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Bell rung, I wanna run

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The first day back at Bullworth it rained.
It was a day that signified new beginnings after the long and hopeful summer had drawn to a close – but of course, it had to be fucking raining.

Galloway would've called it pathetic fallacy. In a fit of didactic inspiration, brought on by the thrill of being several months sober and madly in love, the man might've waxed poetic about the ways in which the world turns on an axis of emotion and nature follows suit.

Pete just chalked it up to shitty New England weather and his own bad luck.

Summer had been, in a word, enjoyable.
As per usual, Pete didn't go many places or see many people. He third-wheeled Jimmy and Zoe every now and again, but mostly he spent time on his own reading books and watching cartoons.
Thing is, that was enough. He'd been getting used to the creature comforts of home – the little luxuries like hot water for the shower; food he didn't have to choke down; privacy, and the absence of feeling like he could be shoved in a locker at any moment.
(It’s a long way to the top of Maslow’s hierarchy when you’re boarding at Bullworth.)

If he thought too hard about it then sure, fine. Maybe he was a loser. He spent more time on his own than any summer prior, and there wasn't all that much excitement in his life – but it was comfortable and that's all he cared about.

Pete trudged through the gate – a swollen backpack full of belongings that would end up mostly stolen, broken or defaced by the end of the year was slung over his shoulders and had been fucking up his posture since he'd stepped out of the car.

He was a junior now, and was far beyond cursing his parents for enrolling him in the only boarding school in the state that took in students who considered prison to be a viable post-graduation ambition.
He'd accepted his fate after his first year at Bullworth. His parents were unfortunately "busy people" and they'd been to Bullworth too – so as much as he begged to stay living at home, there was no reasoning with them. They told him this was the best thing for him, that it would be character-building and he'd thank them when he was older.

Unfortunately, anyone who had "character" tended to have it swiftly pummeled out of them. If you wanted to dress it up you'd call it hazing but Pete knew it was something more akin to prison law – order created by the juvenile masses. Bullworth really did feel like a prison – the fact you were actually allowed out didn't really factor into the comparison. It's not like Pete would ever have to experience a real prison anyway.
On the outside, it looked important; stoic, a grand institution. But behind the emerald curtain the mold on the shower walls told the story of more of a chicken-run administration.

These were just the cards Pete had been dealt. Another year in limbo. It was fine, he'd be fine – he'd make it anywhere. Maybe. Probably.

Pete wondered if this could be a new start for him, what with his biggest source of misery...elsewhere.
He didn't think about it much. He didn't really let himself think about it.
It wasn't entirely fair, he knew deep down that Gary had been his best friend once – though, Pete had never really had many friends so he wasn't sure if that said much – but things had changed.
Gary was someone else, so he was somewhere different now. Pete never visited because he was still feeling the conflicting cocktail of betrayed and guilty all at once and hell, how do you start that conversation anyway? It made him feel tense just thinking about it, so he decided that maybe this was just meant to be a clean break for him. What were the chances they'd ever see each other again?

A naïve part of him hoped this might change everything. Perhaps without Gary around to humiliate him, with new friends that he was 85% certain still liked him, and his new status as head boy – maybe this would finally be the year he'd forget what the bowl of a toilet looked like up real close.

He'd even grown a little taller over the summer. What if the extra couple of inches made him irresistible to girls?
He doubted it, but it was nice to dream, right?

Pete stayed lost in thought until the moment he remembered that Bullworth was not safe ground – it was a minefield. You had to watch where you were going at all times.

Unfortunately, he remembered too late.
Just before the steps to the dorm he felt a hard thump at the back of his knees which made his legs lose balance under the weight of everything he was carrying and ultimately give way. He toppled over and scraped his teeth on wet pavement. Clearly the breakfast of kings.

Pete pushed himself up and turned, red in the face, to identify his attacker. He saw Casey Harris and Wade Martin practically doubled over pointing and laughing, because nothing brings the different breeds of bonehead together like random and meaningless acts of violence. That was all he needed to know – he wasn’t interested in getting the specifics of which one of them tripped him up.

He bit his tongue to hold back the maniacal laughter of his own he could feel bubbling up in his chest. It wouldn’t have helped his reputation at all to be the weird kid that laughs when you kick him, but only seconds prior he was imagining a life without being picked on and the irony was just too funny.

He only glanced down at the glint of a badge at his chest and then back up to stare at his bullies, dumbfounded and looking like a deer in headlights, never having figured out how exactly he was supposed to react.

“Stupid dork.” Wade sneered and threw a rock, which Pete barely dodged, before getting suddenly bored and turning around to go and join his like-minded friends. That is, to say, mindless. Pete was almost surprised he didn’t drag his knuckles when he walked. He felt Gary probably would’ve thought the same thing, the only difference is he would’ve said it out loud.

Casey shoved past into the dorms, wide shoulders bumping into the much smaller boy and nearly throwing him off balance again.

Pete wondered if the blue shield pinned into his shirt was less of a piece of armor and more of a shiny kick-me sign.

Who was he kidding? His whole existence was a kick-me sign.

He allowed himself a brief sigh before braving the dorms.
Love it or loathe it entirely, some things just refused to change.


 

After everyone had settled in, and had to sit through a brief and less-than-inspiring assembly – where Galloway implored them all to please get through the first week back without any vandalism, violence, theft, drugs, or arson – they all met up with their friends to compare class schedules.

“Sorry Zo’, I ain’t gonna be there to help you out in English.” Jimmy regretfully informed his girlfriend. Zoe hated English class, because reading and writing did not come easy to her. Luckily, Mr. Galloway was pretty understanding and was unlikely to bitch her out for unfinished work, so she at least turned up.

“Aw, shit. I’ve got it first period, too.” She groaned.

“Uh, me too. We must be in the same class, Zoe.” Pete spoke up, and she gave him a warm smile.

Pete liked Zoe, and though they weren’t all that close he supposed they were friends. She was a lot like Jimmy – pretty much the female version of him, except less serious and even more fun.

“Then what the hell do I need your dumbass for, Jim?” Zoe threw her hands up in the air in fake exasperation, affectionately chiding her boyfriend.
“Now I’ve got a study buddy who actually knows his shit.” She winked at Pete, and Jimmy just grinned at her like a lovesick idiot.

“C’mon, Kowalski.” She urged when the bell rang.
“Up and at ‘em.”

Pete was grateful that Zoe was so nice, and obviously took some pity on him. It meant he had someone to sit by in class, at least – and if she got caught in the crossfire of spit-balls, she was likely to turn around and make the perpetrator regret they were ever born – so she made him feel that little bit safer.

That security didn’t last long, because on their way to the stairs they walked past the office and Pete caught a glimpse of something that sent a chill down his spine.

He could swear he saw a familiar figure sat waiting outside Crabblesnitch’s office. He didn’t get a long look – he didn’t even get the chance to do a double take before eager freshmen came barrelling behind him, forcing him to continue his journey down the stairs. He gulped, his mouth suddenly feeling very dry as he was unable to shake what he’d just seen, or what he’d just thought he’d seen.

A lean figure slumped impatiently, head back and arms crossed, sharp knees spread apart. The sort of uncomfortable and ungraceful position that implied high levels of boredom. The sort of boredom Pete recognized all too well.

He couldn’t make out much of the face from such a short glance, but he knew his ex best friend’s face pretty well, and there were details he couldn’t quite place but still managed to set off alarm bells in his head.

The only thing that reassured him was that he couldn’t make out the tell-tale scar. If he’d have seen that he may have actually run for the hills.

Zoe didn’t say anything to him about the fact all the color had drained from his face, because she was too distracted by a conversation she’d suddenly started in the crowded foyer with Lola Lombardi.

It was impossible, right? They wouldn’t take him back after everything, would they?
Pete scrambled for reasons why Gary’s return should be impossible.

Surely, it could have been anyone.
It must have been anyone else.

By the time he got into class, Pete was scrambling to convince himself his eyes were just playing tricks on him. If Gary was back, surely he would’ve heard it through the grape vine. Gossip traveled quick at Bullworth, after all.

Still, it left him uneasy. He felt as if he’d caught some kind of cryptid, all blurry and indeterminable on a shitty polaroid camera. There one second, gone the next. They lived in Lovecraftian state after all. Stranger things had happened.

He tried to forget about it and occupy himself with settling back into the painful predictability of school life. Nothing like the drudgery of classic literature to take your mind off of things.

“Looking good, sir.” Zoe joshed as she followed Pete into the classroom.

Mr. Galloway was looking a lot better. Over the summer he’d managed to pick up a healthy tan, and was starting to look more his age than like someone ten years his senior. The little novelty Hawaiian dancing girl acting as a mascot for his desk suggested he’d been on vacation – most likely with Ms. Phillips. In a rare feat of good-heartedness, probably because they were the two most easy-going teachers, all the kids had been really rooting for them.

“Thank you, Miss Taylor. It’s worth pointing out to the rest of you that flattery will indeed get you everywhere.” He joked to all the students that were then flooding into the room.

Zoe settled in the back with Lola, and Pete picked the desk next to them. Sure, it meant he had to strain his eyes a little bit to make out what was written on the chalkboard, but it meant he didn’t have to watch his back, which was always a plus.

Galloway’s overenthusiastic scribbling on the board left a coating of chalk fallout on his hands, and the heavy box of books he dropped on his desk left a cloud and a loud thump that brought all eyes to the front.

“That’s right ladies and gentlemen! I do hope you’re all familiar with Shakespeare already.” The class collectively groaned as they read the board, whilst the man up-front looked positively ecstatic. Pete wasn’t sure if it was because he was genuinely passionate about teaching this, or if it was because he was a happy executioner – a sadist taking pleasure in destroying kids’ will to live.

Either way, they were starting the year on Romeo & Juliet. Great.

“Oh, boo yourselves. You’re high-school kids, you’re supposed to be all about drama and romance!” Galloway preached to them all of the wonderful things about the classic tragedy, about how it's a text that everyone should get to know in their lifetime.

Pete couldn’t see the appeal of poring over pages and pages of Ye Olde English just to get to the end where the star-crossed lovers just die anyway. To him, it seemed pretty bleak, but Galloway was a hopeless romantic even at the worst of times.

“Sir, I love drama and romance, but I worry that reading this is gonna take the fun out of all that. This just might ruin my life.” Lola piped up, comic relief to the class. Whether they were laughing with her or at her, Pete was unsure, since he’d seen a lot of things written about her on the doors of the toilet stalls that seemed too oddly specific and far too vulgar to not have at least some truth to them (no-one at Bullworth was creative enough for that) but he admired that she was able to find humor in her reputation anyway.

“Well, I’m sorry to hear that Miss Lombardi, but unfortunately if that’s the case then it’s my job to ruin your life – I’m just sticking to the syllabus.”

While the class stalled for time and pleaded for literally any other topic, Pete allowed himself to drift into thought. Even with all the explanations he could come up with, he couldn’t shake the feeling he got when he saw that familiar figure earlier. What would he do if it was Gary? What would Gary do to him? Even though it was for the greater good, he had betrayed his friend, and even if Gary deserved it for being an asshole, he wouldn’t see it that way. Pete knew only two things for sure; the first, that Gary would be pissed at him, and the second, that he had Hell to pay.

Maybe he could just go into hiding. He felt he was small and invisible enough that that might work, right?

“Mr. Kowalski, I never like to interrupt someone so deep in thought but I have been trying to speak to you.” The sound of his own name being addressed made Pete nearly jump out of his skin. Fortunately, it was only Mr. Galloway.

“He was probably thinking about his boyfriend!” Jeered Kirby Olsen, earning himself a high-five from fellow jock Casey, one of Pete’s assailants from earlier that morning.
So much for invisibility.

"Can we please stop projecting our own crises onto our classmates, Mr. Olsen?" Galloway scolded. He definitely had a way with words, and Pete found himself envious of the brevity of his wit. Not that it would help his case all that much if he started smart-mouthing everyone that picked on him.

Kirby mouthed something along the lines of “what the fuck does that mean?” to his similarly confused friends, only vaguely aware that he was supposed to be insulted.

Pete cleared his throat, ever anxious about being the center of attention.
“I uh- I’m sorry, sir, can you repeat the question?”

“Well, I was going to ask if you wanted to read the part of Romeo for the class-” Galloway gestured to the book on Pete’s desk. When the hell did that get there? He must have been spaced out for some time.
“-But since Mr. Olsen here is so eager to contribute, I think he can do the honors.”

Pete was certain he dodged a bullet there. Especially since Trent Northwick was reading the part of Juliet.

“This is why Galloway’s the best.” Lola muttered to Zoe, who nodded in agreement, the two of them joking among themselves. As much of a third-wheel friend as he so commonly felt, Pete was glad of people that didn’t want to kick his ass merely for existing.

He absentmindedly picked away at the chipped wood on his desk while he watched the entertainment that was Trent, the theater enthusiast, trying desperately to perform with a partner who was getting more and more flushed with embarrassment by the minute.

“If they do see thee they will murder thee!” Trent read with dramatic flourish, arms gesturing wildly.

“Alas there lies more peril in the..thine eye than twenty of their swords look thou but sweet and I am proof against their emm...nuh...en-mi-ty?” Kirby responded in slow, run-on sentences in the most monotone voice he could muster, constantly unsure of pronunciations and all the while looking like he hoped everyone in the room would just drop dead. Trent’s attempts to engage him failed as he refused to look the other boy in the eye.

Pete was enjoying this particular pantomime, when the shrill voice of Mrs. Danvers came over the PA.

“Can Peter Kowalski please report to the principal’s office? Thank you.”

Some of the class oooh’d at him, as if he were in trouble, and he felt like turning around and saying “I’m head-boy, you idiots!”  but thought better of it. Instead he left the class wordlessly, taking his bag since he wasn’t sure what Dr. Crabblesnitch wanted with him or how long it would take.

He hoped he wouldn’t have to give a potential new student a tour or anything – seeing clueless parents reacting shocked and appalled to the realities of what lay beyond the front gate tended to remind him how dire his situation really was. Otherwise he could just pretend this was normal; everyone lives like this, of course!

When he got to the office, the figure was no longer waiting outside, which might have lured him into a sense of security if it wasn’t for the sternness that darkened the principal’s face.
Whatever was in store for him he certainly wasn’t going to enjoy.

“Ahh, Percy, just the young man I was waiting for.” Crabblesnitch jolted out of thought and abruptly changed expression to something much more reassuring when Pete entered the room, but it came across as a little too forced.

“...It’s Peter. Pete.”

“Oh. Of course, I knew that. My mind was on another student – my apologies.” The man smiled the kind of shallow smile you get from the people at the coffee place, even though you’re certain they couldn’t give a shit about you or your name which they only ask so they can misspell it on your cup as per procedure. It only made Pete uncomfortable. They both knew full well there wasn’t even anyone at Bullworth called Percy.

“What did you need me for, sir?” For the love of God stop with the formalities and ruin my day already. Get it over with.

“Here at Bullworth, we have values, you see -”

Crabblesnitch had a tendency to turn every possible situation into an opportunity for lecture.

“-Of course, hard-work and perseverance – as I’m sure you’ve noticed in yourself and your peers – but also fairness; mercy…forgiveness.”

Oh no.

“So, I’m a firm believer in second chances; of course, only for those who deserve it-”

Or people who’s grandparents can fund a new gym.

“-So I’m exercising that value and setting an example by allowing Gary Smith to continue his studies here.”

Welp. There it is.

Pete didn’t often faint but his legs felt particularly jelly-like in that moment. He could feel his stomach turning over, like the feeling he’d get as a kid when he went too high on the swing-set. He was losing it on the inside, but remained as composed on the outside as someone possibly could when you’d just handed them a death sentence.

“Sir,” he interrupted “What’s this got to do with me?”

“Gary is a...” Crabblesnitch thought hard to find a word to describe him. Pete had that problem sometimes too.
“...Highly intelligent but dynamic young man-”

Dynamic. Synonym for ‘so far off the rails he can’t even see them anymore.’

“-and for his own well-being, I thought he ought to have someone looking out for him. A buddy, if you like.”

No. I don’t like. Nothing about this do I like.

“But sir, why me? Gary hates me! Can’t you get someone else to do it?” Pete blurted out, unable to hide the panic that was welling up inside him.

“Gary...” He sighed. Time for the brutal honesty.
“Gary seems to hate everyone. I picked you because of all the students at Bullworth, you’re the least likely to be antagonized. You’re the only student with a clean record, and I don’t need any more fighting this year.”

There’s an irony in being picked out for being zen when you’ve been on edge since kindergarten.

“Remember, Peter, this is all in the spirit of forgiveness. I’m giving this young man a second chance, I urge you to do the same.” Crabblesnitch concluded. No negotiations, no more questions. This is your life, to do with as you’re told.

He was feeling a lot less teacher’s pet and a lot more farmer’s cattle.

But if he was to take it, he’d have to take it like a man.
Else he wouldn’t hear the end of it.


 

Pete didn’t tell Zoe about it when he returned to class. She was too wrapped up in chatting with Lola – and besides, it was a lot to explain. She probably wouldn’t give any helpful advice anyway, since her solutions to everything always involved destruction. Jimmy would know what to do, but Jimmy was all the way in shop class and Pete didn’t have the time to go and see him to figure this shit out – he was supposed to meet Gary before second period started.

So, like a noble warrior heading straight into battle without even so much as a helmet, that’s what he did.

He’d gotten to the meeting place early. Not that he was in any way eager to meet his doom, just that he couldn’t control the speed at which his legs moved, and when he was anxious they seemed to work overtime.

He squinted to make out the clock at the far end of the corridor, it’s hands moving torturously slow. He felt as if he could hear them scraping by, rusty and screeching across the face, seconds slowed down to lifetimes, amplified by the acoustics of his skull. The amazing psychological effects of fear, brought to you by a Lifetime Of Anxiety™.

Five minutes of staring down the corridor went by, when someone shoved from behind to get to the water fountain.

It didn’t even take him a second to recognize who it was. That shove of shoulders against his that he’d become all too familiar with. That bouncy, confident step and that haircut like something straight out of Hitler youth. The only way he’d forget who these features belonged to would be if he was lucky enough to suffer a concussion and end up with retrograde amnesia.

He went rigid, paralyzed with fear and eyes practically bulging out of his head as he watched Gary Smith, in all his terror-inducing glory, taking a sip of water like it was no big fucking deal.

His heart kicked against his rib-cage like a pissed off rabbit when the other boy looked up and cut across his gaze with piercing green eyes of his own. He smiled, and it was all teeth; a predatory display, a warning saying I’ll tear you to pieces if you cross me.

But Pete had already betrayed him once.

“No need to stare, femme-boy. They did tell you I was coming, didn’t they?”

Gary didn’t even give him time to think of a response before carrying on. It’s not much in the way of banter when the quips are one-sided, but Gary was a one-man comedy act for an audience of only himself.

“What, don’t you and Crabblesnitch have pillow talk? Or does he just blow his load and go?”

He was insulting, vulgar, demeaning – but not surprising in the least.

“Shut up Gary.” Pete mumbled, on the off-chance Gary wouldn’t hone in on the sound like a dog to a snap in the woods, so that he might have the second chance to bite his tongue and not say anything at all.
No such luck – the boy was constantly alert. He may as well have been born a bloodhound. Pete had always wondered if he was able to smell fear, too.

Shut up Gary.” He mimicked, the same campy, girly voice he used for most impressions.
“New year, same old loser.” He shook his head in mock disappointment.

“If I had it my way, I wouldn’t even be talking to you right now.” Pete raised his voice a little this time, feeling frustrated.
“In fact, if I had it my way, you wouldn’t even be here.”

“If I had it my way I wouldn’t be under 24/7 surveillance having to report back to someone every time I take a dump but hey, we don’t all get to live the dream.” Gary shrugged.

“That was your fault.”

“And now I’m a living legend, so I’d say it was worth it.” He nodded towards Mandy Wiles and Christy Martin who were stood by the lockers staring at him and exchanging cupped whispers.

“No, they’re just creeped out by you. Do you actually think people respect you for that shit you pulled?” Pete was growing exasperated, he didn’t understand how someone could be so arrogant.

“Tell me, what exactly do you know about getting respect?” Gary went to prod him in the chest, and he was ashamed by how readily he flinched. Still, he’d managed to get this far without wetting himself or backing down. In for a penny, in for a pound.

“Whatever.” He muttered.
“Everyone hates you now, Gary. I hate you.”

Hearing the words come out of his own mouth made Pete feel a lot of things. Guilt, fear, but mostly relief. To get that off his chest was cathartic, and you rarely get the chance to be that honest with someone. Least of all someone like Gary.

To Pete’s disappointment, though, since he realized he actually wanted to at least needle into the boy’s indomitable resolve a little bit, Gary wasn’t fazed in the slightest.

“Well, friend, it’s your lucky day! You can stop writing in your diary about unrequited feelings, you can ring your mom and tell her you’ve finally found someone who feels the same way about you – because I assure you, I hate you too.” Gary smiled, batting eyelashes. Pete especially hated his stupid face. Crabblesnitch was wrong, it was perfectly possibly for Gary to antagonize Pete – just that Pete couldn’t for the life of him antagonize Gary, and that’s what pissed him off most.
“Now come on, I’ve gotta go take a leak before chemistry. God, I hope Dr. Watts is still having acid flashbacks.”

 

Chapter Text

Before Gary had completely lost it, he and Pete were regular lab partners. Experiments usually went off without a hitch, because despite a complete lack of interest in chemistry in either of them they could sure as hell read instructions out of a textbook, which seemed to put them near the top of the class without any understanding of the science behind it – but that's just what it was like at Bullworth, you can play ball with the best of them so long as you've got an arm to throw.

Gary being Gary, he'd read a few things about making napalm with frozen OJ and gasoline that he'd found fascinating and would tell Pete all about until he was sick of hearing it. Perhaps that should've been a red flag. But no, Gary didn't have any sincere plans for chemistry – he felt it was brimming with potential but to him, just another class. Pete was just happy if they passed.

Of course, they were friends back then. Like, let's-eat-pizza-and-play-videogames friends, capable-of-holding-a-conversation friends. Gary was an asshole, but Pete could take it. Hell, he could dish it too. There was never any vitriol behind it, they just got on, because neither of them had anyone else.

So they goofed around sometimes. They'd flick blue indicator at each other, keep tallies every time Dr. Watts mentioned the devil. It was just stupid fun. They got their work done for the most part, even when Gary was finding it hard to focus, and even when he was feeling a little impulsive nobody ever got hurt.

But the good times can't last forever.

It was around the time Gary got... Weird. When he got mean, and his jokes went too far and got too personal. When he got more forceful and aggressive, when he started getting paranoid. Around then was the time his impulses took a turn for the more dangerous, too.

Pete was used to trying to reign him in, tell him no. He was the responsible one, after all, and Gary had always been a little impulsive (ADHD be damned) but he knew something was wrong when he started feeling like he was the only thing between Gary and the class going up in flames.

It used to be “do you dare me to drink the ethanol?” or “I wonder what happens if I mix this” but Pete could tell he was joking, and he’d tell him no and that would be that. Except it stopped being a joke. It was like he was being stupid on purpose, and Pete couldn’t tell if he was more of a threat to himself or everyone else.

That was around the time Pete started getting scared of his best friend.

But they weren’t best friends anymore, and Pete was terrified, in a position where he had no choice but to be Gary’s lab partner, yet again.

He watched as Gary held his hand out over the Bunsen burner for as long as he could without flinching. He needn’t have worried, since Gary posed no threat to anyone, not even really himself, but it was difficult to be anything but hyper-vigilant.

“Stop that.” He hissed, eyes darting around.

“Stop what?” Gary chuckled, hand not moving away from the flame.

“That’s dangerous.”

“I think you’re overreacting.”

“No I’m not. You-you’ll burn yourself! Besides-” he pleaded “- people are staring.”

They weren’t. Not really. Of course, Gary’s novelty still hadn’t worn off and people were still whispering about him from far corners of the room, and avoiding him like the plague, but it’s not like they were watching his every move. They had other things to be thinking about, lucky bastards.

“Awww, you care about me Petey? That’s sweet.” Gary mocked.

“I don’t care about you-”

“No. I know you don’t.” Gary cut him off, shoving him out of the way so he could finish the experiment.

Pete didn’t know what to say to that. He just shuffled on his feet, wondering how long it would be before Crabblesnitch considered Gary to have ‘settled in’ and to be his own responsibility. He wondered if he’d even make it that long without getting them both into trouble.

“And so what? Let them stare.”

Pete looked around again and this time caught the eye of Gord Vendome. The prep had been caught up in his own drama, whining about having to wear safety goggles that apparently didn’t ‘go with his eyes’ - but now he was watching. Great, Pete thought. Fucking A. Gord knew everything about everyone (Big Brother is always watching) and once he got his hands on some gossip he’d pass it on to anyone who’d listen. Problem was, Gord was that kid in elementary school that always switched it up on purpose whenever you played Chinese whispers. Anything that came out of his mouth rarely resembled the truth.

That’s how Jimmy was going to find out Gary was back. Jimmy was going to think Pete was choosing to hang around with him, and Pete wasn’t going to have time to explain. Jimmy was going to be pissed.

Pete groaned, hands over his face hoping he could just sink into the ground right then and there. He’d adjusted to reality, he’d accepted the fact that Junior year wasn’t going to greet him with open arms, but this was some kind of sick cosmic joke.

“Can you stop being all ‘woe is me’? You’re so fucking annoying.”

Pete didn’t validate that with a response. It wasn’t even lunch yet and he was already exhausted.

“I said you’re annoying.” Gary started poking him, unyielding to Pete’s every flinch and plea to stop, unfamiliar with the concept of personal space. (Of course, you touch Gary Smith without permission and you get your fingers bent back. It’s a ridiculous double standard.)

“You’re so annoying Petey-”

“I heard you the first time!” Pete snapped, loud enough that the whole class heard it and turned their heads to him. Loud enough that the sudden noise triggered something in Dr. Watts, causing the man to shakily grip the desk and mutter something incoherent to himself. There was definitely the word ‘demon’ in there somewhere.

Pete hoped the ground would open up and swallow him up.

He turned, red in the face to see Gary who was looking smug and vindicated, a wry smile across his face.

Gary just shook his head, like the other boy’s humiliation was unbelievably funny, and carved a mark into the edge of the table – to go along with the other 26.


 

It was 12:59 in the afternoon when Jimmy inevitably barrelled into his nemesis, sending him to the ground, straddling him and holding him in place right in the middle of the corridor. It was fair enough, though – to Jimmy, there was no place too open or too public for a fight, it was just hard-wired into him.

Target spotted. Take down on sight.

Two blows to the face. An attempt to off-set his nose, make him bleed, knock him out, beat him to a pulp, anything at all so long as he got what was coming to him. Gary felt the blunt force as Jimmy’s fists flew at him in a thoughtless rage, he saw the eyebrows of the face looming over him knitted towards each other in a primal concentration. Jimmy’s face was right there and open, and Gary could have socked him one too, but he didn’t. He just struggled under the weight and expended all his pent-up energy in throwing the far sturdier boy off him, but he wasn’t strong enough and only ended up with his head forced down and to the side into the cold metal door of an adjacent locker.

Finally listening to Pete’s pleas to stop, and ignoring the crowd of bad influences that had surrounded them who were egging him on, Jimmy let go and got off, allowing Gary to get up, scowling as he wiped his nose and saw blood.

After getting his breath back, he stormed off out of the main entrance without so much as a wisecrack. Pete might have felt sorry for the confused 8 th grader that got carelessly barged out of the way, but he was too occupied with Jimmy’s accusatory glare.

“What the hell, Pete? What are you defending that psycho for?”

“I’m not.” He hissed.
“But just because he got himself expelled doesn’t mean you have to too. If you beat the crap out of him, you’ll get in trouble, Jimmy.”

“I don’t care. He deserves it.”

The crowd started to disperse then, apart from Zoe and a couple of nosy stragglers, clear they weren’t going to get any more of a show.

“Anyway, what the fuck are you doing going ‘round with him? Gord told me you were all buddy with that nut-job in chemistry class just now.”

Fucking Gord.

“I’m not, it’s just that Crabblesnitch is making me babysit him...”

The redhead furrowed his brow in confusion, but Pete didn’t really have time to explain.

“Listen, I’ve gotta go and make sure he’s not doing anything stupid. I’m sorry, Jimmy, we’ll talk about it later.”

With that, Pete left his friend to shake off the nerves of the fight – if you could even call it that – and calm down. He knew it must have been hard on Jimmy to see the guy that practically tried to kill him walking around in the flesh, but he was having a hell of a morning himself stuck in the middle of it all.

He was pleasantly surprised to find that Gary hadn’t gotten far. He was half expecting him to have burnt all the crops and poisoned the water supply in the time he was left unsupervised, but instead of any of that he was just sat on the steps holding his nose back and trying to stop the blood flow.

Except there was blood dribbling down his chin already. Honestly, he was a pretty pathetic sight.

“That fucking homunculus. If I wasn’t on probation I would’ve popped his eyeballs.”

Was he really that worried about getting in trouble? For as long as Pete had known him, he’d never been one to follow the rules. He would at least have expected him to get a few punches in and claim it was self-defense. Bend but don’t break.

“I mean, it’s not exactly like he’d be happy to see you.”

Gary looked up at him with narrow eyes, possibly he didn’t expect him to respond.

“It didn’t mean he had to assault me.”

Un-fucking-believable.

“Do you not remember the time you tried to kill him? Or was that someone else I saw up on the roof?” Pete said with gritted teeth. He felt like maybe he shouldn’t be poking the bear, but he was feeling ballsy and the day had been eventful and he was in a mood.

“What, you seriously think I deserved everything he did?”

Pete couldn’t deal with this victim-complex. Whether he really thought he’d done nothing wrong, or whether he was in complete denial, Gary was being ridiculous.

“Obviously!” He yelled.

All Gary said was “Et tu, Brutus” and Pete knew he was done trying to reason with him. Whatever weird cryptic shit he was trying to say, Pete didn’t want to know. If he got himself in trouble? That was his problem. It’s hardly like the principal could suspend him too for not preventing it.

The last thing Pete saw before he turned around and started making his way to the cafeteria – where his friends were – was Gary kicking at the vending machine to get a soda out. He didn’t understand why, since he knew the boy was loaded and could more than afford a dollar, but he didn’t care to understand why Gary did anything.

What he didn’t see, when he left, was Gary kicking even after a can had rolled out, and cursing under his breath as he did.


 

“I don’t get why that creep is even allowed back here.” Jimmy muttered in between wolfing down his lunch. He seemed to stress eat, which Pete envied since he was suffering from a distinct lack of appetite.

“Burton’s back too, can you fucking believe that?” Zoe raged, while Lola nodded in affirmation. The school was a joke.

“It’s probably because his family are like, the second richest family in Bullworth and they paid him back in.” Pete sighed.
“That’s probably why Burton’s back too. The school’s broke and they can’t find anyone else that wants to work here.”

“You don’t have much school spirit there, head-boy.” Lola joked. She had a point, but everyone knew the place was a shithole, and their mascot was a depressive, so that in itself spoke volumes.

Gord was sat with them too, since these days he and Lola were pretty inseparable, and he’d made good friends with Zoe too. Honestly, though, Pete had barely noticed him until the spluttering noise he made as he choked on his flask of chai tea.

“Second richest family in Bullworth?” He sounded anguished.

“Uh, yeah. His grandpa owns the bank – I think they live up in the Vale?”

“But I… that means...” The prep looked like someone had just told him that he only had a few months to live.
“He's richer than me!" He whined, falling into Lola, who had to cradle his head. The boy was practically inconsolable, rocking gently.

“Right...” Pete continued. No time for Gord’s drama, though Gord himself would find it hard to believe that the world didn’t revolve around him.
“So what am I supposed to do, guys?”

“Well, my answer would be we kill him...” Jimmy proposed, his girlfriend grinning like a lovesick idiot. Pete didn’t like to think about what got those two off.

“We can’t do that, Jimmy.”

“Alright, fine.” He sighed.
“I guess just… keep doing like you’re told and when that’s done, stay the fuck away from him.”

“Yeah, that’s what I’m doin’ with Burton. I’m skipping gym class-” Zoe suggested.
“-although… I skip most’a my classes anyway...”

“And then what? I just pray he gets himself in trouble before anyone else?” Pete asked.

“Pretty much. You know we’ll all be keepin’ an eye on him, Pete.” Jimmy reassured.
“But he better realize that if he gets anywhere near me, I’m kicking his ass.”

“Don’t worry, I think he gets that, Jim’”

And that’s where their conversation about Gary ended. It was fair enough, the only things Jimmy really had to say about him were “I hope that psycho chokes” and they didn’t have any advice for him beyond that, but as Pete sat there spacing out while the people he could technically call his friends gossiped about other things, he couldn’t help but feel a little sorry for Gary.

Maybe it was what Crabblesnitch said about forgiveness. Maybe it was the fact he was sat at a table of five and knew that Gary had no-one. Maybe it was the fact that Gary didn’t fight back when he could have, or because he reminded Pete of the old times. Maybe it was just because Pete was an idiot that empathized far too much with someone who probably didn’t know the meaning of the word, but he ended up excusing himself without explanation and looking for the person he swore he’d rather avoid.

He finds him sat by the fountain, with nothing but a cigarette and a soda for company.
He had the distinct feeling that Gary wasn’t in the mood to talk, but he sat down next to him anyway.

Neither of them say anything for a while, Pete wondering why he was even there, until he realized the fact that Gary probably hadn’t had anything for lunch, and decided to break the silence. It’s not like he cared, it’s just that it’s the way he’d been raised. His Dad was Jewish, and it was his Grandma’s influence to always use food as something of a peace-making tactic.

“Do you want some?” He asked, unwrapping his half-eaten (picked at) sandwich. Possibly not the most dignified olive branch, but it’s the thought that counts.

Gary finally looked at him, turning his nose up at the offer.
“If I wanted something your mouth touched, I’d cut out the middle-man and go kiss Crabblesnitch’s ass myself.”

Pete snorted, and once again there was silence as he tried to think up a response.

“I can’t be doing a great job of ass-kissing, or I wouldn’t be here right now.”

“Yeah, this place doesn’t do you any favors.”

The silence got a little more comfortable, Pete twiddling his thumbs and Gary taking drags on his cigarette. Really, it was pretty calm.

“...Is that why you did it?”

Pete could be forgiven for thinking that Gary’s actions had no rhyme or reason to them. Really, that had been the assumption his whole life. Act first, think later – but he was starting to think perhaps there was more to it than that.

“What the fuck are you talking about now?”

He had to pick his words carefully, realizing he’d put his foot in it by bringing up a sensitive topic. Perhaps he shouldn’t have been so hasty to assume that Gary Smith of all people would want to open up.

“That whole… taking over the school thing. Was that like, a revenge thing?”

Gary sighed, for the first time Pete had known him he looked far too tired to be bristling with irritation.
“What are you, my therapist now?”

“I guess I just want to understand your motive.” Pete was still feeling the frustration he felt at the time, when he couldn’t for the life of him figure out what was going on in his friend’s head.

It’s hard when you used to think you could read someone like a book but it turns out they’re more like one of those password journals.

“Don’t think too hard about it or you might pop an artery in that gifted little brain of yours.”

That was a very Gary way of saying “you’ll never understand” and though Pete wanted to try him on that, he knew when to cut his losses.

Another couple of minutes of surprisingly serene quiet went by, and Pete listened to the flow of the water while he stared straight forward at nothing in particular, trying to avoid any accidental eye contact with the other boy. In the corner of his line of vision, he could just see the movement of Gary stubbing out his cigarette on the damp sole of his boot. In some ways, he could be predictable, because he’d carried that little habit since the end of freshman year when he picked up smoking as something to do with his hands, and started wearing combat boots just because they looked cool. Not that he’d ever say something as juvenile as that in words, but he’d always been concerned with aesthetic – always militarily precise in the way he arranged his things on his desk. Everything had to look just right.

Not that he let that get in the way of functionality.
You know the way that most people lace up boots – in the criss-cross – is the same way the German soldiers did in WW2?” was Gary’s fun fact of the day. Pete honestly wasn’t all that interested in the footwear of Nazis, but Gary had a habit of delivering all information with an immense sense of importance.

I mean… I can’t imagine there’s many other ways of doing it so, I’m not really surprised.” He argued.

That’s where you’re wrong.” Gary said as he put his foot up on the bench to carefully re-lace them.
“The Germans – their uniforms were impractical, it was entirely based on fashion, but the
British soldiers did it like this-” He gestured to his boot.
“-and that’s because this way, it’s easier to cut through if you ended up with trench-foot.”

Yeah, I don’t think you’re in much danger of getting trench-foot.”

Hey, you never know at Bullworth.”

Militarily precise, militarily efficient, historically obsessed. Pete was reminded of what Gary had said to him earlier. “Et tu, Brutus” - it was a ridiculously dramatic, cryptic thing to say and only Gary would be so pretentious to reference the Ides of March in terms of his betrayal, but it was so ridiculous that Pete didn’t know whether to take it as a joke or not. Maybe that was the point, maybe Gary just didn’t want to admit he felt stabbed in the back.

“...Did it upset you? That I told Jimmy about your plans?”

“I could push you into this fountain right now if I wanted to.”

Pete flinched at being shoved lightly in the shoulder, but it was an empty threat. If he was really going to do it, he wouldn’t have given fair warning.

Gary scoffed at Pete’s reaction before looking away.

“Don’t ask stupid questions, Petey.”

It wasn’t an answer, but Pete hadn’t really expected an answer. He possibly wasn’t even ready for an answer, so he let it go.

Gary was still looking a sorry sight from his encounter with Jimmy earlier on. He still had some dried blood smeared across his face from where he’d obviously tried to wipe it off with the sleeve of his sweater, and Pete was just now noticing the yellowish-purple tinge of a bruise that had creeped onto his cheekbone. His lip looked split too, and Pete was wondering if that was the sort of thing that might require stitches.

“Shouldn’t you be going to the nurse for… that?” He suggested, helpfully gesturing towards the general area of Gary’s face.

“My god, thank you captain obvious for your genius contribution.” Gary fruitlessly tried wiping at his face again.
“Not right now. I’ve got to go and see her later anyway, and I’m in no rush to get there any earlier than necessary. If I see her twice in one day, the cranky old bitch might start thinking I’m sweet on her.”

Pete furrowed his brow.
“Why do you have to see her?”

Gary sighed and scrunched his eyes shut, pinching at the bridge of his nose like merely having this conversation was starting to give him a headache. Perhaps the effect of the nicotine was wearing off, and he was coming out of the passive state he’d been knocked into earlier on.

“Why must you keep asking so many fucking questions?” He grumbled. Gary seemed to forget sometimes that people need things explained to them. He wasn’t patient. Pete imagined he was born, not crying, but probably scowling, and urging the midwife Come on, keep up, we haven’t got all day.”

Pete just kept staring at him, confused.
“Meds, Petey. She makes sure I take them, since, you know, I’m no good at doing what I’m told.”

“Oh.” It clicked.
“That’s… good? I mean, it’s gotta suck cos’ I know you hate being micromanaged but-”

“- it was my idea.”

That threw Pete off, it wasn’t what he expected from Gary. It was so… responsible. Like he knew what one of his problems was, and he wanted to do better, but he knew that he couldn’t trust himself so he’d actually looked for another way to solve it. He used to be so adamant about not needing help but for the first time it was as if he’d realised that he did.
He didn’t even seem that pissed off about it; there was acceptance in his words, not defeat.

“It was the obvious solution, but those morons had to have me spell it out for them. It’s unfair that they get paid and I don’t, considering I had to do their job for them. Fuckers may have tried to fry me but at least I’ve still got two brain cells to rub together.”

But even with the change, he was still unmistakably Gary.

Pete felt that should've been a disappointment, but mostly it was a relief. The more he thought about it, the more Gary was starting to seem like himself. He tried to push it down, but there was a strange feeling of hope welling inside him. A rational part of his brain told him there's no reason he should feel that way about someone like Gary - why should he care? Even if he was less of an asshole, he was still an asshole, and Pete felt like he should listen to his friends; his friends that never called him names or pushed him around or bugged him every minute of the day. Just because you were best friends with someone in freshman year because nobody else would hang out with either of you, doesn't mean you have to stay friends with them, right?

But another part of his brain, the part that stops you from throwing away old knick-knacks because of their sentimental value, the stupid nonsense part of the brain that decides your favorite movie is a terrible sci-fi with bad acting and worse special effects, for no other reason than you just like it. That part of his brain was telling him he'd missed this, that if things could be the way they were in freshman year, it might be fun. It might make him happy.

That's a difficult part of your brain to ignore.

“So you think this year’s gonna be different?” He asked, and Gary shrugged. A question that didn't seem to bother him all that much.

“We’ll have to wait and see.”

Chapter Text

It's said that distance makes the heart grow fonder, but Pete wasn't sure how far he agreed.
Distance made it so that all summer he could stew in hate at the very thought of Gary, never able to recall the good - just the bad and the ugly - and that sure as shit didn't leave him particularly fond of the guy.

He'd always been glass-half-empty, always more adept about picking out shitty memories than happy ones.
(Like how his only two memories from his first - and last - ever trip to Disneyland were the panic attack he suffered on space mountain, followed thereafter by the subsequent vomiting on Cinderella's glass slippers.)

So it was no surprise, really, that out of two entire years-worth of memories Pete could choose from, for that one summer, all he could bring himself to remember about Gary was what a jerk he'd been.

It was unfair because, like a trial where the accused isn't even there to defend themselves, the evidence was damning - Gary was an asshole, guilty as charged.

Of course, it's a lot more difficult to write someone off when they're constantly reminding you how it feels to laugh so hard there's tears in your eyes, or when they're reminding you exactly why you got on so well in the first place.

At that point, it's damn near impossible to hate someone.


 

Pete had to pretend it didn't hurt at least a little when his new friends didn't invite him to sit with them at lunch, but truth be told, it didn't hurt all that much.

They weren't really his friends, just the least intimidating people he could find to hover around on the first day when everyone was new and nervous - and on first impressions he could already tell he didn't have a lot in common with any of them.

Sure, they seemed to have the same goals as he did (head down, study hard, get good grades and get out), and sure, he was bookish and liked a good videogame every now and then - but he hadn't read a comic book since he was a little kid, and G&G didn't seem any good for anything but wasting money - and those seemed to be the only things they ever talked about. He felt out of place, and he'd always been one to keep to himself anyway.

Some of them were nice, like that Cornelius kid, but some of them came across as arrogant and, well, some of them were just downright weird. Unfortunately, they seemed to come as a package deal.

He'd heard that Bullworth Academy was a bit like that.

So when he walked into the cafeteria to see them huddled around a table with no room for him to sit, and when they blanked him as he walked by, he didn't cry salty tears and his heart didn't break into a million pieces, he just cut his losses. Back to square one, he supposed.

He collected his tray from the terrifying woman at the counter and went to find a table by himself. If he didn't need sustenance to live, his anxiety might have gotten the best of him. He just avoided eye contact... or breathing through his nose... or asking any questions about the food... or even really thinking about it. Today's special: Something presumably edible. If you're lucky, it might still be warm. If you're unlucky, it might still be living.

He dug around with his fork for a little while, and was just about to give up and go over his introduction chemistry notes when he heard the clatter of another metal tray being dropped in front of him.

He looked up to see another boy in his grade, sitting down across the table from him. Pete thought he'd seen him with the rich kids, but he wasn't sure and he couldn't place a name. He wasn't as tall as some of the boys he'd seen, though was by no means as short as Pete. He had a mop of brown hair and a boyish grin, offset by a scar through his right eyebrow; Pete wasn't sure if that was perhaps some kind of fashion thing gone wrong. The boy didn't introduce himself.

"Ahh, I see you went for the shit sandwich and the cup of shit. Bold choice." He spoke as if they'd known each other for years. It was by far a more interesting first impression than all the others he'd gotten in the last few days, which usually began with some variation of "Um, hi, my name's -" but still, Pete didn't know what to make of it.

"You mean there's a choice?" He hissed, wide-eyed like he was being let in on some forbidden knowledge.
"I just take whatever she gives me..."

"Word of advice - B.Y.O lunch."

Right, he was joking, of course. The first time someone chose to come and speak to him, he'd already missed the tone. Not a great start, but Pete jumped at the idea of anything more edible than what he'd been presented with.
He looked down pitifully at the slop in front of him and subtly nudged the tray away, no longer hungry.

"I would take a packed lunch, but I board here. It's just easier this way." Pete explained, considering that perhaps the extra effort might be worth it in the long-run. There was no way he was going to grow into an Adonis without sufficient nutrients.

(Or, if he followed after his father, a 5'8" sweater-vested librarian. Either way he needed good health if he wanted to live to see the day.)

"You board?" The boy raised an eyebrow incredulously. Pete felt a little bit like he was under scrutiny.
"Why haven't I seen you around the dorms?"

He shrugged meekly.
"I keep to myself."

The boy snorted appreciatively.
"Yeah, as it happens, me too. Usually." He remarked, glancing back at the table of rich kids. Pete felt there was a story there, but he knew he shouldn't pry.
"Should we start a misanthrope's anonymous?"

"We could, but none of the members would ever show up." Pete humoured him, and he cracked a small smile in response.

"The first rule of misanthrope club? Don't talk. To anyone."

"Hey, I'd be fine. I've been doing that since first grade." Pete joked self-deprecatingly.

"I hate to break it to you, kid, but you're not exactly doing a grade A job of it right now."

"Aw no, my mom's gonna be so disappointed." Pete couldn't help but grin.

They shared some dry back-and-forth for a while, and Pete started to feel more comfortable in his own skin. It was refreshing to be able to make a joke and have someone actually look him in the eye and smile. He still didn't know this boy's name, but he felt like they were getting on like a house on fire.

It didn't last as long as he might have liked though, because when his new, friendly acquaintance had wolfed down some and decided he'd had his fill of Bullworth's fine cuisine, he got up to go his own way.
"See you around, loner." He said as he picked up his bag by the straps, before adding the addendum: "If you haven't gone into hiding, that is," and left.

Pete might have followed him if he hadn't made it clear  that he probably wasn't intending for him to. Pete was eager to make a new friend, but he thought it was fair enough and he didn't want to push it. The boy was friendly - not overly nice, but not boring either - and they'd clicked. They had time though, they were still in their first week and even if the cliques were already starting to form, it's a longer process for people who are used to being themselves.

He was in a better mood than he'd been, regardless.
Although, Newton's third law of motion states that what comes up must come down, and no sooner than Pete had made his first (possible) friend at his new school, did he meet his first bully.

Of course, a recurring theme in his life was that all through middle school at any one time he'd had someone picking on him - for every teacher that took a shine to him, there were kids that categorically didn't. It was the first at Bullworth, though. An event worthy of marking on his calendar.

He made the mistake of taking his journal out of his locker. A foolish, rookie mistake. Apparently, the 'mature' freshman two lockers down from his didn't take kindly to that. 'Roid rage, perhaps, or he hadn't made the team. Either way, he decided to have some fun by snatching the journal off of Pete with his large, hairy-knuckled hands.

Pete couldn't help but yelp - immediately regretting the response, fearing it made him look like a little girl. When you think about it, it's unfair to judge someone on involuntary reactions, but he knew that anything he did was fair game to judge.

"What have we got here?" The jock grinned, skimming through the pages. Pete wasn't worried about what he'd find - he kept the journal as a planner, nothing more. He knew better than to write his deepest darkest secrets in something so insecure.
It was a nice journal though - all leather-bound and full of thick graph paper; a going-away gift his mom had bought him from Barnes & noble, just a little something to make settling into Bullworth easier... not that it had done much good.

Unsatisfied with the lack of embarrassing accounts of wet dreams, or whatever he'd expected to find in such a fine notebook, the jock resorted to ripping out the paper while laughing like some kind of maniacal seal, and all Pete could do was look on as beautiful paper scattered all over the hallway like giant rectangular snowflakes, in front of a crowd of bystanders who did nothing to help.

Kids were cruel. Being a kid himself, Pete knew that much. So were adults, and if the discovery channel told him anything, it was that animals were pretty bastardly too - but kids and teenagers had a way of being so unnecessarily cruel that it bordered on sadism. There was no need for this jock to destroy something that clearly had some value. He was entirely unprovoked, motivated by boredom - because really, what better purpose is there than "because I can"?

"Here you go." He mocked, handing the empty leather binding back to its rightful owner, before rushing off to do whatever the fuck else he wanted to do at that spontaneous moment in time.

Pete sighed and put it back in his locker, unsure of what else to do with it now that it was basically junk. He collected up some of the paper and put it straight into the trash, having forgotten what he was going to write down in the first place, and mentally prepared himself for his next class. He could add "always hide your personal possessions" to his mental list of things to remember.
If only he had somewhere nice to write it down.

When he returned to his locker at the end of the day, he noticed something had been slotted through the door.

Written, on fancy graph paper, was a note that read:
"Meet me behind the bleachers after school.
Your friend,
Gary Smith."


 

"Hey, earth to loser, if you're not going to load that slingshot then give it here. I was just trying to be nice by letting you take the first shot, but if I have to do everything myself-" Gary grumbled, and Pete came back to the reality where they were sat, legs dangling off a tree branch. The prime vantage point overlooking the football field.

"Sorry, I was just thinking about the first time we did this."

"God, Petey, please. Don't get all soppy on me now, it really kills the mood." Gary groaned in disgust.

"Are you trying to say that you get some kind of sexual thrill out of this?" Pete asked disdainfully, tightening the rubber band on the device (because something, something, physics.)

"Well, I'm not saying I don't." Gary explained; not an explanation at all.

Pete dropped that particular joke and picked out a balloon to line up - because a water balloon, one part stone for weight and impact, two parts semi-permanent pink dye for colouring - makes pretty decent ammo, when the aim is for long-term humiliation upon your desired target.

"It never did stop them from picking on me." He reminisced, narrowing his eyes in concentration and lining up the shot - just like Gary had once taught him.

"It didn't, but that was never the point." said Gary, punctuated by the sound of a splat and a shocked gasp from none other than Casey Harris. The whole left side of the jock's face was slapped with dark pink; his jaw slack with horror. It was like you could see the cogs turning in his head, trying to figure out what had just happened.

Pete tried to choke back laughter, as Gary turned his head to look at him - wearing an expression that could've been read as pride. He didn't say it, but he was impressed with Pete's marksmanship.

"They're animals, it's instinct. They're always going to pick on the smartest, shortest, dorkiest kid they can find because they don't have the brains to do anything else. Sorry kid." He sounded genuinely sorry about it.

Gary had been doing that a lot, lately - that back-handed compliment thing. He'd make fun of Pete for being such a loser, but it was hard to take offense when he'd always drop in something about how smart he was, or how he was the only person that could take a joke. It was oddly appreciative, like he was making a point of how they were on the same brain wave. They got along.

"The only way to stop animals doing what animals do is to put them down." He said flatly, taking the slingshot from Pete's hands to try and get in a shot of his own while the target was still out in the open. The testosterone-fuelled decision to stay and fight rather than flee when under attack was... perhaps not the brightest when faced with death from above.

"Come and fucking get me!" The jock bellowed from below, turning around to try and spot his attacker.

So Gary did. This time, blue dye hit him on his right shoulder, splashing up onto his cheek. Casey let out a confused yelp.

When Gary looked to see Pete's reaction, he was giving him the usual what-the-fuck-are-you-talking-about look, clearly expecting an explanation for his comment from before.

"I'm just saying, if you wanted results we could've stoned them to death. But you didn't want-"

"-But I didn't want to." Pete finished.
"And I'm your voice of conscience."

"And I'm the devil on your shoulder." Gary flashed a grin, and Pete huffed in amusement. He knew that Gary wasn't serious, it was just a running joke they had - even after that little blip on the roof; that lapse of reasoning - he was no killer. Even that seemed so long ago, because he was being more and more like the Gary that Pete knew - who was a lot of things, but never a threat.

"This is fun, though." Pete admitted, and Gary smiled.

"Exactly. There's nothing sweeter than meaningless revenge."

It was nice to do something with Gary that had no higher purpose, no end-goal. No crazy scheme. Just fun, and just something specifically to make him feel better. It was mindless, and stupid, and that was a good thing.

"Meaningless revenge is how we became friends in the first place." Pete shrugged.

"Would you call us that now? Friends?" Gary didn't look at him as he spoke this time, instead watching Casey attempting in vain to pat himself dry.

"Well, this is what we used to do when we were so... yeah, Gary. We're friends."

"Would you call us that in front of Hopkins?" Gary questioned, this time taking a more accusatory tone - but Pete didn't answer, and Gary didn't chase it. They weren't ready for that conversation just yet.

"Hey, should I be trusting you right now? Didn't you make Jimmy do this and leave him to the wolves?" Pete swiftly changed the subject.

"That was different, jackass." Gary said as he launched a third balloon, this time getting the back of the jock's neck, who decided he'd had enough.
"I didn't come up here with him, for starters."

Pete would never agree with how he'd treated Jimmy, but he knew in his hard of hearts that he was wrong to ever think that he was just as much of a pawn. The paranoia made him mean, but Gary was always Pete's friend, not a puppet master.

"Now come on." Gary thrusted the slingshot at him.
"See if you can hit a moving target."

Chapter Text

When it came to illness, Pete was stubborn. No germs against him would prosper nor stop him from living his life. When he was younger and his peers would fake sick so they could bunk off school, he'd be crying to his mom to let him go anyway. He wasn't even sure he'd be able to fake sick, since he was so used to pretending not to be sick when he was.

He didn't like to be a bother, and missing too much school made him anxious that he wouldn't be able to catch up on what he'd missed.

It was when he tried to get up early one morning so he could take a shower to wash off the fever sweat and his legs refused to cooperate, trembling in exhaustion and collapsing beneath him so he slid to the ground instead - that was when he had to accept that he wouldn't be going to class that day.

It also helped that by the time he managed to get to his feet again he knew he'd be too late to get to his first class on time anyway.

He had the flu. He knew who to blame.

On the first day of the new school year, he'd been pointed out, along with the prefects, to the little newbie middle schoolers as someone they could go to if they needed help or directions.

Having not grown out of his baby face or gained that much of a height advantage over said middle schoolers, he was far less terrifying than a bunch of seniors that must have watched Full Metal Jacket a few too many times and ended up with an authority complex and a collective boner for hardass-ery.

This meant that the young ones flocked to him instead, and for the first couple of weeks he could barely get away from them - apart from those times when Gary dragged him away - equal parts grateful and reluctant - for some good, honest mischief. Sometimes he just scared them away for him with his best mean mug.

Come to think of it, Jimmy did that too. The only difference was that Gary's infamy gave him an edge. If Pete could only tell them how similar they were sometimes... well, they'd both refuse to accept it and threaten to punch him for the mere suggestion that they were even the same species, ironically, further illustrating his point.

Anyway, he knew that the children were responsible for this senseless attack on his immune system.
He must have caught germs from their sticky little hands grabbing at his sleeve whenever they needed to know where the bathroom was, or when they decided they needed him to help them settle whatever spat or fall-out they'd had with their friends. He was polite, but he was no good with kids, so he helpfully pointed out to them that that wasn't quite was Dr. Crabblesnitch meant when he said they could go to him for 'guidance'.

He didn't hate younger kids, he just didn't know how to deal with them. Not that he was all that good at dealing with people his own age either, but they tended to wash their hands a little more often and get in your personal space a little less... though the difference was really pretty marginal.

He often joked that the reason he was no good with kids is because he never was one himself. He was always bookish, never rough and tumble, and he certainly never had any friends his own age. His relatives told him he was mature for his age, or an 'old soul' which he supposed was a nicer explanation for it than just that he was awkward and bad at making friends.

It was hard not to hate them at least a bit, though, when he felt like he was on the verge of dying at the hands of a dozen little plague carriers.

By the time Jimmy came knocking at his door, he'd gotten to his feet, still lightheaded and feeling like he could do with another 13 hours of rest.
He opened the door to his friend, and witnessed the split second that his expression changed from cheery to confused.

"Woah, Pete. You're still in your pajamas? Class starts in 10 minutes man."

"What did you want?" Pete replied hoarsely, and Jimmy quickly figured out that yes, he was talking to the walking dead.

"Damn, you don't look so good. Are you alright?" He asked, with genuine concern.

"Thanks." Pete coughed, trying to force a breathy laugh.
"I'm sick, I don't think I'm coming to class today."
He was being more blunt than usual, but considering it was taking all of his strength not to pass out in his doorway, he felt that could be excused.

"Well, me and Zo' are sneaking into that shitty R-rated horror movie later and I was gonna ask if you wanted to come with but..." Jimmy looked him up and down.
"I guess you'd better not."

"Thanks for the offer though, Jimmy." Pete smiled weakly.
He probably would've gone with them if he wasn't so unwell. He hadn't hung out with them in a while, even though he could have... It just didn't feel right to ditch Gary.

If he was being honest, when he was with Gary he didn't really think that much about his other friends. He knew it was bad, but Jimmy and Zoe were popular! They didn't need Pete. Would it even matter if he wasn't around?

Right. Of course it would; they wouldn't go to the effort of asking him to hang out otherwise. Pete felt a wave of guilt hit him suddenly, though he was too tired to do anything about it now.

The thing was, Gary on the other hand? All he had was Pete, just like how once upon a time all he had was Gary. The situation sucked, and he felt like he'd always have to be picking sides. It seemed fitting - having two best friends that hated each other's guts; Pete's life was rarely just nice or simple.

"Hey, I'll bring you your homework." Jimmy finger-gunned at him.
"Personally if I was sick I'd hate that, but I know how you get stressed about missin' stuff."

Jimmy really was a thoughtful friend - and Pete appreciated it - but it didn't help the guilt.

"Thanks Jimmy." He croaked.

Jimmy ordered him to "get well soon!" and turned to walk away, but in doing so bumped into a familiar figure.

Think of the devil and he doth appear.

"Watch where you're going, jackass!" Gary exclaimed, before realising who he was talking to. His lips pursed and he stood up a little bit straighter to look down on the slightly shorter boy, who crossed his arms and did the same - the way you might try to make yourself look bigger in the face of a predator.

Pete watched the whole thing unfold, his heart thrumming against his chest like a caged bird. He didn't want to have to get between them. He stiffened up, though his joints hurt, and didn't dare blink incase he missed something. He relaxed, only very slightly, when he noticed that they were both making an effort to stay composed.

"And where are you going?" Jimmy countered, nostrils flared like a raging bull's and eyes narrowed in contempt.

"If you don't mind, I'm trying to go and talk to my friend."

Jimmy snorted derisively and turned his head to look back at Pete.
"Friend, huh?"

Pete felt scrutinised, and his anxiety level rose again.

Jimmy must have noticed his eyes widen or something that tipped him off to the fact that Pete was more than a little nervous, because for a second he looked at him with more sympathy and his stance slackened. He wasn't going to do this right here, in front of Pete when he was feeling so shitty. He was going to play nice - for now.

He looked back to Gary.
"Well, don't let me stop you."

He moved to the side and Gary shuffled past him, jerking his head at him in that stupid way Pete noticed other boys always doing when they wanted to be aggressive. It was all just intimidation, he wasn't really going to start a fight or he would've done by now. Jimmy didn't bite back.

"Hey, Pete" Jimmy glanced back to him for a brief moment, but then kept addressing him whilst maintaining eye contact with Gary.
"If you need anything, you know where to find me." On the surface it sounded like a caring gesture to a friend, but underneath there was a bitterness to it - it was more like a thinly veiled threat to an enemy.

And with that, he was gone. Pete could've let out a sigh of relief. Nothing kicked off, which was good, but the tension exhausted him. He didn't understand how the two of them could stay so mad for so long. There was good reason, but he could never manage that himself. Their hate had enough energy to fuel a rocket to mars; Pete didn't think he had that much energy period.

"What's his fucking problem?" Gary asked, and Pete could've (frailly) hit him for saying something so stupid, until he caught him grinning. He was joking. Not delusional, just insufferable.

Pete ignored it.
"I'm sorry Gary, you're on your own today. I'm sick."

Hearing those two words, Gary practically leaped backwards against the wall of the corridor and pulled his sweater up over his mouth and nose like one of those protective facemasks.

"Stay back." He threatened, muffled. He looked ridiculous, like he was a wooden stake away from trying to fend off a vampire. Pete waited patiently for the moment he realised that himself.

He pulled the front of his sweater back down and Pete rolled his eyes.
"I'm sorry. Germaphobe."
He seemed genuinely apologetic, and a little concerned. As concerned as Gary could ever be for another person, which wasn't saying much, but it was something at least.

Pete remembered the times they had horror movie marathons. He found them all pretty scary, but Gary was a huge fan of the genre - the more gore, schlock and terrible acting, the better - so he got forced to sit down and watch them anyway. It turned out to be okay, and even pretty fun, because whenever he'd get too scared, Gary would just rattle off some trivia about how the movie was made or about how the American adaptation didn't have shit on the Japanese original. It reminded Pete that what he was watching wasn't real, and besides, he really liked listening to Gary talk about the things he was passionate about. He always admired how his friend was so full of facts.

On one particular occasion, Gary decided to pick up a zombie flick that he'd never seen before. Pete was okay with that, they knew the drill - it wasn't their first undead rodeo. Unfortunately, as it turned out, these weren't your classic rise-from-the-dead voodoo magic zombies. No, instead they were rabid, infected, viral zombies. Gary of course ranted passionately later on about how misleading it was to call it a "zombie film" when it was actually an "infection film" and the two are apparently, semantically, worlds apart.

Before he got to that point, though, he had to be calmed down by an amused Pete with promises of modern medicine and herd immunity and how Hollywood really plays up the chaos factor and that the real world is much more beauraucratic and boring.
It was a little known fact to anyone but his best friend that Gary could be such a baby sometimes, but Pete knew just what he wanted to hear.

"I know." Pete grinned at him.
"You'll get to live in that big plastic bubble someday."

"Hmm. You look shitty enough not to go to class, but you're well enough to make jokes." Gary crossed his arms.

Pete made a point by coughing, and Gary flinched, which amused him to no end.
"Trust me. I am very sick."

"Well..." Gary looked down at him, turning his nose up a bit. He wouldn't make a good nurse.
"Let me know when you're not."

"Will do. Now get to class so I can go back to bed." Pete groaned. He'd been standing up a long time by now.

Gary huffed, then looked thoughtful for a moment.
"Get well soon." He managed to get out, sounding uncertain. It was like he wasn't native in the language of politeness and wasn't confident in his pronunciation.

From anyone else the phrase would be casual or mundane, but coming from Gary it just sounded downright unnatural. Lately he'd been just... nicer. And it wasn't that Pete didn't trust him, he just didn't expect him to want to change that much.

"...Because if you don't your mom'll expect me to help her pick out a coffin and I just know I've got better shit to be doing."

Natural order restored. Much better.

For the first time in his life, Pete resented his friends a little bit for being so chatty, but he finally got what he wanted - back to bed.

After a long nap, a shower and some aspirin he got the strength to go and see the nurse. At Bullworth it went like that - if its an emergency, you call 911. If it's not, you drag your ass out of bed and walk across campus yourself. It made him miss the comfort of being at home, when his dad would come to wake him up and all Pete had to do was groan "I'm sick" and he'd sort out the rest.

The nurse was - as Gary put it - a "cranky old bitch" and she had little patience for kids faking sick so they could bunk off. You were treated as guilty until proven innocent, and Pete wouldn't have been surprised if she'd ever tried to convince Crabblesnitch that a lie detector was the best use of the school budget.
He could hardly believe that Gary came to her office everyday, and wondered if he'd managed to charm her yet. What if he'd gotten past that cold exterior to find a heart of gold underneath? There must have been some reason she chose this job, and it couldn't have been for the pay.

Pete had his temperature checked - twice - and his chest listened to before she confirmed the obvious and wrote a note to get him excused from classes. She gave him a whole spiel on proper hygiene and how to wash hands properly, which felt a little patronising but she was responsible for making sure no epidemics broke out, after all, and she knew all about how gross kids could be.

Finally, he was excused. He picked himself up some fruit and a soda for sustenance and went back to the dorms to hibernate indefinitely.

He spent a couple of days in bed, recuperating, with Jimmy swinging by every now and then to drop off some work for him to do or to keep him updated on the gossip (because if you're out of the loop for even a day, you come back and everything's changed.)
Gary even came by sometimes, too, to do things like awkwardly open the door, roll a bottle of water across the floor to him, and promptly leave again. He refused to get within any proximity and he constantly criticised the messy nest Pete had made for himself but he came to check on him to make sure he hadn't died and bring snacks which was sweet, in his own way.

It was on the third day when Pete woke up feeling human again, with only sniffles as a reminder of what he'd survived. He knew he'd be better by tomorrow, but he was starting to get used to the comfort of his dorm room. He slept in until noon, and got to work on what he'd missed when he was too sick to think. By the time he'd finished it was early evening, and he thought he'd go for a walk to find his friends - or at least get some air - but when he left his room he found it eerily quiet.

The only people hanging around the dorm were some little kids teaching each other how to play Grottos & Gremlins. None of Pete's friends/peers/acquaintances/associates/harassers were anywhere to be found.
When he got outside it was the same, though after wandering for a bit he managed to find Angie sat on the grass by herself, making a daisy chain.

"Hey Angie, what are you doing out here all by yourself?"

"Oh, hi Pete!" She giggled. If Zoe were here she would've been telling everyone to take a shot.
"I'm peacefully protesting." She explained.

"Protesting what?" What the hell had happened while he was gone?

"All that awful violence! Oh Peter, it's horrible - practically the whole school is standing around watching while some brutes beat each other up!"

Pete had a bad feeling about this. Jimmy, despite his laidback demeanour, had a habit of getting involved in everything that went on and Gary, through no fault of his own (unless you're counting the whole trying-to-take-over-the-school thing) wasn't settling back in all too well with his peers.

If Pete had much money to his name, he'd have bet on his two best friends being involved somehow.

Angie helpfully pointed him out where the big fight was happening (in the hole, naturally) and he rushed over as fast as he possibly could.

When he got there, he couldn't see for all the spectators. Angie was right, pretty much everyone was there. Pete couldn't blame them, he'd been hooked in by a few fights in his time. He was a teenager, and no better than anyone else here - it's just that the concern for his friends made this time different. Jocks were whooping excitedly, preps were taking bets - even the nerds were watching, clearly not feeling that they were too intellectual to satisfy their primal bloodlust. The girls were being just as loud, and Pete spotted Zoe and Lola across the way cheering and sharing some beers they must have somehow smuggled on campus.

But wait, Jimmy was with them too?

Pete felt a wave of relief wash over him. He'd been expecting to get here to find Jimmy and Gary beating the crap out of one another yet again. Gary still wasn't accounted for though, and Pete still couldn't see what was even going on here.

He struggled on his tip-toes to get a view, finally managing to peek through a gap between the shoulders of a couple of greasers. He only caught a glimpse of what was happening, but it told him all he needed to know.

Backed up into the corner and pinned against the wall by giant hand at his throat, feet not even touching the floor and face smeared with blood was Gary. He was being choked by the not-so-gentle giant Russell, which meant Pete must have gotten here just in time. Gary was quick, and vicious like a little hunting dog, even baring his teeth like canines while he struggled for air, but he could never be any match for Russell's sheer power. As much as Pete admired Jimmy, he was convinced his win against Russell was a fluke based on pure luck alone. The guy was an immovable object, possibly not intelligent enough to feel pain, and built like a brick shithouse to boot. He was sweet, and Pete sympathised with him - but he was too loyal for his own good, and if someone he respected gave the order then he was coming for you.

And when that happens, you better hope you've made your peace. Cross your heart and hope to die quick and painless.

Pete knew it was no coincidence that Jimmy had front-row seats. He'd been in the same position just a year ago, thanks to Gary. He was getting his revenge by stooping to his level; back-stabbing him before Gary could get there first.

Gary was trying his hardest to put up a fight, kicking his legs at his opponent's chest and raising two shaky fingers towards his eyes, so he might try to gouge them out. He really was like a desperate trapped animal, and he fought dirty. He was probably wheezing 'fuck you's through his constricted windpipe. Russell didn't even flinch, and Gary had already lost - this was beyond unfair. Pete knew he had to put a stop to this before he had to find out whether any of his classmates would even shed a tear if Gary fucking died right then and there.

He knew that if he just shouted stop, nobody would notice above the noise, so he did what he had to do. Powered by adrenaline, he tore through the crowd and jumped down into the battleground, putting himself right in the middle of the fight.

Jimmy noticed first, and called Russell off. He hadn't gotten so cold-blooded that he'd put one of his best friends in danger in the name of vengeance. Pete had been counting on that.

Like a robot given a command, Russell let go of Gary who dropped to the floor in a crumpled heap, both hands massaging his throat. Pete wasn't sure, but when he tried to get a better look at Gary's face he could swear that under the industrial lighting he could see his eyes glisten. Had he been crying? He turned his head away when he caught Pete looking too hard.

"Oh shit, that's Kowalski!" He heard a shout behind him, and when he turned he saw the crowd beginning to scatter. The preps were hurriedly shutting down their betting racket, and people guiltily ran off. Lola was even about to throw her booze away, but Zoe jokingly reassured her "hey, he's not with the cops."
It was amazing, he'd gone his whole life being invisible and unintimidating but the second he's granted even the tiniest authority and he becomes a threat. He felt that everyone hadn't quite grasped the fact that he wasn't a tattle-tale, and he wasn't here to get anyone in trouble.

His reputation wasn't his main concern right now, however.

"Jimmy, what the hell is your problem?" Pete shouted when only a few of them were left in there. Don't raise your voice in front of the kids.
"You're supposed to be better than this!"

Jimmy jumped down into the hole to get closer to him.
"What, and he's supposed to get a free pass for all that shit he pulled just 'cos he's supposed to be a psycho asshole? I can't believe you're defending him!"

"He's not a psycho, he's my friend." Pete spoke sternly, the way he rarely did unless he was seriously pissed off.

"You really believe that?" Jimmy scoffed.
"Pete, I'm just looking out for you. He's using you, it's what he does."

"You don't know him like I do. All he's up to is trying to get by, and you're all giving him shit!" Pete was putting his foot down. All he'd seen lately were people giving Gary a hard time, and he barely ever reacted to it. He believed in him, so why couldn't anyone else?

"Talking about me like I'm not right here. A classic." Gary grumbled, forcing himself to his feet, clearly in pain.

"Yeah, well he's up to something. I just know it. People have a right to be pissed off, and I'm trying to stop him before he does something even worse." Jimmy crossed his arms stubbornly.

"You know it? Just like you knew it before? No, I had to tell you."

Jimmy's face dropped, ashamed.

"You didn't listen to me when I warned you before, so trust me now. Leave Gary alone before you make things worse."

Pete went to help Gary walk out, putting an arm around him to help him keep his balance.

They left without a word, and for the first time Pete could remember, Jimmy had no response. Pete just prayed that without anything to say, he'd instead have to listen.


Pete took Gary to his dorm room, since it was past curfew and the nurse wouldn't be around. Gary was adamant that he wasn't going to the nurse anyway.

"I don't want to have to write a statement about what happened and all of that beauraucratic bullshit. I just want this to be over."

Pete certainly wasn't going to make him, and was relieved that Gary didn't want Jimmy in anymore trouble than he did. It did, however, mean that he'd have to settle for Pete playing nurse instead.

Gary made the obvious crude jokes about that.

"Such a gentle touch, femme-boy. I know you worry about whether you'll make a good mom someday but rest assured, the only thing you'll have to work on is finding a nice husband to knock you up." He smirked as he looked at the ceiling, head back while Pete dabbed at smeared blood that was beginning to dry on cheek, careful not to press too hard on any of the tender bruises that were beginning to form on Gary's still flushed cheeks.

He could ask what Gary knew about good moms, but that was too low a blow even for their usual back-and-forth. Besides, even Pete's mom, as much as she cared, wasn't exactly the nurturing kind either.

"That's a bold thing to say to someone with a bottle of rubbing alcohol in his hand. When your face is scratched up this bad, anyway." Pete muttered, still concentrating.

"You know I'm just joking around, Petey."

Pete knew. As derogatory nicknames went, it had its origins at least. It had been an inside joke between them based on the type of insults he had thrown at him by everyone else. The deal was that Gary was allowed to call him it, but nobody else had better dare. Pete made a new rule, though, since that time when Gary had gotten nasty, which was that he wasn't allowed to use it to humiliate, either. Pete was a little insecure about his lack of masculinity, because he was used to jocks calling him things much worse, and well-meaning girls talking to him like their little sister and complimenting him on his long 'pretty' eyelashes, but what Gary said didn't bother him - as long as he knew it was a joke. He cared about what Gary actually thought about him, after all.

"It's alright, psycho, I'm not bothered." He said casually.
Gary's expression darkened a little, and Pete hoped he hadn't actually hit a nerve. He knew that Gary hated that word, but he hoped it wouldn't carry any malice coming from him.

"What?" Pete leaned away to look him in the eye.
"I'm allowed to say it because I don't really mean it, but if anyone else does I kick their ass. That's the deal, right?" He smiled at him.

Gary scoffed.
"Deal. Though with your fighting skills that's a pretty weak offer."

Again, Pete resisted the urge to jab at one of his bruises.

Gary was in a much worse state than after his little tussle with Jimmy on the first day, naturally, but the fact he was still conscious enough to be an ass was probably a good sign. Pete was still concerned about the extent of his injuries, though, he seemed to have taken quite the beating.

"Lie down, I need to check your ribs." He'd learned a lot of first aid from his brief stint in boy scouts. He'd quit because he discovered that other kids were even worse out in the wilderness - even with a scout leader. Lord of the flies could've been his memoirs. Luckily, on his return home from one particularly traumatizing camping trip, he cried hard enough that his mom didn't make him go again.

"Does it hurt when you breathe in?" Gary shook his head

Pete pressed a hand at his ribs over his shirt to feel if they were tender or swollen, incase they were bruised.
It was the first time he'd ever touched his friend like that, and he noticed that Gary seemed to radiate body heat through the soft cotton of his shirt. It was nice, like the warm comfort of a mug of hot cocoa. So much for being cold-blooded.
He also noticed Gary tensing up at his touch, like he was holding his breath, which made him take his hand away.

He looked at Gary, who stayed staring at the ceiling.
"Did that hurt?"

He shook his head again, but Pete wasn't convinced. why else would he go so tense, after all?

He furrowed his brow.
"Are you sure?"

"No pain, seriously."

Pete believed him, still wondering why he reacted that way, but it's not like Gary had any reason to lie. He wasn't too proud to bitch him out for any pain.

"Alright, well your ribs are probably fine. Your nose isn't bleeding anymore, you don't need any stitches and you're not going to get infected."

Gary sat up.
"What do you prescribe, doc?"

"Rest, a handful of painkillers, and laying low for a while. Trust me, I'm a surgeon."

Gary raised an eyebrow.
"I'm not sure I do. One minute you're a nurse, then a doctor, then a surgeon. What exactly do you do?"

"I'm a man of many talents." Pete grinned.
"I'm a dentist and a barber, too."

Gary snorted, accepting some pain pills and a cold can of soda to wash them down with. Instead of taking them straight away, he sat with the can against his bruised temple for a bit.
"Well, you're good at this, I'll give you that."

"And you're good at getting yourself beat up. You going to tell me what happened?" He sat down on the bed next to Gary, tucking his knees under his chin.

"It's all really fucking stupid." He sighed.
"I wanted to skip gym class but I had to go since I'm under 24/7 surveillance, it seems."

Pete wished he'd been there - gym sucked, but at least they could've played their usual game of seeing how many obvious jokes about 'balls' they could make in front of Burton.

"We were dodging balls. I make all those morons uncomfortable, or whatever, so I didn't get picked for a team."

Ouch. That must have hurt his ego at least a little.
Since freshman year, Gary was never popular or all that liked by many people. People found him abrasive, and maybe if they'd bothered to take the time to get to know him the way Pete did, he would have had a few more friends, but most people simply lacked the patience and he worked hard for the reputation of 'asshole.'
Most people recognised though that he was objectively good at dodgeball, and he was never picked last. Until now.

He must have caught the sympathy in Pete's eye, because he gave a disgusted look and defended himself.
"Not like I gave a flying fuck. I was happy to sit out, you know how I feel about teamwork."

Pete knew: Confused and disgusted by its' very concept.

He continued.
"But then Burton, the brilliantly sharp tool that he is - who, by the way, called me 'maggot' 27 times in one hour. I know because I counted - decided to put me on a team with Hopkins."

"Shit." Pete muttered.

"I stayed as far away as possible, and nobody ever passed to me apart from when some dumbass on the other team wanted to try and get me out - but whenever I looked around, he'd be watching me, giving me the dirtiest look. I didn't know what the fuck he wanted, so eventually I just smiled and waved."

Pete respected that that was Gary being particularly restrained.

"Jimmy-boy must not have liked that, though. I know that they tell you not to make direct eye contact with the zoo animals. When he got the ball next instead of passing it, he came right up to me and launched it straight at my face so hard it gave me the first nosebleed I had today."

Pete found it really hard to believe that Jimmy could be so childish, but Gary was so self-assured he had no reason to lie. Unless Jimmy was right, about trying to use him, but then again - he did believe it. Jimmy had been so frustrated. He hated Gary, but everything had been said and done, all that was left was to coexist, but Jimmy wasn't satisfied with that.

"Wow, I wouldn't have expected that from him. That's... really immature."

"Yeah. And Burton didn't even blow the whistle on him. I just sat on the bleachers and tried to suppress the urge to kill."

"Then what happened?"

Gary shrugged.
"After class I snapped, I guess. Well, not really, but I'd had enough of all the shit. I went up to him and said to him he could beat the crap out of me and I wouldn't fight back so long as he promised to get over his little obsession and leave me the fuck alone. Be civil, so to speak."

Pete was confused where this story was going.
"So how did you end up in the hole with Russell?"

Gary went quiet for a moment, and Pete watched him, captivated. He noticed his jaw clench, like he was getting pissed off again and grinding his teeth together. Pete's gaze fixated on that jaw, he'd always noticed it. Now was not the time to fixate.

"Hopkins tricked me." Gary swallowed hard, trying not to choke on half-chewed pride.
"He said he wouldn't fight me then and there. His conditions were that we meet at the hole, and that he fights me in front of everyone. I just thought he wanted to humiliate me...again."

Pete was on the edge of his seat. Damn Gary's intense story-telling.

"But when I got there and I went to confront him, that amazonian skank - the one I'm assuming he pays by the hour - pushed me in the hole with Russell. My plan with Jimmy had been to just let him win but Russell? He could've killed me. Everyone wanted to see that, too. This was their idea of vigilante justice, they wanted my fucking head on a pike."
Gary sighed.
"And then, well, you know the rest."

At first, Pete had wanted to chastise him for daring to speak ill of Zoe - he knew that if things were different, he'd see how awesome she was and the two of them would get on like a house on fire (by means of arson, obviously) but it actually seemed like Gary was kind of upset, so he thought he'd save it for another time.

"Wow, Gary, that's heavy. I'm sorry."

"Don't be, you saved my ass." He punched Pete on the arm playfully.
"But you didn't need to, I would've just popped out his eyeballs or resorted to biting if you hadn't turned up."

Pete's nose scrunched up. "Classy."
"Hey... I don't suppose you want to, like, talk about how it all made you feel?"

"Never. Unless you're willing to let me drink the rest of that rubbing alcohol you had in your hand earlier."

"Absolutely not."

"Spoilsport." Gary pouted.

Pete chuckled.
"It'd taste gross anyway, probably wouldn't even do much."

"Well, if I'm not allowed that, can you pass me my jacket? It's been a long day, and I could do with a smoke."

Pete protested about him smoking in his dorm room, but Gary assured him that he did it in his own room all the time and it'd be fine if he cracked the window open, so just this once Pete indulged him. He was looking a sad state after all, and Pete felt sorry for him, though he wouldn't dare say it out loud.

Gary fished out his lighter and his pack of Marlboro reds and respectfully went to stand by the window, taking in the cold night air and admiring the pitiful view. Pete's room was right on the end of the block, and all he could see outside his window was a brick wall. Occasionally he could spot the couples, either lacking brains or shame, making out against said wall. Every day he thanked his lucky stars for the invention of shutters.

Gary took a few drags before he spoke again.
"This'll probably be my last. No-one in town will sell to me now that they know I'm that 'kid' that tried to take over Bullworth."
He scoffed.
"As if they didn't already know I was underage."

"Well good." Pete said, wondering if his mom had possessed him to.
"Might be a chance for you to kick a bad habit."

Gary took another drag and laughed, coughing a bit.
"I need bad habits, Pete. Distracts me from worse habits."

Pete came up behind his friend and stole a puff for himself - because he had his stresses too - and immediately passing it back, remembering that cigarettes never taste as good as you think they do. The only reason he'd ever smoked before in the first place was because he wanted to look cool and impress Gary; he couldn't stand feeling like a stick in the mud.

But pretty much everyone at Bullworth smoked, save for a few sporty girls that took their health incredibly seriously. Everyone claimed it was for the slight head-rush or something to do with their hands, but it was so transparently an image thing.


"I know that it bothers you, that it seems like everyone's out to get you." Pete spoke quietly, like he was keeping a secret.

"I'd say I was less 'bothered' and more 'inconvenienced.'" Gary gave an incredulous look, but decided to give in a little.
"I spent a long time thinking everyone was, but my head wasn't straight. I can see clearly now, but this time it's really true." He looked downtrodden, and it hurt Pete to see it. He was supposed to be a force of nature, but he was so tired.

Pete couldn't stand it.
"We can fix that!" He blurted out, catching Gary's glance again.
"You just have to make it up to them."

"I thought I was already doing that by keeping to myself."

Pete broke it to him bluntly.
"You really fucked up Gar', you can't just press a magic reset button and expect life to go back to how it was. You're gonna have to go the extra mile, unfortunately."

"What, you want me to be nice to try and win them over? They don't deserve that! They never did anything for me."

It was true. Nobody at Bullworth really deserved exceptional niceness - reasonable civility at best, but desperate times call for desperate measures.

"But they didn't deserve any of the stuff you did to them, either." Pete reasoned, and it must have struck a cord, because Gary went quiet for a minute looking thoughtful.

"Well... Where the hell am I supposed to start?" It was going to be a mighty task, but it was nothing Gary couldn't do, Pete had faith.

"Don't worry about that, I'll help you. Your mess is mine, too."

They sat on Pete's bed for a while, just talking, until 2AM when it was quiet in the dorms and Gary was safe to go back to his own room without the threat of any confrontation.

Pete lay awake, pondering on the scent of smoke that Gary lied and said wouldn't linger.

He had a lot of scheming to do.

Chapter Text

"Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
Courage to change the things I can,
And the wisdom to know the difference."


 

Gary had seen that quote a thousand times.

He'd sat at the kitchen table with his legs dangling off the chair and not quite touching the ground, vacantly chewing burnt toast and reading those words on the fridge over and over. At the time, he didn't really get it. He was a smart kid, and he could understand the words separately, but not all together.

Still, he'd keep on reading it - rehearsing it in his mind hoping that one day it might make sense. It was just one of those things you see that sticks out as important somehow.

It had ended up on the fridge because his grandma had put it there on one of her visits.

One of those visits where she didn't stop for coffee or talk too much, only coming to check that her daughter was still breathing and her grandson was still eating and that the world still turned on it's axis.

He found out a couple of years later, when he didn't live in that house with his mother or stare at that fridge anymore, that it was the prayer they used in rehab and AA meetings; that she'd hoped that it might inspire his mom.

It didn't. In all honesty, she'd probably never given it a second glance - but it meant something to Gary.

Still, he didn't know what. It wasn't his fault, it was just that he was young, and it was written in that kind of language you could only learn through living.

But in the next five or so years, Gary had a lifetime of regret under his belt, and finally he saw clarity. Among all the chaos and the things that didn't make sense, that goddamn quote sure as hell did.

The new lesson he was learning was that things are often easier said than done.

For the time being, he was taking it day by day with a simple two-fold plan: lay low, and don't piss anyone off.

He was used to being loud and opinionated; no apologies, no regrets - that kind of thing. Hell, it used to be part of his charm, as abrasive as it was from time to time.
It's why the people that liked him liked him - it's why Pete, for a while, seemed to think the sun shone out of his ass.

That kind of charm can't last forever though, not when you've pushed the boat out that far. Now he was a target, a scapegoat for the masses. A canvas for the frustrations of every genre of knucklehead, dragging their brushes across Bullworth. They'd soon paint him red.

He had all the status of of a bedwetting G&G fanatic with a back-brace - but without any of the sympathy. Right now, being himself wasn't  an option if he wanted to survive.

His sanctuary was that at least he could be himself when he was with Pete. They were spending a lot more time together lately, on their vacation from the rest of the world. It was kind of like the old days. They'd claimed the old abandoned school bus as their own and hid out in it when they were skipping gym class - the idea which seemed to bring out some of Pete's neurotic tendencies at first, but Gary soon brought him around to the wonderful world of playing hooky. 

The two of them would lay next to each other on the floor where the rows of seats used to be, gazing up at the stains on the roof like they were watching clouds. It was the highlight of Gary's week.

It made him feel like maybe being human was a possibility that belonged to him. It made him think maybe human isn't such a bad thing to be.

"That one right there?" he pointed up at nowhere in particular.
"What does that one look like to you?"

Pete furrowed his brow, concentrating.
"I don't know... It doesn't really look like anything. Maybe a bunny rabbit?"

Gary scoffed.
"Go figures."

"What?" Sounding offended, Pete turned his head toward him, and in turn he shifted to lean on his side and look his friend in the eye.
"What does it matter what it looks like to me?"

"Oh Petey, don't they teach you anything at school?" He tutted.
"It's like the inkblot test. How you interpret it is supposed to reveal something about your subconscious."

Gary watched as the other boy's eyes diverted their attention for a split second. He could tell that Pete was trying to recall what he was referencing.

When he was done thinking and was again making eye contact, Gary detected discomfort in his expression.

Pete cleared his throat.
"Did they make you do that when you were at - uhm..."

Gary thought it was funny that he couldn't bring himself to say "Happy Volts."

"Affirmative." He grinned.
"It's a load of pseudopsychology bullshit, though. About as scientific as reading my palms woulda been."

"What did you tell them you saw?" Pete leaned in a little closer now, curious and wide-eyed.

"Ink blots." He deadpanned, but cracked a smile when Pete laughed.

"So what does that look like to you?"
Pete pointed behind himself to the spot on the ceiling they were talking about before, still looking into Gary's eyes.

He took a brief glance and then shrugged at Pete.
"Like some seventh grader projectile vomited and they were never able to return this bus to it's former glory."

They laughed again and Pete reached over to flick him on the forehead and call him a "smartass."

Gary wouldn't as much as permit anyone else to touch him, but every thump and shove that Pete gave him felt like a strange kind of affection.

Grinning at each other like that, Pete leaning over him with their faces so close, he wondered about another kind of affection.

He didn't know where the urge had come from - it was certainly new to him. He was sure it meant nothing and supposed he was just feeling restless. Sometimes his mind does that, coming up with impulses out of the blue; telling him to push the boundaries just to prove that he could. It was just one of the parts of him he was trying so hard lately to kill.

He was bold enough to do something, but trying to fuck with the status quo is what ended up landing him in Happy Volts with a debt to pay.

And he'd learned better than to treat people like his personal playthings  He was smart enough to know that if he cared enough about Petey in his life he couldn't afford to fuck things up on a whim.

So he stuffed down the urge, sitting up and looking away and renewing the conversation.

"Are you and Hopkins talking again?" He asked suddenly and bluntly, fixating his eyes on a spot of carved graffiti under one of the dusty windows.

Apparently way back in '87, Jenna C. was a slut.

Pete perked up again in surprise. It had been over a week since he'd last heard from his friends - besides Gary, that is. He pretended that it didn't bother him and that he was waiting on an apology but Gary knew that he cared far too much what people thought of him. It was an impressive feat that Pete hadn't  caved already. Then again, he'd grown some serious balls since last year.

"No, but-"

There was a rustling of paper which caught Gary's attention again as Pete unfolded a note.

"Funny you should mention it, Zoe tried to establish contact today. In English class."

He passed the note over and Gary read it. Galloway must have been jonesing a little harder than usual because it seemed as if their entire conversation was on here, all written down in black and blue.

'Written' was debatable. Petey's writing was chickenscratch; potential doctor's handwriting which would make a certain someone's Yiddish relatives very proud someday. Zoe's was much more legible - huge, in fact - but Gary noticed that she couldn't spell for shit and had a habit of writing like you might text, abbreviating words to single letters or numbers. Dotted around were a few smiley faces and crudely drawn dicks, which he assumed were probably her handiwork and not Pete's.

Still, he managed to decrypt the message. They missed Pete, they were sorry, Jimmy felt bad about what happened. Blah blah fucking blah.

He bristled a bit at that. It was like a cheap tactic, appealing to Petey's forgiveness and compassion, trying to get him running back to them. If Pete spent all his time with them, would he have any time for Gary at all? Worse, could they turn Petey against him?

But then he got to the bottom and saw what she was asking.

A truce.

Hopkins wanted to apologise to him.

He must have looked shocked, or pissed off - or something, because when he looked up from the paper Pete was already getting all apologetic.

"I know I should've said something earlier but I wanted to make sure you were relaxed before I did because this is a pretty big fucking thing to spring on you suddenly and-"

Gary reached out and cupped his hand over his friends mouth. It was childish, but it worked. Petey had a habit of nervous rambling when he really didn't need to explain himself.

"Shh."

So Pete shut up, and stared at him expectantly.

"As my lawyer, what would you advise?"

"As your lawyer, I'd say... this is shady. Trust no-one."
Pete said in his best Commanding Business Voice, but quickly dropped the act and got serious.
"But as your friend? And I guess as Jimmy's friend - I mean... if we're still friends - I'd advise you at least hear him out. Nothing to lose, right?"

Gary did wonder if Pete was too naïve; that he was putting his trust in the wrong place. But he also valued Pete's advice, and whether he liked it or not the guy had a point.

"I guess King Jimmy's endorsement could be valuable." He muttered disdainfully, trying to weigh up the pro's and con's. Pete smiled amused at the thinly veiled disgust in his voice.

"But, I have the right to an attorney - and I refuse to do anything without my lawyer present." Gary grinned.

"Smart choice."

He couldn't help but wonder if any of this really mattered. The rest of the world didn't seem to exist when they were in here. The rest of the world was in gym class being berated by a balding middle aged man in shorts - like he could give a fuck about the rest of the world.
What was the point in making amends? In 2 years he could leave this dump behind him - leave everyone in it in the dust. He felt like if he put his mind to it he could be great, and he could choose to look back on all of this as nothing more than unfortunate little blip in an otherwise successful life.

Nothing out there mattered, not a damn thing.

But Pete wasn't out there. He was in here with him - by his side - Pete mattered. He owed it to him to be better, when he'd forgiven him for so much. When he believed in him.

But Gary owed it to himself too, to change the things he could change to make up for what he couldn't take back. It beat the recurring episodes of guilt and regret.

He just didn't want everything to change.

He held that thought, and rummaged in his jacket pocket for a sharpie.

"What are you doing?"

"Leaving a mark. If this is about to be an ambush we need something to immortalize us." He mumbled, muffled by the pen cap he held in his mouth.

"...in case Jimmy kills us?"

"Precisely."

He shuffled on his knees over to a piece of wall relatively untouched by any petty vandals, Pete leaning over his shoulder to watch what he was writing clearly satisfied with that explanation as any.

Femme-boy and Psycho, forever.

Those words belonged to them, and with it, this shitty worn down bus became their empire.

But it didn't matter how shitty and worn down it was, because it was theirs. And it would belong to them forever - just them and Jenna C. from back in 1987.

They quietly admired his three seconds of scribbled handiwork, and when Pete slung his arm around Gary's shoulder, Gary knew that he understood.

"I think I'm ready, Petey. Lead me to the slaughter."