's how much he valued Stan's sports career.

"Pull yourself together! You've got this, Stan!"

Peering back out, I watched Stan still lying there. At that point, people began to worry he was hurt. He'd been tackled pretty hard. Would've helped had he been paying attention.

"Come on, you big retard..." I muttered to myself. "Get up."

By some miraculous means, Stan lifted his head. He turned to look at his Dad who was rooting for him on the sidelines, but he spotted my mess of red and black hair. There I was, huddled up in nothing but a pair of black skinny jeans and an old band-hoodie.

Cigarette smoke wafted over my head like some eerie halo. Literally no one noticed me, but Stan was staring at me like some mirage in the distance. As if everything around him were dry dessert. All he could see was my scowling face.

The relief that swept through him was enough to lift him up off the ground. Despite myself, I felt relieved too. He was such an idiot. I hated him so much.

"Marsh is fine! Up and at 'em. Go Cows!" The announcer bellowed out, rousing a cheer from the crowd.

Inside my pocket, I felt the buzz of my phone. Maybe Michael felt it, my heart aching for that idiot under the helmet. I didn't care. I had to see him. He was mine, Wendy could shove my boot up her cunt.

In better spirits, Stan managed to win the game. Sweaty and exhausted, he took off his helmet. His teammates all swarmed him, celebrating their big win. Like a swarm of rats emerging from the sewer, they swept him away to the locker room in a frenzy.

The field cleared, lights going out. So, I went home.

Xxxxx

My parents were fighting when I got home a couple of hours later being I walked. Dad had a mess of beer bottles scattered on the living room floor, having a screaming match with Mom over some side bitch he was talking to. I walked past them to the kitchen and neither of them even noticed me.

"Welcome home." I bit out sarcastically, under my breath.

I went and got a pop-tart from the cabinet, going back past my parents. Again. They didn't notice me. Again. Even as I stomped my boots on the staircase.

Unwrapping the cheap breakfast pastry, I broke off a corner and popped it in my mouth. Sitting in bed, I kicked off my boots. With nothing but the dim light from my bedside lamp, I looked around my room.

The old bean bag chair in the corner used to be placed under the window ledge. Stan would sneak in some school nights. The ones where my parents weren't at each other's throats and distracted. Just as it crossed my mind, Stan sent me a text.

"Can I come over?" it read.

A few seconds later he added "Please?"

"Fine" I sent back, not knowing why I even agreed to it.

Stan didn't live very far. About ten minutes passed and I expected to get a text asking to be let in through the front door since it was Saturday. I made it to my second pop-tart, almost inhaling part of it when a hand appeared at my window.

Stan climbed the tree up to my window with a backpack on. He stumbled in, falling to the floor. He was a fairly sturdy dude, but that couldn't have felt too good.

"You moved the bean bag..." He grunted, picking himself up off the floor. "I probably deserve that."

"You said it. Not me."

He could have come in through the front, but whatever. Stan came and sat at the edge of my mattress, next to me. His hair was slightly damp from his shower after the game. He raked his fingers through it, staring down at his sneakers.

"You were at the game." he said, as if he were trying to process what happened.

"Uh-huh." I replied, disinterested.

Taking another bite of my "dinner", I looked around for one of the various half full water bottles in my room. There was one on my bedside table. I accidently knocked it over.

"Shit-"

"Here." Stan leaned down to get it for me.

When he handed it off, his blue eyes were boring in to mine. Then they dipped down.

"That isn't really food." He whispered. "You should eat something else."

As if I didn't know that. Some of us weren't blessed enough to have parents care about what they ate.

"Yeah?" I challenged him.

"You look like you've lost weight."

"Yup."

Stan wasn't getting far with me. Suddenly, he remembered something and opened up his backpack. There was a Tupperware container and a plastic fork. He hesitantly took away what I was eating, replacing it.

"It's Mom's lasagna." He explained, putting my pop-tart aside in its wrapper. "Um, you should probably eat that, instead."

"...You brought this for me?"

"Yeah...like I said, you look thinner. I wasn't sure if you were eating."

I wasn't really eating much. Between the cigarettes, coffee and stress, my appetite was at its weakest. A few bites of whatever and I could get by.

Homemade meals weren't something I often got from my parents. In theory, a Tupperware container with lasagna was the nicest gift I'd ever been given. Not that I'd tell Stan that.

"Thanks." I carefully popped the lid and took a bite.

Seeing me eat put Stan somewhat at ease. The air between was still tense, and awkward. He knew without me having to say it that I still wanted to rip his ass out his throat for his bullshit. Even if I wanted to say it, my mouth was full. Fuck, his Mom's food was good.

Familiar with my room, Stan got the t.v remote. I sat up against the headboard, eating. Stan took his place next to me, kicking off his sneakers. We didn't say much to one another as I ate. He looked over every so often to make sure I was still eating,

Our night before at the bowling alley must have weighed heavily on him because he scratched at his jeans nervously. It was that guilty kind of fidget, like he didn't know what to say but he didn't feel right being quiet, either.

"Pete..."

"Stan." I said back, flat.

"..."

I made eye contact with him, giving him the chance to try again. He didn't deserve it. But...

"It means a lot to me that you were there, tonight."

"I'm sure."

"...can I ask why you showed up?"

Finished with my food, I put the lid back on the container. The container was empty and my stomach was full. I saw the brief flash of joy in those blue eyes of his.

"Does it matter, Stan?" I sighed, a little tired of the constant run around with him.

I could feel him staring at me, waiting for some confirmation that I still had feelings for him. They were there, but a lot of it was resentment. It must have radiated off me.

"Pete?" he carefully rested a hand on my shoulder.

"That's me." I deadpanned,

"...c'mon, please?"

I glanced back at him from over my shoulder, starting to get actively annoyed with his presence. Still, I didn't want to see him go.

"Football means a lot to you."

"Of course."

"Well, there you go."

Stan leaned in towards me when I looked away. His lips were on the back of my neck, kissing above my choker. It was a deep violet ribbon-like material. Some delicate piece with a black, broken heart charm on the front.

"This is the one I bought you." He observed. "You wear it, a lot."

"Don't let it go to your head."

"It looks cute on you. Not that I don't like the studded, leather one you have."

I should have shoved him away, but his lips were warm in a way Michael's weren't. When Stan kissed me...a little part of me felt like everything could be okay. Michael kissed me and I couldn't say the same. It was fucked up, really.

"Still like me, a little?" Stan whispered in to my skin, lighting running the tip of his finger over the accessory wrapped around my neck. "You were so mad at me yesterday."

"You deserved it."

"I know."

He couldn't conjure an argument in his defense. There was nothing he could say that would have eased my anger with him the day before. Embracing me from behind, Stan gently rested his chin down on my shoulder.

"I love you, Pete."

"Why should I believe you?"

"Because it's true. I promise."

My parents never told me they loved me. I was some accident they chose to keep. They didn't hate me, they hated each other. But, in the middle of all that they forgot there was another living, breathing thing walking around. I suffered a lot because of that.

"Do you love me?"

"Don't ask me that." I almost snapped. "Stupid fucking question."

"Just once, I'd like to hear you say it."

No matter what he did, Stan could never coax the words out of me. There was nothing he'd done to earn them. I wasn't going to open myself up to harm. More than I already had.

Yet, I didn't put up much of a fight as Stan pulled me in. His lips were on mine, and he was laying me out over the sheets. My parents could faintly be heard bickering through the floor. Like he was trying to protect me from it, Stan held me by the waist and brought me flush against him.

The front of our bodies were pressed so close. If I focused hard enough, I could almost feel his heart beating. Could he feel mine? Did he care enough to try?

"I'm breaking up with Wendy."

Evidently, yes. He did.

"This what you want?" I asked, evenly. "Or, is this guilt?"

I couldn't sound hopeful. I couldn't be hopeful. It would hurt more in the end.

"Would you be mad at me if I said both?" Meekly, Stan brushed some of my bangs aside with a curled knuckle.

"I've been mad at you a while now."

"I don't want you mad at me."

Stan crawled his way on top of me, careful not to press all his body weight down on me. I must have looked frail to him as of late. He never hesitated to crush me under him, before. It was my favorite feeling. Scowling a little, I tugged him down all the way.

"I'm not broken." I hissed at him a little.

"I want to keep it that way." Stan promised, but didn't move off me.

He couldn't, I wouldn't let him. Holding him by the shoulders, I opened my legs so he could comfortably rest between them. Stan kissed my jawline, pleasantly surprised when I tilted my head up, exposing the creamy, white skin of my throat.

His kisses trailed down to taste that skin he hardly saw. The skin no one else saw. Bravely, Stan unclipped the small silver clasp holding my choker closed. He set the broken heart on the bedside table, staring at my neck with pity.

The noose that once hung me from the ceiling fan a year prior, it left a rope burn that never fully disappeared. My skin was so delicate and pale, it didn't take much to mark it. The scar was faint, but it was obvious what it was.

My leather choker irritated the scar if I wore it too long, making the scar all the more visible. The ribbon one Stan gave me was softer to the touch. It was gentler on the scar tissue. That wasn't why I wore it.

Stan knew not to dwell on the blemish. He twined his fingers in my choppy hair, layering his mouth over mine. In turn, I buried my fingers in his hair. His beautiful, naturally black hair. He really did have everything. Including me.

"Pete...I love you." He murmured against my lips.

"Shut up."

Slipping my hands up under his shirt, I tugged at it insistently, urging him to take it off. Stan reared up on his knees to give me what I wanted. Getting me out of my hoodie, Stan tossed it to lie with his shirt. His chiseled body was so warm, shielding me from the cold Autumn air leaking in from outside.

Around us smelled like Halloween. That cool, crisp air. Dried leaves that fell from the trees. And, the spicy incense burner sitting on my desk. They were my favorite smells, but not then. Stan's stupid conformist bodywash smelled better.

Like every other jock, Stan used whatever masculine soap was popular. And, body spray that came in the can. I always gagged when I smelled it on others in the hallway at school. On him, I wanted to breathe it in all night. Meanwhile, I smelled like old cigarettes and clove.

"I want you." Stan breathed outside my ear, rolling his hips against mine.

He set the rhythm with that strong pelvis. My legs curled around him, clutching him so he'd stay there forever. Blue denim rubbed against black, creating friction worthy of hellfire. The spark was there, engulfing us in fire that burned us up from the inside.

I don't know when it started, but I was shaking. It was so cold, the window was open. Like the retard Stan was, he forgot to close it after he fell inside. But, I felt so warm. My pierced nipples touched Stan's chest and he reached a hand between us to twist one.

It didn't take long until I was desperate to have him. I wanted to be as physically close to him as I possibly could. It was the one thing Stan could give me that Wendy didn't get. Her declaration of abstinence made him all mine in that field. She couldn't please him the way I could.

And, I always pleased him.

To be safe, Stan got up to lock the bedroom door. Realizing his error earlier, he closed the window. He came back to me, rubbing down the goosebumps on my arms apologetically. While I wiggled my way out of my pants, Stan went in my beside table, fishing around for the bottle of lotion in there.

I reached for the front of his jeans, but Stan stopped me and set the lotion aside. Working his way down my body, he peeled off my black briefs. He kissed the flat expanse of my abdomen, all the while creeping his mouth closer to my throbbing need for him.

Taking my cock by the base, he slid his mouth over it. My hips arched up reflexively in to the warm, wet heat on my arousal. His hands came to rest along my lithe hips. I took shuddering breaths, squirming as he sucked me.

"S-Stan...fuck..." Close to a whimper, I writhed under him.

Why did he have to do that? Turn me in to this weak, lustful little bitch I didn't recognize as myself. I couldn't think straight. Maybe it was for the best.

xxxxx

"Hey, Dude. Did you do the math homework?"

In the cafeteria on Monday, Stan's friends were sitting at a table together. Kenny copied the Jewish kid's homework. Pretty sure his name was Kyle. He was Stan's best friend since childhood, or whatever. Stan, himself, hadn't shown up yet.

Spinning the cap off my thermos, I took a sip of coffee. Only reason I was even in the claustrophobic room with a bunch of ass hats was because the backsteps I normally sat on were being painted. Michael, Henrietta and Georgie had to be in the Library. But, where was Stan?

"Where you been, Man?" Clyde called out when Stan, himself, finally showed up.

From the rim of my thermos, I looked over at their table.

"I had stuff to do..." Stan explained, vaguely and without must enthusiasm.

Clyde was also on the football team. The guy was kind of an airhead, but had self-esteem that wasn't almost bullet proof. Jock Syndrome at its most severe.

"The hell did you have to do that was more important than lunch?" Clyde scoffed, unwrapping a burger.

Stan shrugged it off, refusing to look at anyone as he opened up his bag for a sandwich. He took a bite, getting a mouthful of PB and J, and an eyeful of me sitting two tables away. By myself, with a thermos and notebook.

He wanted to come sit with me, I could see it. Stan wasn't quite that brazen, yet. There was nothing he could tell his friends that would make it look natural. He had no reason to talk to me at school, at least not in the eyes of his friends.

So, he settled for sending me a text asking to see me after school. I waited for him outside in the parking lot, far away from his car. I sat under a tree, minutes ticking by until I came to realize he was late.

Stan left the school kind of in a daze. Looking down at his phone to presumably text me, he went to his car and got in. I got the text to meet up with him. The coast was clear.

"Hey." I greeted him, getting in the passenger side.

"Sorry about the wait." he apologized as I put my bag on the floor and buckled in.

"Not that it matters, but what took you so long?"

Putting the key in the ignition, Stan put the car in reverse, backing out of his parking space. His little team trinket hung from the mirror, dangling back and forth.

"I did it."

"...did what?"

"Pete." his voice dropped a notch.

Understanding, I nodded. Looking out the window, I asked when he did it.

"I told Wendy before lunch that I wanted to talk to her about something when she had the time this weekend...I guess she stewed on it all day." Stan explained, a little perturbed by whatever happened. "She confronted me at my locker. She wanted to know, now... She wasn't going to let me go until I told her."

"And?" I pressed for more.

"I didn't have a choice. I just told her it was over."

I almost rolled my eyes.

"You had a choice, Stan." I corrected. "For once, you made the right one."

It wasn't meant to be a compliment. I said it with such dry execution that had Stan not known me better, he would have thought I was mad. I was glad he finally broke it off with her. It was about time.

xxxxxx

Chapter Text

AUTHOR'S NOTE: Hey, guys! Feedback is always much appreciated. I'm planning on turning this in to a full fic depending on how the new chapters go over with you guys. Thanks for reading!

Xxxxx

Driving out of the school's parking lot, the reality of what Stan did began setting in. He'd really done it-he broke up with Wendy. He was all mine...even if it was a secret.

How was this going to go?

"I was thinking we could go to my house, today." Stan suggested, pulling me from my cynical thoughts. "Sound good?"

"...Your house?"

We'd never done that before. I was actually shocked even suggested it. He wanted to bring me to his house?

"You feeling okay?"

"Me?" Stan questioned me back, equally perplexed. "Yeah, Dude. Why?"

"Why? You just invited me to your house."

Caught between being confused and disappointed, Stans lips moved to speak but the gears in his head were still turning. It took him a few moments to realize how out of place the offer was. Me, at his house? Didn't think I'd ever see the day.

"Do you not want to go?" Stan moped a little.

"I'll go. Can't be any worse than my house."

Driving through town, we passed the bowling alley. Which, thank fucking God if he even existed, that I wouldn't be working that day. Pulling up to Stan's house, I eyed the cheerful looking structure without much emotion.

It looked just how you'd think some happy jock's house would. Two garages, a grassy front lawn. Classic white picket fence and some decorated mailbox that I'm sure his mom painted or bought at an art fair. They had lawn ornaments and a windchime hanging.

"This should be interesting." Popping the passenger side door open, I hefted my backpack up. "Your parents are gonna wonder why the fuck you're hanging out with me."

"Eh, Mom will probably like you. You're quiet. Half my other friends act retarded."

"Act? Stan, your friends are freaking retarded."

Pulling out his keys, Stan opened up the front door and let me in. Right when we got inside, something ambushed him. At his shins was a pudgy dog standing on its back legs, panting in excitement.

"Sup, Sparky?" Stan rubbed the dog's head affectionately. "Have a good day?"

The lump of a pet dropped back down on all fours going to lie down on the floor. At the bottom of the stairs, Stan called up for his mom. He didn't get an answer so he tried the kitchen, still no answer.

"Dad's at work. Don't know where Mom is." Stan scratched his head. "She's probably running errands or something. Or at her hairdresser, or something? I don't know."

"Should I go?"

"Nah. Mom doesn't care if I have people over so long as we stay out of trouble."

Following Stan upstairs to his room, I raised a brow at the back of his head and requested he define his mother's standard for "trouble". Other than having to steer clear from drugs and alcohol to avoid jeopardizing his place on the football team, Stan didn't have too many restrictions that I knew of.

"Drugs, alcohol, strippers, murder, and institutionalized violence of the masses." He listed, amused at his own joke. "You know. That stuff."

"My favorites."

Snorting, Stan walked down the hall just to ensure we were home alone. He knocked on a few doors, getting no replies.

"Yeah, we're alone." He concluded, chuckling to himself. "Time to fuck shit up. What are we starting with?"

"I don't know about you, but I'm doing my homework."

I plunked my backpack down in his room, rifling through it for my English book.

"Really? Your homework?"
"Did you want to start with murder, Stan?" I drawled.

"I was leaning more towards male strippers."

"Of course, you were."

Stan's bedroom was a little bigger than mine. He had a full-sized bed up against the wall with white sheets and a blue comforter. His PlayStation 4 was set up under a decent-sized flat-screen television mounted on the wall.

"You can do your homework on my bed, or use my desk." He pointed to the simple set up in the corner. "Whatever you want."

"I'll sit on your bed. All I'm doing is reading for a quiz tomorrow."

Opting to plunk himself down next to me, Stan laid back and booted up the t.v and console. None of his friends were online so he played something on his own while I flipped through my text book to find the assigned reading.

"Not to be a dick, but since when do goth kids care about homework?"

"It's Senior year. I want out of that hell hole school. I'm not staying any longer than I have to."

Stan nodded along in understanding. We were one year away from having our shackles cut. Last thing I needed was an extension on my sentence. I wanted out quicker than I could get there. Only reason I remotely gave a damn what my grades were.

"What about your homework? Don't you meatheads have to keep good grades?"

"I manage C+'s and B's. C's and up is supposed to be the policy, but it isn't really enforced...half the team's been scraping by with D+ grades. Hammer doesn't come down unless you're flat out flunking."

"Figures. What would South Park High possibly do without their precious cattle? Psh."

I flipped my hair out of my face, looking down at the book set in my lap.

"You're all just livestock being led to the slaughter house. Sports only get you so far. They use you for all they can, then once you're old and past date, that's it."

"Your emo whining turns me on in a weird way."

"I dare you to call me 'emo', again. I'll crush your windpipe. Don't try me."

My snarl didn't faze him much. Wearing a shit-eating grin, Stan's shoulders shook with withheld laughter.

"I don't know..." He kept his eyes focused on the t.v screen, barely getting the words out. "I'm kind of tempted."

"When I get my hands around your neck, you'll regret that."

"Wouldn't mind some of that with your ass sitting on my dick."

Prepared to beat the shit out of him with my text book, I closed the hardcover and braced to swing. Stan caught the movement in the corner of his eye just in time to catch my wrist. He chucked his controller aside, tugging me in.

"Stan, cut the shit-mph!" I resisted only to get Stan's mouth crashing down on mine. "Mmph!"

I struggled to wriggle my way out of his grip. Pressing my palms in to his chest, the resistance was futile. Stan was so much bigger than I was.

Six feet tall and solid in all his glory, he overpowered my slender frame effortlessly. It happened in what felt like the blink of an eye. Pinning me down to the bed with only enough force to keep me there, he held my wrists above my head in his large hands.

As a result of the struggle, I laid there begrudgingly turned on. I couldn't stand being man-handled or rough housed under normal circumstances, but the culprit above me posed no danger. His body was so close to mine...Jesus Christ, why was he so alluring?

In the brief struggle, the hem of my shirt rode up a few inches. Along with the alabaster skin of my belly, Stan soaked in the sight of my frightfully pale complexion flush with color.

"G-Get the fuck off of me!" I demanded. "Fucking douche bag."

"Your dick's hard..." Shamelessly content with the discovery, Stan carefully pressed his knee between my legs to prove it. "Fuck, that's hot."

My heart was beating hard and I was a little out of breath from uselessly fighting him. Stan leaned down, my wrists still firmly in his grasp, blue eyes narrowed mischievously. He looked like a cat who caught a mouse just to play with it. The blood that should have been rushing to my head in rage was all pooling between my legs.

"We're all alone and have the house to ourselves." He felt the need to remind me, "Mm, want to have some fun?"

"Not after you wrestled me down like a fucking hog."

"You liked it."

Pushing his hips against me, I could feel his excitement touch mine. As genuinely nice as Stan was at his core, his macho jock personal still overrode that, at times. He found overpowering me to be deliciously satisfying, especially since my boner fucking validated his advances.

"Let me up." I growled up at that smug face of his. "Stan, I mean it."

"If I don't?"

"Sleep with one eye open and your door locked."

Choosing to ignore my warning, Stan rubbed himself in to me. I bit back a groan at the sensation of his hot crotch grinding mine. I couldn't push him off even if my life depended on it. His teeth bit at my chin, only grazing the skin in a sensual gesture. When he came to kiss my lips, I gave his chin a real nip.

"Oh..." He moaned when I lashed out at him, getting a shiver down his spine. "I'm so hard...Pete, let me fuck you."

"I'm not rewarding bad behavior you spoiled little brat."

"Who the hell are you calling little?"

With the size advantage he had, Stan actually laughed at my choice of words. I was fuming at his arrogance, but it didn't hold as big a punch it would have if I weren't panting with parted lips. I was going to cum in my pants if he didn't stop dry humping me.

"You're so dead when you let go of me." I seethed.

"I'll let go when you cum... then you can do whatever you want to me."

"Don't. You. dare."

Last thing I needed was to soil my underwear in a setting where I couldn't change them. My pants were black and would have easily hidden the issue, but that wasn't the freaking point. Our compromised situation, thankfully, came to a halt as Stan's phone started buzzing.

The choice to answer it passed his mind. It could've been his mother on her way home.

"Go ahead." I goaded him. "Answer it."

Fully aware of the newfound danger he'd brought upon himself, Stan didn't move.

"Promise not to kill me when I let go?" He bargained, which was really a subtle plea.

"This time."

He let go, but kept his eyes on me as he reached for the cell phone in his back pocket.

"Hello?" He answered it, not checking the caller I.D in fear of losing sight of me. "Oh. Hey, Clyde...movies?"

My chance to crawl away was bestowed upon me with Stan on the line with one of his jock buds, but I found myself paying close attention to his conversation.

"It's Monday." Stan told him. "Why is everyone going to the movies on a Monday?"

Great, his friends were inviting him out. That was the end of my time with him.

"...nah, not today. I'm gonna pass."

Or, not.

"I'm preoccupied..." Stan gave as an explanation. "...Yes, it's more important than the movies, Clyde."

Clyde must have asked what Stan was up to because he hesitated.

"Homework." he lied, seeing my abandoned text book sprawled out over the bed covers. "Yeah, another time maybe. Bye."

Hanging up, Stan leaned over me to put his phone on the charger.

"You didn't want to hang out with your moronic friends?" I asked him.

"I see them all the time. You're here, I'm not passing that up."

"..."

Honing back in on me, Stan didn't restrain me again, content with just having me under him. With a gentle puff of air, he blew outside the shell of my ear, toying with the zipper to my hooded sweatshirt. I let him pull it down, suddenly a lot more cooperative.

Xxxxx

Stan wasn't the only one passing up time with his friends that week. I was, too. Without Wendy eating up all Stan's free time outside of school and practice, I was shamefully starved for every opportunity given to have him to myself. Including today.

The final bell for the day rang, the school hallway flooding with bodies passing one another in their hurry to escape the putrid building. Rounding the corner, it felt like I'd walked in to a brick wall. Someone was in such a damn hurry they barreled in to me.

Stumbling from impact, I landed on my ass. My notebook went in one direction and my empty thermos went in another, rolling away.

"Watch where you're fucking going, Conformist asshole." I scowled, picking myself up off the ground.

It was Stan's teammate, Clyde. My notebook landed by his sneakers and he snatched it up before I could get to it.

"This your faggy poetry, or whatever?" He looked the black cover over with belittling smirk. "Writing about your boyfriends and bad dreams?"

"Give it back."

"Make me, Homo."

"Homo? Real original, Jockstrap. Think of that one yourself?"

The hallway was beginning to clear, people walking past us without a second glance to the scene unraveling. No one gave a shit over some outcast getting bullied by the athletes. Wouldn't have been a day at South Park High if some meathead didn't pick on one of us.

For someone in such a hurry, Clyde magically found time to be a pest. In some act of sympathy, the universe sent an intervention. Someone plucked my notebook from Clyde's fingers and handed it back to me.

"Pick on someone your own size, Clyde." Stan shoved his football buddy in to a nearby locker with boisterous grin. "Pussy."

Effectively egging the brunette on, Stan dashed down the hall. Clyde took the bait, bolting after him and leaving me alone. Their whooping and hollering could be heard faintly echoing as they made it to the stairwell, charging towards the first floor.

"Marsh! Get back here, you fucker!" Clyde laughed. "I'll kill you!"

"Have to catch me, first!"

Left alone, I tucked my notebook under my arm and scanned the floor for my thermos. It had rolled a few yards away without suffering any dents, thankfully. It was my favorite one. Stupid jock.

Speaking of stupid jocks: Stan and Clyde were rough housing playfully down by the door leading out to the student parking lot. Keeping my distance, I laid low out of sight. It was like watching two dogs play.

"Alright, alright!" Clyde relented, held in a headlock. "You win."

"What was that? Couldn't hear you."

"I said-"

A glimpse of black and green passed the corner of my eye, drawing my attention away. Great.

"Pete." Mike drawled in his effeminate, airy voice, eyeing me with those red contact lenses he and most of his twilight-humping clique wore. "Hiding from the jocks, are we?"

"What's it to you?"

"Merely an observation, per se..."

The overhanging lights shimmered off his gelled hair; black, layered tufts meticulously styled atop of his hair with colored ends flat ironed down his back. His liquid eyeliner was perfect, like some fashion week barbie slut. Only, I didn't know any who wore as much black eyeshadow as he did.

Looking close enough, I could have sworn the dude was wearing lip gloss. And, he had a light dusting of glitter at the very corner of his eyes.

"You know..." Mike sidled up next to me, quirking a plucked eyebrow. "If I didn't know any better, I'd say you were spying on the jocks."

"The fuck do you know, Mike?"

Shrugging his leather-clad shoulders, the vampire wanna-be blinked his smoky eyes at me. He then looked over my shoulder, lips curling up at the edges.

"Stan." He chimed as said person walked up on us. "Greetings."

"How goes it...Vampir?" Stan second guessed himself. "Or, do you not go by that anymore?"

"It's just Mike, now. But, you can call me Vampir, if you want."

Excusing himself, Mike waved us off over his shoulder.

"Bye, boys."

Mike's leather-studded boots had heeled bottoms. They clicked with his steps, dying off in the distance. Guy wore heels and heavy makeup but the jocks never seemed to bother him or his friends much. Maybe they knew they were outnumbered.

Vamp kids...ugh. They were about as abundant as vermin. Glittery vermin.

"I didn't know you spoke to Mike." Stan commented on the way to the car.

"I don't."

Leaving it at that, I got in the car and told him to drive to the Village Inn diner. I needed some coffee. We got a booth to ourselves and two menus. I didn't bother looking at mine.

"I'm just getting coffee." I announced when Stan looked at me questioningly.

He couldn't convince me otherwise and ordered himself a stack of pancakes to snack on. With a hot mug set in front of me, I brought it up to my mouth. The hot, bitter scald was soothing in its own way. Cathartic was probably the right word.

Stan poured syrup over his buttered pancakes, cutting in to them. One particularly generous bite was held out to me on the tip of his fork.

"I'm not hungry."

Not that I didn't have a sweet tooth, but sugar wasn't what I was going for just then.

"Okay, but hear me out." Stan bargained.

"Uh-huh?" I humored him behind the steam wafting up from my mug.

Stan held the bite a little closer.

"Please?"

"That's your argument?"

"Yes. They're good."

I took the bite to appease him. My teeth had just slid off the metal prongs when I accidently made eye contact with someone across the diner. There, in a booth, was Mike with his own stack of pancakes. The cocky gleam in his fake ruby eyes made me want to punch him in the nose and knock the piercing right out of it.

Unlike normal, Mike wasn't surrounded by his loyal followers. He only had one with him. It was that Vladimir kid that everyone just called Vlad. The purple ends of his black hair reached his shoulders, swishing when he followed Mike's line of sight to me.

Manicured nails painted black, Mike waggled a forkful of pancake at me with a wink. Vlad leaned in to whisper something in his ear and I raised my middle finger off my mug with the next bitter gulp. I didn't think the diner visit could get much worse.

To prove me wrong, Michael walked in with Henrietta and Georgie. Michael wasn't intimidated by Stan, at all. But he strode past our booth, claiming the one right next to ours.

"They have a big booth. Why are you sitting over there?" Georgie, the Freshman in our group, asked.

"Wouldn't want to interrupt their date." Michael bit sarcastically, with a pointed glower at me. "Let Pete enjoy his deluded fantasy."

After my last shift at the bowling alley, Michael's voluntary indifference to Stan had not only worn thin, but completely evaporated. It wasn't Stan's fault that Michael got his hopes high. We weren't over. It stared him in the face worse than ever, now.

"How's it feel to be a Disney princess?" Henrietta mocked me in agreeance with Michael, sliding in to the booth to sit across from him.

"I wouldn't know."

I knew they were only giving me a hard time because they felt betrayed, but that was a two-way street.

"Georgie, come sit next to me." Henrietta beckoned our youngest member in.

Georgie was Henrietta's little spider, returning to her obediently. While he waited for their coffee to arrive, Georgie turned in his seat. Folding his arms out over the back of our booth, he rested his chin down on them, looking at me from under his heavy side-swept fringe.

"Pete, are you coming with us to the cemetery on Halloween?"

"Knowing my manager, I'm probably working."

"That stinks..."

Staying quiet, Stan ate his food, choosing to keep as much attention off himself as possible. He could feel Michael's brown eyes branding the back of his head. To think he could have bleachers spilling over with people to watch him play, but Michael's stare alone was enough to wilt him.

In his defense, there was always something particularly cold about him. Michael was the most jaded of our group. Exactly why he was the leader.

xxxxx

Chapter Text

AUTHOR'S NOTE: Double update, today! Chapters 4 and 5! I hope to hear your thoughts. But, if not, thank you for reading 😊

Also, the song lyrics referenced in this chapter are from Outline in Color's "The Chase Song".

xxxxxx

"Pete, we're running out of orange and purple streamers."

"There's more in the back. Pass me the black for now."

Up on a ladder, I taped decorative strips of paper to the ceiling. Butters scurried off to go get more orange streamers, yelling something about the fake fuzzy spiders and webs that needed to be hung up, too. He was such a short stack and couldn't reach high enough to decorate the ceiling, hence why I was stuck with the brunt of it.

Halloween was that week and the manager demanded we get the place ready. As if the bowling alley was everyone's destination on arguably the most popular holiday. If I had to work it, I don't think it would have been the worst thing. It fell on a Friday this year.

When I finished decorating, the bowling alley looked nice. You know, for a bowling alley. Fake jack-o-lanterns and skulls were set out on counters and tables. There was a cauldron by the register that would be filled with candy when the big day came.

Content with my handiwork, the manager sent me on break that night. The first thing I needed was a smoke. Stan was at practice and Michael was still stewing, so I was by myself. Me and that faithful little cancer stick.

The rest of my break was spent on my phone at an empty table. Some stupid pop song was playing over the speakers overhead. Fishing for my earbuds, I pulled them from my pocket and tuned out the indoctrination everyone foolishly believed was just music.

The screaming coming from my ear buds competed with the screaming inside my own head. Hearing someone else belt their rage out numbed mine just enough to live with it. I couldn't even hear when the chair across me was pulled out, I felt the vibration under my boots.

"Yeah, boss?" I asked, taking an earbud out.

"I'm making the schedule for the week." he put down the spreadsheet, looking it over and analyzing what he had filled so far. "You celebrating Halloween this Friday?"

"...why?"

Tapping with the end of his pen, he showed me Saturday night's empty time slot.

"If you want Friday off, I can give it to you. But, I'll need you here Saturday night instead."

Xxxxx

With my uniform bagged up in one hand, I clocked out. Music played in my ears on my walk home. It was dark with streetlights giving me some sense of direction, offering enough visibility to know where I was going. The shithole town, there was always something falling apart.

As much as I hated it, it made me feel less out of place. If the streetlights had one simple purpose, and were struggling to fulfill it, maybe it gave the rest of us an excuse. God knows we could all use one.

It made our faults more bearable. We were wasting away under this notion that it was all part of the journey. Where was the finish line? Was anyone waiting there with applause? I doubted it.

So, if you're gonna' stay,

then how long would you wait for me?

Before your love begins to fade?

I just can't spend all of my days

in this place,

wasting away.

The road looked like it went on forever in the poor lighting. Sometimes, I convinced myself this mundane walk home was oblivion. The cracks on the sidewalk guided me home, as if they were one with me; the broken pieces I'd dropped on my way to work.

They were divots in the cement, now. And, was South Park's nature, no one would care enough to fill them back in. It was easier to step over them and pretend they weren't there at all.

So, don't forget me when I'm gone.

I promise,

I won't be long.

Maybe carrying all these burdens,

will teach us to be strong.

Will teach us to be strong-

Coming up on the town cemetery, I saw an orange dot amongst the grave stones. It was far out past the gate. Two more orange dots appeared, and gently the smell of tobacco and clove wafted by on the breeze. My instinct was to follow it, but I couldn't bring myself to pass the gate.

If I went, what was the point? Would I be claiming my spot amongst them, or would I be intruding? I didn't want to find out. Lighting my own cigarette, I hoped they could see the lone orange ember wandering astray.

None shall pass!
I will pay for this!
Nailed to a broken dream,

there's no place for me!

No security, crown, or comfort!
Shackled to a bed of thorns.
The water's at your throat,
to get burned when you've been warned!

Xxxxx

Dad was asleep when I got home. He left the t.v on, splayed out on the couch with a beer in his hand. He snored with his mouth agape. I wondered how many times he'd do that before Mom was tempted to jam one of those empty beer bottles down his throat. It would've been too easy.

Upstairs, in her own bedroom, Mom was most likely dead to the world too. She had to sleep for work in the morning. Snoring and some redundant infomercial were the only source of any noise. Passing the source itself, I looked for something to eat in the kitchen.

On the table was a note from Mom saying she was going to go grocery shopping after work the next day. It was her weak attempt to acknowledge I existed. It was more than the sperm donor on the couch did. I didn't care either way, it was kind of late for any effort. If any.

"Canned tuna, instant rice...raisin bran? For the love of-" I shut the cupboard with no interest in what was there.

A box of crackers was by the stove that Mom probably left there when she warmed up a can of soup to go with them. There was a sleeve of crackers left.

"Taking these." I chucked the empty cardboard box in to the Recyling.

Inside the melancholy sanctuary of my room, I threw my bagged uniform on top of my hamper to deal with later. I'd just been ready to tear in to the crinkly plastic of the crackers when I got the text from Michael asking me why I hadn't joined them at the cemetery.

Xxxxxx

The well-meaning teacher I had for English was a man in his forties. Some average Joe without much personality but tried his best to reach us on our level. He called out for attendance and I wrote in my notebook, seated towards the back of the room.

"Pete?" Mr. Stuart called out.

"Faggot-ahem." Clyde coughed under his breath, getting a snicker from his buddies.

Mr. Stuart looked up from his attendance sheet, spotting me raise a hand with disgruntlement.

"Here."

Already tired of First Period that day, I put my head down on my arms. He made it down the list, noting everyone was present. Mr. Stuart liked having a full class.

The only thing worse than a high school teacher who didn't like teaching, was one who liked teaching. Sociopaths. At least I could wrap my head around why someone would hate teaching a bunch of hormonal carcasses.

"I'm going to pass around a worksheet to complete with today's reading." The class was instructed as a whole. "Turn it in before the bell rings. You can work with a partner if you'd like."

The desks in that room were set up so that they were pressed together in pairs. Going around, Mr. Stuart put a worksheet on each desk while everyone who wanted to work in pairs moved around to find their chosen partner.

"Head up, Pete." I heard the dry scrape of paper being placed on my desk. "C'mon, Bud."

In his caring way, Mr. Stuart gave me a brief pat on the shoulder. I raised my head, freezing when I heard someone plunk their weight down in the desk pressed up next to mine.

"I don't recall inviting you over here."

"I need an invitation?"

"Isn't that vampire etiquette, or whatever?"

Making himself comfortable, Mike pulled out a pen for his worksheet.

"You're funny, Pete." He chortled.

Mike was the only one brave enough to brazenly approach me uninvited like that, with the exception of the jocks and my own group. At the front of the room, Mr. Stuart looked his glasses down whilst grading our quizzes from another day. He didn't see the balled-up notebook paper that went flying across the room, hitting me in the side of the head.

"It's going to be one of those days, looks like." I grumbled to myself.

Mike rolled his eyes at Clyde's shenanigans. It was an unspoken empathy. I didn't need it, not from him. Why couldn't he fucking buzz off and sit somewhere else?

We didn't actually work together. I made it clear I didn't want to. Turning my eyes down to read, I didn't see the next projectile coming towards my head.

Swiftly catching it before it could hit me, Mike crammed the paper ball in his bag to throw away later. Clyde turned away, determined to ball up another one. Before he could throw it, a granola bar nailed him square in the face.

Smack!

"Ay, what the fuck!?"

Clyde's outburst drew in everyone's attention. His friends, and the people who had witnessed what happened, covered their mouths trying to hold in their amusement. They all snickered.

Clyde held up the decidedly offensive item, giving Mike a look. With little context, Mr Stuart gathered that someone simply tossed Clyde a granola bar, and not that it had purposely been aimed at his face.

"Clyde, eat your snack and be quiet." Mr. Stuart told him, having only looked up after the fact. "Settle down."

The class erupted in laughter. I bit the inside of my cheek to keep from joining them. The startled look on Clyde's face was priceless. Mike wasn't totally useless.

"Oops~" Mike feigned apologetic ruby eyes with a devilish smirk. "Sorry."

"Little faggot. I'll beat your ass."

"Please, do~"

Mike blew the jock a kiss just to rile him up. Clyde's ears turned pink and he silently seethed, turning his back on us.

"That takes care of that." Getting back on task like nothing had happened, Mike didn't look worried in the least.

Xxxxx

At Lunch, I took my usual place a couple of tables away from Stan's. Clyde was still disgruntled over First Period. He wasn't willing to delve in to why, but Craig who had been there, generously recounted the events.

Just behind their table, Mike was sitting with his clique. Evidently, he came to school with more than one granola bar because there he was, pulling another out of his lunch box. Craig pointed out Mike to clarify who had gotten the best of Clyde.

"Want another one?" Seeing their eyes on him, Mike smirked and held out the granola bar in offering.

"Fuck off, Count Fagula."

Clyde flipped him off and his table got a boisterous laugh at the brunette's expense. His ego was so frail that a fucking granola bar pierced it. With the end of said ammo between his front teeth, Mike was so pleased with himself.

Guy was weird. What the hell prompted him to throw a granola bar? My best guess was it was the only solid thing he had on him at the time that was worth losing. I wasn't going to go thank him or anything, but I was glad someone got under the football monkey's skin.

"Did Mike McKowski seriously nail Clyde Donovan in the face with a granola bar?" Stan asked me later, finding me smoking by the bleachers after his practice.

"Uh-huh." I flicked away some ashes. "He did. Hit the idiot right in the face."

"That all? He's so bothered by it."

Knowing there were details lost in Craig's rendition of that morning's events, I enlightened Stan to the full story.

"First, Mike intercepted a paper ball aimed at my head. That was enough to annoy him. Then, before he could reload, Mike throws a fucking Nature Valley bar at him. Clyde didn't even see it coming."

Stan was roaring with laughter, quickly turning away to spit out a mouthful of Gatorade he'd been drinking.

"Did...did you say a Nature Valley bar?" He wheezed. "Those are hard like bricks!"

"They sure are. To add insult to injury, Mike blew him a kiss. Clyde could've had a stroke. It was great."

Stan couldn't get over Clyde's impromptu snack that morning.

"Holy shit, I can't wait for April Fools Day. I'm filling his locker with Nature Valley bars."

I choked on some smoke, patting my chest with a balled fist. Done with the cigarette, I dropped the bud and crushed it under my boot in the midst of a mild coughing fit.

"You should." I encouraged him. "I'm sure he'd love that."

Getting all his stuff in order, Stan went to pack it up in his trunk. I walked at a distance behind him just to be safe in case any of his team mates were still lingering about.

Stan had his head in his trunk, startled when someone was suddenly glaring at him. Dressed in her cheerleading uniform, the culprit crossed her arms and tapped a foot like some wound up, under-wined housewife.

"...um?" Stan dumbly uttered, caught off guard by the unannounced presence.

Putting her hands on her hips, this barbie clone glared up at Stan as if she had a menacing bone in her anorexic body. She weighed one-hundred pounds at most.

"You broke up with Wendy." The words dripped from her waxy, perfectly lined red lips venomously. "Wendy is the best thing that ever happened to you. What do you think you're doing?"

I wished I had a granola bar to throw just then. Maybe Mike was on to something. Fuck it, were there any bricks around? A rock, maybe?

"I'm not talking to you about this, okay? This isn't your business."

"It so is, ACTUALLY. Wendy is like my bestie and I'm not going to let you break her heart like this!"

"This isn't up for discussion."

Unwilling to give up and take her cue to leave, this cheerleader pointed a finger at Stan and jabbed him in the chest. I imagined it felt like being poked with a stick.

"You replaced her, didn't you?" She accused. "What? Did you find some hussy to give it to you? Is that what this is about? You're a pig."

"Yeah, sure. That's exactly what I did." Stan made an exasperated gesture, dropping full blown sarcasm on her. "I'm just dicking down some hussy ass and that's why I broke up with Wendy. Totally."

There was technically some truth in that which flew over Stan's head in the heat of the moment. Being I was the "hussy" whose ass was getting "dicked down" in place of Wendy, I snorted. The irony was delicious. Stan faintly heard me from behind a car somewhere, almost cracking.

"God, I can't stand you." Wendy's self-appointed guardian huffed, sharply turning and stomping off. "You're so stupid!"

"That's what my 'hussy' tells me ALL the time!"

If there were ever a time I truly had to hold in my human impulses with every bit of will power that I had, it was right then. I held back from laughing, biting my knuckle, crouched behind a faculty member's car.

Xxxxxx

I didn't tell anyone that I had Halloween off from work. Stan was going to be at the school dance, it started in a couple of hours. Michael pissed me off, so I chose not to give him an opportunity to come looking for me.

He couldn't welcome me in, but under the same breath he wasn't willing to let me go. It was Stan all over, again. At least I didn't have feelings for Michael. He was supposed to be my friend.

Trick-or-treaters were out and about, pails and bags in hand looking for candy at doorsteps. I passed too many to count on my way to a chain coffee joint. I hated coughing up more than a dollar for a cup of coffee like Justin and Britney wanna-be's, but I couldn't risk the diner. Everyone could still be there before heading to the cemetery.

"Medium coffee, just cream." I ordered, looking past the cashier at the different breakfast food items still available. "And, one pumpkin muffin. Thanks."

If I was ordering from a conformist joint, may as well go all out. Wasn't like anyone was going to see me at the freaking Dunkin' Donuts. Everyone was out in costume getting drunk or collecting candy. With the place empty of anyone that could get on my nerves, I took my place at a two-seater table in the corner.

I really didn't know what to do with myself. I didn't want to pretend everything was fine and see my "friends". Going home to hear the doorbell going off all night with a chorus of "trick or treat!" didn't sit well with me, either. I couldn't smoke in the Dunkin Donuts, but at least it was quiet.

Facebook was alive with people posting their selfies. Lots of group photos of what people thought were clever themes. Slutty costumes, proclamations of epic expectations. There I was, with a muffin and nowhere to go.

"Should've worked." I berated myself. "The hell am I supposed to do all night?"

My messenger app lit up with a notification. Mike's profile picture was on my screen. The picture was angled to accentuate his high cheek bones contoured with an ashy gray, and heavily black-lined eyes rimmed with blended red shadow.

He'd replaced his plastic fang mouthpiece years ago for those fangs that you could temporarily adhere to your canines with that special glue or putty, whatever it was. It was still pointless, but at least he didn't talk with a mouth full of cheap plastic anymore.

"Your friends are wondering where you are." His message read.

"You know this, because...?" I replied.

A photo came in that Mike had taken from over his shoulder. He was at the diner. Only his chin and fangs were visible alongside the occupied booth in the distance behind him.

"Heard Michael say you're not answering your phone." Mike sent, followed by a second text. "Guess that's not entirely true."

I didn't know what angle Mike was playing at, but curiosity got the better of me.

"What do you want?"

"They think you're working, tonight. Is that true?"

The three bubbles to indicate he was typing popped up. There was nothing for a few moments. Seemed Mike had stopped texting to eavesdrop.

"They left to go see you." He said.

"Good luck with that."

"You're spending Halloween, alone?"

I couldn't decipher over text whether he was poking fun at me or sincerely asking me a question. With him, it could have gone either way.

"If I am?" I challenged him.

"You should meet me here."

"Why would I do that?"

Seriously. Why would I do that?

"They're gone." Was his response, followed by another picture with the empty booth my friends had occupied before. "That's why."

"Not interested."

"You sure?"

xxxxx

Chapter Text

AUTHOR'S NOTE: Double update, today! Chapters 4 and 5! I hope to hear your thoughts. But, if not, thank you for reading 😊

The poem quoted in this chapter is "The Raven" by Edgar Allen Poe.

And, the song referenced in this chapter is "Bodies" by Drowning Pool.

Xxxxx

Having so little options, I showed up at the Village Inn Diner. Mike's followers were leaving, all piling in to cars. Minions galore, but where was the leader?

"Everyone's going to the Halloween dance." Mike was the last to come out, pulling out his car keys.

"Why am I not surprised?" I droned in my gravelly voice.

"I imagine it takes a lot to surprise you."

Pointing to the passenger side door, he urged me to get in. If I weren't so helplessly bored, I would have told him not to flatter himself. He was going to the dance. I got in so I could wait for Stan.

"If you're meeting up with your friends, can you just drop me off closer to the football field?" I requested as he pulled out of the Village Inn lot. "I'm not going to some poser dance."

"Don't want to see your boyfriend?"

My abruptly rigid silence ate up the car in one unforgiving bite. Mike nonchalantly checked his bangs in the rearview mirror, brushing a stray piece back in place.

"Hm?" He pried, unapologetically.

"I don't understand you." I muttered, looking out the window. "Why are you doing this?"

"Your secret's safe with me...though, it's more Stan's secret, isn't it? Tragic."

I didn't like where this was going.

"Pull over and let me out. I'll walk."

Refusing to cooperate, Mike kept driving.

"It was kind of cute watching him feed you pancakes."

"Mike." I warned.

"I knew about you two before I saw that, by the way."

Digging my nails in to my palm, I held back from exploding. What did this goody-goody, Banana Republic reject know about me? Nothing.

"No, you fucking didn't."

"I see the way you look at him." Mike assured me with confidence. "You've liked Stan since grade school. Wait, no. You liked 'Raven'. Isn't that right?"

"I like Stan."

"Because your little black bird fluttered away. He wasn't really one of you, at all. You never got over it."

The Band-Aid holding the old wound closed, it split at the seams. There was a dull ache in my chest now.

"Leave no black plume as a token of that lie thy soul hath spoken. Leave my loneliness unbroken. Quit the bust above my door." Mike quoted smoothly.

"Take thy beak from out my heart, and take thy form from off my door. Quoth the Raven: 'Nevermore'." I finished for him, bitterly.

Stan...I wanted him to be Raven. Raven understood pain...he understood me.

Michael understood pain. But, he craved vengeance with a rage. It could easily consume him when pushed far enough.

He would be angry forever if it meant he could hold the rotten, festering truths to those who hurt him. Pin them with their sins, faults, and short comings. I craved peace. He didn't truly understand me. He just understood me more than everyone else.

The high school came in to view. For once, the inhumane kennel was preferable. Mike parked towards the back of the lot closer to the football field how I asked. Gravel crunched under the wheels of his car as it came it to a full halt.

"Is there a reason you lured and trapped me in your car to have this conversation?" I asked before making an attempt to leave.

"Would you have had it, otherwise?" He asked me back, rhetorically.

"Not a chance."

Unbuckling my seatbelt, I reached for the door handle.

"Then we have an understanding." Mike concluded with certainty.

"That's what you think." I rejected. "We have NEVER had an understanding. Don't pretend we ever did."

The door locks clicked. I couldn't open mine. He used the fucking child-lock on me.

"It's just us, here." Mike comforted me, gently. "You don't have to be this seething void all the time. It's okay to be angry sometimes-"

Taking a deep breath in through my nose, I grit my front teeth.

"You don't know me." Was the first thing that came out of my mouth. "Not the way you think you do."

"You're right. I don't." Mike agreed. "I'd like to."

"Get in line."

Xxxxx

Mike's dad was a social worker and counselor, always trying to fix what was broken in others. It gave Mike the wrong idea about life. You couldn't save everybody. There was only so much you could do for those who asked for help, let alone those who didn't want it.

It never mattered how unapproachable I was, Mike always gravitated towards me. When he got too close, I pushed him away. He was a boomerang. He always came back.

Someone spiked the punch. Whatever it was spiked it was harder than your average cocktail. With very little in my stomach, the alcohol made quick work on me. Seated with my back to the gymnasium wall, I watched Mike find his way through the crowd of moving bodies.

Let the bodies hit the floor.
Let the bodies hit the floor.
Let the bodies hit the floor.
Let the bodies hit the floor.

He walked with long strides in his knee-high leather heeled-boots, long hair cascading down in a vibrant black-green ombre. Overhead strobe lights flickered off his shiny leather jacket, shimmering the silver sequent and studs with neon bursts of red, purple, and green.

I didn't want to be at the dance. I was supposed to be waiting outside...I hated to admit I was lonely. There wasn't anything that could be done about it. Not in that setting.

Openly himself, Mike found Vlad and leaned back against him, moving to the music. The bass gave the air a pulse, setting their rhythm. They were so unapologetically themselves. I was painfully envious of that.

Beaten, why for? Why for?
Caaan't take much moooore.
Here we go, here we go, here we go.

One, nothing wrong with me!
Two, nothing wrong with me!
Three, nothing wrong with me!
Four, nothing wrong with me!

One, something's got to give!
Two, something's got to give!
Three, something's got to give, nooooow!

Stan's group couldn't have been any farther than maybe twenty feet away from Mike's. My boyfriend was in the center with two cheerleaders dressed as what I could only assume were strippers.

On either side of him, the tiny skirts and spaghetti strap crop tops slid and shifted along their skin. They had underwear on, everyone could see that. They didn't have bras on. Everyone could see that, too.

They curled their curvaceous bodies on Stan, pressing their breasts in to his chest and back. The blonde in front of him had a leg curled up around his waist, now practically trying to ride his thigh. The longer I stared, I could see it was Bebe. Lola was the one behind him probably grabbing his ass.

Let the bodies hit the floor!
Let the bodies hit the floor!
Let the bodies hit the flooooor!

Let the bodies hit the floor!
Let the bodies hit the floor!
Let the bodies hit the flooooor!

I didn't have a clue if Wendy was at that dance. If she was, I wonder if she saw him. Did she feel the same jealousy I did? That territorial agony. The betrayal. My stomach was hot with booze, adding to the burn taking over my body.

Push me, again. Agaaiin.
Thiiiis is the ennnnd.
Here we go, here we go, here we go.

Watching him play out this charade boiled my blood, but it was like a train wreck-I couldn't look away. It was supposed to be me out there. My body melded with his, pulling him so close he could feel every inch of me through his clothes.

One, nothing wrong with me!
Two, nothing wrong with me!
Three, nothing wrong with me!
Four, nothing wrong with me!

One, something's got to give!
Two, something's got to give!
Three, something's got to give, nooooow!

Accepting there was no stopping it, I let Stan "prove" to these sheep he was one of them. He had a lot to lose. If he had to dance, so be it.

Let the bodies hit the floor!
Let the bodies hit the floor!
Let the bodies hit the flooooor!

Let the bodies hit the floor!
Let the bodies hit the floor!
Let the bodies hit the floor!

Warm, flush bodies were all around. We were crammed within these four walls like sardines, but I felt alone. The little space I took up couldn't have mattered to anyone.

Another look to Mike rolling his tight ass in to Vlad's crotch and I hated that I couldn't just go and claim my other half. What did that feel like?

Skin against skin. Blood and bone.
You're all by yourself, but you're not alone.
You wanted in, and now you're here.
Driven by hate, consumed by fear.

Let the bodies hit the floor.
Let the bodies hit the floor!
Let the bodies hit the floor!
Let the bodies hit the flooooooooooooor!

My red solo cup was empty. I wanted more to numb me but I couldn't tear myself away from the show. If they weren't both sporting erections, I would have bet they had ice water in hell, too. Mike's hips obviously blocked my view of Vlad.

With so much black on, I couldn't tell what was going on below Mike's belt from a distance. The erratic strobe lights didn't help. He leaned his head back with hands running all over his body, tongue-kissing Vlad from over his shoulder. With muddled thoughts, I stared at the two men living my greatest desire.

One, nothing wrong with me!
Two, nothing wrong with me!
Three, nothing wrong with me!
Four, nothing wrong with me!

One, something's got to give!
Two, something's got to give!
Three, something's got to give, NOOOOW!

To say I was turned on was an understatement. It could've been their confidence; it could've simply been the fact they were both good looking dudes. The hard-on forming in my pants didn't care. I wanted to watch them go at it like that all night.

And, I wanted more to drink.

Let the bodies hit the floor!
Let the bodies hit the floor!
Let the bodies hit the flooooor!

Let the bodies hit the floor!
Let the bodies hit the floor!
Let the bodies hit the floor!

Xxxxx

Ten rolled around and the dance dispersed, friends wobbling behind whoever was too scared to drink. They claimed their rides and filed out. Stan never saw I was there.

With Bebe and Lola drunkenly clinging to each arm, he appointed himself their designated driver. Turns out they'd both carpooled with Stan along with Clyde. Stan didn't know I was there, but I felt abandoned when he left without me.

Hot tears sprouted at the corners of my green eyes. Traces of eyeliner and salt burned them. Coherent enough to get up off the floor on my own without plopping back down on my ass, I tipsily grabbed for the wall for some leverage.

I was drunker than I realized. The room spun and my knees buckled for a second. Focusing hard, I braced myself to regroup and make my way outside. How I was going to get home was a whole different problem, entirely. One thing at a time.

"Pete." A slim, manicured hand touched my back. "Let's go."

Mike coaxed me off the wall, slinging an arm over his shoulder. Leading me to the car took some finesse and patience, both of which he generously provided. He got me to lie down in the backseat to be safe.

"Looks like someone got in to the fruit punch." Putting the key in the ignition, Mike turned the engine on. "You okay back there?"

Peering back, Mike saw me adjust to lie on my back with knees bent up. He'd placed me on my side with my knees curled towards my chest, before.

"Uh-Uh." He chided, turning around to lean in to the back seat and adjust me, again. "Lie on your side."

"What, why?" I demanded, as if it were really that big of an inconvenience.

"If you throw up, you're less likely to choke if you're on your side."

I didn't drink THAT much. And, I wasn't nauseous. Then again, the car wasn't moving yet.

"I'm fine. I won't throw up in your car." I promised, regardless. "Can I sober up a little before you bring me home?"

Dad drank enough for everyone in my house. If I came home drunk from a school dance at 18, Mom was going to have an aneurysm. She would blame my poor behavior on Dad setting a bad example.

She resented him that much. I wouldn't get in trouble. The fight would drive me insane, though. When the car began moving, I didn't think to ask where we were going. From my position lying down, I couldn't see out the windows.

"Where are we?" I asked, feeling the car pulling in somewhere.

"My house."

"Why are we here?"

Mike got out and popped the back door open, grabbing my arms and pulling me in to a seated position.

"You said you didn't want to go home drunk."

"I didn't mean you had to take me home with you."

Feeling better if he could keep an eye on me, Mike insisted I tolerate him a little longer and go inside.

"Parents?" I asked, seeing dark windows.

"Dad's at a costume party with some old college buddies. Mom's either asleep, or falling asleep with Netflix on."

"My mom does that." Was all I could think to say.

There would be no parent up and around to see Mike guiding my stumbling body inside. Mentally preparing myself to climb UP some stairs, I was blindsided when Mike pointed me down towards the basement.

"They had it finished for me in Eighth grade." He said, rightfully assuming I was apprehensive as to why he was leading me towards a fucking basement. "It's bigger than my old room."

Sitting me down on the first step, Mike kept a hand on my shoulder and carefully stepped around me. He went down the first few steps, helping me scoot down one step at a time.

"Steady...okay, next step. Careful."

I wasn't the person to come to if you wanted some type of praise or acknowledgement. But, I had to hand it to Mike. He was wearing fucking heeled-boots and multitasking like a boss. The whole time he was scared that I was going to fall down the stairs, meanwhile I thought he'd be the one to go tumbling.

The first thing I noticed about Mike's room was he had a King-Sized bed. It had Crimson red sheets that I'm positive were silk. He got me to sit on them, unlacing my heavy boots and setting them aside.

"Why's your bed so fucking big?"

"I have the room for it."

There were melted candles of varying degrees strewn around the room in decorative holders. The general color scheme of his room was red and black. Aside from his bed, the most notable detail was the giant antique-style mirror hanging on the wall. It was silver and eerie, like something from a haunted castle.

I wasn't as disheveled as I felt. My eyes were the biggest problem. My cheap eyeliner was mildly smudged. My hair was fine until I pulled my hoodie off.

Shrugging out of his leather jacket with a twist, Mike worked his arms out from the sleeves and hung it over the back of a chair. Under it, he was wearing a fitted black muscle-tee with a v-neck collar. The hem was tucked in to his skinny jeans, secured with a silver pyramid studded belt around his narrow hips.

One by one, he began pulling off rings and bracelets and setting them on his dresser. He came back to me and sat down with an antique comb. Running it through my mussed bangs, he held me by the chin to keep my head up.

The innocent, nurturing contact wasn't a familiarity of mine. I unconsciously relaxed when Mike tilted my head down and combed the back of my head. He pulled me in closer to see what he was doing.

The hairs at the nape of my neck stood on end pleasurably as the comb's ivory teeth caressed the skin there gently. It gave me an involuntary shiver. Sometime between him tilting my head down and pulling me closer, my forehead wound up rested on his shoulder.

I don't remember him doing it. I must have done it on my own. He smelled florally with a rich, sweet musk. I think it was roses? It was definitely some type of lotion or perfume.

"Baby bat~" He coo'ed at me. "Are you going to fall asleep on me?"

The alcohol in my system, and the relaxed trance I was in, didn't let me utter more than a weak affirmative sound. Mike kept combing my hair, feeling my body get heavier on him. If I gave in, I would have slipped away in to sleep in his arms.

I didn't want to give in. Fighting my heavy eyelids, I held on to consciousness. What was this feeling? Was it safety? Affection?

Fuck, I was drunk. It was Mike Mckowski.

"I should go home..." I mumbled to him.

"Is that what you want?"

"Not really."

No questions asked as to why I didn't want to go home, Mike carried on. He kept running the comb through my hair, ensuring he touched every inch of my scalp, going over it all repeatedly.

I couldn't fight sleep forever. When I accidently dozed off, Mike coaxed me awake and got me to lie down. Getting his belt and boots off, he climbed in behind me. The comb in my hair was replaced with the smooth, polished ends of his fingernails.

Xxxxxx

Chapter Text

AUTHOR'S NOTE: Hey, guys! Once again, thanks to those left their feedback on past chapters! Much appreciated and very encouraging. Helps keep me motivated. For reference in this chapter, the word "Nihilistic" is defined as "rejecting all religious and moral principles in the belief that life is meaningless".

***Also, I'm utilizing the three components of love to develop Pete's narrative and relation to Stan, Michael and Mike. A REALLY brief, condensed summary of this is:

There was a theory created by a psychologist (Robert Sternberg), called "The Triangular Theory of Love". The main three components to love are Intimacy, Passion and Commitment.

When you combine two together, you get additional types of love. But, for the sake of just narrowing this down to a simple concept, I'm sticking with the main three components for now.

Intimacy: is the closeness and trust you feel to someone. (Do you feel safe? Do you feel loved? Can you be vulnerable?) Love with just intimacy is "Liking". (Mike)

Passion is the sexual and/or physical attraction between two people. (Are you drawn to this person because of a bodily urge or connection? Does sex dominate your interest or attachment to this person?) Love with just Passion is "Infatuated love". (Stan)

Commitment: is the decision to stay with someone, regardless of circumstance. (Are you planning your future with this person? Are you determined to keep them?) Love with just Commitment is "Empty love". (Michael)

WOOOO, that was a long author's note. Sorry! Just wanted to get the information out there. If there are two things that I'm very passionate about, its writing and psychology. (I'm a psychology major in college and creative writer at home. So, yeah. Please just bare with me, here. Lol)

ANYWAYS! Happy reading! Hope to hear your thoughts, thanks for dropping by 😊

Xxxxxx

I could feel the noose around my neck. The course threads digging in to my skin, crushing my airway. A stool was knocked over under my dangling feet, lying there taunting me.

I garbled for air, going blue in the face. Soon, it would be over. But, why was I so nauseous? Every gasp felt like I was gagging.

I wasn't supposed to be nauseous. I was supposed to be dead.

Xxxxx

I didn't know what time it was when I woke up in a cold sweat gasping for air. I could only assume it was hours past Midnight because it was dark and quiet. The residual ruckus outside that accompanied Halloween was gone.

There was a sliver of light coming from an open door in the corner of the room, which I figured out was a bathroom. Mike had to have left the light on incase I woke up and needed it. Which I did. I was actually nauseous and made a run for it while I still had time to get there before my stomach could flip without warning.

Kneeling before the porcelain bowl, I tried willing away the purge my body attempted to do. My dream came back to me and suddenly my chest lurched, spilling the contents of my stomach. It was just fluids and remnants of my muffin from earlier.

Why did the fruit punch I drank have to be red? Gross. It looked like I spat up my insides.

It took a few heaves for it all to come out, but I kept retching. My stomach hurt like I'd been punched from the involuntary reflex. My gagging was either really loud, or Mike was a light sleeper, because he was awake. He heard me retching.

"...Pete?" He rapped on the door with his knuckles. "Everything come out alright?"

"I drank too much." I panted, regretting the questionable cocktail I'd self-medicated with. "It's all out."

Yeah, drink whatever your classmates mixed together. Nice going, Pete. Real smart. I flushed and went to the sink, rinsing out my mouth.

"There are new toothbrushes under the sink." Mike told me through the door. "Take whichever one you want."

Mike cracked the door open, peering in when he heard me brushing. He took in my clammy complexion through the mirror. My reflection was miserable and sweaty.

I looked ill. Sickeningly pale with scared, tired green eyes. That was me? Why did I look like that? What was happening to me?

"You don't look so good."

"Funny." I spat out the toothpaste. "I thought I was adorable."

"I could get you something clean to wear if you want to shower."

Mike was taller than I was, but be wasn't much wider. His clothes could fit me in a pinch.

"You're not going to give me a Team Edward shirt, are you?"

"If you're Team Jacob you can go home." He joked softly in a faraway voice, still taking in how awful I looked. "Take a shower, you'll feel better."

Turning on his bedside lamp to get just enough light to see, Mike went rummaging through his drawers. A pair of black and gray checkered pajama bottoms were laid out on the bed, waiting for me when I got out of the shower. The shirt to go with them was black with the white outline of a skull on the front.

"Couldn't find my old Team Edward shirt." Mike strolled by me to the bathroom, with pajamas for himself tucked under one arm. "Lucky you, hm?"

I didn't humor his joke. Mike went to take his own shower while I used his room to change. My clothes were folded up and left on the floor, I'd bag them up in the morning before I left. I was wearing freaking Hot Topic pajamas but at least they were clean and dry.

Crawling back in to Mike's bed, I rubbed my palms over my face. My smothering intoxication dwindled to a bearable buzz, likely helped by the fact I heaved up most of the booze in my stomach. Me and alcohol weren't a good mix.

Closing my eyes, I couldn't fall asleep. I was hoping to, wanting the night to pass. I heard Mike leave the bathroom and climb up the basement stairs. Whatever he'd gone to do, it didn't take long.

"I got bottles of water." he announced.

Sitting up to take it from him, I was met with a surprising sight.

"...what?" Mike questioned when I stared at him.

"I can see your face."

"My face?"

Without layers of make up on, Mike looked different. His makeup skills were impressive, if you were in to that sort of thing. He knew what he was doing with all the work he put in to his look. But, there was something refreshing about seeing his bare face.

No fake fangs. No powder to whiten his naturally light skin. No contour to sharpen the high cheekbones and thin nose he was born with. No eyeshadow or eyeliner...No red contacts.

His eyes were hazel.

"You aren't wearing the whole Macy's cosmetic department on your face."

"If we're pointing out the obvious: You're aren't wearing smudged eyeliner." His eyes flicked up to the roots of my hair. "And, you need a dye job."

The mattress shifted as Mike took his place next to me. I took a drink and laid down on my stomach.

Flicking off the light, darkness recloaked the room. I couldn't sleep, I wanted to. I tried to relax and lie still, but I kept adjusting and changing positions. I was facing Mike, not realizing it until I felt his fingers in my hair.

"What are you doing?" With more of my wits to me now, I inched away from his touch.

"It helped you sleep, earlier."
"I was drunk earlier, remember?"

I missed his touch. No one ever touched me like that. I didn't want him to know that.

"You need to be drunk to let me touch you?"

"The hell kind of question is that?"

"One I'd like an answer to."

Calmly, Mike scooted in closer and made another attempt to stroke my hair. I didn't do anything to stop him.

"That answers that." He decided upon successfully making contact. "Feeling better?"

"Depends on what your definition of 'better' is."

I had to play it cold, but I just wanted to lean in to Mike's hand. I was falling victim to that warm feeling worming its way back inside my chest. If Michael could see me now, I don't think he'd believe what he was seeing.

"What were you dreaming about?" Mike asked.

"Huh?"

Where did that come from? Had he been awake before I ran to go throw up?"

"You looked terrified, earlier." He was inferring to my sickly reflection. "Like you'd seen death."

Oh, the irony. Death? I hadn't been that lucky. Close, but no deal.

"I have nightmares, a lot."

"Poor baby bat." Mike stroked the side of my head.

Why the fuck was I blushing?

"It's nothing."

"Who told you that?"

"Mike, I'm really going to need you to quit that."

"You want me to stop caring?"

No.

"If that's what you call it, yes."

"Why should I?"

Because, I'll get used to it.

"There's no point."

"So nihilistic." Mike's fingers trailed down to stroke by my ear. "Is it hard pretending that's you, all the time?"

"Who the hell said anything about pretending?"

There was that airy chortle of his. Amused, but tender.

"Okay, Pete."

"I'm serious."

"Mhm."

He didn't believe me. He was right not to.

"Michael taught you to be this guarded...sneaking around with Stan can't help."

"I don't want to talk about this."

"Then don't."

Mike's lips were on mine, now. I let him kiss me. I was so starved of affection, hungry for anything that could penetrate the armor that I built around myself-without damaging what was protected inside.

It was vulnerability. That was my pain.

The problem with pain is, the only way to remotely have a fighting chance healing it, is to be vulnerable. Then the problem with vulnerability is, it can open you up wider to more damage. Worse pain.

Paradox, or cruel irony? You decide. I couldn't.

I wanted to put my walls down. Mike was giving me a chance to do it. He drew me in like a moth to a flame because of that. My body acted on its own accord, tuning out the voice in the back of my head screaming at me not to let anyone else too close.

Mike kissed at the seam of my lips, coaxing me to part them. I opened my mouth, meeting his tongue with mine. Oh God, it was pierced. How hadn't I noticed that before?

We went back and forth, kissing in the tranquil darkness of his room. The silken sheets under us were smooth and soothing, cool to the touch. Similar to his hands. I gasped a little when he slid one under my shirt to rake it up my side.

"Your hands are cold."

"Cold hands, warm heart." He assured me. "Shh."

I was light-headed in a good way as Mike pulled me closer by the small of my back. Our chests were pressed together and I couldn't resist the urge to curl my leg around his waist. Mike slid his hand up my outer thigh, kissing at my neck approvingly.

We were fully dressed, but his body on mine felt so intimate. We couldn't see one another, the lost sense heightening our others. Mike's breath lightly tickled my neck before he suckled the patch of skin under my ear.

He was making me achingly hard. This arousal...there was something different about it. I wasn't restless with need for relief. I only wanted him there with me.

I could have laid there in sensual torture for hours, if he wanted, having his hands and lips all over me without ever touching between my legs. Which is exactly what happened.

I let the world outside melt away. Briefly, my armor did, too. I could always put it back on, later. Tonight, I needed that safe feeling. However long I could have it.

Xxxxxx

Morning fell upon South Park in a wave of hangovers and stomach aches. Alcohol or candy- Pick your poison, get your punishment.

"Fuck..." I groaned to myself after a few seconds of being awake.

The malaise in my body hit me full force. My head hurt. I was dehydrated and I felt weak from throwing up what little food I had in my system. Coffee was a diuretic, I already struggled to stay hydrated. Then, I went and added alcohol to that.

The small windows up towards the ceiling of the basement let in small streams of sunlight, reminding me where I was. I never finished my water from the night before and reached for it with a lethargic limb.

I made it to the bottom of the bottle in seconds. I couldn't get the fluid in me fast enough. Lying back down to let reality set in on me, the only comfort I had was that it was Saturday.

I didn't have school and the shift I was covering didn't start until five. What time was it now? Where was Mike?

The bathroom door was open, no one in there. Going in, I brushed my teeth and washed my face in an effort to pull myself together. That didn't do much, so I trudged back to bed with my hangover.

Atop the basement stairs, the door opened. I unconsciously held my breath when I heard it. How did I get myself in this situation?

"Pete?" He called down. "You awake?"

"Tragically."

Coming down the steps, Mike found my lethargic lump of a body buried in his red silken sheets. Mechanic buzzing led him to glance towards the floor at my heap of clothes.

"That's your phone." he told me.

I held a hand out, wordlessly, with my face buried in the pillow. Fishing for it in my pockets, Mike found it and brought it over. It was my boss.

"Hello?" I grunted, bringing my phone to my ear, still lying on my stomach.

I listened to my boss spout on about some coworker who was looking to take more hours where she could. It was a decent woman. Some middle-aged single mom trying to provide for her kid. The few times I did work with her, she never gave me any grief.

"She's willing to work a double today and cover your shift today, if you'll let her." My boss told me. "You want the day off?"

"She can have my shift today, yeah. That's fine. Bye."

The woman needed the money more than I did. I didn't want to go in, anyways. She saved me the trouble of calling out.

My phone read 1:26 PM when I set it down. No notifications. Real fucking nice, Stan.

"No work?" Mike pried.

"Not anymore. Thank God." I answered. "Shit, I'm hungover."

"I'll be right back."

Mike came back with Ibuprofen, more water and something for me to snack on if my stomach could handle it.

"Your stomach is most likely empty from throwing up last night. But, I didn't want to bring you anything too heavy." Mike handed me the water and pill, leaving a bowl of pretzels on the bedside table. "Those should go down, easy."

I picked at the pretzels after taking the pill. True to Mike's word, they were going down easy. Pretzels were basically crackers if you thought about it.

"How are you, baby bat?" Mike rubbed his hands over my back.

"...is there a reason you keep calling me that?"

"Have you ever seen a baby bat? They're precious."

Stan didn't even have a pet name for me. After hearing it come from Mike's mouth three times, it was secretly starting to grow on me.

"Do you call Vlad that?" I asked.

"No, I call him Vlad."

"He should be your 'baby bat' or whatever."

Undeterred, Mike kept his touch light and feathery.

"It isn't what you think." he consoled, catching what I was implying.

"I saw him practically fucking you through your clothes on the dancefloor."

"All in good fun. He's a close friend, per se."

"Yeah, I'd say so."

He and Vlad were fuck buddies, not boyfriends. Whatever. Ultimately, it didn't matter if Mike was taken or not. I was.

"It was noble of you to keep me alive last night, and all that. I'm sure your dad would be proud and shit. But, I need to go home."

"Doesn't sound like you want to go home."

"The hell does it matter what I want?"

To make a point, I pulled away and got up with the intention to find my purple boots. I got up way too fast, took one step, and my vision faded out in a flash of white. Before I could tip forward, Mike hurriedly pulled me in.

"No, no, no. Come back." Leaning me so that my back was to his chest, Mike encircled my waist with his arms. "You're going to hurt yourself. Take it easy."

"I almost passed out." Trying to process it, I leaned my head back on Mike's shoulder in defeat. "What the fuck."

"It's Saturday. If you have nowhere you have to be, stay here."

"..."

If I sat for a while and got up slowly, I could get myself home. It would suck, but it was do-able. Envisioning the walk home was exhausting.

"I'll comb your hair, again." Mike offered, holding me a little tighter. "You can relax and fall back to sleep... I'll take care of you."

Xxxxx

I didn't hear from Stan all weekend. No text, no call. He was active on Facebook and tagged in different group photos and selfies. He could response to comments and ham it up but he couldn't send me a text?

He never even asked me if I worked Halloween, or not. I could have been dead for all he knew. If he couldn't physically come see me, I understood that. A text wasn't too much to ask for.

Come Monday, I got ready for school, glaring at the purple choker around my neck. The only other option was my studded leather one. From Michael.

I kind of hated it, now. Michael's choker felt like a collar. All it needed was a leash and he could chain me up in his room like some emaciated, neglected dog.

I wasn't his property. The broken black heart dangling from Stan's choker was truer to who I was: A product of our broken relationship. Left to fend for myself. I mulled over it downstairs in the kitchen, waiting for my coffee to brew.

My stomach jumped when I got a message. It wasn't Stan.

"Ride to school, Baby bat?"

With my thermos and backpack I was out the front door, waiting on the doorstep. Mike's car pulled up and I got in, grateful I wasn't waiting to sit on a bus that made me claustrophobic.

"Good Morning~"

"It's seven thirty in the morning, Mike." I grumbled. "Be miserable like the rest of us."

"Conformist."

Peering at me from the side of his eye, Mike could've snorted at the glower I gave him. This fucking guy, I swear.

"Your face will stick that way." He chided.

"Good."

We had twenty minutes before school officially started when we made it to the parking lot. Before classes, the options were the cafeteria or the gymnasium.

"Do you want to wait in the car? Or, are we going inside?"

"Don't you have a bunch of minions waiting for you or something?"

"Not first thing in the morning."

"It's whatever you want. I used to wait by the back of the school...I'm not exactly welcome as of late."

Without any imminent reason to get out of the car, Mike opted to stay put. He turned off the engine.

"It's a blessing in disguise."

"Easy for you to say. They were all I had."

"Would your exile have anything to do with you dating outside your kind?"

I shook my head.

"It isn't about Stan, anymore. It could've been anyone." I confessed. "It just happens to be Stan that I keep choosing over him."

"If life were truly so meaningless like you guys claim, he wouldn't have the drive to punish you." Mike looked at me meaningfully. "And, you wouldn't be so hurt that he's doing it."

"I know."

xxxxx

Chapter Text

AUTHOR'S NOTE: Hey, guys! Welcome back! I have to say, I'm super impressed by my readers on The Archive of Our Own site who respond consistently with the updates. Rock on, guys. Seriously.

You're all my baby bats, now. Muah ha ha! *Laughs maniacally and showers you all with love* (LOL Yes, Yes. I'm an awkward dork, I know. Still love y'all.)

***Also, do yourselves a favor and google "baby bat eating a banana". They kind of look like tiny black puppies and are genuinely the cutest fucking things, ever.***

Anyways, thanks for reading! Much love and I can't wait to hear from you!

Xxxxx

"The dance was crazy on Friday, Man."

"Hell yeah, it was. Girls at this school are so fucking easy."

"Get your dick wet?"

"You know it."

Before Mr. Stuart came in, Clyde and Craig were going back and forth about the coochie crusade. What was it about straight dudes that propelled them to do that? If Clyde weren't in my first period class, perhaps I'd have a fighting chance to tolerate mornings.

Too much coochie, not enough coffee.

I couldn't listen to him go on about grabbing tit and pounding pussy. It wasn't even a matter of being gay. He, as a person, disgusted me on multiple levels. It could've been literally any possible conversation topic and I would have despised it. Assuming my usual position in the morning, I put my head down.

Resting on my left cheek, I watched Mike organize his binder next to me. He shuffled papers around, tucking them away where they belonged and sorting out whatever notes he didn't need anymore. Sliding my eyes up, I looked at the black bat wing dangling from his ear. It suited him, in a tacky way.

"I heard Lola and Bebe were all over Stan." Craig said.

"My bro was killin' it out there." Clyde confirmed without missing a beat.

"Epic."

"You don't know the half of it."

They were both clueless. Could today be over? Please? It was only Monday. Fuck me.

Mike piled up his scrap papers, appearing to be focused. I didn't think he was paying any attention to Craig and Clyde's conversation until he paused in disbelief at the next thing to come out of Clyde's mouth.

"After the dance Stan and I hit up the Motel 6 with them. It was wild, what a night."

"No way...Are you for real?"

"Like I said, they're easy. Total sluts."

I felt myself go cold from head to toe. I forgot how to breathe for a second, shutting down. Was this happening? I had to be dreaming. I made out with Mike Mckowski, and Stan slept with a girl. It was too crazy to be real.

Mike discreetly laid his hand on my leg under the desk, sensing my change in energy. There was nothing he could say aloud to address it in the presence of our peers.

The bell rang, Mr. Stuart waltzing in with a projector. He pulled down the white screen, announcing to much of the class's joy, that we'd be watching a movie adaptation of the last novel we finished.

"Let's ease in to Monday, kids." He told us. "I know we're all a little tired from the holiday weekend."

The movie was meant to be a break for everyone. So, Mr. Stuart didn't care about those of us who chose to sleep or text through it. I never lifted my head off my desk. Mike never took his hand off my leg.

Xxxxx

I didn't know which one of those hussies Stan fucked, I didn't want to know. I wanted to know why. I didn't go to Lunch in fear of what I'd do if I saw him.

My mind raced a mile a minute the whole day. Looks were deceiving because I looked like my apathetic self, stalking around. Anger and hurt were bubbling in my stomach, fighting for dominance.

I couldn't give in to either emotion. Unfortunately for someone else, they couldn't hold back. Last bell rung, students filing out to their lockers, and there was an eruption in the hallways.

"What is your problem!? You're with Bebe, now?" Wendy was red in the face, fuming.

"I'm not with Bebe!" Helplessly, Stan stood there, starring in the scene unfolding.

Stan, he was great at being the center of attention, wasn't he? He should audition for the Kardashians, or something. Get paid for being a big, useless ass. It was his area of expertise.

"Wendy...could we talk about this in private?"

"In PRIVATE? Everyone knows, Stan!"

"Wendy, please! I really need you to lower your voice-"

"FUCK YOU! You broke up with me out of nowhere! Then, a week later, you're messing around with the biggest slut in school?"

People nosily lingered to watch the football captain get chewed out. Drama, high schoolers itched for it. These little dumb twats ate it up like Percocet.

"Oh, this just isn't working out." Wendy mocked him. "Bullshit, Stan! Heidi was right! You're just a sorry excuse for a pig!"

"Bebe isn't why I broke up with you!" Stan insisted, eyes getting wide when he noticed me. "We aren't-I swear we aren't-"

He went white as a ghost. He panicked.

"I don't know why I ever believe a word that comes out of your damn mouth, Stan! You're pathetic, inconsiderate and only care about yourself!"

Wendy voiced my exact thoughts. Little Miss honor roll prep queen, of all people. There had to be a glitch in the matrix.

"You're an asshole! You're an asshole and I can't fucking stand you!"

There was that glitch, again.

All the commotion attracted the attention of teachers in nearby classrooms. Wedging their way through the crowd, they carefully diffused the situation. They all had empathetic eyes on Wendy who trembled with frustration, tears beginning to stream down her cheeks in embarrassment.

I didn't hate her any more than I hated any other of the hundreds of students in school. I never gave a damn how she felt in the past because I wanted Stan all to myself. I would've been heartless to not feel bad for her right now, though. She was humiliated.

Better her than me.

A female teacher who obviously cared a lot for her, led Wendy back to her class to speak with her in private. Stan refused to go with a male teacher and talk about what happened. He wanted out of the situation and left. He couldn't face me, he went in the opposite direction.

With nothing else to see, most people started filing out, whispering and gossiping amongst each other. Off in a corner, Michael and Henrietta gave me their ridiculing stares. Michael had the audacity to smirk, relishing in the most recent display of Stan's shortcomings.

Two seconds in those dark brown eyes and I saw his sadistic satisfaction. He knew how bad Stan's stunt betrayed me. He liked it far too much.

Michael felt that I deserved that knife in my back. It was his twisted conception of Karma. Turning his back on me to show that I was on my own today, he left without uttering a single word to me.

Mike was across the hallway with his main clique members: Vlad, Ryan, Larry, Annie and "Bloodrayne". Mike's red stare was all knowing and pitying. He was the only one left in the vicinity who knew I was a mess inside, but I felt like they could all see through me.

I couldn't handle it.

Turning the corner and going down the adjacent hallway, I hauled ass as fast as I could without literally running. I didn't know where I was going, it just had to be where no one could see me. There was a facility bathroom. I took cover there.

It was one of those that only accommodated one person at a time. The custodians took good care of the bathrooms the adults used. The little room smelled like bleach and hand soap.

Locking the door, I slid down to the floor. The walls felt like they were closing in on me. The hurt I felt was so intense.

Stan finally did it. He made me cry. In the worst possible place.

It didn't make any sense. He broke up with Wendy to make me happy...then he turns around and does that? Him being with Wendy at all killed me, how could he sleep with Bebe?

Stan threw me out of the frying pan and in to the fire. No explanation. No apology. No effort. Nothing.

Sobbing silently to myself, I panicked slightly. After school activities ended in less than an hour. I couldn't stay there, forever. I needed to pull myself together if I was going to catch the late bus home with my dignity.

It didn't seem feasible to me, at the moment. The panic escalated when I heard a teacher walking the halls, her heels clicked the tiles with steady, even steps. I didn't want to give up my hiding spot. I wasn't ready. I didn't want to be dragged to the school counselor, either.

As they got closer, there were additional footsteps accompanying the heels. Softer footsteps. Converse shoes and boots.

"We're going to the mall, Mike. Meet up with us later, if you can." That was Annie.

"You sure you can't come?" That was Vlad.

My silent sobbing lightened the slightest bit at the sound of Mike's voice. His voice was naturally soft and soothing.

"I have something important that needs checking up on."

Did he know I was in here? I heard him lean his weight on a locker across the way. He didn't move.

"Where are you?" I got via message.

My hiding spot was compromised by the cheery notification sound Facebook Messenger made. There was a pause then Mike leaned off the lockers. Two steps approached me. Pulling out my phone, I scrambled to mute it but Mike beat me to the draw.

"?" He sent this time.

The notification sound went off, again. I could feel his eyes on the door. Certain of where I was, Mike followed the sound.

"Pete." Mike tapped his fingernails on the wooden door.

I didn't respond, bringing the back of my arm up to my face to wipe away tears.

"Pete...I know you're in there."

"Yeah, and?" I snapped because there wasn't any other way I could smother out the weepy sound of my voice.

"You can come out, now."

I was a sniveling mess. No one could see me like this. All crumbled up like an emo kid whose mom took away their iPod.

"I don't want to."

"Can I come in then?" Mike bargained, patiently.

I rested my forehead and hand on the door wantonly, wishing I could feel him through it. He was so close. He was right there.

"Mike, I really need you to leave me alone right now."

"Not while you're hurting, baby bat."

"I'm not your baby bat, right now."

"Yes, you are."

The metallic sound of a zipper faintly came through the door. Mike opened up his bag and rifled through his binder. A piece of stock paper about the size of an index card slid under the door.

"That's for you."

...Mike could draw?

There was a beautifully drawn black bat on the stock card. It had black eyes with green irises. The bottom of its wings faded in to a red ombre. In the background there were diamond-shaped stars and a full moon.

From the shading and outline, it looked like Mike used different sharpie tips or some other type of fancy marker. He signed the bottom corner with an artfully drawn gothic M. He was talented. The calligraphy looked like it could've come straight off a Ouija board.

"When did you draw this?"

"Art class, today." He answered me. "You've been in my thoughts all day...I was worried when I didn't see you at Lunch."

"I went to the library. I wasn't hungry, anyways."

Holding the drawing carefully, I inspected Mike's token of affection. Getting up off the floor, I pulled myself together the best that I could. I couldn't wipe the devastation off my face.

My eyes were wet when I stepped out, but tears weren't spilling anymore. Mike hugged me close for a moment, only pulling away far enough to look me in the face.

"He wasn't good for you." Mike's heavily lined eyes were brimming with condolence. "That's not your fault."

Xxxxx

It was a rough day, to say the least. Stomach to the sheets and laid out shirtless on Mike's bed, per his instruction, I rested my head down on my folded arms. Straddling me, he rubbed his hands up my back.

Him sitting on my lower back bore comforting weight down on me. It kept me rooted to the moment. He occupied all my senses, shielding them from the toxicity I'd fallen victim to that day.

"Relax, baby bat. Don't worry about anything."

Massaging me, he made relaxed smooth motions up to my shoulders. Moving back down, he squeezed lightly at my sides. Mike's palms were lightly coated with lotion providing a smooth glide and filling the air with his signature mysterious rose fragrance.

I was going to smell like Bat and Body Works, but fuck it.

He hummed in that effeminate, affectionate way of his while he worked. His hands were magical. I was becoming a gelatinous puddle underneath him. This was, without debate, better than any sex I'd ever had.

How did I ever think Stan was comforting? He wasn't anything like this. In hindsight, he was better than Michael. I gravitated towards the lesser of two evils. He was warmer. Not any less selfish, however.

"Oh, that feels good..." I groaned under Mike's nurturing touch.

With the tips of his manicured nails, he gently raked across my skin. Pleasurable goosebumps surfaced where he caressed. Then there were the kisses...holy fuck.

He pressed buttery kisses between my shoulder blades, making his way to the junction of my neck. He grazed me with his teeth, suckling for a moment before peppering me with more pecks of his soft lips. I shivered when he honed in on the sensitive nape of my neck.

Could I stay here, forever?

"Hm~ You're so receptive to touch." Mike practically purred. "I love it."

He blindsided me pretty good when he licked the shell of my ear with the very tip of his tongue, taking the cartilage between his front teeth. I gasped, from the sensual nip.

"A-Ah-" the startled sound died off in a steamy sigh when he kissed the afflicted area. "Fuck...easy there, Dracula."

"Couldn't help myself, you're such a treat." He apologized with a teasing tone. "Besides, you liked it."

I was the treat? He was the treat. Every point of contact, I was reacting to him. Parts of me he wasn't touching reacted to him...

"Mike?"

"Yes, baby bat?"

"Could you scoot up?"

Interest peaked, Mike feigned ignorance.

"Mm, why?"

"I need to adjust." Feeling my face get warm, I swallowed dryly. "I have a bit of a problem."

Easing himself up straight, Mike pulled off his shirt. His bare chest came down along my back, melding to the shape of my body. Oh, that was not helping. Not at all.

"There's an easy solution to that..." Sultry and smooth, the words rolled off Mike's tongue. "I could take care of it."

The enticing bit of information sent my heart up in to my throat. He hadn't offered last time. Not that I was disappointed. But...with the skin-on-skin contact I was tempted, this time.

"You don't have to do that." Doing what I felt was the right thing, I declined.

"What if I told you I want to?"

Mike dismounted me, giving me my cue to roll over.

Between my legs, he resettled himself. His hands were at my waistband, taking his time working the button and zipper open. He pulled my jeans down my hips a couple of inches.

I was in Mike McKowski's bed about to get my rocks off. Wherever Michael was, he probably had a stronger than usual urge to burn down the nearest Hot Topic, without any idea as to why.

"Truth be told, I've wanted to do this for a long time." Mike plucked his fake fangs off with a twinkle in his eye. "I'm going to enjoy this more than you."

Curling his fingers around me, he dragged the smooth barbell of his tongue ring up the underside of my shaft. The sound that came out of me...well, it was me. Didn't sound like it.

"NNG-"

On the rare occasion Stan serviced me, it was nice. With Mike's jewelry in play, it upped the game. My erection twitched and I held my breath in anticipation, feeling Mike make his way up to the tip.

He took it between his lips, just letting me feel them as he stroked me. Slowly, he took his hand away and sunk his mouth down. I was mesmerized at the sight of him.

From under his bangs he smoldered me with lustful eyes. His hair fell over one lithe shoulder, draped along the left side of his neck. I just noticed how long his neck was...how slender and elegant.

All of him was slender and elegant. The black denim of his tight jeans rested low on his narrow hips. Those hips were perched up, starting the arch in his back. He looked amazing. Had Mike always been this hot?

Between mouthfuls of my cock, he groaned pleasurably, sending light vibrations over it. Grabbing at the sheets, I let my head fall back in rapture. My breathing got shallow, coming to a screeching halt when suddenly the tight, wet heat of Mike's throat engulfed all of me.

"M-Mike! A-Ah..."

My breath hitched and my hips shot up, instinctively. Stan's gag reflex was horrible so he always kept my hips pinned. Mike gagged slightly, but that didn't stop him. He kept sucking, groping at my sides whilst I squirmed under his mouth.

"I'm getting close." I tried to warn him, propping myself back up with my elbows to look at him. "Fuck...fuck! Mike!"

I was attempting to give Mike the opportunity to pull off, because that's what I was used to. He glanced up and carried on like he didn't hear me. He heard me loud and clear.

My thighs were tensing, my chest was shuddering. My breath came out in short, labored puffs. The inevitable was near.

I couldn't hold back much longer. Mike's relentless mouth pushed me to the edge, driving me towards climax. There was a punctuated gasp and Mike willingly accepted the proof of my satisfaction.

"Oh, God..."

Mike released my satisfied member with a sly gleam. With my cum still in his mouth, he swallowed without so much as a second thought. My arms gave out on me and I was completely flat on my back, again.

"Still think you enjoyed that more than I did?" I asked, rhetorically, trying to catch my breath.

Grabbing the sides of my jeans, Mike pulled them back up for me. He tucked me away, fastened everything up, pecking the skin above my waistband.

"Mhm." He chirped. "I did."

xxxxx

Chapter Text

AUTHOR'S NOTE: Hey, guys! Welcome back! Thank you to my Archive of Our Own site readers for leaving me comments! This may be the fastest I've ever pumped out a story. You guys are just cramming dynamite up my ass, I swear. (In a good way!)

Other info:

*** In the second South Park video game, there's a DLC where you have to defeat the Vamp Kids at Mike's birthday party at Casa Bonita. It's revealed there that the annoying but well-meaning social worker in series, Mr. Adams (Appears in Season 15 Episode 14-The Poor Kid), is Mike's step dad. This implies his mother remarried at some point in his childhood during, or before, 5th grade.

I'm mentioning this because since I have no reference to what his real parents look/act like, I'm taking some creative liberties. It is cannon, however, that Mike's hair is naturally black. The game showed a picture of him as a baby, and as a little kid, with black hair.***

Anyways, thank you so much for reading! I look forward to hearing from you guys! 😊

Xxxxx

Two weeks passed without a word from Stan or Michael. Stan was so frequently absent before that this situation I found myself in felt inevitable. Our relationship was bound to crash and burn from the beginning, wasn't it? But, my friendship with Michael?

Had someone told me that one day he'd turn his back on me like this, I would have blew smoke in their face and laughed. Michael's cold shoulder was frigid. Dwelling on it didn't feel worth the anguish, so I consciously shoved it down.

If this was how he wanted to treat me, he was no better than Stan. If anything, he was worse. Michael had been there first, from the very beginning. If deep down he cared about me as much as he claimed, he had a despicable way of showing it.

It was harder to accidently cross paths with Michael in school than it was Stan. When school started in September, it'd been a bummer to learn I didn't have any classes with him. Then to learn I had a class with Mike? I wanted to bash my head in... Now, I was significantly more grateful.

If I didn't want to see Michael, staying away from the back of the school was the best bet. Then the diner. Then the graveyard. Henrietta's house was also off limits, not that she wanted much to do with me.

Stan- I could avoid the hallways I knew he took. Stay away from the Cafeteria. And, most importantly, stay the hell away from the football field.

Mike still ran the Vampire Club afterschool once a week. Today was the day, which I wasn't going to be a part of. At my locker, I collected my stuff to catch the bus home. That was the plan.

Georgie came up from behind me, quiet as a mouse. He tapped my back.

"Michael says we're going to Henrietta's, tonight."

"...okay?" I said slowly, not understanding why he was telling me this. "What does that have to do with me?"

"You're invited this time."

How convenient. Michael hangs me out to dry for two weeks- In the aftermath of what was the most devastating charade with Stan- then sends Georgie to retrieve me from exile. His passive aggression was something to behold.

"Oh? That a fact?" I rolled my eyes. "What do I owe the honor?"

"He says you learned your lesson. You can come back now."

Georgie was only the messenger. As the saying goes: Don't shoot the messenger. I couldn't be mad at the kid. He was only following orders. Watching what happened to me, he quickly learned not to cross Michael.

"I don't want to come back." I dismissed Georgie flatly.

"You don't?"

"Nope."

That was a curveball our all mighty leader wouldn't anticipate. In Michael's mind, I was desperate to come back. He thought after Stan's betrayal, I'd see he was the only person I had.

"Pete..." Georgie warned me, looking up with trepidation. "Are you sure you know what you're doing?"

We already went this far. I had nothing else to lose.

"You can tell Michael I'm not coming back."

xxxxx

On my hands and knees after school, I scrubbed down the bathtub. Cleaning products and different abrasive brushes laid across the tile floor. I was lucky to have my own bathroom connected to my room, but it was my responsibility to keep up with it.

Goths had a reputation for being grungy, but I couldn't stand mess or grime. I had enough clutter in my head. Keeping things clean made me feel like I had more control over things than I actually did. It was my own personal source of structure.

Once the bathroom was freshly clean, I took everything off and ran a bath. Loud music from my phone provided background noise, easing the stale silence with guitar, drums and guttural screaming.

Peering over the edge of the tub to where my phone was sitting atop of my clothes, I picked it up to do some idle browsing. They must not have been reading poetry at Henrietta's because Georgie and Henrietta were active online. Michael was offline.

It was interesting to see Stan's friends tearing up social media. He'd gone mysteriously missing in action. He hadn't posted anything for a while. His first post in the past two weeks was about the game coming up this weekend.

All his friends knew about the game because they were on the team, cheerleaders or in his main circle. No one needed a reminder. He may as well have just sent it to me directly. Scrolling past his cowardly attempt at communication, I pondered what planet he was fucking on.

Mike was tagged in a post with others, by Annie. Their club started a new vampire genre book today.

"Livin' on the edge, guys."

The usual venom that would have accompanied such a thought was missing. Vampire books were stupid to me, but Mike liked them. They read through the Twilight series years ago. Whatever they were reading now couldn't have been worse.

Cleaned up and rinsed off, I unplugged the drain to the tub after soaking. I had a towel around my waist and was towel drying my hair when I stepped out of the bathroom. There on my bed, with his arms crossed, was Michael.

"Holy shit-" I flinched, putting a hand to my chest.

"Have a nice bath, Pete?" He patronized me.

"How the hell did you get in here?"

"Front door."

It was early enough in the evening that my dad wasn't passed out on the couch. He let him in. My music was so loud I hadn't heard the doorbell downstairs, or his shoes on my bedroom floor.

"You can leave the same way you came in." I told him, turning off my music. "Get out."

He didn't move an inch. He stared me down with narrowed eyes and dark circles under his kohl eyeliner. Michael's hair was so black it washed him out. His pale skin looked sallow, almost like it had a yellow undertone.

He was aged beyond his years. That's what anger did to him. This brooding eighteen-year-old could pass for ten years older than he actually was. He smoked way too much, slept too little and was slowly killing himself from the inside out. Faster than the rest of us.

"We need to talk."

"No. I have to get dressed, and you need to leave."

Unfortunately for me, my dresser was next to my bed where Michael was sitting. In my towel, I went over and grabbed the first underwear and pajama pants that I saw.

"I'm not going anywhere." he said.

"Get. Out." I ordered him, walking past on my way to the bathroom.

With his cane, Michael caught the thin bend of my elbow. He snatched me in close, my clothes falling to the floor. I had to grab for my towel to keep it from slipping undone around my hips and falling.

"The last time I arrived unannounced, you were far more appreciative." His voice was nonchalant, but his delivery was sharp as a dagger.

Michael traced up my neck with two fingers, stopping where my scar started.

"Or, did you forget?"

I tried tugging myself away. He wouldn't let go.

"If it weren't for me, you wouldn't still be here." Michael leaned in closer to my face. "Where was your precious prince when you were hanging from the fucking ceiling?"

"Shut up-"

"Where was he, Pete?" Michael barked. "Answer me."

I averted my eyes, feeling helpless as he held me there. I hated being grabbed like that. Hated, hated, hated it. It made my chest tight. My skin crawled.

"On a date with Wendy." I huffed, still struggling to free myself. "He was on a date with Wendy."

"That's right." Michael snarled.

Michael released me without warning. I went flying backwards, hitting the floorboards ass first. Admittedly, I was scared to look up at him.

Rage rolled off him in thick, smoky waves. He was a black flame, eating up all the oxygen around him and choking everything in his path. If hellfire were a person, he was sitting right there in front of me.

I sat before him damp, and almost naked.

"I'm getting dressed." I announced, looking around for my dropped clothes.

They were in a heap by Michael's feet. I crawled the short distance to grab them. He placed his foot down in front of the pile, blocking me. I froze, staring at the black shoe. The chill that went down my body had nothing to do with the temperature in the room.

"Get real clothes. You're coming with me to Henrietta's."

"Who said I'm going anywhere with you?"

"I just did."

I reached around to retrieve what he was blocking.

"I'm staying here." I objected, matter of fact.

He didn't thwart my next attempt to retrieve my dropped pajamas. I collected it and got up, weary of the brown eyes boring holes in to my body. From sheer paranoia, I locked the bathroom door to get dressed.

I grabbed my purple choker off the counter. Michael seethed at the sight of it when I exited the bathroom with pants on.

"You're going to wear that after what he did to you?"

"It's a nice choker."

"You have a better one."

"Do I?"

Pouring gasoline on a fire was the least helpful thing to do. There was no stopping myself. The only way I was going to make Michael happy was to obediently comply with his self-appointed authority. That wasn't happening.

"Put it on."

"You don't call the shots, anymore. I'm not one of you."

Getting up, Michael swiftly ambushed me. In a flash of black, he had me backed in to the wall.

"Whatever sunshine fairytales that conformist sack of shit fed you, they aren't true." He hissed down at me, so close the fabric of his white dress shirt brushed the piercings on my chest. "You will always be one of us."

"This has nothing to do with Stan, anymore." I looked up at him defiantly. "Stop pretending it does."

"You picked him." The words tasted disgustingly bitter on Michael's tongue-This man, who chain smoked and drank his coffee black. "He just uses you. He doesn't love you."

"And, you think that you do?"

He just stared at me. Stewing.

"Love didn't work out for my mom and dad. So, why should it work out for me?"

I wanted to scream when Michael left, I couldn't. I knew on some level, I was being used by Stan. It was hard hearing Michael hiss it at me. I felt dirty.

I was the equivalent of a human stress ball. Stan got his sexual urges and frustrations out with me. When he didn't need me, I was easily set aside like a real stress ball.

If he had me tucked away like that, why did he stray? I let him have everything, at my expense. All I asked for in return, was to be his one and only. I thought I finally had it. He faked me out.

Love. Yeah, right.

Razor in hand, I grazed the delicate skin of my left wrist. The thin surface cut wept red droplets. It was supposed to be one cut, just one. But, there I was making the next one. The third line was on its way, interrupted by the buzz of my phone.

Mike asked if I wanted to sleep over that weekend. The razor lost its appeal instantly. It wasn't helping, now I felt guilty. Blotting the blood away, I pressed a paper towel in to my wrist to stop the bleeding.

Michael and Stan weren't worth it.

Xxxxx

Friday night, Mike hung out with his friends until he picked me up after work. My overnight bag sat in his backseat, filled with enough clothes to last me the weekend. Someone came down the stairs as Mike let me inside the front door.

This woman, who I rightfully assumed was Mike's mother, came down the steps in a fuzzy pink night robe and matching slippers. I was taken back by how much they looked alike. She had long shiny black hair and the same hazel eyes Mike did.

The bone structure on their faces was almost one to one. I wondered what his dad looked like because he was almost a male reflection of his mother.

"Mikey, your aunt brought over dessert from the bakery earlier. Make sure you and your friend have some."

"We definitely will." He assured her. "Thanks Mom."

Smiling at me, she asked me my name.

"I don't think I've met you." She observed. "Have I?"

"No...I'm Pete."

"Mikey has so many friends, it's hard for me to keep up. I'm tellin' ya."

She gave Mike a kiss on the head before going to the kitchen for some of that dessert she was telling us about. We went downstairs to put my stuff down. With a small dish of cookies and a glass of milk, Mike's mom retired to her room for the evening.

"There's cannoli, tiramisu and different Italian cookies." she told us in parting when we came up from the basement.

"All I understood out of that was 'cookies'." I bluntly told Mike when he led me to the kitchen.

There was a bakery box on the table and he pulled a second one out of the fridge.

"Cannoli and tiramisu are Italian pastries." He laughed. "Never had them?"

"My mom's mostly an ice cream person. She just buys it from the supermarket."

The tiramisu was a coffee-based dessert, Mike happily informed me.

"I never acquired a taste for coffee." He got me a small plate of it and a fork, handing it to me while he opted for a cannoli. "Tiramisu isn't for me."

It did have a strong coffee taste to it. I liked it. It was mildly sweet. Looking at the bakery box, I stored away the name for later.

"...did you hear something?" I asked when there was a random rustling.

"That's Lenore and Poe."

"Who?"

Mike abandoned his snack for a moment. He went to the living room, returning with two birds perched on his shoulder.

"Their cage is in the living room." he showed me the birds with dark green, gray and black feathers.

"Parrots?"

"Close. Green-cheeked conures."

The birds were about the size of mangos, not including their long-feathered tails. Mike resumed his snack, unbothered as one bird used its beak to gently peck and nibble at his earing.

"Pretty bird." He made kissy noises at it. "Pretty bird, Lenore."

She ruffled her feathers, contently playing with his jewelry. When Mike was done eating, he brought his finger to her belly to poke her. She nibbled at his nail without any actual force.

"Here." he got her to hop on to his wrist, holding her towards me.

There wasn't any harm in it so I let him put Lenore on my sleeve.

"Lenore and Poe, huh?" I drawled.

"Mhm."

"Gee, I wonder who named them."

Getting Lenore to reperch on him, Mike brought her and Poe back to their large cage for the night.

"Why is it people with birds almost always have two?" I asked.

The two birds cozied up to each other on a perch. Mike smiled in on them.

"Everyone needs a friend."

Xxxxx

"I don't understand the hype with this movie. Everyone made it out to be great."

Lounging with Mike, I watched our horror feature for the night. Neither of us had seen the remake of Stephen King's "It". It was free to watch on Netflix so we gave it a try.

"It isn't a total bust, per se. The killer clown trope is just played out."

"Yet, they brought it back anyways."

The film was loosely holding my attention. When you saw one clown horror film, you saw them all. The end verdict wasn't astounding.

"I give it a five out of ten, at best." I concluded as the credits rolled. "That's me being generous."

"I'd hate to see you be stingy."

"You would."

Propping myself up, I stretched my arms up to relieve the tension from lying down through the whole movie.

"I'm going to step outside for a smoke." I excused myself, craving a cigarette. "I need nicotine."

"Smoking's so bad for you."

"Wouldn't be the worst thing I've done to myself."

I said the last bit without intending to. I'd forgotten who I was in the presence of.

"...Baby bat, what is that supposed to mean?"

"I don't take care of myself." I lied, although it was also the truth. "I live off coffee and junk food. Deal with idiot people. Same shit, different day. Cigarettes are the least of my flaws."

To avoid expanding on that conversation, I went up the stairs with my pack of cigarettes and a lighter in one hand and a half empty bottle of water in the other. That was a can of worms I didn't want to pop open for Mike.

He would have had empathy, no doubt. But, when I came to see him, I liked to leave as much of my shit at the door as I could. Having the opportunity was a luxury. Everywhere else it followed me like a storm cloud.

Barefoot with long sleeve pajamas, I was out of my element smoking in Mike's backyard. They had an inground pool, covered up for the season. The patio furniture was taken care of and all matched. The grass was cut and the grill on the patio gave me the impression Mike's family was big on get-togethers.

My mom paid one of the neighborhood kids to mow our lawn because my dad couldn't be bothered to do it consistently. I fended for myself, doing my own chores, so she didn't pin me with that task. Not many mothers could say their high schooler cleaned their room, bathroom and did their own laundry every week like clockwork.

Done with my cigarette, I put the it in the water bottle. I capped it and shook it up. Mike's family wouldn't appreciate cigarette buds in their lawn. The bottle was my ash tray for the weekend, and my gesture of courtesy.

"Back." I declared in my monotone way.

"You have a missed call."

"What?"

Remote in hand, Mike clicked through Netflix's library. He pointed to my phone on the sheets. I'd left it right next to him so he easily saw who the caller was. I asked him and he gave me a look that said I wasn't going to be impressed.

"Take a wild guess." he prompted me

xxxxx

Chapter Text

AUTHOR'S NOTE: Hey, guys! Welcome back! Here's another update. (Sorry for the wait. Life kind of snuck up on me like a cast iron pan to the back of the head, this week.)

Fun Fact: Earlier, I was watching the episode The Ungroundable and found something that I never noticed before.

You know the scene were Butters goes in to the woods to bring the vamp kids their Dr. Pepper and cherry twizzlers? Well, you'll notice Mike isn't initially there with them. If you pause where Butters approaches Mike's friends by the fire, you'll see that HE'S IN THE FUCKING TREES xD

Holy shit, guys. I was ROLLING with laughter when I saw his face up there. LMAO I love South Park. Half the show is the small details, I swear.

As always, thanks you ever so kindly to my Archive of Our Own readers who left me comments! Love you guys!

Xxxxx

"It's a little late for him to call." Mike drawled as I looked at my phone in disbelief. "It's almost One in the morning. Does he normally do that?"

"No...makes me wonder what the hell that's about."

I didn't want to talk to him, but it was out of character for Stan to call that late. He hardly ever called me, at all. If he knew for a fact that I was mad at him, all bets were off. When I heard from him at all, it was almost always a text.

So, why the fuck did he call?

The answer shone up at me. I had a voicemail. Mike crawled up from behind me curious as to why I was staring at my phone with such intensity.

"Oh." He made a sound of understanding. "...are you going to listen to it?"

Part of me didn't want to give Stan the satisfaction. I had to know though. I brought the phone up to my ear, bracing myself for whatever it was he left for me to hear.

"Pete...I don't really know... what... to say...to...you..."

He was drunk. What the hell did he think he was doing?

"You ...mean so much to me...I...I just keep... fucking up. I keep fucking up so bad."

Pinching the bridge of my nose, I listened to him presumably stumble around his room. He mumbled something to his dog after almost tripping over it.

"I love you...please talk to me." Stan pleaded. "Please. I don't...I don't know what to do, Pete."

"You fucking idiot, Stan." I said aloud once the message was over. "He's drunk."

"Bebe had another one of her famous Friday night parties." Mike enlightened me. "Guess he went."

"If he did, he's home now. Heard him trip over his fucking dog."

Mike laughed in to my back.

"That's not funny, but it is." He snickered.

"He has a game tomorrow. He's so stupid...if he gets caught drinking...ugh!"

Walking his fingers over my shoulder, Mike hummed thoughtfully.

"You sound worried."

"Stan knows better than to do this shit."

"He must be hurting...I recall a certain someone else who drank away their broken heart."

Mike's long fingers were light and spiderlike along my shoulder. I blew on his creeping fingers with a puff of air, as if they were an actual spider getting too close.

"I wasn't broken-hearted, at the time." I denied.

He took away his hand, faking me out. Mike's fingers appeared on my other shoulder. I tried blowing those away, too.

"You were numbing something." Mike's fingers delicately kept moving. "At least, you were trying to."

"I was frustrated."

"So?"

"It's not the same-Ah!" I yelped when I got a sharp chill from his creeping fingers going up my neck. "Would you fucking stop it?"

"You're so fun to play with."

"I must be. Everyone keeps messing with me."

Taking what I said personally, Mike made a worried sound in to the back of my head.

"You know I'm only teasing you, right?" he asked.

"Do I?"

"Baby bat..."

"Don't 'baby bat' me right now. I'm not in the mood."

My calmer demeanor that I'd adopted with Mike was slipping away. I was getting angry, unconsciously beginning to stack the bricks back up to my wall. They were piling up fast.

"Do you want to call him back, Pete?" Mike offered.

"Why would I want to call that retard back?"

"You tell me."

It was a request, not a rhetorical question.

"I don't want to call him back." I remained firm. "Can we drop it, now?"

"If you don't want to tell me, you don't have to."

I just got inside from smoking a cigarette and I already wanted another one. I was quiet for a moment, just sitting there with Mike behind me.

"What's in it for you, Mike?"

"...pardon?" He didn't understand the question.

"This. Us." I clarified, darkly. "What do you get from this? Why am I here?"

I'd wanted to ask him for days now. The time never felt right. Now that I was aggravated, it just came spouting up to the surface. What game was he playing?

I knew Stan and Michael's card, so what was his? What trick was he hiding up his sleeve? What was the catch?

"I wouldn't have anything to gain from hurting you." Mike countered back, evenly.

"Tch." I clicked my tongue, accusingly. "You'll find something. Everyone does."

Reaching over my shoulder, Mike took my phone away. I was glaring down at it the whole time.

"Remember fifth grade?" he asked, putting my cellphone out of reach so that I couldn't stare at it and make myself angrier.

"What about fifth grade? The bullies? The shitty, useless school?"

"I had a birthday party at Casa Bonita. You and your friends were invited."

Oh, yeah. That. Mike put the invitations in our lockers and we all burned them at the back of the school with our lighters. No way we were going to some Vamp kid's birthday.

"...you didn't go." Mike continued. "I really wanted you to."

"I'm sure you had plenty of your little vampire followers there to take our places."

"You're not listening. I wanted YOU, there. I didn't care whether your friends went, or not."

"If you didn't care, why invite them?"

"I thought if you were all invited then you were more likely to go, Pete."

As a kid, I had no obligation to go celebrate his birthday.

"You didn't go." Sadness crept up on him from the memory.

"We weren't friends, Mike."

"I wanted to be." Kissing my cheek, Mike lingered there. "I liked you."

Carefully, he placed his finger under my chin and turned me to look at him.

"I never stopped."

"Sucks to be you, sounds like."

Mike leaned in to kiss me. He guided me back towards him, buttering me up with his affectionate touch. He grasped me by the face, keeping our mouths connected.

"Isn't this what you want?" he asked me when we parted, discouraged by my body language.

"...I don't know what I want, Mike."

"You don't?"

I shook my head. Trying to be as nice about it as I could, I inched away from him. This was dangerous territory. It's always when you get comfortable and put your guard down that life jumps up and snatches you by the ankle.

Just an unforgiving beartrap that wounds you, and leaves you there to bleed out.

"You know what you want." Mike persisted, giving me my space. "Why else would you be here?"

"You took care of me Halloween when you didn't have to...Nobody takes care of me." I confessed, some unfamiliar force propelling me to tell him the truth. "It was different, I guess."

After telling him the truth, I wanted to take it all back. It didn't take a rocket scientist to figure out I was fending for myself, but saying it out loud shrunk me down a size.

"I'll keep taking care of you, baby bat." he promised, so heartfelt and quiet I almost believed him.

Almost.

Mike crawled up next to me. I wouldn't look at him.

"Let me take care of you, okay?"

"Until what? You get bored of me? Find something better?"

"Trust is a two-way street, Pete. Don't forget that."

If I couldn't bring myself to trust Mike, what reason did he have to trust me?

"Oh, and you trust me? Why, Mike? Because you had some unrequited crush in grade school?"

"You aren't out to hurt people, you just want people to stop hurting you. That's why I trust you."

I could see him in my peripheral vision. Mike's empathetic eyes felt like they were actually seeing right in to me, past my anger. His bare, hazel eyes.

I wanted him. I wasn't supposed to let it go this far. He was sucking me in.

Let go, Mike. Do yourself the favor and let go.

"You're making a mistake." I warned him, feeling like I had no other choice than to give him the chance to back out while he could. "You don't want me to be your 'baby bat'."

Humbly taking my abrasive reaction as nothing more than a scratch on the surface, Mike buffed it away with a question of his own.

"Would trusting me be all that much worse than where you are now?"

"Getting attached to people hasn't done me any favors before. Why would it now?"

"Things will be different. I can't sit back and watch you hurt, like they do."

Giving Mike Stan's place wasn't the worst I could do. I wouldn't have to watch him pretend to be something he isn't. Mike was fine with who he was. I wouldn't be his dirty little secret.

Stan couldn't keep locking himself inside the closet and expect me to let him out, forever. I couldn't hide in there with him, either. I was so tired of it. And, I was tired of Michael feeding off my misery.

"...Don't make me regret this."

xxxxx

"I agreed to be your boyfriend. I didn't agree to this."

In the cafeteria, all Mike's friends were sitting together. He wanted me to go with him and join the glittery hoard of black taking up that long table.

"Being my boyfriend means I want you to get along with my friends." Mike explained, amused at my hesitancy. "I felt that was implied."

"I'm going to pass on this, today. Don't take this the wrong way, but I don't exactly fit in with your group."

Mike's friends were all laughing and joking around. They dressed in black, but they were probably the nicest kids in school. I couldn't match their energy.

I would stick out like a sore thumb. A swollen, battered, bloody, sore thumb.

"You were miserable being Stan's secret. I'm not letting you relive that."

"I'm not reliving it. I'm choosing not to be a part of this."

"Lunch is only twenty minutes... it won't be that bad."

Past the Vampire table was Stan's. His back was to us. I impulsively looked at him, Mike following my gaze.

"Is that what this is really about?"

"No, but it doesn't give me any more incentive to go in the cafeteria."

"Come on, baby bat." he took my wrist. "He isn't going to say anything to you here. There are too many people."

Mike had his heart set on me going with him. Other people's feelings weren't characteristically my jurisdiction because my feelings weren't typically of importance to them. However, I felt obligated to accommodate Mike for obvious reasons.

If all he was asking from me was to co-exist with his friends, then he wasn't asking for anything unreasonable. We were together-it came with the territory. I tried drilling it in to my own head as Mike got me to go inside the cafeteria.

"Make room, Larry." Mike nudged the brunette sitting in the middle of the bench so he'd slide over.

"Sure thing, Mike." he complied without a problem.

Sliding to the end of the bench, Larry opened up enough room for two people. Mike took his seat in the middle of the bench, claiming his place as center of the group. He subtly patted the spot next to him for me to join him.

Nobody made any particular objection to my presence, but red eyes were all on me with transparent curiosity. We all knew each other from grade school but I felt like the new kid, or something.

"Got tired of sitting alone?" Annie joked in a care-free way, brushing her fiery bangs out of her face with striped arm-warmers.

"Not exactly..."

Mike pulled out two bagged sandwiches from his lunch box, placing one in front of me. Along with a red apple.

"Be nice to my baby bat." He chided, much to my embarrassment. "He's going through an adjustment period."

The vampire clan accepted me as one of their own without objection. They trusted Mike's judgment and didn't seem to mind me. Only, they misinterpreted what "baby bat" meant.

"Aren't you one of the goth kids?" The silver-haired member, Ryan, asked what was at the front of everyone's minds. "It's senior year. Why join us, now?"

"I'm not joining."

"You're not?"

Although I had food placed in front of me, the first thing I went for was my thermos of coffee. Mike subtly moved the sandwich closer to me as if I didn't already see it right there.

"Pete's here for me. We're dating"

The announcement got a surprised reaction, barreling through all of them like dominos. Except Vlad. As a matter of fact, they all kind of shifted their eyes at Vlad as if they were expecting a reaction. He grinned, popping the tab off a can of soda.

"Welcome to the group."

Lunch went as well as it could. I wouldn't call it painless, but I made it. I only ate the sandwich Mike gave me. He put the apple in my backpack when I tried to give it back to him.

"Eat it later."

"I'll probably forget it's there."

"Not if I put it in the pocket with your cigarettes."

Filing out with everyone else in the cafeteria, I was just another body in the herd. From a distance, I didn't stand out much amongst the Vamp kids. The mass of black hid me from the set of blue eyes that had been scanning the cafeteria and hallway in hopes of spotting me.

xxxxx

I thought I was done with Mike's friends for the rest of the day but wound up with them in the cosmetology classroom after school. Bloodrayne was going to trim Mike's hair and touch up his green ends. Sitting in an empty salon chair next to him while as she set up her supplies, I was reading a book when I felt someone inspecting my hair.

"Are you waiting?" Ryan asked, getting a good look at my head and feeling the ends. "I'm in Cosmo, too. If you want this fixed up, I can do it."

"I just use black dye from the store. It's fine, I'll buy a box and do it at home."

"I meant a cut. But, you could use a dye job too. Whoever did the red for you fucked it up. You don't have to cover it up all up with black, I can blend it out."

Attention still buried in my book, I held back from being an asshole. They're Mike's friends. Be nice, Pete.

"Those are my roots. They're not dyed."

"...that bright red is your natural hair?"

"It's been months since I touched up the black. That's why the red looks all fucked up and messy on top..."

Bloodrayne flew over to look at my scalp.

"This is NATURAL!?"

"Yes."

"And you want to cover it up!? No!"

I should have waited somewhere else for Mike's hair appointment.

"It's easiest that way." I grumbled.

"You should use it if you have it." Ryan suggested. "We have black dye here. I could fix all this for you."

"Fine. Just don't make me look like a fucking emo kid."

"Wouldn't dream of it."

My roots were so overgrown that when I agreed to let Ryan do something with them, he blended from my black ends up in to the red. He went just high enough to clean it up so now the red looked intentional instead of sloppy.

"Your fringe is really overgrown." Ryan held out the length after washing out the dye. "Do you like to keep it on the longer side, or am I doing a big chop?"

"Longer is fine."

I was sticking with the asymmetrical look, keeping my fringe long and to one side. Ryan cut it to start at my brow bone and tapered it down to my cheekbone. He fixed my layers, restoring the cropped cut it was supposed to be.

The nape of my neck was buzzed to give it a sharp, clean line. Ryan used the blow-dryer to finish it all up, drying my straight hair.

"You needed that." Bloodrayne commented, amazed at the difference, using a blow-dryer and rounded brush on Mike's long hair. "Come see us when it starts growing out, again."

"Yeah, don't leave it until the last minute." Ryan agreed. "If Mike's not around, you don't have to wait for him. You can come find us on your own."

I thanked Ryan for the cut, going back to my book as he swept up the hair beneath my chair. Mike's ends were a vibrant, neon green when Bloodrayne was done with him. The V-cut along his ends was sharp and his bangs were shortened a bit.

Mike didn't look all that different from his usual self since he kept up with his hair. I looked brand new. Which, he complimented me on afterwards.

"What a difference, hm?" He praised, walking down the hallway. "It's amazing what a cut and a little dye can do."

"My hair was a mess, I get it. I've had too much going on to care."

"You were still cute, it's just nice to see you cleaned up."

Taking my hand in his, Mike caught me off guard. I flinched, initially worried we'd be seen. There was no consequence to being seen. This is what I wanted.

"What's wrong?"

"Nothing. I just forgot for a sec that this doesn't have to be a big secret from everybody."

Xxxxx

Mike's house was quiet that afternoon. He folded a load of clean laundry, putting things away while I preoccupied myself with the T.V. The pile at the foot of his bed dwindled down until he had everything put away.

Not very immersed in the programing, I almost wished I had been given more homework. Thanksgiving was in a few days and the teachers were merciful. I think they just didn't want to grade anything, it had nothing to do with our benefit.

"Do you want to go do something? You look bored." Mike said, setting the empty laundry basket aside.

"I'm fine. This is just how I am."

"You are rather quiet."

I was lying on my side to watch the television. Mike laid himself behind me, stroking my hip mindlessly.

"Thank you for tolerating my friends, today. I know it wasn't easy for you."

"I lived."

"You'll get used to them. They're good people."

I was going to have to get used to them, unless I wanted to go back to being scheduled in to someone's life. Mike spent so much damn time with them. I accepted it for what it was.

At least Mike wasn't ashamed to show me to his friends. That was a huge improvement, itself.

"Your group has always been goody-goodies. Especially you."

"For the most part."

Try always, Mike, I thought to myself.

"You don't have a bad bone in your body."

"You know that isn't true."

Mike's mindless, innocent caressing didn't stay that way. He moved up from my hip, to my ribcage under my shirt.

"You and your cold fucking hands!" I yelped, trying to pull away. "Mike!"

"They'll warm up." He murmured in to my ear, reeling me in so that my back was secured to his chest.

With his fingers still cold, Mike climbed each divot of my ribcage. He could feel that some bones were beginning to protrude slightly more than they should have. He didn't say anything, but the way he carefully pressed each rib as he went along told me he was making a mental note of it.

My nipple stiffened under the chilled pads of his fingertips. He circled it, deliberately teasing me with his mouth lingering by my ear. I envisioned his teeth were barred though they weren't. I kept anticipating a bite, shifting my head when Mike's lips brushed the cartilage of my ear.

"Awfully protective of that ear."

"You bite."

Losing interest in my ear, Mike put his lips where my shoulder met my neck.

"Heh...and it's your ear you're protecting?"

His fake fangs couldn't do any real damage, but you could feel them. Boy, did I feel them. He nipped me, quickly doing it again an inch high, closer to my choker. I groaned, caught halfway between a pained hiss and turned on.

"My silly baby bat." Mike suckled his teeth marks, briefly. "You should know better."

Mike's hand went down, back over my ribs, aching slow. His palm rested over my navel, the tip of one nail scratching the skin right above my jeans.

"Is my hand warmer?" he asked me, suggestively.

"Uh-huh..."

"Perfect."

Using his thumb and index finger, Mike undid the button to my pants. He slid his whole hand down the front of my underwear, grasping me with a leisurely grip, carrying on like we had all the time in the world.

"I forgot to mention I like your jewelry." He said as he began as relaxed pump on my cock. "I almost got mine done."

"Ah...Why didn't you?"

"I went with something else."

Mike had his nose and tongue pierced. I silently wondered which one he'd gotten when opting out of getting his nipples done. The topic faded away, Mike working me with his touch.

His arousal touched the back of my jeans through his. He didn't pay it much mind, but enjoyed when I moved my hips instinctively, grinding my ass in to his crotch as a result.

"If you let me roll over, I could return the favor." I offered, interested in what I felt pressing in to me. "If you want."

Mike took his hand back so I could roll over to face him. I undid his studded belt, getting inside his jeans as he resettled himself inside mine. I made one stroke, discovering something I would have never anticipated. Ever.

"...you weren't talking about your nose or tongue piercing earlier, were you?"

"Nope."

There, at the head of his dick, I could feel a curved barbell. He had a Prince Albert. Mike Mckowski, Mr. Goody Two-Shoes, pierced his dick.

"You look shocked."

"I'm having a hard time wrapping my mind around this." Getting back on task, I stroked him, careful around the piercing. "Wasn't expecting that..."

I could feel it at my literal fingertips and I still couldn't accept it.

"Your face was priceless." Mike held back from straight out laughing, but it shone through his eyes. "Still think I'm a goody-goody?"

"You're killing the mood." I warned him, mildly peeved that he'd gotten the better of me.

Mike squeezed me harder, getting a clipped gasp. I did my best to stroke him evenly, but with his touch I was losing focus fast. Mike's tongue inviting itself to mingle with mine sent me on a pleasurable downward spiral.

The metal clicked my front teeth a few times, giving me a steady reminder to the blowjob he'd given me before. He'd done so enthusiastically and upon his own free will...I wished it was his mouth below my waist.

My clothes felt weighed down upon my body the longer we touched and kissed at each other. The heat rolling off me suddenly felt unbearable. All I had on were back jeans and a cotton long-sleeve dark gray shirt.

"I need to take my shirt off." I panted, frustrated with the rapid spike in temperature. "It's hot in here."

"Is it?"

How was Mike so composed? He was even-toned, unflushed and gave off a relaxed aura. He didn't look like someone in the middle of a hand job and heavy make out session. He looked more entertained than pleasured.

We parted so I could strip my shirt off. I chucked it some random direction, desperate to get it away from me. It felt like the room went up ten degrees in the blink of an eye, God.

"Forgetting something?" A finger curled in to the waist of my jeans.

"I don't know. Am I?"

"Hm~"

Pushed to lie flat on my back, I had my jeans tugged down by the bottom. I wore mine fitted, but they were looser on me nowadays. Mike got them off me without a hitch, leaving me to lie there in my short, red boxers. His skinny jeans, however, had to be taken off with a little finesse.

He took off his shirt first, ridding himself of the Hot Topic print. He had to get off the bed to get down to his underwear, which were a rather sexy pair of black bikini briefs. Or maybe I just liked them...

"Like what you see?" Mike climbed up on top of me, seating himself on my thighs.

"You just love attention, don't you?" I deflected the question, realizing I'd been caught looking.

Resting his palms on my chest, Mike winked.

"Selectively, yes...I'd like something else a lot more."

xxxxx

Chapter Text

AUTHOR'S NOTE: Hey, guys! Thanks for reading! 😊 And thank you to my Archive of Our Own commenters!

Xxxxxx

The likelihood of me ever topping Stan was equivalent to getting a snow storm in July. The jaws of life couldn't pry that ass open, not that I was ever interested in it. Being on the penetrating end, at all, didn't pass my mind until I had Mike on top of me asking for it.

Used to being on the receiving end of sex, I laid dumbstruck under him. Not to stereotype, but Mike's shoe and cosmetic collection should have tipped me off far earlier. He was a sensual, effeminate creature...who shamelessly shoved his ass in to Vlad's crotch like he couldn't get enough of it.

I was so worked up, I wanted to give him anything to keep things going. What he wanted was something I had no expertise in... I wouldn't know what the hell I was doing. Damn it! How was I going to say no to the seductive creature on top of me?

"About that..." I cleared my throat. "I've never done...that...before."

"Believe me, I was never under the impression Stan took it up the ass. I'm not asking you to literally be on top." Mike interjected, swiveling his hips for emphasis. "I'm sitting up here for a reason, Pete~"

Leaning over me, Mike stretched an arm out to one of his bedside drawers. He retrieved a bottle of real lubricant. Silicone lubricant. A decent sized bottle of it.

"Looks like you know what you're doing..."

"I like a smooth ride." He explained, inferring to the bottle in hand. "Silicone is the best choice for that."

"Stan used lotion on me..."

That appalled Mike. He paused, eyes darting down to my face. His sensual aura faltered like a record being scratching.

"Please tell me you're joking." His voice went flat.

"I'm not." I said, equally flat.

Being completely intimate with Stan was a fairly new thing. The first time he actually fucked me was months back, and it wasn't planned. I had no reason to buy lube before, I didn't think Stan and I would get that far.

He convinced me to go that far. I wanted to do anything I could to give him a reason to choose me. Lotion was all I had at my house to get the job done, at the time. It worked enough that Stan didn't see any imminent need to buy real lubricant.

He was paranoid being seen buying lube would somehow expose his secret. I could have easily gotten it myself. But, I held out the hope he'd care enough to get over his hang up and do it himself.

He didn't.

"If you were letting him put it in your ass, the least he could do is get the right lubricant." Mike criticized with blatant annoyance. "He didn't hurt you, did he?"

"The first few times weren't anything to write home about."

Instructing me to scoot back and sit up by the headboard, Mike poured the slippery substance directly in to his hand to spread it over me. I shuddered at the slick, oily feeling. Perfectly smooth, like gliding through velvet.

"THAT'S what lubricant is supposed to feel like." Pumping me so that I could get a real feel for it, Mike liberally slicked me down. "The nerve of some people, I swear. Lotion should only be used as a last resort if you have absolutely nothing else."

"You want to...a-ah...go t-tell him that?"

"No, baby bat. Stan can stick it in a rusty keyhole, for all I care. I have better things to do."

When he stopped touching me, my disappointment only lasted a moment. Mike used the residual lubricant on his hand to wet his entrance before raising his waist to hover over my cock. He carefully, but without hesitation, sat himself down on it.

His body resisted at first, as was the natural response. But pressing down, he relaxed, easily willing himself to open up. Hands positioned on my shoulders, Mike sunk over my erection inch by inch, letting gravity assist in easing him down.

"Jesus Christ..." I muttered when he bestowed that tight, slippery heat upon me, eyes almost rolling to the back of my head.

Stan's obsession with my ass felt less depraved, now. I could understand why he always wanted a piece of it...this is what it was like for him?

Mike took it in the ass more gracefully than I did. There was a touch of color to his cheeks, and he visibly had to focus on what he was doing, but he made it look easy. The lubricant probably helped, but that was all him.

If it were me in his position, I'd have been squirming and doing all I could to keep it contained. My whole face would be warm, and it would have taken me longer to get it all in me. Stan got his perverted satisfaction from it plenty of times.

He liked seeing me reduced to a whining, squirming mess. Keeping a tough, abrasive persona wasn't the easiest thing to do with seven or eight inches plunged in your asshole. Sure, I tried...but, a yelp here and restless wiggle there, and I lost my intimidating qualities.

"You made that look easy." With contained envious admiration, I relished the sight of Mike's tall, slender body perched on top of me.

"You haven't seen anything." He purred, rolling his hips to loosen himself up in preparation.

He was hot and tight inside, welcoming me in. I could faintly feel his pulse from inside him, and his entrance contracting around me in a soft rhythm. Nothing erotically mind-blowing was happening, but the sight and feel of him sent my heartrate soaring.

"Fuck...Mike..."

"Mm, I know." He started a languid ride in my lap. "That's it, baby bat. Just enjoy."

He perched his hips back, gyrating. Mike moved fluidly, waist pivoting in a smooth rhythm. He looked weightless.

It was my first time seeing all of him bared like that, without a spec of clothing. Mike was thin, but looked healthy. Unlike me.

I couldn't see his ribs beginning to emerge under his skin. His pale coloring still had a radiant hue to it. He was vibrant and perfectly well.

He glowed with something...an air of mystery and comfort to him. He was like staring up at the moon. Mike was gorgeous.

My head tipped forward to rest on his chest, my hands gripping at the tops of his thighs. Knowing exactly what he wanted, Mike angled himself down to hit his sweet spot each time his ass came down in my lap.

The television left unwatched in the background provided white noise. It was in combination with the rustling of the sheets and light clatter of the headboard behind me. Pinned between the headboard and Mike's body, I was rooted where I was.

With me propped up against it, Mike easily utilized the leverage. He was in tune with his body, taking me along for the blissful ride. The mattress beneath us was moving with his momentum, but all I felt was him.

"Oh, I'm starting to get close..." His fingers twined in my hair, holding me by the back of my skull, clutching me close to his chest. "...Pete...yes...aah..."

Mike's rhythm picked up. My hands flew up to hold him by the hips when his downward thrusts became short and precise. Mike impaled himself quickly, spurred on by my pleasured groans.

His were musical. I wanted to memorize the sound of him. I'd replay it in my mind for weeks.

"Ah, ah, ah..." he vocalized high in his throat, breathy and simply beautiful. "Oh, right there...aaah..."

Hearing Mike enjoy himself in unison with me, I wanted him to reach the threshold. I was more invested in his climax than my own. It dangled just within reach, I could have it at any moment. I didn't want it without him.

Concentrating, he focused his pelvis to come down in the same spot over and over again. I was falling apart under him, on the cusp of losing it when he began grinding and rolling his hips in a calculated frenzy between each downward thrust.

"Mike, I'm cumming-" I clutched him urgently, perilously close to climax. "Fuck! Fuck, fuck, fuck!"

Mike's voice cut through the air of the thankfully empty house. It tipped me over the edge and he got a load in that tight, little ass of his. He gave a series of pleasured cries in the throws of orgasm, riding it out with gusto while I trembled and groaned with the aftershock.

He did the work, and I sat there panting and exhausted, totally winded from the intensity of it.

"That... was amazing."

"Wasn't it?" Mike agreed, bringing his hips to a graduated stop. "Catch your breath, because I'm not done with you~"

xxxxx

"Pete, I bought you a shirt for Thanksgiving. Here."

From a shopping bag, my mother revealed a collared, button up dress shirt. It was bright white with long sleeves. It wasn't atrocious. I couldn't help but glower at it, though. Ugh, it looked straight off the rack from some department store.

"I got white because I wanted to break up the black a little." She reasoned, knowing without question that I'd be wearing the shirt with black slacks, shoes and blazer. "You only have to wear it for today. Everyone's coming to our house to eat."

"I know, Mom..."

"Wear a tie with it.

It wasn't even Nine in the morning. In pajamas, I waited for my coffee to brew with sleep bogging me down.

Boxes of stuffing mix were on the counter, next to some onions, celery, and butter so Mom could cook it. Pies were in the fridge and she bought bread rolls. The turkey was going in the oven and everyone else would be bringing the other dishes.

With an apron on over her pajamas, my mom tucked her short red hair behind her ears. The bobbed-cut came down just past her chin.

"I need to season this bird and get it in the oven." She mused aloud, eyeing the thawed turkey still encased in plastic. "It's going to take hours to cook."

She was having a conversation with herself, it didn't dawn on her. I put together my coffee, minding my own existence when the couch gremlin appeared. Disheveled and in need of a shave, he took my spot by the coffee machine when I brought my mug over to the pantry to grab a pop-tart.

"Would it have killed you to make a mug for your old man?" My sperm donor admonished me, glowering as he fixed himself a mug with what was left in the pot.

"You have two arms and legs." I deadpanned.

Mom plunked a roasting pan down with an audible slam.

"You're a grown man." She told him. "Make your own damn coffee."

"Take his side. Nice. Spoil him some more."

Spoiled? That was laughable. But, by his definition, fending for only myself made me spoiled. The pop-tart in my hand pissed him off.

"You get his fucking sugar bricks, but I ask for a box of cereal and I get fuck-all."

"I'm not doing this with you." Mom brushed him off. "If you need something to do, go shower and shave. You look like a dirty bum."

"You don't treat me any better."

"How's your girlfriend?"
"Oh, here we go."

I evaporated in to this air in the start of their squabble. I took my breakfast and shirt up to my room. At least the pop-tarts were strawberry.

The outfit my mother wanted me to wear for the holiday wasn't the biggest eyesore I'd ever seen. My purple and black choker helped dust off the conformist vibe just enough that I could tolerate it. My relatives were going to be the real challenge, later.

"Peter, you look like you're dressed for a funeral."

"Nice to see you, too, Grandpa..."

The doorbell rang, which Mom asked me to get. Hobbling in with his cane, my grandfather had my grandmother right behind him. She could still walk around unassisted, but my aunt anxiously followed behind them both up the front steps

"It's a sharp outfit." My grandmother assured me.

"Thanks, Grandma..."

She gave me a pat to the arm with her wrinkled hand. My aunts husband came in with a covered pot, her four kids filing in behind him. The three oldest were boys, ages nine, eleven, and thirteen, carrying different containers that would be going to the kitchen. The youngest, she was six, only a stuffed animal tucked in the bend of her arm.

When everything was set down, the boys were pestering their parents for the play stuff they'd left in the car. They were already restless. Dinner wasn't for a while and they wanted to kill time.

"Okay, okay. Ricky, here." My aunt handed the oldest the car keys. "Lock the car when you guys are done and bring me back the keys."

They brought a football, whiffle ball and field hockey equipment, to play with when the other cousins showed up with their parents. Another triage of grade school boys arrived, along with a toddler. With the exception of the six-year-old girl, the toddler, and my eighteen-year-old self, all the cousins were in that tween and early teen age group.

If I'd been a social person, the dramatic age gap would be unfortunate. What was actually unfortunate about that age gap, was being the oldest. Six tween boys wanted to play outside, but none of the adults wanted to babysit them, more interested in mingling inside the house.

"Pete, could you do me a favor?" My mother poked her head out of the kitchen where everyone was seated at the dining table for coffee and idle conversation. "The kids want to play outside in the backyard. Someone needs to keep an eye on them."

With some hot apple cider, a notebook, and pen, I sat outside on the old swinging loveseat "babysitting". Mom didn't expect me to actively watch them. All I had to do was make sure total anarchy didn't break out.

Running around the yard with plastic hockey sticks in hand, the kids kept the rough-housing to an acceptable level. Half way through some newly constructed poetry, I got a message from Mike asking how I was. I told him I was at home bored, not really doing anything, omitting that I was technically appointed as a temporary babysitter.

The doorbell rang maybe fifteen minutes later. I didn't bother guessing which one of my dad's relatives decided to drop in. The sliding door to the backyard opened.

"He's right out here." Mom said to someone. "You can go on ahead."

"Thank you, Ma'am."

I waited for Mom to shut the sliding door before saying anything.

"You're a terrible vampire."

"We're still on that?"

"You invite yourself a lot, is all I'm saying."

Joining me on the swinging loveseat, Mike crossed one leg over the other. His heel-boots were replaced with a pair of flat, polished black loafers. He had black straight leg pants on with a slim matching long-sleeved dress shirt with cufflinks at his wrists. A fitted gray vest laid over the dress shirt, two rows of silver buttons going down the front in parallel lines.

All he needed were his fake fangs and a cape, Mike would have elegantly passed for a modern-day Dracula. He was well put together and presentable, still managing to hold on to his signature vampiric element. The black batwing earing he wore was replaced with a small black hoop.

Since his hair was tied at the back in a low ponytail, I could see he had a matching hoop on the other ear. The ponytail look wasn't on the list of my favorite styles for a guy. On Mike, I liked it. I thought he looked really good today, actually. I kept that bit of information to myself.

"Just eyeliner, today?" I asked him.

"As accepting as my parents are of me, I can't say all my relatives share their mentality. I tone it down for family events."

"I didn't know Hot Topic had a formal collection."

Quick and suave to the draw, Mike tilted his head, inspecting me from head to toe in a flash.

"Aren't you late for a poetry slam at the cemetery?" He countered.

"Not as late as you are to that business trip in Transylvania." I shot back at him just as quickly.

Mike raised a brow, challengingly.

"Adam Lambert called. He wants his look back. You know, the one from 2009."

"Did he call before, or after, you exchanged nudes?"

"Actually, he sent me yours."

"Twilight twink."

"Gothic gay lord."

At an evident stalemate, I nodded solemnly.

"Shots have been fired."

"Indeed, they have." Mike agreed.

The banter was harmless. I didn't have to laugh for him to know that. He smirked at my deceptive apathy, seeing it for the ruse that it was.

"You're something else, Pete." He started, distracted by something all of a sudden. "...Um, is there any particular reason that child is being chased with hockey sticks?"

In the yard, the oldest of my younger cousins, Ricky, was being chased by armed tweens.

"What the fuck are you Muppets doing?" I asked them because I was utterly confused, not because I was the least bit concerned or cared.

"We're playing angry mob."

This looked to be a game that Ricky was voted out five to one on. He never consented to it, thus he ran like hell.

The sliding door opened, my six-year-old cousin, Suzy, poking her head of strawberry blonde hair out. She watched her oldest brother being hunted down.

"I wanna play!" She declared, abandoning her coloring book and crayons in the living room.

Suzy came up to the loveseat, tugging at my pant leg gently with her small hand.

"Pete, I wanna play." She pleaded, looking for permission to join. "Can I play? Please?"

"Are you not going to say anything!?" Ricky demanded, still in hot pursuit by five abled-bodied boys.

"Use the rake and shovel." I encouraged the group. "They're by the fence."

There was a cussing fit worthy of a sailor, followed by terrified screams. I handed Suzy the bright orange wiffleball bat the other kids had left lying around on the patio.

"There you go. Run fast, Suzy."

"I will." She carefully put her stuffed rabbit in my lap. "Watch Snowball."

Being six, Suzy couldn't keep up with the group. She had a blast, anyways. Watching them run back and forth was like watching a tennis match: Look left, look right. Look left, look right.

"Pete."

"Uh-huh?"

"Who the hell put you in charge of these kids?"

There was more terrified screaming, this time with Suzy chasing after the group giggling.

"My mom." I answered, Mike. "You reporting her to your dad?"

"Pft. Depending how this ends, I might have to."

Picking my cup of apple cider up off the patio, I took a sip, lax and care free. I didn't give a fuck.

Run children, run. Let the world burn.

After running close to a mile in the backyard, Ricky came to an epiphany. He bolted towards the house for sanctuary.

"WEAK CUNTS!" He bellowed victoriously, at the top of his lungs.

Needless to say, I came life-threateningly close to inhaling apple cider. Ricky made it inside the house, two middle fingers held up high. Mike completely lost his shit laughing, simultaneously patting my back in an effort to save my life while I coughed.

No more than two minutes later, my mom came out, just as confused as I'd been when the kids started playing Angry Mob to begin with. She didn't have to say a word, I heard the question loud and clear.

"He was being chased with hockey sticks."

I could see the gears turning in my mother's head.

"...Why was he being chased with hockey sticks?"

"Isn't that how you play hockey?"

Mike was wheezing. He couldn't get enough air in, clutching at his sides. I almost started cracking up with him.

"No." Knowing damn well I was full of shit, my mother shook her head at me. "That isn't how you play hockey, Pete."

"My bad, then."

Mom tried to scold me, but the gravity of the situation weighed down on her and she laughed.

"Pft...Pete..." She pulled herself together, covering her mouth for a moment, giving me as serious a face she could muster. "Everyone needs to behave. That includes you."

Suzy came over, dragging the wiffleball bat down by her side.

"Pete, I don't need this anymore." she announced matter of fact, dropping it unceremoniously by my feet.

She then turned to face my mother seriously.

"Aunty, what's a cunt?"

xxxxx

Additional (WILD) author's note: This Thanksgiving fiasco is loosely based off some of my own family get togethers in Highschool. Before anyone asks: Yes, I was Pete. The oldest, goth, and everything. It was super difficult getting through this chapter because I was laughing pretty hard remembering it

*Shrugs* The adults were drunk. My younger cousins had A LOT of energy to burn through, and I was bored. Everyone lived, no one got hurt LOL

They used a variety of "weapons": Whiffle ball bats, pool noodles, and those long wrapping paper tubes that break super easily. There was also a squeaky inflatable hammer that I won from an arcade, and for whatever fucking reason, a bag of sliced bread. (Yes, you read that correctly. A bag of sliced bread.)

Imagine watching your most annoying relative being chased by someone swinging a bag of bread. (Hysterical). In the end, it was all dented, smushed and fucked up. Being the asshole I am, I told my cousin to put it back in the kitchen where he originally found it to begin with. I, personally, spit out my drink when my aunt came out later asking what happened to the bread.

May it also be noted that we didn't call it "Angry Mob". We called it "Scared Pinata". I'll let y'all take a wild guess as to why. Can't make this shit up, guys. Absolutely wild, and I regret nothing xD

xxxxx

.

Chapter Text

AUTHOR'S NOTE: Here we go, again! 😊 Welcome back! Shout out to my Archive or Own readers for the continued feedback! Always like to make sure I thank you guys.

Also: There's some harsh, offensive language in here because Cartman is a belligerently racist asshole. (You all already know that, though. Just pointing it out to cover my bases. I'm not out to offend anyone, I promise. Just keeping Cartman in character. If anyone is offended, I will gladly edit it. Just let me know.)

xxxxx

After the fiasco in the backyard, it was decided I be alleviated of my position as babysitter. My aunt and uncle went out to watch the kids, taking the next shift. The boys got their exercise, Suzy learned a new word and I got a smoke break-everybody wins.

I went around to the side of the house with Mike, out of sight, to smoke. If any of the kids saw me puffing on a cigarette, I'd get the whole "You're setting a bad example" lecture and whatever. What example was I supposed to set? I wasn't their fucking parent.

And, I wasn't the one who yelled 'Weak cunts' at the top of my lungs, either. Like a normal person, I thought it to myself. It's called having manners. Look it up, Ricky.

Weak cunt.

"I don't get Thanksgiving. Everyone gets together to sit around all day, waiting for Dinner." I made my displeasure with the Holiday gathering clear. "It would make more sense if everyone just showed up at Dinner, and left after they eat."

"Food isn't the whole holiday. The point is for people to get together."

"Don't care for it. There's too much shit going on."

My parent's ruckus at home was enough. Adding close to fifteen people in my house for the whole day made it feel like a circus inside.

Little clowns running amuck. One sad, raggedy, out of place clown sulking about to the discomfort of the entire troupe.

Trapeze artists, ever so carefully, walking the fine line between conversations that serve no purpose but to pry. Contortionists twisting and bending, evading said prying.

Jugglers tossing unsolicited advice back and forth. Acrobats soaring to conclusions. The Ring Master, coordinating it all with grandiose, facing the audience in hopes the chaos passes for entertainment.

Then, last but not least, the magician. He disappears without a trace in the midst of the chaos. And, with all else that surrounds him, no one even notices.

That's the show. Don't come, again. Happy Thanksgiving.

"My mom's side is Italian, you should see my house right now." Mike suggested. "This is tame."

"Big, loud family?"

He had a high tolerance for people. An innate instinct to socialize-the charm, the charisma. But, Mike's family, in mass numbers, drained his battery.

"Oh, yeah. They're loud." he confirmed, grateful to not be in the center of it currently. "It's constant, too. From the minute they arrive, until the minute they leave. They don't have indoor voices."

"Yikes. Must be bad if you're hiding over here."

"I'm here for you. Getting a breather is a bonus."

With every drag, I was careful to blow it away from Mike. I stood a good five feet, or so, away from him. The wind helped billow the secondhand smoke, blowing it in the opposite direction.

"When my family's here, I prefer to lock myself up in my room. I don't have to watch the little shits, anymore. If you're not heading back for a while, you can come with me."

The décor to my room was typical to what one would expect. It wasn't this elaborate, darkly beautiful setting how Mike's room was. The stuff in his room all matched and was deliberately arranged for presentation.

My room's general theme was black, with band posters, incense burners, and a select collection of gothic trinkets and decorations. I had an old bookshelf and some antique trunk. My desk, my beanbag chair and bed. T.V, game system etc. My room was mostly function-orientated, with dark aesthetic being more an afterthought.

"Your room is clean, wow. That's a pleasant surprise."

"Not all goths are grungy." If I didn't know my own kind's reputation, that comment would have bristled me up. "I'm easily grossed out. Filth gives me high blood pressure, I swear."

Mike's immaculate, neat ways co-existed with my anal-retentive need for cleanliness very well. He understood. He approved, but he cringed the faintest bit when the potent, burning smell of bleach hit him.

Damn, that was strong wasn't it? The smell seeped out from the bathroom. I cleaned late the night before. I couldn't go to bed before I cleaned it, and in my tired state I overestimated how much bleach I needed.

"I'll open the window and let this out." I apologized, dragging the window up to circulate some fresh air.

"Did your friends have grungy rooms?" A knowing tone bubbled up in Mike's voice. "I doubt their rooms smelled like cleaning product."

"I've never been to Georgie's room, he's always trying to get away from his house. Henrietta leaves clothes all over the place, but her room isn't necessarily dirty. It was a clusterfuck. There was too much stuff in it."

I listed off my 'friends' and their living arrangements. Describing Henrietta's room gave me the willies. I could overlook the cramped setting. Even bras with cups the size of army helmets strewn about here and there.

It was heaps of random pillows and cushions, dressers and shelves crammed with random shit, and piles of clothes left on her desk chair that broke the camel's back. It was too much to take in with so little room. Whatever void Henrietta was trying to fill, she was doing it with thrift shopping.

"And, Michael?" Was Mike's greater curiosity.

"Ash trays filled to the rim. Coffee mugs left to sit around for a week before he brings them down to the dishwasher. His room reeks of stale coffee and pure cigarettes." The phantom smell flooded my nose, burning worse than the bleach. "He chain smokes, doesn't bother to open the window half the time. It would aggravate my asthma."

I emptied my pockets of cigarettes, lighter and phone, on to my desk to get comfortable. Inspecting the humble workspace, Mike found fascination with the black blown-glass pumpkin there. It fit in the palm of his hand and matched those long, glossy nails of his.

"You have asthma and smoke?" He put it back where he found it, more concerned with what I just said.

Here we go. Whoops.

"It's more common than you think." I defended my stupid choices. "It's like lactose intolerance. People know they can get away it so they do it, regardless of the consequences."

I sat my weight down in my spinning desk chair.

"Not much of a difference." My conclusion did nothing to comfort the health-conscious man before me.

"There's a grave difference between shitting yourself for a milkshake, and dying for a cigarette. A bad asthma attack could kill you."

It wasn't until Mike flicked me on the nose that I realized I rolled my eyes at him.

"Don't be stupid."

"Ow?" I rubbed my nose. "I have an emergency inhaler. It's not a big deal."

"Its a huge deal."

Gracefully straddling me, Mike swung a long leg over my lap. He held the carton of cigarettes to my face.

"What's it going to take for these to go away?"

The glossy print of the carton didn't make my mouth water the same way my newest vice did.

"A few days. I use two packs a week."

"Don't be a wise ass." Mike used the carton to bop me on the forehead. "I'm serious. These need to go away."

"I don't currently have plans to quit smoking."

Changing his approach, Mike put the cigarettes back amongst my other possessions. Unconcerned, and confident that he could get his way, he batted his shiny hazel eyes at me. Those were darkest, fullest lashes I'd ever seen on a dude. No Mascara.

"I'll make it worth your while..." Mike trailed off suggestively. "Throw those away, for me."

"If it were that simple, I'd consider it."

"It is simple. The word you're looking for is 'easy'."

Conceptually, quitting smoking was simple. Stop smoking, that's it. Following through, and executing that, wasn't easy. Mike didn't know what he was asking.

"Nicotine withdrawal is a bitch. Bribing me with sex isn't going to make it any less miserable. Once you see how crabby I get, you won't be interested."

"I can handle you."

With the peace of mind knowing I'd locked the door when we came in, Mike guided me to kiss him. His spidery fingers slid up either side of my neck until they were in the ends of my hairs at the base of my head. His tongue lashed out to meet mine as I felt him in my hair.

The wet appendage was serpent-like, expertly coiling and slithering along the cavern of my mouth. Mike gave me sensual, closed mouth kisses, lashing out with the erotic, salacious attacks of his tongue in between. I was running out of air because instead of taking it in where I could, I was losing myself in that sexy way he kissed.

Head lolling back, my oxygen gradually depleted, dwindling down without alarm until I was down to my last reserves. Making out was so heated, that the breathless feeling didn't become a problem until, in an instant, I desperately needed air.

"See? Smoking hasn't done you any good." Mike chortled at the urgent way I'd torn myself away from his kisses. "Your poor lungs."

"I remember to come up for air with cigarettes...if anything's dangerous, its you."

"You don't know the half of it, baby bat."

Making out in a desk chair hindered a lot of potential. Climbing off, Mike put his feet back on the ground. Retreating to the edge of my bed, he sat, beckoning me in with a curled finger.

"No, thanks...I choose air."

"Baby bat~" Those perfect lips pouted, shrouding his devious intent with deceptively sweet, charming allure.

Typical vampire- Charming, seductive and fucking gay as hell. There you have it, that's Mike.

"If you really choose air, throw those away." Mike pointed past me, over my shoulder to the carton he was determined to get rid of. "It'd make me so happy."

"You'd hate me without nicotine. I hate me without nicotine."

"We'll talk about that, later. For now, come here~"

Giving in, I went to Mike. This wasn't a bribe, at the moment. It was a warm invitation. Though, it was that "I'm having naughty thoughts" smolder that got me over there.

Sexy, persuasive, asshole.

Sitting with our outer thighs and hips touching, we peeled off our top layers, leaving my blazer and Mike's vest on the dresser. He loosened the tie under the collar of my shirt, unweaving it carefully to not wrinkle the material.

"My family is downstairs." I broached the unfortunate circumstance.

"We won't make any noise...well, the bedsprings won't." Decidedly perverse, his next words gave me a chill. "It's a shame."

He could have been inferring to the fact that I owned no actual lube to get things going. Or, he was rightfully apprehensive of full-blown fucking with a full house a floor below us. Asking wasn't my top priority.

The first three top buttons to my shirt surrendering under Mike's nimble fingers. He parted the fabric, pecking my exposed collarbone and softly kissing the divots.

Kissing my neck now, he liberated the rest of my shirt buttons, baring my chest out for his enjoyment. Unlike Mike, my shirt wasn't tucked in to my pants with a belt. He'd maneuvered his way to what he wanted, all tucked away and buttoned up so neatly that I couldn't bring myself to try and undress him.

"You're wearing too much clothes." My hands strayed to his waist where the hem of his shirt was all tucked away, hinting to what it was I wanted him to do.

"Don't worry about it."

Pushing one side of my shirt down to get to my shoulder, he looked for his next canvas of skin to sample. I was still holding on to him by the waist, fixated with that belt which was ruining my life right now. Grinning in to my skin, Mike brushed away my lingering hands.

"Ah-ah." He chided, pushing down the other side of my shirt to suckle hot, wet kisses to my other shoulder.

"You're such a freaking tease."

"You love it."

We were back to a heated make-out session in an instant, pouring gasoline over a fire we weren't supposed to be feeding. If I were to be so lucky that Mike caved, that bottle of lotion wasn't going to fly with him. I didn't blame him.

Mike got on top of me, friskily. My back hit the bedcovers and his hands skimmed every inch of taunt skin he could touch along my exposed torso. I should have taken my shirt off all the way beforehand. Having it opened like that, I looked like some present with the wrapping paper hastily torn half off.

"Why is it you get to keep your clothes on?"

"It turns me on how much it bothers you, that's all."

He really was getting off on it.

"You're in for it when this holiday's over." he promised between feverish sucks and kisses to my chest and shoulders. "I'm coming back for you."

There was thigh on thigh, the material of our dress pants sliding over each other. Mike's shirt on my bare chest served as a barrier between us. An unforgiving reminder that I was not getting what I wanted until well later in the evening. Way, way later.

Mike's body language was coy and taunting. The fact that I couldn't have him right now only made me want him more. We were grinding, trying to find some rhythm in the midst of our carnal game of keep away.

Our debauchery came to a screeching halt when a thud resonated across the room. A thud that came from roughly one hundred eighty pounds of jock climbing through the open window.

"Are you fucking serious, right now?" I barked at him. "What the freaking hell are you doing?"

"What are you doing?" Stan demanded back, eyes wide as saucers.

"It's my room, dumb ass."

I was livid with this retard's audacity. Mike's voice splashed me with a cold, brash, reality check.

"I think he's referring to me, Pete."

I was in bed, under him. Shirt splayed open, cheeks filled with color, hair tousled, and lips slightly puffy from a hormonally-driven onslaught of sucking face. Unknown to me, there was a light quarter-sized blemish at the base of my neck. One on my collar bone. And, at the junction of my shoulder.

"I WAS having a good time before some idiot climbed through my window UNINVITED." I emphasized, still under Mike because he made no effort to move and I didn't make him. "Normal people typically call or something before they show up!"

"It wasn't like you would have picked up, anyways!"

"Get out of my room, Stan."

With a dumb, helpless face, Stan took in the scene a moment longer before getting mad. Him. He was mad. HIM.

"What happened to: 'I don't talk to Mike'." He accused like I was the asshole here, brows furrowed, with an exacerbated hand motion to said person. "How long has this been going on?"

"Since you rubbed your dick all over that blonde bimbo and ran like a coward when I saw Wendy chewing you out for it."

Legitimately trying to defend himself, Stan insisted he wasn't cowering away from his actions.

"Three weeks go by and all I hear from you is a drunk phone call." I snapped. "At One in the morning."

"I knew better than to stick around while you're pissed! I was giving you time to cool down."

"Three weeks." I growled.

"See?!"

Switching the focus of the erupting argument, Stan brought it back to Mike.

"If this was to get back at me, fine. You got me, we're even. He can go now."

Anyone else in Mike's position would have flippantly told Stan to go lie on some train tracks, or excused themselves to wait out the lover's dispute. But, because he was Mike, he shoo'd Stan towards the window.

"I can go? No, you silly, naive fool. I'm not going anywhere." he patronized, laughing.

LAUGHING. He was laughing, right at Stan. I never liked him more than I did right then.

"You can go. Careful on your climb back down." Mike continued "And, don't worry. Your secret's safe with me, Mr. Football captain. Bye~"

Stan didn't have any reason to think that Mike knew about our arrangement before just now. With what decency Mike had, he didn't see anything to gain from spreading around Stan's secret. Stan cared more that Mike had me, rather than the fact Mike knew he wanted me, too.

"Pete." Stan looked at me like I was supposed to kick Mike out.

Nope. Not a chance.

"Bye." I parroted Mike's dismissal. "If you fall, I honestly don't give a shit. Have at it."

Xxxxx

The only thing colder than December was my attitude towards Stan. I made Winter look like a tropic paradise.

Football season was over. The Cows had their winning streak. Stan didn't carry himself like a winner. He couldn't, not with my time and attention going to Mike.

Wasn't karma, sweet? I thought so.

Football and Wendy were the duo he and I were constantly bumping heads on. Now, he had neither. All that free time he was waiting for, he couldn't spend it messing around with me behind closed doors.

The image of Mike in my bed haunted him. I know it did. My body covered in love bites especially chapped his ass. I never let him give me hickies. Even letting him near my neck, at all, was rare.

That scar I covered up from everybody, I blamed it on him. He knew I was crumbling under so much...yet, he let more crush me. I had a moment of weakness.

Because of that, Stan made his mark on me. That sad day, I decided it would be the first, and last one he'd make on me.

Seeing me with Mike as the days went on, right at his side and openly accepting his affections, brought out a side of Stan that I didn't know existed. He was jealous. Jealous that Mike had what he felt was his, and that I was letting Mike have it.

Mike had fun with it, waving it around his face in discreet, petty ways. If he didn't have my hand in his, he'd take it when Stan passed us in the halls or parking lot. Mike and I's relationship wasn't a secret.

It was those basic perks and mannerisms that went along with dating were what bothered him the most. Because they were something he couldn't give me. He couldn't complete with Mike.

There was nothing Stan could do about it without drawing unwanted attention to himself. How would it look if he had a jealous fit over some openly queer couple? He had to sit back and watch me date Mike, in silence.

Brooding, envious silence.

Lunch was the worst, for him. It was twenty minutes of pure, uninterrupted, Mike and I. He could've chosen not to look. He couldn't do that. On some level, he probably didn't believe what he was seeing.

He was torturing himself.

Staring right at Stan, Mike kissed my cheek. I was mid-bite of one of those apples that Mike insisted I eat with the sandwich he packed me every day. My face was redder than both my hair and that piece of fruit. In front of the entire vampire clan.

"Aww! Pete's blushing." Annie gushed. "You two are the cutest couple EVER."

"I ship it." Bloodrayne added.

"If everyone could stop looking at me, that'd be great." I muttered with the next mouthful of fruit.

Stan blanched, never having witnessed me flustered to that degree. His didn't have as strong as an effect on me. He felt inferior to Mike.

That fat kid, Cartman, witnessed the public display of affection. Clyde asked what was up with Stan because his face was stuck in the paled, expression.

"Dude, you look like you're going to throw up."

"I might throw up with him." Cartman grumbled with disgust. "The faggy emo kids are gonna make out, or somethin'."

Clyde's gaze went straight to me, where I was innocently sitting next to Mike not about to suck face. Elbows on the tabletop and chin rested on his palms, Mike puckered his lips at him in a kiss, dragging done one eye lid flirtatiously.

Clyde was peeved, and pinking up around the ears and cheeks. It was so easy to bother him. Sheesh.

"Fags are gross." He sharply looked away. "Nobody wants to see that."

"You guys sound so ignorant." Token rolled his eyes, voicing his thoughts "They're not hurting anybody."

"Shut up, Token. Black asshole." Cartman belittled the more inclusive, open-minded member of their group. "If you like faggots so much, go sit with them."

Cartman's ignorant, bigoted ways over the years built up a lot of callous for Token. He didn't react to the fat kid's stupidity.

"You're the ones paying attention to them." He pointed out. "If you hate them so much, then don't look."

"It's pretty simple." Kyle sided with Token.

"Whatever. I don't give a shit what a nigger and jew have to say."

Kyle, like Token, didn't give Cartman the satisfaction of being bothered by his bullshit.

"We don't care what a stupid, racist, fat ass has to say. It all works out."

"Ey! I'm not fat you fuckin' jew!"

Cartman slimmed out over the years, getting down to a husky build. He wasn't obese how he'd been in childhood, but the guy was still overweight. So long as he kept prodding at Kyle the way he did, the guy was going to throw it back in his face.

Good for him.

xxxxx

Some new bookstore opened up in the mall plaza. It was one of those café lounges sort of thing. Buy drinks and books, enjoy some free-wifi and different places to sit. It had two floors.

Most drinks on the café's menu were a mess of different sugars and flavors that were all the same shit. Hipster concoctions. Ugh.

"Could I get a plain macchiato? Whole milk, no sugar."

It was just hot milk and espresso. Simple, strong. How I liked it.

That twitchy kid from school was working the counter. He put my drink together and I took it to a desolate corner of the giant store. With the help of tall bookshelves in a section that wasn't busy with many browsers, I claimed it as my hiding spot.

Half Mike's minions were in the supernatural and fantasy sections of the Fiction quadrant. The rest were shopping the various notebooks, bookmarks and other random stuff bookstores offered. I toiled away in my notebook, pen in hand.

Once, I had a dream,

Where death set me free,

And took the silence with him.

But, I woke up to this prison.

My cage.

My life.

This existence,

Which society deemed life.

Here in this world,

Where greed is a formality,

Cries for help,

They reach deaf ears.

The currency we trade is cruelty.

Dictated by rules which

We never write down, or speak of,

We don't raise the red flags.

But, instead,

Wear the white ones around our mouths.

With one hand over our eyes,

And the other behind our back.

Blind. Bound.

It cripples us.

We have no grasp on reality.

And, that, will forever be our downfall.

When I write, if my environment is quiet enough, I get lost in the scratch of pen along paper. My mind purges, and I come back lighter. It's close to a trance. It took hold of me for the passing hour, or so.

I came out of it, and Mike was sitting with his back to a bookshelf four feet across from me.

"Fu-" I held back from blasting the 'F' word in the quiet space.

"Hey, you."

"How long have you been sitting there?"

Tilting his head side to side in pondering, Mike estimated about five minutes.

"You could have said something."

"I didn't want to. You looked in your element. Very focused."

"It happens when I write where it's quiet."

"You must have a lot knocking around up there."

There certainly was. It's like static constantly running in the background. Erratic, chaotic noise that I didn't always have the volume button to.

"Is it time to go?"

"If you want it to be."

"What about your friends?"

"Everyone has their own rides, remember?"

No one carpooled with us. We were free to leave whenever.

"Hang out with your friends. I'm fine here."

"You isolated yourself in a corner."

"It's my preference."

"It would be nice to change that, down the line."

Without malice, I tucked my notebook back in my backpack, giving Mike the side eye.

"No smoking and no isolation? Hm. It's almost like you've forgotten who you're dating."

"I'm asking a lot of your stubborn goth ass, I'm aware."

Back on his feet, Mike gave me his hand to pull me up.

"So long as you're aware." I accepted his hand.

Shopping bags filled with purchases, Mike's main group was trying out the café's sweet drinks and confectionary treats.

"There you are." Larry greeted me return, rifling through a paper bag of doughnut holes. "We were wondering where you were."

"Get lost?" Ryan asked, going in to bag after Larry found the flavor he wanted. "This place is really big."

I gave some generic excuse that I was just looking around on my own. Mike didn't contradict it.

"Try these, Man. The café's not bad." Larry encouraged me.

"Thanks, but I'm good."

Vlad broke the top off some sort of muffin, perturbed.

"Aren't you hungry?"

It was mid evening, dark outside. Dinner time was just on the horizon and we'd all been together since school ended. I hadn't eaten anything since Lunch.

The coffee in my stomach from the café hours before nullified any hunger pains that I would have had, otherwise.

"I had a lot of coffee earlier. I lost my appetite."

"Take it easy on the coffee." Mike chimed in, trying the treats going around since he had an appetite. "You need to eat."

Vlad sided with Mike.

"You sure you don't want anything? The girls have the cake pops on their end of the table, right now."

"Are we hogging them?" Annie asked around a pink frosted ball of cake on a stick when she heard Vlad.

Bloodrayne held up the bakery-type box lined with cake pops.

"There's birthday cake, carrot cake, red velvet, and chocolate." The selection was presented with welcoming enthusiasm. "If you like birthday cake, get to them now or else Annie's going to demolish them."

"That's so mean! You ate half the carrot cake ones!"

"Nobody else likes the carrot cake that much."

Vlad took the box, passing it up so I could take what I wanted. I wouldn't eat. In unison, they all got this worried look to them.

I was thin, I wasn't oblivious to it. No one would say it out loud, but the pregnant pause spoke volumes.

Could I go back to my corner? Too much fucking attention on me. Christ.

"He'll eat later when he's hungry." Mike reasoned to divert the conversation to something else.

They started going back and forth about what they bought, drifting away from my poor appetite. They cared. I couldn't say they didn't.

Feeling out of place left me detached from their kind efforts. It pushed Michael to the front of my mind. In a warped, unsettling way, I missed him.

If only because I was used to him and could be my sulky, distant self in his presence. There was no pressure to stay positive. I could poison myself to my heart's content.

Surrounded by decent, friendly people should've made my old group all the more unappealing. It didn't.

I could replace Stan with Mike. But, I couldn't replace Michael-the closest friend I had, all be it toxic to his core. Years committed to the group, and I thought I'd make a clean break?

Michael was right, I was always going to be one of them no matter how much I resisted it.

I didn't fit here. Our world, and Mike's world, weren't two sides to the same coin. They were two totally different currencies.

xxxxx

Chapter Text

AUTHOR'S NOTE: Hey, guys! As always, thank you to my Archive of Our Own site readers for their continued feedback! 😊 You guys are so sweet. You guys make my day, I swear.

Xxxxx

Mike dropped me off at home, where I left not long after he drove away. With the last cigarette from the carton that Mike wished I'd thrown away days before, I smoked on my walk to the store. I could've excused myself step out for a smoke earlier, but I didn't want anyone to have an opinion on it, spoken or not.

We didn't have snow in South Park, yet. Early December, and all. The wind had a bite to it. I needed to stop leaving my house in hoodies. It was too cold not to have a coat or jacket. My fingers lost some feeling from the brisk wind.

I smoked that cigarette down as far as I could without burning my fingers on the lit end. Nasty, putrid smoke made itself at home in my lungs. The freshest breath I'd taken all night. The most comforting.

Cars passed me on street. Some highschooler in black, sucking down smoke wasn't of anyone's interest. With the exception to one, old car. Henrietta was driving it, and pulled over.

Her passenger-side rider whistled at me. I kept walking, pretending I didn't know there was a vehicle there. They whistled again, louder and impatient.

"Pete, get in the car." Michael demanded. "I know you can hear me."

"I don't respond to whistling, or commands."

I wasn't anyone's pet. Being spoken to like a dog was poor incentive to get in. That was exactly the shit that drove us apart.

If he'd used a different approach, I may have considered it. He ruined his own chance on the one night I really missed him. Damn it, Michael.

"We're going to the diner. Just get in." Henrietta huffed, a few notches less aggravated than Michael.

She sounded frustrated. Not outright angry. She spoke to me better than she did her own younger brother. That was saying something; she spoke to her brother like garbage. He was a sweet kid, wouldn't hurt a fly.

"Pete." She beeped the horn in two short spurts, trying to beckon me over. "Don't be a prissy twerp. Let's go."

"I'm late to being a prissy twerp somewhere else. I'll take a raincheck, thanks."

Henrietta drove off, saying something to Michael about how I'd come back eventually. Those like us already felt alone in this world, together. I was a stray who hadn't found its way back home. They had complete faith I'd come back

Michael was getting impatient. Henrietta knew that. She drove away as quickly as she did for a reason. As her car disappeared in the distance, Georgie's head poked out the backseat window. He meekly waved at me before tucking himself back inside.

"Your usual?" The convenience store clerk asked when I walked up to the counter.

I nodded. Reaching up overhead, he retrieved one carton and set it front of me.

"Anything else I can get you?" He asked to be polite.

On the counter there was an array of random shit. Key chains, lighters, chapsticks, condoms, aspirin, etc. Fruit: $1.00, a wooden bowl read. Bananas and apples were piled in it.

"Clove cigarettes, and an apple." The clerk said aloud, punching it in to the register. "Alright."

Xxxxx

I almost didn't go to school the next day. My alarm clock screamed, rudely jolting me awake. The inanimate object was doing its job, coming close to getting flung across the room for it.

"Didn't sleep well?" Mike asked, my cranky vibes hitting him staggeringly hard upon seeing me get in his car.

"It's going to be a long day."

A long day it was.

Irritable, and cranky, my sour mood dampened the entire thing. Including Study hall, after Lunch. I liked that time of day, it was a chance to get work done or sit around and do nothing while everyone had to keep their mouths shut. Today, it felt redundant and suffocating.

The kid who sat behind me kept snapping the tip to his cheap pencil. He would get up to sharpen it, come back, write, and SNAP. The sound of his chair creaking, and sneakers squeaking on the floor back and forth, every time he got up, made my right eye twitch. I was grinding my teeth.

"Here." I grit out before he could get up for the eighth time.

Yes. The EIGHTH time.

"Cool, dude. Thanks." he accepted one of my pens.

Silence. Finally.

Another kid got up to sharpen their pencil. Only, this time, the thing was full of shavings from the incredible hulk behind me. Banging the thing in the garbage to get everything out of it was more annoying. It was louder. And took longer.

BANG. BANG. BANG. BANG. BANG. BANG. BANG. BANG.

"Could I be excused?"

Hall Pass in hand, I left the overgrown toddlers in their playpen to bang stuff around and figure shit out. I asked to see the Nurse with no intentions to do so. I went to the bathroom because I figured it was somewhere that I could get some time to calm down in a stall, by myself, until next period.

The stalls on that floor were full.

"Oh, for the love of-" I muttered, trudging towards the stairs.

The boys' room on the next floor had stalls free for grabs. It was totally empty. Perfect because my fuse was burning short. Opting to wet my face with cold water, I bent over the sink. Careful to keep away from my eyes, I furiously brought small palmfuls to my face.

Creaking from old hinges, the bathroom door swung open. Whoever walked in stopped for a second, then kept walking. They came right up to me. Right up behind me.

"Did you get something in your eye?"

"Don't touch me." I growled when large hands rested on my hips.

Stan didn't let go until I elbowed him. Hard.

He pulled some paper towels out from the dispenser when I turned off the tap. I took them without saying thank you, dabbing my face to dry it off. Him walking in on me rinsing my face to calm down totally defeated the purpose. I couldn't go hide in a stall now, either.

"How's your eye? Let me see-"

"I didn't come in here to wash out my eyes." I snapped. "I needed to cool off. Mind your business."

"You are my business."

"Sure, keep telling yourself that."

Cramming the wet paper towels in to a ball, I threw it away. Time to leave the bathroom. I'll tell the nurse I have a stomach ache so I can hide there.

"You can walk away. It doesn't change anything." Stan was fast to tell me before I could make an exit. "When you're ready to try again, I'll be here for you."

"Here for me?" When I turned to spit that at him venomously, he flinched like a loaded gun was pointed at him. "Like when I was hanging from the ceiling?"

His lips moved but he couldn't articulate words. He shut his mouth, glancing away for a second to regroup his thoughts. I threw him off.

"...are you having a bad day?" Stan thought his proclamation was supposed to elicit some sentimental yearning.

Some nice words, and I'd melt for him.

It made me colder. Froze me over, entirely.

"Day? Try a bad life." The northern winds blew straight through me. "I almost died."

This was something he didn't like to talk about. He'd rather talk about how we were going to get back together. As if we were going to get back together. Today. In the school bathroom.

"You weren't there. Remember that next time you think you're good for me." I went for the kill. "Keep coming around, and I'm not going to let you forget it."

His eyes dropped from my face to my neck to the purple accessory wrapped there. He never forgot, he only liked to pretend it didn't happen. His bandage covering the evidence that it happened, was evidence in itself.

Purple ribbon was easier to look at than scar tissue.

"...what's it going to take to make this right, Pete?" Contritely, Stan winced from my withering glare.

I really was having a bad day.

"Stay far, far away from me."

In the hallway someone was approaching. This confrontation Stan wanted to have would be interrupted shortly, and he knew he wouldn't get another chance any time soon. Stan snatched me in to the big handicap stall, locking me inside with him.

Both incredibly brave, and stupid.

He hoisted me up, pinning me to the wall with his waist between my thighs. It was to immobilize me after my attempt to go for the door. All he needed was a nail and hammer and he could have hung me there like a picture frame.

"Are you out of your mind?" I hissed, pushing at him knowing damn well it wasn't getting me anywhere. "What are you doing?"

"Shh." Stan shushed me. "Just wait."

"Let go!"

Stan's hand went over my mouth. Screaming something about being dragged in to the stall by the football captain would have been great revenge, but the people who walked in were the last people I wanted to know what was happening.

"You can't be taken anywhere, can you?"

"That bottle of glue was being a dick. I showed it who's boss."

Vlad's run in with a clogged glue bottle resulted with his hands, wrists and forearms covered in the stuff. Mike turned on the water with clean hands so Vlad could start washing off the mess.

"At least the glue exploded on you, not your project."

"Imagine someone walks in on us with my hands a sticky white mess? Ha. Looks like I jacked you off."

"I don't recall ever producing quite that much on you."

The urge to murder Stan went on the back burner, dying down from a rolling boil to a warm simmer. Mike and Vlad's exchange redirected my attention. Stan took his hand off my mouth, deeming me no longer a risk to compromising our position.

Me being held hostage. In the BATHROOM. By my ex. While my boyfriend was none the wiser five feet away.

"Psh. I'm not complaining about that mess." Vlad worked diligently to rinse away the mix of suds and glue. "At all."

"I'd hope not. You liked it just fine, at the time." Mike teased him. "Besides, you make a bigger mess on me."

"Heh...Like that one day it almost got in your hair."

"I would have killed you."

I wasn't trying to push Stan anymore, nor did I let go. I unconsciously clenched the front of his shirt between my knuckles.

Mike and Vlad were bantering flirtatiously, but without any heat to it. How friends talk about the casual subjects...except this wasn't a casual subject.

To them it had to be because it almost sounded like they were talking about the weather. Nonchalant and breezy. I managed to tune out the previously intimate detail about their friendship, for a while.

My stomach hurt, all of a sudden. This was a lot of information coming in. Information that painted some vivid, graphic imagery. Now that Mike was supposedly mine, the idea of him and Vlad going at it didn't seem so hot anymore.

.

"How are things going with Pete?" Vlad asked, followed by the water shutting off.

"We're good, you know that."

"I meant him...did his friends ditch him?"

I was holding my breath. My grip on Stan's shirt tightened. Don't answer that, Mike. Please, don't answer that.

"They've always been a close group but he's never with them anymore." Vlad's blatant prying wasn't nosey in nature, he sounded concerned. "Back of the school, the diner, the graveyard...It's just the scary dude, Henrietta and that little freshman."

"I never asked what happened, I don't feel it's my place." Mike lied seamlessly. "As far as I know, it's coincidental."

His relation to Vlad superseded the rest of his clique. That was his right-hand man. Arguably, his best friend. Mike didn't jump to spill my personal business. He didn't tell him anything.

"You said before he was going through an adjustment period, that day at Lunch."

"I meant with us, Silly. It was his first day. Did you think he was going to come in and feel right at home? His group has hated us for how long?"

Drying his hands, another question dawned on Vlad.

"Pete doesn't still hate us, does he?"

"It'd be a shame if he does."

He made a sound of affirmation, agreeing with Mike, but didn't think much deeper in to it.

"Pete's quiet, don't take it for more than it is." Mike concluded as they went on their way. "Give him time."

The door creaked and shut. Their footsteps faded away.

"Your boyfriend's cheating on you with another guy." Stan said as soon as he was sure they were out of earshot.

"No. He isn't."

"You heard the same conversation I did."

Stop, stop, stop.

"You're jumping to conclusions." It was most likely true, so said it confidently. "They were friends with benefits before I came along, Genius."

"That doesn't guarantee they stopped." Just as confidently, Stan persisted. "Do they talk like that in front of you?"

Mike didn't talk like that to Vlad in front of me. His friends all knew they had some type of arrangement going on. Did they ever hear them banter like that? Sounded personal.

I had seeds of doubt burrowing their way inside me. Stan generously watered them. He, who wasn't the person I should listen to about anything. I secretly took what he said in to consideration.

"Put me down, Stan."

"How well do you know Mike? He's been with you what, a month or something?"

"Down. Right now."

"I wouldn't cheat on you with another dude."

He was going with that? Seriously? Bravo, Stan. You've outdone yourself.

The best boyfriend award goes to you because as a closeted man, you never stuck your dick in another guy's ass. Astounding. Take a bow, and shove the trophy up your ass with that lotion you think counts as lubricant. See how you like it.

"No, you cheat on me with women." I drawled, bitterly and with seething sarcasm. "Which is so much better."

"It wasn't like that! You never let me explain what happened."

"I don't want to hear any more of your excuses. Fuck off!"

Something about me was enticingly fascinating because he looked at me in contemplative silence, processing whatever it was that captured his attention. The vibes coming off Stan changed.

"What?" I was fuming.

"It's been so long...I miss having you this close." His eyes softened with his voice.

Focused on my face, Stan brought his closer.

"Don't." I narrowed my eyes at him in warning. "I'll crack you across the face. Don't think I won't."

"Do whatever you want."

His tongue forced itself in my mouth. He tasted like jolly ranchers-Stan's candy of choice. The one he sucked on earlier was green.

He opened a brand-new bag that day, I know he did. Stan tore through the greens ones fast enough that had it been an older bag, I wouldn't be getting a tangy green apple kiss. It would've been cherry, or blue raspberry.

SLAP

"I'm telling you one last time." I threatened him, with a steel edge to my voice. "Put. Me. Down. NOW."

Stunned from the hit, he put me back on my feet. His marred cheek glowed pink in the shape of a hand.

"...You kissed me back." Was all he said about it.

It was all he cared about.

Hints of Stan and tangy apple in my mouth, I unlocked the stall door.

"You tasted like sour candy. You're going to give yourself cavities."

xxxxxx

South Park's playground looked stuck in time. There was some rust, but everything held up since grade school. Bloodrayne, Annie and Mike swung back and forth on the swing set, Annie's chains rattling along with the old equipment.

Vlad sat on the ground, by one of the swing set's poles, out of Mike's swinging range where he kicked his legs back and forth. A handheld gaming device occupied his attention. Ryan laid out over a bench with one earbud in, tapping his foot idly to whatever he was listening to.

On the Merry-Go-Round, I sat towards the center, reading. Larry sat at the edge of the large spinning contraption.

"Anyone else bothered that animal crackers all taste the same?" Inspecting his snack with unyielding intensity, Larry asked the question.

"...What?" Vlad asked the brunette, audibly holding back from laughing.

Genuinely looking for an answer, Larry held out the small box of animal crackers.

"There's FIVE animals." He pointed to the picture on the front. "They all taste exactly the same. One flavor."

I flipped a page.

"I heard that if you can't taste the other four flavors, it means you're severely retarded."

"BWAHAHAHAA!" Ryan almost fell off the bench laughing.

"Damn, that's cold." Vlad snorted, barreling in to a laughing fit with him.

The girls tried being nice, holding in their laughter with watering eyes and quivering lips.

"Date the goth kid, Mike. What could go wrong?"

"It isn't Pete's fault you can't taste the difference between a lion and an elephant, Larry."

"WHAT!?"

Bloodrayne and Annie couldn't hold it in anymore. They busted out laughing, heads thrown back and legs kicking back and forth. Larry caved with them.

It was a harmless jab, no one thought I was serious. Larry took it like a good sport.

Mike and I were the only ones not laughing. Peering up, I got that querying brow from him. He pumped back and forth with his legs, shaking his head at me with the faintest bit of a smile. His hair swished with the wind behind him.

"Play nice, baby bat. Don't be mean to Larry because you need a nap."

"You just said it's not my fault if he's retarded."

"Poor thing is suffering enough, as is. Let's not rub it in his face."

Rolling my eyes away, I didn't feed in to the joke any more. I said my piece.

"That was funny as shit." Vlad went back to his game, clicking buttons. "He burned your ass, Larry."

"May as well have slapped you across the face." Ryan put his earbud back in after it fell out. "That was freaking brilliant."

Coming to life with the same enthusiasm of a child ready to tattle, Annie lit up.

"That reminds me! You know that popular Marsh kid? Someone like bitch-slapped him across the face, today."

"Huh?" Bloodrayne didn't think she heard correctly. "You saw someone slap him?"

"He's in my math class. He left to use the bathroom and came back with a hand print on his right cheek."

"The guys huge. Who the fuck was brave enough to hit him?"

"He wouldn't say."

Ryan sat up in the bench, clicking through his playlist.

"He's got drama with Wendy and Bebe. Must've been one of them." He suggested. "Guy wouldn't hit a girl. They knew they'd get away with it."

"Obviously it was a girl." Larry sided with Ryan. "Why would a dude slap him?"

"Even if a dude put his hands on Marsh, they would've been walking around with a broken nose, or a black eye, or something. Everyone would have known who hit him."

"Exactly."

I walked away physically unscathed.

I wasn't proud of the "altercation". Stan brought it upon himself, acting as if boundaries didn't apply to him. My conscience was clear but my head was heavy. Mike wasn't wrong, I did need a nap.

xxxxx

"Stan push your buttons, today?" Mike raised the topic in his living room, pouring fresh bird seed for his pets.

"He pushes my buttons every day. I can't stand him."

"Enough to hit him?"

Everyone else was so convinced it was Wendy or Bebe. It was more likely to be one of them. Mike accusing me like that sounded more like he already knew the answer, and was testing whether I'd tell the truth, or not.

I wasn't going to get in trouble, or anything, if I admitted it. This wasn't an interaction I'd planned on having.

"What makes you think I hit Stan?"

"Stan gets slapped across the face, and the first I hear about it is from Annie. After school." Mike closed the air-tight lid to the bird seed. "There wasn't a peep of drama in the hallways. Bebe would have owned it and told everyone. Had it been Wendy, it would have been a scandal... "

Mike shut the cage where Lenore and Poe dug in to their food, sharing from the same bowl.

"No one's coming forward and Stan's not talking...this incident's awfully hush-hush. Don't you think?"

"Getting slapped by a girl isn't exactly a bragging right."

"Neither is getting slapped by a guy...especially when he's half your size."

Leisurely, and patient, Mike waited for a response. He didn't get one. I checked the email on my phone, cleaning out junk mail.

Click, click. Scroll.

Click, click, scroll.

Ignore Mike staring at me.

Click, click, scroll.

"Funny how that handprint is on his right cheek." Mike changed his tune.

"How's that funny?"

"Whoever hit him has to be left-handed. Know any lefties, Pete?"

There, in my left hand, was my phone.

"Everyone does."

"Are you done playing dumb?"

"Are you done playing 20 Questions?"

"As soon as you're done playing dumb, yes."

Mike sighed at my stubbornness. I wasn't budging.

"Was today that hard, baby bat? If you lost your cool, it happens."

"Cut the counselor crap. If you want to know so bad, fine. It was me. He had it coming."

"I need more than that..."

My version of events were watered down for Mike, missing some crucial details. Namely, him.

"He cornered me in the bathroom, I lashed out."

"You left a hand print, according to Annie. What did he say to you that pissed you off enough to slap him that hard?"

Everything he said pissed me off. Stan could have walked away unmarked if he left it at that.

"Wasn't what he said. He physically cornered me. I can't stand being handled like that."

"...I'm getting the feeling this wasn't necessarily threatening, in nature."

"Stan wouldn't hit me."

"What would he do?"

There he was, again. Asking questions he knew the answer to. He cared more about this one.

"Don't make me do this."

"I can't make you do anything. This is all you, Pete."

In the drive way, Mike's mother's car pulled in. He saw it through the window. The house wasn't ours, anymore. Neither of us wanted to have this conversation in front of her.

"Mom has groceries. I'm going to help her bring them in. Wait for me in my room. I'll be down, soon."

I retreated to the basement, where I wouldn't have to interact with his mother. She was a nice enough woman, I didn't have anything against her. I just had my fill on people for one day.

If Mike wasn't mindful, that would include him.

"You've had such a long day, hm?"

Apologetically kissing my head when he came back, Mike took a jar of conditioning treatment to his bathroom. His mother picked it up for him on her errand run. How nice.

"I'm not doing this, Mike. Play therapist with someone else."

"Is that what we're doing? See, I thought we were talking."

"Save it. You're not going to make me this better person by getting me to talk about my feelings."

My abrasiveness didn't pierce him the same way it did others. When I wanted people to back off, being unapproachable did the trick. It never worked on him, I don't know why I expected it to now.

Mike wasn't scared of me.

"Be a better person?" Mike said aloud, wistful and lax, resting back against his dresser.

"All these changes you're pushing on me, I know what you're doing. 'Quit smoking, drink less coffee, talk about your feelings'. It's not going to make me better."

Rubber bullets. My words were just rubber bullets. They bounced off him. When I was done firing, Mike came over and crouched in front of me where I sat on his bed.

I had to look down at him. It was less intimidating.

"Are you done?" He asked.

"For now."

"Listen. I want you to breathe better. I want you to sleep better. And, I want you to feel better..." Mike took my left hand between both of his. "It's to make you a healthier person. It won't make you a better person."

He lifted my hand to his face, kissing it once.

"You're fine the way you are, Pete."

Xxxxx

Chapter Text

AUTHOR'S NOTE: Hey, Guys! College started again for me and I've got a lot of stuff going on, but I'm still trucking through because I love writing and I love your support! Shout out to my Archive of Our Own site readers for the continued feedback.

Also, the song referenced in this chapter is "Gospel" by Panic! At the Disco.

Xxxxx

The sound of an alarm clock wasn't what woke me up when another unwelcome school morning began. I'd slept through my alarm, barely making out the sound of my phone ringing. I had a text from Mike, and a missed call already.

He had decided to call me twice in a row after getting no text back, or an answer, to the first call.

"Hey..." I mumbled in to my cellphone, raspy from my morning voice. "What is it?"

"... Did you just wake up?"

"Uh-huh." I grunted, looking at the time. "I didn't hear my alarm go off."

There wasn't any way I was going to get up and ready in time for the bus. I wasn't going to be inconsiderate and make Mike wait for me, either. I told him to go without me so he could get there on time. I'd find another way to school.

"If we're late to our first class, it's not a huge deal." he refuted the suggestion that he leave me behind. "Or, if we miss it, then we miss it. We don't have a test, today. It's fine."

Whatever we were doing that morning, if we even made it to First Period, was likely another worksheet from a reading we could easily do at home.

"I don't want to sit out here with the engine running, I'll see you in a minute."

Mike rang the doorbell for my mother to let him in when I rolled out of bed. I was at the sink brushing my teeth when he came upstairs.

The bathroom door was open so he could see me standing there about as limp as someone could be while still standing. I had to lean with one hand on the countertop while I brushed.

It was early, and my sleep was bad. I think I got four hours, maybe. I felt slow and sluggish, indescribably tired.

"Mornings aren't your strong point, but this is painful to watch." Mike said when I passed him, lifeless and hollow. "Did you not sleep well, again?"

"I'll wake up after a shower. I won't take long."

"Don't rush on my account."

The shower didn't do anything for me but freshen me up. I came out clean, and just as lethargic as I'd been when getting in. Today was going to suck more than usual, two days in a row.

All I could get on my body were underwear before I had to sit down. The pants I had ready to pull on, were in my lap. Getting them on felt impossible, my limbs were heavy. I didn't have the strength to use them to their full capacity.

"Is it hot in here?" I asked, winded. "It's definitely hot in here, right?"

"It's the dead of December, Pete. It isn't hot in here, trust me."

I didn't care what time of year it was. I was hot. Maybe Mom put the heat on too high or something.

My current struggle didn't cross Mike as the byproduct of someone who had trouble getting out of bed in the morning. He deemed something was off, picking me apart as I pushed with everything I had to get myself in to a pair of black sweatpants.

It wasn't physically possible to get myself in to skinny jeans, that morning. I couldn't mentally digest the hypothetical ordeal. Sweatpants were easier.

"Could you grab me a t-shirt from that drawer?" Saying the words themselves drained my dying battery further, I was running on fumes. "Literally any shirt is fine."

"Before I do that..."

The drawer full of black and gray shirts didn't get Mike's immediate attention. I should have been shivering, sitting there shirtless and fresh from the shower, but I wasn't. Mike lightly pressed his lips to my forehead in what it appeared to be an affectionate gesture. It wasn't.

"Oh…" Alarmed, Mike pulled back an inch. "That feels like a fever."

"Don't most people use their hands to decide that?" I criticized his methods.

"My hands are cold, you know that. It wouldn't have worked."

Convinced I was feverish, Mike requested I tell him where we kept a thermometer so he could get an accurate reading. He was going to make this a bigger deal than it had to be. I suck at mornings, and I was having another bad one. A thermometer wasn't going to tell him that.

"I got four hours of sleep last night, if I was lucky." I argued. "I'm tired, not sick."

"Thermometer, where is it?"

"You don't need to take my freaking temperature. Pass me a shirt so I can finish getting dressed and we can leave"

Mike crossed his arms, tapping the toe of his boot. He blinked at me twice, unyielding. The last person to give me that look was Mom when I put up a fight over going go get my flu shot at the local pharmacy. Which I didn't get.

Totally unrelated.

"Tell me where it is now, or I'm going to find one on my own." Mike threatened me. "If I have to drive to the pharmacy and buy a thermometer, you're going to be sorry."

"Why would I be sorry that you went out of your way to get something I TOLD you we don't need?"

Mike got a look to him that wavered on annoyed, but not there. Yet. That warning glower you hit your kid with when they're being difficult for no justifiable reason, that's what I was getting.

"Don't fight me on this. It's for your own good."

"I'm not telling you where it is. I'm FINE."

"Let me put this in a way you're more likely to understand…if you make me go to the pharmacy, I'm buying a rectal thermometer to get back at you. And, if you think I won't check your temperature when I get back, you have another thing coming."

If my mother had said that to me, I would have laughed despite myself. Could've been a Nurse. The school nurse, even. Stan could have said it and I wouldn't have taken it any more seriously.

Mike said it, and I could visualize the emasculating scene unfolding. There was Vaseline involved. And, running.

And, screaming. Because if I didn't have the strength to get dressed, I wasn't going to have the strength to out run him.

He would take my dignity right along with my temperature. Without giving a fuck as to whether my parents were home, or not. The entire neighborhood would hear me having my temperature taken like a temperamental toddler.

That wasn't an experience I wanted to have with Mike…the first time he goes near my ass and it's with a thermometer? Absolutely not.

"There's an oral thermometer in the medicine cabinet."

"That's what I thought."

Having something put up my ass wasn't foreign, obviously. A thermometer just wasn't something I wanted put up there by my boyfriend. Not a sexy vibe.

Unless I'm dying and there's no other way to get my temperature, that's a hardcore "no" in my book. Mike being the one to get it in there would be the end of me. I'd never live that down.

"Here we go." The device beeped when Mike turned it on.

He held it near my mouth. I glared at it. This wasn't fair.

"Lets do this the easy way. Open up." Mike instructed, gentler now that I'd cooperated and told him where that stupid thermometer was. "Come on, baby bat. Under the tongue."

"..."

I closed my lips around it, eager to rub Mike's nose in it when it beeped and showed I didn't have a fever. Seconds passed, I glared up at him the whole time. The little device went off and he pulled it from my mouth.

"101.4 degrees Fahrenheit."

"You're lying."

Putting the digital screen in my face, Mike provided evidence to his findings. I had a fever. Son of a bitch.

"You're sick. And you didn't get enough sleep." Mike put the thermometer down. "Get back in bed."

"I can go to school. I'm not using an absence for-."

"I said bed. Go."

"It's Friday. I'll have the whole weekend to sleep."

"Bed. Right now."

Mike got a shirt and pulled it over my head, getting me situated under the bed covers. Which I didn't want.

"It's too warm." I threw them off right away.

"It's not warm in here." Calm, Mike put them over my back for a second time. "You only think it's warm because you're sick."

"Doesn't make me feel any less like I'm dying of heat."

There wasn't medicine of any kind to be seen when Mike had poked around the medicine cabinet for the thermometer. First and foremost, he wanted me in bed. Secondly, he wanted to get my fever down. The barren medicine cabinet wasn't helping.

"Where are your house keys?" Mike asked, looking around to try and spot them on his own.

"My house keys?"

"I'm going to the store. I need a way back in that isn't through the second-floor window. And, don't forget to call out of work while you're still awake."

Funny how Mike told me he wants me to be a healthier person, finding me sick the very next day. A fever wasn't going to take me down, but he came back from the store lightening fast.

"You were only supposed to get fever reducer. Why did you get all this? Tylenol would have been fine."

He got Dayquil and Nyquil, explaining that they had fever reducer in them.

"We don't know what you're sick with. For now, these will take care of the fever. If other symptoms start popping up, this will cover that, too."

Peeling the protective seal off the neck of the Nyquil bottle, Mike twisted off the cap and poured out a measured dose in to the plastic cup.

"It isn't night time."

"It isn't night time, but you need to sleep." He said, handing me the medicine with sleep aid in it. "Just for today, you'll take this during the day."

Over the counter medicine wasn't the nastiest thing I'd ever tasted. I was actually guilty of drinking cough medicine with my friends before… I just didn't like having someone telling me what to do.

"Ugh…" I took the dose in one go. "There. Now step off, already."

"That's a funny way to say 'thank you'."

I made some disgruntled, dismissive sound and laid back down on my stomach, facing away from Mike. The covers were thrown off again. It was a matter of time before Mike would put them back on me so I could bake like a potato wrapped in tin foil.

"You're going to miss second period too if you don't head out, soon." I told him, praying he'd go soon and the nanny dynamic could walk out the door with him.

"Promise me you'll take it easy while I'm gone."

"I don't know. Today felt like the perfect day to break out Mom's workout videos."

As predicted, Mike fixed the bed covers. This time, he pulled them up past my waist instead of to my shoulders.

"It's cold in here, I can't not put them on you." Mike sighed. "I know you're going to kick these off. Just wait until I'm gone, okay?"

Mike knew I was going to kick everything off. But, he tucked me in no differently than if he had full faith in me to leave everything where it was and obediently go to sleep.

I was pissy and uncooperative. He was taking care of me how he promised he would. I was being a bratty prick about it and couldn't bring myself to stop.

What was wrong with me? Mike deserved gratitude, not this. He could have easily left without doing anything for me.

"Text me if you want me to bring you something after I get out of school." Mike raised a knee up on the bed behind me to lean over me and plant a kiss on to my cheek.

Mike's heels clicking as he left didn't relieve me. Each step stuck a pin in me. He was leaving...damn it, he was leaving.

I didn't really want him to leave.

"You'll be okay here, by yourself?" He got to the door, and didn't go right away.

"I'm here by myself, all the time."

"…Be good, baby bat. I'll be back for you this this afternoon."

Mike bid me goodbye, closing the door. He was gone. The room felt cold now. It wasn't the same cold Mike felt. This cold feeling couldn't be fixed with another blanket or a jacket.

I left the covers where they were, I couldn't kick them off.

Xxxxx

Catching up with the sleep I missed wasn't refreshing or rejuvenating. Around Eleven in the morning, I woke up. I didn't have a cigarette or a mug of coffee yet, so I could feel my stomach twisting and rumbling for food. It was nauseating, I was so hungry.

Home alone, I went and looked for what I could have to fix this inconvenience. The coffee maker on the counter tempted me, but I didn't have the motivation to clean out the pot my lazy dad left in the sink, or wait around for the coffee to brew. Coming down here was enough and pushing it.

There were cans of soda in the fridge. I took one, scanning the shelf for something I could get in me without any effort going in to it. There was deli meat, but I didn't want to make a sandwich. I'd have to get the bread, cheese and condiments out, too… open it all, and then put it all away afterwards.

I was running out of time, feeling lightheadedness take over. Grab something and get back up the stairs while you can, Pete. C'mon.

The fridge wasn't getting me anywhere. I took another sleeve of mom's crackers from the pantry. Along with a cupful of peanut M&M's candies she bought in the huge party size bag. She yelled at Dad whenever he got in to them. I could take from it.

I got through the can of soda, half the sleeve of crackers, and a palmful of chocolate candies. A wholesome, nutritious meal it was not.

My stomach shut up, which was all I wanted. The carton of cigarettes was going to be next on my sampling menu, but I was already in bed and didn't want to get up, again.

Turning on the television was pointless. I kept my eyes open for five minutes, I think. I dropped like a rock, immediately. I felt a pattern coming on. I was going to be in and out of it all day now because of that freaking Nyquil.

Next time I woke up, something felt different. I stirred awake, slowly registering that I wasn't alone. There was the sound of pencil on paper. That wasn't who I thought it was, was it?

"There's my baby bat~" Mike was in my desk chair, math book open in his lap and his problem sheet rested on the side he wasn't reading off of.

Just Mike. False alarm.

My house keys were back amongst my possessions, Mike returning them after he let himself in sometime earlier.

"When did you get back?"

"Less than an hour ago."

According to the time, classes ended about an hour ago. He came straight from school, and did his homework while I slept. The sound of him writing led me to believe it was someone else who invited themselves in.

"Why is your textbook in your lap? My desk is right behind you."

"I don't have eyes on the back of my head. This way, I could keep an eye on you."

"If I'm sleeping, there isn't much to keep an eye on."

"But, you're so cute when you sleep."

The word "cute" wasn't in the goth vocabulary. Me, cute? Uh, no.

"You have a distorted view of 'cute', you know?" I got up to find a bottle of water tucked away in my room. "Your birds might be cute, but not me."

"You're all precious. Hush."

"Stick to what you know, Mike. Do your homework."

With water to wash it down, I started picking at what was leftover from my earlier scavenging. Mike rolled over as I got a cracker in my mouth.

"Is this everything you ate today?" He asked, taking a few M&M's from the cup.

I nodded.

"Flour, sugar and more sugar." He shook his head at the crackers, empty can of Sprite, and candy. "Lovely."

"Pick on me when I can fight back. I have to conserve my energy, right now."

The hard, sugary shell of the candy crunched under his teeth, he pointed a finger at me.

"It'd be easier if you had the right food in you."

"I didn't even smoke or have coffee today, I'm so god damn tired. You expect me to have to energy to put food together?"

"No coffee or cigarettes? I like the sound of that."

I didn't tell him for the praise. Believe me, I wanted that caffeine and nicotine more than anything.

"It won't last long."

"Such little faith. You can live without that crap."

"You could live without make up. I don't see you easing up on it."

"Make up isn't hurting me."

No. But, he didn't need it. I liked him better without it. He was always gorgeous, but his real face was better.

Some eyeliner was one thing…you could still see everything else. Mike had such beautiful features. That stuff on his face didn't need to be there, fashion or not.

"My mom started a beef stew in the crockpot before she left for work. It'd be good if you had some, she puts lots of vegetables in it." Mike changed the subject. "How about we pack up your clothes and medicine, and you come with me this weekend?"

Xxxxx

Being sick didn't take away my weekend with Mike. Admittedly, it would have bummed me out.

"Aren't you worried you'll get sick hanging around me, like this?"

"If I get sick, it happens. I'm not leaving you to take care of yourself."

"I could do it."

"But, you don't."

Ladle in hand, Mike filled two bowls with hot stew. It smelled good, but the hot broth was what I wanted. I was cold now. It was seeping down to my bones, and Mike's house was warmer than mine.

"Let me get you a spoon." He placed the steaming bowl in front of me.

He presented me with a soup spoon, which I took with a faint tremble in my hand.

"Are you cold?"

"I don't understand what's going on. I was dying of heat this morning."

"You're sick." Mike reiterated, because I was in such denial over it. "You're having hot and cold flashes."

Before he sat down to have his own food, Mike dashed upstairs to the very top floor. Folded up in his arms was a black fleece blanket.

"It's fresh from the linen closet." He unfolded it and draped it along my back and shoulders like a cloak. "If that doesn't keep you warm, I can get you another one."

Mike's dad, who was actually his step dad, came home while we were eating. He was a portly man with a brown beard and glasses. He looked like a laidback school teacher or someone's goofy uncle, not a social worker.

"Oo, your mom made her beef stew." He came in with his brief case, dressed in his office attire. "It's that time of year."

"She normally waits until it starts snowing to make it."

"We're getting a dusting of snow later. Weather said so."

"That explains the stew, then."

I had a way of blending in with my environment even in plain sight. Mike's stepdad picked up on my presence, right away.

"Pete, how are you? Things okay at home with your parents, still?"

"…uh-huh. Everything's fine."

"If it's ever not, you come tell me."

Wanting to get out of his work clothes and wind down before dinner, he waddled up the stairs humming a happy tune to himself. I didn't look up from the table while I ate.

I never saw Mike's step dad in the times I've been over. I was either downstairs with Mike before, or after, his step dad came home and retired to his own bedroom.

He knew exactly who I was.

"He takes his work home with him. Sorry about that…"

"Don't be sorry. Not your fault."

"Are things really okay at home…?"

"Mike."

That was the end of that. Mike let me eat in peace. He was happy I accepted the food, he wasn't going to risk making me lose my appetite.

Small victories.

Xxxxx

This wasn't how it was supposed to happen. Everything was supposed to be okay, I tried to keep it that way. The razor in my hand started at my wrist, running up my arm in slowly, but steady.

I was screaming for someone to stop me. No one could hear me. I was by myself.

The sharp edge cut in to me. Red came to the surface, pooling together in globs before running down my arm. Like rain spilling down a hill, it just kept going.

It all spilled in to the bathroom sink. I grabbed at whatever I could to stop the bleeding. A white towel quickly turned red as I desperately pressed it in to my the wound.

What have I done?

My reflection watched me panic.

"M-Make it stop." I begged, shaking.

He stared at me. Emaciated and sallow, with dark circles under his eyes. His bare neck had a scar far more gruesome than my own, as if someone had cut him from ear to ear with a rusty blade. It was a disgusting, purplish-red raised scar with uneven edges.

"Isn't this what you wanted?" He asked me, bringing a lit cigarette to his sickly, blue lips.

"I don't want to die…I don't want to die!" I cried, tears streaming down my face, holding out my bleeding limb. "I t-take it back. P-Please, make it stop."

This animated corpse in my mirror leaned out from the frame, curling his cold, dead fingers under my choker.

"Bye, Pete."

He yanked me in, smashing my head in to the glass, shattering the mirror in an explosion of bloody shards.

Xxxxx

"AHHH! Make it stop! Make it stop!"

In the dead of night, I screamed at the top of my lungs. Mike bolted awake, just as panicked as me.

"Pete…" He shook me awake, worried. "Pete, wake up."

I couldn't see a thing when I came back, everything was black. Was I dead? It didn't catch up with me that it was a dream, and that I'd woken up, until Mike's cool hand felt for my face.

"M-Make it stop…" I was shaking. "Please, m-make it stop. I'm bleeding-"

"Shush, baby bat." He touched my cheek, feeling the wetness there. "You're okay. Don't cry."

Mike moved in closer, kissing my forehead, running his thumb over my wet cheek.

I wanted to say the tears were from my nightmare and I wasn't crying anymore, but I was. They rolled down my face, hitting Mike's fingers.

His chest was on mine. His heart raced harder than my own. I scared the shit out of him.

Who was I kidding? I scared the shit out of myself.

"You had a bad dream." Mike's words or reassurance were pitying.

"Y-Yeah..."

"Are they often like this?"

"T-That was a fever dream." My attempt to explain came out unsteadily. "T-This isn't a regular thing."

"You were screaming bloody murder. You scared me, you poor thing. My heart stopped."

Resting his chin atop of my head, Mike tucked my face in to his neck. His rose smell drew me further away from the nocturnal disturbance. I'm here with him.

I'm alive.

"I-It was just a dream. No big deal."

"You kept screaming 'make it stop'." Troubled by it, Mike quoted my unconscious outburst. "Why were you bleeding?"

An attempt to lie never made it past my lips. The dream, it was so bad, I didn't know where to begin to conjure up a fake story.

My trembling was involuntary. I couldn't force it away.

"You can tell me." Mike whispered as I clammed up.

"N-No, I can't."

As badly as I wanted to ease the burden off my conscience, he couldn't know. Just exist with me, Mike. Hold me tighter.

Don't let the darkness drag me under.

Xxxxx

Body aches bestowed themselves upon me. With nasal congestion. And, my chest was tight.

Whatever I had, was progressing. I had no energy, my body hurt, it was harder to breathe, and my head was killing me. Mike hypothesized it was the flu.

I may have done this to myself. If I'd went and got the shot when Mom wanted me to, I could have possibly avoided this...

It wasn't all bad.

Mike scrubbed down his tub, filling it with comfortably hot water. His mother had a selection of different therapeutic bubble bath and bath salts. The bubble bath he borrowed from her bathroom upstairs was some herbal, aromatic blend that was supposed to help me breathe. The Epsom bath salts he poured in were to alleviate the body aches.

He had a few chores to take care of, which he left to do after setting up my bath. I was partial to bathes, so I didn't argue when Mike told me he was running one. Some music, and I'd be golden.

Music played from my phone at a low, considerate volume. The throbbing in my head didn't incline me to put on anything rigorous or loud. This wasn't a bath to compete with racing thoughts and smother them out with something louder.

This is gospel, for the fallen ones
Locked away in permanent slumber.
Assembling their philosophies
From pieces of broken memories.

Oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh.

This is the beat of my heart, this is the beat of my heart.

Oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh.

This is the beat of my heart, this is the beat of my heart.

Steam wafted up from the water's surface, herbal and fragrant. The bottle said mint and rosemary. I needed to buy some of this stuff for my house. Good shit.

Resting my cheek on the ledge or the tub, I mellowed out along to the music and shopped online for this miracle mix Mike poured for me. My phone buzzed in my hands as I looked up the products, adding them to my Amazon shopping cart to buy later.

What did Stan want?

"Are you back with conformist idiot?" Henrietta's text read.

Not Stan.

When was the last time Henrietta reached out? Couldn't recall. She always relied on Michael to keep in contact with me, in the past.

"That's one way to initiate a conversation." I waited a few minutes to answer back. "Might want to consider starting with 'Hey, how are you?', next time."

"Yes, or no." she sent back within seconds, no wait.

This demanding approach my "friends" were taking with me was beginning to feel hostile. It wasn't outside Michael's realm to do it when he was in a mood of his. That mood wasn't fluctuating, these days.

The gnashing teeth, and criminal tongues,

Conspire against the odds.
But, they haven't seen the best of us, yet.

If you love me, let me go.
If you love me, let me go.

Henrietta didn't start treating me poorly until Michael took my rejection too personally. There had to be a connection. She and I had been fine, before. Even when I took some space during my rougher patches with depression.

Michael must be getting under her skin. His acrid, sour presence was nauseating in small doses. He was spoiling worse with each day that passed.

Maybe she was starting to gag. I did.

"Did Michael put you up to this?" I accused her.

"Yes, or no." She repeated. "Quit fucking around. Are you back with Stan?"

'Cause, these words are knives that often leave scars.
The fear of falling apart.
And, truth be told, I never was yours.
The fear, the fear of falling apart.

Oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh.

This is the beat of my heart, this is the beat of my heart.

Oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh.

This is the beat of my heart, this is the beat of my heart.

That type of information didn't do anything for Henrietta. She didn't care with an ounce of her body what the fuck I did with Stan. It was how that conformist interloper put a wedge in our group that she remotely concerned herself with.

She wouldn't ever go this far to confront me on it.

"I'm not playing this game."

"What game?"

"Yours, Michael. Nice try."

This is gospel for the vagabonds,
Ne'er-do-wells, insufferable bastards.
Confessing their apostasies
Led away by imperfect impostors.

Oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh.

This is the beat of my heart, this is the beat of my heart.

Oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh.

This is the beat of my heart, this is the beat of my heart.

He called, and I declined it. He called again, so I put my phone on "do not disturb" mode. His calls couldn't come through. Neither could anyone else's if they decided they wanted to dampen my Saturday more than this fucking sickness already was.

Don't try to sleep through the end of the world.
Don't bury me alive.
'Cause I won't give up without a fight.

If you love me, let me go.
If you love me, let me go.

Sending Georgie didn't work. He couldn't get through to me. Now, he tried impersonating Henrietta. Conspiracy, or desperation?

I disregarded my phone and put it down. I didn't need this bullshit, right now. There was bubble bath, and music, I was supposed to be enjoying. Having a tense text standoff didn't fit in to my Saturday, or Mike's treatment plan.

That was the beauty of a cellphone. If it was the only means of communication people had with you, there wasn't much they could do if you ignored them. I couldn't see Michael showing up at my house again after his last visit going nowhere how he expected it to.

He was losing his grip on me. I might've been losing a grip on myself, but it was safer than becoming his puppet.

'Cause these words are knives that often leave scars.
The fear of falling apart.
And, truth be told, I never was yours.
The fear, the fear of falling apart.

Oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh.

The fear of falling apart.

Oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh.

The fear, the fear of falling apart.

Mike's house calmed me down like nothing else I'd ever come across before. His room, specifically. His space.

It didn't cage me in. It caged everything else out.

Oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh.

This is the beat of my heart.
The fear of falling apart.

The basement was an entire floor just for him. It was closed off from everything else. No one came down without an invitation. That invitation was a golden ticket, opening the gate to somewhere safe.

Oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh.

This is the beat of my heart.
The fear of falling apart

Pry it from my cold, dead hands.

Oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh.

This is the beat of my heart.
The fear of falling apart.

Oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh.

This is the beat of my heart.
The fear of falling apart.

To avoid any guttural screaming erupting from my phone, it was set it to play one album on a repeat. Rested on the ledge of the tub again, I shut my eyes and dozed off. Time could stop here. I'd welcome it.

I was out long enough to cycle through the whole album at least once because I woke up to the same song playing. My guess was it cycled through at least twice because Mike was in there with me.

"Relaxed?" Mike, who was sitting on the floor by the tub folding clean towels from a basket, smiled.

He was putting the clean towels on to a low shelf, one by one, as he folded them. His technique was nicer than mine. Those towels looked spa ready, hotel presentable.

"I fell asleep, so probably." My wet hand came up to rub at one eye.

"I've always liked Panic! At the Disco." Listening to the music, Mike followed the melody. "I didn't take you for someone who listened to them."

"We all have our guilty pleasures."

It didn't weird me out that he was there while I was asleep in the tub. He probably came in to check on me in the middle of doing laundry, and wanted to make sure I didn't slip and drown when he found me asleep in a full bath.

"Is the water still warm?"

"I haven't frozen to death."

Dipping his fingers in, Mike tested the water. It was a notch warmer than lukewarm. He drained some, running hot water again to adjust the temperature back up.

"Better?" he checked.

"Yeah, that's better. Thanks."

"Do you mind if I join you?"

We didn't take up much room individually. We could sit at opposite ends of the tub and be fine. The tub could have the space to accommodate four people, and I wouldn't have been okay with sharing it with anyone but Mike.

Stan wouldn't didn't get that privilege. Soaking in a bath was a delicate, personal, time and space.

"I don't mind. We'll both fit in here."

Bath time was my time. I wonder if Mike knew I'd handed a golden ticket right back to him.

He used a hair tie to gather his hair up to keep it from getting wet before stripping off his pajamas. He didn't get in to the tub across from me. He nudged me forward to climb in from behind. I sat between his legs, back to his chest.

"Done with your chores?"

"Mostly. I was going to clean Poe and Lenore's cage, but my feather babies will make it another day."

Mike maintained their cage regularly, postponing the clean-up wasn't neglectful. Those birds really were his feathered babies. He wouldn't leave them to wallow in filth. He continuously cleaned their cage before it could accumulate much mess.

Mike took immaculate care of everything he valued. Why was I one of them?

Bare as the day we were born, we soaked in the aromatic waters. A reckless, stupid decision I made at a school dance led me to this. The first bad decision I ever made which worked out for me.

"You're still wearing your choker."

Yes. Yes, I am.

"It's not getting wet." I defended, weary that he was going to elaborate on how strange it was.

"I never see you without it. Just struck me as funny you're wearing it in the bath, too."

So, Mike picked up on that. Fuck.

There wasn't anything funny about me wearing it virtually all day, every day. I took it off to shower, that was about it. Stan and Michael knew why. They'd seen why.

I hid it from everyone else. It was my right, and my choice. What would Mike think if he saw what was under it?

Would he pity me? Or, would it scare him? Would it change how he saw me, for the worse?

"It's an odd quirk that I have, I guess..." I excused it, staring off at a tile on the shower wall.

There was little going for me, as is. Mike could go without knowing how damaged I really am. There were layers to me that he wasn't close to reaching. I wasn't giving him the opening to.

Why was it bothering me?

Xxxxx

Chapter Text

AUTHOR'S NOTE: Hey, guys! I got a couple of new commenters on the AO3 site, along with my usuals! Love you all! That was super awesome! 😊 Double update, today! *Dances off screen*

xxxxxx

The whole school became a war zone of germs. Kids were getting sick left and right, dropping like flies. I went to school Monday, taking some DayQuil to get me through the day.

The fever had to stay down. If I kept it under control, I could scrape by. Mike went back and forth with me that morning about why I should stay home in bed, not go to school.

I would be miserable at home, or at school. At school, I was saving an absence to be used on a day I couldn't be bothered to go.

"Something is going around real bad, kids." Mr. Stuart took attendance, noting the six empty seats. "Wash your hands really good and don't breathe on each other. There's hand sanitizer on the table with the tissues. Use it."

My paleness was sickly, I was more withdrawn than normal. The wall on the clock ticked and I watched the hand move with each second. I spaced out and I almost missed my name being called.

Mike nudged me.

"Here, Mr. Stuart. Sorry."

Mr. Stuart made eye contact with me from across the classroom, over the clipboard he was taking attendance with. He couldn't for certain tell what was going on with me, at first. I was never the picture of health, or bright in the morning. This was bad, even for me.

"…Pete, do you need the nurse?" He asked, with trepidation, aware that his question could be taken offensively in the scenario he wrongly judged my appearance for being ill. "I can write you a pass."

"I don't need the nurse, Mr. Stuart."

"You're whiter than a ghost, bud. You sure?"

I wasn't anywhere within breathing distance of anyone, except Mike. Everyone, with the exception of Mike, did a little scoot away with their desks, like I had the plague. I'm sure if I sneezed, they would have scattered like mice.

"I want to stay in class."

I needed to save as many absences as I could. I didn't actually want to be here with these wretched people, where I couldn't be coddled and nurtured by the angel on Earth sitting next to me.

Mike making my life suck less, made life in general suck so much more in comparison. Ughhhh! I hate everyone else here. I wanna sleep. They're awful.

"If that's what you want…er, Mike, you may want to move seats." Mr. Stuart warned, looking out for him. "Pete looks like he's coming down with something."

"I'll take my chances, thank you."

Being goth set you up for most people to avoid you, and act as if somehow you were contagious with something that they didn't want to be a part of. It was dehumanizing. Being sick was more justified for people to keep their distance.

Mike sitting at my side while I was both...I felt like a person. One who matters.

I wasn't much of a person today, however. Being in class didn't mean I was present in any respect of the word. I didn't participate, pay attention, or care that I was taking a risk by falling asleep.

Mike kept an eye out for any airborne objects, taking notes for the both of us. Him sitting right there gave me some level of protection. Mike's eyes were on the front board, but I was on his radar. I wasn't totally defenseless.

In fact, if Clyde messed with me today, Mike's entire backpack may have gone across the room. Knock him right out of his seat. Screw the granola bar. Mike preferred I eat it, if I could stay awake long enough for him to offer it to me.

Rip!

Clyde tore a piece of paper out of his notebook. Mike's head shot left, his pencil stopped on a dime. Clyde flinched when he looked right.

He was the quarterback. Mike was bean pole. A sexy bean pole with a nice shape to him, but still a bean pole...This fever was making me think weird shit.

Mike's beautiful face was void of any emotion. All his features were expressionless, and flat. Except for his red eyes. That was new...

He narrowed them slightly, daring Clyde with his gaze to fuck around. This wasn't the taunting, flirtatious retaliation he got, normally. Mike threw daggers at him with just his stare.

That piece of paper wasn't even to pester me with. It was actually for Craig. He forgot his notebook.

"Thanks, Bro." Craig reached over and took it. "Owe you one."

Grimacing when he moved from Mike's challenging stare, to my miserable state of being, Clyde resumed his note-taking. There was plenty more paper at his disposal. It all stayed in his notebook.

I wouldn't be getting shoved in to a locker, or bothered, in the halls. Clyde didn't have an interest in getting sick. My germs were repellent enough to leave me alone.

There might've been some empathy involved there. He could've thrown paper at me without risking infection. Karma would have hit him back in the form of Mike's bag... But, he still could have done it to assert dominance.

It wasn't all Mike's sharp stare that eased him off. Though, he didn't take that lightly.

xxxxxx

Mike couldn't personally watch me, all day. It worried him more than when he left me home to sleep my first sick day. At least, there, he knew that I was in one place, and okay.

At school, I was on the move every hour, or so, to switch classes. It was going to take a lot out of me.

Were the hallways and stair cases always this long? They went on forever. The day went on forever.

With the use of spies, Mike kept tabs on me. Between bells, it was like clockwork. A set of red eyes and dyed hair would pop out from around a corner, or pass me, taking a silent report to send back to the head vampire.

Having so many close friends made it super easy for Mike to keep eyes on me. With all of them around, no one had to go out of their way to find me. Someone was going to pass me, regardless, between classes.

The next time Mike anticipated to see me with his own eyes, was Lunch. I didn't show up to the cafeteria. There would be too much noise and I didn't want to plop my sickly head on the table to nap while everyone ate their food.

I went to the Library. Without forewarning Mike of my absence. It didn't cross my mind. I wanted to find a quiet table far away from everyone else.

Situating myself at a table in the far corner, I put my head down on my arms. Something in me told me I was being watched. I glanced up, almost missing the glimpse of black and purple disappearing behind a bookshelf.

Vlad was always at Lunch. Today, he was stopping in to grab something he needed. He checked out a book and left. I knew who the next report to Mike was coming from.

He was going to sit with Mike, surrounded by a filled room of other people. Me not being one of them rubbed me the wrong way. Was Vlad going to take my spot?

The bell just rang minutes ago. I could still go if I wanted to...There was nothing to stress over. Mike wouldn't be any less mine because I missed some time with him.

But, I felt better when he joined me in the library, unannounced. He came straight to me, with directional help from Vlad, I'm assuming.

Jesus, when did I get so clingy? This insecurity didn't suit me. Stop it, Pete.

"You didn't think you were going to get away with not eating, did you?"

"Pick your battles. I haven't had coffee, or cigarettes, since Friday."

"You must be plenty hungry, then."

I was. All weekend, it felt like all I did was freaking eat and sleep. For two days, I was as close to a literal baby bat as Mike would ever get me.

Nicotine and caffeine withdrawals were overshadowed by my already existing overwhelming malaise, and constant hunger. I had to eat my meals or the hunger pangs, alone, would debilitate me.

Being so hungry was painful. I didn't want to say it was worse than this temporary hiatus from my chemical dependencies, but it was. It really was.

Was I really smoking and drinking coffee THAT much? My stomach had a mind of its own without it, screaming at me for food now that I was forced to hear it. Saturday and Sunday, Mike got three full meals in me, and three calorically-dense snacks. Real food- Not overly processed garbage and empty calories.

My sandwich and fruit for the day were presented to me. Whole wheat bread generously filled with turkey, with a peeled orange. There were also two string-cheese sticks. These meals Mike were giving me were more food in one sitting, than what I'd been eating for whole days before.

"No apple, today?" I opened the plastic baggie my sandwich was in, going for the most filling thing first. "That's different."

"You need the vitamin C."

"It's in the juice too, you know."

I was being an ass for my own amusement. Mike tried all weekend to get me to drink orange juice, to no success. Orange juice was an acquired taste, in my opinion.

It's tangy, sour, and too sweet all at the same time. And, its acidic. Too much going on, there. Ew. I could handle the real fruit. The juice could fuck itself.

"Bratty bat." Mike flicked a napkin at me. "You're lucky I don't funnel the juice down your throat."

"I'll eat the orange. Orange juice sucks, it tastes like ass."

"Oh, so you know what ass tastes like? How interesting."

Now Mike was amusing himself in retaliation to my nonsense. I was embarrassed by what that joke implied.

"No, I don't know what ass tastes like."

"You seemed pretty confident that it tastes like orange juice."

Going back and forth with this guy wasn't an average banter. He could feed me back my own bullshit, and sarcasm, as fast as I spit it out. How entertaining, or frustrating, it was all depended on my mood.

"Who's instigating now?"

"You're the one going around tasting ass."

"Mike, shut the fuck up."

Xxxxx

Working with the flu was not a Mike-approved decision. It led me to an unproductive night. I used a stool to sit at the register, wearing a medical face mask my boss gave me to keep my germs to myself.

No one was available to cover my shift because they were also sick. I was sick, but willing to work. We were too short-staffed, otherwise my boss would have sent me home.

A slow Monday brought in some old people to play a couple of rounds of bowling. They also bought scratch tickets from the machine by the arcade area, while their grandkids played games. Not the worst kids we'd had in the place. They weren't raising hell.

"Yikes." Butters came back from a soda spill clean-up in the arcade. "By the looks of it, you could keel over any second, Pete..."

"I'm going home to sleep as soon as my shift ends."

"I reckon you should...it's a shame I can't be in two places at once or I'd take your shift. This isn't the place to be, all pale and dreary like that. You're not okay, I'd say."

Pale and dreary? Not okay? Hm. Didn't sound new.

Get the flu, and everyone suddenly gives a shit and notices.

"When I have ever not been pale or dreary?"

"You ain't ever looked like this, before. I know you like to hang out with your friends at the old cemetery, but you might give someone a heart attack stalking around looking dead like that."

"Good thing I'm not going to the cemetery. I'm going home. To sleep."

That Butters Stotch guy was pure-hearted, like a little kid. How he kept that innocence was a mystery. The world around us doesn't nurture that personality.

"Hiya, welcome to the bowling alley." Butter greeted someone coming in. "Pete, I'm gonna go refill the ice in the soda machine so you don't have to."

"How can I help you?" I asked before turning around.

Henrietta and her younger blonde brother, Bradley, were there. He brought one of his middle school friends. Sweet, naive kid. Reminded me of Butters. They could have passed as siblings.

"A round for these twerps, Pete."

Bradley and his friend got their bowling shoes. Henrietta slid money across the counter. Her long black nails skeeved me out. They looked like claws.

Mike's coffin-shaped nails were nice. They weren't sharp. And, they felt nice in my hair. Henrietta's nails were that sharp stiletto shape. They could probably hurt you if you pissed her off enough.

"Mom asked where I was going and made me take those tumors with me." Henrietta huffed. "Annoying conformist cunt."

"That sounds like your mom."

"Whatever. She's the one paying for them. Not coming out of my pocket."

She bought one round for them. This visit wouldn't be long.

"I need a favor." She cut to the chase.

That's what this is about. Inconsiderate bitch. I'm standing here with a god damn medical mask! At work! I should be at home IN BED.

"Do I look like I'm in any condition to do you a favor?"

"Don't get your undies in a bunch. It's about Michael."

"I'm not doing you any favors related to Michael. Leave me alone."

Putting her hands together, she brought them to her mouth and held back from giving me her attitude. And, I mean she really held back. She had to deal with her brother, her patience was worn thin already.

This must have been important because she didn't cave to her aggravation. She centered herself and carried on.

"He's driving us off the walls, Pete. There's nothing we can do, Georgie and I can't fix this."

I was right. Michael was getting so bad that Henrietta, and Georgie, were at their wits ends. They were trapped with his fermenting rage. It was choking them.

"Shoes on the other foot. Not my problem."

"I'm not going to pretend Michael can't be a suffocating asshole. You needed space." Henrietta said, actively holding back her true irritation. "I get it, Georgie gets it. Literally everyone with eyes and ears, gets it. The only person who doesn't-"

"Is Michael. Which brings us back to: It's not my problem. Leave. Me. Alone."

Georgie used us as a safe haven from his house. He couldn't have that with me gone, Michael was boiling over. I'm sure Henrietta was letting him come over in secret without Michael around. But, Georgie shouldn't have to deal with that.

I shouldn't have to deal with that. I'm not going to.

"For fucks sake! Pete, I never ask you for anything."

"That just changed, didn't it? Tough break."

"Talk to him. Text him, call him, go see him in person. I don't care, just give him SOMETHING before he gives himself an aneurysm and takes us down with him."

One of the elderly customers began approaching the counter, money in hand, ready to pay for another round amongst her chums. Henrietta stepped aside when I told her to make way. Customers first.

"I'm asking you, as your friend. Help me."

Xxxxx

I could hardly stand at the end of my shift. Henrietta was long gone before that. I could have really used a ride, right about now. I wasn't willing to do her a favor, so I wasn't about to call and ask her for one.

She should have at least offered. "I'm your friend. Help me." goes both ways.

Mike would come get me, but I didn't want him to know I worked. I lied and told him that I wouldn't. Bad move… I need the money, though.

Stan was also an option. He'd jump at the chance to see me. Can't reach out to him, though. Give him ideas or false hope. For a coward, he was ballsy. He'd try something.

Michael used his Dad's old truck when Henrietta wasn't around to drive. When it was just the two of us. Any time he could secure with me, he'd take. Now included.

These choices were getting worse as the list went on. I'll walk, I decided on my way out back to toss the garbage. Throw away the garbage, and today will be over.

"Your new accessory's atrocious."

It didn't shock me to find Michael in the back alley, smoking. Henrietta told him I was working. He showed up while I'm at my worst. Nobody has any consideration.

So much for leaving the ball in my playing field. Not catching a break today. Or, ever, if it were up to these leeches.

"Boss made me wear a medical mask. I have the flu."

"Henrietta said that."

Trying to open the dumpster, I exhausted myself. Michael gave me his cigarette to hold and dealt with the trash, for me. He chucked the two bags in.

"It won't bite." He deadpanned, taking back his cigarette that I held away at arm's length. "What's with you? You act like you've never had a cigarette before."

"I'm struggling to breathe, as is. I haven't smoked in days. It'll set off my asthma."

An asthma attack on top of having the flu…anything but that.

"You must really be sick." With his last drag, Michael dropped the bud and crushed it. "The truck is parked out in the lot. I'll drive you home."

"I can walk."

"Can you?"

Climbing up in to the truck wasn't easy like plopping down in a car. Michael had to stand behind me, hands on my back, to ensure I didn't fall. His boney, unsettling hands, on my lower back. From the outside looking in, we must've looked like two skeletons trying to climb out of a grave.

"You're not going to fall. I'm behind you."

"This is harder than I remember it being…"

Everything was spinning and my arms were weak. I stopped to catch my breath. God, if you're listening, I'll get my flu shot next time.

I can only do that if I make it to the end of this week, alive. Help a guy out.

"Pull yourself up, and I'll push you in." Michael instructed me. "I'll do the work, you just gotta lean in."

Pushing the backs of my thighs, he got me up in to the passenger side. I leaned back in the old leather seat, cursing this vehicle. Michael closed the door and walked around the front of the truck.

He pulled himself up in to the driver's seat with one smooth movement, aided by his height. Meanwhile, I had to climb Mount Everest and almost die on the journey. Day 4 with the flu, make it go away.

"This wasn't how I wanted to see you." Both hands on the steering wheel, Michael pulled out of the lot.

"I'm hard to look at, I know. My immune system is shit."

"I meant I wanted you to come to us. Why haven't you?"

"Are you having memory loss?"

The radio wasn't on. Michael always put something on when he drove. He had a whole album of CD's in the glove compartment.

"You aren't back with that moron. All this free time, what are you doing with it?"

"How would you know if I'm with him, or not? You hounded me over it two days ago."

"The whole football team is still yucking it up how the season went out with a bang. Stan isn't."

Michael scoffed in bitter bewilderment, breaking for a red traffic light.

"He looks lost. It's like fourth grade all over, again. Raven's sulking around in disguise."

"No, he isn't. Stan doesn't know what real pain is. Raven never existed."

I didn't think the words out before I said them. They just tumbled out. I harbored that devastating truth since the day Stan left our group. Raven never existed.

It was the first time I'd ever said it out loud. I admitted it. Michael couldn't ever get me to. Here I was, in the twelfth grade, finally emerging from my denial.

Michael was floored. He turned his head a few degrees to the right. His truck was running, the sound of the motor all you could hear in the eerie pause.

"What did you just say?"

"…Raven never existed." I looked out the window, hiding the water welling up in my eyes. "Stan was never one of us."

I'm on the verge of crying in Michael's truck. Pull yourself together. Now. Being tired and sick isn't an excuse to be a weepy wuss.

I get sick and suddenly I'm sensitive.

"Light's green." I said, because we were still parked in the middle of the road.

I almost croaked the words out. My throat was closing up on me.

A car came up behind us and beeped its horn. Michael didn't give it his signature middle finger. He put the truck back in drive.

His mind must've been racing a mile a minute, or processing agonizingly slow, because kept to himself the rest of the short drive. He came and got me with a mission in mind, and now he couldn't finish it.

Better that way.

"Thanks for the ride." I told him when we rolled up to the curb at my house.

"Pete."

My hand was on the handle. So close.

"Look at me."

"I'm tired, I don't feel well. I'm going to bed."

Michael grasped me by my bicep. It was careful. Oh, so careful. But, firm.

"I said, look at me."

"I told you I'm tired."

We stayed like that. If I dared try to leave again, his forgiving grip would flip. Michael wasn't angry. Seeing me in person was what he wanted. It pacified him.

That could change. A fickle balance. I'm sitting on eggshells.

"Pete."

"Let me go to bed."

"Don't make me say it, again."

My tears were fresh. They never dried up.

"He was never one of us." Michael held unwavering eye contact. "You've always been one of us."

"…"

One finger started pulling down the protective cloth covering my face.

"I'm sick!" I blurted out, pulling as far back as I could with one arm trapped.

"We're all sick."

My mouth and cheeks were exposed. He could see my whole face. Stained with tears, the only hint of color to be seen was the pink beginning to rim my eyes.

I missed my overgrown bangs. I could hide behind them, once upon a time.

"I shouldn't have let him in." Morosely, Michael berated his decision long ago. "I regret it every time I look at you. Look what he's done."

"Him? What he's done?"

Accountability was a resource growing scarce. Stan's went extinct a long time ago. Michael's may be dying out right along with it… that, or I wasn't the delusional one in this equation.

"I've always tried to take care of you."

"Always? Strong choice of words."

The last two months didn't count, evidently.

"We were here first. You've made it impossibly difficult to deal with you, putting that piece of shit before us."

"Before YOU." I corrected him. "So long as I spent time with you, could have cared less if I spent time with Henrietta and Georgie."

"Have you fucking stopped to consider why that is? Before you make me the monster in your sunshine fairytale, give it some damn thought."

In some "perfect" version of his crumbling, dim world, Michael would drop Henrietta and Georgie if it meant we'd be together forever. Down in hell, we'd sit amongst the ash and brimstone, watching the ocean of fire burn one day.

"Drop it, already. Okay? Michael, you don't love me."

"Life isn't a happily ever after!" He snapped. "I love you the only way I know how."

"That isn't love! Whatever the fuck it is you're trying to give me, it isn't love!"

Michael begged to differ.

"I don't have anything else in this useless world that I give a flying fuck for. You don't think that counts for anything?" he challenged me, seething at these countless rejections.

"What if I don't?"

His love was real, by his distorted standards. Too bad for him, my own standards were coming in to focus.

I could see beyond this blackened horizon we'd romanticized for so long. I wanted more than Michael's world. I needed more. His world wasn't equipped to nurture life.

I'm dying here. Give me back the sun.

"I've been here with you longer than anybody else. I saved your life." He was getting angrier with each word. "I can't sleep, Pete. I close my eyes, and I see you hanging there... If I hadn't made it in time, I would have gone with you."

...That...He meant that.

"...I can't spend my life rotting in your shadow. It's hurting me...You're hurting me."

"I'm protecting you! Happiness is an illusion. Do you want to live a lie?"

"I just want to live!"

Shattered, I told him how it is. This was it. The truth comes out.

"Whatever it takes to get me from today, to tomorrow, that's what I want…I just want to live." I choked it out. "I can't do that with you cramming all this negativity down my throat, all the time."

His face was a mix of conflicting emotions. Shock, betrayal, anger...and, guilt.

"...I just want to live. Is that okay with you? Huh, Michael?"

It's always been there, this craving of mine for life. Meaningful life. It wasn't very goth. And that's why Michael never nourished it.

He didn't have the sustenance to nourish it. That recipe never existed in his world. Hope…kindness… gratitude…joy…

Love.

All the misery he fed me…I couldn't stomach it, anymore. I never digested it. It all just sat in my body, churning and bubbling like a putrid pit of tar, poisoning me. Now it was coming back up like vomit.

With the black sleeve of his trench coat, Michael dabbed my face in the wake of my sobs. He reeked like cigarettes, and the sobbing aggravated my breathing. My throat got tighter, and before I knew it, I was fighting to get air in.

I couldn't breathe. My eyes shot open, I wheezed. It was a vile sound.

Michael didn't ask any questions. He yanked my backpack up off the truck floor, knowing exactly where my emergency inhaler was. I kept it in the same pocket for years.

Placing the plastic mouth piece at my lips as gently as he could in his haste, he dispensed the aerosol medication. The plastic hit my front teeth on the way in.

"….I'm sorry I'm not what you need." I clutched at his arm, taking the medicine in to my lungs. "I don't know how to be, Pete."

I never did answer Michael's first question.

I was spending my free time with Mike. I wasn't ashamed of it. But, I couldn't look Michael in the face and tell him I, yet again, chose someone else over him.

It wasn't the time. It was time for me to call it day.

At the bottom of the staircase, I looked up at the ludicrous climb I'd be taking. On my hands and knees, I dragged myself up.

Xxxxx

Chapter Text

AUTHOR'S NOTE: Ayyyy! *finger guns* I knew you'd be back 😎 LOL. Hope you guys enjoyed the double update, today. Chapters 14 and 15 are yours for the taking.

Little side note: The song briefly referenced in this chapter is "Dancing's not a crime" by Panic! At the Disco. Remember how I was dancing last chapter's note? Well, now you know to what 💃

Bigger side note: With the main vamp kids, Mike's group, I know all their real names EXCEPT for Vlad's. So, until the creators of South Park decide to give him a name, I'm taking some creative liberties.

Also, I'm presuming that Bloodrayne's real name is "Katie" because in the first episode that they all appeared in, Butters mentions that a girl named Katie started hanging out with the first vampire at school (Mike), and became a vampire, too. (Annie's specifically singled out by name in the gymnasium as the girl with sparkles on her cheeks, so I know she can't be Katie.)

Of course, Mike, Larry, and Ryan were also specifically named in the show, too.

...So, I think that's all for this author's note! Hope you guys enjoy! Can't wait to hear from you guys! If not, thank you for reading 😊

xxxxxx

"Good news, kids! All your pottery survived the kiln. You can come get your projects, after school."

Pottery class wasn't an elective I chose. I got stuck with it. Playing with over glorified mud wasn't whimsical or rewarding how our artsy, hippy teacher endorsed it to be.

Our latest project was to make something using the pottery wheel. There were bowls and vases, mostly. People make it look easy on t.v, but that shit is hard.

The process was frustrating. I didn't have any use for a flower vase. All that time and aggravation making it and painting it, to have no purpose for it.

"Pete!" Ms. Gavin stopped me after school as I walked by her classroom with Mike.

I jumped a little at her overly excited, friendly exclamation.

This lady shat rainbows, and looked like a bird that could dress itself. Her wavy blonde hair was tied back with colorful bandana, not a match to her brown dress. She had feather earrings and big, geeky glasses.

This lady was always a little too happy. Yeah, the callous on her fingertips? Not years of clay work. Those were burns. She totally smoked the happy salad on her own time. Lady needed a roach clip.

"You almost forgot to get your project." She waved for me to come over to her classroom.

"You took pottery?" Mike trailed behind me.

The pottery room smelled like wet soil, and faintly of the glaze we used to paint our projects. It was weird. A natural, organic aroma mixed with that chemical odor. They didn't compliment each other.

My vase was painted an opaque shade of black. All one color, nothing else. Art wasn't my forte. Working the clay went well enough. Painting designs?

May as well put the paintbrush between my butt cheeks and tell me to have at it. Wouldn't come out any different than if you put the brush in my hand. I can't fucking paint, Man.

"You did great, Pete. I run a pottery workshop at the community college, you should come."

"I don't care for pottery all that much...I didn't choose this class, remember?"

"Oh, you break my heart."

The projects lined shelves with sheets of paper labeling each one with class numbers and student names. Everyone else had these colorful pieces, mine sat out of place.

"Pete Thelman." She read aloud, as if she needed any help distinguishing mine from the rest. "Here it is."

Taking my vase down, she handed it over. She laid it in my arms carefully, like a baby. Wonder what would happen if I smashed it in front of her. Because that's what I was going to do with it, anyways.

"She's right, baby bat. Your vase came out nicely." On our way out, Mike appraised it.

"I don't know how. I didn't want to be there." I complained, holding a grudge to this inanimate object.

Mike chalked up my disinterest to having recently survived the flu. I wasn't back to myself, but I wasn't feverish or contagious anymore. No more medicine or daily temperature taking, for me.

We were just waiting for me to bounce back. Today was the first day I felt relatively close to "normal", minus the fact I was still struggling with minor fatigue.

"You'll appreciate your vase when you feel better."

"I'll feel better when I smash it."

"You aren't serious, are you?"

"Yes, I'm serious. What am I supposed to do with this stupid vase?"

Stopping in front of me, Mike held his arms out. He was appalled.

"Give it to me." he said, watching me for any sudden movements. "You're not smashing that vase."

"What's it to you if I smash it? It's just a stupid vase."

"I want it."

"I made it."

"That's why I want it."

How my teacher placed it in my arms like a baby, Mike took it from me and protectively held it to his chest, like a baby.

"It's beautiful. Don't break it!"

"Keep it if it'll make you happy. Drama Queen."

The fake, decorative red roses that Mike had lying on his dresser's vanity went in to the vase. He was such a romantic.

"I'm never going to understand your attachment to that dumb vase I made." I said, placing things up on to Mike's bed as I pulled them out searching my bag for my cellphone charger. "Should've just let me smash it."

That charger I searched for tried to dig its way to China. I had to go to the very bottom of my bag for it. Placing everything back in, I accidently knocked down my notebook as I blindly reached for things.

My elbow hit it, and it fell to the floor. Something slid out from the pages, gliding across the floor to Mike's boots.

"Look what we have here." He chimed, bending over to pick it up with interest.

It was the bat he drew for me. Inspecting it, Mike fluttered the index card-sized stock paper.

"Now that I'm looking at this, I don't think I like it."

Puzzled at his criticism, I reached up from my kneeled position down on the floor.

He pulled it away.

"Ah-Ah." Mike, still inspected it. "...Hm. Yeah, no. I don't like it."

"...there's nothing wrong with it."

"You should let me shred it."

Between his fingertips and thumbs, Mike pinched the paper and made as if it was going to rip it.

"Don't-"

"Why?" He challenged me without missing a beat. "It's only a silly drawing."

"But, I want it."

"But, I made it."

...This asshole. He was never going to rip it.

"Okay, okay. I get it."

Bending at the waist, Mike returned the art I secretly treasured. It wasn't a secret anymore, clearly.

"Leave my vase alone." He pecked my nose.

That vase came back to bite me in the ass. Realistically, it was my own ignorance that came back to bite me. I wasn't ready to have that conversation with myself, yet.

Because the flu kicked my ass so thoroughly, Mike didn't make any plans with his friends that involved social outings the duration of it. Today marked Day 8. That was a lot for them to go without.

Mike canceled their club meeting last week, and today's was also canceled. Everyone understood. Next week, their schedule would go back to the way it was.

Headset on, and game controller in hand, Mike laid in bed, propped up with pillows. Vlad, Larry and Annie were online with him. Ryan and Bloodrayne were on a date.

I wasn't playing with them, by choice. I couldn't lie on top of Mike, and play, at the same time.

His arms were wrapped around me, controller on my back while he played Mario-Kart with his friends. Mike had the headset on so he could talk with them, but the audio was coming through on the t.v. He felt it was rude to keep me out of the loop.

Mike was King Boo and Vlad was Bowser. Larry and Annie picked the black Shy Guy, and Rosalina. Per word of Mike, Ryan and Bloodrayne would have been Metal Mario and Metal Peach if they'd been present to play.

I was always a Dry Bones type of man, myself.

"Whoever threw that blue shell, your mom's a ho."

"My mother is a saint, thank you very much, Vlad." Mike rebutted, driving past him unapologetically. "You're a ho."

"I resent that."

"You resemble that."

Larry derailed off the track due to a banana peel. For the fifth time. They were only halfway through Lap 2.

Annie, who was taking up Third place, was cracking up because she'd been the one dropping the banana peels he kept running in to.

"Pete was right. Maybe you are retarded." She cackled as he slipped on another one.

"Annie, I thought we were friends!"

"We are friends! You just royally suck at this game."

Determined to prove himself competent, Larry paid closer attention. He evaded a banana peel that Annie threw backwards.

"Ha!" He boasted. "Missed me."

A stray green shell bouncing around the track came and plowed right in to his kart.

"SHIT!"

He couldn't catch a break. Wasn't easy being Larry.

"I have an aunt who works with special needs kids, Larry. She's certified to teach you basketball, if you want." Vlad offered.

"My eyeliner is running! Stop!" Annie wailed. "It burns!"

"All of you suck dick." Larry retorted.

He was firmly holding on to last place.

"Annie doesn't." Mike advocated on behalf of the lesbian amongst them.

"Dick is gross." She confirmed, retching at the thought. "I can live without it."

"Can't relate."

That almost sent Vlad in to hysterics. Mike can't live without dick? Who would have thought?

"Ryan and Bloodrayne aren't here, so I'm outnumbered by elite homos."

"If you can't beat us, join us." Vlad suggested, through laughter, once he calmed down enough to get the words out.

"I wouldn't know how. Like, how does butt sex even work?" Larry mused. "I imagine it's like trying to make a peanutbutter and jelly sandwich, but all you've got is dick and ass. So you're like: 'Yeah. Guess that'll work.' Then your mom walks in to the kitchen and you're fucking grounded."

That may have been both the worst, and the best, description I'd ever heard. My ribs briefly rattled with laughter I was silently holding in as to not give away my presence. Mike felt me, and almost laughed because of it.

"And? That's totally worth getting grounded for."

"The trick is to take the sandwich to your room." Mike interjected, coming up on his final lap. "You act like it's your first day being gay."

"Well, if I'm grounded I'm going to be in my room anyways."

"Vladimir, get your shit together. I swear to God."

Annie snorted at the manner in which Mike chose to address Vlad.

"I love how you scolded him as if that's his real full name." She commented, genuinely finding it funny.

That raised a question. What was his real name?

"Vlad", and that silver-haired girl "Bloodrayne" were the only two who went by their vampire aliases. I knew her real name was "Katie". I can't recall if I'd ever heard Vlad addressed as anything else.

"He's been 'Vlad' since the fifth grade." Larry explained the obvious. "He may as well just legally be Vladimir."

"My mother would tear me a new one. I can already hear her: 'I didn't give birth to any Vladimir!' she'll scream, storming in to City Hall before I can sign the paper."

"Dude, how disorientated would you be if we all started calling you 'Vince', again?"

Mystery solved. His name's Vince.

"Uh, very? It sounded weird coming out of your mouth, just now."

"It felt weird when I said it, truth be told."

Mike crossed the finish line, in first place, shortly followed by Vlad. Then, Annie. And, Larry. Annie excused herself for a bathroom break before starting the next race after having laughed hard enough to leak make up in to her eyes. Vlad and Ryan went to get snacks.

"Do you want anything from the kitchen before they all come back?" Mike turned off the microphone on his headset.

"I'll be fine until Dinner."

He took a hand off of his controller to stroke my back.

"You're the first person I've seen gain weight with the flu." He appraised, content that I was less boney to the touch.

"All I did was sleep and eat. You should know."

"Without all that crap in your system you have your appetite back. It's a good thing."

Forced to quit cold turkey via illness, I didn't smoke for eight days. The worst of it got all mixed in with the rest of the misery I already felt. Now, although the habit lingered in my brain, I wasn't craving it.

Remembering the smell of Michael's coat right before I stopped breathing gave me an unconscious aversion that helped steer me away. Negative association.

I missed my coffee, however. That was something I'd wean back on to. In moderation, Mike would make sure of it. Can't take away everything.

"...Mike, could you scratch my back?" I requested, feeling an itch coming on where he was touching me over my shirt.

"Of course."

Pulling up the hem at the back of my shirt, Mike started scratching at my spine with the ends of his nails.

"Up...higher...eh, little to your left." I squirmed to one side. "Other left."

"That would be my right."

"Ah! Just scratch it. I'm itchy." I wriggled, trying to direct him where the itch was killing me.

"You're silly, that's what you are. 'Other left', pft."

He got me on the right spot and I took a clipped breath, curling my back in. Ooo, that's the stuff. Lord, have mercy.

"You got it all." I sighed in relief.

"That was a nice little squirm you had going."

Nails going south, Mike made it to my hip and then swiftly trailed up my side. It tickled, setting me off in to a fit of wiggles with a startled squeal.

Yeah. You read that right. I squealed.

"Ohhhh...what was that?" Devilishly delighted, Mike got a trouble-making gleam in his eye. "Is my baby bat ticklish?"

"You surprised me." I lied through my teeth, prepared to make a break for it. "Fuck off, I'm not ticklish."

"Baby bat's a Liar~"

The loving embrace I sought out from Mike trapped me in his arms. He foiled my escape. I fought tooth and nail to break free with his fingers coming down on me. When I did rip myself away, the escape was short-lived.

"Come back here~" Taking my ankle in hand, Mike dragged me in and climbed over me. "Not getting away that easily."

Jumping in to action, I used my hands to defend myself and bat Mike's away. I thrashed around, evading as many points of contact that I could.

"Mike-AH! Nnhh!"

I caught Mike's hands in a spontaneous miracle. He laced his fingers with mine and chortled at my diaphragm rising and falling with my labored puffs.

"Never do that, again."

"Hm, I wasn't finished~"

"The hell you aren't. Fucking bite me."

...oh no.

"That can certainly be arranged."

Phrasing was everything, and that's where I fucked up.

"Dancin', Dancin', Dancin's not a crime. Unless, you do it without me~" Vlad's voice came from the television upon his mic being turned back on. "Unless you do it without me~"

He sang along to some music he had playing in his room.

Mike pouted because our alone time ended, and he couldn't commence the next phase of his tomfoolery. The expression faded in to smirk. He shook his head a little listening to Vlad doing his thing, getting down with his stereo.

"I'm back! Miss me?" Vlad asked without a reply "...Guys?"

"Larry and Annie aren't back, yet." Mike reached over to turn his headset's mic back on, he didn't wear it.

"Looks like we're on stand-by, Boss."

Vlad's arrival saved me from Mike's mischief. Here I was now, jealous that his attention was going to someone else. No, correction: Vlad. His attention was going to Vlad.

"You're plenty entertained, throwing a party over there. Wouldn't call that 'stand-by'."

"Don't hate 'cause you can't party with me."

Larry returning assuaged my sour feeling, some. He put a wedge in their conversation.

"Back! I made a peanutbutter and jelly sandwich the right way." Larry, proudly, announced on over mic.

"Fuck that sandwich." Vlad scoffed.

"That's what I'm specifically trying to avoid, here. Just let me be straight, in peace. Jesus."

"...this was a bad time to come back." Annie declared, tuning in at an unfortunate moment. "What did I just hear about Larry fucking his sandwich?"

"I didn't mean it literally." Vlad defended. "Whatever floats his boat, though."

Placing himself back in his original gaming position, Mike put the headset on. He gestured for me to go over and resume my place cuddled on top of him.

"Let's get this show on the road." He told his friends.

I went back to Mike, fighting with myself over the emotional blip I encountered.

He could be friends with Vlad...it didn't mean anything. They had great chemistry, they vibed. That made for a strong bond.

…would we ever have that?

"We're all playing online today because you needed to keep an eye on Pete, right?" Annie asked.

"I wanted to." He corrected, happy to do so. "But, yes. Why?"

"Is he okay?"

"He's right here."

Once Mike turned on his headset, I didn't have anything to say. None of them knew I was present until now.

"Tell him 'Hi!' for me." Annie requested.

"And, that he was right about Larry." Vlad added.

A mouthful of peanutbutter and white bread nullified Larry's objection. It stuck to the roof of his mouth and he grunted, dejectedly.

"How's the peanutbutter, Larry?" I drawled with monotone sarcasm.

For the first time since logging on with his friends, Mike laughed.

"I didn't know he could hear us!" Annie busted out laughing with him realizing I was fully present for their antics.

"Mmph-I hate you guys." Larry got out after swallowing the sticky wad of bread. "Ack! Peanutbutter's good though. Thanks for asking."

Vlad asked why I wasn't playing with them. None of your fucking business, Dude.

"I can sit out a round if he wants to sync up a controller and play." Annie offered.

"He doesn't want to play." Mike explained, pointing a look down at me. "It's a shame."

"Pete, play with us!"

Eh, no. I've got the best seat in the house and I'm not giving it up.

"Another time." I declined the invitation. "I'm fine watching."

I wasn't investing much attention to the screen. Mike smirked. I blushed and put my face down to hide it.

"Come on, Man. Play a round." Larry sided with Annie.

"We rotate all the time when Bloodrayne and Ryan are here. It's no big deal." Vlad then joined them.

Mike's lips landed on the skin of my forehead that he could reach with my face all tucked down the way it was.

"Don't you worry about my baby bat. He's right where he wants to be."

Xxxxx

"Nng…"

Soft, muffled buzzing came from behind me. A lubed vibrating bullet being the source of said sound. In his left hand Mike held the remote attached to it, and in his right was my cock as I sat straddling his lap naked.

Forehead on Mike's unclothed shoulder, I held him with my arms around his neck. This toy of his was one of various others inside a locked safe-box under the bed ... this was the first I learned of his special sin bin.

When Mike signed off from his friends, he sought his next source of entertainment. Me. His original was intent was to have me pick something I liked. I've never owned any toys, so I let him pick.

"Better than a thermometer, wouldn't you say?"

"Could we not…Nn…bring that up right now?"

"Let's talk about that blush you keep trying to hide, instead."

"Let's not."

He buried that thing in me real good. It was easier to fit than something else that could be in there, but the vibrations set this apart from that.

My nerve endings were in an tizzy. My hips twitched as I fought the instinct to squirm down on to the denim of his jeans.

With his thumb, Mike rubbed the underside of my cock head, gliding over the wet sensitive flesh. Pre-cum beaded from the tip, providing the natural lubricant for him to do so.

"Ah…a-ahh…"

I was getting used to the toy inside me, focusing more on Mike's attention to my dick. The pad of his thumb rubbed with precision, and gentle pressure. Sensation concentrated in that one spot. I didn't ever want him to stop.

"Enjoying yourself?" Mike coo'ed lowly.

"…you're touching me just right." I moaned softly. "If you keep doing that, I'm going to cum."

The blush that I refused to show Mike stained my cheeks with a pink glow. He found it endearingly cute, trying to coax me out of my defensive shell.

"I'd like to see for myself. Look at me, baby bat."

"You're putting me on the spot…"

"So shy when you're vulnerable..I'm rather smitten with you."

His sweet praise, in unison with the pleasure, turned my insides to hot, gelatinous pulp. The heat wafted up from my lower belly, steaming the cavity of my chest. It escaped my body in tepid, even, pants.

My heart was fluttering like the wings of a humming bird. I thought it would burst with Mike's next words.

"My darling little creature~"

My heart must've been hard-wired to my dick. I wanted to be as physically close as I could be to him.

"…s-so close…don't stop…" Clinging to him, I caved to the urge. "…Ahh-AH!"

There was a single click, and my voice shot up both in octave and volume. I began whimpering helplessly at the intense spike in sensation.

"Did I forgot to mention this has adjustable settings?" Purring the teasing words to me, Mike left the remote to sit on the bedspread.

I began showing signs I was going to finish, restlessly fidgeting and writhing in his lap. He put two fingers under my chin.

"Let me watch."

He pressed up, to urge me to lift my face. I let him guide me to do it. His sultry hazel eyes locked with mine.

"Your eyes shimmer when you're close." He soaked in the glassy, emerald shine.

"I'm so close." I breathed, breaking out in to lilting moans. "Mike…oh…Mike…"

"That's it. Sing me my name, baby bat."

Everything disappeared but Mike. There was just his touch, and him. I was deaf to even myself mid climax.

He heard me. My pleasured cries were no sound I'd produced before. It couldn't compare to Mike's heavenly symphony, but I acquired my own melody. It dwindled out as my body shuddered with the aftershock.

Using some nearby tissues to clean off his hand, Mike chucked the wadded-up ball in to the small trash bin on the floor. With both hands now available, he held me, savoring tension in my shivering muscles slipping away right under his touch.

"You're shaking." Mike said, cradling me close to ease me down the post-orgasmic trembles.

"...I can't stop shaking."

I laid my face in the crook of his neck, debilitated in this euphoric haze. I really couldn't stop shaking. It wasn't an unsettling feeling. My body was just coming down from the rush.

"You've never experienced that before." Affectionately, Mike held me tighter. "Deprived little bat."

I melted more, warm and fuzzy all over as if the sun were kissing my skin in the dead of December. It was Mike. The warmth, it radiated off him, permeating me from the outside in.

His world nurtured life. His world had sunshine.

It wasn't a fairytale.

"I knew you weren't cold like them." Mike relished my receptiveness to his affections.

xxxxx

Chapter Text

AUTHOR'S NOTE: Hey, guys. It's been like a month and a half since the last update. Sorry about that. Life has me in a vice right now, I'm telling ya'.

I got assigned a group project that I had to do BY MYSELF, because the three other people I got grouped with are TRASH. I thankfully got it done and earned myself a 99/100 which counts for 20% of my ENTIRE grade.

So, here I am now. 70 fucking slides on Microsoft Word PowerPoint later. THAT I DID BY MYSELF. I could SCREAM.

The only thing that chaps my ass harder than Taco Bell, is my god damn peers. Catch my Death Metal album coming to Spotify: "Diploma in my Ass" by Random Jaz. It's just a recording of me at therapy, played over an erratic heavy drum beat and electric guitar.

Songs include:

"Blood pressure nightmares"

"Another slice of cake before I die"

"Another slice of cake before I die Part 2: Crumbs on my shirt"

"Crying is for conformists"

"Bite my buttcrack"

"Anti-depressants and anarchy"

"Y-E-E-T"

"Bleach through a straw"

Bonus Track: "Dicks out for Pete"

Xxxxx

It's mind blowing how you can know someone most of your life, see them almost every day for years, and then find yourself with nothing to say to them.

Michael was leaning against a tall, cross-shaped headstone. A lit cigarette rested between his fingers. He didn't wear gloves. Michael didn't feel the cold the way most of us did.

There was snow all around us, blanketing the graveyard in white. He didn't shiver. Meanwhile, I had my arms crossed tightly from where I sat on a nearby low frozen stone wall where my buttcheeks were going numb.

"Cold?" Michael asked me, breaking the silence that dragged on.

"I hate Winter." My diaphragm shuddered. "It's freezing out here."

"Henrietta's still dusting snow off headstones. She has to finish soon, she's running out of daylight."

Henrietta was the type of person who liked using paper and pastels to shade the front of headstones. She had a whole scrap book full of them. Utilizing Georgie to hold the paper in place, she used black chalk pastels to get the patterns.

Winter brought dusk upon South Park, draping it over the little town steadily. Another half an hour and Henrietta wouldn't be able to see the fronts of the headstones anymore.

"We don't have to wait here for her to finish." Michael offered, disinterested in Henrietta's little hobby. "We can go to the Village Inn."

I couldn't stand the cold much longer. Michael mentioned the Village Inn and all I could think about was a hot mug of coffee in my frozen hands. Even if I had to sit there with him alone for a bit.

Empty creamer cups and a couple of sugar packets piled up neatly on my end of the booth five minutes in to arriving there. Michael watched me make my mug of coffee. His end of the table wasn't as neat.

The table top as a whole was scratched from years of business. I mindlessly looked over my end, spotting the wear-and-tear. The constellation of markings told a story. It was just a type of Braille I didn't know how to read.

"The table interesting?" Michael pried from across the booth.

"It's marked up. This place is getting old."

"So is this awkward silence, Pete."

I kept avoiding his face. I was looking anywhere I could, as inconspicuously as I could. Hanging out again wasn't as seamless as picking up where we left off. Michael felt like a stranger to me now that we were sitting here together like old times. I felt like a stranger.

"It's been months. A lot has happened." I held my mug with both hands. "I'm processing it."

"Nothing's changed between us." Michael didn't blink, wearing that constipated expression his face may have been permanently stuck in by now. "Don't overthink it."

Here I was with Michael, feeling like I was on trial. He wasn't who I was thinking about in these long, drawn out pauses. My eyes strayed to the other side of the diner, to the table where Mike had sat during my after school "Disney princess" date with Stan.

"I live in my head." I excused, longing for a presence that wasn't here. "It's what I do best."

Henrietta and Georgie came in, Georgie shivering worse than I'd been. It was dark out now which made the cold bite all that much harder. I scooted in as Georgie rushed over, so he could sit. He got in close to me for warmth.

"It's so cold." He complained to me, teeth clattering. "Snow sucks, Pete."

"I hear that."

Henrietta approached Michael's end of the booth much less rushed than the hypothermic fourteen year old next to me. Michael slid over towards me so she could join us. Henrietta had those wide, voluptuous hips that took up more room than any of us did.

"Georgie, you look like a penguin pressed in to Pete's side like that." Henrietta noted, adjusting her long skirt as she slid in.

"Fuck penguins." he retaliated without venom, his frozen rosy cheek on my shoulder. "I want coffee."

No one batted an eye when Georgie wedged up close to me. Henrietta was just as frozen from the outside as he was, no warmth to offer. And, there wasn't a chance he'd go to Michael looking for body heat or physical contact of any kind.

Flagging down the waitress for two more mugs, Michael ordered our new arrivals their hot caffeine fix to bring their body temperatures back up. While they waited, inside my coat I felt my phone buzz. Michael was right next to me, and taller. If he glanced down, he'd see my whole screen easily.

Imagine if he looked down and saw "Mike Makowski"?...I wanted to see Mike Makowski.

"We haven't had a full booth in how long?" Henrietta asked Michael, poking him with her antique cigarette holder which she'd yet to put a cigarette in. "This feels weird, huh?"

"It's cool having you back, Pete." Georgie piped up from my side, glued to the heat I was giving off, similar to an actual penguin. "I don't feel weird."

Michael didn't say anything. Henrietta discreetly tapped his hand with her cigarette holder.

"We should all go back to my room after this."

"We should." Michael agreed, the waitress coming over with two mugs and a pitcher of coffee. "Like old times."

Xxxxx

That week was leading up to Christmas, which graced us all with Winter Break. Approaching midnight on what would have been a school night otherwise, we all sat around Henrietta's bedroom floor immersed in our notebooks and phones.

We had our music playing, that was originally put on hours ago to drown out the Christmas music coming from downstairs. Henrietta's mom had a huge boner for Christmas. She, without fail, always started playing Christmas music as soon as Thanksgiving was over.

As a group, we preferred listening to Skinny Puppy in place of the same holiday songs the radio played for the past ten years. I heard enough of this crap at work.

From a corner far away from everyone smoking, I felt my claustrophobic tendencies creeping up on me. I glanced around at the perimeter of the room, at all Henrietta's stuff. Towering furniture, filled with the physical manifestation of Henrietta's craving for fulfillment of some sort. If it all came crashing down, would she go with it?

"I'm heading out." Closing my notebook, I tucked my pen behind my ear and stood up.

"You're leaving already?" Georgie held the sleeve of my shirt. "Why?"

"It's getting late."

Michael's eyes slid over to us. Henrietta's held the same scrutinizing stare.

"Late?" Henrietta drawled, taking a puff off her cigarette and flicking the ashes in to a nearby ash tray. "You have an early morning paper route now, or something?"

"I'll be sure to deliver your idiot Dad's paper last." I deadpanned, doing my best to keep up appearances. "Sound good?"

"Sounds good to me."

Late nights with the group were once frequent for me. It didn't hold the same appeal, this time. The night felt like it was dragging on. Georgie buried himself back in to his writing, an air of disappointment to him.

"Need a ride?" Michael flashed his truck keys.

"You can stay here. I'll make it home on foot."

I didn't live outrageously far from Henrietta, opting to walk myself home like the creature of the night that I am. Snow crunched under my boots, leaving footprints along the frozen sidewalk littered with sand and salt. I stifled a yawn, focused on the stretch of street in front of me.

The ends of my jeans were wet with snow and brushed my ankles, ugh. When I got home, I could get out of these cold clothes and climb in to bed.

Every house on my street sparkled and buzzed with Christmas lights. Tacky wreathes hung on doors, mail boxes were wrapped with tinsel and oversized red bows. My house was the only one that didn't look like the craft store threw up on it.

Dad wouldn't put in the work to set up the outdoor lights, and Mom couldn't. We had a welcome mat with a smiling snowman at the front door, and a Christmas tree.

The Christmas tree that Mom set up in the living room wasn't the flashiest the world had ever seen. Just your run of the mill tree, covered in white lights and shiny ornaments. The angel on top bugged my dad for years. It was the same one Mom used since I was a baby, he hated that thing for eighteen years straight.

Mom had to have unplugged the tree after work, because the lights were off. Dad was asleep in his usual spot, watched by that angel he hated so much. Atop of the tree, it faced the couch.

My parents hadn't slept in the same bed since I was in middle school. Mom kicked him out of the room one night and never let him back in. That couch was his bed, now.

We had a guest room. I don't get why my dad didn't just sleep in there. The loser. Mom could do better. She didn't need him, I glowered down at the couch as I went up the stairs to my bedroom, smelling hints of some gingerbread-scented candle mom must have burned earlier.

On top of the old trunk in my room was the gift I got Mike for Christmas. I had wrapped it in black paper and a neon green ribbon. I stared at it in bed, hoping he'd like what's inside. Shopping for him was harder than shopping for Stan...the meathead was happy with sex and anything football related.

"Christmas should be interesting...over gloried conformist holiday." I thought, immediately wincing afterwards.

Mike loved Christmas. I can't talk like that in front of him. It would hurt his heart. He and his parents put their tree up together as a family, and counted down the days until the big holiday.

Christmas was Stan's favorite holiday. But, who cares? He has his entire family to cater to him. Mr. All Star gets everything he wants for the magical holiday. For the first time, that would change.

I wouldn't be waiting up for him to climb in through my window Christmas night...after getting in to the spiked eggnog while Mom wasn't paying attention. There would be no tipsy little present waiting for Stan in my bed.

I'd throw a lump of coal through his bedroom window in place of his usual gift, but I'm sure that counts as vandalism. Or, harassment. My biggest motivation to not do it was Mike. He wouldn't approve of me venting my anger like that. It wasn't constructive, it wouldn't deal with the underlying pain.

Speaking of Mike, he went to a late movie with his friends after an evening spent at the mall. From his car parked outside the theatre, he messaged me asking if I wanted to be picked up. I just got in to bed…but I wanted to see him. He had me between a rock and a hard place.

I told him the situation and he asked to come and see me at my house, if I was okay with that. I got the text that he was outside soon on account that there were few people out on the road.

"Gotta put this away..." Hiding Mike's gift inside my old trunk, I closed the lid.

I went downstairs to let him in, carefully unlocking the front door. A brisk breeze from outside blew past us as Mike stepped in. He bent down to close the gap separating us, kissing me with cold lips lightly coated with Chapstick.

"Baby bat-" he went to speak once we parted, and I put a finger to his lips.

I leaned my head to one side, so he could look back and see the snoring lump on the couch.

He kissed the finger at his lips, wordlessly conveying to me that he understood what he was being told. Locking the door behind Mike, I checked over my shoulder to make sure Dad didn't wake up. He was fast asleep, snoring like a bear.

I saw Mike lean against the stair banister, bending down. He took off his boots and carried them by his side to prevent the heels from making noise on the steps. Our socked feet made it upstairs, leaving the couch gremlin undisturbed. There wasn't enough light for Mike to see the beer bottles collected on the floor.

"Didn't mean to be rude earlier. It's just that my dad's worse than a bear when he's woken up." Safely inside my bedroom, I locked us in and turned on a lamp. "I don't want to hear anything from him tomorrow."

"Does he work early?"

"He's obnoxiously irritable. Like I said, I don't want to hear anything from him tomorrow."

Putting his boots next to mine, Mike didn't sweat the incident at the front door.

"That was a long ass movie you guys went to see." I took notice of the time. "Didn't you get to the theatre hours ago?"

"With the previews, the movie was almost three hours. It was ridiculous."

"I don't know how people can commit to a movie at the theaters for that long."

"Would've been easier with you there. I could have held your hand, or played with your hair or something. I was admittedly antsy the last hour."

An average-length vampire horror film was do-able for me. I could watch one for Mike's sake. Three hours was not happening, however. For any type of film.

"I can't do three hours of vampire at the theatre."

"Could you do it, at home?" Mike asked not so innocently.

"…are we still talking about movies?"

"I'll let you decide."

I scoffed.

"Not sure what good three hours will do us if we're here at my house."

"I know a place where three hours could do us wonders." Mike suggested, raising his eyebrows suggestively. "You'd just have to follow me there, per se."

"You're killing me here, Mike…"

My bed was warm and within reach, and my pajamas were on. It was so cold and horrible outside. I didn't want to go back out. Having Mike over my house for the night wasn't ideal, or I would have asked him to stay with me.

"It's optional." Mike said, treading the floor with soft steps. "You can stay here. I'm content with having gotten to see you."

"You drove all the way here at almost One in the morning…I feel like I should go with you."

"If you put on shoes and a jacket, it's just from the front door to my car. Then, from my car to my room..."

Xxxxx

"You never told me about your day. Did you have a good time with your friends, tonight?"

Standing in front of the mirror, Mike used a make-up wipe to get the last of the eyeliner clinging to his eyelids after his shower. With just pajama bottoms on, he was perfectly comfortable due to the space heater he had in one corner for the Winter. He set it on high.

"It was boring. I felt like I was watching paint dry the whole time…I used to be able to sit around with them all day."

"You could have texted me to come get you earlier. I would have skipped the movie."

"I know…"

With help from the big silver mirror mounted on the wall, Mike looked at me.

"Then why didn't you reach out to me, baby bat?"

"I couldn't risk them seeing you."

It was a shitty answer. I felt like a scum bag saying that to Mike. And, a hypocrite.

"If I recall correctly, aren't you the one with the aversion to dirty little secrets?"

"I don't care for dirty little secrets, no. They're burdens."

Coming over, Mike folded the make up wipe in half, using the clean side to wipe away the remnants of eyeliner off my face.

"It's not a crime to be different, Pete." He delicately cleaned my eyes and tossed the wipe. "It's nothing to be ashamed of."

"I'm not ashamed of being with you." With guilt seeping in, I promised Mike. "At all."

"I'm not saying that you are."

Leaning in to Mike's chest when he sat himself next to me, I wrapped my arms around his waist. He held me back, content that I initiated the embrace.

"I'm saying that you don't have to be someone else to please others. If your friends were really your friends, you wouldn't need to keep secrets."

"I thought I missed them… all day I just missed you. They made me feel so empty."

With Mike's friends I felt out of place. Back with my own, that same feeling followed me. It was disorienting…and uncomfortable.

I spent so much time before pining for Stan's attention, and compensating for my loneliness with my friends, that I didn't know anything else. I missed them because they were familiar. They didn't feel so familiar anymore...this was a whole other level of lost, for me.

"You missed me?" Mike asked, softly and flattered.

"A lot." I sighed in to his skin. "God, I feel so clingy. I hate it."

"Don't hate it. Craving companionship doesn't make you clingy, it makes you human."

"Coming from the vampire?"

"The fangs come off. You know that. My heart is just as warm as yours."

My heart wasn't warm. Mike's warmth was thawing it out. It could be warm…one day.

"Yours is warmer." I told him. "I like it that way…I like you."

"I'm touched. That's the nicest thing you've said to me."

...There's some cold, hard truth. Damn it. Have I ever said anything nice to Mike? I don't think so.

"…I've been such an asshole to you over the years. I'm sorry, Mike."

"We all make mistakes." He shushed my contrite tone. "I accept your apology, baby bat."

Forgiveness was a virtue. Mike was blessed to have the capacity. I was blessed...He forgives me.

"I should've been nicer to you." I repented, pressing a kiss to Mike's unblemished neck. "You never did anything to me...you wanted to be my friend, and I pushed you away."

This was the most affection I'd shown Mike. He was the one always coming after me with hugs, kisses, and sweet words.

"It's water under the bridge, Pete. I'm happy to start fresh with you."

I kissed his neck, again. Oh, his pale skin was so soft and creamy...if I could just have a little more….

"My sweet little bat~" Mike praised the uncharacteristically affectionate kisses coming up his neck.

I felt like I was being magnetically drawn in. There was this sensual tension building up as I went for his lips. My skin tingled as I closed in. My mouth just barely grazed his when there was a loud pop, and then everything went dark. Startled, we both jumped from the sound.

"Looks like that pesky lightbulb burnt out." Mike rubbed my sides. "Excuse me, for a second."

Pulling away, Mike blindly felt around his room. I heard him over by his dresser. He didn't open any drawers, his hands searched the top careful not to knock over any of the decorations.

I was going to ask what he was trying to find, taking a guess that maybe it was flashlight. It wasn't a flashlight.

"Ah-hah."

I heard the scratch of a match being struck. He lit one of the candles in his room, going around to light some of the others.

"And, let there be light~"

Glowing orange flames brought a soft light to his bedroom. Darkness faded out, bringing Mike's face back to me. We could see, again.

"You didn't have to do that. It's almost One. We're going to bed soon, anyways."

"Are we, Pete?"

Mike got that look to him that told me I was in for something good, and naughty. My heart skipped a beat…and was it always up this high in my throat?

How do I breathe? Someone remind me how. Quickly.

"Wasn't it you who said I need to sleep better?" My dedication to sarcasm was weakened by my greater desire to mess these sheets up with Mike.

"You're going to sleep like a baby." He blew out the burning match with one puff. "After I'm done with you."

Mike sauntered over illuminated by candlelight. I could watch him move all night. Watch him dance with the flickering flames and cast his succulent body along the walls with his shadow, like fine art coming to life right from its frame.

That long, lean body with creamy, dewy skin... Eyes that could send all the blood in your body below your waist, on command. And, those legs that went on forever, bringing him towards me with flirtatious strides...give it to me, Mike. All of it. Right now.

Fuck, just a little closer… come here and dance for me. A guy could dream, couldn't he?

"Where were we, baby bat?" Mike got in my lap, pulling off the hoodie I'd worn on the ride over, on top of my pajamas. "Do you remember? Hm?"

He took my shirt with my hoodie. Take it all. I don't need it.

I kissed him, brushing his long hair back to one side. The black and green that cascaded down his back felt silken, and smelled wonderful. Fixated, I ran my fingers through it how he often did to me.

My fingertips made it to the ends, touching the skin of his bare back. I felt the dip there, following it down to the seat of his pants.

Mike wasn't packing a prominent backside. But, damn if I didn't like that tight little ass of his. It fit his body, deliciously fine the way it is.

"You want it?" Mike purred inquisitively grinding his ass in to me, feeling the hard mass forming under it.

"Uh-huh…" My lips moved to the modest slope of his Adam's apple. "Fuck yeah, I want it."

"Come get it."

The thin material of his pajamas easily gave me access to him. Mike ground his ass down in to my lap, moaning softly at the fingers I had pressing at his entrance from over his clothes. I remembered liking when Stan did that to me so it seemed worth a try.

Rubbing between his cheeks to tease him, I got more of a reaction than I could have hoped for. Mike began pressing his ass back in to my hand to get more. I rubbed harder, knowing where this beautiful man wanted these fingers.

"I don't really know what I'm doing." I cleared my throat. "But, maybe if you walk me through it-"

"I'd love to." Mike consented before I could get the words out, tipping back and pulling me with him.

He rubbed my bare chest, instructing me to get the lube from his bedside drawer. The big bottle was hard to miss. From on top of him, I leaned over and felt around for it, grabbing it without having to see the damn thing.

This was a lot of lube, Jesus. Mike's ass was the best slip and slide there ever was. With this stuff he'd fly across the floor like a hockey puck if you kicked him hard enough. Slide him right over the Canadian border.

Of course, I'd go get him. That's my guy, buddy.

Mike's pajama bottoms came off, leaving his bare body along the crimson silk sheets. He really did look like a painting...an elegant renaissance painting that I didn't deserve to soil with my lowly, undeserving peasant hands.

Between his long legs, I drizzled lubricant over my fingers. I prodded his entrance with my middle finger, rubbing and carefully pressing until he let me in. I wasn't someone who fingered myself, but I knew enough to ease in to it with one finger.

I made it in to my first knuckle, sinking in further until my whole finger was buried to the hilt. I wasn't going to unceremoniously plunge it in there. I had some strong feelings about that...Stan being the source of them.

My asshole clenched with phantom pain.

"You're so gentle." Mike reached down and took my wrist, guiding me to add another finger. "It's adorable."

"I don't want to accidentally hurt you. I don't know what I'm doing."

"Touch me how you'd touch yourself."

"Haven't done that..."

I wasn't very well acquainted with my own ass. That was mainly Stan's area of interest. Notice how I say "interest" and not "expertise". He played with it, when I let him. He got better with time…after I got over his first fingering mishap.

"You haven't ever played with yourself?" Mike's amusement brought out the blushing virgin I'd once been. "Why not?"

"Why are we talking about me? I'm supposed to be focusing on you."

"Aww, you're embarrassed."

Was there a way to blow out the candles from all the way over here? The soft glow suddenly felt like a blinding spot light. Mike's ability to make me blush was becoming a reoccurring incident…that would go away, right? I hope that goes away.

"You're not scared of your own body, are you?"

"More I don't exactly know what to do with it...I don't know how to cum like this." I curled my fingers a smidge to emphasize. "...only this."

"That all? I could file down my nails and show you how."

The opportunity to get fingered by someone who most assuredly had a clue as to what they were doing would have been nice, but I had bigger goals in mind.

"I'd rather take care of you. You're always doing the work. Uh, touching me and all..."

"It's not work, I love it."

"I want to reciprocate favor."

Giving me instructions, Mike talked me through how to touch him and delve in to find his prostate. Deeper inside him, I could feel something harder than the surrounding, fluttering tissue.

"Ah!" He made a pleasured sound as I pressed it, exploring cautiously.

Yup, definitely his sweet spot. Wet beads of pre-cum glistened at his tip, catching the candlelight. One rolled down his shaft, I watched it dissolve at his base. I should have caught it with my tongue, such a waste.

Bringing myself down to my stomach between Mike's legs, with my fingers buried inside him, I layered my mouth over his stiff arousal. Everyone in his house was asleep, and we were all the way in the basement, but I almost paused at the sharp gasp.

I actually did pause at the second one when I pressed at him harder. I froze up. Shit, did I hurt him? Did he not say something the first time to be nice? Mike laid a hand over the back of my head when I braced to pull off and speak.

"It doesn't hurt." He promised, shifting his hips to prove it. "Mm…keep going for me."

Will do. Gladly.

Using my mouth in unison with my fingers, I serviced Mike from both ends. He was getting the service he deserved. He put so much attention on me, it was time to return the favor.

Mike laid flat on his back panting and urging me to touch him harder, cooing his encouragement between erotic groans and sighs smoother than his alabaster skin. He shivered, skin dusted with goosebumps. I'd kiss each and every one of them if I my mouth weren't already occupied.

I sucked at him, grateful that Mike's endowment was smaller than Stan's. His girth didn't stretch my lips and hurt. I didn't gag quite as hard on him, either.

Giving Mike a good time was easier. Much easier. The hard part was keeping the coordination between my mouth and hand steady.

"Pete…that's perfect." Mike reached up and grabbed the pillow by the headboard, gripping the case between his fingers. "Oh…just like that. Mm…"

Using the tip of my tongue, I licked around the jewelry nestled at his tip. He was a brave soul, I'd give him that. The barbel curved through that delicate flesh was hot, but I couldn't ever rationalize the pain that came with it. I'd get one, otherwise.

I teased the piercing, extremely careful not to snag it with my teeth, before going back for mouthfuls of his cock. Mike kept asking for me to finger him harder, but I kept holding back from outright jamming my fingers in to him how he wanted.

"I can take it, give it to me." His hips jutted down on to my fingers, trying to build the friction himself. "Pete, you're right where I need you."

Mike let out an elongated moan as I sunk my lips down to his base, enveloping him down my throat. I held it there for a few seconds before pulling up to do it again.

"Please…baby bat, I want it so bad." His insides were sucking my fingers in almost greedily. "Play with my ass a little harder. Don't be scared."

I wanted to give Mike everything he wanted. Mustering up the nerve to do it, I thrusted my fingers harder, listening for any sign that I was doing something wrong. I aimed for precision, trying to hit him where he was most sensitive each time. I'm sure I missed the mark a few times, but I was doing something right because Mike was going to blow.

"That's it…like that…" His chin tilted up towards the ceiling, legs trembling slightly on either side of me. "Like that, my baby bat. Yes!"

He leaked pre-cum, the clear semi-sweet secretion flowing heavier now. I swallowed to keep from slobbering all over him. If I weren't already so occupied, I may have reached down the front of my pants to nurse my own weeping erection.

My erection was beginning to hurt, strained under the pressure of my underwear. My left hand was between his legs, and I needed my right one to keep myself propped up to blow him. Mike didn't half ass me, I wasn't going to half ass him.

My cock would have to stay trapped under me and wait it's turn no matter how long that took. However, Mike was way closer to climax than I thought. My lips were at the head of his dick, ready to slide back down when he made the most divine sound.

His body arched to meet the heavens. Rapture rolled through him, curling those long, manicured fingers so tight that his knuckles went white. Mike could've shredded that pillowcase he was clutching, torn it up like flimsy tissue paper.

His release went straight in my mouth opposed to going down my throat. Taking my finger back, I eased it out of Mike's body and wiped at my mouth with the back of my wrist. That went better than expected.

"I don't know what I'm doing." Mike mimicked me with a taunting smirk, curling a leg around my waist to drag me down on top of him. "You're right, baby bat. That was just horrible~"

"That bad, huh?"

"The absolute worst. After that, you deserve exactly what's coming to you. Fair is fair, after all."

The leg he had curled around me gave him the leverage he needed to flip me on to my back. He rolled us over. Mike's tongue traveled the same route his manhood had a minute ago.

Tasting himself on me didn't repulse him. It turned him on more. I serviced him, and I serviced him well. Mike would reward that.

"Take these off and I'll show you a dreadful time." Mike dragged my pants down from one side. "Oh, I want more of you."

Planting his palms on my chest, Mike fanned out his fingers. He rubbed his lubricated ass along my shaft, letting me feel his entrance pass over me, but not sinking down to let me have it. I could slip right in... if he let me.

"Damn it, Mike." I complained when he pulled his ass away right as I reached for his hips to guide him down. "You said I could have it."

"Mm, I did." He hovered at the head of my cock again, putting only enough pressure to nudge me in. "I want to give it to you..."

He sunk down an inch, holding still. Laying my hands over his hips, I pleaded for him to give me more.

"You want it that bad?"

I did want it that bad. He wasn't naïve, he knew it. He could feel it in my grip, see it in my face.

"Yes, I want it that bad. I want you."

"What was that?" he purred, rocking his ass back and forth where our bodies were connected.

"Please, Mike..."

Mike couldn't tease me too long, he was itching for it just as bad as I was. My borderline begging put the nail on the coffin. He took me inside with one smooth, slippery plunge down.

xxxxx

That joke Mike made about doing three hours of vampire basically happened. Four in the morning was on the horizon. Mike's tall candles shrunk down, hot drippings hardening as they cooled along the shortened waxy stalks.

We were slightly damp from our night messing around Mike's massive bed. A mess of flesh in his sheets, with energy that just died out our last round. We stopped because we didn't have the strength or stamina to keep going.

After so many rounds we weren't reaching orgasm any more. We couldn't get enough of each other, going back at it between breaks and breathers. Resting his cheek on the same pillow I was using, Mike blinked with relaxed eyes. What faint light was coming off the dwindling flames reflected off his shiny irises.

"Is it important to you?" Mike touched the black broken heart charm on my choker. "You're always wearing it."

"You're always wearing that bat earring. Is that important?"

Mike twiddled the black bat wing hanging from his ear, with fondness

"Well, I've had it for a long time."

He only ever wore one bat wing earring. Earrings came it pairs of two, for obvious reasons. The only earrings I'd ever seen sold alone were those fancy ones that people wore at the tops of their ears. They wrapped around the cartilage and came in a bunch of different designs.

Mike could have lost the other one. Or, he was making a fashion statement choosing to wear one. He wore his hair parted more to one side and it covered his other ear, anyways.

"I've had this choker for about a year. I haven't had it that long."

"Was it a gift?"

"What makes you think that?"

"It doesn't look like something you'd pick out for yourself. I've seen that choker at Hot Topic before."

"...are you fucking with me, or?"

Did Stan buy this shit at Hot Topic? Don't tell me he bought it at Hot Topic.

"I'm telling you, I've seen it. And, I know you don't shop there."

"I most certainly do not."

"Who gave it to you?"

"Is this you sincerely asking me? Or are you doing that thing you like to do where you ask questions you already know the answer to?"

Mike shook his head at me a little, resting his hand on the slight curve of my hip, rubbing with no particular rhythm.

"I didn't know. That defensiveness of yours just gave it away." He revealed. "Gift from Stan, hm?"

"It was an apology gift."

"He gave you a broken heart to apologize for giving you a broken heart?"

...leave it to Mike to find deeper meaning in something like a Hot Topic choker. And the irony.

"He isn't very smart. Knowing him, he didn't really think it through."

"You're wearing it, though."

"Does it bother you?"

"It strikes me as sad...you never forgave him but you're wearing his apology."

Lying there naked made me feel especially vulnerable. Mike was naked too, equally bared to the world. The world was only me, right then. For me, it was only him. Alone, together.

Were you still vulnerable if there was no danger?

"I'm wearing a mass-produced choker. It isn't that deep."

"Oh, Pete...I wish you'd be more honest with yourself." Mike walked his fingers over my skin, finding the hollows of my ribcage that were just almost out of sight now "And, me."

I didn't have to wear Stan's choker. I could have bought my own. Wearing Stan's was a choice. A choice I couldn't find a rhyme or reason for. It matched my boots...I'll go with that.

"I never forgave him for anything." I slightly cracked open Pandora's box, pulling the lid askew to air out this grief without totally letting it run wild. "I don't know how."

"Now you have two broken hearts to show for it."

"I only show one." I was sure of myself.

"I see both."

I almost broke out in to a cold sweat. Mike stared at my neck, pursing his lips in a pitying way.

"Do...do you want me to take it off?"

This wasn't a good idea, why did I ask?

"That's not the broken heart I care about, Pete."

I don't know what I would have done if he said yes, he wanted me to take off the choker. Mike's loving eyes made me want to take it off. So long as those loving eyes didn't change after I did it.

Nope, don't want to take it off.

"He said he loved me… so did Michael."

This wasn't like me, why am I telling him this?

"They should love you, you're precious. They'd be out of their minds not to."

"…they're out of their minds then. They don't love me."

"What do you define as love?"

How did I define love? Did I have an answer to that? Had I ever considered that?

"Whatever love is, it should start with consideration...respect. I'm no expert." I shrugged one shoulder, rolling over slightly towards Mike to redistribute my weight. "Stan and Michael are missing a few screws, that I do know. Has nothing to do with me."

Smiling nice and easy, like nothing in the world were amiss, Mike took the red silk bedsheet and pulled it over us up to our waists. He tucked it in slightly behind me, cocooning me to him.

"I'm perfectly sane, Pete." He rested his forehead on mine. "I promise you that."

"Don't promise me things. I hate promises."

"Hate is such a strong word. Wouldn't it be nice if it blew away?"

"...I don't like promises."

The candles dimmed out, flames extinguishing. Smoke billowed up from their burnt wicks, filling the room with that smoky smell.

"Doesn't that feel better?" Mike's sleepy voice murmured.

He stroked my choker, the tip of one finger innocently beginning to slip under the ribbon to fiddle with it. I took a clipped breath and deftly caught his hand.

"Did I startle you?"

"I must be tired..."

"Sleep with me, baby bat."

Mike was falling asleep, awake only to talk to me. It was time to let him sleep, I could drift off with him.

"...Goodnight, Mike."

"Good night, baby bat. Sweet dreams, this time."

Xxxxxx

Chapter Text

AUTHOR'S NOTE: Hey, again! So sorry for the wait, again! School is draining me. Its been about another month. To try and make up for it, I'm giving you both chapter 17 and 18.

My original plan was to start writing Chapter 19, and wait to post chapter 18 until it was almost done. (You know, as a back up in case I got delayed or bogged down.) But, I seriously feel bad because the feedback has been spectacular and that should be rewarded. I don't want you guys to think I take it for granted, because I don't.

Shout out to my faithful Archive of our Own site readers! Thank you, thank you for the feedback 😊

l Hope to hear from you guys, again! You've all been so patient! Happy reading!

Xxxxx

My mom didn't cook much. But, when she did, she always served me before bothering to tell Dad there was food ready. If she told him.

We could be halfway through our meal before he even realized. That was Mom's way of telling him to go fuck himself. Dad wasn't home, tonight.

"Pete. The chicken's ready." Mom knocked on my bedroom door on her way downstairs. "Come eat."

The oven timer was going off and she was heading down to turn it off. Warm roasted chicken billowed through the house, coming in through under my door. There was food, and Dad wasn't around. Downstairs became profoundly more appealing.

"That cooking channel sucked me in this week." Mom carved the roast, placing a chunk of chicken breast on a plate for me. "Putting lemons inside the bird is supposed to help keep it moist. Wanted to try it out."

She was scooping mashed potatoes and peas next it when I walked in. The tacky wall clock with a cat's face ticked, the tail darting left and right along with its big round eyes.

"Do you still like your gravy right on top of the potatoes and meat?" She asked, ladle in hand and ready to pour.

I nodded and went up to the counter where she set my fixed plate down to start making her own. Swinging the fridge door open, I took out two cans of Sprite and brought them to the table. I put one in Mom's spot, next to her utensils.

Silverware clicked in comfortable silence during the rare cooked meal. Roasted chicken sure beat some snack from the pantry. Or, something microwavable. As a kid, Mom had to fight with me to eat my peas. Now, they spilled over in to my potatoes and I forked them in to my mouth without complaint.

The recycling bin needed to be emptied. Good thing that pick-up was in the morning. Shiny, glass beer bottles were piled to the edges, one falling out and hitting the ground. Mom flinched at the sound of glass breaking.

"I'll sweep that up later. Don't walk over there." She told me as I had nothing but socks on my feet.

"I won't..."

"That bum has no consideration. If he's going to fill the bin to the brim, the least he can do is bring it out to the curb."

"Mhm."

I moved a chunk of chicken around my plate, wiping up some gravy-soaked potatoes. I was listening, not that my detached presence reflected that.

The chicken tastes good. Moist, how Mom said.

"Pete?"

"Yeah, Mom?"

"How are you?"

"...How am I?"

Mom's green eyes met mine for a second. I happened to look up when grabbing my drink. Having a staring contest with the wall clock instead, I took a sip.

"I'm fine." How many times have I said that in my lifetime?

"Is school okay?"

"My grades are good."

This wasn't much to go on. It was good, but vague. Mom's attempt to interact with me didn't lose steam. Talking was easier without the chance that some scowling, disheveled shell of a man would come around the corner and light her up like a fuse. Then, Kaboom.

"You've always been smart. You get that from me."

"Obviously didn't get it from Dad..."

"You didn't get much from him. That man is useless."

Another bottle tipped out of the overflowing recycling bin. Mom sprinkled some salt over her food, exasperated.

"I should feed him the shards." She threatened, although it sounded bored and empty. "If he's hungry when he gets back, he can help himself to them."

"..."

"The chicken's not very big but take what you want. Makes no difference to me if he comes back and eats, or not."

Small talk with Mom evolved in to more complaints of Dad. I tuned out. This was nothing I hadn't heard before.

"Pete." Looks like mom asked me a question that I didn't respond to. "Did you hear me?"

The clueless look on my face answered her second question.

"I asked if you want to come with me to your aunt's house tomorrow." She reiterated, thinking I heard her the first time and was playing dumb. "She's baking cookies with the kids."

"I'm not much of a baker."

"It would be good for you to get out of that room for the holiday."

"I'm going to a friends' house for a Christmas Eve party tomorrow… I won't be in my room all day."

Another bite of chicken went in my mouth. I couldn't taste it, this time. Can't we eat in silence? We don't talk much in this house...why start now?

"Are you sure you're alright?" Mom's new interest in my life persisted. "You're quiet."

"That's new?"

"Something seems different about you, lately. I can't put my finger on it…"

The cat clock's eyes darted back and forth, apprehensive of the scene before it. I swallowed, my choker moving slightly above my Adam's apple. Mom looked ready to try her hand at another question.

"Your friend's party." Mom started. "Which friend would this be?"

My mom didn't ask me much about my friends. She didn't like Michael or Henrietta. Their personalities seeped from their pores like raunchy body odor. They both hated parents, no matter what. They hated everyone that wasn't us.

Georgie was so quiet the times Mom had seen him that she didn't mind him. Stan...he puzzled her. She couldn't connect the dots as to why he would associate with a social outcast, such as myself. He was getting something out of it, that's why.

"It's Mike, Mom. His family really likes Christmas; they throw a Christmas Eve party every year."

"...who's Mike?" she asked, only having a list of four names that she recognized which Mike was not on.

"He was over on Thanksgiving...you let him in, remember?"

Struck with recollection, Mom nodded with understanding.

"Tall one with the long green hair?"

"That's him."

"He's polite. I like him...That other goth boy you hang out with gives me the willies. I'd hate to run in to him in a back alley."

Mike's not goth. But, it sounded better than saying "Vampire", so I didn't correct her. Mom would think he's crazy even though Mike wasn't delusional enough to think he was actually a vampire.

No shocker that she liked Mike over Michael. Mike was a parent's dream child. Sure, he wore black and make up, but that was all superficial. Inside, he was a gem. It was easy to look past the way he dressed when he charmed you.

"My other friends aren't ever going to be like Mike. I'm not going to hold my breath. You shouldn't either..."

"Pete, why do you hang out with those scary kids? They aren't very...er...pleasant."

This was the question that nagged my mother since fourth grade. Her shy red-haired little boy left for school one morning, and came back a different person. It went on from there.

Black hair dye, black clothes. Angry music...angry child. She never could figure it out. She didn't pay enough attention.

"They're not so bad..."

They were there for me when she wasn't.

Getting up for more potatoes, Mom stepped around the mess of glass scattered on the kitchen tile. Shards and jagged pieces all around the recycling bin.

"God, it reeks of cheap beer over here..." Mom scrunched her nose in disgust. "He drinks it like it's water...Tch. His liver and kidneys will give out, eventually. Cross your fingers."

While she was up, she narrowed her eyes at the set of housekeys still hanging on the hook. Damn, I thought the beer bottles pissed her off...

"If that waste of space comes home at all tonight, don't let him in." Mom instructed me to ignore the doorbell if it rang. "Idiot's so excited to see his little girlfriend, he forgets his damn keys."

"And if he spams the doorbell like an asshole? You know, like last time."

"I'll deal with it. Don't let him in."

Dad better hope his side piece planned to keep him, or he'd be checking in for the night up at the motel. Christmas Eve was drawing nearer with every minute that ticked by. Midnight was maybe six hours away.

Mom fumed the rest of the meal. From over her shoulder, I kept watch on the recycling bin. There was one other bottle that could tip over. If you blew on it, that would be another heap of glass on the floor.

Mom's foot tapped agitatedly under the table. It was like she knew that bottle was taunting her.

Xxxxxx

Mike's family threw a Christmas Eve party for not only family, but neighborhood friends. Their house was big enough to entertain tons of people. I bumped shoulders, sliding by trying to find a path to Mike. His last text said he was helping his mom set out refreshments and food.

"Mikey! Your friend is here." She saw me, mid pour of a drink.

She had green and red plastic cups arranged on a counter, filling them with cranberry juice. A bunch of cups with orange juice were already poured. One was in Mike's hand.

"There's food everywhere, enjoy." Mike's Mom gave my cheek a pat, hands manicured and nimble like her son's. "Don't be shy."

She left to bring a tray with plates of crackers, cheese, and deli meats to the living room. Like Thanksgiving, Mike was dressed nicely, but toned down. Green dress shirt and black pants. Bare-faced with black-lined eyes I could get lost in.

"Your house is a beehive." I crossed my arms, side stepping away from someone trying to get past me from behind. "How do you stand this?"

"Crack a smile, Pete. It's Christmas."

Eager beaver. We still had a day.

"Not Christmas yet, Mike."

"Will you smile for me, anyways?"

"No."

"Pretty please, baby bat?"

"I already got you your Christmas present. Don't push it."

"Smile~"

I stared at him evenly before taking a cup of cranberry juice. Whispering in my ear as I took a sip, Mike's voice dropped.

"Should I take you downstairs and make you smile?"

"MIKE." I sputtered on my drink.

Mike's mom came back with an empty tray. Mike leaned away, blinking as innocently as ever upon her return. Day and night. Mike morphed back in to his goody-goody persona.

"Mikey, I'm not sure which of my friends are bringing their children. Be nice if you see them, they go to your school."

"You have my word."

"You're my good boy."

Mike got a kiss on the head before his mother went on her way to fulfill her duties as the party hostess. She had tables and counters with food everywhere, and she went around to refill them all. Half of throwing a party this size was refilling bowls and cups.

Why? Why do it? Where's the fun in that? It's work.

"Good boy?" I waited until she was out of range to shed some truth on the matter. "Ignorance is bliss."

"I'm a good boy…when I want to be."

"Which isn't as often as one would think. I learned that fast."

"Don't pretend you don't love it."

Changing the topic, I asked Mike whose parents his mom was friends with, to get an idea of who might show up. He let me redirect the conversation being there were so many people around that did not need to hear the sensitive and intimate details of our relationship. No one was tuning in on what we were talking about, but we didn't need to test our luck.

"I don't know who's showing up." Mike said. "The only person I know she's friends with is Vlad's Mom."

"Your moms are friends?"

"For years. I'm not sure if she's coming, though. Vlad said something about his mom dragging him to some relative's house tonight."

Mike's relatives took their turns greeting him and talking to him as they arrived. I took a step away to be polite, doing my best to blend in with the wall. The sparkly red tinsel and I weren't vibing.

Wasn't getting along with the bowl of fragrant potpourri, either. Why are there pinecones in there? Smells like my grandpa. He was old. Like a tree.

"Hi!" Mike's mother gushed loudly and excited from the next room, I could just hardly hear her over the music and party. "So glad you could come!"

"I wouldn't miss it for the world!"

More people. Why would anyone willingly turn their home in to a community event? An overcrowded one. Wasn't this a fire hazard?

Nearby, Mike's elderly great uncle sat at the table waving for Mike to come over. This man was ancient. Mike got in close so he could hear what he was saying, hurrying to grab the man a drink. Poor guy was having trouble washing down his food.

Mike tended to him and made sure he was comfortable, holding a napkin under the elder's chin while he drank with an uneasy hand. He was such a people person. Nurturing, and all. While he was busy, his mom led her friend in.

"Let me get you some wine. I'll open up a new bottle." Finding a glass from the cabinet, Mike's mom poured out some red wine for the brunette woman with her.

All I saw was the back of her head from behind the people partially blocking the view. She had shortly cropped hair, was average height for a woman. Nothing stood out about her, but I stared.

Now that they were closer, I began noticing some familiar details. This woman looked, and sounded, familiar. I couldn't pin it...It was killing me.

"Where's your husband, Sharon? You didn't come here by yourself did you?"

"Randy's at his brother's house. You know how he is."

…this…is she…?

"And your son?"

"He's around somewhere. I told him there might be other kids but he went off moping. Poor thing, I swear something is off about him lately...he's usually the center of attention."

"Mikey has his friend over. He could hang out with them, it'll be good for him."

Like we were toddlers on a play date, these two women tittered with joy at their idea. We were all eighteen, for Christ sake!

"Stan!" Sharon summoned. "Oh, Stanley!"

In my mind's eye, I saw this woman sitting on the football field bleachers, clapping and smiling for the football captain. Shit, this was Stan's mother! Taking a step back to make a run for it, I bumped in to someone. Thank some higher power it was Mike.

"Mike-"

"I heard." He took my hand and walked me behind some more people, craning his neck to see if his mom had spotted him trying to make a sneaky escape. "Follow me."

We ducked in to a hallway just in time to miss the jock sulking in to see what his mother was hollering about. Dashing away with me in tow, Mike made a beeline for his bedroom and dragged me inside.

"If you want to hide from your mom, you may want to try somewhere less obvious." I stood at the top of the basement stairs, back to the door. "This is a horrible hiding place!"

"Did you want me to shove you in the living room closet?"

Mike locked the door, then took both my wrists to lead me down the stairs.

"Come on. She won't realize we're in here, for a while."

"When she does?"

"I'll handle it. She's going to look around the party first, get distracted by people, before she thinks to look for us down here."

Going to a holiday party was a favor I committed to for Mike. Sitting around alone at home is where I REALLY wanted to be now that my retard ex was under the same roof as me. Stan could ruin anything without trying.

"You really didn't know your mom is friends with Stan's?"

"I told you, I only know Vlad's mom." Mike offered me the television remote. "Why would I invite you over if I thought he'd be here?"

"I can't believe I'm saying this, but I'd rather be home than here right now."

There were no rules stating that I couldn't leave. Mike put the remote back on his bed, pouting. Oh, that face...don't make that face. I can't leave if he makes that face.

"Baby bat, you just got here."

"I know, but Stan-"

"Don't let him ruin your night. If you want to leave, I can't stop you...but, it would mean a lot to me if you stayed."

Mike invited me over to this party. It was unrelated, but I thought back on that birthday party I didn't go to around seven years back…I didn't want to make him relive that same disappointment. I had mistakes I needed to make up for.

xxxxxx

We couldn't hide forever. Mike's mom messaged him asking where he was, giving him no choice but to reappear. He went back upstairs to see what he could discreetly do to get out of having to entertain Stan.

Poe and Lenore's cage had been relocated to Mike's bedroom for the duration of the party to ensure their safety. They chirped as their caretaker ascended the stairs, clinging to the side of the cage closest to the steps. Time ticked by without Mike coming back.

Bored, and growing anxious with them, I put my finger between the bars of the cage to stroke at their feathers. Both birds bit at the bars of their cage, signaling they wanted to be let out. Their chirps got louder, and they quickly side-stepped left and right along their perch.

"I miss him, too. He's coming back."

Mike didn't answer my text, the first or the second. I crept up the stairs. With each step I paused, reconsidering what I was about to do. Now the birds were chirping at me.

Opening the door enough to look out, I checked to see if the coast was clear to come out without being seen. Being that Mike's bedroom was the basement, the door to it was just out of direct sight of the main floor, but I couldn't be too careful. During parties, people tend to wander and settle in to whatever hallway, nook or cranny they can find.

Peering around the corner, I checked for familiar faces. There were none. Using the crowd of bodies to my advantage, I looked around and laid low. When I recognized a face, it was the second most resented South Park jock on my current shit list.

Clyde Donovan arrived with his parents, disinterested. His dad ruffled his hair, giving him instruction to liven up some. When he found Stan, he'd feel better.

"There a reason you're sneaking around like that?" A voice came from behind me once I'd stationed myself behind another corner to plan my next move.

"JESUS-"

"Nah, try again."

I turned around to a pair of blue eyes. They weren't the ones I'd been hiding from. Vlad wasn't wearing his red contacts.

He smirked at his own joke. I wanted to shove him. He scared the crap out of me! Guy was one to talk about sneaking around.

"When did you get here? Mike said your Mom dragged you to a relative's house."

"I remember asking you a question, first." He raised both his eyebrows at me, playful and inquisitive.

"If you must know, I'm looking for Mike. But, there's someone here that I don't want to see me."

"That would be...?"

"Don't worry about it."

The only person in range that Vlad could presume I was avoiding was Clyde.

"Is it Clyde?" He guessed. "That guy's not going to bother you here. His parents are around."

"I'd prefer he not see me, either. But, no. It isn't Clyde." I looked behind Vlad. "Have you seen Mike?"

"I just got here."

As a fairly decent-sized dude, Vlad proved useful as a wall. He was around Stan and Clyde's size, I could see that now that I was up close to him and really taking a moment to notice.

"Favors aren't my thing, but could you cover me while I check the other side of the house?"

"Be easier if you told me who it is that we're trying to avoid on the way there." Vlad pressed.

"Fine. I'm hiding from the other dumb sack of jock. Stan's around here somewhere and I really need to stay out of sight. Don't ask me why, I'm not telling you."

Satisfied enough with my coerced confession, Vlad nodded his head to one side.

"Let's go."

Behind him, I stayed close on the patrol for Mike. Preoccupied in the search, I ignored how strange I looked using Vlad as a guide dog. Mike's mom was crushing down plastic cups in the garbage, tying off the bag when we navigated back to the kitchen. Her husband was nearby, ready to take the bag outside. Their recycling bin was filled with empty juice bottles, not beer bottles.

Where the fuck is Mike?

I felt someone grab my ass. I darted away, reflexively latching myself to Vlad as if he would protect me from the exact person we were looking for.

"Don't do that!"

"I'm not allowed to touch your butt?"

"Don't sneak up on me!"

I need to get Mike a bell, or something.

"I did it to him, too." Vlad he confessed. "Snuck up on him, just to clarify."

"Where have you been? I was in your room waiting."

Mike waved a hand dismissively, like it wasn't a problem.

"It wasn't my intention to keep you waiting, I was on my way back. Mom pawned Stan off on me, and I sent him on his way after a conversation of sorts. I hear the Donovans arrived. He'll be fine."

"Conversation?"

"He wanted to know where my precious baby bat was, but sadly for him I'm not one to tell where I hide my valuables."

Stan made a poor attempt to interrogate Mike, it sounded like.

"He doesn't know you're here, I told him that the friend Mom mentioned I had over was Vlad...not a total lie, it appears." Mike flicked Vlad's ear. "Nice of you to show up."

Mike didn't concern himself with the issue any further. Instead, he got an amused, almost shit-eating grin to him.

"...what?" I asked, suspiciously.

"For one, you're still holding on to Vlad." Mike then pointed up. "Two."

Dangling above us from a low-hanging arched doorway was a mistletoe.

I hate Christmas. Paint me green, shrink my heart down three sizes, and call me the Grinch. I'll take the tree and make a run for it. Cram it as far up my ass that I can, and put an end to this jolly peppermint-scented holiday.

"Absolutely not." I pulled my hands off of Vlad faster than a kid who touched a hot stove. "No."

"C'mon..." Mike teased. "Where's your Christmas spirit?"

"Up my ass, and around the corner."

"Should I draw Vlad a map, or?"

I walked away.

"He wishes."

xxxxx

Everyone who would be attending arrived. Problem now was that when going back to our hiding place in Mike's room, we weren't alone.

"Got a 'get out of jail free' card?" Mike asked Vlad.

"I went and paid my respects to my grandparents. Mom was cool with it when I told her I was going to dip and head here."

"She's never had a problem with you coming here. No reason for her to start now."

Mike had a drawing pad and pen in hand, sketching from his side of the bed. Vlad sat on the floor by Mike, playing on the game system, elbow propped up on the mattress by his hip.

They were almost touching. I kept to myself, getting trapped in an intrusive thought. Mike's bed, the sheets I was sitting on…they….they'd been a lot closer.

The Halloween dance shot up in my mind's eye, as vivid and detailed as the day I was there. Mike pressing his ass in to Vlad…rolling his hips, and parting his lips with hands all over his body.

They were in sync. They didn't grind to a rhythm; they were their own rhythm. What were they like without clothes separating them?

Did they miss each other? I bet they do...

"Pete, are you warm?"

"Warm?"

"You look warm."

Like laid the back of his hand on my cheek.

"If the heat is too high, I can adjust it down for you." His cold hand felt nice on my apparently flush, warm cheek.

"I wouldn't mind, thanks…"

Mike went and lowered the setting on the space heater to accommodate what he suspected was the source of my influx of color and heat.

"Baby bat, you're silly. Say something next time."

"I didn't want to be a bother. It wasn't a big deal."

Curiously, Vlad turned his head to look at me.

"I didn't think it was that bad down here. Maybe you're wearing too much." Vlad's bare blue eyes met mine. "Strip down."

I almost took that the wrong way before realizing I never took off my sweater. It wasn't a heavy sweater, but it was enough to prove unhelpful. Get your head out of the gutter, Pete.

"Vlad's right. Take that off if you're warm." Mike noticed what I was wearing.

Taking the hem of my gray sweater, he started pulling it up. I lifted my arms to make it easier rather than put up a fuss. My shirt rode up some on my stomach.

He touched the hot skin, his cold hand again soothing it. Mike's cold hands all over me would feel great right now if we had the privacy.

"Your cold hands aren't horrible, this time." I told Mike, enjoying as his hand slid up the back of my shirt now, testing another area of skin.

"Well, your skins so hot. Have you been burning up like that this whole time? Do you need a drink?"

My empty cup could use a refill. Mike picked it up and shook it back and forth a little.

"Another juice?" He offered. "I'll run up and grab it."

Oh, goody. I get to keep Vlad company. In Mike's room.

"Vlad. Juice?"

"Orange, if you have it."

"Always do. You know that."

To lessen the chance that Vlad expected me to talk, I turned my back slightly to him, hanging my legs over my side of the bed. I rested my weight back against Mike's pillows, putting all my effort in to being interested in my phone.

My mom posted a picture with her sister. So far, my grandma and two of Mom's coworkers liked it.

Vlad's eyes were on the back of my head. I didn't hear him clicking any control buttons, so he wasn't looking at the screen how he should be.

Stop looking at me.

"This is multiplayer, if you're interested." he asked in a friendly, but weary way.

"I'm not in the mood to play, sorry."

"...Offer's out there if you change your mind."

He had as much of a right to Mike's time as I did, but him being here insulted me in a petty, jealous way. Mike wanted me here so badly that I stayed, for him. Sharing wasn't part of the deal.

I couldn't up and go because it would be obvious why I left now. Stan wasn't the issue, anymore. I didn't want to leave them alone together...but, I didn't want to be here.

"Here you are, my lovelies."

Mike brought us our drinks, going to the bird cage instead of returning to bed. He opened the big contraption up, beckoning Poe and Lenore to him. The pair of green-cheeked conures chirped and chattered, responsive to their beloved caretaker.

"My babies~" Mike puckered his lips at them, both birds perched on his forearm. "Pretty birds. Come here."

Back in his spot, Mike sat with his knees propped up some. One bird sat on each knee while he flipped to a clean page to draw them. They sat in place long enough for Mike to start simple sketches. One bird veered off.

"Where are you going?" Mike asked it.

Next thing I know, there's a gust of air and something lands on my head. Whichever bird this was, it was leaning down and rubbing its beak at my hairline.

"...are you lost?" I confronted the creature with its feet on my scalp.

Putting my hand up for it to hop on to, I brought it down to my face level. It quirked its head at me, ruffling up its feathers.

"Mike's right there." I admonished it. "Go back to him."

The charm dangling on my choker must've looked like a bird toy because this conure started pecking and nibbling at it.

"You guys like jewelry, huh? I said go back over there." I pulled he bird far back enough that it couldn't reach the charm anymore, putting my arm towards Mike. "Go."

Instead of following directions, the other bird fluttered over to be with its companion, leaning in towards my choker to gnaw at the air.

"Okay, no. That's not- ugh. Mike?"

"They like you." Mike left Poe and Lenore perched on me, returning to his sketching.

"They like my choker."

"They're harmless, Pete."

"What am I supposed to do with them?"

Leading by example, Mike used two curled fingers to pat their feathered bellies and wings.

"Show them some love. They want to love you."

xxxxx

The party slowed down around ten it's dense population beginning to thin out over the hour. Many had early mornings ahead of them with kids. Kids who would be up bright and early as soon as the sun rose, tearing in to whatever "Santa" brought them.

"Mikey. Be my angel and help me." Mike's mom knocked on the basement door to call down and tell Mike she would need him to come up and help her clean up now that most of the party guests were gone.

"I'm going to step out for some air." I followed Mike upstairs.

Vlad chose to volunteer his assistance to avoid sitting around by himself. Those who remained from the party were mostly sitting around talking and sobering up to drive home. There hadn't been enough alcohol going around for anyone to get flat out wasted, but there'd been wine.

Everyone drank like civilized, well-adjusted responsible adults. You know, moderately.

On the street, cars were lined up. On the front steps to the house, I saw people driving away. Inside Mike's home was warm, so the cold air was nice for a few minutes. Once I cooled off, the Winter's cold bite sunk its teeth in to me harder with the passing minutes. Spring needs to hurry up and get here.

"Enough of this." I decided, diaphragm beginning to quiver. "Fucking South Park Winter."

More people left, coming out the front door. I slid to one side of the steeps so they could get by without having to go around me.

"Get in to a fight with your boyfriend?"

"Why? You interested, Jock strap?"

Clyde scoffed, going past me.

"I ain't interested in you." He said loud enough for those in ear shot to hear.

"Lucky me."

"Happy Holidays, Homo."

Getting in to his dad's car to warm it up, Clyde turned on the engine. His parents came out and I went back inside as the last person was coming out, pondering if it was too early to ask Mike for a ride home. Party was technically over.

"I had a great time. I should have skipped that last glass of wine, I cut it close."

"Sharon, you're welcome to stay in one of our guest rooms if you're not fit to drive."

"Oh, my Stanley can drive me home when he gets back from the bathroom."

Stan's mother was on the couch, tipsy and jolly from her social drinks. I heard a creak come from above me and to the right. At the top of the staircase, was Stan coming back from the bathroom. Mike appeared in the kitchen doorway straight ahead, waving me over.

"Pete, Sweetheart. What were you doing outside?" Mike's mom questioned. "You weren't locked out, were you?"

"I wasn't locked out, I wanted some air." I answered, walking towards Mike without turning my head to acknowledge Stan's presence coming down the steps. "I was warm down in Mike's room."

"Good to know that space heater works. Money well spent."

Stan didn't say anything, but he caught on to Mike's lie earlier on in the night. I was there. I'd been there the whole entire time. Literally right under his nose, under the floorboards like the Tell-Tale Heart.

The two women talking animatedly to one another didn't witness the flicker of anger that passed through Stan, or the cool, unscathed look Mike shot back in return. Fire and ice.

"Pete, you look so tired...you should go lie down in my bed while we clean up here." he touched my outer arm. "Go make yourself comfortable."

"Once I lie down, I'll fall asleep." I told him, earnestly.

"Nothing you haven't done before, you sleep over all the time."

Mike's mom was welcoming to his friends. She let her son bring whomever he wanted home, so long as they were behaved and considerate. Christmas wasn't an exception.

"If your friend is sleepy go get him some pajamas, Mikey. We'll bring him home, tomorrow. His family can have him back after breakfast."

I didn't stay the night with Mike's family. I played it like I was, waiting for Stan to take his mother home before requesting a ride. It'd give the dummy something to think about.

Xxxxxx

Chapter Text

LONG (but important) AUTHOR'S NOTE: Hey, guys! Hope you enjoyed the double update, today!

Some more info on the Triangular Theory of Love that I mentioned in chapter 6 since readers on the Archive Our Own site have expressed interest.

Quick recap:

Intimacy: is the closeness and trust you feel to someone. (Do you feel safe? Do you feel loved? Can you be vulnerable?) Love with just intimacy is "Liking". (Mike)

Passion is the sexual and/or physical attraction between two people. (Are you drawn to this person because of a bodily urge or connection? Does sex dominate your interest or attachment to this person?) Love with just Passion is "Infatuated love". (Stan)

Commitment: is the decision to stay with someone, regardless of circumstance. (Are you planning your future with this person? Are you determined to keep them?) Love with just Commitment is "Empty love". (Michael)

Recall how I mentioned that when you combine two, they create a different kind of love?

Intimacy+Passion=Romantic Love. (This is where Mike and Pete currently are.)

Passion+ Commitment = Fatuous Love. (This is where Stan currently wants to be with Pete.)

Commitment+Intimacy = Companionate Love. (This is where Michael currently wants to be with Pete.)

When you have all three elements, its Complete Love.

The more elements, the stronger the relationship is. And, the less likely it is to break or be broken. "Complete love" is HARD to break as it has everything and takes a lot to manipulate or challenge it.

Having only one element is easily breakable as you saw with Stan and Michael. Essentially, when you lack an element(s) you tend to go looking for it somewhere else. Hence why Pete gravitated towards Mike. You want what you don't have.

Also: Song referenced here in this chapter is "Where are you Christmas?" by Pentatonix.

Xxxxxx

Christmas morning, I opened my presents with Mom, Dad nowhere to be seen or heard from since the night before Christmas Eve. All of the presents for me said "From Mom". A lot of it was clothes.

New jeans, band hoodies, a pair of boots and new underwear and socks. All of which I needed. The "fun", less practical presents included gift cards for Dunkin Donuts, that new bookstore, and digitally downloadable video games. There was also a new coffee thermos, a black speaker to plug my phone in to, and another bean bag chair.

Another bean bag chair?

"You should have two so you and your new friend can play together. That nice, polite boy." On the couch, Mom blew the steam wafting up from her mug of tea. "You still use that Playstation 4 you got back in grade school, don't you?"

"Sometimes, yeah."

Bunching up the torn wrapping paper that littered the living room floor, I put it in a nearby trash bag. Mess, can't stand mess.

There would be more gift-exchanging later that night at my aunt's house. Everyone shredding gift paper everywhere, loud drunken relatives, and the overly excited mob of cousins...obnoxious Christmas tunes...I couldn't do it. Mom stopped making me a few years ago.

I was going to see Mike later that night. He had a gift to open. I had Mike's gift out for his arrival. I began seconding guessing what I got him. It felt like a good buy at the time...it made sense. I want him to like it. Wouldn't find out for hours if he did.

For hours, I was going to need something to do.

Putting my new bean bag next to my old one, I sat down and redeemed the digital gift card that Mom gave me to download a new game. It was a while since I played on my PlayStation. My dormant profile went active online, showing those on my friends list that I signed in.

Those on my friend's list were my group, and Stan. Mike was using Nintendo a lot lately, but he had a PlayStation too. I needed to add him.

Georgie was online, playing barred up in his room waiting for Henrietta to go rescue him. Every Christmas he escaped to her house to bar himself up with her until Michael and I joined them, for a horror flick marathon. We all brought DVD's, treating the holiday like another Halloween.

"Have your movies picked out?" Georgie messaged me.

At no point in all of December did it occur to me to pick out what DVDs I wanted to bring. I didn't plan to go with everything that happened. Our tradition...I was expected to participate. I was considered part of the group again.

Xxxxx

"Christmas is the most conformist holiday. Spend money and smile, pretend you love people. As if this shit from Macy's means anything. Insults take more thought than this."

One of Henrietta's aunts mailed her a gift. Inside was some fluffy gray blanket with a holiday tag. Her mother dropped it off in her room before going back to watch Bradley open his gift.

"At least it's a nice blanket. Looks warm." I reasoned, not very invested. "She could have sent you some stale gingerbread house kit, or whatever."

"Then you take it. I don't want this shit."

She slid the unwrapped box across the floor, disgusted with its existence.

"Fine. My room's cold, anyways."

Having an aunt send you some generic gift to give the impression that she cared about you was annoying, but there wasn't anything wrong with the blanket. This would go nicely on my bed. May as well take it if it would just go in the garbage otherwise.

"It's time to watch movies!" Georgie flipped through the channels until he got to the screen for the DVD player. "Who's picking the first one?"

"Honor's yours, Kid." Michael grunted. "Go nuts."

Our tradition was meant to be a rejection of Christmas, but for Georgie it was his Christmas. He shuffled through the DVD's he brought, taking only a moment to decide.

"Child's Play? Retro." Henrietta noted.

"But, a classic." I approved as Michael went to hit the lights. "Good one."

Moving to her bed, Henrietta laid on her stomach. Georgie followed her up there with the remote. I chose to stay on the floor, sitting against the wall behind them. There was a pile of pillows there, and it was less crowded than her bed.

The lights went out and Michael slid down to the floor next to me. A foot of space separated us. This was our spot every year. I'd only occupy it for two movies this time...three max. I'd have to come up with some excuse why I couldn't stay for the whole thing.

After the first movie, Georgie followed Henrietta to the kitchen. His stomach gurgled and growled towards the end of the film, which she could hear.

"Mom made trays of brownies, we'll snag one. Don't make eye contact with anyone if you don't want to talk."

Michael went through the first movie without a cigarette. He was still a foot away from me, legs stretched out in front of him but not leisurely. His designated ash tray was left on the other side of the room, cigarettes and lighter tucked away in his trench coat.

"Don't you need smokes to get through this?" I asked him as he showed no sign of reaching for his cigarettes.

"I'd rather get through this without you needing your inhaler."

"My last asthma attack was mostly because I was sick." I left out the crying that took place. "I already couldn't get air in."

Staring at some spot across the room, he adjusted the cuffs to his coat. Henrietta and Georgie were already over the fact that I gave up smoking. Michael was still adjusting. He was the one who got me started smoking as kids.

"I can smoke later."

"I'll move if you want to." I offered.

"I don't want it that bad."

He wanted that cigarette. Michael was grinding his teeth.

"It's not a big deal. Michael, just smoke. "

"Didn't I say no?"

I couldn't take Michael's snippy, short attitude right now. I forced myself to come for the sake of keeping peace. I wouldn't stay if he kept it up.

"Don't have to be a prick about it."

"I'm doing it for you."

"If you open the window, it won't bother me."

Taking the advice, which was common sense, Michael went and smoked by the window. I'm convinced he just didn't want to move, he wanted to sit next to me. I wouldn't want to sit next to him if he was going to be a dick.

One smoke should hold him over until I leave. Then he can blow through the whole pack. The cold air from outside blew in, and I used the gray blanket to shield myself from it.

"Now you're cold."

"How about you don't worry about me? I'm a big boy. I can worry about myself."

He glowered at me, but that was it.

"Dog pile on Pete!"

Georgie rushed in and jumped on top of me. The cushions I was on took most of the impact. Henrietta had the brownies, having the decency to snicker seeing Georgie tackle me. All one hundred twenty pounds of him.

"You're not very heavy. That was a weak dog pile."

"Hold on, let me put the brownies down." Henrietta joked. "We'll do a real one."

"Let's not, and say we did."

The room was cold as Michael puffed on his cigarette with window still open to air it all out. Henrietta took the opportunity to smoke too. Georgie burrowed his way under the blanket with me, trying to escape the cold as fast as he could.

"Why is the window open!" he wailed.

"Pete's asthma's been acting up."

"You're okay, right?"

I nodded.

"I can breathe better without cigarette smoke." I told him. "I'm glad I quit."

"I should quit. My mom yells at me all the time."

Michael flicked his bud out in the snowbanks below.

"Great." He snapped, bitterly. "Let's all start worrying about our health. Like it makes a difference. We're all gonna die, anyways."

Georgie cowered in closer to me, slightly. Henrietta blew smoke at Michael.

"Does it look like I care about my health? Chill. Have a brownie."

"Unless your mom started baking them with pot, I'm not interested."

"Georgie, you want a corner piece or a middle piece?"

The corners were chewy, which were my favorite. Georgie wanted a gooey center piece. Henrietta handed them over on napkins so Georgie could stay under the blanket. Michael shut the window, sitting on Henrietta's bed now that Georgie was in his spot.

"What are we watching next?" He asked through a mouth of chocolate crumbs.

"It sounds like you need a glass of milk, first." I commented.

Henrietta asked Georgie if he wanted Milk after I said it.

"Yes, please."

"I'll get it."

Another big bite and Georgie had a smidge of chocolate on his face. I wiped it away with my thumb, no big deal. He mumbled a meek thank you but couldn't bring himself to look at me because from over my shoulder, Michael shot him a dirty look.

xxxxx

Mom left the Christmas tree plugged in before she left to go to her sister's house. It was the only light on in the empty house when I opened the front door. This tree looked out of place in my house, even on Christmas.

The older I got, the less these holidays mattered. She put the tree up to put the presents under for me, but that was the extent of it. Christmas morning was her time of the year to remind me that I was her kid, no matter what her tumor of a spouse had to contribute to our family.

Christmas...why did it take Christmas to be remembered? It was better when I was smaller. Back when Dad was human enough for Mom to tolerate him. The years it wasn't so obvious that they resented each other and were only together for my sake.

Look how far that got us all.

Mike would be over within the hour, so I pushed the issue out of mind. He'd gone caroling with his friends and family. Guaranteed to be in high spirits. Can't rain on his parade with my dysfunctional family. I'd already threatened to vandalize the Hot Topic if he brought the singing troupe to my house.

Music still drifted in from outside later. One voice. Just one.

"Do do do do doo, do do do do doo~" It sang from outside my window. "Do do do do doo~"

I pulled it open, looking down from the second floor to Mike standing in the snow alone with a wrapped gift.

"Where are you, Christmas? Why can't I find you? Why have you gone away?" His unsurprisingly melodic voice sang to me. "Where is the laughter you used to bring me? Why can't I hear music play?"

"My world is changing. I'm rearranging." I sang back to humor him.

"Does that mean Christmas changes, too?" Mike smiled.

His warm breath was visible in the brisk air. It was pretty cold out. A cold, white Christmas.

"I didn't know you could sing." Mike said. "You should have come along with us, earlier."

"Christmas miracles don't actually happen, Mike."

"I'd settle for being invited inside."

He held up the gift as a bargaining chip.

"That's your offer? Looks legit."

I went to meet Mike at the front door, hurrying down the stairs to get him out from the cold. I missed the last step, cussing and stumbling forward to catch myself on the banister.

"Damn it-"

Shaking it off, I let Mike inside.

"Did you trip?" Was the first thing he asked

"...oh, you heard that?"

"I'd ask if you're okay, but you're standing. So, I'm taking it as you didn't hurt yourself."

Nothing hurt. Only my pride, slightly, because Mike overheard my mishap.

"I caught myself. Less of a trip and more of a stumble..."

"Your house is so dark, baby bat. You aren't here all by yourself on Christmas, are you?"

"Not anymore."

The Christmas tree must have stood out like a sore thumb to Mike too, because he glanced at it and then around the living room. Bland as oatmeal and not very festive at all.

"Does your family celebrate somewhere else?"

"Since Mom hosts Thanksgiving here, her sister hosts Christmas."

"Your parents leave you here all by yourself?"

That deeply bothered Mike. He pitied me like I was some homeless little orphan left out in the cold.

"I choose to stay here." I corrected, which didn't please him much more.

"Did you at least eat Dinner with your parents before they left?"

"Do you want to go upstairs?"

Quieting his concerns, Mike retired with me to my room. It was too deep in to Winter for his heeled-bottom boots. On his feet were a different pair of leather boots- flat, and more appropriate for the weather. Good, I didn't want him breaking an ankle or something. One patch of ice is all it would take and Mike would land himself in the Emergency Room.

Mike put my gift next to the one he rightly presumed was his. I wrapped his with black paper and a green ribbon...his was wrapped in black paper with a red ribbon.

"I'm noticing a theme, here." Mike appraised the color schemes.

"The black and green must've reminded me of you. I didn't realize what I'd done until after it was already wrapped."

It was so quiet. Nothing was on but the heater. The silence in my house that night wasn't peaceful, it was stale. Like a morgue.

"You're sweeter than anyone gives you credit for, Pete." A loose floorboard eerily creaked under Mike's foot. "...Now, who could leave my sweet bat here all alone?"

"I hate Thanksgiving, Christmas with my family is worse. I've told you, I'm here by myself all the time. I can handle it."

"Don't you get lonely?"

"Mike, I'm okay. You're here, don't worry about it."

Taking off his gloves, Mike folded them over and tucked them away inside his coat before taking that off, too.

"What kind of boyfriend would I be if I didn't worry?"

I was going to answer that and throw Stan under the bus, but that wasn't entirely true. It was mostly true. It shouldn't have been true, at all.

"Worry any longer and Christmas will be over before you can open what I got you." I reached past Mike to grab his gift. "Other than my Mom, you're the only person I got anything for."

I set it in front of him, ending this side-tracked conversation.

"You and your friends don't exchange Christmas gifts?"

Picking up his gift, Mike tilted it one way and the other inspecting it.

"Why am I going first?"

"Because I want you to. Any more questions, Detective Makowski?"

Mike unwrapped the green ribbon. Using his nail to get under a bit of wrapping paper, he gently tore along the edge.

"Sarcasm isn't very jolly."

"I don't know how to turn it off."

"...pft." Mike laughed. "Have you tried?"

"It's a part of my personality, at this point."

Moving the wrapping paper aside revealed a black, leather-bound notebook with blank unlined pages made of parchment paper.

"This is gorgeous, Pete. Where did you find it?"

"I special ordered it from a witch shop in Salem, Massachusetts. It's meant to be used for writing down spells." I explained. "They call it a book of shadows, but, I thought you might like it for drawing."

I played my cards right, Mike loved it.

"I almost don't want to use it, this is beautiful." he opened the book to admire the pages. "I've wanted one of these forever now. Thank you~"

Mike gave me my gift, which was much lighter than what I'd given him. Opening it up, there was a box with a lid. I lifted it not knowing what to expect.

"You got me a new choker?"

This piece of jewelry looked like the one I was wearing, except it was red ribbon with black lace woven in with it. The charm was silver pendant, with a red blown-glass rose encased in a clear glass dome.

"Do you like it?"

"Of course."

This was more on the feminine side, more than what I was already wearing. But, it was a stunning gothic-style choker. The one I was wearing wasn't the most masculine thing, ever, this one would look fine.

"Are you sure? If you want to exchange it, I can show you where I picked it out."

"Why would I exchange it?" I asked, wondering if Mike was second-guessing whether I'd wear it because it was girly and more his style.

"All that matters to me is that you wear it. I wouldn't want you to wear something you don't like."

"I promise I like it. This is really nice. Thank you."

Taking it out of the box, Mike offered to put it on me. Oh...I couldn't say no or he'd take it the wrong way.

I had to take off Stan's...and, I had to do it right now.

Thinking fast, I turned my back to him and unclipped it. Mike reached around me to lace the new one around my neck. He aligned it towards the top of my neck where the other one had been.

"You wear it here, right?"

"Yeah." I inconspicuously used my phone screen to make sure everything was covered. "Right there."

Mike clipped it in place. I was holding my breath the whole time, letting it go when I heard the clasp click.

Safe.

"Red is more your color." Mike wrapped his arms around me. "It's also my favorite."

"If it's your favorite, then why is your hair green?"

Wouldn't it make more sense to dye your hair the color you like most?

"I never wanted you to think I was copying you. You wear it better, anyways."

xxxxx

My mom didn't feel like driving home, telling me she was staying at my aunt's. She asked if my dad returned home yet, to which he didn't. Wearing a pair of my pajamas, Mike appointed himself my companion for the evening.

"My bed's not a king, but make yourself comfortable." I patted down the empty half of my full-sized bed.

"Doesn't matter how big your bed is, I like being close to you."

Mike's bed could fit another person between us, and he chose to sleep close to me. My smaller bed didn't make a difference. We'd drifted off some time before midnight, woken up by the sound of the doorbell hours later in the dead of night.

It rang once. Then, again. Each ring was more impatient than the last.

"...Who the hell is ringing your door bell?" Mike asked, heavy with sleep. "What time is it?"

He was groggy, but that hold he had on me was tight when I tried sitting up.

"It's my dad." I withheld a yawn, assuring him it wasn't some stranger. "Shit, now I have to call Mom..."

"Why?"

"She told me I'm not supposed to let him in...he's not welcome here these days."

The comforting thing to do was to urge Mike back to sleep. With the doorbell going off, that was impossible. So, I didn't.

Mike scratched at the small of my back as I sat up and prayed for Mom to wake up and answer her cellphone.

"Pete?" She answered after a few rings, rightfully alarmed to get a call at this hour. "What is it?"

"Dad's out front, spamming the doorbell..."

"Ugh. Did that asshole wake you up?"

"Uh-huh...do I just let him in since you're not home? I have Mike over and I don't want to make him listen to this for the next hour, or however long it takes for him to give up."

There was some agitated muttering on her end.

"Go let him in so you and your friend can sleep." She instructed me, hating that she had to do it. "That man is in for it when I get home later."

"Okay. Night, Mom."

"Goodnight, Pete. If he bothers you again, call me."

Flipping the sheets off, I told Mike to stay put.

"I'll go let him in so you can go back to sleep. Mom's going to deal with him when she gets home later."

Going downstairs sleepy, I missed the last step again. This time, I didn't catch myself and I fell the short distance to the ground.

"Pete?" Mike called out.

"One sec." I called back.

Effectively pissed off, I opened the door for my dad without saying a word to him and went straight back up the stairs. He was stumbling around and talking to himself, trying to wrangle himself out of his coat but not having any idea as to what he was doing. I let him battle it out, getting back in bed.

"I heard you fall, are you alright?"

"Stupid last step is trying to kill me."

Mike pulled my head in to his chest, holding me there.

"Clumsy, clumsy little bat."

"I'm having an off day. I am not clumsy."

"Sounds like your dad is."

Dad was in the living room making a commotion without a care to the fact it was two in the morning and I was in the house trying to sleep. Mike's car was parked outside on the street. Dad either was far too drunk to notice I had someone over, or he didn't care.

"…is your dad drunk?" Mike asked, hearing him talking to himself brokenly and bumping in to what sounded like the wall.

"Extremely."

"Should we keep an eye on him until he sobers up?"

"Nope. He does this all the time. Leave him."

There was a really loud thud, followed by a crash and a cussing fit worthy of a sailor. Mike jumped in horror.

"Pete."

"He tripped over the coffee table and flipped it because it pissed him off."

"...he's done this before?"

"I'm really sorry about this. I didn't think he was going to come around, tonight..."

This would be an uncomfortable breakfast talk later. Mike stays at my house for the first time, and Dad barges in with a blood alcohol level higher than his IQ. He had a drunken fit downstairs, tiring himself out and collapsed somewhere on the living room floor, or couch.

Xxxxx

Dad's late-night rude awakening to us was paid back in full when Mom's key turned the locked sometime before eight in the morning. She didn't mean to punish Mike and I in the process, but all hell broke loose when she saw the living room.

Dad managed to break the coffee table, this time. And, the coat rack. He tracked in dirty slush on his shoes, leaving a mess of foot prints on the carpet. Mike and I got up, brushed our teeth, combed our hair, and left with our boots and coats over our pajamas.

Parked in the Dunkin Donuts lot, I bit in to a toasted bagel with cream cheese and reached for my coffee. Mike had an egg white English muffin sandwich. Between us on the dashboard as a box of munchkins we were picking from.

"Are you safe at home?"

"Ew, you sound like your dad."

"Are you safe at home, Pete?"

"My dad doesn't put his hands on me."

Mike believed me, to a point. It had to be his protective nature.

"Promise?"

"Yes."

"Look at me."

Detaching because I was already over it, I leaned away when Mike's made an attempt to turn me by the chin.

"Have you ever seen a bruise on me? You've seen me naked."

"I haven't seen you naked your whole life. Has he put your hands on you before I came along?"

"He hardly accepts that I exist. Can't hit what you don't see."

To comfort me, Mike rubbed the side of my neck with the back of his hand.

"You'd tell me if something was seriously wrong, wouldn't you?"

"Your dad hasn't told you about my house?"

"...legally he isn't allowed to."

"Like that matters. I know you've asked. You can't help yourself."

There'd been enough screaming matches between my parents to bring the snow off the Colorado mountains tumbling down. Child Protective Services hovered around years back, looking for a reason to intervene. With no marks or willing me to talk, there wasn't much else they could do.

"He said there were some noise complaints, but everything was under control...he didn't overlook anything did he?"

"I'm sitting here in one piece, aren't I? My parents hate each other. None of that mess is directed at me."

Mike quit while he was ahead, understanding that what little I'd shared with him was more than I wanted to.

"...still need you to look at me."

When I turned, he kissed my forehead.

"I have this urge to protect you." he plucked a crumb off my shirt, flicking it away. "Why do you insist on fighting it, stubborn little bat?"

"Because I can protect myself."

"Putting up a wall locks you in with your demons. Something to consider."

I deflected Mike's words of wisdom with a bold-faced lie.

"My demons and I get along fine."

xxxxx

I was sure Mom and Dad's episode of Jerry Springer would be long over by the time we went back, but it had just ended. Dad shoved past me as I stepped in. Mike was right behind me, in Dad's path. I stepped back, guarding Mike with my arm, keeping him out of his way.

"Excuse you." I snapped.

"I'm too tired to give a shit about you and your faggy little friend."

My Dad never said anything nasty like that to me before-He was passive aggressive at best. I was more offended than Mike was.

"Let it go." He whispered, urging me to go in.

"He-"

"Isn't worth it."

A lot went down while we were gone. The living room was still trashed. The Christmas tree got in to a fight with someone and lost.

The whole thing was knocked over on its side. Ornaments were scattered everywhere, some broken. Worst of all, Mom was on her knees clutching something and weeping.

"Mom?"

In her hands was the tree topper. The angel's wings were broken, pieces amongst the ornament fragments. Her precious angel reduced to shards like the cheap beer bottles she hated so much.

"Pete..." she sniffled, doing all she could to talk evenly. "Take your friend upstairs. The living room is a disaster."

She looked down to the broken angel in her hands and her diaphragm quivered.

"I have to clean this up."

"You're going to cut yourself...put that down." I tried taking it from her.

"...I bought this the year you were born." Mom's voice cracked. "He broke it."

Mom wasn't a cryer. She didn't show much emotion besides apathy and anger at home because she was faced with Dad...he cracked her right along with that angel.

It was enough to twist at my heart strings. They were knotted. Mom was crying…shit, Mom was crying.

"Here." I pushed her hands down gently so she'd place the broken tree topper on the carpet. "Leave that there. Go take a nap."

"I can't. The carpet and the living room-"

"I'll clean this up. I don't mind."

Exhausted, Mom let me bring her upstairs. She couldn't have gotten much sleep, otherwise she wouldn't have complied. She was here so early and had to have gone to bed late.

Mom worked so much to keep this house running. She didn't need this bullshit.

"I'm going to be cleaning this shit up." I got a garbage bag and a dustpan from the kitchen, getting down on my knees to start sifting through all this broken debris. "You can grab your stuff from my room, Mike. I'll text you later tonight."

Mike got down on his knees with me.

"I'm not leaving you with all this." he lifted a cracked ornament by the hook, which then came off and completely shattered between us. "What do you need me to do?"

"If you see anything that remotely looks like it belongs to the angel, put it in the dustpan." I dropped broken ornaments in the garbage bag, carefully resting a piece of wing aside. "Everything else that's broken is being tossed."

We picked up as much as we could before accepting everything else was too ground in to the carpet to be salvaged. I took apart the tree and stored it and the ornaments that survived down in the basement. Mike ran the vacuum around the living room after treating the carpet with cleaner.

We worked in a tunnel-vision frenzy, restoring Mom's living room back from the domestic hurricane that blew through it. That was the easy part.

"I don't even know why I'm doing this." At the kitchen table with a tube of super glue, I put the big chunks back on to Mom's angel tree topper. "You can see the cracks through the glue."

"Some paint, and this will be as good as new."

"I can't paint to save my life."

"But, my mother can."

My art teacher cradling my vase like a baby didn't seem to strange to me anymore on the car ride to Mike's. Every bump in the road drove my blood pressure up a point. This innocent inanimate object was glued, the pieces weren't budging. But, I was scared to breathe on it.

Mike's mother was dusting when we approached her with one of the few sentimental objects my mother treasured. I was going to hand this over. What choice did I have? I could still hear mom weeping.

"Mommy, Dearest." Mike chimed. "We need your help with something."

"What can I do for you, my sweet boy?"

Gesturing to me, Mike showed her.

"That angel is lovely. Is it yours, Pete? What happened to it? She's all cracked."

"This is my mother's…she loves it and my dad broke it." I explained. "I glued it back together."

"I could touch her up. A little paint would cover all that."

I reluctantly handed it over, trusting that Mike got his artistic abilities from his mother. Which he did. She painted the angel, keeping it as close to its original state as she could. It stood drying in their den for hours before it was safe to transport back.

The day after Christmas was supposed to be laid back. People get over the hype, take deep breath and go on with their lives. I couldn't take that deep breath until the angel was safely placed on my dresser.

xxxxx

There was rustling and footsteps when I woke up the next morning. The sound of closets and drawers being opened and closed. Mom was going through the bathroom drawers and the hallway closet that dad used, dumping everything he owned in to cardboard boxes and garbage bags.

"…what's going on?"

"I've had enough. That ungrateful leech has no respect for anybody, or anything." A stack of ratty shirts and old jeans were chucked in to a bag. "There are cancers easier to deal with than him."

A flask and some other miscellaneous junk was dumped in the box. It kept going. Novelty bottle openers, his high school year book. Tons of CD's.

"I can't do this anymore with him. I can't have nice things, I can't have peace. If he likes that hussy so much, she can have him. He ruins everything."

That angel he smashed was the straw that broke the camel's back. Mom reached her limit. She asked me to help her move Dad's shit to the garage where he could come get it when he decided to show his face again.

Before I went back to my room, she thanked me for cleaning up the wrecked living room. Mom said it was a shame the tree topper had to be tossed in the trash.

"About that…" I stepped back in to my room and came back out.

"…you didn't throw her away. She's fixed." Astonished, Mom took it from me. "Did you do this?"

"I glued her back together. Mike's mom painted all the cracks. She tried to her best to restore the original colors."

Mom turned the angel in her hands with fondness. It was as old as me.

"I thought this was gone forever." Tears sprouted in Mom's green eyes, which she wiped away. "Thank you, Pete. I'm going to keep her in my room."

Mom stopped trying to hug me when I was ten. I had an unspoken "hands-off" policy to which she abided by the last eight years. I didn't reject her when she hugged me. The hug was awkward, but I didn't mind.

…I didn't mind.

My parent's impending separation was long overdue. No one was going to jump for joy over it, but no one was jumping for joy now either.

"You have more gifts to open, they're in the car." Mom reminded me. "I'll put my shoes on and get them for you."

Mom thanked herself for not bringing them in yesterday morning. They may have been collateral damage in the middle of all that happened. My grandparents gave me a card with money in it, and another glass blow trinket for my desk. This one was a skull.

My aunt got me another mug to add to my collection.

"If you can read this, leave me alone." The black mug read in white letters. The bottom of the cup had a middle finger.

"Your Aunt knows you well." Mom examined the mug. "This was made for you."

"I'll treasure it always."

"I'll tell her you liked it-" She paused, looking up towards the ceiling. "…did you hear that?"

"Hear what?"

I looked up, trying to hear what it was she was tuning in to.

"I thought I heard something upstairs."

"I didn't hear anything." I told her truthfully but I listened for footsteps, just in case.

"This house creaks something awful in the Winter."

We didn't hear anything and let it go. My aunt sent me chocolate with the mug. I took them with me to my room to try later. Hand on the doorknob, I laid my ear on the door.

Nothing moved. The house did squeak and creak, that's all it was.

So, I thought.

Not wise to count all your chickens before they hatch. I should have opened the door before coming to any conclusions.

xxxxxx

Chapter Text

AUTHOR'S NOTE: Here we are! New chapter! (And, HAPPY NEW YEAR!)

Thank you to my Archive of Our Own cite readers, as always, for the continued feedback!

xxxxx

"How many times do I have to tell you to stop showing up uninvited?"

"...you used to like when I did."

Sitting in the bean bag chair I that used to put under the window to cushion his climb inside, Stan looked at me with those blue eyes that just begged for me to come closer. Begged me to tolerate him. And, remember who he used to be to me.

"Second strike, Stan." I warned. "Next time, I'm calling the cops."

"Can we please just talk?"

"What are we talking about this time that we haven't already talked about? I can't keep doing this with you."

Staying far away from him, I sat at my desk. My new blown-glass pumpkin went next to the other one. Everything had a place.

"...It hurts that you replaced me."

"Life hurts, Stan."

"Without you, it does. Yeah."

In his hands, he had the purple choker. He took it off my nightstand before I came in. I'd left it in plain sight. Right next to Michael's. The ultimate demotion.

"Suck it up, Football Captain. You wanna play the part so bad, learn how to do it."

"You won't even look at me, Pete. I can't suck that up."

"Figure it out."

He surrounded himself with all that toxic masculinity. It would only get worse in the big leagues. If he made it. Can't get your feelings hurt there.

"Could you at least look at me? Please?"

"You're not in any position to be asking for favors." I scolded him, matter of fact. "Give one good reason why I should even entertain this conversation, or get out."

"...it kills me that you really think I slept with Bebe. You wouldn't even give me the benefit of the doubt."

"Because, there's nothing you can say to talk your way out of this one, Stan. You've hurt me for the last time. I'm not doing this with you, anymore."

"I need to show you something. Please, just let me show you."

Slowly, I turned my chair around. What could he possibly have to show me? Stan pulled out his phone, a glum, defeated look to him...whatever he was about to show me, he was ashamed of it.

"A chat log with Bebe?"

"There's a video in there. Watch the video. Then read it."

The video Bebe sent was from Halloween night. I recognized her skimpy clothes. She and Stan were in some cheap motel room. Her phone had to be propped up on a dresser or something, because it had a full view of the bed.

She was on top of him, rubbing her whore hands all over his shirt. On the nightstand, was a bottle of some cheap liquor. Stan may have left the dance sober, but he was drunk here. They both were.

"Stan~" The blonde purred. "I love a boy who plays hard to get."

He weakly pushed her away, mumbling something about being serious. She was rubbing her chest in to him, trying to lick his face. Her hand crept south, cupping him through his jeans...he was soft. Bebe froze, suspicious.

"I-I'm really drunk." Stan excused, trying to inch back and away. "This isn't going to work."

"I'll fix it."

She tried unbuttoning his jeans, only to be thwarted.

"Seriously, stop it...get off me." He insisted.

"...Excuse me?"

Bebe's tone was offended...bitter. She scowled, turning her nose down at Stan like he'd just insulted her.

"You don't want me?"

"That's not what I meant!" Stan tried to save himself. "I-I can't get it up when I'm drunk."

He was sweating bullets, no idea he was being recorded. He never acknowledged the presence of the camera phone. Had he known it was there, he would have scrambled to shut it off. He never would have allowed himself to be recorded in this situation.

Bebe grabbed Stan's hands and forced him to grope her breasts. It didn't elicit the arousal she was after. Stan looked ready to gag. And, he did. Before making a run off screen to throw up. He had too much to drink Halloween night, too.

"Lola and Clyde had the room next to ours. We left them alone so they could do their thing...it was only supposed to be a few drinks to kill time. She set me up."

"...you didn't sleep with her."

"Nope. And, now she's blackmailing me."

The texts that accompanied the video were Bebe threatening to send it out if he didn't play along like he slept with her. If he told people the truth, she would use that video to get him kicked off the football team and spread a rumor that he's gay.

Because no one rejects Bebe Stevens. Absolutely no one. Every hot-blooded straight male in our school wanted her. She was willing to get kicked off the cheerleading team if it meant taking Stan down with her.

"Why didn't you send me this?"

"Not that I don't trust you, but this isn't exactly something I want accessible from another phone...and I didn't want you to see me like that. Sloppy and sad, trying to be someone I'm not."

Turns out, I was the jackass this time. Stan had told the truth. He tried to explain. I didn't let him.

"I said I loved you. I meant it every time, Pete. Every single time."

Stan rubbed his thumbs over the purple ribbon. The choker that I replaced right along with him.

"I don't know what else I can do to prove it to you. I broke up with Wendy...I was ready to be all yours. Then, you replaced me."

"You haven't been Mr. Perfect. Don't guilt trip me."

"Did I say I was perfect?"

Nope. Stan never tried to pass himself off as perfect. Not to me. He never felt like he had to be anyone but himself when we were together...just us.

"No one's perfect." I clarified.

"Mike must be. You took to him, right away." Stan countered.

"Can you leave Mike out of this?"

I got oddly defensive.

"...You're my boyfriend. I didn't spend all this time grasping at straws to keep you just to lose you to Mike Makowski, of all people."

The remorse I could've had for Stan dissolved.

"I'm not your boyfriend, anymore. I'm not even sure I ever was."

"...What."

"Beyond closed doors, you weren't my boyfriend. So how was I ever really yours?"

"You already know-"

"Yeah, Stan. I know. I never forgot."

I turned my chair back around. Just looking at him was pissing me off, now. The more he talked, the worse it was.

"Why are you mad at me? I proved I didn't cheat on you."

"If I want to be mad, it's my right. Don't play stupid."

"I should be the one mad at you, this time. The least you could have done was let me explain myself before jumping to another guy. Whether you thought I was cheating, or not."

In theory, he was right. I may have given him the opportunity had he not neglected me as frequently as he did. I didn't have the reason to believe he was remotely innocent. Not with Stan's ways.

"You should have at least texted me after Halloween." It still bothered me. "I know you were drunk after the dance, but there's no excuse for the day after."

"I had every intention of coming to see you that Monday, after school. Then Wendy blew up in front of everyone in the hallway... I saw you standing there. I was mortified."

Stan's gaze drifted towards my bed.

"I didn't think it could get worse. You and Mike proved me wrong when I walked in on him…." He really struggled to put what he saw in to words. "…devouring… you."

"Had you not climbed through my window uninvited, you wouldn't have seen that."

That day ran through Stan's head. The scene playing haunted him just as I suspected it would. Mike did devour me, leaving a constellation of love-bites to prove it. I stared at them for days, I wanted to keep them. The only marks that I liked...they faded. And there wasn't anything I could do to hold on to them.

"...You never let me mark you up." Stan sounded like a jealous little kid who just watched someone else get the prize they wanted. "What's so special about him?"

"I already told you to leave Mike out of this."

"Break up with him and you'll never hear me say his name, again."

Always playing in accordance to his own agenda. Typical.

"Time's up." Snapping my fingers, I blindly pointed towards the window. "Out."

"Why?"

"I'm not letting you manipulate me."

"But when Mike does it, it's fine."

That made me turn around.

"Mike doesn't manipulate me."

"No? Super convenient that you date the goody-goody and suddenly you quit smoking."

"…how do you even know that?"

"I can hear it in your voice. You sound better."

That was Stan's nice way of saying my voice wasn't raspy.

"I'll have you know, I did that on my own."

"Uh-huh. Did you recently decide to start liking Christmas, too?"

"I don't like Christmas."

"But you went to his party."

He kept bringing this back to Mike. Mike wasn't the weak link in our relationship. We were a house of cards waiting to come crashing down with every passing breeze and breath. Mike just happened to be there and catch me when they all went scattering.

"I hate football and went to your game." I defended.

"After how many years?" Stan shot back.

"Go home, Stan. You're still a selfish asshole."

This was worse than talking to a wall. At least a wall didn't have a selfish agenda. A wall wasn't spoiled. A wall couldn't keep coming back to haunt me with something that wasn't going to work.

"I'm selfish for wanting you back?" Bewildered and trying to figure what he did wrong, Stan furrowed his brow. "How does that make me selfish?"

"You're selfish because you don't care what I want."

"I don't care what you want?"

"Did I stutter?"

It was a stretch. I wouldn't admit it. Holding my ground, I stared Stan down.

"Just because I can't give you the relationship that you deserve, doesn't mean I don't care... If wanting you makes me selfish, I don't know what to do. Tell me what I need to do, for you."

"You need to let me live my life. Go live yours, Stan."

"I don't want to, without you."

"It's an awful feeling, isn't it?"

The ceiling fan didn't spin. It hung there above us, ominously. Stan never saw me hanging there blue in the face and gasping for air. He could only imagine it through Michael's eyes.

"Had I known you were so depressed, I wouldn't have gone out with Wendy that day." Stan repented, refusing to look up at that ceiling fan. "I would have put you first."

"I shouldn't take me being clinically depressed to come first."

"She doesn't have to come between us anymore. Neither does anyone, or anything, else."

With difficulty, Stan got out of the bean bag chair. I pointed a finger at him, cautioning him to keep his distance from me. It didn't stop him. He dropped to his knees in front of me, putting his head in my lap.

"Don't make me end the year without you." His plea was the most pitiful I'd heard. "Pete..."

Stan nuzzled his cheek in to my thigh. The soft cotton of my pajamas was gentle on his skin.

"I'm so sorry. For everything, okay?"

I went to shove him off. But, once my hand touched his hair, that's all I could do. He was sorry. This towering guy was literally at my feet. This was a real apology.

"I miss you." Stan kissed my thigh, relieved that I hadn't reacted violently to his affection. "Do you miss me?"

"Can't say that I have."

"I'll do better. Whatever it takes, I'll do better."

Stan was determined to have me back. But, it wasn't ideal. For either of us.

"You start college next year." I reminded him. "You really think having a dirty little secret like me is going to be any easier?"

"I don't care."

"I do. I can't be your secret, Stan. No matter how sorry you are."

Stan didn't move, scared that if he let go this was the last time he'd ever feel me.

"I want to be with you forever."

"Forever's a long time."

"Not long enough." Stan mumbled miserably. "We're wasting time."

xxxxx

The Christmas mayhem at the mall died out leading up to the new year. Mike's group went to see what holiday clearance they could score at the Hot Topic before everything went back to normal. I didn't complain and just sat outside in one the massage chairs the malls offered.

I didn't pay to use it. Mike gave better massages. He was warm, and human.

The whole group left the store, content with what they found. Mike tried the stuff on at home.

"What do you think?" He asked my opinion of the ripped skinny jeans, the only spec of clothing on him right now. "These don't make my ass look totally flat, do they?"

"Your ass looks fine."

"Just fine?"

I rolled my eyes at the saucy question.

"You could wear a potato sack and make it work."

"Aww~"

Mike took the praise and tried to wiggle himself out of the jeans. These were super skinny, fitted to his body. Doing some lunges to loosen them up, he tried again. They weren't budging.

"I'm going to need your help, baby bat."

On his back on the bed, Mike had me stand at his ankles. I pulled at the bottom of his pants, Mike lifting his hips and wiggling to help the process along.

"I prefer skinny jeans, too. But, this is ridiculous."

"They're brand new. They all start like this. Ask Vlad."

With a triumphant yank, I got his pants off. Folding them in half, I tossed them on Mike.

"I'll pass."

"Merely a joke, baby bat. Though, he would tell you if you asked."

"He'd be glad to, I'm sure."

"Well, he always got a good laugh over it."

In his black underwear, Mike sat up and folded the jeans to put them aside.

"You want to tell me what crawled up your bum? It looks like something is bothering you."

"When do I look unbothered?"

"When your dick is in my mouth or ass, you're good."

"Excluding THAT."

Mike didn't bother getting redressed to have this conversation.

"You're stalling." He accused me. "Tell me what's wrong."

"You're assuming something's wrong."

"I don't treat you like you're stupid. Give me the same courtesy."

"I know you're not stupid. I just don't want to talk about every little thing that happens."

If I talked about everything that bothered me, I'd never shut up. I'd scream, and scream, and scream...

"Put me at ease?" Mike bargained.

"It won't."

"Won't know until you tell me."

I always felt obligated to be as truthful as I could with Mike. To a strict extent, of course. This wasn't going to be easy.

"Stan paid me a surprise visit last night."

"Last night?"

"Last night..."

He wasn't jumping to the worst-case scenario, just surprised.

"Did you let him in the front door?"

"No. I need to start locking my window."

"How did this visit go?"

"Nowhere near how I expected."

I had Mike's full attention. I wish he wasn't so keen on eye contact.

"Remember the Monday after Halloween?" I asked.

"Are we talking about at school, or here afterschool?"

"School."

"I remember Stan breaking your poor little heart."

Oh, boy.

"Yeah...it turns out that was a load of shit."

"I'm not following."

"Stan never slept with Bebe. He had the texts with her to prove it...and video."

Filling Mike in, he didn't really react. I don't know how I expected him to react. He waited for me to finish explaining everything before saying anything.

"What does this mean to you?"

"What does what mean to me?"

"This bit of information."

Folding my arms, I tucked my hands under armpits. I looked down at the floor because looking right at Mike was killing me.

"It means for the first time in our whole relationship, I'm the one who fucked up." It hurt to say it, I never thought I'd be the one to mess up. "Thinking back on it, I technically cheated on him Halloween, too."

"You didn't cheat on him."

"You don't remember making out? Running your hands all over me...the fact that I was hard the whole entire time?"

"You don't remember melting at my affection? How badly you needed it?"

Firm, but compassionate, Mike chided me.

"You didn't cheat on him. He cheated you of an actual relationship."

"Don't twist this."

"I'm not. You drank yourself in to a pitiful mess because of him, I know you did. You were in pain watching Stan. Not once did he even see you. But, you're the one who did wrong? I don't think so."

"You wouldn't have let me touch you if you didn't need it." Mike insisted, simple as day. "Healthy relationships don't crumble that easily."

Stan's and I's relationship was anything but healthy, he was right. But, I still did him wrong. His wrongs didn't justify mine.

"He had recently broken up with Wendy...he wasn't out of the closet, but he wasn't going to make me share him anymore." I still defended. "It doesn't matter how much he fucked up, Mike. I did, too."

"Are you willing to be his dirty little secret forever, Pete? Is that what you're trying to tell me?"

"...no. I'm actually not even sure what it is I'm trying to tell you."

Mike had thought I was trying to break up with him. That wasn't it. If that were the case, I would have made that the focus of this conversation.

"I think I just feel guilty." I concluded, figuring it out as I went along. "Like I owe him something."

Mike had a simple remedy for that.

"Maybe you two were just always meant to be friends." He suggested. "He can't give you what you need, you know that. But, you obviously care about him. If you didn't, we wouldn't be having this conversation."

It'd been a while since Stan and I were just friends. How was this a good idea? Maybe it wasn't. But, it was the only idea I could work with. I didn't want him back, and if I ignored him he'd just keep coming back anyways.

"I'll sleep on it. He'll always be around."

"He will."

I wasn't struggling with the choice between Stan or Mike. I just didn't ever think it was possible to have them both after everything that happened. Mike tossed some tags in the garbage, coming over to hold me by the hips when I didn't move from my spot.

"You deserve a fighting chance to be happy. If being his friend will help, I see no problem with that."

"I don't want him changing anything...like us."

"He can't change anything unless you let him."

I trusted myself. Could I trust Stan? If he was truly sorry, there was a chance.

xxxxxx

The New Year's party Mike was invited to took place at Vlad's house. They catered the event with a Chinese restaurant just out of town because the local City Wok would give everyone food poisoning. I would know.

"I saw my dad get sick on City Wok, as a kid." The memory of Dad heaving cheap beer and take-out all night was disgusting. "I never touched the stuff because of that."

"City Wok is disgusting, I'm not sure how that place stays open." Vlad popped the tab off a can of soda. "This place costs more but my parents don't mind paying for it. It's edible."

Vlad's household owned a dog. The heavy gray Pitbull decided it liked me, sitting itself across my thighs, pinning me to Vlad's bedroom floor. I fed him a piece of beef off my plate after seeing Vlad give him a fried chicken finger.

"Animals seem to like you." Mike pat the dog. "Poe and Lenore. Now Spike. I'm surprised you don't own any pets."

"I owned a tuxedo cat when I was a kid. His name was Butler. He died."

"Why didn't you get another one?"

"I had to put him down Freshman year. I'm not over it, yet."

Finished with my paper plate, I set it down. Spike started licking it, which didn't surprise Vlad.

"He ate the food, bud. All gone."

Spike looked up at me, whining a bit.

"I'm the person here." I told him. "You get dog food."

"He being mean to you, Spike?"

Lying back down, Spike grumbled licking the empty plate one last time.

"I'm sorry about your cat, Pete." Vlad offered his condolences. "I don't know what I'd do if I had to make that decision for Spike."

"He was old, and his joints couldn't take it anymore...Didn't want him to suffer."

"You did the right thing. You're stronger than I am."

Not wanting to talk about Butler anymore, I didn't respond. Euthanizing a pet was a pain I didn't wish upon others. It did take a strong person to do it.

I loved that cat. I wouldn't talk to anyone for days after I brought him to the vet with Mom and we didn't come back with him. I remember Mom sliding a note under my bedroom door when she went and picked up Butler's ashes for me later that week. The little black box was waiting for me on the floor, with his favorite cat toy. His gray mouse.

"Vince!" Vlad's father knocked on the door. "Your mother, wants you to get the other box of party stuff from the attic."

"Okay. I'm on it"

Vlad went to fulfill his mother's request, looking for the party hats and noise makers. His dad went back to the party, looking for the next order his wife assigned him.

"This is my favorite New Year." Mike rested his head on my shoulder.

"What's so special about this one?"

"I'm starting it with you. It's truly a treat to be on your good side."

It was time to feed the dog. Downstairs, one of Vlad's parents, presumably his dad, dumped kibble in to Spike's bowl in the kitchen. Spike's ears perked and he bolted from the room to go eat.

"I was beginning to think I'd never get through to you, baby bat."

"It took me hitting rock bottom."

"Beautiful thing about rock bottom is, you can only go up."

Mike kissed me and we were interrupted.

"Um, excuse me."

"Yes?" Mike chimed.

"He still owes me one from Christmas Eve. And, I don't feel that's fair."

I assured him life was, in fact, unfair.

"Cry me a river, Vlad." I told him.

"I might."

Mike tossed a short stack of clean napkins at him. They scattered in Vlad's lap.

"To wipe your tears." he explained, cheekily dragging an eyelid down. "You're welcome."

"You two might be meant for each other." Vlad tossed the napkins back at Mike "I'll be fine. You can keep those."

"What am I supposed to do with these?"

"Stuff your flat ass."

Purposely having meant to get a rise out of Mike, Vlad made a run for it. Mike, who had thankfully taken off his heels earlier on in the evening, bolted after him with a pillow from Vlad's bed.

"I never heard you complaining!" he hollered down the hallway.

xxxxx

The rest of Mike's crew showed up for the party, partaking in the food and games before the big countdown to midnight. Vlad got some old games from a closet somewhere.

"Left hand on yellow, Ryan." Mike instructed.

A twister mat was laid out on the floor, with Larry, Ryan, Bloodrayne and Annie on it. Vlad and Mike waited for Ryan to take his turn.

"How the fuck am I supposed to get my hand over there? Bloodrayne's ass is in the way."

"Oh, now you're hesitant to touch it?"

"The circumstances are a little different here, Babe."

Ryan maneuvered himself past his girlfriend, planting his hand on a yellow circle. Vlad spun for Larry.

"Looks like right hand on blue, Man."

Moving in to the position left Larry eye-level with Bloodrayne's cleavage. He darted his eyes down, complaining how awkward this became.

"At least her boobs look good. Could be worse." Annie offered. "You could be stuck looking at Ryan's ass, like me."

"What's wrong with my ass?"

Bloodrayne and Annie were laughing, meanwhile Larry begged for Mike or Vlad to do the next spin.

"I don't know why you're in such a rush. If someone fucks up and knocks you down, you're landing on your dick."

"My dick isn't hard, Vlad!"

"Keep looking down to keep it that way."

Mortified, Larry kept his eyes down. Easy going, Bloodrayne gave him a friendly peck to the side of his head. This was a group that was comfortable with each other.

Bloodrayne survived her turn, but it was Annie who slipped, taking Ryan and Bloodrayne with her.

"I win!" Larry boasted, the last person still in place.

"That's a first." Ryan drawled, picking himself up off the floor. "Alright, Larry stays. You guys have to take our place. Mike hand me the thing, I'll spin."

Vlad and Mike got in to position on opposite ends of the mat. I didn't follow them.

"I'm not playing."

"Baby bat."

"No."

"You want to go in to the new year still being an anti-social sour puss?"

I was willing to answer that but Mike stopped me.

"Nevermind, don't answer that. And, don't make me beg."

While we all thought Larry getting stuck with Bloodrayne's boobs in his face was awkward, it got worse with our turn. At some point I'm face to face with Mike so close that our noses are touching, and tangled up with Larry reaching over me, and Vlad's behind me. To top it all off, the spot he needs to get to is under me.

"Pete, I'm coming in from behind. Don't move."

"You're not going to do what I think you're going to do."

"Just don't move."

Aiming as low to the ground as he could, he reached between my legs from behind. I was already pretty close to the ground with Larry on top of me. The spot Vlad had to get was just past my knees and under my stomach.

"If you graze my taint, I swear to God I'm yeeting Larry across the room and kicking you in the face."

"His face is like an inch away from your ass, and that's what you're worried about?" Ryan asked me.

"And I thought I had it bad. At least Ryan wasn't that close to me." Annie reasoned.

I could faintly feel Vlad breathing, he was so close to the seat of my pants.

"Whatever you do, don't touch his taint." Larry pleaded.

"Only because I know you left your retard helmet at home."

"Why are you guys like this?"

I held my own breath as Vlad reached under me. He had to a few times and ease back because Ryan and Annie were wheezing from the notion that Larry wore a helmet meant for special-needs children.

"Stop making me laugh!"

"You said Larry left him helmet at home!"

The top of Vlad's arm almost grazed me. Mike's eyes glittered with amusement.

"You're getting a sick kick out of this, aren't you?" I accused him.

"I wish you could see your face."

"That means yes."

Vlad made it to the spot he needed to, without accidentally touching any delicate areas. Now it was absolutely crucial that I not move a muscle. Or else Vlad would get a mouthful of my ass, or a feel below the belt.

"I'll pay you $20 to bite his ass." Mike offered Vlad.

"If I didn't like my front teeth so much, I'd do it. You know I would."

If I so much as felt his teeth graze my jeans, I'd knock them out.

"Do I need to explain what sexual harassment is?"

"Who explains sexual harassment to you and me?" Vlad sang." It's Petey, the sexual harassment Panda~"

Everyone erupted in laughter. The panda mascot that came to our elementary school as kids, his name was actually Petey. Fuck my life.

"Vlad, I have never hated you more than I do right now."

xxxxxx

South park erupted in to a choir of cheers when the clock hit midnight. This was it, this was the new year. Another 365 days to get through before the next one.

I made it a whole year still breathing. I had it in me to be grateful, even with school Winter vacation coming to an end in the next couple of days.

Mike and I were the only guests left after the party at Vlad's. After putting away the games we'd taken out, it was closer to one in the morning. Vlad's Mom popped her head inside the open door.

"Vince, if your friends are staying the night make sure you get the new air mattress. That old one has a hole in it somewhere, and your father can't find it to patch it up."

There was no conversation that had taken place about sleeping over. Vlad acknowledged what his mom said, promising to get fresh sheets if he set up the air mattress. Mike and I were ready to go, and there was a loud crash outside. Everyone rushed to the windows to see what it was.

"Drunk driver...the moron." Vlad's father muttered at the car wreckage on his street.

A car hit a tree and Vlad's mother was on the phone dialing for an ambulance. Neighbors left their homes to go to the aid of the driver. Many also called for emergency services from their cellphones.

"Vince, set up the air mattress." Vlad's mom instructed him. "I don't want your friends driving out on the streets, tonight."

"Plenty more stupid bastards out there." Vlad's father agreed, grimacing at the scene. "Last thing we need is for them to get hit and killed because these people had no business getting behind the wheel of a car."

Vlad brought the air mattress out and began blowing it up in his room. The mechanic whir of the air pump could be heard going while we stayed by the windows to watch the first-responders arrive. I waited to see what drunk piece of garbage they pulled from the smashed car.

It was my dad.

"Lousy asshole." Vlad's father scolded, none the wiser. "What a waste of skin."

"That's a little harsh..." Mike piped in, half-heartedly, because he recognized the bloody, unconscious mess they were loading up in to the ambulance.

"No. He's right." I said. "That is a waste of skin."

I wanted to text Mom and tell her Dad had officially drank himself to injury. She'd find out on her own, though. They'd find her under his emergency contacts. Currently, I had to accept I was stuck at Vlad's house for the night.

His clothing was far too big for Mike and I. Instead of wearing pajama bottoms that were just going to fall off anyways, we wore Vlad's big t- shirts over our underwear for the sake of covering up. I still felt naked with my legs out and no pants.

"You two act like I've never seen a guy in his underwear. You don't have to cover up. My folks aren't going to come bug us."

"Baby bat's a bit bashful." Laid out on his side of the air mattress, Mike winked. "Excuse him."

"That's cute."

Giving them both the middle finger, I got on my side.

"Funny how this is the first time you actually use the air mattress." Vlad commented when Mike said it wasn't as bad as he thought it would be. "You always just slept up here."

"Your Mom was none the wiser, too."

"What she doesn't know won't hurt her."

Turning off the light, Vlad left the T.V on to watch. The unfamiliar setting kept me awake. The sound of me turning on the air mattress was aggravating, but Mike and Vlad were sympathetic.

"You thinking about your dad?" Mike whispered.

"I don't care enough. I just can't sleep."

Vlad retrieved something from the bathroom in the hallway, trying to help.

"Mom keeps her sleeping pills in the medicine cabinet." He offered one to me. "It's only a couple milligrams of Clonidine. It's mild, she lets me take them when I can't sleep."

Taking someone else's prescription wasn't good, but I trusted him. If he had taken it, it was fine. Wasn't like I was on anything else that would interact with it.

I felt it hit fast, calming me down and making me sleepy-ish. Vlad was back in his bed, and Mike smoothed down my shoulder. Pressed in to his chest, I focused on his smell. It was the only familiar thing there. That, and his touch.

"You're sure you're alright?" He asked. "You don't want to go to the hospital?"

"Dad's a dick." My loose lips slipped. "He can die there for all I care."

When my phone started ringing, I knew who it was without having to check. I rolled away from Mike to grab it off the floor. My mom told me what had happened with Dad.

She wasn't on the way to the hospital. She wanted to be the one to tell me first in case I got a call from the hospital next.

"Whatever happens, don't go to the hospital." Mom told me, wanting to keep me uninvolved. "You don't need to be bothered with it."

I couldn't be any more unbothered. Dad could die and it wouldn't hurt me. I didn't love him. He didn't love me.

In a rare occurrence, Mom told me she loved me. She knew I was at a friend's house sheerly from the fact I wasn't home with her.

"Stay put with your friend until morning, Pete. It isn't safe out there." She told me before saying goodnight.

Xxxxxx