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Like his friends, Michael didn’t see the point in going to class. He knew the things he wanted to know and the rest was just trivial filler to keep him there until three, just so after thirteen years he could get a piece of paper that confirms he’s of at least average intelligence. But, like most fourteen-year-olds, he lived with his parents, and they had expectations - not high ones, but high enough to be a burden. The worst of which was that he must pass every subject in school.

‘Dumb bitch,’ he muttered when his history teacher, a stout woman with curly brown hair and jeans pulled up to her rib cage, told another student to put their hand down. He hadn’t even bothered to learn her name, she was just another conformist bitch, but she grated on him more than others. Not only did she teach straight from the textbook, but she blatantly ignored any and all questions posed by her students. He didn’t know why she was even there. He didn’t know why he was there. He could learn just as much reading his textbook in the parking lot with Pete, Henrietta, and a cigarette, but he knew this bitch was vindictive enough to call his mother over one missed class.

In his peripheral, he saw another hand go up. It was the same person she scolded a few minutes ago. ‘Mike, that’s enough. All the answers are in the chapter.’

‘Please, miss,’ a girl started, but the teacher shook her head. Mike put his hand down.

Curious and bored as hell, Michael peered around to see what had the so-called vampires all worked up. For reasons he didn’t care to analyse, his stomach lurched when he spotted Mike, one hand to his throat and the other on his stomach, breathing heavily. He didn’t look right. Even under his white make-up, Michael could tell he was losing colour, his normally ivory skin dulling to grey. The girl beside him moved her hand up and down in front of her, guiding his breathing.

Michael tapped his cane on the desk of the boy beside him. ‘What?’ the chubby, freckled kid asked. His eyebrows were furrowed in annoyance, but Michael was used to it. It was the same reaction he always got, which was good, because it meant the kid wasn’t conceded enough to think they were friends.

‘Ask Count Fagula over there if he’s alright.’

‘Why do you care?’ The kid crossed his arms.

Michael scoffed. ‘I don’t, but I also don’t want to listen to any of his dumb arse followers crying if he drops dead.’

The kid rolled his eyes but still did as asked and leaned across the empty desk between him and the vampire girl. A few seconds later he sat back and no longer looked annoyed, but down-right pissed.

‘She says he’s having an asthma attack but the teacher won’t let them leave. She won’t even listen!’

Michael wasn’t surprised, the bitch wouldn’t care if a student showed up on fire. He was even less surprised to see Mike’s breathing getting quicker and more shallow, yet he was still being a good little honour student and staying quiet. Well, Michael didn’t have to stay quiet. He was joking about Mike dying, but now it was starting to look like that may actually happen.

Michael put his hand up and the teacher glanced at him, then back down at her computer, ignoring him. ‘Hey, bitch!’

A few students gasped and the boy beside him snickered. ‘Michael-’ the teacher started in a firm, practiced tone, but he cut her off.

‘Yeah, whatever. One of your students is, like, dying over there,’ he waved his hand towards the other side of the classroom. ‘So maybe you should get off your fat arse and do something about it.’

The teacher glanced towards Mike for a second, seeming to process the situation, before rounding back on Michael, her cheeks an ugly, blotchy red. ‘How dare you speak to me that way! Didn’t your parents teach you respect? I don’t care about the circumstances, you should never use such disgusting language towards a teacher-’

She continued her rant, but Michael had heard all he needed. She didn’t care about the circumstances. He glanced back across the room and Mike had his eyes closed, his complexion absolutely sickly. In a mix of indignation and pity, he shoved his textbook into his satchel and stood up.

‘And where are you going?’ The bitch asked, but he ignored her and headed towards Mike.

The vamp-kid looked up at him wearily, the bags under his eyes almost black, and didn’t resist when Michael hauled him out of his seat and dragged him, stumbling, out of the classroom.

In the hallway Michael stopped and allowed Mike to slump against him and catch as much breath as he could. At this proximity he could hear the tight, rattled wheezing, and feel the boy trembling. ‘Should I call an ambulance?’

Mike nodded, seemingly unable to speak.

Michael made the call, then put an arm around his waist and helped him out onto the front steps of the school. Once they were both seated, the goth opened his satchel and rummaged around in it, looking for something he hadn’t needed in months.

‘Here,’ he said as he held out his ventolin. Mike stared at him with wide eyes, then accepted it.

He took out the cartridge, checked the date, then took four weak puffs. ‘You too?’ he muttered.

Michael rolled his eyes. ‘No shit. It’s like the most common disease in the country.’

Mike smiled weakly. ‘Thanks.’

‘Don’t. I may hate you and your faggy, conformist friends, but I wouldn’t let you die because of that whore.’

Mike started to laugh, but it quickly dissolved into an aggressive coughing fit. Michael rubbed his back until the spasms stopped. ‘Thanks. Really.’

‘Why don’t you have your own inhaler, anyway? Aren’t you wannabes supposed to be worried about your health?’

Mike nodded. ‘I gave mine to Mr Makey, so I wouldn’t lose it.’

‘Well, that was stupid.’ Michael sighed and grabbed one of the stray cigarettes he found at the bottom of his bag, but before he could find his lighter Mike snatched it away and threw it onto the footpath. ‘The fuck?!’

Mike gawked at him. ‘You can’t smoke with asthma! You can’t smoke around me with my asthma!’ Mike yelled, then put his hand to his throat and took a few deep breaths, still far from recovered.

‘Shut up arsehole, it helps.’

‘No, it doesn’t,’ Mike said. Michael pulled a fresh cigarette out of his pocket and lit it, making a point of blowing the smoke in the other boy’s face. He coughed and pulled his shirt over his nose. ‘What is wrong with you?!’

‘I told you, it helps.’

‘You’re a piece of work.’

He laughed and took another drag.

Mike slowly lowered his shirt and giggled. ‘Let me try?’

Michael raised an eyebrow. ‘What?’

Mike held out his hand. ‘You said it helps and I trust you, per se. So let me try.’

‘Are you going to throw it on the road?’

‘No.’

Michael hesitated for a moment, then handed him the cigarette. ‘Okay.’

Mike stared at it, bringing it towards his face and examining the filter. Finally, he put it to his lips and inhaled. Michael had expected him to choke, or cough, or vomit like he had the first time, but he was fine. Mike held the smoke in his lungs for a moment less than Michael normally would, but much longer than most beginners, then exhaled. ‘That...’ he took a couple of deep, clear breaths, ‘actually worked.’

Michael smiled and took the cigarette back. As he took another breath himself, the filter was still hot and damp from Mike’s mouth and that didn’t go unnoticed. Their eyes met, something like acceptance exchanged between them, and they shared a smile.

The ambulance arrived and the moment was broken. As Mike was loaded into the ambulance, one of the paramedic giving the smoking Goth a filthy look, Michael decided that the entire situation had been far too dramatic.

Chapter Text

‘What do you think you’re doing?’

Mike jumped in his seat. He looked up and found Michael standing behind him, his figure hazy from the cloud of smoke that surrounded him and seeped towards the desk, engulfing them both in a stormy fog. He would have found it beautiful if it weren’t for the hot, bitter smell of tobacco. ‘I’m sitting in my seat, per se,’ he said, lisping slightly around the plastic canines, and pointed to the paper taped to the desk.

Michael took a moment to register Mike’s name on one side of the double desk, and then his own on the other, at his usual spot. ‘What the hell,’ he said, slowly, his voice laced with contempt.

‘It seems the teacher has implemented a new seating plan.’

Michael stubbed out his cigarette on Mike’s book bag, making the boy wonder, not for the first time, why the school didn’t have fire alarms. ‘There is no way I’m sitting with some douchey vamp-kid.’

Mike frowned. ‘Why does it matter, it’s not like you ever come to class anyway?’

Michael glared but said nothing. He didn’t want to argue that he had, indeed, been to every class this semester and sat at this very desk at the back of the room, because then Mike would think he cared what he thought. He also didn’t want to tell Mike why he had been coming to class, about the threats the school had made to keep him back, because then the straight-A student would know just how bad he was really doing. He couldn’t afford to fail ninth grade, not when he was so close to getting out of this school.

The teacher strolled in, all smiles, and ordered everyone to take their assigned seats. Michael sighed, muttered a defeated ‘whatever’, and sat down.

The class began and the Goth found himself growing progressively more irritated by the other boy. He could feel Mike’s eyes on him, only to glance away mere moments before being caught. He tried to tell himself that he was imagining it, that there was no way Mike cared about what he was doing, and he was just paranoid. He was supposed to be a nihilist, him and his friends didn’t care about anything or anyone outside of their little group, yet the thought of someone thinking otherwise, knowing that he cared about his grades and what his teachers said, horrified him. As time passed, he found himself taking fewer and fewer notes, until he was no longer even holding his pencil. He still sensed Mike looking at him, but he felt better knowing his facade was back in place. He considered the consequences of lighting up a new cigarette in the middle of the lesson, just to drive the point home. Probably suspension. Maybe he should save that until later in the year.

He decided that, instead of getting himself into trouble, he would challenge Mike. When the boy next looked at him, he looked back. He didn’t catch his eyes, once again too slow for that, but he continued staring. He wanted to make him squirm. As his eyes raked over the boy who was already beginning to twitch, he noticed something on the crook of Mike’s neck, reaching up to just above his shirt collar. 

‘Dude,’ he started, and finally Mike met his eyes. ‘Is that a hickey?’

Mike’s ears turned red and he spun to the side, a finger to his lips. ‘Not so loud,’ he whispered.

Michael raised an eyebrow. ‘Seriously?’

Mike put a hand over his eyes. He couldn’t believe he was having this conversation with one of the Goths, of all people. ‘Yes, just, please don’t say anything.’

Michael continued to watch him sceptically. ‘Why would I? I don’t give two shits about your sex life, I just can’t believe one of those Brittany Spears wannabes would want to touch a faggot like you.’

Despite the insult, Mike was relieved that at least he didn’t have to dodge any questions. ‘Yeah.’

They both went back to their schoolwork, and Michael was pleasantly surprised to no longer have eyes on him, distracting him from whatever nonsense he needed to memorise for the next test.

 

*

 

Despite what he’d said, Michael couldn’t help but find himself hyper aware of the actions and company of the Vampire leader. When they passed each other in the hallway he would do a quick scan of Mike’s appearance, looking for anything particularly telling, and take note of his companions. He checked how close they each stood to him, their facial expressions, and who he saw with him the most often. He tried to stop himself, but it was impossible. This morbid curiosity he had developed got the best of him, and he couldn’t stop wondering about Mike’s relationships.

He confided in his friends, who were suitably disgusted with him, but helpful nonetheless.

‘So, do you, like, want to fuck him?’ Pete asked, then cringed like he was trying not to throw up at the thought.

Michael choked on his coffee, spitting it across the table and earning a glare from their waitress, who made no move to come over and clean it up. The night staff at the Village Inn were always the rudest, but at least they didn’t hassle them as much about ordering food. ‘No way. I just want to know who he’s messing around with, that’s it.’

Pete didn’t look convinced. ‘But why?’

‘I don’t know, arsehole. I just, I don’t know.’ He sighed and took another, more controlled, sip of his drink.

Henrietta groaned and threw her cigarette bud at him. ‘If you ask me, you need stop being such a pussy and just bite this guy yourself. Who cares if you actually want him or not? It’s obvious you just want to know what it’s like to bite a vampire.’

‘But, what if he thinks that means I like him?’

She glared. ‘Since when do we care what wannabe vampires think of us?’

Michael nodded. ‘Fine, I’ll do it.’

‘Good,’ Pete said, ‘now let’s never fucking talk about this again.’

Henrietta and Firkle nodded.

He really did have great friends.

 

*

 

They were in their assigned seats again. Mike didn’t look at him when he sat down, nor did he when the class started. He hadn’t felt Mike so much as glance at him since they last spoke. He looked himself, though. He didn’t try to hide the way he stared at Mike - in fact, he wanted it to be noticed. He wanted him to wonder what he was thinking. About halfway through the class Mike peeked at him from the corner of his eye, and Michael smirked. They held that contact for a few long seconds before Mike visibly swallowed and turned away.  

When class ended Mike was ready to get the hell out of there. The way Michael looked at him filled him with a sense of foreboding, like there was a noose hanging around his neck and he just couldn’t see it yet. He didn’t get far though, because as soon as he reached the door long, spindly fingers wrapped around his lower-arm and pulled him down a different hall to his locker. ‘Wh-what?’ he sputtered.

‘We need to talk,’ was all Michael said, and he felt the noose tighten. Not since the Scottsdale incident in sixth grade had he felt any sort of fear towards the Goth kids, but now he was realising how stupid he’d been. They were fucking terrifying.

Michael enjoyed the fear in Mike’s eyes, the stiffness in his muscles, and the way his voice shook so much he couldn’t even protest. It was all such an overreaction, but he knew it came from their history together, a history that he intended to complicate. He didn’t know how Mike was going to feel about what he was planning to do, but he looked forward to finding out. He wasn’t a sadist, there was just something about the Vamp-kid that made him want to wrap even their most pleasant interactions up in a wrapper of fear.

He dragged Mike out a thick side door into the loading bay, which had been empty since last year when the Goths moved their hang-out into the parking lot, beside Henrietta’s car. He pushed him up against the metal roller-door, one hand on his chest and the other pulling down the neck of his shirt. He felt the heat radiating through Mike’s Twilight sweater, his heavy breath ghosting his face, and the glint of white inside his mouth. Finally, he realised what he really wanted. He let go of him and pulled down his own collar. ‘Bite me,’ he demanded.

Mike stared at him - his serious face, his angry eyes, and white, unblemished shoulder - and didn’t know what to do. This was a strange request, even to a pretend Vampire, and he was afraid that any reaction might be the wrong one. If he refused, it might anger Michael. If he agreed, he might be falling into a trap. Still, he couldn’t deny that Michael was attractive, and he had that dark, brooding look that originally drew him to Edward Cullen and Vampires as a whole. Michael began to frown, and Mike made up his mind.

He nodded his head and swallowed. ‘Okay.’

Michael smirked and tilted his head slightly. He sucked in a breath when he felt Mike’s hot mouth on his skin, less than an inch from his jugular. The sensation was strange and uncomfortably wet, but when he bit down properly Michael nearly lost his footing, and the sharp stab of those plastic fangs carving into his skin harder than the actual teeth, sent a buzzing down his spine. He was hyper-aware of every movement the body against his made, every twitch of his tongue, the quick, hot breaths blowing over the back of his neck and making the hair stand up. He moaned.

At the sound, Mike pulled back. He wanted to go further, do more, so he knew he had to stop right there before he humiliated himself. Michael looked just as red and flustered as he, himself, felt, and there was a bruise forming on his neck with two particularly noticeable indentations around the top, which filled him with pride. He was about to apologise and excuse himself to the rest room to do exactly what the Goth would assume, when he was grabbed by the hair and pulled in for a messy kiss. Michael tasted like smoke and stale coffee, and his lips were chapped, but it was still the best kiss he’d ever had. Michael kissed with a violent desperation he hadn’t gotten from any of his exes.

Michael didn’t think about what he was doing, he just did it because it felt right. Oh God did it feel right. Mike’s skin was soft and sensitive and he arched into every little touch. It wasn’t something he got from the guys at the clubs or Pete when they messed around, it came from sexual inexperience and naivety. He was going to destroy that. 

 

*

 

They walked into class together the following week. Mike couldn’t stop grinning at the blue and purple mark on Michael’s neck, which he made no attempt to cover. On the contrary, the Goth had taken to leaving the top button of his white shirt open just so everyone could see what had been done to him. They pulled their seats close together and made sure to brush against each other as much as possible while taking notes. The Goth even went so far as to run his hand up Mike’s side during role-call, making him gasp and blush while the rest of the class laughed at them.

Michael, at Pete’s request, had not told his friends about the new developments between him and Mike, though he was sure they’d figured it out. Still, no one objected, and he was grateful. He wouldn’t say they were dating, but the kisses they shared during breaks were more than just lust, and he didn’t mind sitting with him in class anymore. He enjoyed the other’s company, and his body, and everything else conformist claimed to like about their partners.

Mike, on the other hand, did consider Michael his boyfriend, and he was quite vocal about it, although Michael pretended not to hear him. He’d even introduced him to some of his loyalist minions, who the Goth was scathing as hell to, but that was expected.

‘Michael,’ he whispered.

Michael glanced at him. ‘Yeah?’

‘What did you get for question 2?’

Michael slid his worksheet across the table.

Mike looked it over and giggled. ‘That can’t be right.’

‘No shit.’

‘Do you want to come over and study after school?’

The Goth shrugged, but didn’t try to hide his smirk.

Chapter Text

The choice was between metal work and home economics. Or at least, it was for the other students. After the Hot Topic incident, the school had taken great care to prevent the Goth Kids from working too closely with flames. Henrietta was lucky, her parents had given up on her years ago, and now, so long as she wasn’t home between eight and three, they were content. Michael wasn’t so lucky, he needed decent grades, and Pete was sympathetic enough to stick by him. So, this left Pete and Michael in home economics. They had excelled at sewing, since DIYing was part of the Goth lifestyle, but cooking? Not so much. Cooking class was scary.

Pete watched the demonstration with avid interest, while Michael jotted down the instruction in his perfect, flowing cursive. They grabbed the ingredients. They knew what they needed to do and how and with what, so they couldn’t possibly be more ready. There was no reason they couldn’t get this right. How hard could pancakes be?

Within minutes of starting, while the Goths were still setting up their equipment, Kenny McCormick set himself on fire. Pete saw the smoke, heard the muffled scream, and rolled his eyes. He only remembered the boy’s name because he was constantly finding new ways to literally kill himself with his school work. The teacher should have taken this as a sign it was going to be one of those days, but it took more than a roasted eighth grader to get classes cancelled in South Park.

Pete ignored the smell of burning, human flesh and started trying to crack an egg on the side of a moss green bowl. He tapped it lightly, not wanting to lose marks for having shell in his batter, but it wasn’t doing much. Eventually, he picked up a butter knife and stabbed it into the side of the egg, hoping to create a small hole, but instead obliterating the thing and spreading yoke across their tiny workbench. ‘God dammit.’

Michael looked up from the pan he was oiling and stared at him blankly. ‘We’re supposed to put the eggs in last.’

‘It doesn’t fucking matter,’ Pete snapped. ‘It’s going to all be mixed together anyway.’ He ran his fingers over a tea-towel, then used it to wipe up the mess.

‘Now how’re we going to dry the dishes?’

He threw the towel down beside the sink. ‘Fuck that, let the next class get salmonella.’

When it came time to add the egg properly Michael volunteered to do it. He got the first one in perfectly, but all good things must end, and the second completely shattered. He stared into the bowl, eyes wide. ‘Oh God.’

‘What the fuck, man?’ Pete put his hands in and started pulling out pieces of shell, but he knew it was a lost cause. They were only making a small batch, and that was an entire egg. Michael, who was already on the verge of failing this unit, looked catatonic. Pete sighed. ‘Come on, we can save this.’

‘I’m going to be homeless,’ Michael muttered.

Pete flicked baking soda at him, almost hitting his eye. ‘No, you’re not. We can do this, it’s only pancakes. Only. Pancakes.’

Michael nodded and grabbed the whisk.

By the end, their batter was lumpy and full of shell and powder pockets, but when the teacher walked by she told them they were doing a good job, so they supposed it must be passable. They were finally allowing themselves to relax, at least superficially, but the greatest test was yet to come. The stove.

They had only been allowed to take this class because electric stoves do not require flames, so they would have a hard time starting a fire, but someone else had already managed it today, and maybe that was an omen. Especially with the amount of oil in their frying pan.

The directions said to set the stove to medium heat, which Michael assumed was somewhere around 350 degrees, but he upped it to 400 because they were running behind. He put the pan down and waited for the oil to begin to bubble and sizzle, then Pete tipped what should have been 1/4 cup of batter in, but may have been a bit more. It bubbled, like the oil had, and for a while things looked how they were supposed to. Then, Michael grabbed the spatula and tried to flip the pancake. It came up alright, but when he tried to turn it over, the overly large pancake slipped off and landed half on the bench and half still attached to the pan. The stove-top began to steam and, distracted by the burning stove, they didn’t notice the stream of oily pancake seeping into the tea-towel until the teacher picked it up, wrapped it around her hand, screamed. She dropped it right on top of the stove.

With the teacher in the infirmary and the cooking room on fire, they were told they could finish up the lesson in study hall, which they liked a lot better.

As they walked towards the library, Michael asked, ‘do you think we’ll have to redo the assessment?’

Pete shrugged. ‘Where? The whole wing is probably going to burn to the ground.’

‘Awesome.’ 

Chapter Text

‘There is darkness all around me

I gasp for air but my lungs are flooded

Flooded with expectations I refuse to meet

The ugly truth of what it means to be beautiful

In a world of plastic faces and empty bodies

The blood of my parents that flows through me

I choke on it all and surrender to the darkness

I surrender to the end.’

Henrietta closed her notebook.

‘Deep,’ Pete said. He inhaled from his cigarette and leaned his head back against the crimson silk sheets of her double bed. The smoke floated up like the breath of a bonfire and hovered above him before disappearing.

‘I know, right.’ She got up and walked over to her desk drawer, where she took out a fresh red candle. ‘Some roider pig from the football team asked me out yesterday and I swear I wanted to barf. Like, I’m not some plastic Barbie-girl you can just play with whenever you want and then toss aside for the next cool toy.’ She pulled a melted purple candle out of its holder by the door and replaced it, lighting it by holding the end of her still burning cigarette to the wick.

‘I’m no ones experiment,’ Firkle mumbled and the other three nodded.

‘How’d he take it?’ Pete asked.

She smirked. ‘He called me a bitch, but he looked like he was going to cry.’

‘Awesome.’

‘Speaking of wanting to barf,’ Michael started, glaring down at his iPhone screen. ‘Count Fagula just sent me a snap.’

‘What a desperate weirdo,’ Firkle muttered as he leaned over Michael’s shoulder to have a look. ‘Are you going to open it?’

Michael tapped the icon. Both their faces went white, then Firkle fell backwards into the carpet, howling with mirth.

Pete raised an eyebrow at Michael, who’d since placed his phone face-down in his lap and put a hand over his eyes. ‘What’s wrong?’

Michael sighed. ‘I wish I was blind.’

Pete opened his mouth to ask again, but was cut off by Firkle screeching ‘it was his dick!’ before falling back into hysterics. Pete’s mouth remained open, hanging there like a prop in one of those carnival water-gun games, and Henrietta snorted.

‘Seriously?’ she asked. Michael groaned and nodded, eyes still covered. She held out her hand. ‘Well, show me what the freak’s packing.’

Michael lowered his hand and glared at her. ‘No way.’

‘Come on.’

‘It’s probably timed-out anyway,’ he muttered, but, unfortunately for him, Mike had set the image to infinite seconds and Michael had not tapped out. ‘Here.’

She took the phone and squealed. ‘Damn Michael, you lucky bastard. Vampir is hung!’

Michael put both hands over his face to hide the oncoming flush. It wasn’t that he was a prude, he just really didn’t want to think about their enemy like that. Evidently, the others didn’t feel the same way, because when he looked up Pete had his phone and was grinning in a way far too lecherous for his liking.

‘What?’ he snapped.

Pete waggled his eyebrows. ‘Maybe it’s rigor mortis.’

‘Not funny.’

Finally, he got his phone back. He forced himself to have a proper look at the offending image, seeing as everyone else in the room had, and his stomach knotted with anxiety. Henrietta was right, Mike was big. Well, either that or he had abnormally small hands. He felt himself becoming aroused. He didn’t want to think about Mike in a sexual way - didn’t want to think about him at all - but it was too late, he was hard for a wannabe Vampire. That fact made him angry, but he couldn’t tell whether he was angry at Mike for sending the picture or himself for being affected.

He tapped the corner of the photo, away from where the action was happening so his thoughts wouldn’t get any worse, and was faced with a second snap. This one was completely black and said: ‘Oh my god michael I’m SO sorry!!!! That wasnt meant for you, I swear!!!! IM SORRY!!!!’

He angled the phone so Pete could see it. ‘What’re you going to say?’

Michael shrugs. ‘I don’t know, figured I’d let him panic.’

Henrietta leaned forwards and put out her cigarette in the ashtray at the centre of their circle. ‘You know he’s gay, right?’

‘Yeah, and?’

Firkle shot upright from where he’d been laying and smirked. ‘I get it.’ Michael didn’t like the way Firkle was looking at him, but he didn’t have time to analyse it before the smaller Goth launched at him and grabbed the crotch of his jeans. Michael couldn’t suppress an involuntary moan. ‘I knew it!’ Firkle declared with a manic grin.

Michael sighed. ‘He’ll think I’m gay.’

‘You are,’ Henrietta said. 

‘Well, he’ll think I’m into him.’

Firkle pointed to his slacks. ‘You are.’

‘Fine,’ he muttered and undid his pants. Pete had the decency to turn away, but the other two were waiting for the show. Michael didn’t really mind, he messed around with Henrietta heaps before he came out, and Firkle was a weird kid. He made sure the flash was on, then wrapped a hand around himself and snapped a picture. He covered up, avoiding the eyes of his friends, and sent it before he could change his mind.

Pete turned back around. ‘Well?’

He watched the word change from sent to opened. ‘Dracula has seen my dick.’

Henrietta cackled. ‘You got a better figure than I remember.’

He rolled his eyes.

A few minutes passed in anxious silence. Michael lit a cigarette and watched the gentle fog surround him, hiding the room from view and swallowing him into a grey abyss. This usually relaxed him, separated him from his worries, but today wasn’t a usual day. Michael’s phone pinged. He opened it, this time to a picture of Mike’s face, tongue out to show off a piercing, and the camera angled down so he could see the teen’s scrawny chest. The caption read ‘nice’ with a winking face. He passed the phone back around the room.

Pete smirked but didn’t comment.

Henrietta whistled and widened her eyes in mock-awe. ‘Boy wants some Goth dick.’

When Firkle saw the photo, he just laughed.

Michael exited out of the image and opened the camera. ‘Okay, what do I send now?’

‘Take your shirt off,’ Henrietta said at the same time that Firkle yelled ‘lick a knife!’ Maybe he was too young for this.

He turned to Pete, who shrugged. ‘I don’t fucking know man, it’s your sex-life.’

Michael unbuttoned his shirt and tilted his head to the side, showing off his neck. He took the photo and captioned it: ‘you want this?’

The response was immediate - another shirtless Mike, this time biting his lip, fake fangs visible, and the words ‘hell yeah’.

Before Michael could respond, he got a message. An address. Mike’s address.

‘Oh God.’

‘Well?’ Henrietta asked.

Michael scrambled to his feet. Fuck it and fuck their history, his friends made him go this far, he may as well take it all the way. ‘I need to go.’

His departure was accompanied by two sets of wolf-whistles and Firkle barking. When it came to sex, the Goths were as conformist as any other hormonal teenagers.

Chapter Text

South Park high’s misery trio, decked out in torn band t-shirts and mutilated fishnets, sat together under Henrietta’s Victorian-style purple parasol. In celebration of South Park’s one week of Summer, their school had organised a picnic over the break. Under normal circumstances they wouldn’t have been caught dead at a school function, especially not one held over the holidays, but they didn’t have much of a choice this time – or at least, Henrietta didn’t, so it’s a good thing she had such great friends. Even Firkle had volunteered to come and keep her company, but, being a middle schooler, he wasn’t allowed to. The grass was still damp from the melted snow, but there was no moisture in the air. They sat together on a red chequered blanket, Pete and Michael looking more punk than Goth, reading Arthur Conan Doyle and writing poetry about the cruel, blistering heat.

Pete adjusted the fishnets around his arms, his fingers poking through holes where toes normally went, and stood up. ‘Getting iced coffee. You guys want anything?’

Michael shrugged. ‘Water, I guess. God, I’m dizzy!’ Pete assumed it was because he insisted on wearing his black slacks and dress shoes, even on the hottest day of the year, but didn’t comment.

Henrietta shook her head and pulled a coffin-shaped compact mirror out of her bag. ‘Better not, it already looks like my face is melting off. The one good thing about this stupid, inbred mountain town was that I didn’t need to fork out for waterproof makeup, now I don’t even have that. Bury me, Pete. Just dig a hole and bury me.’

He rolled his eyes. ‘But then I’d be sweaty.’

He walked down the hill they were situated on and towards the small, park-side cafe. He manoeuvred around the clusters of students, all also either sitting on blankets or crouched in the dirt, but paused when he heard his name. There were other ‘Pete’s at the school, sure, but whoever said it followed a few words later with ‘Goth’. Interest piqued, he followed the chatter. Unsurprisingly, it led to another group of black-clad teenagers, facing away from him, and at the centre of the conversation was a head of black and green hair. He leaned against a nearby tree to listen in.

‘You cannot be serious!’ a blond girl, the one who called herself Bloodrayne, squealed. ‘It’s forbidden love, like Romeo and Juliet, or if Edward and Jacob got together!’

Mike laughed quietly. ‘Yeah, I guess. But it’s not forbidden, per se. He just hates me.’

Pete hoped they weren’t talking about him, but he had a sinking feeling they were. He considered abandoning this whim and pretending he hadn’t heard anything; he could still do that. But he didn’t. He hadn’t heard anything incriminating yet, but he needed to. For whatever reason, he needed to know what Mike thought of him.

‘So, what exactly do you like about him?’ Annie Barlett asked, a giggle in her voice.

‘Yeah, Vampir. What’s so great about an enemy who never has a single nice thing to say about any of us?’ Larry sounded considerably less supportive.

After a beat of silence, Mike spoke up again with a note of irritation in his voice. ‘He doesn’t have to like me, I respect his honesty, per se. I’m able to notice his qualities, even if he doesn’t show them to me specifically. He’s really mature, and he’s an amazing artist, and his hair looks really soft.’

Pete’s stomach felt tight and fuzzy. Is this what people meant when they referred to nervous butterflies? It reminded him more of radio static. A warm static, like white noise playing in his bedroom while he’s wrapped in a soft doona and dozing off to sleep.

‘How do you know he’s a good artist?’ Annie asked. ‘He’s not in our art class.’

‘Well…’ Mike sounded abashed. ‘He came to English class a couple of weeks ago and left his notebook behind. I sort of… went through it. I know I shouldn’t have, but I’d seen him sketching during class and I wanted to see what he drew. It was beautiful.’

Pete’s face heated up and he knew it wasn’t because of the weather. He remembered that class - he’d only shown up to get Henrietta’s homework because she was sick, and he drew that picture to cheer her up. It was a picture of Henrietta surrounded by candles, with a crow on her arm. He nearly had a stroke when he realised he’d left it behind, but when he went back his notebook was still on his desk, exactly where he’d left it, or so he thought. Sneaky conformist. Still, hearing someone other than his friends compliment his art made him happy, and he wanted to thank him. He couldn’t, though, because then he would have to admit to eavesdropping.

He walked away from his tree and the unsuspecting vamp-kids, the gears turning in his head, and continued his trek to the cafe. He bought his coffee and Michael’s water, then returned to his friends.

‘Took you long enough,’ Henrietta said, not looking up from her book.

‘Yeah. Line,’ he muttered as he flopped down beside Michael, his head to the blanket and the cool drink clasped between both hands. His friend gave him a perplexed look but didn’t comment.

He stayed reclined like that for a few minutes, until he had an idea. He pulled his sketchbook out of his black backpack and opened to a blank page, then began sketching aimlessly, waiting for the various incoherent ideas to give way to an image. Flowers and teeth and torn clothes and long hair filled the page. It wasn’t a portrait, but a storm. He circled the elements he liked and coloured over patches until he found a colour-scheme that worked. It was only 11:30, he had four hours to get this right.

His friends watched him work but didn’t ask to look, figuring he would show them when it was done like he always did. Lunchtime rolled around and he was just about finished, which was good, because he’d just spotted Mike walking to the cafe with Larry.

‘Getting lunch,’ he said as he stood up, sketchbook under his arm. ‘You want anything?’

Michael shrugged and Henrietta pointed to her half-empty container of chips. She must have bought them while he was distracted.

‘‘Kay then.’

In the cafe, which was crowded with students pushed up close together chatting loudly and sharing food, he saw Mike in line. He was talking to Larry about something and occasionally pointing to the display case full of cake. He made a mental note to find out what sort of cake Mike liked, then wondered why on earth he would want to do something like that. That was a question for later. Right now, he was on a mission. He grabbed Mike by the arm and dragged him off to the corner. Larry yelled and took a step to follow them, but Mike shook his head and told him to order a slice of raspberry cheesecake for him.

Well, that answered that.

He looked down at Pete but didn’t meet his eyes, his cheeks were tinted pink, and his hands clasped together in front of him from poorly hidden nerves. ‘To what do I owe the pleasure, per se?’

Pete rolled his eyes. ‘Here.’ He carefully tore out the page and handed it to Mike.

Mike stared down at the drawing of him, blood on his face and a dying rose in his hands, and he gasped. The longer he stared, the wider his eyes got and the redder his face, and eventually he stammered out, ‘wh-why?’

Pete shrugged. His reaction made him uncomfortable. After all, it was only a drawing, and this one wasn’t even as good as the one he gave Henrietta. He’d drawn her dozens of times, knew the best poses for her body type and the curves of her soft face from every angle, so he could make her portraits as flattering as possible. The picture he did of Mike, while not terrible, was still not his best work. The proportions were all wrong. So were the eyes, which he could have sworn were blue but were actually a dull, mossy green. Mike’s eyes match the tips of his hair, and he hadn’t realised.

Still, Mike didn’t seem to notice any of the imperfections. ‘Thank you!’

Pete tried to step past him and flee back to the safety of his friends, where he could wallow in overblown shame, but he didn’t get a chance. Mike grabbed him by the shoulder and pulled him into a one-armed hug. His breath caught in his throat. Mike’s body was warm, he could feel his breath brush the back of his neck, and his hair smelt like peppermint, sunscreen and sweat. Mike pulled away and the warmth left behind made the taller boy feel very real. Pete wanted to do more, to touch him again, but instead he just nodded dumbly and ran straight for the door.

As he was climbing into Henrietta’s mother’s car at the end of the day, Pete spotted Mike with his step-dad. Their eyes met and the Vampire grinned.

Chapter Text

Dust floated in front of the projector lens, glowing white like millions of little fire-flies. Not that Pete had ever seen a fire-fly in person, he never ventured far enough into the woods for that, and even insects knew better than to play in the cemetery at night. Lots of things knew better than him. Michael had found the old projector in his father’s office and brought it over to Henrietta’s house for an impromptu movie night. Of course, what one considers old is subjective and the only reason they could do this was because the projector had a USB cable, so Michael could connect his laptop.

They set it up on top of Henrietta’s dresser, facing the empty wall above her bed which had previously housed a tarot-card themed tapestry. They laid her doona on the floor like a rug and surrounded themselves with a semi-circle of pillows, as if they were sitting on the grass for one of those drive-in theatres none of them had ever been to. The film they’d picked was the 1932 classic ‘Freaks’, not only because of its cultural significants and horror undertones, but also because they knew the movie was old and obscure enough that none of the conformist would have seen it. Pete thought they were being petty. At thirteen he felt they were getting too old to be making decisions based on how strangers felt, but he didn’t voice this, not out of fear of judgement, he knew his friends were too good for that, but because of the small, ill-fitting smile on Michael’s face. It wasn’t just a look of pride because he had found the perfect Friday night activity, he seemed to actually be looking forwards to it. Those smiles had gotten rarer over the years, and as his face matured expressions of happiness seemed to suit him less and less, so Pete tried to memorise every single one, just in case it was the last.

The opening text started to roll, and Michael slid down beside him. While the others read along, Pete examined the profile of Michael’s face, made even paler by the grey and black glow illuminating his skin and settling on his eyes so they looked like silver marbles. The movie opened to a man speaking to a crowd of well-dressed spectators, he tried his best to understand what was being said but struggled since the old audio was grainy and muffled, and the typical 1930s accents foreign to his ears.

The dwarf man began to speak and Firkle snorted, earning a smack on the head from Henrietta. Pete rolled his eyes. He’d expected Firkle to make some ill-timed joke or snide comment, as he often did when something made him uncomfortable. Firkle wasn’t a dwarf or a midget, but that didn’t stop his peers’ remarks from cutting, and he hated to be reminded of what people said about him when his friends weren’t around. He narrowed his eyes at Henrietta, silently warning her not to make the child feel worse, and she wrapped an arm around their youngest in response.

As the film got further in Pete’s concentration waned. He was invested in the plot, really, but he was more invested in how Michael reacted to it. He switched between the wall and his friend’s face continuously, watching the emotions play across it. Michael was very careful with his feelings, and even around their group he kept his face unreadable and his voice empty of anything beyond total indifference and mild indignation. This changed when they watched movies, as he would get so engulfed by the story that he wouldn’t even think about his expression. The rage on his face during the wedding scene was startlingly unexpected, beyond anything he’d shown when they were personally being harmed.

Pete wondered why Michael was so secretive, why he didn’t trust them enough show this side of himself, and what expressions he may have made when fighting conformists, or reading poetry, or generally bonding, if he had. He wondered why he needed to look so hard to see his friend. He looked down at Michael’s hand, resting less than an inch from his, and he wanted to grab it, but that inch felt much too far.

Near the end of the movie, when the story rejoined the present and the audience finally got to see what became of the cruel Cleopatra, Michael met his eyes. As Firkle and Henrietta laughed at the poetic justice, Michael’s face was once again blank, regarding him with the same cold curiosity as always. He didn’t want to look anymore.

When it was time to leave, they walked together down the sidewalk, Michael’s house only a block away from the trailer park. Pete wanted to ask Michael what he thought of him, what he really thought, but he knew he wouldn’t get an honest answer. If he asked him what he thought of the movie he still probably wouldn’t be honest. Michael was good at downplaying his own emotions, even inconsequential ones, and evading questions. In truth, as sure as he felt, he knew he couldn’t really be sure of his own feelings for his friend. No matter how much time they spent together, how could he truly love someone he barely knew?

Pete stopped walking.

Michael took a hit from his cigarette and looked at him how he always did. Unfeeling and bored and irritated.

‘Don’t.’

‘What?’ Michael lifted an eyebrow.

‘Don’t look at me like that! We’re friends, aren’t we? Don’t look at me like I’m another douchy conformist wasting your time!’ Pete took a deep breath and pulled his scarf tighter around his neck until he could pretend the pressure in his throat was just asphyxiation.

The taller boy dropped his cigarette into the snow and stubbed it out with his leather boot. ‘I don’t know what you’re talking about.’

Pete threw his hands up. ‘This! You aren’t even looking at me!’

‘Of course I am.’ Michael frowned.

‘No, you’re not! If you were I would actually see something on your face, but I never do! I know you’re capable of emotions, I’ve seen it, so why the fuck do you look at me like I’m not even here!’

Michael took a step forwards, so he was only a few inches from Pete’s face. ‘What, you think because we’re friends that makes you special? That I owe you your own special look? Get over yourself.’

Michael was angrier than he’d seen him in years, but it wasn’t satisfying, it was just cruel. All the passion left Pete’s body, and he felt cold. ‘I thought being friends made me special. It used to. I don’t know what the fuck happened, man, but I’m not the one who has something to get over.’

He stepped past Michael and continued down the footpath by himself. When he reached the end of the block, where they would normally part ways, he heard footsteps behind him, but they weren’t hurried, so he assumed they weren’t looking for him. He crossed the road to the trailer park and headed towards his home.

When he reached his trailer someone seized his arm and spun him around.  

‘I’m sorry,’ Michael said.

Pete stared at him. ‘So?’

‘So, I’m not very good with my emotions, not like I used to be. I don’t like feeling vulnerable. Just know that you do mean something to me, and I’m sorry I never show it.’ He looked down at the dirty snow. He hoped he wasn’t being wishful, and that it wasn’t just the harshness of the fluorescent street light, when he perceived a glint of remorse in his friend’s brown eyes.

Pete smiled. ‘You don’t need to feel vulnerable around us, we’re your friends.’

Michael was silent for a moment, making Pete wonder if he’d said the wrong thing, or if his friend was waiting for something and he was just too dense to realise. The worry died when his head rose and he looked him in the eyes, determination slipping through the mask. ‘It’s not everyone, just you.’ He sighed. ‘Shit, that sounded stupid.’ 

Pete hoped he understood that right, he couldn’t fathom what else it could mean, but he had to make sure. ‘I think I get it.’ He focused all his courage and lifted a hand. As lightly as his shaky arms would allow, he brushed a stray curl behind Michael’s ear, allowing his hand to hover on the cold, soft skin as he waited for a reaction.

Michael smiled one of those small, rare smiles and grabbed Pete’s hand. He moved the palm to his lips and kissed along the rough skin, his gentle, chapped lips sending electric waves down Pete’s arm and heat to his face. Michael lowered their hands and squeezed, letting him feel what his face couldn’t fully express. They stood like that for a few minutes before Michael let go and turned away.

‘See you tomorrow, Pete,’ he yelled over his shoulder.

Pete leaned against the trailer door, the cool night air washing across his face, and closed his eyes. 

Chapter Text

Pete sat in the back of Henrietta’s red Toyota Yaris, Firkle beside him and the other two in the front. They had the windows down, cigarettes in hand and She Wants Revenge blasting through the stereo. From a distance, it would look like they were having a rave, but this was just their typical Monday morning. He vaguely heard the recess bell echoing from under the electronic rock, but that didn’t concern him. If you don’t go to class, the bells become meaningless noise. They had better things to do, like decide which songs they were going to cover at their gig Friday night. Their usual set-list, while easy to play, was also getting boring, and their last original song bombed worse than ‘Talent Shows are for Fags’ had in forth grade. He didn’t know what they’d been thinking with that.

He was in the middle of lighting up his third cigarette that hour when someone knocked on his window, nearly causing him to drop it. His head shot up and he glared at Mike, who waved sheepishly. He rolled down the window. ‘Oh my God, what?!’

Mike wrung his hands together. ‘Hey Pete, could we talk?’

‘The fuck’s it look like we’re doing?’ He flipped his fringe out of his face.

‘I mean some place private.’

He looked to his friends. Henrietta and Michael had their eyebrows raised, Henrietta looking more annoyed than confused, and Firkle was glaring. ‘Yeah, sure, whatever.’

They walked to the edge of the parking lot and Pete leaned against a bike-rack. He put his head back and closed his eyes, enjoying the cool breeze. In truth, he missed when they used to gather outside in the elements, when he could feel the damp air and the snow under his feet, but the others disagreed. They only put up with sitting in the loading bay because it was the only place they had any privacy.

Mike cleared his throat but didn’t say anything. Pete opened his eyes and glared down at him, noting how the red in his cheeks clashed with his navy blue eyeshadow. ‘Well?’

‘I saw your show last week,’ he mumbles and looks past him, towards the highway.

‘I don’t write autographs for vampires, if that’s what you want.’

Mike shook his head fiercely. ‘No! I just… I want you to teach me how to play guitar.’

Pete gave him a blank look. ‘No.’

‘I’ll pay you!’

He thought about it. He needed a new amp and those things aren’t cheap, even with paid gigs and Henrietta’s allowance they didn’t have a hope in raising enough before the end of the year. Better equipment meant better gigs, and better gigs meant more money, and more money meant he could finally move out of his father’s trailer. ‘Okay, I’ll do it.’

Mike grinned. ‘Great. My house, eight o’clock?’

He shrugged. ‘Sure.’

 

-

 

Pete knew where the Makowski house was, because this was South Park, and everyone knew where everyone lived. It was creepy, in a way. That didn’t stop him from being awestruck by the place. Mike’s family was rich, not as rich as the Black family, but richer than anyone Pete had ever been friends with. The house was two stories high with a stone fence and balconies visible from the street. He squeezed the strap of his guitar bag and found himself unable to move from the side-walk. He didn’t deserve to enter that house. He wasn’t good enough for such a place, even if it’s enemy territory. The self-hate that lingered in the back of his mind, no matter what he did, was rearing its ugly, mutated head, but there wasn’t anything he could do to stop it. Not while a part of him still believed what it said.

‘Pete!’

He jumped on the spot, surprised to see Mike on the porch.

‘You made it. I wasn’t sure you’d come,’ Mike said as he rushed down the footpath. He grabbed the Goth’s arm and pulled him towards the house. ‘Are you hungry? I’ve already had dinner, but mum said she would put some snacks out if you want.’

‘Eh, sure,’ Pete muttered. His face felt uncomfortably hot.

Mike shut the door behind them and led him into large lounge room with plush white couches and photos of young-Mike on the walls, interspersed with paintings of gerbera flowers and off-colour fruit. ‘Make yourself comfortable, I’ll go tell my mum you’re here.’

Pete settled into the couch and got out his guitar. He wasn’t sure he’d be able to eat anything, his stomach was doing flips so high inside his gut it was threatening to burst out of his mouth. He had gotten so comfortable with his friends that he’d forgotten how much he hated being alone with anyone else. He’d forgotten how hard it was for him to meet new people. Still, he could do this. If there was one thing he knew he could to, it was play guitar. He’d taught it to himself easily enough, so how hard could it be to teach someone else?

Mike returned with a large, hexagonal ceramic plate covered in different biscuits and cheeses. Behind him was a chubby middle-aged woman with Mike’s green eyes and gentle smile, holding two glasses of coke. They put everything on the coffee table and Pete sank further back into the couch, trying to assimilate. He’d rather be a part of the couch right now. Couches don’t have to talk to their enemy’s mother.

The woman looked at him, like he’d hoped she wouldn’t, and gestured to the tray. ‘Please, help yourself, and if there’s anything else you’d like don’t hesitate to ask. I’m Martha, Mike’s mum. I’m so thrilled you’re here, he’s been talking about getting into music for ages, but my boy can be so shy. I’m glad he’s found a friend who can teach him.’

He considered them friends about as much as he considered Mike shy, but he couldn’t say that. Unlike Henrietta, he didn’t like upsetting polite little ladies. ‘Thank you,’ he said, a little too quickly.

Martha left Mike settled down beside Pete, close enough that Pete could feel his body heat and his breath on his face when he spoke. ‘So, what’s first, teacher?’

‘I guess we’ll start with the cords.’

 

-

 

‘How’d Mikey’s lesson go?’ Henrietta asked. Michael was helping Firkle set up his drum kit, so it was just the two of them in the windowless supply closet the bar generously called backstage.

They hadn’t talked much about his impromptu tutoring, the Vamp-kids were always a sore spot with Michael, but he had been hoping someone would ask. Being in Mike’s house was such a surreal experience, like his own home before his mother left and his father got on the grog, but with a lot more love. The love in the Makowski house was palpable, and perplexing. It was like being trapped somewhere between the now and an idealised past, like a reminder of things that weren’t but could have been. It reminded him of how much he missed his mother. He thought he would have hated teaching Mike, but now that it’d happened, he didn’t know how to feel.

‘Fine, his house is big,’ Pete replied, not looking up from his guitar. They were on in ten minutes and the thing refused to tune.

‘Yeah, no shit. His step-dad works in marketing or something else boring. Did they pay you?’

‘Yeah, thirty bucks a lesson.’

‘Damn, I’d sell my soul for that.’

Pete scoffed. ‘I’m not selling my soul. All douchy conformists want to play guitar, why shouldn’t I make money off them?’

‘Ah, maybe because it’s Mike?’ She lit a cigarette, fogging up the small space almost instantly. ‘If it turns out he has any talent at all, everyone is going to flock to his shows instead of ours. Most of our audience is emos and vamp-kid who still think we’re like them. It sucks, but we need those posers if we want to get out of this racist, inbred town and find real fans.’

He sighed. ‘People can like more than one band.’

‘And what about our shows? It’s already hard enough to book a dark-wave band, we don’t need competition.’

‘You’re paranoid,’ was all Pete said, but her words rang in his head all night.

 

-

 

‘Is this right?’ Mike asked. They were on their third lesson and Pete had decided to teach him Smoke on the Water, because the internet said that was what most guitarists learnt first. After learning the basics, Mike had picked up everything else almost instantly. Henrietta had filled his head with all sorts of unwanted scenarios, and now Pete couldn’t help but be as worried as he was impressed.

‘Yeah, that’s pretty good,’ he mumbled. ‘Mike?’

‘Hm?’ Mike’s eyes glanced up from the guitar, but he kept his head down. His hair fell in waves around his face and cast shadows over his skin, giving him the dark yet sensual look that Pete associated with Anne Rice’s vampires. He had to force himself not to stare.

‘So, like, why’d you want to learn guitar, anyway? I mean, you don’t even own one.’

Mike’s cheeks flushed and he turned his eyes back to the strings. ‘I don’t know, it just seemed fun.’

‘You going to start a freaking vampire-themed boy band or something?’

Mike laughed. ‘No way, though I did try to write a Twilight musical when I was a kid, per se. I planned to sell it to Broadway and everything.’

‘Gay,’ he drawled.

‘Yeah, it was. But no, I don’t want to be in a band. At least, not unless there’s an opening in yours?’

‘We don’t play with posers.’

Mike smacked him on the shoulder. ‘Not until I win you over with my epic guitar skills.’

‘You still haven’t mastered the easiest song on the planet.’

Martha shuffled into the lounge room. ‘You boys need anything? Drink refills? Snacks? I bought some Tim-Tams at the store earlier.’

At first, he found Martha overbearing and annoying - after all, she just like Henrietta’s mother. Yet, she was growing on him. Unlike Henrietta’s mother, she didn’t seem to look down on him for the way he dressed or how he behaved. In fact, even though he didn’t smoke at all during their first lesson, when he arrived for the second one he found a crimson glass ashtray on the front porch, something he definitely would have noticed had it been there before.

‘No thank you, ma’am,’ he said with a genuine smile.

 

-

 

‘He’s lying.’ Michael plucked the cigarette from Pete’s mouth and took a drag. They were sitting on the floor of Henrietta’s room, the curtains closed and candles burning around them, writing poetry. Or, at least they would be, if Michael would just let undead dogs die.

‘What?’ He slammed his notebook shut harder than he’d intended.

‘Why would he pay you for something just because it seemed fun?’

‘I don’t know, maybe because his parents are rich nutjobs. Why are you guys so obsessed?’ He flicked the hair out of his face and snatched back his smoke.

Firkle tossed his half-full packet at Michael, who gave him a nod. After their conversation, Henrietta passed on her concerns to the others, and Michael wouldn’t let it go. He was acting as if this was some kind of vampire conspiracy to destroy their band. Destroy it for thirty dollars an hour. ‘Since when do you trust a conformist over your own friends?’ Michael asked.

Pete flushed. ‘Fuck off.’

Henrietta sighed. ‘Will you two knock it off! I need to get these lyrics finished before tomorrow night.’

‘Why are you even bothering?’ Pete asked. ‘All our original songs suck arse.’

‘Because unlike some people, I care about our future. We can’t just be another pathetic little cover band riding the coattails of someone else’s success. I want to be more than that.’

‘We won’t be anything if Pete keeps helping Count Poser.’

Pete wanted to argue, ask Michael what he expected him to do, but there was no point. They would just go around in circles. If he had to prove himself, prove that he wanted what they wanted, then he would do it on stage.

 

 

-

 

They were playing the Raisins Halloween party. Not a particularly glamorous venue, but by the far the most prestigious to contact them. Whether it was for the cute girls or the all-you-can-eat Buffalo wings, every teenager in South Park had been to Raisins, and this was their biggest event. All the tables had been covered with black lace cloths that resembled over-sized doilies, the walls were outfitted with flashing blue and red strobe lights, and there were fake spiderwebs hanging from the ceiling. There was even a fog machine. Pete appreciated the focus on atmosphere over horror, even if, as a result, the restaurant wasn’t as eye catching as some other places this time of year. It would complement their music nicely, which made him think that maybe they were hired for more than their dark wardrobe.

He was alone backstage this time. His band-mates had already finished setting up and were now at the bar filling up on free chips and coffee. His hands shook as he strummed through the same set of cords for the twelve time. He didn’t think it sounded right but he couldn’t figure out what was wrong and now he couldn’t even keep his fingers from slipping off the neck. He needed this show to go well, he needed Henrietta to stop worrying and Michael to stop doubting him, but that wouldn’t happen if he played the wrong notes or dropped his guitar on stage because his hands were so trembly and slippery and weak. What was wrong with his hands?

Someone knocked on the door to the crew room, where he’d been hauled up for at least a couple of hours. ‘Yeah?’ he called.

The door slid open and Mike poked his head in. He grinned sheepishly. ‘Hey, nervous for the big show?’

Pete sighed and patted the spot beside him on the hideous lime green couch. Mike scrambled over and sat down. ‘Yeah, I guess.’

Mike glanced down at his hands, knuckles still twitching. ‘You’ve got nothing to worry about. You always play spectacularly, per se, and I’m sure tonight won’t be any different.’

‘What would you know?’ Pete snapped and shoved the guitar off his lap. It hit the carpet with a thump that echoed around the small room. He put his head in his hands. ‘It’s just,’ he sighed, ‘you don’t get it. This is the biggest gig we’ve ever had, and Henrietta only finished one of the songs yesterday, and maybe it sucks, I don’t know, but I don’t want it to suck because of me. I don’t want to be the one to ruin everything for us.’

Mike put a hand on Pete’s back and rubbed slow circles between his shoulder blade. ‘You won’t be. You’re better than you think, I promise.’

‘How can you promise that?’

‘Because I’ve been to all your shows, I’ve seen what you can do. You’re amazing.’

Pete slowly sat up, but Mike’s hand didn’t leave, instead it wrapped around his shoulder and pulled him into a half-hug. He rested his head on Mike’s shoulder. The Vampire was warm and smelt like tropical body-spray and spearmint shampoo. He took a slow inhale and closed his eyes. ‘Thank you.’

Mike ran his fingers through Pete’s fringe. ‘It’s nothing.’

‘Why did you want to learn guitar?’ Pete hadn’t realised what he was saying until the question was out.

‘To be like you, mostly,’ Mike admitted.

Pete rolled his head back until he could see the side of Mike’s face. His cheeks were red. ‘What does that mean?’

‘I just wanted up to have something in common.’

Pete sat up properly and put a hand on Mike’s leg, keeping the contact. Mike stared at him, his body stone-still, waiting. Pete wound his free hand in Mike’s hair and kissed him. Not a deep kiss, just the touch of skin on skin, but the feel of Mike’s soft lips, the heat of his breath on his cheek, and the after-taste of raspberry soft drink was enough to kill his nerves and evoke a giddy euphoria.

Henrietta’s muffled voice yelled at him from the hallway and he pulled away. Pete stood up and grinned at Mike’s red, awestruck face. ‘Find me after the show.’ He winked.

Chapter Text

At sixteen Pete was still basically a child, with round kitten eyes and hair smooth as molasses that shone in the early morning sun. His over-sized burgundy raincoat reached from his knees to his cheeks and the fingers poking out the sleeves were wrapped in thick purple band-aids. Despite their similarities, his youthful visage was at war with the perpetual gloom that radiated from Michael’s every movement. It was evident even in the shadows under his icy eyes and the jagged dint in the bridge of his long, thin nose. He breathed hard into the cool air and watched fog like smoke from the cigarettes they ran out of yesterday. Michael had torn his last one in half and given Pete the end with the filter, tolerating the chunks of tobacco, like singed grass, as it caught in his mouth and throat.

They left their bags in the storage room of the half-burnt Pizza Hut they’d been living in and nodded to Mr B, a bearded man with blood-stained teeth and two lazy eyes, as they passed. They didn’t need to worry about theft so long as Mr B, as he asked to be called, was staying with them. He’s a drifter from North Park who was rumoured to have murdered his wife in a failed murder-suicide, the poison he used causing bloody lesions to fill his mouth and render him mute. This wasn’t true, of course, he was just a sick old man who wanted a place to rest.

Henrietta met them at Stark’s Pond in her mother’s blue Honda and gave them each a thermos of coffee. ‘Everyone’s looking for you two, you know.’

Pete scowled. ‘Bullshit, no one cares about us. They just pretend to care because it makes them look good. Pack of fucking sociopaths.’

They didn’t hide. If anyone had bothered looking they would have found them already.

‘Spare a smoke?’ Michael asked.

She handed him the remainder of her packet. ‘You guys doing okay?’

The boys shrugged and looked out at the water. The rising sun reflected off the ice and made it glow orange, like a pool of candlelight, and the image bled onto the snow and made it look warm. They’d slept here the first few nights until it got too cold and windy, and coyote howls got too close.

‘I can talk to my parents again, I’m sure if they saw-’

Michael cut her off. ‘It’s fine, we’ll be fine.’

She didn’t look reassured, but he didn’t want her to be. His dirty clothes and matted hair screamed anything but fine, and they needed someone to worry about them. He knew Pete wouldn’t have made it this long on his own, and they wouldn’t survive much longer without Henrietta’s constant assistance. They would make it, though. They had to. He promised Pete he would help him find a better life, better than torn-up caravans and drunken fists, and he meant it with all his heart.

‘I’ve got to go, I promised Firkle I’d drive him. See you tomorrow.’ She got in her car and left.

He sat down on the park bench, barely feeling the cool water seeping through his slacks, and sipped his drink. He hadn’t realised it was a school day. Pete settled in beside him and leaned his head on his shoulder. He wrapped an arm around Pete’s shoulder and closed his eyes, absorbing the warmth and comfort of another living form.

‘You should pawn the cane,’ he said.

Michael opened his eyes. ‘Like hell I’m doing that.’

‘You look like one of those crazy homeless guys who pretend to be millionaires.’

‘Than maybe I should buy a top-hat.’

Pete giggled. ‘Sir Michael of Pizzeria Manor.’

He smiled. ‘Fuck off.’

They didn’t sit long, they had to begin their daily trek into town.

They refused to beg, which made getting food difficult. Sometimes if they stood outside a bakery or supermarket during the lunch rush, one of the young mums with a half-dozen shopping bags and a couple of small children running circles around her legs would take pity on them and give them something small like a loaf of bread or a couple apples. Never money, though. No one trusted homeless kids. No parent wanted to believe that someone could hurt their own children, so they must be into drugs or crime or alcohol. They got pity, the sort a person can tell their friends about so they look like a caring person, but never any understanding. 

This time they managed a tomato and basil roll and a juice box. Michael gave them both to Pete, who seemed unsure. He nodded and Pete looked guilty, but he didn’t argue, it was almost four and he was too hungry. Some days neither of them ate, some days Michael didn’t eat, but he wouldn’t let Pete go without if he could help it.

When they got back to their makeshift home Mr B was laying on the stained linoleum with a three-day old newspaper on his chest and trail of spittle running from his mouth to his ear. They snuck past him into the storage room, where they had a few miss-matched blankets and pillows spread out on the floor, and half-melted candles balanced on the empty metal shelves. There was going to be a storm tonight, they could hear it in the air, and the crumbling walls and smashed narrow window didn’t offer much protection. It was best to be asleep before the worst of it hit.

They huddled up together in their blankets and Michael wrapped his arm around Pete, like he always did at night, and kissed him. Pete’s lips were cold as if he were floating in the frozen pond, and flecks of ice clung to his eyelashes. He laid down, his head on Michael’s chest, and soon enough he was snoring lightly.

Michael sighed and ran his fingers through his friend’s hair. He wasn’t going to sleep tonight. He didn’t tell Pete, but Mr B was dead. He could tell the moment he saw the poor old man. He didn’t know how Pete would take it, he took most things better than expected these days, but everyone had a breaking point, and he feared that would be his. Their lives were falling apart around them and he swore he would keep them together, but he was just one man. One boy. He couldn’t protect anything.

This was all his fault.

Chapter Text

‘So, you guys going to that junior’s party next Friday?’ Henrietta rolled down her window a few inches and tossed out her cigarette butt. They were on one of their late night drives to explore Denver paranormal hot-spots. At least, that was how they said they were doing. Really, these drives were just an excuse to blast music and talk trash about their classmates without anyone’s parents butting it. They were currently parked outside of the Brown Palace Hotel with no intention of going in.

‘Why the hell would I waste my night watching a bunch of half-naked conformist’s get shit-faced?’ Michael asked. His eyes were fixed on Pete, who was sitting next to him in the back, as if waiting for him to agree.

‘I’m going,’ Pete said. ‘Token’s the richest kid in our whole shitty town, I want to get drunk on the good stuff for once.’

‘Amen,’ Firkle agreed from the front.

Michael rolled his eyes. ‘You’re only going because your conformist boyfriend will be there.’

‘He’s not my boyfriend!’ Pete snapped. He looked down at his phone, where the last conversation he had with his internet friend was still open.

 

LouisDePointe: R u going to Token Black’s party? My friend’s r all going but im not sure its rlly my scene

RedGoth: So don’t go. You don’t have to do shit just because your friends are.

LouisDePointe: Yea, but if ur there it might b fun!

RedGoth: What, you want to sit in the corner and watch me scull whiskey until I pass out?

LouisDePointe: Is that an invitation? ;) 

 

Mr Mackey forced everyone to create accounts on a new South Park High exclusive social networking site, the intention being that teachers could use it to post important information about timetabling and homework, and students could use it for group studying. Pete wasn’t interested in any of that, so there was no reason for him to have bothered logging in again after the initial sign-up. None of his friends had. Yet, for whatever reason, he had been curious. He’d never socialised with any of his classmates online before, and the stupid website kept sending him emails each time a new forum was made. After some brief exploration, he realised that students couldn’t view any personal information about each other, so it was basically anonymous. He knew that anyone with half a brain would be able to figure out who he was, but seeing everyone else as faceless names made it a lot easier for him to brush off negative comments - at least compared to the one he got in person daily. Plus, PC Principle was a moderator.

It was in a forum about DIY fashion, of all things, that he befriended someone with the screen name LouisDePointe. It was the first time he’d seen someone reference an Anne Rice vampire other than Lestat, and he knew that was a stupid reason to want to talk to someone, but he’d done it anyway. They started exchanging tips in private message, then slowly moved on to more personal topics. Before he knew it, he was spending more time talking to this faceless guy than he was Michael, his supposed best friend.

Henrietta turned the radio up, any further argument drowned out by Echo & the Bunnymen. People exiting the hotel glared at them like they were dead rodents stinking up the car park. The same way the kids at school looked at them. He wondered if his internet friend had ever looked at him that way. If he still did.

He lit up a new cigarette.

 

 

LouisDePointe: Whatre u gonna wear to the party??

RedGoth: Idk, winklepickers and a bolo tile?

LouisDePointe: Is tht all? ;) 

 

Pete rolled his eyes.

 

RedGoth: -.-

LouisDePointe: Lol, but srsly, dress up. Its a party in a mansion!

RedGoth: I’m not dressing up so a bunch of drunk conformists can stare at me. I don’t care how I look, I’m only going for the free booze.

LouiseDePointe: Seems like u care a little. I saw tht u redyed ur hair. Henriettas doing?

 

Pete’s face burned. This was the first time Louis, as he’d started calling him, had made any mention of knowing who he was in person. He’d always assumed he did, but getting confirmation still made him feel strange. Cheated, almost. This stranger had not only paid enough attention to him to know that his hair had been dyed, but also who dyed it, and he didn’t even know what year they were in. It wasn’t right.

 

RedGoth: Yeah, she did. It looked like shit so I had to fix it. It had nothing to do with the party.

LouiseDePointe: Well it looks G

RedGoth: Thank.

LouiseDePointe: Still, I thnk u should dress up a bit. Maybe a vest?

LouiseDePointe: Wed be matchy

LouiseDePointe: U look rlly hot in red

 

Pete turned off his phone and put his head in his hands. He didn’t know why his heart was racing or why he had a sudden, compulsive desire to hurl his phone at the caravan wall, he just knew he needed to buy a vest. And a red shirt.

 

 

The fluorescent lights burned his eyes so much he had to force himself not to squint. Everything looked white and sterile, but the screech of children an aisle over and the shiny, lumpy residue on a nearby coat-hanger that would definitely be sticky to touch, told him it was a farce. He couldn’t understand why these places were always white when black hid dirt so much better. He kept his head low as he looked for the men’s section, since asking for help was not an option. That was made clear by every employee he made eye contact with, who would either turn away and pretend to look busy, or cross their arms over their chest and glare. It was only Kmart, yet with the way the staff acted you’d think he’d just walked into Gucci wearing nothing but a pair of ratty old pyjama pants and flip-flops. Luckily, when he reached the middle of the store, a vaguely familiar boy grinned at him from beside the self-service checkouts.

‘Pete! What can I do for you?’

He read the name-tag, then re-read it. ‘Larry? Fuck, you look different.’

Larry shrugged. ‘Uniform policy.’ Without the fake fangs, lip piercing, and copious amounts of makeup, he was quite attractive. This didn’t surprise Pete, all of the vamp-kids were good-looking - that’s why their clique was so popular.

‘So, like, where’re the mens clothes here?’

Larry gave him a perplexed look and felt ten times stupider than he already did just from standing here. ‘Is that a joke?’

He sighed. ‘Look, Larry, I don’t have all day, I just want to buy a shirt. A red flipping shirt. Are you going to help me, or am I wasting my time?’ He already knew the answer. Every conversation with a vamp-kid was a waste of time.

Larry’s expression softened. ‘Is that so?’ He patted Pete on the back and ushered him towards the back left corner of the store. ‘This way, pal.’

‘Thank you,’ he huffed.

 

 

LouiseDePointe: U still smoke? Gettin a bit pricy

RedGoth: Yeah, but it’s worth it for the taste and look. A conformist like you wouldn’t understand.

LouiseDePointe: U do look good smoking. V aesthetic

LouisDePointe: U tried vape?

 

Pete scoffed. Beside him, Michael was telling them about an altercation he had with some kid in his History class, but he wasn’t listening. He reached behind him and grabbed Henrietta’s cigarettes off her bed, wishing there was a conformist here so he could blow smoke in their face.

 

RedGoth: Fuck no! Vaping’s for fags.

LouisDePointe: You got a problem with gay pl?

 

The implications of that correctly spelt ‘you’ was not lost on him, but that was not a conversation he was ready to have.

 

RedGoth: Only if they vape.

LouisDePointe: That’s cold -.-

LouisDePointe: Its jst like smoking but it tastes better

RedGoth: Did you ever think maybe I like the taste of ash?

LouisDePointe: No becuz thats stupid. U want to taste like an ashtray?

RedGoth: No one I’d consider letting “taste” me would mind.

LouiseDePointe: I would.

LouiseDePointe: I dont want u tasting like an ashtray

RedGoth: Too bad bitch, cause I taste like tears, ash and broken dreams. 

LouiseDePointe: LOL Goth FlavourTM

 

‘Uh, Pete?’

His head shot up. ‘Yeah?’

Henrietta raised an eyebrow. ‘What’s up? You look like you’ve seen Carolyn Jones naked.’

He shrugged and tried to mentally force the blood to flow somewhere below his face. But not too low, that would cause other problems. ‘I think Louis is flirting with me.’ He didn’t mention how the flirting had reduced him to laughing at shitty conformist memes. 

‘Louis?’ She frowned. ‘Be careful, hun. Our school’s got some real perverts.’

Michael nodded. ‘It could be that gross McCormick kid.’

He winced. He’d heard the way Kenny spoke to some of their classmates, male or female, and it made him want to shove pencils so far into his ears he’d be able to stir his brain matter. Definitely not his type. But, he took comfort in the fact that Kenny seemed too confident to hide behind a screen name.

‘Or worse,’ Henrietta closed her poetry journal. ‘Butters.’

He shivered. No way, that would be way too horrifying. ‘So, like, how do I find out who it is? I doubt he’ll just tell me.’

‘Ike could hack into the computer system,’ Firkle said.

Pete stared at him. Ike. Right, that was Firkle’s conformist friend, the only person he had left in the middle school. The only person he let call him Georgie. ‘You think he’ll do it?’

Firkle smirked. ‘That twerp will do anything if I ask him.’

 

 

Pete spun his glass around on the mahogany end table. Him and Henrietta claimed the purple love-seat a couple of hours ago, when they’d first arrived. For a while they took turns getting up and filling their drinks, but he recently lost her in the mass of teens. He wasn’t mad, since she was probably keeping an eye on Firkle and Ike, but that didn’t stop him from feeling a tad abandoned. Token’s lounge-room was huge, yet even with most of the expensive - and admittedly stylish - black and purple furniture pushed up against the walls, it was growing crowded. He supposed it was that fact combined with the alcohol that prevented him from noticing when someone sat next to him until their arm was slung around his shoulders.

‘Having fun?’ a familiar voice asked. The arm tightened, pulling him into Mike’s side.

He shoved him off. ‘What do you want, Makowski?’

Mike leaned in so the Goth would be able to hear him of the roar of Kesha and drunk girl karaoke. ‘Just wondering how you’re enjoying the party?’

‘It sucks, anything else?’ He crossed his arms.

Mike frowned. ‘That’s too bad. I like you’re shirt, by the way. You always look good in red.’

He scoffed, choosing to ignore the pressure just behind his ribcage that he always got when another boy complimented him. ‘Are you hitting on me?’

The Vamp-kid giggled, a hand coming up to brush the hair out of his face and rub his flaming cheeks. ‘Maybe?’

‘Are you drunk?’ Pete raised an eyebrow. He was more sceptical than irritated. It was probably the alcohol’s fault, but he couldn’t help thinking flustered Mike was cute.

‘No, I don’t drink, it’s bad for you. I see you’ve had a few, though.’

He huffed. ‘And what’s that supposed to mean?’

Mike tugged on the hem of his toxic green vest, avoiding eye-contact. The colour suited him. It matched his eyes, Pete noticed. ‘Well, for one, you’re actually talking to me.’

He sighed. That small, hesitant voice and those nervous hands took all the fight out of him. He shoved his empty glass into Mike’s chest. ‘Get me some more whiskey and we can talk as long as you want.’

Mike beamed. ‘I’ll be right back!’

Pete was surprised by just how much they had in common. Mike had matured a lot over the years, and while he never moved on from his vampire obsession, his taste had definitely diversified.

‘Have you seen Queen of the Damned?’

Pete took a gulp from the bottle of vodka he’d swiped half an hour ago, unable to locate anything better, not with the kitchen shaking like a snowglobe. ‘Nah man, is it good?’

Mike’s eyes widened and he nearly choked on the cruiser he’d been persuaded to have. ‘Hell yeah. Not as good as Interview with the Vampire, because Brad Pitt is way hotter than Aaliyah, but still great. My aunt was an extra in it.’

‘Wizard, man.’ He raised the bottle in respect.

‘Uh, thanks?’

‘Louis and Lestat were totally gay for each other,’ he found himself saying before the thought had fully processed.

‘Obviously, they had a daughter.’

‘No, but like,’ he sat up straighter and pulled his leg onto the seat so he could fully face Mike, ‘they were gay and they were also vampires. That’s gay.’

He giggled. ‘I’m not sure I follow.’

He spoke slowly. ‘All vampires are gay.’

Mike mimicked his position. ‘Really now?’ His voice dripped with amusement, and even in his inebriated state Pete could tell he wasbeing mocked.

‘Fuck yeah! You’re gay, they’re gay, Larry’s gay-’

‘Larry’s not gay.’

‘He’s hot. All hot guys are gay.’ He wasn’t sure where that came from, he hadn’t thought about Larry since they spoke at Kmart, but the unique array of emotions passing over Mike’s face, one by one like a slide-show, made him glad he’d said it.

‘Larry’s not hot!’ Mike snapped, his voice pitching up by a few octaves.

Pete smirked. ‘He totally is.’

‘Shut up.’

He barely had time to blink before Mike was kissing him, his hand on his forearm, and he knew it wasn’t because of the alcohol. Mike might not have been drunk, but he was completely smashed, and he considered that a good enough reason to kiss back. Pete was pushed back onto the couch, the body on top of him monopolising his senses. The mouth on his was hot and wet and tasted like raspberry vodka. He smelt like sweat and alcohol. He pressed his entire body against Pete’s and the heat was all encompassing, burning every point and curve of his body into his memory. Hair - Mike’s hair - stuck to his cheeks, painting his vision acid green. Their teeth scraped together, filling his ears with soft moans and the grind of enamel. His breath quickened and his arms wound around Mike’s slim torso without his consent,  mind overtaken by hormones. He thrusts his hips up against the Vamp-kid’s, who pulled away to gasp. He stared at his red face and moved a hand to the buttons of his green vest, but a voice stopped him.

‘Pete, what the fuck are you doing?’ Henrietta was beside them, her hands on her hips.

Mike jumped off him so fast Pete may as well have been on fire.

‘Get up,’ she said, grabbing his arm, ‘we’re leaving.’

His head fell back against the velvet throw pillow. ‘Fuck me,’ he groaned.

‘Not tonight.’ She dragged him to her car. If it weren’t for the cobra-jaw grip on his arm, he probably would have face-planted at least half a dozen times along the way.

 

__

 

He woke up with a pack of starving rats trying to burrow out of his skull and the sneaking suspicion he had done something worth being ashamed of. Two signs of a night well spent.

Henrietta knelt beside him on her bedroom floor and put something near his head. He waved vaguely at her and rolled over, facing the wall. The glow of her pale skin hurt his eyes. ‘Wake up,’ she whispered, ‘I stole some Panadeine from the medicine cabinet, so take some and get dressed. We’re meeting Firkle in fifteen.’ The rustle of her velvet dress and the weight of her footsteps as she walked away echoed inside his ear canals. He grit his teeth and didn’t move until the door clicked shut.

Behind him was a mug of coffee and half a box of pill with the name William Biggle printed on the label. He sighed. Some mornings he envied the dead.

He met Henrietta in her car and stole her mother’s hideous yellow-framed sunglasses from the centre console. He leaned his head against the window and thanked God South Park didn’t have gravel roads. They drove in silence. She seemed agitated, glancing him up and down every few minutes like she expected him to throw open with door and army-roll to Starks Pond. He didn’t have the energy to do that shit. They paused at a stop sign, and she met him gaze and huffed.

‘What?!’ he snapped.

Her mouth opened then closed, like she was surprised he could see her eyes under the red-tinted glasses. ‘Sorry,’ she said, too sincere for comfort. He tore through his memories, trying to come up with something he could have done to make her feel this awkward. He couldn’t grasp any actual images, only the colour green. A bright, toxic green. He remembered kissing someone. Someone dressed in black that wasn’t Michael, because that dick had been giving them a hard time all week over the conformist jock’s party. He must have kissed either an emo or a Vamp-kid. That sounded right. One who wore a lot of green.

He kissed Mike.

Fuck.

‘I was drunk, okay. Can you just drop it?’ He kicked the glove-box.

‘Alright, but I didn’t even say anything.’

‘You didn’t have to.’

They reached Firkle’s house and he was waiting for them on the porch, a pile of paper clutched him hand, grinning like a psycho.

Pete flung open the door, ‘well?’ he asked as he stumbled out. He had no issues climbing into the car, but hangovers were funny like that.

‘I thought I was going to wet my pants!’ Firkled yelled, waving the paper above his head.

‘Yeah, and?’ He slumped against the bricks about a metre from the front steps, allowing his friend to keep the height advantage. 

‘You’re screwed,’ he said, elongating the ‘ew’ in an almost musical way.

Henrietta, who was next to Pete at that point, rolled her eyes. ‘Hurry up and explain, pipsqueak.’

He took a moment to glare at her before thrusting the papers into Pete’s chest. ‘See for yourself.’

The words on the page were organised into three columns: name, year level, screen name. They were listed in alphabetical order. He flipped through them, focused only on the last column, and on the ninth or tenth page, he found it. LouisDePointe. Or, more accurately: Mike Makowski - Year 10 - LouisDePointe. He threw the list into the grass.

Firkle laughed, hunched forwards with his hands bunched in his black jeans. He knew he should be mad. Mad at Firkle for laughing, mad at Mike for not telling him, and mad at himself for not figuring it out on his own. Yet, he wasn’t. Firkle laughed at everyone’s suffering, Mike was only trying to get close to him, and he was glad this had happened. He was glad Mike hadn’t told him, because it probably wouldn’t have gone well.

He liked Mike. He liked their kiss and he just wished he had the balls to have initiated it himself.

He pulled out his phone. ‘Shut up, Firkle.’ He flipped off the younger boy.

 

RedGoth: Hey.

 

The reply was instant.

 

LouisDePointe: Sup? How was ur nite?

 

He took a deep breath and glanced up at his friends, who were both watching him in anticipation. They knew what he was doing.

 

RedGoth: You know how it went, Mike. Meet me at Tweak Bros?

LouisDePointe: R u guys going to kidnap me again…?

 

 He smiled. Henrietta sighed and Firkle leaned his arm on his shoulder, trying to read their messages.

 

RedGoth: No, I’d just like to talk about last night. I think we should.

LouisDePointe: I rlly like u, u no

 

Something warm bloomed in his chest and made his face burn.

 

RedGoth: Tell me to my face, idiot. And with proper grammar.

Chapter Text


The couple photos were stuck on the bulletin board outside Mr Mackey’s office. Henrietta looked stunning in white, even with her arms crossed and an unimpressed scowl on her red lips. She wasn’t the only girl to wear red lipstick, giving the innocent white dress as sensual twist, but she wore it best. Pete probably agreed, and it showed in the small, proud smile he wore in the photo. His arm was around her waist.

Mike stared at it, his body numb. They looked good together, he couldn’t deny that, which just made it hurt more. He’d heard from Bloodrayne that the two Goths were going together, and he’d been surprised that Henrietta would attend something as traditional as a debutante ball, but that was the extent of his interest. But then the girls started talking about how cute they were, how much fun they seemed to be having in rehearsals, and how elegantly they moved on the dance floor. He regretted turning down Annie when she asked him to be her date, just so he could see for himself that things were really how they seemed. They were. He wished he could be happy for them, but that small smile on Pete’s face was like an arrow to the stomach, sinking it to the floor.

The bell rang. He remembered what his first class was and took a deep breath.

*

Pete was in art class. He always showed up to art, even if he never did the assignments. The tables were arranged in a square around the class, so Mike sat on the opposite side of the room, directly across from him. He watched the goth draw in his sketchbook, Pete’s eyes darting from the paper to his phone every few seconds, presumably to check a reference. Sometime he would tilt his head and stick out his tongue—just a little—while trying to form the perfect angle. When he sat like that his fringe fell to the side, exposing his round face and both of his honey-brown eyes, intensified by the thick liquid-liner. Mike looked back down at his own sketchbook every five or so minutes to add a line or scribble a note, just so he could claim to be working.

Halfway through the lesson Pete picked up his phone and began typing. Mike frowned. He knew all the Goths were close, that he could be messaging any of them, but he couldn’t help but assume he was talking to Henrietta. It would make sense. He should want to know what his girlfriend’s up to while he’s in class.

His phone buzzed. Mike looked down and he stared at the name, going over each individual letter, unable to believe his eyes. He scrambled to unlock it.

New message from: Pete

[Stop staring at me. Creep.]

His face was burning and he glanced up to see Pete smirking at him. When their eyes met the Goth flipped him off.

He stared at the text. They’d exchanged numbers back in fifth grade—almost five years ago now—when they teamed up to fight the Emos. He didn’t think Pete would still have his number. He didn’t know he still had Pete’s.

He took a risk and sent back a frowning emoji.

Message from: Pete

[Real mature -_-.]

Next time he caught Pete’s eye he stuck his tongue out and the Goth shook his head in mock exasperation. It was almost like they were friends. For the rest of class, he let himself pretend.

*

His good mood was ruined at lunch, when he saw Pete and Henrietta standing beside her blue Nissan Micra. Their shoulders were pressed together, white breath mingling as they whispered to each other. He scowled, eyes darting around conspicuously, before he leaned in said something directly in her ear. Something secret, by the looks of it. Personal. He had things he only wanted her to hear, but very little to say to Mike.

The weight in his chest dropped to his feet, rooting him to the wet pavement as he watched the only boy he’d ever liked slip further from his reach. Not that he ever had a chance to begin with. He knew that. Maybe if he’d met Pete first—before Twilight and hot-topic—he could have been Goth, but instead he chased trends, and it’s too late now to fool anyone. Pete would like him even less if he became a full-on poser. At least they’d had some sort of alliance going, for a little while. That was Pete’s idea. He thought about him during the Emo crisis, how it would affect his clique, and that meant something.

Mike watched Michael and Firkle join the couple, the four of them piling into the car, and told himself that he had meant something to them.

They didn’t even notice he was there.

He headed back towards the cafeteria side-door, where his friends were all waiting for him, and his phone buzzed. He paused on the steps and pulled it out.

Message from: Pete

[Did you need something or are you stalking me?]

He leaned against the handrail, heart in his ears. Three texts in one day? Maybe he’s luckier than he thought.

To: Pete

[It’s nothing!!!!]

What else could he say? For all he knew, Henrietta was reading the text over his shoulder, monitoring them. No, she wasn’t like that. Pete had better taste. He waited, breath held. He could still see the little blue car, but he couldn’t see inside. Was Pete watching him?

Message from: Pete

[Don’t pull that shit Dracula, you’re not my girlfriend.]

He bit his lip. Pete cared enough about what’s bothering him to ask twice, which was a good sign. Or not. He could only care because Mike’s annoying him. It’s already hard to tell what people are thinking over text, but it was even worse when it’s Pete, someone who barely raised an eyebrow at the best of times.

To: Pete

[I dont want to talk over txt]

He sat down, the melted snow soaking through his pants and turning his legs numb. He didn’t expect Pete to reply. He had better things to do with his best friends and new girlfriend than worry about a Vamp-kid. He should’ve known better than to talk to a Goth in the first place, things never end well. Every time they talk he ends up tied up in a car or a warehouse, and always with a new injury. Displaced. Scared. Heartbroken. That’s how things went. How did one even get their heartbroken by someone who didn’t even know they liked them? He’d have to write a poem about that when he got home. Bloodrayne loved angsty poems. She’d tell him it was powerful and raw and make him feel better. Or she’d make him feel a lot worse, because he wanted to know what Pete thought of his poetry. He wanted to join the Goths in their midnight poetry slams and see that look in Pete’s eyes—the one he had whenever Henrietta read one of her Poe knock-offs—directed at him.

A car door shut and he Pete was coming towards him, Firkle watching them from a rolled-down back window. Pete stopped in front of him, glaring down like a benign God, unhappy but no wrathful. He looked beautiful with the sun behind him, lighting up the red of his hair and casting dark shadows across his pale face. ‘Well?’
Mike shrugged. He barely knew what to say over text—when he didn’t have to see that face—let alone in person. It’s not like he could just tell him why he’d been staring. He was jealous, he knew that, but it didn’t mean he had to admit it.

Pete sighed and ran a hand over his face, like he’d been expecting this. ‘The fuck man? First, you won’t stop staring at me, then, you’re fucking texting me like I’m one of your conformist friends, now you’re going to fucking ignore me. I don’t have time for this.’ He turned away, snow crunching under his purple creepers.

‘You texted me first,’ Mike snapped before he could stop himself.

‘Now we’re getting somewhere.’ Pete turned back around and threw himself down on the step beside him, so close their thighs almost touched. He stared at the Goth, who pulled a cigarette out and placed it between his lips, unlit. ‘And why did I text you?’ His tone was condescending, like when a teacher asks a student to explain why they’re in trouble.

Mike sputtered, face hot. ‘How should I know?’

‘Because you’re my fucking stalker?’

‘I am not!’

Pete smirked. ‘Then why do you keep staring at me?’

He didn’t have an answer for that. Or, at least, he didn’t have one he wanted to give. ‘I don’t know, why are you out here with me instead of with your girlfriend?’

Pete threw his head back and barked out a laugh. The sound was hoarse and cracked and breathy—and exactly how Mike had imagined it. ‘Girlfriend? Who, Henrietta?’ Pete grinned at him, his cheeks dusted with a warm pink. Mike took a moment to commit this rare sight to memory. He would draw it later.

‘Well, yeah. You guys are always together, and you went with her to the deb.’

Pete put his hand on his shoulder and shook lightly. Mike was acutely aware of the position or each individual finger against his skin, and the warmth emitting from them. ‘Her parents made her go. I wasn’t even the first guy she asked, Michael was, but he told her he wouldn’t be caught dead at one of those things. It was only after she threatened to kill him and drag his rotting corpse around the ballroom by the ankles that she remembered me. I just didn’t want her to be paired up with one of those roider jock douchebags.’

‘But, you guys look so good together!’ He cringed. He should be glad they’re just friends, not trying to convince Pete to ask her out.

The Goth wrapped his arm around his shoulders, engulfing him in his warmth. Mike tried to keep his brain on the conversation, not the feel of Pete’s ribs against his arm or the smell of fire on his breath. ‘Thanks. We’ve been friends forever. I probably would ask her out if I was straight.’

Mike’s brain short-circuited, the neurotransmitters pausing in the synaptic cleft and then rolling out of his ears. There was no way he’d heard that right. ‘I—er—what?’

‘Mike, I’m gay.’ Pete looked him dead in the eyes, face blank as usual. No hint of this being a lie or joke.

‘Oh,’ Mike muttered, ‘okay.’ He didn’t know why he was being told this, but it probably didn’t mean what he wanted it to. There was no point getting his hopes up.

Pete must have read his mind because he stood up, leaned over Mike, and kissed him. It was quick, barely a touch, but it was enough. He now knew the feel of those chapped lips, and the taste of Pete’s cheap lipstick, clove cigarettes, and black coffee. His insides rolled up tight, like his emotions were trying to burst through his skin. Affection, lust, embarrassment, shock. Love. His face tingled.

‘You’re so fucking obvious,’ Pete breathed, barely a whisper, another one of those rare smiles on his lips.

‘Yeah.’ He grabbed Pete’s hand and squeezed. Their hands fit perfectly together, long fingers slipping between each other’s, their black and purple nail polish. This is what he’d been waiting for since fifth grade. ‘Well, one of us had to be.’

The Goth pulled him to his feet and wrapped an arm around his waist, pulling him towards Henrietta’s car. ‘Come on, I have to tell them how stupid you are.’
‘Hey!’  

He kissed Mike’s cheek. ‘It’s your own fault.’