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Mutual

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Serene fixed both boys with a stare. “I do not understand why it falls to me to facilitate this conversation, given that you both should be more naturally inclined to emotional mending than myself. However, I will do what needs to be done. Elliot, you begin. Tell Luke what you told me.”

Elliot knew that he’d behaved badly, but this seemed like a steep punishment. After years of trying to keep the weapons out of Luke’s hands, he was going to what—just hand them over nicely and say, “Please don’t hurt me?” Luke was very good with weapons. Precise and deadly.

Elliot cleared this throat. He picked a feather out of his hair. He cleared his throat again.

“You should begin speaking before we arrive back at the camp. There is a great deal to say.”

Exactly. That was what made the words stick in his throat like this.

“Okay. I’m really sorry. I went too far, and it was spiteful and wrong, and I’m very very sorry. You were right about stuff back in the human world, and I wanted to hurt you, but it was a low blow, and I’m ashamed of myself. I honestly feel terrible, Luke. I can’t apologize enough.”

He chanced a look at Luke’s face and was surprised to see him less stony than a moment ago.

Luke started to speak, but Serene cut him off. “Elliot is only beginning.”

“What?” Elliot yelped. “That was—I thought that was a good apology.”

“I told you to tell Luke what you told me. The apology was only part of it.”

Elliot despaired. He was probably blushing, and the relief he’d felt at forcing out the apology curdled. “Fine. Serene said something about the way you treated me not being a good way to treat a friend, and I told her she was wrong, and that you’d never considered me a friend.”

Luke’s face was stony again. Had he wanted the truce to remain a secret from Serene? They’d been making headway moments ago. Elliot was doing this wrong. He was—he was throwing the weapons when he was supposed to be handing them over, and he didn’t even know why it was happening.

“Continue, Elliot,” Serene prompted.

“But actually I’ve considered you my friend for years.” Elliot’s hands curled into fists. What was he planning on doing with fists? He forced them flat. “And I was just trying not to admit it to myself for some time before that. I thought it was, that is, I never thought it was mutual, but Serene thought I could be wrong.”

At this point Elliot couldn’t make himself look at Luke’s face. Not even for Serene. Not only had he handed over the sharpest weapon he had, he’d also stripped off any useful armor and was standing there metaphorically naked, waiting to be skewered.

Luke started laughing. Elliot physically winced, and his eyes dragged across Luke’s face. He’d been hit enough times to know it didn’t matter if you saw it coming, but still. There was something about facing the threat.

“When you told that drama girl that we weren’t friends, that it wasn’t mutual, you meant because you didn’t think you were my friend?”

“Obviously,” Elliot snapped. “I didn’t know you heard that, but if you did, it seems that you already knew we had a one-sided arrangement and were fine with it, so I don’t know why I had to go through this excruciating confession. Thank you very much, Serene, for engineering this opportunity, and now I think I will—“

“I thought you meant the other way round,” Luke interrupted.

“Why would I mean the other way round?” Elliot snapped.

“I was the one always interrupting you when you were hanging out wither her. I thought you hated that.” Luke muttered. “Why would I think you meant that you actually liked me?”

Elliot spluttered. It was much as Serene had hinted the night before, but rather more forceful.

“You were the one always telling me to go away.”

“Oh my god, so you can hear me. I thought your ears were somehow modified to tune out—“

“Of course I can hear you telling me to get lost so you can hang out with your friends. For some reason, when you said that our friendship wasn’t mutual, I got the wild and bizarre impression that you knew I wanted your friendship more than you wanted mine.”

Now Luke was rather red in the face, and Elliot felt a swoop of despair. He’d messed up. Luke-who-looked-after-little-kids, Luke-who-was-sincere-about-everything, Luke-who-found-tricky-ways-of-inviting-him-for-summer-so-he-wouldn’t-be-alone. Of course Elliot had made the mistake. He’d been cruel.

“I’m sorry.” It came out in a small voice. “I’m an idiot. I don’t know how to do friendship properly. As you said, I haven’t got any—“

“I should never have said any of that,” Luke said fiercely. “I think the human world sounds stupid anyway. You should stay here with me and Serene.”