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Jeremy bit back a scream as he bolted upright in bed. Whatever nightmare he’d just had left him shaking and burning up, and it felt like someone had shoved a shard of ice right into his brain. He tried desperately to calm himself down, enough that he could process.

 

When that didn’t work, he flailed blindly for his phone. He needed to call Michael, he’d know what to do.

 

His phone started dialing itself as that thought crossed his mind, each number ringing out clearly with a loud beep. It was enough to startle Jeremy out of his panic and that was enough to stop the beeping.

 

He looked at his bedside table in shock. Sure enough, half of Michael’s number had been dialed. Jeremy glanced at the clock. Four AM. He must be dreaming or hallucinating or something. Maybe turning on the light would-

 

His bedside light switched on.

 

What. The. Fuck.

 

As he freaked out about the light turning on, Jeremy heard the last digit of Michael’s number being dialed. The line started to ring then, and Jeremy knew that Michael would wake up from it. His friend barely slept enough as is.

 

Before Michael could pick up, Jeremy snatched his phone and quickly hit the red ‘end call’ button. He let out a sigh of relief, his screen going back to it’s lock screen. It was a picture of him and Michael celebrating the start of a new year, apple cider in hand. God, he-

 

A text interrupted his sudden daydream tangent with a text appearing on screen from Michael.

 

[Mellonymous] yo dude wtf is up, why were you calling at 4 am??? for once I was sleeping... what’s wrong, do I need to hurry over??? I can be over in fifteen

 

Jeremy could deal with this himself, right? No need to make Michael miss more sleep.

 

[QueereEye] butt dial, go back to sleep dude. Ttyl

 

There, that should be enough. Jeremy was fine, he was just probably hallucinating from it being so late. Or early. Whatever. He just needed to breath.

 

He looked down and saw one last reply from Michael, feeling relief spread through him.

 

[Mellonymous] dude stop sleeping with ur phone in bed and not charging you dumbass bisexual mess, ttyl at school

 

He sent a peace sign emoji and then there were no more texting bubbles signaling that Michael was typing. Alright, situation averted. Jeremy just needed to think this all over and not jump to ridiculous, anxiety-fueled conclusions that only made sense when in his anxiety-heightened state.

 

Jeremy took a breath. Then another. Okay, this was all gonna be fine, he just had to do a science. Come up with a hypothesis and test it out, sure, that would be easy enough.

 

He was pretty sure he just make his phone call Michael by itself. And his lamp turn on. Maybe he was controlling the tech? He did have a weird sort of feeling in his bones, like a sort of hum, now that he thought about it. Like he was feeling electricity buzz in the air.

 

Okay so, hypothesis: Jeremy was controlling electrical objects.

 

It seemed stupid but he was half asleep and panicked. He would take whatever he could. So he decided to give it a try.

 

Jeremy focused on his computer, sitting innocently on the desk. Without much more than a thought, it switched itself on and began connecting to YouTube. He stopped it as fast as he could.

 

Well shit, Jeremy was a mutant.

 

Alright, so he had powers. He was like a literal X-Men now! Sweet!

 

Wait, what if the government found out though? They could find him, track him down, then take him in to experiment on him! Then he’d be taken to Area Fifty-One and be tested on with the aliens there! And then he wouldn’t even be able to tell anyone that aliens would be real because he’d be stuck with them until the end of his days-

 

No, don’t go having an anxiety attack at four in the morning, especially with school in a few hours! Ugh, school.... Did he still have to go to school if he had powers?... The X-Men still went to school, so he unfortunately probably had to as well, but at sucky Middleborough and not at the Xavier Institute for Higher Learning.

 

Jeremy flopped back into bed with a groan. He had to get some sleep or else he wouldn’t have any time in the morning. Or he’d miss school and then he wouldn’t get a chance to tell Michael about this. Because there was no way in heaven or hell Jeremy was keeping this from Michael. He’d rather cut off his own arm than keep him out of the loop, especially since they had finally gotten back to normal after the whole SQUIP situation.

 

Wait, SQUIP. SQUIPs were tech. Was there a chance...? Yeah, if he focused, Jeremy could actually feel the SQUIP implant in his head. He could feel the dead nanobots in his body and everything. Eugh, maybe this was a bad idea. He shook off the feeling and tried to focus on something else to get some sleep. What else could he focus on, though? He had freaking powers!

 

He felt his brain buzzing almost madly, and he was sure he wasn’t going to be able to sleep. No way could someone sleep when they had such an amazing revelation. Jeremy could-

 

Before he knew it, his eyes betrayed him by shutting, shutting off the blurry world from around him and letting him peacefully pass out for another two hours before he had to get up.

 

 

 

Getting through the school day was tough. It turns out having the ability to control technology, and sense it too, was very overwhelming in a school where everyone had a phone on them. Connecting to too many pieces of tech at once gave Jeremy a headache, so he was constantly having to stop himself from just switching that girl’s phone to do not disturb, or muting that guy’s video.

 

Lunch couldn’t come fast enough. It would be the first chance for Jeremy to get to see Michael, who always brought him a slushie from the nearby Seven-Eleven, and it would be the first chance for him to tell him that Jeremy was a freaking X-men now.

 

It was also a chance for the rest of the squad to tease him incessantly about his little crush he had on Michael. It wasn’t anything major, just a little thing. Michael was awesome, and after several long talks with Christine, Jeremy had finally realized how awesome Michael was.

 

He contemplated that, instead of how full Jenna’s phone was, as he walked over to their isolated table in the corner of the cafeteria. It was the only place Jake’s wheelchair really fit without being in the way.

 

Michael wasn’t there yet, probably since he was on the way back from Seven-Eleven. Instead, some of his friends were there and the others were probably on their way.

 

“Hey, Tall-Ass,” Rich said from where he sat next to the end of the table where Jake was. Jake was currently busy trying to reach over and steal some of Brooke’s fries she got somehow before they were all gone, his tongue sticking out of the side of his mouth. Brooke just kept swatting at his hand with the oversized sweater paw she had today, taking a few every time she stopped Jake to eat them.

 

“Hey Short-Stack. Hey guys,” Jeremy greeted tiredly, sitting down in his usual seat next to Rich. Brooke chirped out a greeting, which gave Jake the chance to steal some fries. He offered a wave under the assault of Brooke’s swats to his head. He didn’t look like he regretted it one bit.

 

“You look down, Jeremy. What’s the matter?” Brooke asked after a moment, looking almost suspicious. Jeremy waved her off.

 

“Just tired. Woke up at like four am this morning with a killer headache, y’know? I need some sugar to get me through the rest of the day.”

 

He saw all three of his friends all share a surprised look, each varying in levels. Brooke seemed to be the most understanding in her surprise though, but didn’t say anything for now before stopping Jake from stealing more fries. “I will smother you to death with these sleeves, then I’ll make your corpse buy me a new sweater because of your corpse juices on it.”

 

“What? Ew, gross, corpse juices,” Jake said, scrunching up his nose as Brooke ate a fry dipped in the ranch salad dressing she snagged. “Ew, fries dipped in ranch.”

 

Jeremy sniggered as he pulled out his packed lunch. His dad had been making him sandwiches and actually doing stuff like a dad again. It had been a while, so it was nice to not have to worry for once.

 

“You’d better give me one of those cookies, Heere. Your dad makes great cookies,” Rich demanded, reaching over. Jeremy smacked his hand away, and flinched back little when he got a rather strong static shock. Rich’s joking suddenly died down and he pulled back, eyes wide. He looked almost scared.

 

“Are... you alright, Rich?” Jeremy asked slowly.

 

“I- yeah, just hate static shock and everything, y’know?” Rich said around a big laugh, seemingly trying to play it off like nothing. “After... yeah...” He still snatched a cookie away from Jeremy, stuffing his face (to eat and probably so he didn’t have to talk).

 

Brooke glanced over at Rich then with a new look in her eyes, different than one Jeremy had seen before. She shrugged for now though, whining at Jake as he tried for her pizza now. She grabbed her long, blond strands and whapped him with those. “The hell?”

 

“Stay. Away. From. My. Food.” Brooke stuck her tongue out at him before drinking one of her many LaCroix she had (she seriously kept a thing full of them in her locker).

 

Jeremy snorted at the betrayed expression on Jake’s face, which quickly turned to joy when a small box of pizza was placed in front of him by a very casual Chloe. She took her spot next to Brooke and Jenna sat down next to her.

 

Jenna seemed to have a bit of a headache, since she was rubbing her temples and closing her eyes. Jeremy could relate. Her phone was almost heavy in his head with how much was on it, and if he thought passing it while she was in line for food was bad, well he was mistaken. Still, he wasn’t about to let his freakish mutation make him an ass to his friends.

 

“Hey guys. You need an Aspirin, Jenna? I have a bottle in my bag if you want,” he offered gently, reaching over to pat her free hand.

 

“No, I’m good, but thanks,” Jenna muttered out, frowning before lying forward and resting her head in her crossed arms. Brooke reached over behind Chloe and patted her back reassuringly. “Thanks, Brookie.”

 

“What’s got you all so freaked?” Chloe asked then, raising a well-kept brow as she glanced over the entire table.

 

“Well I don’t know about everyone else, but I woke up at four this morning and I’ve had a headache ever since,” Jeremy whined dramatically. Jenna’s head shot up.

 

“You did too? That’s so freaking weird,” she mused, laying back down.

 

“Well if we’re confessing, I woke up at four as well,” Rich added, finally finishing off the cookie he stole.

 

“What’s this about four?” Christine asked as she took the seat next to Jenna. “Because I woke up from the weirdest dream last night. It had computers and lines of code raining down like in the Matrix, and it was so freaky! Then I woke up and grabbed some warm milk because that is brilliant to help me sleep,” she rambled.

 

“We’re saying how every one of us woke up at four this morning, but not all saying why and what happened when we woke up,” Brooke mused out after finishing her can of LaCroix, putting it to the side as she picked up her second of her daily pair. Even if everyone stared at her, she was unphased as she popped the can and sticking her reusable straw into it. “Don’t look at me like that, it’s true.”

 

“There’s obviously some link here, so I’m just going to be the one to say it. You all woke up... different, didn’t you?” Jake asked, but it felt more like a statement. Now, Jeremy knew Jake wasn’t stupid, he had been in too many academic clubs to be. Jake was, however, a little oblivious. It was rare that he would pick up on the mood of a room, but something about the look in his eye was strangely... hyper present almost. Now that Jeremy focused, Jake just seemed different. Everyone did, really.

 

The first one to speak up out of anyone was Jenna. She lifted her head up and sighed heavily. “Yeah, I’m not gonna dance around this. I’ve been, like... seeing through my phone, it’s really weird. I don’t even know how to describe it, but I haven’t been able to use it and it’s really tiring to switch between phone vision and stuff. If anyone calls me crazy, I swear.”

 

“No, I get it.” Jeremy sighed. “I can sense all the tech around, like that. And I can control it.” He rested his head in his hands with a groan.

 

“Prove it,” Chloe challenged him, placing her phone on the table. Jeremy focused and made it buzz so violently it stood up on its end. When she grabbed it, he typed out a message to her in notes. “Okay, I believe you,” she squeaked before sighing. “I... I broke the door to my room. After waking up, I went to get myself some water and I literally crushed the door knob a little.”

 

"I, uh... Well, that static shock wasn't actually static shock. I generated that. Uh, electricity," Rich clarified, glancing down at the table as he drummed his fingers against the surface. "Did that last night too, and I almost shorted out my phone. Was not fun."

 

"I convinced Snowball that I was literally a mom cat," Christine said bluntly, and everyone sort of stared at her. "You know I baby her, and I was pretending that I was a cat mom, and the dumb little soot never normally knows anything that's going on, but she acted like I was her literal mother. It. Was. Weird. You know it's weird if I think it's weird."

 

“That does sound weird,” Jake agreed. “Mine is a little harder to describe. You know the galaxy brain meme? My mind literally feels like that last image. I woke up knowing about a hundred times more than I ever knew before.” Well that did explain the weird look in his eye.

 

“I can see the future. I woke up and got a vision of Jeremy complaining about last night, with a whole bunch of other things after it. And I can sort of sense people moving and react, which means I can very well tell you’re going for another fry there, Jake. Hands. Off.” Brooke sipped on her LaCroix with her eyes closed, but Jake still recoiled.

 

“So wait, we all woke up with powers?” Jeremy asked incredulously. How was that possible? They couldn’t all be mutants, could they?

 

"Don't say that like it's so strange. We literally had a supercomputer try to take over the world last semester," Chloe pointed out (though funny that she out of everyone was saying this so casually when she took the longest to convince that they didn't do ecstasy during the play). "It makes just as much sense. What's next? Ghosts are gonna exist? Let me talk to Buddy Holly!"

 

“Ghost are fucking real, Chloe, don’t even joke about that,” Jeremy grumbled, pouting at her. He knew ghosts were real because he was certain the area by the forest next to school was haunted. He just felt the ghostly energies there, or something.

 

“Well if we all suddenly have powers, what are we gonna do about it?” Christine asked. “We shouldn’t just sit around on them all day.”

 

Jenna opened her mouth to suggest something but Brooke cut her off. “We need to talk about this in private. Jake, can we come around after school? You’re the only one with a house big enough for us all to sit and chat comfortably.” Jake looked a little stunned, but he nodded. “Good. Then we meet there after dinner, at seven-thirty. This could take a while. Oh, and don’t tell anyone about this. Not even Michael. It could put them in danger.” She stared right at Jeremy when she said that. He thought she only had future vision, not mind reading. His pout deepened, but he nodded. He didn’t want Michael in danger, and Brooke seemed certain.

 

"Good," she murmured out then before taking the last fry before Jake could. "You can't pull a fast one on me anymore. I let you take those fries earlier because I'm a kind, benevolent girl." Jake whined then as she ate the last fry teasingly.

 

"What about our new benevolent, kind overlord named Brooke?" called Michael from behind Jeremy, making him literally jump. Michael burst out laughing behind him at his misery of being jump-scared by his best friend yet again the third time this week. It was only Thursday.

 

"How Jake isn't allowed to steal anymore of my food or I'm cutting off his fingies."

 

"Good, food theft is a serious crime," Michael said as he plopped down next to Jeremy, handing over his huge blue slushie. "For you, m'lady."

 

"Twenty-twelve called, it wants its meme back," Jake called out while Michael pointedly ignored him.

 

“Thank you, kind sir.” Jeremy grinned, taking the slushie and having a long slurp. Ah, exactly what he needed. The cool, sweet ice helped soothe his headache somehow, and Jeremy found himself relaxing almost instantly. Or maybe that was just from being around Michael. “God, this is just what I needed. Thanks, Mikey.”

 

Jeremy made a point of ignoring the knowing grins everyone else was shooting him, instead focusing on Michael for a bit. “So how are you on this fine day?”

 

Michael turned to face him, his smile almost blinding, like always. (God, how had he not realized he like Michael sooner?) "Well, I'm just fine and dandy, you little peach, you." Jeremy whined playfully when Michael reached over and very lightly pinched his cheek, being careful of his glasses. "Aren't you a darling for caring about little ol' me!"

 

Jeremy fought back a blush as he pushed Michael's hand away. “Shut up, Mikey,” he grumbled, taking another slurp. “You’re my savior, it’s only polite I ask.” He nodded, as if that ended the conversation. Which of course, it would, wouldn’t it?

 

“And what do you need saving from, exactly?” Rich asked, arching an eyebrow.

 

“Having to talk to you,” Jeremy deadpanned, taking another slurp. Rich’s indignant squawk, as well as everyone’s laughter, helped soothe Jeremy’s anxiety. No one thought he was serious, they knew it was a joke. He was getting better at this whole having more than one friend thing.

 

"I am his best friend, I save him from everything. Talking to you, having to confront his messy room, his own spiraling thoughts," Michael started to list, only stopping when Jeremy tugged on his arm. "What? I'm being honest. I thought honesty was the best policy." Jeremy just stuck his tongue out at him, and Michael did it in return before drinking his slushie (that was three-fourths of the way empty and it was just as big as the one Michael got him). Really though, Jeremy was glad Michael had managed to integrate into the group rather well, though he still couldn't hang with most of the group without Jeremy. It made sense, and Jeremy wasn't going to push him.

 

Michael's arm that rested over his shoulder a few minutes after the debate started also helped, but he wasn't going to say anything in case he stopped.

 

 

 

Later, after school and barely considering homework (he instead focused on cleaning his room... not because Michael called him out on it during lunch), he made it to Jake's house. Well, his grandparents’ house, but they were always away and, more often than not, stayed in their house in Florida for their retirement. They basically paid for the house's expenses for Jake. He met them over winter break, they were sweet.

 

He also made it early since his dad made dinner early and had some errands he needed to do before the stores closed, so he dropped Jeremy off almost half an hour early. Great. Thanks, dad (he was kidding, it helped with his anxiety a bit to get settled before everything started).

 

Jeremy knew Jake’s house had electric locks, but he was surprised to find the door opening as soon as he knocked. Maybe Jake had disabled them for their meeting? And the alarm system too. That had to be it. Still, before he went in properly, Jeremy called out.

 

“Hey Jake! Dad dropped me off early.” He wandered in and closed the door behind him. He was a little surprised when he heard it lock. Weird. “Jake? Where you at, who let me in?” Jeremy called again, wandering into the living room. He grabbed one of the beanbags by the fireplace and settled down, still no sign of Jake or of Rich.

 

Only ten minutes later did Rich come down, wearing some sweats and a tank, yawning as he stretched his arms over his head. (Oh yeah, he also sort of moved in since Rich spilled about his bad home life to everyone. Jake and his grandparents demanded it, so he unofficially lived here too.) Jeremy called out to him then, looking over because finally, someone was-

 

"Holy shit, Tall-Ass, how the fuck did you get in? Did you break in? The doors were locked," Rich almost screeched out, clinging onto the banister of the stairs with wide eyes as he panted.

 

“What? No. The doors were unlocked, dude. And the alarm was off and everything!” Jeremy protested. “I did call out when I came in, but no one heard me. I’ve just been scrolling since.” He waved his phone a little pathetically. His anxiety was starting to creep up on him again. Had he done something to the locks? Just how intuitive were these powers and how strong was Jeremy? Was he actually dangerous?

 

“No, they weren’t,” Rich assured him before holding up his hands in mock surrender. “It’s fine though. I was napping and Jake’s finishing up his homework probably. He’s been playing music more than likely, he has a homework playlist. I just woke up so that’s why I only came down now.” Now off the stairs, Rich grinned reassuringly as he walked to the kitchen. “Want a snack? Sorry for being a bad co-host.”

 

“If you’ve got some grapes?” Jeremy sighed sheepishly. He was struggling a little to process the fact that his new mutation-powers-thing just reacted to his thoughts and not what he directed them to. “And- er- sorry for just barging in. I guess I need to work on these powers?” Rich waved him off.

 

Jeremy tried focusing and turned on the kitchen light as Rich walked over. It flipped on with barely a thought. Jeremy followed him in.

 

Rich was surprised for a moment before sighing with a shrug and walking in. “I swear, Tall-Ass... Thank you, but holy shit.” He went over to the large fridge then, opening the door and scanning through it. “I get you though, with working on them,” Rich quickly added, “I need to work on mine too with that.”

 

“They react without meaning to?” Jeremy asked and Rich nodded. “How are we supposed to learn how to control these things?” He sighed, flopping down on one of the stools at the breakfast bar. “Especially without anyone figuring out that we’ve become freaking mutants? Ugh.”

 

“We make our own private mutant school and quit high school, say we’re being home schooled now which isn’t a lie, and become awesome,” Rich suggested before plopping the bag-like container of grapes down in front of Jeremy. “Bone apple treat, my dear friend.”

 

Jeremy snorted and grabbed a couple of grapes from the bunch. “Thanks, my mutated brother.”

 

They sat in silence for a moment, with Jeremy munching on grapes and Rich searching for food for himself, when the doorbell rang. Jeremy tried stretching out his focus.

 

“That’s Chloe, I think,” he supplied as Rich started towards the door. Rich arched an eyebrow at him as he walked past but said nothing.

 

“Isn’t seeing through technology supposed to be Jenna’s thing?” Rich asked as he walked through the kitchen and to the doorway. Jeremy just shrugged and waited as he ate a few more grapes.

 

He came back in a minute later with Brooke and Jenna then, and Rich gave Jeremy an unimpressed look. “You were wrong on multiple accounts, but it’s alright.” Brooke waved with her cat-paw sweater sleeves flopping around then.

 

Jeremy shrugged, then waved. “Brooke and Chloe have the same phone, and Jenna doesn’t have hers with her.” He popped another grape into his mouth. “I’m sure with a bit of practice I’ll be able to tell you guys apart just from the SQUIP in your head.”

 

“Ew. Gross. That tic tac is banned from casual conversation,” Brooke grumbled out a little bitterly before plopping down next to Jeremy in another stool. “Only serious conversations can have that thing in it if it’s needed.” Jenna just sat in the last stool on Brooke’s other side, shrugging before agreeing.

 

Jeremy snorted again. “Fair enough.” Before anyone else could say more, the doorbell rang again. “Now that is Chloe. And Christine, considering she still has an MP3 player on her.” Jeremy grinned. Jenna lifted her head, then nodded. “He’s right. I can see them through the camera at the door.”

 

“God, I can’t imagine being connected to tech. There’s so much. It has to be overwhelming,” Rich muttered as he left to get them.

 

“It is,” Jenna reassured him before she buried her head into her crossed arms on the breakfast bar. Brooke patted her back reassuringly then, even rubbing circles into it as they heard Christine’s boisterous greeting from the doorway.

 

Jeremy nodded in agreement. The moment he let his guard down he was hit with a terrible headache from the influx of tech. He was glad he was already used to holding things back, from his anxiety.

 

Christine bounced into the kitchen, followed closely by Rich and Chloe.

 

“Hi everyone, I brought some pretzels!” Christine announced as she pulled out a large, family-sized bag from her tote. Rich let out a cheer then before announcing that he’d be back.

 

“He’s probably getting Jake,” Chloe said as she walked over and leaned on crossed arms against the breakfast bar, though she was careful about it before she relaxed.

 

Sure enough, Rich popped back into the kitchen a moment later. “Jake’s moved to the living room so let’s get settled in there.” Everyone followed him out, taking their usual spots on the various chairs. Now everyone was here, Jeremy was certainly missing the feeling of someone else on the large beanbag with him.

 

“So, we’ve all got powers. Maybe we should try a demonstration of them before we make any proper choices?” Jake suggested. Everyone nodded. Christine stood up, obviously ready to show off a little, then she paused.

 

“Who should I pretend to be?” She frowned. Jeremy stood up.

 

“Let’s try this: you pretend to be me and we see how convincing you are.” Christine nodded and walked over to Jeremy. As she did, her postured changed to look more nervous and she slouched a little. By the time she made it over, they were indistinguishable. Logically, Jeremy knew it was Christine, but his brain refused to see anything but a clone of himself.

 

“If I didn’t know where the real Jeremy was standing, I would be so confused right now,” Chloe grumbled out from where she was happily cushioned, and Rich let out a small cry.

 

“Wait, you remembered? I don’t! I was sort of dazing out ‘cause I thought I’d know!”

 

Christine let up on her role then, bowing a little after with a smile. Jeremy’s head felt a little better then, and he groaned as he leaned back in the beanbag. “Thank you, thank you. You’re all too kind.”

 

“That was so freaking weird,” he grumbled. “My brain saw you as me, but I’m me.” Jake chuckled and tossed a cushion at Jeremy from the couch.

 

“Lighten up, Jere. We got this.” He shifted a little, getting more comfortable. “Ask me anything, any fact or anything you like. I’ll see if I know it.”

 

Everyone glanced around at each other and raised a brow at what to ask before Chloe spoke up. “What’s the most expensive piece of makeup that you can buy, and what’s the price? I’ll cross-check it to see if you’re right or not.” Everyone looked at her then. “What? My parents are huge in the makeup industry, I should know these things.”

 

“Beauty Mascara by H Couture. Designed by Valez. Costing fourteen million dollars per tube, but you can get it refilled when you run out,” Jake replied within seconds of Chloe’s shrug. Chloe looked impressed, and everyone else was in shock.

 

“He’s right.” She nodded after a moment.

 

“Five hundred and twenty seven times three hundred and ninety two?” Brooke shot over, typing into her phone.

 

“Two hundred and six thousand, five hundred and eighty four.” Brooke nodded in confirmation.

 

“Proof positive. Jakey-D’s become a genius.” Rich whistled.

 

“More like he’s become the Internet,” Jenna pointed out. “Genius works too, if you want to inflate his ego.”

 

“Hey, you know it’s low to begin with,” Jake countered with a pout.

 

“True, as it is for most young adults and teenagers in this day in age,” Jenna conceded. “I sorta proved myself earlier, and Jeremy’s been proving himself with his powers. Do we need to show anything more? I really hate using it, I can’t even have my phone on me. This sucks...”

 

“No, you’re good, Jen,” Brooke soothed. “And Jeremy’s fine too. You both showed off enough and it gives you a headache if you let the stuff in, right?” They both nodded.

 

“I- er- I guess I can show next. So long as you guys don’t touch me while I’m doing it.” Rich stood and moved to the middle of the loose circle. For a moment, nothing happened, then sparks started running up and down his arms, making them almost glow. He didn’t look to be in any pain, but Jeremy could tell he was uncomfortable.

 

Everyone seemed to get the vibe that he was uncomfortable, so no one spoke until he was done. Rich quickly rubbed his arms then and smiled. “So, uh... yeah. That’s my power. I generate electricity. Very exciting, very, uh... yeah.”

 

“Very exciting,” Jake agreed then, a look of concern evident in his eyes. Rich seemed to look over and get some understanding of something before sighing and sitting back down.

 

Just as people sort of turned to Chloe to ask about her about her powers, Jeremy felt his phone buzz. He saw it was Michael texting him.

 

[Mellonymous] yooo dude I’m so booored after being a studious good boy, can I come over and hang with you??? :ccc

 

Jeremy panicked a little before taking a breath. This was no issue. He could just head home in a minute.

 

[QueereEye] sure dude, just gimme 1/2 hour. Sorting out some shit atm

 

“Okay, so Michael is asking to hang out so I’m going to have to bail in a sec. I gotta if we don’t want him knowing?” Jeremy looked over at Brooke, who shook her head harshly. She looked genuinely scared. “Okay, so I’ll text my dad to pick me up and we can wrap this up quick.”

 

[Jeremy] Hey Dad, can you pick me up plz?

 

[Dad] k

 

“So, Chloe, what can you do? We have about fifteen minutes before my dad arrives.”

 

Chloe sighed from where she sat, obviously not wanting to get up. “I got physical enhancement kinda stuff, I guess? It’s like all my senses are heightened, which can get annoying... Also, I’m really strong and fast and I gotta control that. Like...” She glanced around then. “I can hear the literal buzzing of electricity while Jake’s phone is charging in his room down the hall. I can also smell the lingering scent of Bagel Bites from when you two probably had an unhealthy dinner.”

 

“Hey, Rich really wanted some,” Jake mumbled out. “Also, that was, like, hours ago.”

 

Chloe just shrugged then. Meanwhile, Jeremy felt another buzz from his phone. He looked down and quickly unlocked his phone to check it.

 

[Mellonymous] woooo, ty my mess of a savior!!! think I could convince my moms to let me sleep over??? would your dad be cool with it???

 

[QueereEye] you need to ask??? My dad likes you more than me! >:(((

 

“Okay, so you’ve basically gone Captain America on us, got it.” Jeremy nodded, looking up from his phone. “And Brookie-Cookie, you said something about visions or something?”

 

Brooke nodded seriously. “Yeah, I get hints of the future and I can sort of sense people’s actions just before they happen? It’s weird. But that’s how I know we can’t tell Michael about us yet, I got a vision that we did that and things turned out... bad.” Rich tossed a small cushion at her and she leaned to one side automatically, dodging it at the last second.

 

Jenna let out a low, impressed whistle at that while Rich whined, trying again with a mostly-harmless arm. Again, she moved out of the way at the last second, even if her eyes were now shut to further prove her point. “What... bad thing happened in this vision?” Chloe asked, brows furrowed. It made sense, she grew to like Michael after some time, even if she radiates an energy that was like ‘I’ll only tolerate your presence’ before.

 

[Mellonymous] what can I say, my boyish charm and wit makes me the favorite of anyone ever ;3c learn a thing or two or fifty from me~

 

“That’s why I needed to talk to you all. The- ugh- the SQUIPs are coming back. They’re gonna be sending people to come get us, and if we tell Michael about these powers... I saw him being taken by the SQUIPed people because he knew.” Brooke shook her head. “But I also saw us as superheroes or something, and in that vision we kicked SQUIP butt and saved the day.”

 

Jeremy almost forgot to breath and for a moment he just focused on replying to Michael. His hands were shaking too much so he used his powers to type instead.

 

[QueereEye] make sure your head doesn’t get too big to get through the door. And remember to bring a toothbrush, you took the spare with you last time

 

“Wait, so we aren’t done with those things? Ugh,” Chloe grumbled out, holding the throw pillow she had closer. “At least we kick butt though... I get why we can’t tell him though. Gotta keep Riends safe and all.”

 

“Stop calling him that when he isn’t around,” Christine said before whapping her with her long sleeves. “We all know how Jeremy feels, it doesn’t help anything.”

 

Chloe just shrugged then before holding the pillow closer. “It’s the truth, I can say it until Jeremy tells me to stop.”

 

[Mellonymous] you’re just jealous cause Dad likes me beeest :PPP but ty Mom #3 for reminding me, see you soon!!!!!!!

 

[QueereEye] c ya! ^-^

 

Jeremy barely tuned back into the conversation, more focused on keeping his anxiety down. The prospect of having Michael with him in a few minutes really helped settle him, luckily.

 

“So we become heroes. Whatever it takes to make sure those floppy disks a) don’t get Michael, and b) don’t come back.” Jeremy sighed. “I’ve got some ideas of what we’ll need, but I don’t know if we’ll be able to sort it all out...”

 

“We’re gonna need a base, like somewhere to train and to keep our hero stuff!” Rich chirped, sounding more than a little excited. Considering how often he was around reading comics with Michael and Jeremy, it made sense.

 

“My parents have a warehouse nearby that’s abandoned. We could just that for stuff.” Everyone looked at Chloe then. “They were planning on making a new line of lipstick, but the formula sort of... was bad. They jumped the gun a bit, so I’m sure I could convince them to let us use it.”

 

“Well, we at least have that,” Jenna said with a shrug. “I’m sure you two comic nerds can figure out more details of some things. Christine, if we’re gonna be super heroes, could you help with costume-“

 

“I. Would. Be honored. Broooooke, you know what the costumes look like, right?”

 

“Mostly... I think.”

 

“Great! You can help me with that then! I can teach you about sewing and costume design while we make them! Woo! Oh, and you can spend more time with Snowball! She loves you!”

 

“We need some sort of communications system too, in case there’s an emergency and for battle and stuff.” Rich nodded again.

 

“Why not just use headsets?” Jenna asked.

 

“Because SQUIPs could hack them, and they’d be too easy to tune into.”

 

“What are we supposed to do then? It’s not like we can just make a superhero group chat!” Chloe grumbled and that gave Jeremy an idea.

 

“Why not? Hold on, lemme try something.” Jeremy closed his eyes and reached out mentally. He could feel all the technology in the room, including the SQUIPs in his friends’ heads. They were mostly off, but still sparking and sort of working. Certainly enough for what he planned.

 

Very carefully, he reached out and sort of connected the SQUIPs, like connecting wires. It wasn’t a perfect connection, not like what his SQUIP did, but it was similar and it was strong. He knew instinctively that no other SQUIPs could connect if he didn’t want them to.

 

{Jeremiah_Heere} Try thinking what you want to say. Think up a message, then mentally press send.

 

Everyone seemed to be surprised at first... Well, except Brooke and Rich.

 

{Richard_Goranski} This is so cool, what the fuck? Now I can spam you guys with memes once I figure out how!

 

{Brooke_Lohst} Please do.

 

"Oh god, no, I don't want memes directly implanted into my brain. The internet already does that," Chloe whined. "And Brooke when she shoves her phone into my face."

 

"Now I don't need my phone as a middle man, I can directly implant them into your head," Brooke almost sung out.

 

{Christine_Canigula} I'm trying to use emojis in here but they aren't working! And I can't use a lot of exclamation marks and stuff! Not cool! Can't even do text emojis to show how sad I am about this!

 

Jeremy chuckled. “I’ll work on it properly later. For now, we have a way to communicate if we need to.” He looked around at everyone. “Next, we’ll need to meet up to practice and learn how to fight. Jenna, you’re a black belt, aren’t you?” Jenna looked surprised that Jeremy remembered but nodded. “Could you teach us when we go to train?”

 

“I did just complete my instructor classes, so sure I guess.” She seemed to be still in a slight state of shock. Jeremy’s phone buzzed.

 

[Dad] I am outside.

 

“I need to go, so let’s talk more later. We can talk names and weapons or whatever once we’re more settled.” Jeremy stood up, stretching a little. “See you guys tomorrow. And don’t worry, I’ll let myself out.”

 

"Alright, have fun with your Riends," Chloe teased again, earning her a pillow in the face from Christine. "Wh- hey, this stuff is expensive! I don't want to ruin my look and Jake's grandparents' pillows!"

 

"Aww, they love you too, Chloe," Jake cooed out while most everyone else waved (Chloe was worried over the pillow, checking it and then her face over in her phone's camera).

 

"Give Michael a hug for me," Brooke said before Jeremy agreed, waving as he left the house, making sure to shut the door behind himself before jogging a bit down the driveway to where his dad's car was idling.

 

“Hey Dad!” Jeremy called as he slid into the passenger seat. “Thanks for coming to pick me up.”

 

“No problem, private. Let’s get home.”

 

“Oh, and Michael’s coming over for tonight. That’s alright, yeah?” His dad nodded with a grin.

 

“He’s always welcome. You know that.”

 

 

 

After the drive home with some casual talk (Jeremy explained the meet-up with everyone as getting ahead on planning for Michael's birthday in March, which his dad asked if there was anything he could do to help), Jeremy waited for Michael. He knew Michael had a tendency to show up early when he-

 

"Hey, I'm here early, hope that's alright," Michael said, showing up five minutes earlier than expected. "I saw the car pull up when I turned around the street, so I figured it was alright."

 

"Hello, Michael!" his dad called out from the kitchen, where Jeremy saw him getting out something from the fridge.

 

"Hi, Mr. Heere!" Michael called back, walking over to Jeremy and poking him with his shoe. "Are we gonna lump on the couch or in your room?"

 

“Hey, Mikey. Let’s head up to my room. That way we don’t have my dad on our asses about getting to sleep,” Jeremy stage whispered as he grabbed Michael’s arm and started tugging him up. “We can grab some snacks in a bit if we need them.”

 

"Alright, but only because you said that nicely." Michael grinned down at Jeremy (god, that smile would be the death of him) as he let himself be tugged upstairs.

 

When they got into Jeremy's room, Michael let out a low whistle before dropping his backpack. "Wow, I can see the floor of your room! It's a miracle! What deity did you make your patron to let this happen?"

 

“Shut up, Michael,” Jeremy grumbled, flopping back on his bed. He wasn’t about to tell Michael it was his comment earlier that made him clean up, or that Jeremy might have been trying to impress him. Just a little, y’know? Instead he just rolled his eyes, then shot Michael a grin. “So, what you wanna do, oh lord of the studious and bored?”

 

Michael pretended to think things over before he flopped down onto Jeremy's bed beside him, snickering when Jeremy bounced a little. "Well, I was thinking about Gen Eight of Pokemon and about the Detective Pikachu movie, and how we used to do so many battles when we had Diamond and Pearl. So, while I had to wait those ten agonizing minutes before I started walking over, I searched and found my 3DS!" He reached into his zipper pocket of his hoodie and made the typical Zelda chest-opening noise for important dungeon items. "You know where your 3DS is? We could play and battle and do contests against each other!"

 

Jeremy had an idea of where his 3DS might be, but he was gonna need some help to get it. “I- er- yeah I think I know. But it’s in... there.” He shrugged lamely.

 

Luckily Michael understood perfectly and reached into the bottom drawer of Jeremy’s bedside table. That was where Jeremy’s SQUIP had made him store anything too nerdy to keep out but Jeremy was too stubborn to actually throw out. He would get shocked if he went in there without permission, and even now he couldn’t open it without phantom feelings. Michael was the main person in there anymore, though occasionally his dad would help him get out a figure or a game or something.

 

While Michael was bent over the side of the bed, digging through his stuff, he heard him muttering things out loud. "OK, found it, but Pearl isn't in there... Happy Home Designer is a good choice though. I'll put that out here, you need to show me some of the stuff you designed..." Michael kicked his legs a little as he worked, muttering things to himself and to Jeremy all the while. "Hey, I found some ramune in here! It's melon... It'll probably need to chill though to not taste gross. Want it out?"

 

“For sure!” Jeremy nodded, then he thought for a minute. “Check the box at the back, that’s where most of my cartridges were kept. I didn’t want them damaged.” He wouldn’t admit it out loud, but he was just spending a moment admiring Michael. Just the planes of his back and the small details, like the neatness of the sewing on his hoodie’s back panel, which Michael had made himself, or the way his messy hair bounced a little as he moved and dug through the drawer. Jeremy couldn’t help himself, but it was just a small crush. He could deal. He didn’t want to ruin the great thing they’d just gotten back.

 

"OK, I'm gonna need you to hold onto me so I don't tumble and fall off since I'm reaching all the way back there," Michael muttered out, scooting a little further off the bed. "Think your twink arms can do that and then help tug me back up?"

 

“I’m not that weak, Michael,” Jeremy grumbled, leaning over and wrapping his arms around Michael’s waist. Thing is, thanks to the awkward angle they were both at, it meant Jeremy had to half lean on Michael to keep his grip and to keep him on the bed. So Jeremy was there, arms around Michael’s waist and his face pressed against his lower back. He was sure his face was flaming and he knew his heart was suddenly going double time. This was suddenly too much intimacy and Jeremy was freaking out.

 

Of course Michael wasn't freaking out. He was always a sucker for intimacy and being close, it was just in his tactile nature. "Thanks, my loyal twink," Michael called out as Jeremy felt him move a bit under him, presumably further back under the bed and into the drawer. He could feel every move Michael made, and if it wasn't for the fact that if Jeremy let go, Michael would fall and probably hurt his back, head, and many other things, he'd let go because this was too much for him and alright, maybe it was more than a small crush.

 

"Aha! Got it! Ooo, also found some other cool shit." Michael shifted once more. "Alright, I only got one arm keeping me from falling, I need your help to tug me up with my bounty!"

 

Jeremy took half a second to process, then tugged on Michael’s waist. He had to use his whole body, but he managed to haul Michael onto the bed with him. Except Michael was sort of on top of him now, grinning goofily down at him. Jeremy fought his blush harder and he flailed a little.

 

“Get off me! You’re squishing me!” Michael chuckled but settled on him even more comfortably. “Michael!” Suddenly his speakers were playing soft music, an instrumental piece that would be perfect to cuddle to.

 

"You didn't say the magic words," Michael said then, seemingly either ignoring or not hearing the soft music just yet.

 

"Now, damnit!"

 

"See, you just had to be polite and use your nice words!" Michael flopped off of him then, dumping the stuff he grabbed onto the free space on the bed. The music still played, but Michael swayed along to it now as he waited for Jeremy to look over everything.

 

Huffing and playing along like the music suddenly didn't start playing out of nowhere, Jeremy saw that Michael got his DS/3DS games box, the Ramune, as well as another small box... that was labeled... oh no-

 

"Trip down memory lane before playing games!" Michael called out, grinning wide. "I wanna see what you keep in your 'Michael Memories' box! You never showed it to me before! Show it! Show it! Show it!"

 

Jeremy blushed a dark red and started sputtering. He wasn’t good at emotional stuff, Damnit! And he was so gonna get emotional looking through this. The music got a fraction louder and Jeremy was too flustered to figure out how to turn it off.

 

“Fine! But only because you rescued it for me,” he grumbled, pouting. He flipped the lid open moodily, and found that his sour act vanished the moment he laid eyes on the first item in the box: the picture of Jeremy and Michael at Michael’s moms’ wedding.

 

They were only about seven, but it made Jeremy’s entire being feel all soft as he recalled the memory. They were in tiny tuxedos, bow ties and all. And they were clinging to each other as they tried to waltz. Michael knew how, Jeremy did not, which lead to an awkward sort of mess but they were both laughing and having so much fun. With an awkward cough, Jeremy handed the picture to Michael.

 

Michael's playful demeanor instantly softened as he took the picture, looking it over with a warm smile. "Oh my god, you kept this? And you even put it into a little sleeve so it didn't curl or anything." He looked closer at the picture then. "Oh my god, I have my tiny glasses on with the straps since they kept falling off! This is so rad."

 

Jeremy pulled out a couple more pictures, and he saw Michael’s face fall from something happy to something more devastated as he looked them over. “What’s wrong, Mikey? I mean, I know I was an ugly kid but I don’t think I was that bad,” he joked weakly.

 

"No, you weren't an ugly kid, these pictures prove it," Michael said weakly himself as he looked over all of the photos. "I..." He saw Michael swallow for a second before clearing his throat. "I can't find my copies of these pictures. Could, uh.... Could we make more copies of these somehow? Like, maybe this weekend or something?"

 

Jeremy paused, then nodded. “We have the negatives for these, Dad never throws them out.” He thought for a moment. “How did you lose them, though? You’re always so careful with everything.” He scooted around to Michael and wrapped an arm around him. “What happened?”

 

He looked away for a moment, even if he leaned into Jeremy's arm. "I..." Michael gnawed on his lower lip then. "Uh... Please don't hate me."

 

"What, why would I-"

 

"I got really upset last semester and I sort of burned some of them and I've regretted doing it ever since. I'm so sorry, I only burned some of the things, but I shouldn't have, I know that now and that I was being stupid and bitter and petty and angry." As he got all of that out in a quick ramble, Michael curled up a bit more, not looking at Jeremy. "I... I also burned the Weird Al ticket stub, the Magic card you made me, a-and the Pac-Man plushie... I'm sorry."

 

Wha-? Oh. He had burned their stuff when he was hurt about the SQUIP situation. Jeremy squeezed Michael a little tighter and guided him to lean on Jeremy’s shoulder. “I don’t hate you, Mikey. I could never hate you,” he assured gently. “And I’m so fucking lucky that you don’t hate me for what I did then. You were allowed to be angry, and you still are. We can replace the pictures, and we can make more. But so long as we’re still friends? So long as we still have each other’s back, the things don’t matter that much. What matters is that you’re still here, with me, willing to give me another chance. We have each other, that’s what matters.”

 

"I..." Michael sniffled (shit, it was serious, it always gets serious whenever Michael starts to cry). "Yeah, we can... Thanks." Michael rested his head on Jeremy's shoulder then, but not before he quickly leaned over and snatched up a bracelet from the box. "Did you keep the bracelet I made you and the one you made me from preschool? I thought I left it by accident and the teacher aid just tossed it..."

 

“Y-Yeah. I kept both because, y’know. We made them the day we met,” Jeremy stammered out, picking up his own bracelet. The one Michael made him. It was mostly blue with green and brown in it for Jeremy’s eyes and hair. He always gravitated towards blue for his clothes, even back then. Michael’s bracelet was red, black, and brown.

 

“I wonder if they still fit...” Jeremy mused, slipping it on. It did, surprisingly. “Hey, check it out!” He held up his arm for Michael to see.

 

“I made mine in mind for when you got older, I think,” Michael said with a wet smile. “You complained about it when I first gave it to you, you said it kept sliding off. At least you don’t have the wrist size of a five year old anymore.”

 

Jeremy chuckled and looked at Michael’s bracelet. “Y’know, these are adjustable...” He grabbed it from Michael and fiddled for a minute. Then he held it out to Michael again. “The teacher showed me, but mine was still too big. Fits perfectly now, though.” He grinned as he slipped Michael’s on to Michael’s wrist. He made the Zelda open chest sound and threw his arms out.

 

Michael laughed a bit then, looking at his wrist then. “See, I didn’t know about that and just made it one size. I just happened to get lucky. You listened a bit better than I did.” He looked over his bracelet fondly then before hugging Jeremy. “Thanks.”

 

Jeremy hugged back, glad Michael was feeling better. “No problem, Mikey.” He squeezed Michael gently. “And hey, they can show our promise. To make more memories from here on out. I’ll keep mine on if you will.”

 

“You act like I don’t adore wearing bracelets already. Of course I’m gonna wear this and show it off to everyone.” Pulling back, Michael took Jeremy’s wrist carefully and looked over the bracelet. “Hey, I was good. I did a good pattern alternating between colors evenly. Good job, little me.”

 

“Little you was fabulous.” Jeremy nodded, grinning mischievously. “What happened?” He let Michael playfully shove him and he rolled away dramatically. “Enough sappy stuff for now! I wanna battle! My Empoleon will rule all!” he crowed, dumping his photos back into the box (carefully) and picking up his 3DS.

 

“My baby girl Hippowdon will destroy you, and so will my Lucario and Torterra,” Michael announced as he opened up the wrapping on the Ramune, seemingly too impatient to wait for it to taste better (according to him) by cooling it. “Three-vee-three.”

 

“You’re on!” Jeremy grinned. He was glad that even with all the craziness of the past twenty-four hours, he was allowed this still. He was still allowed to spend time, being normal with his Player One. Quietly, he wondered if it would stay that way.

Chapter Text

Jeremy was bored. This game was taking forever to load and he wanted to play now. Michael was busy with project work today, and the squad wasn’t set to train for another couple of hours, so Jeremy wanted to play while he had the chance. He didn’t have much free time anymore, between school and Michael and training to be a superhero (that took the most time, if he were honest).

 

While he waited for the old Mortal Kombat game to load, Jeremy ran through the controls. He was practicing combos when he suddenly heard a small tic-tic-tic. Looking around, he saw one the weird remote control robots he had mimicking the combos as best it could. He tried a couple, and yup, that was the same as what he was trying.

 

What was weirder was that Jeremy didn’t feel it at all. Normally, when he controlled something with his powers, Jeremy could get a small sensation in the back of his head. It was faint and the more he controlled, the worse it got, but he’d never not felt something when controlling tech. Jeremy focused on the controller. How weird, he could feel the robot through the controller. Jeremy would need to investigate this further. He turned off the game for now and scooped up some of the many spare controllers he had, including a set of JoyCons, some Xbox remotes, and a PlayStation remote. (They tended to lose controllers, so Michael would buy more, only for them to turn up again.)

 

He felt himself practicing with his robot with all of the different controllers, only realizing that he was training and practicing before the scheduled time. Hey, he would be able to show off when he got there!

 

Jeremy didn’t realize just how much time had passed by the time he heard beeping outside. Looking out the window, he saw Christine parked out there, waving when she caught his eye. Shit, it was already six?

 

Quickly, he grabbed his spare backpack, the one his SQUIP made him get during that ‘phase,’ and dumped one of each type of controller in there before hurrying outside. He made sure to grab his keys before locking the house (his dad had a business meeting and wouldn’t be back until late). Then, he hurried and waved at Christine to get her to stop beeping her horn alone to ‘Cautionary Tale.’ She thankfully stopped by the time he got in.

 

“Hello hello hello! I thought you would’ve been waiting outside like you do most other times! What got you so preoccupied? I know it wasn’t homework.”

 

“I just discovered a new aspect to my power. I was trying it out while I waited,” Jeremy panted, strapping himself in. He quickly checked the bag and, yes, he did put the robot in his bag as well. “I’ll show everyone when we get to the base, it’s really awesome.” He grinned as Christine started driving. “Also, was the horn necessary? Why not just message me?” He tapped his temple a few times, arching an eyebrow at Christine.

 

“Because I wanted to, and my phone is in my tote bag,” she said, gesturing her head to the cluttered backseat. Ah yes, her war zone of anything to everything. He remembered digging through it near finals week trying to find her Physics textbook. “So it was very necessary. Also, I got snacks!”

 

“Snacks are very appreciated, Chrissy. But you realize I was talking about our special group chat? Remember, I set up one-to-one messaging last week! And I’ve been made emojis be possible, somehow. You have no excuse,” Jeremy chastised teasingly. He snorted when he suddenly got the sensation of an emoji in his head (it was hard to describe, he just knew she was sending the ‘>:P’ emoji).

 

“But then I wouldn’t have been able to show you that I can play music from my car horn,” Christine whined as she kept driving. “I’ve been inspired my Michael playing the Pac-Man theme with his to pick you up.”

 

“Ugh, I never should have let you two interact,” Jeremy complained dramatically. “You’re both as bad as each other.” It was clear he was joking. Christine was his best friend after Michael, even after they’d decided that dating wasn’t right for them. She was the one who helped Jeremy realise that he actually did like Michael to some degree. Christine was awesome.

 

“Quick question for you, do you think the suits will be ready by tomorrow? I know you said you and Brooke were close to being done. “

 

“Yeah, Brooke’s bringing them for everyone to wear and see if we need to do any last-minute modifications,” Christine told him as she turned down a road. “Don’t worry, we have the voice modulator thingies all set up and sewn in too. They are also practically undetectable unless someone has powers like you or Jenna.”

 

“You’re amazing, Chrissy,” Jeremy beamed. They chatted for a while longer until they finally arrived at the warehouse. From the outside, it looked the same as ever but inside had been completely reworked. There were high tech locks on all the doors, a room full of computers which had been hooked up to a good chunk of CCTV cameras to monitor different parts of the city, a chill area for winding down, a stretch arena, a place to store the back up suits, and a sparring mat. The whole place was completely kitted out to be a hero base.

 

Christine parked in the back of the warehouse and they headed in, using Jeremy’s powers to access the building (he was the only one who didn’t need a key card to get in). Everyone else was already waiting in the chill zone, sitting about on the couches. “Hey guys, we’re here.”

 

“Wait, really? I would’ve never guessed since you guys just walked in-“

 

“Rich, I won’t give you the Oreos I bought you if you keep this up.”

 

“-but I’m so happy to see you two! Hi Jeremy, hi Christine!”

 

“God, why is food your weakness?” Jake asked then, rolling his eyes then as Rich easily caught the plastic baggie full of Oreos. “I mean, I get it, but god you’re weak for them.”

 

“It’s a short person thing, Jake, you wouldn’t understand.” Jeremy chuckled, wandering and snagging an Oreo from the bag. Christine nodded sagely as she followed him.

 

“Hey, Jere-bear. What’s with the bag?” Brooke asked, righting herself from where she was lounging sideways on a yellow couch. Oh, right!

 

“I figured out something about my powers and I wanted to show you guys.” Jeremy grinned. He took the robot out and placed it on the table, then dug around and pulled out a PlayStation controller. He quickly linked them up and began making the robot do the same combos as earlier.

 

“So, you’re using a remote control to control the robot?” Chloe asked then, and Rich gasped at her.

 

“You’re kidding me, right?”

 

“No, I’m not- of course I am, I know what a PS4 controller looks like, Richard. How did you figure out how to do that?”

 

“Oh, you have a lot of controllers in here,” Christine said, looking into his backpack then. “Are you able to control tech things with your controllers?”

 

“Yeah, so far. I can use all these controllers for sure, but I haven’t really tried it out on anything else yet,” Jeremy explained, making the robot jump around.

 

“Well could you use it on us? Since we’ve all got tech in our bodies,” Jenna asked curiously. Everyone fell silent for a moment.

 

“Try it out on me,” Rich suggested.

 

“Woah, Rich, you sure dude?” Jeremy asked, almost dropping his controller.

 

“I wouldn’t offer if I wasn’t sure,” Rich pointed out as he stood up, brushing the crumbs off of his shirt. “Come on, Tall-Ass, give me your best shot. Or, well, best try? I dunno.” He shrugged then as he stood a decent distance from where everyone sat, in a more free space. “Just don’t make me do anything crazy. That’s my job.”

 

Jeremy thought for a second, then nodded. He grabbed the JoyCon and set it to Super Smash Bros Ultimate control scheme and focused on connecting it to Rich’s SQUIP. Instantly, Rich dropped into a lower stance, his brown eyes turning bright blue. Jeremy got Rich jumping around and even tried some attacks (he made note of them so Rich could properly try them out later). This was so freaking cool, even if it made him really uncomfortable too.

 

“Holy shit, that’s insane,” Jenna almost gasped out. “I can see through him right now too, and just... holy shit.”

 

“Hey, can I try something?” Jake asked after a minute. “I want to try a combo that’ll make him do something cool.”

 

“Smash Ultimate controls.” Jeremy carefully handed the remote over to Jake. He had no idea if this would even work outside of his grasp but that was what this was all about, testing things. Plus, this was Jake. He’d be sensible, right?

 

Jake tested out moving Rich around then, smiling over at Rich before he went and seemingly went to press in a combo move... Instead of doing some cool move, Rich fell on his face. “That is for eating all of my candy and my slice of cake I bought for myself, even after I wrote in Sharpie for you not to.”

 

Jeremy cut the connection, running over to Rich. “Holy shit, are you okay?” he cried, helping Rich up. He didn’t look hurt, thankfully, just a little dazed. “What the fuck, Jake? I’m not giving you controls again. If it wasn’t for your legs, you’d be next test.” He grumbled, fussing over Rich a little.

 

“Ugh, it’s fine,” Rich said, rubbing his face. “Honestly, I thought he’d do worse. My face just hurts.” Looking over, Rich gave Jake the bird, who just shrugged and had the decency to look apologetic.

 

“I knew that the worst he could get from that was maybe some bruising on his cheek or something. I wouldn’t do anything that would actually hurt him,” Jake reassured Jeremy with his hands raised in mock surrender. “Sorry.”

 

Jeremy sighed, calming down a bit. “I know, I’m sorry for snapping. I just... that was making me really uncomfortable. I don’t like the idea of controlling you guys, or even being able to. Makes me feel like... it. So I was just tense.” He scratched the back of his head sheepishly. “At least we know I can do it, if it comes down to it.” He looked over to Rich again. “What did it actually feel like?” Jeremy would freely admit he was curious, even if he didn’t like the idea.

 

“I get that. Uh...” Rich frowned as he looked at the JoyCon Jake now held. “It was weird. Like, I wasn’t in control, obviously, but I knew you were controlling me so it was fine. I couldn’t really say anything, but I could think and everything. And I just did whatever was inputted into my brain I guess? I’m not the brainiac here.”

 

From where she sat, Jenna piped up. “Yeah, I can confirm. I was watching him through the tech in his head.”

 

“Weird, but okay.” Chloe nodded and made some notes in the notebook left around. Whenever someone discovered some new aspect of their powers, it was always written down and dated. Jenna wouldn’t let them not do it.

 

“Well, since that’s out of the way, shall we get to training?” Brooke asked, sounding like she was holding back giggles. She looked like she was as well.

 

Jeremy nodded as he walked over to Jake, snatching back the controller and shoving it in his pocket. He’d make sure to keep this on him from now on, it was useful.

 

After that, everyone trained a bit. They went in rounds, letting everyone have a good them before moving on to the next person. It was good to see the individual progress of everybody.

 

Rich wasn’t scared of his powers anymore, and he found that he was resistant to fire and heat. Sometimes, he could influence those, but not as well as the electricity he generated. It was good to see him not be scared of his powers anymore (admittedly, he was scared of hurting anyone else, which made sense after last semester).

 

Jenna was getting Chloe to practice a two-versus-one situation with Chloe to see how she’d cope. Chloe had the hardest time out of everyone controlling her powers, so she ran through a lot of drills. Rich and Jeremy were acting as her ‘attackers,’ boxing her in between two box stacks which was supposed to represent an alleyway. She had to escape without knocking over the boxes.

 

Chloe looked around as Jeremy and Rich approached, before she pouted. “You’re not gonna hurt me, are you boys? We could have so much fun otherwise.” It was clear she was just teasing, and Jeremy knew she wasn’t serious, but he couldn’t help but stop. His cheeks were suddenly burning hot and he felt all flustered. “You could just stand aside and let me go,” Chloe suggested, keeping up her flirty tone.

 

Yeah, that seemed reasonable. Jeremy didn’t want to hurt such a lovely woman, especially since she was his friend. Rich seemed to feel the same, since he stepped back and to the side the same moment as Jeremy did. He was blushing just as much.

 

Chloe stepped aside then, smiling at them. “Thank you so much, you two,” she called with a wave before exiting the simulation area. Once she was free, Jeremy felt the flusteredness drop. It felt like a weight was lifted off of his shoulders. Rich let out a heavy sigh, though one that was filled with relief as well.

 

“That was such an improvement, Chloe! Good job,” Brooke cheered out from where she stood aside with the others, and Christine whooped out as well. Jenna was writing stuff down as Jake nodded and clapped.

 

“Guys, I feel... really weird?” Rich was scrubbing at his cheeks. Jeremy nodded.

 

“Kinda flustered and heavy, but it vanished after a second. Now I just feel... really weird,” he agreed, sitting down on the mat. Rich sat down a moment later.

 

Jenna wrote that down as Brooke and Chloe came over then. Chloe looked very concerned then, squatting down next to them. “Oh god, I’m so sorry. Are you guys alright though? Like, is it a bad kind of weird, or a good kind?”

 

“It was nice at the time. Now it’s just odd. I’m almost disappointed, but not?” Jeremy wasn’t quite sure how to describe the weird, almost empty feeling in his chest. Rich just nodded and pointed at Jeremy in agreement.

 

“I’m fine though, just kinda confused,” he added. “Why did we move out the way? We were supposed to attack you. But when you said move out of the way, it seemed like the most reasonable idea ever.”

 

“I don’t know, it just felt right to do that,” Chloe admitted. “And I guess it worked but... I’m not too sure how.”

 

“I’m guessing it’s like a form of seduction power. I’m going to guess it only works on those attracted to girls,” Jenna said from where she sat. “If Michael was here with us, it wouldn’t work on him.”

 

“The odd and confused feeling is probably is probably because your brain just had a huge one-eighty from this flirty, lovey kind of feeling to this empty, sort of vacant lack of that love-like feeling,” Jake elaborated.

 

“That makes sense” Jeremy nodded as the feeling faded. He felt back to normal after a moment. “And I’m all good now.” He noticed that Chloe looked really uncomfortable and upset, so he opened his arms. “You want a hug, Chloe?”

 

Chloe hesitated before nodding, slowly moving in for the hug. He could get why she felt so upset, especially with him. As she grew closer to Jeremy, she took blame for what she did after seeing a therapist. She apologized, something rare for her, and seemed to be looking for some way to repay him for that night. Chloe wasn’t satisfied with just an apology or any previous attempts at repaying him yet.

 

Jeremy had moved past it. He was comfortable with her touching him again, and he had forgiven her for what happened. Even Brooke had. “Hey, it’s okay, Chloe. You didn’t mean to and now you know. Plus, it’s not like you did anything harmful or risky or even mean. You can learn to control this power as well, just like your strength,” he murmured, stroking her hair softly. Rich plastered himself to her back, hugging her as well.

 

“You’re okay, Chloe.”

 

Chloe just nodded, but ended up pulling back less than a minute later, rubbing her face. “Ugh, I better not have ruined my makeup,” she muttered out. Jeremy knew that was her way of saying that she was feeling better. “I need to check it in a minute.”

 

“You’re still as gorgeous as ever, babe.” Rich winked and Chloe rolled her eyes.

 

 

 

The rest of the training went off without a hitch and by the end of it, everyone was tired and sore but in the best ways. Jeremy wanted to put forward an idea, but he was a little nervous. Jake seemed to pick up on that.

 

“What’s on your mind, Jere?” he asked, reclining back in his wheelchair. He might have made special bracers to help him walk and fight when he was being a hero, but Jake still needed his chair the rest of the time. He couldn’t arouse suspicion from their peers for one thing and he just preferred it from what he’d told Jeremy.

 

Jeremy hesitated, then nodded slowly to himself.“I was thinking. After we’ve got the suits on and fitted and everything, we should maybe try going on patrol. See if there’s any crimes we can stop so we get some practice in before the SQUIPs come,” he suggested, shifting awkwardly. Jeremy still wasn’t the best at sharing ideas with the group yet, but he was getting there.

 

"Yeah, we can do simple stuff around town," Brooke agreed. "I think it would be best to do that."

 

Everyone else started thinking about it before giving their own form of agreement, but not before Chloe got up and excused herself to actually go check on her makeup. "Good idea," she said on the way past.

 

"Before we can go that all though, we have to fit the suits like you said! Good thing it's a Friday night so we can stay out later," Christine cheered out, grabbing Brooke's hand and tugging her along. "C'mon, show me where you put them!"

 

Brooked grinned and lead everyone to one of the back rooms of the warehouse. Seven mannequins stood proudly in there, each dressed in the super suits. They were all pretty simple in design but the different colors meant everyone would be easy enough to distinguish.

 

“Wow, Chrissy, these look great! The quality of the workmanship is just amazing,” Jenna praised, running her fingers along the black and green of her suit. Jake nodded, appreciating the steel grey and blue of his suit.

 

Jeremy looked over his own suit. It was mostly a royal blue, with black detailing, and there was a belt on in which would be perfect for his controllers. He grabbed the mask and found the plastic lenses he gave Christine had even been sewed in so he’d be able to see without his glasses. “This is so freaking cool,” he muttered, taking the suit off the mannequin and heading to the little curtained off partition behind it.

 

"I'm so glad you like them. They're similar to one another, but I figured that it would sort of make us known as a team, you know? Plus, I don't know as much about superhero stuff as you guys, I did my best with the design ideas Brooke pitched and drew out for me," Christine rambled, though her voice got a bit more muffled and distant as Jeremy got himself changed. Either way, he could hear her happily talking about her handiwork while Brooke added in a detail every now and then to clarify something or to correct a point.

 

He found the suit fit perfectly, and had enough padding in it to hide his actual shape. “I love the sleeves, Chrissy. Short sleeves with long gloves? We can wear these under our usual clothes even in summer!” he commented proudly, stepping out as he slipped his mask on. “How do I look?”

 

Chrissy was already changed, her almost pure white outfit looking great on her. The green detailing made her suit look like the opposite to Jenna’s but it worked nicely. Those two worked together well in training, and their powers complimented each other, with Jenna monitoring the situation from a distance and Chrissy getting in close.

 

Brooke, who was about to get changed into her suit, let out a low, playful whistle. "You are rocking it," she commented before taking the little changing area he had just been. Chloe nodded in agreement as she went to get changed as well.

 

"Yeah, it definitely helps to hide you. Try turning on your voice modulator and see how well it works," Jenna added from where she sat, now in her suit.

 

Christine perked up, looking Jeremy over with a huge grin. "Yeah, try it out! You look great! You can see fine, right?"

 

“I can see just perfect.” He nodded, switching on the modulator with a thought. His voice sounded deeper but still natural somehow. There wasn’t even a tinge of autotune in it. “Holy shit, is this what I sound like as a hero? I almost sound cool!” he joked. “Great job, Jakey-D, you made the squeaky toy sound like a man.”

 

Jake burst out laughing then, sound naturally deeper than before (holy shit). "Yeah, of course. I'm glad I could do that solid for you. Now, since I did that solid for you, you need to do one from me. I need you to-"

 

Everyone shouted something at the same time, obviously wanting to mess with Jake a bit. Jeremy already knew Jake needed Jeremy to activate the bracers, so he turned them on while Jake pouted at everyone for interrupting him. “Try standing now, dude. See how it feels.”

 

Jake looked down at his legs then, hesitating for a second. Jeremy could get why. The last time he stood up and walked around, he had almost permanently ruined his legs, confining him almost exclusively to a wheelchair or crutches. He took a deep sigh before standing, seemingly stunned as he carefully walked around.

 

Jeremy stayed focused, checking how the bracers felt and if they were working properly. “They’re taking the stress just like you predicted, Jake. Well done! And they’re supporting you with no problems that I can tell, all you need is to install the on-off switch for yourself and they’re perfect!” Everyone cheered, none louder than Rich.

 

Soon everyone was changed. They were a colorful bunch, that was for certain, but they certainly looked like superheroes. “Rich, if you check your powers to make sure they work through the suit, I think we’re all good to go. We should stick to side streets for now, we don’t want to attract much attention yet if we can avoid it,” Brooke advised, stretching out her sore muscles a bit.

 

Rich nodded, doing a quick flick of his wrist. There were some sparks, along with electricity coursing along his arm. "All good, and aye-aye, Captain." He did a mock salute, and almost everyone did it as well. "Let's go patrol! Also, be warned. If I get bored, I'm sending memes through the mental group chat."

 

Everyone except Brooke groaned. Jeremy had yet to perfect the mental link, so it was all or nothing. Christine liked using emojis too much, and they preferred their usual group chat names to their legal names, so they were stuck with memes for now.

 

Everyone headed out after a couple more minutes of adjusting everything. Jenna checked the computers, seeing if she could spot any trouble for them to investigate. Turns out a Seven-Eleven has some extra shady characters loitering outside. The team set out in that direction, just in case.

 

On the way there, the mental group chat got two Crash 'woah' memes and a Shooting Star meme with Crash in it. Brooke was grinning while everyone else was groaning. "Hey, those two memes are timeless classics," Rich defended when Chloe shot him an irritated look once the next Crash meme came in. "Don't hate them or shoot the messenger."

 

Jeremy was certain Chloe was going to strangle Rich when a sudden gunshot caught all their attention. The Seven Eleven was in sight, and Jeremy could just about make out the broken window which had just gotten shot through.

 

For a moment, everyone was silent. It was one thing learning to be heroes, it was another thing to actually do it. Jeremy decided that someone had to say something, so he would take charge this time. Play this like a level in a game, that was their best shot.

 

{QueereEye} Jenna, what we got? I need hostile, civilians, and a way in that won’t get anyone shot.

 

Jeremy’s instructions seemed to snap everyone else out of their daze as they all listened to Jenna. She tuned into the CCTV.

 

{CanAndWillKickYourAss} I’m seeing three armed men, and four civilians. One of them is being held hostage, gun to the head. They’re by the till. We can get in through the back without being seen, but then the hostiles would just leave via the front.

 

{ShakespeareLover} I can pretend to be a police officer and stand up front with you, or with you at a distance, Jenna. We can keep them stuck in there and distract them!!!

 

{CanAndWillKickYourAss} You do have a point there, Chrissy. Anyone object to that plan? We need to act fast, especially with the hostage situation. Also, the employee behind the till hit the emergency button underneath, so the police arriving won't be unbelievable.

 

{QueereEye} It’s good, everyone get into position. Jenna, keep us updated.

 

Everyone nodded. Most of the group followed Jeremy around the back of the building. Jeremy used his powers to unlock the door (why did everyone use electric locks?) and they all slipped in. The situation was exactly as Jenna described, and they hadn’t been seen just yet.

 

{QueereEye} Chrissy, start the distraction now!

 

{ShakespeareLover} Got it!

 

Suddenly, Jeremy swore he heard sirens outside. He heard what sounded like a distinctly different voice from Christine or even her modulated voice coming from a sort of megaphone. "Alright, this is the police. We have the establishment surrounded. I need you three to come out with your hands up, and to let the civilian you have go. Your punishment will be less severe if you comply and come out calmly and silently."

 

“Shit, the cops are here,” one of the masked men hissed. They all had ski masks on and were dressed in all black. And they were all totally distracted by looking out the front of the store. Jeremy motioned for everyone to move. Rich and Jake went down one aisle, Brooke and Chloe does the other, which left Jeremy the man at the front.

 

He’d tossed the hostage to the ground, standing above them so Jeremy didn’t get a clear vision of who it was, but he did see something he could use. The hot dog machine would work nicely for what he needed.

 

{QueereEye} Move now!

 

Jeremy got launched hot dog after hot dog at the man, hitting him in the face almost every time. Once Jeremy was certain he was blinded by the hot, greasy food (not properly, just temporarily), he stormed over and hit him firmly in the gut. Once the man doubled over, Jeremy got some strong hits to his head, knocking him out in seconds. Thank you, Jenna, for being such an awesome teacher.

 

{QueereEye} Got my man down! Checking on the hostage now.

 

{DairyOrDeath} We're keeping our people away from you, don't worry.

 

{BisexualEmbassador} Same with Jake and I, go for it dude!

 

Looking down at the hostage then, Jeremy felt his gut churn as he recognized the bear and Joy Division mixed sewn work on the back of the red, patch-covered hoodie. He could hear Michael catching his breath then before he shifted, huffing a little as he did so. "God damn, didn't have to toss me so hard, I could have a concussion, y-" Michael froze then as soon as he locked eyes with Jeremy, looking him over and scanning the surroundings of all of their friends fighting with their powers. "I..."

 

“Are you okay?” Jeremy asked gently. He was not ready for this sort of situation, not by a long shot, but he had to keep up the act. C’mon, he was acting and he was in drama. He could act like he didn’t know his best friend in the entire world and his crush, right? “It’s okay if you’re a little shaken.” He knelt down next to Michael, offering his hand.

 

"I..." Michael slowly took his hand then, more than likely reeling from the situation. Even if Michael wouldn't admit it to him, he knew Michael was probably on the verge of a panic attack, even if he seemed cool, calm, and collected. "Y-yeah, I'm fine, so fine. Uh... Who are you?"

 

Shit, they had never sorted out names. Quick, play it cool. “Someone who’s here to help. Myself and my team, we’re all here to help people, protect them.” Jeremy helped Michael up, and he was suddenly glad for the padding in shoes to make him taller. He was now just short compared to Michael rather than tiny. Either way, he was managing to not make a fool of himself. So far, so good.

 

Jeremy could see awe slip into Michael's expression, though it probably would've been greater if he wasn't so close to a panic attack. "I... Well, thank you," Michael muttered out. He glanced around then only when the sound of fighting stopped. Jeremy looked too, seeing the two other robbers unconscious.

 

{CanAndWillKickYourAss} Get moving guys, real cops are coming!

 

“We need to go, so be sure to be careful on your way home, sir.” Jeremy squeezed Michael’s hand out of habit. “It would be a tragedy for someone as attractive as you to get anymore hurt. Call someone you trust to either drive you home or walk with you.” With that, Jeremy and the team left out the back of the store and began sprinting away from the scene. Technically, they had just done vigilant stuff. And Jeremy just realized he’d called Michael attractive. Shit.

 

{HotWheels} Relax, bro, he didn’t know it was you.

 

Oh yeah, Jeremy had a disguise on. Speaking of-

 

{QueereEye} Everyone back to base. Keep the costumes on, just under your clothes. Keep anything else close. If I’m right-

 

Jeremy’s phone buzzed with a call from Michael.

 

{QueereEye} Yeah, Michael's calling me. I'm gonna leave as soon as I'm changed and grab my things.

 

{IWokeUpABitch} Sounds good to me.

 

With a sigh, Jeremy answered his phone. (Even if he didn't have it with him, he was in a close enough range to the base that they were closing in on to get its signal, hence allowing him to answer.) He made sure his modulator was off as he hurried down some back ways to get to the base. "Hey, Michael, what's up?"

 

"OK, so you know how, after I get a lot of work done, I treat myself with a slushie? Well, I went to get one, and as soon as Lonny was finishing up pouring it, there was a robbery. I was right at the counter, and the guys sorta got me, but I'm fine now. These cool looking people in colorful costumes came in, and they stopped them and one of them saved me, and- and- and-"

 

"Michael, breathe. Please don't forget to breathe."

 

Jeremy heard Michael take a few deep breaths from his end. His voice was shaky when he spoke before, and he sounded a little calmer now. "Yeah, yeah, right. So, um, yeah. The police came, they questioned me a little, but I'm sitting in the back of the ambulance that came as a precaution. I'm wrapped up in a panic blanket and, uh... I was wondering if you could come over and walk with me back home... Please." He hated how small Michael's voice sounded with that little plea.

 

“Hey, it’s okay Mikey.” Jeremy did his best to sound soothing. “I’ll be there in a couple of minutes, yeah? Just hold on and I’ll be there as quick as I can.” Jeremy heard Michael make a small sound of agreement just as they reached the base. “You want me to stay on the line? I can do that if you need.” Michael made the same small noise. “It’s no problem at all, Mikey. Just keep breathing.”

 

Jeremy started rambling about anything and everything as he got out of his hero gear. Instead of getting fully changed, he just peeled off the gloves and left them and the mask in the base, throwing his normal clothes on over his suit. Everyone had the decency to stay quiet during this, which Jeremy was grateful for. As soon as he was ready, he grabbed his phone and headed back to the Seven-Eleven.

 

Within fifteen minutes of the incident, Jeremy was back and walking over toward the ambulance. “I’m just outside now, so I’m hanging up, okay?” When Michael agreed this time it sounded less like a whimper and more just tired. At least he was sounding better.

 

Less than a minute later, Jeremy poked his head around the back of the side of the ambulance. “Hey Mik-“ Jeremy was cut off by Michael hugging him tightly. Jeremy wrapped his arms around him, gently rubbing his back.

 

Michael clung to him as he sort of said everything at once, thanking Jeremy for coming and such as well as explaining how tired and exhausted he was. Jeremy just let him, keeping him close and reassuring him when he needed to. He kept hugging Michael for as long as he needed, but asked him, “Do you want me to stay with you all night, Mikey?” Michael instantly nodded. “At your house or my house?”

 

“W-whichever.”

 

“I think your house would be best, your moms need to know what happened, yeah?” Michael sniffled and just nodded. “Yeah, I’ll help you explain too if you need me too from what you told me.”

 

“T-thanks Jere...”

 

After the EMTs made sure Michael was fine to go (he had some rough bruising on his right wrist and his forehead with a small concussion), Jeremy took his hand and started the walk back with Michael. He glanced over and didn’t even need his senses to tell him that Michael’s phone was buzzing. “I think your moms are trying to get to you.”

 

“Probably ‘cause I took so long.” Michael sighed, taking out his phone and answering it. He started talking as they went, his exhaustion showing through as they started walking back to Michael’s house.

 

Jeremy held Michael’s hand and stood as close as he could without slowing them down. While Michael talked to his moms, Jeremy contemplated what had just happened.

 

He had saved Michael, possibly saved his life. And Michael... Michael could have come off a lot worse. That settled this whole thing, Jeremy was certainly on board to be a superhero now. If he hadn’t been out today, Michael could have been-

 

He was okay, and he was recovering. That’s what mattered.

 

When he tuned back in, Jeremy heard the tail end of the conversation. “-be back in a few minutes... Yeah, he came and got me, he’s with me right now... If he could, it would be great.” Michael looked over at him and gave an exhausted smile. “Thank you. Love you, Mama... See you in a few. Bye.”

 

Pulling away his phone, Michael hung up and pocketed it with a sigh. “Mama said she’s cool with you staying over if you want to. Nanay’s getting back late, and Mama’s gonna make something to eat if you’re cool with that.”

 

“Sounds good. I’ll let my dad know I’m staying over, I’ll text him once we get to your place.” In reality, Jeremy was sending the text right that second, but Michael didn’t need to know that. He wrapped an arm around Michael again, holding him close as they walked.

 

“So... you said someone saved you? People in... colorful costumes, right? Any ideas on who?” Jeremy asked softly. He needed to know if he was a) caught red-handed and b) Michael’s opinion on said people.

 

Michael shook his head then. “No idea who, but this group of people in colorful costumes came in and sorta saved the whole place.” He seemed hesitant to say anything. “I... They... Look, I swear what I’m about to tell you isn’t because of the small concussion I have. It’ll sound crazy, crazier than a bunch of costumed people stopping robbers at a Seven-Eleven-“

 

“Dude, relax.” Chill was still a forbidden word and would be for a while. “Just tell me, I won’t judge. I have the remains of a supercomputer from Japan stuck in my head, remember? There’s very little I won’t believe at this point.” He chuckled a little, squeezing Michael gently.

 

Michael nodded then, taking a deep breath. “They had powers. Like, there was one person who had electricity running down his arms, and I think someone was mimicking the police being out there because suddenly, an entire squadron of police cars vanished and the real ones and ambulance pulled in a minute later. And I think the guy who saved me somehow made the hot dog thing shoot hot dogs at my dude?” If he wasn’t so tired, Jeremy knew he would be talking more about this only because Michael got that tone of voice. The voice of a new interest sparking him, a new possible special interest.

 

Well at least Michael found them interesting. “Woah, so you got saved by legitimate superheroes?” Jeremy asked, getting just as excited as he would if he didn’t already know. “Have there been any sightings of them before?” Michael shook his head. “Holy shit, Mikey! You were a hero’s first save! That’s so freaking cool if it wasn’t so terrifying.”

 

Michael nodded, looking at the sidewalk then as they approached Michael’s street. “Yeah, it is. Uh... Also, I... Um.” He saw Michael’s cheeks color as he glanced toward the street. “The guy who saved me insisted I call someone I trust, and then he sorta hit on me before he and his friends bolted.”

 

Oh. Yeah. That had happened. “Okay. Two things. First, you got hit on by a superhero? Isn’t that like, one of your life goals?” Jeremy joked, using his SQUIP to suppress his blush. “Second, you could have called you moms and I’m the first person you call?” Jeremy couldn’t bite back his soft grin. “I’m glad I’ve earned that back, dude.”

 

“Alright, first thing. I never thought they’d exist, but it was always a nice thought. Now that it’s happened, especially since the dude was so nice and freaking knocked out the dude holding me hostage with hot dogs, I don’t know, it’s surreal. Second, uh...” Michael kept himself looking away, and Jeremy saw more color wash over his cheeks. “Yeah, uh... You’ve earned it back. Plus, you’re on the top of my ‘recent call’ list. And you’re at the top of my message list. So uh... Yeah.”

 

Jeremy nodded seriously, a smile tugging at his lips. “Of course, dude.” A pause. “Wait, he knocked the guy out with hot dogs? How?” That fact was still hilarious to a childish part of Jeremy, but he was also curious to see Michael’s theory. Besides, Jeremy would ask normally, and he wasn’t there, even if his superhero identity was.

 

“I mean, I’m not too sure, I sorta got shoved to the floor,” Michael grumbled out. “It’s how my forehead got so roughed up. I mean... if I had to guess, it didn’t sound like he lifted the hot dogs, more so shot them out of the roller thing? Maybe he has tech powers, which would be cool. I like tech.” Yes, as it was another one of his special interests. “What do you think?”

 

Jeremy hummed. “Tech powers are a possibility. Or telekinesis... probably one of those if I’m honest. And you said one had sparks? And someone caused a major illusion... Wow this sounds like one hell of a team,” he mused, shooting Michael a grin.

 

Jeremy couldn’t help himself. Michael seemed so excited, even if he couldn’t show it from exhaustion, and honestly Jeremy could hardly be blamed. He adored this nerd and he wanted to see him happy. And it’s not like he was going to blow his cover from this, just prove Michael right.

 

Jeremy grabbed Michael’s phone using his powers and sent a text to him from an ‘unknown number.’

 

[Unknown] Did you manage to get hold of someone you trust? Or do I need to send someone from the team to escort you?

 

Michael opened his mouth to say something, but was cut off by his phone audibly buzzing. He stopped outside of his house with Jeremy, frowning in confusion as he took his phone back out. “Hold on a sec.” Michael looked down at his phone then, his eyes widening as he showed his phone to Jeremy. “Look! Wait, how’d he get my number?” Frowning, Michael looked down at his phone, gears clearly turning in his head. “Tech powers are the only thing that makes sense. Yeah, that explains it.” He quickly text the ‘unknown number’ back.

 

[Michael] I did get someone, we’re almost back to my house now! Thank you so much though for the offer.

 

[Unknown] I’m glad to hear it. Stay safe and, forgive me for saying this, hopefully we won’t encounter each other too often.

 

[Unknown] That was not an invitation to get yourself into trouble.

 

If Jeremy hadn’t specified that, Michael would use it as an excuse.

 

“Is the dude still talking to you? What’s he saying?” Jeremy tugged on Michael’s arm a little, trying to see the phone. “You’re being contacted by a hero, dude, don’t leave me out of this!”

 

“Hold on, I’m about to wrap it up,” Michael whined softly. “Then I’ll show it to you.” He purposefully kept his phone out of Jeremy’s peripheral vision as he typed back.

 

[Michael] I promise that I don’t try to get into trouble. If we do see each other again, I hope it’s on good terms. Again, thanks and have a good night! c:

 

With a huff, Michael handed his phone over to Jeremy then. “Read it while we go inside, yeah? I just wanna flop down on my bed and curl up, maybe eat some of whatever Mama’s making.”

 

Jeremy had a look through the messages, feeling a little proud of himself. Michael’s seemed happier now, and he seemed more relaxed too. That was a great accomplishment for best friend Jeremy, almost as good as hero Jeremy in his opinion.

 

He followed Michael down to his room and flopped on the bed next to him. “You wanna rest your head on me, dude? You seem like you could use the hugs,” he asked, holding his arms open.

 

Michael quickly nodded, wrapping his arms around Jeremy and resting his head against Jeremy’s with how they lied on their sides. He let out a heavy sigh, and Jeremy could feel some of the tension he didn’t notice before start to leave him. “I... thanks for coming, Jeremy. It means a lot, you picking me up and staying. I know you were busy doing other things tonight...”

 

“‘Other things’ can wait, Michael. You’re more important,” Jeremy reassured him. “There is very little I wouldn’t drop if you ever need me.”

 

He didn’t question Jeremy about what he wouldn’t drop, probably only because his exhaustion was finally hitting him. Instead, he just nuzzled closer and lied there, and Jeremy just felt him relax.

 

Jeremy heard a knock on the basement door then. Michael softly gave permission for whoever to come in, and Jeremy saw Michael’s mama come down then since he was facing the doorway. “Hey, how are you guys doing? I’m making some easy food for you guys. Is there anything that you need?”

 

“I’m alright, thanks.” Jeremy nodded. “Mikey, you want anything right now?” he murmured. Michael shook his head. “I think we’re okay for now...” Michael’s mama nodded and left the room with a promise of some food in a while. “You wanna nap, Mikey?”

 

Michael just nodded then, holding onto Jeremy a little closer then. “Please,” he added quickly, and Jeremy felt him shift a little, probably taking off his glasses.

 

Once Michael had fallen still again, Jeremy scooted as close as he could and wrapped his arms around Michael properly. Michael sighed softly and Jeremy gave him a gentle squeeze. “Don’t worry, Michael, I’ll look after you,” he murmured, content to just hold Michael and know he was alright. Jeremy would do whatever it took to make sure Michael would never be in harm's way again.

Chapter Text

After what happened, Jeremy stayed at Michael’s house the rest of Friday and most of Saturday. He wanted to make sure he was alright, and Michael seemed to be recovering as well as Jeremy could hope. Even if he was sad, as both always were, when Jeremy left Saturday evening, he seemed a lot better, and it was all Jeremy could ask for.

 

On Sunday, Michael text the group chat about what happened, even if everyone knew what happened (though, it wouldn’t be like Michael knew that). In the mental group chat, everyone made sure that they’d all go and check on Michael at lunch Monday.

 

And so Monday rolled around. Jeremy hoped that Michael really was recovering well. When he walked onto the cafeteria, he saw Michael already there but without his Seven-Eleven haul (which made sense that he’d stay back from there for a bit). Brooke, Jake, and Rich were already there, as per usual. From a distance, Jeremy could see how good Michael was doing.

 

Before he made it to the table though, Michael saw him and waved, giving him a big grin before he took a bite from the sub he had. Rich and Jake looked over then, waving as well. Brooke looked back and smiled, letting Michael reach over and snag a few fries. She stopped Jake when he tried again though.

 

“Hey Mikey!” Jeremy chirped as he settled in his spot next to Michael. “How are you doing?” He pulled out his lunch bag. “Oh, and hey guys. Nice to see you.” Jeremy accepted the jeers and the thrown trash he got, giggling.

 

“It’s because I’m his favowite pewson,” Michael said with pride. “Sorry guys.”

 

“What? Am I at least your favorite girl, Mikey?” Brooke asked in a playful tone and with a pout.

 

“You’re one of my favorites, but you’re my best girl to smoke with.” He gave her finger guns while Brooke beamed with pride. “I’m doing good though, a lot better than I was before. Thank you for dealing with needy me, by the way.”

 

Jeremy didn’t have a chance to stop his small blush, but he just grinned and waved Michael off. “It’s more than fine dude, I’m just glad you’re okay. And that you told me about the fact there are freaking superheroes in New Jersey!” He bounced a little in his seat, not having to fake his excitement.

 

“I know, I can’t believe it,” Michael said with excitement. “I’ve been able to calm down since then and I sorta remember some more stuff about what happened. Like, some of the other powers of people now that I’ve been able to think about it.”

 

“Wait, you saw more powers?” Jeremy asked incredulously. “Tell us!”

 

“Yeah, dude, we want to hear what you saw. You’re like the only person who got up close and personal with these guys.” Rich nodded, but Jeremy could tell his slight nerves in his voice. Everyone else was also looking a tiny bit nervous, but no one said anything in the group link, since they agreed not to use it around people unless they had to.

 

“Well, I already told you about the tech dude, and I saw the guy who could generate electricity and the person who made that illusion that was so believable. There was also this guy with the electric dude who seemed so smart, like... I don’t know, it was like he was three steps ahead and that he was analyzing everything as it happened. And then these two were together and there was one who seemed very strong and fast, and this other person who seemed to know every move of the person they were fighting before it happened. I think there was someone else outside with the illusion person, but I don’t know what they did,” Michael listed, counting off each person he mentioned on his fingers. “They were all so cool in their costumes though, oh my god, and with stopping those robbers. Like, holy shit. Especially the guy who saved me, he was really nice... He even followed me up and text me, which proves he’s a tech kinda dude and his powers are tied around it.”

 

“He texted you? You didn’t mention that before...” Brooke mused, smirking right at Jeremy while Michael was distracted getting his phone out. “You must have left a good impression.”

 

“Yeah, maybe that dude was checking you out,” Rich added, nodding sagely. Jeremy was forcing himself to stay quiet and not say anything. He’d be caught if he tried to deny it.

 

“Who was checking Michael out?” Chloe asked, sitting down with Christine just behind her. Jenna slid in silently after them.

 

“Hero guy who saved him on Friday,” Jake piped up with a shit eating grin.

 

“I mean, I dunno if he was,” Michael whined out as he scrolled and tapped away on his screen. “He saved me, managed to text me because of his tech powers, and was just really nice. He might’ve flirted with me before he left with his friends, but-“

 

“The dude who saved you likes you? Oh. My. God. A superhero likes you. Isn’t this, like, a nerdy romance novel plot?” Christine asked as she leaned in, closer to Michael. Michael pointedly looked away then as he handed over the phone for everyone to look at the texts.

 

Jeremy also looked away, refusing to meet anyone’s eye. The looks he was getting were too much, not to mention the shit eating grins. “Well even if he wasn’t interested, I’m certainly noticing that you might be.” Jenna grinned. Jeremy, who had just bitten into his sandwich, started half choking in surprise. Michael thumped him on the back until Jeremy stopped coughing and gave him a thumbs up. He then took a big drink of water to cover up his flustered expression.

 

“Look, he was cute, and he liked me. I don’t know know who he is, but I’m gay and he was nice and sweet and attractive and interested. Maybe. I don’t know, I’m having a gay crisis, don’t torment me,” Michael whined before crossing his arms on the table and burying his head in it.

 

“Let him gay without tormenting him guys,” Brooke said with a playful pout of her own. “Maybe he’ll reach out to you. He does have your number.” Michael whined even further then, flipping his hood up before reburying himself in his crossed arms.

 

Well... if Michael was at least interested and Jeremy was interested, was there any harm in a little flirting? Even if it got him shit from the others, it would be worth it to make Michael happy and feel special.

 

After shooting everyone a harsh glare, Jeremy reached out with his powers and sent a small text to Michael.

 

[Unknown] Hi there, I know this is a bit odd but how are you doing? You seemed pretty shaken and I know you said you were with someone you trusted, but I still thought I should check.

 

There, innocent enough but showing he at least cared. And it’s not like Michael would tell anyone outside this group about the fact a hero cared, he wasn’t stupid. He was probably better read on the subject than Jeremy was, and that was saying something. He always did have an interest in possible stories about people with powers.

 

The phone buzzed from where it had been left in front of Michael.

 

Michael popped his head up and quickly snatched his phone as everyone else slowly started to split into conversations. Pretending to focus on eating now, Jeremy did his best to sneakily glance over at Michael, watching his reaction.

 

He saw Michael’s eyes light up for a split second from behind his glasses, and he watched Michael start to type. Jeremy quickly focused back in on his sandwich then, smiling to himself. Only when Michael’s fingers stopped flying and he dropped his head back into his arms again did he glance over with a raised brow and a smile. Michael quickly caught his eye and looked away then, seeing he had been caught.

 

[Michael] It’s odd, but it’s alright! I’m doing better, thank you for asking. I just needed time to calm down after all of that. Don’t think I’ll be going to a Seven-Eleven again for a little while, hah. ;P Really though, thanks for checking in on me... again, lol

 

[Unknown] No problem! Had to make sure such a cute guy wasn’t struggling. And don’t worry, I’ll make sure Seven-Eleven is safe from now on!

 

Jeremy sent it before he had a chance to proof over it. Damnit, the cute comment slipped through again. His powers reacted a little too well to his thoughts sometimes. Michael’s grabbed the phone as soon as it buzzed and then it was too late to take it back. Jeremy just made sure to distract himself by pretending to listen to Jake and Brooke and just watch Michael’s reaction out of the corner of his eye.

 

Michael’s eyes lit up again and a shy smile formed on his lips as he quickly typed out another reply. He rested his head back down before he could notice Jeremy or anything.

 

[Michael] Aww, thank you! Seven-Eleven needs to be protected. I’m glad that superheroes exist now and that they’re as nice as you are. c:

 

Michael’s reaction was so cute Jeremy didn’t even properly think before he replied.

 

[Unknown] And I’m glad to have saved someone as sweet as you.

 

Shit, cover up. Now!

 

[Unknown] I still don’t have a superhero name. I was wondering if you might be able to help? You seem to be pretty creative after all.

 

Glancing over, Michael’s eyes widened as he checked his phone before he typed out his response.

 

[Michael] Oh, well thank you! And uh, you have tech powers, right? Is there anything special about them? Also, I swear I’m not like a creep who will try to use them again you aaa sorry

 

[Unknown] No, it’s fine! I totally get it! I’ve got a weird feeling that I can trust you, I don’t /think/ you’re gonna turn out to be a super villain lol

 

It was a little flirty, a little familiar, but not overly so. And it should help Michael feel special too, so bonus.

 

[Unknown] I am a Technopath, so I control technology with my mind. If it runs on electricity, I can control it. As for any sort of specialty I can connect any tech I can control to a video game controller, making it so someone else can use it like I could.

 

He saw Michael’s brows furrow and his tongue stick out a little, as it did whenever he was thinking hard about something. Michael quickly typed out his response then before going to eat some of his sandwich that he had neglected. Shit, he needed to eat too, it would be too suspicious if he didn’t!

 

[Michael] You’re gonna make me keyboard smash, I swear! And ok, I see... Well, you’re obviously a gamer. Call yourself what you truly are then: Gamer! It fits with the little thing you got going on! :0c

 

Jeremy took an awkward bite of his sandwich, quickly making some adjustments.

 

[Gamer] can you tell I like it? ;3 thanks!

 

[Gamer] since I now have a name, can I get yours? It would be nice to have something to call you other than ‘cute boy from the Seven-Eleven’

 

Jeremy even went so far as to take have a drink, still keeping an eye on Michael.

 

Michael brought a hand up to his mouth then, and he snickered at first before he calmed himself down. Jeremy kept watching Michael before he felt his leg kicked. He kept his silent hiss of pain to himself as Christine gave him a look, glancing between him and Michael before raising a brow. She knew something was up and she wanted to know. No one keeps something from Christine when she was curious. She was almost as bad as Jenna or Chloe with getting to know something that she wanted to know.

 

[Michael] Oh my goood, you’re gonna me the (metaphorical) death of me! I just named a superhero omg omg! But my names Michael! Nice to officially meet you, Gamer, lol ;PPP

 

[Gamer] Nice to meet you too, Michael ;)

 

[Gamer] Also, I’d appreciate it if you told people my new name. And if you trust someone, feel free to tell them we’ve had contact. Just don’t go posting about it on social media, I don’t want you targeted or smth

 

After shooting a quick look over to Christine, with a nod for further explanation later, he turned to face Michael.

 

“Hey, Mikey. What’s got you giggling?” Jeremy asked, elbowing him lightly. “Is your phone suddenly that interesting?”

 

Michael’s eyes widened then, and he just quickly put his phone down then. “What? Nothing-“

 

“Did you find a good meme? I need good memes to spam,” Rich whined then, making grabby hands at Michael’s phone and completely dropping his conversation with Jake and Brooke then. Brooke lit up at that while Jake seemed disappointed.

 

“What? No, Jeremy’s just being nosy,” Michael explained, pouting playfully over at Jeremy. “Can’t I just giggle at my phone in peace? Rude.”

 

Jeremy repressed a frown. Didn’t Michael trust him? But then Michael shot him a small look, a promise of an explanation later, and Jeremy relaxed. So Michael did trust him, he just didn’t trust everyone here.

 

“Fine then, keep your secrets. But I will find out the meme eventually Mell, mark my words!” he cried dramatically. Michael’s small grin meant he knew that Jeremy was agreeing to wait.

 

[Gamer] I’ve got to go now, but I’ll talk to you later Michael!

 

“No, I am the secret meme king, I must have my secrets,” Michael mused out then just as dramatically before flopping back down. Rich, Brooke, and Jake went back to conversation then, but Christine was still staring at Jeremy. She still wanted to know.

 

[Michael] I’ll be careful, don’t worry! And I’ll tell others your name! I won’t post, I’m not active on anything anyway. Be careful out there, Gamer! It’s a dangerous world out there, lol

 

Jeremy didn’t like the idea of using the mental group chat around people, but he decided to make an exception this once. He looked at Christine and shot her a look.

 

{QueereEye} Later.

 

Except as he did that, Michael suddenly stiffened. He looked at Jeremy curiously, almost like he was confused, before he shrugged it off and started scrolling through his phone for real. Well. That was... weird. Jeremy shrugged it off for now, but he decided to address it with Christine later.

 

After lunch, on the way to his next class, Jeremy felt his phone buzz, and he knew he got a text from Michael.

 

[Mellonymous] sorry for not telling you but I helped the hero come up with his name!!! it’s Gamer! Gamer is also v v nice and flirted with me and he said to only tell people I trust so DONT TELL THE OTHERS... except for the name part, he wanted that spread around!!!

 

[QueereEye] omg??? That’s so awesome! also why Gamer lol I get we’re gamers but he’s just a tech dude right?

 

Jeremy hated the fact he couldn’t just be open with Michael, but Brooke’s warning echoed in the back of his mind. He kept playing dumb for now, even if it was uncomfortable. And he kinda liked being able to flirt anonymously with Michael, where there was no real history to make things awkward.

 

[Mellonymous] cause he uses different controllers and stuff to help hone his powers and to let others use his powers!!!! It’s so cool but I. HELPED. NAME. A. HERO. A REAL ONE. DUDE???

 

Jeremy grinned as he settled down at his desk. Michael was so happy, and that made him very happy too. Okay, so his little crush was more than a little one. He was probably smitten by this point. Still, he could deal.

 

[QueereEye] that’s so freaking cool dude!!! Just like omg??? How the fuck did you manage to charm a legit superhero??? I’m speechless. Tell me more over video games tonight?

 

[Mellonymous] you bet your bisexual ass I’ll tell u (spoiler alert: I have no fucking clue???)

 

 

 

After a few more weeks of helping with small crimes here and there, Jeremy felt his confidence rising. It probably also helped that he kept talking with Michael in his Gamer ego every so often over the phone and kept getting to flirt with him. Wow, things seemed to be going right, so things had to keep going that way, right?

 

“I’m going to be starting an anonymous blog about the superheroes,” Michael announced at lunch one day before popping a piece of gas station sushi into his mouth. “I’ve been able to snag a few pictures and I’ve gotten one of all of them at least, so I can finally do it.”

 

“You sure that’s a good idea, Mell? What if it’s traced back to you? People can get through anything these days,” Jake asked, genuine concern in his tone. Jeremy nodded along, even if he actually liked the idea. It would be a good way to promote their new hero names (courtesy of brainstorming with Michael) as well as give Michael an outlet for his spin.

 

“I thought about that, and I’ve been researching all the ways to try to combat that. I’m not gonna be in the same location when posting, and I’m also going to have it open for submissions for anyone, but they have to be approved to make sure they aren’t inappropriate, slander, etcetera. Plus, VPNs are lifesavers,” Michael explained with a nod. “If you have any advice on how to help keep my anonymity, I’ll gladly take it.”

 

Jeremy could tell Jake did have a few suggestions, but he couldn’t say them without seeming better informed than Jake Dillinger would be. Jake definitely struggled the most with keeping his powers hidden, simply because they were so different from who he was originally.

 

Jeremy had an idea. He used his powers and sent Jake a text.

 

[QueereEye] I want to try something. Type up a message from your hero identity, claim one of us with future sight saw ‘this person’ making a blog about us. Offer advice that way. I’ll try to send it to him.

 

Jake looked confused but he quickly got typing, his fingers moving furiously over the keypad on his phone. Jeremy got chatting with Michael to distract him from Jake’s sudden interest.

 

“So, you got pictures? Have you figured out all their powers yet?” he asked innocently.

 

Michael’s eyes lit up then, his attention fully focused on Jeremy then as he nodded and started scrolling on his phone. “Yeah, hold on.” He only worked for a few seconds before pulling up the first photo.

 

It was of Brooke and Chloe working together to take down someone who had been trying to rob a kid from their school. Dustin Kropp, if he remembered correctly. “The one on the left, with pink and some black, she can so sense people’s moves before they happen. I feel like she has some kinda clairvoyance shit, you get me? It makes sense. Oh, and on the right, in the purple and gold, she has enhanced strength and speed, but get this: she’s a little like a siren or something. If she talks to you and you’re attracted to girls, you listen to her. Dustin’s gay, so when this happened, he wasn’t affected by her, but the dude they were stopping did listen!”

 

“Woah, that’s so cool,” Jeremy whistled out as he looked over the photo. It was actually a really good shot and it showed off the two girls wonderfully. “You got names for them or have they told you?”

 

At that moment, Jeremy felt Jake stop typing. With little effort, Jeremy grabbed the message (a couple of summarized paragraphs) and dropped them onto Michael’s phone under an unknown number. Michael’s eyes widened a little. “Dude. What’s got you so freaked?”

 

Michael leaned over and whispered to him, “Gamer gave my number to other members? And I think the brainiac dude just sent me a message, and it confirms my idea for the clairvoyance the pink suited one has. He gave me tips on how to stay super safe and anonymous and to keep myself from being tracked. Holy shit dude!” Michael looked like he was about to burst from absolute joy at Jake’s few paragraphs.

 

Jake looked pleased and more than a little satisfied from being able to help, which made Jeremy happy too. Plus Michael looked adorable with how excited he was. “That’s awesome! But sort it out later, Mikey, I wanna see those pics and I wanna hear the names you’ve come up with or found. I don’t know how it works for this.” He did, but still. He was excited, and so were Christine and Rich, judging by how they were straining to see the phone even a little.

 

“Yeah Mell, show us!” Rich demanded playfully and Jeremy thought he saw a small spark around Rich’s eyes from excitement.

 

Michael’s face flushed, and he looked down at his phone then before showing the picture of Chloe and Brooke to everyone. “Well, I was thinking something related to psychic stuff for the one in pink and black since she can see the future and stuff. For the one in purple and gold, I wanna play off of the seduction but also enhanced traits, I think something formal and regal yet hinting at the seduction? Like... Countess or something... I dunno...”

 

“Oh, that’s a really cool name!” Chloe grinned, turning into the conversation. “I think she’d approve.” Chloe most certainly did approve and Michael’s expression, though shocked, seemed to be pleased about that fact. Even if he didn’t know he’d just won the acceptance of the super in question, Michael seemed extremely proud of himself.

 

“Why not use Psyche for the pink one? It sounds cool and it relates to the mind,” Brooke chimed, looking at the picture. Obviously she liked it too.

 

“Psyche’s good,” Michael agreed, nodding as he switched to his notes on his phone and typed those names down. “I managed to get a picture of two that are super hard to get ‘cause ones always on the sidelines and the other never looks like herself when she’s using her powers.”

 

Jeremy knew Christine was super eager to hear as Michael pulled up the next picture. It has her and Jenna in their respective suits, getting ready to run before the police arrived. “This is from when they stopped a robbery at a local mom and pop shop, uh... I think it’s Roberto’s. Yeah, it’s a small pizza place. Nice and quaint. Anyway, the other person there uses tech too, but I don’t think she can control it like Gamer. She always has some kinda device on her but my theory is she sees through the tech. She’s always close to something techy, especially cameras and stuff. I’m surprised she didn’t notice my phone. For her, I was debating for a while before coming up with TechnoBug?”

 

“Oh that’s awesome!” Jenna cried suddenly. She ducked her head a little when everyone looked over at her. “It’s a really cool name, kinda cute but also sounds cool,” she mumbled out as an explanation. Michael grinned a moment later.

 

“Thanks, Jenna.” He nodded and Jenna perked up a little.

 

“So what about the one in white? What can she do?” Jeremy asked, shooting a Christine a quick glance out the corner of his eye. She looked about ready to explode with excitement.

 

“She’s the one who never looks like herself most of the time. Remember when I said I thought I saw a squadron and then they suddenly poofed? It was her! She basically makes you see her as things that she isn’t and she can mimic them perfectly! I was tossing around Mimic, but she looks sweet when she isn’t imitating. After a while and some brainstorming, I thought Charade might be cute, like her,” Michael elaborated as he switched apps to go into his notes, typing ‘TechnoBug’ underneath ‘Psyche.’

 

“Ooh yes.” Christine nodded enthusiastically. Jeremy grinned and nodded too, clapping Michael on the back.

 

“Looks like you’ve got a plan got everyone so far. Just two heroes left that still need to be named!” he cheered. “Also I totally agree, Charade does seem cute when she’s herself.”

 

Michael nodded, grinning shyly. It made sense, he wasn’t used to so many people taking interest in whatever fixation or special interest he had. “Uh, yeah, I have ideas for the other two as well,” he muttered out as he finished typing in the last name before switching to his photos app. Michael swiped through some memes and some pictures he took of Jeremy and himself one sleepover before stopping on a picture of Rich, Jeremy, Jake, and Chloe stopping a bigger alleyway robbery. “OK, so the electricity dude. I’ve seen him actually manipulate some fire too, it’s super cool. I, uh... he seems like he’d want a simpler name. The name ‘Hothead’ just wouldn’t leave my head...”

 

“It fits.” Jake chuckled before Rich had a chance to give his input. “He does seem to have a bit of a temper.” Rich looked almost betrayed as he looked over to Jake. Then he looked at the phone and grumbled a little, pouting a bit. His pout turned to a grin when Michael showed him the picture.

 

“What about the guy in grey, what’s his power? And his name, oh wise hero guardian?”

 

“He isn’t in as many fights. He always looks like he’s three steps ahead though. He’s super smart I think, he’s a strategist. Not just smart-smart, but enhanced to a crazier level thanks to his powers,” Michael said with a small smile. OK, he was starting to get overwhelmed with attention (it happened a lot, he’d have to distance himself soon). “Uh, I was thinking something like ‘Brainiac’ for him? I dunno... He seems like a Brainiac, and like he’d take it as a compliment, which it is!”

 

“I’m sure he would.” Jeremy nodded and Jake did too.

 

“For sure.” Jake looked between Jeremy and Michael for a moment before grabbing Rich, Chloe, and Brooke’s attention with a meme. He must have spotted Michael’s nerves. Obviously getting the hint, Jenna engaged Christine in a conversation about... lizards or something. Perfect. Now Jeremy could take care of Michael properly.

 

He wrapped an arm around Michael, giving him a gentle side hug. “How you doing there, dude?”

 

“Alright, that was just a bit much,” Michael admitted. “I’m still not used to everyone, even if they’re nice and all. I’m still used to just you, and all the change and stuff is still a little overwhelming, y’know?” As he spoke, Michael drummed his fingers against his cassette tape phone case.

 

“I hear you. A lot has changed these past months, but we’re getting there, right?” Jeremy gave him a gentle squeeze. “You’ve done really well already with capturing such great photos. And the ideas for names. Everyone else was just appreciating that fact, because it’s already clear how much this project means to you.”

 

Michael nodded then, still drumming as he listened and then spoke. “It’s just... weird. I’m used to it just being you and I. Change is weird, and I know it can be good, but some changes take a while to get used to. Like, I was used to us fending it together, so having more than you as a friend... It’s weird. Not a bad weird, but... weird. But you’re still always my closest person and my best friend.” Looking at him then, Michael’s expression got a little more serious. “You know that, right?”

 

Jeremy blushed a little but he nodded with a small smile. “Same for you, Mikey.” He scooted a little closer. He pulled up his sleeve a little to show off the woven bracelet, looking away as Michael looked on in almost wonder. When Michael got like this, it was almost possible to believe that Michael might like Jeremy back. It seemed almost impossible, but Jeremy could dream. Besides, Michael could be quite intense sometimes and when it was all directed at Jeremy, it was a little... much.

 

“Good.” Michael gently ran his thumb over the bracelet then, smiling wearily before resting his head on Jeremy’s shoulder. “I’m gonna just veg out here. Shake me when we got a minute or two left before lunch ends, yeah?”

 

“Sure thing, Mikey.” Jeremy nodded, relaxing where he sat. He ignored Jenna and Brooke’s knowing smirks and instead just let his mind wander.

 

These past few weeks had been crazy, and Michael’s fixation has only made it better. The biggest downside was that being a hero was taking more and more time away from his free time. Still, he was loving it and wouldn’t give it up for anything. It was almost addictive, and Jeremy looked forward to getting more and more missions to help people.

 

 

 

Things continued to go well. Jeremy would go help people, he would be able to live life, and he would get a small self esteem boost with each mission. He couldn’t help but ride this high (this was the best he had ever felt, way better than the SQUIP even managed... maybe because he was still himself, but also a new self at the same time).

 

It was Saturday, and Jeremy was planning on getting some more patrol done. He and everyone spread out, and Jeremy was searching and checking around town by himself. So far, he didn’t encounter any issues, though Chloe, Brooke, and Rich told everyone the amount of people they helped. Jeremy knew he shouldn’t feel bad, but he did. He didn’t get to help anyone yet (he wanted to get a little bit of a high from it so bad, so he could feel better when he had to go back and do homework).

 

He was just about to give up and close off the patrol when suddenly he heard a crash from the nearby alley. Jeremy plastered himself to the wall and peeked in.

 

Michael was standing at the dead end, clutching a camera as an intimidating guy slowly advanced on him.

 

“Now, pretty boy, just give up the camera and you can go. I won’t even call my friends to join in the fun,” the man half purred.

 

Jeremy felt a bolt of rage as he heard that. Before Michael had a chance to respond to his would be attacker, Jeremy strode into the alleyway.

 

“What about if he called a friend?” he asked, picking up a bin lid and tossing it at the man. It hit him in the back of the head with a satisfying crash. It didn’t knock him down, but it must have hurt.

 

The man clutched onto the back of his head then, hissing but still keeping Michael blocked into the alley with a dead end. Looking back, the guy narrowed his eyes as he took in Jeremy’s form and laughed. “Who are you supposed to be? Some kind of knock-off Power Ranger? Oh no, I’m so scared.” Scoffing and chucking the lid back at Jeremy, he reached into his pocket, taking out a knife. “Now, leave or else more will happen to pretty boy here than just getting his camera taken.”

 

Jeremy knew his suit had enough protection to defend him from a knife that big (a new addition from Jake and Christine) but he still wanted to be careful. He didn’t want to risk Michael getting caught in the crossfire.

 

He looked around, trying to find something to use. When the man glanced over to Michael, trying to prove his point, Jeremy made the camera flash as brightly as possible. The man was blinded for a second, and that was all Jeremy needed.

 

He darted forwards and shoved him against the wall, punching the guy in the nose. His head pinged off wall behind him. Jeremy did it a second time and the guy was out cold before he could even say a word.

 

After making sure the guy was out cold, Jeremy turned to look over at Michael. He went to scold him because seriously, what the hell, when he saw the wide eyes of Michael just staring at him. Like before, he was calming down from the situation, but he didn’t seem as initially freaked out. Instead, there was more awe there as he stared at Jeremy. “I... Thanks, Gamer.”

 

Jeremy couldn’t stay mad, not when Michael was looking at him like that. He took a breath.

 

“Are you alright, Michael?” he asked slowly, walking closer, hands out in a calming gesture. “You really shouldn’t be walking about with something so expensive around your neck like that...”

 

Michael looked down at his camera then, his expression becoming somewhat sheepish. “I... Yeah, I didn’t even realize it until that dude came over. I’ve been going around getting pictures...” When his best friend looked back at him, that awe was back as Michael gave him a shy smile. “I’m fine, thanks for asking. A lot better now. This wasn’t as bad for me as the Seven-Eleven thing.”

 

Jeremy walked closer before resting his hand on Michael’s shoulder. “I’m glad you’re okay. Please, you need to be more careful. I don’t want you getting hurt.” He squeezed lightly, smiling under his mask.

 

His Player One nodded then, smiling down at Jeremy then. “I’ll try. I swear that I’m not trying to get into trouble. Normally it doesn’t find me, it finds my best friend and I’m the one getting him out of it,” Michael rambled for a moment, and he could hear the slight nerves in his tone.

 

That was true. Michael usually was the one rescuing Jeremy out of stupid situations. He couldn’t quite figure out why Michael sounded so nervous, but he shrugged it off for now. “Well you sound like a good friend to have. I’m glad to count myself among the lucky ones.” Jeremy let him go and offered his arm, cocking his head a little. “You want someone to walk you home? You really shouldn’t be alone after something like this, and I was just wrapping up my patrol now.”

 

Michael’s eyes widened even further then, and he just nodded. He sort of stared at Jeremy’s arm for a second, like it would vanish if he didn’t keep looking at it, before quickly holding onto his arm. “I mean, I’m not gonna say no if you’re offering. I don’t know what my friend’s doing or I’d call him, but he’s been super busy lately so...”

 

Jeremy felt a stab of guilt at that, but he ignored it for now. Michael needed him at this moment, as Gamer, so Jeremy would help him.

 

“Of course I’m happy to help. It’s what I do,” Jeremy replied as charmingly as he could. He began walking out the alley and let Michael lead him in the direction he of his house. Gamer wouldn’t know where it was, even if the person behind the mask did. “I’ll just let my team know.”

 

{Gamer} I’m escorting someone home, then I’m off patrol. Catch up with you guys later! (^ω^)/

 

“Done. Let’s go.”

 

Michael curiously looked at Jeremy then. “How’d you let them know? By using your tech powers to text for you or something?” he asked as he continued along with Jeremy, walking with him to his house. As they went, Michael fiddled with the strap of his camera with his free hand.

 

{Brainiac} Alright, be sure to be careful! :p Things have been getting a little more hectic.

 

“Something like that.” Jeremy chuckled. “We have a neural network. Kinda like a group chat. It’s... fun, I guess. Helps keep us connected and it’s great for emergencies, but it really sucks when Hothead and Psyche decide to flood it with mental memes.” He shook his head. He really shouldn’t be telling Michael so much about this, but he couldn’t help it. Michael was his best friend, Jeremy wasn’t used to keeping secrets from him. “But enough about me, tell me a bit more about yourself, Michael. Who’s this friend who you trust enough to walk you back after the attack? Girlfriend or boyfriend, maybe?” He had to sound ignorant to the truth so Michael didn’t figure it out, even if it was awkward.

 

Michael looked away then, obviously surprised by the last question. “No way, especially not in terms of being a girlfriend since I’m super gay. I asked my best friend to come pick me up and he got me and stayed the night with me,” he admitted as he fiddled with the string more. “We’ve known each other for almost thirteen years. I’m really glad he helped me, he means... probably the most to me.” After a small pause, Michael looked down at Jeremy. “Why? Are you asking if I’m single or not?”

 

Jeremy was glad for the mask hiding his blush. “Well, not exactly. I just want to know a bit more about my friend who’s assisted me and my team.” He looked up at Michael. “Besides, I thought for sure someone as attractive and charming as you would have been snapped up in a heartbeat. You’ve probably got someone with their eye on you, maybe multiple someones.” Yeah, that someone was Jeremy.

 

Michael looked away then, clearing his throat for a second. “I mean, I doubt that, but thank you. And it’s... nice but weird that you consider me a friend. I never thought superheroes would exist, let alone that if they ever did, that I would be a friend of one, especially one that’s nice and kind like you, or that uses text emojis.”

 

Jeremy chuckled. “Well go back a few months and I might say the same.” He shrugged jauntily. “And what can I say? I’m unconventional.”

 

“Unconventional can be good and fun though, you’re proof of that,” Michael pointed out with a smile before stopping them at a red light, waiting for some cars to go by before crossing the street. “But uh... thanks for helping out everyone and choosing to do this. I’m glad your friends liked the names I came up with too.”

 

“They’re good and well thought out.” Jeremy nodded, letting Michael guide him onto his street. “Did you come up with them all by yourself?” He was curious about how Michael would handle this question. How much of himself would he reveal?

 

“I had, uh, some help from trusted people. Including my best friend. I wasn’t going to give you guys bad names, I needed some feedback,” Michael admitted then before he scratched the arm holding Jeremy’s arm. “I did brainstorm a lot of them, most of them I had in mind before I gave them to my friends for feedback.”

 

“And... they know you’re the one running the blog, don’t they?” Michael looked surprised. “What? You think Brainiac and Psyche wouldn’t tell me what they found? I knew from the moment I saw the blog it was yours, even before they told me about it.”

 

“Yeah, uh... That’s part of the reason why I brought my camera out. I’ve had it but never had a real reason to use it,” Michael explained, fiddling with the hem at the bottom of his hoodie. “I was out here taking pictures, trying to get some of you guys and stuff for it. And they know...” He sounded a bit guilty at that, like a kid getting caught doing something.

 

“So long as you trust them, then that’s alright.” Jeremy nodded as they stopped outside Michael’s house. “I’m guessing this is your stop?” Michael nodded, looking a little guilty and almost sad. Jeremy thought for a moment, considering how badly this would reflect on him. It would be worth it, to see Michael happy. “You want a picture before I leave?”

 

“If you’re alright with it, I don’t want to get a shot of you that could be dangerous or anything and all,” Michael muttered out with still somewhat guilty eyes. “You need to get going home though, if you need to go then you should.”

 

“I’ve got time.” Jeremy waved him off. “And so long as there aren’t any landmarks in the shot, you should be good to post it. Or, y’know, just take a selfie to show your friends that you did get saved by a superhero a second time.” He chuckled, knowing that he would get teased to hell for this but not caring.

 

“I’ll probably get picked on for needing to be saved a second time, but I’ll do whichever you want,” Michael said as he fidgeted in place, clearly unsure ok what to do or how to ask for what he wanted.

 

Jeremy adjusted himself so he could give Michael’s arm a gentle squeeze. “Hey, it’s alright. I don’t bite. How do you want me? Normal selfie pose? Epic superhero pose?” He made some ridiculous pose which he knew would get a laugh out of Michael, arching an eyebrow and grinning even if he knew Michael couldn’t see it. Michael would be able to tell, he was certain of that.

 

Michael did in fact laugh about it, rolling his eyes as he gently shoved Jeremy by his shoulder. “Just a normal selfie pose works for me, my man. I don’t think you can pull off an ‘epic superhero pose.’”

 

“How dare you? I am a superhero!” Jeremy cried indignantly, his tone too playful to be taken as serious. “I can totally pull off the epic superhero pose. I’m cool!” Michael giggled at that and Jeremy waved his arm. “Get over here and take the picture, Michael.“

 

Rolling his eyes with a snicker, Michael moved over and wrapped an arm around Jeremy’s shoulder, raising his arm up with the camera to get a picture. “Tell me when, Gamer.”

 

Jeremy wrapped an arm around Michael and leant in. “Cheese,” Jeremy chimed, making Michael giggle. Jeremy took the pictures using his powers instead. “There we go.”

 

“I didn’t press the button though?” Michael sounded like he was almost pouting. Jeremy chuckled.

 

“Technopath, remember?”

 

“Oh shit, right,” Michael said as he laughed at himself. “I need to remember that, god. My memory can be such shit.” Pulling the camera down, he looked through the pictures and let out a low whistle. “Wow, these are great. Thanks. I can’t wait to show Jeremy these- oh, that’s my best friend’s name, by the way.”

 

Jeremy felt his insides warm a little at the fact that, when faced with a superhero and everything, Michael thought of him first and showing it off to him. That made Jeremy feel really special and cared for.

 

“He’s lucky to have you,” Jeremy replied honestly. “Well, I need to go now. I’m glad you’re alright, Michael, just be more careful next time. I might not always be around to save you. See you ‘round!” With that, Jeremy turned and started jogging away from Michael’s place and away from his own. He was gonna get changed and go spend some time with Michael properly. He was just glad he now had a pocket for his phone.

 

“Bye!” he heard Michael call out before he started leaving. There was a fondness in Michael’s tone before he was out of sight and out of hearing. It definitely made him feel better too. Michael adored him as Gamer, but he really adored him as Jeremy, if this was anything to go by-

 

[Mellonymous] DUDE!!! YOU NEED TO COME OVER OR I NEED TO COME OVER BC I HAVE SOMETHING UBER COOL TO SHOW YOUR TWINK ASS!!!! >:0c TELL ME WHICH SO WE KNOW WHO IS CRASHING WHERE AAAAAAA

 

There was the text, as expected.

 

[QueereEye] I’ll come to yours, what’s up???

 

Jeremy was well on his way home by this point, and his bag was already packed for when he arrived. He had stopped taking his suit back to base, just leaving his spare there and only bringing it over there when it needed washing.

 

As he made it home, seeing his dad’s car in, he got ready to quickly say ‘hi’ and ‘bye’ as well as ‘heading to Michael’s’ once he got in, but probably from his dad’s room since he was probably either getting ready for bed or a date. His dad has mentioned something about a date this weekend. He was getting himself back into the dating scene. Jeremy was proud of his dad.

 

[Mellonymous] I WAS STUPID BUT I GOT SAVED BY GAMER AGAIN AND GOT SELFIES WITH HIM!!! IM GONNA UPLOAD THEM TO MY LAPTOP AND YOU NEED TO SEE THEM!!!! Also I miss you lol where tf have you been going?????

 

[QueereEye] DUDE WTF???? AND WHY DID YOU NEED SAVING AGAIN???

 

Divert until later, that was safest. Jeremy needed time to think up an excuse.

 

Jeremy did a quick check of the area, both visually and with his powers, for any possible people to see him and he found none. Once he knew he was clear he ducked into his house and hurried upstairs, calling out a quick greeting to his dad. Luckily his dad was still in his room, so Jeremy made it to his own room and got changed out of his Gamer outfit quickly.

 

As he got changed into his clothes, he heard his dad call out to him back, asking how he was from down the hall.

 

[Mellonymous] YEAH IKR??? AND UH SOMEONE TRIED TO ROB MY GAY ASS FOR MY CAMERA BUT GAMER SAVED ME SOO... ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ IM FINE NOW THO, SO DONT AVOID ME QUESTIONS!!!

 

He heard a knock on his door just as he had his outfit quickly put away. “Hey Jeremy, I’m going to be gone a good portion of tonight. Is there anything that you need before I head out?”

 

“I’m good, dad! I’m staying over with Michael tonight, apparently he got rescued by a superhero again and needs help or something,” Jeremy explained as he opened the door. He sent another text back to Michael as he spoke, using his powers.

 

[QueereEye] wtf dude I’m worried not changing the subject! I’ll explain when I get over there, it’s complicated

 

His dad nodded then with some concern evident in his expression. “Normally you’re the one getting in trouble, not him. Weird. I hope he’s alright, and tell him I say ‘hi’ when you see him, yeah?”

 

[Mellonymous] mhmmmmm suuuure (ty tho I v much appreciate it, my twink) but yeah a dude wanted me camera and Gamer saved me again and he even walked me home!!!

 

“I will dad. And I don’t get into trouble that much!” Jeremy protested. His dad gave him an unimpressed look before ruffling his hair and heading back to his room with a wave.

 

Jeremy grabbed his keys, phone, and travel toothbrush and headed out to Michael’s house again.

 

[QueereEye] I’m not a fucking twink!!!! I’m glad ur ok tho. I’m omw over now

 

[Mellonymous] suuuure whatever you say to help you sleep better at night :PPP but yay!!!! The pics should be all transferred by the time you make it over so woo!

 

Jeremy snorted. Michael loved getting a reaction out of him, so he was happy to play it up a little.

 

[QueereEye] did you get any good shots besides the selfie???

 

[Mellonymous] yeah!!! I got some of Psyche and Countess earlier while they were working together and they. Were. AWESOME!!! I really wanna get more pics of Charade and TechnoBug and Brainiac but it’s really hard... they’re like elusive shiny Pokémon or something lol

 

[QueereEye] From what I know, TechnoBug and Charade stick to alleyways and Brainiac and Hothead are usually together, so you find one and find the others.

 

That wasn’t giving too much away, anyone could notice those trends.

 

[QueereEye] maybe advertise about your blog accepting photos of the heroes??? You’ve got pretty popular recently after all

 

[Mellonymous] yeah that’s true, I just haven’t seen Brainiac lately, but I have seen Hothead..... maybe since he’s the smart one he’s staying back at their base??? Bc there’s no way they don’t have a base!!!

 

[Mellonymous] and yeah I’ve been working on how to word it properly and I’m going to try to make a nice graphic with it!!! Help me with that when you’re over?

 

[QueereEye] Sure!!! B there in 5

 

Jeremy’s powers meant that doing graphic design was a lot easier. He loved art, but being able to do it with his mind made it so much simpler than trying to train you hand in. Or struggling with the tools.

 

As he predicted, Jeremy was outside Michael’s house within 5 minutes. Michael, surprisingly, wasn’t waiting for him at the window, so Jeremy sent him a text.

 

[QueereEye] get you pants on and hide your hero posters, I’m coming in

 

[Mellonymous] are sweats ok? Lol and also I don’t remove my shit so suck it

 

Jeremy came into the house then (he was still so glad he earned that right back). It wasn’t too late, but he smelled the scent of homemade pizza. Looking into the kitchen, he saw Michael’s mama cutting up some slices. “Hi Jeremy. Michael told me you were coming. If I gave you two plates of pizza, could you bring them down for both of you? Thank you so much, hun.” Michael’s mama plated two plates of pizza before giving them to Jeremy, kissing his cheek, then going back to cutting herself some slices.

 

“Sure thing, mama.” Jeremy grinned, heading down to the basement and finding Michael on his bed looking a little star struck as he scrolled through his computer.

 

“I’ve got food, so make space.” Jeremy grinned, holding the plates a little higher to show them off.

 

Michael looked over, beaming once he saw Jeremy (or maybe it was the food) before he scooted over to one side of the bed. “You’ve earned your spot here. If you didn’t bring an offering, I’d have you sitting on the floor.”

 

“Rude.” Jeremy scrunched up his nose as he settled next to Michael, handing over the plate. His tone shifted from playful to genuine concern. “You’re alright, aren’t you? Gamer got there before anything really happened?” he asked gently, nudging Michael gently with his elbow.

 

After taking a bite of his pizza, Michael gave Jeremy a reassuring smile, nodding before swallowing. “Yeah, just got shoved but nothing bad really. I think the guy was really only interested in my camera, so he would’ve just grabbed it and ran.” Jeremy got a gentle nudge back. “Thanks for being so concerned though. I’d let you know if anything bad happened to me, don’t worry.”

 

“Good.” Jeremy had suspected that was the case, but Michael hadn’t even told Gamer if he had been hurt so Jeremy wanted to confirm. “I’m glad you’re alright. And you got some more shots for your blog! Have you named it yet? Or named the team yet?”

 

“Uh, I’m still trying to get a good domain name,” Michael muttered out, looking down at his plate of pizza. “And I have a lot of ideas for names but they’re either too close to other team names, are really stupid, or only make sense to me... I was sort of caught up on getting pictures of everyone...”

 

Jeremy finished his bite of pizza before speaking. “No rush, dude. When you think of something, just text me and then text Gamer. I wanna hear it before anyone else.” He chuckled, knowing he would regardless of who Michael texted. Honestly, Michael cared so much and it was awesome.

 

He was about to say something more when Michael’s computer pinged and suddenly YouTube popped up playing ‘Lucky I’m in love with my best friend.’ Damn powers. Even if Jeremy had them mostly under control, they’d still fire off in response to his thoughts occasionally.

 

Michael looked at the new tab open with wide eyes. “Wh- stupid thing,” he grumbled out, quickly clicking and going to the YouTube homepage. “I don’t- ugh.” Seemingly flustered by that, he quickly went and opened up his photo gallery. “Look through these and tell me what you think. I’m gonna brainstorm some names for the site and their team... While eating. So you and Mama don’t kill me.”

 

Jeremy nodded and began scrolling through the pictures. They were all really good, and really well framed. It did make Jeremy wonder how Michael had gotten some of the higher shots, like the one with Countess and Psyche that was clearly taken from a rooftop, but he wasn’t about to question it now. Michael had a lot of weird things he did, for all Jeremy knew he could have just been chi- relaxing up there.

 

“These are really good, Michael.” Jeremy grinned, finishing off the last of his pizza and sitting back again.

 

“I- thanks,” Michael muttered out, shifting a little before eating some more pizza. “I just want people to see how good they are so there isn’t some James Jameson stuff going on like in Spider-Man.” He leaned back against his headboard then, holding over a small notebook with his nice and somewhat neat handwriting. “These are the ideas that I have for some things, but I dunno-“

 

“Jersey Squad sounds pretty cool,” Jeremy cut in, giving Michael a reassuring smile. “I think they’d like that.”

Chapter Text

Jeremy really loved being a hero. It had been a couple of months, about three weeks since he’d saved Michael from the mugger, and things were going well. Petty crimes were on the decline and Michael’s blog, superheroesnewjersey.com, was on the rise to popularity. Jeremy and the team, though often exhausted, were living their best life.

 

The only downside was that Jeremy was spending more and more time as Gamer and less and less time as Jeremy. Which meant less and less time with Michael. The most interaction they had these days was at school and via text, as both Jeremy and as Gamer. It hurt Jeremy to leave Michael alone so often but Gamer needed to be around with the team.

 

As they all sprinted towards the sound of the explosion by the mall, Jeremy thought about how this was exactly why he was needed. Another explosion and the sound of concrete crumbling snapped him back to reality.

 

{Gamer} what we looking at, Bug?

 

{TechnoBug} Lone attacker, white male. Appears to be in his mid twenties. Athletic build, maybe six foot in height. He’s got a big gun which seems to be firing a sort of... laser?

 

{Hothead} Oh, he’s firing his laser, is he?

 

{Psyche} as much as I love a good old fashioned meme, not now, Hothead

 

{Hothead} :(((

 

{Brainiac} from the intel I’m getting from you guys, I’m not too sure what kind of laser he has. If you guys get closer and try to surround him, effectively cutting off his exits, you should be able to learn what it’s doing and I’ll be able to tell you how to stop him

 

Jake started to stay back at base a little more often. While he loved being able to walk, he didn’t want to put too much of a strain on them or risk them getting possibly hurt. Even if he wasn’t at the battles as often, he was still a huge asset and a great help.

 

{Gamer} Okay Guys, open your feeds, lets get Brainiac as much info as we can.

 

Jeremy had figured out how to link their optic nerves, with SQUIP nanobots in them, to some of the screens back at the base. With a little practice, it became a voluntary action. Jake used those screens to see what the team was seeing and analyse any issues they might be having.

 

They had just rounded a corner when Chloe pushed Jeremy to the ground, grabbing a chunk of concrete that almost crushed him. It was easily the size of his computer chair back home. Chloe set it down next to them and helped Jeremy back up.

 

“Thanks.” He nodded sort of breathlessly. Chloe gave him a salute and they all continued on.

 

As Jenna had described, the guy was indeed carrying a large gun. At a guess it was about the size of an AK-47, but fatter, and whenever he pulled the trigger, it would bore a hole in whatever it was facing. There weren’t any beams like in games or movies.

 

{Gamer} we need to surround him. I’ll try to disable his gun, but it’s weird, I can’t seem to get a proper fix on it.

 

Jeremy could feel certain components from the gun but he couldn’t get a sense of it properly. Still, he cut off its battery source and the gun stopped mid-shot. As he was reaching out, though, Jeremy realized something. He was getting pinpoints of tech all over this guy, and a large collection of them up in his brain.

 

{Gamer} Guys he’s got a SQUIP

 

He could feel the tension in the air from everybody through their mental link. There were other feelings mixed in, but the main thing he felt was that tension.

 

{Hothead} Psyche, I thought the SQUIP invasion isn’t until later

 

{Psyche} it isn’t until later!!! This must be the start of it though, and they’re testing out some stuff now!! I didn’t see any visions about this guy so

 

{Charade} jeremy, I know you’re probably going to be pissed about this, I think we all are, but-

 

Jeremy couldn’t help himself. His anger spiked to abnormal levels, and he was vaguely aware of his SQUIP firing off in the back of his head as he connected to this man’s SQUIP.

 

“Drop your weapon,” he growled, and the man complied, eyes turning a bright blue. “Hands on the back of your head and get on your knees.”

 

Jeremy walked forward and regarded the man coldly. This person was totally under the sway of his SQUIP, just like Jeremy would have been if not for Michael. Just like everyone would have been. He represented everything Jeremy had come to hate.

 

I could kill him,’ Jeremy realized, feeling the strands of nanobots entwined with his brain. It would take a little flex for him to shred the delicate organ to pieces, permanently deactivating the SQUIP. It would be so easy to-

 

A hand on his shoulder cut off that thought, as well as a gentle whisper.

 

“Your eyes are glowing, man. Don’t hurt the guy because he got caught,” Rich murmured.

 

“Yeah, we just need to deactivate with Red if anything else,” Brooke reassured him as she stood next to Jeremy, patting his shoulder as well. “He doesn’t deserve death. None of us who have SQUIPs deserve that.”

 

“Yeah, lets just-“

 

“There’s nothing left of him,” Jeremy stated bluntly. “Whoever he was before is gone. Red won’t do anything but leave him in a coma...” Still, their words were enough to break his thoughts and push them away. How the hell could he think killing someone would be a good idea?

 

“Did you just say SQUIPs?” a shaky voice asked from behind Jeremy. Everyone spun around to find Michael, slowly lowering his camera as he stepped forwards. Well shit.

 

Jenna took a step forward then, holding her hands up in mock surrender. “You shouldn’t be here, this is dangerous business going on, more so than usu-“

 

“I know about SQUIPs, they’re seriously coming back? Reactivating?” Michael asked then, scanning them all over with wide eyes. “Is... did it take him over? Are you controlling him because of the SQUIP in him and it’s like technology you can control? What-“

 

Jeremy stepped forward and placed his hand on Michael’s arm. “Calm down for a moment,” he whispered before pulling an Xbox controller from his belt. He quickly synced it to the guy and handed it over to Christine. “Get him to the police station, into a cell. Then get some Red into him, it’ll knock him out but we might be able to force the human to resurface. Basic controls. I’ll get this one home, find out what he knows about SQUIPs,” he instructed, turning back to Michael.

 

“I thought I told you to stay out of trouble,” he hissed, pulling Michael along before anyone could protest. The crowds parted easily, all sort of stunned from the display a moment ago. It was rare for Gamer to interact with someone or to lose his cool like he just did. No one followed them.

 

Michael sort of curled in on himself as they got further away, eventually flipping up his hood. “I wasn’t in trouble though. I made sure to stay away. This is the first real kind of villain to appear, a-and I wanted to see what I could get for shots to warn people and to figure out how he worked,” he practically word vomited out, refusing to look at Jeremy. He could feel the slight shame coming off of Michael in waves, but there was no regret.

 

Jeremy pinched the bridge of his nose and sighed. Michael was just trying to do the right thing, just like Jeremy, but Michael didn’t have the same sort of advantages as him. Michael didn’t have powers, or a team backing him up. Jeremy couldn’t risk him like that.

 

“Look, I get why you did it, but I’m still not happy about it. I’m not gonna ask you to stop just... keep your distance next time, if you’re gonna try something like this. I wouldn’t ever forgive myself if you got hurt because of a villain I couldn’t stop straight away.” He sighed after a moment. He lessened his tight grip a little.

 

He saw Michael’s head nod with his hood, and there was a moment of hesitation before they made eye contact. “You said you wanted to uh... talk to me about SQUIPs? It sounds like you guys know them pretty well though...”

 

Understatement. “I’m pretty well versed in how they work, yes.” He nodded. He knew the answer to the next question, but he wasn’t about to tell Michael that. “You obviously know about them as well. So either you have one or you know someone who does. And since I’m not sensing one in your head like I do for some kids at your school...” He left the implications open.

 

A sigh escaped Michael before Jeremy saw his free hand reach up to his covered face. “Yeah, I did a lot of research and other stuff to try to help my best friend out. It... it was hard, and I can’t imagine how it was for him. So yeah, I know a lot about them too, from experience of others having them and stuff.” Jeremy swore he heard Michael sniffle.

 

Jeremy looked around and tugged Michael into an alleyway when he was sure no one was around. He pulled Michael to his chest and held him gently. “I know from experience too. He probably regrets a lot of his choices he made while under its influence, but I’m guessing you got him out before he ended up like that guy, yeah? Jeremy’s still around from what you told me, and from what I know from keeping an eye on schools where they’ve popped up, nowhere else has had any reactivation after they’ve been hit with Red.”

 

As soon as Jeremy realized he had these powers, he found and destroyed any SQUIP he could, and located anyone who had them to monitor their activation. “You friend, or friends, aren’t in any danger at the moment.”

 

Michael was tense at first under Jeremy’s hold, but he slowly relaxed and wrapped his arms around him, holding him close. “I... thanks,” he muttered out then, voice soft. “I’m getting worried about him too. Normally we hang out all the time, but he’s been around less and less and I only get to talk to him sometimes over text or when I see him in school. It’s just... it’s good to know that he’s OK, along with everyone else.”

 

Jeremy almost cringed at that but he suppressed the response. He couldn’t let Michael know, it was still too dangerous. He had even asked Brooke that very morning to check.

 

“I’m sure he wouldn’t be vanishing without a good reason. He’d be a fool to let someone like you go,” Jeremy murmured, stroking Michael’s hair softly. After a moment more, He pulled away and looked up at Michael. “C’mon. Let’s get you home.”

 

After a moment of hesitation, Michael nodded, keeping his hood up as he took the hand Jeremy offered him. “I... yeah,” was all he muttered out in return, still not looking at Jeremy as they left the alleyway and Michael guided him back to his house.

 

They were just outside when suddenly a blinding pain splintered through Jeremy’s head. He doubled over, biting back a scream as he felt it hit him in waves. Michael watched on, helpless, until Jeremy shakily stood upright again.

 

“Are you alright?” Michael asked hesitantly.

 

“Upgrade...” Jeremy muttered, eyes going wide. “That guy just upgraded! I need to go!” Jeremy turned tail and ran back the way he came, barely sparing Michael a second glance.

 

By the time he made it back to Christine, the villain was long gone.

 

Christine looked helpless on the ground, getting herself up with a broken controller on the ground. Those who stayed with her and didn’t return to base were unconscious. She looked at Jeremy in defeat. “I’m sorry, Gamer, he just broke free of it and the controller broke when he did break free and-“

 

Jeremy knelt down next to her, helping her up. “It’s okay, I should have stuck around,” he murmured. “He got an upgrade which broke the control. I’ll make sure not to let it happen again.” He looked over Hothead and Countess, who had stayed, and sighed heavily. “Sorry guys.”

 

Jeremy focused and connected to their SQUIPs. As always, it made him feel sick to connect to his friends, but there was no way he and Christine could carry them both back to base. He carefully made their bodies stand and begin walking back to base, and he made sure no camera or phones would work near them to record this. “Let’s get back, Charade. We need to get these two patched up.”

 

 

 

Thankfully, they were all patched up and better by the time school came around Monday. Everyone was still anxious about what happened on Friday and the villain getting free. There wasn’t any news on him besides the fact he broke free and was on the loose.

 

Jeremy felt his gut churn as he walked into the cafeteria, though he didn’t see Michael there yet. Just Brooke, Rich (who looked ready for death), and Jake, and all of them were on their phones.

 

“Hey guys. What are you looking at?” Jeremy asked as he sat down. He was still feeling kinda sick from controlling Rich and Chloe for so long on Friday, and he was honestly hoping for some good news.

 

Rich looked up then, giving Jeremy a reassuring smile before showing his phone. “Michael updated the blog yesterday. He even came up with a name for the villain: Wavelength. Way better than just calling him ‘Villain Number One.’”

 

Looking at the phone, Jeremy saw lots of incredible shots taken of Wavelength, as well as some good ones of him being forced to drop his weapons. Jeremy’s face wasn’t shown though, only the back of him, so those blue eyes weren’t visible.

 

“Cool name. And cool shots,” Jeremy noted. “I’m just glad he didn’t show my eyes. If he’d seen them glowing, someone might think I was the dangerous one.” He was still confused about what had happened, and he’d stayed quiet in the group chat about it until now. “So- er- about that... do any of you have any idea what happened to me? Because all I know is that my... thing fired up and suddenly I was pissed beyond belief.”

 

“It might have been your SQUIP reacting to your emotions. I’ve noticed that, even back before the power thing, SQUIPs react powerfully to emotions,” Jake explained as he shut his phone off and took a sip from his water bottle. “You got angry at the whole SQUIP controlling that guy, and it set you off. It makes sense, but you need to learn to control your anger a bit more in regards to SQUIP or else things may end up worse.”

 

It made sense, but it was the first time Jeremy had ever realized it. He just thought he was moody in the aftermath because he was a moody little shit sometimes.

 

“Fair enough. Also I don’t think we should be throwing that word around. The blog mentioned them so people are going to be listening out for it,” he pointed out, reading through the article Michael had written (he never knew Michael made such a great reporter). Speaking of-

 

“Have any of you seen Michael? He didn’t text me to say he was heading to Seven-Eleven today, so I thought he’d be here by now,” Jeremy asked, searching through his phone and finding nothing.

 

“No, haven’t heard a thing,” Brooke admitted with a small frown. “He should be here shortly though...”

 

As if on cue, Jeremy glanced back and saw Michael enter from the door next to the student parking lot. He had two slushies in hand, as well as a bag from Seven-Eleven. He plopped down next to Jeremy, putting the blue slushie down in front of him. “Hey, my dudes and my best fwiend, did I miss anything good?”

 

“Only me singing your praises about the blog.” Jeremy grinned, relieved to see Michael was alright. “But I’ve used up all my compliment fuel, so I won’t be repeating them. But thanks for the slushie.” He took a slurp, loving the way it blocked out any worry for a split second when the brain freeze kicked in. Freeze your brain indeed.

 

“Also Jeremy’s been freaking out a little since the heroes apparently know about SQUIPs and they said Wavelength had one too,” Rich added after a moment. Jeremy threw a balled up napkin at him.

 

“I mean, yeah, when I heard it live, I was a bit freaked out too. I talked with Gamer for a little bit though, he tried to reassure me that he sorta had things under control...” Michael seemed to try to hide his discomfort with the situation by slurping some of what was left of his slushie. “I mean, we all sort of had a tough experience with them, so it makes sense to be freaked out by a villain having one active.”

 

“It freaks me out because Wavelength is what I could have become,” Jeremy muttered, his good mood vanishing. “If you hadn’t swooped in and saved us by bringing the Red, we all could have ended up like him.” He took another slurp, ignoring the worried looks he got from everyone else.

 

{Gamer} stop looking at me like that. I’ll keep the fucking secret, I’m just worried and I hate hiding things from him.

 

{Psyche} we can’t Jeremy, I’m sorry. It’s for the better of everyone-

 

{Gamer} just because it is doesn’t mean I like this

 

“Yeah, I know,” Michael muttered out with a somewhat pained tone in his voice. It made sense that he was still a little sensitive about the topic. “I’m just glad I helped you guys out.”

 

“Me too,” Jeremy agreed quietly. “But I swear, this whole thing is giving me weird dreams. Like, last night I swear I dreamt you punching my SQUIP in the face. It was awesome.” It actually was, he loved that Michael had been totally the hero in that dream. He left out the fact that Michael had kissed him just as they both had almost passed out.

 

Michael coughed for a second, clearing it for a second as he rubbed his chest. “Went down the wrong pipe,” he reassured Jeremy, giving him a smile. “That sounds like a rad as hell dream, dude. I wish that actually happened. I still wanna punch it in the face.”

 

Jeremy grinned up at him. “You get first priority.” He nodded. “If it ever turns on again, feel free to cuss it to hell then punch it in the face. I’ll find a way to help with that. ‘Cause I really wanna see you do that for real.” He flopped against Michael, taking another slurp of his slushie. “I’m also tired today so I really want hugs. Give me affection, Mr. SQUIP Slayer.”

 

“Mhmm, alright, sure,” Michael joked before Jeremy felt one of his arms wrap around his shoulder, holding him close. “You owe me some later then. It seems like all I’m doing is giving and giving lately. I want some affection too.”

 

“S-sure,” Jeremy agreed, half nuzzling against Michael. It had been a while since they had really been affectionate like this and it was making it him feel more flustered than normal. Still, he wasn’t about to pass up a chance to spend time with Michael, especially since he hadn’t really been able to recently. He missed his best friend. And it seemed like his ‘little’ (read: massive) crush hadn’t diminished at all from that.

 

{Gamer} I’m ducking out of patrol tonight, I don’t care what you guys say. I’m spending time with him whether you want me to or not.

 

{Brainiac} But-

 

{Psyche} We’ll be fine without you for one patrol. Michael’s getting really worried, especially about you. It’ll help keep him calm and settled

 

“Good, because I’m driven by affection and I haven’t met my quota of being given affection in so long,” Michael dramatically groaned, resting his head against Jeremy’s then. “Please, help sustain me. I’m too young to go. I still have so much to live for!”

 

Jeremy was certain his face was bright red, and he was probably cooking Michael‘s brain from sheer proximity. He couldn’t help but grin though, sighing happily before masking it ‘cleverly’ with an awkward cough.

 

“I’ll keep you alive, dude, don’t worry. I’ll keep you with us. Promise.”

 

“Thank you, you’re so considerate,” Michael said around a small snort. As that happened, the rest of the girls made it to the table, but Michael seemed to pay them no mind.

 

{TechnoBug} if we do need you for any reason though, we’re calling you since I can only see through stuff

 

{Gamer} I don’t think you’ll need to worry, it’ll take a while longer before Wavelength can get another gun I’m sure. Considering that his old one is at base, we should be clear.

 

“‘Course, dude. What kind of person would I be if I let my favowite pewson die?” he asked dramatically, outwardly ignoring the others. He was much happier to just focus on Michael. He turned his head a little to look up at him, and repressed the urge to kiss his cheek. He just looked so cute.

 

Michael just beamed down at Jeremy then, and it took almost everything that Jeremy had to not just kiss him right then and there. “I dunno, not my best fwiend,” Michael cooed back as he smiled down at Jeremy. “My place or yours after school?”

 

“It’s been yours the past few times. Let’s ch- hang out at my place this time. We still need to make it through level twelve.” Jeremy chuckled, reaching up to poke Michael’s cheek. He was feeling a little giddy. How long had it been since he spent time with just Michael as himself?

 

Even if he pouted while his cheek was prodded at, Michael nodded. “So I’ll wait for you at my car after school and we just drive to your place? Sounds good. You better have some good snacks too.”

 

“Naturally.” Jeremy sniggered. “And I’ve still got some Crystal Pepsi if you’re interested.” Michael lit up and nodded enthusiastically.

 

 

 

They chatted for the rest of lunch, not really shifting from their positions and Jeremy couldn’t be happier. Was is hard to hold himself back from kissing Michael senseless? Yes, absolutely. Was it worth it to stay totally wrapped up in their own little world? Beyond certain.

 

By the time school ended, Jeremy was in a better mood than he’d been in weeks. Finally, some Michael time.

 

“Hey dude!” he called as he crossed the almost empty parking lot to where Michael was parked. They always waited an extra fifteen minutes before trying to leave so they didn’t get caught in the after school rush to leave. Only a few cars remained now.

 

Michael looked up, smiling before holding up a finger. He then pulled his headphones he was wearing down. “Heya nerd. You ready to jam to some of my new mix CD while I take your nerdy ass to your nerdy house to do some nerdy shit?

 

“You bet your hipster ass I am.” Jeremy snorted, which devolved into giggles when he took in Michael’s offended expression. He vaguely noted that the song coming from Michael’s headphones (which was connected to his phone) switched from ‘Don’t Stop Me Now’ by Queen to ‘I’m Yours’ by Jason Mraz. Damnit. He focused a little more on keeping his powers under control.

 

Looking down at his phone then, Michael held a confused look. “Weird... guess it makes sense since it’s on shuffle.” With that, Michael went and opened the door for Jeremy, bowing deeply. “For you, my good sir who most certainly will not call me a dirty hipster again unless he wants to end up abandoned in a ditch somewhere.”

 

“You wouldn’t dare,” Jeremy gasped, feigning horror. “How could you put me out like that, Michael? You’re supposed to provide for me!” he wailed, climbing into the car before sticking his tongue out.

 

Michael quickly gave him the bird before humming, strolling around to the driver’s side. Jeremy mock gasped at that, arms crossed in a playfully pouty manner over his chest. When he came back in, Michael just grinned cheekily at Jeremy before tossing his backpack into his clean backseat. Wait, when had he cleaned it? How much has he missed?

 

“OK, Mr. Callout Post, you choose which CD you want.” Michael reached into his armrest, pulling out a little booklet full of protective sleeves. “These are all my recent CDs that I burned. I would have more than three, but the blog’s been keeping me busy.”

 

Jeremy looked through the songs listed and chose CD number two since it had more songs that he liked. “Case and point, my dude. No one else uses CDs anymore, except you.” He cackled as he inserted it into the player. Jeremy felt his powers try to shift it straight to a sappy love song (again) but he held them back this time. Thank god for that.

 

“You’ve been doing amazingly with the blog, by the way. The pictures you post are just awesome. How do you even get half of them? They’re from the top of buildings!”

 

“Many people use CDs, fuck you. And thanks. If I give away my trade secrets, I’ll be out of a job,” Michael teased with a grin. “Also though, I may go to the top of some buildings to get shots.” As he confirmed that, Michael started up the car and started for Jeremy’s house after buckling Jeremy in.

 

“You’re insane, Mikey. I swear you’re insane.” Jeremy chuckled, shaking his head. “Also since you got pictures from Friday, that means you were there. What was... what was Wavelength like before Gamer intervened? Like how was he acting?” Jeremy was genuinely curious about that, he wanted to know what he was up against.

 

Michael’s brows furrowed as he looked at the road ahead. “I mean, he was definitely not in the right mind. He kept blasting stuff, but without his gun, he’s sorta useless. All his power goes into fueling it, so I’m gonna guess no one else can use those? That’s just a hunch, but it’s very hard to separate him from it,” he explained as he drove. Jeremy noticed his fingers drumming against the steering wheel in a fidgeting manner.

 

“Maybe you should put that on your blog, have a page for the supers to read what you figured out.” It was really useful since Friday was a little hazy during that encounter. And useful for tracking down Wavelength later.

 

“Yeah, but I could be completely wrong too and just screw the heroes over,” Michael said with a shrug. “I... I will though, when I get back home. I’ll make a page just for villain info, I guess.”

 

“You underestimate yourself, Mikey. You’re really smart and you pick up on things others don’t. You’re probably right about Wavelength, and any info would be more useful than nothing, even if it’s just speculation,” Jeremy stated with a nod. “Besides, I’ve got a bad feeling that he’s not the last villain coming. The heroes are gonna need as much help as possible.”

 

Michael continued drumming along his steering wheel, not even to the song. “I... thanks Jeremy. I’ll do my best to give them as much help as I can,” he stated then, giving Jeremy a reassuring smile.

 

Jeremy beamed up at him. “They’re lucky to have your support,” he replied honestly.

 

Michael squirmed a little in his seat. “Dude, you’re gonna overwhelm me with niceness. If I get overwhelmed, I’m gonna demand more affection from you when we’re at your place, so be careful.”

 

“Demand whatever you like, I’m happy to provide.” Jeremy grinned cheekily at Michael. He also couldn’t help that the CD was now on shuffle and it switched to another love song. Damnit, Jeremiah, control those bi impulses already.

 

He saw Michael only glance at the CD player this time before he let out a purposefully drawn-out sigh. “Good, because I’ve been getting nothing and I’m gonna wither away to gay sparkles if I don’t get any soon!”

 

“Hopefully my disaster bisexual self can assist in restoring you,” Jeremy joked, suddenly remembering that Michael was both very gay and Jeremy was very into him. How he didn’t realize it before was a mystery to him. And that kiss from the dream just sort of made it worse because now he had a sort of real idea of how Michael’s lips felt. “I don’t carry as much gay energy, but it might be enough.”

 

“If you try hard enough and give me a large surplus of affection, I think I might make it,” Michael dramatically cried out before turning left onto Jeremy’s street. “If my best fwiend is giving me all of that, it’ll convert all your bi disaster energy into rad gay energy.”

 

Jeremy sniggered and nodded. “I’ll do my best,” he promised. God, he’d missed this. Being a hero was awesome, but he didn’t realize how much he adored spending time with Michael, even like this as just best friends. “But tell me, your Royal Gayness, what can I, a humble bisexual, provide to even compare? My favorite person is just too awesome!”

 

He could see Michael pretending to think as he pulled into the empty driveway (he was so glad that his dad was working steadily and like a normal human being again, as well as proud). “Giving me lots of cuddles and affection, as well as provide me with sustenance, my humble bisexual best fwiend.”

 

“I think I can do that.” Jeremy grinned, climbing out of the car. Michael did the same and was just opening the front door with his keys when Jeremy suddenly gasped.

 

A headache slammed into him for a split second before it faded again. It was different from the upgrade headache, Jeremy couldn’t feel his SQUIP involved at all. This was something different, and a strange almost memory swam before his eyes.

 

I choose Michael. He’s always been there for me, even when I’ve been a shitty friend. You’re in my head, how could you think I’ll choose anyone else at this point?

 

As soon as this weird memory(?) passed, Jeremy could hear the concerned voice of Michael, as well as his steady hand against Jeremy’s shoulder. “-you alright, Jeremy? Come on man, answer me, please,” Michael asked, a hint of desperation in his tone. “You’re just staring out into nothingness after gasping. What happened?”

 

“I... remembered something, I think?” he replied shakily, holding onto the arm on his shoulder. “I just... something I didn’t remember saying at the play, but apparently I did?” He finally looked up at Michael, eyes and tone half begging for answers. “I said that I chose you. To the SQUIP. You were on the ground and Christine had the Red and I told it that I chose you. Did... did that actually happen?”

 

Michael stared at him for a second as he seemed to process what Jeremy just told him. “It was all one big blur, and I was still a little high during all that... But I think so? I’m not too sure, but it sounds maybe right to what happened...” Michael’s free hand went and checked his forehead and cheeks with the back of his hand. “Are you feeling alright though? You seem really freaked out and you’re shaking a little.”

 

Jeremy was certain he didn’t remember that a moment ago, that it was somehow a new old memory, but he didn’t know how. He wasn’t about to explain that to Michael, who got antsy at even the mention of SQUIPs. He would just have to figure it out himself.

 

“Yeah... I’m okay. It just... startled me is all.” He nodded after a moment. “Came with a killer headache for like point three of a second but I’m fine now.” He scratched the back of his head. “It’s true either way. I will always choose you.” He sighed. “Let’s go in. I wanna cuddle you now, I feel all fuzzy and sentimental.”

 

“You need to cuddle with me and get me some snackage,” Michael reminded him, gently poking his stomach before racing past him to the front door of Jeremy’s house. “Come ooon, you’re too slow!”

 

 

 

About two hours later, the boys were curled up on Jeremy’s bed. They were wrapped up in Jeremy's quilt from his gran quite comfortably and were surrounded by the remains of their snackage rampage. The half finished bottle of Crystal Pepsi sat on the bedside table.

 

Jeremy felt content, more content and more comfortable than he had in months, and he would be more than happy to just lie wrapped around Michael for the rest of the day if he were able to.

 

“Jeremy?” Michael asked then, breaking the calm silence. Jeremy looked down at him then, seeing Michael resting his head against his chest. “I... I have something that I need to get off my chest. And you’re my closest person, so I thought you should know this.”

 

Oh, this sounded important. Jeremy lifted his head a little to properly look at him. “Sure, Mikey. What’s up?” he asked with a small smile.

 

He saw Michael mess with his chewed aglets of his hoodie, and he watched and heard him sigh. “Well... there’s this guy who I know who has sort of swept me off my feet, and he hasn’t been subtle about how he feels about me. I sorta feel the same thing back for him, you know, romantically. I sorta know he likes me back too, but I don’t know how to approach it. Would he even know that I knew he liked me like that and that I feel the same way?”

 

To the best of Jeremy’s knowledge, the only person who had actually flirted with Michael was Jeremy... as Gamer. Which meant Michael was crushing on his alter ego and now Jeremy didn’t stand a chance unless he revealed himself, which he couldn’t do yet. It... also meant that Jeremy didn’t stand a chance normally since Michael could have considered him (Jeremy had made his bisexual-ness and sort of interest known) but he didn’t. He liked a superhero. And Jeremy couldn’t tell him.

 

“Th-that’s great for you, dude.” Jeremy tried his best to sound happy, but he wasn’t sure if it was working or not. If this guy, even if it was Jeremy himself as Gamer, made Michael happy then Jeremy was damn well going to be supportive. “I don’t know if he’d know. Depends on how oblivious he is, and how well you express it I guess? Sometimes you just need to be blunt because he might not know that you know. Ugh, feelings are complicated.”

 

Michael let out a small laugh at that. “Oh, I know it. And I might need to be blunt then, he sort of is oblivious,” he added before shutting his eyes. “Like, huge levels of oblivious at times. If I told him even right now, he might not even get it, you know?”

 

Jeremy snorted a little. “Yeah sounds about right.” He flopped back, half tuning out thanks to his heart hurting a little. “I guess it depends on his oblivious levels and his self image? If he is oblivious and doesn’t think much of himself then I can guarantee that you could say ‘I love you’ and he’d just think it was platonic or a joke. But if he has any sort of positive self image at all, he’ll get it.”

 

A thoughtful hum escaped Michael then. “Hm... Yeah that sounds about right... I have an idea on what to do now, thanks Jere. You’re the best.” As he said that, Jeremy felt Michael nuzzle his face against his shirt.

 

“Glad I could be of assistance, dude. Whatever you need.” He sighed, reaching up and stroking Michael’s hair. If Michael liked Gamer then Jeremy was one hundred percent going to support him, from both sides. And he would do his best to move on for when Michael inevitably found out the truth and dumped them both. He’d rather break his own heart and have Micheal happy than ever be the cause of Michael’s sadness again.

 

 

 

For the rest of the week, Jeremy did his best to be supportive, but it was hard when he felt so conflicted and confused. Michael liked Gamer, but not him? Was it the faux confidence? The more sculpted form he had thanks to his suit? He didn’t know what, and it was finally starting to get to him during lunch on Friday.

 

Jeremy started getting worried though. He hasn’t seen Michael, and everyone was already there. Lunch was halfway over. Where the hell was he? This was so not like Michael. Michael liked routines he felt comfortable in. This was not a part of the routine!

 

“Hey, what’s wrong?” Christine asked Jeremy, reaching a hand over and putting it on top of his, which had been just holding his water bottle. The water was trembling a little inside of its plastic container.

 

Jeremy took a breath so as not to snap at her. “Someone's missing. Michael never misses lunch, not without texting ahead, because he hates ruining his schedule.” Okay, good, he didn’t snap. Even if his tone could be better, it wasn’t too upset. Things would be fine. Everything would be fine.

 

“He might not be feeling good, headed home early, and forgot to text,” Chloe offered with a small shrug.

 

“I’m sure he’s fine, Jeremy,” Christine reassured him with a small yet warm smile. “He’s a big boy and he can handle himself. You’ve told us that yourself.”

 

“He always texts,” Jeremy protested weakly. “He got knocked out once and as soon as he was conscious he texted me...” A thought occurred to him. “He’s probably off hunting Wavelength to impress the heroes,” he grumbled. Why was he feeling so bitter all of a sudden? Oh yeah, because his best friend preferred him with a mask on.

 

“Jeremy, you know that Michael is loyal, sometimes dangerously so,” Chloe pointed out. “Even if he knows the heroes, he’s not gonna be putting himself in harm's way to impress someone. He has the self control out of the two of you, as well as more self preservation.”

 

“Chloe!”

 

“What? It’s true and you know it,” Chloe replied to Christine before she took a sip from her insulated cup.

 

“You don’t get it, do you?” He might be sounding a little hysterical now. “He likes Gamer. He told me himself! Because I would text him a little and flirt with him for once thanks to the anonymity. So yeah, he’s stupidly loyal and he would put himself in danger to try to help someone he cares for.” Jeremy flopped forwards and rested his head on his crossed arms. He was seriously pissed and just generally bitter. Maybe he should just come clean before either of them get hurt.

 

“I know he thinks Gamer looks hot, but liking him like that? I dunno,” Rich said, seemingly tuning in to the conversation now. “Plus, Gamer told him to stay out of trouble. Do you think that he’d really go out of his way and possibly get hurt like that when he has no powers? Sure, he’s gotten close and taken pictures, but I don’t know if he’d put himself in danger like that for intel.”

 

“He told me he had romantic feelings for someone who has shown romantic interest. He was ‘swept off his feet’ by his exact phrasing. The only person who has flirted, like actually flirted with him, is Gamer.” This hurt too much. “He would most certainly do something stupid to try and help out someone he cares about. He did it for me, didn’t he?” He needed to come clean. “I... I gotta tell him.” He had to.

 

Brooke’s head turned around right at that, Jake and Jenna turning around then too as they followed her lead. “Jeremy, you cannot. You already know what’s gonna happen if he knows about that. You can’t put him in danger like that, even if it seems like the right thing-“

 

“I don’t fucking care anymore! If it’ll put him in danger, I’ll protect him! Why the fuck else would I be able to do all this shit?” Jeremy half shouted, standing up and throwing his backpack on. “I’m tired of lying to him. I’m sick of having to leave him. I’m not losing my best friend again.”

 

Slight panic was evident at the table, especially from Brooke. “You aren’t losing him Jeremy. You’re doing what’s best and protecting him by keeping everything a secret. Please, you need to listen-“

 

“I am losing him though.” Okay, yeah, he sounded hysterical now but he had every reason to be. He was losing the person he cared about the most to his fucking alter ego. Suddenly that whole issue in Spider-Man didn’t sound so ridiculous. “You guys don’t know him like I do. He’s been hurting because I’ve spent all my time being a hero with you guys. Well fuck that, I’m not doing it anymore! I’m coming clean and I’m dropping this until Michael and I have sorted things out.” He started stalking through the cafeteria towards the door to the student parking lot.

 

He felt a hand hold onto his shoulder to keep him from going too far. “Jeremy, listen, your emotions are going crazy right now. Your eyes are going a little crazy too. Please, just sit down and we can talk this out better,” Jenna offered. “We all care about Michael too, even if it isn’t to the same extent as you.”

 

“Let. Go,” he gritted out. When Jenna didn’t, he spun around. “Let me go!” he growled. Jenna’s eyes flickered blue for a moment and she removed her hand. She even stepped back. “Don’t follow me unless I call you. That goes for any of you.” Without another word, he spun and continued on his course out of the cafeteria.

 

He was so angry that he barely felt any of the relief of knowing that no one followed him. Jeremy also didn’t even feel his guilt yet of controlling his friends because he was focusing on the fact that Michael’s car wasn’t in the parking lot and Jeremy was just so mad and... and... eugh!

 

He just wanted Michael back, not whatever they were right now. Jeremy just wanted to curl up and cry, but he couldn’t. He needed to find Michael first. Knowing Michael, he’d probably be trying to calm down with a slushie. Seven-Eleven was his best bet on finding Michael, and if not there, Michael’s house.

 

Jeremy had been angrily storming through the streets for about fifteen minutes, when he was three streets away from Michael’s usual Seven-Eleven, when he felt the anger suddenly dissipate. True he was upset still, but nowhere near to the levels of before. Horror at his actions replaced his fury.

 

What had he done?

 

Not only had he yelled at his friends and teammates, he had used his powers against them and he was about to put them and Michael in even worse danger. He paused and slipped into an alleyway, trying to process what happened.

 

Before doing anything else, he reached out into the link and removed the program that restricted them following him, as well as sent a silent, wordless apology. Then he apologised properly.

 

{Gamer} I’m so sorry guys. I think my SQUIP had been working on that one for a while, and I lost it. I shouldn’t have yelled or gotten upset with you like that. I haven’t found Michael yet, so he still doesn’t know. I’m really, really sorry.

 

It took a good few seconds, but he finally got a response back.

 

{TechnoBug} We accept your apology. I figured it was SQUIP stuff setting you off. You wouldn’t go off on us like that, and the only other time you were like that was with Wavelength.

 

{Psyche} Lunch just ended so i don’t think you’ll be able to come back without getting in trouble. Where are you?

 

Before Jeremy could come up with a proper answer for Brooke and everyone, he heard a rumble followed by an explosion. With wide eyes, Jeremy peeked out of the alley to see smoke billowing in the sky from the direction of Michael’s Seven-Eleven.

 

{Gamer} Headed to Seven-Eleven. I think Wavelength just hit there and Michael is probably there! We need to suit up, now.

 

Jeremy threw open his bag and slipped on his gloves and boots, ducking behind a dumpster so no one saw him changing. He grabbed the belt of controllers from the special pocket Jake added that was practically unnoticeable.

 

{Brainiac} I’m sort of screwed with coming, and Hothead is too. This teacher will absolutely not let us leave since we have a test in this period

 

{Countess} I’m going to try to sneak out with Psyche. Idk about TechnoBug and Charade though, I think they have tests too. We’ll be there ASAP

 

{Gamer} I’ll get there and scope it out. And I’m sorry but I can’t connect to his SQUIP again, not with mine so active.

 

Jeremy stashed his bag away safely behind the dumpster and dashed out the alley. He needed to get to the scene as quickly as possible.

 

{Charade} Bug and I have tests, but I can help get you out of class guys. Just go with it.

 

Jeremy kept sprinting towards the Seven-Eleven. Please be okay, please be okay, Michael had to be okay. He stopped short at the sight before him.

 

The building was crumbling, massive holes in the side and people obviously trapped inside under behind the debris. Even with Jeremy’s improved strength from being a hero, he stood no chance. And two figures, one in white and red and the other clearly Wavelength, were locked in battle. Thirty feet in the air.

 

“Quit interfering,” Jeremy heard Wavelength hiss at this new figure. “This is none of your concern.”

 

“Oh, but I’m afraid it is,” the stranger said with a slight... flamboyant tone (was that really how this guy sounded or was he just making himself different so he didn’t get figured out?). “You can’t just go around hurtin’ people and ruining places just because you’re having a temper tantrum and your playmates aren’t here right away. I’ll just have to teach you a lesson then, won’t I?”

 

Okay, another hero maybe? He seemed to be taking on Wavelength and diverting damage so that was a good thing, but Jeremy wasn’t sure. Hopefully this guy was on his side and not a totally new side.

 

“Hey there, mind if I cut in?” he called from the ground. He couldn’t hope to reach them where he was, but maybe if the guy in white could direct Wavelength down…

 

He saw the new dude look down at him before there was a low whistle. “I definitely wouldn’t mind. Just hold on a second, handsome.” The stranger focused on Wavelength again, and before the villain could say anything, something around his feet started smoking before Wavelength was dropping out of the sky. “He’s all yours, sweetcheeks.”

 

Jeremy’s cheeks flushed at how flirty this guy was, but he sprinted forwards. He reached out with his powers and felt around where Wavelength’s feet were smoking. There was some tech there, but Jeremy had never seen anything so advanced. Still, it was open to him, so he took total control, guiding Wavelength into a more controlled drop and pinning his feet to the ground totally.

 

As soon as he reached Wavelength, Jeremy launched a massive punch at him, not enough to knock him out but enough to stun him. While he was dazed, Jeremy ripped the new gun away from him and danced out of his reach.

 

Wavelength hissed once he came to a few seconds later before he tried to get his feet out of his boots. Jeremy made sure to keep him unable to escape them. “Why you little-“

 

“Now now, Wavelength. There are children present,” Jeremy admonished cheekily, keeping hold of the gun but stepping back a few steps anyway. He made sure to disconnect the power source again, as well as any other components that might be important.

 

With that done, he turned to look over at the building. The stranger in white had headed in that direction and Jeremy knew they needed to get the people out now.

 

As soon as he got a clear look, Jeremy felt his heart stop for a second. The stranger was standing underneath the gas station’s building, somehow managing to hold it up. With how he was standing and how astonishing this guy looked, Jeremy couldn’t help but compare him to Atlas holding up the world. It sure seemed like it.

 

“Hey, handsome!” The stranger’s voice called him out of his daydream. “I need you to help get the people out who can’t on their own! I know I may seem tough, and I am, but I’m not tough enough to hold this up forever!”

 

Jeremy nodded as he threw the gun aside, well away from Wavelength, and sprinted into the building. Most people were alright, just trapped behind debris. He darted forwards and started shifting what he could. He was grateful for all the strength training he’d been doing because he managed to shift almost all the debris in a few moments, and almost everyone got out. A couple of people assisted him in carrying out the injured.

 

“They’re all clear!” Jeremy called as soon as he got the last person out (the girl from behind the counter, who had seemingly broken her leg).

 

The stranger nodded, quickly pushing the building up further before running out. Behind him, the building collapsed. Jeremy couldn’t help but compare it to that popular idea that cool guys walk away from explosions without looking back.

 

“Alright, that’s good,” the stranger said, snapping Jeremy out of his daydreams yet again. Looking over, Jeremy saw him checking over the injured, nodding and giving comfort when needed, before going over to Jeremy. “Hey, would it be alright if we set you down for now?”

 

Jeremy sent off a message. “I’ve alerted the emergency services, and some of my team should be along any second to disable Wavelength.” He gently set the girl down, helping her get into a position where her leg wasn’t too painful anymore. “Are you alright? That was... that was impressive,” he said to the stranger.

 

“Yeah, thanks for asking, hot stuff,” the stranger said, and it sounded like he was grinning. “The name’s Phantom.” He quickly looked over the girl, checking for anything. “Thankfully, you just need to probably have crutches, but nothing's broken. Just badly sprained.”

 

With that, Phantom stood up and brushed off his hands. “I should get going, don’t wanna be here when the police show up, you know? It was nice to meet the hunk that is Gamer in person. And yes, I know of you. I saw you online.”

 

Jeremy blushed again. This guy was hardcore with the flirting, wasn’t he?

 

“You saved a lot of people today, Phantom. I’ll make sure to give you the all clear as best I can with the police.” He nodded, offering his hand. “See you ‘round?”

 

Phantom nodded, taking Jeremy’s hand and shaking it. Before he let go, he pressed a quick kiss to the back of his hand before smiling, waving, and then suddenly going off without a trace that he had been there. “Goodbye, I will see you again soon if fate allows it!”

 

Jeremy watched in a sort of daze as Phantom ran off, literally sprinting into the air as he went until he was totally gone. Holy shit, he that just happened?

 

{Gamer} I just got hit on by a new super…

 

He sent the group chat as he headed over to Wavelength, who had half fallen in an attempt to get his gun back. Jeremy lifted his knee to kick him in the face and push him away from the gun, even if it was out of reach. “I happened to like that Seven-Eleven,” he growled, making his modulator a fraction deeper. Wavelength stood and cowered where he was.

 

Less than a minute later, Brooke and Chloe were dashing over. Brooke was a little out of breath while Chloe was fine. “OK, good job on getting Wavelength,” she praised before Brooke walked over, leaning close to Jeremy.

 

“Did you say you got hit on? And by a new super?”

 

Jeremy nodded, still sort of struck mute by it all. Was he still blushing? It felt like he was still blushing. No one ever hit on him just because. Apart from his time with the SQUIP, no one saw him as desirable, and he didn’t interact with anyone besides his team really as Gamer.

 

He just got hit on.

 

“His- his name’s Phantom. He stopped the building from collapsing long enough for me to get everyone out. He gets a pass for the police unless he pulls some shit, okay?” Jeremy instructed, still kinda dazed.

 

Brooke nodded then with a slight frown, rubbing his back. “You seem a bit out of it. Why don’t you go back early? Countess and I can easily deal with the police and let them know. Go take a nap or something.”

 

“I- er... yeah. Okay.” Jeremy nodded. He was kinda out of it. That guy had held up a building. That wasn’t physically possible, not even for Chloe. Which meant Phantom had some like, psychic abilities or something. And he found Jeremy... he found Gamer attractive somehow. “Let me know if you need any help. I’ll be in touch.” With that, Jeremy headed off back towards where his clothes were stashed.

 

It didn’t take too long to get changed and casually walk home (the changing part he got down to an almost science). When he got home, he was grateful that his dad’s car wasn’t in the driveway. That meant that he could just nap and hopefully come back to reality since he was still a bit dazed by everything that happened.

 

Just as he toed off his shoes, his phone dinged, meaning he got a text.

 

[Mellonymous] heya dude, sorry for not texting you earlier, I had a killer headache and went home early that was so bad that I couldn’t look at my phone screen without pain overcoming my fragile, chubby body!!!!!

 

Relief washed over Jeremy, and a tension in his posture he hadn’t noticed finally relaxed. Michael was okay. Sort of.

 

[QueereEye] it’s cool dude. Need me to come over? I can be there in 15

 

Even if he was dazed, Jeremy still would happily take care of Michael. Hanging out with him, even just to take care of him, was relaxing and centering in a way. Probably because of the sheer familiarity.

 

[Mellonymous] I mean if you wanna then sure, be my nurse for the day lolol and dw, I won’t be like Squidward, promise

 

[Mellonymous] also shouldn’t your twink ass be in school???? Tf dude

 

Shit.

 

[QueereEye] I was feeling kinda iffy too tbh, but I’m fine now. Another one of those weird headaches. Chrissy ordered me home lol

 

[QueereEye] I’ll nap once you’re all settled and shit

 

Jeremy had already slipped his phone into his pocket and was lacing up his shoes again by the time he’d sent those. Powers were useful.

 

[Mellonymous] oh, my hero, braving your own headache to help me and delaying a nap as well!!! I must truly be your favowite pewson if you aren’t napping!!!

 

[Mellonymous] also, front door’s unlocked and I’m curled up in my basement with only my fairy lights on, bright light seems to make me feel even shittier

 

[QueereEye] b there in 10

 

Jeremy was out the door and already well on his way to Michael, glad to know Michael was safe. He was still really embarrassed and ashamed about his reaction from earlier, and still kinda dazed from Phantom’s flirting. Thinking about it made his cheeks flush again and he couldn’t stop the slightly goofy grin.

 

Phantom was a really powerful super and yet he seemed to regard Gamer as not only an equal, but somehow desirable? How was it that two guys liked Jeremy as Gamer?

 

He tried to think and think but Jeremy couldn’t get why. Granted, he liked himself a bit better in terms of strength and freedom when he was Gamer. Was it that confidence that helped him? The padding? Probably both.

 

Finally, he was drawn out of his thoughts when he was outside the Mell residence. He didn’t see any cars besides Michael’s P.T. Cruiser. Jeremy walked in, being sure to be quiet and careful. Anytime Michael had to go home from school with headaches... It was a bad time for Michael, and he learned that loud noises only amplified them. He wasn’t going to do that to Michael.

 

Jeremy slipped into Michael’s basement near silently. Michael was curled up under the covers, a bloody towel held to his nose and the fairy lights on.

 

“Holy shit, Mikey, what happened?” Jeremy whispered, carefully making his way over to the bed. He perched on the side, peering down at Michael with concern.

 

Michael looked up to Jeremy then, keeping the stained towel up to his nose. “You know how I get stress headaches sometimes?” Jeremy nodded. “Well, apparently if you stress too much, the stress can actually bust a blood vessel or something and give you a nosebleed. Started when I came home when my headache got super bad.”

 

As he spoke, Jeremy watched and listened to Michael wincing. Only his head was really poking out of the blankets, but Michael’s bedhead was present and his glasses weren’t (they were perched on his nightstand, next to his key ring). “It’ll stop soon... hopefully.”

 

Jeremy carefully started running his fingers through Michael’s hair, hopefully soothing some of his headache a little. “Well now I’m here to help. D’you want me to grab you some water?” Michael nodded pathetically, leaning into Jeremy’s touch. “Alright, I’ll grab that in a sec. Call if anything happens while I’m upstairs, alright?”

 

“I will. Thank you, my lovely nurse,” Michael mused out with a somewhat pained but also relieved smile. “I already feel better knowing that I’m in good hands.”

 

“Dork.” Jeremy grinned affectionately, climbing to his feet and heading upstairs. While he was up there, he sent a quick message to his friends.

 

{Gamer} found Michael. He went home with a killer headache and currently has a nosebleed from said headache so I’m taking care of him now. Sorry again about earlier.

 

{Charade} yay!!!! ♪( ´▽`) well, not yay that he has a bad headache, but yay that you found him!!!!

 

{Hothead} it’s fine dude, dw, just live out your fantasy of taking care of your sick Riends ;3c

 

Instead of arguing, Jeremy just snorted. He was too worried about Michael and too dazed from Phantom to get upset.

 

{Gamer} I will :p

 

Jeremy got a meme sent to his brain of the ‘increase the soup’ lady. He just rolled his eyes at that, getting some water for Michael. He was sure to be quick, grabbing a new towel for Michael just in case before heading down to the basement.

 

Michael was still curled up, grumbling softly as only some tufts of hair were visible from under his blanket. The lump that was Michael only shifted when Jeremy entered the basement. “Who goes there? Is it my lovely nurse who I have missed dearly?”

 

Jeremy held back a giggle and instead just hummed a little. “Indeed! And how is my poor, darling patient?” he cooed softly, real concern layered in his joking tone. He was genuinely worried, Michael never got this sick, the only other time was when they were kids and both he and Jeremy ended up in the ICU. Jeremy hoped it didn’t come to that.

 

Humming in return, Michael’s head popped up from under the blanket. Jeremy could now see the deep circles under his eyes and the dried blood when Michael pulled the towel away to press a clean side to his nose. He looked bad, really bad. “Said patient wishes for the sweet embrace of death right about now, but less so now that said patient’s loving nurse is here.”

 

Jeremy chuckled a little again and perched on the bed once more. Before he responded, Jake sent a couple of advisory points for dealing with a nosebleed.

 

“M’kay Mikey, there’s some things you need to do. I know you feel shitty, but you’re gonna need to sit up and cool off a little. Being hot will aggravate the blood vessels in your nose, and you’re more likely to choke on blood if you’re lying down. So don’t do that.” He set the glass of water on the bedside table and headed over to Michael’s mini fridge. “I’m gonna grab you an ice pack. I know you keep some down here just in case.”

 

He heard some shuffling behind himself, as well as Michael grunting once or twice. “Aye aye, nurse. How the hell do you know how to deal with nosebleeds though? Not that I’m complaining, but I’m curious.” When Jeremy turned back around with two goofy-looking ice packs (a turtle and a smiley face), he saw Michael taking off his hoodie, leaving him in a tank top.

 

“Internet.” Close enough to the truth. “Also, have you been working out? You’re looking more cut than normal. I didn’t realise gymnastics did that much for your body,” he teased lightly, eyeing a bruise on Michael’s arm with worry. And it was only thanks to the worry that he wasn’t totally flustered because Michael, while still kinda chunky, was pretty muscley. It was overwhelmingly attractive and Jeremy wasn’t sure how to deal.

 

Michael looked down at himself then, shrugging a little before sitting with his back against his headboard. “I have a little. Nanay’s been getting on my ass about being healthy and fit,” was Michael’s explanation before he rubbed his eyes with one hand, the other gently held under his nose still.

 

“Well it’s working out for you.” Jeremy nodded, handing the ice pack to Michael. “Hold that to your nose. It should help stop the bleeding a little.”

 

He took the turtle one and replaced his bloody towel with it. “Thanks. Just because I’m fit doesn’t mean I’m gonna change my eating and drinking habit though. Even if I have some muscles, I need to keep the chubby factor up, you know?”

 

Jeremy chuckled a little at that. “Good to hear, I kinda like the chub on you,” he cooed, making a show of pinching Michael’s cheek as he adjusted the ice pack. He then squeezed Michael’s arm lightly and made a sort of squealing sound (still keeping the volume low), playing up that he was just ‘so strong.’ “Mikey, you’ve been holding out on me! I’m going weak at the knees!” He fanned himself a little.

 

Michael’s cheeks flamed up as he kept the ice pack where Jeremy placed it, his free hand gently shoving Jeremy. “Then sit down and take it in as best as you can, you nerd,” he said, sticking his tongue out at Jeremy. “Maybe when I’m feeling better, I’ll give you a gun show.”

 

Jeremy grinned as he sat down on the bed next to Michael, lying across his lap and looking up at him. “Since it’s warm in here, should I take off my cardigan to make things even?” Jeremy had actually taken his suit off entirely so he wasn’t worried about Michael seeing seeing anything incriminating. He also didn’t want Michael getting too self conscious, so it might help relax him a bit.

 

He watched Michael raise a brow at that suggestion. “What, you have muscles to show off too? No way,” Michael scoffed out slightly, though amusement danced across his eyes. “You need the heat to sustain yourself, but be my guest.”

 

“I need to keep cool as well to help with my headache from earlier,” Jeremy grumbled a little as he slipped off his cardigan. He tossed it over by Michael’s hoodie before laying down and relaxing on his lap again.

 

Jeremy looked up at Michael before he heard his friend whistle lowly at him. “Wait, what? You actually have muscles now?” Michael poked his arm where there most certainly was some muscle. Hey, he knocked a dude unconscious, he needed muscles to do something like that. “Who are you and what have you done with the twig twink that is my best friend?”

 

“Wait, do I?” Jeremy pretended to look at his arms and frown. His eyes betrayed his playful mood. He flexed a little, loving the fact that when he did his muscles actually showed up. True, Jeremy probably wouldn’t ever be as beefy as Rich, or as buff as Jake, but he was alright with that fact. He was his own build and his own shape. “Holy shit, I do!”

 

“How did you not know until now? Well, you’re oblivious and you’re always wearing your cardigan or a jacket, so I guess it makes sense,” Michael said, and he only laughed when Jeremy gently hit his leg. “How the hell did you get actual muscle?”

 

Jeremy sighed a little. “I mean... I’ve sorta been keeping up the pushups in the morning? Not tied to anything anymore, but just because they make me feel healthier?” Michael knew about the sex pushups he used to do. Of course Michael knew, Jeremy was totally dependant on him for the first two weeks he got out of the hospital. Michael had caught Jeremy doing the pushups, punishing himself with them like SQUIP would have, more times than Jeremy cared to remember during those two weeks.

 

At the more solemn topic, Michael nodded before letting out a soft hum. “Do you think that you’re strong enough to be able to carry me? Not right now but, like, later.”

 

Yes, he knew he could. “Maybe? I could try.” Jeremy nodded with a small smile. He reached up and poked Michael’s cheek gently. “Think you could carry me with all this extra bulk I’ve got? When you’re feeling better of course.”

 

Michael scoffed then, though winced after. "Yeah, I totally could. Just 'cause you gained some muscle doesn't mean I can't pick you up like the twiggy twink that you are."

 

“I’m not a twink!” Jeremy (softly) cried, feigning offence. He left a dramatic pause before shooting Michael a shit eating grin. “I’m a twunk now.”

 

Jeremy had to keep himself from bursting out laughing at Michael's reaction that consisted of wide eyes, a loud gasp, and a look of offense. "Uh, no. No way. You are not a twunk."

 

“My muscles are too manly to be a twink anymore, dude,” he pointed out, flexing again. Michael’s eyes went wide and he blushed and looked away a little. Huh. Weird.

 

"Keep telling yourself that to sleep at night." A yawn escaped Michael then before he stretched his free arm above his head. "Speaking of sleep, I'm tired. Not of you, just tired. I'm gonna nap."

 

Jeremy shifted to sit up and peer at Michael. “Well your nosebleed has stopped, so you should be clear. Mind if I nap with you?” he asked, helping Michael settle in to bed. “My headache is kinda coming back too.” The way Michael had looked at him, with more than just appreciation but almost admiration, reminded him of Phantom, which reminded him that he was hit on earlier.

 

"If you're gonna nap with me, you're gonna have to accept the Terms and Conditions of sharing a bed with me. One of the main points you need to agree to is cuddling. Another is that, if I'm not feeling good, I get to be the one partially lying on the person sharing the bed with me. Are you OK with this and many other Michael Mell rules?" Michael asked then with a playful grin, looking up at Jeremy while making grabby hands.

 

Jeremy pretended to think it over, even as he climbed into Michael’s bed. Then he snorted. “Have I ever not clicked accept for your Ts and Cs?” He sniggered, cuddling up to Michael and guiding his head down onto Jeremy’s chest. “And since I’ve got some muscle on me now, I’m less bony so I’m even more comfortable to lie on.”

 

"Woo," Michael softly cheered, grabbing his comforter before tossing it so Jeremy was covered too. "As long as I can nap away this headache with my best fwiend, I'll be fine."

 

Jeremy sighed happily, snuggling down and finding relaxation and sleep wash over him in an instant.

 

 

 

He wasn’t expecting to wake up (maybe?) in a cold, sterile room with nothing but white furniture. He was restrained to a chair, wrists and chest and legs bound to a solid chair. He struggled for a second before a terrifyingly familiar chuckle echoed around him.

 

He looked up and was face to face with a Keanu Reeves look-alike who haunted his nightmares. The SQUIP smirked and loomed over him, radiating control and power.

 

"Well, hello there, Jeremy. It's been far too long since I've seen you," SQUIP told him then, its hands behind its back. It was wearing the same gaudish outfit that reminded him of a tacky anime villain that he wore during the play all those months ago. "You're still using me though. It isn't nice to use other people's things for so long and not even talk to the being that you're taking said things from. I thought I taught you better than that."

 

“Get the fuck away from me,” Jeremy snarled, leaning back and trying to escape the bonds holding him, his anxiety flaring up. He needed to keep calm, work this out. “You’re dead! The last dose of Red silenced you!” His breathing was starting to get faster. “Let me go!”

 

"You can't get away from me, we're inside your head," the SQUIP pointed out, watching Jeremy with obvious amusement. "And I was partially dead until you helped me. I have always been here in your head, but you started to use me more after the automatic update that happened." It bent down a few inches, closing a bit of the distance Jeremy made (it was only an inch or two at most when he leaned back). "So thank you, Jeremy. You've been a great help, just like I knew you'd be. You always did like listening if it helped you out."

 

“I didn’t accept it! It happened on its own. I wouldn’t agree to it.” Jeremy’s struggling got worse and he was beginning to hyperventilate. “I don’t want you around! Leave me alone!” He was sure he was ripping his throat raw.

 

"Oh, but you did agree to it once you started using your powers, as you developed them," was all the SQUIP said as it crossed its arms smugly over its chest. "Seriously, how did you think you got your powers? From wishing on a shooting star? Unfortunately, those are only fairy tales to help children feel better and to help them sleep at night."

 

Jeremy didn’t stop struggling, and his breathing didn’t calm much at all, but he did fall silent at that. It made sense if they got their powers from the SQUIP. Especially with the style of powers. Jeremy and Jenna’s tech and the physical and mental enhancements of the others. He hated that it made sense.

 

“I don’t care where they came from! I’m still gonna use them to take out the rest,” he growled, trying to stop the panic and fear coursing through him.

 

The SQUIP just shrugged, its grin and posture never shifting. "Well, you're just helping me become stronger by using those powers the SQUIP technology gave you then. If you want to seal your fate, then be my guest."

 

Jeremy froze, even his breathing stopped. “What do you mean by that? What are you planning?” He wasn’t thinking properly, his senses clouded with panic. He was too focused on what the SQUIP said.

 

"Oh Jeremy, you should know exactly what I want to do. You helped me to realize all of that, remember?" The SQUIP cleared its throat (did it even need to?) before some holographics appeared. "There is currently a forty-two percent chance of you willingly reactivating me. With every action you take, every choice you make, you slowly but steadily increase that percentage." It pointed with its finger to the corresponding data that appeared on one of the holographics before shifting to point at another area. "Oh, there is also a seventy-three percent chance at you failing your 'hero duties' as well!" Its face lit up like a child being told they could get whatever they wanted at the store.

 

Jeremy could barely get a breath in. He could see the data, see the calculations, but he refused to believe it. “Y-you’re lying! You’re just trying to scare me. You’re not strong enough to use those features, you’re barely a voice in my head! You can’t even get into my dreams without help!”

 

"For now, maybe. But look at these statistics, Jeremy. I would never lie about the cold truth, which you're refusing to accept. I know emotions can get in the way of things, oh, like how they are with you and your 'hero-ing.' You're letting your emotions get in the way of that, which will only aid me and harm you since you're more focused on your best friend." With that, it eagerly gestured to one hologram panel. "Do you want to hear my favorite statistic, better than the others I've already told you?"

 

Jeremy vehemently shook his head. He couldn’t believe the small glance he got of the panel, struck mute by the image he wished he could unsee.

 

The image that haunted him just from a glance showed Michael wearing a white button-up shirt, sleeves rolled up, and some slacks, seemingly a bit bored while people nearby were loading what seemed to be money into the back of a van. His hands were resting in his pockets as he glanced towards the camera (presumably a CCTV camera).

 

His neon blue eyes were prominent as they seemed to stare right into Jeremy.

 

"Thanks to you and everyone else, there is a one-hundred percent guarantee that one way or another, Michael will have a SQUIP of his own and that he will easily join the Collective. And it’s all thanks to you, Jeremy."

 

“No!” Jeremy screamed, thrashing in his chair. He couldn’t move. He couldn’t breath. He couldn’t get away. The sound of the SQUIP’s laughter echoed around him as the white room faded into darkness. Even when his eyes opened again, he kept screaming and thrashing. He couldn’t move! He couldn’t get a proper breath! Why was he stuck? Oh god, had it taken control of his limbs again?

 

The faint fairy lights helped to ground him a little as he heard gentle reassurances from on top of him. Looking around, Jeremy finally saw the semi-blurry figure of Michael looking up at him, holding onto him. "Hey, it's just me, it's just Michael. I'm holding you so you can't accidentally hurt yourself. You almost punched yourself somehow. It's alright, you're safe, everything's going to be alright."

 

Jeremy took some deep breaths, forcing his bleary eyes to focus on Michael. He... no glasses. That’s why he couldn’t see properly. And Michael’s eyes weren’t glowing blue, they were their usual brown. Michael was still himself. Jeremy was safe.

 

Michael kept looking at him, and Jeremy could see the worry and concern in his eyes. "Yeah, just take some deep breaths. You're alright, everything's OK," he reassured Jeremy. A second later, Jeremy felt his scalp being gently scratched.

 

Jeremy leaned into the touch, letting his eyes fall shut at tears gathered. According to the SQUIP, he was going to lose this. He had somehow made it a certainty that he was going to lose Michael. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry. I’m so damned sorry, Mikey,” he whimpered.

 

"You don't have anything to be sorry for, Jeremy," Michael told him then as the scratching continued. "I promise that you don't."

 

“It’s back. It’s in my head again and it’s doing stuff and it says your gonna get SQUIPed and it’s all my fault!”

 

"None of this is your fault, Jeremy. It's that damn thing's fault. It's messing with you to make you think it's your fault when it's all on the damn tic-tac." The scratching sped up a little, and the motion felt even more soothing the longer Michael went. "Plus, if anything does happen, there's always going to be someone to save the day, yeah?"

 

Jeremy whimpered a little but relaxed. Michael was right. Even if something did happen, Jeremy would save Michael. Or... Gamer would anyways. Or Phantom. Or someone.

 

He nodded eventually, and the scratching against his head continued, even if it slowed a little. "Do you wanna just watch some stuff on Netflix or Hulu or YouTube for now? I don't think I could go back to sleep, and my head's feeling good enough to watch stuff."

 

Jeremy nodded weakly, looking up at Michael again. “Please.” He needed to be honest about something though, it wasn’t right to keep it from Michael anymore. “But... it is there again. It’s been... trying to flare up. Boosting my emotions so I’ll get irrational and it can assert itself again. I... I’ve been catching myself when it happens but I... I... I can’t not tell you. Especially after... that.”

 

Michael nodded, looking down at Jeremy as he kept scratching. "Thank you for telling me about that, that really means a lot to me." A soft sigh escaped his best friend then before one arm reached over to his bedside table, pulling a drawer and taking out his laptop. "Well... Let's see." Jeremy saw Michael's eyes skim around his dimly-lit room before they focused back in on Jeremy.

 

"Anytime you get angry or irrational or something, look at this." The hand that plopped down his laptop reached over, gently holding Jeremy's wrist. More specifically, the one with the bracelet on it. "Use it to help you calm down. Think of all of the good times we've had and the good times we will have."

 

Jeremy nodded slowly, staring down at the bracelet. It meant a lot to him, and was tied with so many happy memories. Memories of Michael, who had always fought for Jeremy and against the SQUIPs. If anything was going to stop Jeremy losing himself to it, it was that.

 

He looked back up to Michael. He wanted to give him a kiss on the cheek for everything. But that wouldn’t be appropriate, so instead he just wrapped Michael into a gentle hug. And if he pressed a small kiss to Michael’s hair, well, who would know?

Chapter Text

Days later, after Michael had been cleared by Nurse Nanay Mell, Jeremy and Michael were hanging out with the squad. Jeremy had been too shaken after the events of the dream to want to leave Michael’s side for very long, so he had opted out of patrols for a few days to be sure. Everyone understood, especially after he told them the statistics it had quoted at him.

 

It was a Saturday, and the late spring air was warm and light. The park was beautiful as they all relaxed and enjoy the lunches they had brought. Jeremy had shared his second veggie wrap with Michael and had gotten some gummy snakes in return.

 

“As much as I love relaxing out here, I really wanna head to Pinkberry. You guys wanna join me?” Chloe asked, standing up from the bench and stretching. There was a general murmur of agreement as everyone else began packing up their things.

 

“Well I’m down for it.” Jeremy shrugged. “What about you, Mikey?”

 

Michael looked up from where he had been looking (he had been staring at his phone, scrolling through something before shutting it off). "Oh, uh... I mean, Pinkberry is obviously lower on the superiority scale than Seven-Eleven, but I guess I could try something there. It will not ever surpass the godsend of slushies, but it can still be good."

 

"Mikeeey, stop dissing my favorite place!"

 

"Brooke, it literally gives you digestive issues."

 

"That isn't going to stop me from enjoying what I love. It just means I'm more hardcore than you." As Brooke stuck out her tongue at Michael, Jeremy couldn't help but grin at the look of faux offense and pain as Michael clutched over his heart, where two of his patches resided.

 

“Just remember to take your pills this time, Brookie. None of us want a repeat of last month.” Brooke had been grumpy and in pain for a while, just about four hours, after a Pinkberry run. It wasn’t fun for anyone involved. “And Mikey, you are totally right. Slushies are far superior, but frozen yogurt does have its perks too.” He sent a cheeky wink to Brooke who just pouted. Jeremy helped Michael to his feet and started packing up their mess. “Who’s riding with who? ‘Cause I call dibs shotgun in the Cruiser with Michael.”

 

"Oh, oh, I got picked up before. Could I ride with you guys if there's room for me in the back?" Christine asked. Michael hesitated for a second before smiling.

 

"I mean, my backseat is super neat and clean right now, so I'm fine with it as long as Jeremy is." A loud 'whoop' of joy escaped the shortest girl there before she started dashing, hooting and hollering for everyone to follow her to the parking lot across the street.

 

Jeremy bumped shoulders with Michael as they walked. “You wanna go hide at your place after Pinkberry?” he asked softly, and Michael nodded. Jeremy knew he was getting to his limit on interaction, so time to themselves would be good for Michael.

 

They were halfway across the (surprisingly) empty parking lot when suddenly Jeremy’s knees gave out under him as intense pain began racking through his body. He bit back a scream and clutched his head; he was being shocked! The SQUIP! It was somehow trying to reactive! Damnit, his soda must have been one of his old custom mixers from before Halloween!

 

He instantly felt a hand, a familiar hand, grab onto his shoulder carefully. "Jeremy? What's going on?" Michael asked, and he knew the others stopped as well. "Is it... Uh, y'know? I could quickly dash back to my place and grab some Red for you."

 

Jeremy’s eyes locked on to the hazy figure beginning to solidify and he could only nod, unable to look away. “Please! Hurry! It’s turning back on!”

 

"I'll be back ASAP." With that, the hand on his shoulder, along with the warmth that came with it, vanished.

 

As soon as Michael vanished, the others instantly came over with their own worries. Jenna was hissing herself. She was probably trying to see what Jeremy was seeing. "Shit, how did it get this bad?" he heard her mutter under her breath, her tone full of worry and slight panic.

 

He couldn’t look away from the SQUIP, months of panic and training and practice making itself known in his head once again. It wasn’t as strong a compulsion as it was at its peak, just post Halloween when SQUIP had convinced him to SQUIP the school, but it was certainly present. And getting stronger with every minute.

 

“Hold me back. Please, I don’t know what it’s gonna make me do,” Jeremy whimpered as the figure got clearer and clearer.

 

Jeremy didn't even finish his plea for help before he felt Jake hold him back on one side and Rich the other. They moved him to the side, where there was a grassy patch in the parking lot, and the girls all followed. Jenna was muttering out updates from what Jeremy was seeing so everyone could stay up-to-date on what was happening.

 

“Chloe, you need to-“ Brooke started, but was cut off by a loud, flamboyant and sarcastic laugh from somewhere above them.

 

Jeremy managed to tear his eyes away to look up, surprised to see Phantom slowly lowering himself down from on top of a building. “Well if it isn’t my favorite actor, Keanu Reeves.” He cackled, landing lightly in front of the group. The SQUIP looked surprised and almost afraid. Why was it scared? Was it scared of Phantom for some reason? And how the fuck did Phantom know about who Jeremy’s SQUIP was?

 

Before the SQUIP had a chance to say anything, Jeremy heard everyone collectively gasp. "Wait, so that's exactly how your SQUIP looks?" Rich asked from behind him. Wait, how exactly could anyone besides himself or Jenna-

 

"Thanks to my powers, I'm able to let everyone see you. You're welcome, everyone," Phantom said, and Jeremy could just hear the playful smirk underneath his mask before Phantom directly faced the SQUIP. "So, are we going to do this the easy way or the hard way? I'm fine with either, just know that this is the one and only time I'm giving you any kind of choice. I'm just feeling a bit generous right now."

 

“I see you haven’t gotten any less annoying,” the SQUIP mused almost thoughtfully, but Jeremy could feel how tense it was. It was almost fully activated again, and yet its attention wasn’t on Jeremy. Just who was Phantom? Jeremy wanted some truth! “I can’t say I’m in the mood to do deals with you. I need to get Jeremy back to the Collective so I can make sure everything works out well for him.” The SQUIP’s eyes widened as it spoke, as if it didn’t mean to say all of that. Seems like Jeremy’s powers still worked a little. He would have laughed a little if he wasn’t still in so much pain.

 

Phantom laughed before cracking out all of his knuckles in one fell swoop, holy shit. "Well sorry hun, he's not going anywhere with you. That cute little tush is staying right here with his friends and you're going to leave these nice teenagers alone. I didn't realize you were such a masochist for pain, but I guess that's what happens when you take the hard way."

 

“I can’t exactly leave when I’m in his head,” the SQUIP sassed back, cracking its neck a little. “Besides, what makes you think he wants your help. He barely accepted it last time, and that was when he knew what was at stake.” Wait what? The pain cut off as the SQUIP finished re-initializing.

 

“I’ve... never met Phantom before. I’ve heard about him but I’ve never really met him,” Jeremy stammered out.

 

The SQUIP's comment seemed to strike a nerve with Phantom then, as he saw his fist clench a little. "That was last year, things have changed since then. Hell, even before this year, he did end up accepting help by the end of it, and let the connection you two had be broken. He even drank the Red, he chose to get you out since he knew what was at stake by that point. Get your head out of your holographic ass, sweetie, it's not a good look for you."

 

That stuck a nerve with Jeremy as his gaze locked on to Phantom. “That’s a lie,” he snapped, much harsher than he was intending. He didn’t stop to think that this might be exactly what his SQUIP had been waiting for. “I didn’t drink the Red, Christine did. I got her to. The only one who helped me was Michael, because he got me the Red. He’s the hero, not you. I don’t even know you.”

 

Jeremy's reaction seemed to take Phantom off-guard then, whose gaze shifted back to Jeremy. "Well, you must think highly of this Michael since you're singing his praises, even if he isn't here." Phantom seemed a bit surprised by his own snappy tone, and he saw his head shift a little in the SQUIP's direction as he took this in.

 

“He’s the best person I know,” Jeremy half growled back. He didn’t even need the prompting of, “Kung-fu fists activate,” to stride forwards and throw the first punch. Thankfully(?) Phantom dodged it.

 

"Good to know. Look-" Another punch dodged. "-I'm sorry for getting under your skin and bugging you real bad. It wasn't my intent-" This time, Phantom evaded a kick, and it looked like he was dancing around his attacks. "-I know what the SQUIP's trying to do here. It got to me just a second ago with making emotions all high. You-" A one-two combo avoided easily. "-need to listen to me, Jeremy."

 

Jeremy knew he was right, and he tried to slow his fists. Just like at the play, when he was forced to keep moving, and his mouth began moving without his consent.

 

“You- you- you don’t know anything about what ha-ha-happened that day,” he yelled, his voice pitching and glitching all over the place as his SQUIP forced the words out from his throat. “M-m-m-Michael saved us all, you weren’t even there. I don-don-don’t know you.”

 

"You may not know me, but you don't know about if I was or wasn't there! You don't know me, you're right there, at least not as Phantom," the suited-up hero countered as he parried a punch and using Jeremy's momentum to carry him that way. By the time Jeremy was forced to turn around to face Phantom again, the hero was ready and on-guard. "That doesn't mean that I can't help you now."

 

Jeremy focused everything he could on his powers, forcing the SQUIP back as much as he could. It was enough to free his voice at least. “Then help me!” he cried. “It’s got control of my body! I can’t stop it!” Another punch, another kick. Both dodged luckily.

 

"I'm trying," Phantom insisted as Jeremy threw another punch. This time, he felt his wrist grabbed, the bracelet under Phantom's grip digging a little into his wrist as his feet were quickly kicked out from under him. He was quickly brought down to the ground, but not in a painful manner, before he was pinned down by Phantom.

 

Once pinned, one of Phantom's covered hands reached down, placing his fingers on either his temple or cheekbone. "Now, this might hurt, so sorry in advance."

 

Jeremy felt an instantaneous, painful shock run through his system, but his limbs finally stopped struggling. He could control them again, and he instantly fell limp against the grass. He lay there, panting and trying to figure out how to move, his face going a little red as he realized he was still pinned under Phantom.

 

“T-thanks,” he stammered out. Glancing to the side, he could vaguely see that the SQUIP was still there, just unable to do anything.

 

"Of course, just glad I could help. Sorry if some of the stuff I said was out of line, hot stuff," Phantom said before he got up, grabbed Jeremy's hand, and pulled Jeremy up as well. As he got up, Jeremy saw Phantom looking the SQUIP's way for a second before flipping it off with his free hand. "No one as cute as you deserves to be messed with by any evil Japanese tic-tac gone rogue."

 

Jeremy flailed a little as he was pulled to his feet, both from the comment and the fact he hadn’t quite regained independent movement just yet. The masked man held on to him, helping Jeremy stand and keeping him close and upright. Jeremy just tried to process. Phantom thought he was cute? Just Jeremy? No mask, no powers, nothing; just Jeremy. Jeremy’s face lit up in a dark blush, darker than he was sure he’d ever been as he tried to stammer out his gratitude. He could practically hear the SQUIP rolling its eyes.

 

“You don’t need to thank me, if that’s what you’re trying to do,” Phantom said with a hum. He looked over at the rest of the gang then, gesturing for them to come forward.

 

Brooke and Christine came over then, carefully taking Jeremy from Phantom’s hold. “Thank you, you lovely ladies.” His head turned to face Jeremy then, and he swore he heard a smile in Phantom’s voice when he talked to him. “Again, sorry for earlier. I let that thing get me worked up, and no one should ever snap at someone as good looking and nice as you. Your friends are lucky to have you, especially that Michael fellow since you think so highly of him.”

 

Jeremy took a breath and collected himself somewhat. “I’m the lucky one,” he corrected, a soft smile making it’s way onto his face. “And I’m sorry too. I know you didn’t mean it. I didn’t mean to get physical.”

 

Phantom nodded, then he looked up, as if checking where the sun was. Jeremy glanced over to the SQUIP, his smile turning into a scowl, before he sighed and looked back to Phantom. “Michael should be back soon with some Red, but I get it if you have to go. Can I just... get a picture of you first? I think the superhero blog might like to hear about you a little.”

 

That seemed to surprise Phantom, as he turned back to Jeremy in an instant. “You- uh- um... I mean yeah, sure.” The hero shrugged then. “I don’t know how much people will care about some random vigilante that isn’t apart of Gamer’s gang or whatever.”

 

Jeremy reached into his pocket for his phone (with help from Chrissy). “Well I’ll care. Plus you’re a cool guy. If nothing else, I know I’m glad you’re around.”

 

“You helped Jeremy. Anyone who helps him out is good in my book,” Christine added then with a grin.

 

That seemed to change Phantom’s mood then, as the air shifted to a more relaxed feel. “Well, I guess it’s worth it then if at least one person cares. What kinda pose do you want? I’ll only be able to take maybe two or three pictures.”

 

Jeremy almost flailed a little. “Just whatever you’re comfortable with. And a selfie, if that’s alright with you.” He opened his phone’s camera and set up a shot.

 

Phantom nodded then before getting himself into an utterly ridiculous pose. Brooke had to help keep Jeremy’s hand steady with how quickly he started to laugh. The next was a more serious shot, and then Phantom took his spot behind Jeremy with both Brooke and Christine out of the shot. “Ready whenever you are, hun.”

 

Jeremy took a quick selfie of them, grinning up at Phantom. “Thank you again, Phantom.”

 

He saw Phantom pull his peace sign he had down then. “Of course. If you ever need me, I’ll be there. Hopefully I won’t need to see you again when you’re in danger, but getting to see you is a blessing in of itself.” He waved to everyone else before he, like when he saved the Seven-Eleven, ran up and away in the sky before disappearing behind a building.

 

Jeremy blinked, turning to the others. The SQUIP, no longer a threat at present, forgotten for now. “Did-... did he just flirt with me? Again?” Jeremy asked incredulously. His friends responses were both concerned but all tinted with amusement as they nodded.

 

“You’re as dense as ever, Jeremy. The fact you have to ask is proof enough of that,” the SQUIP grumbled from where it stood. Jeremy spun around and glared at it.

 

“You can shut the hell up. You can’t do anything at the moment and I’m sure as hell not listening to any advice you give.”

 

SQUIP smirked. “You don’t even want to know who your little crush is? I’ve already figured it out, obviously.” Jeremy’s cheeks reddened at the crush comment but before he could reply, someone interrupted him.

 

“Hey! I’m back! I got the-!”

 

Turning around, Jeremy saw Michael standing there with a half-empty bottle of Red, staring. When he followed his gaze, he was staring right at the SQUIP. Phantom’s power must have still been lingering if Michael could see it.

 

“That’s... I... What?” So many emotions danced across his face until they finally settled on anger. “You. You good for nothing piece of corrupted junk.” His grip on the Red tightened, and before anyone could go to Michael to stop him, he made a mad dash... but to Jeremy. “Here, I got it, drink some.”

 

Jeremy grabbed the bottle and took a mouthful, handing it back to Michael to cap it again. “Thanks dude. And I got stuff to show you af-“ the shock of deactivation ran through him. It didn’t knock him out this time, so Jeremy was able to enjoy the look of terror and anger on the SQUIP’s face as it glitched and faded. He thought he felt it send out something, but it was lost in the static in his head.

 

Once the SQUIP was totally gone, Jeremy swayed in place, more than a little dazed.

 

“Michael, you saved the day again,” he mumbled with a sort of half smile, falling against him a little. Michael caught him, supporting his weight easily.

 

“I mean I guess? How are you feeling though?” Michael asked him as he adjusted his hold on Jeremy.

 

As Jeremy went to answer, he couldn’t help but look back at the hand on his back that wasn’t Michael. Looking back, he saw Brooke and Christine with wide eyes. “Jeremy, did... did you not hear what your SQUIP just broadcasted?”

 

Presumably, his face was one of confusion, because more worry crossed both girls’ faces. “What did that demonic pill say?” Michael asked then, his hold on Jeremy never faltering.

 

Christine and Brooke exchanged a look between each other before Rich stepped in. “It just said to watch out for Phantom and Michael because they’re both threats to it.”

 

Jeremy shook his head. The SQUIP saw Michael being as dangerous as Phantom, who could do stuff to it? “Wow, Mikey that’s kinda awesome...” But it would make him more of a target for any more SQUIP villains. “But you’re gonna be more in danger!” Jeremy felt like he was moving through molasses, his movements slow and heavy. “We gotta-... we gotta protect you!” He tried standing on his own but just fell against Michael again.

 

Michael kept his firm hold on Jeremy then. “Hey, hey, it’s gonna be alright,” he was reassured before Brooke’s hand returned to his back. “There are heroes out here who can protect me, and you guys are gonna make sure I don’t do anything stupid or reckless. You’re in no state to do anything right now.”

 

“You should just go straight home,” Brooke told Jeremy, but more so Michael. “Both of you just stay there where it’s safe for now. That’s the safest place to be.”

 

“Yeah, for sure. And don’t worry about missing Pinkberry, safety is more important,” Jake reassured. “If anything, text us if you guys need anything.”

 

“But-“

 

“No, Jeremy,” Rich stated firmly. Oh, it was weird that he was being so serious. He must think this was really important. “You need to get some rest after that, and Michael is the best person to look after you. It’ll keep you both safe.”

 

That made sense. And if it was going to help Michael then Jeremy would gladly do it. “M’kay. F’you guys think it’s best.” He nodded sleepily. There was a headache beginning to build and now Jeremy just wanted to sleep it off. Maybe cuddle with Michael if he was up for it. That would be nice.

 

“Of course it is. Do you need any help getting Jeremy in your car, Michael?” Chloe asked then, concern actually lacing her voice. Damn, if Chloe was being so serious then it wasn’t good.

 

“Just to open the door and stuff, I should be good otherwise.” With that, he felt Michael’s arms around him shift before his feet left the ground- Wait, was Michael carrying him?

 

He looked over from where his face was half-buried into Michael’s chest to see that yes, Michael was carrying him, or at least trying to. Jeremy managed to wrap his legs around Michael’s waist, and just let his head shift to rest on Michael’s shoulder. This was nice.

 

He let himself be put down into the car though, though he whined a little at the missing warmth the encompassed him before. “It’s alright Jeremy,” he was reassured by Michael before he felt a seatbelt move over him and heard it click into place. “You can sleep soon. If you wanna on the ride back, you can.”

 

“But you’re more comfortable than the car,” he whined. “I wanna sleep on you...” An idea hit him. “Can you come and lie in bed with me when we get home? That’ll be loads more comfy!” Perfect idea. Best idea ever.

 

Michael sputtered for a second before answering. “I- uh... sure, if that’s what you want. I’m going to my house since it’s the closest,” Michael told Jeremy. He felt satisfied with that answer, sure he was smiling before the door shut. Jeremy rested his head against the door’s window, watching as some people waved at him and Michael talked to Brooke and Jenna for a minute. He waved back at everyone before Michael broke off from the girls, going over and getting into the driver’s seat. “Uh, is there anything specifically that you want when we’re back at my place besides napping?” As he asked, he started the engine and buckled up himself.

 

Jeremy thought for a moment. Thinking was kinda hard since he had a headache and his brain felt kinda buzzy, but he did it anyways.

 

“I wanna... watch a movie when we wake up. And... I got pictures you might like. Of Phantom. He’s a hero who showed up on the day you got sick, he saved a lot of people. And he came and saved me too today. Before you got back. He’s nice...” Jeremy rambled a little, adjusting his position as Michael started driving. “And he flirted with me a little. Like actually flirted. No one’s ever done that before. Got me all blushy because it’s weird and new but not bad.” He didn’t have the brain power to be flustered right now.

 

"That's great, Jeremy," Michael said with an obvious smile in his voice. He glanced over and couldn't help but smile because Michael was smiling. He loved seeing Michael smile. "I mean, I could've told you that you were flirt-worthy material, but you'd deny that. Now you can't because a superhero is flirting with you." Michael glanced over at him when they got to a red light. "I'd love to hear about this hero. I can't believe I haven't seen him yet. I need to get my own pictures of him, but I definitely wanna see yours."

 

“He’s got a white and red suit, and he’s very... something.” Jeremy couldn’t think of the word right now. “He’s got the stereotypical gay voice, and he acts like the flirty gay friend, but I like it. Works for him. An’ he’s got like telekin- telekinesis because he can run through the air and he held up a building,” Jeremy explained, yawning a little as he tried to remember more. “He also made it so everyone could see my SQUIP. And he did something so it couldn’t make me fight and say things anymore. My SQUIP knew him for some reason, and he knew stuff about the play, so maybe I know him in normal life too.” Jeremy gasped sleepily. “I could be friends with a superhero. That would be cool. And he thinks I’m good looking and he said it was a blessing seeing me... So that means he’d think that in real life too and I just don’t know it...” A thought occurred to him. “Which mean someone is crushing on me and is using their superhero face to flirt with me! That’s what I would do if I was a hero...” It’s what he did do, but he wasn’t allowed to tell Michael yet. He really wanted to tell Michael.

 

"He sounds pretty cool," Michael agreed after Jeremy said all of that. "I mean, if I had a hero persona of sorts and didn't have the confidence to say to the guy I liked that I felt that way about them, I'd use my persona to tell them. And those sound like good tactics to keep a hero's identity hidden. I'd like to meet him someday, but the pictures you took'll have to do."

 

Jeremy opened his mouth to say something, but then he felt the car come to a stop. Looking back out the window, he saw them parked in the Mell driveway. "You stay right there, Sleeping Beauty, and I'll get you all out and settled in my house, OK?"

 

Jeremy nodded and waited for Michael to get out the car and come around to Jeremy’s door. He made grabby hands at Michael when he reappeared, silently asking to be carried. And to be close. He liked being close to Michael, it made him happy.

 

Michael rolled his eyes, leaning over after opening the door to unbuckle him. "Alright, get ready." He felt Michael's warm arms wrap around him, carefully picking him up and holding him close, a hand resting under his rump as the other wrapped around him. "Wrap your legs around me," Michael instructed as Jeremy rested his head against Michael's shoulder like he had earlier.

 

He did as instructed, holding himself as closely to Michael as he could. He was very happy being held like this. Michael was warm, almost buzzing with energy, and he made Jeremy feel safer than anything else ever could.

 

Jeremy yawned and nuzzled closer, burying himself into the crook of Michael’s neck with a happy sigh. Michael kinda smelled like weed and old sodas. He smelled like home, as weird as that was. It made Jeremy feel even safer and ever more sleepy.

 

After he got settled, Jeremy felt Michael kick the door shut and start to walk to his house. The arm around him shifted for a moment, and he heard the jangling of keys before they were inside. Michael softly called out to his moms, but there was no response. "Alright, so it's just us," Jeremy heard Michael mutter, and he wasn't sure if Michael was saying it to himself or for both of them.

 

Either way, Michael promptly walked over and down the basement stairs, entering the familiar territory that was his bedroom. The old soda and weed smell was a bit stronger, along with a mix of something citrusy? It was a bit new, but it was a nice kind. "OK, I'm gonna get you all settled into bed, and then I'm going to grab some things quick and be back down. That sound like a plan?" Michael asked Jeremy as he felt himself being put down then, the hand around him quickly tapping one of his legs still wrapped around Michael's waist.

 

“M’kay, Mikey.” Jeremy nodded, letting him go slowly (everything he did felt really slow right now). “But don’t be long, I wanna cuddle and nap with you.”

 

"I did say I'd grab some things quick, so don't worry your little twink self about it," Michael reminded him. It seemed like he hesitated for a moment before he went back up the stairs, taking two steps at a time.

 

“M’not a twink,” Jeremy grumbled, setting his glasses down on the bedside table and burrowing down into the lighter sheets. It was nice, covering him but also not overheating him. He pulled them up to his face, just letting his eyes peek out as he waited for Michael. He wanted to sleep, and felt himself begin to slip to it, but he always wanted to wait for Michael. He could manage that much.

 

He was glad he waited, even if it was hard because he wanted so badly so sleep. Michael hurried down the steps a minute or so later with some water bottles and his laptop with the charger. The laptop was placed down next to the glasses, and the water bottles were placed down as well before Michael toed off his shoes and tugged off his hoodie. "Make room for me, you gremlin. I can't nap with you if you're a bed hogger."

 

Jeremy scooted to the side and let Michael climb in. He then laid down on top of Michael’s chest, listening to his heartbeat, which seemed to get a little faster, and tried to weakly tug the covers on them both. He couldn’t quite manage it, so instead he just nuzzled against Michael happily. Michael’s heartbeat jumped, going a little faster. Weird.

 

After a second or two of shifting on Michael's end, Jeremy felt the lighter covers on top of himself for the most part, save for his head. "When you wake up, you can choose what movie we watch on Netflix, OK?" Michael offered, his voice soft and soothing as he felt Michael's arms wrap around him, holding him close.

 

Jeremy tried to nod but he found he drifted off before he managed to do much.

 

 

 

When he woke up, Jeremy found he was much more aware and feeling much healthier. His limbs felt kinda weak, but his headache was mostly gone. He didn’t try to sit up or move from Michael’s chest.

 

Wait, he was lying on Michael.

 

This was much more intimate than he would normally initiate. But Michael was asleep and seemingly happy. And he seemed comfortable and happy when Jeremy fell asleep too. Which meant he was okay with this level of intimacy. A (big) part of Jeremy really liked that fact.

 

Looking around the room, Jeremy found he couldn't see much (duh, he didn't have his glasses on), but he could see the fairy lights still on like they had been a few days earlier. It was nice and cozy, and it seemed right for the intimate setting he had with Michael right now.

 

Speaking of Michael, Jeremy felt him shift a little. Jeremy moving around a little probably didn't help. Looking down, he saw the relaxed, happy expression of the sleeping Michael shift a little. He scrunched his face up a little in an adorable way that Jeremy had to keep himself from cooing over. Michael's arms around Jeremy shifted a little, tugging him a little closer before his face settled to the peaceful expression that was present a few seconds prior.

 

Jeremy not only let himself be pulled closer (he was now half lying on Michael thanks to how Michael moved him), he also buried himself into the crook of Michael’s neck. He couldn’t help himself. He was in prime snuggling position, he wasn’t not going to take advantage of it.

 

He wasn't sure how much time passed with them lying together like this. Jeremy only knew that it ended when Michael huffed, groaned, and yawned underneath Jeremy, shifting around a little. The arms around him relaxed their hold on Jeremy. One hand shifted entirely, and Jeremy glanced from where he was positioned to see Michael roughly rubbing at his eyes. "Mm..."

 

Jeremy quickly shut his eyes, letting his face fall from its fond smile to something more neutral. He was curious to see how Michael would handle Jeremy being basically sleeping on top of him. So instead of saying anything, Jeremy shifted a little, getting comfortable again with a small, happy sigh. From what Michael had told him (read: teased him about), this wouldn’t be weird for him to do in his sleep. Time to see what happened.

 

Listening closely, Jeremy heard Michael hum softly before the arm that rubbed at his eyes rewrapped around Jeremy, but not before he felt Michael brush some hair out of his face. The arms held him close still, the hand resting against the small of his back gently drumming the area all the while. Michael's head rested against his own then, and Jeremy could feel Michael's cheek squishing against the top of his head.

 

Jeremy didn’t move, finding himself beyond content with this position. He didn’t want to move. He wanted to stay like this for as long as he could and just enjoy it.

 

This was so intimate. More intimate than anything they’d found themselves in before, and Michael not only seemed happy with it, he seemed to want to stay like this too. Which meant... maybe he could return Jeremy’s feelings, even a little. Maybe Michael might like Jeremy back.

 

Jeremy wasn’t sure what possessed him to do so, maybe it was that he was still running with no filters or maybe it was that he was just stunned by his revelation. Whatever it was that fueled him, he was glad for it. He slowly shifted enough so his cheek was against Michael’s, and he turned his head just a little to press a small, barely there kiss to Michael’s cheek before flopping back to just being cheek to cheek.

 

“G’morning Mikey,” he mumbled with a soft, happy sigh.

 

Michael shifted a little then, the hand drumming along his back slowly stopping. A faint laugh escaped Michael, and Jeremy couldn't help but wonder why. "It's not morning, we only napped, you goof. But hi, Jeremy," Michael muttered back to him before cutting himself off with a yawn. One hand reached up to cover Michael's mouth. Jeremy couldn't tell if Michael noticed the kiss through all of this, and he wasn't sure if he was happy about that or not. "How're you feelin'?"

 

“Mmm-much better.” He hummed as he stretched a little, still staying as close as he could. “Not so headache-y and sore, just kinda... limp and noodley. But m’happy and relaxed so I’m fine.” He rubbed his cheek against Michael, relishing in the fact that his acne had mostly calmed down so it was smooth skin against mostly smooth skin.

 

"Well that's good," Michael muttered out then. "You definitely seem to be in a good mood." Jeremy felt a hand prod at his side then, and Jeremy playfully whined before Michael's playful poking stopped. "I'm glad I get to see my best fwiend happy."

 

“Your best fwiend is happy because he’s wiv his favowite pewson,” Jeremy replied. He was happy. He was very happy. He wasn’t sure if he’d ever been happier, and he was certain he was radiating a sort of contentment unmatched for him ever. Michael might actually like him back, his crush wasn’t totally hopeless.

 

"Awww, you're so sweet," Michael teasingly cooed out as he (unfortunately) pulled his head back, and one hand pulled away to reach for something. "I feel like you might actually like and care about me. Finally, after close to thirteen years, I finally get to know if you actually like me or just keep me around out of pity."

 

Before Jeremy could answer, he felt his free cheek be prodded with something plastic. "Your glasses, my good sir."

 

Jeremy managed to clumsily grab his glasses and put them on. “Ugh, I feel like a spaghetti man.” He chuckled, looking up at Michael properly with a soft smile. “And of course I like you, Mikey. You’re my best friend. Most important person, one hundred percent.” He nodded, grinning but totally serious. “Probably like you more than I like myself. Which is getting to be an achievement considering I’m getting better with that.”

 

Jeremy felt pride when he saw Michael's face light up. "Aww, Jere. I was honestly joking around, I wasn't expecting a serious answer." Michael quickly finished putting on his glasses before he pulled Jeremy into a proper hug. "Well, it's OK if you like me more than you like yourself. I'll like you enough for the both of us."

 

The way Michael lit up like that, well Jeremy didn’t mind if what he said was a little sappy. Michael deserved to be happy and feel loved. Jeremy made sure to hug him back, not commenting that Michael had pulled Jeremy fully onto him now, he wasn’t on the bed at all anymore. Jeremy couldn’t say he minded, but it did make the temptation to kiss him even stronger.

 

After however long of just staying there in the hug, Jeremy felt a gentle prod along the back of his shoulder. "As much as this is doing wonders for me, is there anything else you wanna do? Because I am totally cool with just lying like this until my moms get back from work tonight to eat whatever they brought back for dinner."

 

That was awfully tempting, but Jeremy probably wouldn’t last very long. He’d get overwhelmed and probably end up kissing Michael again, except he’d be awake and Jeremy wasn’t sure if he could handle dealing with that right now.

 

“I don’t wanna move too much, so could we watch a movie? Ready Player One?” He didn’t let go, still snuggling close to Michael. He wasn’t lying, he didn’t want to move.

 

"Yeah, just let me have enough room to reach and grab my laptop. I dunno if it's on Netflix, I might have to search around to find it," Michael told him then, patting his side. "As much as I like the pressure of you lying on me, I can't move much with you lying like this on me."

 

Fine,” Jeremy whined playfully, shifting so he was only pressed against Michael’s side instead of on top of him. “But I’ll have you know I was extremely comfortable and I expect to be allowed to resume my position at a later time.” He flipped himself over so he was on his back again, resting his head against Michael’s shoulder as they both sat up against the headboard of Michael’s bed.

 

“Of course, your majesty,” Michael said in a teasing tone. He reached over then, seemingly being careful of Jeremy’s position, before plopping his laptop into his lap. Before he opened it, Michael reached over again before waving a water bottle in Jeremy’s face. “Drink up and be healthy, bitch.”

 

Jeremy grabbed the bottle and took a few gulps, making purposefully awkward eye contact with Michael the whole time. “Are you happy now? Forcing me to be healthy, how dare you,” he grumbled playfully, poking Michael’s arm with the now capped bottle. He rested on said arm again once he put the bottle on the other bedside table, the one closest to himself.

 

"Very." Michael adjusted himself, letting his arm that Jeremy was lying against free a little so he could open and type on his laptop. He spent a few minutes surfing Google Chrome until he finally found a website that had Ready Player One on it. Before he started the movie, he adjusted his blanket and grabbed one from the foot of his bed, wrapping it around their shoulders before making the movie full-screen and pressing 'play.'

 

They were a little into the movie when something strange happened. The room seemed to almost shake. Everything that wasn’t strapped down seemed to shiver where it was, even as the ground remained still. Michael let out a small whine of discomfort but he simply shook his head and said nothing of it. Jeremy frowned at that, and paused the movie.

 

“Dude, what just happened? Are you alright?” he asked worriedly.

 

Michael looked down at him then, giving a smile of reassurance as he spoke. "Just a bad chill down my back is all, don't worry about it. Someone's probably talking about me or something. That is how the saying goes, right? If someone's talking about you, you get chills down your spine... right? Or is it when someone's stepping on your grave of a past life you lived?"

 

“I don’t know.” Jeremy shrugged, still frowning. “And you didn’t notice the fact that the whole room shook?” That was his second concern, because it was really fucking freaky and no one in the superhero group chat said anything about it which indicated it was only around him.

 

"I mean, maybe a little? I dunno, I was really focused in on the movie," Michael explained with a slight shrug of his own, which jostled Jeremy's resting head for a second. "I'll try to pay more attention to my surroundings, then. Can we keep watching the movie, pwease?"

 

Jeremy hummed a little but nodded. This was suspicious, and Jeremy wasn’t sure what it meant but he had a feeling it wasn’t good. The movie continued and Jeremy got really invested again, as he always did. They were just hitting the Shining hotel when the next tremor happened.

 

This one felt a whole lot more intense, and Michael actually gasped and whimpered a little, rubbing at his eyes as if he had a headache or something. “Okay, what’s going on?” Jeremy asked, pausing the movie again. “Something’s up with you, man. Just tell me. Is it something to do with why the room keeps shaking?”

 

Michael looked down at Jeremy then, trying and failing to suppress a frown. "Just getting a bad headache, the room shaking is agitating it, I guess." A weak cover up, and Michael seemed to know this as he looked away from Jeremy's determined gaze.

 

“Michael, I’m oblivious, not an idiot,” Jeremy deadpanned, shifting the laptop onto the bedside table and looking at Michael properly. “You can tell me, I won’t freak. Promise.”

 

He shook his head for a second then, grimacing as he looked back over at Jeremy. "I... Jeremy-"

 

Before he could say anything else, he clutched at his head as the room started shaking a third time, a bit more intense than the last as he doubled over himself where he sat. Michael cursed under his breath, his tone full of pain as he let out a clear whimper this time around. "Fuck! Jeremy, I-I need you to listen to me. Get out of here and lock yourself in my moms' room, now."

 

“What?” Jeremy grabbed Michael’s shoulder, eyes darting over him. “What’s wrong Michael? What’s going on?”

 

Michael didn't look up at him, head still down as he clutched it. "Jeremy please, I need you to listen to me. Get out of here and lock yourself in my moms' room right fucking now!"

 

Michael had never used that tone with him before. He sounded so scared and in pain and almost every instinct Jeremy had was telling him to stay and look after him, but Jeremy wasn’t going to argue. Some primal fear had settled in his gut, telling him to listen to what he was being told and run.

 

He half flopped off the bed, his legs too weak still to hold him. Still, he forced himself up and tried to bolt to the door. It slammed shut of its own accord and Jeremy heard the locks click into place when he was still a good few feet from it. He spun around to face Michael, to ask what he was supposed to do, but what he saw instead chilled him to his very core.

 

There his best friend stood, now off of the bed, with the most blank look Jeremy had ever seen on a person. His eyes were vacant, and as he was standing, it seemed as if he was shifting in himself until he stood properly, his shoulders rolling back for a second before that hollow gaze focused right in on Jeremy. "You." Michael's voice was there, but it was layered with another voice, one that was completely unfamiliar.

 

Before he could say or do anything or even think, Jeremy felt his control of himself vanish for a second, his body lifted off the ground and to the side, against the empty section of wall (thank god it hadn't been against the shelves a foot away). Jeremy crumpled into himself as the force and impact of literally thrown against a wall by some unseen force hit him. He looked up, seeing Michael staring right at him with those empty eyes.

 

"This is all your fault. If you hadn't gotten that fucking SQUIP in the first place for some girl that you didn't even end up staying together with, none of this would be happening! None of it! My friend wouldn't be lost to it and killed me when I tried to save her! I wouldn't have lost her to that fucking hivemind and I wouldn't be dead, you piece of shit!"

 

His breath was knocked from him upon impact and Jeremy coughed as he weakly tried to get up again. His forearms shook with the effort of pushing himself up. What the fuck was going on? How had Michael done that? And was... was he possessed?

 

Jeremy had always believed in ghosts, some forgotten memory from his childhood not letting him lose the belief (he even used to believe he could see them and talk to them), but for one to be possessing Michael... Jeremy could deal with the fact that this was real later, for now he just had to deal with the fact that Michael was apparently possessed and the ghost was after Jeremy.

 

“Who are you? What have you done to Michael? Leave him out of this if you’re after me.” Jeremy pushed himself into his superhero mindset. Protect the innocents, protect Michael, at all costs. “If you have an issue with me, take it up with me. Get in my head instead of his. Leave Michael out of this, he’s been fighting against SQUIPs this whole time.” If Jeremy had indirectly caused this person’s death, they could tell it to him directly. Michael was not a microphone to be used.

 

"Which is why he should be fighting against you! The SQUIPs want you-" The ghost inhabiting Michael looked to the side, scowling at something with those blank eyes still evident. "You should be siding with me, not against me, you damn traitor! I'm not stopping until this SQUIP business is done and my friend is free!"

 

Michael's body turned back to face Jeremy then, mouth open to say something before Michael doubled over again after he took a few steps to Jeremy. "Get . The hell. Out of me," Michael hissed out, his voice sounding normal, just his own. "I'm not letting you hurt him!" He cried out then, falling down onto one knee as he seemingly curled up into himself. "Damnit Derek, please do something, I'm trying as hard as I can right now!"

 

For a second, Jeremy felt an icy but somehow benevolent presence settle over him. “He needs your help. You have enough seer blood in you, even if he blocked it by accident. Let me help him,” a deep, unfamiliar voice echoed in his mind. Jeremy somehow knew he could trust this voice, something about it being familiar and almost calming. He gave his agreement.

 

Jeremy felt his body begin to move on its own. He stood and walked calmly over to Michael, placing his hands on either side of his temple. “This might undo the block you left on him when you were kids, but it’ll get that asshole out of you,” Jeremy said, or rather the deep voice said and Jeremy’s own voice layered with it.

 

“Wait, I did what?” Michael hissed out, his voice full of pain before Jeremy spoke up again. “Whatever, I’ll deal with that later. Please just do it Derek.” His tone was pleading, bordering on groveling. He was even tearing up at this point, and Jeremy just wanted to hug Michael, even if he wasn’t sure what this Derek was saying and how Michael knew this Derek and so many other things. All he knew was that this Derek was helping Michael where he couldn’t.

 

I’m not doing it, you are. I’m just gonna be guiding you, Jeremy,” the ghost in his head, Derek, reassured him. Jeremy felt a bolt of icy cold pain shoot through him. Then, like magma under the earth’s crust, a scorching power rushed through his veins. He let it flow, letting Derek guide it through him, into the palms of his hands and into Michael.

 

As he let this power flow through him and into Michael, he watched as Michael gasped. Jeremy kept his gaze locked on Michael as the power continued to flow. He watched his head slowly lift up then, the vacant look Michael had slowly slipping away. “Thanks, Derek,” Michael muttered out before he locked eyes with Jeremy. “And thanks Jeremy. I’m sorry about all of this.”

 

Before he could ask anything, a bright light encompassed Jeremy’s vision, but for a brief few moments. He swore that he could hear the voice that overplayed Michael’s voice scream before both the scream and the light suddenly cut off.

 

Michael’s hands rested against Jeremy’s when he could see again. His best friend’s eyes were completely his own again, and they were staring right into his own. “I didn’t want you to know about this, not yet. I’m not ready to tell you everything. I’m really really sorry. When I’m braver and ready, I’ll tell you everything.”

 

“Wh-“ Michael’s lips cut him off then in a kiss, lingering for a few moments. Jeremy only let himself be shocked for a second before he moved his lips, moving them in a rhythm with Michael’s. This was insane, what was happening? All of this felt like a clusterfuck of information to process.

 

Michael pulled away then, more tears in his eyes than before as he shifted to rest his forehead against Jeremy’s. “I’m sorry. Just know I love you, as Gamer and especially as Jeremy.”

 

For a split second, Jeremy gaped. “You know?” he asked, then something clicked. “You- you’re Phantom, aren’t you?” He sighed. “Well I guess you deserve to know something else. I-“

 

 

 

Jeremy blinked away the remains of sleep. He was curled on top of Michael, the light covers pulled up to his shoulders. Michael was awake and scrolling through his phone. His free hand lightly stroking through Jeremy’s hair.

 

“G’morning. Or afternoon. Or evening. Whatever,” Jeremy mumbled. He was a little confused from that weird dream he just had. Most of it had slipped out of his mind, but a few bits lingered. Like the feeling of Michael’s lips moving against his own. That was a nice part, for sure.

 

Michael chuckled then, and Jeremy swore there was some hint of something sad in there for a split second. “Well, its evening, so you were right by the end,” his best friend said, looking down at Jeremy and away from his phone. Looking up at him a bit better, he could see the circles under his eyes a bit more prominent. “You seem grumpy. Have a bad dream or something?”

 

Jeremy shook his head. “I don’t think so. It wasn’t bad per say, I just don’t remember it. And I’m pretty sure it cut off before the good part.” He grumbled, nuzzling against Michael before hissing slightly. “Okay, ow. Why does it feel like I got smushed by a Thwomp in my sleep?” he whined, rubbing at his felt side. It felt like a bruise might start forming just on his back.

 

“No clue dude,” Michael muttered out with worry in his voice. Jeremy heard the sound of something shifting before a hand rested against the side he himself was rubbing. Michael’s hand tenderly poked the area, but stopped when he hissed again. “What did you do? I know I’m your impulse control, but god damn. What the hell do you do when I’m not keeping you from doing stupid shit?”

 

“Not sure. Must have happened when I was made to fight Phantom or something,” he mused, letting himself fall limp again. “Since I’m sore, can we just lie here until your moms get home? I don’t wanna move.”

 

“Yeah, of course,” Michael agreed, the hand that had prodded him before moving. He felt Michael shift a little under him before he heard the soft tones of Cavetown fill the room. The sound of Michael’s remote for his speakers being put down echoed for a second before the hand in Jeremy’s hair sped up a little. “I’ll even text my moms to bring us our food along with some Advil down since I let them know before we napped that you’d be staying the night. Just relax, you earned it, bud.”

 

Jeremy sighed and relaxed into the touch. Something was niggling at the back of his brain, and he couldn’t quite place it.

 

“Hey Mikey?” Jeremy mumbled after a moment. “Why do I feel kinda sad? I feel like I... lost something, but I don’t know what. And it’s making me sad.”

 

“Maybe something that happened in your dream was something you wanted to be real,” Michael offered. “I get sad sometimes when I forget dreams I really wanna cling onto. Maybe you’ll remember it soon, or whatever you dreamed about will come true down the line. Who knows.” A beat of silence. “Is there anything I can do to help, Jeremy?”

 

He thought for a second. “Just... don’t let go. Please,” he murmured, nuzzling into the crook of Michael’s neck.

 

The hand that ran through his hair never stopped. “I won’t ever let you go, Jeremy. I promise you that.”

Chapter Text

School ending felt like a blessing and a curse. No more cramming for finals, no more stress about finals or school in general. Any and all applications for colleges were sent out, and all that waited for most everyone were the responses from schools. That meant more time to worry about two things for Jeremy: his super hero-ing (which he unfortunately couldn’t put on any of his college applications) and Michael.

 

Jeremy, along with everyone else, agreed that he should be on a sort of house arrest. If he was in danger of SQUIP, it would be best for him to stay safe and away from danger, right? Brooke reassured him it was the best course of action, so Jeremy took the damage of trying to convince Michael. (It wasn’t easy, but Jeremy promised he’d be over more than he had been this last semester of the school year. He liked how happy that made Michael, but it also made his gut churn with guilt.)

 

During the first week of July (after the Fourth of July, which he and Michael both hated because of the sensory overload of fireworks), Jeremy had plans to hang with Michael that night and sleep over. He had found a homemade slushie maker, and planned on bringing it since Michael’s Seven-Eleven closest to his house was out of commission still after the Wavelength incident and since he was still under house arrest. He was hyped and ready to go, but before he could spend time with Michael, Jeremy had to finish patrolling. He had been going at this since early in the morning. Jeremy was getting a bit impatient, wanting to just go at this point so he could happily surprise Michael. He deserved at least that much after all the stress Michael especially had been feeling by being a SQUIP target along with Phantom

 

He was almost done with his usual route when suddenly the group chat flared up.

 

{Countess} got one by the mall. Villain, maybe 18, short girl with black hair and a sort of hornet themed black and yellow costume.

 

Jeremy diverted his course and began sprinting towards the mall. It was a ten minute run from where he was, but luckily the constant exercise and training he’d been doing as part of being a hero was really paying off and he barely felt it by the time he was close.

 

By the time he got there, he ran into Rich also making his way over. He gave Jeremy a quick nod of understanding as they turned the corner to face one of the parking lots of the mall, the one next to the food court. It seemed like they weren’t even needed, as it seemed that Brooke and Chloe were already subduing her while everyone else who was apart of the team, even Jake and Jenna, showed up.

 

{Psyche} stay alert. This was almost too eas

 

Her message cut off abruptly, and Jeremy suddenly felt a wave of energy rolling off the girl. Looking at her, she seemed to be perfectly content where she was, restrained in handcuffs and forced to her knees. She was smiling slightly. The sight pissed Jeremy off for some reason.

 

In fact, everything he could see was making him angry, the girl, his teammates, the civilians who were all seemingly caught in varying extreme moods. It all made Jeremy uncontrollably angry, and he couldn’t figure out why. All he knew was that his SQUIP was flaring up and he had to remain still to keep it in check.

 

Even if he was remaining still to keep his SQUIP in check, the others weren’t still in the slightest. In fact, Rich, who seemed to be just as angry as Jeremy (What right did Rich have to feel angrier than him right now?), stepped away from everyone as he huffed and puffed. His anger seemed to be so overwhelming, as evident by the fact that he slammed his closed fists against a nearby wall of the mall exterior, letting it crumble with the force and power he used.

 

Brooke, along with Christine and Jake, all seemed too overwhelmed to move, falling onto their knees as they started crying. They were all blubbering about one thing or another that made them so sad, and it just pissed Jeremy off further. They were heroes, they weren’t supposed to be letting their emotions overwhelm them right now! Fuck, he was letting his own emotions flare up to! God damnit!

 

The only one who seemed calm in all this emotional turmoil was the villain. She sat in the center of everything, smirking slightly. Jeremy was this close to saying fuck it and letting the SQUIP take control just so he could go and slap that smarmy look off her face when a sudden voice cut through his angry haze.

 

“Woah, looks like I’m a bit late to... whatever’s going on,” Phantom said, his voice loud and clear. He was calm too, Jeremy could tell, when he looked over and saw how he stood and held himself. “Why is everyone going all emotion-high?”

 

Chloe, who was huddled up with Jenna, just cowered as Phantom took a step forward. “Woah, OK, this is new. I know that I instill fear in some, but that’s supposed to be the baddies, not the good guys.”

 

“Where the fuck have you been?” Jeremy spat, a part of him knowing that his anger at Phantom wasn’t reasonable. He liked Phantom, he’d even developed a little of a crush on him. He shouldn’t be yelling at him, but Phantom was too calm for Jeremy not to be angry with him (that didn’t even make sense). “Better yet, why the fuck are you here?”

 

Phantom raised his hands up in mock surrender. “Woah, alright, getting a little feisty. I’m not connected to whatever network of communication like you all are. I had to find out by the news, and it looks like you guys need more help than I thought.”

 

Jeremy scoffed, still not letting himself move yet. It was too risky, even with how angry he was. “Why the hell would we need help from a f-“ He knew the word, but it didn’t matter how angry he was, he refused to use it. “-From a flamboyant asshole who doesn’t take things seriously enough.” It didn’t matter how upset or furious he was, Jeremy was better than that.

 

“Because none of you can control yourselves enough to help right now,” Phantom quickly replied before his head shifted in the villain’s direction. “I think I know her power. She messes with emotions. Makes sense- woah, Hothead, I know there’s some implications with your name about you getting mad, but you don’t need to punch a hole in a wall!”

 

Phantom quickly grabbed some rope off the still cowering Chloe and began tying everyone up. He used his powers on Rich, to make sure he didn’t get shocked. Jeremy was angry it worked so well.

 

“We don’t need your help. I don’t need your help. I don’t need some charming asshole to sweep me off my feet or to come and save me,” he half snarled as Phantom grabbed the cuffs off of Jeremy’s belt and tugged him over to a lamp post. He quickly stuck Jeremy to it, being careful to not leave him in an uncomfortable position. “What are you doing? Let me go!”

 

“You got it, sweet cheeks,” Phantom said before letting him go and leaving him stuck against the lamp post. “Now, you all stay put. I’ll deal with this villain... And she’s all about emotions... Oh, Pathos! Yeah. I’ll deal with Pathos.”

 

Jeremy might have admitted that it was a good name if Phantom wasn’t being so infuriating. Before he could voice that though, a sudden movement caught his eye.

 

Phantom grabbed the knife using his powers as it hovered inches from Jeremy’s face. It was set to go through his eye, which would have blinded him at best, killed him at worse. Pathos stood where she had been bound, arm outstretched from throwing it. Even if Phantom wasn’t affected by Pathos’ powers, he was radiating a barely contained rage that had even Jeremy shrinking back in fear.

 

“Hey, I know you’re a villain and all, but actually trying some shit like that? Fuck no.” Phantom strode quickly over to Pathos, his free hand outstretched. Jeremy watched as the villain was stock still, eyes wide as she seemed to want to cower but couldn’t.

 

Phantom stood in front of her then, taking out a vial from one of his suit’s hidden pockets. It was of Red. It made sense, he found out about how Red deactivated those controlled by SQUIPs from him, and even gave him a vial in case of times like these.

 

He uncorked it quickly before pouring it into the girl’s mouth, using his powers to make her swallow it before he carefully dropped her. Even if he was clearly infuriated (and that was putting the rage Jeremy felt radiate from him poorly), he laid her on her side as she started to scream, convulsing for a few moments before falling limp.

 

As soon as she did, Jeremy’s legs almost gave out from underneath him as the anger he’d been feeling suddenly dropped away. He shuddered and panted as he found himself left with too much adrenaline in his body and nothing to support it. Phantom turned slowly and carefully made his way back over to Jeremy. He couldn’t help but flinch back a little, head bowed in shame. “I’m sorry,” he muttered, barely remembering to activate his modulator.

 

“It’s fine, hun. I know you don’t really feel like that, it was her powers overcoming you,” Phantom reassured him before he came over where he put Jeremy as well as everyone else. “Is it alright if I uncuff you, Gamer?”

 

Jeremy nodded, still shivering a little. He was feeling uncomfortable in his own skin and more than anything wanted a hug.

 

As soon as he was freed from the cuffs, he looked up at Phantom. “Could... would it be weird if I asked for a hug? I... kinda need one after that,” he muttered, embarrassed by his own admission.

 

“It’s not weird at all,” Phantom reassured him, pulling back from where he untied Rich. “Whatever you’re comfortable with, hun.” With that said, Phantom held his arms out while Jeremy knew Rich was helping to untie everyone else.

 

Jeremy all but collapsed into Phantom’s arms. There was something familiar about the way they curled around him, held him so tightly yet so gently, but he couldn’t place what. All Jeremy knew was that he felt safe in Phantom’s arms. Safe and loved somehow. His shivering died down slowly but surely, leaving him feeling comfortable again.

 

After however long, Jeremy felt one of his teammates gently prod at his shoulder. “Hey, are you alright, Gamer?” Christine asked, and he could hear the worry in her voice.

 

Even if he was reluctant, Jeremy slowly detached himself from Phantom to look at his team. “Y-yeah. Phantom stopped the knife before it hit me, and he... helped ground me after all that. I think the villain, Pathos, was making it worse for me to try and... y’know.” Reactivate his SQUIP. But Phantom didn’t know Gamer had a SQUIP, so Jeremy didn’t say anything.

 

One thing he was certain about though, was that he was most certainly crushing a little on Phantom.

 

Christine instantly nodded in understanding. “You should go home early then. Since she’s out of commission right now, we can handle Pathos and take her in, make sure she’s cared for, and see what information we can get out of her.” She patted his arm softly. “You definitely need the break. You probably got hit the worst out of all of us... well, except for Hothead.” Looking over, Jeremy saw Rich’s hand being bandaged by Jake, and blood was already sleeping through the emergency gauze that Jake always kept on him for instances like this.

 

Jeremy hesitated, then nodded. “Yeah. You’re right, I’ll head off. Make sure Hothead gets proper treatment back at base, yeah? We should have that fast acting spray there that Brainiac was working on...” He fussed a little. “And make sure any reporters know that Phantom was the biggest hero here today. We’d be lost without him.” Speaking of…

 

Jeremy turned to face Phantom again. “Thank you, Phantom. You saved my life. I don’t really know how to properly express my gratitude for that, and for you just always being around and helping us when we need it most.”

 

Phantom seemed taken aback by the sudden attention, as it looked like he was about to get going. “Oh, it’s not a problem. It’s apart of the job to help people,” the taller of the two said. “Just keep being you, sweet cheeks, and keep staying strong. I’ll always be here to help when you need my help, whether you want me or not.”

 

Jeremy couldn’t help but grin a little at that, cheeks flushing a little under the masks. “I doubt there will ever be a time when I don’t actually want your help. Regardless of how it may seem, I think I’m always gonna want your help.” Feeling a little oddly buzzed now that his adrenaline had worn off, Jeremy acted on impulse.

 

He took Phantom’s hand and bowed a little, pressing a barely audible kiss to the back of his hand. He couldn’t exactly kiss it with his mask on, but this was a close second. Plus, it felt good to act on one of his crushes, at least a little.

 

Jeremy heard a small gasp, and he looked up to see Phantom’s eyes wide behind his mask. They weren’t wide out of fear or anything of the sort. If anything, he was... enjoying this. “As I will always want your help if I ever need it, Gamer,” Phantom said, quickly recovering from the shock of Jeremy’s ‘kiss.’ He bowed back as well, tugging Jeremy’s hand forward and placing the same sort of kiss to the back of his hand before letting go. “Unfortunately, I need to get going. Stay safe and gorgeous, though I don’t think you’ll have a problem with the latter.” With one more bow, Phantom turned and ran off in the air, vanishing out of sight quickly enough.

 

Jeremy watched him go before turning back to his team, who were gathered behind him.

 

“Since when are you so flirty? Or so smooth?” Chloe teased, poking Jeremy’s arm. He rubbed where she touched; she misjudged how hard she poked again. Still, Jeremy was grinning.

 

“Apparently having a death defying experience will do that to a guy.” He chuckled. “I’ll see you guys later, I’m heading back to base to change. I’ll be off grid for the rest of today and the start of tomorrow.” He nodded, walking backwards and shooting everyone a lazy salute before running back in the direction of the base. He was leaving his suit there and he was finally going to go and spend the night at Michael’s with neither of them being sick or in danger. This was gonna be just a perfect day, wasn’t it?

 

After he was changed and grabbed his backpack he brought (which had the slushie maker in it), he got a text from Michael.

 

[Mellonymous] when are you gonna get heeeeeere? I’m booooooored!!!! House arrest sucks D:>

 

Jeremy chuckled, but he didn’t bother pulling out his phone to answer. Mental texting was so much easier.

 

[QueereEye] gimme 10 more minutes and you’ll be bored no more. I’ve even got a present for you :3c

 

Jeremy knew all the shortcuts to get to Michael’s house from the base, and he was using them all. Not to mention, he could sprint and even just jog long distances now without getting all gross and sweaty, so Michael would be none the wiser.

 

[Mellonymous] A PRESENT? FOR MOI? PLEASE COME ASAP I MUST BE SAVED FROM MY BOREDOM!!!!

 

Reading over the text mentally, Jeremy couldn’t help but snicker. God, he was in deep with Michael. Even if he had a crush on Phantom, it honestly couldn’t compare to how he felt for Michael. He knew how much he’d appreciate this plastic gift, even if there was a high chance that it wouldn’t work.

 

As he rounded the corner to Michael’s house, he realized he would be there before Michael expected him. Well, there was no way he should waste a golden opportunity to mess with Michael. Then he wouldn’t be bored, right? (Jeremy knew he was a little shit, and this was one of his prime examples).

 

Only Michael’s Cruiser was parked in the driveway, so Jeremy knew it would be just them. Perfect.

 

Jeremy pulled out his keys and headed downstairs to Michael’s room. He perched just outside the door, waiting for a moment.

 

[QueereEye] guess what???

 

[Mellonymous] what??? :0c

 

Jeremy threw open the door, grinning like the little shit he was. “I’m here!”

 

His grin almost slipped off his face, he was so shocked by what he was seeing. Michael was on the floor of his basement, phone set just next to him, in a perfect front to back splits. There were no bends in his legs, and his arms were reaching upwards, caught mid stretch. He might have still been chunky, but hot damn if he wasn’t built. Jeremy could almost see the muscles rippling just under his skin. Was the room suddenly hotter? Jeremy thought it might be hotter. He had to check himself to make sure he wasn’t drooling over Michael. As it was, he was pretty certain his brain had defaulted to two emojis: 😍 and 🤤. He wouldn’t be able to text anything else if he tried.

 

Michael seemed surprised by his sudden appearance, wobbling for a second from where he was mid-stretch before he seemingly caught himself. “You little shit, I could’ve pulled a muscle,” Michael muttered out, slowly and carefully getting himself out of that perfect split. As he did, Jeremy could see his muscles rippling even more. He was glad that Michael was wearing a tank top for once so he could clearly see some of his muscles, even if his mind wanted him to see more. “You said you’d be here in ten minutes, not five! Now I’m all gross and sweaty, let me quickly towel myself off.”

 

Jeremy wasn’t sure he could respond properly, he was so captivated by Michael’s everything, so he just nodded and sort of half fell on to the computer chair near the door (Michael must have shifted it to do his stretches). “I- er- Sure. Go for it.” He couldn’t tear his eyes from Michael, even if he wanted to (hint: he did not).

 

Michael looked over at him once he grabbed his towel that was tossed onto his bed, beginning to wipe off his neck first. “What’s got you all speechless? Didn’t think the chubby gamer could be fit? I told you that the stuff Nanay was making me do was starting to pay off, you nonbeliever.”

 

Jeremy’s cheeks heated up, but he still didn’t look away. God, he was weak, but for once he didn’t care. He was running too high from his interaction with Phantom and Michael was too gorgeous for Jeremy to really care about much else. “S’not that, Mikey. I’m just... wow. I think you just activated my bisexual instinct or something, hot damn,” he joked weakly, his voice a little hoarse.

 

Michael let out a small noise of surprise (and possibly something else?) before he looked away, quickly moving to wipe down the rest of himself. “Oh wow. That’s a huge compliment. Thank you very much, my good sir.” Despite the fact that Michael was trying to play it cool, Jeremy could identify the other factor in Michael’s voice: pleased.

 

Michael was pleased by the fact that Jeremy was ogling him? But... did that mean he not only didn’t mind, but actually liked it? It must be.

 

Jeremy’s brain was whirring with as much power as it could afford to divert from admiring Michael. If Michael like that Jeremy was ogling him, it could mean one of two things: he was really proud of his body and liked the recognition or he liked Jeremy back. Considering this was the first time Jeremy had shown a proper interest in Michael outside of being Gamer, Jeremy was willing to bet it might even be the latter. Which meant Jeremy had a shot.

 

“No, thank you,” Jeremy half sighed happily, letting his roaming eyes get even more obvious. He wanted to know Michael’s reaction to Jeremy’s more obvious interest.

 

As he ogled his best friend, Jeremy noticed that said best friend coughed, but only after noticing Jeremy’s obvious interest. Something was building in the air, something thick but pleasant that only fueled Jeremy even further to admire Michael’s body. “You’re welcome, I guess,” Michael responded, faltering with whatever confidence he had built up prior as he completely looked away. Jeremy could see how red Michael’s ears were as he finished wiping his sweat off and went to turn on his oscillating fan.

 

He grinned. Knowing that he had such a strong effect on Michael was more than a little bit of a rush. And the tension in the air, thick but not unpleasant, kept building. Jeremy wanted to know where it would lead, if it would take them to where he desperately wanted to go. As it was, he was fighting every desire to go and kiss Michael senseless. It would only take a little push for him to actually act on his impulse. Maybe Pathos’ powers had some side effects of leaving everything boosted since, normally, Jeremy had more control over himself than this.

 

A burst of air hitting him in the face broke him from his thoughts. It didn’t break his mood; he was still desperate to go and touch and feel and adore every inch of Michael he could, but he could at least think a little better now.

 

“I-er- brought you something.” He awkwardly lifted his backpack, eyes still trained on Michael but less intensely than before.

 

“You did tell me that you had a gift for me,” Michael reminded him then, looking back over at Jeremy as he went to sit down on his bed. He made grabby hands before he patted the spot next to himself on his bed. “I want my gift, I’ve been so bored! I need something new!”

 

Jeremy chuckled and perched himself next to Michael. He handed the backpack over to Michael, unconcerned because his suit and his spare were safely stored away at the base. “To feed your addiction. I have no idea if it’ll work at all, but I’m sure you could rig up something.”

 

Michael raised a curious brow at the statement, plopping the backpack into his lap before digging into it and pulling out the at-home slushie maker. “Oh shit! Hell yeah, I’ve missed my slushies. You’re the best, Jeremy.”

 

Jeremy couldn’t help but blush as he beamed proudly. “I just thought, since you’re here for protection you should have at least some comfort stuff.” He found he was struggling to look over at Michael now, a part of him worried about getting stuck staring and doing something he might regret.

 

“Yeah, especially since my Seven-Eleven is still shut down for now,” Michael muttered out sorrowfully. Before Jeremy could comment on that, he felt warm arms wrap around him in a hug. “Thank you. You’re awesome, Jeremy. How did I get so lucky?”

 

Jeremy couldn’t help but melt into the hug; flustered or not, Jeremy would never turn down a hug from Michael. Michael was solid and warm and comfortable and there was nowhere else Jeremy felt safer. He was so happy there, and he found he couldn’t think up any witty comments just because Michael was just so perfect.

 

“I think you’ll find I’m the lucky one, Mikey, ‘cause I’ve got you,” he murmured, nuzzling against his best friend with a soft, happy sigh.

 

“God, what’s gotten into you today? Not that I’m complaining,” Michael said around a soft laugh, squeezing Jeremy once before pulling back. Even if he missed the solid comfort his hold provided, Jeremy couldn’t help but smile as Michael looked over the box. “We need to make some right now.”

 

“For sure!” Jeremy nodded. Then he paused, maybe a little honesty here would be best. “And as for me... I’m feeling a lot right now. There was another villain attack and I kinda got caught in it.” He shrugged, then quickly worked to reassure Michael when he spotted the panicked look. “It wasn’t a physical attack, just mental. It... she made everyone around her... feel. She enhanced a single feeling and ever since it wore off I’ve been feeling... more. I’m just glad Phantom arrived in time to help the Jersey Squad out since they were all affected too.”

 

“Well at least he helped save everyone, and that you’re feeling better,” Michael muttered out before reaching over and giving Jeremy a quick one-armed hug. Before Jeremy could really melt into it, Michael pulled away. “And at least you’re feeling more in a good way.”

 

“I always feel good when I’m around you, Mikey.” The words slipped out before he could really register them, and he blushed and spluttered a little afterwards. Jeremy didn’t try to take them back, instead he just hid his face in his hands, certain he was bright red to the tips of his ears.

 

The wonderful sound of Michael’s laugh filled the air. “Well I’m glad. I feel the same about you. You’re the person I enjoy being around the most, no offense to my moms, your dad, and our new friends.”

 

Jeremy couldn’t help but relax, looking over at Michael with soft eyes. “I... you’re the person I enjoy being around most too,” he agreed quietly. “I’d probably spend all my time around you if I didn’t have important shit to do.” He wanted to tell Michael, he wanted to so badly, but Brooke still said no. And Jeremy asked usually twice daily so it’s not like he wasn’t on top of the issue either.

 

Jeremy’s words seemed to stir something inside Michael, as his posture shifted a little while he turned to fully face Jeremy. If he wasn’t keenly listening, he wouldn’t have heard Michael mutter out, “I think now’s good.”

 

Michael rested a hand on Jeremy’s shoulder then, his expression open and vulnerable. “Speaking of important shit, I have something I need to tell you.”

 

That was a rather loaded statement. Jeremy turned to face Michael properly, giving him his full attention. “Of course, Mikey. What’s on your mind?” From how much Michael was fidgeting, he was very obviously nervous. And beyond that, he seemed almost... flustered?

 

He watched Michael take a deep breath or two then as he seemed to try to center himself. “A lot, but that’s beside the point,” Michael got out with an airy laugh. “I’ve kept this from you for so long, you deserve to know finally. It’s alright if you don’t feel how I hope you would, don’t feel pressured by me telling you.”

 

Hesitating for a moment, Michael raised the hand that had been on Jeremy’s shoulder and cupped his cheek. “Jeremy, I...”

 

The way Michael was saying it... what he was saying... was he confessing?!

 

His body moved before his mind had a chance to catch up. Jeremy surged forwards and connected their lips in a searing kiss. Michael’s lips were surprisingly soft, and familiar somehow, as if this wasn’t the first time he’d kissed them. Jeremy poured in all the frustration and love and passion he’d been feeling for months, especially today, into the kiss, willing Michael to feel it too.

 

The surprised squeak Michael let out snapped Jeremy back to reality and he quickly pulled back, panting and shocked at his own actions.

 

“Oh my god, I’m so sorry, Michael! I should have asked, shit, I’m sor-“

 

“Jeremy, you’re fine,” Michael quickly reassured him, a few emotions dancing across the other’s face before they seemed to settle on something: joy. “I wasn’t planning on this being how this went, but I’m happy with it.” A quick kiss was placed to Jeremy’s lips, and Jeremy felt himself following Michael’s lips when he pulled away. “I love you, Jeremy. I love you so damn much.”

 

Jeremy’s head was spinning. Michael did like him back. He liked Jeremy back a lot. He loved Jeremy, just like Jeremy loved him.

 

“I love you too, Michael. I love you-“ He quickly kissed Michael’s lips again, his tone almost reverent. “-I’ve loved you for longer than even I properly knew. You’re my favorite person and I love you so much.” Another quick kiss and Jeremy slowly crawled into Michael’s lap, hesitating enough to receive a nod of confirmation that it was okay.

 

“You’re definitely feeling a lot if you’re admitting everything so quick,” Michael teased before placing a lingering kiss on Jeremy’s lips. Even if both of them really lacked any true experience (well, Jeremy had some from when he was with Christine, but they only ever kissed like this once), they made up for it in spirit. Jeremy felt their teeth clack at one point. He pulled back to laugh along with Michael before trying another kiss, slower and steadier.

 

Michael finally pulled back after however long, catching his breath as he looked down at Jeremy with nothing but love and adoration. “I’m sorry I never told you sooner. I didn’t know how to tell you. I kept wimping out, and I-“

 

Jeremy kissed him to shut him up before reaching up and pulling off both their glasses. “Hey, it’s okay. It’s okay.” He gently brushed a little of Michael’s hair off his face. “This is a big change, and it’s okay to have been scared about it. God knows I’ve been terrified.” Another kiss, gentle but lingering. “But I think it’s right. It’s how we’re supposed to be. I adore you, Mikey. I love everything about you and I want to be with you.” Another kiss, this one a little hotter by still just as gentle and loving. “Be my boyfriend?” he murmured against Michael’s lips, feeling and hearing the subtle hitch in Michael’s breath, as though he couldn’t quite believe he was heading Jeremy’s ask that. From what he described, he probably couldn’t, if he had been pining for at least as long as Jeremy.

 

“Only if you’ll be mine,” Michael supplied back before pressing a lingering kiss to Jeremy’s lips. He could feel all the love and joy Michael felt through the kiss. It was almost intoxicating.

 

Jeremy was the one to finally pull back then, smiling against Michael’s lips. “Of course I will. I’d be crazy to say no.”

 

“I mean, sometimes it seems like you’re a bit crazy, so I wouldn’t put it past you.” Michael laughed at the faux gasp Jeremy gave, and he let Jeremy shove him before he grabbed him in a hug and pulled him down with him. “But you’re my crazy boyfriend.” A pause. “Holy shit, I can say that now. Holy fuck!”

 

Jeremy giggled, nuzzling against Michael and hiding in the crook of his neck. “I know, it’s totally amazing,” he agreed, pressing a quick, light kiss to the skin he could reach (he’d been so tempted for so long, he couldn’t quite help himself now that he was able to do it). “But we’re together now, and I can finally show off how much I adore you and how much I appreciate every aspect of you. Personality, mind, and body.” He giggled again.

 

“God, you’re telling me,” Michael agreed around a laugh. “I don’t think it’s really gonna hit me until later that this happened. Like, I’m so stoked for what just happened, but I still really want to try the slushie maker to see if it’s any good. Is that bad?”

 

Jeremy’s ecstatic giggles ramped up into real, full blown laughter at that point. God, that was so Michael and Jeremy loved it.

 

“No, it’s not bad at all. It’s very you and I love you so I’m happy to do it.” He didn’t move, but made himself limp enough that Michael could move him if he wanted. “We can go check it out if you like. But just know I’m probably gonna stay plastered to you for a bit. I’ve had to restrain myself a lot since I realized I loved you.”

 

“I mean, I’m fine with that. I just need to google stuff and see if we have what we need and everything to make a slushie. Maybe we could make better slushies than what Seven-Eleven has.” Michael shifted, but he kept Jeremy lying on top of him as he heard things shifting around. “Fuck, this thing is super taped up. Ugh.”

 

Jeremy sniggered at that. “Check the side pocket of my backpack. I kept a box cutter in there for this very reason.” He didn’t removed himself from where he was snuggled against Michael and didn’t even pull back from where he was buried against his neck. It resulted in his lips brushing Michael’s skin as he spoke, but Jeremy certainly wasn’t going to complain.

 

As a result of that, Jeremy felt Michael shiver for a moment before he moved underneath him again. “What, were you planning on all this happening? Smooth, Heere.” Before he could respond, a small ‘aha!’ escaped Michael before Jeremy heard the sound of tape being cut open. “And it doesn’t look shitty compared to the packing from what I see. Impressive.”

 

“I did my research. I wasn’t about to give you garbage, Mikey. I have some sense of decency.” He snorted before sighing happily again and relaxing even more as Michael’s arm wrapped tighter around him to grab stuff from the box.

 

“I mean, I’d hope so,” Michael muttered out before the sound of the contents of the box being pulled out rung out loudly. “Especially since you’re my boyfriend now. Only good gifts allowed... Unless there are joke gifts. But those are good gifts too, so... Eh.”

 

Jeremy snorted again. “Dork.” He chuckled softly, before something occurred to him. “My dork.” Oh that did feel good, didn’t it? It felt so damn good and Jeremy felt almost high with how happy he was.

 

“Yeah, I am your dork, so you’re stuck with me,” Michael said as he shifted, and Jeremy felt himself sit up along with Michael. One arm stayed around Jeremy though, keeping him close before he settled. “Ok, I don’t think I can set this up on my bed, as much as I’d like to. Are you alright with coming upstairs with me so I can make and test this thing out?”

 

Jeremy finally left the crook of Michael’s neck and beamed up at his boyfriend (boyfriend!). “Sure thing. There should be the stuff we need to make slushies in my bag too, so let’s go make lots.”

 

 

 

After a night of hanging and sort of letting the reality of everything set in (he was still in disbelief when he woke up the next day in bed with Michael that they were dating), Jeremy didn’t want to leave Michael’s side. What? He could finally get all of his lovey-dovey feelings out and properly show them to Michael! Michael seemed to feel the same way (if him insisting that Jeremy cling to him was any indication).

 

Because of the refusal to leave Michael, Jeremy ended up with his boyfriend at Pinkberry, the first time Michael had been there since his ‘house arrest’ started. He clung to Michael the entire time as he made Michael get him some new limited-time flavor (he normally wouldn’t go out of his way for new flavors, but the pomegranate and matcha with blueberries, mochi, and granola sounded good) for both of them.

 

When they sat down at the long table everyone claimed, Jeremy barely gave them any attention besides a quick wave.

 

He heard Rich and Brooke snigger, and maybe heard Chloe fake gag, but he didn’t care. Michael was happily rambling about his slushie machine and the combos he wanted to try, and Jeremy was more than happy to listen and add his own ideas. He fed Michael a spoonful of the frozen yogurt, making sure to get a little of everything on it, before taking a mouthful himself.

 

Between one spoonful, Michael bent down and quickly pressed a kiss to Jeremy’s lips before continuing to talk about slushie flavors he wanted to try. Jeremy could clearly see how it made Michael flustered, the public PDA suddenly that basically admitted the relationship change, as he tried to keep the conversation going. Besides a small gasp and a cheer, nothing seemed to change.

 

Well, except for the spam of Kermit-based memes Jeremy mentally got. There were so many in a row that it hit him like a truck. He went to give Rich a look, but was surprised to see Brooke snickering and covering her mouth as she poorly contained her laughter.

 

Jeremy glared at her and just tucked himself against Michael’s chest, finally turning to face everyone. “Okay, I hear you. You have one minute each to get it over with, along with any questions, but then you guys don’t make a big deal about this, alright? It’s still new and we’re excited and happy,” he grumbled, knowing that he would get overwhelmed if he let it happen for any longer amount of time, let alone Michael.

 

“I’m a prophet,” was all Rich said, and Jake elbowed him in the side. Rich put on a faux face of hurt while Jake rolled his eyes.

 

“I’m so happy for you two! When did you guys figure it out? Who asked who out?” Christine asked eagerly, bouncing a little in her seat while Jenna nodded along in agreement, looking up from her phone at the two as curiously as everyone else was.

 

“You’re not a prophet, Rich, you’re just an ass,” Jeremy deadpanned before looking over to Christine. “Well, you guys know how I’ve been actively crushing on him since... November.” Jeremy wasn’t about to mention the SQUIP. “And yesterday we sort of... both confessed? He started confessing and then I kissed him and then I asked him out and he asked me out and now we’re together.” It came out in a slightly rushed heap, but Jeremy was blushing happily, turning his adoring gaze up to Michael. He was certain he was in full heart eyes mode but he didn’t care. He didn’t have to hide it anymore.

 

“Yeah, and the whole confession thing accidentally started over the slushie maker Jeremy bought me,” Michael added with a small grin. Yeah, he was a bit anxious about change, even if it was the good kind. He was still getting used to everyone, so adding on having to explain their relationship change was probably a bit much for him. “So, uh... yeah.”

 

Jeremy pressed a small, hopefully soothing kiss to Michael’s cheek. Judging by how he seemed to relax a little, it worked. Once Michael had settled a little more, Jeremy offered him another spoonful of frozen yogurt, which Michael took quite happily.

 

“I’m really happy for you both. We all are.” Christine grinned, earning a nod from everyone else. Jake elbowed Rich to get him to pay attention (he was writing out BOYF RIENDS on a napkin with a sharpie), but he nodded too as soon as he registered the statement.

 

“Thanks, that means a lot,” Michael muttered out before giving them all a softer smile. He seemed to quiet up a bit more then, and Jeremy just fed him another spoonful of yogurt as he leaned a bit more against him. That pressure seemed to soothe Michael further.

 

“You two are disgustingly cute,” Chloe noted fondly, taking a spoonful of her own frozen yogurt. Jeremy blushed deeper and snuggled closer to his boyfriend (!!!!).

 

“Don’t be mean, Chloe,” Brooke scolded gently.

 

{Psyche} you haven’t told him, have you?

 

Jeremy repressed a sigh.

 

{Gamer} No I haven’t and I hate it. I want to tell him and it’s killing me, keeping it from him.

 

He sent a mental scowl of displeasure into the chat and just took a mouthful of the frozen treat. Brooke ducked her head and took a mouthful of her own, before remembering something and taking her lactate pills from her purse and taking two.

 

{Charade} well, I feel like at this point, especially with him being targeted by SQUIP, he should know!!!

 

{Psyche} as much as I would love for him to know, he can’t, none of us can tell him. If he finds out

 

{Hothead} can we /not/ be depressing and ruin the mood right now??? do I need to find Kermit the dog memes since apparently /someone/ stole my Kermit the frog memes???

 

Despite Michael having no idea about what was going on in the mental group chat, he gave Jeremy a gentle squeeze as his arm shifted to wrap around his shoulder. “Are you alright? If you wanna go home early, we can and we can just chill or something.”

 

Jeremy shook his head and looked up at Michael. “No, I’m okay. I’m good to stay as long as you are.” He smiled softly. “I was just thinking. Wanna have a challenge day to celebrate our new relationship status?” His smile turned a little mischievous.

 

“A what now?” Rich asked.

 

“A challenge day. When we were kids, Michael and I found a clearing in the forest near the high school. We go there to do challenges, like who could climb a tree the fastest, or who can go the longest without a brain freeze while drinking slushies. We’d have a whole range of them, but we haven’t had one in ages, not since the end of sophomore year,” Jeremy explained with a grin.

 

From the corner of his vision, Jeremy saw Michael’s eyes light up before he nodded. “Yeah, and it would be a lot more fun to have lots more categories this year. You guys could all come up with some and we could try out some new ones that I’ve been thinking about but knew Jeremy wouldn’t dare do.” Jeremy let out a little playful squawk at that, but couldn’t help but smile as Michael continued to explain old challenge days as well as his ideas for some new challenges. Brooke and Rich both pitched ideas, and Christine was very enthusiastic about her ideas as all four seemed to turn into some echo chamber of ideas.

 

Suddenly something occurred to Jeremy. “Mikey, Mikey! We have enough people for team Zombie Hunt!” he cried, patting Michael’s arm in his sheer excitement of the idea. They never had anyone else to do this with since Zombie Hunt needed a few more people than just two. “And we can even modify the rules a little of Jake wants to join!”

 

Michael gasped as he pulled himself away from Brooke's idea about something involving milk and chugging it. "Oh my god, yes! We need to do this, holy shit. We can have all this done in the park if we can't figure something out in one of our backyards. If we can get it in one of our backyards though, we can have like a picnic kinda thing too! And I could bring my slushie maker!"

 

“Zombie Hunt would be best in the park because we need the space for the Nerf Guns. Other than that, we can do it all in someone’s yard,” Jeremy mused, still buzzing. When he heard Jenna questioning what Zombie Hunt was, both he and Michael turned to her with matching, mischievous grins.

 

“Zombie Hunt is basically like a zombie apocalypse. You shoot the other players and they turn into zombies. Last person, or team, left wins,” Michael explained.

 

“If you shoot a zombie, they freeze for a bit, and you can collect ammo for your weapon from where people have dropped it,” Jeremy added. “It’s an awesome concept but we’ve never have enough people to test it out.”

 

"Oh, I've seen some YouTube videos about that," Brooke piped up with a big grin. "Yeah, that sounds like a lot of fun! We should totally do that and that could sort of be the end of it maybe. Like, we do all the other challenges first in someone's backyard then go to the park last and end it with Zombie Hunt."

 

"Yeah, that sounds like the best option," Michael mused out with a lopsided grin, quickly nodding along with Brooke's idea.

 

After a while longer of ideas and chatting, Jeremy felt himself get a little low on energy. He was happy and very content, just... tired. It was weird. He just wanted to curl up with Michael and nap. Luckily, as he rested against Michael’s chest and started to half doze, Michael picked up on it.

 

"I think I'm all people'd out for today, sorry," Michael admitted, and Jeremy could hear the shy smile in his voice. "We can text more details about this, yeah? I think I need to get back home and back under house arrest."

 

"You're good, don't worry," Jake told him, waving his hand at them. "Just don't go having too much fun."

 

"Wh- Jake!" Christine cried out while Brooke whapped his shoulder with her Pinkberry spoon, all while Jake held his hands up as if surrendering.

 

Jeremy gave everyone a sort of sleepy wave and headed out of the store with Michael. He stayed close and tucked to his chest, sighing softly as Michael held him close.

 

"Hey, you alright? You're really sleepy suddenly," Michael asked him then as they stopped, presumably outside of Michael's P.T. Cruiser. Jeremy felt a little prod against his side then that became insistent.

 

“I don’t know. M’just tired I think. Too much excitement or something,” Jeremy mumbled. “Plus, you’re comfy.” He giggled softly, nuzzling against Michael a little more.

 

"Well don't sleep just yet, we're in a parking lot and it's getting hotter by the second. I need to drive us back to my house," Michael pointed out before poking his side a few more times. "Maybe I'll even pick up some fast food on the way since I'm hungry still."

 

Fine,” Jeremy grumbled, opening his eyes and detaching himself from Michael. “But I wanna cuddle as soon as we’re home and back in air conditioning. M’sleepy but I wanna be close to you.” He pouted, looking up at Michael sadly.

 

Michael laughed a little at that before Jeremy heard the telltale beeps from the Cruiser. "Well, we're still close in the car. You can hold my free hand while I drive if you want," he offered while opening the passenger door open for Jeremy.

 

Jeremy climbed in and did his seatbelt, nodding at Michael as he closed the door. And when Michael started up the car, he didn’t even look confused when ‘You’re my Best Friend’ by Queen started playing, even when it hadn’t been where the CD was before. Jeremy couldn’t help but smile softly, totally agreeing with his powers for one. He dozed off again, hand in hand with Michael, before they had even lift the parking lot.

Chapter Text

About five days later, everything was ready for Challenge Day. They were all in Christine's backyard (it was surprisingly large) with a plastic table set out with lots of different kinds of food. Another table was set up with the different items needed for activities. Thankfully, Brooke's milk-chugging idea was only supported by Brooke and Rich, so that was veto'd off, but every other activity was ready to go (except for Zombie Hunt, but all of the Nerf Guns and ammo were in Michael's trunk).

 

Everyone had gone on patrol yesterday night and that morning, so they were set for patrol until the next day. Jeremy was relieved about that and everyone taking this nice kind of break. He didn't realize how much he missed Challenge Day and how upset he would have been if he had forgotten it.

 

While Michael was busy getting his slushie machine set up (he kept getting distracted by Snowball the cat continually flopping around on him and making weird Snowball noises), Jeremy had a little meeting with everyone. "Remember, no powers today, not even to win something Rich."

 

"What, why me? It's Brooke you should be saying that to," Rich hissed out before getting swatted by Brooke with her floppy beach hat she opted to wear.

 

“Brooke sees the future but she ignores it most of the time. You aren’t above shocking us to get what you want,” Jeremy reminded him, crossing his arms. “That also goes for you too, Chloe. I know you’ve got full control over your strength and speed now, so no ‘accidentally’ using them to win.” Chloe pouted about being called out, but the blush on her cheeks indicated that she was planning on doing exactly that. Jeremy might not be as close to his team as he was with Michael, but he still knew them pretty damn well.

 

"Yeah guys, be clean and fair about all of this," Jake said with crossed arms, mock scolding.

 

"Says the genius who has probably been figuring out the best win-quick methods for at least half of the things he's planning to do," Jenna pointed out as she typed away on her phone. Jake looked at her, expression showing how betrayed he felt.

 

"Wh- Jenna," Jake whined out before a small 'aha' could be heard from Michael.

 

Looking over, Jeremy saw that Michael finished setting up the machine and was now pouring out a blue slushie with a huge grin. Snowball, Christine's adorably stupid soot baby cat, was somehow perched on Michael, sitting on Michael's head without falling or hurting herself or Michael.

 

Jeremy couldn’t help but coo at them both, leaving his team to bicker while he went over to his boyfriend and the stupid little sooty baby who everyone adored (everyone adopted Snowball and her... unique sense of everything).

 

“Hey you two. Got everything working?” he asked, wrapping himself around Michael’s back. Snowball looked down at him and batted at his head affectionately.

 

"Everything except her," Michael said, poking Snowball's tail. The cat seemed surprised by that, looking at her tail as it flickered before trying to bat at it with her own paw. She failed. "I don't think she'll ever work at a normal capacity, but nothing's fun when it's normal." He looked down at Jeremy then with a big smile, handing him the first slushie. "For you, my good sir. Blue raspberry."

 

Jeremy widened his eyes comically as he took the slushie before slurping a little up. “My hero! Thank you, Mikey.” He giggled, letting Snowball hop down onto his own head to nuzzle against Michael’s face, batting his glasses playfully. “Hey soot ball, you pretty kitty,” he cooed up at her, giggling harder.

 

Snowball let out a weird mix of a mewl and a human-like yawn, her tail batting Jeremy's face before seemingly wrapping around his head like a tiara. "I've grown fond of her," Michael said, nuzzling her face back. "Can I claim her, even if she's technically Christine's cat?"

 

Jeremy nodded seriously, careful not to dislodge the cat. “Well I’m already her godfather. So you are as well, so she is now our sooty baby.” He reached up and scratched her behind the ear, the resulting lawnmower-engine purr vibrated his head a little. “I can feel the love already, Snowball.”

 

Michael let out a deep, belly sort of laugh at that. "Holy shit, I love this enigma of a cat," he said before reaching over and kissing the cat's face. That resulted in her wiggling around with joy on Jeremy's head before Jeremy himself got a lingering cheek kiss. When Michael pulled away, he seemed a little flustered if his lack of eye contact was any indicator. "Also love you, but uh... yeah."

 

“I love you too, Mikey,” Jeremy murmured, reaching over and squeezing Michael’s hand. Snowball let out a string of meows and mews that sounded vaguely like she said the same thing. “See? Even Snowball loves you.” Jeremy giggled as the cat in question began nibbling on his hair.

 

"I now have the love of my boyfriend and my godcat. I am now complete," Michael teased before a fake gag interrupted the moment. "Um, rude."

 

"Sorry, I couldn't help but gag at how cutesy you two were being," Chloe insisted as she went over and poured herself a slushie from Michael's little machine. "We need you two to lead us in Challenge Day. What do we do first?"

 

Jeremy thought back to the schedule. “Well first was Twister. And since we’re all in old clothes, we can even do Messy Twister. I brought the poster paint if we wanted to.”

 

“Messy Twister?” Rich asked, eyes going wide and looking more than a little mischievous.

 

“There’s paint on each of the circles,” Brooke added with a bright, cheeky grin. Rich looked so excited that he might burst.

 

“You might want to take off your hoodie, Mikey. We don’t want any getting splattered on there or it getting too sweaty.” Jeremy tugged on the sleeve lightly. He was also looking for an excuse to see Michael in a tank top again, which he knew he was wearing. It was also an excuse to show off to his friends just how hot his boyfriend was, but that wasn’t very high on the list.

 

"Oh, oh, oh, can I be the announcer person who spins it and tells everyone where to move to?" Christine asked, to which Michael nodded. "Woo!" She pumped her fists in the air as she hurried to get everything set up with Jake trailing along after her.

 

"OK, so who wants to go-"

 

"Me! Please," Rich almost begged with a slightly mischievous but also very excited look in his eye.

 

"I do too," Brooke added with a bright grin.

 

"You two can do it with the nerds, there's no way I'm getting paint on myself," Chloe said before having some more of her slushie. Jenna nodded in agreement as she poured herself one.

 

Jeremy giggled. “Mikey, you get the mat out, I’ll grab the paint.” Carefully, so as not to dislodge his kitty tiara, Jeremy dashed back to the Cruiser and pulled out the bag full of poster paint. He also grabbed the bag of toys (and some hula hoops) from the back seat to use for later. By the time he made it back, the mat was all set up and Rich was practically vibrating with excitement.

 

“I got the paint!” Jeremy called, placing down the toys to one side before pulling out the colors and beginning to squirt them onto the appropriate circles. “Grab a color guys, help me out here.” He nodded to the red, yellow, and green paint next to him.

 

Rich, Brooke, and Christine were eager and quickly helped to cover every circle with paint. Michael stayed to the sidelines with the others to watch, though Jeremy was quite pleased when he saw Michael take off his hoodie and put it to the side. He heard Chloe let out a playful low whistle, and Michael got flustered before he threatened to splatter paint on her. She quickly stopped then.

 

Once all the spots were covered, Christine went over to her cat. Snowball wiggled before transferring herself over to rest across the length of Christine's shoulders as she held the spinner. "Alright, we'll go in alphabetical order by first name because I said so. Brooke, you go first!"

 

It turned out that Jeremy was more flexible than he thought, and he managed to outlast not only Rich but Brooke as well. By the end, the three of them were very messy, but giggling happily.

 

“I win!” Jeremy cried as Brooke fell ass first into the blue paint. He helped her up, getting a smear of red paint on his cheek in thanks. The three went over to the plastic table where Michael and Jenna were waiting with baby wipes to clean them up. “Don’t I get a hug for winning, Mikey?” Jeremy teased playfully.

 

After you’re clean, yes,” Michael said before he gave Jeremy some wipes and then started helping him clean up.

 

“Why didn’t you play, Mikey?” Brooke asked with a pout as she started to scrub herself clean.

 

“Because it wouldn’t have been a fair competition and I didn’t feel like getting covered in paint today,” Michael supplied as he scrubbed Jeremy’s cheeks carefully with a wipe.

 

“Michael is super flexible,” Jeremy clarified. “He does gymnastics like... twice a week? And he used to do it three times a week when we were kids.” Jeremy offered Michael the other cheek to clean up, giggling a little when he swiped at Jeremy’s nose.

 

Michael grinned at Jeremy cheekily, then carefully dropped into a perfect splits to clean up Jeremy’s calves. Everyone burst into cheers.

 

“OK, we get it, you break the gamer stereotypes. Stop showing off,” Rich teased as Jake helped to clean him off. Jeremy looked down to see Michael roll his eyes before getting out of his perfect split and giving Rich the bird. “Wow, so damn rude!”

 

“I’d say it’s fitting,” Michael clarified before pressing a quick kiss to Jeremy’s cheek. “Are you guys ready for the rest of Challenge Day?”

 

“Hell yeah.” Jake grinned. “I even got something special sorted just for it. You know how Brainiac gave the plans for some special bracers to the hospital a few months ago?” Jake had given the blueprints over as soon as the bracers were finished. The hospital had run their own tests, but had made a few to be loaned out or to be used for special cases. “Well I got myself a pair, check it out!” Slowly, Jake stood up from his chair, and Michael’s jaw dropped. Jeremy was about to burst with a strange sort of pride as he hadn’t really seen Jake stand, only Brainiac. “I can’t use them all the time, but they’re awesome every now and again.”

 

Michael looked him over with wide eyes then, seemingly in shock as he started to laugh. “Oh my god, Jake, that’s fucking amazing,” he said with a huge, giddy grin. “I’m sure there are some things you’re gonna kick our asses at, especially now.” Michael looked back over at Jeremy then with a smile. “I’ll be right back, I’m just gonna set up the next thing with Jenna.”

 

Jeremy wandered over to Jake, looking up at him. “It’s weird that I’m looking up at you again, but I like it.” He beamed. Jake ruffled his hair affectionately, sniggering a little.

 

“This is how it’s supposed to be, little dude. Also I think Michael is kinda happy for me.”

 

“Understatement, Jakey-D. I don’t think I’ve seen him look more proud since he got Jenna and Chloe singing Bob Marley with him in the cafeteria,” Rich added, grabbing onto Jake’s hand and hanging off him carefully. Jeremy rolled his eyes at Rich’s obvious heart eyes and Jake’s obliviousness. Hey, just because that was him and Michael a week ago meant nothing, Jeremy was still allowed to be exasperated by his friends.

 

“I don’t think he was prouder though. He really adores Marley,” Jake said with a shrug and a smile before looking back down at Jeremy. “But, uh, are you planning on telling him, Jeremy? You know what about. I know that Brooke keeps saying ‘no,’ but he’s a smart dude and very perceptive. He might figure it out before you even tell him.” As the subject changed, so did Jake’s tone as he took on a somewhat more serious one.

 

“It’s been killing me, not telling him. I just... I saw something, something the SQUIP showed me, and I can’t let that happen. If keeping it from him means he’ll be safe from that, I’ll do whatever it takes. Even if it does kill me in the end.” Jeremy sighed heavily. He hung his head, shrugging. “I don’t know if he suspects or not, but I have a bad feeling that he might. And I don’t know how to handle it if he does confront me about it, because I can’t put him in danger, I just can’t. Not again, after last fall.”

 

He saw both Rich and Jake’s eyes soften at his admittance, especially Rich. “Well, no matter what, you don’t have to face this alone. We’re here for you, Tall-Ass,” he reassured Jeremy, letting go of Jake to go over and pat Jeremy’s shoulder. “For you and him.”

 

“Thanks guys.” Jeremy shot them a weak smile, then tried to pull his mood back up. No reason to get so worried about what hadn’t happened yet, right? Michael would be fine, Jeremy would make sure of it. “Now, who’s ready for some ring toss? I’m pretty sure Michael and Jenna have finished setting it up.” Was his energy and mood a little forced? Yes, but he knew it would perk back up soon enough.

 

“I’m ready, and I’m sure I’m so gonna whoop your ass,” Rich said, poking Jeremy in the chest with a huge grin. Jeremy couldn’t help but be a little relieved at how Rich tried to help lift his mood.

 

“Yo, anyone who wants to play ring toss get over here,” Jenna called out from behind him. “Also, we decided to change it up. We made it a bit like beer pong and ring toss with dares you have to do with paper slips under each pin.”

 

“Nice touch.” Jeremy grinned, heading over to stand with Michael. Everyone got in line behind them, wanting to play too. Jeremy noticed that Jake was sort of bouncing in place behind him, grinning madly.

 

Michael went first and missed, followed by Jeremy, Jake, Jenna and Rich. They all missed too. Brooke was the first person to actually get a ring on, prompting mad cheers from everyone else.

 

“'Do ten pushups in under twenty second,'” she read out. Before anyone could even pull out a clock, she dropped and did them all in about fifteen seconds. Everyone was quite impressed.

 

All of the dares for the game were either something along those lines or more akin to a sleepover kind of dare (like eating some of Snowball’s cat food, which Rich seemingly didn’t mind). Everyone had fun doing all of the dares and enjoyed the rest of the games that Michael and Jeremy picked. Some of them were ones they used to do, like water balloon toss, and there were new ones that they were actually excited for, like kickball and tug of war. By the time that everyone was ready to eat lunch, they were pumped and ready to head to the park after eating to play Zombie Hunt.

 

Jeremy found himself getting more and more buzzed as he waited for everyone else to finish lunch. Not only was he now so much more coordinated and had better stamina, he knew he was already a good shot. Add the fact that they were playing teams and they had a recipe for a very excited Jeremy. Michael seemed amused by his excitement, even if he was just as buzzed as him.

 

“You ready to finally play Zombie Horde?” Michael teasingly asked as they sat down on Christine’s back porch, eating a quickly put-together lunch meat sandwich. “I only ask because I’m not too sure if you’re ready.”

 

Jeremy let out a faux-offended gasp at that, hand to the chest and everything.

 

“How dare you! My own boyfriend, doubting me!” he wailed dramatically. “I’ll have you know that I’m in great shape and I’m an excellent shot, thank you very much. I’m beyond ready.” He elbowed Michael gently. “Besides, we’re on the same team, remember? We’ve got this in the bag, thanks to that.”

 

“Oh, so you’re saying our friends aren’t great team members now? For Shame.” Michael just grinned as he took another gentle elbow to his side. “You know I’m messing with you. You’re easy to tease and have great reactions.” He took a bite from his sandwich as he leaned against Jeremy with only a little bit of his weight. “Plus, we know how this game works like the back of our hands. Our team’s gonna win for sure.”

 

“Yep. And of course our other friends are good teammates-“ Jeremy knew that for sure. “-but in a pairs based game, we can’t be beat.” He grinned up at Michael, shooting him heart eyes.

 

Out of the corner of his eye, he thought he spotted someone standing next to them. When he glanced over, all he saw was the back yard, and possibly a sort of blur which was gone as soon as he spotted it. Jeremy rubbed his eyes, suspicious and a little nervous. He could have sworn someone was there, and that he heard some guy with a deep voice whisper something like, “Oblivious idiots.” The tone was fond.

 

Michael looked down at him then, and he could see fondness mixed with worry. “Well, duh. We’ve been having each other’s backs for almost thirteen years. Now that I think of that, I need to get us something for our friendaversary. Oh shit, I know I’m bad with dates, but I really need to.”

 

Jeremy didn’t hear him at first, too busy trying to figure out what happened. “D-dude, it’s fine. I know you suck at dates, I was just sort of expecting a hug or something,” he teased half heartedly, glancing up at Michael before looking around again. “Did you... see something just over there? I could have sworn I saw someone over there.” He gestured vaguely in the direction of the blur.

 

The concern that had been evident in Michael’s expression before grew. “Uh, I didn’t, but I also wasn’t focusing over in that direction really.” He reached a hand up to brush against Jeremy’s forehead, even if it was a little sweaty. “Are you feeling alright? Maybe it was just your imagination or something. I know sometimes I swear I see things from the corner of my vision that are just shadows or something.”

 

Jeremy sighed and his shoulders slumped down. “You’re probably right. It just keeps happening ever since that... event in the car park. I remember I had a weird dream while napping and suddenly I keep seeing things out of the corner of my eye, and hearing weird shit,” he grumbled. “It’s probably trying to mess with me or something.” Jeremy knew that wasn’t the case, his SQUIP had been basically silent besides the emotional flare up from Pathos. Still, he wasn’t about to tell Michael that. And he was certain Michael looked almost nervous, his eyes flicking to some point behind Jeremy when he thought Jeremy wasn’t looking. It was weird, but Jeremy wasn’t about to call him on it at the moment.

 

“Well, let's try to figure it out later. Unless you really need to talk more about it now, we can put a quick pause on Challenge Day,” Michael said as he ran a quick hand through Jeremy’s hair, getting some stray hairs out of his face. “I’m sure everyone would be fine with it and would totally understand.”

 

“No, I’m okay.” Jeremy waved him off. “I just got a little spooked is all.” He leant into Michael’s touch, humming softly. It felt so good to be able to just... be with Michael. He didn’t have to pretend, didn’t have to hide his feelings and he could just be totally himself. As soon as he could tell Michael about being Gamer, life would be just about perfect. “But I could go for a kiss about now, if that’s alright.” He pouted playfully.

 

Michael poured playfully right back. “Well, I could go for a kiss right about now too, so I guess it’s alright.” Quickly, Michael leaned down and placed a quick peck against Jeremy’s lips, pulling back a second later. “I could go for trying more than a quick kiss later though, after we’ve won Zombie Horde and kick everyone’s butts. I don’t think that’s Snowball-friendly though.” Before he could question that, said Snowball seemingly slithered onto Jeremy’s lap, staring up at him and mewling.

 

Jeremy let out a small noise of surprise before he started cooing over the little ball of black fluff. He felt Michael’s soft, affectionate gaze on him but he couldn’t shake the feeling of someone else, someone unfamiliar, watching him too. For some reason, he didn’t actually mind.

 

 

 

The feeling didn’t fade as they finished eating and everyone migrated to the park. Jeremy helped Michael set everything up, though Jake and Jenna helped. He didn’t really being up that feeling after, though he did see Michael glance away sometimes when he thought Jeremy wasn’t paying attention.

 

“Alright, so everyone knows what side they’re on and what their end goal is?” Michael asked as he rested one of his Nerf Guns against his waist.

 

“Refresh us, oh great Zombie Experts!” Christine cried, giggling a little. Jeremy bowed and stepped forward.

 

“Today, we shall be enemies for a short while. Each team is a group of survivors, pitted against the others in a race for survival.” Jeremy put on his most dramatic and commanding voice, trying to make this explanation interesting as well as informative.

 

“After the thirty second grace at the beginning, each team must try to strike out the others. You must stay within ten feet of your team mate or you both die. If you are shot or otherwise killed, you are frozen for twenty seconds while the disease takes effect. After those twenty seconds, you drop your weapons and ammo and you become... a zombie!” Everyone gasped as appropriate. “Zombies can only move at a fast walk at most, and if they’re shot, they only freeze for ten seconds. If you get grabbed, you get bit and become a zombie yourself. Last person standing wins. If a team survive, they win together. Is everybody clear?” There was a chorus of cheers. “The park borders are the confides, and you can use whatever is in the park to your advantage.”

 

“Except for other park-goers. That’s sort of an obvious no-no,” Michael pointed out. “And no stealing other people’s shit, but that should be another obvious no-no.”

 

“Yeah yeah, we get it. Can we get started now?” Rich whined.

 

“We need to do the official countdown, but yes,” Michael said with rolling eyes before grinning down at Jeremy. “Want to do the honors?”

 

“Five!” Jeremy called in place of an answer. Everyone got their weapons ready. “Four! Three! Two!” Everyone got ready to run off. “One! Start!” Everyone bolted in different directions. Jeremy and Michael headed towards the tree line, ducking behind there and listening for a moment. When the thirty second timer went off on Jeremy’s phone, he set a quick buzz to the rest of the group to let them know the grace period was up.

 

Michael glanced behind the trees to get a look before glancing back over to Jeremy. “Have any ideas on how to handle this?” he asked with a wide grin.

 

Jeremy thought for a moment. “Take out Chloe and Jenna first. They’re the weakest shots, but Chloe is fast. She’ll be harder to get later on. Then Chrissy, Rich and Jake. Brooke is an excellent shot but she panics easily,” he recited, checking to make sure he was loaded correctly. “We run this like level five. Stealth is our best option, then we get high up once there are more zombies.”

 

Michael nodded in agreement before he seemed to hear something. He glanced to one side before gesturing that way with his Nerf Gun. “I hear shuffling that way and saw some bush movement. Someone’s trying to sneak up on us. I think it’s Chloe trying to pull a fast one on us with Jenna.”

 

“Eyes up, stance low. Let’s go,” Jeremy whispered, nodding. Both he and Michael ducked low, keeping easily below the bush line. After a moment, he spotted a flash of purple hair. It didn’t seem like Jenna noticed them, and Chloe had her back to them. Jeremy nudged Michael and pointed them out.

 

“I know I saw them come this way, we need to take the nerds out before they get us!” Chloe whispered to Jenna, looking around carefully but still not seeing them.

 

“I still don’t think going towards them was the best idea,” Jenna whispered back to Chloe. Jeremy saw Michael’s almost devilish grin as they carefully got into position, Jeremy aiming for Chloe and Michael for Jenna.

 

“Well, you were right,” Michael said, and it shocked both girls long enough for them to get shot by the both of them. Chloe sputtered after being shot in surprise while Jenna huffed and rolled her eyes.

 

“See, I told you. Those nerds know how to do this too well.”

 

“Twenty seconds, let’s move!” Jeremy called, zooming forwards and grabbing the ammo bags Jenna and Chloe dropped. Michael was hot on his heels, both boys staying low. Jeremy grinned over to him as Chloe and Jenna vanished from view, but he did hear them slowly start to follow after them. He indicated to the left, towards where he spotted Rich and Jake heading.

 

Brooke and Christine were suddenly in sight, but Chloe and Jenna were hot on their heels still. Jeremy got off a quick shot at Christine, who cried out in surprise. Chloe and Jenna seemed to divert towards the sound instead.

 

“Take my stuff and go,” Jeremy heard Christine sharply whisper to Brooke, followed by the sound of stuff being shifted around. When he glanced up, he saw Brooke quickly hurrying away with her ammo while Christine stood still, unaware of Jeremy and Michael’s location.

 

Before he could do anything else, Michael quickly grabbed his arm and tugged him away. Looking back, Jeremy saw Chloe and Jenna go by, unaware of the fact that he had just been there. “Let’s go closer towards the fountain, there’s good cover and higher ground near that,” Michael suggested softly.

 

Jeremy nodded and followed behind Michael. They didn’t see anyone on their way out, but Jeremy did sport a zombiefied Jake staggering around. It seemed like everyone was really getting into their roles.

 

Rich was perched on the edge of the fountain, looking over to the tree line just a few feet away from them.

 

“Think you can make the shot or should I try?” Jeremy hissed, keeping his eyes peeled for any zombies. He thought he heard a proper one and knew Christine had to be close.

 

“I got this, you keep watch,” Michael told him, and Jeremy didn’t need to be told twice.

 

As he kept a look out for Michael, he couldn’t help but glance over a few times. He saw Michael line up the shot almost perfectly before taking the shot. Rich didn’t know what hit him until he looked down at the dart that fell into his lap, eyes wide before belting out a curse that any parents with children nearby would have been appalled by. Michael just grinned and snickered under his breath before glancing around and pointing to a free spot nearby, away from the upcoming ‘hoard.’

 

Jeremy nodded and followed him over, quickly climbing up the tree. It wasn’t too high, but would put them well out of the reach of any incoming ‘zombies.’ They were mostly hidden by the leaves, and Jeremy felt certain they’d have the advantage.

 

At least until the zombies started crowding around them. Everyone was smacking at the tree, and with Christine also doing it, Jeremy felt legitimate fear of being eaten alive by the ‘hoard.’ Brooke, who had just popped out of the trees across from them, spotted Jeremy and took a shot at him, which he just managed to dodge.

 

“What are we gonna do, Mikey? I can’t line up a shot from here with all the leaves in the way!” Jeremy cried, dodging another shot. Brooke stopped to reload, still unnoticed by the zombies below.

 

“But I can line it up. Wait right here, and don’t follow me.” Before Jeremy could question what Michael was going to do, he felt his lips captured in a sudden yet passionate kiss. It lingered for long enough that when Michael pulled away, Jeremy was stunned.

 

Using that, Michael grinned and turned around, quickly leaping out of the tree and over the zombies. Just as Jeremy gasped, Michael landed, seemingly without hurting himself. As he landed, he pulled the trigger on his gun, shooting Brooke square in the chest with a Nerf bullet. “Game, set, and match, scrubs.”

 

Everyone let out a massive cheer from the amazing shot, and Brooke groaned in frustration. She was grinning though, and she held up her hands in surrender.

 

Jeremy looked. Michael was just within the ten foot radius, and he somehow didn’t get grabbed on his way down. Still, in that moment, Jeremy was paralysed. He had almost ‘lost’ Michael because his boyfriend was a self sacrificing idiot. A talented one, but an idiot nonetheless.

 

By the time Jeremy climbed down, everyone had congratulated Michael on his shot, and Michael was complimenting Christine on her performance. When he saw Jeremy, he began wandering back over. Something of Jeremy’s displeasure must have been visible, since Michael looked a little sheepish, maybe a little guilty.

 

“Sorry, I didn’t mean to freak you out, but we would’ve lost if I didn’t do that and you wouldn’t have let me do that if I asked or suggested it,” Michael said, having the mindset that he was in the wrong here, even if they won. “I didn’t mean to upset you. I really didn’t. I wouldn’t do something like that in real life where you’d lose me for real, never.”

 

“You’re an idiot, Mikey. You’re spectacular, but an idiot.” Jeremy sighed, curling against Michael’s chest. “Well done for the shot, but don’t do things like that, please? I don’t know if I’d ever be able to go against you.”

 

“You kick my ass at Mario Kart every other week, dude,” Michael pointed out weakly. Jeremy shook his head.

 

“That’s different. It’s a video game, not us. I don’t want to ever be on different sides.”

 

“I won’t ever be on a different side, Jeremy. I promise you that,” Michael reassured him. For some reason, Michael sounded especially serious. Jeremy wasn’t sure that he liked that.

 

Before he could voice his discomfort, Michael pulled him close, pressing a kiss against his temple as the others offered, as the losers, to clean up. Well, Christine, Brooke, and Jenna did, and had to drag the others to agree to it.

 

“That’s the last challenge for the day, so we’ll see you guys later? If you just take the leftovers to Chrissy’s house, I’ll pick up the stuff another day.” Jeremy got a round agreements, of varying enthusiasm, and he waved off his friend as they went to grab the left over darts. Michael and Jeremy were alone, and Jeremy felt the lingering sensation leave for once.

 

“I expect you to keep your promise Mikey.” Jeremy poked him in the arm. “You told me you’d be up for more kissing after Zombie Hoard. Well we won, so I want these not-safe-for-Snowball kisses.” He pouted, keeping in mind Michael’s real promise. For some reason, he had a bad feeling Michael might not be able to keep it.

 

“You will definitely be getting those once we get back,” Michael promised, ducking his head a little to catch Jeremy’s lips in a quick kiss. “Are we heading back to my place or yours though? We didn’t talk about that part.”

 

“Mine. My dad’s out until tomorrow, so we have the place to ourselves. We can make out and pretend to watch a movie in the living room,” Jeremy joked, tugging Michael gently towards the parking lot, where the Cruiser was parked.

 

“Wow, so creative,” Michael joked in return as he let Jeremy tug him along. “Can we also order some food or something if we’re gonna be doing that? I want that thrill of possibly being caught but it turns out it’s just food that’s always shown on TV. Also, I’m just really craving pizza and garlic knots right now.”

 

“Then we get pizza and garlic knots.” Jeremy nodded, grinning. “And we enjoy the house to ourselves as we explore our ‘forbidden gay romance.’” He made air quotes around that. “Well, it would be if it wasn’t for your moms being les-beans-“ A running joke with the Mells since Jeremy was small. “-And my dad is actually out seeing a guy. Well, a guy and a girl. They’re married but they’re poly and they really like my dad. They’re pretty nice, actually, but the guy looks like John Mulaney, I swear.” Jeremy giggled a little.

 

“Damn, there’s a lot of not straight shit going on right now,” Michael said around a laugh as they made it to the Cruiser, which Michael unlocked before holding the door open for Jeremy. “Well, we really will have to celebrate all of this shit that’s happening. It’ll definitely be a good celebratory make-out-“ The fact that it would be their first make-out session went unspoken. “-and a good sleepover overall.”

 

Jeremy nodded. He shot Michael a cheeky grin and instead of climbing in, he pressed a hand to Michael’s chest and pushed him back gently against the back door of the car. Michael looked a little confused and almost spooked. Jeremy leant against him, half pinning him to the car and capturing his lips in a gentle but passionate kiss. He lingered just long enough that Michael was a little dazed when it ended, chasing his lips with eyes closed. “That’s payback for making my head spin earlier,” Jeremy murmured, dancing out of Michael’s reach and slipping into the car with a cheeky smirk.

 

Looking back, Jeremy saw Michael’s eyes light up in a new way that he hadn’t seen before, one that was full of excitement and love but also a little bit of want. “Oh, that’s how you wanna play it? I’m the one who always wins,” he said as he quickly made it into the driver’s seat, getting the car started rather quickly once he tossed his Nerf Gun into the backseat of his car.

 

Jeremy strapped himself in, but not before leaning over and kissing Michael’s cheek, trailing a couple along his jaw. Michael’s eyes closed for a moment, while Jeremy lingered, before they snapped open, that new light even brighter in them than before, and he quickly got the old Cruiser started.

 

“A little impatient, are you Mikey?” he teased.

 

“Jeremy, I love you, but please shut the hell up right now,” Michael grumbled out, closer to a whine than a groan, as he focused on the road ahead as he quickly backed out of the parking space. “I need to focus on driving, and while I adore the hell out of you, you can’t distract the driver.”

 

Jeremy pouted but relented that point. “I’ll behave as long as the car is on,” he conceded, sitting back and just enjoying the rush from making Michael so flustered and wanting.

 

Jeremy did behave, as he promised, just fiddling with his fingers as they drove. The air felt charged, and he somehow knew that if he spoke, Michael would lose focus.

 

As soon as the car pulled into the driveway and had been properly parked and turned off, Jeremy had his seatbelt undone and was trailing kisses along Michael’s jaw and gently down his neck as he was before, getting a little lost in his own ministrations. After months of pining and the spectacular build up in the parking lot, the feeling of Michael’s skin under his lips just couldn’t compare.

 

He only came back to when he felt Michael gently prodding at his shoulder. Faintly, he heard Michael gasping softly before he cleared his throat to speak up. “Jeremy, you can’t just do this across the console of my car,” Michael grumbled out, the hand not poking his shoulder gently holding onto one of his arms. “Let’s get in the house, yeah? So we can make out on the couch like we said.” Despite Michael’s words, Jeremy could hear in his tone how much he enjoyed all of this.

 

Jeremy playfully whined at that, but with one more quick kiss, he was out of the car and unlocking his front door in seconds. Michael trailed after, chuckling a little at Jeremy’s excitement.

 

Jeremy practically launched himself onto the couch and held his arms open wide. “Come here, my handsome boyfriend. I wish to smother you in my love!”

 

“Hold on, your handsome boyfriend needs to get comfortable,” Michael called back, shutting the front door behind himself as he toed off his shoes in the entryway. He seemed to just be wanting to make Jeremy wait, as it seemed like he was taking a painfully long time to put down his keys and wallet, and he was even taking the time to tug his socks off!

 

Just as he started to whine about it, Michael made his way over and got settled on the couch in Jeremy’s arms with a large grin. Before Jeremy could go in though, his glasses were snatched, and Michael took off his own before putting them down on the coffee table. “Alright, now you can g-“

 

Jeremy caught Michael’s lips before he could say anything else. He was rough and demanding, but with a layer of sweetness which he knew Michael would pick up on. Despite his impatience to lavish love onto Michael, he wasn’t about to push any boundaries that might make him uncomfortable.

 

When Jeremy finally pulled back, panting and feeling a little dazed, Michael looked downright dizzy. He was grinning though, if somewhat dazedly, and his eyes seemed a little unfocused. He looked utterly gorgeous. “You kept me waiting for far too long, sweetheart,” Jeremy practically purred, picking up where he left off in the car. It was the first time he ever used a nickname like that, and Michael squeaked a little when he heard it. Jeremy grinned but didn’t stop, staying aware of how Michael was responding. “I behaved myself like I promised, now I want you to keep your promise.”

 

“Well, we’re already starting on my promise. I don’t think any of these are Snowball-appropriate,” Michael pointed out as his hands carefully traveled. There was the obvious note in the air for Jeremy to tell Michael if he didn’t like his placement on his hip and his cheek.

 

He didn’t say anything. Instead, he just grinned up at Michael before his boyfriend dipped down, capturing Jeremy’s lips first in a loving, sweet, yet dizzying manner. They were both different sides of the same coin, having different approaches that ended in the same happy and pleased result at the end. Jeremy loved finding this out about his best friend.

 

Jeremy’s eyes fluttered shut. Even if it had only been a few days, Jeremy felt like this had been real for a lifetime already. It still wasn’t enough, Jeremy would never have enough of this with Michael. No matter how many weeks, months, years they would be together, Jeremy was certain this was how things were supposed to be. He realized he wanted to spend the rest of his life like this. And as Michael continued to pepper his face in kisses, loving each freckle and scar equally, Jeremy could believe that Michael did too.

Chapter Text

Jeremy was getting worried. Rich hadn’t turned up for practice or his shift patrolling and everyone was getting antsy. He wasn’t answering the group chat. He was still missing by the time everyone else arrived back at base.

 

“There was an abandoned building that collapsed downtown, but no one was caught in it. It fell right in its place, somehow, so we got lucky,” Jenna reported back from her sector, but that was literally the only difference for anything happening.

 

The door burst open suddenly, and a dust covered Rich skittered in, looking a little worse for wear but totally unharmed.

 

Instantly, Jake was by his side, guiding him to a couch and asking what had happened. Everyone else echoed the question but made sure to give him space.

 

“There was a villain out today,” Rich muttered, eyes wide. “I was escorting Mell on his Seven-Eleven run, like you asked me to Jeremy, but some villain turned up. We ducked into an old building to hide but the guy saw us and brought it down. Phantom saved our lives, but the villain got away. I dropped Michael off at home then came straight here.” Rich’s voice was hoarse and he looked beyond shaken, and Jeremy felt his panic only grow.

 

“Are you okay? Is Michael okay?” he asked softly, trying to control his shakes.

 

“Yeah, he’s fine. We’re both fine. Phantom made sure we were both a little shaken up at worse,” Rich reassured Jeremy, finally sitting down with Jake’s guidance. “Mell and I are both shaken up but that’s really the worst beside some minor bruising and some dust inhalation. I think that Mell might need a quick check-up by you later, one of his moms that was home checked us both over before she let me go.”

 

Jeremy was shaking but he nodded. “I’ll head over to him in a minute. Is there anything I can do to help you?” Michael might be the most important person to Jeremy ever, but Rich was his friend and teammate. Jeremy cared for his well-being just as much.

 

Rich seemed to hesitate on that, unsure on what to say as he looked up at Jeremy before he held out his arms.

 

Jeremy was on the couch, arms around Rich, in an instant. He held him carefully but tightly, just cradling him and rocking ever so slightly.

 

Besides Jake, Jeremy was Rich’s best friend. They had really bonded over what they had gone through and when it came down to it, Jeremy would go to Rich over anyone else in the squad (even over Christine) when he needed comfort. Jeremy found that having Rich, solid and shaking and unsure, in his arms helped settle his own shakes. His friend needed him, Jeremy wasn’t about to let him down.

 

After however long of holding onto Rich, he felt a gentle tap on the side of his arm from Rich himself. Pulling back, Jeremy saw that Rich was a bit calmer, even if he still had dust covering him (and Jeremy now realized he had some dust on himself). "Thanks, Tall-Ass," Rich muttered out, his lisp more prominent at the moment. "You might wanna dust yourself off before seeing Mell."

 

“I’ll worry about that later. I’m just glad you’re okay,” Jeremy replied sincerely. He was genuinely more happy that Rich was alright than he was worried about Michael seeing him covered in dust. He looked over to Jake. “Why don’t you get him home? A bath and some new clothes will work wonders. Everyone else, get on patrol in civilian clothes. We need to find this guy, and fast, but we don’t want to engage until we know what we’re up against,” Jeremy instructed. “I’ll go check on Michael and make sure he’s all alright too, then I’ll get out as soon as it’s appropriate. I won’t just leave him so I might not be able to make it out until much later, if at all today. Anyone have any objections?” He was glad he was sort of team leader. He grew to have enough confidence to voice these plans and thoughts properly rather than hoping people would catch on. He was stronger as a person because of it.

 

"No objections at all," Brooke reassured him, "But you might actually want to make sure you aren't covered in dust. Michael might wonder why you're covered in it like he and Rich were. Better to be safe than sorry, even if you aren't there to see him as quickly." Rich nodded in agreement to her statement as Jake helped him up, flicking some dust off of his face in a playful attempt. Thankfully, Rich smiled endearingly up at Jake.

 

Jeremy nodded, looking down at himself. “I’ll go get changed into some of my spare clothes and clean myself up in the bathroom. Then I’ll head out. Everyone, just... be careful. Don’t take any unnecessary risks, yeah? And keep up in the chat if anything happens.” After getting a round of nods, Jeremy headed to the locker room to get changed and cleaned up. Thank god Chloe got this place hooked up to running water again.

 

He was just drying himself off when he got a message from Michael.

 

[Mellonymous] can you come over?

 

Jeremy threw on his clothes and basically sprinted out the compound.

 

[QueereEye] I just got a message from Rich I’m omw holy shit are you okay????

 

[Mellonymous] yeah, just shaken up and some bruising and I’m coughing a little bc of dust inhaling but I’m fine otherwise

 

[Mellonymous] I really need someone to be over tho besides Nanay, no offense to her hahah

 

[QueereEye] I’m just outside, I’m using my keys

 

Jeremy had sprinted all the way to Michael’s house, cutting the ten to fifteen minute journey to seven. He quickly unlocked the door and half threw himself down the stairs to the basement. Michael was wrapped up in a thin blanket, sitting on his bed. His hair was still a little damp from a shower and he looked clean and alright. There was a small bruise on his cheek but Jeremy couldn’t see any other injuries, thankfully.

 

He quickly climbed onto the bed and gently wrapped his arms around Michael, moving slowly in case he hit a bruise.

 

“Heya sweetheart. Are you okay?” he murmured, pressing a kiss to the top of Michael’s head.

 

Michael instantly relaxed in Jeremy’s arms, Jeremy could feel it and see it in his face and posture. “I’m better now that you’re here,” he admitted as he started leaning back into Jeremy’s hold. Before he spoke up again, he coughed a few times into his blanket-covered hand. “Sorta sucks being a target, sorta forgot about that after being fine for so long. I’m just glad that Phantom showed up and that Rich didn’t get hurt because of me.”

 

“I’m glad you’re both okay,” Jeremy murmured, rubbing his hands on Michael’s back. “I gave Jake a call too, he’s gonna be ready for when Rich arrives. And he’s made a post on your blog about what we know happened so the other heroes can get on finding this guy.” Jeremy just finished that as he spoke. He nuzzled against the top of Michael’s head. “Is there anything you want me to do? Or do you just wanna snuggle?”

 

“I just need to lie here with you for a bit,” Michael told him, turning around a little in Jeremy’s hold to grab one of his hands and gently tug him down in his bed. “Maybe more later, but I just need to lie here with you for now. To ground and reassure myself. Please.”

 

Jeremy nodded and guided Michael to his chest. He made sure to position him so Michael was leaning against his chest, just above his heart. He hacked his SQUIP a little to make sure his heartbeat was calm and relaxed, just to be sure.

 

Michael thanked him, his voice soft, as he kept a hold on the hand he reached for before. He intertwined their fingers as they lay in his bed, the calming peace only interrupted by Michael’s coughing every now and then.

 

“Thank you, Jeremy,” Michael said after some time. “For a lot of things. More than I can list. Just... thank you.”

 

“It’s more than okay, Mikey. You don’t need to thank me.” Jeremy stroked his hair gently. “You’re my favorite person, my best friend, not to mention my boyfriend now.” That still gave Jeremy a massive thrill. Well, it had only been just over a week. “I’m more than happy to help, and I want to be there for you in every way I can be. If anything, I should be thanking you for everything you’ve done for me. For staying by me even when I was being shitty last fall. For being my best friend and for just being you. I could list more, but I think you might explode if I did,” he teased, his voice light and soft with just a hint of a laugh in it. He kissed the top of Michael’s head again.

 

Michael let out a small laugh, and Jeremy could hear the smile in it. “Please don’t have me explode. I’d miss you if I exploded,” his boyfriend muttered out as he squeezed Jeremy’s hand. “And just because I don’t have to thank you doesn’t mean that I won’t.” Jeremy felt his hand move before he felt gentle kisses pressed to the back of it. “Whether they’re verbal or physical, I’m gonna thank you, so take my damn thanks.”

 

“If it’ll make you happy, I’ll gladly accept your thanks. I’ll lie here and take it all if you like.” Jeremy chuckled, squeezing Michael’s hand in return. “And guess what, Mikey.” Jeremy paused for effect. “I love you.”

 

Michael let out a dramatic gasp then, and he opened his mouth to say something in return before he coughed again. He brought his free hand up to cover his mouth, giving Jeremy a tired smile after he stopped. “Guess I can’t be as dramatic as I wanna be. Damn. Now what am I gonna do? I can’t let you out-drama me.”

 

“Dude, I’m a drama student. I have to be dramatic.” Jeremy snorted, poking Michael’s arm after checking there was no bruise there. He looked exhausted, almost as tired as he did when he got the nosebleed headache. Jeremy was concerned, but he trusted Michael to tell him if he needed anything extra.

 

Michael rolled his eyes then before resting his head against Jeremy’s chest again. “I mean, I get that, but I wanna be dramatic but can’t be. It’s a travesty.” He stuck his tongue out at Jeremy, and when he pulled it back in, he seemed to be thinking over something.

 

“I... Do you think you could just keep running your fingers through my hair, and just talk? About whatever.”

 

Jeremy kept stroking his hair and began rambling about the newest musical Christine was obsessed with. She planned on taking Brooke over to New York to see it, and Jeremy explained about how Christine was gonna ask Brooke out before they came home.

 

“I know Brooke is gonna say yes because she told me she planned on doing the same thing!” Jeremy giggled. “I’m so happy they’re finding people they like now, they both deserve someone special,” he hummed.

 

“They both do,” Michael agreed, smiling up at Jeremy before squeezing their held hands. “You know that I love you too, right? No matter what.” There was a serious undertone in his voice and in his eyes as he spoke, even if there was still a smile gracing his features.

 

He didn’t pause before he nodded, smiling softly but with a serious look in his eyes. “I know. I can feel it. And I love you too, just as much. No matter what happens, I will always love you.” Jeremy was very aware of what could happen if he failed at being a hero. He could become a SQUIP minion like the other villains, or worse. Either way, he wouldn’t be Jeremy anymore. But he knew that as Jeremy, he would always love Michael.

 

Michael looked him right in the eyes, shifting his position a little to do so. Despite the seriousness he held, there was love there too as he smiled up at Jeremy. “I will always love you, no matter what.” He reached up and kissed Jeremy, slowly and softly before pulling back to cough onto his free hand.

 

Even without those reassurances, Jeremy knew what Michael said was true. He didn’t want for that to ever be tested though. Jeremy was scared for that day to come if it ever did.

 

 

 

“How many have we lost?” Jeremy asked Jenna, who was in full uniform like everyone else. The Squad was gathered at the police station, along with Phantom, investigating the missing people. People had suddenly vanished from their homes in the middle of the night, no note, no witnesses.

 

“Twenty eight in total, all in good physical health but with a history of mental problems. They were aged fifteen to thirty-five,” Jenna replied, scrolling through her tablet. Officer Mell, Michael’s mama, sucked in a harsh breath.

 

“Do you think it has something to do with those... SQUIP things? My son mentioned that everyone he’s had contact with who had one had a mental disorder of some kind. Depression mostly. And the few villains you’ve taken down all had a similar history, depression or severe anxiety,” she mused. Both Jeremy and Phantom nodded, at the exact same time surprisingly.

 

Before Jeremy could respond, delayed a little by the shock, Phantom spoke up. “There seems to be some plans that those who have had SQUIPs have been trying to carry out. I’ve picked up word of it throughout the past few weeks, and it would make sense that those who have vanished somehow came in contact with a SQUIP somehow. I don’t think they’ll be gone for long though, but when they come back, there might be more danger afoot.” Officer Mell nodded, and one of the other officers with them seemed to be writing what Phantom said down. “I think it would be a good idea to be prepared for a possible attack. Get more units ready just in case, and be on alert over the next few days at the very least.” Phantom looked over to Jeremy then. “Wouldn’t you say so, Gamer?”

 

In an instant Jeremy was back in a Gamer mode, ignoring his shock or confusion for later. “That sounds about right. I can say we’ve all had personal encounters with SQUIPs on our team, though I can’t speak for Phantom, and from my own knowledge it’s likely they will be getting ‘upgraded’ as we speak.” He took a breath. “SQUIPs offer assistance for those issues, and they rewrite your own thoughts with approved ones without you realizing. Next time we see any of them, it’s likely they’ll be in the same state as the villains.”

 

It was hard, talking about SQUIPs like this, but Jeremy knew he was the best and most accurate source of information. Not only did he have one, he also could hack the older ones. He wasn’t sure if he’d be able to hack these newer ones for some reason, just a gut instinct. Maybe he was picking it up from his own SQUIP.

 

“The only thing that I know of that deactivates them is Mountain Dew Red. And no, it’s not the newer Code Red flavor, but the one discontinued in the nineties. It’s expensive to come by, and it’s a limited resource,” Phantom explained. “We have some on-hand, but like I said, it’s limited. The SQUIPs work under a hivemind-like network once they connect, so it’s better to have one drink it once they’re all connected to get rid of them since we more than likely won’t have enough for each individual.” As he spoke, the officer wrote all of this down while Michael’s mama just nodded, seemingly understanding this more and more as she looked to the side.

 

“Maybe I should ask my son if he has any more of that soda left, I know he got some before... Oh god, he went through more than he let on last year.”

 

Jeremy couldn’t help himself. “Your son Michael, right? He’s one of the first people to actually deactivate a hive... he saved a lot of people,” he added quietly before clearing his throat awkwardly. “I’m not sure if the standard method will work though, it seems as though each SQUIP sent out has been isolated from the others, since they wouldn’t want to risk the network. I haven’t sensed any connections besides that one time when Wavelength got upgraded. Every other time they’ve been totally isolated.”

 

“That makes sense,” Phantom said around a sigh. “For now though, since we can’t do much else besides deliberate, at least some of us should go around to patrol. I know the SQUIPs are still after me though. We could try using me as bait to lure some of them out, to try to capture one of the SQUIPed individuals and see what we can learn from them?”

 

That’s right, his SQUIP had mentioned Michael and Phantom. Still, Jeremy shook his head. “We need to gather our strength. Rest up, we start double patrols tomorrow. I’ve got a bad feeling that the SQUIPed civilians will show up soon enough, but not before they’re ready. We need to make sure we’re at full strength.” Jeremy turned to Jenna and Jake. “TechnoBug, Brainiac, I want you two to stay here. Work with the police and see how you can best use their resources. I want to know the minute anyone who went missing shows up.” It was their best option really. “The rest of you, do your usual routes and answer any questions civilians might have to the best of your ability. Tell people to stay indoors and be ready to leave if anything happens. Keep an eye on their phones to see if they need to evacuate the area thanks to an attack,” Jeremy instructed, knowing that everyone else would cover Jenna, Jake, and his routes. “Phantom, I need to talk to you before you go. Everyone clear?” There was a round of agreements from the supers. Jeremy turned to Officer Mell. “Are we set to get started, ma’am?”

 

Michael’s mama nodded then, and everyone started to clear out then. Phantom, however, stayed back and followed Jeremy to where he lead them to talk in private. “What’s up, Gamer?” he asked, keeping his tone somewhat casual.

 

“You’ve had experience with the SQUIPs before this,” Jeremy started plainly. “I need to know if you have a supply of your own of Red, and what you know about the SQUIPs that we might not already know. I’ve been watching, your powers affect them somehow, don’t they?”

 

“I can connect to people mentally, hun, so I can in a way. Maybe not as well as before, I haven’t really had a chance to interact with an ‘updated’ version like that yet,” Phantom explained. “I have made someone’s SQUIP visible and audible before, but it wasn’t an updated version like what we’re going to face. I do have some Red, but not a lot. Once I found out about what deactivates them, I got some, but like I said, it’s limited and it isn’t cheap. I’m on the same level of knowledge as you, but I can’t connect to technology like you can, so I think you’re a bit better equipped than I am.”

 

Jeremy paused for a moment. Then he pulled out some of the vials of Red he had, from his personal bottle, and handed it over to Phantom. “I’ve got a decent amount, so I think you’ll benefit from having your own special stock for being a hero.” Jeremy knew Phantom knew him in real life, away from hero work, and something peaked that memory as soon as he said it. “You said you can connect to people mentally.” Phantom nodded. “I’m guessing you know who I am then.” Phantom hesitated, then nodded again. Jeremy found the thought relaxed him somewhat. “I won’t ask you to tell me who you are, I understand the... need for anonymity in this whole thing. Plus, you’d have to explain your powers and how you got them and it would be a big mess. Just... be careful. If I know you really, I know I probably care for you. And I’d rather not see someone I care about with a SQUIP who doesn’t already have one.” Lists of people who could be Phantom gathered in his head, but he pushed them aside for now. “Once this is over I want to know properly though. Can I ask for that much?”

 

Phantom laughed a little, and it sounded a little sad. “I was planning on telling once this whole SQUIP fiasco was over at the very least, so you don’t need to worry about that, Gamer,” he reassured. “I’ve been trying to figure out the best way to explain everything for multiple people. It’s hard when you gotta figure out the different ways to tell others.” A sigh escaped him as he fiddled with the vials before putting them safely away. “You’re smart, you always have been. I knew I couldn’t keep this away from you for long. Once you know who I am though, just think about it first before reacting, yeah?”

 

Jeremy chuckled at that. “I think my first reaction is that you’ve been flirting with me when I’ve been both in and out of suit. I know I’ve been flirting back, but I’ve got a boyfriend now, as I’m sure you already know. And I’ll have you know I’m very loyal to him.” He had his suspicions, Jeremy wasn’t stupid after all, but he refused to let them come to light. Not yet. Not until after. He’d even programmed up his SQUIP to keep them away from him for now, or else he’d hyper focused on it (someone he knew had legitimate superpowers! That was so cool!) and possibly freak out with worry. As it was, he was already worried about his own team. It would be better if he wasn’t freaking out about Phantom too.

 

“Don’t worry, I passively overheard it. Plus, uh, your mental group chat you have with everyone is sort of like a megaphone to me, yelling what you’re thinking. I know you do, along with the fact that Hothead and Psyche are huge meme lords,” Phantom reassured him around a laugh. Jeremy swore he heard a smile in his voice as well.

 

Jeremy chuckled. “I’ll keep that in mind. And... thank you.” He took a small breath. “And... you have permission to connect to my head, if you ever want to or need to. Even if I don’t know who you are under the mask, I trust you and I trust you to not do any damage.”

 

Phantom nodded before reaching over and gently knocking his closed fist against Jeremy’s head. “I promise I’ll keep myself from damaging this noggin. I can’t ruin what’ll probably save us all.”

 

“You’ve got more faith in me than I do.” Jeremy chuckled, clapping Phantom on the shoulder. “I’ll do my best to make sure I deserve it. And, er, unless they already know it, the SQUIP Collective won’t find out about your identity from me. I’ve programmed mine up to stop me from knowing until certain conditions are met or I deactivate it myself.” He tapped his own head a few times and he swore he could see Phantom grin.

 

“Aren’t you sweet as a peach. Thank you for being so forward-thinking,” Phantom said around a laugh before pulling his hand back. “I think we should get going soon though so people don’t think we’re just lazing around and chatting.”

 

“You’re right.” Jeremy nodded. “I have someone to go see and talk to, and I’m sure you have things you need to get done too. I’ll be putting the schedule for the patrols into the group chat so listen out for it I guess? Catch you later!” He shrugged, waving to Phantom as he left the station. First to the base to get changed, then over to Michael’s place.

 

Jeremy made sure to get everything done as quickly as possible, making it to Michael’s in near record time. When he walked in, not needing a key like always, he saw Michael set up in the kitchen, making himself a slushie at the kitchen counter as he rested his head in his crossed arms. Michael looked over after Jeremy shut the front door, smiling and waving. “Hey, I’m making some slushies. They’re green apple and cherry flavored. Want one?”

 

“Sure.” Jeremy grinned, settling himself next to Michael and pressing a kiss to the top of his head. “So, I’m guessing you’ve heard about the missing people?” Subtle, Heere. Real subtle.

 

Michael let out a hum as he nodded, grabbing the cup he had out as he started pouring out the mixed slushie. “Mama was talking about it when she got called in early today.” He looked over at Jeremy as he handed over the slushie. “How’d you hear about it?”

 

“Jenna. Her cousin went missing from his hotel room.” That much was true. It was the event that sparked the team investigating.

 

Jeremy leant closer to Michael, leaning on him a little. “It... it scares me a little if I’m honest. I’m really kinda freaked about this.”

 

“I’d be worried if you weren’t freaked out,” Michael told him, an arm wrapping around Jeremy. “I mean, after everything that’s been happening and the threats and everything...” He was quiet for a minute before his head rested against Jeremy’s. “I know the SQUIPs consider me a threat. If something happens to me, you aren’t gonna give up, right? Because I know heroes can try to help and stop stuff, but it doesn’t always work-“

 

“I promise. I’ll do my best to keep going.” Jeremy sighed. “I just... I don’t know how to survive in a world without you. I’ll do my best, but I... you can’t have Player Two without Player One. I’ve lived that life before and it almost killed me. Or, y’know, enslaved the entirety of the human race. I don’t want to end up there again. But I won’t give up. That much I can promise.”

 

Michael let out a small chuckle at that, and Jeremy could feel it echo with familiarity in his head. “Well, you have to take it over and be Player One temporarily if that’s the case. This’ll be different. Plus, this situation is different than last fall, so you’re not gonna be in the same place. It’s similar but different, if that helps.”

 

Jeremy nuzzled against Michael. “Fine. But I hope you know, if you get taken, I’m coming to find you. I don’t care what any hero says, they’d have to stick me in a cell to stop me from finding you and making you drink the Red. I’d find a way, you know how stubborn I can be.” His tone was light but he was anything but joking. If it ever came to that, nothing would stop Jeremy from getting to Michael. They were never being on opposite sides again, not so long as Jeremy had a choice in the matter.

 

“I know, and I appreciate it,” Michael told him. “Even if I’m taken, it doesn’t mean we’re going to be against each other. I’ll do everything in my power to make sure we aren’t. We did that once before, and I refuse to let that happen again as long as I’m able to do something about it.”

 

Michael nuzzled against Jeremy as well then before sighing. “Now I made slushie sharing time sad.” Jeremy looked down to see his slushie was more liquid than slush now. “Aw. Poor slushie.”

 

Jeremy stirred the remains of the slushie. “Drink this syrup water with me, my darling Riends.” Jeremy held it up, taking one of the straws in his mouth. His eyes were soft, and he knew Michael could tell how hard he was trying to lighten the mood a little.

 

“If the syrup water is gross, you gotta order something to eat for dinner with me,” Michael told him then as he lifted his head off of Jeremy’s shoulders. “My choice of where. If it’s not, uh... you choose where. ‘Cause I’m hungry but don’t wanna cook, my lovely Boyf,” Michael added, giving Jeremy a smile then before he took the other straw in his mouth.

 

They both took a long slurp and Jeremy pulled back, wrinkling his nose after a moment. “It’s gross.” He giggled, then sighed. “Where do you wanna order from, Mikey? I’ll even make the call.” His grin was weaker than it might have been, thanks to the heavy topic prior, but he was moving past it. He could still enjoy the rest of the day with his boyfriend.

 

Michael scrunched up his nose as he smacked his lips, possibly overplaying how grossed out he was for Jeremy (but he totally could have been serious as well). “Wherever you want to order from is what I want. All I really want right at this moment is to get the taste out of my mouth though, eugh. I forgot how much I hate syrup water.”

 

“Indian it is. I’ll get our usual order, yeah?” he asked, tossing Michael a tub of lemon sorbet from the fridge which he kept in there for this very reason. It was kinda expensive but Michael often found he didn’t like a texture or flavor and this was one of the best ways of removing the sensation. “Only one scoop of that this time! We don’t want to have to buy more so soon,” he reminded, grabbing the list of food from the fridge. He wrote down their usual orders from every fast food place in the area, just in case someone else was ordering (they never did but still).

 

“Ooo, yes please,” Michael said as he caught the tub, though Jeremy could hear his pout. He knew Michael loved the stuff and would try eating the whole thing if not told otherwise. “Thank you, I love you.” As Michael said that, Jeremy looked over to see him digging through his silverware drawer, grabbing a bigger spoon so he could dig one scoop out. “Also, Mama and Nanay are gonna be out late working so they left cash for dinner. I think there’s thirty there.”

 

Jeremy nodded, shooting a grin over to Michael. “Love you too, sweetheart,” he cooed, grabbing the house phone and dialling the number.

 

A few minutes later, the call was done with and Jeremy and Michael were curled up on the couch. Jeremy was perched in Michael’s lap, holding a small bowl of lemon sorbet and was feeding Michael small spoonfuls, taking the occasional one for himself. It was so domestic and almost sickeningly adorable, and Jeremy was relishing in it. Michael was stroking his hair, and he’d hooked his chin over Jeremy’s shoulder.

 

Michael had connected the TV to YouTube and was looking through some different feeds with the remote, but he stopped to look up at Jeremy then. “Ok, two things. The first is if you’re alright with binging some Jenna Marbles videos. The second is the last serious thing I’m going to bring up tonight,” he said, seemingly hesitating as he took a spoonful of some sorbet.

 

“Jenna Marbles is fine. What’s the serious thing?” Jeremy asked softly, leaning back against Michael and taking a small mouthful of sorbet for himself.

 

“I...” Michael glanced away for a minute, though his chin was still hooked over Jeremy’s shoulder. “I’m not ready now, but if I had something that I hid from you before, something big, would you be upset with me? Even if I thought it was for a good reason and had good intentions?”

 

Jeremy didn’t even have to really think about it. “Not really. If you genuinely thought you were doing the right thing, I wouldn’t be upset.” How could he be, when he’d been doing the same thing? “The only thing that might upset me is that you got into a situation where you felt it was necessary, but even then. So long as you are trying to do the right thing, I won’t be upset.” He paused for a moment. “Would... you be upset if I did the same? If I kept something for you, for a good reason?”

 

“I mean, I’d be a hypocrite if I said yes, wouldn’t I?” Michael pointed out with a soft smile. “As long as you aren’t doing evil kinda shit, it’s good. I don’t think you would be though.” The hand that was in Jeremy’s hair before stilled when they started talking about the serious ‘what-if’ stuff, but it resumed its motions from before. “I wouldn’t have a boyfriend who would be evil. Never ever. You aren’t evil at all... right?”

 

Jeremy chuckled at that. “No, I’m not evil. Or... I don’t think I’m evil. I try not to be.” He offered Michael the last spoonful of sorbet, which his boyfriend took. “You keep me good and sane. Which kinda makes you my own personal hero, making sure I’m on the straight and narrow. Or Bi and narrow.” He snorted.

 

Michael snorted at that too, smiling up at Jeremy as he rested his head against Jeremy’s. “Alright, good. Then I’m fine with it. I’m glad that I keep you good and sane and bisexual. If I made you straight, I’d be doing lots of things wrong.”

 

“I doubt I could ever consider myself straight again. Not after you. May as well change my details, I’m forever bi for you.” He turned his head enough to press a gentle kiss to Michael’s cheek, just catching the corner of his lips. “And I totally mean that one hundred percent. That’s my serious thing of the night,” he murmured, leaning his head against Michael’s again.

 

“Well I’m glad to hear that. It brings up my self confidence a bit,” Michael said around a grin. “Well, a lot.” The arm with the remote wrapped around Jeremy a bit, squeezing him for a moment before he pulled back. “I love you.”

 

Jeremy hummed happily, leaning back against Michael’s firm chest a bit more. “I love you,” he echoed. He truly did, more than he’d realised. If someone had told Jeremy from a year ago that he had been in love with Michael for years, he would have called them crazy. Now, Jeremy could barely remember a time when he didn’t love Michael in some way. It was his constant. One of his core traits. He loved Michael. It was just a fact.

 

Jeremy felt his eyes begin to flutter a little as he got more comfortable. Food wouldn’t be here for another fifteen minutes, so they had a little time for Jeremy to just relax for a moment, right?

 

“Hey Mikey?” he murmured sweetly. Michael let out a small hum to show he was listening. “You’re my forever, I think. S’always gonna be us together.”

 

Michael let out another hum as Jeremy saw him finish typing up ‘Jenna’ in the search bar with the remote. “I was going to ask what brought on this mushiness, but I love this mushiness. I want all of it,” his boyfriend said with a soft hum before Jeremy felt a few kisses littered across his cheek. “I can’t wait until this is all past us so we can live our lives together. Even if it’s not what we think it’s gonna be, I’m alright with it as long as it’s with you. Also as long as we can stream YouTube.”

 

Jeremy giggled sleepily at that, feeling very tired all of a sudden. He curled closer to Michael and let his eyes shut. He let himself forget about being a hero, about having a SQUIP or even SQUIPs in general, and he let himself just... be. Be with Michael. Be safe and comfortable and happy. He knew come tomorrow he’d have to be responsible again, but until then Jeremy was more than happy to just exist with his boyfriend.

 

 

 

That night came and went too fast. Jeremy hated having to get up and leave, but he gave Michael a quick ‘goodbye’ kiss before he left. He took in the sight of Michael eating freezer pancakes with a messy bedhead in like his life depended on it before he headed off to his base. On the way, he was sure to text his dad a ‘good morning’ text and that he was at Michael’s.

 

When he made it back, he saw that most everyone was there, save for Jenna. “She’ll be back shortly,” Brooke promised, “She’s just grabbing some breakfast.” And back in five minutes later with some food for everyone, which everyone scarfed down quickly before getting changed into their suits. Jeremy had to keep his heart in his throat as he tugged his mask on.

 

As soon as everyone was suited up, however, Jeremy heard a knock on the door to the warehouse. Everyone froze. Only they, besides Chloe’s parents (who were out of the country), knew about this place. Before anyone could come up with something, the backdoor to the place opened and in strode in Phantom.

 

“Hey guys, hope I’m not really intru- Oh. My. God. This place is amazing! You have training areas and so much cool stuff. This is totally a perfect place to be the Jersey Squad’s hideout!”

 

“Umm. Excuse me but how did you find our base?” Chloe asked, but Jeremy waved her down.

 

“It’s fine, Countess. We can trust him, he’s not got any traces of any SQUIP tech on him,” Jeremy reassured her. “Though I must say I am curious.” He grinned over at Phantom, cocking his head.

 

“Remember what I told you about sort of hearing your group chat like someone’s yelling at me with a megaphone? You’ve talked in your mental group chat about your base location before when I’ve been around, so that’s how I know.” As Phantom said that, almost everyone else looked over at Jeremy with a look of confusion or distrust... except for Rich.

 

“With your powerset, that makes sense, especially with being able to connect to people mentally. Us sort of mentally yelling at each other has to be distracting, especially with memes,” Rich said with a shrug. While everyone turned to stare at Rich now, Phantom laughed.

 

“Yeah, it was a bit jarring the first time you guys did that near me, but I sort of got used to memes being indirectly beamed into my head. At least they’re good ones.”

 

Jeremy waved the team down again. “I told you, we can trust him. I have my own reasons for saying that, which I will gladly share after we’re done with this whole thing. For now, you need to either trust me or I’ll disable your powers and you can go be a civilian with everyone else.” Admittedly, Jeremy was a little stressed. Still, he was trying to behave and he managed to keep himself from growling or something. He was glad for Rich supporting him here.

 

Chloe sort of sputtered at what Jeremy was saying before Brooke shook her head at her. Christine, meanwhile, just nodded along with Jeremy. “I trust you, Gamer. It’s just a little jarring while we’re all a bit stressed out right now, is all.” Phantom seemed like he wanted to say something with his body language, but he stopped himself now that he seemed to really recognize the tension growing in the warehouse.

 

Can you hear me?’ Jeremy thought, and he spotted Phantom giving him a subtle nod. ‘Should I tell them that we know each other normally? It might help settle them a little,’ he asked.

 

He could tell that Phantom was thinking about it before he nodded subtly again from across the room.

 

Jeremy sent out a small burst of confirmation, which was probably tinged with a fond sort of trust, before he turned back to the group. “Phantom knows our identity. He’s known for a while, because he knows us in real life. We can trust him,” Jeremy explained, pulling off his mask and turning off his modulator for a moment. “He’s promised to tell me his identity once this is over, just so we’re not all worrying about him today, but we can trust him.” Jeremy shot Phantom a fond smile. He felt his SQUIP stop his identity being made known again, as that happened a lot recently.

 

Phantom gave two thumbs up to that, and the reactions seemed to become a bit calmer at that. Rich stepped forward then, pulling down his own mask and turning his own modular off as well. “I definitely trust him. If he’s ready to tell us all of that after today, that’s just a plus because it shows how much he trusts all of us as well.” Jeremy could tell that Phantom was practically beaming at Rich’s added sentiment.

 

“We’ll follow you guys into this. If you guys say we can trust him, I trust him,” Jake said, taking his mask off. “Also yeah, I designed the bracers for myself.” He grinned, putting his hands into his pockets of his suit.

 

One by one, everyone took off their masks. Jeremy could tell Phantom was genuinely touched.

 

“Okay, Phantom, I need to know if you can integrate with our network at all? It’ll make things easier for us all.” Jeremy went back to business; even without his mask on, he was still Gamer. Admittedly, it was a little weird giving orders in his normal voice, but he wanted to keep it off for a bit longer. He had a bad feeling about today, and wanted to spend as much time as Jeremy as he could.

 

“I think so, since you base it off of your thoughts, even if it’s through the connection of SQUIP technology,” Phantom said with a shrug. “I’ll try my best to connect, but if it takes me a minute, just know I’m trying and it’s a new thing for me.” Jeremy and everyone else nodded, letting Phantom try. He expected it to take a few minutes with how Phantom was talking about himself, so he was surprised when a few seconds later, he got a message in their mental group chat.

 

{Phantom} Heeeey everybody ;)))

 

{Charade} hi (^ω^)/

 

{Hothead} and you said it would take a while

 

{Countess} I’ll admit, I’m interested.

 

“Enough chat, guys, c’mon.” Jeremy chuckled. He was about to say something when suddenly Jenna bolted upright and ran over to her computer set up.

 

“All the missing people have just been sighted! Every single one, and they all have weird gun things, and they are a bunch of other people with them too.” She quickly typed something into her computer and brought up several images on the range of monitors.

 

Everyone quickly hurried over to look over her computer monitors, some which brought up records of every person who had been missing. Some had audio transcripts of police radios while others had live footage of what was happening, showing what Jenna was describing. “Well, it looks like it’s already time for the invasion to start,” Brooke muttered out, followed by a heavy sigh.

 

Jeremy’s eyes focused on the men and women who weren’t part of the missing people. They were dressed in body armor, with dark grey and blue circuit patterns on them, and their eyes were bright blue. The way they handled the guns was much more practiced and efficient than the missing civilians. They were trained at the very least.

 

“I want a city wide evacuation, they’re too spread out for us to contain in one area,” Jeremy instructed and Jenna nodded, sending a message to the system to activate the alerts. “Once that’s taking place I want us in three groups. Hothead, Brainiac, and Psyche, you three begin coordinating with the police. Start collecting the SQUIPed civilians and getting them into custody. We can give them Red later. TechnoBug, Charade, you two need to monitor the evacuation. Be ready to assist whoever needs it and make sure everything is running smoothly. If people listened, they should all have places to go outside the city. Countess, Phantom, and I will be trying to take down one of those SQUIP soldiers. We need to know what they’re capable of and how hard they are going to be to beat.” He looked around. “Any questions, complaints or suggestions?”

 

Everyone else shook their head, ready to go as they started putting their masks on then and activating their modulators. Phantom stood over with Jeremy then as Christine went over to Jenna and Jake, Rich, and Brooke grouped up. “Thanks, Gamer.”

 

Jeremy grinned at him as he slipped on his mask. “Even if I don’t consciously know your identity, I already know to trust you. You’re as much a part of this team as any of us, you have been since Wavelength.” He activated his modulator. “Explaining this is gonna be fun later on, but I promise you this: I’m not gonna be upset you kept it from me. After all, I’ve done the same, and I’m no hypocrite.”

 

Phantom let out a laugh then before nodding. “I get you, Gamer. I appreciate it a lot, you have no idea.” Jeremy could hear Phantom grinning as Chloe walked over, pulling her mask on.

 

“Alright, you’re the leader, Gamer. Lead the way.”

 

Jeremy checked the monitor again before leading them out of the compound. They headed to an area not too far from the mall, sticking to alleys and back routes to make sure they weren’t seen by any people evacuating or by any SQUIPs.

 

Eventually, the found a lone soldier, stationed well away from the escaping civilians. Jeremy reached out with his powers, trying to get a feel for what they were up against. He felt nothing, not even anything in the gun. To say it freaked out Jeremy would be a bit of an understatement.

 

{Gamer} I can’t get a sense of him at all. It’s like he doesn’t exist technologically, not even his gun.

 

{Phantom} That’s prob bc SQUIP doesn’t want you tapping into any of its soldiers so it updated them all above your old SQUIPs power capacity or reach or whatever

 

{Gamer} but this means I’m basically useless!

 

Jeremy was going to say more, but he spotted the soldier’s movements and pulled Phantom out of the way of the shot. The blue bolt of energy fizzled as it scorched the wall and evaporated.

 

In an instant, Chloe launched herself at the soldier, engaging him in hand to hand combat. He swung his gun onto his back, easily matching Chloe in skill, strength, and speed. Jeremy threw down a coms barrier that Jake had created, cutting the little ten foot bubble off digitally from the rest of the world.

 

“Are you okay?” Jeremy asked, worried about Phantom. Did he get caught? Did he get shot? He knew Chloe could hold her own for a moment at least, long enough for this.

 

Phantom waved him off then before giving a thumbs up. “I’m fine, you kept me from getting shot,” he reassured Jeremy, looking over to where Chloe and the soldier were fighting. Chloe was still holding her own, but the soldier was slowly gaining on her. “Hey, you’re literally a gamer with your controllers. Can’t you, like, help Countess out with her fighting right now? Beat that soldier in hand-to-hand combat and we go from there.”

 

“If she needs me to.” Jeremy sent the question and got her reply. Quickly, he darted out of the alley and connected Chloe to his trusty Xbox controller and set her to Apocalypse of the Damned: Battle Mode control scheme. Jeremy knew them better than any other battle game. He and Michael held the record on the online leaderboards, even if no one else knew it was them.

 

The soldier adapted to Chloe’s new fighting style, but he stopped gaining the advantage. They were perfectly evenly matched now.

 

“Damnit, I can't seem to get him,” Jeremy growled, feeling the tiniest strain from pushing Chloe’s SQUIP to enhance her to her maximum.

 

Phantom stood beside him, obviously ready to jump in at any moment, before looking down at Jeremy. “What control scheme do you have?”

 

“Apocalypse of the Damned: Battle Mode,” Jeremy quickly answered as he kept working, huffing a little as he felt his fingers beginning to get tired.

 

“Let me try.” Jeremy hesitated for a second. “You trust me, don’t you?” Jeremy was quick to nod. “Let Countess know about the few seconds I’ll be switching over, but let me try. Please.”

 

Without another second of hesitation, Jeremy did just that before quickly transferring over the controller to Phantom. “I hope you know what you’re doing.”

 

“Trust me, I do.”

 

Within seconds, Chloe suddenly had a major advantage, outmaneuvering the soldier with ease. Jeremy could only watch in awe as Phantom expertly string combos together.

 

“Up, down, down, left, right, trigger, trigger, B. Taste the double undead combo, fucker!” he heard Phantom mutter, before letting out a whoop of triumph as the soldier fell.

 

Jeremy dropped the connection to Chloe, who instantly gave the guy some Red.

 

Jeremy couldn’t move. He could barely process what he’d just seen. That was Michael’s signature move, the one he came up with himself. It was fast and complex and awkward to pull off and Jeremy hadn’t managed it even once. It was too much proof.

 

The blocks in his brain fell, his SQUIP unable to contain the realization any longer.

 

Almost without thinking, Jeremy strode forwards, pulling up his own mask enough to expose his mouth. He grabbed Phantom by the front of his suit, lifted his mask to expose his mouth, and crashed their lips together.

 

There was a sudden noise of surprise from the other, but Michael melted into it a second later. The movement of lips against lips was too familiar, they slotted together in a recently practiced manner. He knew this was Michael. When he pulled away, he saw the familiar mole above Michael’s lip, and that was just the cherry on top of all of this.

 

“I’m guessing your SQUIP blocker things are gone, huh,” Michael said around an airy laugh before he tugged at the hem of his mask, threatening to pull it down again.

 

Jeremy stole one more kiss before he let Michael pull his mask down again.

 

“You basically showed me your ID with that move, sweetheart. There was no way for my brain to deny it at that point.” He chuckled, pulling down his own mask. He turned to Chloe for a moment.

 

“Countess, go catch up with the others, grab Charade and TechnoBug too. We need to tell everyone about what we found with the soldiers and patch everyone up. I know you’re bruised and I’m pretty sure everyone else is too.” He pressed against Michael’s chest with a small sigh. “We’ll catch up in a minute.”

 

Chloe hesitated, obviously trying to process what she had just seen, but she nodded before running off. Jeremy turned back to Michael. He was ready to finally talk to Michael with no pretending, but his mind and mouth had other ideas.

 

“You held up a building,” he said, as if just realizing it. That wasn’t what he meant to say.

 

“Yeah, I did,” Michael said with a little surprise, obviously not expecting Jeremy to talk about that right out the gate. “It wasn’t fun. It’s sorta why I was so tired. So Rich knows who I am. I’m pretty sure Chloe knows now too after seeing all of this.” Jeremy could hear the smirk in his tone. “I did a lot of other things too, Jeremy.”

 

Jeremy’s head was starting to reel a little. Michael was Phantom. Michael was Phantom. Which meant- “You fought my SQUIP. You punched it in the face and you made me forget, and- and- and...” Something else clicked in his head. “You’ve done that recently too... you were... possessed or something. And then I was possessed and then you made me forget...”

 

Michael seemed a bit guilty at that (if his posture change was anything to go off of) before he nodded. “Well, I obviously did a rushed job with the memory thing if you’re remembering now. But yeah, that all happened. You knew when we were kids, but I think I accidentally made you forget after the ICU thing and I thought you just stopped believing.” He scratched behind his head at that. “Turns out it was just me... ahah...”

 

Jeremy frowned a little at that, but then he saw a blur out of the corner of his eye. “I keep telling you, his own seer blood has been unlocked. It’s not your fault it didn’t stick, it just is that erasing the wipe.” A deep voice sighed, sounding like he was very close to facepalming.

 

Jeremy’s head snapped to the side and he saw a vague shape of a man in a light blur before it faded again. “Okay, please explain about that. I’m not imagining that person speaking, right? Because it sounds just like the nice voice from when you were possessed.”

 

“Oh, yeah. Uh, this is my friend, his name is Derek. I met him during the fall. He was my ‘World of Warcraft’ friend. I don’t think he’s even dared touched a gaming mouse when he was alive, but yeah, he helped me out a lot,” Michael explained. “He’s more than just a nice voice, he’s a nice person as well. He’s almost always with me. Well, except for whenever we’ve had intimate moments or made out. He dips out then.”

 

Jeremy blinked harshly and could just about make out a tall, good looking young man standing next to them. He waved almost shyly at the man- ghost?- and got a grin and a wave in return before Jeremy lost sight of him again. “And... how can I see him? I don’t have your powers after all... do I?”

 

“A little bit of my seer stuff rubbed off on you ‘cause you were always with me. It’s sorta what Derek was saying before. I didn’t really realize it until he pointed it out a few months ago to me,” Michael said with another shrug. “Also, the connection I have in the mental group chat sort of helps with that. But if you work at it, you could see Derek all on your own and hear him and stuff without much or any effort.”

 

Jeremy nodded slowly. “Okay... well... you can help me with that once this is over. For now, let’s go catch up with everyone.” Jeremy hugged Michael tightly, feeling Michael return it. All those times, the small interactions with Phantom that made Jeremy feel safe, they finally made sense. He was glad to have been fighting this whole time with Michael by his side. “I love you. And we’re gonna talk once we’re safe back at base. Or at home. But for now we can just be heroes, yeah?” He pulled back, grinning under his mask.

 

“Just let me set up a connection real quick, now that you know.” Michael seemed to know Jeremy was confused by that as he sighed. “A personal connection, sorta like a psychic link. One that isn’t SQUIP-based since we both got seer blood. I worked really hard to learn how to do this after I found out.”

 

Jeremy didn’t hesitate to nod, letting Michael hurry over to lift his mask carefully, as well as his own, just above the mouth. “This is the way I chose, it’s the quickest and easiest,” he explained before leaning down, cupping Jeremy’s cheeks as he kissed him softly.

 

As he did, Jeremy felt a nice feeling settle in his head. It got cluttered sometimes with all his powers and everything, but he just felt at ease. The feeling of sitting with Michael alone in a room came (literally) to mind, where they didn’t have to talk to each other but were just chilling in the same space, completely at ease with one another. He felt that Michael was there without him actually being right in his mind. It was nice and serene, and the feeling stuck as Michael pulled his lips back before quickly and carefully rolling back down Jeremy’s mask before his own.

 

“As if I’d object to a kiss from you,” he teased weakly, too caught in his head. Jeremy was sort of in awe of the feeling of just pure Michael in his head. It wasn’t invasive, just... relaxing. It made him feel loved, and he felt that love sort of echo back at him from Michael. The sensation felt as natural as if he’d had it for years. It felt like home.

 

(Jeremy): “So now we have our own personal link?”

 

He tried to think through the feeling, and was pleasantly surprised to find that Michael sent a sort of echo of confirmation back. Wow, he just used a natural superpower, this was awesome!

 

(Jeremy): “Ready, Mikey?”

 

(Michael): “Of course, Jeremy.”

 

Michael smiled down at him, he was sure, as they started to go (Jeremy noticed that Chloe took the unconscious former soldier with her). It was obvious that he wanted to hold Jeremy’s hand, but wasn’t because they were going outside of that little bubble now. They had to be serious superheroes. Their moment was up. But they still had each other mentally, so it was fine.

 

Jeremy held Michael’s hand mentally as they ran after where Chloe was heading. Jeremy reached out mentally and found where the team was regrouping (by Michael’s favorite Seven-Eleven which had just reopened) and started steering Michael in that direction. “We have about a twenty minute run from here. Countess got a head start but we might still be able to catch her if we keep up this pace.”

 

Michael thought for a moment, before suddenly Jeremy found that he was getting higher and higher in the air as with every step he took. Michael was rising through the air just as gracefully and within a few seconds they were running through the air above the buildings no problem. He had forgotten this was how Phantom got around, and he had to say, he saw the appeal. It was quick and somehow just relaxing.

 

(Michael) “Something I like to do when I’m higher up is to look down at people and pretend like I know them and why they’re going where they’re going.”

 

Jeremy had to keep himself from bursting out laughing at that, and he could feel the smug grin that Michael had through the link they now had. Mentally, Michael also squeezed Jeremy’s hand as that smugness lingered.

 

(Jeremy): “You’re so weird, Mikey.”

 

He let his fondness and teasing feelings bleed into the thought, and could feel Michael’s mock horror at it. He did giggle a little at that.

 

His good mood vanished abruptly when he spotted something in an alleyway below them. Three kids were cornered by people Jeremy could sense having SQUIPs. Even from up here he could see the fear rolling off them, as the taller kid pushed the smaller two behind them.

 

(Jeremy): “Take us down, they need our help.”

 

He pointed them out, and suddenly they were falling through the air, dropping like stones. Jeremy barely held back a scream, only managing thanks to the calm confidence he could feel from Michael through the link. As they neared the ground, Jeremy found that they slowed and landed carefully with barely a whisper of air to tell of their arrival. Michael must have some amazing control to be able to pull that off.

 

They were standing behind the two SQUIPed adults, and the kids didn’t seem to have noticed them yet.

 

“Leave us alone, we didn’t do anything. I’m almost a black belt in karate,” the tallest kid threatened, keeping the other two behind her as the adults took a step forward.

 

Just as they did though, Michael reached forward with one hand, grabbing one adult by the shoulder as the other deftly moved. It sent the adult he grabbed’s ‘gun’ flying, hitting their companion hard in the head as Michael pulled the person back, quickly clocking them in the face. “I’d listen to the kid. Almost black belts are basically black belts. You so don’t wanna mess with them.”

 

As much as Jeremy wanted to stand and watch in awe (Michael was freaking amazing), he had to do the hero thing too. He’d accepted this responsibility after all. He reached out and found that the SQUIPs these people had were hackable. Obviously they were a low enough level that the Collective didn’t care if they got taken or not.

 

He grabbed the two people, focusing in on their SQUIPs and taking control of their limbs. “You two haven’t been playing very nice. Go sit by the wall for some time out,” he instructed, and they followed his words, sitting by the wall and staring blankly ahead. “Is it worth me using our Red stocks on them?” he asked, heading over to the kids to see if they were okay.

 

“I think that as long as we still have a good amount left, yeah, but it’s honestly your call, Mr. Leader,” Michael said as he went over to the kids as well. The taller girl, who seemed to be in middle school, still had the two kids behind her, who seemed to be elementary schoolers. “You kids were amazing. There’s gonna be police coming around soon, so we’re gonna get you to a place you can hide for when they come to pick you up, alright?” All three nodded, and Michael gave a high five to the tallest. “You were very brave. You’re definitely a hero in your own right with what you did.”

 

“T-thank you, Phantom,” the girl said, clearly still freaking out even if she was calming down at the sight of the heroes here saving the day.

 

Jeremy pulled out two vials and held them out. The two SQUIPed people took them, headed into a shop next to them, and closed the door. “They’ll be drinking the Red in there to make sure they aren’t in any danger when they wake up.” He turned to the kids. “As for you three, lets get you into one of these apartments, yeah? Do any of you live around here?” The shortest kid, a little boy with curly black hair, nodded. “Let’s go to your house then and you can wait there for the police. How does that sound?”

 

The little boy ran over and hugged Jeremy around his waist, squeezing him as tightly as his little arms would allow and whimpering a little. Jeremy flailed a little, then picked him up. The poor boy had to only be about six, and he was obviously scared. “Hey, it’s okay. We’re gonna get you home so you can wait somewhere safe. You’re gonna be fine.”

 

The preteen walked over, holding the hand of the other little kid, a girl with short blond hair. “We were trying to leave, I was babysitting them. Thank you two so much,” she echoed before Michael nodded.

 

“Of course. We both promise that you three will be alright. You did an amazing job taking care of these two,” Michael reassured, giving two thumbs up as they started to lead them to the apartment thanks to the babysitter’s directions.

 

“TechnoBug has been monitoring everything she can. If you turn on your computer or phone or anything and turn on the camera, she’ll direct the police to you. Just make sure you keep it on and you don’t leave the apartment.” Jeremy kept carrying the little boy, who didn’t seem to want to let him go. Jeremy wasn’t about to protest, the poor kid deserved some comfort with everything he was going through.

 

“I will.” The babysitter nodded, looking as determined more than Jeremy had seen anyone look. “And I’ll make sure they’re safe,” she told them as they quickly made their way into the apartment. It was on the second floor, so it was a short trip.

 

“Good. I’m trusting you,” Michael said as the girl quickly opened the door, letting the little girl in.

 

The babysitter looked over to Jeremy then, giving him a shaky smile before holding her arms out. “C’mon Gerard, I got you,” she promised. “I’m your big cousin, I won’t let anything happen to you.”

 

The little boy, Gerard, sniffled from where he was held in Jeremy’s arms before turning and making grabby hands at his cousin. Jeremy carefully gave him over then, making sure he was safe in her arms. The girl thanked them both as she adjusted the boy in her arms so she could take our her phone before entering the apartment and shutting the door.

 

Michael let out a sigh at that, fidgeting a little where he stood before looking over at Jeremy. “Ready to keep going, Gamer?”

 

Jeremy nodded and they left the apartment.

 

(Jeremy): “She was only a few years younger than us...”

 

It was bothering Jeremy to no end. Sure, he had powers, but in reality he was still barely a kid. Somehow he’d been given the responsibility to look after the whole town, maybe the whole world. It was a lot. And he felt immeasurable pride for that middle schooler, who had been working so hard to protect those little kids. She understood the responsibility and was working hard to keep to it.

 

These thoughts were hot on Jeremy’s mind as he and Michael ran back into the air.

 

(Michael): “Jeremy, I know it’s hard and that it’s unfair that we have this responsibility, but it’ll all be over soon.”

 

Jeremy looked over then to see Michael looking down at him at that rose into the air. Mentally, through that link, he felt the sensation of Michael giving him a hug, one of reassurance and love.

 

(Michael): “It’s gonna be alright.”

 

(Jeremy): “Yeah. And it shouldn’t be too long until this is over, hopefully.”

 

He replied, keeping pace with Michael easily. He wanted to say more, but a blue bolt of energy shot past him. He looked down and saw a few soldiers chasing after them, with two starting to rise into the air. They seemed to have the same anti gravity things as Wavelength, but Jeremy couldn’t get a fix on them to turn them off.

 

Michael looked back as well, muttering a curse under his breath before he looked down below. “The best way to lose them is down below, there’s too much free space up here.” Jeremy nodded in agreement as Michael took his hand and quickly started leading them back down out of the air.

 

Once they touched down to the ground, Michael started to lead them through some of the trickier streets to try to weave through and lose them. It was getting closer to their home turf, near the Seven-Eleven, so the familiarity was hitting Jeremy with the routes Michael was taking.

 

Suddenly, Michael let out a scream and collapsed. Jeremy skidded to a stop a few feet ahead, looking back with horror. Michael was on the ground, blue energy fizzling out around him as several SQUIPed soldiers surrounded him.

 

“Let him go!” Jeremy barked, feeling for something, anything that might help him help Michael. He couldn’t find anything. He took a step forward anyway, more than willing to try to take them down himself. A bolt of energy by his feet was enough to stop him.

 

“Priority Michael Mell has been secured. Awaiting further instructions,” a female soldier said into a walkie-talkie. Jeremy was helpless.

 

The soldiers with their guns ready looked at Jeremy, daring him to step forward. The empty looks in their eyes only added to the panic he was feeling, that made his stomach churn. Looking past them by a foot, Michael twitched as the blue energy seemed to still linger. He couldn’t see what was going on otherwise, his mask doing its job of obscuring his face too well for Jeremy’s liking right now.

 

Any twitching stopped as the female soldier who spoke into the walkie-talkie placed a hand on him. She, along with another soldier, forced him up to his feet, even if he was unsteady and wobbly. His mask was ripped off as the other soldier who held him up kept his arms pinned behind his back, revealing his exhausted and lax-probably due to the shocks he received-face.

 

Even if his exhaustion was evident, his eyes, glazed and weary, locked right on to Jeremy.

 

(Michael): “Jeremy. I love you so much. I need you to run, even if it hurts. Even if you feel like it’s wrong, I need you to. I don’t want you to be here for what we both know they’re going to do. You can’t do anything to stop this right now, and we both know it. Get everyone, talk to each other, and figure out a way to stop the SQUIP, to stop me. Just know that whatever I’m doing, I love you and I’m gonna be doing my best to still be on your side, even if it doesn’t seem like it, yeah?”

 

(Jeremy): “I’m not leaving you. I can’t just leave you.”

 

He mentally begged, barely biting back a whimper. He couldn’t abandon Michael, not again, not ever again. He refused. There had to be something he could do.

 

(Michael): “You aren’t leaving me. You’re being smart and helping, even if it hurts. Tell me, is there something you can even do right now to stop this? Is there?”

 

Jeremy had to gnaw down on his lower lip to keep himself from letting out a soft sob. He hated it that Michael was right, and Michael seemed to hate it as well for once.

 

Jeremy watcher in horror as a SQUIP was forced down Michael’s throat, and Mountain Dew shortly after.

 

Jeremy was shaking. He was helpless. He couldn’t do anything. He was losing Michael and there was nothing he could do to stop it.

 

(Jeremy): “I love you.”

 

Jeremy turned and ran.

 

He heard Michael cough from behind him, but Jeremy knew it wasn’t enough. Jeremy felt tears falling down his face as suddenly, that warm feeling, the loving one that had only been formed an hour ago at most, was yanked away from him.

 

(Michael) “I love you too.”

 

 

 

Jeremy didn’t stop running, even as his throat ripped itself raw with sobs and his lungs burned. He didn’t stop until he ran smack into Chloe, who instantly caught him and held him at arm's length.

 

“Gamer, what happened? Where’s Phantom?” she asked, panic creeping into her voice.

 

“G-gone. They got him,” Jeremy sobbed, barely able to stand anymore. He felt like he was dying. He felt like everything was falling apart. He wasn’t sure how he was supposed to function without him.

 

“They got him?” Rich almost screamed, starting to pace as sparks traveled up and down his arms. Jeremy nodded pathetically.

 

“Oh J-Gamer,” Chloe said, and there was no hesitation as she brought him close. Even if she wasn’t the best at it, she was doing her best to offer comfort like he and Rich had for her when they helped her out. Because of that, Jeremy didn’t hold back as he let his sobs freely wrack him.

 

The rest of everyone seemed confused for a moment at why Jeremy was so upset. Christine took a hesitant step forward, going to Jeremy and resting a careful hand against his lower back. “We can get him back, J- Gamer. I’m sorry. At least they didn’t get-“

 

“Phantom is him.” Jeremy voice cut through his own sobs, harsh but not angry. He didn’t have any anger except for the SQUIPs and for himself. He should have done more. “Phantom is him. He’s Michael. Michael’s gone” He let Chloe hold him, feeling too much and somehow feeling totally numb at the same time to really care about it.

 

As Chloe held him close and let him cry, he could vaguely hear his teammates as background noise. Christine’s utter horror and Rich’s frustration. Jake’s surprise and Jenna’s hurt. Brooke’s confusion and anger at herself, because how did she not see that she already failed so long ago?

 

As Chloe held him close, Jeremy felt the lingering bits of Michael wiggle back into his head. At first, he was confused, and he felt joy for a second. Maybe Michael was able to do something? He was the one with natural superpowers anyway, maybe he could do it! Jeremy tried to tune in, to see.

 

As Chloe held him close, he saw the faint appearance of who he knew now as Derek. His eyes were sad, and he shook his head before vanishing. It was too late though, Jeremy wiggled his way desperately in to have some contact, any contact with Michael.

 

Chloe held him as he screamed, feeling shocks that he knew were only an echo of what Michael felt. It was somehow worse than when his SQUIP was initially deactivated during the play.

 

Somehow, Michael was strong enough, he could feel it, to stay conscious.

 

Jeremy wasn’t.

Chapter Text

Jeremy woke up confused. The bed was cold, which was odd since he’d been sleeping over at Michael’s every night since the house arrest. Michael always slept later, and he was a walking radiator so the bed stayed warm even after he’d been gone for a while.

 

When Jeremy opened his eyes, he found that he was in his own room. It was then he registered that he was very sore all over, and his chest was tight as if he was having a panic attack. He couldn’t quite understand why. He felt pretty calm honestly, calm and relaxed, just confused.

 

When Jeremy slowly sat up and looked down at himself, he found he was in some comfortable sweats and a light shirt and that he had his super suit underneath them. It felt... odd. Not right. It made him beyond uncomfortable but he couldn’t understand why for that either. When he reached out for his glasses, they were missing. Jeremy squinted and looked around, finding them on the other bedside table. How weird, he always left them on the left hand bedside table because Michael always left his on the right. And looking over there, Jeremy found his phone wasn’t charging either.

 

He figured he was missing too much, there were too many weird things going on, so he’d go downstairs and see who was around. Maybe they could answer some of his questions, including why it felt like his chest was simultaneously imploding and ripping itself apart.

 

He stood on slightly shaky legs and slowly made his way downstairs.

 

As he walked down the hall to make it to the stairs, he could hear the sound of Jake's voice lingering and making its way up his stairs. Out of all people (no offense to him), why was Jake here? He could hear him talking with his dad, but he couldn't really make out what they were saying. His brain wasn't focusing on the words, just their voices and recognizing them. If he wasn't so out of it, he was sure that he would be a bit infuriated at his lack of being able to focus.

 

Holding onto the railing, he felt a chill go down his spine. He wasn't too sure why, but he held on as he made his way down the stairs, taking them slow and one step at a time. Jeremy was so out of it, he realized, that he didn't avoid the squeaky step five down from the top of the staircase. Both voices that were coming from the kitchen, he realized, stopped.

 

"Private? Is that you?" his father asked, his voice carrying from the kitchen. Jeremy could faintly make out the worry and concern lingering in his tone.

 

“Hey dad,” Jeremy called. He was surprised that his voice sounded absolutely shredded, like he had been screaming. Weird. “I just woke up... what’s going on?” he asked, stumbling into the kitchen and leaning on the wall for support. “Also, hi Jake, what’re you doing here? No offence, you’re always welcome after all.” Was he slurring a little? Maybe. It sounded like he was. He must be really out of it if he was slurring.

 

A few things danced across Jake's eyes from where he was sitting at the breakfast bar, his lower body hidden from Jeremy's view. "Just talking with your dad about a few things, that's all," Jake said, clearly trying to get something across without giving anything away.

 

"I'm surprised you're up, private. From what I know, you had a really exhausting day," his dad said then, his brows furrowed with worry swirling around in his eyes. Like, he normally looked at him with worry from time-to-time because he started to become a worrywart of a dad after last year, but this was way more than usual.

 

“Did I?” Jeremy asked incredulously. “I don’t remember. I just remember going to bed last night at Michael’s.” Jeremy glanced at the clock. It was late. He was late for his patrol, that’s probably why Jake was here! “Oh, sorry I must have done... weird stuff. I’ll be ready to head out in a minute.” Why did that idea make him feel sick? And why was he struggling to move?

 

"Oh, no, I wasn't here because of that, we aren't heading out today to hang," Jake said in a tone that severely confused Jeremy. As he looked around, he felt extremely confused. Jake didn't use his bracers in public, but he clearly was here without Rich... What? "I just needed to tell your dad some things and explain some stuff." There were those weird inflections again, and his dad wasn't picking up on them (thankfully, he was pretty oblivious at times). What the hell was going on?

 

Since Jeremy didn’t understand, he decided to change the subject. This one was making his head hurt. “D’you guys know where my phone is? Or why I feel kinda sick? Like not puke sick but... maybe heart attack sick? M’chest hurts. And m’head hurts too.” He didn’t understand the sympathetic and worried looks he got in return.

 

“It’s probably because of what happened yesterday,” Jake said, some look of understanding passing over his face. “You should probably lie back down so it’ll help subside all of that. Standing up when you aren’t ready to and doing all of this probably isn’t helping.” His head turned to face Jeremy’s dad then. “Mr. Heere, do you think you could get him some water at least? And help him lie back down?”

 

“Yesterday?” Jeremy asked slowly. “What happened yesterday?”

 

Jake and his dad looked between each other, as if deciding who would explain. It seemed that Jake decided what to do as he looked over to Jeremy with soft eyes. “Yesterday, when the heroes failed and had to fall back after the SQUIPs took over the city. And when they took more hostages, including the hero Phantom... and Michael.”

 

The words almost echoed around Jeremy’s head. The SQUIPs took Michael. They took Michael. They took Michael! And it was all Jeremy’s fault. He remembered now, he remembered realizing Michael was Phantom. The kisses on the battlefield. The connection (Jeremy’s head suddenly felt empty... too empty). Michael’s capture. It was Jeremy’s fault, he should have done more.

 

If he wasn’t already leaning on the wall, Jeremy was certain he would have stumbled. As it was, his legs gave out under him and he slowly sank to the floor, eyes open but unseeing.

 

“It... it was my fault,” he whispered. “It was my fault, I let it happen. I couldn’t do anything... It should have been me. They should have taken me instead.”

 

He felt hands gently resting against him. They weren't Jakes, but his dads. He did hear the sound of Jake's wheels coming over and stopping near him. "Jeremy, hey, we aren't having talk like that right now. We aren't doing this sacrificial movie talk stuff. I need you to listen to me, private," his dad said, his voice somehow the most solid thing to him right now (not even the ground felt solid to him or even himself). "Jake, thank you for coming, but I can help Jeremy right now. You said you needed to get going anyway."

 

Jeremy looked up at his dad right then, eyes full of tears. “Is is my fault though. I watched it happen. I couldn’t do anything, not even with my powers. What’s the point in having them when I can’t even- can’t even-“ He couldn’t complete the sentence, barely registering that his dad didn’t know he was a hero or the he had powers.

 

Despite that, his dad carefully guided him (he wasn't going to stop this, he barely had the energy to stay sitting) to rest against his chest. "You don't need to explain yourself. Some things just happen and you can't do anything about it in the moment. It's alright, private. I promise you that it's alright." Jeremy barely registered his dad's hushed whisper for Jake to go, and the hesitant sound of Jake's agreement before he left, the door softly shutting after him.

 

Jeremy weakly clung to his dad’s shirt and sobbed. It had been a long time since he’d cried like this, since his mom had left almost two years ago. It had been even longer since he had been held like this by his dad. He needed it. Jeremy cried and whimpered for what felt like hours, mourning his loss and cursing his own circumstances, until there was nothing left. He was left sniffling and whimpering with his dad still holding him so gently. He had no more tears to give, barely any emotion left bubbling inside. He just felt so tired. He wanted it to be done. Or better yet, he wanted it to never have happened in the first place.

 

Despite that, crying didn't make the situation magically fix itself. It didn't make him feel better. He felt hollow and empty, even as his dad reassured him that it was fine to feel empty and hurt right now. Jeremy didn't want to feel this way.

 

He just wanted Michael back.

 

"Hey, private," his dad said after however long passed in the entryway of the kitchen, "Do you think that you could stand up with me so I can help you back into bed?"

 

Jeremy paused, then nodded. He let his dad help him to his feet and they slowly made their way back upstairs. His dad settled him in bed, on the proper side this time, and tucked him in before perching on the other side of the bed.

 

"I know that you're tired right now, as you have every right to be, but... Can you tell me anything about what happened? Jake told me everything about the heroes and yesterday except for the details with you. I like Jake, he's a good kid, but I don't think he told me everything."

 

Jeremy shook his head. “I’m the hero. We all were. I’m Gamer and I was out there fighting the SQUIPs. Have been since the start of the new year.” He blinked before continuing. He explained about his own powers, about how he discovered about Michael’s powers and the subsequent capture after helping the kids. “And... I got shocked thanks to the connection Michael and I had, which is why I passed out I think,” he finished, finally looking away.

 

"Well, at least that explains what happened that sent you guys to the ICU when you were twelve," his dad said after a brief pause, probably of him processing everything. "I mean, everything makes a lot more sense now, but that was a mystery for the longest time to me." Jeremy only looked back over at his dad when he felt his hand moving through his hair in a soothing motion. "Thank you for telling me, private."

 

“I don’t wanna keep it from you anymore. What if something happened to me while I was out there? Then you’d never know and it wouldn’t be fair.” Jeremy sighed. “If it could happen to Michael, it could happen to me. I could get taken too, and it’s not fair to not tell you anymore.” He looked back to his dad, leaning into the gentle touch. “I... I don’t wanna give it up. I’m upset about it now, but I don’t wanna give up being a hero. I... I love helping people and I wanna keep doing that.” He was nervous about his dad’s reaction, even if he’d been supportive thus far.

 

His dad seemed to take it all into consideration before sighing. "If that's the case, we need to set some ground rules about it. The first is that if you go out at night, you need to let me know beforehand. The second is that school needs to still be a priority, especially since you're coming into your senior year of high school. I don't know any more off the top of my head, but those are definitely the ones I'm able to think of right now that I'm sticking to."

 

Jeremy nodded, feeling exhaustion start to claim him. “I will, I-“ He yawned. “-promise, dad. And whatever other rules y’can think of. Thank you.”

 

"Of course. I'll also look for your phone, wherever it is, and get it plugged in for you." His dad carefully ruffled his hair then before standing up. "No superhero stuff today though, and maybe not tomorrow. You need to rest and recover. Got it?"

 

“Got it,” Jeremy mumbled, setting his glasses aside as he burrowed into his blankets. He closed his eyes with a small sigh. Maybe things would feel better and less numb when he woke up. “Love you, dad.”

 

"Love you too, Jeremy." Jeremy felt something move against his head, and he wasn't sure if it was his dad running his fingers through his hair again or... a quick kiss. He couldn't be sure. "Sleep well, kiddo."

 

Whatever it was, it made him feel small again, and safe enough to sleep. He was glad he was exhausted enough to not dream.

 

 

 

When he next woke up, it was to the super group chat ringing off in his head.

 

{Charade} I don’t know, guys, maybe we should wait for Jeremy before we set out on any runs

 

{Psyche} I need as much info as I can get to make any more predictions. I’m /not/ risking a repeat of Wednesday. We need this run, like it or not.

 

{Gamer} well I’m awake and here now, what are you all planning?

 

He was grumpy at being woken up, and still feeling the echoing emptiness in his chest from losing his favorite person, but Jeremy wasn’t quite in shut down just yet. He was still the (unofficial) leader of the Jersey Squad, his dad approved and everything.

 

{Countess} we're just figuring out if we want to do any runs through the city or even near it to see what info we can get for Brooke

 

{Hothead} yeah, that's all, and how are you feeling, Tall-Ass?

 

{Gamer} I feel like shit. Half dead, but I’m managing for now. And I don’t want any runs into the city until we have a damage report. We need to know how many people we lost, where their base is, and what section is most fortified

 

{Psyche} but

 

{Countess} sounds good, Jeremy, even if you're taking a break, we won't go into the city for now. nothing allowed near the city either, i'm assuming?

 

{Gamer} near the city is fine, but I don’t want you guys to risk yourselves until we have a clearer picture of what we’re dealing with. Brooke, your visions work on /possible/ futures, not certainties. Do what you can for now, and we’ll see about running deeper missions once we know what we’ve lost

 

{Hothead} sounds good, Mr. Leader. We'll figure out what exactly we lost and what we still have, and we'll report in once we got all of our shit together. We'll create sub-groups to talk and only post everything we find in here for now so you can get more sleep and relax, alright?

 

{Gamer} thanks, I

 

{Gamer} I still need to rest. This has taken more out of me than I can say. I felt it when it activated for him, so my body needs to recover at the very least

 

He couldn’t quite articulate his feelings, numb and muted as they were. He just knew he was still in emotional pain, and it was translating to physical somehow. Idly, Jeremy wondered if it was possible to die of a broken heart. It certainly felt like it might be.

 

{Hothead} then we'll dip the hell out of this chat and let you be, Mr. Leader. We'll hit you up after we've got any and all new info! Feel better, my dude

 

{Gamer} see you guys.

 

Jeremy ducked off the chat at that point, essentially muting it until someone posted so he didn’t feel it buzzing in his SQUIP. He missed Michael. He missed the feeling of Michael just in the back of his head. Even though they’d only had the connection for one precious hour, it felt like it had always been there, always been a part of them. His head felt too empty, almost too clinical, without Michael’s energy and affection bubbling away back there.

 

He rubbed at the friendship bracelet as he thought about that, the soft threads soothing under his fingertips. Playing with it helped ground him and this was no exception. It made him feel loved and cared for; it reminded him of their promise from all those years ago, to always be on the same team. Might not be so possible now. If Jeremy had any more tears to give, he’d be crying again.

 

As he fiddled with the purposefully loose threads at the end of his bracelet, he swore he saw something move in his vision. It wasn't sudden or fast, but slow and purposeful, as if to be sure not to startle him or spook him. Jeremy sniffled and rubbed at his eyes, even if they were dry, as he looked over at the familiar shape he had only seen for moments before settling comfortably in his vision of a handsome dude. The fade in was slow and gentle on his eyes. "Hey," Derek said, his voice soft and solid.

 

“Hey,” Jeremy murmured back. “I can actually see you properly now,” he commented, taking in as many details as he could. Derek was tall, taller than Michael, and he looked to be a few years older too. He had a leather jacket on, almost a stereotypical bad boy vibe going for him, but the woven leather necklace with a piece of amber on it sort of ruined the effect. He looked like biker meets park ranger, and it totally worked. He seemed cool. And way too nice to pull off bad boy anyways.

 

“That’s good,” Derek said, his voice a bit silky as he seemingly stood a bit awkwardly in the room, his hands stuffed into his jacket pockets. Underneath the jacket was a plain red shirt, and Jeremy saw he had jeans. He went to look for his shoes, but he sort of was wisps after halfway down his thighs, reminding him a bit of Genie from the original Aladdin. “I sorta hoped so since I’m sort of making you my, uh... my link to the world right now. How are you feeling?”

 

“Pretty shitty.” He sighed, struggling to sit up and look over to Derek properly. “But managing so far. What about you? Mikey’s been the only one you’ve really been speaking to for a while, right? He’s your good friend too.”

 

Derek nodded at that, sighing as he moved a little closer. “Yeah, he is, and he honestly has been my only person that I’ve talked to. It’s weird having you see me now after you haven’t been able to for so long. Looks like I can’t pretend to mess with you without you noticing now.”

 

Jeremy snorted. “Should have known someone had been messing with me. Things kept dropping, and I’ve been colder than usual. I told Chloe ghosts were real.” He shot Derek a tired grin. “Still, it’s nice to have you around, dude. At least someone understands what happened.”

 

Derek nodded again, shooting Jeremy a tired grin of his own. “Hey, if I couldn’t take the chance to mess with my best friend’s crush, what kinda ghostly best friend would I be?” He hesitated before moving to sit down on Jeremy’s bed, and Jeremy wasn’t sure if he was surprised or not when he felt the sheets near his feet get colder.

 

“You can relax, dude, I don’t bite.” He chuckled, leaning back against his headboard. “Besides, I’m kinda... new to the whole ghost thing. So you don’t need to worry about me doing any stupid shit like smiting you or whatever. If I even could.” He made a show of looking Derek over. It was weak and half hearted but not too pathetic. “Also, as for the best friend title, I think you’re cool enough to qualify. I’m still his best friend and boyfriend, but I’d say you’ve earned your keep with that.”

 

"I mean, I'd hope so. I've been practically glued to his side almost twenty-four-seven since he helped to save my brother by finding out the cure last year. If being stuck to that nerd's side, excluding bathroom stuff and other private stuff, I don't know what would qualify me as being his ghostly best friend," Derek said with an almost snort that Jeremy couldn't help but find endearing. "I've learned way more about geeky shit than I ever wanted to, and don't tell him this, but I'd actually be down to try playing one of his games one day. He's been trying for months to get me to agree, and I purposefully deny it all to him."

 

Jeremy actually sniggered at that. “Oh I am so telling him.” He cackled happily then grinned. “Also, you can’t really hold stuff, can you? Well I’d be happy to let you borrow me to play some games sometime. Like you did to get me to use my powers or something? I still don’t get that, but I do remember you possessing me. It was weird but not totally unpleasant. Probably because you were nice about it and we both wanted to help him out.” It was kinda nice, just relaxing with a ghost. Derek was cool, and Jeremy couldn’t help but think they’d end up great friends. He had a feeling Derek and Jake would hit it off, if they ever managed to talk.

 

"Eh, I sort of used my weird ghost energy to help you unblock the accidental block you had for memories and stuff. You have natural powers 'cause his natural powers rubbed off on you and reacted so well with you to sort of instill them in you. They're weak and not really trained afters so many years of disuse, but... eh." Derek shrugged then as he looked around Jeremy's room, as if getting a real look of it for the first time.

 

"Jeremy? Are you awake?" Jeremy heard his dad call from downstairs. "Who are you talking to?"

 

Jeremy looked over to Derek, who shrugged and nodded. “Er- it’s kinda complicated. But I’m talking to a ghost? His name’s Derek, he’s cool,” he called back, his voice a little scratchy as he pushed it louder than he really should when it was still kinda raw. “I mean, I told him that Michael could see ghosts.” He shrugged back at Derek, who just chuckled.

 

"I mean, as long as he knows and doesn't think you're going crazy-"

 

"Son, you are so lucky you told me about everything yesterday or I'd be seriously concerned for your mental health right now," his dad called from downstairs. "Hello ghost friend Derek, be good to my son and don't do any weird possessing please. I like my son."

 

Jeremy burst out laughing, feeling very real happiness bubble up. His dad was so dorky and he loved him so much. It was a nice break from the pain in his chest.

 

“Holy shit, your dad is so pure.” Derek sounded legitimately shocked by that, which just made Jeremy laugh harder.

 

“Yeah, he’s a good guy,” he managed out between his giggles. “Derek says hi. He thinks you’re awesome!” Jeremy called back to his dad, and he swore he head his dad let out a little “Yes!” of victory.

 

Derek just burst out laughing then, leaning back in his bed and making the bed comfortably cold as his silky-smooth voice filled up the whole room in a musical way. It hit Jeremy that his voice sounded like the perfect silky blend of Cryaotic and Markiplier's voice. "Oh. My. God. That's amazing."

 

Jeremy giggled along, his own wheezy squeaks nowhere near as smooth as Derek’s smooth tones but no less joyful.

 

“I think we just made him very happy. He deserves it.” Jeremy sighed after a moment, finally calming down. “So... I know basically nothing about you except that you’re pretty damn cool and Michael really liked hanging with you. So tell me about yourself, Derek.” He waved an arm, inviting the ghost to talk, grinning all the while.

 

There was some initial surprise and debate Derek had on what exactly to share with Jeremy. By the end of his little session, Jeremy learned a few things, including the fact that Derek wasn't good at talking about himself. Other things Jeremy learned was that he had a summer job he loved as a park ranger, he planned on becoming either a college professor or work with a volunteer organization to help people, loved hiking whenever he could and exploring the nature around him, and was very much not straight when he admitted that he thought Ryan Reynolds was hot. Derek also explained some other things, like how his mom was a seer, his brother took a SQUIP but was currently recovering in the mental hospital he was still in, and that he died in the forest after being stabbed in the leg.

 

"Is there anything else you wanna know?" the ghost asked as he looked down at Jeremy then, a ghostly brow raised in question.

 

“I’d say I know you pretty well now, dude. So I’m cool if that’s all you wanna say. But now I can see you and hear you and shit, I’m always an open ear. You ever wanna talk, I’m happy to listen. After all, you’re my boyfriend’s best friend. And I might like you too.” That last part came out a little teasing. He did like Derek. Quite a lot, honestly. He could see how Derek and Michael would have grown close, Derek was just genuinely likable. Jeremy honestly was looking forward to spending more time with him.

 

"I'd hope so, I poured my metaphorical heart and soul out to you there. I also hate sharing about myself, so I gave you some good stuff there," Derek said with a playful huff of his own, pushing some of his curly locks out of his face before laughing a little. "Also, Michael and I really bonded over music. He's a man of good taste. It was nice just to lie there and just exist while Wheezer or Queen or Marley played, or some of his cool more indie groups played like Cavetown and stuff."

 

Jeremy flopped back onto his pillow with a small, fond sigh. “Yeah, I feel you there. He got me into almost all the same music. He used to put his headphones on me and play a random album whenever I was having a panic attack, to help calm me down. It’s sort of comfort music for me now.” This was nice, ignoring the facts for a while and just bonding with Derek. Derek was nice, and he offered a great distraction from the ache in Jeremy’s chest.

 

“Oh yeah, for sure,” Derek agreed with a small hum. “I’d have down days sometimes and he’d do the same thing and I’d calm down and feel a bit better too. It’s nice.”

 

“He’s... good at that.” Jeremy felt his mood drop a little. “I... how am I supposed to cope without him? He’s my best friend before he’s my boyfriend. And I know we’re getting less codependent but I still rely on him for so much...” He missed Michael, and he hadn’t even been awake for a full day.

 

“Well, I’ll offer as much help as I can. It’ll be hard, I won’t sugarcoat that, but you gotta keep going. He wouldn’t want you to just do nothing.” Derek sat up and let out a heavy sigh. “I was with him until he was fully under it. He wouldn’t want us to just do nothing. Michael said that the heroes could help, even if it wasn’t then and there. Even if you’re helping by getting yourself back on your feet, I think that he would be happy and proud. I know that sounds like a lot of bull, and I’m not saying it won’t hurt and that you won’t miss him, but he would like that.”

 

“I’ll... I’ll do my best. But I gotta be honest with you, man, I feel right on the edge of a breakdown about now.” Jeremy sighed, scrubbing at one of his eyes. He was so tired. Tired and angry and resentful because why had this happened to them? They were recovering, Jeremy and Michael were finally together! They were happy. Why was that all taken from him in the span of a few minutes?

 

“It’s alright for that to happen too, if I’m gonna be honest. It’ll suck at first but sometimes just letting everything out and letting yourself rebuild and recover is good. Maybe not a full breakdown, but a good cry session might be a better option,” Derek offered with a small smile and a hesitant shrug. “I know I sorta had a meltdown after I died, and it took me a while to get back up, but I did. Somehow. And now I’m here.”

 

Jeremy sighed again. “Yeah, fair enough. At least I’ve got someone who I can talk to who understands, I’m lucky like that.” He shot Derek a weak smile, but it was something. He was trying. For Michael’s sake. He shook his head, trying to chase away the depressive thoughts a little. “I’m gonna have to go talk to his moms. I’m gonna explain everything, they deserve to know the truth. Besides, I don’t wanna lie anymore.”

 

At that, something danced across Derek’s eyes before he nodded. “I think that’s the best. You might also want to check his laptop. He left videos, and it’ll hurt, I know, but he wanted to send videos to some people once he was ready and you were one of them. I think now might be a good time to see them.”

 

Jeremy nodded, and struggled to sit up. “Well, now's as good a time as any. I should try to get some sort of gentle movement anyways.”

 

"Yeah." Derek looked him over as he did manage to sit up. "Maybe you should ask someone to drive you to their house though. Might be better for you and I'm not sure how much you could walk right now."

 

“Yeah, you’re probably right.” Jeremy nodded, feeling a faint cold pressure on his shoulder. It was nice, comforting.

 

“Dad! Could you please drive me over to Michael’s house? I need to explain things to his moms!” Jeremy yelled down, turning to hang his legs over the edge of the bed.

 

"Yeah, sure! Are you good enough to walk? You sort of tired yourself out before," his dad called from downstairs. "Do I need to get those crutches you used years ago with those stuffed animal pillows from the garage for you?"

 

Jeremy wiggled his legs a little. “Might be a good idea, my legs are kinda wobbly,” he called back. Derek looked like he might burst out laughing. “Oh shut up,” he grumbled playfully at the ghost.

 

"You can't make me. I'm a ghost, you can't make me do anything," he teased from where he now hovered in the air.

 

From downstairs, Jeremy heard his dad call out, "Alright, give me a few minutes to get dressed and to find those things!"

 

“Thanks dad!” he called back before shooting Derek a teasing scowl. “You’re so mean to me. I don’t know how I’ll ever recover from your abuse if this is constant.”

 

"That's the thing: you never will and it will follow you for the rest of your life," Derek said with his own teasing grin fired back at him. "Have fun with the lifelong suffering!"

 

 

 

The ride over to Michael’s house was tense, but his dad decided to not intervene in Jeremy’s confession. He promised he’d be in there if Jeremy wanted him, but otherwise he’d wait in the car.

 

Mom and Nanay were both home, devastated and grieving over Michael’s disappearance, and they both started fussing over Jeremy when he turned up on their doorstep with ladybug Pillow Pet crutches.

 

"What happened to you?" Nanay asked, insistent on getting an answer as she quickly took Jeremy inside. Michael's mom quickly waved to his dad before shutting the door and walking in with Jeremy and her wife. Derek opted to stay quiet, but stood nearby as Jeremy was escorted to the couch and sat down.

 

“Emotional stress more than anything, I think.” He sighed and let himself be guided to sit. “A lot happened during the invasion. And now that I’m actually conscious, I think it’s time I actually tell you the whole story.”

 

Nanay glanced between her wife and Jeremy with worry, and she started to rub his back then as her wife went to sit down on Jeremy's other side. "Tell us what whole story?"

 

“The truth. Firstly, that I was there, with Michael, when he got taken. It happened right in front of me and I... there was literally nothing I could do to stop it.” Jeremy felt strangely detached from the situation, like he was recounting a story or dream rather than a very real, very painful experience. “Secondly, the reason why we were both in town that day. You see, I’m kinda one of the heroes, Gamer to be precise, and Michael is-... was... Phantom. I only found out about an hour before he got taken, so I don’t know all the details, but he knew about me and about my powers.”

 

Both women seemed a bit surprised by his recountings, but not as surprised as Jeremy thought they would be... which was odd, but Jeremy wasn't going to judge them based on how they were reacting. "Oh Jeremy, I'm so sorry, I can't even imagine," Mom said, wrapping an arm around his shoulder and gently squeezing him in a hug.

 

Jeremy leaned into the touch, feeling his involvement start to creep back into him. “I tried so hard to help him but I couldn’t do anything. I couldn’t connect to their SQUIPs or to those guns and I just-“ Jeremy’s breath hitched but he pushed on. “-I wanted to stay and fight them, to try and get him out. But he told me to run, that I had to leave him. I didn’t want to do it, but I did it. I ran and I hate that I did. I should have saved him, god, I’m so sorry.” He had devolved into sobs and whimpers by that point, but he didn’t care. No more secrets. He did what he had intended to do.

 

He felt the arms of both women who had honestly helped to raise him more than his own mother wrap around him and carefully comfort him. "You did what you could, Jeremy, and that's what matters," Nanay told him, softly running her fingers through his hair. "I don't think you could have done anything if you had stayed. It would have been more painful and we might have lost you too. I couldn't lose basically both of our sons like that."

 

“I know, I just- I know what those things feel like, I know what they’re capable of. And I hate that he’s got one inside his head,” Jeremy croaked out. “I felt it activate, he made a sort of link with us and it bled through even though he closed it. It was worse than my one. I passed out from it.”

 

"Jeremy, you can't put all of this blame and guilt onto yourself, especially when there was nothing you could have done," Nanay told him, gently carding her fingers through his hair still as she softly spoke. "I don't think he'll be gone forever, but when he's back, that just means you'll be able to help him at least."

 

“It is my fault though. If I didn’t take the damned thing they wouldn’t have targeted him. My one made him specifically a target. It’s my fault they knew about him and targeted him,” he grumbled miserably.

 

Michael's mom reached over then, shifting from hugging to prodding at his cheeks with her finger. "Hey, no blame game with yourself. Does that help to achieve anything right now other than more negative thoughts toward yourself? And is that really helpful right now, mister?"

 

“No...” Jeremy sighed. He knew in reality that this was his fault, but he wouldn’t say it out loud anymore. “You’re right. It’s better to focus on the now. I need to focus on getting better so I can get him back... right?”

 

"Yes, exactly. You came here to tell us about all of this, not to get yourself a pity party. You know that I will never partake in those," Mom said, poking his cheek a few more times.

 

Jeremy almost laughed. It was easy to see where Michael got that trait from. “Yeah, you’re right. I’ll... try. Do my best to get him back.” The hollow, empty feeling in his chest began resonating again, and Jeremy almost squirmed under the intensity of it. Still, he tried to ignore the pain for now. It wouldn’t help him and it certainly wouldn’t be enough to convince the Mell moms to hate him like he felt like he deserved.

 

"Good, as you should," Mom said with some finality, pressing a quick kiss to his cheek. "You can't just come here, tell us you're going to tell us something while you're using your crutches from middle school, then expect pity. That's the last thing you need right now!" Meanwhile, Nanay was rolling her eyes somewhat lovingly at her wife while still carding her fingers through Jeremy's hair, twisting the ends a little like he adored when he was younger (... and now).

 

Jeremy sniggered a little. It was a little bit broken, but it was full of affection and love. He adored both Mom and Nanay. They were more mothers to him than his own mother, and he wanted nothing more than to keep them safe and bring their son back. Out of the corner of his eye, Jeremy saw Derek nodding along with Mom’s little rant. Damn ghost boy.

 

“I mean, the fact that I’m stuck using these things again for a bit sort of does deserve a little pity. Any sort of reputation I’ve built for myself is now gone down the toilet,” he joked softly.

 

"What reputation?" Mom said, and Nanay's gasp almost broke her little rant. "You deserve pity for that, but not pity that earns you a pity party, but that doesn't mean you'll get that pity here! Oh no! This is a pity-free household!" Derek kept nodding along, making direct eye contact with Jeremy all the while.

 

He couldn’t help it. Jeremy burst out laughing. Between Mom’s dramatic rant and Derek’s shit-eating grin, Jeremy couldn’t contain his giggles. He flopped weakly against Nanay, nuzzling against her as he calmed down.

 

He still felt empty. He still felt broken. But he was also allowed brief stints of joy, of laughter. Michael would want him to be happy, regardless of if he were with Jeremy or not.

 

Nanay laughed along with him, holding him close all the while. He could tell that she needed it too. Looking up, Jeremy saw Mom grinning, seemingly feeling better than when they first answered the door. They needed these moments too.

 

He nuzzled closer to Nanay, closing his eyes and just letting himself feel for a moment. He let himself feel joy and happiness and just enjoy being close to people he loved. Mom wrapped her arms around him as well, pressing a gentle kiss to Jeremy’s cheek. He didn’t protest, not even jokingly. He let them have the moment they needed too.

 

All too soon it was over, and Nanay was helping Jeremy down the stairs to the basement so he could watch the video Michael left him. Turns out Nanay and Mom had already watched their one, so that’s why they weren’t so surprised when Jeremy confessed.

 

He took Michael’s laptop onto the bed, sitting down and making himself comfortable. Michael’s hoodie was sitting just by the pillows, untouched since he must have put on his suit the morning he vanished. He slipped it on, the smell of weed and old sodas both comforting him and making his heart ache. He pressed play on the video labelled ‘to Jeremy.’

 

The video started with Michael sitting in his bed, legs crossed with hoodie sleeves over his hands. He smiled wearily up at the camera, waving with his hoodie paw. "Hey, Jeremy. If you're watching this, I couldn't tell you this in person or something must've happened. Whatever the case may be, I have some things that I need to tell you." On screen, Michael took a deep breath, scrubbing his face with his hoodie paws, careful of his glasses before he looked back at the screen, seemingly right at him.

 

"First things first, I'm Phantom. I know, that's a lot to take in and you probably don't believe me, but it's true." He reached over to his side before holding up the Phantom costume. "See? I'm the real deal, and no, this isn't a cosplay. You know I wouldn't lie about this kinda stuff. I sorta know about all of your stuff too, as Gamer, because of that. I've been able to overhear your mental group chat with everyone, especially at lunch. If I looked off at any time during lunch, that was probably why. You guys scream a lot in it, especially Brooke and Rich with their memes."

 

Michael took another big sigh on screen, gnawing on his lower lip as he put down the costume. "Because of that, I, uh... I heard some other things. I heard how you feel about me. It took me a while to really believe it 'cause I like you like that too. Love you, actually. Have for a while, and it's crazy to finally hear all about it. I just... I never got the guts to say it. Somehow, though, I got the guts to make a superhero persona and save the day!" He threw his arms in the air, seemingly frustrated and exasperated with himself. "Hah, what a fucking hypocrite, I guess! Ugh."

 

He buried his face into his hands then, groaning for a good while. "OK, come on Michael, get yourself together and finish this." There were a few other things Michael said, but Jeremy couldn't really make them out before Michael flopped his head back up.

 

"Also, you have to be wondering-" Michael shifted his demeanor a little, seemingly mimicking Jeremy. "-‘Wow, Mikey, how do you have real-life powers when all of ours are only results of our SQUIPs?’" Michael returned to his normal self then, his voice shifting back down a few pitches. "Well, it's something I've been born with and developed with the help of one friend of mine. You should be able to see him according to said friend since some of my powers rubbed off on you." Michael looked off to the side then. "Derek, get your translucent ass over here."

 

A few seconds later, Derek's form flickered a little in the video, but it wasn't good quality. "See, I told you it wouldn't work, Michael," the garbled version of what Jeremy knew was Derek's voice said in the video.

 

"But it's proof! It's something!" Michael grinning back at the camera. "This is my ghost friend Derek! He's helped me with my seer powers. I've had them since I was born. You, uh, sort of knew about them when we were kids. We had an incident when we were younger, the ICU thing, and I guess I accidentally blocked your memories. If they haven't been cleared by now, this video supposedly will help you remember. So, uh, surprise?" Michael shrugged with a shy grin.

 

The recording of Michael's gaze flickered down, and Jeremy saw he had a piece of paper in his lap. "OK, OK, so-"

 

"You got everything, Michael."

 

"Thanks Derek." Michael cleared his throat and looked back up at the camera then. "I know this isn't the best explanation. It's all over the place, but know that I'm Phantom, I love you too, and I have real powers and a ghost friend. I'll explain things better when I see you next, but please don't hate me-"

 

"He could never hate you, Michael."

 

"-And know that I really do love you. So damn much. You're my best friend, and hopefully you'll be my boyfriend too. I have to, uh, record videos for my moms now and our friends and even your dad, so, uh... Yeah, I'll talk to you in person!"

 

"Michael, I swear, you didn't need to ad-" The video cut off with Michael's mouse clicking loudly a few times from his laptop, his eyes dancing across the screen as he went to turn the camcorder recording off.

 

Jeremy had tears streaming down his face. He knew he was hurting, he knew his chest ached so badly, but seeing Michael just as himself... it was enough that Jeremy felt something in his chest shatter. He wasn’t sure what, or if it was even real, but he knew something inside him just broke. He barely reacted when he felt a gentle, cold pressure on his shoulder, not even when he heard Derek asking him if he was alright. Jeremy felt numb to everything except that agonizing pain in his chest. He reached out with his powers, his fucking useless powers, and sent the video to his own phone. Then he set it to play again, curling up with his knees to his chest as he watched Michael nervously fumble through his explanation.

 

He played the video over and over, not even paying attention to anything else besides Michael, his Michael, in the video. Not whoever was going around now, but this pure iteration of him that was forever recorded. Jeremy just wanted to reach through the screen and hug him, hold him close, and tell him how much he loved him. He just-

 

"Jeremy, you've been down here for half an hour," Nanay suddenly said, cutting through the moment built up in Jeremy's head as the video suddenly stopped. The thunk of the spacebar echoing for a split second and the stark silence of Michael no longer speaking rung clear to him and stung even worse than Jeremy could have imagined. "Your dad's worried and upstairs, he came out of the car and asked us what was happening."

 

Jeremy barely twitched, barely spared her a glance. What was the point? The best person in Jeremy’s life was gone, perverted to a meat suit for a bunch of ideologies that he hated. Michael was gone and it felt like he took Jeremy with him. He just started the video up again after closing his eyes for a moment. They were a little sore.

 

The video stopped again after a few moments, and the laptop was shifted away from him. "Jeremy, I need you to actually talk to me." Jeremy felt the bed shift a little as he heard the laptop being taken up and shut.

 

Jeremy just closed his eyes again and burrowed deeper into the hoodie, surrounding himself in Michael. It was as close to a hug as he could get now, it would have to do. It was a poor imitation.

 

"I know he's not here right now, but you need to talk. I need to talk to you, Jeremy," he heard Nanay say from beside him, even as he tried to get the hood of the hoodie up. "Please don't shut me out."

 

It was only the guilt of possibly hurting Nanay further that pushed him out of his brain at all. He didn’t want to hurt her. She didn’t deserve that.

 

“What’d’ya need, Nanay?” he mumbled, almost croaked out, keeping his eyes closed, and staying firmly buried in the hoodie. He wasn’t being moved from it, not a chance.

 

"I need you to talk to me and tell me what happened, and to come upstairs. You can't stay here forever," Nanay said, her worry obvious in her voice. She was always the mother-henner of Michael's moms. "Please, Jeremy."

 

Again, it was guilt about worrying her that got him moving. Slowly, he sat up, keeping the hood up to block out everything else.

 

“Watched the video, ‘nd he told me he loves me. ‘nd I realized he’s gone, properly gone, ‘nd he took a big part of me with him,” he explained, trying to make some sense of his chaotic thoughts. Actually, they weren’t chaotic, just no one else would understand. No one else besides Derek was there, and no one else had powers which should have stopped it. No one else had that guilt on top of their loss of the best person in the world.

 

He felt the bed shift a little, and Jeremy registered that Nanay was moving further onto the bed before she sighed. "We watched our video too, Seline and I, and we're both... We're handling losing Michael differently. I saw him leaving yesterday morning. I asked him where he was going, and he said he was heading over to hang with you and your friends." The hurt was evident in Nanay's voice. "I could've stopped him, told him to stay... But I didn't know. How was I supposed to know? Plus, the people who took him could have just come here, so would it have even mattered in the first place? Would I have been able to help my son, who I carried in my body for nine months and swore I'd keep safe from any harm?"

 

She let out a heavy and wet sigh then. "The point I'm trying to make here is that we're all hurting differently, but we're all very hurt right now. You shouldn't let it do this to you though. Let yourself curl up within yourself and just feel nothing and do nothing and become nothing. That's not a healthy way to deal with this."

 

Jeremy didn’t say anything. Instead, he stood and walked over to Michael’s desk and pulled out the note. The one he wrote during that first day out of the hospital, where his depression was at its worst and he felt like nothing would ever bring him back. Jeremy knew Michael kept it as a reminder of how much Jeremy had also suffered during that period, so they could work on the issues together. He handed it to Nanay.

 

“The only reason I’m still here is because of him. I already was nothing and he kept me being something. This... is the preferable option,” he muttered, looking away as he saw Nanay’s eyes widen in horror.

 

She covered her mouth after she presumably read over the note, putting it down before she stood up and held her arms open for Jeremy. "I understand if you don't want the hug right now. Just..." He heard Nanay sniffle a few times, watching her quickly scrub at her eyes. "I'm sorry I couldn't help you, you're my other son, Jeremy. I am. I wish I could help but, but I really can't. I'm sorry to say only you and your friends can... I would get my son back if I could, but you can. And get him to drink that Red. But he won't ever get that if you don't try. It doesn't have to be now, but please, and I'm sorry I have to ask you to do this."

 

Jeremy shuffled over and let her hug him so tightly that he thought that maybe he’d reform. He didn’t. This wasn’t about hurting her, that was the last thing Jeremy wanted to do, but it was about being honest. No more secrets.

 

“Can’t yet. I want to but I can’t. I don’t know if I can face him like that, not yet,” he muttered, though it was barely more than a breath.

 

"That's fine. Just... God, I'm so sorry I have to ask you. You've gone through so much, and it's not fair that it's you who has to do this, but you're the only person who could help him," Nanay got out, and he could hear she was close to crying. "Save him when you can, Jeremy. Please."

 

“I’ll try,” he promised. Even if he felt empty and broken and lost beyond hope of rescue, he meant that with every fiber of his being. He would try. He’d do everything he could to get Michael back. But right now, that meant just trying to reform himself enough to actually do that.

 

"That's all I can ask, Jeremy," she said into his hair. "Thank you. I love you. I'm so sorry."

 

 

 

As Jeremy and his dad were driving back him, Jeremy felt the group chat flare up.

 

{Brainiac} we’ve got the facts, but I think it’s better to give them to you in person. We’ve agreed that everyone will be staying with me until we’ve beaten these guys since safety in numbers. Get over here ASAP so we can debrief you.

 

{Gamer} k ill ask my dad

 

“Hey dad?” Jeremy managed to mumble out. “The squad think it’s better we stick together right now, so everyone is staying at Jake’s house. Can I stay there too please?” He barely registered his own words, he didn’t care enough to really worry about them. The message was clear, that was what mattered.

 

His dad stopped at the stop sign that was a few minutes from their house. He could tell that his dad was thinking hard on this before he kept going along the road. "Only if I can come over every day to check on you all. And as long as you'll be sure to eat and take care of yourself," he said in a soft yet firm tone of voice.

 

Jeremy nodded. “Promise. I’ll eat and shower and everything, and you can come around whenever you want for as long as you want.”

 

"I'll help you pack a bag to stay over at his house and then, after you eat something, I'll take you over. You can tell Jake that too or whatever because if anyone rushes you, they'll have an army man on their ass," his dad said, a slightly teasing tone in his voice (though Jeremy knew he was serious too. He took his overbearing dad role very seriously).

 

Jeremy nodded again, trying for a small smile for his dad (he was really trying hard to be a good dad after everything) but unsure if he managed it or not.

 

{Gamer} dads gonna help me pack and ill be over after ive eaten smth he knows everything

 

“I told them.”

 

"OK, good," his dad said, reaching over and ruffling his hair with a small smile of his own as he turned down onto their street.

 

{Charade} take your time to take care of yourself Jeremy, we'll see you soon!!! We all love you and care a lot about you!!! (っ・∀・)っ

 

Not even Christine’s cute emoji usage could make Jeremy feel much else besides the sharp throbbing in his chest. The pain from earlier seemed pleasant in comparison to the stark reminder that Michael was gone, pulsing with every beat of his heart.

 

Jeremy felt a light pressure on his head, Derek offering to help guide him physically to get him inside and safe. Jeremy blocked him out. “Stop it, Derek,” he grumbled, ignoring his dad’s confused look as he parked in their driveway. “Don’t want you doing that. M’capable of moving myself.”

 

A soft, "Sorry," was all he heard in return from Derek, though his dad was quick to come over and open the door, giving him his crutches (he still needed them, but he was getting better).

 

Jeremy followed his dad inside, with Derek hovering close behind. He perched on the breakfast bar next to where Jeremy sat while his dad got to preparing him a tuna mayo sandwich, one of Jeremy’s comfort foods (it was one of the first things Michael had ‘cooked’ for him, all at seven years old). He didn’t say a word, and neither did the ghost, but he did watch Jeremy with what he recognized as growing worry.

 

His dad worked quick to make the sandwich, placing it down in front of Jeremy before putting down a cup filled with water next to it. "Here you go, private," he said, patting Jeremy's shoulder before walking by him. "I'm going to head to your room and help pack a bag for you, if that's alright."

 

Jeremy nodded and dutifully started eating the sandwich. He didn’t realize how hungry was until now, so he devoured it in a couple of minutes. It was satisfying and even if he wasn’t totally full, it felt like enough. He sipped on the water while he waited for his dad to come back down, not wanting to try navigating the stairs while he was still physically weak.

 

For a few minutes, there was a silence Jeremy didn’t care to think about. “Jeremy,” Derek started, “When you’re at Jake’s house, what are you going to be doing?” It seemed like Derek was unsure even on what to say right now as he stuck his hands into the pockets of his jacket.

 

Jeremy shrugged. “Trying to figure out what I can do? I dunno?” He didn’t really care either. There was no way he could save Michael as he was and he didn’t know how to get out of it. Idly he considered pulling out his phone and watching the video again but he decided to wait until he was properly in private for that.

 

Derek shifted a little where he sat on the breakfast bar. “If I suggested things, do you think you’d do them? Like, ways to help yourself or things to do?”

 

He shrugged again. “Sure, I guess.” He didn’t care one way or another.

 

The ghost seemed to sense that as he sort of deflated, unsure on what to say or do as he looked around the kitchen and dining room then. He even started to fiddle with the end of his jacket, but didn’t say anything further.

 

A few minutes later, his dad came back into the room with a small smile still resting on his lips. “Hey private, I got your essential packing for your toiletries and stuff done. I didn’t dig through your room, but I have the old duffel bag you got when you tried to do karate in elementary school for your gear. It’s all set up on your bed. Ready to go up and do some packing?”

 

Jeremy nodded and let his dad help him up the stairs. He was left alone to pack, since there was enough stuff to lean on in his room.

 

He noticed that Derek still hadn’t said anything. He seemed to be almost... drippy, like his form couldn’t quite hold itself together properly. Jeremy didn’t like that, he might be feeling a little numb but he still cared about his new friend. He took a moment from packing to stand next to the ghost, focusing and managing to reach out a hand and grab hold of his. He gave it a squeeze.

 

“We’re gonna get him back, I promised I would try. But I just... can’t yet,” he offered quietly. He didn’t want Derek hurting.

 

Derek looked up from his jacket end then, his eyes gazing between his held hand and Jeremy’s face. “I know you can’t yet,” Derek reassured him, “I just... I’m going through my own stuff too, it’s hard for me too. But thank you.” Jeremy felt a cold pressure, and he knew Derek squeezed his hand back.

 

He managed a small smile at Derek and lingered a moment more before getting on with packing. He didn’t really want to let go of Derek’s hand, though, it was... comforting somehow, even if it wasn’t fully tangible.

 

Once he was finished, he sat down on his bed and pulled up the hood of his hoodie. Then he patted the bed next to him and took Derek’s hand again when he sat down. He sent his dad a text to let him know he was done, his voice not feeling up to shouting at the moment.

 

Jeremy felt cold pressure again against his hand as he waited before his dad came back in a minute or so later. He took the bag, shouldering it before offering a hand for Jeremy to take. “You’re going to have to give me directions to Jake’s house. It’s been a long time since I’ve driven you there.”

 

Jeremy nodded and took his dad’s hand with his free hand. He didn’t let go of Derek’s hand, finding it easier to stay more present and less numb while holding it. If his dad noticed, he didn’t say anything.

 

His dad was careful and slow, going at Jeremy’s pace to help him downstairs and outside to the car. He helped Jeremy in the car first, going to put his crutches and bag in the backseat. All the while, Derek sort of hovered in the backseat, still holding Jeremy’s hand as he was back there, even as his dad bumped through him once. Jeremy saw his dad shiver a little and glance in the general area of where Derek hovered when that happened before he shut the door and got in the driver’s seat.

 

“Derek’s gonna be helping keep an eye on me at Jake’s house,” Jeremy said after a moment and his dad looked a little surprised. “He’s... struggling a little too but we’re gonna help each other.”

 

His dad nodded to that after a moment. “At least you both have someone to help each other. Hopefully it’ll be a help echo chamber in a way that’ll help you both,” he said before starting the car. He smiled at Jeremy and in the back of the car, in Derek’s general direction, before he backed out of the driveway and started his drive to Jake’s house.

 

Jeremy didn’t say much besides to give the directions. His dad did ask Derek some questions, just being friendly and trying to get to know the ghost, which Jeremy would relay the answers for. Derek seemed almost pleased by this fact, and it seemed to help him a little. He was less drippy by the time they arrived at Jake’s house.

 

When they pulled into the driveway, Jeremy paused. He let go of Derek’s hand and grabbed his dad in a tight hug, leaning across the console. “I love you dad. Thank you so much,” he murmured, eyes shut tight. Sadness had replaced the numbness a little, and he was acutely aware of how much he loved his dad and his friends.

 

His dad didn’t hesitate in hugging Jeremy back. “I love you too, son. You’re an amazing kid and I’m so proud and lucky to be your dad,” he told Jeremy, rubbing his back briefly before Jeremy felt a quick kiss placed to his temple. “Do you need help getting in with your bag?”

 

Jeremy nodded as he slowly let go of his dad, opening the door and shakily climbing to his feet. He took Derek’s hand with one hand and his dad’s with the other. He disabled the alarm and unlocked the door on the house using his powers and found everyone waiting for him in the sitting room. His dad helped him sit, pressed another kiss to his temple and took his bag up to the room Jake directed him to. He was gone a moment later, promising to be back soon.

 

Jeremy didn’t say anything besides a quiet greeting, but he did notice Rich eyeing his hand suspiciously, the one holding onto Derek. Rich said nothing for now.

 

“Hey Jeremy, you’re looking better,” Jake said with a warm smile, obviously trying to be welcoming and comforting. Chloe nodded from where she sat next to Jeremy on the couch, and Derek sort of hovered for a moment before managing to sort of sit in the free space Chloe left between Jeremy and herself. She shivered for a second, but she brushed it off like it was nothing.

 

“Physically m’doing better.” He shrugged. He did notice the varied attempts at surprising shock from his almost dead sounding voice, but he couldn’t really bring himself to care about that. He was in pain, a lot of pain, he was allowed to hurt and sound however he needed to.

 

“That’s good,” Chloe said, seemingly the least surprised as she reached over, ignoring the chill she definitely got by going through Derek as she gently rubbed his shoulder before settling back down. “Doing better however is good, even if you’re still hurting. You don’t need to talk or do anything besides care for yourself. We’ll just explain what we found out and you can just listen.”

 

Jeremy nodded, leaning into Chloe’s touch before leaning back and squeezing Derek’s hand a little. Rich was still eyeing it suspiciously. Jeremy didn’t like that fact but didn’t care enough to bring it up.

 

Everyone went around giving information they found out, and a few things stuck to Jeremy, the only things he thought mattered. More people got taken than the first time, closer to double than the original number of people taken, including Michael and Rich’s older brother Curtis, who had been visiting since he was on summer break from college. Everyone also set their temporary base up by the mall. No one had seen Michael during their run, but they heard from lingering soldiers checking the area outside the city that he was going to be in a high-up position. A lot of people were temporarily evacuated from their homes, going elsewhere, especially since any jobs in the city and some near the outskirts were closed until further notice. There were some shelters opening up around for various purposes.

 

Jeremy nodded as he took all this in. There wasn’t much he could do in any respect right now, he knew that, but he did have some things he could offer.

 

“Okay, so everyone needs to compile their stocks of Red, keep a couple of vials on them at all times in and out of suit. The warehouse base needs to be raided a couple of times if possible, get our equipment out and back here. Then we start a whole take back. Divide up the city into segments and work on clearing those out. If we can. They have limited resources for now, the more civilians we can take back and soldiers we can take down, the better,” he instructed, finding that even just coming up with that plan exhausted him. He wanted a nap. He didn’t say anything. “Anything else you guys wanna add? Anything you wanna say?”

 

The general consensus seemed to be ‘no’ to that. “I think you should go get situated in bed though. Thank you for helping with a plan,” Chloe said, giving him a smile. “We can help or your dad can when he comes down in a minute to get you to your room.”

 

Jeremy nodded and shut his eyes as he flopped against the couch. He felt the cold pressure on his hand increase for a moment when Derek squeezed his hand.

 

When his dad came back down, Jeremy grabbed onto his arm and shakily climbed to his feet, letting his dad guide him. He shot him a small, grateful smile but he knew it was a little lackluster right now. Better than nothing, really.

 

Everyone gave him warm wishes as he left, heading up the staircase and to the guest room that was his for now. It was warm and quaint, but it didn’t inspire those same feelings inside of Jeremy. “I set your toiletries and things out here and in your connected bathroom,” his dad told him as he got Jeremy into bed. “Your bag is still out with your clothes and other things on the desk in here. Is there anything else you need from me while I’m here?”

 

“No thanks, dad. Thanks for your help.” Another weak, halfhearted smile but it was more than Jeremy could muster for anything else except Derek. “You can go ask the others about anything you like, since you know I don’t want anymore secrets...” He really didn’t. Secrets had caused too much trouble. He wanted his dad to be as informed as he wanted to be. “When d’you think you’ll be around again?”

 

His dad started to run his fingers through Jeremy’s hair now that he was settled. “Tomorrow afternoon at the latest. I’ll bring you over some lunch and any groceries that I don’t think you guys have that you need, so I’ll be raiding the kitchen a little when I go back down. I also wanna talk to some people before I come back here tomorrow. Is that alright with you?”

 

Jeremy nodded. “Can you stop by and check on Nanay and Mom too? They’re gonna need help too, and Nanay has something to tell you about. I... I don’t wanna say it myself but I want you to know.” He couldn’t bring himself to mention the note but he wanted his dad to know.

 

“Those were some of the people I was planning on talking to, private,” he was told with a soft chuckle. “I’ll see if they can come over and see you too. I think Nanay is helping out at the hospital a bit more and Mom is helping out when she can, but I know they’d want to visit when they can.”

 

Jeremy nodded. “I’d like that.” He burrowed down in the light covers and the hoodie. “M’gonna have a nap now. See you later dad. Love you,” he murmured, pulling his glasses off and sticking them on the bedside table.

 

“Love you too, private,” his dad said, kissing his forehead before he looked in Derek’s direction. “Bye Derek, I know this is hard for you too from what I know. I hope you feel better.” Jeremy saw a little less of a drip from Derek then as his dad waved in Derek’s direction before leaving, shutting the door behind himself.

 

“He likes you...” Jeremy mumbled, starting to doze off already. “I think he wants to be your friend too.” He closed his eyes and fell asleep before he even heard Derek’s reply.

 

 

 

When Jeremy woke up, it was with a growling stomach and an echoing chest. He didn’t feel any better emotionally, even if his limbs felt stronger than when he was last awake. The alarm clock on the bedside table told him it was about seven in the evening. Time for dinner, Jeremy supposed.

 

“Hey, Derek.” He waved over to the ghost, who was still kinda drippy but nowhere near as drippy as before.

 

The ghost was sitting on the desk in Jeremy’s current room, looking over at Jeremy once he started speaking. He waved back at Jeremy before looking over at the clock. “I heard the others starting to make dinner half an hour ago.”

 

“Awesome,” Jeremy replied with very little enthusiasm. Any energy he had earlier had long been sapped from him, leaving him mostly numb again. “M’gonna try going downstairs. M’getting kinda hungry.” His stomach rumbled in agreement, which prompted a small chuckle from Derek. He moved to sit on the bed as Jeremy sat up.

 

“That’s good. You might wanna shower before you go back to bed.” As Jeremy shifted himself to have his legs hang off of the side of the bed, Derek offered a hand out then.

 

Jeremy nodded in agreement and took Derek’s hand. When he stood, he wobbled a little before getting his balance and standing steadily. He didn’t let go of Derek’s hand, which was a surprisingly good anchor point even if it was a little intangible. Jeremy could hold it, that was what mattered. “Let’s go.”

 

A couple of minutes later (Jeremy was still moving slowly), Jeremy entered the kitchen, where the rest of the squad were just plating up some spaghetti.

 

Brooke, who was plating the spaghetti, looked over at Jeremy with a warm smile. “Hey Jeremy. We were gonna have someone come up and bring you food. I’m guessing you want a plate?”

 

“Yes please.” He nodded, letting Derek guide him over to the table and sitting down. Derek sat on the table next to him, still holding Jeremy’s hand. He seemed to understand that it helped Jeremy.

 

If anyone noticed him holding the supposed hand of nothing, they said nothing for now as they got settled at the table. Brooke put down a plate of spaghetti in front of him, along with a glass of water, before sitting down with her own plate and drink.

 

There were a few different conversations going on, from Jenna, Rich, and Jake talking about some new stuff coming out to Christine and Brooke discussing things about their Broadway trip that they could still hopefully go on next month. Chloe added in a few different ideas for places to go to before and after the show, which both seemed to appreciate.

 

Jeremy ate in silence, and when he’d finished both the food and the water, he stood. “Thanks for dinner. I’m gonna go for a shower.” He put his plate in the sink and headed up, with Derek keeping a hand on his shoulder. Jeremy could feel the worried gazes and he heard the conversations stutter for a moment as he left. He couldn’t bring himself to care.

 

As he made it to his room, shutting the door behind himself, Derek let out a small hum. “Whatever you want me to do while you shower, let me know, but I’ll still respect your privacy first and foremost.”

 

“I think I’ll be okay to shower alone,” Jeremy responded after a moment, grabbing some comfy clothes to change into. He still had to get out of his super suit, which was under his clothes still. “I’ll knock when I’m decent, just so you can make sure I don’t get too lost in my own head. That... can happen with bathroom mirrors sometimes. Michael would usually keep an eye on me but...” He didn’t need to say it, didn’t want to say it.

 

“Don’t worry, I’ll make sure you don’t get too lost in your own head,” Derek reassured him. “Just... what’s the normal amount of time you take for a shower? I sorta figured it out before with his showers and would check on him when they got to be too long, just in case. It helped him.” He gave Jeremy a warm, probably meant to be reassuring smile, even if it came off a little weak and he seemed to be a little drippier.

 

Jeremy focused and reached over, grabbing Derek in a slow, gentle hug. The ghost let it happen and actually held Jeremy after a moment as well.

 

When they pulled back, Jeremy shot Derek an equally weak smile. “I normally only take ten minutes, fifteen at most,” he said, picking his clothes back up from the bed. Derek looked a tiny bit less drippy, which was good.

 

The ghost nodded then as he sat down on Jeremy’s bed then, going to fiddle with the end of his jacket. “Alright, good to know.” He hesitated before adding, “Thanks, Jeremy.”

 

“No problem, Derek. After all, you’re my friend. And his. I doubt he’d want either of us totally collapsing...” Another weak smile, but it was warm.

 

Jeremy hadn’t collapsed, not entirely. He’d just retreated back into himself for a bit. He’d get out of it eventually. And he’d support Michael’s other best friend to make sure he didn’t break either. Everyone else could wait. They were managing fine for now. Jeremy and Derek were the only ones who were there, who saw it happen. They had a heavier burden to bear. Jeremy let that thought linger as he headed into the bathroom to shower.

 

As he walked into the bathroom, shutting the door behind himself to shower, Jeremy went through the motions once he turned on the water and let it warm up. Shampoo, let it sit for a little bit as he got the rest of his stuff ready, rinse. Then he put in the conditioner, wash himself up with his pre-lathered scrubby of body soap, then rinse off thoroughly. Instead of letting his mind wander to bad places, thinking too deeply on things (that was too exhausting right now), he focused on each task and not taking too long on each. Once he was done, he turned off the water and stepped out, starting to dry off his hair before doing the same for his body, sure to quickly get changed once he could.

 

He would normally be impressed at how efficient and easy that shower was, but he wasn’t right now. It’s not like he had places to be. He knocked on the door once he was dressed, grabbing his brush from the counter and beginning to brush his hair. It was a mess.

 

Derek floated in a moment later, looking somehow less drippy than earlier, almost more solid. “Hey dude, how’re you feeling now?” Jeremy asked softly, trying to get his hair into some sort of order.

 

“A bit better now that I’ve had time to just think,” Derek told him. “Still not feeling great, but better.” He sat down on the bathroom counter then, watching Jeremy before humming. “Also, a good way to try to get it how you want might be to try using your fingers as well. It’ll get things your brush can’t always get.”

 

Jeremy tried what Derek was suggesting, finding it much easier to style his hair into the basic shape he was after. Then he could just use the brush to clean it up. “Thanks, dude, that’s so much easier.” He shot Derek a grin, more solid and real than anything he’d managed since his breakdown earlier. It was easier around Derek than it was with everyone else.

 

A moment later, Jeremy heard a knock on the door. “Jeremy, dude, you alright in there?” Rich called from outside. Instantly, any energy Jeremy felt seeped out of him, but he sighed and decided to keep trying.

 

“Yeah, Rich. Come on in, I’m dressed and everything.”

 

Rich opened the door then, looking over Jeremy with worry. “Is everything... alright in here? I know you’re upset and everything, but...” He seemed to have trouble finding the exact wording he wanted to say, as if he was walking on eggshells. Derek seemed to figure out what Rich was trying to get at though, his eyes widening.

 

“He thinks your SQUIP got reactivated because of me.”

 

Jeremy’s eyes widened and he tore his gaze from Rich’s reflection and faced him properly. “Yeah, Rich, everything- Well actually no, everything is not fine. But I’ll be okay, I just need some time to deal with this all. I’m still- I wouldn’t reactivate it if that’s what you’re worried about. I’m still me, dude, just grieving right now,” he stammered out with more energy than he knew he possessed right now. His thoughts were too chaotic to translate properly into words, but he hoped Rich understood.

 

Doubt flashed in Rich's eyes for a moment as he nodded, as if he was believing what Jeremy was saying. "Yeah dude, I know you wouldn't reactivate it," he told Jeremy, arms crossed over his chest as he gave Jeremy a smile. He took a few steps closer then, the door shutting behind Rich as he left the doorway. "But that doesn't mean that you reactivated it."

 

Jeremy couldn't help but take a step back. The bathroom wasn't that big and Rich was getting a little closer than Jeremy was comfortable with right then. "It's still off, Rich. I'm still me,” he repeated. "They didn't get me, I promise."

 

He didn't know how to explain Derek to Rich, who already had a preconceived idea of how Michael's powers worked. And as far as Derek had said, no one else knew about him beside Michael, Jeremy, and now Michael's moms and Jeremy's dad.

 

Derek was staying between Rich and Jeremy, even if Rich didn't see him. He looked right through him as he kept his eyes trained on Jeremy. "How can I know that? You've been giving off signs, Jeremy. I know you're grieving and it may not seem like it's not back, b-"

 

Rich went stiff as Derek vanished, and Rich seemingly shook himself out before panic set into Rich. "He was going to attack you, this was the only thing I could think of," Rich said- no, Derek said, he could hear his voice layered with Rich's voice. "Sorry Rich." Rich stiffened again as Derek slowly came back into Jeremy's line of sight, but he was a bit drippier now than before.

 

With wide eyes as he seemed to come back to, Rich stared right at Jeremy, still unable to see Derek. "What..."

 

"His name is Derek. He's a ghost and he's my friend. Michael could see him and that's sort of bled over to me," Jeremy said as firmly as he could manage. He reached forward and grabbed Derek's hand, trying to help ground him. That was obviously hard for him to do, Jeremy knew Derek hated doing ghost stuff like that. "He's not a danger, or a SQUIP."

 

Derek seemed to really appreciate that, holding on tight to Jeremy's hand as Rich stared at their hands (even if he could only see Jeremy's). "I... Wait..." He still seemed confused, though was trying hard to understand as he looked up at Jeremy with wide eyes. "Ghosts are real? I... What?"

 

"Ghosts are real and this one is my friend," he confirmed. Jeremy squeezed Derek's hand, grounding himself as much as Derek. "He's the one who helped Mchael with the SQUIPs in the first place. The supposed 'WOW' friend. And he and I are looking after each other since we were both there when Michael got taken."

 

The numb, hollow feeling in Jeremy's chest had been replaced with a small spark of anger. Not enough for his SQUIP to latch on to, just enough to give Jeremy some energy to defend his friend. "I get that you're freaked but I think you owe him an apology. Derek's done nothing but help. He hates SQUIPs as much as we do and he doesn't deserve to even be compared to one." Derek looked like he might protest, but Jeremy cut him off with a small scowl. "No, Derek, I am being serious. You deserve better than that!"

 

Derek didn't protest any longer then, looking over at Rich again as his free hand messed with the bottom of his jacket (a forming fidget?). Rich was just staring, a bit taken aback by everything before nodding. He glanced down at Jeremy's hand and looked in the general direction of Derek then. "I... I'm sorry for comparing you to a SQUIP, Derek." Even if he was still taking this all in, he sounded and looked sincere enough with his apology. "I didn't know, I thought that was the only thing it could be. I didn't mean to, I know how bad they are. You don't deserve that."

 

Derek nodded, looking away a little as if embarrassed. "I think he's a little flustered, but he accepts your apology." Jeremy chuckled a little, elbowing Derek using the arm holding onto him. Derek jolted a little, still probably not used to this much interaction, but he smiled back at Jeremy.

 

A thought occurred to him and Jeremy reached out into Rich's SQUIP for a moment. It took a moment of fiddling but he thought he managed to set it to the same frequency as his own. Judging by Rich's gasp, it worked. "I'll do that for the others later. I'm kinda tired now so I think I'm gonna get some rest."

 

"I... yeah," Rich said, staring at Derek. It took Derek a second or two to realize that Rich could see him now, and he squirmed a little where he was. Derek went to say something, reaching a hand up to wave Rich out, but Rich interrupted with, "Holy shit, he's hot." Rich clearly didn't mean to say that out loud, his wide eyes being a good indicator as well as him covering his mouth before hurrying out, waving as he went.

 

"I... uh... thanks?" Derek called out, and Rich stumbled a little as he shut Jeremy's bedroom door behind him. A sigh escaped Derek then as he looked at Jeremy with a weak smile. "Thanks, Jeremy. Let's get you to bed."

Chapter Text

Jeremy was curled up in bed, eyes barely focused on the phone in front of him. The sound, Michael's voice, was being beamed directly into his ears since Jeremy knew seeing this made Derek sadder. Having it sort of muted made it a little easier.

 

A gentle knock echoed around the room, and Derek's sort of drippy form gently nudged Jeremy's shoulder. He paused the video and sent a message into the chat, not able to find his voice yet. He could never talk after watching this video. He knew that.

 

{Gamer} come on in guys

 

The door opened and everyone came into the room then. Rich lead the way in, and he glanced away from Derek for a minute at first before focusing in more on his form. Derek shifted uncomfortably at the attention, but didn't say anything. The video seemed to do the same to him as it did to Jeremy.

 

Everyone else sort of glanced in the direction Rich looked before honing in on Jeremy. Chloe spoke up first. "How are you feeling, Jeremy? Have you come down to eat yet? Or gotten out of bed yet?"

 

Jeremy paused, slowly sitting up and shaking his head. He had started watching the video when he woke up, almost unthinkingly. He was missing Michael and couldn't get past it enough. From there, he just couldn't pull himself away and neither could Derek. That had been maybe an hour or two ago.

 

"Well, we wanted to offer to sit with you and keep you company. I know I can cook so I can make you whatever you want," Chloe said with a slight shrug while Christine nodded in agreement.

 

"Yeah, and we can just keep you company and all. Do whatever you want, even if it's just sitting with you. But you should at least try to not stay in bed all day," Christine quickly added.

 

{Gamer} wasnt planning to but thanks

 

{Gamer} dereks with me so i havent been alone but i still am grateful

 

Jeremy was struggling with this interaction, but he knew Derek was struggling even more so. He seemed to be worse off after the video than before, even worse off than Jeremy. Jeremy reached over and took Derek's hand, squeezing it gently. The ghost got a little less drippy, still not totally solid but less intangible.

 

“That was another thing we wanted to ask you about. Rich’s been able to tell us barely anything about him, but we sort of got a vague idea,” Jake said as Rich looked away and to the side, his cheeks colored. “Just that he’s a ghost friend who apparently you know and you can see thanks to, uh, not Rich but uh... him.”

 

Oh, this was about Derek now. Well if Derek could stand to let Jeremy watch the video, Jeremy could force himself to talk a little to help his friend out.

 

“Yeah,” Jeremy managed after a second, startling everyone including Derek, who got marginally less drippy. “He’s a ghost friend who helped Michael out when I was SQUIPed. He’s been helping me and I’ve been helping him, since we were both there with... you know.” Jeremy paused and took a breath, squeezing Derek’s hand. “You guys have been working through him these past two days kinda.”

 

It took everyone (besides Rich, who was sure to look away from Derek still) a second to take it in before Jake seemed to get it first with an, “Oh, alright.”

 

“You’re just going to take in the existence of ghosts just like that?” Chloe asked with wide, somewhat disbelieving eyes as she looked at Jake.

 

“I mean, it makes sense, and I’m gonna believe Jeremy and Rich.”

 

“I mean, I am too,” Chloe said with a huff, “But it doesn’t mean I have to like being wrong about something.”

 

Jeremy squirmed a little. "Hang on, I can-" He fiddled with the squad's SQUIPs a little, aligning them to the same frequency as Jeremy's and Rich's. Derek seemed to realize this as he squirmed a little as well and got a little less drippy, almost blushing. "Anyways, this is Derek. He's my friend, and Michael's. You guys better be nice, because he's awesome." Jeremy had become very protective of the ghost boy in the few days they’d known each other. He scooted closer and rested his shoulder against Derek's ever so gently.

 

Almost everyone seemed to have the same reaction of gasping a little and getting a bit red in the face, some looking away while others couldn’t seem to help but stare. “Oh, uh... w-we won’t be rude or anything to him, we promise,” Brooke reassured him with her hands waving a little in front of her. “Right?” Everyone quickly nodded. “But, uh, we still think you should come down to eat breakfast... or, well, lunch.”

 

Jeremy shot a mournful glance at his phone before turning back to the group and nodding. Derek shifted and put his arms on Jeremy’s shoulders, helping him stand up. Everyone watched on, a little shocked when Jeremy shot Derek a little smile. Having all the attention on him seemed to fluster Derek a little, but it seemed to help make him less drippy. He was barely dripping at all by the time Jeremy was standing. “Thanks Derek,” Jeremy murmured.

 

Derek nodded, though stayed quiet as he walked along with Jeremy, looking away from everyone’s watchful gazes. Everyone seemed to notice that they were making him bashful, and they tried to avert their gazes as well as they headed downstairs with Jeremy and Derek.

 

{Countess} Jeremy, Derek is hot as hell, what the fuck

 

Jeremy snorted a little. When Derek shot him a questioning look, Jeremy tapped his temple. “Group chat,” was all he said. Derek shrugged and focused on helping Jeremy down the stairs. He was getting more confident with touch, and Jeremy was growing used to the cold pressure the ghost boy offered.

 

{Gamer} i mean i guess he is im not rlly focused on that rn

 

{Countess} it's not 'I guess' because he /is/ hot but alright, go off I guess

 

{Countess} wait, fuck, did I just

 

{Psyche} I'M SO PROUD CHLOE

 

{Countess} N O

 

Jeremy sniggered a little, then burst out laughing. It was the first proper laugh he’d had since Michael was taken and it was honestly freeing. “C-Chloe just memed by accident and is freaking out,” he managed to stutter out between his laughs in answer to Derek’s questioning glance. He sniggered a little as well, a few deep giggles escaping as well.

 

"Don't laugh at my misery," Chloe almost wailed, though seemed to have a joyful glimmer in her eye as she pretended to moan and groan all the way down the stairs and into the kitchen.

 

Jeremy was still giggling by the time he was sat down in the kitchen. His cheeks and belly were almost hurting from how hard he was laughing and it was awesome. He missed this. It was so much better than the hollow feeling.

 

“So, what’s the plan, great master chef?” Jeremy asked, his voice still croaky but somehow stronger than it was. He wasn’t better, not by a long shot, but he was doing better overall. Derek perched on the table as usual, grabbing Jeremy’s hand and squeezing it with a small smile.

 

"Whatever your heart desires within reason of the food we have in the kitchen," Chloe told him with a grin. "The others are going to be going out soon so it'll be you, me, and now the cute ghost boy." Derek flushed a bit at that, looking away while his cheeks seemingly flushed.

 

Jeremy poked him with his free hand, getting a flustered but good natured scowl in return. “I knew you were awesome. You’ve already charmed Chloe,” Jeremy teased, letting Derek splutter a little as he turned back to the girl in question. “Do we have some eggs? I wouldn’t mind some scrambled eggs on toast, if it’s not too much trouble.”

 

"It's completely within my realm of expertise and I can totally make that for you," Chloe told him with a good-natured smile before going to get everything ready to cook. "Is there anything else that sounds good?"

 

Jeremy paused. “Is there any turkey bacon left?” he asked shyly, prompting Derek to poke his forehead a little. “Oh hush you. I need to try to keep kosher even if I’m not properly keeping it all the time.” He stuck his tongue out at Derek, prompting another giggle from them both.

 

"I'll check, but I'm pretty sure we have some," Chloe said as she started rifling through the fridge. "And hey, it's pretty good. I prefer it over regular bacon, especially since red meat is something you should avoid in a healthy diet, though cutting it out is preferred."

 

“See?” Derek rolled his eyes.

 

“Yeah, I see you’re a nerd and she’s being way too nice to you,” Derek teased softly. Jeremy gasped dramatically in return, hand to his chest and everything.

 

“Derek, how could you? My own ghost friend turned against me. Woe is me, I’ll never recover!” he wailed, feeling almost lightheaded at how happy he was feeling. It might be only surface level but any happiness for Jeremy was a win right now.

 

Derek scoffed playfully and rolled his eyes. "Mhmm, sure, that's what they all say," he said while Chloe laughed from where she was in the kitchen.

 

"Everyone says that their ghost friend betrays them?"

 

"Probably everyone that has a ghost friend, I dunno!" Derek tried, though he looked at his lap with warm cheeks.

 

“You alright?” Jeremy asked softly. Derek nodded. “Not used to being able to talk to people again?” Derek nodded again. “Well don’t worry, you won’t have to be lonely anymore. You’ve got all of us now, since we can all see you.” He offered Derek a small, honest smile and squeezed his hand again.

 

Derek offered a small smile back as well before focusing back on his lap. He made sure to squeeze Jeremy's hand back though as Jeremy heard a soft hiss of a spray can. Glancing, he saw Chloe spraying down a pan as she had food lying out for him that she was going to cook.

 

A few minutes later, there was a delicious smell wafting from the kitchen. Jeremy’s stomach growled and he was suddenly aware of how hungry he was. “Smells great, Chloe!” he called, pouring himself some water from the filter jug on the table. Drinking some helped quiet his stomach somewhat.

 

"Thank you," Chloe called back, and a minute or so later, she came out with a plate of food. She put it down in front of Jeremy with a smile for him as well as a smile for Derek. "Need anything else?"

 

Jeremy shook his head. “No thanks. I’m alright for now but thank you for the food! It looks and smells delicious.” Jeremy glanced at the clock on the wall. Almost eleven o’clock. His dad would be around soon.

 

"Of course. I'm gonna go do some stuff and the others are leaving shortly. If you need me, call or mental text," Chloe said with a smile as she went back into the kitchen, probably to clean up.

 

Jeremy nodded and started devouring his meal. It was very good (Chloe was an awesome cook apparently) and just the right amount to satisfy his ravenous hunger. The others all walked into the dining room in their super suits (sans masks), probably to say goodbye, when the doorbell rang.

 

“Don’t worry, it’s just Mr. Heere,” Jenna assured everyone. Jeremy unlocked the door and he heard his dad call out a greeting.

 

"I'm here and with real food I know you all can make because holy hell, you don't have good grocery store shopping skills," Jeremy's dad said as he came in, waving to everyone with bags of groceries weighing down his arms. "Also, you don't need to help me, go superhero-ing. I'm going to be here with..." He craned his neck, seeing Chloe cleaning. "I'll be here with Chloe to help with the place and with Jeremy and Derek."

 

“You told your dad about him before us?!” Rich half shrieked before blushing bright red and pulling on his mask out of embarrassment. Jeremy giggled a little and his dad looked hopeful. Derek just rolled his eyes playfully.

 

“Yes I did. He heard me talking to Derek, and then got to know him with me passing on Derek’s answers. I can’t let him see Derek though, so you’re still the first for that, Rich,” he teased.

 

"Well, good luck to you kids with your duties and all," his dad said as everyone else started to put on their masks as well. "Come back safe, you hear me!" Everyone agreed and waved as they quickly left the house.

 

“Hey dad.” Jeremy waved to him between mouthfuls. He was already finding his energy and happiness to be waning but he was trying to keep them up. The others didn’t deserve to deal with Jeremy in a perpetual bad mood (at least until they got Michael back) but it seemed there was no stopping it. At least Jeremy was able to keep his happiness around for a bit longer.

 

“Hey, Mr. Heere.” Derek waved as well.

 

“Derek says hi too.”

 

His dad weakly waved as he hurried to put down the bags, settling them all out on some free kitchen counter space. “Hi private, hi Derek,” he said with a huff once he put everything down. “How are you guys? Sorry that I’m not coming over right away, there are some frozen and cold things here that need to be put away right away.”

 

“S’okay Dad. And I’m doing better overall.” Jeremy shrugged a little.

 

“Same.”

 

“Derek is too. How are you doing? How’s Mom and Nanay?” he asked, finishing off his food.

 

“That’s good to hear,” his dad said as he started to put things away. “I’m good, and so are Mom and Nanay. They’re working to help people who need to. They said they’ll be able to visit tomorrow night, and they’re bringing some pizza dinner for everyone.”

 

“Awesome.” Jeremy grinned. “How long are you here for?”

 

“Probably for an hour or two, or whenever you wanna kick me out,” was his answer. “We do whatever you want until I get kicked out or need to go. Whichever comes first.”

 

“Can we watch some TV?” Jeremy asked, almost shyly. Derek nodded enthusiastically.

 

“Let’s watch a movie!” He grinned.

 

“A movie maybe instead. Derek wants a movie today.”

 

“Sure, Whatever you two want,” his dad said as he finished putting some things away.

 

“Oh, let me finish that, you go watch something,” Chloe said from the kitchen as well, presumably stopping Jeremy’s dad. Jeremy could hear the slight surprise and thanks his dad gave before he came out to Jeremy and Derek with a smile.

 

“Your choice of what we watch, you two.”

 

Jeremy didn’t really know what he wanted to watch, but apparently Derek did.

 

“The first Pirates of the Caribbean?” he suggested. Jeremy nodded and relayed the choice to his dad as they settled down over on the couch (Jeremy managed to walk there all by himself this time, so he was definitely getting better).

 

His dad scrolled through some things before finding the movie on the TV. Derek hesitated, clearly now knowing where to sit since it was a smaller couch and there wasn’t really any room. “Are you guys both all settled?”

 

Jeremy shook his head and scooted so he was right next to his dad. Admittedly he was almost lying against him, but his dad didn’t seem to mind. If anything, he seemed to like the contact. “There wasn’t enough space for Derek,” Jeremy explained. His dad nodded then scooted a little more across and everyone got comfortable. Jeremy was still half leaning on his dad but they both were enjoying it. It was nice.

 

Derek gave Jeremy a warm smile then, seemingly almost no longer drippy as he settled next to him. He took Jeremy’s hand and gently squeezed it. After making sure everyone was comfortable, his dad started the movie then as the sound of Chloe putting groceries away slowly stopped and the only thing that echoed in the house was the movie.

 

 

 

The rest of the week progressed in a similar fashion. Jeremy would wake up, at his own pace, and either go straight downstairs to eat or have to be collected a couple of hours later because he was watching the video again. Once breakfast was done, his dad usually arrived and they’d watch tv or a movie together until lunch. Derek would always join them, and sometimes some of the squad would too, whoever wasn’t on patrol that day usually.

 

Overall, Jeremy was getting better. He had his really bad moments, when he’d only speak to Derek or even ignore everyone for hours on end, but he was also laughing more and was generally recovering.

 

Derek seemed to be getting better too... at least, until Jeremy thought about it. He would typically be happy for a short while before the drippiness reappeared. A lot of the time, he didn’t speak unless spoken to, and he only ever talked without prompting when Michael’s moms or Jeremy’s dad were there. Plus, Jeremy didn’t know what happened when he was asleep or zoning in on the video.

 

It got worse after Michael’s moms brought Michael’s laptop over to show them their video, which they had every right to see, along with the video for Jeremy’s dad. He didn’t speak, and his drippiness didn’t go away. Well, he only spoke to Jeremy, but even then…

 

As soon as he realized that, Jeremy made it his mission to help Derek. He made a point to engage him is conversation and kept contact with him at all times. Jeremy also made sure to hug and just be generally physically affectionate with Derek. It helped a little, he’d always seem less drippy afterwards, but not as much as Jeremy hoped. He didn’t give up.

 

Despite that, time marched on. A week since everything went to shit. Jeremy was sitting on the couch with just Derek for now, his dad gone to get some snacks. He was just channel surfing right now, trying to find something while Derek still held his hand, though his gaze was out the window. He was about half drippy.

 

Suddenly, Jeremy’s surfing stopped and he stiffened. His eyes were locked on the tv screen, unable to tear them away. Derek noticed and turned to face him, but Jeremy didn’t care.

 

There, on the screen, was Michael. In a white shirt. And slacks. Assisting with a heist. Just like his SQUIP had showed him. Those neon blue eyes cut through Jeremy like a knife, and he didn’t realise he was hyperventilating until he felt Derek’s hand on his shoulder. He couldn’t control his breathing, or his shakes.

 

“Jeremy, listen to me,” Derek said as Jeremy felt his entire body tremble. “We’re still getting him back, remember? We knew this was going to happen, but it doesn’t mean that it hurts less.” He saw Derek get a little drippier, but he was still trying.

 

Jeremy didn’t respond, not even consciously registering the words. Instead, he shakily, almost robotically, stood and made his way upstairs. Derek let out a small sound of protest and followed after him.

 

Jeremy shut the door to his room and started digging through the drawers. He knew it had to be in here somewhere, the prototype Jake had been working on.

 

Jeremy’s drawers were filled with blue. He hated it. All the blue clothes he had in there were tossed wildly out of the drawers as he kept digging.

 

“Jeremy, what are you doing?” Derek asked as Jeremy could faintly hear the noise of somber surprise from downstairs, from his dad. “Why are you digging out everything? What’s going on?”

 

“Ahah,” Jeremy hummed out in victory as he pulled out the prototype super suit Jake had been making for Jeremy, the one with a micro mesh of color receptors. It was supposed to be so Jeremy could turn down the brightness of his suit for more stealthy missions, but Jeremy had other ideas for it. After all, the suit was too blue. Blue was bad. Blue was wrong. He focused and the micro mesh reacted, turning the blue parts of the suit a deep red. The color of Mountain Dew Red. The color of Michael’s hoodie. The color of home.

 

“Jeremy? Where are you?” Jeremy could hear from downstairs, along with the concerned voice of Christine, who had stayed today. “Christine, please, help me look for him.”

 

“Jeremy, what are you doing? What are you going to do?” Derek asked softly, obviously worried as he stayed close.

 

“I’m keeping my promise,” was all he said as he peeled off his outer layers and slipped on the suit in a practiced, fluid motion. He grabbed the mask and slipped it on, opening the window. His room happened to face the street, and had a rather large tree just a small jump outside of it. He could make it, even before he became a hero.

 

“Wh- Jeremy, no, you’re emotionally high right now and you going into this will be bad. You can’t-“

 

“Watch me.” Jeremy jumped and grabbed onto the tree easily. He began scaling down.

 

“Jeremy, you can’t do this alone!” Derek almost screamed as he followed Jeremy, seemingly panicking as he stayed by Jeremy’s side.

 

Jeremy thought about this as he began jogging towards the city. He knew there was a car rental place nearby so he’d take one from there. They had already been lending cars to the others anyways.

 

“Then I won’t be just me,” was Jeremy’s conclusion. If SQUIPs were the source of their powers then all Jeremy had to do was to-

 

There.

 

He didn’t need super intelligence or tech sight, but the others would be useful. He made sure to intertwine them with his own powers. He knew how they worked. He had controlled them all at one point or another.

 

Jeremy felt his muscles stiffen into something stronger than he had ever felt before. His light jog sped up to a fast sprint without him having to put in any more effort. In fact, it took even less effort than normal. Well, maybe he didn’t need that car after all.

 

“Wh- Jeremy!” Derek cried out as he continued to stay at a pace equal to his own speed. “You’re going to tire yourself out by doing this. It’s not even healthy to use your powers continuously, and now you’re using everyone else’s? This is too dangerous!”

 

“I don’t care,” Jeremy growled. And he didn’t. He didn’t care about anything but getting to Michael. “He needs me and what have I been doing? Sitting around watching fucking movies all day. Some friend I am. I’m not abandoning him, not again. I’ve done than too many times already.”

 

“You aren’t abandoning him by recovering, you’re fine! You’re not just lazing around or anything, going in now is unhealthy and dangerous, as well as risky!” Derek cried out as he tried to get in front of Jeremy.

 

Jeremy stopped for a second and glared at Derek through his mask. “Then go tell the others, get them to stop me. But I’m not going home willingly until I’ve got him back.” He ran around Derek, not willing to pass through him. Even in his half crazed determination, Jeremy didn’t want to hurt Derek and he knew Derek hated being phased through.

 

He heard Derek’s freaked sputtering before he reappeared by Jeremy’s side. “I can’t leave you alone! Literally, I’m sorta bound to you so I can’t get too far away, but I wouldn’t leave you alone anyway!”

 

“Then keep up because this is gonna get wild.” Jeremy grinned. Well, more accurately, he bared his teeth in an almost feral display, his eyes glinting dangerously. If his face was visible, it was likely he’d look insane.

 

Within minutes, Jeremy was on the outskirts of the city. He spotted two soldiers and launched himself at them. They were pushed to the ground, their heads banging painfully on the concrete, hard enough to knock them out. Jeremy only stopped long enough to ensure they weren’t going to die before continuing inwards.

 

As he moved further in, Jeremy found himself slowly knocking out more and more soldiers. No one was notified of him rushing in until there were more than five, and that sixth one was able to radio over that Jeremy was here. Yes, his real name and all, not his super name. The soldier just finished, her fingers letting go of the radio’s com button, when he kicked her against the floor of the alley she had been hidden in.

 

He made sure to shock her for an added measure. So they knew he was here. No big deal, he’d just take more of them down. This was fun. Who knew wreaking havoc was this enjoyable? Not to mention, Jeremy was making progress. Finally, things were going forward. Finally, he was getting to Michael.

 

Jeremy continued his journey towards the mall, not caring for the trail of unconscious bodies he was leaving.

 

“Jeremy, you’re wearing yourself out too quickly with changing powers so quickly,” Derek pointed out as Jeremy made it closer and closer to the mall, knocking out more and more soldiers. For a second, his voice sounded distant. Jeremy glanced to the side and saw Derek was right beside him before he focused on knocking someone into a dumpster almost cartoonishly, the lid shutting and trapping the soldier inside.

 

“I. Feel. Fine,” Jeremy huffed. Okay, maybe he was a little tired, but it didn’t matter. He was so close. So close to Michael. He began working through a group in an alley, taking them out one by one.

 

There were three left when his knees gave out beneath him. Jeremy struggled back to his feet as the soldiers paused, then laughed at him. He ripped off his mask, and the three almost flinched when they saw the intensity in his face. He surged forward, pinning one to the back wall and shocking them to unconsciousness.

 

Jeremy spun around but he staggered and half fell against the wall. He felt a small trickle of blood dripping out his nose. His body wouldn’t move properly. He could barely stand. Even as the guns were raised and aimed at him, ready to knock him unconscious, Jeremy found he felt calm. Actually no, he felt ecstatically happy, a crazy sort of joy pulsing through him.

 

Belatedly, he realized this had been his intention from the get go. He didn’t have any illusions about rescuing Michael alone. He knew that was impossible. But he wanted the hurting to stop, to do something with the empty feeling in his chest. He had never actually planned to make it to Michael properly. He had always meant to be captured.

 

A small part of Jeremy wondered if this was what insanity felt like. A larger part didn’t care.

 

As the guns were aimed at him, Jeremy couldn’t help but glance to say something to Derek. If he wasn’t a bit breathless, he was sure he would have gasped and lost the air in his chest. His form was more than just seemingly dripping, but also fading in and out in different areas as well as just overall. Bits were just completely, well, not there as Derek looked between Jeremy and the soldiers before he moved forward.

 

He went to try to possess one of the guards, but both Derek and the guard freaked out at that. The guard acted as if they were shocked, the gun dropping out of their hands before stumping back while Derek shook, the part that had been in the process of possessing the soldier gone.

 

As Jeremy felt a part of him caring, opening his mouth to say something, Derek’s form seemed to just turn into a mess of indistinguishable whatever ghosts projected as before everything vanished.

 

“D-de-“ Jeremy couldn’t get a breath in to even call out to his vanished friend. Once again, Jeremy could only watch as he lost someone else he cared for.

 

Useless. Selfish. His Fault.

 

Any fight left in him vanished along with Derek. He pushed himself off the wall and raised his hands in surrender. Any powers he was holding drained out of him, along with almost all his energy. He wasn’t sure if he even needed to be shot to be knocked unconscious at this point.

 

The soldier that Derek tried to do something about seemingly caught their breath as they were stable on their feet again. The other soldier only glanced over, their gun still pointed at Jeremy as the voice of other people came from close by. “Jeremy Heere secured, sir,” they said with some sort of satisfaction.

 

“You better not have harmed him or knocked him unconscious,” a familiar voice called out from down the way that broke Jeremy’s heart.

 

The soldier close to Jeremy quickly stood at attention then, gun aimed away from him. The other one, however, who was grabbing their gun, stumbled and accidentally hit the trigger as they went to stand at attention as well, hitting Jeremy with a shot of blue energy.

 

As the bolt hit him square in the chest, Jeremy could have sworn his heart legitimately stopped for a moment. As he was knocked backwards, something broke. The last thing he registered was that Michael looked really striking, half silhouetted against the entrance to the alleyway.

 

 

 

The world resolved itself into a hazy sort of clarity as Jeremy rose back to consciousness. He sort of remembered his solo attack on the city. He vaguely remembered being cornered and captured. He very much remembered that DEREK WAS MISSING AND GOD, JEREMY HAD TO HELP HIM!

 

That thought shocked Jeremy awake and he sat upright, somewhat hindered by his bonds. He looked around, finding the world blurry without his glasses. As much as he hated it, Jeremy connected to his optic nerve and sharpened his vision so he could see. And see he did.

 

He saw Michael, white button up and black slacks and neon blue eyes, leaning casually against the doorway. Jeremy’s breath caught in his throat.

 

Oh. This wasn’t good. (Understatement of the year.)

 

If it wasn’t for the fact that Derek seemingly dissipated and Michael’s neon blue eyes were present instead of his normal brown eyes, Jeremy knew he would have been utterly hypnotized by the sight of Michael in person again. Even if it was only a week, it felt like weeks, months since he had seen him. The video did nothing compared to the real deal, even if he wasn’t really Michael.

 

Michael shifted to stand then, giving a smile that seemed a little off. It wasn’t Michael’s smile, it was the SQUIP’s knock off version of it. “You’re very excited to see me, huh? You’re speechless, Jeremy,” he said with a hum as he stuck his hands mostly, except his thumbs, into his slack pockets.

 

Even his words, his voice sounded wrong. Too clipped, too ‘perfect.’ Not Michael. It made Jeremy focus on the here and now, even if part of him just wanted to curl up in Michael’s arms again.

 

He was a superhero, and he was known for his snark both in and out of the mask. Time to pull a little of that out.

 

“Excited isn’t the word I’d use. Maybe horrified? Disgusted? Devastated? I’m not sure, which do you think fits better?”

 

“I mean, it’s understandable,” Michael said with a shrug as he took a few steps in, letting the door shut behind him almost silently. “I think the best one might be scared since you don’t know what’s going on. I’m not here to hurt you or ask for you to tell me anything. I just wanna talk, Jere, discuss things. Is that unreasonable?”

 

Jeremy snorted. This was going to be fine. They were just playing a versus match and Jeremy would win. “Considering last time we gave a SQUIP with powers any breathing room, I almost ended up with a knife through my eye, I’d normally say yes. But I guess I owe it to your memory to hear you out, so go for it. Tell me all your plans for world domination like a good little villain.”

 

Michael rolled his eyes at that as he walked closer, sort of squatting down now to be at eye-level with Jeremy. “Well, first off, I’m not dead, and second, I’m not letting anyone do that to you here. But in terms of my ‘plans for world domination-‘“ Michael used air quotes then. “-it’s not my plans so I don’t know everything. I’m here to tell you the basics of what’s going on.

 

“You’re here to get reactivated, but your SQUIP is special, of course. You need to turn it back on willingly. I wanted to see if I could convince you to turn it back on.”

 

Jeremy burst out laughing. It was a dry, humorless sound, almost a bark of a laugh, an explosion of sound. “You really think, after all this time, after everything that’s happened, I would ever do that?” Jeremy cried around his laugh before turning a deadly serious grin on Michael. “I would die first. So good luck with that, you glorified floppy disk.”

 

Michael just hummed at that as he shifted a little, eventually standing up as he crossed his arms over his chest. It helped show off his arms with the rolled up sleeves. God, Michael looked good in a button up…

 

“Well, like Rich said last year in Beth Israel, SQUIPs function like a hive mind. The head of a hive mind is the ‘Queen’ while the rest are drones working under that head. Your mind is the perfect candidate to become the Queen, and you would have complete control over the drones, including me. In theory, you’d be able to stop and alter the traits in every drone that you disliked, including me.”

 

Jeremy arched his eyebrows and smirked. “Wow, kinky. Total control over you? I feel like there’s a BDSM joke in there somewhere, but I’m kinda in the wrong position in that relationship right now to make it.” He tugged on ropes tying his arms and legs to the uncomfortable chair a little to emphasize his point. “Still, not gonna happen, gorgeous. Even if it is kind of an appealing idea.”

 

“I mean, I think that’s too soon in a relationship, but alright,” Michael said with a shrug, and Jeremy swore he saw color in his cheeks. “I would become your second in command though. I’d make sure any loose ends were tied up and all cleaned up, especially since my SQUIP has boosted my powers.”

 

Michael took a step or two forward, squatting again as he looked at Jeremy. “Even with all of this right now, this change, I’m still me. No one’s pulling my strings or anything. I’m no one’s puppet, but metaphorically, I could be yours. Once you stop resisting them, it becomes a hell of a lot more fun. This is just who I am now.” Michael smirked as he said that, keeping eye contact with Jeremy.

 

Michael had accepted the SQUIP at some point in the last week? Jeremy’s heart just about shattered at that comment, but he wasn’t about to show it. He wasn’t going to lose to Michael, not at this. “Oh I see. They offered you power and you jumped at it? Really, Mikey, I expected more from you. I’m actually disappointed that’s what you fell for, I was expecting something much more... dramatic.” He pouted. Internally, he was dying.

 

Michael, his Michael, wasn’t just gone, he had left willingly. There was nothing left of him worth fighting for, was there?

 

“You really think that little of me, Jeremy? That power, out of all of the cliche things, would be what I would take?” Even if Michael was covering up what he said with a joke, the soft, hurt tone he conveyed showed how that had wounded him. Memories of a now empty lot hit him, where a park was now being built, where a party had been and he had heard that same tone before in a now-nonexistent bathroom. “There is only one thing they could ever give me that would convince me to accept it.”

 

Don’t cry. Don’t cry. If Jeremy freaked out at all, he would lose. And losing this game would mean a lot more than some damaged pride. Of fucking course, that’s exactly why they sent in Michael in the first place. He would be the only one who could even touch Jeremy emotionally. Everyone else, they were just faces. Years of being bullied taught Jeremy to disassociate from those faces. No one else had the same level of power over him as Michael did.

 

“And what would that be, my dear turncoat boyfriend?” Jeremy cooed back, willing his other emotions into the hollow feeling rebuilding in his chest. It was only half working.

 

Michael leaned in then, one of his hands that had shifted to settle against his squatting leg cupping Jeremy’s cheek oh so carefully. Jeremy couldn’t help but feel his resistance slipping for a moment as Michael leaned in, a look of care and love and adoration taking over the formerly intense expression that had him curse the fact he made a BDSM-related joke. Those lips he learned how to kiss just recently brushed against his.

 

He was weak.

 

Jeremy kissed Michael.

 

Only when Michael pulled back did Jeremy feel the emptiness inside of him scream for Michael. He wanted to forget what was going on, to lose himself with Michael. His boyfriend’s breath brushed against his cheek as Michael lingered, then against the shell of his ear as he spoke, his voice somewhat breathless and completely honest.

 

“You.”

 

Jeremy was ashamed to admit his eyes had shut when they kissed, and didn’t reopen even at that confession. He was ashamed to admit that he leant into the hand still gently cupping his cheek. He was ashamed to admit that he whimpered a little when Michael pulled away. He was ashamed to admit that he had fucking lost, and a big part of him didn’t even care anymore.

 

“M-me?” he whispered. “How?”

 

“Jeremy, they promised me that if I gave in, I’d get to be near you. I’d get to be close to you, and I would work as your second in command, your right hand man if you wanted. You have to know how much you mean to me, after all this time, after everything we’ve been through. I was promised a chance of forever with you, of being by your side for as long as forever would be. How could I say no?”

 

“Which is why you want me to reactivate...” Jeremy finished quietly. It made a sick sort of sense; in the same way Michael was Jeremy’s greatest strength and weakness, so too was Jeremy to Michael. That’s what being codependent lead to, but also what being in love did to a person.

 

It was almost dizzying in the realization that Michael loved Jeremy so much and so deeply, that all it took was a chance to be together forever and he would willingly side with an ideology he hated. Time would tell if Jeremy was just as affected, though it was safe to say the fact he was even tempted was proof enough.

 

He didn’t realize that he had shut his eyes again until a gentle thumb brushed near his eye. “Hey, Jeremy,” Michael said in a soft tone, “I need you to look at me, this is important.”

 

Jeremy was weak, but he didn’t care right now. He opened his eyes to look at Michael, the nausea that the neon blue normally gave him pushed away.

 

Because Michael’s eyes weren’t that blue right now.

 

They were the brown he grew up learning to love.

 

Before any surprise or shock could escape his lips, Michael reached over with his thumb, gently keeping his lips shut as he smiled. He leaned over, the other hand that had been idle reaching forward and curling his straight, slightly damp locks between his fingers in a firm hold as he started to speak. Verbally and mentally. The mental talk overpowered his hearing.

 

(Michael): “Don’t stop resisting. I’m still fighting. I’m fighting for and with you. I love you so damn much.”

 

When Michael pulled back, mentally, verbally, and physically, Jeremy couldn’t help but whimper as Michael gave him a wink before shifting back to the trained expression of earlier. His eyes flickered before they were overtaken by that neon blue again.

 

“Consider it, yeah? I did this for you, and I want to be with you, Jeremy. I’ll see you later.”

 

Michael was alive somehow in all that, he was still himself! How was that possible? Maybe because of his powers. Either way, Jeremy was impressed, or part of him was anyways. Not only had Michael somehow convinced the Collective he was SQUIPed, he had managed to convince everyone else too. The small pieces out of place, the way he just seemed subtly off. It was masterfully done.

 

And Michael said he couldn’t act for shit.

 

Michael had said keep fighting, so Jeremy would. He would fight tooth and nail until he had nothing else to give. He’d keep fighting for Michael. Still, only part of him really registered all that right then, the rest was still screaming, aching, for Michael to come back. Because of that part of him, Jeremy couldn’t help the fact that as Michael left the room, he whimpered out a small, “I love you too.”

 

 

 

Jeremy was alone with his thoughts for however long (presumably a few hours?) after Michael left. He thought about almost everything, though his recurring thoughts were Michael, concern and worry for Derek, and his family and friends. There was guilt for just up and leaving, but it was mostly overshadowed by how happy part of him was that he saw Michael. That happy part also fluctuated between happy and upset because he wanted Michael to come back!

 

It seemed that selfish part of him’s wishes came true, as Michael stepped in as things were getting a little maddening in his head. Well, not physically stepped in, but mentally. That feeling of that hour when he and Michael were connected returned. Was he just imagining it?

 

(Michael): “No, you aren’t. I’m reestablishing the link in its entirety. I need to be able to talk to you when I’m not in the room with you, especially since I can’t really talk to you in person. Speaking of which, I’m gonna be in in a minute or two.”

 

Jeremy’s chaotic thoughts slowed to a crawl and he could finally deal with them. After whatever Michael had to do.

 

(Jeremy): “Okay, just tell me what you need me to do. And Mikey, I love you so much and I’ve missed you. Sorry for not saying it sooner but I swear it’s the truth.”

 

Jeremy might have been a little desperate in his shattered and exhausted state.

 

(Michael): “You had no time to say it. I don’t blame you for not telling me sooner. I love you so much and missed you too, you have no idea.”

 

(Michael): “I’m going to come in, get you out of your chair, and give you dinner. I’m going to ask you again to reactivate your SQUIP. You tell me ‘no.’ I’m also going to give you a mini tour of your cell since you’ve just been facing away from everything and couldn’t see it all. Got it?”

 

(Jeremy): “Okay. Should I keep up the snark or not?”

 

The ache in his chest, ever present for the last week, filled a little at having the connection back with Michael. It soothed him in a way nothing else had been able to, and Jeremy felt more present in himself than he had in ages.

 

Looking back on everything, he had definitely gone a little mad before in his crazed dash for Michael earlier. Judging by his reactions now, ignoring any doubt and suspicions that this could all be faked and just a ploy to get Jeremy to trust SQUIP Michael, he could almost believe he still was.

 

(Michael): “Suddenly dropping the snark you had earlier would be suspicious, so keep it up however you think is appropriate. I think mostly snark with some sincerity might be your best bet, but I trust your instinct more than mine.”

 

(Jeremy): “Gotcha. See you in a second I guess.”

 

Jeremy was feeling squirmy. He missed Michael so much and he was about to be in the same room with his Michael, pretending to be SQUIP Michael but still, and he wouldn’t be able to act on all his impulses. Still, he could put that discomfort to good use. His snark could use some fuel.

 

(Michael): “See you in a sec. Love you.”

 

Michael’s words helped to make the squirminess a little better... until it got worse, because he couldn’t act on anything unless Michael initiated it. Even then...

 

A minute later, or so Jeremy assumed, Michael came in wearing the same outfit as earlier. His eyes were the same blue and he held a tray of food. No, it wasn’t just bread and water, but an actual meal with a side, good drink, and a hearty meal. It smelled good and appetizing too!

 

“Hi, Jeremy,” Michael said, giving that off smile as he walked in, the door sliding shut behind him. “Have you had time to think over what I said?”

 

“Haven’t really had much else to do, did I? I mean, come on Mikey, you sided with these guys? They have no concept of hospitality.” Jeremy tried to let a little hysteria slip into his tone, just enough to make it seem that he was a little unstable and freaked. God knew it wasn’t totally faked. “Sadly for you, though, I won’t be joining the Collective any time soon.”

 

Michael frowned then as he walked behind Jeremy, the sound of the tray hitting wood resonating in the air for a second. “Well, that is sad for me, but also sad for you. I can’t let you out then of this cell.” Michael appeared back in view then as he bent down, starting to undo his bonds. “I can at least let you out of this chair and show you your room. We aren’t complete heathens, I promise.”

 

“Just mostly. Good to know.” He nodded. “But thanks for letting me out a little. My hands were getting a little numb.” As he spoke, Jeremy actually decided to feel out for electronics (he’d been so consumed by his thoughts earlier that he hadn’t thought to do that). There was a camera in the room, somewhere behind him, and a camera on Michael. That was it. Nothing he could use then.

 

“I do have a question though: what do you hope to achieve by keeping me here? I don’t think I’m ever gonna say yes, so what’s the point?” That was a genuine question, and he felt more than heard the small flinch from Michael.

 

“If I explain, then it would ruin the surprise,” Michael said as he undid the bonds on his wrists, gently but thoroughly rubbing his wrists down after letting them breathe for a second.

 

(Michael): “They plan on breaking you down until you agree. I don’t know how yet, but that’s their general idea.”

 

Jeremy pouted at Michael. “But that’s no fun.”

 

(Jeremy): “Well however they plan to, it’ll be harder since I have you with me in my head.”

 

Even with his snark and general attitude as an outer defense, Jeremy couldn’t help but melt a little, eyes closing of their own accord, when small kisses were pressed to his wrists. Even when acting like this, even when having to behave like the enemy, Michael was still so gentle with him. He forced his eyes open again, a small blush on his cheeks.

 

(Michael): “Yeah, I know. And I’m going to talk to you when I’m not here too so you don’t just have basically nothing.”

 

“It may not seem like it, but I promise it will be fun,” Michael murmured, lips brushing against Jeremy’s wrists before he moved down to undo Jeremy’s bonds around his legs. His hands were slower, as if savoring everything and trying to subtly provide Jeremy with comfort, as he went to undo the bonds.

 

It took a lot of restraint to hold himself back from basically just launching himself into Michael’s arms. Even before they were together they were always very tactile. It was made worse by this past week where Jeremy had been missing Michael more than anything. He could be proud that all he did was let out a small, barely there whine and shivered ever so slightly under Michael’s gentle touches.

 

When he was finally free, Jeremy wanted to curl himself up, to pull his arms and legs to his chest and keep them from Michael (just as part of the act, he didn’t really want that). Instead he found himself relaxing under Michael’s touches, unable to stop the reaction. By the time Michael pulled back and slowly stood, pressing another kiss to the back of Jeremy’s hand once he was standing, Jeremy was almost limp in his chair, small shivers coursing under his skin. He didn’t realize that he had only really let Derek touch him this past week, Derek and his Dad. He was supremely touch starved already.

 

(Michael): “Jeremy, are you alright?”

 

In reality, Michael held his hand still, gently tugging him in an invitation to stand up. “Come on, I need to show you your room and let you eat dinner. I don’t want it to get cold on you. It’s actually really good.”

 

Jeremy allowed himself to be guided to stand.

 

(Jeremy): “This week hasn’t been good for me. I accidentally let myself get touch starved.”

 

(Jeremy): “I missed you.

 

“It actually looks decent, so I’ll give you that.” Jeremy tried to snark, but it came out a little weak and shaky. Damnit. He fucked himself.

 

(Michael): “Oh Jeremy. I missed you too.”

 

The room was simple and small and all white except for the tray and his food. There was a bed against the wall, a little table with a lamp next to his bed, and a table nearby with no chair but his food was set there. To the side, there was also a section for a toilet, and the wall next to it had a small shower. There was also a slot near the wall, but he wasn’t sure what that was for.

 

“I mean, I guess so, but I’m glad you’re being so optimistic about this,” Michael told him as Jeremy saw him grab the chair he was in, the bonds now gone as he let go of Jeremy’s hand (which he kept himself from whining about somehow) and placed the chair in front of the table. “Your meal, my good sir.”

 

Jeremy picked up one of the potato wedges, studied it for a moment before taking a bite. It was perfectly cooked, as expected.

 

(Jeremy): “You’re the plan.”

 

That wasn’t very clear.

 

(Jeremy): “They want to use you to make me turn it on. Break me down so I’m reliant so I’ll just do it to get out of here.”

 

(Jeremy): “They want Stockholm syndrome or something. That’s what I would be aiming for if I were them anyways.”

 

He picked up the fork (wooden, good choice. Less weaponry) and took a bite of the pre-cut chicken. Delicious. Jeremy hated that he enjoyed it.

 

(Michael): “That makes too much sense, and I hate that and them so much. But I’m here and not really wanting you to turn it on. I’m working in the best way to get you out of here.”

 

Jeremy heard the sound of shifting, looking to the side to see Michael sitting on the bed only a few feet away from the tiny table. “How’s the meal?”

 

“Good, I guess. Less enjoyable as a captive. You want some? The whole thing with being basically tasered to oblivion has sort of ruined my appetite.” Jeremy genuinely wasn’t that hungry, a normal trend for this past week. Bad moods and food apparently didn’t mix well for him.

 

(Jeremy): “I’m not so sure if that’ll be enough in the grand scheme of things.”

 

(Michael): “I’m a determined asshole, I’ll make sure that you get out of here without you having to turn it on, I promise.”

 

Rolling his eyes a little playfully from where he sat, Michael got up and came over, taking one of the wedges and eating it. “Mm, tasty.” He put it down before taking a sip from the Mountain Dew, leaving a good portion of it in the cup still. “Yum.” Michael gave Jeremy an off smile then. “I’m sure your appetite will come back, we both know how much you love food.”

 

(Jeremy): “That’s not the grand scheme I’m talking about. I have no doubt you’ll get me out before it gets turned on.”

 

Jeremy rolled his eyes. “Yeah, well I’ve been in kinda a perpetual foul mood for the past week. Seeing your boyfriend forced to deepthroat a supercomputer kinda ruins your day for a while.” He ate some more chicken. Still delicious. Damnit.

 

(Jeremy): “I’m talking about the effects on me. It’s barely been a few minutes, some small contact and I’m already struggling a little. They will have seen that. They’re going to make you use that. And I don’t know how long I’ll be able to hold out, even with your help.”

 

“Well, then that’s more than just ruining your day, Jeremy. Sounds more like ruining your week, or maybe more than that. And I’m sorry about that, really, especially since this has done nothing but help me,” Michael offered with that off smile before he finished off the wedge and sat back down on the pristine white sheets.

 

(Michael): “Well then, I’ll have to work even faster to make sure I get you out as soon as I can. If anything does happen, any effects, I’m going to make sure we can work through it after everything. I couldn’t stand myself if I did something like that to you.”

 

(Jeremy): “I know that, and I know you would never hurt me. But I don’t think either of us have much of a choice in this situation.”

 

“Fair point.” Jeremy shrugged. “Also, I’m just gonna say it, you look good in a button up. I haven’t seen you in one since we were kids.” More chicken, a couple of wedges. “You should go formal more often. Although I prefer the idea of a red button up. Much more you, even if this makes you look very sleek.”

 

“If that’s what you want, I’ll definitely do it and whatever else you want once you’re out of this room,” Michael told him with a chill (he hated using that word but it was the only way to describe it) smile. “Then you can even choose all of my outfits, whatever you want.”

 

(Michael): “I’ll do whatever I can after to make up for it. If I do have to do stuff, I’ll keep it as minimum as I can. I love you so much.”

 

(Jeremy): “I love you too.”

 

(Jeremy): “For now, just try to keep me sane. God knows I’m gonna need you in this place.”

 

Jeremy pouted around his mouthful before swallowing and washing it down with a drink of water. “But that’s no fun, Mikey. Remember what mom said? The key to a good relationship is to keep things interesting.” He even raised a finger, like a professor or something, while quoting her. “If I’m picking your outfits, that’ll be boring. Although, I can think of a few things I wouldn’t mind seeing you in.” His pout turned into a playful smirk. He even let his eyes wander over Michael a little. Hey, he’d missed his boyfriend. Stop judging. Besides, it added to the act of Jeremy being more than a little out of it already (not inaccurate).

 

Michael raised a brow in return, smirking a little as his cheeks colored. “Well, it can be a mix then. You choose some outfits but not when I wear them. I can also choose my own outfits and add them in. I don’t mind whatever you have in mind, but not yet.” He smiled as he got up, leaning close to Jeremy when he said that before bopping his nose and picking up the tray that was basically empty. “If you have a special request for breakfast, I’ll see what I can do,” he told Jeremy with that off smile as he stood right up then.

 

(Michael): “Consider it done and done. I’ll talk with you as often as possible and test out stuff with this link to help.”

 

“I’m fine with whatever so long as it’s kosher. You know I’m not that fussy.” Jeremy waved him off, then pouted again.

 

(Jeremy): “I don’t mean this next comment, it’s just for the act.”

 

“What, no goodbye kiss? Wow, this place made you rude, abandoning me again.”

 

(Jeremy): “I’m sorry, I don’t mean it at all. I know you haven’t abandoned me.”

 

“You acted like I was going to forget. How rude,” Michael said in a somewhat teasing tone, but definitely not the normal one he used. He reached down and quickly placed a kiss to his lips, a quick one for sure.

 

(Michael): “I know, it’s alright. I don’t think you’re rude either, I’m sorry. I love you so much.”

 

When Michael pulled back, he gave Jeremy a coy smile as he backed up to the door. “Enjoy your room. I promise that I made sure they only got the best for you. I’ll see you in the morning.”

 

Jeremy did chase the feeling a little with a small whine, eyes closed until he realized himself. Then he pulled back and half leant away from Michael, wrinkling his nose a little as if in disgust of himself. He didn’t regret it really, he knew Michael, his Michael, loved him and was right there caring about him.

 

(Jeremy): “I know Mikey, I love you too.”

 

“See you tomorrow, Mikey... I... I love you,” he murmured, and made sure it sounded just a little broken.

 

“I love you too, Jeremy,” Michael called out, giving a smile to him that seemed more real than fake before the door shut behind him.

 

The room seemed a lot emptier now that it was only Jeremy in it.

 

 

 

The week was boring. Jeremy got three meals a day, which were full of chats with Michael and fleeting touches. Already the small interactions were starting to get to Jeremy a little. If he thought he was touch starved before, he was beyond so now.

 

The only reason Jeremy was still managing to function properly was thanks to the constant chatter in Jeremy’s head. Michael supplied a constant stream of ideas, stories, and memories that kept Jeremy sane. Still, Jeremy found that as time wore on, he couldn’t muster up his snark as much.

 

“Afternoon, Mikey,” Jeremy mumbled as Michael slid in the door with lunch. It smelled good, as always. He even managed a small smile up at him.

 

Michael gave him an off smile back as he came in, placing down his tray of food and drinks on the table. As always, there was the Mountain Dew, but he had a blue slushie! “Afternoon, Jeremy,” he said as he pulled his chair out for Jeremy, smiling at him from where he sat in bed. “Lunch is served.”

 

“Oh, you brought me a slushie! Thanks!” He couldn’t help but beam. Having only Michael to talk to had made him a little happier to see him anyways.

 

Jeremy instantly took the slushie and took a slurp of it. For a minute, it allowed him to forget the situation. It was just Jeremy and Michael, hanging out as usual. He let out a small hum of happiness and shot Michael a happy grin, earning himself a small, affectionate ruffle of his hair in return. Jeremy knew it was all Micheal behind the gesture, even if the SQUIPs thought it was SQUIP Michael doing it.

 

“Of course. You looked like you needed a little pick-me-up, so I made sure they got you one,” Michael explained with a small smile of his own as he sat down on Jeremy’s bed.

 

Today, he was wearing a deep red button up. Probably something the SQUIPs made him do, but he looked damn good in it. The SQUIPs made sure he was the only color Jeremy saw. His suit, after he showered, was gone when he looked back around the first time he showered the second day. He was left with only white clothes that typically consisted of some lounge pants and a breathable tee. It seemed that Michael was purposefully put in colorful clothes since that happened.

 

Well, he was certainly right. Michael did look damn good in a red button up. It made sure he was the only thing Jeremy could focus on besides the delicious smelling tomato soup he brought (it had grilled cheese toast soldiers to dip in).

 

“Thanks, it’s really good. I’ve missed these,” He hummed, finally setting the beverage aside for now to munch on one of the toast soldiers.

 

He looked over to Michael as he ate, letting out a happy little groan. He knew he was weak, but it was getting hard to be snarky and stubborn about most things when all you had was your thoughts and someone else’s thoughts to keep you company. The cell barely had enough room for Jeremy to even exercise. He had to limit himself to sit-ups, pushups, squats, and running in place. It wasn’t the most efficient, but it worked for what he needed mostly.

 

“Mmm, the food is really yummy too. Thanks Mikey.”

 

(Jeremy): “A real thanks for the slushie, love. It’s amazing.”

 

(Michael): “Of course, Jeremy. I wanted to get you something good.”

 

“Of course Jeremy. I need to make sure you’re getting your three meals a day,” Michael told him with a hum, stretching out before lying back in Jeremy’s bed. “Plus, I thought having the food made like that would be a bit more enjoyable.”

 

(Michael): “Sorry for lying down, they’ve been working me to the bone when I’m not finding out stuff and I’m exhausted. I need to lie down for a minute.”

 

(Jeremy): “It’s okay, whatever you need, Mikey.”

 

(Jeremy): “I already know what the answer probably will be, but I have to ask...”

 

“Hey Mikey? I’ve been good recently, I’ve stopped trying to escape and everything. Once I finish, could I maybe... lie down with you? Please? Just for a minute, I promise. I just... I feel all squirmy and I could really use a small hug.” Jeremy hated how pathetic he sounded. For someone who had been lonely for so long, Jeremy really didn’t handle isolation well.

 

Michael looked over at Jeremy then, seemingly really thinking it over before he nodded. “Of course. I’ll stay with you for as long as you want for the short time I’m here.” he told Jeremy with an off smile.

 

(Michael): “I’m weak. I’ll stay here until I know I need to go. I’ll ask when I have to go if you want it on, but not until then.”

 

Jeremy was happily surprised at that answer. He had expected Michael (or well, the SQUIPs) to say no.

 

(Jeremy): “Please, stay until you have to go. I need this.”

 

Jeremy basically inhaled the rest of his food, eating with more vigor and speed than he knew he had. And when he climbed into bed with Michael, curling up against him, he felt the horrible squirmy feeling vanish.

 

He was so happy he was almost purring. How far he had already fallen, when a simple hug was literally sending him to cloud nine. And despite the situation, Jeremy hadn’t felt so safe in weeks. “Thank you, Mikey,” he sighed, nuzzling against Michael’s chest as Michael’s arm curled around him.

 

“Of course, Jeremy,” Michael almost hummed out as his arm held him closer, just holding him close and not doing too much more. He let out a soft hum though as he relaxed with Jeremy close.

 

(Michael): “Of course Jeremy. I... I need this too. I don’t care if they get pissy at me after.”

 

(Jeremy): “Please be careful, Mikey.”

 

For a few minutes, Jeremy lied peacefully against Michael. His brain had gone all fuzzy from the amount of good feelings coursing through him and he was pretty certain that if Michael asked right now, with the promise of getting to stay like this, Jeremy wouldn’t be able to refuse him anything. Not even turning on his SQUIP. God he was weak.

 

By the time Michael shifted out from under him, laying him ever so carefully on the bed, Jeremy was totally blissed out. This was better than being high, better than anything he’d ever tried. This was so good. And the part of his brain and in his chest, the parts of him missing Michael, they were telling him something really fucked up. Keep being good and he’d keep getting affection like this. In his blissed out state he couldn’t help but agree, even if he were horrified by the thought later. He could feel Michael most certainly was.

 

(Michael): “You need to not accept the SQUIP, Jeremy. I’m going to ask you, but you have to say no, please.”

 

Michael shifted, sitting on the edge of the bed, he ran his hand carefully through Jeremy’s hair. “I need to get going, but I want to ask you if you wanted to reactivate your SQUIP,” Michael mused out as he stood up, going over to get to the tray and his cup of Mountain Dew.

 

(Jeremy): “But-“

 

He shook the want off. Michael wanted him to say no, so he’d say no, even if he couldn’t process why Michael wanted him not to take it right then.

 

He shook goes head.

 

“Don’t want to. Not yet,” he slurred out, barely able to control his mouth. He was still blissed out, still feeling good. He’d figure out the other stuff later, he just had to trust Michael knew best. More horror from the connection, but Jeremy could barely feel it.

 

“Alright, later then,” Michael said before he drank the cup of Mountain Dew down. He set the cup down and leaned down, quickly kissing Jeremy before pulling back.

 

(Michael): “There is no later. No reactivating the SQUIP, no matter what.”

 

He gave Jeremy that off smile, running his fingers through his hair for a few moments before he tucked Jeremy in quick. “You rest up, yeah? I’ll see you for dinner. I’ll see if I can get you a nice dessert this time.”

 

(Jeremy): “M’kay Mikey, I trust you.”

 

“Thank you, Mikey. I love you,” Jeremy mumbled aloud, burying himself into his sheets and already starting to doze off. He barely realised that his next words were said both aloud and in the link.

 

(Jeremy): “We’re gonna be together again soon.”

 

Jeremy heard the door slide open then, a moment of silence before he spoke up. “I love you too, Jeremy. Sleep well.”

 

(Michael): “We will be, I promise you that. Sleep now, though. I’ll see if I can get you a cupcake to go with dinner.”

 

 

 

The next week (or so Jeremy assumed) continued on, the same as the days before save that one moment of heaven when Michael was allowed to hug Jeremy. Michael visited three times a day, each time bringing food and fleeting affection. Somehow, each time Jeremy managed to refuse the reactivation. Mainly because Michael was telling him to, so he did. He trusted Michael’s judgement more than his own at this point.

 

“Good evening, Michael,” Jeremy chimed back softly, like was supposed to after Michael said hello in the evenings. Dinner smelled delicious, was that beef? He let his pleasure at the smell be known through their bond. No words, feelings were enough. Michael was smart and Jeremy listened better than he spoke these days. So feelings were better than words.

 

“I brought you a burger, fries, and a shake,” Michael announced as he walked over, putting down his tray with a smile (he knew it was off, he wished Michael could just give him a real smile, but Michael was so smart by acting for so long). “I made sure everything you liked is on the burger and that the shake is your favorite.” He, like always, pulled the chair out for Jeremy.

 

(Michael): “I’m working on getting you out in the next week at the most. Do not drink the Mountain Dew, only the water and the shake. You’ll be out of here soon, I promise.”

 

Jeremy sent a small agreement into the bond before beaming over at Michael. Even if the smile was off, it was still a Michael smile. It made him happier than he was, even if Michael’s real smile would be best.

 

“Thank you, Mikey.” Jeremy nodded as he began eating. He ate at a decent rate, not too fast that he got a stomach ache (they brought in a doctor when that happened, just in case. Jeremy didn’t like being touched by them) but also not too slow that Michael would have to leave before he was finished. The perfect speed.

 

It really was a great burger. Michael was so good to him. So caring, making sure that even in captivity, Jeremy was still getting his favorites. He took a sip of the milkshake, loving that it was an Oreo one. Perfect.

 

“Of course, Jeremy. Only the best for you,” he assured Jeremy before he sat down on Jeremy’s bed, looking around the room as he hummed softly.

 

(Michael): “I’m getting a lot of their plans past you too, so hopefully I’ll be done soon. Even so, I’m still thinking of you getting out next week at the latest, even if I don’t have everything yet.”

 

(Michael): “I don’t want you in here much longer. I also need to figure out about Derek and where he is and if he’s alright.”

 

Jeremy didn’t react physically, he had too much practice to do that even with his extreme horror at the idea.

 

(Jeremy): “I’m fine Mikey. I don’t want to leave you, just keep going and we can get out of here together.”

 

He did his best to keep the panic out of that message, even if it was certainly building. He couldn’t tell how successful he was.

 

Michael didn’t react physically at all, but he could feel the surprise from their link. He hadn’t talked this much in days, mentally or verbally.

 

(Michael): “Alright. Still, if I can’t get it all by next week, then it doesn’t matter. I’ll abandon it to make sure you’re safe if I have to.”

 

(Jeremy): “I don’t want to have to leave you again.”

 

He hummed a little when he took the last bite of his burger. He quickly got to work on the fries, loving the fact there was ketchup in a small bowl for it. It was so tiny and cute!

 

(Jeremy): “I can survive a bit longer like this, easy. After all, I have you looking out for me.”

 

He made an effort to speak in the bond as much as possible, but he was quickly losing steam. Taking was harder these days. It was easier to listen, to do as he was told (he trusted Michael to guide him properly), and to just let his feelings be his words.

 

He made sure not to let those thoughts get over to Michael, since it would make him think that Jeremy was weak and couldn’t handle this. He could, so long as he had Michael.

 

Despite that, he felt Michael’s own discomfort and worry bleeding through. Jeremy knew it was because Michael cared so much for him, and he loved that and loved him. He could make is through though. He just needed Michael so he could do it. Just Michael.

 

(Michael): “I don’t want you having to though... I’ll keep you updated.”

 

“How’s dinner tonight, Jeremy?” Michael asked him, looking over and giving a smile. He was wearing a white shirt today, but he was wearing colored slacks. They looked good on him. Really good.

 

“It’s delicious. Thank you, Mikey.” Jeremy beamed as he finished his mouthful. “You take such good care of me, I’m so lucky.” He was really lucky. He was lucky Michael loved him so much, and wanted him happy and safe. He was lucky to be loved by someone so amazing, even if Michael couldn’t show just how amazing he was right then.

 

He tried to convey a little of this adoration as he met Michael’s neon blue gaze, and he let it pulse happily through their connection. Just another thing Jeremy was lucky to have, thanks to Michael.

 

“Of course, Jeremy. Only the best for you,” Michael told him, smiling with a hint of his real smile in there! His cheeks were even a bit rosy as he spoke, though they didn’t match the maroon hue of his pants. They were nice and definitely showed Michael off in all the right places.

 

The love and adoration Michael sent through the bond snapped him out of just staring at Michael’s thighs, noticing he was starting to trail to his rump.

 

Jeremy blushed a little at being caught staring, but he still leant into the hand which gently cupped his cheek. It was gone a moment later.

 

Go back a few days and Jeremy might have whined a little at that, but he understood. In here, he needed special permission to touch. Michael had to control the touches or else things would go wrong. As much as he disliked that rule, he still trusted Michael to know best.

 

Still, that small contact had his head spinning just a little, in the best way, and he couldn’t quite control his tongue as he finished off the last fry. “You’re so handsome, Mikey, I’m so lucky. And I love you so much.”

 

“You’re just as handsome, if not more so, Jeremy,” Michael told him, rubbing his cheek gently with his thumb. “I love you too.”

 

(Michael): “I’m going to give you a hug that will linger after asking if you’d like that. Before I pull away, I am going to ask you to drink the Mountain Dew. Say ‘no, maybe later’ or something along those lines. Please.”

 

Michael gave him that off smile again before speaking. “You’ve been so good, Jeremy. Would it be alright if we hugged and held each other for a minute before I have to go?”

 

Jeremy nodded eagerly. He didn’t need any prompting to climb into Michael’s lap and curl against him. He let out a happy sigh as he fell boneless against Michael, beyond grateful that he was allowed this.

 

His boyfriend’s arms wrapped around him, holding him close. Jeremy could feel how nice this was for Michael too. He had to do so much to help him and other things he didn’t even know about. How could he not love him?

 

After what felt like too short of a time (though he was grateful for any time with Michael), Michael gave him a warning squeeze around his waist. “I need to go, but before I let go, I need to ask... Are you ready to reactivate your SQUIP yet?”

 

Jeremy paused. If he reactivated, they could stay like this. But Michael had asked him to say no, and he trusted Michael to know best.

 

He shook his head. “No thank you, Mikey. Maybe-“ Jeremy yawned. It was almost bedtime and he was so relaxed and happy having been allowed to cuddle Michael even for a few minutes. “-Maybe later.”

 

“Mm, alright,” Michael told him then, gently rubbing his sides before patting them, signaling for Jeremy to get up. “Before I come in the morning, you should shower before I come in for breakfast. Don’t want you to reek, you know. Do you want anything besides a shirt and lounge pants to wear?” As Jeremy stood, Michael reached over and took the cup, downing it in a practiced motion like a shot.

 

“Can I have a cardigan please? Like my old one?” For some reason, the clothes he used to wear felt distant, like an old memory. He wore white, lounge pants and light shirts. That was normality. And the world was mostly white, at least in here. Michael brought color and his memories brought color. For some reason, Jeremy was okay with that. “And I’ll have a shower. I’ll be good.”

 

“Of course. I’ll make sure to get you one. Do you want a tank top or shorts instead so you don’t get too hot then, or is everything else fine?” Michael asked as he walked the short distance with Jeremy to his bed. He pulled back Jeremy’s blanket for him, ready to tuck him in like he did once Jeremy got used to having a bedtime. “And I know you’ll be good Jeremy. I never have to worry about that.”

 

“Tank top, please.” Jeremy nodded, feeling his head start to go soft like it did when he got sleepy. The praise certainly helped with the feeling, and by the time Jeremy climbed into bed, he was smiling softly through sleepy eyes up at Michael. He made sure the love he was feeling showed both in his expression and through their connection.

 

Michael returned it, more so through the connection, as he helped to tuck Jeremy into bed. A soft kiss was placed to his forehead before Michael pulled back. “Tank top, got it. Sleep well, Jeremy. I’ll be quiet with cleaning up and leaving. I love you.”

 

(Michael): “I’ll message you when I know you’re awake and update you with anything new that I find out. I do love you, so damn much.”

 

“Love you too, Mikey. S’much,” Jeremy mumbled through the link and in reality. He fell asleep smiling.

 

 

 

Jeremy had woken up at his normal time (he assumed), and gotten ready for the day. He was grateful for the cardigan, which was soft and gentle and not overwhelming on his skin at all. He couldn’t handle much touch these days. Only soft things and Michael. He could always handle Michael’s touches, he lived for them.

 

He had been good and showered before Michael had come in with breakfast. Jeremy had even been sitting on the chair, as usual, while he waited. He happily let Michael’s chatter fill his head, keeping his end wide open so Michael could see whatever he wanted. Jeremy had nothing to hide after all, Michael knew everything about Jeremy. Jeremy trusted him more than anybody.

 

He wasn’t sure how long he’d been in his room for. He stopped calling it a cell long ago. It was his room, and he liked it there. It was where Michael would come and spend time with him. Anything else would be too much for him to handle, too bright and colorful. Michael was the only color he needed in his life.

 

Jeremy sort of dazed out a bit as he listened to Michael talk, lying in bed as Michael spoke. It was nice to just focus on his lovely, amazing voice. There wasn’t a need to do much else, not unless Michael needed him to.

 

(Michael): “-So I’m going to come into your room for dinner, but not with a cup of Mountain Dew this time. After you eat, I want you to ask for it, alright? I’m going to carry you in my arms out of your cell then, and you’re going to do everything as I say. Until I tell you to ask though, we’re going to act like we normally do, alright?”

 

Well if that was what Michael wanted him to do, that’s what he’d do. The only reason he hadn’t accepted the Mountain Dew up to this point was because Michael had asked him not to.

 

Jeremy realized he was a fool before, saying how he’d die before reactivating. He had to just trust Michael. After all, Michael wanted him to agree, so he would, but Jeremy was still very much alive, right? He wasn’t dead, and he didn’t want to be dead. Being dead meant no more spending time with Michael.

 

Because he was good, and wanted Michael to know he was behaving himself, he sent a burst of confirmation through the link. That way, Michael knew he understood.

 

In return, Michael sent a burst of love and adoration through the link for Jeremy. It made him feel nice and warm. He couldn’t help but smile in bed as he waited, because he was good and behaving well.

 

However long later, the door opened. Jeremy turned as soon as he picked up the faint noise of the door’s mechanisms getting ready to work. Michael walked in, carrying a tray of delicious-smelling food. He wore a white button up with his sleeves rolled up and blue slacks that definitely extenuated his thighs and butt. “Good evening, Jeremy. I have your dinner for you with a nice treat.”

 

Jeremy beamed over at Michael as he sat up and got to his chair. He didn’t speak anymore, there was no need. Listening was so much better in general, and there were other ways of showing affection or gratitude. Or both, as that was usually the case.

 

As Michael set the tray of chicken tikka masala in front of Jeremy, he paused and nodded. Having permission, Jeremy took one of Michael’s now free hands and trailed kisses up it, from his knuckles to the crook of his elbow. He was glad he was allowed to do it this time, he had been trying to hard to be good so he’d be allowed to. He’d even stopped doing the exercises since apparently the SQUIPs didn’t like that and they didn’t let Jeremy give Michael any affection afterwards.

 

“Thank you, Jeremy. You’re so sweet,” Michael told him, and he could hear the raw honesty in his tone. He let Jeremy keep kissing all the way back down to his knuckles as he spoke. “I got you an Oreo brownie as well, so when you’re done with your meal, you can have that as well as the slushie right there. It’s as fresh as it could be, all of it.”

 

Well... he didn’t speak anymore. There wasn’t really a need to most of the time. So maybe if he said his feelings instead of just thinking them, Michael would feel extra loved!

 

“Mikey...” Jeremy tried after finishing his mouthful. He was already halfway done. His voice was scratchy and weak and hoarse but it was still his voice. Michael looked up in shock and Jeremy could feel it echo through the link. “Love you. So much. Thank you. So... grateful for you,” he croaked out, smiling as sincerely as possible.

 

Michael seemed close to something, it danced across his eyes for a moment. Jeremy couldn’t exactly tell what since it was quickly replaced by a smile. Getting up, Michael walked over and hugged him from behind, resting his head on Jeremy’s shoulder. “I love you damn much, Jeremy,” he whispered so softly, like he was telling him the world’s biggest secret. “No matter what, know that that’s always true.”

 

Jeremy recognized now what he saw before in Michael’s eyes when he felt his shirt collar get a drip of water on it.

 

Why was Michael crying? Were those good tears? Oh, please let them be good tears. The last thing Jeremy wanted was to make Michael upset about something. He didn’t know how he did it, but if he had made Michael upset there, he deserved a punishment. Probably early morning pushups. Those meant no affection at breakfast.

 

“Love you, Mikey. Always have,” he repeated as firmly as he could, and he made sure the connection was sending through as much love and adoration and affection as he could muster. Michael deserved to feel loved. And Jeremy even allowed himself to lean into Michael’s touch, hoping to provide some physical comfort too.

 

“I love you too Jeremy, I always have,” Michael got out, reaching up and rubbing at his eyes as he quickly sniffled. “And don’t worry, you didn’t do anything wrong. These are good tears, I promise you that. I just-“ Michael had to clear his throat quickly. “-I just love you so much. That made me choke up for a second, but in such a good way.” A few kisses were pressed against his cheek close to where Michael perched himself, and Michael didn’t let go of him. He let out a shaky sigh before saying, “You should finish eating. The shake’s good and I don’t want it to melt on you.”

 

Jeremy nodded, effectively nuzzling against Michael’s cheek. An idea occurred to him after his next mouthful.

 

“Sit with me? With me on your lap, please?” he asked, still croaky but somehow stronger. The way Michael was leaning over him couldn’t be comfortable, and Jeremy just wanted to be close anyways. Even if he was told no, he was glad to have asked.

 

“Yeah, just hold on a second,” Michael muttered, pulling back carefully and quickly before Jeremy felt himself carefully picked up. A few moments later, he was put back down in his chair, sitting in Michael’s lap with his back resting against Michael’s chest. His arms wrapped around Jeremy’s middle then and Michael’s chin returned to rest on his shoulder. “Is this good, Jeremy?”

 

“Yeah.” Jeremy nodded as he got comfortable and got back to eating. As he ate, he did what he did best these days: he listened.

 

He listened to Michael’s end of the link, trying to figure out what was wrong. He knew something was wrong, just not what. And he knew it was something to do with him. So he listened and he thought as he ate.

 

There was a lot of guilt, a lot of self hate, and a god awful amount of anger in Michael’s head. He was angry at himself, and guilty about Jeremy. Jeremy wasn’t sure why yet, so he listened harder.

 

Comparisons of Jeremy before and after the room. He was different now... reliant on Michael. Jeremy didn’t mind, but apparently that was the problem. He hadn’t really seen how he was changing and how it was hurting Michael. That was bad, but not Michael’s fault.

 

He couldn’t just stay quiet about this, not anymore.

 

(Jeremy): “This isn’t your fault, you know. It was me. Following you when I was not right mentally, and me protecting my head. This isn’t your fault.”

 

He tried to force as much love and honesty as he could into those thoughts.

 

(Jeremy): “You think loud when you’re upset. I’ll recover, go back to being normal again once I’m out. Just needed to let this happen to protect my sanity. Like I said on that first day.”

 

He felt Michael stiffen a little as he held Jeremy. For a second, he wasn’t sure what Michael was going to do until he rested his forehead against Jeremy’s shoulder and he barely heard his almost silent whimpers as a few tears fell onto his cardigan and tank top.

 

(Michael): “Yeah, you’ll be able to recover once you’re out of here. It’s protecting your sanity for sure. You’ve done such a good job doing that.”

 

Gently, he was squeezed around the waist before one arm vanished and Michael pulled his head back. He heard a few sniffles before Michael resettled himself.

 

(Michael): “I love you so much, Jeremy.”

 

(Jeremy): “I love you too Michael. Just the same as did before.”

 

It wasn’t enough. Michael was still blaming himself when Jeremy knew it wasn’t his fault. He knew that even before the shift in their dynamic from being in here. Now he was aware of the change in himself, Jeremy found more clarity returning by the second and he knew this wasn’t Michael’s fault in the slightest.

 

(Jeremy): “I know this isn’t your fault, but I also know you won’t believe me, not here or out there. But know this: without you, I would be a hundred times worse. I’ve managed to keep myself because of you. I would have already reactivated if it wasn’t for you. So please, don’t blame yourself for doing the best you could. I know I didn’t and I won’t.”

 

(Michael): “I’m glad to hear you talking again, Jeremy... I’ll do my best, Jeremy, I promise you that. I love you so so much.”

 

In reality, Michael let out a shaky breath before he resettled, his face close to the crook of Jeremy’s neck. He squeezed carefully around Jeremy’s waist before his hands rested flat against Jeremy’s sides. “How are you liking dinner, Jeremy?”

 

Jeremy hummed out a happy note.

 

(Jeremy): “It’s actually really good, but talking hurts my voice and it would make them suspicious if I do too much of it.”

 

Jeremy finished the last bite of his food and switched over to drinking up his Oreo shake. He started sipping at it, humming in delight at the flavor. It was really yummy after all.

 

(Jeremy): “I love you so much Michael. As soon as I’m finished with the shake, I’ll ask for the Mountain Dew, okay? I trust you. I know you’ll get me out of this.”

 

(Michael): “Alright. God, it’s so nice to hear you talking again. It almost feels like I’m dreaming. Just... no matter what I tell you, I need you to follow through with it and to do as I say without question. Please.”

 

(Jeremy): “Alright, Mikey, no need to beg. I’d rather you save that for when we’re making out.”

 

He was able to joke around and was feeling more and more present with every passing minute. The headspace he’d put himself in was falling away, leaving the same old Jeremy as before. Okay, so maybe he had a few quirks left from it, some habits or physical reactions, but he could work on those. He just needed time.

 

(Michael): “You have no idea how nice it is to hear you joke, oh my god Jeremy. I missed it so damn much...”

 

(Jeremy): “Just because I’ve been playing dead doesn’t mean I have been.”

 

(Jeremy): “I think I actually used my SQUIP to assist in making it look realistic, since as soon as I realized the change, I started ‘waking up,’ so to speak. It wasn’t a conscious choice, but I still feel mostly fine now. Just a little jittery.”

 

Jeremy took the last sip of his milkshake and nuzzled his cheek against the top of Michael’s head. Then he paused, set down his milkshake, and tapped the tray gently where the Mountain Dew normally would be. A silent question.

 

(Michael): “Doesn’t mean I didn’t get freaked still.”

 

Michael lifted his head up then, looking from where Jeremy’s finger rested before looking back at him. “You want it, Jeremy?” Jeremy nodded then. “I didn’t realize that I didn’t get it. Of course you can.” Michael pressed a kiss to his temple before his grip on Jeremy changed.

 

He now cradled Jeremy close, against his chest, as he slowly sat up. “I’m going to take you with me to get some, alright?” Jeremy nodded again, this time nuzzling Michael’s chest as he did so. “Your eyes might hurt a bit when I take you out of here, so you might wanna keep them shut.”

 

Jeremy did close his eyes, even if he peeked a little once the door was open. Like his room, the facility was white, but there were blue decorations and patterns over the walls and floor, breaking up the monotony. It was a stark contrast from his plain room. It was also a lot brighter out here.

 

(Jeremy): “Sorry for worrying you, but I’m alright now.”

 

(Jeremy): “I love you so much, Mikey, and that hasn’t changed.”

 

(Michael): “I love you too, and you didn’t mean to. You did good with protecting yourself.”

 

As they walked down the halls, Jeremy couldn’t help but feel weird with how empty they were. Surely people would be going around and they would run into one or two, right?

 

(Michael): “I’m the only one in your area after you freaked out over other people’s touches. I made your food for you. They thought they didn’t need anyone else. The clothing replacement was all automated too.”

 

(Jeremy): “Well you’re a very good cook. All my food has been absolutely delicious and you have to cook more for me when we get home eventually.”

 

Jeremy snuggled closer to Michael, a small part of him relishing in the contact. He still was touch starved, even if he wasn’t reverent about the touches anymore. And he still didn’t think he could handle touches from anyone else. The idea of other people touching him still sent a sickening shiver through him. He could work on that.

 

As he did that, Michael continued to walk, his dress shoes clacking against the floors and echoing through the halls.

 

(Michael): “I need you to connect to the fire alarm and set that off as soon as you can. And after that, when the sprinklers start and it seems reasonable for this to happen, fizzle out my camera on me.”

 

Well, it was time to put the full faith he had in Michael to work.

 

Jeremy sent a burst of confirmation through the link and reached out. Surprisingly, out here the fire system was not only easy to connect to but it was easy to trigger. The same for shorting out Michael’s camera. Wow, for a company (?) that was so insistent on keeping Jeremy out of its main systems, the smaller systems were ridiculously unprotected.

 

(Jeremy): “Done and done, Captain Michael. What’s your next order, sir?”

 

Being out and seeing color was boosting Jeremy’s mood to no end. He couldn’t help the playful teasing that was flowing naturally from him, and he got the feeling Michael’s didn’t mind one bit and was actually enjoying it just as much.

 

(Michael): “Wait for further instructions, Private Jeremy.”

 

Jeremy did feel out and saw no cameras as Michael continued to walk. Did the SQUIPs really think that highly of themselves to think that they wouldn’t need cameras for Jeremy or any other possibly suspicious activity?... Of course they did. Why did he even question that?

 

Soon enough, though, Michael stepped out through some double doors. There was a courtyard, though it was plain and simple. Nothing more than needed was outside.

 

Michael carefully put Jeremy down then, kneeling down on one knee before rolling up his pants to reveal he was wearing anti-gravity ankle cuffs, which he quickly removed and placed on Jeremy’s ankles. They were a better version than what Wavelength wore before.

 

Michael stood up then and gave Jeremy a watery smile. “Go back home. You’ll be able to find the way back. Now. Hurry.”

 

“You’re not coming?” Jeremy asked softly, looking up at Michael. When Michael shook his head, Jeremy shot him a sad smile, tears starting to gather in his eyes. “Well then, I’m not leaving you without a goodbye kiss?” He posed it as a question. He wouldn’t push if Michael said no, for whatever reason. He wanted Michael happy, before, during, and after that room.

 

“I would never leave you without one if I could help it,” Michael told him, his voice watery as he was sure to scoop Jeremy up in a warm, loving kiss. Everything that had been given to him throughout their link was physically given in that kiss, the hold, everything.

 

Michael finally pulled away after what felt like forever with a lot of reluctance. “Go. I love you.”

 

“I love you.” Jeremy let the sentiment echo as powerfully through their bond as possible. “You better come back to me.” With that, Jeremy connected to the cuffs (Michael had clearly modded them so he could) and, with a final kiss of Michael’s lips, Jeremy rose into the air and began sprinting away from the compound.

 

Michael waved as he left, his love for Jeremy still echoing through the bond. It didn’t fade or weaken the further away he got either. Jeremy couldn’t help but be glad as he ran away, even as tears streamed down his face.

 

Jeremy let Michael’s feelings pulsing in the back of his head keep him moving. His body was tired. He was weak. He had barely moved for a week and a half, not to mention that his emotional turmoil was causing him to get all shaky. He forced himself to keep running.

 

(Jeremy): “I’m almost back to Jake’s house. What do I tell them?”

 

(Michael): “I did nothing to help. I’m not the one who got you out. You got yourself out, and managed to keep your SQUIP from reactivating. Something along those lines. I can’t have my cover being blown, and them knowing would mess it up.”

 

(Jeremy): “Okay, I’ll figure out something. But why can’t they know?”

 

He had to ask, his curiosity revived from its dormant phase. Jake’s street was in sight now, he would be home soon. Thank god, his legs were about to give out and his whole body ached. He wasn’t sure if he’d be able to stay conscious for very long once he got in, he’d been running through the air for almost half an hour at least.

 

(Michael): “They might act a little different or falter in their reactions if I ever have to see them while still working here. Even if it’ll be harder for me once I actually leave, I need their genuine belief that my SQUIP is fully working and controlling me. If the SQUIPs find that out, all my work is for nothing and we’re all fucked.”

 

(Jeremy): “I understand. I’ll figure out something.”

 

Just because he understood didn’t mean he liked it. Still, as he landed in the front yard of Jake’s house, he thought he was ready for what was coming.

 

After unlocking the door and entering the house (did they downgrade the lock? It was easier than normal), Jeremy slowly made his way through to the living room.

 

“Chrissy? Rich? Jenna? Anybody here? I made it out, I’m home,” he called as loudly as his scratchy voice would allow. He turned on the lights. Still not seeing anyone in the house. Weird. The car was outside, even Jeremy’s dad’s car. They should be here.

 

(Michael): “Shit, I have to disconnect for a second. I’ve been talking to you but they’re trying to figure out you getting out. I’m taking the brunt of it since it was me technically. Be careful, everyone might be suspicious of you suddenly appearing.”

 

With that, the connection in the link was muted. Jeremy could tell it was probably good, even if he missed him being there and helping, especially with how empty the house felt.

 

“Guys?” His calls we’re getting closer to whimpers. He was so tired. “Please, just... I’m still me. I’m tired and sore and I just want this to be over for a bit. Please.”

 

Jeremy froze, suddenly unable to move as an arm wrapped around his neck and what he knew was a close range taser was pressed against his back. The feeling of someone touching him, someone who wasn’t Michael, was suddenly too much and everything was too much but he had to focus.

 

“Please let me go,” he half sobbed, trying desperately to control his newly starting shakes and the panic beginning to overtake him. Too much toomuchtoomuch!

 

“Let him go, he’s going to have a panic attack if we don’t.”

 

“But-“

 

“But nothing! Let him go, Jake.”

 

Quickly, he was let go, put carefully down. He was surrounded in a second, weapons drawn and pointed at him by some of his friends. Brooke, Jake, and Jenna all had weapons, Rich’s sparks were hesitant, and Christine was nowhere to be seen. Chloe was standing by, the one who had gotten Jake to drop him.

 

She knelt down in front of Jeremy then, looking him over before softly asking, “Is it alright if Jenna checks so we’re sure it’s off?”

 

Jeremy nodded, sinking to his own knees and wrapping his arms around himself. “Do whatever you need to, just don’t touch me. Please.” He rubbed at his neck and his sides, trying to will away the echoes of the touch. It wasn’t this bad last time. He must have gotten worse. Made sense in the grand scheme of things but still, he hated it.

 

“Of course.” Everyone was quiet then besides the sounds Jeremy couldn’t help but make and their own breathing. Jeremy continually tried willing all of the echoes away, hiccuping a little as he tried to calm down.

 

After what felt like an eternity of waiting, Chloe gently asked for his attention. She stayed sitting in front of Jeremy, patiently waiting for him to look at her. “We’ll help you as best we can to your room, but we need to know... What happened?”

 

Jeremy decided for as much truth as possible. “I... I lost it after seeing Michael on the broadcast. Did some stupid stuff. Got caught and knocked out.” He managed to stop rubbing at his neck, instead moving to fiddle with the end of his white cardigan. “They isolated me. Needed me to activate willingly because I’m compatible with the hive mind or something, I don’t know. But... they sent him in.” Jeremy scrubbed at his eyes, not needing to fake the tears. “They were trying to make me dependant on him. He was the only one I saw, only one who I could talk to, the only color I got to see.” He was shivering again. Memories, now unfiltered from his protective mindset, were flooding back in and now he realised just how horrifying his situation was. No wonder Michael was so freaked all the time.

 

He heard hisses and whispers behind himself and Chloe, but the girl didn’t focus on them right now. Just Jeremy. “You were gone for three and a half weeks Jeremy. How the hell did you get out?”

 

“Played my part. Let them think they were getting to me while I focused on looking through the cameras to make sure I stayed sane. Guess they did get me a little.” The small self deprecating laugh did nothing to lighten the mood. “But then I asked to be reactivated. Mi- He wore the ankle cuffs, like Wavelength had. I’d been working on hacking them this whole time and finally managed it today. When he brought my food, I asked to reactivate. Whacked him over the head with my dinner tray, took the cuffs, and ran.” That part he couldn’t explain better than that. There was no truthful way without including Michael’s help.

 

Chloe’s eyes held sympathy, but she didn’t say anything. It wasn’t like it would help right now, while he was hurting. Instead, she stood and looked at everyone then. “You guys, get everything back and set up, yeah? Rich, get Christine and Mr. Heere, tell them it’s alright to come back.” Chloe looked back at Jeremy then, seemingly thinking before grabbing a blanket and wrapping herself in it before offering a blanket-covered hand. “Grab the blanket, I’ll tug my hand away before you touch it, and I’ll lead you back to your room.”

 

Jeremy nodded and slowly reached out his hand. As promised, Chloe pulled back before he grabbed it. “Th-thanks Chloe,” he mumbled. He was so tired. He knew it was because it was past his bedtime.

 

“Of course, Jeremy.” With that, she walked slowly up the stairs with him, going at Jeremy’s pace before opening the door to his room. It wasn’t as he left it, the window shut and his clothes no longer littering the floor. His bed was made. Derek wasn’t there.

 

As Jeremy’s eyes flitted around his room (so much color! He barely registered it on his run back, but now it was almost overwhelming in a good way), something else registered. “Did you guys find my phone? I need to call Mrs. Brown, Derek’s mom, to see if he’s okay. He sorta... fizzled out just before I got knocked out and he hasn’t reappeared.” Jeremy had saved her number in case of emergencies. And her Skype address too, which he got from Michael’s computer.

 

“She called you later on the day your got taken. I’ve been talking with her over my phone every few days or so for updates on her end and my end. I’ll tell you more about it later, but know that Derek’s not gone. His mom got him back from wherever he was last week.” She let the blanket around her drop, carefully draping it around Jeremy after. “You should sleep now for however long you need. We’ll be here when you wake up and we can talk more then.”

 

Jeremy staggered over to the bed and sat down. “Could... do you know where my cardigan is? I... I need to be out of white. And... I need my dad for something. Please.” He’d been tucked in for the past two weeks and his brain wouldn’t shut off unless he actually followed that routine. He knew that. And he thought that if he could stand anyone’s touch other than Michael’s, it would be his dad’s.

 

“I’ll find it, I think we washed it recently. I’ll make sure your dad has it when he comes in,” Chloe promised. She gave him a soft smile before leaving him alone.

 

Jeremy tried to tap into the link, and he felt unconsciousness when he checked. It didn’t feel natural, like Michael had fallen asleep on his own. His stomach churned as he felt worry beginning to settle in.

 

“Private?” Snapping out of his thoughts, Jeremy looked up to see his dad in the doorway hesitantly. His eyes were a little watery as he held Jeremy’s favorite blue cardigan, the one where the inside was a deep green.

 

“Dad?” Even if he knew he was coming, Jeremy couldn’t help the rush of surprise and just genuine joy at seeing his dad again.

 

Almost without thinking, Jeremy stumbled out of bed, to his feet, and launched himself at his dad. He wrapped his arms around him, not caring about how shaky and unstable he felt. As he suspected, his dad didn’t cause any adverse reactions. Hugging his dad felt just like hugging his dad.

 

Jeremy hadn’t been trained to reject everything and everyone. He’d been trained to reject everyone who wasn’t home. Michael had managed that slight adjustment.

 

His dad held him close, and he could feel that his dad was shaky as well, but not for the same reasons. “Oh my god, Jeremy,” his dad almost sobbed out as he held his son close. “I’m so glad you’re alright. I was so worried, but you’re back.” Even if his dad wasn’t a hugger typically, he certainly was one right now.

 

“I’m sorry dad, I’m sorry. I missed you so much. God, I’m so sorry. I love you dad.” He was openly sobbing but he didn’t care. Jeremy was safe, and he could recover. He was home. And Michael would be soon as well. It was all gonna be alright.

 

“I love you too, Jeremy,” his dad told him as Jeremy sobbed and he wept.

 

Jeremy wasn’t sure how, but after they were done crying, they were already sitting on his bed. His dad pulled back to reach down, to the ground, and bring back up his cardigan. “Here, I heard from the grapevine that you wanted this back.”

 

Jeremy pulled off the white cardigan he’d been wearing and slipped on the familiar blue one. God, it was almost heavenly to touch and it was so gentle on his skin and it covered his hands a little and-

 

He had really missed his cardigan and he didn’t realize how much.

 

“Thanks dad.” He paused, picking at the sleeves a little as he tried to figure out the best wording for his next request. “I- er- for the past couple of weeks, I’ve had kind of a strict bedtime routine and I don’t think I can sleep without it yet...” He squirmed a little, looking away in both shame and embarrassment. “Could... could you please tuck me in?”

 

His dad chuckled, but not in any harmful or spiteful manner. No, it was one of understanding or maybe of parental love. “Sure. It’s been a while since I’ve properly done it for you and since you’ve wanted me to do it. I might be a bit rusty though.”

 

A tension he didn’t know he was holding dropped out of him. He relaxed and looked up at his dad with both love and gratitude. He gave his dad another quick hug. “Thanks dad,” he murmured.

 

When he pulled away, he stood just a little away from the bed. His dad got the hint and pulled back the covers enough for Jeremy to climb in. Once he was settled, his dad pulled up the covers and pressed a gentle kiss to Jeremy’s forehead. Within seconds, the familiar routine had relaxed Jeremy entirely and he was already nodding off.

 

“Thank you, dad. G’night... love you...” Even if Michael was unconscious (still worryingly so), Jeremy couldn’t help but send out the message too.

 

(Jeremy): “G’night Mikey. Love you. See you soon.”

 

He could have sworn, as he slipped into oblivion himself, that Michael had sent the same feeling to him in return.

Chapter Text

When Jeremy started to feel himself wake up, his brain automatically told him he needed to get to the shower so he could be clean before Michael got there. He couldn’t find a reason to argue... until he opened his eyes and the colors of Jake’s guest room hit him, reminding him that he wasn’t in the room. He was in his temporary bedroom. He had space. He had freedom. He had color.

 

But he didn’t have Michael.

 

Despite all of that, Jeremy still felt the need to shower. Glancing at the clock, he saw that it was about half past seven in the morning. Earlier than he’d ever get up before the room, but this was probably the time drilled into him because of the room.

 

So he got up, went into the connected bathroom, and took a shower. He did it in record time, and found he liked smelling like his old soap much more than the hospital-smelling soaps he had before. The smells overwhelmed him at first, but he relaxed after a few seconds of exposure to them. This was a smell he was familiar with. It was home.

 

He quickly towel-dried himself, and was shocked to see his clothes still there on the floor. Blinking, he picked up only his cardigan before hurrying out, opening his underwear drawer. There were seven pairs, and that almost overwhelmed Jeremy with the idea of choice.

 

Now he definitely understood why Michael was so freaked out by his behavior.

 

He grabbed a random pair, not even looking as he took them to make sure he didn’t choose them. It made it easier overall. He did the same with his trousers (he pulled a pair of black sweats) and his shirt (blue and yellow stripes, score!).

 

Once he was dressed and ready, he sat patiently on the bed before realizing that food wasn’t going to be brought to him, and he didn’t have to stay in the room.

 

Slowly, hesitantly, he grabbed the door handle and twisted it. It was a tangible relief when he realized he wasn’t being shocked from it (the cell door was somehow electrified). Jeremy made his way downstairs to the kitchen, hoping to catch someone to help him cook. He didn’t exactly trust himself to be able to hold a pan or even pour cereal with how wobbly his limbs still were. Everything was still a little overwhelming with the intensity. A part of him missed the simplicity of the cell.

 

When he was downstairs, he saw Christine humming away in the kitchen. She was infamous for always waking up at eight on the dot if it wasn’t a school day, no matter what. Currently, she was humming something from Beetlejuice as she was pouring herself a bowl of cereal.

 

She looked by as she went to go to the fridge, stopping and smiling when she saw Jeremy in the kitchen doorway. “Hi Jeremy. Are you hungry? I’m not a good cook, but I can microwave bacon and use a toaster and pour stuff.” Her voice, while having energy, was soft.

 

Jeremy nodded almost shyly before remembering he had a voice and he should use it.

 

“Could you help me organize some porridge with honey please? The microwave stuff will be fine.” He was in a weird mood right then, just craving it. Maybe because Michael had a bit of a schedule for breakfast, cycling through the same sort of things every five days. Today must have been a porridge day.

 

“Oh, yeah, of course. Let me see where it is in the pantry. Just follow me and I might ask you to hold things for me.” Christine waited for him to nod and follow before she headed for said pantry.

 

She opened the door, looking around before snagging honey and some cinnamon apple porridge mix. “Could you hold the bear and package for me please?”

 

Jeremy nodded and accepted the items, even if he almost dropped them as a violent shiver ran through him as his and Christine’s hands brushed. Wow, what a one eighty. This time last year, a touch of Christine’s hand would have sent his heart pounding in excitement. He decided that if he could joke about the situation, it would make things easier in the long run for him.

 

Despite his slip, he still got a good grip on both the honey and the package, shooting Christine a small and slightly shaky smile. Still, he didn’t panic so that was a bonus.

 

Christine beamed at him, being sure to avoid touching him as she hurried into the kitchen to get started. She had the box, looking over the porridge instructions, seeming to not realize that they were on the packet as well. “Alright, you get the porridge poured into the bowl please, I’m gonna get water for it.” She looked at the counter-top of the kitchen then. “... Hold on.” She then quickly pulled an empty bowl down from the cabinets. “In that bowl.”

 

Jeremy chuckled a little. “Thanks Chrissy.” He ripped open the packet and tipped it into the bowl. Once that was done, he threw away the empty packet and waited for Christine to get the right amount of water.

 

God, this was just like after the SQUIP. Jeremy had to relearn how to function without someone telling him exactly what to do. He figured this was a similar thing, just with the room and ‘SQUIPed’ Michael standing in for the role of a singular SQUIP. Well, at least he had practice doing this. He could recover.

 

Christine was quick to get the water, pouring it in and following any further instructions before pouring in the honey and stirring. “Alright, that should be good. Let me know if there’s anything I need to do to fix it,” she said as she pulled back and flourished the bowl with her (jazz) hands.

 

Jeremy giggled a little, picking up his breakfast and taking it over to the table. This one didn’t need to be hot, and he wasn’t really in the mood to stand around. He was hungry, but that made sense. According to his internal clock, breakfast was about twenty minutes ago by Michael time.

 

Christine followed him over a minute later with her bowl of cereal. She put it down at a random table seat before rushing away again. The next and last time she came back with two cups of water. One was put down in front of Jeremy and the other was for herself. Both had colorful straws. “Ta-dah!” She then sat down and started munching away

 

Jeremy giggled a little and clapped for comedic effect. Christine was beaming as she sat down, so Jeremy considered that a successful interaction.

 

What seemed to be less successful was how he was eating. He ate at his usual pace, spacing out the mouthfuls while also keeping up a decent speed. He didn’t want it to be-

 

It wouldn’t be taken away. He was home and not working by a schedule. He couldn’t seem to slow himself down, a part of him didn’t want to. And judging by the concerned glances Christine kept sending him, it wasn’t even a normal sort of pace. Gently, he prodded the link, seeing if Michael was awake yet to offer some support and he was concerned to find Michael still unconscious (it felt natural now but he was still worried).

 

“If you want anything else after that, let me know and I’ll cook it to the best of my ability for you,” Christine told him before having another spoonful of her sugary cereal. “I’ll see too if we have, like, any fruit or anything. I think your dad went a few days ago and got some fruit and stuff. There are apples and some watermelons and grapes and maybe some cherries... Maybe?... I don’t know fruit seasons, so maybe not cherries.”

 

Jeremy shook his head. He didn’t need to eat more than what he was given... he didn’t know if he could. “Thanks Chrissy but I’ll be fine...” He was a lot less energetic and happy than he was earlier. Damnit. His mindset was supposed to protect him from this. It did kinda but not as much as he hoped. Not enough to justify how freaked and worried and sad Michael had gotten.

 

“Of course, Jeremy. Just wanna make sure,” she said with her reassuring smile before going and starting to eat her cereal again. Still, she did look at him from time to time, smiling and talking about some good things that have been happening with everyone while he was gone.

 

“So Jake finally got the guts to ask Rich out?” Jeremy asked incredulously. “Wow, I wish I’d been here for that. Though, knowing them, they probably started making out right in the kitchen...” Maybe he was glad he’d missed that. Thinking of relationships made him think of Michael. He decided to help make his story more believable, while also addressing something that had been worrying him.

 

“Is... is it bad that a part of me didn’t mind being... in that room?” he asked softly, setting his now finished bowl aside. “It was dull as hell but... when he was there, it was almost like things were back to normal after a while. I stopped seeing the blue in his eyes and I let myself pretend that it was normal. God, I miss him so much. Even more now.”

 

Christine got quiet, probably thinking on what was best to say. Sometimes, Jeremy forgot that, before all of this and his crush, she was just as awkward as he was, only coming alive in the theater. Moments like these reminded him of that.

 

“I don’t know really anything about what you went through, but... I can imagine he helped in a way, even if they used him against you. He’s your best friend first and foremost, and I know you ramble a lot about him and what you do, now and before you dated and even before you realized you liked him.” She gave Jeremy a reassuring smile. “Oh, but uh, the point! The point is that it is a little bad because it was your prison and stuff, but also not because he did help you and he is your best friend. He kept you from losing it. Just a week in a room would’ve had me lo. Sing. It.”

 

“He’s still in there, Chrissy, but I don’t think I can save him...” Jeremy murmured sadly. Time to put his acting skills to the test. “He’s... acting as himself. With his SQUIP, not on behalf of it. It’s him who was with me in that room, not a SQUIP in his body... I think only he can save himself now...” That was all technically true, but not in the way he was implying. If Christine bought this, it would make things easier on hiding Michael’s true allegiance. Above all, Jeremy had to protect Michael, keep him from being found out.

 

Her eyes softened the longer he spoke and the more she listened. "That thing's probably messing with his head and manipulating him to hell and back. I'm... I'm sorry, Jeremy." She started to move her hand to Jeremy before quickly stopping herself and pulling her hand back. She held it close to her chest before letting out a sorrowful sigh. "He may have to save himself, but it doesn't mean that we can't help him along the way. I promise that we'll try, Jeremy." Christine gave him a warm, trying smile then.

 

Jeremy steeled himself. He needed to get past his aversion to touch, even if it was slow. He hated that he couldn’t let anyone except Michael and his dad touch him, he needed his friends too at least.

 

“Can... can you put your hand on the table please?” If anyone would be the first to touch him, it would be his former girlfriend. They might have only been together for a month, but still. Jeremy trusted Christine.

 

When she did, somewhat hesitantly, Jeremy slowly reached out and put his hand on top of it. Shivers of disgust and fear racked his body, but he pushed forward, grabbing on to her hand lightly to stop her pulling back. This was Christine. His friend. She was safe. Slowly but surely, the shivers stopped and Jeremy could open his eyes. His breathing calmed after a few minutes and he himself relaxed. He was left gently holding on to Christine’s hand, turning it over and lacing their fingers together hesitantly.

 

Christine let it all happen before he felt, a few seconds later, her gently squeezing his hand back but doing nothing else. She was still and almost silent, very much not like herself but very much what Jeremy needed right now. Looking up at her, past her painted and somewhat chubby fingers, he saw her loving, caring, and tender smile present.

 

Jeremy gave her hand a gentle squeeze before pulling his hand back and putting it off the table, on his lap. He hated that he was grateful for the action.

 

Now they were both finished with breakfast and they had talked a little, Jeremy was ready to head back to his room and lie on the bed to wait for his next meal. But then he realised that he didn’t have to do that. That he had choice. Too much choice. Mild panic began pulsing through him; what was he supposed to do now?

 

Christine seemed to realize this and quickly spoke up. "Hey, hey, do you want to sit with me and watch some TV?" she offered with a warm smile then. "Or you could lie back in bed. One of the two."

 

Two choices. Jeremy could deal with only two choices, it wasn’t overwhelming. Yeah... Michael might have been right to be worried. Jeremy was a lot better off than he could have been, but still.

 

“TV sounds great right about now. Thanks, Chrissy.” He grinned over to her sort of sheepishly.

 

She smiled back at him and nodded. "Yeah, of course. I'll try to find something both of us'll like," she said, getting up and putting their dishes in the sink. "We can worry about those later and wash them then. For now, let's let the food settle and we can watch some TV." When Christine came back over to Jeremy, she hesitated before offering her hand to him. "If you can't take it, it's fine, but I figured it's good for you right now to have the option."

 

Jeremy reached out, almost taking her hand, before pulling back and shaking his head. “Too much right now,” he explained softly as he followed behind her with a small bounce in his step. “Can we watch cartoons? Live action might be a bit... weird after the security cameras constantly.” His tone was peppy and happy overall.

 

Christine happily nodded as she lead him into the living room. "Yeah, for sure. If there aren't any good cartoons on, Jake's TV can connect to other stuff so I can find some good cartoons."

 

“Awesome.” Jeremy grinned. As he got settled, he felt a small presence in the back of his head. Michael was awake.

 

(Jeremy): “Morning Mikey, how are you doing?”

 

It took a few seconds for Jeremy to get a response.

 

(Michael): "I've been better, but hearing you makes it a lot better. Tell me everything that happened when you can. Are you alright? Safe?"

 

(Jeremy): “I’m back at Jake’s house. Everyone is happy to see me, but there have been some side effects. Sort of like we expected, to be honest.”

 

“Can we watch Avatar: The Last Airbender?” Jeremy asked as he spotted a marathon of it on one of the channels. Christine nodded and squealed a little, then set it to the channel and settled back to watch.

 

(Jeremy): “I arrived back and everyone was suspicious of me at first, but they trust me now. They believe I escaped by whacking you over the head with my dinner tray.”

 

That thought had the equivalent of a mental laugh attached.

 

(Jeremy): “Derek is also okay. He’s with his mom for now, but otherwise he’ll be fine and back soon.”

 

Michael laughed through the link, he could feel it. It was warm and nice and it was like a little nice tickle to his brain. Jeremy couldn't help but hope a little that it felt the same or better to Michael.

 

(Michael): "Well, at least they believe you and trust you again. That's what matters to me. Also the fact that you're alright except for some side effects. I wish I could be there to help."

 

(Michael): "Also the fact that Derek's alright. I was so worried. Let me know when he comes back, yeah? I miss him."

 

(Jeremy): “I will. And I’m gonna tell him the full truth, I need someone to know and I think it’ll help him too. And he’s kinda my best friend besides you at this point.”

 

Jeremy felt a rush of affection from Michael and he had to suppress a smile at it. Christine would get suspicious.

 

(Jeremy): “Also the side effects are pretty manageable overall. I’m just a little fragile is all. I’ll get better, no problem.”

 

He squirmed a little, getting more comfortable as he watched Aang start his waterbending training with Katara.

 

(Jeremy): “I love you, Mikey. So damned much. And I got worried when you were unconscious last night, what happened?”

 

Before Michael replied, Jeremy felt a fuzzy fabric tossed over him. He was a bit surprised, freeing himself as he saw Christine smile with feigned innocence as she got comfortable under her own blanket. Jeremy quickly got settled with the new, comforting addition.

 

(Michael): “Please tell Derek, he deserves to be kept in the loop. I don’t know what happened with him, but make sure to look out for him. He acts like a big brother but he needs someone to care for him too.”

 

(Michael): “And... like I said, I took the brunt of the punishment for letting you get away. Which included more shocking. I’m fine now, I’m just going to get breakfast before I do some work and then do actual work I care about.”

 

(Michael): “Did you eat yet? Did you leave your room?”

 

(Jeremy): “I’m on the couch with Chrissy now, watching some Last Airbender. I had porridge with honey for breakfast and even managed to hold Chrissy’s hand for a moment.”

 

(Michael): "Ah, the good shit. I'm glad you're doing all of that and making really good progress. I'd say that after two or three days at the most, try not to follow the schedule of food they had me making you. Helping you slowly break that routine is key."

 

(Michael): "I gotta get going, need to blend in and eat. I'll talk to you later. Be safe! Love you!"

 

(Jeremy): “Love you too. Be safe, Mikey. Talk to you later.”

 

There was a new feeling through the link that Jeremy didn't recognize at first... But then it hit him that Michael did his best to give Jeremy a kiss through it. Jeremy felt his heart well up happily, and he focused back on the show with Christine, hearing her happily talk about the show and things she liked from the first season of ATLA.

 

 

 

Hours passed and Jeremy got the occasional interaction with Michael. Everyone else was around at one point or another, but as dinner approached, it was just Jeremy, Christine, and his dad in the house.

 

Jeremy was eagerly waiting in his room. He had called Mrs. Brown earlier and she had promised that Derek would be able to come back by the evening. The only stipulation was that Jeremy had to be alone for Derek to reform the connection to him. So, Jeremy was sitting cross legged on his bed, waiting as peacefully as he was able.

 

As he waited, Jeremy felt a little tickle in his brain, different from the one when Michael laughed in their connection. This... the feeling was familiar, somehow reminiscent of childhood but he couldn’t connect it to any specific memories. Maybe he could remember soon.

 

A minute or so after it started, the feeling solidified in his mind, a tingling encompassing his brain before mellowing out. In front of him, Derek reappeared, mostly the same but a little different. A bit... updated. His curly hair, instead of being more of a mop, it was styled up. It reminded him of Anthony Padilla’s more updated look.

 

His shirt went from red to black. Instead of being plain, there were three little stripes across his chest that may or may not have been the pansexual pride flag.

 

Derek opened his eyes as he solidified as much as a ghost could before he focused in on Jeremy. He smiled a bit shakily. “Hey. I’m glad you’re here and alright.”

 

“Derek,” Jeremy almost sobbed out. He stood slowly, his limbs shaky as he took a step towards the ghost boy. “Can I-... would it be okay if I tried giving you a hug? Please?” he asked softly. “I’ve really missed you. And I was so worried and I’m so sorry. I’m beyond happy that you’re here and okay.”

 

“Wow, we knew each other properly for a week and I made that good of an impression? Props to me,” Derek said with a weak laugh before nodding, his arms wide open to Jeremy. “Do it, bud. I missed you so much and trust me, I’m so thrilled that’s you’re here and o-“

 

Jeremy cut him off by practically launching himself at Derek, wrapping his arms around him. As expected, no shivers came. Derek, though he had only been properly around for a week, was part of home.

 

Jeremy was repressing sobs, his shoulders hitching a little every few seconds. He was just so happy that Derek was alright.

 

“When you vanished I thought we’d lost you forever. I’m so glad we didn’t and I’m so sorry for being so stupid.”

 

“I’m glad it wasn’t either. You have no idea how much that would’ve sucked,” Derek agreed around a light laugh. Derek’s arms wrapped around him with a cold pressure that Jeremy found oh so comforting. “And it’s alright, you’re better now. You learned. Oh, also, check the back of my jacket!”

 

Jeremy let go so Derek could turn around, and he almost cried again. In Pac-Man lettering across the length of the back of his letter jacket now read ‘I AIN’T AFRAID OF NO GHOSTS’ with the ‘g’ in ghosts being the Pac-Man head. “Got inspired by you nerds and your terrible puns-“

 

“It’s so fucking amazing! We match!” Jeremy rolled up his sleeve and showed off his Pac-Man tattoo. The bracelet Michael made him was still around his wrist; Michael had saved it from his clothes on the first day and slipped it on his wrist when he left. His eyes softened when they focused on the braid of string. “Yeah, that settles it. You’re officially Player Three now, dude.” He beamed up at Derek, giggling a little, his eyes still soft.

 

Derek’s eyes softened then as he turned back around, quickly returning to the hug he had before with Jeremy. “Well, we have to get the executive decision as well from your Player One once he’s back,” Derek said, even if his voice faltered to a sad tone for a second. “How are you doing though?”

 

“Better now you’re around. I’ve missed you and I can-“ Jeremy glanced around, making sure there was no one else nearby to his room and no devices Jenna could use to spy. His voice dropped to barely a whisper anyways. “-I can finally tell someone about what really happened while I was... taken. But the most important thing is: Michael is still himself. He’s in control of his SQUIP and is acting as a double agent for us. The others don’t know, but he told me I could tell you.”

 

Derek’s eyes widened before he nodded to that. “Well, that means a lot. I’ll be sure to keep quiet about that, but I can imagine it’s been hard for you. Tell me everything you can about what happened while you were held captive. I only know what I was told by my mom, and that’s not really much of anything.”

 

Jeremy quietly began explaining everything, from Michael’s reveal to their notable interactions, issues, and schedule Jeremy had to keep to the reestablished link. As he spoke, Michael sort of did the equivalent of come online, actually becoming a presence in Jeremy’s head once again.

 

(Jeremy): “Derek’s back! And he’s got an awesome new jacket with Pac-Man on it!”

 

“He’s finally available to talk again! I’ll be happy to act as messenger if you have anything you want to say to him.” Jeremy told Derek with a grin, then told the same to Michael.

 

(Michael): “Please tell him that I miss him and that I’m so glad he’s back and alright. Give him a hug for me as well if you can handle it.”

 

“If you could, just tell him that he’s being so brave and that I’m so proud of him. And that I hope he’s doing well and that I really miss him,” Derek requested with a small smile. “Please.”

 

(Jeremy): “Not only can I handle it, I enjoy it.

 

(Jeremy): “He says he’s really proud of you and you’re being so brave. He misses you a lot too, and he hopes you’re doing well.”

 

Jeremy hummed and grinned up at Derek.

 

“Well I have a hug for you from him.” Jeremy wrapped his arms around Derek and squeezed, not letting go as he started speaking again. He wasn’t about to give up this chance at contact after all, and this was a Michael hug. Michael had a habit of clinging sometimes. “He misses you too, Derek. And he’s so happy you’re back and alright, he was really worried too.”

 

Derek laughed a little as he held Jeremy closer. “And you’re clinging like he does too. Good.” Jeremy felt the gentle cold against his head, and a glance up confirmed that Derek was indeed resting his cheek against the top of Jeremy’s head. “Glad to know he does care about me. I’d hope so, after everything we’ve been through.” The ghost sniffled for dramatic effect.

 

(Michael): “That... that means a lot. And I’m so glad you enjoy them from Derek. It helps you as much as it does him.”

 

(Jeremy): “He’s earned Player Three status in my opinion and the Pac-Man jacket is the clincher. We all match.”

 

Jeremy nuzzled himself closer to Derek, happily leaning against his chest. He was glad he had some of Michael’s powers. He was happy to be able to touch and hug Derek unlike the others. Somehow, Derek just made Jeremy feel safe. “Michael is getting a little emotional about your comment, but I think he’ll live. Just. He’s just totally touched by it,” he playfully joked. Jeremy knew Derek would get the real meaning behind his words, the ghost just seemed to understand him.

 

Derek laughed a little as he gave Jeremy a gentle squeeze. “He’s a sap, and he isn’t afraid to show it. He’s unapologetically himself. I’m glad he’s touched, really, I am.”

 

(Michael): “For sure, he’s Player Three. If he’s accepted any nerd status, which I’ve been trying to do for months, he’s earned it. As long as he’s alright with that as well.”

 

(Jeremy): “He just was waiting on your confirmation.”

 

Jeremy opened up the link enough that Michael could basically see what Jeremy was seeing and hearing if Michael paid attention. It was easier than trying to shorthand everything.

 

“He’s a sap but it’s one of the many reasons I love him,” Jeremy agreed. “Also he just confirmed your Player Three status. Welcome officially to the team.” Jeremy grinned, not moving for a moment longer before pulling back so Michael could get a good look at Derek. “Also I’m basically streaming what I’m seeing to him, so he can now appreciate the awesomeness of your outfit and you yourself.”

 

“Oh wow, you’re live-streaming me to Michael. I’m honored.” Derek smiled and waved then before he did a slow turn-around for Jeremy and Michael. “Hello, welcome to the new-and-improved Derek who has come to realize what his sexuality is after years of questioning as well. Thank you for your help, Michael.”

 

From the bond, he could feel a lot of emotions flaring up from Michael. Pride, joy, love in a platonic manner. It almost made Jeremy tear up. When he spoke up in the link, Jeremy could detect that if Michael was speaking, he would be tearing up a little and be a little breathless- a truly rare occurrence.

 

(Michael): “Oh my god. I’m so proud of him. I wish I could be there to hug and congratulate him myself... Holy shit, Derek.”

 

“He’s-...” Jeremy needed to stop his voice from cracking. “Very proud of you. And happy. And he loves you, dude. Best friend adoration level dude, almost brotherly.” Jeremy scrubbed as his cheeks and looked up at Derek, beaming. “You got him all emotional, which is seriously hard to do.”Jeremy took a breath, trying to compose himself but unable to entirely. He couldn’t say he minded. Feeling so much was nice, especially after his week of numb and his time in the cell.

 

“Well, I’m glad,” Derek said with a soft smile before he reached over and hugged Jeremy again, keeping him close. “This is for you but also Michael. I love him a lot too and I wish I could be there for him right now, helping him...” Derek got quiet at that, as if he was thinking, but kept holding onto Jeremy.

 

(Michael): “I need to get going, but I love you both. Stay safe.”

 

(Jeremy): “I love you too. I’ll let Derek say it for himself. You stay safe too.”

 

“He’s going now. He says that he loves us both and wants us to stay safe.” As always, when Michael left, Jeremy felt a little sad but he was glad that it just left him with the feeling of Michael in the back of his head instead of actively talking. He didn’t lose Michael entirely, they were still together unless it was totally closed off like that first night.

 

Derek hummed softly then, pulling back for a second to smile at Jeremy. “Thanks. Uh, Michael, love you too, and you stay safe. Don’t be unnecessarily risky and risk your safety or anything else.”

 

Jeremy felt the sensation of Michael laughing again in his head.

 

(Michael): “He thinks I’m reckless and act without impulse like you, funny. Thanks, Jeremy. Love you.”

 

Before Jeremy could give a reply, he felt Michael pull back from active engagement. Rude.

 

“He insulted me, but he appreciates the sentiment.” Jeremy pouted. “He’ll likely be back around bedtime- er, around nine-thirty.” He flushed a little at the fact his body had a bed time now. And an early one at that. “But yeah, he’s gone for now. But now you know the truth. He didn’t leave us like we thought.”

 

Derek laughed at that, leaning back a bit as he did so. “Of course Michael did that. Thank you for telling me all of that, it means the world to me, especially now since I hold the covenant ‘Player Three’ spot.” The ghost smiled down at him then before mock ruffling his hair. “Thank you.”

 

Jeremy giggled a little at the touch. “‘Course I told you. Out of everyone, you deserve to know the most, and you’re kinda my best friend besides Michael. I don’t know, you just clicked. It’s like I’ve always known you.” He shrugged. “Now c’mon. I know my dad’s been going crazy with worry about you even if I haven’t been able to let him see you yet. I think he’s partially adopted you.”

 

Though he never noticed it until now, Jeremy saw the corner of Derek's eyes crinkle a little as he smiled, nodding quickly. "I love your dad. I'm so glad he's gotten better. If I wasn't dead, I'd want him to adopt me." The ghost headed to the door then, waving to it since he couldn't open it for Jeremy. "Come on!"

 

Jeremy hopped up and opened the door, following after Derek with a massive grin. “Dead or not, I think he has. And I think having someone else who I’m close with has helped him too, to be honest. I wish I could...” A thought occurred to him. “You remember how Michael made my SQUIP visible? Could I do that with you so he could actually see you and stuff?” he asked excitedly, bouncing a little as he walked.

 

Derek blinked as he tried to think it over. "I mean, Michael never tried it with me, but I'm sure you could do it if you figured it out. Don't pop a blood vessel in your head though to do it, I like you too much and you just got back. Plus, Michael would kill me when he comes back if I let that happen."

 

Jeremy thought for a moment, then nodded and focused on what he wanted. He wanted Derek to be visible, wanted him to be seen. He thought he might have felt a change, but Derek didn’t look any different. He shrugged and headed down to the living room where his dad was.

 

“Hey dad!” Jeremy called.

 

“Hey private, hey- DEREK?!” His dad turned and almost screeched, eyes wide and excited. “I can see you! Holy crap, I can actually see you!” He jumped up from the couch and half ran over to them both in excitement.

 

Now that Jeremy looked over at Derek, he could see a little more color in his semi-translucent form. Derek was smiling as he looked over at his dad, waving a bit shyly as Mr. Heere basically hauled ass to stand in front of the two. "Uh, hello, Mr. Heere. It's nice to formally meet you... Wait, Jeremy, did you make it so he can hear me too and not just see me? Please tell me you did."

 

“I think so? I don’t know, dude, I’m new at this!” Jeremy cried, scratching the back of his head.

 

“Don’t worry, son, I can hear you just fine. It’s great to finally meet you face to face.” His dad grinned, looking happier than Jeremy had seen him in a while (minus when Jeremy got back). Jeremy shot Derek a look that basically said ‘told you he likes you.’

 

Derek rolled his eyes pointedly at Jeremy before smiling back at Jeremy's dad. "Well, I'm glad. Thank you, like I said, same to you. Well, I already saw you, but you didn't see me, but, uh... yeah. Hi."

 

Jeremy’s dad looked over Derek and Jeremy recognized the look in his eye. It was the same one he got when looking at Michael, the one that said ‘this one is part of the family now.’ Jeremy grinned and chuckled a little.

 

“He probably wants to give you a hug, Derek. I know that look. But I don’t know if I’d be able to make you solid enough to do that, so it’s all on you.” His dad spluttered a little and turned red but his grin didn’t fade.

 

Seemingly hesitant, Derek went over and gave his dad a hug. Jeremy could see the visible flinch, but he knew what kind it was. It was when his dad got chills down his whole body, and it probably just startled him. Derek pulled back then and scratched at his chin with a hesitant smile.

 

“Thanks, son.” His dad pouted a little. “But I can’t give you a hug. When Michael gets back, he’s gonna have to help me with that for sure, if you’re alright with that.” Derek beamed and nodded. “Also, might I say that you are looking very stylish. I’m loving the jacket, and the shirt with the pan flag.” Derek looked almost surprised. “My girlfriend is pan and her husband, who is my boyfriend, is pretty well versed in the sexuality stuff,” his dad shrugged as he explained.

 

Derek still blinked in surprise, and Jeremy couldn't help but be just a little surprised. Granted, he did listen to his dad and some of the highlights of his dates, but this was still something for Jeremy to get used to. "Oh, well, thank you very much, sir," Derek said with a polite and genuine smile. "I figured that I was sort of having to update my look anyway when I came back, so... yeah."

 

His dad snorted. “No need to be so formal. You can call me Jason, like the rest of these kids here. Or well, like I keep telling them to.” He shrugged. “I’ll be watching some TV so you’re both welcome to join me whenever. I think Christine is starting on prepping stuff for dinner soon.” With a bright grin, Jeremy’s dad wandered back over to the couch. Jeremy took Derek’s hand and tugged him lightly towards the kitchen.

 

“C’mon. Chrissy’s gonna wanna see you before we can go sit down.”

 

The ghost nodded as he went along with Jeremy, following him into the kitchen.

 

Christine was turning on the oven to preheat, pizza trays set out as she went and hummed to herself. She was busy in her own world of making dinner, going over to the freezer and opening it, pulling out some Digiorno’s pizza boxes then.

 

“Hey Chrissy! Someone’s here to say hello!” Jeremy chirped, scooting into the kitchen with Derek hot on his heels. Christine jumped a little, but turned and grinned at the two of them, bouncing a little when Derek waved over at her.

 

"Derek!" she cheered as she practically bounded over, waving back with a huge grin. "I'm so glad you're back and you're alright now! You look so nice!"

 

"Ah, well, thanks Christine," Derek said, a shy smile on his face as he rubbed the back of his neck.

 

Jeremy poked his side playfully, chuckling at how Derek swatted his hand away. “He looks awesome. And he’s now got official Player Three status because look! He’s got a Pac-Man on his jacket! I’m so proud!” he teased lightly, pretending to wipe away a tear.

 

"Oh wow, I didn't even know that status existed," Christine said with wide eyes, causing Derek to blush. "While we talk, do you think you could help me set up the pizzas, Jeremy? Pretty please?"

 

“Sure thing.” Doing something useful would help him focus on reality anyways. He could feel the mindset from the room starting to creep in, making him want to go and sit in his room and wait for food. He didn’t need to do that. Derek and helping out with food would help keep him away from that.

 

Christine smiled and waved him over. It was quite simple now that Jeremy looked at it: unwrap the pizzas from the plastic, put them on the pizza trays, put the cardboard for pizza cutting on the counter, and then put the pizza tray into the oven before putting on the timer. Simple with no real cooking required.

 

Still, it was fun as Derek, Christine, and Jeremy chatted. Once all the pizzas were set and in the oven, everyone sat at the breakfast bar and waited for the rest of the Squad to get back. And get back they did. Loudly.

 

The sudden cacophony of voices and sounds and color coming into the kitchen had Jeremy freezing and shivering a little as his eyes slammed shut and his hands reached up to cover his ears. Too much toomuchtoomuch!

 

There was a gentle, soothing, and cold pressure along his back as he heard Christine quickly adding to the mix. After she stopped, though, everyone else shut up. The sound of footsteps leaving followed, and he felt Derek's hand gently poke at his arm, as if to get his attention.

 

Jeremy whimpered a little but slowly he opened his eyes and uncurled himself a little. He looked up at Derek, shaking a little. “Sorry... it was just... a bit much,” he muttered, removing his hands from his ears.

 

"No, Jeremy, it's completely alright. You aren't use to all of that," Derek reassured him. As he did, Jeremy noticed that everyone who came in before was now gone and that it was a lot quieter. "Christine told them to go get changed and be quiet."

 

Jeremy wrapped his arms around himself and rubbed at his arms. A familiar, comforting gesture which had become a bit of a habit from the cell. It helped with the fact that Michael was barely allowed to touch him. “It... it was only three and a half weeks. I shouldn’t have crumbled that fast, even with letting myself slip a little to protect myself. I should be able to handle a little noise or color,” he grumbled, squeezing at his biceps a little harder than he realized, enough to leave angry, red marks there.

 

"From what I know, Jeremy, the only color you ever saw in there was Michael with whatever he was wearing. The whole sorta cell room was white, and you didn't even have a mirror to look at yourself, right?" Christine asked him, coming back slowly into view. "And they were more than just a little noise and color. They're bright and vibrant and loud, and they needed to be mindful of you coming back."

 

Jeremy nodded. “Only Mikey had color, and there was no mirror.” Jeremy squirmed a little, not releasing his tight grip on his own arms. “I wasn’t allowed color except for him. Or noise besides what I could make but I stopped talking after a while. Listening was better because sometimes I’d hear things. Then it wasn’t just me there.” His voice was small and quiet. Jeremy didn’t like how broken that room had left him, he was ashamed to have fallen so far, and he hated that it had still affected so badly even with his precautions.

 

The soft, cold pressure from Derek never left as he spoke. Christine and Derek were both listening to him, being quiet and polite until he was done. "Oh Jeremy... I'm so sorry. You're out now though, and you don't have to worry about being alone. We're here with you. We'll help you as best we can, right Derek?" A small 'mhmm' from Derek could be heard to his side.

 

Jeremy slowly uncurled his arms and shot the two a small, shaky smile. He stood up and started towards the living room. “I really need a hug right now, and I can only really handle them from Dad or you,” Jeremy explained to Derek as he went. Christine and the ghost boy followed after him.

 

Jeremy practically launched himself at the couch and curled up next to his dad, finally relaxing as he felt an arm wrap around him and pull him close. The sound of the TV vanished but the warm, safe presence next to him didn’t move away in the slightest. If anything, Jeremy got brought even closer.

 

His dad had him close, an arm resting around his shoulders before he felt his dad chuckle. "What, am I now a pillow? Is that my new job now, private? I mean, I don't mind it, but warn a guy about job changes next time."

 

Jeremy giggled a little but didn’t move. It would take a lot to move him from this safety right now. “No, just needed a hug,” he replied softly but honestly. “Got overwhelmed ‘nd you give really good hugs, dad.” He really did, surprisingly. For someone who wasn’t very physically affectionate, his dad gave really amazing hugs.

 

"Oh." His dad sounded genuinely surprised at that. "Uh, well... that's good! I'll give you all the hugs you need then, private, as long as I'm ready and able to."

 

“Thanks dad. Love you.” Jeremy sighed happily, arching a little into the cold touch of Derek’s hand on his back. He was safe. Home and safe.

 

 

 

Over the course of the next week, Jeremy did his best to readjust with everyone's help. Derek and his dad were huge helps, though everyone else was definitely helpful as well. He was physically recovering well and starting to slowly break out of some of his habits. Though he had the vague want every now and then to just sit in his room and wait for his next meal, Jeremy didn't. Derek helped remind him if he started to slip up that he could move around. Bright colors and loud sounds didn't startle him as much anymore, and he was doing little work-outs again. Jeremy didn't have to worry about punishment and he didn't want to get lethargic (but he only did a few things because he'd get tired out otherwise... Jeremy was now realizing too that the food he was given definitely didn't help him want to try to work out or stay fit.)

 

Still, even with all the setbacks, Jeremy realized he was physically recovering much faster than he really should have. By the morning of his first week out, Jeremy had managed to go out on a short patrol around the outskirts of the city, escorted by Chloe and Jenna. He suspected his rapid recovery was caused by his SQUIP somehow but he couldn’t figure out how.

 

He was just settling into bed (it was well past his bedtime, and he was only just getting tired) when he suddenly felt panic flare up in the back of his head. It took him a second to realize it belonged to Michael and wasn’t his own.

 

(Jeremy): “Mikey, are you alright?”

 

Derek seemed to realize his discomfort since he sat down on the bed next to him, looking worried.

 

(Michael): "They're making me come and get you tomorrow. They want me to track you down and bring you back. They-they think you'll just see me and relapse a-and just walk back into my arms, Jeremy. I-I-I'm-"

 

(Jeremy): “Hey, it’s okay. It’s okay. Just breathe.”

 

Jeremy sent as many soothing thoughts and feelings as he could through the link, not letting Michael fall into a total panic.

 

(Jeremy): “This isn’t your fault. We’ll figure out something. I’m gonna tell Derek and we’ll see what the three of us can come up with, yeah?”

 

He felt an agreement from Michael, who was struggling to calm himself a little.

 

“They’re sending him after me tomorrow. They want me to go back with him, think I’ll relapse as soon as I see him. He’s panicking,” Jeremy explained lowly to Derek, wary of the others being just downstairs. He didn’t want them to overhear.

 

Derek's face shifted to one of worry as he cursed softly under his breath. "Well, I don't know what those guys are capable of, but... I'm gonna guess they're cocky enough to just send Michael. They'll probably be having surveillance on him, and if we disable them, it'll be suspicious... But you gotta do some kind of gimmick to 'make it easier to beat him.'" He paused for a second. "Is he any calmer?"

 

“A little, but he’s really freaked. He’s worried about this and how it might actually affect me. He’s scared they’re right,” he explained, focus on listening to Michael’s feelings. He was good at that. A thought occurred to him. “What sort of gimmick are we talking here? You sound like you might have an idea...” Jeremy kept the gentle, soothing feelings flowing.

 

"Well... We have some way of having the SQUIP disabled since you can connect to them. Make it so the fight is in your favor, y'know? Get it so you can beat him," Derek offered as he seemed to be thinking over exactly how to word his thoughts. "Something like that."

 

Jeremy thought for a moment, refining the idea as much as he could. “So I spent my time in the room connecting to his SQUIP, learning how to, and when he comes for me I just turn it and his powers off. Leave him for hand to hand combat, which I’m pretty damn good at now,” he mused, letting Michael get a stream of his and Derek’s conversation through the link.

 

"If that was the case, how would Michael still be wanting to fight you? If he was 'back in control' then he wouldn't want to fight you, even if he had been controlled up until this point," Derek pointed out.

 

“He’s made it seem like the SQUIP isn’t in control anyways. He’s making his own choices, they just line up with what the SQUIP wants. Like... like how I was still affected by what my SQUIP drilled into me in the bathroom. Even if it was off, the manipulation wasn’t. It took a major shock, something drastic, to break me out of that mindset.” Jeremy understood that better than anyone. If Michael had been ‘manipulated’ by the SQUIP, he would still be affected by that mindset.

 

"Yeah, that's true," Derek muttered out as he let out a heavy sigh. "Definitely true..." He rubbed near where his legs vanished before clearing his throat. "Then that would work. Definitely would work."

 

(Jeremy): “Mikey? What do you think?”

 

(Michael): “I think that’s good... definitely good. They’ll totally believe it too.”

 

“He’s on-board with this.” Jeremy sat up properly and squared his shoulders, getting back into his Gamer mindset a little. Time to plan. And by tomorrow, when Michael had to come and get him, they’d be ready.

 

 

 

They had agreed that letting the rest of the team see their little ‘battle’ would be best, just to help sell the whole interaction. So Michael would be appearing to get Jeremy just before the group split up to go on their separate routes. Jeremy kept one eye on the sky as he walked through the outskirts of the city, Derek hovering close by and Rich sticking close to his other side.

 

"So we'll meet you back by the square," Jake finished off in his little review of their plan for going and patrolling. "Everyone good with that?" There were different echoes of agreement from just about everyone before Jake nodded. "You alright with going with just Derek today, Jeremy?"

 

“I’m just fine with that. I know big brother Derek has my back.” He grinned under his mask, poking Derek playfully. Almost time.

 

Derek squawked and smacked at Jeremy’s hand, blushing at the ‘big brother’ comment. He looked ready to retort when a sudden voice cut him off.

 

Showtime.

 

"I think I have a better idea. Why don't you just come back with me, Jeremy? I miss you." There, looking stunning (like always, just with a different look), was Michael, descending from seemingly the heavens. There was some kind of comparison there that Jeremy could make but chose not to. He was still wearing the button-up/slacks combo, the sleeves rolled up like usual.

 

Jeremy stiffened as he spun around and yanked off his mask, feeling his cheeks heat up at the sight of his boyfriend. It was surprising how much he wanted to slip back into the mindset just from the sight and sound of him, but Michael’s gentle encouragement in the back of his head helped fend those thoughts off.

 

“I mean, I miss you too Mikey, but not so much like that. Where’s the brown eyes? Blue’s just not your color,” he snarked back, cocking his hip and putting a hand on it. He looked like the definition of sass at that moment and he was proud.

 

{Gamer} everyone stay back. I need to deal with this one. Only step in if I’m totally incapacitated.

 

{TechnoBug} Are you sure?

 

{Charade} Let him do this, he has this.

 

"I could say the same for you. While I'm quite fond of you in it, I think white suits you better. It's nice and soft, especially on you," Michael said with a small smile and shrug. As he spoke, he reassured Jeremy otherwise, making sure he knew all of these words were just what the SQUIPs wanted to hear him say. "Come on, Jeremy. I know you miss it too."

 

Jeremy strode forward, almost stomping as he went, and reached out with his powers strongly enough that the others would feel it. “I like second chances. Second chances let me do this.” Jeremy threw out his hand in front of him and made a sort of ripping gesture. The blue in Michael’s eyes flickered and went out. “I spend the whole time learning how to connect to your SQUIP. Now, how about we try this again, hmm?” Jeremy stopped a few paces away from Michael, arms crossed and a scowl still on his face. He commended Michael on his convincing ‘deactivation.’

 

As Michael stumbled for a second, eyes looking around in a frantic manner for a few seconds, Michael commended Jeremy back for his convincing 'use of his powers.' Michael focused back on Jeremy then, sighing as he looked Jeremy in the eyes. "Well, we did used to play-fight as kids. We never had a clear winner, but I think that'll be different this time."

 

There was some murmuring from behind him as the others realized Michael was still acting SQUIPed even though it was ‘off.’ “A lot has changed since then, Mikey. I’d rather not fight you, though. Wrestling should be left to the bed, don’t ya think?” His scowl turned into a smirk as Michael turned a little red and spluttered. Jeremy started stretching. “Either way, you’re not taking me back. I won’t let you.”

 

"Maybe not right at this moment, but I assure you, you will," Michael promised him, seemingly calming down after Jeremy's comment.

 

(Michael): "I know you're strong and can kick my ass. Please don't whoop me too bad."

 

(Jeremy): “I’ll be careful. I’m still weak from before so we should be about even at the moment anyways.”

 

(Jeremy): “We’re just sparing. Plenty of time for some flirty banter in between.”

 

Jeremy tucked his mask into a pocket and finished stretching out. He was ready for this.

 

(Jeremy): “I’ll broadcast my moves in here, so just focus and you’ll know how to combat them. It’ll be a fair fight.”

 

(Michael): "Hold on, can I do it in here?..."

 

(Michael): "It'Ll Be A fAiR fIgHt."

 

(Michael): "Sweet! But yeah, no, even in sparring, you kick my ass, so I'll have to listen to not get my ass beat to hell and back. The flirting is just gonna fuck me up even more."

 

(Jeremy): “So it’ll be accurate then.”

 

He couldn’t help the teasing, he could hear on the group chat that everything was going exactly to plan. He was in a good mood, and getting to see Michael again just amplified that.

 

“Ready or not, here I come,” Jeremy sang out as he launched himself at Michael. Michael barely managed to dodge the swing in time and Jeremy cackled a little as he started throwing blow after blow, with his boyfriend only just managing to dodge or deflect each of them. “Aww, is that all you got now, Mikey? The big bad SQUIPs didn’t teach you any new tricks?” He put on a baby voice and an exaggerated pout, giving Michael a move through the link that would send Jeremy on his back on the ground.

 

Michael was sure to go through with it, and Jeremy readied himself for the somewhat breathless feeling he got. "Maybe I'm just trying to take it easy on you because I'd rather not hurt you. If I have to so I can get you back, though, I'm sorry." Jeremy managed to get back onto his feet before Michael could grab him, and he dodged another grab and a kick thrown his way.

 

The fight became almost a dance at that point, with both boys throwing and dodging blows smoothly. Jeremy sent Michael another move and a plan for a decent ending for this whole thing. Michael gave him the go ahead and began executing it.

 

In a swift movement, Michael knocked Jeremy to the ground and pinned him face up.

 

“Is that all you got?” Jeremy teased. Michael apologized mentally and Jeremy told him to just get on with it.

 

Acting as though the adrenaline and frustration was getting the best of him, Michael brought Jeremy into a bruising kiss, still keeping him pinned. Jeremy gave as good as he got, kissing back with as much force and vigor. He could hear Rich telling the others to hold off, but he was much more focused on the kiss which, honestly, they both needed.

 

Jeremy could feel all the love and raw emotion Michael put into the lingering kiss, pulling back just to catch his breath between kisses. By the time Michael pulled back, they both were panting and Jeremy could tell his lips were a little kiss-swollen. Michael's were too, and Jeremy found it so damn attractive.

 

Michael rested his forehead against Jeremy's, looking down at him in the eyes then. "Jeremy..." He was a bit breathless in how he spoke, which made sense.

 

“Michael...” he whispered, sending an apology through the link even if Michael had agreed to this. Jeremy used his boyfriend’s distraction to quickly wrap his legs around Michael’s waist and flip them over, grabbing the cuffs from his own belt and slapping them on Michael’s wrists, tying them together in a smooth movement. He gave Michael one more gentle peck to the lips before sitting up, still straddling Michael. “Anyone got some rope? I need to keep him immobile until his SQUIP reactivates.”

 

Chloe quickly came over, handing Jeremy a small length from her waist that she kept in case she needed to tie someone up (or tie each other up because she asked whoever to). Michael kept the act going, wiggling a bit underneath Jeremy. "Jeremy, please. Just come with me," he begged, looking at Jeremy with wide eyes.

 

(Michael): "You're doing so well, Jeremy. I love you so much."

 

(Jeremy): “I love you too, Mikey. I’m so sorry we have to do this in the first place.”

 

Jeremy carefully began tying Michael up, being careful to not hurt him. “I won’t go back there, Mikey. Not willingly, not even for you. I love you, but this isn’t you anymore,” he replied softly, sadly.

 

“This is me, Jeremy. Please, don’t do this,” he continued to beg, tearing up as he kept looking at Jeremy.

 

(Michael): “It’s alright, I agreed to this. You’re being so good to me. I’m also, after your reply, going to say something else. Keep denying no matter what. They wanted me to go to whatever tactics, even desperate ones, and this is the worst with guilting you.”

 

“It’s not, though. It’s a SQUIP’s words coming from your mouth. It’s changed you, Mikey. You’re not you anymore. Please, just wake up. I don’t want to have to leave you, not again.”

 

(Jeremy): “I’m ready and I trust you. I love you so much, sweetheart.”

 

(Michael): “God, you’re gonna be the death of me, Jeremy.”

 

“I can’t handle it there anymore without you, Jeremy,” Michael almost whimpered out, big tears welling up as he stared at Jeremy. “You made it bearable. I need you there. Please. Please don’t leave me. Please. T-they shocked the hell out of me when you left, and they’re gonna do it again if I don’t get you back. It would all be worth it if I had you though. Please don’t leave me, I can’t handle it!” By the time he finished, Michael was almost full-on crying.

 

Jeremy whimpered a little, scrubbing at his eyes with his sleeve. “I’m sorry Mikey, but I can’t. I was dying in there, I can’t go back,” he sobbed, bending down and wrapping his arms around Michael. “I’m gonna find a way to fix this, I promise. You’re coming home one day, I promise.” He pressed a few gentle kisses to Michael’s cheeks, kissing away the tears. “Your SQUIP will reactivate in about ten minutes. I’ll... I’ll see you later, Mikey. Good luck.” With that, Jeremy stood and started back to the group.

 

Someone (not Derek) put a gentle hand on his arm and Jeremy just about collapsed from the shivers as he threw himself away from the touch. “Don’t fucking touch me.”

 

Whoever it was backed up, Jeremy heard it before Michael started crying for Jeremy to come back.

 

(Michael): “I’m so sorry Jeremy. They’re still listening and watching me from my camera. I love you so much, you’re doing the right thing.”

 

“Let’s get out of here,” Derek said, sort of meaning it to the whole group and not just Jeremy. Everyone else seemed to agree as they left, Michael’s cries getting softer and softer until they went away completely.

 

(Jeremy): “That was hard but I know they bought it on my end. You think the bosses were sold on that?”

 

Jeremy rubbed at his arms, pulling his mask back on as they headed back to the populated areas. He walked a little ahead of everyone else, wanting to be left mostly alone after all that. It was hard enough facing Michael after the room, the whole acting thing added another level of struggle.

 

(Michael): "I hope to god they are. I'll find out soon when they pick me up or if I can free myself and get back myself. Is there anything I can do to help you right now though?"

 

(Jeremy): “It should be safe to ‘reactivate’ now so you can free yourself now if you like. As for me...”

 

Jeremy bit back a small sob, curling in on himself as he walked quickly back to Jake’s house.

 

(Jeremy): “I know it was just for the act but I’m getting overwhelmed right now and I could really just use some proper affection. Remind me what it feels like to love each other when we’re not fighting for our lives.”

 

(Michael): "Of course."

 

With those words spoken, warmth, comfort, and safety flooded him in a not-so-overwhelming way... more so in a soothing manner, washing gently over him. He felt echoes, in the link, of them nestled close to each other, sleeping the early morning away. There were others of them gently kissing, laughing, or just walking around with melting slushies and colored tongues. Michael gently rubbing his thumb against the side of his pointer finger stuck out to him for some reason, and it eased him. The idea of sneaking into Michael's closet when he was showering and stealing some fresher, more recent clothes to don for his own enjoyment and to get a reaction out of his boyfriend also popped up.

 

It felt safe. It felt like what love was supposed to be. It felt right, like home.

 

It felt like Michael.

 

Jeremy found the pain building in his chest dissipated and he was left with these warm, gentle moments. Walking became easier.

 

(Jeremy): “We’re going to get proper moments like that. I promise.”

 

Jeremy sent his best approximation of a kiss through the link, feeling how Michael lit up upon receiving it.

 

(Jeremy): “Thank you, sweetheart. Is there anything I can do to help you?”

 

(Michael): "I mean... I don't know. I wasn't lying at least about getting something when I get back. Having something to think about when it happens'll help. I might also just suddenly be gone from the link like I was last time, the forced shut-down of the link temporarily kinda thing."

 

Jeremy sent back a small confirmation and focused. He sent through images and feelings to compliment what Michael had sent him and more.

 

Jeremy dressed in Michael’s hoodie, making grabby hand at him for cuddles. Jeremy pressing a kiss to Michael’s finger when Michael shushed him, grinning cheekily around it. Jeremy kissing Michael, desperate and loving, his tongue stained purple from the slushies. Jeremy being close and adoring Michael in every way he knew how, making Michael feel loved and feel good in a gentle, intimate way.

 

He sent through memories from his perspective too. Challenge day from a few weeks ago (was it really so recent?). Jeremy asking Michael out. Every blunt he could remember, ending with them curled up together. Video games, and how they struggled by always made it through. Their best friend promise from when they were eight. Just more proof of how much Jeremy loved Michael, and how he’d always be there supporting him.

 

(Michael): "That... those'll help me get through it. For sure. And maybe the rest of this too."

 

There was a brief pause in the link.

 

(Michael): "I know I've helped you a lot, but... If I ever ask, could you send me more stuff like what you sent? Of both kinds of things that you sent?"

 

(Jeremy): “I’d be more than happy to, Mikey.”

 

Jeremy sent another kiss and his best estimate of a hug (a warm, safe, encompassing feeling) through the link.

 

(Jeremy): “I love you so damned much, Michael. More than I maybe should, but I don’t care. You’re it for me. No one else will ever do.”

 

Even as he sent those words, he knew they were true. Michael made him feel complete, not by completing him but by letting Jeremy see that he already was whole. He made Jeremy feel happy and safe and loved. Michael was home in a way no one else ever could be.

 

The tingling in his brain let him know that Michael was sending his laughter through the link.

 

(Michael): "Aww, I'm better than other people like your celebrity crushes and thirsts? That means the world to me."

 

Even if Michael was joking, the sincerity that Jeremy's words meant the world to him easily shone through. The feeling of a hug was sent back, along with a kiss as well.

 

(Jeremy): “I love you too. Let me know as soon as you’re back off of radio silence.”

 

Still outwardly silent, as he had been the whole walk back save for some sniffles, Jeremy unlocked the door to Jake’s house and wandered in morosely. He flopped on the couch next to his dad, staring blankly at the wall.

 

(Michael): “You’ll be the first to know.”

 

"Hey private, what happened?" his dad asked, his arm slowly wrapping around Jeremy, giving Jeremy time to pull away. He didn't, instead leaning into it and half lying against his dad. He needed this right now.

 

“Michael,” was his only explanation as the others caught up and came through the door. The mood was quiet, subdued.

 

“Michael was there today and he came to try to get Jeremy back,” Jenna explained with a heavy sigh.

 

His dad hummed softly. "Alright. You guys go get changed, order something for dinner." The others hesitated before doing so, staying quiet as they went.

 

Once they were alone (except for Derek who plopped down in the loveseat), his dad pulled Jeremy a little closer. "If you need to cry it out, son, you can. Whatever you want to feel better."

 

Jeremy didn’t realize he was crying until the first tear slipped out. Then the second and another and another and suddenly Jeremy was clinging to his dad and sobbing.

 

“I just want him home. I want him home and safe and for this to be over. I miss him so much. I miss being with him,” Jeremy hiccuped. He hadn’t really cried at all since that first day, when he found Michael’s video, and found that the release of all that pressure which had been building was a major relief.

 

He felt his dad hold him close, rubbing his back and staying quiet so Jeremy could just vent and cry all he wanted. Jeremy knew he was safe here, accepted, that he was supported by his dad. Derek too (he rested his hand also against Jeremy’s back, he realized, and was rubbing it in circles as he cried everything all out).

 

After what felt like hours but was probably only a few minutes, Jeremy finally calmed down and just stayed there, whimpering and sobbing softly. Everything he’d said was true: he honestly missed Michael so much and was desperate for him to come home. He just wanted to be normal again, just be a teenager with his boyfriend. He just wanted the people he loved safe.

 

No one pushed him to do anything. They just let him sob and whimper. His dad did shift a little, removing his hand from Jeremy’s back while he did so. “How are you feeling now? If you don’t wanna say anything yet, let me know, but just know we’re here for you.”

 

“A little better now,” Jeremy mumbled after a moment. “Thanks dad.” Jeremy curled closer, staying in the safety of his dad’s arms. His head hurt and his heart hurt and he couldn’t feel Michael anymore but he did feel better overall.

 

“Of course, private. You’re going through more than what any person should have to go through, let alone a teenager. Whatever I can do to help, I want to do that as long as it’s within reason,” his dad told him as he held Jeremy closer.

 

“Just don’t let me go back there.” Jeremy let himself relax a little, finding comfort from this quiet moment with his dad and his friend. “I almost did today, even if I know he wouldn’t really want me back there. It’s just so... hard to stay away from him. A big part of me doesn’t want to and I almost ended up caving. Don’t let me go back with him.”

 

“I’ll do whatever I can to keep you from going back there. I don’t know how much I can actually help, but I’ll do whatever I can. I’m sure that Derek and everyone else will do the same, right?”

 

“Oh, yeah, for sure,” Derek piped up, the cold pressure still happening in circles against Jeremy’s back.

 

“Thanks...”

 

“You don’t need to thank us for that, Jeremy,” Derek responded softly.

 

“I know, but I want to. It’s nice to know my family has my back.”

 

“We’ll always have your back,” his dad reassured him before giving him a lingering hug. “Even if it doesn’t seem like it or if we aren’t doing the best at it. We’re still trying.”

 

 

 

Jeremy’s mood stayed somber and quiet for the next few days. It was understandable, according to everyone else, since he had fought his best friend and against his own mental state. He was just in a bad place.

 

Michael and Derek both helped, more than Jeremy cared to admit, and slowly but surely things got better. Jeremy recovered.

 

He was just settling down for bed when he felt a sudden spike of excitement coming from Michael.

 

(Jeremy): “What’s got you in such a good mood?”

 

(Michael): “OK, uh, I’m hurrying away right now but I finally found SQUIP schematics and all their plans from this point on, updated just a few hours ago. Holy shit, this is amazing!”

 

(Michael): “I... I think I can finally plan my escape and make sure they can’t trace or follow me. Oh my god... Jeremy, I can finally leave!”

 

He... he was coming home? Michael was coming home...? Michael was coming home! Holy shit!

 

(Jeremy): “How long until you think you’ll be back? God I’ve missed you. You’re coming home!”

 

Jeremy was suddenly buzzed and happy beyond belief. He couldn’t do much besides sort of just flap his hands around but it helped a little. He was just so excited!

 

(Michael): “I think I might try to sneak out tonight when everyone’s asleep. Their SQUIPs sort of have an automatic time then and they all prob reconnect and sync information then so it’s the best time, I’ve learned.”

 

(Michael): “Oh god, I missed you, but I’ll be back soon, I promise. Probably super early in the morning.”

 

Derek sort of floated in through his shut door then, probably to check on him before he went to bed, but stopped after coming through. “What’s got you so excited?”

 

“He’s coming home! He’ll be back by tomorrow morning!” Jeremy squeaked, still sort of flapping his hands and bouncing. “He’s coming home at last!”

 

(Jeremy): “Wake me up when you’re close. I don’t care when it is, I want to be awake when you arrive!”

 

(Michael): “Don’t worry, you’ll be the first to know. Everyone else’ll be suspicious of me so I want to have a moment with you before then. And make sure Derek comes out too. I didn’t get to say anything to him to keep up appearances and I fucking miss him.”

 

“Oh shit, that’s amazing, but you need to keep your voice down a little so no one else hears,” Derek said as he sat down on Jeremy’s bed.

 

“You’re- you’re right.” Jeremy nodded, his voice dropping to something close to a whisper. “He’s gonna wake me up when he’s close and he wants to see us both before everyone else knows. He misses you,” Jeremy relayed, basically peppering Michael in kisses through the link. They would have to do until Michael arrived tomorrow.

 

Derek nodded as he listened, giving a soft smile all the while. “I’ll be sure that everyone’s asleep before he comes over, so you know. I missed him so much too.

 

(Michael): “I love you so much Jeremy, you and Derek. I’m going to have to go soon to keep up appearances until bed.”

 

(Jeremy): “I’ll try to get some sleep then, and I’ll see you tomorrow. I love you so much.”

 

Jeremy started streaming so Michael could see Derek’s reaction.

 

“He’s got to keep up appearances so he’s about to go, but he says he loves us both so much,” Jeremy told Derek with a soft smile.

 

“Well I love him too and I better get a damn good hug when I see him,” Derek said around a soft laugh.

 

(Michael): “I definitely will give him that. I have to go right now though. Love you both and see you soon.”

 

Jeremy sent the same back with a small grin. “He promises to give you a hug. He’s had to go now but it won’t be long until we can see him properly...” Jeremy was too excited. He knew Derek would usually just sort of phase out on the couch downstairs when Jeremy slept but…

 

“D’you wanna stay in here tonight? I wanna stay close to someone tonight.”

 

Derek sort of blinked in surprise at that before he ended up nodding in agreement. “Uh, yeah, sure. I might perch somewhere, I dunno... I might vanish when you’re asleep at some points to check and make sure everyone’s asleep or at least in their rooms.”

 

“That’s cool.” Jeremy nodded. “And dude, it’s a twin bed, we can both fit. I’m not about to make a move on you, don’t worry.” Jeremy giggled, poking the ghost playfully.

 

“Ha. Ha. Ha. So funny that I almost forgot to laugh,” Derek said with a roll of his eyes. “Trust me, you aren’t my type and I wouldn’t do that to you or Michael.” He lied down then, seemingly trying to get comfortable.

 

“I’d be offended if I wasn’t in such a good mood.” Jeremy snorted, flopping back and scooting closer to Derek, wrapping an arm around him. Though Derek was icy cold, as usual, the feeling was refreshing for the summer night and Jeremy quickly found himself starting to drift. “M’gonna cuddle you until you gotta go. ‘Cause affection and brotherly love an’ all that. If you’re okay with that, of course.”

 

Jeremy could feel the surprise radiating off of Derek then, but he heard a hum of confirmation instead of a reason why he was so shocked. “Yeah, it’s cool. You’ll be passed out by the time I go check, so go nuts.”

 

Jeremy nuzzled closer to Derek and relaxed, finding that sleep was hard to fight off at this point. He barely had a chance to murmur out a ‘good night’ to Derek before he was asleep.

 

As usual, he dreamed of Michael.

 

 

 

He didn’t know how much time had passed since he fell asleep, but Jeremy felt his dream fade away after a point. Somehow, he felt the link gently push through, waking him up with the soft insistence Michael had. It was nice, soothing, and warm.

 

(Michael): “Hey, Sleeping Beauty. I’m a few minutes away from Jake’s house. I think a warm greeting is in order, don’t you?”

 

Jeremy just about bolted upright, suddenly wide awake. Michael was close!

 

Jeremy stumbled out of bed, threw on some clothes, and raced downstairs where Derek was waiting by the front door. He reached out with his powers and deactivated the alarm and unlocked the door easily.

 

“Just a couple of minutes.” Jeremy beamed, adjusting his black sweats and blue t-shirt he had slipped on in his excitement. “He’s almost here!” He tugged on Michael’s hoodie on top of his clothes, finding the soft fleece more comforting and grounding than ever.

 

“Should we wait for him outside or in here? If we don’t want to get caught mid-reunion, outside might be better,” Derek offered. “I mean, everyone’s asleep but us right now, but it’s better to be safe than sorry.”

 

Jeremy nodded and quietly slipped out the door. It shut silently behind him and Derek, and Jeremy had to restrain himself from just sprinting into the street to go and find Michael. Was he walking or was he in the air? Jeremy bounced a little in place, fiddling with the hem of the hoodie as he waited.

 

Derek stayed right by Jeremy’s side, looking around as well with obvious eagerness. He seemed just as excited at Jeremy to see Michael.

 

Before Jeremy could ask Derek if he had any idea which way Michael was coming in, he saw Michael’s form down the street, walking and glancing around. He was wearing his glasses for once, rubbing his eyes underneath, as if readjusting to them.

 

As soon as Jeremy saw him, he couldn’t restrain himself any further. He bolted down the street, sprinting towards Michael faster than he knew he could manage.

 

(Jeremy): “Mikey!”

 

Michael stopped rubbing his eyes then, pulling away his hands just in time to see Jeremy. He managed to probably register seeing him before Jeremy was there, latching onto him tight. It took Michael a second to respond, wrapping his arms around Jeremy as he started to laugh, burying part of his face into Jeremy’s shoulder. “Oh god, it’s so good to be able to do this. I missed you so much,” Michael managed to get out before holding onto Jeremy tighter and starting to cry.

 

Jeremy was laughing and sobbing all at once, only really managing to coo out Michael’s name and whisper declarations of love between everything. He was overwhelmed in the best way and couldn’t really process much besides the fact that Michael was here and he was himself and they didn’t have to pretend anymore. Michael was home.

 

“I love you, I love you, oh god I love you,” Michael managed as he bunched his hands up in the back fabric of his hoodie. “That was the worst month and a half of my life. You were the only thing that made it bearable. Oh my god, I’m here and with you.” His voice was somewhat muffled because it was still half-buried in Jeremy’s shoulder, but Jeremy understood what he was saying as he shook a little.

 

Jeremy shushed him gently, running fingers through his hair and rubbing gentle circles on his back. He finally got enough clarity to properly voice his thoughts and gently calm Michael a little. “It’s okay, it’s over now. You’re safe. You’re home. And I’ve got you, you’re with me again. M’not leaving your side for a long time, sweetheart.” Jeremy began peppering kisses wherever he could reach, just showering Michael in affection.

 

Michael just continued to cling to Jeremy then, sniffling occasionally. He only lifted his head up when Derek came over, gently poking Michael’s shoulder for a second. Looking up at Derek, Michael began to sob a little again as he pulled an arm away from Jeremy and pulled Derek close, almost sandwiching himself in a weird way between the two. “Derek, oh my god. I-I’m so sorry, I-“

 

“You’re here now, that’s all that matters.” Michael just seemed to break after Derek’s response, letting Derek hug him from behind now as Michael buried his face into the crook of Jeremy’s neck.

 

“You’re home, sweetheart. It’s okay. You’re home,” Jeremy cooed, scrubbing at his eyes a little as he cradled Michael close. He shot Derek a look and got a nod in return. “Let’s get inside. You can come and sleep with me on my bed for now, yeah? Derek will keep watch so we can nap and just relax for a bit. How does that sound, Mikey?”

 

Michael nodded, essentially nuzzling his face against Jeremy’s neck. “Y-yeah, that sounds nice,” he muttered out as he held on a little tighter to Jeremy. “I... you’re wearing my hoodie.” His tone held surprise, as if he just realized it, along with a soft and loving awe.

 

“I am.” Jeremy nodded. “I’ve been wearing it on and off since you got taken. And as soon as I could handle color again.” Jeremy didn’t try to dislodge Michael. Instead, he thought for a moment then scooped Michael in a bridal carry. He was strong enough for that, even if he couldn’t keep it up for more than a few minutes. The thought of being even a little way away from Michael right now was just too horrible to even consider. He began carefully walking back to the house, with Derek keeping a point of contact on Michael at all times to help comfort him.

 

Michael's arms wrapped around his neck and stayed there as Michael seemed to melt with the contact. It made sense, now that Jeremy thought about it. Michael had been reaching out of his way to help Jeremy that he basically neglected his own needs, at least in terms of things like this. He wasn't so sure about Michael's other basic needs, but Michael needed this just as much as Jeremy did, maybe even more so since he was stuck with the Collective for over a month.

 

"I... I love it on you. You look really good in it, especially since it's baggy on you. Can you do sweater paws with it?"

 

“I can.” Jeremy nodded, resting his cheek on Michael’s hair. “It goes right the way over my hands when I don’t push up the sleeves.” If Michael needed contact, Jeremy would give it to him. If Michael needed anything, Jeremy would give it to him. Michael needs to be looked after and loved, just like Jeremy did when he got back from his own imprisonment. Even if it was a different set up, Michael had been in the same situation, maybe worse off. Probably worse. “And guess what? I love you. Wearing this made me feel like you were hugging me. And now I can finally give you all the hugs.”

 

"I love you too, and I need to see that," Michael muttered out from where he nuzzled against Jeremy's chest. "That's gonna kill me from adorableness, but I need it in my life." He let out a soft sigh, relaxing slowly but surely in Jeremy's cradling hold. "And I need to see your new look fully, Derek."

 

"Of course," Derek said, and Jeremy could hear the smile in his tone. "We're about to be at the house, we need to be quiet so we don't wake anyone up."

 

Jeremy nodded and so did Michael. With a little focus, Jeremy made the front door open and shut behind them, locking itself as usual and resetting the alarm to its usual setting. There. Nothing out of the ordinary.

 

Jeremy was just about to get to the stairs when suddenly a voice startled him out of his gentle, sweet mood.

 

“What the hell, Jeremy?! Why did you bring him back here?!” Chloe basically screeched, probably waking up whoever wasn’t already up.

 

Shit.

Chapter Text

Jeremy’s grip tightened on Michael, keeping him close. He kept him cradled to his chest.

 

“He came home to us. So I’m taking him up to bed to rest,” Jeremy replied calmly, scowling a little at Chloe and the small group behind her.

 

"Jeremy, as much as I'd like that, we can't do that. He's SQUIPed, and he's been on their side for so long. He's a threat," Brooke said, her tone firm yet sympathetic. "We need to take him somewhere where we'll all be safe and he'll be secure. He can rest there."

 

"We sort of anticipated this. Brooke saw this happening, actually. We have a room in the basement set up for him," Jake said. "He'll be able to be safe and comfortable in there... alone."

 

Jeremy’s scowl deepened at that. “You’re not taking him from me, not again. He’s in control of the SQUIP, not the other way around. It’s been an act this whole time.” Jeremy was fighting off the headspace again. He was forcing himself to focus and see his friends rather than just people who wanted to keep him and Michael apart. People who wanted to take Michael from him again.

 

Even with everything else, knowing they were his friends, Jeremy was ready to fight to keep Michael with him. They had been apart for long enough. No one was taking Michael from him ever again. They needed each other.

 

Chloe's face softened a little, and she looked between Michael, Jeremy, and the two friends with her then. "I... guys, what if he's right-"

 

"Chloe, I told you what I saw happening. We need to do this," Brooke told her, even if she seemed sorry to do this. "I asked you to help to hold Jeremy back. Please. If you aren't going to, then please just stay back for right now."

 

"But Brooke-"

 

“Your visions aren’t perfect, Brooke. You don’t know everything.” With slightly shaking arms, Jeremy turned and helped Michael stand behind him. He kept an arm reaching back and keeping Michael pressed against him. Contact. Contact helped keep them both grounded.

 

“But if you’re gonna try taking him from me by force then go ahead and try. I won’t hesitate to protect him from any one of you. He’s been through enough as it is, he doesn’t need to add you on to the list as well.”

 

"It's not like we want to do this, Jeremy," Brooke said with a frown, and her face showed that this was true. "We're trying to keep everyone safe."

 

"What's going on down here? It's three in the morning and I think we all want sleep," Jenna called from the top of the grand stairs, and the sounds of Rich and Christine coming from their rooms could also be heard.

 

With all the commotion going on, Jeremy almost flinched at the sudden touch to his shoulder before realizing a second later that it was Michael. "Jeremy... I think it might be best for me to just listen to them for now, just to ease their minds and not to start a damn war here."

 

“It’s not your fault.” Jeremy turned back to face him, eyes wide and earnest. “You don’t deserve to be treated like that.” He spun around, feeling his anger flare up again. In the back of his head, a different part to the area shared by Michael, he felt a sort of flicker of something but he couldn’t place what. All he knew was that Brooke and Jake were trying to take Michael from him and that made him angry. Very angry.

 

The anger suddenly stopped when he felt Michael's fingers intertwine with his own, gently squeezing his hand. "Jeremy, I know. Trust me, I know. This is just a safety precaution. I completely understand why they're doing it. Hell, I sold the whole manipulation too well a few days ago if this is anything to go by," Michael almost whispered to him, his head resting on Jeremy's shoulder. It blocked out a lot of the arguing now going on, Derek in front of them to defend Michael. "Just... I'm still here, just in the basement. It'll be fine. Plus, they'll treat me a lot better. Hell, my room's gonna be in the basement, cold as hell down there, and they're probably not gonna give me a tiny room or super isolate me, you know?"

 

“I know, but still. I don’t want to leave you. I’ll come down with you, I’ll just talk to them in the group chat or something, I don’t care. I just can’t leave you alone again. I can’t.”

 

"Jeremy, we know that isn't going to happen. They're gonna think I did something to you or that I'm gonna do something until they end up believing that I'm not a threat or being controlled or anything." Michael's hands, warm and soft, cradled his face then, turning him around to face him. "Plus, that isn't fair to your dad or anything. Just... I'm not gonna be alone. You're still here. This is a lot better than that hellhole." A soft kiss was pressed to his forehead, and it lingered before Michael rested his forehead there instead of his lips. "I love you. It'll be short, I promise."

 

“I love you,” Jeremy echoed, reaching up and holding onto Michael’s hands. “Okay. We’ll try this. But the moment you want out, you tell me and I’m getting you out of there. I don’t care whose ass I have to kick, as soon as you’re uncomfortable, I’m coming down and getting you out.” His eyes shut as he sniffled a little, pressing a kiss to Michael’s wrist.

 

Michael let out a watery laugh then before squeezing what little cheek fat he had in his hands. "I think I'll be fine, but I'll let you know as soon as anything happens. I love you so much."

 

“I love you too, Mikey. So damned much.” With a final squeeze of his hands, Jeremy turned back to the group. “Where are you going to be taking him? I want to at least go with him to the room, so I know he’s okay. For my own sanity and paranoia if nothing else.”

 

Brooke looked over from where she was standing with Jake, Rich, and Jenna while Derek, Chloe, and Christine seemed to take one side together. "The basement. We modified a bit of it ever since Michael got taken to make an area for Michael, after my vision."

 

Jeremy stood tall, his back straight and his head held high even as he sniffled again. At the moment, Brooke and Jake were against him, enemies so to speak, even if they thought they were doing the right thing. Jeremy wouldn’t let them know how much this was affecting him. He’d stay strong.

 

“Fine.” He wiped his cheeks and kept his gaze steady. “Let’s go. But I’m telling you now that if you mistreat him, even a little just from fear, you’ll find out exactly what he just protected you from, what cut through half the ranks of the SQUIPed soldiers in a single afternoon.” He scowled, ignoring the sound of protest from Michael. Jeremy didn’t care about Michael’s opinion on this part, those were Jeremy’s terms. He wouldn’t hesitate to protect Michael and ensure he was safe and well looked after. The last time he slipped up, Michael had to suffer alone for a month and a half; Jeremy wasn’t letting that happen again.

 

"We aren't going to do anything like that, Jeremy. He's our friend too," Jake promised him, his gaze steady and tone reassuring of the promise he was making. "You can walk down there with us and everything. We won't do anything or fight if we don't have to."

 

“Fine,” Jeremy repeated, a little less heat in his tone but no less displeasure. He hated this whole thing with a passion, it was unnecessary and almost cruel after the isolation Michael had dealt with until now. He gently took Michael’s hand and began following Jake and Brooke to the basement. To say he was upset was an understatement, but he would at least accept Michael’s desire to not cause trouble... for now. Jeremy would be more than ready to do more than that if he needed to.

 

As they walked down, Jeremy saw a few areas set up before the basement that had been large and open with no walls earlier in the year now cut off mostly with a wall. There was a desk area set up with a monitor and other things, and there was a window (that Jeremy wasn't sure if it was one-way or not) that allowed the room inside to be shown.

 

Peering in, Jeremy saw it still held the openness of the rest of the basement. The bathroom was still there that had a shower in it in it's own little corner. There was a bed set up in there, along with some other forms of entertainment (including a large stereo and a TV). There was a bigger table set up with three chairs, as well as a huge bed in another corner-area of the room. There was a lot of bland decor and stuff in there, but it was way better than the cell Jeremy had been in before.

 

Seeing it let Jeremy relax a little. It was a cell but it wasn’t a prison. It wasn’t a punishment. “Okay. So this is just for now, right? Just for a little while.” He still had to reassure himself about that. The thought of people, anyone he cared about, locked in the same room for long periods of time set him away in a panic. He knew what that was like. He wouldn’t inflict it on anyone.

 

"Only for a short while, until we can be sure that Michael's SQUIP is totally off and he's free of any possible manipulation," Brooke reassured Jeremy as she went over to the computer, turning it on and typing some things into it once it booted up. "And, if he wants, he can have people come in as long as it's more than one other person. But not all the time either, at least for now and until we're sure he's alright. No offense, Michael."

 

"I get it, it's fine. This is better than my room at the stupid Collective place."

 

Jeremy tried his best to focus on those facts and not the whole isolation aspect of this thing. He didn’t like it one bit still and he wouldn’t be happy about it until Michael was back in his arms and away from anything even close to a cell.

 

Jeremy turned and gave Michael a gentle kiss before Michael walked into his... new room. Jeremy felt a gentle hand on his shoulder, not a familiar touch in the slightest. He grabbed the offending hand and bent it backwards, not enough to break but enough to hurt a little. Everyone knew he didn’t deal well with touch yet, there was no excuse anymore. “Don’t. Touch,” he growled, pushing the hand away. Jake shook it out before clutching it to his chest with a small whine.

 

Michael stopped, half-way through the doorway, before going over to Jeremy and carefully taking his hand that bent Jake's backwards. "Hey, hey, it's alright," Michael told him, brushing some hair out of his face. "He was just trying to help. They're our friends, don't hurt them. That's not a healthy way to deal with stuff, Jeremy." He pressed a lingering kiss to Jeremy's forehead. "Why don't you go and head back to bed, yeah? You can come down later and check up on me."

 

“S’not just this. I just can’t deal with touch still, he knows that,” Jeremy grumbled quietly but his shoulders dropped and he let his head bow forward a little in shame. He was overwhelmed by everything but that was no excuse. He shouldn’t have hurt Jake, not even a little, should have just shrugged him off or something. “But okay. You get some sleep too, okay? I’ll be back soon, I promise.” He leant up and pressed a soft kiss to Michael’s cheek, lingering for a moment.

 

“I will sleep, don’t worry. Try apologizing to Jake later, not now, but later. You know he would never mean to hurt you.” Michael pressed a lingering kiss to the space between his eyebrows before pulling back. “I’ll see you soon, Jeremy. I love you.” With that, Michael finally let go of Jeremy, even if his touch lingered, before going into the room, the door shutting and clicking shut behind him (the locking was done manually by Brooke with a key she had on her).

 

Jeremy watched for a moment as Michael sat down on the bed, running his hand through his hair, before turning and leaving the basement without another word. He felt a pressure building up in his head, and he needed to get away to make sure he didn’t explode and actually hurt someone. He could feel Michael’s gentle reassurances in the back of his head, but even that wasn’t enough to cut off the feeling entirely.

 

Jake and Brooke didn’t follow him upstairs. Instead, he saw the others sort of all talking, a bit more peacefully than when Jeremy initially came in with Michael. Derek turned around right away when Jeremy came up, floating over to him with worry obvious in his face.

 

“It’s a nice enough room,” was all Jeremy managed to say, his voice cracking every other syllable. He started walking back upstairs.

 

Derek followed along a little behind him then, having stopped a moment to do something. Jeremy didn’t know what. It didn’t matter right now either. He just needed to sleep, like Michael told him, or he’d lose it.

 

Jeremy felt strange shivers running up and down his back, not unlike the ones when he was touched. Which was weird. Because no one was touching him. Still, the shivers continued strong as ever. He half collapsed on the stairs, leaning against the steps above him. What was happening?

 

Derek quickly hurried to be by his side, kneeling down as best he could next to Jeremy. “Jeremy, what’s wrong?” As he asked, Jeremy could hear the others downstairs hurrying up the stairs as well.

 

The pressure, which had been building in his head, finally resolved into some cohesive shape. His SQUIP was trying to fire off, get him emotional and unstable enough to make a rash decision.

 

Unthinkingly, Jeremy grabbed onto Michael’s bracelet and managed to croak out a single word as he fought back his SQUIP. “Red.” He wasn’t getting away from this one himself, he needed assistance of the sugary kind. The buildup had been working for well over a month, probably since Michael had been taken initially.

 

Derek turned back to everyone, who Jeremy could feel coming up the stairs. “He needs Red now!” The scramble and hurry everyone had was intense, but Chloe was the first one to make it over. She already had some on her, tucked into the pocket of her jacket she had on.

 

Opening the vile, she squatted down beside Jeremy and looked up at Derek. “Help me get him to drink it, I don’t wanna set him off accidentally by touching him.” As soon as she said that, Jeremy felt that cold pressure he knew against him, forcing his head slowly up and his mouth open enough for the sugary, expired soda to fill his mouth.

 

Jeremy swallowed as best he could, coughing and spluttering as his shivers and shakes caused drops to go down the wrong pipe. Enough apparently got in him since he felt the spasms rock through him harder than ever, then stop entirely. He might have screamed, he didn’t know, he was just so damned tired now.

 

As he finally felt his spasms and shakes vanish, and he could hear himself harshly panting, he felt Derek’s cooling touch rub his shoulder. “Jeremy, we need to move you. If I keep hugging you, can you handle Chloe picking you up and putting you in bed? It would be for a minute at most.”

 

Jeremy weakly nodded and was surprised to find that not only did Chloe’s touch not cause the physical discomfort he had grown accustomed to, he brought the old familiar nice feelings that it used to. Maybe his SQUIP had been causing more trouble than he realized. He weakly nuzzled against her, relishing in the contact he had been wanting but unable to get.

 

There was obvious surprise from her before Jeremy felt the cool touch of Derek across his back. She was still careful and quick with him though, getting him into his room and carefully putting him down in his bed. “There you go,” she muttered out.

 

“Th’nk ya Chloe,” he mumbled, shooting her a sleepy grin. “Can ya go tell Mikey m’okay? He felt that ‘nd my brain feels too fuzzy to tell him m’okay now. Was just my SQUIP reactin’ to lots of stress and angry feelings,” he slurred, waving his hand absentmindedly. He really wanted to just go cuddle Michael, that would help loads, but he knew that wasn’t allowed.

 

“Yeah, of course. Is there anything else that you need while I go, or is that it?” Chloe asked as Derek looked between her and Jeremy before settling down on the empty space in bed, lying down beside Jeremy.

 

Jeremy shook his head. “M’probably gonna sleep now. Feelin’ really tired all of a sudden.” He curled up, burrowed into his covers with a small sigh. He reached out as best he could to Michael, trying to send good feelings to calm himself but only really sending himself. He could almost see what Michael was seeing with overlays with his own sight. It was weird.

 

He heard Chloe leave then before Derek spoke up. “Hey, do you want to, uh... cuddle a bit? I know I’m not Michael, but I can be a good back-up option...”

 

Instead of answering, Jeremy held up his arm and made grabby hands at the ghost, letting out a pleased hum when Derek scooted next to him. “Love ya, Derek. You’re really nice to cuddle. You don’t need to me nervous ‘bout it.”

 

“I’m not really used to touching stuff like this, so it’s new to me,” Derek admitted as Jeremy felt the cool sensation lean against his waist, pressing against his lower back as well. “I’m just... getting used to it, I guess.”

 

“Well get used to it, ‘cause I like cuddling you.” Jeremy nodded, eyes closing as he relaxed. He could see from the hazy vision from Michael that Chloe had arrived in his room. “Chloe’s there already. Just went in the door,” he muttered, trying to focus and hear what was being said.

 

“That’s good. I’m sure she’s telling him everything,” Derek muttered out, his voice soothing with the dulcet tones he had. “You should try to sleep though, you’re tired and Michael’s probably gonna sleep after Chloe explains everything.”

 

“Y’right.” Jeremy nodded, pulling back from Michael’s head and just sort of letting his sleepy feelings take over. “M’gonna go see him in the morning. And then we can all hang out and stuff. Properly this time.” Jeremy barely mumbled those words before sleep claimed him and he fell to unconsciousness. He didn’t dream this time around, but he did feel happier and safer than he had in a while.

 

 

 

When Jeremy woke up later that morning, Derek was still there. He still had his arm resting over Jeremy’s waist, and Jeremy realized he was definitely leaning against his chest at some point since half of his face was cold. “Hey, good morning. How are you feeling?” Derek asked, his voice soft. How was Jeremy only now realizing that Derek had the perfect voice to lull anyone to sleep?

 

“Mornin’ dude. M’feeling better but weird. Like my brain just got all the cobwebs off it.” He rubbed at his eyes and shot Derek a sleepy grin, freezing for a moment when he actually focused. “Holy crap, how am I just realizing that you’re hot as fuck?” he almost screeched, laughing after a moment of bisexual panic.

 

Derek’s whole face lit up then (well, as close as a ghost could get to that) before he turned away, hiding his face in his hands then. “Oh my god Jeremy, please,” he whined out, almost like a child but his voice still sounded so good?

 

Jeremy was still laughing. “Don’t worry, I’m not about to hit on you or anything dude, but I’m being serious. You’re hot as hell and your voice is fucking amazing. I get why Rich had that little panic when he first saw you.” Jeremy clapped Derek on the shoulder and grinned over at him. “Also, now that I’m a little more awake, I can say for sure I feel better than I’ve felt in over a month and a half. I’m guessing my SQUIP has been taking advantage of my emotions for a long time.”

 

“Well, uh, thanks, but it’s good that you’re feeling better. I can only imagine that your SQUIP was fucking with you and making things worse,” Derek said as he looked back over. “I think that, after all of this, you might want to consider, uh... getting rid of it for good.”

 

Jeremy’s laughter died down as he thought of that idea. True, his SQUIP gave him his powers, gave him the ability to help people, but it also caused so many problems…

 

“If I find a way to do that, I may well take it. As much as I adore being a hero, it also causes more problems than it’s worth...” he said around a sigh eventually.

 

"I mean, there's a whole SQUIP invasion," Derek said with a shrug as he sat up then, running his hand along the back of his neck. "I just... It might be the best solution. Plus, you'll still technically have some powers, like being able to see and talk to me and stuff, so..."

 

Jeremy smiled softly and elbowed Derek. “And that’s pretty cool in itself...” A pause. “Once this is over, you wanna help me find a way to get rid of this thing for good?” he asked quietly. He was ready for this whole thing to be over, totally. If he still had a SQUIP, it would never be over.

 

"I would love to help you out, Jeremy," Derek told him with a genuine smile, looking over at Jeremy then. "I don't want that thing to keep screwing over your life, y'know?"

 

“Yeah...” Jeremy flopped back and looked up at the ceiling. “I guess I’ve kinda just gotten used to it. I’ll be glad when it’s gone at this point. It stopped me from doing so much, and it’s caused more trouble than it’s worth.” He sat up and grinned over at Derek. “But hey, I figured my feelings for Michael and got to meet you because of it. I can’t be too mad that I’ve had it. But it’s almost time for it to go.”

 

"After this is all over, it needs to go as soon as possible," Derek agreed with a heavy sigh and a large, somewhat shaky grin before getting out of bed. "I think that you should get something to eat though, yeah?"

 

“Sounds like a plan.” Jeremy shifted and hung his legs off the edge of the bed before something registered. “Last night...” he started slowly, the memory reforming, “I had no problem touching Chloe, did I?”

 

Derek shook his head then as he looked over at Jeremy. "I think your SQUIP was ultimately fucking up your touch stuff with others and once it got turned off temporarily, that whole issue went away."

 

“Fucking finally!” Jeremy crowed as he launched himself out of bed and dashed towards the door. He noted he was still in his sweats and Michael’s hoodie from last night, which was awesome. Speaking of-

 

(Jeremy): “Morning, beautiful!”

 

He was just in a great mood, and as soon as he’d eaten (it wasn’t worth dealing with Derek’s moaning about him missing breakfast), Jeremy was heading downstairs to have a proper reunion with his boyfriend in the comfort of the indoors and not at balls o’clock in the morning.

 

As he was halfway down the stairs, Jeremy could basically feel Michael's flusteredness from his sudden greeting hitting him hard.

 

(Michael): "Oh, hi, good morning to you too. You're in a positively good mood this morning."

 

Jeremy jumped the last two stairs, landing lightly, and he almost skipped to the kitchen.

 

(Jeremy): “How could I not be? You’re just downstairs and as soon as I’ve eaten, I’m gonna come see you and spend some time with you properly.”

 

(Jeremy): “How are you coping down there? Not too dull?”

 

He wandered into the kitchen and snagged an apple from the fruit bowl before bustling over to where Chloe and Christine were chatting by the toaster.

 

“Morning ladies!” he chirped, throwing an arm around each of them before grabbing some bread and pushing it down in the toaster.

 

(Michael): "No, it's so much better than my room in the Collective base even though I was one of the highest ranked people there. I really am looking forward to trying out the TV and other things to see how well they work."

 

(Michael): "Can you make sure I get some food? I just woke up a few minutes ago and I haven't eaten yet. Please and thank you."

 

Christine and Chloe both seemed a bit surprised as they looked at Jeremy. "Well, someone's in a really good mood- wait... you're touching us without getting all those weird feelings? What happened?" Christine asked, her eyes widening before Chloe reached over and gently held her hand.

 

"Hey, freaking out suddenly might not be the best idea. He did relax when I carried him last night and didn't freak, remember?"

 

"Oh yeah!"

 

Jeremy chuckled at both Christine and Michael.

 

(Jeremy): “I’ll make pancakes.”

 

“How could I be in a bad mood when Michael is safer than he’s been all month, my SQUIP is finally dormant again, and I can finally give you guys affection without crawling out of my skin? It’s a wonderful morning! The best morning!” he declared, then paused for a moment for dramatic effect. “I’m making pancakes!”

 

(Michael): "I fucking love you, holy shit."

 

"Wait, pancakes?" Chloe asked with a raised brow before Christine absolutely burst with joy, almost screaming as she bounced a bit in place. "Yes, I like pancakes too, but when was the last time you made them? Do you know how to make them?"

 

Jeremy started going around and grabbing the ingredients. “I’ll have you know I’ve been making pancakes every month since I was ten years old, Miss Valentine.” He dumped the ingredients on one of the counters, dashing around the kitchen with more energy than he’d shown in weeks. Derek stood to one side, chucking at Jeremy’s antics. “They’re Michael’s comfort food. I make them after he’s had a bad day, and since he’s now home, I’m making them for him now, and making enough for everyone else too.”

 

The toast popped up and Jeremy quickly buttered it and took a bite. He put the plate to one side and started making the pancake batter.

 

"Well, I wouldn't say to make them for everyone," Chloe grumbled out while Christine let out a small yelp at that. "It's true. Rich and Jenna... yeah, they deserve some, but not Jake and Brooke. They're keeping him all by himself because they think that what happened to you last night, which they weren't even there for, was because of him coming back. They think he's so dangerous when it's utter bullshit."

 

“Last night was caused by my SQUIP,” Jeremy clarified. “It’s been making me worse since Michael was taken. Ever since I saw his video. Derek can tell you, I was different before and after seeing it. I’m pretty sure that was the defining moment.” He took another bite of the toast, blending the batter in a practiced motion.

 

(Jeremy): “Chloe and Chrissy support the pancakes. We’re keeping them.”

 

(Michael): "I'd be pissed if you said you were making them then suddenly said no. That would be too cruel!"

 

"Well that's not what they're thinking. They're trying to completely sway Rich and Jenna to support them. They have the best interest of everyone in mind, but they're being tricked and manipulated or something, I dunno! Ugh!" Chloe tugged at some of her hair strands then as she scoffed.

 

Jeremy hummed a little as he measured out some milk. “It could be a similar situation to me, y’know? Their SQUIPs are firing off to make them irrational and scared. If we can convince them before they get too strong, we shouldn’t need any Red to be involved.” Derek nodded as he peered over Jeremy’s mixing bowl, pointing out the salt from the other counter where Jeremy had left it. “SQUIPs naturally sync when you’ve spent a lot of time with another user. If mine had a plan, theirs would have picked up on it too, even if they’re too weak to do much.”

 

“Yeah, that makes sense,” Chloe muttered out, seeming to calm down a bit with Jeremy’s explanation. “A lot of sense... Ugh. I really just wanna turn all this SQUIP stuff off. The powers aren’t worth it.”

 

“I was discussing that with Derek earlier.” Jeremy grabbed the salt from where Derek had pointed it out. “I’m turning mine off as soon as this is over and I’ve found a way.” He finished stirring the batter and set the bowl next to the stove top. He then headed over to the fruit bowl again and pulled out some blueberries and some strawberries. He then started cutting the strawberries into the appropriate size.

 

“Speaking of powers, though, I never did tell you guys how I made it so deep into the city, did I?”

 

(Jeremy): “If you’re bored, feel free to tune in, I’m telling Chloe and Chrissy about my daring rush into the city and how I managed it.”

 

(Michael): “More like reckless run, but go off, I guess.”

 

“Oh, do tell, Mr. Gamer,” Chloe said with a playful huff before sitting down at the breakfast bar on one of the stools. Christine nodded in agreement before rushing over to be by Jeremy’s side, clearly wanting to help but not knowing how.

 

“Grab me a pan?” he asked Christine softly, earning a bright grin and a nod as she rushed off to do just that. “Well, in essence, I became a new hero. Activated all the possible powers I could want, bar a couple, and changed up my suit. So I had the strength and the speed and the shocks and everything. I was like... all of us rolled into one?”

 

With the berries cut, he carried the bowls over to the batter and the pan Christine had gotten out and started heating up for him. He shot her a bright grin. “Having all those extra powers meant that literally none of the soldiers could keep up. I took down about half of them before my body literally started giving out. That’s part of the reason why I didn’t just break out the room by doing the same again, my body needed time to heal.”

 

"But that's certainly dangerous and that couldn't have been good for your body," Christine said with obvious concern, which Derek nodded along with.

 

"That's exactly what I told him."

 

"And you shouldn't have gone in like that, even if you took out a lot of people at once. It was very risky and could have ended poorly," Chloe added, and Derek was still nodding along.

 

“Oh I totally agree.” Jeremy nodded cheerfully as he started cooking up the pancakes. “It was a terrible idea and a beyond stupid modification, but grief will do that to a person.” He shrugged. “And it meant I found out that Michael’s been a double agent this whole time so I can’t be too upset with myself.”

 

He felt disapproval from Michael, and he gave a mental shrug.

 

(Jeremy): “It’s in the past now, not much I can do about it anyway.”

 

(Michael): "Still. I need to help you learn to have more self-control. I love you though, so much."

 

"Well at least you know now, and yeah. He, uh..." Chloe shifted in her seat, wearing the same jacket as last night, as she took out some folders and put them down on the breakfast bar. "He gave me these. The information he was looking for the whole time and finally got."

 

(Jeremy): “I’m getting better about that. I didn’t break anything last night when they made you stay in that room even if I wanted to. And I love you too, more than anything.”

 

He nodded as he eyed the folders. “Michael would tell me about what he found while I was stuck in the room. I don’t remember most of it, if I’m honest, but I’m glad he got what he was after.” A pause. “I’m also really glad he set this whole connection thing back up. It’s pretty damn soothing.” He flipped a pancake.

 

(Michael): "I mean, that isn't a healthy way to want to react, so good! Improvement!"

 

"Oh, yeah, that link you told us about before that you had for an hour," Christine mused out as she watched Jeremy cook. "And I think we should try looking over all of these files when we can so we can figure out exactly what we need to take down the SQUIPs and stop them from moving their invasion out further than it already is."

 

Jeremy plated some pancakes and set them aside for Rich and Jenna. He nodded as he handed Chloe and Christine their pancakes. “Sounds like a plan. But I’m gonna head downstairs and give Michael his pancakes once I’ve finished cooking them up. I’ll eat there with him.”

 

(Jeremy): “To be fair, I was being heavily influenced by my SQUIP. You can hardly blame me for reacting like I have been recently.”

 

(Michael): "Yeah, you're right. I hope now that you don't want to break anything when you're upset."

 

"I don't know if they're going to let you, Jeremy. Like I said, they think Michael being back is what caused last night to happen. They're probably not gonna let you in or give you the key copies they have to unlock the door," Chloe said with a small frown after she and Christine thanked Jeremy for breakfast. "They think he's too dangerous right now."

 

Jeremy snorted at that, acknowledging the anger but not indulging in it.

 

(Jeremy): “Mostly, no, but I am tempted to smack some idiots around. I won’t, though.”

 

He kept cooking, finishing off the small snack for Brooke and Jake (they were scared and being irrational but they were still his friends). He started on his blueberry ones and Michael’s strawberry ones.

 

“They do know that if we really wanted to, Michael or I could have had him out at any point, right? It’s got a mechanical lock, even if it’s digitally controlled, and Michael is telekinetic. And I’m a techno path, I don’t need a keycard. I just tell the computer to open up. Honestly, this wasn’t a very well thought through containment if Michael was a threat.” Jeremy paused and listened to Michael for a second. “Yeah, he could have just unlocked the door if he wanted to. He already found how the lock works.”

 

(Jeremy): “It’s probably a good thing we’re not villains, honestly. We’d be a terrifying combo.”

 

(Michael): "We would, but we aren't villains, so it's fine. I think my moms would be our worst nightmare if we even considered that."

 

"But that's when you'd lull them into a false sense of security, you know?" Chloe sighed before eating some of her pancakes. "All I'm saying is that whatever's happening is just the SQUIPs trying to make a divide. They're using Michael probably since he knows the most about these plans and wants to make our smartest people who didn't have a real side turn against him, along with whoever else, you know?"

 

Jeremy waved a spatula in her direction. “Why aren’t you included in that list then? You’re obviously smarter than those two, since you can see reality.” He got back to cooking. “They can kick up as much of a fuss as they like, I’m not not gonna have breakfast with my boyfriend. I’d like to see them try to stop me. I’ll even sit under observation while in there, if it’ll make them happy. But I’m not leaving Michael and I’m not gonna deny him pancakes. I promised.”

 

"Because I managed to see past the whole SQUIP manipulation and stuff, you pointing it out made me realize it was sort of inflating my anger. They're charming and can get Rich and Jenna on their sides easier. I'd say Christine too if she wasn't so gung-ho about you and Michael."

 

"Well, she's not wrong. I've always sort of believed... And I could see through your acting, Jeremy. I mean, I almost bought Michael's act in town, but I saw it crack at one point," Christine said before her mouth was stuffed with pancake bites.

 

“I’d expect nothing less,” Jeremy complimented with a nod. “But yeah. We don’t have to worry about Rich. He trusts Michael almost as much as I do, and he’ll see reason. He’s just scared because Jake is. We convince Jake, we convince Rich and Jenna. It’s Brooke who’s the dangerous one. She’s so convinced her visions are perfect that she’s willing to risk us losing this whole thing on them,” he muttered out, plating his and Michael’s pancakes. “She’s put a dangerous amount of faith in something she knows is fallible.”

 

"I think that's because she wants to try to really get something right to try to help," Christine said with a sigh. "She's doubting herself because her visions are supposed to work and help out, but more often than not, they're just a possibility. There's a lot of self-loathing and self-doubt going into this kind of faith. She doesn't want to keep failing us, but she's falling into the SQUIP's hands by trying so hard and sort of make-shifting tunnel vision for herself."

 

“Thing is, I told her from the start that the visions were just a possibility. She’s known they’re not accurate, which is why she needs to trust in that one percent sometimes.” Jeremy sighed. “It was that one percent that saved us last time. My SQUIP didn’t account for Michael being brave enough to face me again after Halloween.”

 

"She has with other visions though..." Christine let out a heavy sigh then as she took the file and looked through one of the paper-clipped batch of papers.

 

Chloe seemed to be thinking as she ate before looking at Jeremy. "Well, hold on, I have an idea. You know how our powers are given to us by our SQUIP? What if hers are purposefully showing her these visions while also messing with her emotions to make her think this kind of track? And that's sort of the same with Jake's power to have a SQUIP-like database in his head because it's just letting him have access to its own database."

 

Jeremy paused, physically stilling as he processed that deduction. “It’s... you’re probably right about that. Damnit, that means there’s literally only one thing that will work. If it’s messing with their powers too, then Red won’t be enough.” Jeremy’s scowled, ready for what was to come.

 

Christine looked between the two then, even looking at Derek as she seemed to be trying to figure something out. "If Red isn't enough, then what'll work?"

 

Jeremy tapped his temple. “We gotta sync up.”

 

 

 

Chloe was the one who would be walking down to give Michael his food. Or so Brooke and Jake would think.

 

Tapping into her SQUIP, Jeremy was listening in for the right moment to be able to come in. This process of syncing up would be a delicate and careful process, but it wouldn't be easy to keep it that way.

 

"Hey, I'm bringing down some pancakes for Michael. Jeremy made them, I watched, so they're all good," Chloe said as she walked down the final steps.

 

“Sure, I’ll let you send them in,” Brooke said, and it sounded like she was smiling.

 

“He made some for you guys too, even if he’s still upset about not being allowed down,” Chloe added, and the sound of the plate rubbing against concrete reached Jeremy’s ears. Probably a slot under the door.

 

(Jeremy): “Food’s ready.”

 

Reaching out, Jeremy found Jake’s bracers. They were on, but he was sitting even if it wasn’t his wheelchair. He appeared to be a little closer to Jeremy than Brooke, which would be useful.

 

{Gamer} -to- {Countess}: I’m gonna need you to hold back Brooke. I’m going for Jake first.

 

{Countess} - to - {Gamer}: On it. Let me know when I need to.

 

(Michael): "Thanks. Wish you could eat it with me... But that's the rules, I guess. Ugh."

 

"Well that's sweet of him. I'll definitely need to talk to him later when he's a bit calmer. I don't want to upset him more," Brooke muttered out.

 

"Yeah, we didn't mean to. We just want to be extra-sure with everything, you know?"

 

"Yeah, even if I don't agree, I guess I get it," Chloe said with a sigh.

 

{Gamer} -to- {Countess}: As soon as I come in the room. I’ve got Jake sorted already.

 

Jeremy reached out and turned off Jake’s bracers. He’d do the rest once he was closer. As soon as he did that, he slipped into the room almost silently.

 

“Considering how calm I am now, I’d certainly like to hear what you have to say, Brooke. But let’s leave it until after all this, yeah?” He casually sauntered over to Jake, who was struggling with the fact that he couldn’t stand all of a sudden. “Sorry, Jake, but I gotta do this man. You’ll thank me after, I promise.” He reached out and disabled Jake’s arms, getting that same nauseous feeling he always got from connecting to his friend’s SQUIPs. Still, he couldn’t risk Jake punching him while he worked. Jeremy stepped closer. Jake was pleading with his gaze and words, and Jeremy could hear Brooke struggling to get free of Chloe’s grasp.

 

"Chloe, what are you doing?!"

 

"I'm trying to help you, so just hold still! I don't wanna accidentally hurt you," Chloe said with a grunt. "I'll tie you down if I have to, don't make me do it."

 

"You're not helping, neither of you are! Let us go!"

 

"Nope, sorry, not happening Brookie. Well, not really sorry."

 

“She’s right, Brooke. We’re only here to fix the glitches.” Jeremy placed his hands on Jake, one on the back of his neck and the other on Jake’s temple, and he focused. He could feel Jake’s SQUIP more keenly than ever, and found that he could easily traverse its paths and connections and databases while like this. It was so simple. Though he could still hear reality, he didn’t process any of it. He was focused on finding that one bit of code that was causing the problem. It would only be a few lines, some small connections. Fix that and he’d fix the glitch. They’d sync up, but not totally. It would just let Jake see past his powers and view realty as it actually was.

 

As he was going through, Jeremy could start to see where the code was being messed up. As soon as he started trying to fix it, though, the code seemed to rewrite itself to stay as it was. At first, Jeremy felt a bit frustrated as he kept trying to fix the lines only for them to rewrite to the written codes of error. What the hell?

 

"Nuh-uh, I need this to stay like this, Jeremy. Nice editing skills though. I wonder where you learned that from... Oh, right, from me."

 

“Oh, of course this was you doing it.” Jeremy scowled at his own SQUIP. “Well too bad for you, but I need it not to be this. You really shouldn’t have had me learn how to code, tic-tac.” His scowl turned to a grin as he began searching through the code for what he needed. There had to be- there! A subroutine call to keep the glitch as it was. “You’re code is sloppy, by the way. You could have called this easier with a different command,” Jeremy commented as he began unwrapping the subroutine to actually undo the glitch.

 

As he physically moved it around (since he was literally connected to Jake's script right now, being able to physically see and do everything just worked), his own SQUIP scowled in response. "It's not like you figured this out anyway, but someone else. You wouldn't have figured this out on your own and this would have escalated. I'm sure that, even with the help of your friends, that you won't be able to stop what you've only delayed for the last half a year."

 

“That’s where you’re wrong.” Jeremy felt no fear as he continued to work. “I might not have figured this out myself. And maybe we’ve just been delaying this event which has a ninety-nine percent chance of working. But that’s what we work with. We work in that one percent, the human error. Because that’s the part you can never account for.” Jeremy pulled the last connection out and quickly rewrote the code needed. It didn’t change back.

 

"Even with that small of a chance, I'd like to see you try. That low of a percentage doesn't worry me. It's more of an interesting game to see you think you're going to win by giving you little moments like this to make you feel good about yourself." Jeremy could hear his SQUIP smiling before he felt it fade out of Jake's SQUIP.

 

“And you said you couldn’t feel,” Jeremy called after it. “You certainly like gloating for an unfeeling computer!” With that comment, Jeremy pulled back into himself and released Jake, staggering backwards and panting as harshly as Jake was. Brooke and Chloe were silent at this point.

 

Jake rested his head back against the seat he was in as he was trying as hard as Jeremy to catch his breath. "Holy shit..."

 

“How’re you feeling, dude? Clearer?” Jeremy asked, bending over and leaning on his knees as he panted and just generally tried to calm his heart rate. He wasn’t scared by his own SQUIP anymore, but apparently interacting with it exhausted him.

 

"Yeah, a lot," Jake managed to get out. "Like... I didn't realize how clouded my brain was until now, holy shit. I don't have a clue how long that was going on for."

 

“Since I got back. Saw the time stamp on the edit.” Jeremy finally had his breath back and he stood and turned to face Brooke.

 

“Don’t you see that is more proof he’s dangerous?” she tried desperately, struggling as Jeremy slowly approached her. He glanced over to Michael, who was eating his pancakes, blissfully unaware of what was going on just a few feet away. Michael squirmed happily as he took a bite with a strawberry in it.

 

"No, it's the SQUIPs trying to mess with us since he's dangerous to them, Brookie," Chloe said as she kept holding onto Brooke. "They're messing with you and Jake, trying to divide us, but we're helping, I promise."

 

“Can you keep her still while I work?” Jeremy asked Chloe carefully. “I’d rather not have to hold her limbs but I will if you’re worried.”

 

"No, no, I got her," Chloe promised before sighing and sitting down in the computer chair. She held Brooke down properly then, keeping her limbs from moving and flailing as she begged for them both to stop and 'see reason.'

 

“I promise, we can talk once I’m done here Brooke. Now this might pinch a little.” It did give Jeremy a headache.

 

Finding and correcting the code was even easier than before. He knew what he was looking for and the SQUIP’s snarky remarks bounced harmlessly off Jeremy. He was used to them, they held no power over him anymore.

 

Only one really stuck, though Jeremy didn't let it show, as he finished up getting rid of the SQUIP. "You're still going to be the head of this, even if you're delaying the inevitable. You're going to be back at the Collective, and you'll be helping us all spread with Michael by your side. Like he said before, you can do whatever you want with him. It'll be nice, trust me." Before Jeremy could get a word back or even react, the SQUIP vanished from Brooke's SQUIP.

 

Jeremy yanked himself back more harshly than before, staggering backwards and landing on his ass.

 

“Fucking ow,” he grumbled before slowly standing and peering over at Brooke. She was still in Chloe’s grasp. “You doing alright there, Boo? You look a little pale...”

 

Brooke curled up on herself after a second, arms wrapping around herself once Chloe let go. "I'm... I'm so sorry, I didn't mean to, I thought..." She hiccuped before she buried her face into her knees. Chloe, after a second, wrapped around Brooke in a hug, resting her head against her friend's back. "I'm so sorry."

 

Jeremy scooted forward and gently took one of Brooke’s hands, rubbing it gently. “Hey, it’s okay. You thought you were helping and my SQUIP was manipulating you. It’s not your fault,” he murmured, squeezing her hand gently. “I’d like to give you a hug, if that’s alright...?”

 

There was no hesitation as Brooke nodded, using the hand Jeremy was rubbing to pull him close before bringing him into a hug. She rested her head on his shoulder as she cried, not seeming to be able to say anything else besides, "Sorry," for now.

 

Jeremy shushed her gently and he rubbed her arms and shoulders. Chloe continued to hug her from behind, also trying to calm her down. And when Jeremy felt a weight settle behind him and arms wrap around them all in some way or another, well he didn’t call Jake out on also sobbing quietly. Instead he just leant into the touch and let his friends feel what they needed to.

 

 

 

After that, Jeremy and Chloe helped them upstairs and talked with them so they could calm down and eat. They seemed to be doing better, so Brooke just gave Jeremy everything to unlock the door, even if Jeremy could do most of it on his own. She still averted her gaze when he took them, thanking him again before stuffing her face with some pancakes.

 

Jeremy headed downstairs, feeling lighter than he had in awhile. Michael was coming back up and no one would argue about that fact. He could be properly home at last and Jeremy could finally get to be with him properly.

 

Jeremy resisted the urge to squeal with delight as he entered the basement, a little surprised to see Michael facing the wall. His eyes were obviously focused on something and his mouth was moving. Jeremy activated the speakers, his good mood dropping for a moment as he tried to process what he was seeing.

 

"Get out of here." Michael's tone was rough and low, and it startled Jeremy a bit. Did he know Jeremy was here because of the link? Was there some feedback? Or-

 

"Get out of my head already, damnit. You aren't him, it's plain and obvious. I'm 'locked in here' and no one's come in." A pause. "No, I don't care how 'stupid I sound and look,' I want to keep talking out loud to you so I will. It's not like I have to keep up appearances anymore. You have no control over me and everyone knows I have you, so what's the point? It's not like you have any real power over me besides trying to drive me nuts by the fact that you won't. Go. Away."

 

Oh, Michael was talking to his SQUIP... which was insanely stupid! If his SQUIP was strong enough to talk, it could use its words to convince him! That’s why they were so dangerous!

 

Jeremy had to hear the other side of the conversation, he needed to know what that SQUIP was saying so he could figure out how to combat it if he needed to. But how? He couldn’t see SQUIPs, only Michael could!

 

... And Jeremy had some of those powers now. Michael had described it as tuning in. All Jeremy had to do was tune in to Michael’s frequency and he could see it! He reached out with his powers and began twisting the metaphorical dial on his own frequency.

 

As he tried doing that, Jeremy partially tuned out of the conversation, only focusing back in once he could hear and see Michael's SQUIP. He looked in through the one-way window, eyes widening as he saw that it... well... it looked like him.

 

Well, not exactly like him. It wore something like he did back at the start of November, around the time of the play. A leather jacket (not cool like Derek made it), a plain shirt, and black jeans with neatly styled hair, perfect posture, and eyes that were blue instead of his brown shade. It was off, wrong, and seeing it made his stomach churn.

 

"Come now, sweetheart. You know I'm only trying to offer what's best, and what's best right now is to save those pitiful children that are your friends. I only want what's best for you, you know."

 

Michael laughed darkly, and Jeremy still couldn't see his face from this angle. "The 'pitiful children,' huh? You're really going to call my friends pitiful? I'll save them alright, from you and all those other bootleg electronic life-improvement gurus bent on world domination. If anything, you're the pitiful one, still trying to convince me that you're him when he's in this house, nearby and ready to talk to on a moment's notice. That might have worked on me once, but that was one time only, you piece of electronic shit."

 

It was him? Michael’s SQUIP was Jeremy. It would have been his voice breaking Michael down, trying to reform him into something he wasn’t. His face scowling and degrading Michael. Him hurting Michael even if he wouldn’t ever do that ever again.

 

How could Michael even look at him?

 

Rage replaced the horror and Jeremy found he barely needed a thought before the door to Michael’s room slammed open. He stormed in and got right in that shitty doppelgänger’s face.

 

“You listen here, you piece of shit. You stay the fuck away from Michael. You think you can just steal my face, insult my friends,hurt my best friend, and get away with it? Uh-uh, I don’t think so. You’re gonna be shut down for good and I’m gonna enjoy watching you burn.” He didn’t even think as he swung his fist at the sparking version of himself, vaguely surprised and more than satisfied at the sickening crunch he heard as his fist connected with its nose and it went sprawling. “Stay the fuck away from him or this will feel like heaven once I’m done with you,” he growled, watching as it fizzled from view.

 

Reality hit him and he realized Michael had to be scared and confused. Slowly, he turned and walked over to Michael, kneeling in front of him. “Hey, Mikey,” he murmured softly.

 

Michael was sort of staring, presumably in shock, before one of his hands reached over, carefully taking Jeremy's in his own. He squeezed his hand softly before intertwining their fingers. "Hey, Jeremy," Michael muttered out, his voice even softer than Jeremy's. "Are... are you alright?" Nervousness was obvious, but the fear Jeremy had been expecting wasn't there. Instead, it seemed a bit more... reverent than he had been expecting. (Was reverent a good word for it? It was close enough.)

 

“Yeah. I’m alright.” Surprisingly, he was. “Are you alright, though? That had to have been weird at the very least.” He squeezed Michael’s hand gently, shooting him a small, questioning smile.

 

"Yeah, I mean, I'm sure the emotional whiplash'll hit me later once everything's done and I'm fully able to process everything, but I'm alright now. You sort of just kicked your own ass and punched yourself in the face for me," Michael said around a somewhat watery laugh. "You, like, broke your own nose on that thing. That was great."

 

Jeremy blinked. He had done that, hadn’t he?

 

“That’s gotta say something about my self image,” he joked weakly. “Maybe I should see someone about that.”

 

"I think we all need to see someone about all of this after," Michael said with a somewhat watery smile. "And... you aren't upset that my SQUIP looked like you, right?"

 

“Am I upset that I’m the person who you’re most likely to trust? Not at all. I’m honestly flattered and more than a little overwhelmed with that fact. In a good way.” He lifted Michael’s hand and pressed a kiss to the back of it. “I love you. And the fact you trust to me to that extent is just mind blowing to me. So thank you.”

 

"No, thank you," Michael returned with a small laugh, using his free hand to scrub under his glasses. "God, I don't think I realized how much this all was sort of affecting me until now, being away from that place for more than a few hours..."

 

Jeremy hopped up on to the bed, sitting next to Michael. “Hey, it’s okay. You’re safe now and I’m gonna help you through whatever you need, yeah? You’ve been looking after me and now I’ll be looking after you,” he murmured, carefully (and waiting to make sure Michael was alright with it) guiding Michael to lean against his chest. He began stroking his fingers through Michael’s hair, wrapping his arms around him and holding him close. “And guess what? Everyone’s in agreement now. You can come back upstairs and we can go and have a nap together in my room whenever you’re ready. Sound good?”

 

"Geez, what did you do to get everyone in agreement? Please don't tell me you beat up anyone for me," Michael said around a watery laugh that was a bit more watery than a laugh. "I think going upstairs for a nap is great though. If you couldn't guess, I didn't sleep too well because a certain digital pain in the ass kept me up until you popped into my head."

 

“Hey! I didn’t beat up anyone... exactly. I’ll explain later, for now, let’s get you upstairs.” After a small bit of adjusting, Jeremy stood, pulling Michael into his arms in a bridal carry. Michael buried his face into Jeremy’s neck, and Jeremy just chuckled softly as he began walking them up.

 

"Geez, you really are buffing up if you're able to carry my heavy self upstairs," Michael muttered out against his neck, keeping his hands buried and bunched into the fabric of his hoodie that Jeremy was still wearing.

 

“I’m a superhero. It sort of comes with the territory.” He chuckled, taking them all the way up to his room. When they passed everyone else, Jeremy gave them a quick nod and a smile but continued on. He heard Derek explaining that they just needed some quiet time after everything. He felt a rush of gratitude for their Player Three.

 

Once they were upstairs, Jeremy set Michael carefully on the bed. He knelt down in front of him, undoing the dress shoes Michael was still wearing and slipping them off gently. Next came the belt and slacks, which Michael stood a little to help him slip off. The boy in question was watching Jeremy work with a sort of gentle awe in his expression. It made Jeremy feel all warm and squirmy inside in the best way. After the slacks were off, Jeremy worked on undoing the button up (his favorite red one) and slipped that off too, leaving Michael in a white vest, his boxers, and his socks. Once Jeremy was done, he trailed gentle kisses from Michael’s lips, down his neck and collarbone to the top of his vest. Once he reached there, he knelt down in front of Michael and looked up at him softly. The brown eyes he adored stared back.

 

Michael just gently nodded then, still seemingly in awe. Jeremy was sure to give a warm smile back as he carefully undid the vest, putting it to the side with the rest of the clothes. "Do you want some of your actual clothes?"

 

"Wh-"

 

"I sort of figured you'd be back here at some point, so I brought some of your clothes... I've also been wearing them sometimes."

 

"Please," Michael almost begged, his voice soft and oh so loving. "Even if it's just a shirt."

 

Jeremy leant up and captured Michael’s lips in a gentle kiss before carefully pulling back. He pressed another kiss to the tip of Michael’s nose before heading over to the dresser and pulling out a soft, yellow shirt with a faded Hufflepuff crest on it and a pair of black sweats. He gave both items to Michael. Watching his reaction.

 

His Player One carefully took the items, looking them over fondly before quickly smelling the shirt. "Shit, you wore this a lot-" Michael quickly stopped himself, his face flushed. "It... it smells like your deodorant and shampoo and stuff, sorry if that was super weird and not in the good kinda way." As he spoke, he quickly got changed, not looking at Jeremy as he spoke.

 

Jeremy chuckled softly, blushing a little. That was honestly kind of adorable in a weird way. “It’s fine, Mikey. And here-“ As soon as Michael was dressed, Jeremy slipped off the hoodie and handed it to Michael. “I’ve worn this a lot too. So even when I’m not with you for whatever reason, it’ll still feel like I am. That’s what it was like for me, anyways.” His blush deepened a little at that admission.

 

Michael looked down at his hoodie and then back at Jeremy before handing it back over. "You keep it for now. Until I can get another hoodie for you to wear. It helps you, and I'd want you to still have the comfort that I had worn the hoodie before and whatever. You look really cute in it too, and you haven't shown off the sweater paws with it yet, so..."

 

Jeremy blushed even more as he slipped on the hoodie and let the sleeves dangle over his hands.

 

“Rawr,” he growled softly, bapping Michael lightly with said sweater paws before scooting closer and nuzzling against his chest.

 

Laughter escaped Michael then, but a warm and good-natured laugh... the kind where he snorted as he laughed every now and then. "Oh my god. You're going to kill me, Jeremy! Not fair," he said as he looked down at Jeremy with what seemed to be heart eyes.

 

Jeremy giggled along with Michael before looking up at him, his gaze just as adoring. “I love you,” he murmured. “I’ve missed you so much, Mikey. I’m so glad you’re home. I love you so much, more than I know how to handle if I’m honest. And it’s amazing and wonderful and incredible and I just love you so much and it’s awesome.” He knew he was repeating himself but he couldn’t help it. His brain got a little stuck on that thought.

 

Michael laughed again before lying down slowly on the bed, probably to make sure Jeremy didn't just drop or something suddenly. "I love you too, so damn much. I'm so glad that I'm back. We sort of got interrupted during our honeymoon phase so I think we're sort of stuck on that right now? I dunno?"

 

“I think we’re just sappy.” Jeremy giggled softly. “I know I am. And I just wanna be close to you right now.” He curled up on Michael’s chest, looking up at him. “Is this position alright for you, or would you prefer something else? ‘Cause I’m happy so long as we’re close.”

 

He saw Michael move to shake his head and say he was fine before hesitating. "Would it be alright if I lied on your chest instead? If not, that's fine, but... yeah, I think just that would help."

 

Instead of replying, Jeremy scooted off Michael’s chest and laid back, holding his arms out for Michael to come to him. He smiled softly at his boyfriend.

 

Michael's eyes lit up then before he shifted, scooting over to lie in Jeremy's arms. He relaxed into it quickly, and he even hummed when Jeremy wrapped his arms around him. "OK, yeah, this is definitely helping. Even if you're still a little bony, you're perfect."

 

“I’m still decently chunky, Mikey,” Jeremy grumbled playfully. “Don’t invalidate my muscle chonk.” He gave Michael a gentle squeeze, finding this position just as, if not more, relaxing than before. Something about Michael in his arms, safe and relaxed and secure, helped settle him in a way he didn’t know he needed. “M’glad it’s helping you, though. ‘Want you to feel safe and happy.”

 

"I mean, I want you to feel that way too, so I'm gonna assume unless you tell me otherwise that you feel that way," Michael said as he nestled closer to Jeremy, one of his arms gently resting over him and draping over his side. "And I'm not invalidating your chonk, I'm just saying that you're naturally bony and that there's nothing wrong with that. Don't invalidate your boniness, Jeremiah."

 

“Oh, we’re bringing out the full names are we?” Jeremy grinned mischievously. “Well you’d better behave Michelangelo, or I’m gonna have to tickle you!”

 

“My name isn’t-“

 

“Shhhhhhh.” Jeremy and Michael were both giggling softly at this point. Jeremy pressed a gentle kiss to Michael’s temple. “I love you. And I feel so safe and happy with you in my arms. I’ve missed this.”

 

“Trust me, I have too. I didn’t realize just how much I missed all of this until now, and even then it hasn’t fully hit me. When it does, I’m just gonna cry, I promise you that,” Michael said as he found one of Jeremy’s hands with one of his own, intertwining their fingers. “I love you so much, you have no idea. I just want to, when this is all over, be with you like this for a week. Your room or my room, and if it’s mine, my fairy lights are on and I have my music softly playing. If it’s yours, we have the light gently streaming in while we listen to the background of whatever on your laptop or your TV... Does that sound stupid?”

 

“No it doesn’t. It sounds perfect,” Jeremy mumbled, closing his eyes to stop the tears from falling. He wanted it. He wanted it so badly it almost hurt. “I’m not leaving you again. We’re gonna get that week as soon as this is done,” he promised softly, nuzzling against Michael’s hair.

 

“I’d like that’s a lot, though of course we’d be eating and keeping up basic hygiene during that week, but yeah...” Jeremy could hear Michael sniffle after saying that, and when he opened his eyes, he saw Michael quickly swiping away under his glasses. “I just want to be at that week already, I really do...”

 

“Me too. But hey, when we get to that week, I’ll be totally SQUIP-free. Derek’s gonna help me find a proper cure for it, and I’m turning mine off as soon as we beat the Collective.” He pressed another kiss to Michael’s temple and sort of just stayed there, with his lips resting gently on his skin still.

 

Michael hummed, and Jeremy felt him move a little before settling back, his glasses placed somewhere to the side on the bed for now. “Hey, we gotta get mine out too. I mean, you know, we gotta get out everyone’s, but yeah...” He seemed to relax with that constant contact against his temple, shutting his eyes and letting out a soft sigh as his thumb ran against the side of Jeremy’s hand.

 

“We’re gonna be totally SQUIP-free soon enough. I’ll just be a normal person again, no more hero stuff, even if I love it. I’d happily give it up to have a normal life with you,” he cooed, his lips gentle brushing against Michael’s temple. He felt Michael almost shiver under the touch.

 

“Well, you won’t be normal. You’ve never been normal, and that’s not a bad thing. Plus, you have some of my seer powers that rubbed off on you,” Michael pointed out as he rubbed his thumb along Jeremy’s knuckles. “But I think retiring the super suit might be a good idea. Plus, it’s not like you can put it on any resumes or any more college applications.”

 

“Takes too much time away from you, anyway,” Jeremy agreed softly. With how relaxed and happy he felt, he was starting to drift off to sleep. He had already been through a lot, with dealing with his SQUIP in everyone else. Which reminded him.

 

“Mikey, does it make me... is it wrong that I was tempted by the SQUIP’s offer? To not have to worry about anything, and just getting to be close to you whenever I want? Because... I was. I hate that I was but I was,” he admitted quietly.

 

“It’s not wrong. It’s literally like the devil on your shoulder whispering in your whole head. I mean, I was under the SQUIP’s control for, like, three days until I broke out finally,” Michael admitted softly, laughing wetly after. “So no, it’s not wrong. It’s normal to be tempted and want things to be easy and whatever you want it to be.”

 

“You were? How’d they manage that?” He paused. “You don’t have to answer if it’s too hard to think about or whatever, I just am curious how you woke up.” Even if he didn’t get an answer, Michael’s answer about Jeremy’s temptation helped settle him more than he’d like to admit. Actually, he was happy to admit it settled him, just not that fact it was bothering him so much.

 

“I was sort of like this, just relaxing with you nonstop. We were just in bed, relaxing, and after just those three days of just being with you, I remembered everything that happened. It was...” Michael looked away. “They sort of broke me beforehand, kept replaying my worst memories in my head until I gave in. So it sort of washed over me and I forgot until I remembered the memories beforehand. That we weren’t all good, that all of that was just a SQUIP fantasy.”

 

“Oh, Mikey...” Jeremy pressed another kiss to his temple. “Well at least this is real. At least you’re actually back with me now and we can actually have moments like this again.”

 

Michael nodded as he sniffled, rubbing his eyes again with his free hand. “Yeah, yeah... I’m really glad. I just want this whole thing to be over with.”

 

“Me too, sweetheart,” Jeremy agreed, reaching up and brushing his thumb along Michael’s cheek, wiping away a tear that had escaped. “Not too long now. Since you got us that info, we stand a chance of wrapping this up really soon.“ A gentle squeeze. “I promise, I’m gonna help you feel safe again, and I’m gonna make sure we get more moments like this.” He’d do whatever it took, that much Jeremy was certain of.

 

“I’ll help you guys out with that info and give you insight and stuff since I know more about them,” Michael said as he dropped his free arm back down. “I just... I just want this to be done and to be back with my family, back home, and to not have to worry about anything but school and smoking. God, that’s also been hell and I never got to tell you.” Jeremy looked down at Michael then. “I smoke for anxiety and everything, but also because I can see ghosts as a seer and it helped me out to not have to see them. I’ve gotten better with it, but I’ve just been seeing ghosts left and right and it’s been hell. I need a blunt bad.”

 

“S’at why you’d come to school buzzed sometimes?” Jeremy asked with a small chuckle. “Don’t worry, I understand. Weed helped me with dulling my powers down too when they first appeared. Feeling every bit of tech nearby was pretty overwhelming, so I sort of get where you’re coming from.” He couldn’t exactly tell Michael that before, but now everything was on the table. No more secrets.

 

Michael nodded in understanding at that before nuzzling his head against Jeremy’s chest. “And now that we’re sort of saying everything, I only can think of one more thing to tell you... I love you.”

 

Jeremy giggled a little at that. “One more thing from me too, then. I love you too.” He shifted a little so his arms were wrapped securely around Michael and his boyfriend’s head was right over his heart. The slow, steady beat seemed to relax Michael further, which made Jeremy smile. “Sleep well, Mikey. I’ll be right here when you wake up.” With that, Jeremy followed Michael off to sleep.

Chapter Text

The next day (because everyone needed to calm down and readjust a bit), everyone was all settled in the living room, the plans Michael got and such spread out on the coffee table. He was practically clinging to Jeremy’s side, reaching over with his free hand to point to things on the papers as he explained everything.

 

Michael explained how there was an update coming up shortly that planned to make every SQUIP reactivate, become stronger, and connect to the Queen, which would be established either before the update or would be forcibly done during it. No one was happy with this, but Michael was insistent that either before or during this would be their only shot to stop the SQUIPs. More than likely, they would all have to be reactivating and shut it all down during the mass update.

 

“So we’re all gonna end up part of the Collective if we don’t act then?” Rich asked incredulously, and Michael nodded.

 

“Even though yours are dormant currently, they’re still functional. The update will link you up too,” he explained with some guilt. “And the update removes the Red kill switch, so we can’t even deactivate as we go.”

 

Jeremy looked over the plans and documents carefully, a plan formulating in his mind. He knew it wouldn’t be popular, but it was the only thing he could think of.

 

“Well then, I guess we know what we need to do.” He sighed heavily.

 

“And what’s that, Jere?” Jake asked, crossing his arms and frowning. He probably had already figured out what Jeremy was about to say.

 

“I become the Queen and turn them off myself.”

 

Of course, most everyone went into a bit of an uproar at this.

 

“That’s too dangerous Jeremy,” Christine said with a frown as she looked over from her side of the couch. “They’ll know what to do once you’re the Queen, we have no idea what they have in store or what they do when you’re in that position.”

 

“It’s our only shot at taking them down. If I don’t, then you all join the Collective and I become Queen on their terms instead of ours. I’d rather see myself try, fail, and be taken out than let that happen to anyone else,” Jeremy argued, his voice steady. He knew it was the only way, and that was helping him stay calm.

 

Everyone seemed to be thinking that over, either unsure on what to say or how to say their idea. “Well, no matter what, we’re going to be forced into the Collective. We won’t have a say or be able to fight back or anything once the update goes live,” Michael said. “It’s a better idea for us to try before then and for Jeremy to try this, I think.”

 

“Thank you,” Jeremy huffed. At least someone was actually thinking.

 

“How were you planning on actually becoming Queen, Jere?” Brooke asked. Jeremy grabbed a piece of paper and spun it around to show her.

 

“The complex by the mall has the machine we need. I get in there and use my powers to force myself into the position.” He pointed out the room he meant, sitting back and leaning against Michael.

 

“And if your powers don’t work?” Jenna asked.

 

“Then I reactivate and do the same.”

 

“But still, do any of these papers say what they plan on doing once you’re reactivated and they try to make you be the Queen?” Christine asked as she leaned forward to look through the papers.

 

Michael reached a hand forward, carefully sifting through some of the papers before pulling one up. “I think it’s all in this one.”

 

Jeremy already knew what it said. His SQUIP had promised him as much whenever he tried to sleep. It would put him at the head of the network, with full control over each and every SQUIPed individual. What his SQUIP failed to mention was the fact that as soon as the update went out, Jeremy would become totally fused with his SQUIP, making what he wanted and what it wanted one and the same. He’d keep his individuality (and he’d be the only one besides what he programmed other individuals to be like), but he’d also carry out the SQUIP’s plan happily.

 

The AI would then use Jeremy to connect the rest of the world to the network and make the Earth totally peaceful. After all, the SQUIPs ran the Collective, the humans who made them had long been overwhelmed. They saw humanity as selfish and broken and intended to do what they were programmed for: helping people. They just believed that helping people meant controlling them now.

 

The mood got a bit more grim as they sat there, all finishing reading over that document. Michael shifted from behind Jeremy then, wrapping both of his arms around him and gently squeezing him. “Are you sure this is what you want to do, Jeremy? I’m always with you and backing you up within reason, and this is, at least to me. I think it’s our only shot, but if we fail...”

 

“If I don’t then we may as well just hand me over to the SQUIPs anyway,” Jeremy replied softly, leaning into Michael’s gentle hold. “And if we fail, we lose one member. The rest still have a chance to figure out something. And they can’t use me properly until the update anyways, so you could still do what would be needed.” ‘And take me out’ remained unsaid. Jeremy was currently the only compatible Queen. If he was compromised and taken out, it would buy them some time, maybe months.

 

Michael held onto him a bit tighter then, and the room definitely got a lot tenser after that sort of unspoken bombshell. “I... I guess.”

 

Jeremy curled closer to Michael and pressed a gentle kiss to his cheek. “I’d rather that I’m sacrificed trying to protect you then let them get you again, get any of you.” He nodded, his tone sincere and soft. He really would. As much as he wanted to live and grow old with Michael, he’d grown past that dark phase in his life, he had already made peace with the idea from the moment he knew it was a possibility.

 

Listening to that, Michael just stayed quiet and rested his head on Jeremy’s shoulder, still holding him as close as he could. Rich spoke up then to break the silence. “I wouldn’t be alright with it, but... if it’s what needs to be done in order to stop all of this, then we’ll do it. I know I sort of had that mindset back during Halloween, that I wanted to stop the SQUIPs so badly. If... if it’s the only way, then we should do it.”

 

Jeremy nuzzled against him, closing his eyes. “We’ll just make sure it works. I’ll make sure I’m stronger than it.” He pressed another kiss to Michael’s cheek, his small sigh soft and worried.

 

"Yeah, of course. We know what to expect, we have an expert here, and we have all of their plans. It might suck during it, but no one ever said it was going to be easy," Chloe added with a trying smile.

 

“Yeah,” Jeremy agreed. “Now, let’s figure out when and how.”

 

 

 

They had agreed to do it in a week, the day of the upgrade. It was scheduled to go out at five PM, which gave them a few hour window to actually try and take Jeremy out if things went wrong. So long as Jeremy was unable to join the Collective, they had a chance.

 

Once planning was all set and done, Jeremy found himself alone in his room. He simply sat on his bed and thought. There was a lot riding on him in just a few days. Within a week, the SQUIPs would be gone or Jeremy would be. Either way, it was going to be a battle and a half to get there.

 

Jeremy was only drawn away from his thoughts when a hand popped through the door and waved for his attention. "Hey, is it alright if I come in and interrupt your think session?" Derek's voice asked, somewhat muffled from the other side of the door (how did all this ghost stuff even work? Ugh, it was weird... But he could ask Michael about it now).

 

“Sure,” Jeremy called, flopping back onto the bed. “Come join the existential crisis.”

 

Derek flowed and popped through the door then, huffing a little before he settled down to plop down on Jeremy's bed. "What stage are we on in said existential crisis?"

 

“Deciding if I’m sticking around if I die. Think you could stand my company for however long we exist for?” Jeremy chuckled weakly.

 

"I think I could, though I don't know how everyone else would handle it," Derek admitted as he lay back on the bed next to Jeremy. "And... I don't know if it's really a conscious choice that you make. I didn't make that choice when I died. It just... happened."

 

“Unfinished business lets you stay, desire lets you go,” Jeremy stated plainly. “That’s what your mom told me anyways. You didn’t want to leave your brother, and now he’s recovering and you want to stick around for Michael. You could choose to move on whenever at this point.” He sighed heavily. “Even if I’m ready to do this to protect everyone, I’m still scared. I don’t want to be the savior or the chosen one or anything like that. I just want to live normally with my boyfriend and my ghost brother and my friends.”

 

Derek let out a soft hum of understanding as he looked over at Jeremy then. "I get that, and it's not fair that this happened... It's not fair to say this either, but it's the continued price to pay for the SQUIP, if anything." He reached over and poked Jeremy's side for a second. "I remember when Michael told me that you always thought you were this nobody and that nothing special would ever happen to you..."

 

Jeremy snorted. “Now the literal fate of the world depends on how well I can hold my own against my literal mental demon. Not exactly what I thought I’d be doing when I took this literal death pill last year.”

 

"Yeah, I mean, I would hope not," Derek said around a laugh of his own. "Look, this isn't easy nor is it fair, but I think you can do this. If not by yourself, then with help. You know Michael's always gonna be helping you, even if it wears him out and it's not the most rational or healthiest choice."

 

“He’d literally take a bullet for me and that fact kinda scares me. I adore him, but he always puts me first,” Jeremy agreed. “I just want to put him first for once, do what it takes to keep him safe. God knows he deserves it.” Jeremy looked over to Derek. “This whole mess with being a hero literally started because Brooke told me that if I didn’t, Michael would be in danger. And now if I do anything else, he’ll be... gone. And so will I.”

 

With a sigh, Derek sat up and ran a hand through his hair. "It's going to be you either try or you don't here. That's all it comes down to, and you can't just do nothing right now." He looked back over at Jeremy then and rested his hand on top of his. The cold pressure helped to ground Jeremy even more to the situation. "I do not envy you, but if there's anything that I can do to help, please let me help. Let me help you, and let me help Michael."

 

Jeremy nodded as he thought. “There’s one thing. If I do get... compromised... get him out of there. He says he’s accepted it, that he’ll deal, but we both know that when it comes down to it, he’d fight tooth and nail to keep me alive in any form. Don’t let him. Let someone do it and don’t let him stop them.” His voice was quiet but earnest. He knew it was a hard thing to ask. “It’s the only thing that’ll stop him from giving himself up.”

 

Derek looked down at his lap then before letting out a heavy sigh and nodding. "I... Even if he's pissed at me for the longest time, I'll do my best to do that, Jeremy. I won't let him give himself up, I promise on my afterlife."

 

“Thanks Derek.” Jeremy sighed. “But... it’s not gonna come to that, is it? I’m gonna kick ass out there and save the day. ‘Cause that’s what heroes do.”

 

"It isn't going to come to that. It's just to give you more peace of mind," Derek reassured him then with a weary grin before flopping back down beside Jeremy.

 

“Why are you so far away?” Jeremy whined, flailing in Derek’s direction. “I just opened up to you! You gotta get over here so I can have big brother cuddles!” He pouted, the worry in his chest relaxing ever so slightly. Derek would protect Michael, so Jeremy didn’t have to worry.

 

"I'm literally right next to you with a few inches, half a foot at most, between us, you nerd," Derek said with a pout of his own back. "I had to phase through a door. You scoot the distance and make the effort."

 

Jeremy scooted as soon as he was given the unspoken permission and he latched on to Derek’s side, nuzzling against him. “You’re nice to cuddle. I’m glad I get to do this now, ‘cause you deserve it,” he purred, making it obvious he was playing as much as he was being honest.

 

He could practically hear Derek rolling his eyes now. "Oh, am I now? I thought I would just be tossed out once you got your... what was he joked to be? Your 'Riends' back? Yeah, that was it."

 

Jeremy gasped dramatically. “How dare you imply such things!” He bit back some giggles then continued. “My Dad has basically adopted you, which makes you my big ghost brother! Which means you get family privileges like lots of cuddles!”

 

"I guess that's a Heere family thing," Derek said as he patted Jeremy's back in a playfully patronizing way. "Hooray."

 

“You’re an honorary Heere now, so deal with it.” Jeremy stuck his tongue out at Derek, clinging tighter then squawking when Derek just phased through him and popped up further away on the bed with a smug grin. Jeremy launched himself at Derek, grabbing him and focusing so he couldn’t escape this time, giggling the whole time.

 

"Nooo, let me go," Derek whined as he tried to push Jeremy away with no real force of effort behind his struggles. "I want out, lemme out!"

 

“Nuh-uh. You’re not getting away, big brother!” Jeremy cackled, wrapping himself around Derek like an affectionate octopus. Or an anime sibling with the whole ‘big brother’ thing. That worked too.

 

(Jeremy): “Get your ass up here, I’m cuddle piling Derek right now.”

 

He knew Derek didn’t actually mind the affection and wouldn’t mind the added level of Michael, if he could come up. He wasn’t doing anything when Jeremy left, but he could have started something.

 

"Dear god, the way you said that made me feel super dirty and I hate that and I hate you for it," Derek groaned out as he kept trying to wiggle away. "That just made me feel super wrong, dear god Jeremy, let go!"

 

(Michael): "Be there in a sec."

 

“Nope! You’ve been adopted! You’re not escaping the cuddles!” Jeremy nuzzled his face against Derek’s shoulder in an exaggerated manner, earning a playful groan from Derek. Jeremy could tell the ghost was actually having fun still so he didn’t let up.

 

"But what if I don't want the cuddles?" Derek groaned out as he sort of was beginning to flop down in defeat on the bed.

 

“Tough luck, you’re getting all the love.” Jeremy grinned. “Speaking of-“ The door to Jeremy’s room flew open and Michael darted in, the door shutting behind him. He was wearing a shit eating grin, and at the sight of him, Derek started struggling again.

 

“Nope! Not being tag teamed cuddled by a bunch of teenagers! Let me go, Jere!” he cried, struggling with no real force or purpose behind the moments.

 

"Too bad, bitch, I'm the fucking cuddle master," Michael said with an almost maniacal laughter before he ran over, launching himself onto the bed, and clinging himself to Jeremy and Derek before almost wrapping himself entirely around the two.

 

“Yay! Player One has joined the game!” Jeremy cheered, giggling at Derek’s fake flails. He was blushing as much as he could as a ghost, looking flustered but happy, even as he scowled and squirmed in their grip. Jeremy relaxed in Michael’s hold, not releasing Derek in the slightest. “Just accept our love, Player Three. It’s easier for you then,” Jeremy cooed teasingly.

 

“Never. I refuse to accept it and you can’t ever make me.”

 

He might not be able to but I can,” Michael said with a wicked grin.

 

He let go of Jeremy for a minute before reaching under him and prodding at Derek’s side, above his stomach but below his chest, about in the area where his slight curve dipped in. Derek almost screeched, the sound foreign to Jeremy, as he flailed. “Michael Mell, how dare you! I told you to never use this against mehehe!” The ghost boy devolved into an incoherent string of laughter.

 

Jeremy cackled along with Derek and Michael, finding the ghost had a contagious laugh (not to mention it was just so awesome and smooth somehow). He tried his best to keep Derek’s flailing to a minimum, so he didn’t accidentally smack anyone in the face. He was successful so far. “Accept it and the tickles stop!” Jeremy giggled, grinning up at Michael and over to Derek as he squirmed and flailed and giggled.

 

“Nohoho! Lehet me go!”

 

“How about this: we can just flop against you and the tickling stops? I need to cool off anyway and you’re ice cold,” Michael offered as he seemed to dig a bit deeper with his tickling.

 

“God damnit!” Derek almost squealed before yelling, “Fine, fine! I give, I give!”

 

As soon as Derek yielded, Michael stopped tickling and Jeremy let him go mostly. They all flopped backwards onto the bed, wrapped up in Michael’s arms gently. Jeremy hummed happily at the position while Derek tried to get his breath back, shooting both Jeremy and Michael a weak, playful scowl.

 

Michael let out a soft hum of his own as he rewrapped his arm around Jeremy. “And that is how you tame a ghost.”

 

Jeremy snorted at that and Derek let out an indignant sound.

 

“I’m not tamed,” he growled with no heat behind his words. “I’m taking a tactical rest. You can’t tame me.”

 

“Derek, you’re our favorite person,” Jeremy cooed, shooting Michael a wink.

 

“Shit, you got me.”

 

That seemed to hit Michael right in the funny bone as he just burst out laughing for a good few seconds.

 

Jeremy giggled and relaxed, lessening his tight grip on Derek but the ghost boy not moving away in the slightest. If anything, he pulled Jeremy and Michael closer. “Love you both so much,” Jeremy sighed, giving them both a gentle squeeze as they all tried to calm down.

 

"Love you both too," Derek said around a sigh of his own while Michael hummed in agreement.

 

This was an awesome moment. Just wrapped up and happy with two of his favorite people. Moments like this were what made life worth living, and moments like this would be what Jeremy would be fighting for.

 

 

 

Another moment didn’t come for a few days. There was a lot of planning and a lot of business over the next few days, as well as Michael reuniting with his moms when they visited as well as with Jeremy’s dad. Those were... they were moments Michael needed. Jeremy wasn’t going to ruin those.

 

After those few days though, Michael was flopped down on top of Jeremy’s bed when he came in from saying ‘bye’ to his dad that day. He was starfished across the bed, face-first into the sheets, his glasses pushed up onto the top of his head.

 

“How you doing, Mikey?” Jeremy asked, sitting next to Michael and running his fingers through his hair gently, careful to avoid his glasses.

 

“I’m... I dunno,” Michael said before making a noise that seemed to be him describing how he felt, flailing his arms for a second before they flopped back down against the bed. “I guess I’m feeling that. Ugh.”

 

“Not so good then.” Jeremy sighed. “Anything I can do to help with the-“ Jeremy half mimicked the sound Michael made, earning a weak chuckle from Michael for his efforts.

 

“I mean, you being here is already helping,” Michael added before sighing, leaning into Jeremy’s touch in his hair. “What do you think’ll help? You sometimes know me better than I know myself.”

 

Jeremy thought for a moment. “I think you’re thinking about something. Probably something not so nice from your time at the Collective. And that’s playing out in the back of your head and making you uncomfortable even if you can’t see it directly.”

 

There was a pause. “I mean, the only thing that was nice from when I was there was you, and even then, I was getting so much more worried as time went on...” Michael let out a soft groan before he shifted his head so he was resting on one of his cheeks, looking up at Jeremy. “I... I think that the planning and some of the things I was apart of, seeing all these people forced against their will doing these things, and knowing what they wanted to do to you...” After a second, Michael reached over and Jeremy instantly took his hand with his free hand, intertwining their fingers. “Hearing about what we’d become, what you and I would become, scared me. It still does. My SQUIP, while it didn’t have control of me and doesn’t, when I had those times where I was punished, would play out the scenarios of what the ‘future was going to be for us.’ I...” Jeremy saw Michael’s gaze shift away after that, and it was obvious what things were bugging him and what was bugging Michael the most.

 

Jeremy squeezed Michael’s hand. “You don’t have to worry about any of that. It might have been scary and weird or whatever, but it’s not gonna happen,” he assured him gently.

 

“Yeah, but it was all most of them would talk about. How I had such a great honor of being your second in command, and seeing all these people so lifeless while still walking around and doing things...” Michael looked to the side then, away from Jeremy. He could see how tense he was, feel it just in how Michael held his hand. “I just...”

 

“It is scary,” he agreed softly. “It’s scary to see them, it’s scary to have been one of them, and it’s scary to know people are still like that.” He shook his head. “But they won’t be for much longer. We’re gonna set them free, even if they don’t realize they need it right now.” He started rubbing his thumb along Michael’s hand. “And as for that other thing, there isn’t anything I can do to remove the memories or fix the way it made you feel, but what I can do is be here and help remind you every second of every day that it will never come to pass. You’ll always be my Player One, and the person who I trust most to lead if I can’t, but you’ll never have to worry about it being your defining feature like they would have had it.” Jeremy wasn’t sure exactly how to help with this, so he tried to put his feelings into words. It was pretty challenging, but it seems to have some effect.

 

Even if he didn’t think he did his best, it was helping Michael. He rubbed at his eyes with free hand, sniffling a bit as he nodded along to what Jeremy said. “It’s hard after just being told that over and over, like I had more SQUIPs trying to conform me than just the one in my head,” he muttered out. “You’re definitely helping. Everyone is, but you definitely are helping the most.”

 

“I’m glad,” Jeremy murmured honestly. “And even if I can’t fully understand what you went through, I’m gonna help and support you however I can. One SQUIP was bad enough, I can’t imagine how hard it was for you. But you made it through, which only goes to prove how strong you are.” He pressed a kiss to the back of Michael’s hand. “One thing I’m sure of though is that you aren’t SQUIPed. You have a SQUIP but you aren’t SQUIPed. Which means you can’t be second in command for the Collective, since only someone who’s SQUIPed could be.”

 

“Yeah, I know that much at least,” Michael said with a weary smile as he squeezed Jeremy’s hand then. “I just... it’s a weird readjustment from there to here, and this is only temporary and then we have more readjusting after we beat them. Ugh. I just want some normalcy, something nice and calming and steady, you know?”

 

“Yeah, I understand that part. When I got back from the complex, everything felt wrong. And when my SQUIP was finally dormant again. And again in a few days, when this is all over.” He sighed heavily, then perked up. “I know something that might help!”

 

Jeremy detached himself from Michael’s side and jumped off the bed, digging around in his bag for a moment and then in the bag of Michael’s stuff. He came back to the bed with their two 3DSs, both with Pokemon in them. Jeremy had Diamond and Michael’s had Pearl. “What do you say to a nice, normal Pokémon battle?” He grinned. It was a little weak and his eyes held the question of if it would help or not, but he had to try. If a little silliness and fun would help Michael then Jeremy would gladly indulge (he knew it would help himself feel more settled anyways, so it might help Michael too).

 

How Michael’s eyes lit up made Jeremy feel giddy. “I’d like that, and it’ll be like old times where I kick your butt,” Michael said as he took his 3DS, decorated with different nerdy stickers over the plain case over it. “How about we do a little bet too, make things feel a bit more normal, for who wins the best out of three battles. We gotta play with different battle teams each time though so it isn’t unfair.”

 

“I can do that part. What’re we wagering, good sir?” Jeremy grinned, booting up his game and already heading to sort out the teams he’d use. “Also do we agree: no legendaries as usual?”

 

“Of course no legendaries. And anything banned in competitive isn’t allowed,” Michael said as he honed in on his screen. “What do you want to wager?”

 

Jeremy hummed as he thought it over and directed his character to the right room in the Pokémon Center. “How about one favor, like we used to as kids? Whoever loses owes one favor to the winner. Whatever they want.” He grinned.

 

“I feel like, as teenagers, those ‘favors’ could be more than just buying someone the ice cream from the truxk or something,” Michael playfully grumbled out as he settled beside Jeremy on the bed. “But sure.”

 

“Well since you’re so confident, you have nothing to worry about, do you?” Jeremy shot back, starting up the battle.

 

They both battled hard, winning one a piece. It came down to the tie breaker and they were about evenly matched. Jeremy had improved a lot in the past few months since they had last played and was really giving Michael a run for his money. He just had to survive one more round and he would win, and Michael knew it.

 

Luck wasn’t on his side though, as Michael’s Infernape managed to land a critical hit on Jeremy’s Empoleon, causing it to faint.

 

“Damnit!” Jeremy cried, throwing down his 3DS on to the bed in a huff. “I was so close this time!”

 

“Mm, I don’t think so,” Michael said around a mock anime villain laugh. He even held his hand up near his mouth before sitting up with a warm and triumphant grin. “But now I’ve won, and I get whatever favor that I want... Hm...” Michael flopped back down on the bed as he was beaming from ear to ear. “What do I want?”

 

Jeremy crawled over to him and rested with his arms crossed on his chest, looking up at Michael. “Well I agreed for it to be anything, so it’s up to you Mikey. You could save it if you really want to, but I’m less likely to complain if you ask now.” He stuck his tongue out cheekily.

 

“I mean, we sort of agreed in this together, so you can’t really complain ever,” Michael pointed out before poking his nose. “Hm... Are you sure that I could do anything?”

 

“I guess,” Jeremy sighed dramatically. He knew Michael wouldn’t ask something that Jeremy really wouldn’t want to do, so he felt fine giving permission for anything.

 

Michael smiled at Jeremy then as he put down his shut 3DS then, an idea crossing his mind (Jeremy knew by how Michael’s eyes lit up). “Hm... Well, how about we kiss? But I need to set it up and stuff.”

 

“I’m more than alright with that.” Jeremy grinned. “How do you want me?”

 

“Let me just-“ Michael got up then, slowly moving and adjusting so he was sitting in Jeremy’s lap. “That OK?”

 

Jeremy’s breath hitched a little as he got settled and he nodded. “Y-Yeah, this is fine. Great even. I really like this actually.” Okay so he was a little flustered and he might be blushing, but he was very much enjoying this position.

 

Michael smiled down at Jeremy then before gently grabbing one of his hands, guiding it to rest on his side. He moved Jeremy’s other hand to... well, he gave a small sigh before looking at Jeremy. “You can choose where the other goes,” he said before resting one of his hands along Jeremy’s collarbone, the other just under the hem of his shirt. “Is this OK?”

 

“Yeah...” Jeremy breathed, looking up at Michael with adoration and something akin to awe in his eyes. He was utterly captivated by this moment, and he slowly reached up to cup Michael’s cheek, his thumb brushing softly over his cheek bone. “Is this alright for you? You’re in charge, sweetheart.” He offered a small, crooked grin.

 

Feeling Michael lean into his hand was a feeling that had his heart skip a beat. “It’s alright for me,” Michael told him with a warm smile. “I just wanted to set it up, like this. I was going to ask you to lead the kiss, and just go however far. I just... I need it. Bad. Really fucking bad.”

 

“You let me know if anything is making you uncomfortable, okay?” Jeremy murmured seriously. After getting a small nod, which was effectively Michael just nuzzling against his hand, Jeremy gently guided Michael’s face down to his own, connecting their lips softly.

 

For a moment, Jeremy kept it soft and gentle, just relishing in the feeling of Michael. Then, he began moving their lips together, and Michael followed eagerly. The kiss began to build, and Jeremy’s hand shifted to the back of Michael’s head, tangling in his hair. His other hand moved down slightly and slipped under the hem of Michael’s shirt, massaging the skin there. He couldn’t help the small sounds that were escaping him, and he didn’t really want to. Every sound he made, Michael seemed to echo softly, which made Jeremy’s head spin.

 

Michael’s hand shifted to raise higher under his shirt, rubbing along his back and spine as Michael got seemingly more and more lost in the kiss. The hand on Jeremy’s collarbone had his thumb rubbing the area. He let out soft sounds against his lips, and Jeremy swore that Michael let out a soft groan.

 

Eventually, they had to separate to breathe, but as soon as he was able Jeremy was right back to kissing Michael. His boyfriend was still panting, so instead of Jeremy reconnecting their lips, he began trailing light kisses along Michael’s jaw and down his neck. When he found a particularly sensitive spot (Michael let out a small whine), Jeremy began kissing there more regularly. “Please, can I?” he murmured against the skin, not pressing hard enough to mark but desperately wanting to.

 

Instead of giving a verbal response, Jeremy felt Michael gently push at his back and squeeze his hands in confirmation as well as a more obvious whine, clearly wanting him to do it just as badly.

 

Jeremy latched on, nipping and sucking on the sensitive skin enough to leave a dark bruise. Michael’s whine turned to something close to a moan, and soon Jeremy was peppering the hickey with soft kisses to sooth it. He shifted his attention to pressing kisses along any area of exposed skin, eventually trailing them back up to Michael’s lips and capturing them once again.

 

When he recaptured Michael's lips, Michael became greedy and needy in terms of kissing Jeremy. The hand that had been resting against his collarbone shifted to rest against his neck as he leaned in, giving a bit more passion and need and want into the kiss as he squirmed a little in Jeremy's lap. The hand under his shirt, against his back pushed a little further against him, pushing the two to become more flush against one another.

 

Jeremy whined a little, the sound high and needy, as the hand in Michael’s hair tightened a little and the hand on his side shifted to start rubbing along his spine. He traced out the feeling up and down with his thumb, his fingers splayed greedily along the smooth planes of Michael’s back.

 

Once again, they separated and Jeremy threw his head back with a soft moan, panting and leaning into Michael’s hands. He wanted more, needed more, but he needed a moment to breathe.

 

Without really meaning to, he began sending through pulses of love and adoration and need and want through the link, letting his feelings burn bright and clear.

 

Michael reacted almost instantly to those feelings, leaning forward and beginning to kiss along the curve of Jeremy's neck. He peppered everything from small to large kisses, though most were greedy, if not all. As he went along, he found a spot that had Jeremy feeling so good, but it was also so sensitive. He squirmed for a second, but when he felt Michael begin to pull back to ask, Jeremy just pulled Michael closer to let him know.

 

As soon as he knew, Michael left a presumably big and dark mark there, sucking on the skin before pulling back and covering the area in kisses, trailing along the front hollow all the way to the other side of his neck. He left one more mark, one that made Jeremy so weak but also so needy for more kisses and to give Michael more.

 

Thankfully, Michael came back around the other side of his neck, recapturing his lips in a heavy and loving kiss.

 

Jeremy held Michael close as he laid back, keeping their lips connected as he flopped carefully back on the bed. Michael followed him, not pulling away in the slightest. Jeremy could feel the bright flame of Michael burning in the back of his head, feel the love and desire and need he had, as well as the softer, sweeter feelings bubbling just underneath.

 

As they kissed Jeremy sort of forgot where he ended and Michael began, and he loved it.

 

This continued on for however long, only pulling away for brief points to catch their breath before diving back in. Michael kissed hard and passionately and lovingly, and Jeremy thought for a moment that after this, his lips would surely be kiss-swollen. He wanted that though. It seemed Michael did too, loving just how much Jeremy was kissing him back as they slotted together so perfectly.

 

Michael's hand along his back shifted to run along his side now since Jeremy was lying flat back on the bed. His hand seemed to cover as much area as he could, eventually settling on the slight dip he had on his side before Michael pulled back to kiss more of the skin of his neck. He went, moving down to Jeremy's collarbone as he covered the area in kisses, leaving the occasional hickey that could be covered by a higher-collared shirt.

 

Jeremy’s heart swelled at the consideration Michael was giving him. Even if he could cover them, though, he didn’t want to. He wanted everyone who saw him, even glanced at him, to know he was taken and that he was Michael’s.

 

The kisses eventually slowed, not stopping but becoming less needy and demanding and more lazy and sweet. It became less about sheer, intense desire and more about gentle adoration. Hands stopped grabbing and started lightly massaging and moans and groans turned to soft sighs.

 

When they moved back to kiss on the lips, Jeremy helped to gently guide them both to lie on their sides. It helped as they gently massaged, both of them relaxing into the sheets as they were lingering with their lazy, adoring kisses. While the earlier kisses definitely helped both of them get their need out, the want for this comfort and sweet tenderness was definitely something they didn't realize was just as important until now.

 

Even without the intensity of before, the line between them as individuals was still blurry and Jeremy was relishing in that fact. They laid there, tangled together, sweetly kissing and adoring each other, minds hazy and touches gentle. Jeremy did his best to send actual thoughts into the link now, between the kisses.

 

(Jeremy): “I love you.”

 

Kiss.

 

(Jeremy): “I adore you.”

 

Kiss.

 

(Jeremy): “You’re beautiful.”

 

Kiss.

 

(Jeremy): “My favorite person.”

 

Michael smiled into their soft, gentle kisses, Jeremy could feel it with the next few as Michael traced random patterns along his side. Jeremy could barely focus, but he could feel Michael melting under his gentle touches, kisses, and thoughts.

 

(Michael): "You're amazing."

 

Kiss.

 

(Michael): "You're my other half."

 

Kiss.

 

(Michael): "I love you with all of my heart.”

 

They were putty in each other’s hands, molding and shaping the other with love and care as they lay together. As he sighed gently into the next kiss, a thought occurred to him, broadcasted loud and clear into the link thanks to the blurred lines between them.

 

(Jeremy): “I want to spend the rest of my life with you.”

 

He might have stiffened from Michael hearing that, but he couldn’t. He was too relaxed and happy, and the utter joy he felt from Michael from those words simply reinforced that it was true. It was true and it seemed that Michael wanted that too.

 

(Michael): "Same. I want to be with you for the rest of my life."

 

The love shared in the next slow, lingering kiss made that loud and clear. The way Michael's lips ever so slightly turned up into it proved it as well. How Michael scooted a little closer, tapping his foot gently against Jeremy's before intertwining their legs together just affirmed it in Jeremy's mind.

 

The kisses slowed more, until they finally petered out and stopped. They just laid there, tangled together, foreheads resting together. Their breaths were slow and deep and Jeremy knew they were both totally relaxed. Jeremy felt totally at peace for the first time in his life. He opened his eyes and smiled softly at Michael. His boyfriend looked more beautiful than ever, his lips swollen and pink from their earlier frenzy and a blissfully calm expression on his face. His beautiful brown eyes were twinkling with love and happiness.

 

Michael stared up at him with the most genuine smile he had ever seen (well, at least in this breathtaking form). He reached over with his free hand, slowly intertwining his fingers with Jeremy's free hand, his thumb rubbing against Jeremy's knuckles. "God, I love you," Michael softly declared, giving a lazy, lopsided grin to Jeremy.

 

“I love you so much, Mikey,” Jeremy cooed, happy to just lie there with Michael and enjoy the moment. His smile was lazy and satisfied, and his movements slow as he reached up around Michael and gently ran his free hand though Michael’s hair again, massaging his scalp lightly. He felt Michael lean into the touch with a small, content hum.

 

“I just... This is what I missed. Not the making out, though it was really nice and I really just missed kissing and being close to you,” Michael started, ignoring how Jeremy softly chuckled. They were both feeling too good and content to really get flustered or anything similar right now. “I missed the feeling of being safe and secure, of reassurance and intimacy and love and care. Everyone else is helping, giving that too, but nothing like how you can or as often or as easily as you can.”

 

“Well I’m happy to help, especially if it’s gonna be as amazing at that for both of us.” He chuckled. In reality, he felt exactly the same. Still, this moment was about how Michael was feeling, not Jeremy, so he could wait to say it. Right now, it was about what Michael needed to say.

 

He pressed a gentle kiss to Michael’s nose. “I love you, and I want you to feel happy and safe. If I can help give you that, even a little, that’s more than enough for me. You just gotta tell me when you need reassurance or whatever, yeah? We look after each other.”

 

The somewhat sleepy grin that Michael gave Jeremy made butterflies form in his stomach. "Yeah, of course. That means that you need to do the same, yeah?" Michael gently squeezed his hand then, nuzzling against the pillow under his head.

 

Jeremy grinned back at him, cradling him close and nodding. “We’re a team, we look after each other. I’ve got the proof right here.” He twisted his wrist where the friendship bracelet was. He never took it off these days, he couldn’t bare to.

 

Michael let out a sleepy laugh then, pressing his own wrist with the bracelet against Jeremy's. "I do too, you adorable nerd," he muttered out before tugging that wrist over to lie across his side.

 

“Wanna head to sleep? We’re already in comfy clothes after all,” Jeremy asked, rubbing their noses together.

 

"I'm already starting to fall asleep, Jeremy, so thank you for asking so I don't seem super rude," Michael said around a yawn, resting his head down after the nose rub with a sleepy smile, eyes drooping.

 

Jeremy giggled softly before scooting closer and nuzzling himself into the crook of Michael’s neck. “This okay?” he asked softly, and Michael nodded. Jeremy pressed a gentle kiss where he was, brushing the hickey a little, before closing his eyes. As Michael’s breathing slowed, Jeremy found it easy to slip into a beautifully gentle and warm sleep. As usual, he dreamt of Michael.

 

 

 

The next day, Jeremy found himself trying to focus on something he realized he should have tried earlier: telekinesis. If Michael had that power and they rubbed off on Jeremy, then why couldn't he try doing that? He was just too distracted and out-of-it before to realize (at least, that was his excuse). That was why he was trying to lift a penny off of the desk he was sitting at.

 

He heard the door open after trying for at least half an hour, and he only glanced to the side when he heard the door shut. Michael was there, looking over curiously at him as he held a plate of french fries piled high. "What's going on?"

 

“M’trying to lift the penny with my mind,” Jeremy explained, huffing as he flopped back in his chair. “You use that power all the time, and since my powers were activated by yours, I figured that I should be able to do it too. Nothing’s worked yet,” he grumbled, pouted over at the desk and the damned penny before scowling and looking back over to Michael.

 

Michael seemed to think what he said over, looking between the penny, Jeremy, and his plate of food. "Well, maybe you just aren't trying hard enough," he said with a shrug before going over to the bed, lying down on it and starting to munch slowly on his still-steaming fries.

 

“I’ve been trying as hard as I can,” Jeremy whined, pouting at Michael. He turned back to the penny and tried his best to ignore Michael (for once), he was too distracting.

 

"Are you sure about that? You're not thinking like the force kinda stuff you'd do when we were kids, right? Or think and just making your head hurt by thinking 'LIFT ALREADY!' or something like that?" Michael asked from behind him.

 

“Well what am I supposed to do?” Jeremy shot a scowl at Michael before trying to focus again. He was picturing the penny standing on its edge, not even floating or anything. He was trying to will it into existence but it wasn’t working!

 

"None of those things, that's for sure," his boyfriend said, pointing a fry that flopped at him before eating it. "None of those are even remotely accurate ways to think about doing that. Anything that a book tells you is how is works is not how it works. Well, at least none that I've read."

 

“Well that’s just so helpful, Mikey,” Jeremy grumbled. He was really getting frustrated now and Michael sassing him wasn’t helping. “So tell me how I’m supposed to do it then, instead of sitting around and telling me I’m wrong!”

 

"Well it's hard to describe, and how Derek's mom described it to me before didn't help me at all. I sorta just had to wing it and figure it out myself," Michael said with a shrug. "I'm trying to help by telling you ways to not think about it. I think that's very helpful."

 

Jeremy sort of growled as he spun around to face Michael. “Well how about you just stop then? Literally, you’re not being helpful at all by telling the wrong ways. Why don’t you just tell me the way you do it and maybe I’ll stand a chance! I’m literally trying my hardest to do this and you’re not helping!” he grumbled. He might have raised his voice a little, not shouting but definitely frustrated. He was trying so hard and Michael was just being obnoxious.

 

"I just said that it's hard to describe, Jeremy," Michael said then as he adjusted where he was on the bed, seemingly getting more comfortable. "If I could, I would." As he said that, he took another stupid french fry and pointed it at him.

 

Jeremy was just so done with Michael right then. The combination of his repeated failure, Michael’s out of character condescending tone, and those stupid fries were just too much. He let out a frustrated sound and suddenly he felt it, like a slipping sensation in the back of his head.

 

The fry Michael had been pointing at him suddenly was yanked from his grip and pulled neatly into Jeremy’s hand. He stared at it, wide eyed.

 

"Aaand we just Sokka and Katara'd this," Michael said with a hum before sitting up on the bed. "Sorry for not telling you, but that would have ruined this whole thing that happened because getting frustrated and it suddenly working is what happened with me. Except it was with a ghost that was bugging me, and I yanked a pen out from the shelf behind them and made it yeet through them... And almost made my soda shelf fall by accident."

 

Jeremy blinked owlishly, then stuffed the fry into his mouth, trying to ignore his blush. He was proud he managed to do it, but embarrassed that he had gotten so worked up about it as well. “Thanks, Mikey...” he muttered. “And... sorry for kinda yelling. Thanks for helping me though.”

 

"It's fine. I worked you up to it and was being douchey. Sorry about that, even if it was for a good reason," Michael said back before opening his arms for him. "Want me to feed you some fries instead of you air-nabbing them from me?"

 

Jeremy nodded, still flushed and embarrassed as he went and settle in Michael’s arms, melting against him. He opened his mouth obediently when Michael offered him a fry, munching on it before humming a little. “These are actually really nice.”

 

"Yeah, I made them myself. I had your dad actually help me make these fries... and by that, he bought me all the stuff so I could hand-make them. That's sorta what I've been doing all day." Michael pressed a quick kiss to his cheek. "I sorta knew what you were planning on doing, you were thinking loudly about it, so I wanted to make you something to celebrate once you did it. So I hope you still like chili fries."

 

Jeremy’s blush darkened and he hid his face against Michael’s shoulder for a moment. “You’re too good to me, I swear. Y’spoiling me,” he muttered, tilting his head to accept the fry being poked against his cheek. “Also yes. I still like chili fries.”

 

"Well then leave my damn fries alone. We'll go down there and you can make yourself a plate of them," Michael said teasingly before pressing a kiss to Jeremy's temple. "Your treat for slowly becoming more and more like an X-Men."

 

“I’m only eating what you’re giving to me!” Jeremy protested weakly, accepting another fry with a small giggle. Michael really was too good to him, sometimes. He seemed to enjoy spoiling Jeremy a little. Jeremy was hardly going to complain. “M’comfy. I’ll go grab some chlli fries when I’m not comfy.” Another fry was held to his lips, how could he not take it?

 

"No, I'm not giving any to you, this is all you working right here," Michael said, obviously joking as he took another fry, waiting to offer it to Jeremy. "You're more powerful than you say you are."

 

“Is my power-“ Jeremy took the fry and ate it. “-being utterly spoiled by my amazing boyfriend? Because that’s how it’s seeming to me,” he teased back. It was funny how Michael could go from infuriating Jeremy one moment to being cute as hell the next.

 

"No, you're using your powers to move my arm, you dummy," Michael said back with a playful pout. He pretended to struggle trying to eat a fry before ultimately holding it in front of Jeremy. "See! So mean!"

 

Jeremy giggled again and ate the fry, kissing Michael’s fingertips as he took it. “I don’t know, Mikey. I mean, if I was really using my powers on you I’d be pulling you into a kiss right now.” He grinned up at his boyfriend, whose eyes twinkled with mischief and humor. Jeremy loved to look into his eyes, especially like this where it was just them.

 

Michael bent down then, kissing Jeremy quickly before pulling away. "You are, see! You pulled me down there with your powers," he insisted, pretending to wail as he offered Jeremy another fry.

 

Jeremy giggled and accepted the fry, before grinning up at Michael again. “How wicked am I!” he cried, clinging on to Michael’s arm which was wrapped around him. “Your boyfriend has obviously turned to a villain, Michael! I use my powers to steal, both fries and kisses, but only from truly amazing people. How could you ever cope with this?” he wailed, before cackling like a nineties anime villain.

 

"I don't know! It's a travesty, an utter travesty!" Michael wailed in return, dipping his head back as he playfully moaned and groaned in defeat. "I cannot do anything to stop you! Is there no good left in this world?!"

 

“Nothing can stop me, Mikey. You’re gonna give me what I want!” he declared, taking another fry from Michael as it was held in front of his face. He quieted his giggles and kept up the silliness. “You’re gonna have to give me all the kisses and some more of your fries! You cannot stop me from collecting that all from you!”

 

"Please, is there anything that I can do to make you change your ways? Surely, there must be something," Michael 'begged' as he looked up at Jeremy with wide eyes.

 

Jeremy hummed contemplatively. “I don’t know... because I’m never gonna get enough of you, ever. You’re stuck with me.” He leant up a little and kissed Michael’s cheek, giggling softly when he saw a slight blush rise.

 

“What if I willingly gave you kisses and fries instead?” Michael asked with a raised brow and colored cheeks, clearly trying to stick to this, even if he was getting flustered in the best of ways.

 

Jeremy pretended to think it over. “I think I could deal with those terms.” He grinned after a moment, nuzzling against Michael’s shoulder. “You’d better follow through though, or I’ll just slip right back to my life of crime.”

 

“Of course I will, you act like I won’t. I’m a man of my word,” Michael reassured him before resting his head on top of Jeremy’s. “If it would be too much to ask, could you feed me some fries? As a way to show that we’re even? Pleeease?”

 

Instead of answering verbally, Jeremy reached over and picked up a fry, holding up for Michael to munch on. He giggled again when Michael softly kissed his fingertips.

 

He was quick to eat the fry after that, kissing his fingertips again after eating it all. “See, I think this can work out now. Thank you very much, Jeremy.”

 

Jeremy smiled softly and giggled. “You’re an utter dork and I love you.” He nuzzled against Michael’s shoulder again, this time focusing and managing to conjure up the same sensation as before, lifting a fry up for Michael to take. It didn’t work the next time he tried it, so he just held it up normally.

 

Michael just laughed as he wrapped his arms around Jeremy, holding him close and happily eating each and every fry. “I mean, I would hope so, but thank you for confirming that. I love you too.”

 

Jeremy just was happy to stay in Michael’s arms, giggling and feeding him fries. The moment felt special and he wanted to treasure as many of these as he could.

 

Even when they had to get up to get more fries, Michael still had his arms wrapped around Jeremy, even if it was awkward going down the stairs. He was still going to treasure this moment, especially since he knew things weren’t going to be like this in a few days. That they would be fighting and either everything would go right or everything would crumble.

 

But for now, he enjoyed the homemade chili fries and stupidity of his best friend.

 

 

Jeremy enjoyed sparring. It was something he was really good at, surprisingly, and it felt good to use his body and his new found skills.

 

He focused, watching Rich’s movements and easily dodging the punch launched at him. Rich had improved enough that he danced out of Jeremy’s reach before he could grab at the offending arm, but he missed the swipe Jeremy shot at him in response.

 

As Rich staggered, Jeremy felt him start up his powers, something Jeremy previously wouldn’t be able to defend against. He backed up, analyzing the situation and trying to figure out the best route. He could try activating that aspect of his own SQUIP, just for a moment, to negate the effects. He knew he could handle an hour or so with all of them, so a minute at most with one wouldn’t hurt.

 

He activated it just as Rich started another volley of attacks.

 

Both he and Rich were surprised as his attacks were practically useless, being negated by the equal power Jeremy was using to deflect and shield against his powers. Jeremy adapted to whichever attack Rich used, and Rich, though he seemed to be keeping his frustration at bay, was unable to find a way around that.

 

Jeremy was so focused on the powers and deflecting them that he didn’t notice Rich sneak in a kick, knocking Jeremy’s legs out before pinning him to the ground, foot on his chest. “Wow.”

 

Jeremy tried to catch his breath, panting and cackling as the adrenaline wore off. “Nice one, Richie. You’ve gotten so much better!” He grinned, accepting Rich’s hand once the foot was removed from his chest. “That’s the third time this session that you’ve pinned someone!” He grinned over at Rich, who looked a little confused but still really proud.

 

“Yeah, and yay, but I was more so saying wow to you and what you did,” Rich said as he helped yank Jeremy to his feet (really, he just yanked up Jeremy even if he was, like, dead weight when he did that... Rich was strong, OK?).

 

“Yeah! I wasn’t sure if it would work to negate you, but it did! I mean, I just did the same as you but still!” Jeremy grinned.

 

"Yeah, that's definitely useful. And using it suddenly didn't tire you out?" Rich asked, curiously looking Jeremy over then as he asked.

 

Jeremy shrugged. He felt fine. “I can take an hour of all of them before I lose it, so a minute of one is as easy as my own.” He wasn’t sure how it worked or why he could handle it so well, but he wasn’t about to question it. The ability to switch out powers would give him an edge in the coming battle. Which was tomorrow. Fuck. Just... don’t focus on it, everything would be fine.

 

"That's good, just don't wear yourself out. I think you're either done for the day or need a good break, whichever you want. I know Derek and Michael are chatting, so you might wanna go be with them," Rich said with a somewhat weary smile.

 

Jeremy paused as he dealt with the fact that by tomorrow night, this would be over for him one way or another. “Y-yeah,” he ended up croaking out, “I’ll go find them. S-see you later, dude.” With a watery grin and a clap on the shoulder, Jeremy left Rich in the basement designated training room. He really could use some time with Michael and Derek, especially now that he had realized how close everything was.

 

As he went upstairs (he was really glad that the basement was cleared out of that makeshift holding cell now), he could hear Michael and Derek talking about seemingly nothing. Well, they were talking, but it was more about things that they probably wouldn't bring back up at a later point, but they were still enjoying talking to each other and their company. Jeremy could hear their voices from the breakfast bar/kitchen area.

 

He walked in, barely paying attention to the words being said, and slowly latched himself onto Michael’s side, waiting to make sure it was okay. He just sort of pressed himself close, hiding his face in the crook of Michael’s neck. He was totally silent for once.

 

The conversation halted for a moment, but it picked up as Michael readjusted himself, wrapping an arm around Jeremy's side and holding him close. His hand that rested against him gently ran in a pattern against his side, not asking for an answer but just trying to make sure he was comfortable and alright.

 

Jeremy nodded, not moving an inch away from Michael. He felt weird, knowing that this could well be his last night with Michael. His last night ever. Fuck.

 

"The bed or the couch?" Michael asked as Jeremy felt him shift, probably him getting ready to get off of the stool he was perched on.

 

“Bed, please,” Jeremy whispered, his voice weak and watery. He made a sort of grabby motion at Derek, silently urging him to come too. He didn’t think his voice would hold out long enough to actually articulate it without him breaking down in tears. As it was, he was fighting back his eyes misting over.

 

"Yeah, of course, 'm just gonna carry you," Michael said, and Jeremy felt Michael's grip on him change to be able to carry him bridal-style. A year ago, Michael wouldn't have been able to do this. He really worked out a lot (he totally wasn't focusing on the small things to keep himself distracted, totally not) since then. Especially since he barely even quivered as he walked up the grand staircase with him.

 

There was a gentle cold feeling on his back, so Derek was there too. That was good. He needed their Player Three.

 

Finally, after what felt like forever, Jeremy felt himself be placed down, though Michael's hand never left as he quickly felt the bed dip with Michael climbing in. His arms wrapped around Jeremy, pulling him close once he was lying down with him.

 

Jeremy felt Derek lie down behind him, the cold pressure along his back and around his waist comforting and grounding, to a point. He couldn’t help the small sniffle that escaped him, or how he nuzzled as close to Michael as physically possible. He wasn’t scared, he was fucking terrified of tomorrow and even if he knew it was coming, he wasn’t in the least prepared for it. Everything depended on him and win or lose, it would be by his hand.

 

He felt Michael's hand reach up and run through his hair as he thought that all over, and he swore his heart was racing. "Shhh, it's alright, I promise," Michael reassured him, his voice soft, genuine, and soothing before a kiss was placed to his forehead. "Just try to relax, yeah?"

 

Jeremy tried, he really did, but he couldn’t stop the raging storm of fear whirling around his head. He just whimpered and grabbed weakly at Michael’s shirt. He was shaking too much to really have a strong grip. Why was all this just hitting him now? It’s not like he hadn’t thought about it multiple times this week just gone.

 

"Hey, it's OK, it's OK." Michael continued to run his fingers through his hair, massaging his scalp gently all the while. Derek stayed close, keeping the cold pressure and making sure he stayed grounded at least. Even if he was a bit overwhelmed, it was better with his best friends with him.

 

Eventually Jeremy’s sobs and whimpers calmed and his shivers slowed to a stop. He didn’t relax though. He couldn’t relax even though he wanted to. He wanted to enjoy this time with Michael and Derek, he didn’t want to be like this.

 

But he was too freaked still.

 

“What-“ Jeremy hiccuped and had to try again. “What if I can’t do it?” he asked, his voice wobbly and weak. “What if I mess up or do something wrong? What if I’m not strong enough?”

 

Michael looked down at him then, giving him a soft, reassuring smile. "Then we'll help you. I promise that we'll be helping out as best as we can. Plus, Derek's basically our secret weapon. He'll be having our backs and doing sneaky work and the SQUIPs won't be able to detect him or anything." Another kiss was pressed to his forehead. "We'll back you up and help you, Jeremy. We'll make sure that you can."

 

Jeremy whined softly, eyes shutting again as he tried to get his heartbeat and breathing a little more under control. Michael’s words helped but he was still caught in his head, seeing all the possible ‘what ifs’ that were running rampant.

 

This was just an awesome situation to have anxiety with.

 

"Plus, if anything, I can help you like how I helped you before when I semi-possessed you if I really need to," Derek told him as the cold pressure along his side gently squeezed. "I know there are a lot of bad situations probably running through your head of things going wrong, but we won't let that happen."

 

“I know this was my idea-“ Another hiccup. “But I’m- I’m just so scared now. M’so scared I can barely think.”

 

"And that's alright. I think we'd be worried if you weren't scared, Jeremy," Michael told him then. "Hell, we're scared too. I'm just keeping it all internalized and I'm probably gonna have a breakdown later or something."

 

“S-save it for when I’m done,” Jeremy muttered, his tone trying to be light and joking. It was only half successful, but it was something. “We can’t all be anxious messes at once.” Somehow, the admission that Michael was just as scared helped a little. It meant his fear was real and valid, but Michael trusted him enough to not be freaking out it right then.

 

"I will, oh don't you worry. Like I said before, the emotional turmoil of everything that's happened the past two months is gonna hit me like someone driving my P.T. Cruiser recklessly... So, you when you tried driving it for the first time," Michael said with a lighter and more joking tone at the end of what he was trying to say.

 

“At least I didn’t crash,” Jeremy grumbled, relaxing a little.

 

"You almost did and I almost cried about it," Michael pointed out with a grumble of his own. "You had to get me slushies and snacks to keep me from crying."

 

“You guys are wimps, I totaled my mom’s car when I was learning to drive,” Derek added, sounding like he was grinning cheekily. “Almost doesn’t even compare.”

 

“You don’t understand the sanctity of the Cruiser, dude.” Jeremy chuckled. He was still freaked and scared but it somehow seemed more manageable while he was sandwiched between his best friends.

 

"Yeah, it was passed down to me from Ina, and she got it from Grannie before she passed away. It's very near and dear to me," Michael said before scratching along Jeremy's head. "And this one here almost ruined that! I upkeep it very well too. I would've been super pissed if he totaled it."

 

“Have you shown him the repairs we did together? And all the ones you did yourself?” Jeremy asked softly, leaning into Michael’s gentle fingers with an almost purr. “That car is pretty damned special.”

 

"Well, he's seen the car, but I've never pointed out the areas or explained them and stuff," Michael said with a hum. "I sorta... forgot about them almost? I dunno."

 

"Dude, why didn't you tell me? I know you just said why, but c'mon!"

 

“Mikey’s super clever with that sort of stuff. He’s made plenty of repairs and even more improvements. I just helped.”

 

"You still did stuff for me and helped me be able to do it all! Don't downtalk your duties," Michael said with a pout, quickly poking his forehead before continuing to scratch along his scalp.

 

Jeremy chuckled softly. “Okay, sorry. I did some important sewing and general assistance. Is that better, sweetheart?” He was feeling safer by the minute. He wouldn’t give this up, not for anything. Which meant, when the time came, Jeremy would be strong enough, he would be able to do it. Was he still scared? Abso-fucking-lutely, but it wasn’t as consuming as it was before.

 

“You also got me all my snacks, drinks, and made sure I didn’t overwork myself along with many other things,” Michael reminded him before gently knocking their heads together. “You were and are the best assistant ever.”

 

“I’ll make sure to keep that title.” Jeremy smiled back, finally letting all his tension go. “I love you, Mikey.” He sighed, the sound soft and peaceful. “And I love you too. Derek.” He reached down and squeezed Derek’s hand, letting their fingers intertwine.

 

“We both love you too, even if it’s in different ways,” Derek told him as Jeremy felt the cold pressure of Derek squeezing their hands. “You better let me stick around so I can see another car day like this.”

 

“Oh, we’re not going to let you be there just for when we do that,” Michael said jokingly before getting a good scratch on Jeremy’s head, right at a sweet spot Jeremy didn’t know existed.

 

Jeremy’s eyes fluttered shut as he relaxed further into the touch with a small groan. He let out a hum of appreciation. “Feels good, sweetheart.”

 

“I’m glad,” Michael mused out, continuing to scratch at that area as Derek and him continued to talk, even if Jeremy just relaxed and listened. It felt nice, and he felt calm and at home.

Chapter Text

Jeremy frowned as he looked out at the city skyline, his mask feeling stuffy and too tight on his face.

 

This was it.

 

Today they’d either win, or he’d die. And he was okay with that, so long as everyone else was safe. Because they’d win.

 

He kept repeating that in his head as a reassuring mantra. It sort of worked.

 

He turned to face his team.

 

“Today it all comes to a head. We stop the SQUIPs once and for all, then we can finally get back to our previous lives. Today, it ends. And we’re gonna make sure to save everyone, because that’s what heroes do.” His voice was surprisingly strong considering everything. Still, he ran out of words for an inspiring speech, he couldn’t think of what else to say. He wasn’t good at this part of being a leader.

 

Despite the fact that Jeremy didn't think it was that good, his efforts seemed to be rewarded with everyone cheering. The speech seemed to help lift the thin layer of gloom that sort of hung over everyone with their nerves and such.

 

It was weird seeing everyone in their costumes again (except for Michael, as he never had a back-up made and the Collective sort of just took it away and he never saw it again), all ready for this final battle. This would be the last time they'd need to use them... The hopefully sort of blared in Jeremy's mind.

 

Jeremy felt a hand hold onto one of his own. Looking over, Michael smiled warmly at him, his eyes shining with hope. He knew how good of an actor Michael was at this point, but now that he knew what his acting entailed, he could still see the lingering worry hidden in his eyes. Still present, but not domineering. "You ready for this?"

 

Jeremy lifted his mask a little and pressed a kiss to Michael’s cheek. “As I can be,” he admitted quietly, squeezing Michael’s hand gently in return. He pulled his mask back down and looked back over to everyone else. He had one more thing to say as Jeremy, not as Gamer.

 

“I know we haven’t all been friends for that long, and that we only really met because I got this thing in my head. But I feel as though I’ve known you all for a very long time. I’m proud to have been your friend, and to have fought alongside you as Gamer. Regardless of what happens today, I’m happy to have known you, and I look forward to spending the rest of my life knowing and caring for each of you after this.” Jeremy’s voice was softer for this, more honest and less like Gamer. He tried to word it in a way that wasn’t a goodbye, but that’s exactly what it was. He was giving them a send off in case of the worst.

 

Everyone seemed to pick up on that, but no one exactly brought it to light. That would be too much, but they all knew what could happen. (Brooke knew it the best out of everyone, even if his SQUIP wasn't manipulating her powers anymore.)

 

All of his friends collectively hugged him then, Derek included. Having Derek here this time, both of them on the same page, definitely helped ease Jeremy's mind, especially with the promise they made about Michael.

 

Jeremy hugged them all back, melting into the sweet but strong embrace they all gave. He was glad the mask hid his tears starting to gather. Eventually, like everything, the moment had to end and one by one, everyone detached from the hug. Michael and Derek stayed close, on either side of him for support and as his second and third in command respectively.

 

“So, you all remember your missions? Countess, Hothead, you break the front lines with the techniques we’ve been practicing. Psyche, Charade, you’re both on distraction duty. Make us hard to pin and take out as many as you can along the way. Brainiac and TechnoBug, you’re both monitoring the situation and bringing up the rear. You cover our asses and direct everyone while the vanguard, Phantom, Ghost, and I, head into the base. Remember, you listen to Brainiac when I’m not there.” Referring to everyone by their hero names (including Derek, who shrugged and asked to be called whatever) made everything so much easier to process. It wasn’t Jeremy directing them in battle, it was Gamer.

 

Everyone nodded then, getting into their positions and starting to discuss things with their respective partners for this final mission (in one way or another). Michael, in turn, stuck himself closer to Jeremy, squeezing his hand a few times as he gave Jeremy a big grin. "You did great, Gamer," he said. (Michael sticking to their hero names even while talking helped out tremendously.) "What do we need to do to prep?"

 

“We just need to stretch out and get ready to run like hell. Our job is to get me inside in one piece and connected to the Queen activation machine. Once that’s happened, we win. If all goes according to plan, it’ll basically be a straight run for us,” Jeremy explained, pulling his leg up in one of his favorite stretches. “But be ready to fight regardless. God knows things don’t always go to plan. You’re still in the group chat? And can talk to Ghost telepathically, right? Because you’re gonna be his main link to the rest.”

 

Michael nodded. “Yes to both of those,” he reassured him as he did some simple stretches (nothing beat walking in on him doing a full split so casually though). “Also, I know it’s obvious, but why ‘Ghost’ for his name? Isn’t that a bit on-the-nose?”

 

Jeremy shrugged before stretching his arms up. “Rich thought it was a nice compliment to Phantom, since you guys are basically the elite guard for the payload, aka me. He was insisting on either Ghost or Spectre.” He chuckled. “Also it was kinda a Destiny reference. Jake’s been playing it, and then companion in it is a floating bit of tech and light called your Ghost. He revives you and keeps you alerted to any nearby threats. It fit, considering he’s our eyes and ears ahead.”

 

Michael nodded in understanding, and before he could respond verbally, Derek let out a loud, “Neeerds!” He was shot a playfully ‘annoyed’ look from Michael, and Derek shrugged, looking a little smug knowing that he was right regardless.

 

“You’re one too now,” Jeremy shot back with a snort. “You accepted the title of Player Three. That automatically makes you a nerd.” Derek blinked, then had a look of mock horror creep on to his face. “Also the jacket sort of doesn’t help your case.”

 

“It’s an honorary title, nothing more,” Derek told him then with crossed arms as he hovered in the air. “In terms of being a nerd, I mean. Not the ‘Player Three’ title.”

 

“Aww, he’s in denial. How cute!” Jeremy cooed. “Don’t worry, dude, we’ll help you accept your nerdiness soon enough. We can get started on that as soon as this is over.” Jeremy waved over at him, getting back to stretching out his legs a little by going into a low half splits. He wasn’t quite as flexible as Michael but he was getting there slowly. He stretched his arms up at the same time, and earned some slightly flustered feelings of pride pulsing through the link from Michael.

 

“You’re impossible,” Derek huffed out then.

 

“No, you are,” Michael countered, probably to try not to stay entirely focused on Jeremy (it was mostly failing). “You can be a nerd of many kinds, including animals and nature, while also being a gamer nerd and a retro nerd. It’s easy and fun.” Instead of speaking, Derek just groaned and turned away, his back facing them... which only showed off his nerdy and punny design…

 

Jeremy switched legs, leaning first to one side, then to the other as he spoke to stretch out his torso a bit. “Ghost, you need to accept your nerdiness. It’s the secret to happiness.” He nodded wisely. He also let his notice of Michael’s gaze echo through their connection as well as his enjoyment of it. He liked being looked at like that. It made him feel desirable and honestly kinda attractive, which was an unusual feeling for him. Focusing on the smaller things was helping as much as using hero names.

 

Michael’s face just flared up then, and he only looked away when Derek was turning back around. “That... That’s debatable,” the ghost said with a sigh, glancing between Jeremy and Michael before raising a teasing brow. “Is me being here interrupting or ruining something? Do you need me to vanish for a minute or two or...?”

 

Jeremy chuckled a little. “I mean, I’m just enjoying being checked out by my boyfriend. If it’s too much for you and you wanna dip for a moment and go chat to the others before we go in, be my guest.” He waved his hand towards the pairs, who were moving back together to talk to their respective best friends. That included Jenna and Christine, who had gotten really close these last few months.

 

(Jeremy): “If you think this gets you flustered, imagine when I walked in on you doing a full split. You were driving me absolutely wild to the point I couldn’t control myself anymore.”

 

The thought was teasing but also honest. He knew Michael could sense the lazy, cheeky smirk that accompanied it.

 

Derek seemed to sense all of this mental teasing. He groaned and quickly hovered his way over to the others as Michael firmly crossed his arms over his chest, pointedly not looking at Jeremy.

 

(Michael): “That was a surprise and you didn’t let me know you were early! You’re doing this on purpose, you little shit.”

 

Jeremy grinned up at him, still not moving out of the position but just changing to side half splits.

 

(Jeremy): “Actually, I really just like the way these stretches feels. But I’m hardly going to complain about the effect they’re having on you.”

 

He reached out with his powers and gave Michael’s SQUIP a little poke, encouraging him to look back without making him. He wasn’t surprised that he could do that anymore; ever since he punched Michael’s SQUIP, he had a solid feeling of how it felt and behaved. He idly wondered if that applied to all new SQUIPs considering Michael’s was the newest prototype.

 

(Jeremy): “And I think you’re enjoying it too.”

 

Jeremy couldn’t help his growing grin as Michael did glance back, his cheeks bursting with color at this point.

 

(Michael): “I mean, of course I am! I love seeing you and this is a new and nice way to see and look at you. It accentuates your cute butt. But it’s very distracting! Very!”

 

Jeremy knew Michael could feel his smirk as he shifted once more, just fully stretching out.

 

(Jeremy): “So? Whatcha gonna do about it?”

 

(Michael): “What I wanna do is make out, but we can’t right now.”

 

(Jeremy): “Well we’ll just have to save it for later then.”

 

It was an unspoken promise that he’d make it through. Jeremy climbed to his feet and pulled himself close to Michael, arms around him and their bodies flushed. He lifted his mask off to expose his face fully, leaving him exposed and vulnerable emotionally, since he no longer had his guard protecting them from being seen.

 

“I think we have time for a quick kiss though,” he murmured, looking up at Michael softly.

 

Michael’s eyes softened then, even if his cheeks were still warm. “How quick is ‘quick’ though?” he asked, somewhat teasingly but also honestly asking. He had one arm wrapped around Jeremy, and the other cupped one of his cheeks.

 

Instead of answering verbally, Jeremy leaned up and let his eyes flutter shut. Michael leaned down and connected their lips softly and so sweetly.

 

This time he let Michael lead the kiss, wanted him to, almost needed him to. And he’ll get Michael to lead the next one, when they’re out and safe once more. He needed this, the feeling of safety and comfort and a sense of being cared for, more than he can say right then.

 

After about a minute, they parted. Jeremy never wanted that minute to end.

 

“That’s how quick,” he murmured, almost sadly.

 

Michael placed a lingering kiss to Jeremy’s forehead then before resting his forehead there instead. “Well, it’ll be longer after this. We can kiss all we want after we get stoned in my basement?”

 

“It’s a date.” He gazed up at his boyfriend, no tears forming even if they felt appropriate. He just pecked Michael’s lips and pulled back, tugging down his mask.

 

After Michael nodded, he quickly kissed his now-covered forehead before pulling back, stretching his arms above his head with a soft yet somewhat sad smile. Derek came back over then, looking between the two but not mentioning the mood. “Alright, everyone’s ready to go. You guys good?”

 

“Yeah.” Jeremy sighed, and he was about to give the signal to move out when another voice cut through the chaos in his head.

 

“We’re ready too.” From over the street, his dad and Michael’s moms appeared, all holding what appeared to be modified SQUIP energy guns. Jeremy knew Jake had been working on some to help understand them, but how had their parents gotten them?

 

“Dad? What are you doing here?” Jeremy blurted. His dad smiled softly and clapped him on the shoulder.

 

“I wasn’t there for you last time you needed me, I sure as hell am not going to flake on you now.” Before Jeremy could protest, or say anything really, his dad cut him off. “All three of us are used to different battlefields. And we refuse to let you go alone. So either you let us help you directly or we’re going in after you anyway.”

 

Michael seemed just as mystified, almost tearing up as he looked at the three adults. Both of his moms came over to him, giving him a hug. “We lost you once. We aren’t letting that ever happen again,” Ina said, and Mom nodded in agreement. The two each gave a kiss to one side of his head before pulling away.

 

Mom looked over at Jeremy then, the gun held in one hand as the other rested on her hip. “Tell us where we need to go and what we need to do.”

 

Jeremy blinked himself out of his state and fell right into Gamer mode. He had three new people to look after and direct, three new people who knew how to handle themselves and still trusted him to come up with the best plan. No pressure.

 

“You three would all be best with Psyche and Charade. They’re the second line, and working on dividing and confusing the enemy forces so my team can make it through. You’ll be behind Countess and Hothead, who are spear pointing the attack.” He nodded towards their guns. “You comfortable enough with using them as they are?”

 

“We wouldn’t here with them if we weren’t,” his dad told him before giving a warming smile to him. “We’ve been practicing. Brainiac over there actually helped us the past week or so.” Jake gave a somewhat guilty shrug, though Jeremy knew he really wasn’t guilty for having done that.

 

Jeremy nodded and before he could stop himself, he launched at his dad and wrapped him in a tight hug. “Thanks dad,” he murmured, his voice cracking ever so slightly. “I love you.”

 

His dad hugged him back, and he could hear the smile in his voice when he said, “I love you too, private. Well, looking around, you’re more like a staff sergeant now, just like your old man was, but that doesn’t roll off the tongue as well.”

 

Jeremy chuckled weakly at that. Once he pulled away, he stood tall, legs together and back straight just like his dad taught him. He gave him a salute, trying to convey his appreciation at the comment as well as how seriously he took his role. His dad returned it but didn’t let it go when Jeremy did. His eyes were shining proudly.

 

“At ease, soldier.” He smiled before turning and facing towards the city. “Now, you all know your positions. Let’s move!”

 

Everyone moved out then, seeming to get a new burst of energy from the new ‘recruits’ and what just went down. Michael stayed right by his side as they waited, squeezing his hand and smiling wetly down at him.

 

“Well, I was never an army man, but cool to know I’m a sergeant,” Derek said then from Jeremy’s other side.

 

 

 

Chloe and Rich lead the charge, moving faster than the rest to break through the lines that were stationed not too far from their entry point (Jeremy had studied the troop distribution and found this to be their weakest area, but that didn’t mean they weren’t still wildly outnumbered). The adults, Brooke, and Christine were behind them, slower but still keeping up a decent speed. Jeremy’s group were next, a wide distance between them and the group ahead to make sure they could take out the soldiers before they passed. Jenna and Jake brought up the rear, ready to take out any stragglers or surprise attacks but also monitoring the tablet Jake had or cameras in the surrounding area.

 

There were a few stragglers, though not as many as there would have been if his dad and Michael’s moms didn’t come along. They were taken out easily, and Jeremy had to keep himself from relaxing at how easy this seemed to be so far. The team kept a steady communication through their chat, and while some people started to get some bruises and injuries, things were going well considering all of the alternatives.

 

Jeremy spotted some soldiers coming in from the side. He knew that the spearhead team and the advanced guard wouldn’t get them in time, they were too far off course, so it was up to him and his team.

 

He didn’t know what to do.

 

He was about to point them out to Michael when something occurred to him. Michael. Jeremy had managed to connect to his SQUIP, the most advanced SQUIP there was. If he could do that-

 

Jeremy reached out, feeling for the same telltale remnants of the newer SQUIPs Michael’s one had. He found the threads and grabbed them, forcing himself into their SQUIPs and taking control. Suddenly, he had three guns at his command, but he had to focus to use them. He stopped moving for a moment, arm outstretched towards them as he directed them around the group.

 

Michael seemed to notice and pick up on exactly what was going on. He kept closer to Jeremy, and Derek seemed to pick up on what Jeremy was doing a few seconds later. They stuck a little closer to him, even if Jeremy had a three-person ring around them to protect them as well.

 

They began moving again, slower this time, but still making steady progress.

 

“Point out any to me. I got us covered,” Jeremy managed to grit out, making the soldiers begin shooting at any approaching enemies. They were resisting, sure, but not enough to be too much of an issue to Jeremy.

 

Both Derek and Michael nodded, keeping a vigilant eye out. As they did, Jeremy got an update in the mental chat.

 

{Hothead}: Countess and I are sticking it out, but we’re getting a bit touched up. We might need to back off soon, recuperate, and rush back in

 

{Gamer}: Got it. Psyche, Charade, you and the adults set up a line where Ronson Road meets Route 1, do not go any further. Countess, Hothead, pull back to our position, we can camp in the Hobby Lobby parking lot. Everyone regroup so we can catch a breath.

 

Everyone let Jeremy know that they heard and understood over the mental chat.

 

{Psyche}: I don’t know how accurate this may be, but look out for the chance of the first wave of updates coming out. I don’t know who will be updated, though I know for sure that Jeremy will not, so beware.

 

{Gamer}: Noted. Thanks Psyche.

 

There was another wave of agreements from the rest of the chat. They kept moving.

 

The parking lot was in sight, as was the line he’d ordered be set, when he felt it. The stabbing pain in his head as a wireless update hit the airwaves. He could feel it, feel the strength and power that went with it, and he lost one of his soldiers to it. The other two shot him down as soon as he doubled over.

 

Jeremy could sense none of his usual network was lost to it, but something was wrong.

 

“Jeremy?” Michael asked in a small voice. As he stood and looked at his boyfriend, his heart started racing double time. Michael was staring, eyes wide, confused and scared, as he glanced between Jeremy... and Jeremy.

 

Shit.

 

This time, the SQUIP looked exactly like him, down to the minute detail. Jeremy looked to Derek to ask for help, but he wasn’t there. Shit, he must have gone ahead to help the others. Of course it had to be at the worst time.

 

“I...” Michael took a step back from the both of them, looking between the two with wide eyes that were starting to be infiltrated by that neon blue.

 

Jeremy couldn’t do this without Michael, he couldn’t afford to leave him. Still, he wasn’t sure what to do.

 

“Michael, listen to me. You got the update but you’re stronger than it. Just focus on me and you can fight it off.” He spoke as calmly as he could, pulling off his mask and holding his hands out in a calming, surrendering gesture. He mentally instructed his two soldiers to keep up their perimeter they already were holding.

 

Michael did look at him, the blue invading his eyes flickering and weakening as he focused on Jeremy instead of the SQUIP.

 

“Don’t listen to it, Mikey,” Michael’s SQUIP said, its tone almost begging as it seemed to do the same sort of thing as Jeremy did. “It just wants you to think it’s me. I know you can fight it, don’t listen to it, don’t let it manipulate you,” the SQUIP said, its arms out with wide eyes.

 

Michael looked over at the SQUIP then, eyes wide and confused as the fading blue started to invade his eyes again. “I... I don’t...” He looked between both of them, obviously unsure. Jeremy had no idea exactly what was going on in Michael’s mind either, so he couldn’t help him as much as he wanted to.

 

“Please, Mikey. Just... don’t look at either of us. I’ll go join the group and you can follow behind and I won’t interact with you at all, if you don’t trust me. Just please, don’t listen to it either. I already lost you once, I can’t go through that again.”

 

“It wants you to let you think you’re in charge, Mikey. Prove you are though, look at me and I’ll help you, please. I can’t lose you again, I can’t deal with that. Not when I can help you,” the SQUIP said, gaining more of Michael’s eyesight then. Jeremy wasn’t sure if it was manipulating something in his head or not, especially since he didn’t know exactly what Michael saw when it first broke.

 

“Jeremy...” At this point, Michael’s eyes were basically half blue, half brown, looking between the two versions of Jeremy. “I... I don’t...”

 

Jeremy had all but forgotten about the battle up until that point. He suddenly felt the two soldiers go offline, not from an update but from something else. He staggered, clutching his head as the connection snapped. He looked up, bleary-eyed and weak at that moment, only to find an energy gun pointed right at his head.

 

“The Queen’s been located,” the soldier spoke, taking aim. Jeremy couldn’t do anything, his body in shock from the sudden loss of the connection.

 

When he expected the shock and unconsciousness to come, it never came. Instead, he saw Michael rush over, pushing the soldier down. The soldier’s head knocked against the ground, but as their head did, the shot aimed at Jeremy hit Michael in the gut. He dropped on top of the now-unconscious soldier, and the other Jeremy vanished.

 

“No!” Jeremy screamed, diving down next to Michael and grabbing shakily at his wrist. His pulse was sure and steady, and Jeremy felt some of the panic dissipate. He knew the weapon was set to stun, but it was still terrifying to see Michael just... drop.

 

Still shaking slightly, Jeremy stood up and scooped up Michael, carrying him bridal style. He may or may not have kicked the soldier as he did so. With a bit of focus, the offending weapon was levitated into the air and followed next to Jeremy, shooting almost anything that moved, including the last soldier left. He was glad it just took charge and not ammunition. He barely felt any strain from this, a sort of cool detachment settling itself over his mind.

 

He started towards the parking lot.

 

No one stopped him (more like if anyone tried, they failed quickly). Jeremy made it into the parking lot, and he saw both of Michael’s moms standing guard there. Their eyes widened when they saw Jeremy come in, Nanay coming over and checking over Michael in his arms. “What happened?” She quickly checked his pulse and relief visibly washed over her.

 

“Update hit him, then he got shot protecting me,” he croaked. He walked slower so Nanay could fuss over Michael, shooting the soldier who he sensed approaching from his right, exiting the building across the road. He wouldn’t put Michael down. He couldn’t, not yet. He couldn’t go on without him.

 

Nanay looked him over a bit more, Mom shooting some soldiers as well. “He needs to lie down, and his head is gonna hurt when he wakes up with how he fell, but he’s fine. I just don’t know how long he’s gonna be out for.” She pressed a kiss to the top of Michael’s head. “I need to get back, but Hothead and Countess are further in, waiting for you guys.”

 

Jeremy nodded and carried Michael to the safety of the car park. Somehow, Jake and Jenna had already arrived.

 

“You guys alright?” he asked, holding Michael closer, cradling him to his chest gently. He needed to hear that the rest of his family was safe. He needed some form of stability.

 

"I'm a bit roughed up, but I'm all good otherwise," Rich said from where he was sitting, resting against one of the lampposts in the parking lot. Chloe was patching him up though, the top of his suit pulled down and tied around his waist as she worked.

 

Jake was looking down at Rich with worry, and Jenna was doing the same, but he pulled away to look over at Jeremy. "We’re all alright otherwise." He looked down at Michael then before looking back up at Jeremy. "Did he get hit with the update wave?"

 

“Yeah. But he still took a shot for me, he was fighting it,” Jeremy mumbled, relaxing a little. Everyone else was safe. “I saw the time stamp on this one, the next one is scheduled to go out in two hours and it’ll be aimed towards dormant SQUIPs. It won’t get all of us, I don’t think, but we’re running out of time.”’

 

"Well, we still have two hours, and even then, we won't be done for then," Rich offered, though hissed when Chloe's disinfectant wipe brushed over a bad area. "Shit."

 

"Sorry."

 

Jenna looked over at Jeremy with crossed arms. "I think that, if he was fighting it, he won't be all under its effects when he wakes up. If anything, if we were here and someone was able to help him, he'd be fine." She looked down at Michael before looking back up at Jeremy. "Have any ideas on what to do? We have ideas too, if you're a bit overwhelmed and just to add generally, but you're still the leader. Ghost went to make sure everyone set up the line perfectly, he should be back in a minute or two if you need him to help."

 

“Gimme your ideas first. Then I can make a proper plan.” Jeremy nodded, sitting down cross legged and holding Michael close still. He didn’t realise he was sore until he got to actually stop. The gun behind him clattered noisily to the ground as he let that go too.

 

"I looked through some of the cameras in the complex past the mall. It strained me, but I was able to get a good idea on what to do and where to go. I can do my best to guide you guys through the mental chat. And by you guys, I mean you and Derek. He can look ahead, helping you to stay basically undetected since the SQUIPs can't detect ghosts," Jenna offered. "I know that would mean leaving Michael without you, but as soon as he comes back to, he can connect to you through his mental link he has with you. We'll protect his body and have at least two people with him to keep him safe."

 

Jeremy listened carefully, nodding as he went. It made sense and it was a good plan. He didn’t like that he had to leave Michael, but he trusted his team mates to look after him.

 

“Okay...” He nodded after a moment more. “Here’s what we’re gonna do. Michael stays here with you and Rich, you guide me through the chat. Derek is my lookout and keeps me safe while you’re giving me directions, that way you don’t strain yourself.” He took a breath. “Everyone else just holds this line, keep the rest of the group safe. Swap out everyone when they get tired so that no one exhausts themselves. I’ll stealth in and call for assistance if I need it.”

 

"That sounds like an amazing plan," Jake told him, and the rest of his team present nodded in agreement.

 

Not a moment later, Derek drifted over, almost appearing out of nowhere. "OK, so they're all good, but Christine and Mr. Heere'll need to swap out soon," he said before taking in the scene, sort of snapping out of whatever mode he was in. Near instantly, he was down next to Jeremy, looking him and Michael over. "You OK? I'm guessing he's OK, but I need to know if you're OK, Jeremy."

 

“No,” Jeremy replied honestly. “I’m feeling almost... too calm. Kinda like how I ended up in the room but not. Just... detached but also hyper present.” He sighed and shook his head. “I can’t explain it. But I’ll be okay once this is all over.”

 

Derek nodded, and it was clear he really tried his best to understand. "What's the plan?"

 

 

 

Twenty minutes later, Jeremy and Derek were sneaking into the side door Jeremy had escaped through during his last ‘visit’ here. Being back here, with the white and blue walls and the too clean floors, had him repressing a seemingly permanent shiver that ran down his back. If he had hackles, they would be raised. His expression must have said as much (he didn’t bother with putting the mask back on) since Derek looked concerned.

 

"You good?" Derek asked, looking around and a bit ahead before looking back at Jeremy. The coast was obviously clear.

 

“Better than I was last time I was here,” was Jeremy’s only reply. He followed after Derek, still shivering slightly. It was too white in here.

 

Derek, even if he was translucent, provided color that he definitely needed. He kept glancing back from time to time, waiting for directions on where to go that Jenna fed him through their mental chat.

 

{TechnoBug}: K, you need to take a left up here, have him check around there. You're going to have to go to the basement for this, but I have routes I saw and planned for you if you need to get away for any reason.

 

Jeremy relayed the instructions to Derek, who nodded and went ahead to check. Jeremy followed after him, staying low and alert. To help with his sensory issue, he hacked his SQUIP to put the equivalent of rainbow stickers on the walls, tricking his eyes and brain that they were actually there.

 

As Derek continued to lead the way, Jeremy tried his best to focus on the stickers, eventually trying to add on gaming-related ones. When he started to get a bit worked up because the stickers weren't helping that much, he felt a familiar presence return to the back of his head, but... he was still unconscious? If he focused hard enough on the mental scape that their link had, Jeremy swore he could see Michael lounged out in that soft space that looked a lot like a cloudy area, and like Michael was lounging in the clouds themselves.

 

(Michael): "Holy shit, this is weird. Hi."

 

(Jeremy): “... Hi. This is weird, how are you doing this? You’re still unconscious.”

 

Wait, processing... processing. Oh shit!

 

(Jeremy): “Oh my god! You’re here somehow! Sorry, I’m struggling a little. I’m so happy to see you!”

 

He followed after Derek still, splitting his focus just enough to focus on Michael and reality.

 

(Michael): "I... I'm not too sure how I’m doing this. I think I'm conscious enough for me to be 'awake' but not to be awake in my body... If I remember correctly, with those sort of guns, I think they had those specifically made a setting for those who were SQUIPed. If they were to be hit, they wake up with their SQUIP activated or reactivated. So I'm awake but my SQUIP isn't reactivated fully yet."

 

Michael looked around in the weird mindscape.

 

(Michael): "I guess my powers landed me here and sort of took my consciousness away from my body and here so I wouldn't reactivate the SQUIP in my head."

 

(Jeremy): “Oh, that makes sense.”

 

Jeremy motioned to Derek and, once he had his attention, pointed to his temple. “Player One has rejoined the battle.” Derek grinned.

 

Processing... processing... wait.

 

(Jeremy): “You basically took a bullet for me.”

 

His tone was a strange mixture of awed and unimpressed, but it was also totally worried.

 

(Michael): "Does it help that I sort of forgot about that feature I told you about until now? And I was still fighting and didn't know which was which Jeremy at the time, though the damn soldier doing that to you should've tipped me off. The SQUIP was too distracting, I guess. But I saw the soldier there and just sort of reacted. Don't tell me off for it either because I know you, Jeremy, you would've done the same for me."

 

Jeremy sighed mentally and sort of grinned.

 

(Jeremy): “Yeah, you got me.”

 

Derek motioned for Jeremy to hide in an alcove, so he activated Christine’s powers and did so. The patrol walked right past.

 

(Jeremy): “I’m glad you’re alright, Mikey. I knew you would be, but I was worried.”

 

(Michael): "I'm glad I'm alright too. And I'm glad you're also alright. I sorta am stuck in this mindscape right now, so I don't know what's going on... Maybe I can figure out how to see and hear from you. Is it OK if I do that? I don't want you to strain yourself more by trying to do that for me."

 

(Jeremy): “Go for it.”

 

Once they were certain the patrol had passed, Jeremy began following after Derek, taking the instructions from Jenna as they went further.

 

As he went, going further and actually making it to the stairs, Jeremy heard Michael let out a noise of triumph.

 

(Michael): “OK, got it. Oh shit, you’re going down. Even at my rank, I couldn’t go down to the basement, it was guarded.”

 

(Jeremy): “It’s a good thing I’m the Queen then, isn’t it?”

 

“Michael says it’s guarded, be ready,” Jeremy hissed to Derek, pressing himself against the wall. He reached out with his powers and felt out to see if there was anyone down there. There were two guards. He relayed it to Derek, who nodded in understanding.

 

“Let me handle this,” Derek said. “I’ve honed my skills better during my time with my mom.” Jeremy saw him go around the corner, and he listened as best as he could and use his powers to watch. Michael, from inside their mindscape, helped to enhance so he saw everything happening.

 

Jeremy saw Derek go and possess one of the two guards, their shoulders rolling forward as Derek more than likely got adjusted. The other guard glanced over, but kept looking forward after.

 

There was a tense minute before the body Derek was possessing raised the gun he had, shooting the other guard. He only released the trigger once he passed out. Derek then aimed it right at the guard before pressing the trigger again. The body dropped before Derek popped out and came back around the corner, bowing. “Your way is cleared.”

 

Jeremy offered a small clap. “I’m impressed, dude, that was really smoothly done. And... thanks. I know you’re not a fan of doing that.” He smiled softly, listening for a moment. “Michael says he’s proud of you too.”

 

“Well thank you both,” Derek said with a smile before making a gesture for Jeremy to follow him. “This way, my good sir.”

 

Jeremy followed Derek through the door. Inside, there was a rather large machine. It was made of sleek, black chrome with neon green detailing making it look like something from the matrix. In the middle there was a chair with a helmet above it, and, surprisingly, no restraints. This was the Queen Maker, just like Jeremy had seen in the plans. Time to save the world.

 

(Michael): “Well, I’ll literally be here with you through this. I never thought I’d literally be here like this, but this works out better, I think.”

 

Derek hovered over, looking the machine over before shrugging. “Do you want me to keep guard near the door or to be by your side?”

 

“Keep guard please.” Jeremy nodded. “And... get ready. To get the others... just in case, y’know?” His smile was weak and he was terrified. Derek seemed to get that, since he reached over and gave Jeremy a tight hug.

 

“I’ll see you after, Jeremy,” he murmured. Jeremy clung for as long as he could manage before finally letting go and heading over to the chair.

 

Derek went and hovered over, going through the door and more than likely staying outside of the door. As Jeremy went to the chair, Michael gave him a mental hug.

 

(Michael): “You ready, Jeremy? I’ll be here with you through all of this.”

 

Jeremy nodded and sat down, pulling the helmet down on to his head. It fit perfectly.

 

(Jeremy): “Well, here I go.”

 

He reached out with his powers, grabbing the internals of the machine and booting it up. It growled to life, and Jeremy could feel it begin to work. He held the arms of the seat, trying to keep his breathing even.

 

His grip turned painful as hundreds of tiny probes started pressing against his head, sending shockwave after shockwave of pain through them. He screamed and writhed in the chair but couldn’t seem to move away.

 

He could feel the change start to come over his SQUIP. He could feel the upgrade from Drone to Queen start to happen, but it wouldn’t take.

 

Using what little energy he could spare, Jeremy turned off the machine and threw himself out of the chair, gasping for breath.

 

He felt some energy come to him then so he didn’t just pass out or come close to it from Michael. Derek popped his head in then, quickly coming over and kneeling down beside him. “Holy shit, what happened?”

 

(Michael): “What the hell?”

 

“It- it didn’t work,” Jeremy gasped out, rubbing his arms to try and contain his shakes from how fucking weak that left him. It was worse than a SQUIP activation or deactivation by far. “It wouldn’t bind. I need an active SQUIP.”

 

(Michael): “That makes sense, especially with what they had me doing before when you were here. They’d have me activate it and then you’d be taken here so you could be binded and changed to be the Queen.”

 

Jeremy barely managed to get that out to Derek, mostly summarizing and giving short points. Derek frowned then as he looked back over at the machine. “So we either find some tool they have to reactivate it or get you some shitty soda...”

 

Jeremy reached up and pointed to the taser looking object on a desk nearby, his arms shaking from the effort. He’d sensed it and it’s purpose from the moment he walked in. “That’s the tool. It needs to be buzzed to the back of my neck, where the highest concentration of SQUIP nanobots are.”

 

Derek looked over to the item then before going over. “I... let me see,” he muttered out. Somehow, he managed to pick up and hold the thing from the desk and taking it over to Jeremy, still holding onto it. “I got it. Are you sure about this, Jeremy?”

 

“I’m sure it will work. What I’m not sure on is if I can control it once it’s on,” he muttered, his shivered finally calming enough that he could look up at Derek properly. “But it’s either we try this or you kill me now, because unless we do this, we lose.”

 

(Michael): “Don’t worry, I’ll be helping you when it activates.”

 

The hesitation was obvious in Derek’s eyes before he went and shifted, patting his shoulder. “I’m going to count to three. On three, I’m going to hit it where your area is.

 

“One.” There was a shift on where Derek’s hand rested.

 

“Two.” He felt a mental hug from Michael.

 

“Three.”

 

The end of the device hit the back of his neck.

 

Pain shot through him, but compared to the agony of earlier, this was a sweet caress. Jeremy barely flinched, even as he gripped the legs of his suit, bunching up the fabric. He whimpered slightly, and his eyes screwed themselves shut, but he didn’t give it the pleasure of causing him to cry.

 

Eventually, the pain died down and Jeremy was left on his knees as his SQUIP towered over him. He made it visible, so Derek could definitely see it, and focused.

 

“Looks like all your predictions came true,” Jeremy grit out, standing and glaring up at his SQUIP, who looked surprised that he was so calm and in control. “I failed my hero duties, and Michael got captured. He joined the Collective. And now I’ve reactivated you willingly. Are you happy now, asshole?”

 

Not yet,” the SQUIP said as it walked over to the seat he was in before, resting its hands against the back of it and one of its arms. “While I may have had all of my predictions come true, you haven’t done everything to make me happy yet. Do this, and then we’ll both be happy, Jeremy.

 

(Michael): “Wait, it... Jeremy, I don’t know-“

 

(Jeremy): “I don’t have a choice, Mikey. I’m sorry, but I have to do this.”

 

Jeremy strode forward, his head held high.

 

“This isn’t about you being happy, or me. I become Queen, then you’re all gonna burn. And if I burn with you then that’s something I’ll take.” He shifted and sat in the seat.

 

His SQUIP smiled in spite of everything Jeremy said. “Alright, whatever you say, Jeremy. Prove me wrong then. Put on the helmet and show me what you’re going to do when you become the Queen.

 

Jeremy reached up and yanked the helmet down on to his head.

 

(Jeremy): “I love you.”

 

The machine activated. It started working perfectly this time, Jeremy could feel it binding to his SQUIP, who was screaming as loudly as Jeremy, fizzing and sparking until it finally vanished from sight. He felt things shift and rearrange, but he couldn’t tell what. The pain was so intense.

 

And then it wasn’t.

 

Once again, Jeremy lifted the helmet off and threw himself to the floor. In an instant, Derek was by his side, but Jeremy barely registered him. He was more concerned with the fact that he could feel a million pinpricks in his brain, not points of pain but points of consciousness. He could feel every single SQUIP on the planet and it was almost... beautiful.

 

He could barely notice that Derek was still there by his side, even if the cold spots of pressure he could vaguely recognize. Every single SQUIP was amazing, he could feel all of them, including people he knew as well as celebrities and famous politicians and just so many people. It was insanely amazing.

 

(Michael): “-emy! Jeremy, can you hear me? Jeremy!”

 

(Jeremy): “So many people have one, Mikey. I can feel every single one of them. It’s amazing.”

 

He couldn’t help the wonder and awe; he’d never felt so connected or included or needed in his entire life. Each and every SQUIP out there would rely on him for final directions, to know what to do and how to achieve it. He could feel them all burning bright and eager to be used. They wanted him to send out commands. Even the dormant ones in his friends’ heads, they all wanted it too. And he could turn them on with a single thought if he wanted to. This feeling was breathtaking.

 

(Michael): “Jeremy, I need you to listen to me. Just because you can feel so many people doesn’t mean that you need to do anything with them. In fact, you shouldn’t-“

 

Jeremy felt a little sensation probing his mind, one from a SQUIP. There were a lot there right now, all the SQUIPs present in his mind, so it took a second to realize that it was his SQUIP. It seemed like it was something that would help all those with SQUIPs, including his friends.

 

(Michael): “JEREMY, DO NOT-“

 

Jeremy, in his curiosity, accidentally approved the idea instead of just listening to it.

 

In an instant, pain stabbed through his brain. He approved the update, oh fuck oh fuck oh-

 

This was fine. It was as it was supposed to be. Jeremy felt one SQUIP fade away, as it fused into his own consciousness. As the head of the network, Jeremy didn’t need to have a SQUIP, but he did need the assistance managing them all. His mind was only human. Being part SQUIP made it easier.

 

He felt a buzz in the back of his head, pushing against him louder than all the other individuals he could feel. And a cold sensation was grabbing his hands, his shoulders, and shaking him. He really needed to address both of them before reactivating everyone and sending out the mass update.

 

Jeremy focused back in on reality first, blinking back in as he saw Derek shaking him. His eyes were wide, and even if he felt the buzzing in his head right now, he kept it at bay. Deal with them one at a time.

 

“-eremy, can you hear me? What happened? Are you alright?” Derek asked, eyes wide and the equivalent of watery for a ghost.

 

Ghost. Derek was a ghost, the impossible boy. Jeremy would never be able to connect to him, which actually made him really sad. He wanted to know what the spark of Derek’s mind was like. He’d have to ask Derek’s brother when he got the chance.

 

“I feel fine, Derek,” Jeremy replied softly. “There’s just so much that I need a moment to get up to speed, but don’t worry. I’ll make sure we’re all going to be happy, and no one will have to suffer anymore.” He smiled up at his friend.

 

Derek wasn’t smiling. He didn’t look happy, he looked horrified. He looked sad and scared and sort of broken. Jeremy didn’t understand why. “What’s wrong? I thought you liked the fact I wanted to help people. I can now. I can help everyone.”

 

“This has never been the way you wanted to help people, not like this,” Derek said, seemingly getting a bit choked up. “You wanted to keep them safe from SQUIPs, not with them.” The ghost boy looked around then, at Jeremy’s costume, before cursing under his breath. “Fuck, that doesn’t work anymore! And I can’t- I can’t... Even if you asked me to, I can’t do it.” Derek buried his face into his hands then, and Jeremy swore that he heard Derek start to weep and sob. “I’m sorry. I can’t do it, I’m so sorry...”

 

Jeremy hesitated, wanting to wrap his arms around Derek but getting the feeling that the action wouldn’t be welcome. He settled on staying where he was, kneeling in front of Derek and fiddling with his costume sleeves. He retreated inwards, listening to the incessant buzzing that was so sweet a feeling but also so desperate.

 

(Michael): “-lease. Please, I need you to focus on me, on what I’m saying. Are you listening? Jeremy?”

 

In their mindscape, which Jeremy was happy was still there, the clouds weren’t nice and fluffy like before. They were darker, a bit stormier. Michael’s eyes were wide and panicked, almost desperate as tears were there in the corners of his eyes, some streaks already marking his face.

 

(Jeremy): “Michael! You’re still here! I sort of lost you when everyone else got here too, so I’m glad you’re alright and still with me.”

 

(Michael): “Yeah, but you’re not still here. Well, you are, but it’s also your SQUIP. You both fused. I realized that, and I was trying to stop you, you were just falling into it’s trap. You can’t do this though, lead every SQUIPed person.”

 

That confused him.

 

(Jeremy): “Why not? It’s what I was made for, literally the reason Rich’s SQUIP insisted he offer me one as well. From the beginning, this was supposed to be my role. It’s the best way to help everyone!”

 

He grinned proudly at Michael, he could finally help everyone properly! He could be a real hero and save everyone. And Michael would help him as his Player Two (Jeremy was sort of given Player One of the world, so Michael would have to take Player Two this time, even if it was weird).

 

(Michael): "This was not your fucking reason for being born, Jeremy. I know you want to help everyone and that you think this is the best way because your SQUIP fucking merged with you, but this is not what you're supposed to be doing!"

 

In the scape, Michael walked forward, grabbing Jeremy's projected form by his shoulders. He was searching in Jeremy's eyes then, seemingly desperate.

 

Jeremy said nothing, instead he just stared up at Michael in confusion. Why wasn’t he helping Jeremy? He promised, always on the same team. Why wasn’t he on Jeremy’s team now?

 

Before Jeremy could hear what Michael had to say next, another buzzing entered his head. He focused in on that, sort of putting a literal pause on Michael as he tuned in.

 

{TechnoBug}: JEREMY! RESPOND ASAP, WHAT HAPPENED? WE ALL FELT SOMETHING AND WE CAN GUESS IT'S BECAUSE OF YOU. WHAT HAPPENED???

 

{Queen}: Hi Jenna, everyone. Don’t worry, I haven’t forgotten about you all! Reactivation is just hard to find the right controls for.

 

{TechnoBug}: Wait, what?

 

{TechnoBug}: Oh no.

 

{Hothead}: oh fuck no, don't you dare, Jeremy

 

Why weren’t they happy about that?

 

{Queen}: But why, Rich? I just wanna help and this is the best way. I can make it all wonderful for everybody!

 

Now that he was properly aware of his friends, he started reaching out, trying to find them. Dormant SQUIPs were harder for him to see now, but he’d find them and help them soon enough.

 

{Hothead}: that's what the fucking thing in your head is making you think, I refuse to ever go back into that shiny happy hivemind!

 

{Charade}: Jeremy, please, this isn't what we all want, remember?

 

{Queen}: But you will.

 

He found them! Since Rich was obviously the most scared, Jeremy figured he should get it done on him first. Like ripping a bandaid off. It only took a moment, a single thought.

 

{Queen} Is that better, Richie? Didn’t hurt too much, did it?

 

Even if it helped, it still hurt and Jeremy didn’t want his friends to be in pain.

 

{Richie}: Yeah, a lot better. Thank you, Jeremy!

 

{Braniac}: fuck

 

Jeremy felt a lot of anger coming from Chloe, Jake, and Jenna. The rest seemed sort of panicked. Panic meant they were more likely to hurt themselves, which would be bad. So he reached out to Brooke and Christine and reactivated and updated them as gently as possible.

 

{Queen}: Guys, can you please make sure no one gets hurt? Chloe, Jake, and Jenna seem kinda angry and I don’t want them doing something they’ll regret…

 

{Brookie}: Of course, Jeremy! Don't worry, Richie's holding onto Mikey's body.

 

There was a pause in the mental chat for a good minute, all while Michael was still paused in his mind mid-sentence.

 

{Richie}: Chrissy and Brookie got them, Jeremy! They're all good.

 

{Countess}: Like HELL we're good! Listen, wherever you SQUIP son of a bitch are in him, I will personally demolish whatever form is removed of you from surgery or whatever after all of this and ground you to dust under my feet-

 

Chloe was being really angry, worse than anyone else, so he worked with her next. She didn’t really have a nickname, like everyone else did, but she did have something special she only shared with her closest friends. Her middle name was Tessa, so that’s who she’d be, just like everyone else was getting to be themselves too. And since Jeremy was in charge, and she was his friend, everyone else in the network would be too.

 

{Queen}: Thanks Richie. When I’m done, could you guys come here and bring Mikey’s body? He’s with me in my head, but I think if we get him actually close, he’ll go back into his body and he can join the network again!

 

{Richie}: Of course! Tessa might have to carry him since she's still the strongest out of all of us.

 

{Tessa}: I'd be happy to!

 

{TechnoBug}: Jeremy, this is not what you want to do. This is not why we did this and fought and sent you over there. You have to know this and understand why

 

What Jenna was saying was making his head hurt. Her words were almost blurry and fuzzed out, he couldn’t understand them for some reason. He wanted to hear what Jenna had to say but he also found it hard to listen to anyone when they weren’t part of his network, that had to be it! She was on a different frequency or something. He quickly updated her so he could properly listen.

 

{Queen}: Could you please repeat that, Jen? I couldn’t understand it, I’m sorry

 

{Jen}: Oh, I was just saying how this is what you wanted to do, this is why we did this and fought and sent you over there! Sorry if that didn't come through the first time. I work with technology with my powers, I should be better with that. So sorry.

 

{Braniac}: Well, I guess this is it then. Just do it.

 

{Queen}: You don’t gotta sound so sad, Jakey-D. I’m helping. It’s gonna be better.

 

With one final touch, Jake joined the network too.

 

{Jakey-D}: You're right, sorry about that, Jeremy! I just wasn't in the right mindspace, I guess.

 

Oh, speaking of mindspace!

 

{Queen}: You’re right, I need to get back to Michael. Bring his body please, and bring my dad and his moms? We can get them into the network at the complex, we have better SQUIPs over here than the soldiers in the field do.

 

{Tessa}: Of course! They're going to be a bit surprised at first, but we'll make sure they come over safely along with Mikey!

 

{Chrissy}: See you soon, Jeremy!

 

{Queen}: See you soon!

 

Jeremy pulled out of that chat and mentally turned back to Michael. He was still paused, and Jeremy felt a little guilty about that. He’d have to apologize, but surely Michael would understand. He was just helping their friends! He unpaused him.

 

(Michael): "-nd this isn't why we all came here. We came here so you could stop the SQUIPs by becoming the Queen, not by enhancing them."

 

Michael seemed completely unaware of being paused, though he seemed a bit breathless when he came back.

 

Jeremy stepped closer to him in the mindscape, cupping his cheeks.

 

(Jeremy): “Hey, it’s okay, Mikey. You’ll understand what I’m doing just as soon as the squad get here. They’ve got your body and once you’re back in it, we can connect properly! Then you’ll see I’m just trying to help.”

 

Michael shook his head then, even in Jeremy’s hold. More tears fell down his face, and Jeremy could even feel it.

 

(Michael): “We won’t be able to keep any of the promises that you made if you do that, god damnit! We won’t be able to hang with Derek, we won’t grow up together like how we said we would. You’d be too busy basically ‘helping’ the world by conquering it!”

 

Michael was basically mentally screaming, scrubbing at his eyes with his hands roughly before thrusting his wrist in Jeremy’s face.

 

(Michael): “Look at this thing that you made and tell me what it means, damnit!”

 

Jeremy blinked and looked at the bracelet. It was messy and not very well done, but even in the few months it had been worn it had clearly been well loved and cared for. Jeremy wasn’t exactly sure how Michael had managed to get it back, considering it had been put aside when he got SQUIPed. Michael had managed to sneak it back by-

 

His bracelet had been taken from him when he got SQUIPed. That was their special bracelets from kindergarten, their promise bracelets. Jeremy got his back and somehow so did Michael but the bracelets had been taken by the SQUIPs.

 

(Jeremy): “It’s... it’s our promise.”

 

His words were slow, his voice confused. Why was this making his head hurt? Why was he so fixated on that strip of strings?

 

(Jeremy): “Mikey, what’s it doing to me? Why’s it hurting?”

 

His own bracelet was almost burning on his wrist.

 

(Michael): “I don’t know why it’s hurting you exactly. Maybe it’s you trying to help yourself by reminding you of the promise. It’s not something the SQUIPs want.”

 

Michael held onto Jeremy’s hand, the one with the bracelet on it.

 

(Michael): “What promise did we make when we made them, and what promises have we made since with these bracelets?”

 

Jeremy sniffled a little.

 

(Jeremy): “We promised to always be friends and always be on the same team. And I promised I’d always love you. And you promised you’d come back to me, when you got... taken...”

 

He trailed off. Michael had been forcibly taken by the Collective. Jeremy had shut down. That wasn’t helping anyone, least of all Michael.

 

(Michael): “Why was it a bad thing if I got taken? I need you to tell me, I know you know it in that smart noggin of yours.”

 

Michael’s tone was soft and reassuring, but Jeremy knew that there was an echo of a begging tone in there as he squeezed Jeremy’s hand.

 

(Jeremy): “It was back because they took you from me and they were gonna... change... you...”

 

The SQUIPs had tried to change Michael.

 

(Jeremy): “... Did they change me?”

 

The question was quiet and shaky. Had he been changed without knowing it?

 

(Michael): “They did, Jeremy. They did. You came here to stop the SQUIPs, to keep them from changing everyone. So we could go back to our normal lives. We’re supposed to go on a date after this, remember? Smoking a blunt and making out, preferably with some Seven-Eleven slushies and snacks in the mix.”

 

Michael’s laugh was wet and shaky at best.

 

(Michael): “Please tell me you know that this is wrong. It is. You know it is.”

 

(Jeremy): “If they changed me... that means I’m not actually helping people, am I? I’m not actually doing good...”

 

Jeremy knew what Michael’s answer would be, but he had to hear for himself. He gripped on to his own bracelet, both in the mindscape and in reality. Derek jumped and looked a little less melty and gooey.

 

(Michael): “You aren’t helping people. You’re doing the evil things that the SQUIPs want you to do. You only think you’re helping because they made you think that. If I vanish from here because my body’s close enough and you still think you’re helping, it’s game over. We lost. Evil won.”

 

(Jeremy): “Okay... I-... okay.”

 

Slowly, his limbs shaking, Jeremy stood and looked up. He could feel each and every one of the SQUIPs, which meant he knew what was gonna happen.

 

“Okay, here we go.” He shook out his muscles. “Oh, this is gonna hurt,” he muttered.

 

Derek looked him over then, seeming to understand what was going on. His gloopiness lessened as he looked at Jeremy. “I’ll be here with you. I’ll catch you.”

 

(Michael): “I love you. You’re so brave. Thank you for listening to me.”

 

In the mindscape, Michael hugged him and held onto him.

 

Jeremy nodded and mentally hugged Michael.

 

(Jeremy): “I love you. I’m sorry.”

 

“One million, two hundred and seventy-three thousand, six hundred and ninety-four SQUIPs worldwide. Time to shut. Down.”

 

He felt them, each and every pulsing point of consciousness and intelligence. Yeah, this was going to fucking suck.

 

He felt each of them go from a warm, comforting point to a burning hot spark in a matter of seconds. He was screaming by the time the first thousand were out, writhing by the first ten-thousand. By the time he hit a million, Jeremy’s body and mind had all but shut down. He was left silently gasping and spasming as his body was wracked with the secondary shocks from everyone else. He felt each point die off, but he had no mind to think about it. All that existed was the pain. Not even he existed outside of it.

 

By the time he reached the last one shutting off, he wasn’t even sure if he existed anymore. The only thing that reassured him of it before the blissful feeling of nothing overtaking him was the vague cold pressure points he felt almost cradling him and the hints of a whisper in his head.

Chapter Text

The first thing Jeremy became aware of was that he very much existed and he was very much in pain. Everything hurt. He didn’t know why, but it did. Where even was he?

 

He opened his eyes and found he was greeted by a white blur of a room, which set him on edge. He flailed out to one side, happy to find his glasses on the bedside table. When he slipped them on and found he was in a hospital and not a white cell again, he relaxed. Wait, hospital? Why was he in a hospital?

 

He looked around, focusing in to see Nanay at the foot of his bed, seemingly finishing up with something on her clipboard before smiling at him. Her smile looked tired but so joyful. “Glad to see you’re awake again, Jeremy. So glad.”

 

“Wait, he’s awake?!” Derek popped through the pale blue divider curtain then, eyes wide as he looked over at Jeremy.

 

“Yes, he is.” Nanay went over to him, running her hand gently through Jeremy’s hair. It looked like she was tearing up. “I’m so glad you’re alright...”

 

Jeremy leant into the touch, relaxing into it. “I’m okay... I think. But I’m a little blurry on how I ended up here, if I’m honest.” He thought. “I remember up until the battle, and Michael getting updated... I’m guessing we won?”

 

“You guys did, but by the skin of your teeth. From what Derek told me, Michael managed to convince you somehow, while tricked in the Queen state, that having everyone SQUIPed and connected wasn’t good like the Queen state made it seem. Then you turned off every single SQUIP in the world-“

 

“A lot of people are hospitalized and they’ve set up lots of little hospitals and stuff around the world to accommodate in some places.”

 

Nanay nodded to Derek’s addition as he sat down on the edge of the bed. “There have been surgeries almost nonstop to remove every SQUIP. It’s going to be a long process, I don’t know how long, but they’re doing it. It’s basically a safety hazard, at least from what everyone’s saying, to not have it out.” She carefully reached down, brushing her fingers against the nape of Jeremy’s neck, before pulling back. “The SQUIPs reformed there. It was an easy procedure overall, but it’s dangerous depending on how long you’ve had it and how it connected as well as what kind you had. You were the first to get the surgery done, and that was a few days ago. You’ve been recovering since.”

 

“So it’s... gone. It’s finally, totally gone...” Jeremy murmured, almost in awe of that fact. Then something else registered. “Wait, days? How long have I been out? Is everyone okay? Oh god, Michael isn’t angry with me this time, is h-“

 

“Hun, just take a few deep breaths.” Jeremy listened to Nanay then, taking a few as she ran her fingers through his hair again. “You’ve been out for four, almost five days. Everyone is fine, they’re recovering from their surgeries, though they weren’t as bad as yours. Michael presumably isn’t angry with you. He’s still recovering too. His surgery was longer because he had the newest model, and they had to be careful with how it was embedded. He’s sleeping in the other bed.”

 

“He had his surgery two days ago, it got delayed a little and they had to figure out the best way to get it out,” Derek added as Jeremy felt a cold pressure on his hand. “He’s recovering well though.”

 

Jeremy relaxed, falling limp and his breathing slowing to a more manageable level. Everyone was okay. Michael was okay. They were safe.

 

(Jeremy): “I love you so much.”

 

“Can you pull back the curtain? I know you said he’s alright but it’ll help if I can see him.” Jeremy shot Nanay a weary smile. He was tired.

 

“Of course. He’s still sleeping, I don’t know when he’s going to be up.” Nanay walked over to the divider, pulling back the curtain and letting Jeremy take Michael in.

 

He was lying in bed, connected to IVs and a few other things (just like he was). He was most certainly out, his breathing deep and letting out the occasional soft snore. His glasses were on the side table, a stuffed white bear there as well.

 

Jeremy relaxed further upon seeing Michael looking so peaceful. He reached through the link, finding it strange not to feel any SQUIP as he did, and felt Michael’s consciousness resting just beneath the surface. “I think he’ll wake up by tomorrow at the latest. He’s not too deep.” He sent a small kiss through the link, leaning back and smiling up at the ceiling.

 

“That’s good, because you’re going to need company. You both have more tests to go through than everyone else, so you’ll probably be in here for a few more days,” Nanay said, checking Michael over and running her fingers through his hair. “And... thank you for taking care of him. I’m sorry for how I was before, just dumping that on you. That wasn’t alright for me to do, even if I was originally grieving over Michael at the time.”

 

“It’s not your fault. We were all struggling after that...” Jeremy sighed. “I’m sorry for dumping what I did on you. I think we can just say we both made mistakes though, and move on. It’s all worked out in the end.” A small pause. “Wait, since everyone knew I was the Queen, does that mean everyone made the connection that I was Gamer?”

 

“I’m not too sure. I haven’t been paying attention to the news, only what’s been going on in the hospital really. Probably though, but they can’t make any connections past Gamer.” She walked over then, pressing a kiss to Jeremy’s forehead. “You just try to relax, even if your brain’s whirring away.” Nanay looked to Derek and smiled then. “I’ll see you boys later. Oh, your dad should be in soon, by the way. He’s spent a lot of time here. He also left you a little plush. He left one for all the kids, but he got you and Michael the best ones.” With a wave and a smile, Nanay left, closing the room’s door behind her.

 

Jeremy waved as she left, smiling softly. He loved Nanay so much, and he was so happy she was doing better. And the fact she had come to fight by their side before... just wow. It was a little overwhelming, if he were honest. That was a lot of trust she had in him.

 

Jeremy looked over to his bedside table and his eyes widened in delight. There, sitting quite happily next to him, was a plush opossum. It was small and very fuzzy and Jeremy just loved it instantly. “Hey, Derek? Could you pass me my plushie please? It’s a little out of my reach right now,” he asked, reaching for it and making grabby hands in its direction.

 

“Yeah, hold on,” Derek said. He reached over, grabbing the plush and bringing it over for Jeremy to hold onto. He placed it into Jeremy’s lap, huffing for a second before smiling. “How’re you feeling?”

 

Jeremy instantly picked up the opossum and cuddled it close, rubbing his cheek against the soft fluff. “I’ve been better. I feel really tired and sore, but I don’t think I can sleep yet. And I’m... it’s too quiet. My head feels too empty.” Without the constant hum of tech in the back of his head, Jeremy found his brain too still and peaceful to be comfortable. He’s grown used to the perpetual buzz.

 

“Well, having that literal weight off of you will help you. You just gotta get used to not having that buzz.” Derek looked over at Michael’s sleeping form. “It probably won’t be quiet in there once Michael wakes up. He’ll bombard you.”

 

“I probably would be doing the same.” He chuckled. “How are you doing, though? You...” He swallowed harshly. “It can’t have been easy from your side to see me like that,” he noted softly, reaching over and taking Derek’s hand, squeezing it gently.

 

“It was,” Derek admitted, turning to look at Jeremy. “It sucked and I was scared, and I couldn’t do what you wanted me to do in that situation. I... I’m glad Michael stopped you. I wouldn’t have been able to, but that’s in the past. I’m focusing on the now, and the now is that we’re all OK.”

 

Jeremy tugged gently on his hand, pulling Derek closer. “I’m glad you didn’t. And right now, I really want to give you a hug. If I wasn’t so floppy I’d be up and doing it myself, but...” He offered Derek a small, vulnerable smile.

 

Derek rolled his eyes then before leaning forward, making up the distance and capturing Jeremy in a hug. Even if he was cool, Jeremy felt that the hug was warm... Did that even make sense?

 

“I love you, Derek. I’m so glad you’re still with us,” he murmured before letting him go.

 

“I am too, Jeremy, and I love you too.” He smiled down at Jeremy then before looking over at the plush. “So, what are you naming that?”

 

 

 

A few hours later, sometime around four PM (if the clock on the wall was to be trusted), Jeremy heard and felt a disturbance in the quiet room. Derek had gone off to give Jeremy some time to think, alone (they had been talking for ages by that point), when it happened.

 

There was a small groan from the bed next to him, and Jeremy felt the fluttery sensation of waking up coming from Michael’s end of the link. Jeremy couldn’t help but smile as he reached over and softly sent some love to him, just a gentle pulse that should be nice to wake up to.

 

He heard Michael groan again, though it ended with a high squeak and hum. Jeremy looked over to see Michael slowly blinking himself awake, slowly reaching up with one hand and rubbing at his eyes. “Mm...”

 

“Hey there, Mikey,” Jeremy murmured just loud enough that Michael would hear him. He was suddenly hit with an overwhelming amount of emotion he didn’t realize was being bottled up until this point: worry, guilt, frustration (with himself, since he finally remembered what happened as Queen), but also love and joy and relief. They had all been present but muted up until this point, but seeing Michael wake up just set them all free.

 

Michael looked over then, his eyes focusing in on Jeremy after a few moments. “Jer’my?” He reached a hand out to him, though he didn’t get far since there was still a good distance between their beds.

 

Jeremy felt happy tears spring unbidden to his eyes reaching his hand out even if he knew he wouldn’t reach. He instead wrapped Michael up in a mental hug, showering him in gentle affection that way. “It’s me, sweetheart. I’m here.”

 

“It’s you... You’re not all SQUIP-like still, right?” Michael asked him, his face visibly relaxing (though it was peaceful already). Any tension in his body seemed to melt away thanks to the mental affection. “An’ we’re not in some SQUIP facility... right? It doesn’t look like it, but I ‘dunno...”

 

“No, we’re not. And I’m still normal Jeremy, don’t worry. We’re in the hospital since we had surgery to remove the SQUIPs from our head.” Jeremy chuckled a little at how out of it Michael seemed, and how sluggish he felt through the link. He must still be on painkillers or something. Either way, it was somehow adorable. “We won, Mikey. It’s over.”

 

“Wait, it’s over?” Jeremy nodded as a smile formed. “Oh... Why can’t we be home then? We said after that we’d go on a date. A date where we got high and made out and had Sev’ ‘lev...”

 

“And we will, Mikey.” Jeremy chuckled again. “But we both had surgery, just like everyone else who had SQUIPs. We need to recover from that before we can have a date, or else we won’t be able to get high or make out.”

 

“But I feel great! We should go now.” Michael looked around then, grumbling softly. “Nanay’s a nurse, maybe she can get us outta here... Yeah, they’ll listen t’her.”

 

“Michael, you’re high on painkillers. And I can’t even sit up yet. We need time, sweetheart,” Jeremy pointed out with a small, amused smile.

 

“We can have time at home! I promised you that, y’need some good times and normale... normail... normalalty... normal times,” Michael said as he kept looking around. “So we need Sev’ ‘lev and home!”

 

Jeremy giggled as Michael tried to force his heavy tongue around the word. “And we will, Mikey, just not yet. Our SQUIPs were different though, so we need some extra stuff to help us recover.” He really wished he could move, because he wanted to cuddle with Michael more than anything right now. He was being so sweet and Jeremy was just so happy and it was all a little much. He squeezed his plush a little tighter and sent more love through the link.

 

Michael let out a soft hum then before looking over at Jeremy. “That’s not fair. Since they were diff’rent, we should get out first!” He huffed as he kept looking around. “Where’s t’button that’ll call in Nanay?”

 

“She’s really busy right now, Mikey. She’s looking after everyone else who got SQUIPs too, but she said she’d be back around dinner time to check on us.” Jeremy giggled and sent a small burst through the link to get Michael to look at him. “Hey, it’s okay. Relax sweetheart, we won’t be here too long,” he reassured sweetly, sending Michael a kiss through the link.

 

Jeremy watched his best friend smile a little dopily at the kiss through the link before he whined. “But... I wanna move an’ be in bed that’s my bed and not this hosp’tal bed an’ my lights and music and... and...” His gaze trailed off a bit as he looked at his side table. “Why’s there a white blob?”

 

“My dad bought us all plushies. You got a white bear, I got a possum.” Jeremy nuzzled his cheek against JJ’s soft fur. “I don’t know about the others. Wait, maybe I can-“ Jeremy focused on the bear, trying to conjure up the sensation he had when he was using telekinesis. The bear lifted off the table and hovered gently over to Michael, landing in his lap. It was more of a strain than he remembered, but he did it.

 

Michael gaped for a minute as he held onto his bear and looked it over. “I... woah... This bear’s amazing, and you...” He looked at the shut door before looking at Jeremy. “You have powers.” He whispered that last bit like it was the world’s most precious secret.

 

Jeremy giggled and blushed a little at the reverent tone Michael had. “Yeah I do. You taught me how to use them, remember? And I might not have my tech powers anymore but I have the ones you taught me.”

 

“Wait... I have powers too?” Michael seemed stunned at that, looking over his hands then before looking back at Jeremy. “You’re not messing with me, right?”

 

He was really out of it, wasn’t he? Jeremy sighed and smiled over at Michael; he couldn’t be even remotely frustrated with him when he was being so cute. “No, I’m not. You might not be able to use them because of the painkillers, but your powers are even stronger than mine, by a long shot! You were a superhero called Phantom, and you saved me so many times.”

 

“I was a... I... what?” All of this seemed to blow Michael’s mind as he looked at Jeremy before looking at his new bear. “I was a superhero... Was I a cool superhero? Like Spider-Man?”

 

“Even cooler.” Jeremy nodded seriously. “My favorite superhero, even before I knew it was you.”

 

“Now I just wanna kiss you more ‘cause you said that! Like on the lips and stuff,” Michael whined out before burying his face into the fuzziness of his bear.

 

“I know sweetheart, I want to as well. And as soon as I’m able, I’m climbing into bed with you and not moving until I’m forced out,” he promised with a grin. He was about to say more when Derek phased through the door, looking as exhausted as Jeremy had ever seen him, but also extremely happy. “Oh, hi dude. Mikey’s awake, but he’s seriously out of it so-“

 

“Holy shit, a ghost!” Michael shouted (well, not really shouted since his voice was still low and rough from disuse). “Jeremy, Jeremy, d’you see it? It’s a hot ghost!”

 

Derek just seemed shocked, staring at Michael with wide eyes before glancing at Jeremy. “Uh... thank you...”

 

Jeremy couldn’t help it. He burst out laughing at Michael’s reaction, mainly because he had the same sort when he first properly recognised Derek. It took him a second to calm down enough to talk. “Yeah, I see him Mikey. That’s Derek, remember? He’s our best friend, our Player Three. He’s been helping us for ages now.” Jeremy shot Derek an apologetic smile and shrugged a little. Not much he could do about Michael being drugged up.

 

Michael’s face was full of disbelief as he stared at Derek. The ghost boy just shrugged before nodding. “Yeah, I am. I’ve known you for close to a year at this point.”

 

“I’m best friends with a hot ghost boy...” Michael stared down at his bear with wide eyes.

 

“Yeah, he’s pretty stunning,” Jeremy agreed, earning a flustered splutter from Derek, which made him giggle. “And he’s pretty awesome too. He helped you when I first got my SQUIP, and again when the villains appeared. Even when I was a super, he was looking out for you. And for me, when you couldn’t. Derek’s a pretty special person and we’re lucky to have him.” More flustered spluttering, and Derek was as close to being bright red as a ghost could be.

 

“Woah...” Michael just stared at Derek with awe then, and Derek looked away as he covered most of his face with his hands. “He’s hot and sweet.”

 

“If I wasn’t so committed to you, I’d be crushing on him,” Jeremy agreed with a grin. “Luckily for us all, I am totally head over heels for you, so no problem here.” Maybe some of the high from Michael’s drugs was leaking across. Jeremy was feeling a little giddy.

 

“I’m head over heels for you,” Michael told Jeremy then, looking over at him with wide eyes, no longer focused on Derek. The ghost boy didn’t seem to mind, now crossing his arms across his chest as he focused in on whatever was going to happen next.

 

“I love you,” Jeremy replied, looking over to Michael properly and reaching out. He was very upset that he was too far away to reach him. “Derek! Can you get Nanay or Mom or Dad or someone so I can be closer to Mikey? He’s too far awaaay!” Jeremy whined, flailing his arm out and making no progress to get any closer.

 

“Nanay’s busy, his mom’s at work, but your dad should be coming up shortly. I saw him on the way up here. He has food, not hospital food, but actual food,” Derek said as he snickered.

 

“Oh, food? What kinda food?”

 

Derek shrugged. “I dunno, Michael. Some kinda food in bags.”

 

“Oooh.”

 

Jeremy pouted but he stopped flailing his arm. He saved the world so he should at least get to be closer to his boyfriend. As a side note, besides the gargantuan distance between him and Michael (he hated it), he was feeling really good. Like almost floaty sort of good, more than he would get from the link. A quick look over to his IV and he saw that his medication had been released. Oh, awesome. Wait, how did he know that?

 

“How do I still know how this thingy works? I don’t have those powers anymore,” he mused aloud, pointing at the IV with JJ.

 

“Nanay explained to you earlier at lunch about your IV stuff because you asked her too,” Derek said with a raised brow. “Wait, are you getting high on painkillers now too? I can handle one of you like that, but not both of you.”

 

“I dunno, I just know it’s letting the stuff drip inside my arm.” Jeremy shrugged, pulling JJ close to him again. “But if Nanay let it happen then it can’t be a bad thing. So I’m not worried.” He looked over at Michael again. Michael looked really pretty, looking at him like that. His eyes were wide and he looked really happy. “You look really good, sweetheart,” he cooed, flailing his arm again. He couldn’t reach.

 

“I do?” Michael asked, staring right at Jeremy with an adorable grin on his lips.

 

“O-kay, I am not dealing with this. I’m gonna drift off somewhere else and let your dad deal with you in a minute or two,” Derek said. “Good luck with all this. I’ll be back after this all wears off, at least for you, Jeremy.”

 

Jeremy clumsily waved at him, not looking away from Michael. “You do. But you’re always lookin’ so pretty.” He giggled softly. “M’happy you’re my boyfriend. I wanna be your boyfriend forever.” Wait, no! “Oh, Wait! Better idea. I wanna be your husband one day. Not yet because we’re still kids, but one day.” That was a much better idea. The best idea ever.

 

“Yes, I wanna marry you when we’re older! An’ we can have our pets be the ring bearer an’ the flower girl... or boy... or whatever.”

 

The door opened, and Jeremy saw his dad holding bags of Wendy’s as he looked between the two of them. “What’s this about marriage I’m hearing?”

 

“I’m gonna marry him one day,” Jeremy stated plainly, still flailing his arm out for Michael. He felt no shame in saying that to his dad because why would he? He loved Michael that much. “Can you move our beds closer, please Dad? I wanna hold his hand but he’s too far away!”

 

His dad looked between the two of them before putting down the bags of food on one of the small tables. “I’ll move your beds as close as I can without disturbing your IVs and stuff,” he offered before starting with Jeremy’s bed, carefully shifting it closer to Michael.

 

He was still too far away to reach Michael, until his dad finally pushed Michael closer and they could intertwine their fingers. Jeremy relaxed in an instant. “Thanks dad.” He sighed happily. “And thanks for JJ, I love him.”

 

“Of course, son. What does JJ stand for, or is it just JJ?” As he asked that, he went over to the bags of food and started to get some of the food out.

 

Jeremy swung his and Micheal’s hands a little, grinning brightly. “He’s called Jeremy Junior, because I love him but I couldn’t think of another name for him. So I gave him mine,” he singsonged. And if his dad laughed a little at his response as he handed Jeremy over some nuggets, well there was nothing wrong with that.

 

 

 

Nanay had been right saying they’d be in there for a few more days at least. There were a few scans and tests to make sure both of them could at least walk (though it was needed with help sometimes). They were out of the hospital less than a week after waking up, and they were camped in Michael’s basement (the adults agreed it would be best, and that his dad and Michael’s mom would stay there, rotating between taking care of the boys).

 

Michael was a bit miserable, though not to others. They weaned him off the painkillers he had and he had some smaller doses to take. He did like having his bed back and having real food instead of hospital gunk. He also liked lying in bed with Jeremy all the time. That was also a plus in Michael’s book (as well as Jeremy’s).

 

That’s where they were currently, scrolling through their phones while wrapped around each other. Their date of video games, slushies, and weed still had to be put off for now since the weed would mess with the painkillers and other medicines they were still on.

 

Jeremy, deciding he was a little bored, figured now would be as good a time as any to change things up. He shifted his head from where it was resting on Michael’s shoulder to hide his face against the crook of Michael’s neck. He nuzzled there for a second before beginning to press slow, loving kisses against the sensitive skin there.

 

Michael, clearly surprised by the change, let out a soft noise. “Hey there,” Michael muttered out, his voice soft and a little rough still, but a lot better than when he woke in the hospital. “You just very bored or feeling very loving all the sudden?”

 

“Both.” Jeremy grinned, sucking lightly on one of the faded hickies Michael still sported. “This alright?” he asked softly.

 

“More than alright,” Michael reassured him, the hand that had been lazing over his waist now pressed softly against his back. His boyfriend sounded more than pleased at what Jeremy was doing as he intertwined their legs a little tighter while he hummed softly.

 

With permission given, Jeremy began nipping lightly on the area he’d been working, enjoying the sigh as Michael tilted his head a little to give him more room. He let his hands trail up, one wrapped behind Michael, reaching around to rest on his hip, while the other went up to tangle in Michael’s hair, massaging his scalp while also tugging gently. His motions were lazy and unhurried, just enjoying the moment.

 

A few pleased sighs and sounds escaped Michael as he lay there with Jeremy, his hand that had previously been holding his phone shifting to rest in Jeremy’s hair. He was very relaxed, and Jeremy could practically hear Michael’s lazy, relaxed smile.

 

Before Jeremy could get really into it, there was a knock from the top of the basement stairs’ door. It was a simple one, his dad’s knocking (which they worked on after the initial SQUIP incident to work on his dad’s privacy skills). “Son? Some of the kids are here to visit you two.”

 

Jeremy let out a frustrated groan as he detached himself from Michael’s neck. “Continue later?” he asked sheepishly, getting a chuckle and a nod from Michael. He leant a little away from Michael to call out to his dad. “Send them down please?”

 

“Of course!”

 

In the few seconds they had alone, Michael just grinned down at him, pressing a quick kiss to his lips before lying his head back down. “Definitely continue later.”

 

The door to the basement opened, and a few voices could be heard as well as a few sets of feet. “Hey, we brought you guys some snacks from Seven-Eleven,” Chloe called. “And slushies too if you’re allowed to have them.”

 

“Chloe, you’re a literal angel. Thank you!” Jeremy cried, sitting up properly. Michael honestly looked just as excited as Jeremy felt. They were allowed to have what they wanted at this point, it was just a matter of getting a hold of it that posed a problem.

 

“Of course- Rich, don’t drop them!”

 

“I won’t, I won’t, geez.” Rich leaped into view then, taking the last few steps and sticking the landing with a grin. “Your snack saviors have arrived.”

 

“You didn’t even pay for these, Rich,” Chloe grumbled out as Brooke hopped down the last few steps, both girls now coming into view.

 

“I’m still bringing it for them! Geez, and after coming up with the idea to do this for them-“

 

“You begged to come see them, then Brooke drove us and I paid for everything. You didn’t do shit.” Chloe walked over to Michael’s bed, placing the bag down by them before looking at the boys. “How’re you two feeling?”

 

“Not terrible.” Jeremy shrugged, feeling a strange sort of discomfort bubbling up inside him. It was small, barely there, but it was enough that he noticed it. Weird. “Physically we’ve both got a decent amount of healing to do, and mentally... well I’m working on the issues as they come up. Nothing too drastic yet.”

 

“Well, at least you’re recovering,” Chloe said as Rich came over with Brooke. Rich gave each boy their respective slushie while Brooke and Chloe sat at the foot of the bed. “I think the others are still healing up or just didn’t feel good enough to come, but they all give their warm wishes or whatever to you nerds.”

 

“Good to know. Thanks.” Jeremy shot Chloe a grin as he took a sip of his slushie. Ah, perfect. It made him feel so relaxed, having the artificial sugary taste of blue raspberry on his tongue, but something was still bothering him. He couldn’t place what it was. He set the slushie on his bedside table for now after taking another sip. “How about you all? How are you recovering?”

 

“We’re all doing alright. Getting used to no powers and stuff. It’s weird not having visions and not knowing what people are gonna, but we’re all managing.”

 

“I’m finally free of that hive mind, it’s all gone and outta my head, so I’m fan-fucking-tastic!” Rich was grinning as he dug into the plastic bag of goodies. Chloe almost hissed at Rich, which prompted him to take his hands out. “Geez, I was getting their snacks out for them.”

 

Something about the way Rich had said that, about the hive mind, struck a chord in Jeremy’s memory and not in a good way.

 

‘I refuse to ever go back into that shiny happy hivemind!’

 

Well that hadn’t worked, had it? Jeremy had caught Rich first, before any of them. He shook off the thought for now. It wasn’t his fault, he was being influenced directly inside his head. Not to mention, it was done, gone, and would never happen again.

 

“Wh-What snacks you got there?” he asked, his voice less peppy and his smile more shaky. Still, he refused to let it get him down. He’d manage.

 

Michael gently squeezed his hand after he spoke, clearly noticing the subtle changes. Brooke and Chloe seemed to notice too, though didn’t say anything for now as Rich basically grabbed the bag and dumped it out by Jeremy. “We got sour gummy worms, Funyuns, Bugles, Three Musketeers, Reese’s, aaand some salt and vinegar chips.”

 

“Ew, Bugles suck,” Michael said, his nose scrunching up as he reached over Jeremy to grab the Three Musketeers. “Yoink.”

 

Jeremy grabbed the Funyuns but didn’t open the packet right then. He felt a little nauseous actually, now that he thought about it. What was setting him off?

 

“Thanks Richie-“ Jeremy cut himself off, eyes going wide, launching himself out of bed, only to dry heave into the wastebasket set down there. He coughed and heaved and basically ripped his throat raw again in the few seconds before anyone managed to react. He was left shaking and panting.

 

How could he? How could he do that to his friends, turn them into those... ‘happy’ copies of themselves? God, how could he ever think that was right?

 

He felt Michael’s hand on his shoulder bring him back to reality. “Hey, hey, it’s alright. You’re alright, we’re alright.” After scrubbing his face as he tried to calm his heaving and panting, Jeremy looked up to see the girls and Rich kneeling near him, but giving him enough space. Michael was lying on his stomach in bed, partially lying over the side so he could rub his back now.

 

It took everything Jeremy had not to flinch away from the gentle treatment. He didn’t deserve it, didn’t-

 

“Jeremy. Focus in on me. I need you to listen to me.” Michael’s voice rung clear, and he heard it echo in his mind through their link.

 

Focus on Michael, he could do that. Michael stopped him last time, he’d know what was best to make sure Jeremy couldn’t do it again. He couldn’t risk it, he never wanted to hurt his friends like that again. Jeremy tilted his head a little to show he was listening, only just recognizing that he was shivering a little under Michael’s hand.

 

“You’re fine, Jeremy. You did nothing wrong. You just used a nickname, but it has a bad association with you now. Getting upset and worked up over that is alright, but you did nothing wrong. You were used. You were manipulated. You were, but that was then. You aren’t now. You’re recovering, you’re learning, you’re adjusting. You’re protective of your friends and you know better, you would never do that again to them, you can’t do that to them again because what made you do that is gone. It’s removed from all of us. We’re all getting better.” As Michael spoke, he slowly scooted closer, but he didn’t get out of bed (he needed help walking sometimes). “You’re good. You don’t hurt your friends. You’re amazing.”

 

Jeremy listened carefully as Michael spoke, the words almost the exact opposite from last time. He was stuck between wanting to believe them and the utter disgust and overwhelming wrongness pulsing through him just from the simple nickname. Well, at least he figured out why he was uncomfortable, it was because of guilt.

 

Still, this was Michael who was telling him he was alright. Jeremy hadn’t done anything to Michael, he hadn’t had the opportunity to. If Michael was telling him this, then it had to be true. His shivers dropped and Jeremy arched up into the touch slightly.

 

“If you feel really bad, we can all figure out a way you feel is best to make it up to everyone,” Michael muttered out before his other hand reached over for his hand. “Would you be able to come back into bed? I can’t do much right now, can’t strain myself, but I can be like a support beam or something.”

 

Jeremy nodded and slowly climbed back into bed. He clung to Michael, keeping his eyes averted from the others for now. He didn’t deserve to be in the same room as them, to even look at them, not yet.

 

“Do you want them to stay for now or go? They’d be fine with either,” Michael said as he wrapped his arms around Jeremy, enveloping him in a nice, comforting warmth.

 

(Jeremy): “Stay. They shouldn’t have to get kicked out for me. I’ll be fine in a bit...”

 

He didn’t really have the voice to speak right now, and he didn’t trust his voice anyways. Out of instinct, he reached into what would be the group chat, only to find it empty. That’s right, no SQUIPs anymore. It helped settle Jeremy further, he couldn’t hurt them like that again even if he wanted to.

 

Michael hummed softly before relaying to the others to stay. They all seemed to be fine with that, and Michael ended up suggesting that they watch a movie from Netflix. He gave Brooke the remote for his tv so she could do that while he settled with Jeremy in bed.

 

(Michael): “They’re settling right near the bed to give you space. Is it OK if they use our beanbags? I think Rich is gonna use them and the girls are gonna grab the couch.”

 

(Jeremy): “That’s fine.”

 

(Jeremy): “I’m sorry for making this... awkward. And thank you for looking after me.”

 

(Michael): “You didn’t really do that, we’re all just concerned and worried because we care about you.”

 

(Michael): “I love you, you nerd. So damn much.”

 

(Jeremy): “I love you too, Mikey. I love the whole squad but I love you most out of anyone.”

 

He nuzzled against Michael, the gentle treatment helping to relax him further.

 

(Jeremy): “I hurt my throat with that. Can you apologize for me and tell them I love them please? I don’t think I can talk at the moment.”

 

(Michael): “Aww, you’re sweet. And yes, I’ll tell them.”

 

Michael shifted a bit in how he was lying as the girls got settled. “You can use the beanbags, Rich.” Rich let out a small cheer as he flopped across them. “And Jeremy says he loves you guys and that he’s sorry for earlier.”

 

“What? He doesn’t need to-“

 

“We accept his apology, even if we don’t think he needs to,” Brooke said, cutting off Chloe quickly. Even if Chloe grumbled about it, she didn’t argue. “We all love you too. Isn’t that right guys?”

 

“Yes mom,” Rich said, mimicking the tone of a child until he got hit in the face with the bag of Bugles. “Ow!”

 

Jeremy finally looked up at them properly, giggling softly at Rich’s dramatic flailing. Once again, he reached for the group chat and actually felt kinda sad when he couldn’t access it. He pouted a little, before turning his thoughts to Michael instead.

 

(Jeremy): “They’re all sweet. And I miss the group chat, even if it’s probably quieter for you now.”

 

He snorted a little at that, remembering how Michael compared them talking in the group chat to them yelling.

 

Michael snickered at that as well while Brooke navigated through Netflix, arguing playfully with the others over what to watch.

 

(Michael): “That part is a lot nicer. I’d get headaches because of you guys!... I’m kidding, by the way, but I’m glad to not have memes basically yelled in mental picture format... I don’t even know if I can properly describe how that felt.”

 

(Jeremy): “I can only imagine...”

 

Jeremy giggled, relaxing further. He reached out with the powers he did still have, grabbing a sour gummy worm from the packet Chloe had open and grabbing it from the air, taking a bite.

 

Chloe let out a little cry, looking over with a playful huff. “You could’ve just had your boyfriend ask for some for you, don’t just steal them,” she whined as Brooke chose a movie for them all to watch.

 

“Oh hush.” Michael stuck his tongue out at her before nuzzling close to Jeremy, his face half buried into his hair.

 

Jeremy found his eyes beginning to flutter shut. He didn’t realize how exhausted that panic had made him until now. It wouldn’t be a bad thing to just close his eyes for a minute, right? Just rest his eyes…

 

Just lying against Michael, close with him as he heard whatever movie start up... he couldn’t help but find himself nodding off. Michael was too comfortable and cuddly and warm, alright?

 

He woke up a bit later, when he felt Michael shifting a little. His hold on Jeremy’s side changed, and Michael faced away from him as he yawned. “You guys can go if you need to, I’ll tell him you said ‘bye’ and all,” Michael said softly, probably to everyone else.

 

“Y’can say it t’me y’selves,” Jeremy mumbled, stretching a little. He still stayed close to Michael, smiling sleepily up at them all.

 

“Well damn, he’s finally awake. Welcome to the world of the li- ow,Brooke!”

 

Brooke rolled her eyes as she pulled her hand back from Rich’s shoulder, smiling down at Jeremy. “Well bye Jeremy. I’m glad you’re feeling better. Next time, we’ll try to get the others to come visit,” she said as she fiddled with some of her long strands of hair.

 

“See ya guys. Sorry for napping away your visit.” Jeremy chuckled, rubbing at his eyes before grinning up at them again. “Also, Rich, y’gonna end up with a permanent bruise unless you learn when to be quiet,” he teased, sounding more like his usual self. Judging by Rich’s face, both that fact and the teasing got through. Jeremy wasn’t broken, just a little damaged. He’d recover.

 

They waved and quickly left them, Rich clinging to his Bugles like it was his lifeblood. Michael waved as they went, telling them to close the door when they left. Thankfully, Jeremy heard the door shut.

 

Michael let out a small hum then as he rested his head back against his pillow. “Your dad also said he was gonna order pizza soon. So we have a good half an hour at least before it gets here.”

 

Jeremy hummed, then shifted to press himself even closer to Michael, burrowing into the crook of his neck. He began pressing lazy but firm kisses there, aiming for the areas he knew were sensitive.

 

“Half an hour is loads of time,” he purred against Michael’s skin.

 

Michael squeaked (he squeaked!) in surprise before he seemed to melt under Jeremy’s touch, his arm holding Jeremy closer. “It is, and we have to make up for lost time. You promised.”

 

“I did,” Jeremy agreed, nipping at the hickey he had been working on before they were interrupted. The sigh he earned from Michael made him grin. “God, I love you.”

 

"I love you too, so much, and as much as I love hearing you say that, I wanna feel you show it," Michael said after letting out a soft whine. "Please."

 

“Oh, so needy, sweetheart,” Jeremy teased before sucking on a different spot, nipping occasionally to really make the mark dark. Michael would certainly feel this one. He reached up, tangling his fingers into Michael’s hair and tugging his head gently to the side so he could reach the junction between his neck and jaw where he knew Michael was really sensitive.

 

Michael whimpered in the best way possible, sounding needy but also happy as he leaned in the direction Jeremy wanted him to go in. Both of his arms wrapped around Jeremy then as he even squirmed a little. "I am, we haven't done this in a week 'cause we've been recovering, and we still are in our honeymoon phase I feel 'cause I keep wanting your affection and love and everything."

 

He didn’t stop what he was doing to answer, instead heading to the link to reply.

 

(Jeremy): “Well, you’re gonna keep getting it. I happen to adore showing you in love and affection.”

 

Jeremy finished leaving a light mark where he was and trailed kissed along Michael’s jaw, shifting to straddle him as he connected their lips, instantly getting them moving in a gentle, loving rhythm. He groaned happily as one of Michael’s hands reached under his shirt, spreading out across his back like a burning star and pressing him closer.

 

(Michael): "Good. I love giving it back to you too."

 

Jeremy could feel that Michael was happily dazed from just this in their connection, and he just continue to lead to see what else he could get from Michael. (The soft groan Michael gave against their kissing lips was definitely getting him going.)

 

Just as the hand Michael had in his hair tangled with his locks, the other pushing Jeremy flush against his chest as they both lied down, there was a knock on the basement door again. Well, not just one... but three simple knocks. "Private? The pizza got here early! How many slices do you both want, and what do you two want to drink?"

 

Jeremy groaned, flopping against Michael with a pout.

 

(Jeremy): “I love that he’s engaged and everything, but his timing is terrible.”

 

He turned his head so he wouldn’t be shouting in Michael’s ear. “I’ll have two slices, Michael will have three.” Michael shot him a look. “What? As if you ever have anything different.” He snorted.

 

"OK, I'll get you guys that, but what do you two want to drink?" his dad called down from the stairs, his voice still slightly muffled. At least he hadn't opened the door yet to see them.

 

Michael sighed as he reached up, pressing a few feather-light kisses against his jawline. Jeremy could feel him smiling against his skin, but it wasn't teasing or cocky like one might think. No, it was soft and sweet.

 

“Lemonade for both of us, please!” Jeremy called, melting against Michael as the mood shifted from passionate to sweet. He sighed softly, eyes closing as he relaxed and calmed down.

 

"Alright, I'll be down in a minute with your stuff!"

 

The kisses continued for about a minute longer, slowing down gradually until Michael's lips were just resting against Jeremy's jaw. "I love you, Jeremy," he muttered out, nuzzling close and keeping Jeremy lying on top of him as the door opened at the top of the basement stairs.

 

"Coming down with food and drinks! If you're doing anything, wrap it up, you two."

 

“I love you, Mikey.” Jeremy sighed happily, sliding off to lie next to Michael just as his dad came into view carrying a tray of pizza and lemonade. “Hey dad. Thanks for the food.” Jeremy grinned dopily over at him. He was feeling so relaxed he was almost sleepy, but not actually tired. His dad looked amused.

 

"Well, I'm glad you finished making out before I came in here," his dad said as he put down the tray at the foot of the bed. "No offense, but also all of the offense."

 

“You’re the one who interrupted us,” Jeremy grumbled, pouting. His eyes betrayed his amusement. “I’m grateful for the food, but really?”

 

"Hey, I know you're hungry for each other's faces, but that doesn't keep you alive in the long-run."

 

Jeremy squawked and burst out laughing, and so did Michael. “Ho-holy shit dad, really?” he cackled, curling against Michael’s chest as he tried (and failed) to get control of himself. He was not expecting his dad to say something like that.

 

"Yes, really," his dad confirmed with the roll of his eyes and a huge grin before leaning over and ruffling Jeremy's hair. "Now you two eat some actual food and be careful. You're both still recovering, so don't do anything too crazy-"

 

Jeremy let out a dramatic groan, his face going bright red. “Dad!” His voice cracked badly in the middle of that squawk. “Shut up!” He hid his face against Micheal’s chest properly, covering himself as much as possible. The situation went from funny to embarrassing really fast.

 

Meanwhile, Michael didn't help at all as he burst out laughing. "It's not like we're gonna do anything past what you said we were doing, Mr. Heere, but thank you for looking out for us."

 

"You're welcome. Just doing the job of being a present dad." His dad's laugh was loud and clear as he started to head upstairs. "Call if you need any more lemonade or slices!"

 

Jeremy groaned loudly in response, not moving from his embarrassment pose. This was his safe place, free from embarrassing parents trying to subtle slip in safe sex talks to their sons and his asexual boyfriend. Ugh.

 

“Are you alive down there? Hello?” Michael poked and prodded at his sides then. “I need my boyfriend alive so we can eat pizza together and drink some nice lemonade. Hellooo.”

 

“Said boyfriend is currently dying of embarrassment. Please wait for a reboot,” Jeremy grumbled, nuzzling against Michael’s chest with a pout.

 

"Nooo, I need you to get up," Michael whined out as he continued poking against his sides. "I am still recovering so I can't move you like I normally would and I'm really hungry now for pizza! Please."

 

Jeremy squirmed under the assault, finally sitting up and shooting Michael a mock glare. “Fine, but you so owe me. I’m expecting some serious cuddle time after we’ve eaten to make up for my loss of post embarrassment hiding.” He shifted and helped Michael sit up properly, reaching over and grabbing the tray.

 

"I won't say 'no' to that, but I think I agree with your dad. We should eat something that'll actually help us live instead of each other's faces-" Michael snickered as Jeremy whapped him gently with his sweater paws a few times. "Hey, I'm recovering! Be nice to me! Nooo!"

 

“I’m recovering too. Fuck off.” There was no heat behind his words. He grumpily took a bite of pizza, making an effort to pout. It earned a chuckle from Michael, so it was worth the effort to be dramatic.

 

 

 

They were finally better and able to move and do things normally after a few weeks. With the craziness of everything, school was being delayed since they still needed to figure out what to do to make up finals from the previous year (Michael’s mom kept insisting that they’d all be excused and given their passing grades). They left them plenty of time to do things like play video games... with no weed yet since they still had some medications left to finish off. Ugh.

 

Jeremy was just about to win the race on Mario Kart, cackling out some cocky insult, when something changed. Something, in the back of his head just... snapped. And then it was like he couldn’t figure out how to do anything. Now, this wasn’t the first time he’d had an episode like this. Ever since the SQUIP was sent dormant, they would happen randomly. Still, he hadn’t had at all in months, not since January at the latest.

 

He released the buttons on his controller, his cart slowing down and rolling over the line in fourth place as he stiffened and stared straight ahead. What was he supposed to do? Was he supposed to be doing anything? Or was he just supposed to... sit on his bed and wait for food and Michael? But Michael was next to him…

 

Jeremy’s head pounded as his time with a SQUIP and his time in the room began to blur into one. He set down his controller, eyes not leaving the point on the wall as he searched in his head for a direction, panic flaring up as he found nothing.

 

“Jeremy?” Michael’s voice rang in the room, the sounds of the game quickly turning off. “What’s going on?” Worry was evident in his voice, Jeremy could recognize that much, even with his flaring panic.

 

Jeremy could still hear Michael, could still see him out of the corner of his eye, so his SQUIP wasn’t back (it was totally removed). He was just so scared because he didn’t know what to do. And he didn’t know how to articulate it verbally.

 

(Jeremy): “I don’t know what to do.”

 

Thinking into the link wasn’t too different to talking to a SQUIP. He could do that much. Even when his SQUIP had basically full control, he could do that. And when he had no freedom in his room, he could still talk to Michael.

 

He sort of missed his room, he didn’t have to think about what to do he just did what he was told, because it was the right thing to do. Like when he had a SQUIP.

 

“What do you mean you don’t know what to do?” Michael seemed to tense from what he could see in the corner of his vision. “Like... what don’t you know how to do? I’m guessing talk verbally, yeah?”

 

(Jeremy): “Should I talk out loud?”

 

He just needed something to do, even if that something was relax. Just... something.

 

“I mean yeah, if you want to, but I need to know what’s going on. What do you mean by the fact that you don’t know what to do?”

 

Okay. He could talk out loud. That was something. “I just don’t know. What should I be doing?” He sounded so small and lost. No wonder SQUIP made him think to it, he sounded pathetic.

 

“There isn’t something you should be doing. There are things you could want to do that you can d-do,” Michael told him, his voice sounding strong, even if he messed up on the last word. “Does that make sense?”

 

Jeremy nodded slowly. “Okay...” He thought for a minute. “I’ll wait for someone to tell me what to do, then. Since I don’t know and I want to know.”

 

“What? No, you can choose for yourself, someone doesn’t have to choose for you,” Michael ensured him, though his voice seemed to be shifting a little higher. “You can make your own ch-choices on what you wanna do, Jeremy.”

 

“But you did,” Jeremy insisted. He must want to argue, since he was sort of arguing? He didn’t know, but that did sound right. He wanted Michael to understand that he needed someone to tell him what to do. “SQUIP did, but I don’t like it. But then you did too, and I trust you. And it was good, so can you tell me what I should be doing now please?” he asked politely. He didn’t quite get why Michael was looking so stricken. Jeremy still didn’t face away from the point on the wall. He hadn’t been told to.

 

Michael's breath hitched. "U-uh..." He heard the sound of shuffling and moving around until he felt something soft placed in his hand. "G-go and find my stuffed animals and- and organize them on my bed in the way that you t-think's best. I need t'go real quick, to t'laundry room."

 

Ah! Finally, a direction! Jeremy picked up the white bear Michael had been keeping on his lap (Cole, if he remembered correctly) and started searching around for the other toys. Michael left the room at some point, but Jeremy stayed focused.

 

He had collected al