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How to get through College and not Murder Anyone.

Chapter Text

The clock above the Dean’s desk was out of sync with his own watch. It made it seem like time was going twice as fast even though the meeting was taking forever. The Dean hadn’t spoken a word to him since telling him to sit down, instead looking through the file on his computer, sucking air through his teeth every few seconds. James knew what was on those files, his flying GPA score and AP grades, the praises he had received for his extra curriculum drama school classes and soccer team practices. But he knew what Dean Burns mouse kept coming back up to the long paragraph underneath the bold title of criminal records.
“So,” the Dean said sharply, swirling round in his chair and intertwining his hands in front of him, “Ryan.”
The name was still unfamiliar but he smiled regardless.
“I don’t want you to feel like this conversation is about isolating you. We’re certainly not about to turn round and kick you out of your first day.” The Dean laughed as if this hadn’t been a huge worry in James’ mind. He made a note to himself to stop referring to himself as James. That name would only leaded to question. There was a pause as the Dean fiddled with his glasses, making them more lopsided than before. Jame-Ryan twitched.
“But given this a special case, I felt like we should talk. Now, I’d like say first and for most that here at Rooster Teeth University, we have a zero-tolerance policy when it comes to crime.”
Ryan tried not to react to this, with smile twitching at the corners of his mouth. It sounded the thing you’d say to someone with a history of B’n’E or assault, not three first degree murders.
“But we also are a place of community, if you ever have any difficulties at all, you can just talk to us. We have a great councillor for you to talk to if need be.”
Now Ryan had to smile, though he hoped it came across as kindly. He doubted the low-ranking university to provide any more help than the psychiatrists on the mental ward. There was a reason they had been the only university to accept him.
“Don’t worry sir, I’ll about I’ll need it. But, if I ever do…” he trailed off smile fading, in a way that he hoped said he was remembering memories of those tragic days and though he didn’t wish to talk about them, he did fully regret it. It was a lot to get out in one facial expression but he seemed to manage, the Dean looking at him with pity and nodding his head.
“Well, I won’t hold you back from finding your dorm anymore.”
They haven’t given him his own dorm. Not that it was necessary but he thought they would have slightly more afraid for his dorm mate's life. Though he wasn’t stupid enough to do anything like that. However, the sight of his dorm made that decision slightly difficult. His dorm mate could have barely been there twelve hours yet clothes littered the floor and the bin had been completely disregarded, crisp and chocolate wrappers thrown onto the carpet. Both beds had been slept in and the top bunk was still occupied. He took a deep breath in, then out, before entering. He slowly walked into the room, settling his bag on one of the unoccupied spots on the floor and went to straighten his new bed, trying to ignore the shaking feel, at the thought of someone else sleeping in it.
“Who are you?”
Ja-Ryan looked up. The boy hung over the bar of the bunk, floppy red curled hair hanging over his face, speaking in a thick New Jersey accent.
‘remember the name. remember the name,’ “I’m Ryan.”
He offered out his hand, wondering if this boy would have preferred a fist bump of sorts but Ryan didn’t think he was ready for that. The boy looked at his hand as if it had offended him before taking it, gripping hard as though to prove something. Ryan smirked at that.
“What’s so funny?” the New Jersey boy snapped.
“Nothing,” He moved away, smiling his best smile at the other boy. It only seemed to make him hate Ryan more. He turned over muttering to himself. Ryan sighed, pulling his bag towards him as he sat down on the bed and took out his notebook.
‘To Dr Phillips,
I promise not to kill-’ he realised he didn’t know his roommate’s name. he looked up at the mattress above him and decided he was too tired to act like a social creature.
‘Not to kill my roommate.’

Chapter Text

Michael.
His name was Michael and Ryan was going to kill him. Not actually kill him, that was ridiculous. He wasn’t going to kill again, a ten-year streak was not something he was about to break. He could control himself. But, figuratively, he was going to kill Michael. Michael had barely spoken a dozen words to him since their original introduction, mostly swear words. But it was just his overall aura. Not even his inability to tidy up after himself (Ryan really didn’t mind that, tidying helped keep his mind calm), was as irritating as the eighteen year old’s smug tough guy attitude. One of the few sentences Ryan had been blessed enough to hear had been,
“You better not mess with me. I could fuck you up.”
Ryan had blinked at that. All he’d asked the boy to do was to just tidy up after himself. Pure hatred had filled him. How could this boy think he could threat James? Did he not know who he was?
No. He didn’t. That was the point. James maybe filled with rage, about to break the boy’s arm to show him true power of a God, but Ryan had no inclination to hold a knife to the boy’s throat and make him cry out, sob for mercy as James stood there over him watching his-
Ryan had to leave quickly, practically running from the dorm, to catch himself outside, trying very hard not to think about the heat coiling in his gut. He couldn’t think of things like that right now. He had a degree to earn, afterwards, yes, he had a plan forming, but now he had to be a good citizen. He could control himself until then.
It had taken him twenty minutes to calm down.
The problem with the whole disaster was that the kid had thought Ryan was afraid of him, making him smugger than ever. It didn’t help Ryan was now his own personal cleaner, (though as long as the boy didn’t bring it up, Ryan was happy).
He didn’t find out his name until two weeks into uni’.
His lectures were interesting to say the least. Theatre had always been a passion of his, even back then. He was even tempted to join the theatre society on campus, even if he’d have no idea of how to interact with them. So far, his roommate was the only student he had spoken to, and really, he wanted to keep it that way. Years of isolating himself from other inmates, inmates with bigger problems than his own and the years before that, hadn’t exactly made Ryan ready for the world of socialising. However his idea of a life of never having to sit through an awkward conversation was shattered as he left the lecture theatre and was tapped on the shoulder. He turned round smiling and was faced by a short skinny girl, her thin face spattered with red spots and wide glasses upon her nose. She was looking down at the floor, rubbing her arm and despite being the one to poke him, wasn’t speaking. Ryan waited, knowing exactly what he wanted to do in this situation but he knew, however tempting, he was not allowed to just walk away.
“Um,” the girl said. There was another huge pause, “look, it’s stupid but, mum said I probably should get a study partner from my lecturers for ill days and help and you were alone so I thought, I know it’s stupid but yeah.” She had said it all very fast and was very red by the end. Ryan stared down at her. It appeared he wasn’t the only one who didn’t know how to socialise.
“I’ll go now,” she said quietly, so red even her scalp through her hair appeared to be red.
“Wait, wait, wait.” Ryan stepped in front of her to stop her from running away, “sorry I’m not great with talking to people.”
“Well that makes two of us,” the girl laughed loudly like a mad man. James had heard that laughter a hundred times over in the last ten years.
“I’m Ryan,” he held out his hand.
“Meg.”
They shook hands and there was a pause.
“So…do want to exchange numbers?”
“I don’t have a phone.”
“How? I mean…yeah, no, how?”
He shrugged, “Haven’t bought one.”
He had enough money to, being funded by a scholarship due to both his grades and his background. Also all his mother’s and grandmother’s money had fallen to their only living relative; him.
“I have email,” he said when the conversation dipped again.
She nodded, “email works.”

Meg was quite nice all things considered. He didn’t feel any sudden urges to pin her down and crack the bones in her hands. She was mostly quiet and when she wasn’t she was giggling and bouncing all over the place. He had decided after the day had ended to meet up and do work in library. Ryan had been tempted to said no, not sure what much company he could stand, but the idea of work pull him out of that. They walked to the library side by side, Ryan watching Meg with a mask of amusement, wishing he could actually feel something at the small girl’s actions.
“So, where are you from?” she asked, as she avoided the cracked on the pavement.
His eyes narrowed, his shoulders tensing before he could stop himself.
“What makes you say that?”
She shrugged, blushing, “I mean I doubt many people move states to come to cock bite.”
“Cock bite?”
“Rooster teeth university? Cock bite…it’s a joke.”
He nodded while she continued to blush, unsure if the silence that ensured was awkward or not.
“I mean all my high school friends have come here,” she continued, “rather than, you know, try.”
“Then why are you here?”
She looked more awkward than ever, folding her arms and tucked them to her chest.
“I made a mistake.”
“Drugs.” He nodded knowingly.
“What! No! I-” she looked up at the blue sky as they walked up the library stairs, “I joined the university because of a guy.”
“Ah.”
“So…yeah,” she scuffed the concrete, “What about you?” she asked as he held the door for her.
“It’s complicated.”
Before she could ask anything, he was pushed into the wall as someone barged pass. He didn’t actually hit the wall and recovered quickly to watch his roommate’s red hair bounce away from him and into the library. He breathed harshly through his nose, memories of accidental bruises and being blamed for constantly being in the way came to float before his vision. They stayed there for several seconds as he tried to stop him from cracking under the pressure of being yelled at by a dead woman. When he came back to the present day, Meg was waving a hand in front of his face, looking worried.
“I’m fine,” he said smiling fully despite still feeling unbidden anger. Meg wouldn’t do very good dead, she wasn’t the right kind to die, she was already afraid and hid behind no mask. Plus, the girl would share notes with him.
“Are you sure?” she looked back down the corridor, “he’s such a dick. Do you know him?”
Ryan sighed, “that’s my roommate.”
She shook her head, “Michael’s a dickhead.”
“You know him?”
“I’m friends with his friends.”
“Stoners?”
It was meant to be a joke but she seriously shook her head, “not those friends. They’re good though,” she continued smiling. She gasped, pointing to an occupied table, “come on, you need more friends than just me.”

Chapter Text

Ryan was ready to write a full-scale essay to Dr Phillip in his diary about what was happening today as Meg dragged him towards the table. Her grip was soft and more of a suggestion than force. He wasn’t afraid of it so he let her despite his babbling protests.
“I don’t think that’s a great idea.”
“Of course it is.”
“I’m not great at socialising.”
She looked back eyebrow raised and he looked around not sure what he’d done.
“Have you met me?”
It was an odd question, and only once she’d plonked down in a chair, did he work out what she meant. She immediately started talking to the girl to her left, leaving Ryan dumbfounded at what to do. he pulled out the chair next to her as quietly as he could and sat down. There were three of them; the red headed girl wearing cat ear hairband and two tall lanky boys, one with glasses and both with unfortunate haircuts in their own special ways. He brushed his own hair back out of embarrassment for them. None of them seem to mind his presence so he sat without cares, though very awkwardly, and refused to move to get any of his books out of his bag or to even take it off.
“What the fuck do you think you’re doing?”
Michael was back carrying a heap of book, stacked with their spines wonky. Ryan cocked his head to one side as it would help block out the dark thoughts of James.
“Michael don’t be mean," Meg snapped. "Ryan’s with me.”
“Damn I thought he looked more like a Jerry,” Glasses chortled. Meg then realised her mistake and went red.
“Um, everyone this is Ryan, he does theatre with me. This is Lindsay.” The cat girl waved, “Ray.”
“Sup.” Glasses offered his fist to Ryan, he looked at it pained but bumped it. It made him smile how scared he was of it. Ray also seemed to find it funny, laughing at Ryan.
“And this is Gavin.” Meg finished as Michael sat down beside the mentioned Gavin.
“’Ello.”
“English,” Ryan stated not really knowing what to say. It was all well and good to convince people he was sane from afar but having actual human conversations wasn’t something he was the best at.
“Yeah,” Michael said slowly, “he’s like an exchange student…who never left.”
“I did leave!”
“And then you came back!”
“Well I love you too, boi.”
Michael shook his head, lips twitching. it surprised Ryan that a boy like him would hang out with people like this. but who was he to question it. He surprisingly took out books of his own but Ryan decided not to question any of it. He took out of his books, though couldn’t focus too busy keeping his arms away from the new people, and hearing all their conversations mixed and bubbled in his head. Michael being here reminded him how very much he wasn’t welcome.
“You’re not from Austin, are you?”
Ray was talking and it was to him. He realised that Lindsay and Meg were talking with Gavin and Michael also talking, leaving Ray alone. The boy’s feet were on the table and made him twitch.
“No, I’m from Georgia.”
“That’s far away. I’m from Puerco Rico.”
“I see.”
“you’re not good at conversation, are you?”
Ryan blinked and stuttered, but Ray was still smiling so he answered honestly, “No, no I’m not.”
“Cool bro.” Ray looked up at the ceiling.
Ryan was pretty sure the boy was just confusing and it wasn’t him. He didn’t read his books or write his essay and stayed still until Meg got up to leave and he awkwardly followed.
“I’m sorry,” she said. Evening had come and the sky was darker. Ryan hated that he hadn't done any work, it made him feel sick.
“For what?”
“I should have realised how…weird it may be for you to just sit with my friends?”
He looked at her. She was rubbing her arms and looked at the floor.
“It was fine,” he shrugged, “I don’t mind.”
“Still…”
They walked back but she didn’t look up. He didn’t mind though he knew he should say something. But it was her fault not his. They got to the gate of his dorm.
“So yeah,” she said lamely.
“I’ll see you tomorrow.”
She smiled now, which was good because he didn’t have to try, he just had said what felt normal. ‘see Dr Phillips, I’m not that mad.’
“Okay Ryan.” She extended her arms but then stopped, “do you like hugs?”
He shook his head and took a step back.
“Okay got it.” She nodded seriously, her face set and turned away, “Bye Ryan, see ya tomorrow.”

‘Dear Dr Phillips,
I like Meg. She’s a good person. I wouldn’t hurt her and I can say that with certainty for her. She’s safe. But I feel like she trying to introduce me to her friends. I don’t know how to feel about that. Especially given Michael one of them, but-’

He shut the diary as the door swung open and Michael walked in. He sat up, and slowly slid the diary under his pillow. Michael didn’t climb up the beds and Ryan watched him out of the corner of his eye. He sighed when Michael leant down and into his personal space. He looked round.
“What’s your fucking problem?” Michael spat in his face.

Chapter Text

Ryan watched him for a long time, but the other boy didn’t relent in his glaring. The spit mark cooled on him face. He wanted to claw at it until his skin peeled away.
“What?” he said quietly.
“What the fuck are doing with Meg?”
He furrowed his eyebrows, what was he doing with Meg?
“S-studying?”
The boy’s hand slammed above the wooden board of the bed above, making Ryan flinched. The room in that second became a lot smaller with grey walls, Michael becoming older with years of drug abuse lining her face.
‘She’s dead.’
The room came back after the moment, but fear remained, James wanting to curl in on himself in his corner, just wanting to be left alone.
“Don’t mess with me, you cunt.”
He didn’t want to, he didn’t want to go in the cupboard.
‘God dammit don’t think about that!’
But it was becoming harder, the lines between now and the past were blurring until James wasn’t too sure where he was or even who he was. It had been a long time since he’d been a scared little boy cowering.
“Don’t you ever go near her, you hear me?”
He nodded, it was just more rules. Don’t talk to them, don’t go outside, you never tell them where you got the bruises from I’ll cut you ear to ear.
His mother was saying something, but he couldn’t focus and the fact he knew that made her upset made him even more blurry, his head filled with a fog trying to distract him. He was already on the brink of tears when the hand came down on his shoulder. That was when the screaming started. He screamed and yelled and pushed away but the beating never came, which made the tears run down faster. Why wasn’t she hitting him? Another hand came down on his other shoulder and he shook, reaching under his duvet for the knife he had stole the day before, he hadn’t wanted to use it here, he had wanted to savour the moment she died. But when he found nothing, he sobbed harder.
“Ryan, calm down, listen me.”
Ryan, that was his name now, Ryan didn’t panic.
“Breathe with me, breathe with me Ryan.”
He listened as hard as he could to the deep breathes and tried to copy. He looked into the brown eyes that were flecked with gold and were staring into his own. His breathing slowed and he kept watching them. He wanted to take those eyes out of the sockets and cut them open to touch the pretty colours.
“You back with us Ryan?” Michael let go of his shoulders and his eyes were torn away. Ryan nodded, swallowing.
Panic attacks. The doctors said he had chronic panic attacks. He wasn’t an idiot he knew what they were and what the signs for them were and, like Michael, how to stop them. But despite this he was convinced both he snapped and after his father died, his life had been one long never-ending panic attack with him crying and screaming and cowering, barely getting by. He had them all throughout his time in jail and on the first day he had been released, but this was the first time it had been in the presence of someone who didn’t know what caused them or even knew who was having them. Michael was running his hands through his hair.
“So, how do you come down? Do you need me to leave?” His voice was honest and pitying. Some part of him, the part that whispered blood and pain into his ear, wanted him to rise up and bring the boy down until he saw the true God he was speaking to. But Ryan knew he was shaking and weak, he reminded himself of this as he still wasn’t truly sure where he was.
“Don’t leave me alone.”
“Okay,” Michael said nodding.
“Just don’t talk.”
Michael continued to nod.
“I’m going to play at my computer, I won’t leave the room.”
Ryan nodded and turned his head away, listening to the sounds of Michael moving about. It helped remind himself that he was here and not…elsewhere. Even after the shaking stopped, he didn’t look up, he wanted to stay in his little bubble where no one else in the world existed. But slowly he gave in and looked up.
“I never thought you’d be kind of guy who knew how to calm someone down.”
Michael paused his game and Ryan wondered if he would shout again, he was sure if he did, Ryan won’t be able to control what James did.
“I never thought you’d be the kind of guy to have panic attacks.” He looked back at the paused screen, “I guess we’re full of surprises.”
“Why did you help me?”
“I’m not a monster.” ‘lucky you.’ “I just…get carried away sometimes. Especially when I think someone’s going to hurt my friends.”
“Why would I hurt your friends?”
Michael just shook his head and grabbed the spare controller from his desk.
“Wanna play?” he said holding it out to Ryan. Ryan still feeling cold and wobbly, felt tears come up again and wasn’t sure why. He nodded though and came up from his bunk, wheeling his own desk chair over to where Michael’s desk was.
“How do you play?” he asked as Michael loaded up a new game. For a second Michael looked like he was going to laugh before realising Ryan was being serious. The controls were easy enough, still Ryan wasn’t good. They played in silence at first but as they got more into it, Michael became louder, checking Ryan each time, until he became a red faced and roared at the top of his lungs at the screen. The game was about the undead and killing them. They were the only two elements Ryan could see, still he didn’t mind. Killing the dead seemed to be acceptable, especially given how Michael screamed and swore as he killed them in hordes. Ryan kept dying, but killed some himself and was being praised for it, Michael grinning at him. He gunned them all down one by one, listening to their gurgling screams as they died and laughed.

Chapter Text

They played the next day and the day after that. It was becoming a pleasant routine. It was a good game; something to occupy their hands with as they talked.
“So, what are you studying?”
“You know what I’m studying.”
“I’m making conversation you idiot.”
“Oh.”
That made sense, to ask the obvious. People always talked about the weather and everyone knew what the weather was like.
“Theatre. I always liked theatre, I may…maybe go into the theatre club.”
Michael didn’t mock and Ryan smiled.
“What about you?”
“Criminology.” The word was quiet and Ryan strained to hear it. He smiled cruelly.
“Huh, what’s that like?” he said as best he could without laughing at the irony.
“Gay.”
He frowned, “Then why did you take it?”
For a while there was only the clicking of buttons.
“I know a lot about jurisdictional system.”
Ryan snorted softly, he read a book like this once, a serial killer working in forensic. At least Ryan knew what to put first, survival, like his little character running on screen.

Ryan, weirdly, had left most of the killing to Michael while he took to obsessing over collecting each and every item in the game, the small trinkets and photos hidden in the buildings they raided for ammo and bandages.
“You know,” Michael grumbled on the second night of gaming, “the game is about killing things.”
“Yeah but I’ve only found 60% of the plants. And look I’ve only got two more photos left to find.”
The excitement of complete the album of photos made his heart race and he ran straight into another horde. The next half hour was spent screaming and fighting but almost dying. It wasn’t until 2am that something exciting happened again.
“Michael!” Ryan leapt up in his seat, gleeful cheering at the rotating pixelated polaroid on screen. The itch in his head was starched before another took its place, this time on the hunt for plants. It was a good itch, a productive itch.
“Well done mate.” Michael said smiling, lifting his hand before it faltered and dropped. Ryan knew something had happened in that minute but didn’t know how to address it. He helped Michael kill the hordes being loud in the space that Michael had left in his quiet mood.

They relationship stuck mostly to the game they played late at night, after studying. But Ryan became twitchy when later that week Michael found his way to his studying table. After the first incident of socialising, he and Meg would usually study after class together. Unfortunately for him, Meg had become a lot more confident and had joined the theatre society.
“You should come too. You’d be great!” she had said. He politely declined. In some way he wanted to go, but he wasn’t a fool, the more people expected him to be normal, more likely they’d realise he wasn’t. So, for two days a week Ryan studying and revising alone. He wasn’t complaining: his notes were stacked neatly, his books perfectly lined with the edge of the table and his pens arranged in order of how much ink was left in each of them. Michael’s bag swung down on the table, sending Ryan’s notes fluttering. Ryan stilled and looked up. Michael didn’t notice him watching for a minute but when he did, he rolled his eyes and pushed the bag to the floor with effort.
“Do you want me to leave?”
Ryan thought for a second. “It would be rude to ask you to leave.”
Michael huffed and stayed seated. Michael was thankfully a quiet reviser unlike his raging gaming self. An hour past in pleasant silence. Ryan even liked the company of the boy, he was a familiar presence, a comforting face. He would love to touch his skin as it turned cold and hold Michael’s face as he sobbed at James’ betrayal. He would hold his face so close and comfort him even as he twisted the knife. He’d kiss Michael’s tears as they streamed down his face. Ryan looked up through his lashes, but Michael’s red hair covered his face. He supposed that was a good thing, he shifted in his chair, he didn’t want to get carried away. Another chair at the table pulled out and Ray sat down, his hair bright with green dye. Before Michael could speak, Ryan spoke to the relaxed boy.
“When did you get your hair dyed, Ray?”
Half of friendship was remembering people’s names, it made them think that you cared. But Ray laughed and Ryan wondered if he had got it wrong and looked to Michael. Michael glared at Ray.
“Jeremey, don’t be a dick, the guy doesn’t know,” Michael snapped. He turned to Ryan, “this is Jeremey, Ray’s twin, he dyes his hair to…you know differentiate them. He’s in my lectures.”
“Yep, failed last year too,” Jeremy nodded, “well I failed, you-” Michael glared at him and Jeremy fell silent. He turned to Ryan as well.
“We both decided to do criminology together.”
“Together,” Ryan repeated. Jeremy got out his own books and Ryan watched his neat space disappear. The boy fell silent quickly, though it was different to Michael’s studying quiet. It was cold, off-putting, it was nothing like his brother and all too familiar to Ryan. Did Michael know how to deal with panic attack because of this boy? This boy, who felt so similar to Ryan in demeanour. Would he prefer to play late night games with him? He felt jealous very quickly, though wasn’t sure where it had bubbled up from. He tried to calm himself but could do no more work. After another long hour, Meg also pulled up a chair, red faced and grinning.
“Ryan!” she squealed, making Ryan flinch and Michael glare at her as well. She ignored them and continued with same speech she’d been giving him for the last few weeks, “you have to come next week, it’s so much fun!”
“It’s…not me really.”
“What’s not?” Michael said, perking up, though Jeremy was still engrossed.
“Theatre society,” Meg said.
Michael frowned, “I thought you said you were joining.”
“I said I was thinking about it.”
“Why haven’t you joined then?”
Words didn’t want to form and he took Michael’s default answer: he shrugged.
“I’m not good at people stuff. I wouldn’t know what to do in front of a crowd.”
“But I’ll be there,” Meg said jumping on her seat.
“And Lindsay,” Michael added.
Meg nodded violently, “Yeah Lindsay, Lindsay awesome, you must join but of Lindsay.”
“Yes,” Ryan put his hands up in surrender, “Lindsay amazing, but I’m not going to join just because of Lindsay.”
“Well you’re an idiot then,” Michael muttered, but Meg spoke over him.
“But you have to join! We haven’t even chosen the play yet, but you’d be great on stage, Rye!”
Ryan turned to Michael for support.
The boy shrugged, “I think it would be cool to see you act,” he said quietly. The butterflies that formed, smothered the fire in his stomach. He wished they’d go away after they did their job.
“Really?” he asked.
Again, Michael shrugged, “I’d go to that stupid play if you were in it.”
There was silence and they looked at each other. Ryan didn’t know what was happening, he could barely describe the feeling in his gut, just more butterflies upon butterflies until he thought he would burst. He turned back at Meg, who looked like she’d already won the argument.
“Maybe.”

Chapter Text

That next week Ryan found himself in the doorway of the university Atrium. He looked down the stairs to the stage where the college students were already gathering, a few he vaguely recognised from the lectures. They were singing, dramatically performing and screaming their hearts out. It was like a band of monkey, and he wanted to tear his ears off his face at the sounds. That was the easy option, he’d much prefer to tear out the offending teens’ throats. But he was armed with Meg on one side and Lindsay on the other, so took a deep breath and stepped in. Lindsay as he’d found out, had been the theatre society’s director for the previous year and was doing the show this year as well.
“We’ll be deciding today what production will do,” she had told him (Meg thought it might help him stay calm), “Mostly Shakespeare, I’d like to give it a go, so we’ll be performing some scene, working it through as a group…it’ll be fun.”
He wasn’t convinced.
“I’ll be there Ryan,” Meg had said kindly. He wanted to scold her, he wasn’t a child, he could bring pain and suffering and those who felt it, would be grateful for it.
“Thanks,” he had said instead, cold sweat making him shiver.
He needn’t have worried. It was…tolerable. It reminded him of school when he was still allowed to go. Excitable children playing their silly games, James trying his best to keep up, with all his scarps and bruises. He always liked acting, and was glad to do it. He wished Michael had been there, he was the whole reason he was going. In fact, where was Michael? When he returned to his dorm it was empty and he frowned. He wished the butterflies in stomach would go away. He felt a sudden urge to dig through his flesh with his nails until he purged them. He decided against it and walked out of the room and locked the door before heading back out of the Halls. He had to find Michael for…whatever reason. He wandered around campus until he saw familiar face. His heart sank when he recognised the hair.
“Oh, hey Jeremy.”
“Ryan,” he pointed at him, “right?”
“Yes.”
Jeremy nodded his head slowly, smiling. Ryan wanted to strangle him.
“I’m looking for Michael, do you know where he is?”
Jeremy looked at his watch and looked around the green grounds as if he’d see him.
“Have you tried behind Menston? The law building? He goes there to…you know-”
“Blaze it!” A gaggle of girls jumped as Ray bellowed so loudly it echoed across the campus. He was standing not far behind Ryan, grinning. He jogged past to his twin’s side. Now they were side by side Ryan could see the difference: Ray was leaner, while Jeremy was shorter. Both had emotionless gazes on their faces but Ryan wanted to punch Jeremy’s and was fine to leave Ray alone…for now. He wondered how much Jeremy would scream if Ryan killed his twin in front of him, spraying his blood over Jeremy’s skin.
“Thanks,” he said cheerful, jogging to Menston. All of CockBite’s buildings looked exactly the same, same grey bricks and dirty windows, made up of three storeys and concrete steps leading up to the front double doors. The only difference was the words emblazoned above each door, Menston’s read: Menston: Law, Business and Economics. He went round the side of the building where it backed onto barb wired fence and behind that, a dingy road with squashed housing watching over the university. Pushed beside the fire exit was a large dumpster, on top of which sat Michael wearing his leather jacket and cut trousers, which Ryan really thought needed stitching up. The clothing didn’t look out of place surrounded by his…friends. However, Ryan never felt more out of place. But here, wanting to speak Michael, wanting to know why his stomach was trying to eat itself and seeing him surrounded by others of his ‘kind’ it made his realise how much he was relying Michael and how much he wasn’t in his world. As he came round the corner he froze and the ragged group glared at him. Michael did the same at first until realised it was Ryan, then he merely looked confused slowly looking at his friends sat either side.
‘Why would you think any of those normal kids would like you James, you stupid boy?’ His head twitched as old memories cascaded forward. The good feelings of theatre were tarnished by the other thoughts of school. Of whispered giggles that followed him around and concern mutters about how scraggly he was, how quiet he was. His cupboard felt perfectly fine if he could pretend he was hiding from the children and teachers. But he was in the open, the sky too bright, his heart too loud and the gang was still watching him, Michael sitting with them. One of them jumped down, Michael flinched but stayed sitting. The boy approaching him was muscular and broad.
When he spoke, his voice was gruffer than he was expecting, “What are you doing there, punk?” he punched his open hand on ‘punk’, making Ryan take a step back.
‘What? You ran?! And this is why Ben left, because he knew he son was becoming a cowering faggot? Fucking ran like a little piece of shit!’
“Leave him alone!” Michael had spoken, jumping down from the dumpster, his eyes as bloodshot as the others. It didn’t look like the Michael Ryan knew, this one had a cigarette in his hand and was on the other side.
“What is he, your boyfriend?” the threatening boy called back, “perfectly fine if he is, I’m merely want to make you feel inferior due to homophobic stereotype you believe in.”
Michael rolled his eyes, “fuck off, just leave him alone.”
The boy turned back to Ryan smiling, Ryan only the verge of something…whether it was tears or punching someone he wasn’t too sure.
“Sure, we’re all friends here.”
A hand fell on his shoulder and James felt a rage he hadn’t felt since his grandmother had stormed in on his fun with mother. Once again, he had to show mere mortal what it felt like to feel the wrath of a God. The boy was slumped against the fence with a blood streaming from behind his hands clenched to his face, before Ryan even realised he had move. He gasped for fresh air as the boy’s friends jumped off the bin. James wanted to run at them take them one by one until he reached Michael. Their eyes met and look made Ryan run.
“Get him!”
“You guys check on Blaine, I’ll get him!”
That was Michael’s voice, he was angry. It’s was Michael footsteps following down the gravel. He felt his eyes burn.
‘You piece of shit.’
He stopped and punched back but Michael dodged it and kicked him down to the path. Ryan groaned as his head bounced. He didn’t recover quick enough and Michael was on top of him, hands holding his shoulders down. He was truly trapped and cried out like an animal.
“Ryan, shh, it’s okay, I’m not going to hurt you.”
He wanted to believe Michael, he was being so nice to him, he needed to believe him. He realised he was shaking and jittering gibberish.
“It’s okay Ryan,”
Slowly, he let go of Ryan’s shoulders.
“I-I hurt your friend.”
“Blaine?” Michael laughed, “he’ll be fine and he won’t care. Either way,” he added, “they’ll forget. Blaine’s the only one who actually goes here.
He didn’t believe him, “I shouldn’t have done it.”
“Nah,” Michael shrugged, “but it was pretty hot.”
Ryan frowned and the shaking stopped, confused.
“Hot?”
Michael didn’t look abashed at the word so Ryan took the compliment.
“Thanks?”
Michael laughed, “sure why not?” They fell silent with Michael still straddling Ryan on the gravel with no intentions of getting up. The moment stretched and Ryan notice the warm presence of Michael’s hand against his cheek, his thumb twitching as it settled next to the corner of his mouth. They were so close, breathing in time and Ryan needed Michael to do something because he sure as hell didn’t know what that something was.
“We…we should get up,” Michael said weakly. Ryan wanted to argue, but he didn’t really know how to argue for staying on the ground other than it felt nice. He let Michael take his hand and pull him up.
“Why were you even round there?” Michael asked as they walked back to their dorms.
Ryan found it hard to breathe and he shrugged.
“Were you looking for me?”
Ryan gave him a look and Michael nodded thoughtfully.
“Ah,” was all he said. They continued in silence, Ryan’s face burning.
“So how was theatre?”
Ryan stopped, “W-what?”
Michael turned and shrugged, “well that’s why you came to find me. That was today, wasn’t it? How was it?”
Once again, his throat felt like a hand was pressed lightly against it and his finger twitched. He didn’t know why they did, he just knew it had something to do with Michael’s red curls.

Chapter Text

Ryan flicked back a page of the script Lindsay had stuffed into his hand:

‘Much ado about nothing.’

He’d never leisurely read Shakespeare, and though it was an interesting play, but he could barely concentrate.

 

He thought about kissing Michael a lot. Kissing his wounds, his tears and more innocent places like his mouth and head. He’d only kissed one other man and it hadn’t worked out well for him. He smiled as he thought of Edgar. Ryan pitied him for thinking James was the one who needed help. He had punched back but the knife in his gut stopped it from affecting James too much. His blood had tasted so good and James had whispered over and over again how Edgar should thank him. And when he didn’t he had cut off his finger. When he finally did thank his God…

 

He smiled.

“What you smiling at?”

Ryan jumped, folding the papers over his lap as Meg sat down beside him. He looked away.

“You okay?”

No, Michael was ruining everything. He couldn’t kill, not yet, but with Michael it was different…he just didn’t have a bloody clue how.

“I'm… Feeling…”

“Oh no?”

“For someone.”

Megs lips stretched slowly into a smile he leant back waited.

“Oh my God!”

He jumped back, what was scarring him most was that the tone wasn't right. Meg's face fell immediately, hands out in surrender.

“Sorry!” she hissed. It didn't stop the shaking and pounding heart in his chest. More than anything her pity made him anger, she looked so worried for him. He wished he could tear out her eyes so he didn’t have to feel them staring at him.

“Oh my god,” she said quieter, “do I know them?”

He nodded. She squealed behind her hands, her face turning red.

“Who is she? Is it Lindsay? Is it someone from theatre?”

“... No.”

“Oh come on tell me who she is then!”

He pressed his lips together and gave her a sideways glance.

“Or he?” she added quickly, “or anyone?”

“The second one.”

“Right well… You coming out is going to save you, you have to tell me who he is!” She giggled and pushed his side lightly. Ryan vaguely remember the fussing around Valentine’s day, fellow child giving brief kisses and screaming and running away. This felt like a grown-up version of that. Giggles and all.

He smiled too.

“It’s Michael.”

There was a pause.

“Michael?” she said, her tone cold. He looked at her again and her eyes were worried.

“W-why? Michael's… Michael.”

“I like Michael.” He blushed after finally admitting it.

“Yeah I know but-” she stopped and placed her hands neatly in lap and sighed, “Look, that's great, really,” she added at his raised eyebrows, “but… you should be careful. Do you know why he dropped out?”

He shook his head.

“You should, ask him before hand.”

He scoffed, before what? He told him all the murderous dreams he kept having about him. Before telling him : ‘Hey, I'm attracted to you, can I murder you?’ But he was sure that wasn't what he wanted to say. For once it felt like Ryan truly wanted something and James merely was trying to twist it.

For once Ryan pushed James away.

“What would I ask him?” he asked quietly.

“Well… Perhaps if he's gay.” He flinched at the word.

“I… I don't know.”

Meg gave him a one-sided smile and leant against her purple hair trailing down onto his script.

“How do you make someone… have feelings for you?”

She giggled, “boy if I knew that. Umm…Show any interest in them, make sure they know you care, I guess, just be you.”

If he was himself, Michael would be dead.

“Come on,” she snatched it from his hands, “I'll test you.”

“Why don't I test you?” he snatched it back.

“Because I'm going to force you to audition. I'm going to do lighting.” She grabbed the script and wiggled out of his reached.

“Lighting? Why lighting?”

Her face turned red, “just… am.” She slapped the script down on her leg before hiding her tomato shaded face behind it.

“Come on, let's give it a go.”

 

He walked back into his dorm room exhausted. Michael was sat at his desk and turned as he walked in.

“Alright?”

‘I want to kill you and kiss you as you die in my arms and lick away your blood.’

“Fine. You?”

Michael shrugged and turned back to his work. Ryan sat down on his bed, fiddling with his hands.

‘Show him you care.’

“What you doing?”

“Work.”

“What kind of work?”

Michael stopped typing and turned back confused. Ryan looked away.

“Do you care?”

“Of course, I care.”

Michael narrowed his eyes.

‘Fuck it.’ he got up and leant over Michael.

He sighed and gestured to the essay he was writing.

“It’s quite of interesting actually,” he said softly

It certainly sounded important and much more sciencey than Ryan’s theatre lecturers. But frankly he didn’t care, what he cared about was hearing Michael talking, getting more enthusiastic as he explained more and watching his hair bounce as he gestured. He wished he could smell his skin, and feel how soft it was. How great it would feel to peel off. He shook his head, grabbing his chair to sit talk beside Michael. He was fine with just listening for now.

Chapter Text

"It's about a woman and a man who accidently confess their love to each other through deception and comedy."
"It sounds gay."
Ryan looked down at the script and bit his lip.
"You think everything’s gay."
Michael sucked air through his teeth, "I do say it a lot." He didn't say as else, and Ryan sighed, laying the script back down on his desk.
"So what part of you wanna play?"
Ryan was surprised expecting Michael to leave.
He stuttered and flubbed as he picked up the play again, "I-I er-pro-probably Benedict, he's the male lead...maybe I-I don't know."
Michael laughed, it was huffy and made Ryan’s insides flutter.
"I think you'd be great."
"You never seen me act, I’ve never acted."
Michael shrugged, "Then I'll come and see you at your audition. Then we'll see how shit you are."
He did know Michael was joking but it didn't make him feel any better.
"The auditions are in two weeks, I...I don't think I'm ready."
"Hey if you're really worried I'm sure I can convince Lindsay to let in the play." Michael winked, and Ryan shook his head.
"I'm sure I'll be fine." Yet still he looked over the highlighted audition lines, mouthing them under his breathe as Michael pushed his chair back to his own desk. It was Saturday and unusually Michael was studying while Ryan had decided to use the free day to practice. But now he was shaking for a new reason and couldn't stop smiling. Michael had come over, he asked him what he was doing. He grinned like an idiot.
"Hey Ryan?" Michael called across the room now bent over his laptop.
He hummed, not trusting his voice.
"Meg was telling me you don't have a phone?"
"Oh yeah, no."
There was silence and Ryan turned round. Michael looked at him through narrowed eyes and then looked at his hands. Ryan waited unsure what he was about to say.
“Why?”
Ryan shrugged, “I never had a phone.”
Michael looked up and Ryan wished he hadn’t, his stomach flipping unpleasantly. He looked at him like he was mad. It was the look James felt the need to strangle out of him, but that only made Ryan feel ashamed.
And then Michael scoffed and smiled, “Okay, we’re buying you a phone.”

There were no if or buts as Michael dragged him up of Theatre on Tuesday. Michael planned to be the into town by bus, though the duo were soon joined by a curious and worried Meg and Lindsay. Things got weirder however, when Gavin materialised with the group, possibly Meg’s fault. Ray had then been texted by Gavin and Jeremy was texted by Ray. And by the time Ryan, still being dragged along by Michael got onto the bus, the entire gang was coming to, excited to buy Ryan’s first phone. The eager Gavin and laughing Ray didn’t help his new nerves and Jeremy’s smile made him want to punch him.

The nattering shoppers bumped and pushed into him, their voices bouncing off the white walls creating a painful din. Ryan scratched at the back of his neck, plucking at stray hairs.
“Come on,” Meg said quietly beside him, “It’ll be quieter in the phone shop.”
“With this lot?” he said looking back over his shoulder as Michael started yelling at Ray as Ray hid himself in his hood in defiance. For a bizarre moment, Ryan wished Michael would shout at him. Michael saw him and smiled, making Ryan stomach flip again, much more pleasantly. They eventually worked their way through the maze of shops and reached the phone shop, with its bright blue interior and small dressed attendees with blue tooth headsets. While Ryan stared in, Meg turned to the group.
“Right, only Ryan is gonna go in.”
There was an audible groan from the group, but Ryan ignored them. The shop looked to bright and if he entered he’d be the only customer, surrounding by smile well dressed nurses. He shook his head, but he still felt sick. He looked into the room again, there was only one table, the lights above too bright, the walls covered in smiling cartoon characters. It was meant to be a children hospital after all. Jack was there, smiling reassuringly as James looked round the corner, but there were others, stranger nurses, all of them women and when he didn’t move, they came towards him, always smiling.
“Ryan!” He jumped turning back. Meg was smiling.
‘It’s fine, Meg’s allowed to smile.’ He tried telling himself, but it still made his skin itch more.
“Are you gonna go in?”
“No,” and he pressed his feet firm the ground. He couldn’t go in, not again. He felt lightheaded, and though he had turned away, looking at the faces of his friends he could see the strange nurses again.
“Wha’?”
“Come on Ryan!”
“We’re here to get you a fucking phone!”
“Come on don’t be a dick.”
There voices were rising, and James could help but feel the hands, so gently pulled him into the room.
“No, no, no,” he kept repeating the word and couldn’t stop, they were crowding round wanting to touch him. To hurt him for making a scene.
“Guys, back the fuck up!”
Ryan wasn’t sure what happened, but given Jeremy was rubbing his arm when they got into the car later and Michael muted and red-faced apology to Lindsay, he assumed Michael had punched his way through the group to get to him.
“Back up!” he shouted again, before turning to Ryan, who was trying his best to keep his hands firmly against his sides.
“Hey, hey it’s okay,” Michael soothed.
Ryan nodded, “S-sorry. I’m causing such a scene.”
“No, you’re not, they’re being idiot,” then quieter he added, “we’re being idiots. I didn’t mean to pressure you.”
“I know.”
“Hey Rye,” Meg stepped forward, watching Michael like a wild dog, “why don’t we get some fresh air?”
“Yeah, come on R-bro,” Ray said, smiling as if nothing had happened. Ryan cringed but felt lighter. Michael held his elbow gently as they walked away and though Ryan’s stomach felt low from being so stupid, everything felt better with Michael beside him. When they made their way back through the crowds and open the door, he did in fact feel like he could breathe again. Meg gave him a small smile.
“Sorry Rye, we shouldn’t have pressured you.”
“No, I shouldn’t have been so dumb.”
“Well it probably wasn’t the best idea for about a dozen people to be pressuring you.”
“More like six,” he said quietly.
“Ryan, it’s okay, I should have realised that you probably wouldn’t appreciated it. We shouldn’t have all come.”
“But-”
“Shut up Ryan Haywood!” Lindsay interrupted, waggling a finger at him, “Don’t go blaming yourself for something we did, we’re assholes, we admit that.” She rubbed the small bruise on her cheek.
“Now,” she turned to the group at large while Meg smiled at Ryan and tentatively lay a hand on his shoulder. “How are we getting back to Cock Bite? The next bus isn’t for another half an hour.”
“We could walk,” Jeremy shrugged, leaning himself against Ray, who gave his brother a look of disgust at the suggestion.
“We could buy a car,” Gavin suggested, pointing to the car dealership across the road. It earnt him a cuff from Lindsay, but Ryan looked at the colourful banners and across the sparkling clean cars.
“Yeah,” he whispered and walked away from the group, jogging as he could closer.
“Ryan?” he heard Meg call after him, but he already was in the rows of cars.
He looked through a row of cars until a found one big enough, a grey ugly looking nine-seater. He looked at the price displayed in bold lettering across it’s windshield. He continued to look at it. Ryan didn’t have the greatest grasp of money, but he knew that that was money he had.
“Can I help you?” a miserable sale person glared over at him. This was more like it.
“Ryan?” Meg was looking at the car as well, the others in hot pursuit of them.
“What do you think?” he asked Meg.
“I don’t know I’m not really a car person.”
“And they’re all build wrong,” Gavin panted out, having raced the other boys. Lindsay was far behind, shaking her head.
“You can’t drive dumbass!” Michael shouted, gaining them a glare from the salesman.
“Well neither can-” Gavin stopped himself and Ryan ignored the silence behind him, instead nodded to the car.
“What do you think Michael?”
“Of this one? The nine-seater people carrier?”
“Is it not good?”
“Sure, if you have eight kids.”
He nodded to the crowd behind them, earning a laugh from Michael. That made his stomach flip again and he decided he liked the feeling. He turned to salesmen.
“I’ll take it.”
“Take…it?”
He nodded.
“Now?”
“Do you not want me to?”
“No,” he said quickly, a small disbelieving smile crossed his face, but he let it slide and coughed, “er…lets…let’s talk numbers.”
There was a lot of signing, though not nearly as much as Ryan had expected. When he had shrugged at the mention of his driving license, the man shrugged back. However, line after line had to be signed and the next bus came and went, with the others sitting just outside the man’s office, waiting. But finally, the man drove the car into the Mall Car Park, shook Ryan’s hand and that was that.

Michael clicked in his seat beat, looking into the back that everyone that squished themselves in too. When they finally were settled, Ryan sighed.
“Anyone know how to drive?”
“The fuck!” Came the unanimous answer from the car.