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take me to the pilot of your soul

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He hardly remembers his parents. He remembers being brought to the office during class just to be told that his parents had died (a car crash- how tragic- he must be devastated-), but he didn’t want to go live with a new family. He remembers being so upset that he’d thrown a chair aside and demanded to know where his parents were. They had to drag him out of the room, kicking and screaming. It wasn’t fair. Everyone else would get to go home and fall into their parents’ arms. Everyone but him got to go see their parents smile and laugh.

Not him. He’d never see their faces again, except for the picture he took from their room. He couldn’t get his tiny fingers to figure out how to open the frame, so he just smashed it and crammed the picture into the bottom of the bag he was packing. Michael refuses to go live with anyone else, so he’d just make it up as he went. Being an adult couldn’t be that hard, he thinks. 

Years later, he finds out where his parents had been buried so he could go see their final resting place, but it was hardly the same thing. He just wanted them back. 

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He hadn’t gotten to eat - again. Pain was skyrocketing through his stomach, running through his body. He had avoided leftovers and trash at first, especially the parts that had noticeable bites taken out of it, but he wasn’t so picky anymore. Not now when he was so desperate for anything in his system. Michael thinks perhaps he made a mistake by running away (yesterday, he had even seen a missing persons poster with his own face and name on it) but he was still determined to make this work.

Giving in now would have made running away in the first place a big waste of time, and then what would have been the point? So he digs through the rubbish bin, hiding behind it when anyone walks by. He could do this, he was certain. 

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The man walking with slick hair and the very expensive watch on his wrist was an obvious target, which Michael always liked. He saw the outline of a wallet in his pocket as he got closer, and Michael knew he’d be able to get away easy with money to get dinner and perhaps, if he plays his cards right, a little extra to add to his savings. So he creeps along behind the man, replacing the wallet with a stale dinner roll he saved specifically for a moment like this. The roll was a bit lighter than the wallet, but its stiffness would make up for the weight.

The man hesitates for a second, his hand brushing over his suit, but continues on his way without actually checking the contents. Michael lets out a snicker and runs off until he makes it into an alley by himself. He skims through the pockets, looking for anything valuable. Credit cards, a bit of money, but what really caught his eye was a coin buried deep in the wallet that didn’t look like anything he’d ever seen before. He can’t even tell what kind of currency it was supposed to be. 

Michael wonders how much money he’d make off of it if he sold it. 

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Of all of the things he expected to deal with, monsters were never one of them. 

The guy he stole from happened to be a member of some organisation he’s never heard of before, and the coin he didn’t recognise was a cursed, ancient coin. The only reason they found him was due to the tracker on the coin itself. Knowing he would have gotten away with it if not for that tracker is probably the biggest ego boost he’s ever had. 

He never realised how much weight he had lost until the British Men of Letters took him in. He has potential, they said. He didn’t know what that meant, but they gave him new clothes, they fed him. It didn’t matter what they mean, as long as they keep providing him with what he needs. 

His hair is long enough to pull up in a ponytail at this point, even if it was just a small one. The clothes they had originally given him hang off his body, because he’s lost so much weight. He’s “abnormally thin,” they tell him. It can take over a year for his body to recover from the damage done to it, especially considering how young he was. But the sickest part was, he almost likes it. Michael has always been a little too chubby, but he had long shredded off his baby fat, and this was far going past that. At least he would be able to wear clothes without worrying over whether it would look better on him if he was thinner. 

When they first started making him eat again, he had thrown up the first few times. His body was rejecting the food given to him, after going so long without it. His throat burns and he just wants to be able to keep something, anything down without having to rush off to a toilet.

The few kids he had come in contact with had all stopped and stared at him, as if he were a new species they’d never seen and wanted to poke with a stick. Watching them gawk at him was the worst part, possibly more so than knowing they were running off and talking to their friends about it. He was too sick to have his own room and attend classes as normal, so they kept him locked up in the infirmary. At least on the streets, he had a bit of freedom. Here, he had nothing but a flat stomach and a bin full of vomit. 

He wonders how long it would take them to find him if he crawled through the window in the bathroom. 

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He didn’t know what kind of place would need a kid who could steal and pick locks, but the more he learns about the Men of Letters, the more he understands. They killed and hurt people, but then he realises - they were doing the right thing. Monsters were real, and they were incredibly dangerous. They were saving people, even if some of the things they said and did were a bit questionable. 

He follows every instruction without hesitation or question, and appreciates the way his teachers beam at his obedience. The feeling of other people caring about him and his actions was what Michael missed the most. He was doing the right thing here. 

The British Men of Letters had saved him from the streets. They had given him clothes, a warm place to rest his head, food that wasn’t half-eaten. This is a definite upgrade from his previous situation, and he owes it to them to do what they want of him. Michael can do this. He can do this for them.

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A boy with light brown hair and the most beautiful blue eyes Michael has ever seen sits across from him, catching his attention immediately. “I don’t want to get stuck doing all of the work by myself again, so would you be my partner? Please?” He hadn’t even realised they were choosing yet - he was too busy attempting to work ahead. 

“Yes, of course. I don’t mind,” he agrees, and watches relief pass through the boy’s features. “Thank God. Timothy, by the way.” He smiles and holds out his hand. Michael takes it with glee, pleased that he had been someone’s first pick... ever. He hadn’t got stuck with one of the quiet kids who sits in the corner and slacks off. This was someone who genuinely wanted to work with him, even if it was for personal gain. He offers his name in return, and relaxes. 

Perhaps this can be the best thing that’s ever happened to him. 

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Homophobia has never been prominent in his world. He’s never had the time to think about crushes or girls or anything else. He knows sometimes he thinks boys were cute, but he has other things to focus on. It never dawned on him that not everyone agrees with the idea of two men being together.

He pushes the mush around on his plate, still waiting to get out of the infirmary. One of the nurses says at this rate, he should be able to start schooling normally with all of the other kids within the next few weeks. Of course, that will bring in a whole mess of problems and adjustments in its own, but he can handle it.

The only other person in the room is a boy, much older than himself, covered in bruises and lacerations, and Michael wants to ask so desperately what happened. It was none of his business, really, but he doesn’t have much else going on besides the unappealing mush that was getting colder by the second. 

He asks one of the nurses while the boy was asleep (I really shouldn’t tell you-) and finds out he was attacked after he got caught kissing another boy in a hallway somewhere. That’s when Michael learns that there were rules against homosexuality in the Men of Letters, and the boy would be “adequately punished upon release.” Whatever that meant, Michael doesn’t know. But he does know that he doesn’t like the sound of it.

He doesn’t understand why they were so upset that he kissed someone. So what if it was a boy? He likes boys sometimes too. Was he in the wrong? 

That’s when he decides that no, he can’t possibly be a homosexual. He wouldn’t end up in one of these beds over a kiss, or “adequately punished.” It can’t be that hard to ignore those feelings. 

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Timothy really was beautiful, he thinks. He wonders what it would be like to kiss him, but knows he shouldn’t be having those kinds of thoughts. He was wrong. He was being stupid.

But he wants to lean in so badly right now, if only to kiss him for a second. 

“I think we should have nicknames,” Timothy tells him. They figure out that Timothy would be Tim, and Michael should be Mick.

Mick. It‘s strange to be called something else, but he rather likes it. He likes the name. He likes hearing it in Tim’s voice, and he likes the way Tim says it. 

He enjoys passing notes in class, because he and Tim always were done early, but it takes him a while to get used to his new name. It‘s how Tim introduces him to other people from then on, and he begins to hear Mick more often.

But no one ever says it as wonderfully as Tim does.

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The first time alcohol ever touches his lips, he’s twelve and being dared to take a drink by Tim. He coughs and sputters as Timothy laughs, closing the bottle. He tells Mick he stole it from his father and packed it carefully, just to see how it tasted. “Not good enough to steal,” Mick replies, and gets a snicker out of him.

It leaves a foul taste on his tongue, and he doesn’t like it in his system. Really, he just wants to go to sleep, but he’s in Tim’s room, on Tim’s bed. 

His head feels fuzzy as he lies down, and he watches Tim pull a blanket up over them. They sleep together on the same bed, because they had yet to cross the boundary of it not being okay. Mick doesn’t understand why anyone would willingly drink something like that.

(He chugged the remains of the bottle the night after Tim’s death.) 

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He steps into the shower, watching red drip off of his body. His stomach twists as he thinks about what he did, and he’s never hated himself more. He didn’t remember picking up the blade, only that it was in his hand and he didn’t even hesitate to plunge it into Tim’s chest. 

He could still hear the soft gasp Tim let out when Mick first stabbed into him, the screams and pleading running through his mind. He had frozen for only a second upon realising what he’d done, and the look of pure betrayal and fear in Tim’s eyes makes him wish it had been the other way around. Mick knows it really should have been the other way around. Timothy had been training for the British Men of Letters his entire life. Timothy was the natural prodigy, everything handed to him on a silver platter. He should have been the one standing there, washing Mick’s blood off of his hands.

But that’s not what happened. He (loved-) appreciates Timothy, but he owes the British Men of Letters. They brought him in, and it’s his job to prove to them that they did the right thing by helping him.

But that doesn’t make it any easier to stop thinking about Tim. 

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He finds himself losing track of time more often lately. The days were blurring together, and at this rate, the weeks would begin to do the same. But it didn’t matter. He threw himself into his studies, and looks for extra projects to take on when he has free time. He can’t handle the idea of being alone with his thoughts, not after what he’s done to Tim. 

Dark circles under his eyes grow practically more noticeable by the day, but he can’t bring himself to care. If anyone else has noticed them, they haven’t said anything. He gained respect from some of the upperclassmen for going through with the test and taking out his competition, but he doesn’t understand why he deserves respect for that. They should hate him. He killed someone wonderful and kind, and deserves nothing but hate for that. 

They should hate him as much as he hates himself.

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That night, he knows he’s going to kill himself.

He tries to keep living to, at the very least, make up for the fact that he now has blood on his hands and make Tim’s death worth it. (An irreversible, unforgivable act that he couldn’t do anything but suffer over.)

Mick’s considered taking his own life before, even tried it once. He had a whole plan and everything. He slipped a knife into his pocket from the kitchen, and waited until everyone was in their rooms and the hallway was silent to do anything. He sat up in his bed, and took out the knife. He knew it was sharp enough to cut through his skin, and that’s all that mattered. He thought about what would happen afterwards, whether he’d leave a note or not. No one here deserved an apology, or an explanation. He was certain that going through with this was the right thing.

He pressed the blade into his skin, pushing down a little. It sat there for what felt like years, as Mick started to question himself and his decisions. He wanted to go through with this so badly; it was overwhelming. Doing this wouldn’t just be relieving himself of the strain of life - he’d also be able to reunite with Timothy, hopefully even get the chance to apologise and explain himself. Timothy was the only one who deserved anything of the sort. Mick may have not known how the afterlife worked, if there even was one, but he was willing to take that chance.

He could practically hear Timothy’s voice in his ear, urging him on. “Join me, Mick. Please.”

He groaned, watching blood rise to the surface around the blade. 

“Come on, Mick, you’re doing great.”

He threw the knife on the floor, and let out a sob. He cried because his one and only friend is dead, cried because he’s the one who killed him, cried because everything was weighing on him-

Mick didn’t know when he stopped and fell asleep, but it didn’t matter. He made sure to sanitise the blade before returning it, and kept his sleeves pulled down all day.

He hasn’t tried since then, but surely had thought about it. The thought of getting to see Timothy again has already been planted in his head, and it was all he could think about. He doesn’t know what it’s like to truly love someone; he can barely remember, but he’s sure that this was what it’s like. He has to make this right. If he can’t bring Tim back, he’ll go to him.

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He goes up to the roof that night, ready to die. He knows exactly where the vantage point to kill him is. All he has to do is climb a little and jump. 

But the boy sitting on the ledge ruins his plans, and he feels his heart sinking into his stomach at the sight. Mick could easily kick him off, but he doesn’t have it in him. Not tonight, when the only person who was supposed to die is himself.

So Mick walks over and sits down on the ledge next to him, and they stay there together in silence. He tries not to look at the boy, because he doesn’t want to have to kill this one too. 

They stayed like that for a while, until the boy turned and slid down off of the ledge, back onto the roof. “I’m not disturbing you, am I?” He watches the boy shoot a quick smile, and he shakes his head. “Not at all. I’m glad you’re here, actually. I thought I was going to have to sit up here by myself.” 

Mick slides down next to him. He knows better this time, and will be careful as to not get attached, but he’s just glad to have someone there. This boy is the only thing keeping him from killing himself right now, and he’s relieved to have that anchor on life. 

“You’re the one that took out Timothy, right? I’ve heard about you.” Confusion crosses Mick’s features, only partially faked. “My brother knew him,” he continues, and stretches out on the ground. Confidence was radiating from this boy, and Mick can see it in his face. He’s cocky and arrogant, too self-assured. Not a bit of modesty or shame. Mick rolls his eyes and stands up, all sense of relief gone. “No, wait, don’t leave.” A firm hand wraps around Mick’s wrist, and he freezes completely in the touch.

He hasn’t been touched by anyone in so long, aside from the occasional handshake or bump in the hallway. He wanted this boy’s hand to stay, but the feeling of skin on his made him feel incredibly uncomfortable. He was conflicted over the fact that anyone would willingly touch him.

Mick sits back down, staring at the hand on his wrist. “I apologise. I shouldn’t have brought it up so carelessly,” the boy replies, taking his hand back. His heart was pounding in his chest, and he pulled his arm into his sleeve. “I’m Arthur. Ketch,” he clarifies, and shoots Mick a broad smile. Mick knew the name well; he was familiar with the Ketch family.

“You’re the guy who stabbed his own brother to death.”

Something flashes in Arthur’s face at the mention, something dark and angry that sends shivers down Mick’s spine, and he immediately regrets his words. “Yes, that would be me. I do what I have to for the Men of Letters. Surely you of all people would understand.”

And he does. He understands completely. 

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The first time he ever kisses anyone, he’s fifteen and Arthur’s telling him that one of their friends likes him. This should be the perfect opportunity. He can finally stop third wheeling Arthur and Toni, and have someone of his own.

So he talks to Sofia, and they get close. Until one night, she springs a quick peck against his lips, and runs off to her room before he can protest or even react. He knows he doesn’t feel the same way towards her. But he doesn’t want to break her heart, and she’s absolutely beautiful. A boy like him should feel lucky that a girl like her has taken an interest in him. 

But he doesn’t feel the same way towards her that he did for Timothy, so he knows in his heart that he doesn’t love her. He goes along with it anyways, so he doesn’t hurt her, and he lets her hug and kiss him and even take him home during the holidays to stay with her parents.

Arthur congratulates him and pats him on the back, but he’s not truly happy, despite how sweet Sofia is. He goes along with it anyways, because she cares about him, and he likes seeing her smile. He’ll do what he can to make everyone else happy.

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Arthur tells him about his first few times with Toni. He considers Mick close enough to talk about subjects like these, even though Mick has no experience with it whatsoever. Sofia hasn’t expressed any interest in taking their relationship further than occasional kisses in the hallway, and Mick is perfectly fine with that. But he does find it interesting to hear Arthur talk about it.

He’d be lying if he says he had no interest in sex whatsoever. He has plenty of free time on his hands at night when he avoids sleeping, so he figures he can let his mind wander a bit.

Convincing himself he wasn’t attracted to men was harder now that he was older.

He has a dream one night, about Arthur and Toni, except he blinks and suddenly he’s in Toni’s place. They’re on Arthur’s bed, and he’s on top of Mick. He feels Ketch’s lips and hands exploring his body and-

He wakes up and cries as he rips up his ruined underwear and shoves it deep into the trash, frustration running through him as he stares at the dried cum on his thighs. Pathetic, he thinks. He has a girlfriend, as does Arthur. He shouldn’t be having these thoughts about his best friend, and he hates himself for the things he can’t control. 

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He finally gives in and ends the relationship with Sofia. She breaks down in tears in front of him, and he pulls her in for comfort. He knows he shouldn’t have let it get this far, but it felt so good to have someone care about him. 

He watches her walk away, and goes to tell Arthur the news. “Back to following us around?” Toni teases, and even though he knows she was just joking, it still stings. He laughs and plays along, glad that they didn’t kick him out. 

Mick stays even while Arthur makes remarks towards Toni, running his hand along her thigh while she exclaims and shoves him away playfully. All he could think about was wanting to be her, wanting to be in her position. He wanted to be the one to make Arthur’s eyes light up like that.

He reminds Arthur that they have a project to work on, so Toni leaves, but not without putting up a mock fight. Jealousy burns through him, and he was admittedly glad to see her leave. They were supposed to be reading The Iliad for class, and Arthur offered to read with him. 

Arthur was Achilles to Mick’s Patroclus, and he watches Arthur when he knows he isn’t aware. He finds a moment of concentration and focuses on his lines, looking like his own personal Adonis in front of him. 

He stretches the time out for as long as he can, but Arthur doesn’t try to kick him out or replace him with Toni when they’re done. He lets Mick stay, and he talks. He silences the grief and he numbs the pain and Mick wishes he never had to leave. 

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Arthur leads him up to the roof where they first met. He turned seventeen today, and Arthur says he has a surprise for him. Mick objected, telling him he shouldn’t have, but it was already too late by then.

His hands were over Mick’s eyes, guiding him around with a low, soothing voice. When they finally got there, Arthur’s hands fall away to reveal a blanket laid out with a picnic basket next to it. “Christ. You really shouldn’t have gone out of your way to do this,” he groans, and immediately begins to think about how much it cost. “Mick, it wasn’t out of my way. I’ve had quite a lot of free time ever since our study sessions began. You’ve helped me tremendously. It would only be fair to return the favour.” 

Mick grimaces, and picks at his sleeve as Arthur drags him over to the blanket. “And, might I remind you, it’s your birthday.” Arthur starts pulling things out of the basket, and Mick lets himself feel a sense of joy before shutting it down with disgust. He’s been putting on too much weight since he’s gotten here, he thinks. He would love to dive right in, but he feels overwhelmed. He doesn’t deserve this- he does- he’s too fat-

“I appreciate this, really I do, but…” He can’t put into words how he feels. The parts he can explain make him feel too ashamed to admit. “You don’t like it.” Arthur sounds disappointed, and it makes Mick feel even worse. “I do like it, I promise. I just… I can’t.”

Arthur put time and effort into this, and it would not only be a waste of food, but also a waste of his time to reject it. Mick wants to scream in frustration because he can’t decide whether he should indulge himself in such a simple pleasure or not. Younger him would have killed for this, and here he was now, turning it down. 

“I won’t feel bad if you don’t want it, if that’s what you’re worried about. I don’t care; I just want you to be happy.” Mick picks up one of the crackers and shoves it into his mouth, and focuses on the taste to quiet the self-deprecating voice in his head. Fuck it, he thinks. It’s his birthday and he wants to enjoy it.

“It’s perfect, thank you.”

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He passes the bottle to Arthur, relishing in the burn on his tongue. He can’t tell where they are, only that he’s here with Arthur, and really, that’s all that matters to him.

Arthur tells him that he’s starting to get tired of Toni, and she wants their relationship to become more serious when he doesn’t. Mick tells him he should break up with her. He isn’t just jealous of her - he knows they have nothing else in common except their history together and such. They weren’t good for each other, and they were better off with other people.

Mick leans in close to Arthur, noting the way he jerks his head back for a moment before slowly moving back. The small voice in the back of his head told him he shouldn’t be here, he shouldn’t be doing this, but he couldn’t care.

He puts a hand on Arthur’s cheek and pulls him in for a tight kiss, and tastes the whiskey on his lips. Arthur doesn’t fight it, and wraps an arm around him. He parts his lips for just a second and feels Arthur’s tongue shooting into his mouth. 

He pulls away and pinches himself, just to see if he’s dreaming again. But Arthur has him down on the ground, unbuttoning his shirt. He flinches when he feels Arthur’s teeth graze against his stomach. He’s been putting on weight lately, too much weight. His stomach was no longer flat, and he hates it. (He’s debated forcing himself to throw up, but the only thing stopping him was he thinks it would be a waste of a perfectly good meal.) 

He’s fat, and knows this by the way his stomach sticks out or the way his thighs fill his pants. He can tell by the strain of the buttons on his pants, as if they’re ready to pop off if he puts on any more weight. 

He flinches under Arthur’s touch, and this doesn’t go without notice. “Sorry,” he shudders, his face burning. It certainly sobers him up, and he comes to his senses. They shouldn’t be doing this. They’d get killed. “Did I hurt you?” Arthur asks, and Mick shakes his head, but pushes him away anyways.

Arthur looks at him, clearly confused, and watches Mick button his shirt back up. “Did I do something wrong?” Mick stops to look at him, frowning. “Not yet. But we almost made a mistake. You need to go back to your room, okay? We’ll just… pretend this never happened.”

He can feel his cock rubbing against the inside of his trousers, and he can easily let Arthur continue what he was doing, but he shouldn’t. He’d be endangering them both, and it was wrong. He can’t love another boy. He just simply can’t.

“Mick, please,” Arthur whines, grabbing onto him. “You won’t feel the same tomorrow,” he tries to convince him, but Arthur ignores him, kissing him again anyways. Mick doesn’t protest, not even when Arthur’s hand runs up Mick’s thigh, runs between his legs-

He shouldn’t be doing this. But he gave in because he’s wanted to be with Arthur for years. This was his one chance, and he’s taking advantage of it.

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Arthur doesn’t talk about it. Mick tries to bring it up, tries to apologise, but Arthur refuses to listen. He ignores Mick when he brings it up, and Mick finally backs off as Arthur grows more hostile. He doesn’t want to ruin their entire relationship, so he leaves Arthur alone.

He fucked up. A part of him regrets not trying harder to push him away, but he doesn’t know how well Arthur would have reacted to that. A sloppy, drunken handjob was not worth risking their entire friendship. The other half of him is glad that he went through with it. It was the first time he’d ever been touched like that by anyone, and he was glad that it was Arthur who did it.

He finally corners Arthur in one of the back corners of the library, and he can tell that Arthur’s planning out a way to get out of this situation, but Mick isn’t going to back off so easily this time.

They argue - their first serious fight since they’ve met. “Why won’t you talk to me about what happened? I can’t just ignore it.”

Arthur stares at him and Mick can see that chilling, dark look. It’s enough to make him remember that this isn’t just his wild friend who he made out with once. This is someone who stabbed his own brother to death without hesitation, and this is someone who’s killed several other kids without remorse. 

Mick stands up a little taller, to show that he’s trying to hold his ground. Arthur sneers, and leans in and drops his voice so that no one else can hear him. “It’s because I’m not a fucking poofter like you, Michael.” 

The words shake Mick to his core, and he forgets about everything but that. He forgets who it is in front of him, only that he’s a threat, and Mick shoves him hard enough to make him stumble. The cruel grin on Arthur’s face falls away, and before Mick realises what’s happening, he feels something ram into his face and blinding pain shoots through him as he yells out and collapses. The low chatter in the library silenced, and Mick couldn’t hear anything but a ringing in his ear. 

He rolls over to look up at Arthur, and shakily gets back up on his feet. “I’m not… I’m not a…” He can’t even say it. He feels the word in his throat, and he’s choking on it. “You fucking bastard,” he finally sobs out, and storms away.

He doesn’t look back. He keeps walking until he’s back in his room, and he slams the door shut and locks it. 

(He hears a gentle knock on the door later that night, but he doesn’t answer it. Whoever it was, he’ll never know. He’s not sure he wants to know either.)

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Arthur’s a year older than him, as is Toni. He goes to Toni occasionally to vent, and she understands. He gets along with her better than he ever expected, and is glad to have someone in his life after what happened with Arthur. She tells him about chewing him out for treating Mick that way, and while he appreciates the gesture, he doesn’t like the approach. He tells himself and Toni that he doesn’t care if he ever talks to Arthur again, which is a lie.

He wants to mend their relationship, but every time he thinks about Arthur, all he can think about are those words.

It’s because I’m not a fucking poofter like you, Michael.

He thinks it’s probably best that Arthur is out of his life. There’s less worrying, less internal conflict over whether he likes boys or not. He’s better off without Arthur, despite how badly he wants to see him again.

But he’s still a year older, so Mick attends their graduation. He sits among the graduates’ families, feeling very out of place. He didn’t have any other clothes besides his uniform, so he showed up wearing his normal shoes, slacks, and dress shirt, but Toni bought him a jacket specifically for him. It was far too expensive for him to want to accept, but it was practically just pocket money for her. 

He sits there, lost in thought until he hears Toni’s name called, and cheers for her. She glances in his general direction, but that might have just been her looking out at the crowd. Mick sits there longer, biting at the skin on the inside of his cheek out of habit. He waits until he hears Arthur’s name, and watches him stand tall and confident on the stage as he accepts his certificate, and Mick instinctively sinks lower into his chair. 

Afterwards, he finds Toni and gives her a huge hug. “The jacket looks amazing on you,” she comments, pulling back with a smile. “Behind you,” she whispers, and pretends to adjust the jacket. “It’s nice to see you here.”

The voice startles Mick, even though he knows exactly why Toni warned him. “If you’re here to cause trouble, we’re not interested.” She broke it off with him the day Mick showed up at her door, fighting back tears, and seems to be much happier. Mick knew she would be.

“I’m not. I just wanted to say hello.” Toni wraps an arm around Mick’s shoulders protectively, and he feels like a child hiding behind his mother. “And so you did. Thank you for stopping by now.” She gave him a fake smile, clearly attempting to usher him away. “You don’t need to shield Mick from me. I just want to talk to him. That’s all. Not even name calling.” He holds his hands up in surrender, and Toni sighs and drops her arm. “In private,” he adds, and Toni brings Mick close again, searching his face for a reaction.

“I’ll be fine,” he tells her, and watches a smug smile stretch across Arthur’s face. She nods, but shoots Mick a hesitant look before disappearing into the crowd. “I wanted to apologise for what I said to you, genuinely. What I said was extremely wrong, and you didn’t deserve that. Not after everything you’ve done for me. And…” 

Arthur reaches into his robe, pulling out a gift-wrapped box. “Let me make up for it, please. I’m not asking you to forget about it, or even forgive me. I’m only asking for a second chance. I miss you.” Mick knows he shouldn’t, knows he’ll only get hurt, but he can’t help it. He can’t refuse when Arthur’s giving him wide puppy eyes. 

“You’re the graduate. Shouldn’t I be giving you a gift?” He takes the box from Arthur’s hands, and finds himself smitten by that broad, winning smile that caught him in the first place. “A second chance from you is more than enough. Besides, this is more of a peace offering than a gift.”

He hears enough of it from Toni, who goes off on him and tells him he’s making a mistake when Arthur offers to take him out for a drink. He can’t bring himself to care. He’s just glad to have Arthur back in his life.

“I like your jacket,” he tells Mick when they get to his car. “Thank you. Uh, Toni got it for me. Is this… is this your car?” Arthur nods, taking off his robe and tossing it into his backseat. “I assumed it was new. Do you not have any other clothes to wear?” Mick frowns, a sense of shame filling him, and he doesn’t reply. “I’ll pick you up sometime. We’ll go shopping. It could be enjoyable,” he offers. 

Mick crosses his arms defensively over his stomach. Why bother when it’s just going to not fit in a few weeks as he gets fatter? He doesn’t tell Arthur any of this, but the way Arthur stares at him didn’t go without notice.

He opens the box when he makes it back to his room that night. It’s a first edition book of Oscar Wilde’s poems, no doubt worth thousands of pounds. He sifts through the book as if he touched it too tightly, it’ll break in his hands. He wonders what kind of message Arthur was trying to send with this peace offering.

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It was nice to get a break from Arthur and Toni, but after the first few weeks, he starts to realise that he never really branched out beyond their friend group. He isn’t going to start now, because this is his last year within these walls, but it was strange. He’d gone full circle, from before he met Tim.

He gets letters from Arthur and Toni, updating him on their training, and knows he isn’t going to take the same route they did. He doesn’t want to do field work. He doesn’t want to imagine Toni or Arthur killing either, but he knows Toni has before, and can easily picture it from Arthur. The thought of Arthur killing someone sends chills down his spine, and he pushes it aside. 

All he has to do is get through the year alive. 

------------

He goes to sit on the roof where he met Arthur. Even though he’s alone now, he doesn’t have much else to do besides sitting around with his thoughts. He exhales and watches his breath appear in front of him. He shivers and knows he should probably go back inside, but he can’t help it. He hopes that perhaps Arthur will appear one day. It’s a small hope, but hope nonetheless.

Mick runs a finger along the ledge, thinking back to when he debated taking his own life. He would have gone through with it too, if Arthur hadn’t been there. His chest feels tight, and he stands back up. He has no real reason to be out here. He’s freezing himself for no reason, and the cold pricking his skin stings the longer he’s outside. 

He goes back inside, accepting that there’s nothing out there for him. He doesn’t go back for the rest of the year.