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your ship may be coming in. you're weak, but not giving in

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It was happening again. Matteo wasn’t sure this was ever going to go away. He was going crazy, losing control. He was scared. He was scared of himself. It had happened before, a few times now. Every time he felt more and more out of it, more and more out of control. He was fucking terrified. He didn’t think he could hide this any longer whatever it was. He was crazy like his mum, and everyone would know.

Everything had gotten very fast in his head and all Matteo wanted to do was scream, let it all out. He had all this energy and no way to burn through it. He hadn’t slept in days. He’d played video games for two days straight, trying to get a perfect score. He’d spent hours making pasta because his mum had said the end of the world was coming and he’d wanted to be ready. They fed off each other, made each other worse.

In the end, he had screamed. He’d screamed so much, trying to let it all out. He was filled with secrets and lies, and it was killing him.

He’d screamed at his mum. He remembered that now. She’d been going on and on at him. She wanted him to come and read the bible with her, to get ready for the end of days, and something within him had just snapped. So he’d screamed at her. Told her no amount of bible study was stopping him going straight to hell. Told her that he was one of her filthy sinners and he was going to burn. And when she’d looked at him a little scared and a lot confused, he’d yelled at her that he was gay, and didn’t she just hate him now?

Then he’d walked out before he could hear her response.

He didn’t want to see the look of shame on her face, didn’t want to see the disappointment. The horror as she realised what he was, that her own precious son was one of those sinners she hated so much.

He’d stormed out and gotten three blocks away before he’d collapsed on the ground, panicking. It was bad. He’d almost thrown up, he was shaking so much, he couldn’t breathe, his heart felt like it was exploding in his chest. He just lay there on the cold ground waiting to die.

He didn’t die. It passed eventually, and he managed to get up.

He wasn’t any calmer, though.

So he decided to go see Jonas. He had to tell him too; he couldn’t keep this in any longer, it was killing him. The weird energy was still there. Matteo was not an energetic guy, so feeling like this was disconcerting. He felt like he could run for miles, do anything he wanted to do. He felt invincible. It was a far cry from his usual apathy, from the struggle it took just to get out of bed most mornings.

Every time this happened there was a split second where he wondered if this was normal, if this was just what it felt like when that heavy weight was lifted. But then it went too far the other way. Everything was brighter and more colourful than usual. Even in the darkness, there was this weird glow over everything. He knew it was his fucked up head, but it was kind of beautiful. He felt giddy with it. And he felt this intense compulsion to tell Jonas everything. He couldn’t rest until he did. He wanted Jonas to make it ok. He wanted Jonas to fix everything. He wanted Jonas to love him back.

He’d felt like this before, a few times now. The last time this had happened was around the time his dad had left for good. It started with him begging the man not to leave and then everything got really messy really quickly. It felt pretty similar to this. That time he’d smashed up his room and gone on a ten day bender, so he didn’t get to appreciate the feeling like he did right now. He only remembered it in flashes. Yelling at Jonas. Calling his dad and begging him to come back. Getting on a train and ending up in the middle of nowhere. Jonas coming to find him, looking terrified. He took care of him though, looked after him. That’s why Matteo needed him right now.

He felt scared, but he also felt good, weirdly excited for some reason.

When he got to Jonas’ apartment, he pressed the buzzer. Then pressed it again and again and again. It was late, and he knew he should be mindful to the fact that Jonas and his family were probably sleeping, but he found he didn’t care. He needed to see Jonas too badly.

When the door opened and Matteo saw Hanna stood there behind Jonas, he frowned. He’d thought they were broken up. Again. Why the hell was she here in the middle of the night? Were they back together again? He supposed they must be if she was here at this time. But Matteo thought she was with that other guy now. And Jonas was moping about it. Complaining that he’d lost her or whatever. If he was honest, he couldn’t keep track of them. They were so on and off. They were always fighting, and they were always putting him in the middle of their shit.

He couldn’t complain, a lot of it was his fault. He supposed he deserved to be pulled apart by both of them, stretched thin until he had nothing left to contribute to either friendship.

“What’s she doing here?” Matteo demanded. Just because it was his fault didn’t mean he had to like it.

“Oh you know what, I was just leaving,” Hanna muttered, clearly annoyed.

But then she smiled at him. Maybe she was annoyed at Jonas. Matteo guessed they’d been fighting then, surely if they’d been having sex she’d be in a better mood.

“No Hanna wait, this isn’t really a good time Matteo,” Jonas said, always the peacekeeper.

Matteo knew he was interrupting something, but this couldn’t wait. He wanted to be put first for once.

“Oh so you’re fighting again? Big fucking surprise. It’s never a good time with you! You’re always fighting or fucking and there’s never any time for me to talk about what I want to talk about! All you ever fucking talk about is Hanna. And Hanna you’re supposed to be my friend too, but all you ever want to talk about is Jonas and no one ever fucking wants to talk about me!”

He screamed the last few words, and both Hanna and Jonas flinched, looking terrified. He’d done it now. He’d scared them. He was going to scare them away.

“Matteo,” Jonas said gently. “I think you should come inside.”

He reached for him, but Matteo flinched and pulled back.

“I’m not going anywhere with you. I hate you, you know that? I hate you so much. I wish I could only hate you, but I love you. I love you. I’m fucking gay and I’m going to hell and I hate myself more than I could ever hate you and I don’t know what to fucking do,” Matteo said.

And great, now he was crying. He felt delirious, flitting between rage and tears in a matter of seconds. He was a fucking mess, and he hated this. He felt completely out of control. He couldn’t even remember how he’d gotten here. What the fuck was going on?

“Matteo,” Jonas said again, stepping towards him.

He still wanted to get Matteo inside. He was probably embarrassed that he was making a scene. He was looking at him strangely, like he didn’t recognise him. Matteo hated this, he hated all of it. What the fuck was happening to him?

Jonas still wasn’t listening to him, so Matteo grabbed his shoulders, watching as his eyes widened. He needed to get him to listen. So he did the stupidest thing he’d ever done. He kissed him. He pulled Jonas close, and he kissed him. When Jonas didn’t shove him away, he kissed him again, before he even realised what he was doing. He hadn’t even wanted to do that. Not like that. He pulled away and stared at Jonas.

What had he done? He’d just fucked up everything. He’d ruined it, his friendship with Jonas was over. He would hate him now. He had to get away from him. He couldn’t bear to hear Jonas send him away.

He tried to run, but Jonas was too quick. He grabbed Matteo and Matteo saw the utter devastation on Jonas’ face when he flinched and cowered away from him. He’d expected to be punched, but Jonas didn’t punch him. Jonas crushed him against his chest and held onto him, ignoring his struggles and protests. He held on until things slowed just a little for Matteo.

“Oh Matteo, I am so fucking sorry,” Jonas whispered, holding him tight.

“My head is killing me Jonas, it’s on fire. Something’s wrong. It’s like I have no control. I don’t know what to do. I told my mum! Oh god I told my mum all my sins and now she hates me! Help me, Jonas!”

He let Jonas take him inside then. He gave in and let him take care of him. That was why he was there, why he’d gone to Jonas. Jonas always took care of him.

Things sped up again after that. Matteo had very little awareness of what was happening to him. It all sped by him in flashes here and there. He thought he might’ve ended up at Hanna’s apartment at some point, but he didn’t know how he got there. Everything was just one confusing mess.

For some reason Hanna and Jonas kept trying to get him to go to bed, but he’d never felt so awake. Except he wasn’t alert or focussed. He was wide awake, but everything was blurring together, he didn’t know what was happening to him. He was losing time, losing all sense of everything. He’d never been so scared in his life. He had no idea what was going on, but he knew he was scared. So scared. The only thing that kept him going was the fact that Jonas was by his side. Jonas never left him. He was ok; he was scared, but at least he wasn’t alone.

 

The next time things were clear, Matteo was blinking awake in a bright, unfamiliar room. He was in a bed that wasn’t his own and everything hurt. There was a lot of noise, he could hear people bustling about outside, but in here at least it was quiet.

He realised he was in hospital. Jonas was next to the bed, half asleep on a chair.

Matteo looked around and shook his head, trying to stay calm. He hated hospitals.

He turned to stare at Jonas. What the fuck had happened? Why couldn’t he remember anything? His head was absolutely killing him.

“Jonas?” he croaked, trying to stay calm. He could feel the panic building.

“Oh good you’re awake,” Jonas said, yawning and stretching. He didn’t seem particularly concerned, but that did nothing to calm Matteo’s nerves.

“What the fuck? Why am I here?” Matteo asked him.

He vaguely remembered begging Jonas not to bring him to the hospital. Screaming at him that they’d lock him away forever if he did.

He glanced down at himself, but he wasn’t strapped down. He might still be able to make a run for it, if they tried to get him. Except his whole body hurt. He felt like he’d been hit by a bus. And it was so fucking bright in this room. His head was pounding. Why the hell were these places always so bright?

“They’re keeping you in, they want to assess you, but you should be allowed home tonight,” Jonas explained.

Or perhaps he thought he was explaining, but all he was doing was further confusing Matteo. He was starting to get scared. His fucking head was killing him. He had no idea what was going on. What the hell had he done to himself? Had he blacked out? Everything was so blurry and he couldn’t get a grasp on any of his memories.

“What?” he choked.

“You’ve been here a few days. They want to assess you, a psychiatrist I mean,” Jonas told him.

Matteo tried not to panic. They were going to lock him away. Oh god this was really it. He was never getting out of here. He’d been fearing this day since he was twelve years old and curled up in the bathtub screaming to drown out his racing thoughts. He’d thought he’d have a little longer. He’d been trying to hide this for so long.

“Jonas what?”

Matteo looked down at himself, trying to figure out what had happened. He was in his own pyjamas and there wasn’t any blood. His head hurt and his neck ached. Oh, and his hands, his hands were on fire. They were all bandaged up.

Matteo couldn’t remember what had happened to him, and that was terrifying. He’d done something to himself. Hurt himself.

“Did I- what the fuck happened to me?”

“Matteo I didn’t know what was going on with you, I was trying to help you. I couldn’t keep you in, you needed out, but you were so fast-”

Matteo felt ill, he thought he might throw up with it. He was so scared now.

“What did I do? God, Jonas what?”

Jonas seemed to realise what Matteo was thinking, he shook his head.

“Oh no! No, you didn’t… no that. You kept having all these ridiculous ideas. You ran off to a play park and you tried to skateboard down a slide. You fell and hit your head and fucked up your hands. That’s why I brought you here, I know you didn’t want to, but you were hurt, badly. But then you were behaving so erratically, the nurses really struggled, they tried to give you meds and then suddenly it all stopped. You crashed, and it was like there was nothing, all that energy gone. And then you just cried and cried,” Jonas said.

Realising what happened to him seemed to increase the pain tenfold, he didn’t remember the accident, but he could imagine it and it made him wince.

“Fuck I- yeah I remember.” He remembered the wave of exhaustion settling over him as he finally calmed down. As all the energy he’d had for days dissipated in a flash.

He remembered the nurse trying to pick the gravel out of his hands, and the overwhelming sadness he felt when she was so kind to him. God it was more than sadness wasn’t it? He remembered crying for hours and screaming for Jonas to leave, for everyone to leave. He remembered begging for it to be over.

He realised that it still wasn’t over and he started to cry again.

“What’s wrong with me?” he asked through his tears.

“They er… they think you might be bipolar,” Jonas told him reluctantly.

Everything went colder then, darker, he started to shake uncontrollably. That was it, then.

“Oh god Jonas no, no.”

Matteo sobbed even harder. Everything was ruined. He was ruined. He’d had a small chance of getting out, of getting his life on track. A tiny chance at happiness and now his fucked up brain was going to take that all away from him. It was over.

“It’ll be ok,” Jonas said.

Matteo supposed he was going for soothing, but he didn’t feel very soothed.

“I fucked everything up,” Matteo said.

“Nothing is fucked up, nothing is unfixable, we will get through this,” Jonas promised him.

“I’m so sorry for everything,” Matteo said, sitting up, begging Jonas to forgive him. For this and for everything.

“Do you really hate me?” Jonas asked quietly.

Of course he didn’t. He remembered saying it, though. Borne of jealousy and frustration that Jonas would never see him the way he wanted to be seen. Never love him the way he wanted to be loved.

“I hate that I love you. I hate that you can’t love me back the same way, but no I don’t hate you,” Matteo admitted.

“I can’t, but I do fucking love you Matteo and I’m not going anywhere ok? I’m going to stick through you with this ok?” Jonas said.

“I can’t… I can’t end up like her,” Matteo said.

That was always his greatest fear. Because he’d been through this before, a few times now, never this bad, but he knew it was the same. And he’d never dared to tell anyone. Because he knew what it was. Not that it was bipolar, but that something was wrong with his brain. Just like his mother. And that if anyone knew they would leave him. Everyone would leave and he would be all on his own. And that thought, more than any of this that was happening right now, that thought was the single most terrifying thing he could imagine.

“You won’t ok? But you gotta let them help you,” Jonas said.

“God, I feel like fucking shit,” Matteo said.

He laid back and groaned tiredly.

He thought he’d only hit his head, but it felt like he’d fallen off a ten-storey building. And that was just the physical aspect, mentally he was absolutely drained. He felt like he had nothing left. He didn’t know how to get it back, how to get better. He didn’t know how long this was going to last or whether he was even strong enough to make it through.

“I know, but this will pass ok? I’ve been reading up on it, and we’ll learn about this together,” Jonas said.

Matteo could already tell Jonas was going to be a pain in the ass about this, but he couldn’t help but appreciate it. God no wonder he loved him, his friend loved so hard, cared so much. He wished he could stay. Matteo wished he could keep him. He would hold on to him for as long as he could, but he knew in the end Jonas leaving him was inevitable.

“Where’s Hanna?” Matteo asked, wondering if he’d already lost her. He desperately hoped not. He knew he’d been a shitty friend to her, but he regretted everything. He hated the person jealousy made him.

“She’s gone home, she’ll be back soon though,” Jonas told him.

Matteo frowned, but he felt so relieved. He didn’t get this, didn’t understand why these two didn’t hate him already. Why they wasted their time trying to take care of him when he was such a hopeless case.

“Why?” he asked.

“Because she loves you too, ok?”

“Did she tell you what I did? That I told that girl about her?” Matteo asked, he couldn’t keep this secret any longer, he couldn’t keep any more secrets. He’d held onto all of this for so long it had ended up twisting him up inside, building and building until it exploded out of him.

“No, you told me that,” Jonas said.

“I’m so sorry,” Matteo whispered.

“I know,” Jonas assured him.

“I’m so fucking sorry Jonas, I don’t even know why I did it, I was jealous. I just thought why should she get you, you know? If I had you, I would never kiss anyone else,” Matteo said.

God, he was being petty now. Hanna had been drunk and stupid, he knew he shouldn’t be shitting on her like that.

“I don’t know Matteo, you’re pretty slutty when you’ve had a drink,” Hanna said, stepping into the room.

“Fuck off not I’m not,” Matteo muttered, but he finally smiled properly.

It had been so long it hurt his face. Hanna smiled back and when he raised his arms, she stepped close and hugged him tight. When she stepped back, she stroked his hair from his face.

“Ok?” she asked gently.

“Not really,” he told her.

She nodded and sat down next to Jonas.

Jonas just smiled fondly him and Matteo was reminded of exactly why he had this problem.

“Matteo I told you already that I’m over it, ok?”

Matteo just tried to cover his face, but Hanna took his hands and held them gently in her own, taking care not to tug on his bandages. “I wish I’d known how much we were torturing you. But I did know it was shitty to keep pulling you in, keep bringing it up when I knew how you felt,” she said.

“You knew?”

“I… I figured it out,” she said gently. “Hey… hey… it was nothing obvious ok?” she added, when she realised that would make him panic. “No one knows anything. I just… you clearly weren’t into me Matteo,” she said, smirking at him.

Jonas sniggered at that, and Hanna kicked him. “I don’t know what you’re so smug about, you could do way better Matteo,” she said.

“I’m not in love with you,” Matteo said to Jonas.

Jonas spluttered at that, he actually looked upset. “What the fuck?” he demanded.

“I thought I was, but I think it was just… it was feelings… and I didn’t like that you were with Hanna and I missed spending as much time with you and… I think I just wished it was you because how fucking easy would that be? You’re the only person who knows me, properly. I do love you though, and I could easily fall for you, but honestly I’m just fucking lonely,” Matteo said.

Hanna smiled and patted his knee. “You don’t have to be,” she assured him.

Jonas looked a bit put out, but not upset. Matteo smirked at him.

“Was it the kiss?” he asked.

“It was a bit shit yeah,” Matteo said, “you are not a good kisser.”

He knew that wasn’t fair, he’d pretty much attacked Jonas.

“Fuck off Matteo I’m the best kiss you’ve ever had. You just took me by surprise.”

“It can only get better from here,” Matteo said.

Jonas laughed. “Tell him I’m a good kisser, Hanna,” he demanded.

“No comment,” she said, grinning.

This was the most civil they’d been to each other in a long while. Typical that it would take something like this. Matteo supposed it put their shit in perspective. He realised that it was the same for him.

“Nah, it was… it’s all in perspective now. I thought how I felt for you was intense, but it’s not, not compared to everything that’s just happened,” Matteo explained.

“Things aren’t supposed to be that intense Matteo,” Jonas told him.

“No,” he agreed, “but more intense than any of that is how fucking grateful I am that you’re my friends. I don’t want that to change ok?”

“It won’t,” Jonas promised.

“We’re not going anywhere,” Hanna added.

“It’s going to be hard,” Matteo said, wiping his face.

“It is, but we’re sticking with you,” Jonas said.

“Ok,” Matteo mumbled.

Jonas took his hand and held it gently. “You’re going to be ok,” he promised him.

“I can’t go home,” Matteo said.

“You can come stay with me it’s fine,” Jonas offered.

“No Jonas,” Matteo said.

There was no way he could go live with Jonas now, not after everything that had just happened. Plus, he didn’t think he could stand Jonas’ parents fussing over him, reminding him of everything he didn’t have at home. Jonas’ mum had always looked after him. When he was a little kid he’d delighted in it, didn’t think it was weird at all. He just thought Jonas’ house was amazing. As he got older, he realised that Jonas’ mum and dad weren’t these miraculous super parents. They were great, but they were also just doing what Matteo’s parents should have been doing for him.

And after that it felt bittersweet every time Jonas’ mum asked him if he was eating, or how school was. Every time Jonas’ dad punched him on the shoulder and told him he was getting taller, Matteo wanted to cry. He’d also wanted to go home to his dad and yell at him to step up.

“Or stay with Hanna then,” Jonas said.

“Yeah it’s fine honestly,” she said.

“I can’t,” Matteo said.

He loved Hanna; he did. He believed her when she said she forgave him, but he didn’t forgive himself yet. Hanna was so loving and kind, and he didn’t deserve that yet.

“Well, you’ll stay with one of us until we find you a place,” Jonas said, in a tone that left no room for arguments.

Matteo had to accept that Jonas was going to take care of him for a while, Hanna too.

“Did I fuck up at school?” Matteo said, trying to think of what had gone on. He remembered kicking off in class before he went home and kicked off at his mum. It was all a bit muddled. God, he’d probably made a fool out of himself in front of everyone.

“Apparently you yelled at your Spanish teacher, called him a condescending prick and walked out,” Jonas said, amused.

“Fuck,” Matteo muttered. “Oh… I answered in Italian by mistake and he mocked me.”

He was a condescending prick. It wasn’t easy for him and he didn’t need to be a dick about it.

“Asshole,” Jonas said, smiling at him. “Just take some time off regroup, ok?”

“I’m so fucked, Jonas,” Matteo said, covering his face with his free hand.

“Every thing will be ok,” Jonas assured him.

The door opened, and a lady stepped into the room. Matteo assumed she was a doctor. She looked kind, but his anxiety immediately spiked. The nausea was back and his heart rate was increasing. It was a good job he wasn’t hooked up to a monitor, it would be going crazy.

“Hello,” she said.

Matteo pulled his hand back from Jonas.

“My name is Agata, can we have a little chat?”

“No,” Matteo whispered, starting to tremble. He took a shaky breath and tried to stay calm.

“I’ll make it as painless as possible,” she said.

“Can I stay?” Jonas asked.

Hanna was already standing up and ushering Jonas out of his seat.

“No,” Matteo said.

This was going to be fucking hard, but with Jonas there it would be impossible. He wouldn’t be able to speak, and Jonas would try to answer for him. Which was what he wanted, but he knew that Agata wouldn’t allow that. Plus, there was some stuff that he didn’t want Jonas to know yet. Whether Agata could get it out of him, he didn’t know, but with Jonas there she definitely wouldn’t. Hanna nodded and led Jonas to the door, giving him some privacy.

“I’ll be right outside,” Jonas promised as he stepped outside.

Agata sat down in the seat he’d vacated. She didn’t say anything, so Matteo glared at her.

“Are you a shrink?” he asked.

“I’m a psychiatrist, yes,” she said, not put off by his aggressive tone.

He wasn’t aggressive, not really, he was just trying to get her to give up and leave him alone. He rolled his eyes; he knew what she was doing, being nice to trick him into talking.

“Do you know why I’m here?” she asked.

“Because you think I’m fucked in the head?” Matteo guessed darkly.

“No,” she said calmly.

He hated how people could stay calm while he felt like on the edge of another breakdown.

“Because I fucked up?”

“How did you fuck up?” she asked.

He wondered why she wasn’t taking notes. Wasn’t she supposed to be analysing him? She had a notebook there with her, but she hadn’t written anything yet. He remembered his mum telling him time and time again never to talk to doctors, that they would steal his thoughts. Maybe he was getting paranoid like her.

“Everything got messy, I don’t remember ask Jonas,” Matteo suggested.

It was true he didn’t remember anything from the last few hours.

“I’ve already spoken to Jonas,” Agata said, reaching for her notes now.

He thought he might understand the purpose, she would compare what he said to what Jonas said. She’d believe Jonas over him because Jonas wasn’t crazy.

“Then you know everything,” Matteo said, shrugging and looking away from her.

“I know what Jonas saw, I need to know what you remember,” Agata said, she tapped his wrist to get him to look at her.

He reluctantly looked over at her. He didn’t know how she was doing that, compelling him to look at her and talk to her, but it was working. Maybe he was just so tired of being quiet. It was exhausting keeping everything in. It would build and build and then explode out of him painfully. Maybe it would make things easier to talk.

“Nothing,” he mumbled.

“Ok what’s the last thing you remember?” she asked.

“Kissing Jonas,” Matteo told her, trying to keep his tone even and bored. He couldn’t let her see she was upsetting him. It wasn’t really her that was upsetting him, it was the memory of what he’d done. He hadn’t wanted to kiss Jonas, not like that, not when he was completely out of control.

Agata looked down at her notes and frowned. “That was ten days ago,” she said, concerned.

She was right to be concerned, what the fuck? His composure broke immediately. That made no sense. Jonas said he’d only been in the hospital three days. How the hell had he lost so much time? It wasn’t an unfamiliar feeling, though. This had happened before, and every single time was just as terrifying as this. He hated it. He refused to believe her. He couldn’t deal with this.

“Fuck off no it wasn’t,” he said, sitting up and staring down at her.

“Yes, I have it here,” Agata insisted.

“No. No, that’s not right. How long have I been in here then? Did you drug me?” he demanded.

Maybe he’d been in here longer. Maybe his mum was right and they would drug him up and feed him lies.

“You’ve been in here for three days,” Agata said calmly.

“Fuck!”

How the hell had he lost so much time? Six days? He didn’t remember a thing. Nothing. The last thing that was clear was standing outside Jonas’ house. Everything else was just flashes, blurry at best. Six whole days, completely unaware. He was scared. That was absolutely terrifying.

He tried to stay calm, but he couldn’t. He clung to sheets. Even though it hurt his hands, it was grounding him.

“You hit your head pretty hard. You had a concussion, which is likely why you don’t remember how you hurt yourself or getting to the hospital. Do you remember anything before that?” Agata asked him.

He tried, but it was hard, everything was so fuzzy. It hurt to try and recall it. He didn’t think he could. But slowly, very slowly, some stuff started coming back.

“I was with Jonas for what six days?”

“Yes, he didn’t know what to do. He and Hanna tried to take care of you, at her apartment,” Agata said, reading through her notes.

Matteo couldn’t do this, couldn’t talk about this with her, he was too scared, he couldn’t breathe. He’d thought maybe she’d just give him a pill, drug him up and be done. This was so much harder. He was so scared now. He didn’t think any pill would work on this. He was beyond help. He’d just blown through six days in seconds.

“Fuck, fuck, fuck,” he said, trying to catch his breath.

“Matteo, stay calm,” Agata said, placing a gentle hand on his wrist. It helped, he tried to fight it, but it helped.

“No!”

“Matteo,” she said gently.

She reminded him of his mum, back when she was normal. Her voice was gentle, but stern, like she knew best. He used to get wound up as a kid all the time. His mum always sounded the same when she calmed him down. She would wait it out with him until it passed. He could tell Agata would too, that that was all they could do, and it calmed him.

He closed his eyes and tried to piece together the missing stretch of time. His head throbbed, but he was pretty sure that was from his fall.

“I do remember some stuff,” he said.

“Yes?”

“I remember being at Hanna’s, they tried to take care of me? Make me eat and sleep and stuff, but I wouldn’t. I was just going on and on about shit and I tried to cook for Hanna because she was trying to make me eat. But I tried to cook too many things, and it got burnt. I remember I was going to pick up the pan and Hanna screamed and pulled me away. She was scared of me. They both were,” he said.

“I’m sure they were very scared for you, they had no idea what they were doing, but they did a good job keeping you safe,” Agata said.

“Did Jonas tell you about my mum?” Matteo asked her.

“Yes, that’s why they didn’t bring you to the hospital right away, they should have, keeping you home without proper help was a big risk,” she said.

But they both knew how terrified he was of hospitals, terrified of being locked away. The heart of that fear stemmed from his dad yelling that very threat to his mum time and time again. He’d always been scared that the threat applied to him too. That he’d find out about him and send him away. It would be easier, surely. He was just a kid; he didn’t get a say. So he’d kept quiet, hidden his shit. Hell, when he’d hurt himself or got sick, he’d never told anyone, just hidden in his room until it passed.

He’d googled how to strap up broken fingers when he was twelve. They’d never quite healed right.

When he’d had the flu once, he’d just curled up in bed until he was delirious with it. Jonas’ mum had intervened that time. His own parents weren’t around. His mum had a temporary stay in a facility and his dad had left him to it. He was scared his dad would put him in the same place if he found out. Thank god Jonas had come to check up on him. He’d almost died of fever. Thank god for Jonas, every time. His mum took care of him, calling a doctor out to see him there, instead of torturing him with a hospital visit. When it passed, he made Jonas swear no matter what happened, he would never take him to the hospital. He understood why he had this time, though.

“None of what I remember since the kiss feels real. It’s like… it’s like, it’s all compressed, like it can’t possibly have been six days,” he said, trying to make sense of what was in his head.

Maybe Agata could help him figure it out. He supposed he had to trust her.

“You’ve lost your sense of time?” she asked.

“Yeah it’s… in the memories it feels like it all happened at once, like simultaneous, and like it was only a couple of hours,” he said.

She nodded and jotted something down, but he could tell she was paying attention to him.

“That’s bad isn’t it?”

“It’s not bad, but it sounds very unpleasant,” Agata said.

It wasn’t unpleasant; it was downright terrifying. He’d lost all sense of what had happened. Thank god he’d been with Jonas, he was even more grateful that his best friend was so loyal. The other times it wasn’t as bad as this, but he wondered if that was just because he didn’t remember, without Jonas there helping him.

“Jonas said they think I’m bipolar,” Matteo said.

He was tired of waiting; he wanted his diagnosis, and he wanted out. Whatever it was, his life was ruined, so he might as well get it over with.

“Yes,” Agata said, not giving anything away.

“Why?”

“I think what you were experiencing was possibly a manic episode,” she said.

Matteo’s heart sank, being resigned to it didn’t soften the blow at all. Because manic episode meant it would happen again. Hell, they’d been happening for a while. Having a name for it didn’t make it less scary.

“Oh,” he mumbled.

“Yes, from what you’ve just told me and from what Jonas described, the signs are there,” she continued.

“But…”

He didn’t want this, but was there any point fighting this? He wanted to. Maybe he should be trying harder to convince her nothing was wrong with him. He was good at that. He’d been doing it for years. But he was so exhausted with pretending. He was reluctant to let her, but deep down he knew he needed help. And he wanted it. God, he wanted someone to help him. He just wanted to be happy, he just wanted help.

“It can take a long time to get a diagnosis. But I think we caught you at the right time. Your manic episode, while scary for you and your friends, wasn’t extreme. You stayed inside when they asked you to, although it took a lot of convincing. You were very loud and very excitable, doing odd things, but you trusted them, that they were taking care of you. That’s a very good thing. In the end Jonas had to let you outside because you were far too restless, you were going to run regardless. Unfortunately, that’s when you got hurt,” Agata explained. “Perhaps he should have tried harder not to let you have his skateboard.”

“I used to skateboard a lot, I’m actually quite good,” Matteo told her.

He felt compelled to clarify this. He was pretty embarrassed at falling so badly, but in his defence he was clearly out of his mind. That significantly impacted his skateboarding skills.

“I can imagine you are, when you have a sense of self preservation,” she said, smiling at him.

“Actually, that’s kind of a hindrance in skateboarding,” Matteo said.

She chuckled at that.

“Then what happened?” Matteo asked her. He wanted to fill in the gaps get a full picture of what happened. He didn’t want to ignore this. It was so hard, but he needed to know.

“They brought you here,” she told him.

“I was still…”

“You were still manic,” she confirmed.

“Were you there?”

“No, no, they didn’t know this at first, they thought you were on drugs,” she said.

“I wasn’t, it felt a bit like I was though,” Matteo said.

“Yes, Hanna assured them you hadn’t taken anything, that she’d been with you the whole time. But you were very panicky and they couldn’t get you to sit still, so they gave you a mild sedative and an anticonvulsant,” Agata told him.

Damn, no wonder he felt so rough. In addition to the bumps and bruising, he’d been drugged up and was probably still coming down.

“I was fitting?” he asked, startled.

“No, but you were exhibiting muscle jerking. You gave your poor brain quite the knock, swelling on the brain often causes fits and seizures so it was a precaution,” she explained.

He tentatively raised his hand to his head and winced. It was still very tender. He realised he was probably pretty lucky that he hadn’t done some serious damage.

“Ok.”

“Sedatives and anticonvulsants can also be used to bring someone out of a manic episode,” Agata explained.

Everything started to click then. It was pure coincidence that they’d figured it out. “Oh, I calmed down?”

“Almost immediately, that’s when the consultant looking at your head called me, figured you needed a psych assessment.”

“Oh,” Matteo whispered.

“But you needed to sleep it off, so I let you rest, I work at the hospital a few days a week, so I just kept popping in,” she explained.

“Is it definitely bipolar?” Matteo asked.

“That’s what I’m trying to figure out, but I think so. Like I said before, it is tricky to diagnose because essentially we have to catch you in the manic episode which we did, but we also need to see the depression side of it too,” she explained.

“Oh,” he whispered.

“How are you feeling right now?” Agata asked.

“Tired,” he said.

That didn’t even begin to cover it, but she nodded as if she understood. He felt more exhausted than ever; he didn’t think he’d ever felt this tired; it was pervasive. It wasn’t just the drugs. It was physical, mental, emotional. He was completely drained.

“Ok, but mood wise?”

“Like... like shit, but I always feel like this,” Matteo said.

“For how long?”

“I don’t know, a long time,” Matteo said.

He couldn’t remember a time when he didn’t feel at least a little bit like this. He supposed there must’ve been a time when he didn’t, but it must have been a long time ago. He’d felt sad on some level for years.

“Ok ok,” she said.

“So what does it mean?” he demanded.

“When you say you feel like shit can you elaborate?”

“Just… everything shit isn’t it? It’s this exhausting hopelessness. Nothing lifts it. I drink and smoke, but it only helps a little. The very next day it’s back and I can just see it getting worse and worse. This is my life. What’s the fucking point of going on? Like nothing is ever going to get better for me, and I’m a bad person, this is all I get, a shit fucked up life,” he said.

“Ok hold that thought, Matteo, have you ever thought of or taken steps to end your own life?” she asked.

He shook his head slowly, even though it hurt. He had, though. Thought about it. All lot. When he was all alone, on days where everything felt particularly hopeless. It seemed like his only option sometimes. But he’d never done anything. He didn’t think he would, but if this got worse, he couldn’t be sure. He told her this, and she just nodded, writing it all down.

“Right now?” she asked.

“No… I don’t want that right now. I never want it, but no, not right now,” he said.

She believed him, he could tell. Right now everything was hard and terrifying, but he didn’t want to die.

“Why are you a bad person?” she asked.

“I do bad shit,” Matteo said.

“What sort of shit?”

He tried to stay calm, but she was pushing a lot. He got why she was, but it felt like she was arguing with him, trying to convince him he wasn’t bad. It was a hopeless fight.

“I broke my friends up because I was jealous,” he admitted.

“And you believe you deserve a bad life because of this?”

Obviously. How could she not see that?

“I yelled at my mum,” he added.

“Anything else?”

“I’m gay?”

“Ok, ok, Matteo,” she said with a sympathetic sigh. “You are a teenage boy, shit is hard for you, but you are not a bad person and you deserve for things to be easier. I can help you with that.”

“You’re going to drug me up?” Matteo asked.

“Maybe,” she said.

“Probably?”

“Probably,” she admitted.

“God. Fuck.”

“Firstly, I need to check a few more things, this manic episode-”

“So that’s definitely what it was?”

“Not definitely, but probably,” she said.

“This is all very fucking imprecise,” Matteo muttered.

“Welcome to the human mind Matteo,” she said.

He smiled a little despite himself. She was good. He did like her.

“Have you ever felt like that before?”

“Manic?”

“Yes, like what you’ve just experienced?”

He sighed.

“Yeah,” he admitted.

“How many times?”

“A few, it’s… been happening more and more. I think maybe sometimes it’s not as bad as this, so I’m not sure if that’s what it was, but… the last time it was bad like this was just after my dad left a few months ago. And before that, another one was when I was about fifteen. I don’t… I don’t remember what happened, but it felt like time was going by really quick. Jonas went away for the whole summer and when he came back… I just… I lost the summer. I don’t know what happened… it felt compressed again, I don’t think I did anything wild, but I don’t think I slept at all I would just wander around at night and I remember screaming, which is weird for me because I hate making noise but I screamed all summer I had to let it out, but no one heard me. And I remember climbing bridges and tall buildings just to feel alive and fighting with my dad all the time and… I dunno, I don’t know if that was this… but it felt like it now. But… there have been other times, last month I stopped sleeping for days, I just had to keep cleaning the house, but that wasn’t normal, I know that,” he explained. It was all so confusing, he didn’t know how to distinguish or explain these moods he got.

“It’s possible quite possible that those things were mania or hypomania, I would say probable,” she said.

“So are you going to drug me?”

“I’m not going to force you to take anything, at this point it is your choice, but I do suggest mood stabilisers and antidepressants,” she said.

“God and if I don’t?”

“This will probably happen again, and worse, until we have no choice but to medicate you whether you want it or not,” she said.

At least she was honest. He needed that. He believed her. He didn’t want this to happen again; it was awful, feeling that out of control. And it was only getting worse.

“Fucking fuck,” he muttered.

“I know it’s hard-”

“No, you don’t!” Matteo yelled. He winced immediately at his own volume. “Shit! Shit! Help me, please don’t knock me out-”

“Matteo, Matteo, listen to me, it’s ok. What’s happening right now is just panic. I think you also have anxiety, that’s a separate issue. So breathe with me. No one will sedate you again. You are not a danger to anyone, including yourself, the only reason they sedated you before was because they were worried about your head,” she said.

He’d lost control again, and he hated it.

Matteo kept breathing until he felt his heart rate come back under control.

“Ok?”

“Yeah,” Matteo said.

“You’re a quiet guy, aren’t you?”

“Yeah.”

“Scared?”

“All the fucking time,” he said.

She nodded.

“Try the mood stabilisers for me ok? What I want to do is help you get back in control, and we can, the anxiety too.”

“Ok,” he said. He wanted to stay in control. He wanted not to be afraid anymore.

“Thank you,” she said.

“Do I have to keep seeing you?”

“Yes, but not that often,” she assured him. “I would like you to start seeing a therapist, your depression seems pretty persistent so I want to work on that, and you might not even have to stick to the antidepressants,” she explained. “And therapy can definitely help you deal with your anxiety, rationalise it and reduce it.”

“For fuck sakes,” he muttered.

“I can tell you don’t like to talk much, but you just let the therapist know that, they’ll be able to work with you,” Agata said.

“How do I find one?”

“I have a list for you,” she said, placing it on the little table beside the bed.

“Ok thank you,” Matteo mumbled.

He really was grateful, but he was also exhausted. All he wanted to do was sleep for a year.

“I’m going to let you rest ok? I’ll get them to do some bloodwork and when you’re discharged they’ll have an appointment for you, I’ll see you then, and we can look at how to handle this. You can be ok Matteo,” she promised.

“Thanks,” Matteo said.

He hated all of this, but he couldn’t help feeling relived too. She thought he had a chance. And she knew about this stuff, understood it, he couldn’t help but believe her.

“No problem, I’ll send Jonas and Hanna back in?”

“You should send them home,” Matteo said.

“They want to be here, Matteo, let them in,” Agata said. “Always let them in. I can prescribe all the medicine in the world, but there’s nothing as good as people who love you.”

She was talking bullshit now, but he did understand what she was saying, it would be easier for him if he didn’t try so hard to do this alone.

“Ok.”

What a fucking mess everything was. Here he was just as crazy as his fucking mum. And so angry too, he still felt angry and out of control and he hated it. He hated how much he hated her right now. He loved her so much, but right now he was beyond angry at her for not being a better parent. Either of them. Would he be in this mess if they’d just cared a little more? But then he wasn’t exactly a model son, was he? He was a fuck up, just like his dad said. Oh, he would be delighted to hear that not only did he have a crazy ex wife but a crazy son too. If he hadn’t written them off before, he definitely would now. Well, fuck him. Matteo didn’t need him.

He didn’t need anyone. He was going to have to get used to being alone. Because no one was going to stick around now. Not when they realised what he was.

Jonas and Hanna walked back into the room then and took their seats again. Neither of them spoke, seeming to realise Matteo was going through something right now.

Jonas wouldn’t stay.

Hanna wouldn’t stay.

They’d all leave him, and then he’d be all alone. He couldn’t go it alone. He couldn’t.

He felt his eyes burning and he couldn’t help it; he let out a sob. Then he was weeping uncontrollably.

Jonas pulled him into his arms and held him through it. Matteo knew Jonas would leave eventually, but for now he held on to his best friend with all he had.

Chapter Text

Matteo hated parties. He hated the lights, the noise, the people. He hated that he couldn't drink or smoke to black any of it out. He hated that Sara was drunk and all over him. He hated that Jonas was watching him worriedly. He hated that his best friend wasn't drinking or having fun, just because he wasn't.

He looked down at Sara in his arms and sighed. She was pretty out of it. She liked a drink did Sara. Matteo was almost jealous. He didn't know why she drank so much, what she was hiding from, but he wished he could hide from his problems in the same way. He knew if he did that, his problems would be a lot worse.

"Kiss me," she demanded.

"I'm not feeling too good, I'm gonna head to the bathroom," he said, passing her over to Leonie.

"Matteo," Leonie warned.

"I just... I need a break from all this," he said.

It wasn't a lie either, and she knew it, everyone did. They knew he couldn't deal with all this party shit. Hell, the whole school still regarded him with wariness, like he might go off at any moment. They were careful around him, students and teachers alike.

Matteo hoped this wasn't going to be a frequent thing, that this was just a moving in party. He'd moved out of his mum's for some peace and quiet, not realising he'd moved straight into party central. Although he hadn't really had much choice, it was here or the streets.

He knew that was bullshit too. Both Jonas and Hanna wanted him to move in with them, but he couldn't burden them like that. Not after everything he'd put them through. He ruined their lives, time and time again. He broken up his best friends, destroyed their relationship. All because he was petty and lonely. He didn't care how many times they forgave him; he was a bad person. How the hell could he expect them to look after him? No, he couldn't do that, couldn't put on them like that.

Matteo had no idea why they cared so much. Why they'd stuck around even after he'd gone fucking mental. Jonas kept trying to assure him it wasn't as bad as he thought it was. That it was just because he didn't remember it that it seemed like a big deal. He should try having six full days missing from his memories, it was absolutely terrifying. What he did remember was he'd freaked them both out, screamed in their faces and scared the shit out of both of them. For some reason, even after that, they were both being nothing but kind to him. Still, they were treating him with kid gloves too, probably worried he was on the edge of another breakdown.

His shrink and his therapist had assured him that his meds would help, but he might have another episode, before they took full effect. So that was fun. Bipolar disorder. What a fucking joke. His dad had been right, he was just as crazy as his mum. He hadn't spoken to him since he'd left. He'd texted him, saying he need rent. That was it. His dad had called a few times, probably wanting to know why he should pay. Matteo had replied asking if he wasn't going to pay it could he let him know, because he was pretty much homeless and he needed to make a plan. Three more unanswered phone calls from his dad, and finally the money was in his account.

He hadn't spoken to his mum since he'd screamed in her face. Since he'd told her he was gay and a sinner and going to hell. He was too scared. Too scared to let her know about him. So he read her texts, her long bible passages, read them like the punishment they were, and never replied. Jonas had gone over for his stuff, told her her son was ok, but needed space. He had no idea what she thought about that.

Poor Jonas, having to deal with this shit. Matteo had fucked everything up and now his friend was too scared to cut him out of his life. None of it was fair.

He left Leonie and headed to the bathroom, rolling his eyes when Jonas pushed himself up off the wall and followed him.

"What?" he demanded.

"Where are you going?"

"To piss," Matteo said, wrenching the door open and climbing into the bathtub beside Carlos.

To no one's surprise they were talking about sex. It was positions this time. It was always something with them. Matteo didn't much care for it. It was like they had nothing else going on in their dumb brains. Matteo always had a million things going through his mind at once. Most of it worries and fears. How nice it must be to only think about sex. He wished he could think about sex without worrying whether or not he was going to hell.

He took the bag of weed from Abdi and sniffed it.

"Matteo," Jonas warned.

"What? I'm not going to have a fucking episode just because there's weed near me, fuck off," he muttered.

He was being mean. He'd been doing that a lot lately. Trying to push people away. Surely it was easier, push them away now, before they left him. Jonas was persistent though, took it in his stride the idiot. He sat there, staring at the weed in his hands. He hadn't smoked in a while. It had been months. God, he wanted to. So badly. He'd snuck his own stash in, right under Jonas' nose. Just in case. Sometimes this was the only thing that quieted his mind and he needed it, like a security blanket. Weed helped his anxiety, but fucked up his bipolar. Why did his fucking head have to be such a mess?

He spaced out again, ignoring their questions about his and Sara's sex life. He didn't understand why it was so fascinating to them. Not that anything was happening there. Instead, he held the weed in his hands and daydreamed about getting stoned, just feeling chill, forgetting all his shit.

He must've checked out because suddenly the boys were all standing up.

"Give me my weed," Abdi said, holding out his hand.

Matteo just ignored him, leaning back and closing his eyes. He didn't know what he was doing, testing his self restraint perhaps? Torturing himself? Whatever it was when he opened his eyes, they'd all left him. Even Jonas.

He'd vaguely heard them talking about girls. They'd probably gone off to find someone to fuck. Matteo just didn't get it. It was so easy for them. Even if he wasn't fucked in the head, he'd still never get that. He may have a girlfriend, but she wasn't who he was interested in. He liked boys. And he thought he might just hate himself for that.

Eventually he dragged himself out of the tub and headed back to the party.

It was time to put an end to this. He wanted to go to bed. Hans knew about his condition, Matteo had warned him. Said he probably didn't want him as a roommate. Hans had just asked what he needed from him. Hans could be a lot, had never struck Matteo as particularly calm or sensible, but he sure did care.

He'd seen it that morning when Linn had been panicking because she couldn't find her journal. Hans took her to one side and calmed her down. Then he'd looked at Matteo and smiled. He'd known then that Hans would do the same for him. He may be ridiculous and over the top, but damn it he was kind. And he knew how important it was for him to get regular sleep, so hopefully he would shut this down.

"Matteo police," Linn said, finally dragging him out of his thoughts.

"Huh?" he asked, confused.

"Police," she said, pointing at the two officers that had stepped into the flat.

Matteo just blinked. He was still feeling a bit out of it. What did she want him to do?

"Get rid of them," Linn hissed.

"You get rid of them," Matteo muttered, suddenly remembering the not insignificant quantity of weed he had in his pocket. Fuck.

He looked around wildly.

"Matteo," Linn insisted.

She looked scared. He supposed it was up to him then. How he was supposed to handle this he didn't know.

Then he spotted Amira, and she was wearing a rucksack. Matteo had no idea why, but he figured it was as good a place as any. The police wouldn't search her, she was a goody two shoes. He snuck up behind her and with more stealth than he knew he possessed; he slipped it into her bag.

Not a minute too soon either, the police officer approached him, asking him if he was the tenant. He could barely even focus on what the man was saying. His brain felt like it was slowing down. He was tired; he was fed up. It was too loud. He vaguely pointed at some tall guy in a purple shirt.

Then the police were talking about turning the music down. He had to agree with them; it was too loud in here. He swore he could fucking see the noise it was pulsing so loudly. Things got quieter then, and Matteo breathed a sigh of relief.

He watched Amira leave then, following the police officers out of the door. He vaguely remembered that he needed to speak to her, but he wasn't sure why. His brain had stopped working. Everything was a bit confused in his head. Then the music started again and Matteo was done.

He went to his room and collapsed onto his bed. He screamed into his pillow to drown out the noise. He kept screaming and screaming until he felt the bed dip beside him and Jonas was climbing into the bed.

"Ok Luigi?" he asked gently.

"Nowhere fucking near ok," he admitted, voice rough, his throat raw from all the screaming.

"Sleep now, we'll deal in the morning," Jonas said, pulling the blankets over them.

Matteo sighed and closed his eyes, finally giving into the sleep he'd been fighting since that afternoon.

 

When Matteo woke up, he felt like hell. Why did he feel so bad? He wasn't allowed to drink or smoke, so why did he feel like he'd partied hard last night? He coughed and winced at the pain in his throat. He felt like he'd swallowed broken glass. He vaguely remembered screaming. That explained his throat and the pounding behind his eyes.

He turned over and found Jonas beside him. He almost wanted to laugh. Just a few months ago what he wouldn't have given to have Jonas in his bed, within touching distance. Now it was all bittersweet. Still, he stared at him for a while. He appreciated this boy so much, everything he did for him. He knew he should show it more, but it was damn hard to be vulnerable like that.

Matteo noted the phone number on Jonas' arm and rolled his eyes. Clearly neither him or Hanna had learnt anything from his little breakdown. They were so fucking selfish. They were so fucking lucky and they were squandering it. All he wanted was to be loved. But who would love him? Who the hell would want to be saddled with him? He was destined to be alone.

He felt his eyes heat up, and he knew he was at risk of spiralling. This happened sometimes.

He took a deep breath and stared around the room, trying to bring himself out of his spiral. He needed to focus on what he could see.

He needed more stuff in his room. It was so empty. It wasn't, not really, but compared to his room at home it felt sparse. He looked up at his books, then to his desk, at all his computer stuff. The chairs in the corner for when his friends came over. It was a nice room.

He switched his focus to what he could feel, the soft sheets beneath his hands. He squeezed them between his fingers, then he reached out and gently ran his shaking fingers through Jonas' hair.

Jonas blinked awake then. He must've been able to tell from Matteo's face that something was up.

"What's wrong?"

"Panicking, scared," he muttered.

Jonas took his hands in his own. Jonas had learnt these techniques alongside Matteo, he knew what to do.

"Focus on me," he said.

Matteo did, he focussed on Jonas' strong grip; he was safe.

Jonas smiled tentatively at him. Matteo didn't return it. He couldn't, not yet. But he squeezed back.

He supposed Jonas wasn't hungover now that he wasn't drinking out of pity for Matteo. At least there was one benefit for him. Still, if he was sober that meant he probably wanted to talk. He'd been trying to talk, constantly pestering Matteo.

"Ok Matteo?"

Matteo shrugged and sat up, wondering how he could get out of this. He knew exactly what Jonas wanted to talk about.

"Saw you with Sara last night," Jonas said.

Ever since they'd gotten together, Jonas was pestering him to end things, trying to remind him of things he wasn't ready to deal with. They weren't even really dating. Sara just liked to kiss him sometimes and in return he got her company, someone who wanted to be with him, despite his shit. He knew he had to put a stop to it, and he would, he just needed a little more time.

"And?"

"And you wanna explain that?"

"What's there to explain? Sara's into me, what am I supposed to do?" Matteo asked.

He knew exactly what he was supposed to do.

"Matteo," Jonas warned.

"Leave it alone, Jonas," he said, staring straight ahead, refusing to look at his friend.

If he did, he knew Jonas would win, would convince him to end it before he was ready.

"You kissed me," Jonas reminded him.

As if he could ever fucking forget. Why couldn't he just let it go?

"Leave it, Jonas," Matteo muttered.

"No Matteo, you kissed me. You told me you were in love with me and now you won't fucking talk about it-"

"I was manic! I was talking bullshit!"

"Matteo-"

"Just fucking leave it, Jonas!"

The door swung open, and Hans burst into the room, jumping onto the bed between them. Matteo couldn't be more grateful that Hans had no clue how to knock on the door.

"It's tense in here," Hans observed, looking between the two of them. "Lover's tiff?"

Matteo rolled his eyes and pulled out his phone for a distraction.

Sara had been texting him. He was pretty surprised. If he'd drunk as much as she had, he'd still be unconscious at this point.

"I'm hungry Matteo, will you go get bread rolls?" Hans asked him.

"Go yourself," Matteo muttered.

Linn wandered into his room. It looked like he was going to have to start locking his door. She was rambling on about pancakes. He wasn't hungry, not this early in the day. His stomach ached. He hadn't really had a proper appetite since he'd started his meds.

Matteo frowned; Hans and Jonas were flirting because of course they were. How wonderful that they were both so fucking comfortable in themselves.

He wasn't dealing with this so early in the morning. He dragged himself out of bed.

"Where are you going?" Jonas asked.

Matteo ignored the hurt on his face. Maybe if he wanted to have a serious conversation, he shouldn't flirt with his roommates. It felt like he was rubbing it in his face. Teasing him. Mocking him.

"Eggs," he muttered. "If you want pancakes, you'll need eggs. Jonas will make them for you," he told Hans.

Hans grabbed his wrist, scrutinising him. Hans was taking this whole caretaker thing seriously. Him and Mia had both promised Hanna they were going to look after him.

Matteo didn't seem to have much choice in the matter.

He didn't need anyone to look after him. He'd been looking after himself for years now.

"You ok Matteo?" Hans asked gently.

Everyone always asked him if he was ok. Even though they had to know he wasn't. It was so clear he was anything but ok. Matteo pulled free of Hans and picked up his little pill box, shaking it and grinning darkly at Hans. He shook his dose into his hand and swallowed it dry.

"Don't worry, I'm medicated," he muttered.

"Matteo," Jonas said.

Matteo ignored him and walked out of the room. It wasn't until he got to the street that he realised he'd forgotten his wallet.

Great.

It was clearly a sign of things to come. He texted Hans and then ignored the messages coming in from Sara. He couldn't deal with her yet. He needed a break. He needed a day off from people, including her. He wondered how long Jonas would be staying. He hoped he'd go home so that he could lock himself in his room. He'd push some boxes in front of the door for good measure. Then Hans and Linn would have to leave him alone too. If they kept trying to get in, then he'd just have to lock himself out on the balcony.

He was dragged out of his thoughts by his wallet hitting him in the back of the head. He whirled round to glare at Hans.

"I yelled at you," Hans said, looking apologetic.

Huh, he hadn't even heard him. That seemed to be happening a lot lately. He was constantly zoning out, losing all awareness.

He picked up his wallet, waved to Hans and headed to the shops. The sooner this breakfast was over with, the better.

 

It was pretty touch and go whether he went to school the next morning. Getting out of bed had seemed like an impossible task. In the end, it was Hans' fussing that got him out of the apartment. As much as he wanted to stay in bed, he couldn't stand that pouty face.

When Hans suggested they have a spa day instead, to help him relax, that had him out of the apartment pretty quick. He had a feeling Hans was doing it deliberately, but he didn't want to risk it. There was no way he was letting Hans anywhere near his face. Plus, he did kind of need to be here. He needed to get the weed back from Amira, but she wasn't with the other girls.

Still he approached them, trying not to flinch when Hanna pulled him in for a hug then checked him over. He didn't need her fussing. Why did everyone think he needed fussing over?

"Where's Amira?" he asked.

"She's off sick," Sam told him, "nice party the other day," she added.

He was glad she'd had fun. He certainly hadn't. "How sick? When is she back?"

"I don't know?" Sam said, confused.

He realised he was being a bit demanding, he'd never given any indication before that he would care whether Amira was sick or not.

"Just school stuff," he offered by way of explanation.

Sam seemed to buy it, simply nodding. Hanna looked suspicious, but probably not about the Amira thing, just about his general wellbeing.

"Are you ok Matteo?" she asked, proving his point.

"I'm fine just tired," he said, stifling a yawn. He really was tired, there was other shit too, but that wasn't a lie.

"Matteo-"

"I don't need your constant fussing, Hanna," he snapped. "Sorry," he mumbled.

He should be more grateful that she still cared, that she didn't hate him, that she hadn't cut him out of her life. She just smiled at him and opened her arms again. Matteo stepped into them and let her hold him, relaxing into her embrace until he felt in danger of being overwhelmed by his emotions. He closed his burning eyes and pulled away from her.

"I'm ok," he insisted, trying to ignore the wobble in his voice.

"Probably just tired from having to clean up the apartment, right?" Sam offered.

Matteo nodded appreciatively at the out she'd given him.

"I have to get to class," he said, backing away from the two girls.

He didn't really want to go to class, but he was here now, he might as well go. He spotted Jonas and the boys, but turned away. He couldn't face Jonas right now, not after Saturday. Jonas still wanted to talk about it. Matteo just wanted to ignore it. He was well aware that Jonas' approach was probably the healthier one, but right now he couldn't give a shit. He wanted to avoid his problems. That was his choice.

He dragged himself up the stairs and started slowly wandering to his class. He kept his head down, trying to ignore everyone else. They were probably looking at him like he was a head case, wondering if he was going to go crazy again. Jonas insisted no one knew about him, but Matteo wasn't so sure. He'd been in class the day he kissed Jonas. He remembered everything as a blur, remembered everything being a bit too fast, a bit too bright. Amira said he'd been a bit louder, but that was it. He was sure she was just being kind, he'd probably been screaming. He wished they'd just be honest with him, about how bad it had been.

He looked up, just as a boy dressed in black crossed his path. He had headphones on, blocking out the world. He had the right idea, there was nothing here worth taking in. Except perhaps this boy. Matteo had never seen him before, but there was something about him, something that stopped him from looking away.

He kept staring as they got closer and closer. The boy was staring back he realised; it was like neither of them could look away. Who the hell was he? Matteo wanted to know every single little thing about him. He felt compelled somehow. He wanted to see him smile, hear him laugh. He wanted to make him laugh, talk to him, get to know him. He wanted to unwrap the mystery of the boy in black. He was important and Matteo had no idea why, but just as they passed each other he realised something. This boy was hiding. Just like him. But the boy could see him, he could see Matteo. Matteo felt like he was seeing through every one of his walls, his defences, seeing exactly what Matteo always tried to hide. And yet he found he didn't mind so much.

The boy passed him, and Matteo kept walking, but he didn't look away. He kept staring over his shoulder even though he risked tripping. The boy looked back once there was some distance between them. Matteo had no idea what he saw, what he was thinking, but he felt compelled to find out, to know this boy.

He needed to know him.

He'd never wanted to know a person more in his life.

What the hell was going on with him?

 

Amira was back the next day. Must've been a short sickness. She didn't look particularly ill. Although knowing how much of a nerd she was Matteo wouldn't be surprised if she dragged herself in despite whatever was wrong. He got up from beside Jonas and went to sit next to her.

She ignored him. She was pissed. He wasn't really surprised; it was shitty of him to put the weed in her bag. He did know that now, but he'd been out of it at the party.

"Are you feeling better?" he asked.

"Do you care?" she shot back.

"Yeah actually, don't want to catch anything," he joked.

She gave him a withering glare. He almost flinched at the intensity of her gaze. He didn't though, he just smiled at her, trying his best to be charming.

"Are you, though? I know what you're like, you don't take breaks easily, should you be back so soon?"

Her gaze softened a little at that, he could tell she was fighting it, but he was being sincere, he did care. Amira had been good to him, patient with him when he was trying to catch up with all the school he'd missed. She'd even let him borrow her notes.

"I'm ok," she said.

"Ok," he said.

"Ask for it then," she said.

This felt like a trap.

"Can I have it back?"

"No."

"Amira," Matteo whined.

"Ignoring the fact that you and I both know you can't smoke that shit, how dare you put that in my bag? Do you have any idea the kind of trouble I could've gotten into if I'd been caught?" she demanded.

Matteo had no idea how she expressed so much rage and anger in a whisper, it was terrifying.

"You wouldn't have been caught," Matteo muttered sheepishly.

"Bullshit Matteo, those police officers could've stopped me, which is pretty fucking likely. I just got lucky. I know you think I'm a goodie two shoes, teacher's pet, but it doesn't work like that. Do you have any idea how many times I'm stopped randomly?"

"I'm sorry... Amira I wasn't thinking," Matteo mumbled, feeling terrible. He never fucking thought of the consequences of his actions, he could never see the bigger picture. But he'd never even thought about shit like that. It was vaguely familiar, he remembered Jonas mentioning it once, but he wasn't good at putting two and two together. He could never imagine them wanting to stop Amira. That was why it was so unfair, he supposed.

"And police aside, I'd rather take my chances with them over my parents. What if they'd found it? They would've been so mad at me. They're already so strict, do you have any idea how hard it is to convince them to let me come to these parties? And for good reason, Matteo!"

Matteo blinked at that. He hadn't thought of that either. He understood the risk of the police; it was why he'd dumped it on Amira. He'd forgotten about the risk of her parents. It had been so long since his parents paid him the slightest bit of attention that he'd forgotten what that was like.

"I didn't even think of that," he whispered.

"No, of course you didn't," she hissed. She was really mad, and Matteo was starting to feel uncomfortable. "You never think about anyone but yourself," Amira continued.

"No Amira," he insisted. "I didn't know about the police thing, but your parents... I just... I forgot... what that was like... I know it's a pain, but you're lucky, they clearly care about you, they're probably right to want you to stay away from my parties," he said.

"For fuck sakes, Matteo," Amira muttered. "You can't have it back."

"It's not even mine Amira, I-"

"Matteo and Amira, I presume from your chatter that you already know everything you need to about genetics?" Mrs Borchert asked, coming to stand in front of their desk.

"No," Matteo mumbled, there was no point lying.

"Unsurprising," Borchert said coldly.

Borchert hated him. Most of his teachers either pitied him or treated him like a bomb that was about to go off. Volatile. Borchert just straight up hated him. He wasn't sure why. She didn't seem to want to teach him, didn't want him in her class. She'd found out he was bipolar that was it, he was a bad kid; he was trouble. She was just a prejudiced bitch. All he'd wanted was a little patience while he caught up. He hadn't found that in Borchert's class. In fact, if Amira hadn't helped him, he would've given up.

The first day he'd come back Borchert had talked to him like he was an imbecile. He'd been seconds away from walking out, but Amira had come over to his desk and handed him a stack of papers, told him to catch up. Thing was, she must've had that ready for him, must've been planning to give it to him regardless.

"Then perhaps I should be doing the talking, hm?" Borchert said with a sickly smile.

Matteo just nodded. He glanced over at Jonas who smiled sympathetically. He'd heard Matteo complain about her many times now, he knew the drill. He was sitting next to some girl now, flirting with her, he didn't have an exam in biology, so apparently that meant he didn't care. Matteo supposed he was stuck with Amira then. Or Amira was stuck with him.

He waited for Borchert to go back to the front of the classroom, then turned to Amira. He was getting tired of this; he was running out of steam. "Please, can I have it back? I won't smoke it, I'll just give it back to Abdi," he said tiredly.

She stared at him for a long moment, wondering how she could drag this out, clearly plotting something.

"I'll give it back, if you come to the Abi-prank committee," she said finally.

"Get fucked," Matteo said, almost laughing at the idea.

"It'll do you good," Amira said.

"No."

"No meeting, no weed. And bring your dumb friends, this means a lot to Kiki and the more people there, the better," Amira said, in a tone that left no room for arguments.

That didn't stop him trying, though. He didn't want to go; he didn't do social stuff.

"Come on Amira no," he said.

She just raised an eyebrow. "Friday night six o'clock," she said, smirking at him, knowing she'd won.

"Seeing as you two are getting on so well you can work together," Borchert said, coming back to their desk. "This will be the last grade before the exams, and you'll share it."

Matteo knew they deserved that, they'd been talking all lesson, but he felt bad for Amira. She was a good student; she deserved to work with someone better. That wasn't fair at all.

"Oh no Mrs-"

"Yes, I understand your reluctance Amira, dragging Matteo through this class will not be easy. Tell you what, if and when he fails the grade, I'll give you extra credit, call it an allowance, like care in the community," she said, her tone mocking.

Matteo flushed red and hunched down in his chair, but Amira's attitude changed immediately. She sat up straight in her chair and fixed the teacher with the same cold stare she'd given him earlier. The teacher flinched too.

"What exactly is that supposed to mean?" Amira asked her calmly.

"You know what I mean," Borchert said, "Matteo here is a special case, not exactly academic, and yet I still have to let him in my class, regardless of the fact he's useless at biology."

Matteo wanted the ground to swallow him up. He wanted to cry. Jonas stood up ready to yell, but Amira got there first.

"Perhaps that's a reflection of your piss poor abilities as a teacher, if you don't understand just why he's still here, that you can't recognise the necessity of that. If you're incapable of adapting your teaching methods to support all your students, then what's the point? Seriously? Standing in front of the room and reading from a textbook, hardly groundbreaking stuff," Amira spat.

Fucking hell. He was glad he had her on his side. He glanced at Jonas who looked just as stunned. He looked back at Mrs Borchert; she looked like she was going to explode.

"Both of you out!"

Amira took the papers from her and stood up, marching out of the room.

Matteo followed her confused. "Why did you do that?" he asked when they got outside.

"She doesn't get to talk to you like that. She doesn't get to treat you like that, Matteo," Amira said gently.

"She's right though," Matteo said.

"No, she's not," Amira insisted.

"But I am hopeless, and even if I do learn everything, it doesn't matter, my exams are going to be one big panic attack," Matteo said.

"It'll be ok Matteo," Amira tried to assure him, although she knew as well as he did his anxiety would be his downfall. "And don't worry Matteo, you're going to pass because you're working with me, and I don't allow slacking. You won't need to panic, because you'll know everything," she said.

They both knew it wasn't that simple, but he appreciated her attitude. It helped a little.

"Now take this," she said, handing him the papers, "complete it by next week and don't forget. And I'll see you on Friday at six," she said.

"Dear god," Matteo muttered, she was formidable.

Still, he smiled to himself. He watched her leave and then snuck out of the school. He wanted to go home.

He only had one more class that day, Spanish, and he could speak Spanish pretty well already. What he couldn't do was write an essay in Spanish, or sit an exam in Spanish. How could he when he could barely write one in German?

He just wasn't in the mood, that class was too noisy and he didn't know anyone. He didn't feel like being surrounded by strangers. He felt like a nap.

 

Matteo was so tired. Exhausted. He wasn't sleeping properly. He would crash out early around ten or eleven, but he'd be awake again at two or three. No matter what he did, he couldn't get back to sleep. He knew this was bad, knew it was important to get good sleep. He wanted to; he didn't want to feel like this, but sleep just wasn't forthcoming.

Right now all he wanted to do was sleep, but Sara was there with him. She was talking about something, rabbiting on, but he found he didn't mind it so much. He couldn't focus on what she was saying, but it was nice having her there, nice to have company. He knew that was shitty; he was just using her. But he didn't want to be alone. Her voice was comforting. It was sending him to sleep. Or it would be, but she kept showing him dresses. He wasn't quite sure why, something to do with the Abiball.

"Well?" she demanded.

"Well, what?" he mumbled.

"Which dress?"

"What do you mean which dress?"

What the hell was she talking about? She'd shown him so many dresses, how was he supposed to know what she meant?

"Which dress do you like better, for Abiball?"

Matteo just stared at her. Ok, her question made sense, but he didn't have an answer for her.

"I don't know," he said.

Sara sighed, upset.

"No, don't Sara, I don't know this stuff. I mean look at how I dress," he said.

She smiled a little at that.

"And look, you could wear anything to Abiball and look good ok?"

He knew he shouldn't say shit like that, it only gave her the wrong idea. But Sara was pretty, he was gay, not blind.

She smiled even wider now.

"Ok, just look again," she said, handing him her phone.

He swiped through the dresses she'd lined up. "The red one then," he said.

She frowned.

"What? Red's my favourite colour. Fine, this pale pink one I guess, that's a nice one," he said, handing back her phone. He was just picking by colour, he was pretty sure there was a lot more to it than that. But even though he had no idea about the different shapes of dresses or whatever it was, the real issue he had was he could really picture them on her. They were just dresses. Still, he wasn't going to volunteer that information, otherwise she'd make him go shopping or something. As if he had the energy for that.

"Ok, I like the pink," she agreed.

"Happy?"

"You're useless at this," she teased.

"Well, I'm sorry, I don't wear a lot of dresses," Matteo argued.

She just smiled and shuffled closer. He hoped she wasn't going to kiss him.

"Will you come with me? To Abiball?" she asked.

He'd been dreading this. For one thing he didn't even want to go to Abiball, what was the point? School was hell, why would he want to celebrate it? But he also couldn't go with Sara, not like she wanted.

He'd gotten together with her right after his last episode, a desperate attempt to convince himself and Jonas that he wasn't gay. It was stupid and selfish and yet here she was still with him. He had no idea why; he wasn't even particularly nice to her. Which made it even sadder. But they weren't really official yet, even though he knew that was what she wanted.

"I... I don't know," he said.

"Matteo," she said sadly.

"It's... it's not really my scene," he tried.

She nodded, seeming to get that. "But are we... are you my boyfriend Matteo?"

"I don't know Sara," he admitted.

He didn't want to lie to her. He was so fucking tired of it all. He hated all of this. He'd gotten himself into this situation, it was no one's fault but his own. He didn't want to date Sara, but he also didn't want to lose this. She cared for him, wanted to be around him, he had no idea why, but he couldn't let this go. He was selfish, but he'd always known that.

"Matteo-"

"Why are you with me Sara?"

"Because-"

"Because I'm a mess, yeah? Why haven't you left me? I would get it if you did, I couldn't exactly complain," he said.

"Matteo," she warned, she always got upset with him when he talked darkly of himself.

"I can't be your boyfriend, I'm barely functioning as a person, I just can't..."

"Matteo," she said gently.

"Please don't leave," he begged selfishly.

Sara wiped her eyes and wrapped her arms around him.

"I'm so sorry," Matteo mumbled.

"Matteo you deserve to be loved ok? I knew you were bipolar when I kissed you at that party, but I also knew you were cute," she said.

That wasn't fair, letting her think it was the bipolar thing, when it was so much more complicated than that. But every time she told him he deserved to be loved it felt so good. What an asshole he was.

"That's why you're with me is it? Because I'm cute?" he asked.

"Well, you've not got much else going for you," she teased.

He just smiled, she wasn't wrong.

"Sara?"

He needed to be a little more honest with her.

"Yeah?"

"I can't be your boyfriend. I'm sorry. It's... there's more to it than the bipolar, I've got some other shit going on. I'll tell you, as soon as I'm ready, I'll tell you." And he would too, he trusted her, and she deserved to know. "But I'm not going to Abiball because I'm not even going to pass the year."

Sara sighed. He wondered if deep down she knew. Maybe not, but she had to have an idea.

"I... I'm not trying to be selfless. I want more than anything to hold on to you, but I can't do that to you," he said.

"Matteo I really like you," Sara insisted, pulling back and staring down at him.

He just stared.

"You don't, do you?" she asked tearfully.

"I really do, but not in the same way," he admitted, as much as it pained him to tell her that he had to. He wasn't going to lie to her.

"Will you change?"

"No," he said.

"Ok," she said.

"Are you going to leave now?" Matteo asked.

"No Matteo, do you want me to leave?" she asked.

"No," he said quietly.

"Do you like spending time with me?" Sara asked.

"Yes," he said. It was the truth. When she wasn't trying to kiss him or get him to be her boyfriend, he genuinely enjoyed her company. He wished that was enough.

"Then I'll stay," Sara said.

Matteo started to cry, he couldn't help it. Sara wrapped him in her arms again. He knew he hadn't fixed anything, if anything he'd made it worse. He knew Sara was hoping he would come around, but if she wanted to stay, he wasn't going to send her away. He couldn't, he wasn't strong enough right now. He just wanted to be her friend, he couldn't bear that he was hurting her.

"Can you just talk about something else? I'm so tired, Sara," Matteo said.

"Ok," Sara said, smiling weakly.

Matteo laid back and watched her think.

"Oh! Leonie has a crush," she volunteered.

"Uh oh, have you warned the guy he's in grave danger?" Matteo asked dryly.

"Be nice, Matteo," Sara admonished. "Hold on," she said, looking through her phone. "This is the guy, he's new," she said, showing him.

Huh, it was the boy from the corridor. Matteo just stared at the picture.

"Does he like Leonie?" he asked.

"No idea, he's super mysterious," Sara explained.

"Oh. Maybe I could find out for you?" he offered.

Matteo had no idea why he'd said that. Well, he did. Since seeing the boy in the corridor, he'd desperately wanted to meet him. And this would be his chance. Not that he had any idea how to meet said mystery boy.

Sara just grinned. "Because you're so smooth."

"Hey, I got you didn't I?"

She flicked his ear for that and he laughed.

"Ok Matteo, you try and find something out, but don't blunder in there and let on that Leonie likes him," she warned.

"I'm not stupid, Sara," he said, closing his eyes.

"Not subtle either," she countered. "Go to sleep ok? I'll stay for a little while."

"Thanks Sara," he whispered.

He didn't deserve her at all; he knew he he should let her go and he would, soon, before this went too far. But for now, he would let her stay. He was too tired to fight her on this right now.

 

Matteo couldn't believe he was at the stupid meeting. He couldn't believe his stupid friends hadn't shown up and had left him here alone. They knew he hated being around strangers. They were so fucking useless. And now he was there all by himself. It was not fun like Amira said it would be; it was downright painful. Everyone looked uncomfortable. And none of Kiki's ideas were even good.

When she suggested they all got up and held hands, Matteo was done. They probably wouldn't notice if he left, too busy holding hands and singing Kumbaya. He didn't even look back just headed straight to the door and snuck out of the room.

When he turned from the door, he found himself face to face with mystery boy.

Well, Matteo had wanted a chance, and this seemed like it.

"I wouldn't go in there if I were you," he said, "they're doing some kind of trust circle. You know holding hands? All that shit. Unless you're into that?" he asked, trying to sound light and teasing, probably coming across eager and desperate.

Mystery boy seemed amused though, he smirked and glanced at their hands, Matteo followed his eyes and blushed.

"No," mystery boy said softly.

Matteo took a deep breath and patted himself down. Bingo. Thank god he still insisted on having a couple of joints with him. It was in case he got overwhelmed. All this fancy meds meant nothing when he was spiralling, weed would at least calm him down enough to get home safely.

In a move braver than he ever thought he was capable of, Matteo pulled out the joint and showed it to the boy. "Fancy a smoke?" he offered.

The boy stared for a moment, then nodded. "Sure," he said.

"Come with me," Matteo said, tucking the joint behind his ear and leading him down the corridor. "What's your name?"

"David, and you?"

"Matteo," he said.

He led them down to the basement. He sometimes snuck down there when he needed to get out of class, but couldn't be bothered going all the way back home. It was somewhere quiet, not as bright as the rest of the building either.

Matteo leant against the wall, watching David. He wasn't saying anything, just watching Matteo back.

After a minute of this he gestured to the joint, still behind Matteo's ear. Shit. He'd already forgotten, to busy staring at David. He really wasn't really supposed to be smoking. Hadn't in a while. Fuck it, what was the worst that could happen?

He took the joint and placed it between his lips, lighting it and taking a long drag. Fuck, it had been a while. He revelled in the burn of it for a moment before passing it to David, watching him take a drag. David clearly wasn't much of a smoker. Coughing a little, trying to hide it. It made Matteo wonder why he'd agreed to come down here with him. He didn't comment, just took the joint again, and they swapped it back and forth for a bit.

Matteo figured he ought to say something. He may not be much of a talker, but he was pretty sure David didn't want to sit here with him in silence.

"So you're new?" he asked him.

"Yeah?" David said, raising an eyebrow. "Why?"

"Just wondered," Matteo muttered, staring down at his feet. He was so shit at this. What even was this? He just wanted to know every thing he could about David. "It's kinda weird," he continued, "you know? Transferring this close to Abi."

Maybe David had the right idea. Maybe he should've done that after his episode, just disappeared. But then would that be any better? Probably not.

"Not really," David said. "I had to move."

"Why?" Matteo asked, feeling a little braver as the weed kicked in.

"I killed someone and had to go into hiding," David said.

He was teasing him, or at least Matteo thought he was teasing him. That couldn't be true.

"Stress with your parents?" he guessed. He knew all about that.

"Yep. That's why they're dead now," David said, taking the joint from him.

Matteo just grinned now. He liked him, the way he talked, he was bullshitting, but Matteo liked it. David was definitely teasing him, but he found he didn't mind so much.

"You have an eyelash, there," David said, pointing.

Matteo felt his face heat up a little, and he brushed at his cheek where David had pointed.

"Do I get to make a wish now?" he asked. That was a thing wasn't it?

David shrugged. "No idea," he said, looking at Matteo strangely.

Great, he'd fucked up somehow. Matteo felt on the back foot in this conversation and he didn't know how to get it back on track.

"I thought I could make a wish now," he tried.

"It was just an eyelash," David said.

"Ok," Matteo whispered, brushing his hand on his jacket.

David still had the joint, and Matteo's hands itched to snatch it from him. He wanted to get properly high now. He couldn't do this sober anymore. He felt like he was mis-stepping all over the place. He felt himself shrinking, trying to make himself smaller. Perhaps he should just leave.

"What would you have wished for?" David asked, voice softer.

"Don't know," Matteo said, refusing to look up at David.

“You must have an idea,” David insisted gently, stepping closer so that Matteo had to look up at him.

He was smiling, encouraging him to speak, but he couldn't exactly answer that one. Not without scaring David away.

"Get out of here maybe? Just disappear," he said.

That wasn't untrue. He did want that. He also wished his brain wasn't fucked up, but he didn't think there were enough eyelashes in the world for that.

David gave the joint back, and Matteo took a big hit, trying to calm his stupid nerves.

"I know that feeling," David said.

Matteo believed him. He probably didn't get why Matteo wanted to run away, but Matteo believed that he got how he felt.

"Where would you go?" Matteo asked.

"It was your eyelash," David reminded him.

He was teasing again, but it was gentler this time. Matteo blushed.

"I don't know, just get in a car and drive away," he said.

The thought really appealed to him, getting away, leaving all this shit behind him. Just go somewhere and start over. Somewhere quiet, perhaps, without all the shit that caused him stress and anxiety.

"Then directly to Detroit," David said.

Detroit? Huh, David had a plan then. Matteo had no plan. The furthest he'd imagined going was Italy, and only because he could speak the language. He didn't bring that up, though. Didn't want to get into it, didn't want to think about his dad either.

"Detroit?" he asked, curious.

"Yeah? Best music city ever," David said, smiling at him.

Matteo never wanted him to stop smiling, would say anything to keep that look on his face.

So David was cool. Matteo had already known that, but it was clearer than ever that he was way too cool for Matteo. He wasn't giving up yet, though.

"Matteo?"

Fuck. Fuck.

He turned to Sara and tried to charm her with a smile.

She didn't bite.

"You're smoking?" she asked, gesturing to the joint in David's hands.

He couldn't exactly lie, he was very clearly stoned. He could feel it. It used to take so much to affect him, now a couple of puffs and he felt out of it.

"Is this yours?" she demanded of David, snatching it out of his hand.

"Er... yeah," David said, lying for him.

Matteo appreciated David covering for him, but he knew it was pointless. Matteo liked Sara, he did, but he hated when she got like this.

"It's mine," he said.

"Where did you get it? You know you're not supposed to be smoking," she said.

"I thought you wanted to be my girlfriend, not my fucking nurse," Matteo snapped.

Sara looked like he'd slapped her, her eyes immediately filling with tears. But Matteo wasn't done, he was fucking fed up of being treated like glass, like an invalid. The weed did nothing to stop this temper of his. He thought he was supposed to be more stable, but lately he'd been feeling more volatile than ever.

"I am capable of making my own choices you know? I'm not so fucking crazy that I can't think for myself," he said.

He snatched the joint from her and took a huge drag. "Look nothing fucking happened!"

"Matteo," Sara whispered.

"Leave me the fuck alone," he said, stubbing out the joint against the wall and storming off.

Well, he'd certainly ruined everything with David now. It was probably for the best. David didn't need someone like him in his life. He probably thought Matteo was crazy. He wouldn't be wrong there.

He heard footsteps behind him. Sara caught up with him at the door.

"I'm sorry," she said.

For god sakes, way to make him feel like a complete asshole. No, that was on him, his fault and no one else's. He was so quick to anger, but it dissipated in seconds, leaving exhaustion and sadness behind. Right now, he just felt like crying.

"No... I'm sorry," Matteo said.

"Are you ok?"

"I know what I'm doing ok? I know I'm not supposed to smoke, but sometimes I've got to have fun, you know?"

"I... ok Matteo."

"Just... you can't control my every move you know?" he said, leaning against the wall and closing his eyes.

The weed was really hitting him now. He was such a lightweight.

"I'm sorry, Matteo," she said.

She had nothing to be sorry for, she just cared about him.

"Don't be. I'm sorry for being mean," Matteo said.

"Ok. Are you ok?"

"Not really," he admitted.

He felt devastated, he’d had a fraction of a chance with David and he’d just blown it.

He opened his eyes again when the door opened.

David walked out and Matteo wished he could go back in time and act rationally instead of scaring him away. He'd just wanted one chance to get to know him, to somehow convince David he was normal, interesting enough that he'd want to keep talking.

"Hey, are you ok Matteo?" David asked, approaching him.

He didn't look scared of him, he looked concerned, worried about him. Matteo was so confused now.

"Yeah, just tired," Matteo said.

"Ok. I'm gonna head home, I don't think the committee is my scene. But this was fun, I'll see you around, ok?" David said.

He glanced at Sara, then back to Matteo with a small grin. "Thanks for sharing your weed," he said, smirking, like he knew they’d been up to no good.

That smug fucker. Matteo just stared as he walked away. What the hell was that?

"So you had fun?" Sara asked.

"It was nice, hanging out with someone who doesn't treat me like I'm glass, someone who doesn't know," Matteo said.

She nodded.

"He's the guy Leonie likes," Sara said.

"Uh huh."

"Did he mention her?"

"He did not," Matteo said.

"You gotta get better at sleuthing," she said.

"I'll keep trying," he offered.

"Without the weed?" she tried gently.

"I'm not promising anything," Matteo said. "Walk you home?"

"What about the meeting?"

"Ok Sara here are your options, you can go hold hands with Kiki and that creepy hugs guy, or you can let me walk you home. Either way, I'm going home," Matteo said.

"Let's go then," she said.

He offered her his arm, and she took it, letting him lead her home.

David hadn't been scared of him. Even when he'd kicked off. He hadn't been put off at all. He didn't seem freaked out. He had spoken to Matteo like nothing had happened, like he hadn't just had a tantrum. He'd come back out specifically to check on Matteo. No, more than that, it was almost as if David had approached him to let him know it was ok, that he hadn't scared him off.

Matteo was more confused than ever, but he felt hopeful too. David had said see you around. That had to be a good thing.

Chapter Text

Matteo got home on Friday and pretty much stayed in bed until Sunday. He was still in bed now. He knew he needed to get up and study, but all he could do was scroll aimlessly through his phone.

Jonas had texted him. He'd ignored him.

Sara had texted him. He'd ignored her.

Amira had texted him, reminding him to complete the paper like she'd asked. He'd texted her back saying he would. Instead, he'd just played video games. Every now and then he'd check out the picture of David on Leonie's Instagram. He was doing that when the door swung open and Matteo almost dropped his phone in shock. Hans still hadn't learnt to knock. Matteo really needed to start locking the door.

Hans stepped into the room and raised an eyebrow. "Watching porn?" he mused.

"Obviously. Wanna join?" he shot back.

He had no idea why he felt so comfortable joking with Hans like this, but he did, and he liked it. He'd never been able to speak to the boys like that, but he felt safe around Hans in a way he didn't with them. The boys talked about sex all the time and he was fine teasing them, but once it became about him, he would shut down. Carlos was desperate to know if he'd slept with Sara yet. He hadn't, but he didn't think it was any of his business. If he knew who Matteo wanted to sleep with, he'd probably be horrified. Disgusted. It made Matteo feel ill thinking about it.

Hans wouldn't be disgusted, he'd be embarrassing about it sure, but he wouldn't be disgusted with him. He was also impossible to offend, usually he gave back as good as he got.

Not this time though, he just laughed and climbed on to the bed beside him. Matteo moved his laptop before it got knocked to the floor.

"No thank you," Hans said dryly. "Why'd you drop your phone?"

"I didn't but... I was on Instagram instead of studying," he admitted.

Hans chuckled and ruffled his hair. "Video games too," he observed, pointing to Matteo's laptop. "Ah, the youth of today, all these distractions, making it impossible for you to succeed at your studies."

"Fuck off Hans, you're not that old, they had video games when you were in school," Matteo said.

"Thank you butterfly," Hans said. "Wanna help me choose a date for tonight?"

"A date?" Matteo asked, raising an eyebrow.

"Don't make it seem sordid, a hook up then," Hans admitted.

"How exactly can I help?" Matteo asked.

Why would he think Matteo would be any good at that? Why did everyone want him to choose stuff he had no idea about?

Hans grabbed his phone and opened up grindr. Christ. Matteo tried to avert his eyes, but it was hard when Hans was shoving the phone under his nose.

"Well? Any stand out?"

"No idea," Matteo muttered. He didn't want to do this. He was uncomfortable, he wasn't ready, he was scared Hans would pick up on something in his reaction.

"Look Matteo," Hans insisted.

"Why are they all chest pics then? Where are their faces? Is this filtered on buff guys or something? What's yours? Your pale skinny body?"

"Fuck off Matteo!" Hans said, shaking him, but he was smiling.

"Why do you go on here though Hans?"

Hans frowned at him. "Looking for a little fun, perhaps you've heard of it?" he said, clearly wondering where Matteo was going with this.

Matteo had tried grindr, around the time of his episode. It was scary though. Everyone on there was so forward. Matteo couldn't socialise on a good day, let alone when he was being propositioned. He'd just wanted someone to talk to, to help figure his shit out. Grindr wasn't the place for that, which he'd known. He didn't know where else to go, though. But Hans was right here. He could ask him anything and Hans would help. He just wasn't ready. He didn't know what was stopping him. He'd already accepted he was gay, it had taken a good few months of therapy to accept it wasn't just a side effect of his episode. He'd accepted it, but he didn't like it. Except now there was someone. Someone he liked. Different to Jonas. Jonas was familiar, easy and comfortable. He'd crushed on him sure, but it was because Jonas was safe. David wasn't safe, he was unknown, and that was terrifying.

"But... don't you want... more?"

"More?"

"Like dates and stuff, don't you want a boyfriend?" he asked.

That had scared him the most, when he'd gone on grindr. They all just wanted sex. He wanted more than that. He wanted romance. He wanted company. He wanted not to feel so fucking alone. He just wanted to be loved. He didn't think he was ever going to get that. He didn't know how. Even if he met someone, once they knew about him, they would leave him. It was probably best he didn't even try.

"Are you slut shaming me Matteo Florenzi?"

"No!" Matteo said hotly.

"Everything ok with you Matteo?" Hans asked gently.

"The other day Sara asked me if I wanted to be girlfriend and boyfriend," Matteo admitted.

He had no idea why he was telling Hans this stuff, but for some reason he felt like talking. He had a feeling Hans wasn't going to tease him. He couldn't tell Jonas because Jonas would want to talk about before. He couldn't tell Abdi or Carlos because they wouldn't understand. They would tell him to go for it and then ask him about sex and make him uncomfortable.

"And you don't want that?" Hans asked.

"No... I like her, I do, but not like that. I'm just keeping her around because I'm too scared to be alone," he said.

He felt ashamed of himself, even admitting that. God, it sounded terrible when he said it out loud.

"Matteo," Hans said, sighing.

"I know it's shitty, but I pretty much told her this and she said she'll stay anyway, and I know that's not better but I do care about her, I do want to be there for her too. But Hans... what I'm asking is don't you ever worry that you'll never get a boyfriend? Like this isn't enough, hooking up. Don't you ever worry that you'll never be someone's boyfriend, you'll never have that, another person who cares for you... no... no matter what?" Matteo asked him, hoping Hans would get what he was saying.

"Oh Matteo, you deserve that you know? Someone who loves you. You're ready to settle down already huh? That's ok, you little romantic," Hans said.

"But I'll never get that, I'm nothing but a burden," Matteo said.

"Now that's bullshit and I will keep telling you that if I have to. But you already have that with Sara, she knows you're bipolar," Hans said, confused.

"Sara's not it," Matteo said.

Hans nodded. He may not understand why, but he knew you couldn't force these things.

"Ok, but there are plenty of nice girls like Sara out there, you'll find one," Hans assured him.

"Ok," Matteo said, trying not to sound too doubtful.

"Not on grindr mind," Hans said.

Matteo giggled and took the phone out of his hand, scrolling through all the shirtless pics until he found a face. A kind face. Matteo couldn't pick some random chest for Hans, he just didn't think that way. But he could pick a person. Hans was right, there was nothing wrong with having fun, but he thought Hans deserved a little romance. He had such a lot to give. It didn't have to be anything huge, but he deserved a little conversation to go along with the sex. God, he really was a romantic loser, trying to find Hans a proper date on grindr of all places.

"This one," he said.

Hans frowned. "He looks like a nerd," he said.

"Nerds are hot," Matteo countered.

"If he's a total creep, then I'm going to kill you," Hans said.

"He looks kind," Matteo said quietly.

"Oh, you're a total sweetheart, deep, deep down, aren't you? Such a romantic. Ok, I'll message him," Hans said.

"Hans, how do you know when someone's gay?" Matteo asked.

"Well, when they're on a gay hookup app it's pretty telling," Hans teased, still typing away on his phone.

"No, I mean in general," Matteo clarified.

"How do I tell if someone is gay in general? You mean when I meet people?" Hans asked.

"Yeah."

"Gaydar sweetie," Hans told him, his tone slightly teasing.

"Oh."

"I always know if someone is gay," Hans said.

Well, that couldn't be right, Matteo was sitting right there.

"Always?"

"Always," Hans said confidently.

"Not possible," Matteo said.

"Trust me Matteo, I can tell someone is gay simply from looking at their nose," he said tapping Matteo's.

Matteo smirked, well that was bullshit. "Ok, so how can I tell then?" he asked. He doubted Hans' abilities, but they had to be better than his own.

"What do you mean?"

"Like how could I tell if someone was gay?"

"Why would you want to know?" Hans asked him.

"Just curious," Matteo said.

"Matteo are you trying to figure out if a boy at your school is gay?"

The tone of the conversation was changing, and Hans seemed cross with him. Matteo wasn't sure what he'd done to upset him.

"Yeah kind of," he said quietly.

He was being stupid he knew that. Even if David was gay, he was unlikely to be interested in him. Still, he couldn't help but wonder, daydream. He could have the tiniest of chances. He probably wasn't brave enough to do anything with it, but it was nice to have a shot.

"Why does it matter? What are you going to do to this boy if he is?" Hans asked.

Oh. Oh, Hans thought he was going to be shitty. Did he really come across that way? Well, he had stormed out of the room when Jonas and Hans were flirting. He also tended to sigh or roll his eyes when Hans was particularly over the top. But he wasn't hateful. It was because Hans was loud, not because he was gay. Shit. He was going to have to be better at that. He didn't hate Hans for being gay. The only gay person he hated was himself.

"Nothing! Nothing Hans, Jesus," Matteo muttered.

"Then why do you need to know?"

"I don't... I was just curious I guess."

"Well, I'd advise that you leave it alone," Hans warned.

Matteo had fucked up, he looked down at his hands; they were trembling. He felt like crying now; he didn't know why he was so upset, but he didn't like what Hans was implying. He wasn't mean. He hated being mean. His depression made him mean sometimes, and he hated it.

"I'm sorry," he mumbled, "I'm not a bully, Hans," he added.

Hans looked apologetic himself then, realising his reaction was out of proportion. "No, I'm sorry too, just... high school is hard when you're gay, if there's a boy who you suspect is gay, then he's got his reasons for not telling, and if he tells you, then you treasure that truth ok?"

Matteo nodded. He desperately wanted to talk to Hans properly about all of this, if he just told him now Hans would help, Hans would understand. But he just wasn't ready. He wasn't sure he'd ever be ready. He needed to soon though, this was killing him, holding it all inside.

"Ok," he mumbled.

"I didn't mean to imply anything Matteo, I know you're not cruel," Hans said gently.

Matteo nodded again, but the moment was gone. The whole atmosphere in the room felt heavy and they couldn't get back to their playful teasing. He'd spoiled things as usual.

"Right, well I'll leave you to your procrastinating, I've got some flirting to do. Try to get some studying done my little butterfly," Hans said, standing up from the bed.

Matteo sighed. Hans was right though, as much as he hated to admit it, he did have to study.

He watched Hans leave and then went back to his video games. The door opened again and Hans popped his head round.

"Matteo?"

"I took my meds," Matteo said.

"Good boy," Hans said, smiling and leaving him be.

He always checked on him and while it probably should be annoying Matteo found he didn't mind. It felt an awful lot like being cared for, and he appreciated Hans for that.

 

The next morning Matteo sat on the steps at school, glaring at his phone. For once it wasn't Sara or Jonas getting on his nerves, but Lydia, his therapist. She was writing to confirm their appointment tomorrow. He was supposed to reply that yes he would be attending. But he didn't want to. He never wanted to. Therapy was fucking exhausting.

It was mostly just learning to deal with his mood, stay as balanced as possible. But they also talked about why he felt the way he did about things, mostly himself, and he struggled with that. He struggled to talk about himself, and the first twenty minutes of their sessions were always awkward. Still, he confirmed the appointment and then pocketed his phone.

He finally looked up and spotted the boys approaching. They were dressed in bright clothes and sunglasses. Matteo frowned, what the fuck were they wearing? Was he still high from the other day?

"Luigi!" Carlos said, holding out a hand and pulling him up.

"Why are you dressed like that?" Matteo asked him.

"Dude it's motto week," Abdi reminded him.

Oh shit it was, he'd completely forgotten. Not that he would've dressed up anyway, that wasn't his scene.

"Did you forget? Why aren't you dressed up?" Jonas asked him.

"Why would I dress up?" Matteo asked back.

"To take part, it's fun," Jonas insisted.

"Whatever," Matteo said.

"Luigi, do you have my weed?" Abdi asked.

Matteo turned and gave him a glare worthy of Amira. "I will be getting it today, but you can't have it," he said. Abdi wasn't getting it back. Not after he'd ditched him the other day.

"What? Why the fuck not?" Abdi demanded.

"Oh I dunno because you left me to do a fucking trust circle on my own perhaps?"

Matteo had no idea what he was going to do with it, but he wasn't giving it back to him. He probably would eventually, but he would make his friend sweat.

"Was Kiki pissed off? With me?" Carlos asked.

"How would I know?" Matteo said.

"Well, was she being weird?"

"She was being Kiki," Matteo said.

How the hell was he supposed to know what weird looked like for Kiki? She didn't even seem to notice Carlos wasn't there, too focused on her ideas. That was probably just her being professional. He bet she was pissed off with him. Maybe he should've shown up to support his girlfriend and he wouldn't be in this mess and Matteo wouldn't have had to attend the meeting alone. Still, he was pretty happy with how it turned out.

"Trouble in paradise?" Jonas asked.

"Something's up, but she's not telling me what's wrong," Carlos told them.

"Ah passive aggressive, I had that with Hanna all the time," Jonas said.

Matteo rolled his eyes. Those two were useless.

Sara came up behind him and kissed his cheek, making him jump. "You've been ignoring me," she said. Her tone was teasing, not accusative, but it still got his back up. It wasn't all about her.

"I've been ignoring everyone," he said.

"Are you ok?"

Matteo shrugged.

She sighed, clearly wanting more from him, but he didn't have anything to give right now. He was still feeling off from the weekend. It felt like he was running on empty. He wasn't going to tell her he felt like shit in front of Jonas, knowing his friend would only start fussing. "I'll talk to you later," he offered.

He probably would tell her, she was a good listener, when he did want to talk.

"Will you?" she demanded.

"Leave it Sara," he said, turning away from her. He knew exactly what face she was pulling, but he continued to ignore her.

She hovered for a moment and then pulled away. "I'll see you later?"

"Whatever," he muttered. "Wait no, I'll see you later Sara, sorry," he said.

She gave him a weak smile and left them.

"Jeez Matteo," Carlos said.

"I said sorry didn't I?"

"You can't treat her like that. You shouldn't even-"

"I fucking know, and I sure as shit don't want relationship advice from you," Matteo said, terrified of what Jonas was going to say. He knew he shouldn't be dating Sara, but these guys didn't, and he wasn't ready for that.

"Harsh," Carlos said.

"Matteo come on," Jonas said.

"Back off Jonas," Matteo warned, walking off to class, ignoring the boys calling after him.

He sat down next to Amira. She was all colourful too, pale pink and flowery sunglasses. He felt even more dark and dreary than usual. All his clothes were grey, black or dark blue. Except his white sweater. But he didn't dress to be colourful or look good. He'd given up on that a while back. He dressed to be comfortable and warm because he was always so cold.

Amira smirked at him, but he wasn't in the mood. He was feeling really bad. Sinking. He wasn't going to get through the day at this rate.

"Can I have the weed back now?" he asked.

He was already formulating a plan. He was going to get the weed back off Amira, go home and get fucking baked. He wasn't in the mood for school, for Sara or Jonas. He wasn't in the mood for much of anything.

"You didn't stay for the whole meeting, and you didn't bring your friends-"

"Give me my fucking weed!" he hissed.

She flinched and looked at him for a long time, then sighed reluctantly. She really didn't want to give it to him. They both knew it was a terrible idea. "Give me your bag then," she said.

He kicked it toward her, and she shuffled under the desk.

"What are you two up to this time?" Borchert asked. Great, just what he needed, her confiscating it. Well, actually she would probably have to call the police. It was pretty worrying that he found he didn't really care.

"What do you have under the desk?" Borchert asked.

Amira was quick, sneaking the pack under her hijab. Matteo smirked at that. Clever. Borchert wouldn't go in there.

"What did you just hide under your burka?" she demanded. "Do I have to have you searched?"

"Excuse me?" Amira asked, shocked at Borchert's reaction.

Matteo wasn't surprised, Borchert was a bitch. She hated anyone who was different. Hell if he thought about it, she'd always been harsh with Amira in class, even though Amira was her best student. She treated her similarly to the way she treated him, and that made no sense. He was stupid, but Amira was bright.

"What the fuck?" Matteo muttered, things slowly falling in to place as he started to realise what her problem was with Amira. This was like the police thing all over again. He was so naive. Life was hard for him, so he always assumed it was easy for everyone else. He had to stop doing that.

"Well, we can't take the risk, who knows what you've got under there, it could be a weapon," the teacher said. Even Matteo knew what she was implying that time. He looked to Jonas who nodded, annoyed and confirming what he was thinking.

Everyone was looking at them now. Not that Matteo cared, but he thought Amira might.

"Jesus fucking Christ," he said.

"I'm not going to ask again, what's under your burka?"

"It's a hijab," Amira said forcefully, but when Matteo looked at her, she was shaking slightly. God, she shouldn't have to do this. Not in school, she should at least get to feel safe in school.

"And if you're not going to show me what it is, I'll have you searched, we might have to call the police," Borchert warned.

Matteo thought Amira might just cry, and this was his fault. She could stop this, she could land him in in and stop this, but she hadn't. He needed to fix it.

"It's just money," he muttered.

"Money?"

"I was paying her to tutor me," Matteo lied. "You know, because I'm failing?"

"And why is she keeping in her burka?"

"It's a fucking hijab," he said. He had no answer for that, so he tried to distract her by pissing her off.

"Do I have to ask you to leave Mr Florenzi?"

"Do I have to ask you to attend fucking cultural sensitivity training? Yeah alright I'm going," he said, standing up.

Amira got up too.

"Where are you going?" Borchert asked.

"I just need the bathroom," she said, following Matteo out of the class.

He turned around and offered her a smile.

"You ok?"

"No," she admitted.

"I'm sorry, that was my fault," Matteo said.

"No, it was hers, she's a racist bitch, and just last week she was giving you shit for being ill, she's completely prejudiced," Amira reminded him.

"Still, I'm sorry," Matteo said.

"I deal with it a lot," she admitted sadly.

"She's always been bad to you, I didn't see it before, but... she treats you like she treats me," Matteo said.

"You don't deserve it either," Amira said.

"I'm sorry I snapped at you, I'm feeling a bit out of sorts," he said.

Amira nodded, watching him carefully. He'd calmed down now. He knew what was coming, but he wouldn't snap this time.

"Then I'm not giving it back to you," she said.

"Probably best," he agreed. "I was going to go smoke it all, I'm not doing good today, I really want to shut off my brain," he told her.

"I'll hold on to it then," she said.

"Probably just give it back to Abdi. Or don't, he missed your meeting. Whatever. I think I'm just going to go home," he said tiredly.

He was sinking now, close to drowning, he couldn't be here when that happened.

"Matteo?"

"I have therapy tomorrow," he assured her.

"Good, please take care of yourself," she said.

"I'll see you later," he said, backing away. He needed out.

"And Matteo?"

"Yeah?"

"I hope you finished that paper," she said, grinning properly now.

He laughed quietly. Here he was drowning in it and she still wanted homework from him. He appreciated that she didn't treat him with kid gloves like everyone else.

"No, but I started it," he said. It was the truth too, he'd started it at about two in the morning when he couldn't sleep.

"Ok well finish it then. I'm your tutor remember?"

He chuckled at that. "I'll get it done by next week," he said.

"We'll have a study session, I'll text you," she said.

"Thanks Amira, good luck in there, don't take her shit," Matteo said.

"I won't, I just needed a minute," she said, taking a deep breath and steeling herself for the rest of class. She was far braver than him.

Matteo shouldered his rucksack and headed home. He was done with this Monday already.

 

Sara was going through some family shit. She wasn't telling Matteo much, but he was trying to be there for her anyway. It was the least he could do. He got it too, he would avoid talking about his own family problems at all costs. So he figured maybe she wanted company, avoiding her problems.

When he'd gotten there, Sara's mum had let him in. It was awkward; she had clearly been crying and was trying to hide it. Matteo didn't comment though, didn't think that would help her one bit. Instead he smiled weakly, took the cake she gave him and headed upstairs.

"Sara, can I come in?" he called out when he got to the door.

"Yeah," Sara said quietly. He sighed, she sounded so sad. He hoped he could help.

"I have cake," he said, showing her the plate.

"You bought me a cake?" she said, surprised.

Matteo huffed at that.

"No, but I don't like your tone. It's from your mum, is everything ok?" he asked.

"Just family shit, don't worry about it," she said, collapsing back against the pillows.

"You can talk to me," he offered, sitting down on the bed. He put the plate on the bedside table and shuffled closer.

"Like you talk to me about your shit?" she countered.

He chuckled at that; she wasn't wrong there.

"Touche," he said.

"Matteo?"

"Mm?"

She crawled over to him and he tensed, knowing exactly what was about to happen. He'd known it was a risk, but the need to be a good friend had outweighed it. He just needed to let her down gently that was all, then hopefully she'd just want to talk instead.

"Sara," he warned, his anxiety and discomfort spiking. He took a deep breath and another one, but he couldn't do this. He couldn't keep forcing himself to do this. It wasn't fair on either of them.

"Come on Matteo, just distract me," she insisted, climbing into his lap. He desperately wanted to shove her away, not because he didn't like her, but because he just couldn't handle this. He didn't like this at all. But he didn't want to make her cry. He hated this. It wasn't her fault either, he was leading her on, he wasn't telling her the truth.

She started peppering kisses along his jaw, and he tried to stay very still. When her hand trailed down to his jeans, he couldn't help but flinch and pull back from her.

"Sara no," he said.

She pulled back and stared at him.

"I can't," he whispered.

"Is it me? Are you not attracted to me? You aren't are you?" she asked.

She was being gentle with him. He didn't understand why. Matteo just closed his eyes. She was in just as much denial as him if she hadn't figured it out yet. God, he couldn't keep doing this, he couldn't keep it up. Lying, keeping secrets was so painful. He was terrified of breaking down again, he couldn't keep this in. He was drowning again; he had been since the weekend. After his talk with Hans. It wasn't even about this, but he just couldn't keep this up. It was hurting him and hurting Sara.

Avoiding the truth was too close to lying, and it was killing him. He was working on it with Lydia, not bottling things up, but it was a lot of things to unlearn.

"I'm sorry," he said quietly.

"It's ok, you've been through a lot," Sara said, climbing off his lap.

"That's... that's not why Sara," he admitted, trying to stay calm. Even that was a huge admission for him.

She stared at him for a long time, and Matteo started to really panic. She had to know now. Sara was a good person, he knew she wasn't hateful, but he was so scared she'd hate him. Or worse, think him wrong and disgusting.

"Thank you for being honest with me," she said.

That didn't make sense. Why wasn't she yelling at him? Why wasn't she angry?

"I'm not, I want to be so badly, but I can't," he said.

"Ok Matteo," she said.

Matteo winced, she looked close to tears. He'd hurt her, he'd hurt her so badly. This was all his fault.

"I really do care," he insisted.

"I believe you Matteo, you're here aren't you?" she said, smiling tearfully.

"I'm so sorry, everything's just so fucked at the moment," he said.

"Tell me about it," she agreed.

"Do you want a cuddle?" he offered.

"You know what? Yeah, I fucking do," she said, settling into his arms.

"I wish I could be enough," Matteo mumbled guiltily.

"I promise that you are, honestly I felt better the moment you walked in here," she said.

"Even though I didn't buy you a cake?" Matteo said, trying to lighten the heavy mood.

"You can buy me flowers tomorrow," Sara suggested.

"Can I?"

"Nah I'm good, you'd probably pick ugly ones," she teased.

"Rude," Matteo muttered.

"No you would, to be funny, you think you're funny but you're not," Sara told him.

"Ouch."

"This is nice, comforting. You'll make someone a good boyfriend one day," she said.

Matteo realised then it really was over, she was giving him an out because she knew he wasn't brave enough to do it himself. He felt both relieved and devastated. He held her tighter, as if that could stop things. Even if it was what he wanted, he was suddenly terrified.

"Are you breaking up with me?" he asked.

"Is it breaking up if you were never my boyfriend?" she countered.

"Sara," he whispered panicky.

"I'm not going anywhere, I'm not leaving you, but... I think maybe we need to redefine our relationship," she said.

"Ok," he mumbled.

"Don't be scared, you're so scared of being alone," she said.

"I'm terrified," he admitted.

She gave him a squeeze. "But you're not alone, you have so many people who care about you," she reminded him.

"My dad left, he left my mum, he was supposed to love her, he was supposed to love us, he's my dad, and he left me," Matteo whispered.

"That's fucked you up a little huh?"

"Big time," he said.

"Well, I'm not leaving, neither is Jonas, or Hanna, you have Hans now too, you have a whole bunch of people who will never leave ok?"

"Ok," he said.

"You talk about this with your therapist?"

"Don't remind me," he muttered.

"You've still got a little while," she assured him.

Matteo just closed his eyes. "Did we break up?"

"We did," she said.

"Fuck," he muttered.

"Nothing's really going to change, except I'll stop trying to kiss you," Sara joked.

"Aren't you mad?"

"Not really. I'm sad," she said. "I really really like you, I really want to be with you, it fucking hurts, but you've been honest this whole time, I thought you would change, but you won't, I know that now, and I can't force it."

"I've been shitty," Matteo mumbled.

"I've been overbearing," she countered.

"Because you care."

"So much Matteo," she said.

"I feel like I've fucked up," Matteo said.

"You have a little, but I'll be ok, we should've stopped this a while ago," Sara said.

"I am so sorry," Matteo said, rubbing his eyes furiously.

"Matteo, don't torture yourself, I'm a big girl," Sara said.

"I... fuck..."

"Matteo," she warned.

"I am so sorry, Sara," he said again. He was crying now. He hated hurting people and Sara had been so good to him, she deserved so much better and he'd hurt her. She was upset, and it was his fault.

"I forgive you, that's my choice ok?"

"Ok," he said.

She stroked her hand through his hair and he lay there for a while.

"Can I ask you?"

He knew what was coming, and he was going to be honest. He wanted to tell her. And she was giving him a choice here. He could say no right now, and he knew she would drop it.

"Ok," he said.

"Are you gay, Matteo?" she asked gently.

"Yeah," he breathed. "I don't want to be, I've fucking tried everything-"

"Hey now, hey come on, that's stupid, you can't change who you are, you can't change who you love," Sara said.

He stared at her. She knew what she was talking about, and he believed her. It wasn't something he could change. God that he'd had to learn this from his sort of girlfriend was ridiculous. She knew all about loving someone who couldn't love you back. He knew how that felt and look at what he'd done to her. But he'd tried, he'd tried so hard to be enough.

"I kissed Jonas, when I had my episode, I told him and I kissed him," he said.

Sara nodded then, knowing what he was saying, that he understood how she felt. She smiled sadly.

"You could do better," Sara said.

"That's what Hanna said," he told her.

Sara giggled.

"Fuck," he muttered.

He'd just come out to Sara, told her the truth, and the world hadn't ended. He felt like crying. He felt like laughing. He felt like a mess; he felt scared. Sara owed him nothing now, not after everything he'd done. He took in a deep panicky breath.

"I won't tell," she said, seeming to realise his fear.

"Not even Leonie?"

"Not even Leonie," she promised.

"Thank you," he said.

"Were you using me then?" she asked, she didn't sound angry just curious.

"Yeah but not... I don't even know what I was thinking, just... you kissed me and, I just liked that you liked me, that's so fucking shitty isn't it?"

"I mean yes in a way, but you did like me back right? Not in the same way but you liked me?"

"I think you're fucking brilliant," he said honestly. And she was.

She'd kissed him drunk at a party and he'd let her because he was drunk and a bit sad. It was after his episode and he'd been drinking even though he wasn't supposed to. He'd really struggled those first few months.

But the next day Sara had come to him sober and asked him to hang out. He'd said no, and she'd asked why. He'd reminded her that he was bipolar. She'd just said 'and?'. So they'd hung out, and it had been fun. She didn't look at him in that same worried way Hanna and Jonas did. Yeah, she was overbearing, but it was different. It was probably normal girlfriend behaviour, something they could've worked on if the relationship had been real.

"Ok then," she said.

"So what now?" he asked, terrified this was really it, that he'd lost her. It wasn't just the relationship he was scared of losing. He'd known Sara a long time now, her and Leonie both. He didn't want to let that go. He knew their friendship was a little tenuous since Jonas, but he still treasured it.

"Now you give me a little space to get over my broken heart and then we go back to being friends ok?"

"Ok," he said.

"But if you need me I'm there, don't avoid me ok? I need space, but if you really need me Matteo, call me ok? Text me, come find me, because I know you don't talk to Jonas and Hanna, I know you barely talk to me, but I don't want you to be alone," she said.

"Ok," he agreed.

"Now get to therapy," she said, "at least you have something to talk about this week."

"Oh god," he whined.

"Shoo," she said.

He groaned and got up, offering Sara one last smile before heading back out. He had to admit he felt better. He'd been desperately clinging onto Sara, to try and be straight, but also just to fight his own loneliness. That wasn't right, and it just left him feeling shittier than ever.

 

At least Lydia would be happy, he supposed as he stepped into the office and sat down at reception. It was only a few minutes of silent fidgeting before he was ushered into her room. He walked in there slowly, filled with dread and anxiety. The next hour was going to be spent dissecting his life, and it was always hard.

"Matteo," Lydia said with a smile.

"Hey Lydia," he mumbled.

"How are you doing today?" she asked pleasantly as he sat down.

He was quiet for a while, thinking of how open he wanted to be today. The honest answer was not at all, but he knew by this point that that wouldn't help him. He picked up a pillow and started to play with the tassels for something to do with his hands. Lydia just waited patiently.

"Absolutely shit," he said finally, opting for honesty. She was probably able to tell anyway.

"Oh dear," Lydia said kindly.

"Oh dear? That's all you have?" Matteo demanded even though he knew she couldn't fix things for him. No, he was supposed to fix himself, she was just there to help.

"Well, I can't say much more unless you elaborate," Lydia said, tone slightly amused. She was used to his attitude by now.

"Well school is shit, I feel like shit, and my girlfriend just dumped me, which I'm sure you're delighted about," he said.

That was something she asked him about every session, how were things with Sara, had he been brave enough to end things with her before they got too messy? Matteo was pretty sure she was the reason he felt so guilty about the whole thing in the first place. No, that wasn't true, he felt guilty from the start, Lydia just helped him understand why he did. Why it was such a bad thing to be doing that to her. She explained to him just how Sara might feel the longer this went on. Reminded him this was about more than him, by continuing it he had a responsibility for her feelings as well as his own. And he understood, he did, he was just selfish.

He really did hope Sara would be ok after everything he'd put her through.

"I can assure you I'm not, but you were very adamant in all of our sessions that Sara was not your girlfriend," Lydia reminded him.

"Yeah but she still broke up with me," Matteo muttered.

"When," Lydia asked.

"Just now," Matteo said with a shrug, trying to seem unaffected even though it was cutting him up inside.

Why the hell was he so upset if they weren't even dating in the first place?

Because she'd been there for him. It wasn't like Jonas and Hanna who stuck around because they felt obligated. Sara knew his deal, and she liked him anyway. He was terrified he'd never find that again.

Lydia raised an eyebrow.

"We had a talk. I think she's known a while, she was just kidding herself," Matteo said.

"Was she angry like you'd worried?"

"No."

Part of the reason he'd been so reluctant to call things off with Sara was the fear that she'd be mad, and that that would lead to her hating him. He should've had more faith in her.

"She needs space," he said.

"Understandable," Lydia said.

"But she said she's still there for me," Matteo told her.

"She cares about you a lot," Lydia said.

Matteo rubbed his face in frustration. This was all so fucked up.

"I care about her too, why can't I just be fucking normal and like her the right way?" he demanded.

"Because you're gay, not abnormal, and the way you clearly like Sara is not any less than the way you'd like a boy ok? It's equally important. Platonic love is very important and you have that with her, you should treasure that Matteo," she said gently.

"I do, I do," he insisted.

He knew he wasn't attracted to Sara, didn't like her the way she wanted, but he still cared for her, still wanted her in his life. Not just for selfish reasons either. They got on; she was easy to talk to, and that was rare for him. Ok, so he didn't do much talking, but he was happy to sit and listen while she rambled on about this and that. It was fun. She'd been his friend for a long time, since middle school when her and Leonie met. He couldn't lose that, couldn't lose either of them.

"Good. So school?"

"I've been skipping," he admitted.

"Yeah?"

"I get too tired, seriously all I can manage is one maybe two lessons at a push and then I just come back home and go to bed," he told her.

Lydia wrote something down on her notepad. "Are you sleeping?" she checked.

"No."

"No?"

"I try, I promise I try but I wake up in the night, I'm tired all day and awake all night, except, it's not proper awake, just not tired enough to sleep," he said.

"What about weekends?"

Matteo sighed heavily, knowing exactly where she was going. One of Lydia's main targets was to improve his sleep health, and so far he felt like they'd made no progress at all.

"What did I tell you about trying to make yourself get out of bed?"

"It's not that easy," Matteo argued. In fact, some days it was down right impossible. Even just to get up for the bathroom was almost too much effort, wiped him out and sent him back to bed for hours.

"I know," she said.

"It's so hard," Matteo insisted, trying not to get upset at how pathetic he was being.

"I believe you, I believe it's damn near impossible, but could you try? Even if you just move to the sofa and sleep there instead," she suggested.

It was easier said than done. It sounded so simple, but it wasn't, not even close.

"God, I don't know," he admitted, he couldn't commit to it, he knew he would fail. He knew he would just let her down.

"I really think it will help," Lydia insisted.

"Ok I'll try," he relented.

"Thank you Matteo, now how shitty are you feeling? Be honest with me," she said.

"I'm sad, I'm really fucking sad... more than sad. Hopeless, devastated, lost. There's only a few days left of school, and then what? What the fuck am I supposed to do with my life?" he asked her.

He had no clue. He didn't like anything. He couldn't do anything. What the hell was he supposed to do once school was over?

His dad wasn't going to keep paying his rent forever. He didn't have time to figure this out; he needed to sort something, but it felt impossible. It felt like he was drowning in it.

"That loss of structure is going to be hard, that's why I'm trying to help you establish positive steps to keep a routine," she said.

"I'm really scared, of the future," Matteo said.

"Do you want to know a secret, Matteo?"

"Yeah?"

"Everyone is," she told him.

"Are you?"

"Yes, not all the time, but sometimes I wake up and think where the fuck is my life going? I worry it's passing me by, that I'm not on track with my big life plan. I know all that probably seems trivial to you, but I really do get worried about it," she told him.

He'd never suspected a thing. Lydia always seemed so put together, always seemed to have all the answers. It was actually a great comfort that she felt a little lost sometimes.

"Oh... I'm sorry," he said.

"Most people feel this way a lot. All I'm trying to say is, it's ok not to know where you're going, it's ok if you take a little while to figure it out, you'll get there."

"I'm so tired, Lydia," he said.

"I know Matteo, I know," she said.

"Will it get better?" he asked, trying to keep the desperation out of his voice.

"It will, I promise it will," she said.

"How do you know?"

"Because it already is, you're already doing so well, Matteo. I see already how much better you're doing. You're honest with me, opening up, I know how hard that is for you. And look how you handled this thing with Sara, I'm proud of you," she said gently and that was it, he was crying.

Matteo sniffled, and she handed him a box of tissues. She was right, as much as he dreaded these sessions, it really did help to unload. He always felt lighter after it. If he looked back on how things were four months ago, he could see things were better. He couldn't always, and he knew he'd lose that perspective again, but right now he could see it. Things were ok, and that was ok.

 

Matteo was trying to be good, just like he'd promised Lydia. Sticking to routines, even though it was bullshit. School was over soon, and then what? Still, he was in school even though it was almost the afternoon and usually he'd be back home in bed by now. He'd been to all three of his classes that morning. He had one more that afternoon, Spanish, although it was touch and go whether he was going to attend. He was supposed to be meeting the boys for lunch, but he couldn't face that right now. Instead, he was just wandering the corridors by himself. If he was really honest with himself, he was hoping to run into David.

He finally spotted him up on the upper floor with Leonie. David had said see you around, last Friday. But Matteo hadn't seen him since. Until now. Now he was with Leonie. Of course he was. Leonie was brave enough to talk to him. Leonie could talk to him without getting stoned. Leonie could talk to him without messing up or rambling about eyelashes. What the hell had he been thinking? They looked happy together, friendly. They looked more than friendly.

Matteo wanted to cry. He didn't know why he was making such a big deal out of it. Nothing was even going on with him and David. But he'd just thought... he'd thought there was a chance.

Talking to David on Friday was hard, because he was scared of saying the wrong thing, but once David finally smiled at him that was it, everything seemed to fall into place. If Sara hadn't interrupted them, Matteo was pretty sure they could've talked all night. That wasn't something Matteo was usually good at.

Now he'd lost his chance. He felt miserable.

He pulled out his phone. He knew he shouldn't. He knew this was the most assholish thing he could possibly do right now, but he did it anyway. He opened his chat with Sara.

Matteo: Hey are you in school today? Are you ok? I'm sorry again. Are Leonie and David together now?

He sighed. What a jerk he was. Sara had asked for space and here he was snooping in her best friend's life. He supposed at least he was aware of it. That had to be a good thing.

Sara's reply came pretty quick.

Sara: I'm in the library, I'm ok. I miss you, but I need some space. Are you ok? Why do you care?

That hurt, he thought he'd made it clear that he cared about her. Another message came through then.

Sara: About Leonie and David I mean?

Now that was the thing. How much should he tell her? There was no positive outcome he could think of that would come out of telling her. He couldn't expect her to help. Leonie was her best friend. Not that he even thought he had a chance.

Matteo: Just wondering

That was vague enough he supposed. His usual level of disinterest shouldn't arouse suspicion.

Sara: You're fucking kidding me

She was good was Sara, nothing got past her.

Matteo: What?

Sara: You and Leonie just into all the same guys huh?

Matteo: Fuck off no I'm not

Sara: David though?

Matteo: Nothing's going on, and I think he likes Leonie, I'm watching them right now

Sara: He's sweet, I approve, I honestly don't know about him and Leonie, and even if I find out I'm not getting involved in any drama

Matteo: There won't be drama Sara.

Matteo: It was just nice, talking to him the other day

Matteo: I miss you too by the way. Lydia said we'd done the right thing though

Sara: I know, it'll be ok Matteo

Matteo: I'll give you space now

Sara: Ok

Sara: Don't write David off, just talk to him if you're interested

Matteo: Not a fucking chance

He looked up at David again. He couldn't imagine trying to talk to him without becoming a stuttering mess. But he wanted to try. He could couldn't he? He could talk to him, just say hi. David had said he wanted to see him again. Or close enough. It wouldn't be too weird if he did say hi. He was going to. Not today, but he was going to.

Sara: How are you so shy and so cocky at the same time?

Matteo: All part of my charm

Sara: Go to class

Matteo: I was thinking of going home

Sara: Go to class

Matteo rolled his eyes and pocketed his phone. He supposed that meant he was going to Spanish. It was just an hour. He could do that. He could try, at least. He looked back up, but David had gone. That was a shame. He'd probably gone to class already. Just like Matteo should. He braced himself for a miserable hour and headed to class.

 

He made it through class. It was a bit boring, but he got through it. Spanish wasn't too bad. And now he was done. No more Spanish class. Just a horrendous Spanish exam, which he was probably going to fail. But he was going to try. It was annoying. He figured he knew he enough Spanish to scrape a pass; the problem was exams made his mind go blank. Still, he was pretty proud of himself. He'd felt pretty good all afternoon. Lydia would tell him to hold on to that feeling, so he did.

He found himself reading through his messages with Sara again. Talk to David, she'd said. Right now, feeling good like he did, he was almost brave enough to reach out. He'd found David's Instagram. He hadn't added him yet, just spent the last ten minutes looking at the picture of a bird he'd posted. Of course he was an artist. He was so cool. Matteo definitely couldn't reach out. Not yet. It would be too weird. He wanted to talk to him again. Properly. So for now he made do staring at his Instagram. He jumped when a new message came in on his phone.

Mum: Matteo my darling boy, I hope you're ok, I hope school is going well, I miss you darling, please call me soon, remember you're always welcome here

Matteo smiled. He missed her too. He'd barely spoken to her since his episode, too afraid to hear what she had to say. She wanted to talk to him about it. He'd done everything he could to avoid that conversation. Not just because he didn't want to talk to her about being gay, but also because he still hadn't told her he was bipolar. He was too scared to tell her. Still, he smiled at the message. It was just normal mum stuff. Another message came through, a bible verse this time.

Mum: "After you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, the one who called you into his eternal glory in Christ Jesus, will himself restore, empower, strengthen, and establish you." -- 1 Peter 5:10

So not so normal mum stuff, normal for his mum though. He read it again. Usually when his mum sent bible verses he got upset, but this seemed almost hopeful. He couldn't help but feel touched by the message. He was sure she'd just picked it at random, but it really hit him hard. He hadn't had faith for a long time, but he still remembered church with his mum fondly. Whenever he was scared as a child, she would comfort him, pray for him and promise him she would always look after him, and that Jesus was always watching over him. It was more comforting than it sounded.

Matteo missed her so much, this hurt, being away. He knew he had to be, knew they couldn't stay in the same house anymore. It was too volatile; they clashed too badly. It was better this way.

Still, it was hard. He'd been having a good day, but now he felt sad. He threw his phone aside and buried his face in his hands. He tried his hardest not to cry, but he felt it overtaking him.

"Hey Matteo- oh? Matteo what's wrong?"

"Nothing," he mumbled.

Hans came over and wrapped an arm around him. Matteo uncovered his face. Linn was at the door too, looking worried.

"Nothing's wrong, I just got a bit sad, I'm ok," he insisted.

"Linn made beef roulades," Hans told him.

"Oh."

"Do you want to come eat with us?"

Oh, they wanted his company, Matteo felt strangely touched. It was like being part of a family again. He felt safer than he had in a long time.

"Yes, please," he said quietly.

"Come on butterfly," Hans said, pulling him up.

Matteo supposed that nickname was going to stick. He found he didn't mind it so much. He followed both of them through to the kitchen.

"My mum texted me," he told them, "and I just miss her I guess."

"Understandable," Hans said, forcing him onto a stool. "Why don't you go visit her?"

"I can't. I just can't, not yet, the last time I saw her I was manic, I'm just not ready to see her yet," he explained.

"I get you, it must be very hard," Hans said.

"She loves you, Matteo," Linn said. "When you're ready, she'll be happy to see you again, don't worry."

He appreciated that, found he couldn't help but believe her.

"Thanks Linn," he said.

Linn put a plate in front of him. He smiled and realised how hungry he was. He'd skipped lunch because he was avoiding the boys, but he hadn't felt hungry until now.

"I broke up with Sara," he told Hans.

Linn laughed at this for some reason. "You broke up with her?" she asked.

"Fine, she broke up with me," Matteo admitted, no one was ever going to believe it was the other way around. Although it was all pretty mutual.

"Is this why you're sad butterfly?" Hans asked.

"No, I'm relieved. We're better as friends. She needs some space, but I think we can be friends again," Matteo said.

"That's good Matteo, I'm proud of you," Hans said.

"Mm."

Matteo blushed a little, but he felt proud of himself too.

They were quiet for a while. Matteo pulled out his phone and took a photo of the three of them stuffing their faces. Then he started scrolling through Instagram again. He kept ending up on David's profile.

"Hans?"

"Yeah?"

"Nevermind," Matteo mumbled. There was no point, he had no chance with David. And if he wanted help with this Hans would insist on knowing all the details.

"What's up Matteo?" Hans pushed gently.

"If you... if you like someone how do you talk to them?"

"Oh my god! Linn my boy's growing up, he needs advice! You came to me? I'm a little rusty, but I can teach you to talk to girls," Hans offered.

So not the issue he had right now. He wondered if Hans really couldn't tell or if he was just waiting for Matteo to be ready. Or perhaps it was because Matteo had so much more going on, that took all his focus.

"Yeah, because that's what he needs help with," Linn said dryly.

Matteo glanced at her, she was smirking. So she knew he supposed. He didn't mind; he thought Linn was great. Her gaydar was apparently better than Hans' which was funny. Or it wasn't so much that, she just paid attention to everyone. No one seemed to notice her, but she noticed everyone. He gave her a little smile.

"So you have your eye on someone, Matteo?" she asked, only slightly teasing.

"Mm." Matteo went red, he couldn't help it.

"Ok so what's the problem?" Hans demanded.

"I don't know how to talk to... them," Matteo admitted.

Hans frowned for a second, scrutinising Matteo. And now Hans knew, too. He wasn't stupid. To his credit, if he was surprised, he hid it well.

"Have you spoken to... them before?" he asked.

"Yeah it... it was awkward at first but erm... I really liked talking to him, it was just comfortable you know? I felt like he got me," Matteo said quietly.

He never wanted to stop talking to David. Which was pretty weird for him, he never usually wanted to talk at all.

"Oh Matteo," Hans said gently.

Linn just rolled her eyes, which actually made him smile.

"But I... dunno, I felt like I was stumbling over all my words, but then I swear David was flirting with me and he said he'd see me around. And he seemed like he wanted to, but then I haven't seen him until today and I think he might like Leonie and Leonie definitely likes him and... I don't know what to do," Matteo said.

Linn had the audacity to giggle at his dilemma.

"Linn don't be cruel, our little butterfly is trying to navigate flirting with boys," Hans chastised.

"It's really hard, I feel like it was working? But I don't know," Matteo said.

"Who's David?" Linn asked, "have we met him? Was he at the party last week?"

"No, he's new," Matteo said.

"Interesting," Hans said.

"Not really," Matteo said, shrugging.

"So why do you like him?" Linn asked.

"I... we were talking and... I don't know I just... I felt he was really listening to me, in a way I've never been listened to before. I just felt seen, I've never felt like that before. I usually hate that. I always keep my head down, but he saw me, he saw through my walls. And... I think he was teasing me, but it felt nice. I felt all silly and happy, just lighter, because... I wasn't pretending, I was just me, and I think he liked me. And when I finally figured out how to talk normally, when I stopped stumbling over all my words, he smiled and Linn he has the most beautiful smile," Matteo told her.

"Oh wow, Matteo," Hans said, beaming at him.

"Gross," Linn said, but she was smiling too.

Matteo felt overjoyed, just happy and content. He hadn't felt like this in a while. Happy in a calm and stable way, it was nice. It wasn't just this non-thing with David either. No, it was this, hanging out with his roommates, eating and talking about boys, and just being silly. It was feeling like he had a family that got him.

"Be nice Linn, and Matteo all you have to do is talk to him," Hans said.

Matteo could tell he really thought it was that easy. It must be nice to be so confident. Matteo wasn't shy exactly, he had spoken to David already, that was a big step for him. So no it wasn't that he was shy, it was that he was an overthinker, a worrier, he didn't want David to see that just yet, didn't want to scare him.

"I want to," Matteo admitted, there was nothing he wanted more.

"Just say hi what's the worst that could happen?" Hans asked him.

"I could die," Matteo said.

"He could die," Linn said at the same time.

Matteo high-fived her.

"Just say hi to him Matteo, everything else will fall into place," Hans assured him.

Matteo was doubtful that it could be as simple as that. But he had to admit it sounded nice. Him going up to David, saying hi. David being all excited to see him. The two of them just talking again, hanging out, losing track of time. Matteo somehow managing to muster up enough charm that David left wanting to see him again.

If only it could be that easy.

Start with a hi, he decided.

He would just have to see where it went from there.

 

Matteo was feeling pretty proud of himself. He'd been to all of his classes. Yes, he was exhausted, but he'd done well. If only these weren't the last few weeks of school. Soon enough everything would probably fall apart once his routine was taken away. Except it might not. He had made plans with Amira, Hanna, and Abdi to study at school when they were on leave. He was also supposed to go over to Jonas', but they were likely to just end up playing video games. At least it would get him out of bed. He was still supposed to count that, and he did.

Right now though he was feeling a bit off, it was just because he was a bit tired. Ok, a lot tired. In fact, he felt downright exhausted. He'd pushed it today. He was still pushing it, trying to focus on the conversation, but it was difficult. Hanna had a moustache on and was very distracting, she looked like a plumber. Kiki was just dressed in normal clothes, but not her normal clothes. He kept staring at them and trying not to laugh. He felt so unfocused. He knew he had to pay attention because Kiki was trying to get him to have a party at his flat. Or a meeting. Or something. Whatever it was he didn't want them there. This weekend he had to try and make himself get up, he couldn't do that if they were having a party.

"Please Matteo, you have a whole flat, what's the point of living there if you don't have fun?"

Fun wasn't the point of living there, though. He lived there because he had no choice. Although he did love it. When Kiki wasn't throwing parties.

"I can't... I'm doing stuff," he mumbled. He hated lying, hated confrontation, was never good at getting out of these sorts of situations. He just knew he'd end up hosting them, and then he'd waste the weekend, and then Lydia would be disappointed. And he would be disappointed in himself.

"What stuff?" Kiki demanded, god she was persistent.

"Come on, we need a party, Luigi," Abdi said.

"It's not a party Abdi!" Kiki hissed.

For fuck sakes, how was he going to get out of this? Jonas and Hanna were there, they could put a stop to this, but they were too busy trying to ignore each other to chip in.

"What's going on?" Sara asked, approaching them. Her and Leonie also had moustaches. So weird.

"Trying to get Luigi to let us host the Abi-prank committee meeting," Carlos said. "But he's being a dick, he won't let us. He's so selfish, he has a whole apartment and he won't share."

"Why don't you move out of home, huh? Why don't you beg a dad who hates you for rent money because if you stay in the house you grew up in, you'll go fucking crazy? Then you can move in with some strangers and throw parties for all your friends who don't actually give a shit about you! Why don't you do that?"

Everyone stared at him, but at least he'd shut them up. Even Kiki looked apologetic.

Matteo tried to calm down, tried not to panic. He couldn't get his breathing under control until Sara placed a gentle hand on his arm.

"Me and Matteo are hanging out on Friday, didn't he tell you?" Sara said, trying to take the attention off Matteo. He hated these little outbursts he had sometimes, when he was under pressure. He hated that everybody looked at him, concerned that he was about to have a breakdown.

"You were?" Leonie asked, amused.

"Yeah," Sara said, leaving no room for arguments.

Matteo looked at both of them apologetically, he hated that he was still dragging Sara into his shit. Now he was dragging Leonie into it too, she obviously knew they were broken up.

Unfortunately, Sara's excuse actually seemed to perk Kiki up. "Well, you're on the committee Sara, so you could come to the meeting and hang out after," she suggested.

"No," Sara said firmly.

"What do you mean no?" Kiki demanded.

"I mean no. No meeting, end of," Sara said. Matteo wished he could be half as confident as she was.

Jonas and Hanna exchanged a glance, he knew what they were probably thinking, that he was getting himself in too deep with Sara, that it was all going to end in tears. They were so wrong. Well, there had been tears, but it hadn't been as dramatic as they were probably imagining.

Matteo offered Sara a small smile.

"Can we talk? Just quickly," Sara said.

He nodded and followed her away from the crowd. Leonie joined them, but she didn't seem angry.

"Sorry about that," he mumbled.

"Stand up for yourself Matteo, before you panic you know?" Sara told him.

"It's hard when they all gang up on me like that, and come on Kiki is scary," Matteo insisted.

"No, she isn't, she's just annoying," Leonie said, but she was smiling. It was alright for Leonie, she was scary too.

"I couldn't think of an excuse but... Lydia wants me to try and stick to good sleeping patterns. I need to get up on Saturday morning and Carlos was already talking about beers and pizza and I'm so fucking tired," he said, collapsing against the lockers.

Leonie patted his arm. "You're doing really well Matteo, you're allowed to tell them you need to switch off, if they ignore that they're assholes," she told him.

He nodded. "I just get flustered and freak out."

"Just so we're clear, I'm not hanging out with you on Friday," Sara said.

Matteo looked at her. She was really sad. That was his fault.

"I guess now you can't go to the committee meeting either," Leonie teased.

"Sorry," Matteo said. "I guess you could come over for a bit?" he offered, although he thought that was probably going to make it worse.

"No thank you, Matteo," Sara said. "I'll be ok."

He winced a little at her tone; it wasn't cold, but it was a little off.

"I'll see you later," Sara said.

"Ok. Nice moustache," he teased, trying to lighten the mood before she left.

"Bet you like it," Leonie said.

Sara whirled around then, "I didn't tell her!" she said.

"Oh, come on, I pretty much knew before you even started whatever this was," Leonie said, clearly amused by the whole thing. "I didn't say anything because you weren't shitty, and you did care, just not in the right way I guess. But I thought it was better if I stayed out of it, it wasn’t my place."

Matteo nodded, but he felt panicky and choked up.

"Matteo you were clearly into Jonas, ok? I could tell because I was his girlfriend, and I didn't much like sharing him with you, I doubt anyone else could tell."

He sighed in relief.

"I'm just not ready," he whispered.

"I know, I haven't even told anyone we broke up, I don't know if you needed cover or..."

"No, no, don't do that, you can tell people, just not why," Matteo said. He wasn't going to keep hold of her like that. She was free now. He had to let her go.

"Ok," she said.

"I told Hans and Linn about me," he told them.

"That's really good Matteo you need to talk to people about this, and Hans seems like a good option," Sara said, she sounded so proud of him.

Both girls gave him a kind smile and then left him to it. He watched them go and then went back to the group.

He felt weird; he felt sad and tired. Kiki and Hanna had left them now, and Carlos and Abdi were arguing about sex, and about Kiki being weird. Matteo wasn't sure how they could tell. He just zoned out, not paying attention to their bickering, but still feeling a part of it.

Suddenly his focus was back, and he was more present. There was David, finally. He hadn't seen him since he'd decided to talk to him. He couldn't talk to him now, he wasn't in the right frame of mind. He could stare at him though, he was pretty good at that. David was looking towards him, but Matteo didn't think he'd actually spotted him, so he continued to stare.

He watched David bouncing as he walked toward the stairs. Things slowed down, and David started to twirl, and Matteo realised he was just imagining shit now. He was too tired. But David was so handsome, so amazing, everything got kind of dreamy whenever he saw him. Still, it was definitely best that he didn't speak to him yet. Instead, he sank to the floor and let the boys stand around talking. He didn't mind, still felt part of it, he was just too tired to keep standing.

"Ok Luigi?"

"Mm."

"Want to come over? Play video games?" Jonas asked.

"No. But can I come over and lay on your sofa and watch you?" Matteo asked. He was glad none of them had brought up his little outburst, he just couldn't deal. He knew avoiding was bad, but he would talk about it with Lydia next week.

"Yeah, of course," Jonas said, smiling and reaching out to pull him up.

He seemed relieved, and Matteo realised it was because he usually blew him off. He felt a little guilty, but he knew Jonas understood.

"I'll probably fall asleep," Matteo warned him.

"No problem, I'll even feed you," Jonas said, grinning.

Matteo couldn't believe how excited Jonas was just to hang out with him, it took the edge off his sadness.

"What about us?" Abdi whined.

"Yeah, I'm hungry," Carlos added.

"Not tonight boys, c'mon Luigi," Jonas said, wrapping an arm around him and leading him away. "Ok?" he asked as they got outside.

"Just... just tired," he said.

"Ok," Jonas said, keeping a tight hold on him.

"But I want to hang out, I just might not be good company," Matteo said.

"You're always the best company," Jonas promised.

Matteo just chuckled and leant against Jonas, relaxing. He felt a little overwhelmed; he felt like both laughing and crying. But he felt good, he felt happy to be spending time with Jonas. It had been a while since they'd done this. He'd been so busy avoiding Jonas that they hadn't hung out in a while. It would be fun, just blowing off studying and having fun.

"I broke up with Sara," he admitted.

Jonas, to his credit, kept walking and tried not to look surprised.

"Yeah? Are you ok?" Jonas asked.

"Don't pretend like you aren't delighted," Matteo muttered.

"No, I'm not, I know you were dating Sara for entirely the wrong reason, but it still has to hurt," Jonas said.

"I just feel bad, she's really sad," Matteo said.

"She'll be ok, breaking up is hard, she was really into you Matteo," Jonas reminded him.

"And I knew that, Jonas! I knew that and I kept stringing her along!"

"Did you?"

"I... kind of... I was honest, I told her I didn't want to be her boyfriend... I was honest about that but I should've stopped it sooner," Matteo said.

"Dating is hard, I know it wasn't real to you, but god Matteo you're the most caring guy I know, of course it hurts, you're not built to hurt people, that's why I know the two of you will figure things out. You want to be friends?"

"I do, I know that must sound mad, but I don't know, she saw past all my mental health stuff and she still liked me you know? I know that's selfish, but she stayed, even though she had no obligation to," Matteo explained.

"You're a good person, Matteo, don't let your stupid brain tell you otherwise," Jonas said.

"Thanks Jonas," Matteo said.

"So Mario Kart and pizza?"

"That's the dream," Matteo said, finally smiling.

Jonas stopped. They were outside his house, but he didn't let them in yet. Instead, he pulled Matteo into his arms and held him tight. Matteo just hugged him back and felt the last of his dark mood fading away. He should let Jonas take care of him more often. He should stop punishing himself by letting himself wallow in these dark moods. If Jonas, if Hanna or Sara wanted to help lift him out of it, then he should let them. It was hard, but he was going to try. He just had to accept that they loved him and that was ok. That he was allowed to be loved.

 

By Friday Matteo was feeling a bit sad and out of sorts. School was almost over and despite what Lydia said, it still worried him. And now he was going home to an empty apartment because he'd scared away all his friends. He knew he'd planned on trying to stay out of bed, but right now he didn't feel capable of that. This week had completely drained him. He'd stayed on for three full days. That was a lot for him. He was too tired to even walk home, his legs felt heavy, and he was exhausted. So he was getting the bus like a lazy asshole.

He got on and realised there were some benefits to this plan. There was David, standing by the middle doors. This was his chance. He knew he shouldn't; he was out of sorts. He was bad at social shit on a good day, let alone when he was feeling like this. But he wanted to, he was running out of school days to speak to him, and he wasn't brave enough to reach out outside of school. He had to take a chance. Plus, he was about to spend the weekend all alone, it would be nice to chat with David for a few minutes before his self-imposed solitude.

He nervously approached David, although he tried not to let it show.

"Hey," he murmured.

David looked up and smiled at him. Matteo almost had to lock his knees to stay upright. He felt giddy and trembly. Damn, he had it bad.

"Hey," David said, bringing him back to the present.

"How are you?"

"Good."

"Good," Matteo repeated, his voice getting quieter as his cheeks got pinker.

David just smiled and Matteo's mind went blank. He couldn't think of anything to say. He just kept staring. He was being weird; he knew it, but he couldn't stop it. David smiled at him again. Matteo should stop staring, but he didn't. He wanted to talk. God, he was bad at this. He sighed and finally dragged his eyes away, just in time to see the ticket inspector getting on the bus. Great. Just what he needed to round off the week, a fine he wouldn't be able to pay.

"Shit," he muttered.

David stopped looking for his ticket and glanced at him. "No ticket?"

Matteo shook his head. David smiled again and pulled out his wallet. Matteo almost felt better after that smile, but it wasn't enough. He was fucked. He watched David show the guy his ticket and braced himself for the guard to give him shit. But David was still talking. He was asking how to get to Alexanderplatz for some reason? Matteo was confused, they were heading away from the city centre. Plus, he thought David was going home.

"And on the other bus, is it the same month?" David asked the inspector.

What? Was David ok? Then David grabbed his wrist and Matteo's mind went blank. Suddenly he was being dragged off the bus, and they were running. Matteo never ran, but right now he felt so alive. He laughed wildly as they ran down the street. They slowed eventually, although Matteo's heart was still pounding. Partly from the run and partly because he was still recovering from David grabbing his wrist like that.

"That was amazing," he said breathlessly, "you're a genius."

David laughed.

"Thank you though, seriously, I couldn't have paid the fine, that would've been the third time I got caught," Matteo told him.

"Damn," David said.

"I know. Er..." Matteo needed to keep David a little longer, he couldn't think of anything to compel him to stay. "Do you... do you want a smoke?" he offered. He knew it was foolish, he knew that he shouldn't be smoking. He also realised he was giving David the wrong impression. Or not the wrong impression, just an impression of someone Matteo couldn't be anymore. He was no longer an easy going stoner, he couldn't be, and it wasn't good for his brain being baked all the time. But he didn't know how else to be around David.

"Sure," David said, still smiling warmly.

Matteo felt all fluttery. It was stupid. But he liked it.

"Cool, we can go to my place, it's just over there," he told David.

"Why do you take the bus for only two stops?" David asked him, amused.

"Because I'm lazy," Matteo joked.

David just smiled.

"Because I'm really tired," Matteo admitted, "it's been a long week."

"School's almost over," David said, bumping his shoulder.

"Does it scare you?"

"Not really, you?"

"Terrifies me," Matteo admitted.

"No clue what to do next?" David asked as Matteo let him into the apartment.

"None, I have no idea," Matteo said.

"You don't need to know yet though," David said.

Matteo shrugged and led him into the kitchen. He hopped up onto the stool and watched David looking around.

"You have an Xbox?" David asked, climbing up next to him.

"No," Matteo said, frowning.

David pointed to the controller on the table. "Why do you have the controller then?" he asked.

"Oh... I set up a Nintendo emulator, on the PC," Matteo explained. "To play Zelda."

"Wow, impressive," David said.

"Not really?"

"Yeah, that's really hard to set up," David said.

"Is it?"

David grinned and nodded. He seemed genuinely impressed. Matteo was a little confused, he hadn't been trying to show off or anything. He'd always been good with computers. He'd asked for a PlayStation when he was ten and his dad had brought him an old desktop PC from his office. It had been marked to be thrown away. His dad wasn't the generous sort. He'd told Matteo that video games would rot his brain, but he could use the PC for studying. Matteo had set it up by himself. It was old and slow, barely any memory or disk space, only basic graphics. It didn't even have sound. So Matteo had set about learning how it all worked, saved up his pocket money to replace all the parts. It had taken over a year, but he ended up with his first gaming PC, built pretty much from scratch. It barely resembled what his dad had given him. But his dad never noticed. And more importantly, he could play video games on it. Then one time a game came out that was only on the PlayStation. So he'd learnt how to emulate the PlayStation on the PC, from there he figured out the other consoles.

He just shrugged and blushed.

"No seriously Matteo, that's really cool," David insisted.

"I dunno. I just like computers," Matteo said.

"Yeah? Nerd," David teased, bumping their shoulders. That was the second time he'd done that, Matteo loved it.

"Do you like computers? I mean what do you like? What are you good at I mean?" He was floundering but David just kept smiling.

"I like to draw," David told him.

"Yeah? Can I see some?" Matteo asked. He wanted to see more of what he'd seen on Instagram.

"You want to see my art?"

"Yeah, please... if you don't mind," Matteo said.

David just chuckled and jumped down from the stool. He grabbed a book from his bag and brought it over to the counter. He hesitated, then placed it down between them.

Matteo realised it was probably pretty private. And yet David was sharing it with him. He carefully pulled it a little closer and when David didn't pull it back, he opened it up and began to flip through. Matteo didn't know much about art, but he liked this. He could tell David was creative, he took different things, and put them together to make something new.

"It's good," Matteo said.

"No," David mumbled

"Yes. I like... this here," he said, running his finger over the bird he'd seen on Instagram, the bird with one wing. It spoke to him, something about it captured his attention. The bird was broken, but it still tried to soar. Matteo liked that. He didn't know how to say all that.

"I... like when you stick... something you've made onto a photo," Matteo said, cursing himself for his stumbling way of speaking.

David seemed amused.

"It's called a collage," he said, smirking.

He knew that too, or he knew that was what it called when he did something similar as a kid. He thought there'd be a fancier term for when someone cool like David did it.

David was teasing him again, Matteo was pretty sure he hadn't stopped teasing him since they started talking. Usually Matteo would hate it, he would feel like he was making a fool of himself, that he was on the back foot, but it didn't feel like that with David. He felt like it didn't matter as much when he was with David. He felt like he could make silly mistakes and David wouldn't get angry or write him off. He felt like maybe he just might give him another chance.

So instead of going quiet, instead of shutting down at being corrected, he smiled and started laughing. Then David started laughing too, and Matteo never wanted to hear anything else.

They were both just sitting there, laughing at nothing. It was nice. Matteo looked back at the book, he turned the page. The next pages were stuck together for some reason. Matteo tried to open them, but then David's hands were on his, stopping him.

"Why can't I look?"

"It's private," David said, "in fact this whole book is private," he added, trying to pull the book back.

Matteo grabbed his hand and stopped him taking the book. "You already showed it to me though," he countered. He pulled the book a little closer and turned the page, without opening the private pages. He looked to David and when he nodded he turned another page, he kept going until David grabbed his hand again, clearly wanting it back, so he returned the book to him.

"Thank you for showing me," Matteo said.

"No problem."

David was blushing now too.

"I really liked it, you're really talented," Matteo said.

"Shut up," David said.

Matteo just nodded, he felt strangely nervous, like something important was happening. David was looking at him strangely, but it was a good feeling. Still, he needed to calm the butterflies. He climbed down and went to his room to grab his stash. Yeah, he knew it was stupid, but he needed to take the edge off. He started rolling a joint and tried not to let his hands tremble too much.

"You good?" David asked gently.

"Mm."

"Sure?"

Matteo looked up at him. He seemed curious, but not in a nosey way.

"I'm not supposed to," Matteo admitted.

"How come?" David asked.

"I dunno it's bad for me I guess," Matteo said.

David raised an eyebrow. "I'm not supposed to either," he said.

That caught Matteo's attention, he felt himself relaxing for some reason. "Er... how come?"

"It's... it's not good for my breathing. I... I have problems with my chest," David said.

Matteo nodded. "I... have problems with my head," he admitted, bracing himself for judgement, but when he braved a look at David, he found none there.

"Sucks," David said.

"It does," Matteo agreed.

"Let's just have one then... moderation," David suggested.

"Moderation," Matteo repeated, lighting the joint.

David got it. One joint wasn't going to kill them.

He took another hit, then handed it to David, watching him take a drag. Matteo watched him, feeling intoxicated, wondering if it was the weed or just David who was making him feel this way. He thought it really might be David.

He liked that David didn't ask him about his head. He wondered about David's problems with his chest. He wasn't going to dig or anything, everyone was entitled to their privacy. Still, he just wanted to make sure of something.

"David?"

"Yeah?" David asked, taking another puff of the joint and handing it back to him.

"You don't have to tell me, but when you say you have problems with your chest... like this isn't going to kill you is it?" Matteo checked, holding onto the joint this time.

He knew they said moderation, but the risk of him smoking was his mood; he didn't want David having a heart attack or something.

"I can't tell you but... I just have to be careful, of how I breathe, I can't take deep breaths so I guess the risk is me fainting," David explained.

"Ok." Matteo handed the joint back to David. "At least you're already sitting," he said.

"I mean we're on stools so if I do faint I'll be on the floor," David told him.

"I'll help you up?"

David burst out laughing then. Matteo huffed at the implication that he was weak. Then he started laughing too.

"Let's move to the table then, can't have you swooning in my presence," Matteo said.

They moved over to the table, and Matteo stretched himself over it. David copied him.

"This is comfortable to you?" David asked.

"So comfortable," Matteo said.

"I see you sitting around all over the place in school, you're on the floor a lot," David said.

"You've been watching me in school?" Matteo asked.

"Fuck off," David muttered.

"Why did you move school a week before Abi?" Matteo asked.

"I moved about a month and a half ago," David clarified.

"Oh."

"Shit went down at my old school and I couldn't stay there," David said, staring at the table. After a minute he looked up at Matteo hesitantly.

Matteo nodded. "Back in like September, shit went down with me... not at school, but I ended up missing a shit ton of school and... some of that was because I couldn't face going in. And so... I'm probably going to fail the year. So... that's the only reason I was curious. I'm terrified of having to do another year of this. You're probably better at school than me, but it still seems like a risk transferring," Matteo said, trying to explain why he was digging.

"I'm on track to pass," David assured him, "but there's nothing wrong having to repeat the year."

Matteo smiled appreciatively at that. "What are you going to do after?" he asked.

"Film school," David told him.

Matteo sat up then. "Really? Wow."

"Why so surprised?" David asked, fake offended.

"Dunno, I just thought art school," Matteo said.

"I like to draw, but I want to make movies," David explained.

"That's so cool, I have no idea what I want to do," Matteo said.

"What do you like?"

Matteo shrugged. "Nothing," he said.

"Nothing?"

"Smoking?" he said, gesturing to the joint, it was long burnt out now.

David giggled.

"If you like movies, then what's your favourite movie?" Matteo asked.

"That's a tough question," David said.

"Mm."

"But at the moment it's Only Lovers Left Alive, by Jim Jarmusch," David said.

"Yeah? I've never heard of it. I... don't really watch a lot of movies... but I'll watch yours," Matteo said.

"Yeah?"

Matteo nodded. "I probably won't understand them, but I'll watch them," he said.

David blushed and ducked his head.

"Thank you," he said quietly.

Matteo smiled.

"So... do you have anything to eat? I'm starving," David said.

"Oh... yeah. Maybe... let's see," Matteo said, getting up and heading to the counter. He found some bread and waved it at David.

David jumped up and practically ran up to him. Damn, he was obviously starved. Matteo was a bad host. "Sandwich?" he suggested.

"God yeah, I'm so fucking hungry," David said.

"Munchies," Matteo said.

"Yeah are you not?"

"I used to smoke a lot and... I lose track of my body sometimes, like I don't notice I'm hungry," Matteo said, laying out some bread. "Cheese?"

"Yeah."

"Mustard or ketchup?"

"Both," David said.

"Both," Matteo agreed. "And pickles?"

"Definitely."

"What about..." He grabbed the can of whipped cream and showed it to David.

David grinned and nodded, so Matteo squirted a ton of it all over the sandwiches. David reached across him and grabbed the hundreds and thousands that Matteo didn't even know they had.

Matteo added marshmallows.

"Oh and do you have crisps? To make it crunchy," David said.

Matteo nodded and stared at David for a moment. He didn't remember the last time he'd had this much fun. He grabbed the crisps from the cupboard and showed them to David.

"Perfect," David said.

Matteo put them in the toastie maker. God what a mess. This was going to be disgusting. They stood there watching it toast for a minute, then Matteo handed David his sandwich. He could tell that David was already regretting all the toppings he'd agreed to. Still, Matteo wasn't going to back down.

Matteo nodded and braced himself. They both took a bite. Matteo tried not to grimace. Actually, it wasn't that bad, weirdly sweet and tangy, and spicy from the mustard.

"Not bad?"

"Weird," David said

"Definitely weird," Matteo agreed.

Matteo still took another bite, chewing it slowly. He was just staring at David, his mind had gone weirdly blank and he didn't know what to say.

His phone buzzed, distracting him.

He pulled it out of his pocket and checked it. It was Jonas, who seemed to have only just figured out that he was supposed to be home alone, not with Sara. He was slow sometimes. Matteo had been dreading tonight, he hated being alone. But he wasn't alone, David was here, and he'd had so much fun.

He just stared at his phone. David was going to go soon, and he was going to be alone for the rest of the weekend. Jonas was offering to hang out, but Matteo felt like a burden taking him up on that.

"Ok Matteo?" David said

Matteo just shrugged. He couldn't bring himself back. He was drifting, spiralling. But then David was closer, face to face with him.

"Hey how far are you? In Zelda?" he asked.

Matteo just blinked.

"What?"

"Zelda? You play? How far have you gotten?"

"Er..."

David just waited, smiling. He was so patient.

"I think thirty something," he mumbled.

"Cool," David said.

"Er... do you want to play? It's in my room," Matteo offered, just wanting to keep David there a little longer.

David looked surprised at that. "Um... yeah, ok?" he said hesitantly.

Matteo wasn't sure what he'd said wrong, but he felt like he'd fucked up.

"Ok? I just need the bathroom first," Matteo said.

"Ok," David said quietly.

Matteo stared at him for a moment. Trying to figure out where he'd misstepped. He rubbed the back of his neck. He walked toward the bathroom, then turned around to find David pulling on his jacket.

"Oh."

"Sorry, I have to go," David said.

"Yeah ok," Matteo said, looking at his feet. He knew he'd fucked up. He just didn't know what he'd done, everything had been going so well. He just stepped aside and let David past.

"Matteo," David said.

Matteo continued to stare at his feet. "Go then," he mumbled.

He heard the door close, and he finally looked up.

Well, that had gone well. He was going to go to bed, and he wasn't getting up until school on Monday. Fuck Lydia and her experiments. As soon as he could move and drag himself away from this wall, he was going to sleep.

Fuck.

How had he fucked this up so quickly?

Well, that was that with David. He'd lost his chance. He'd scared him away, without even showing him his shit.

He got into bed and curled up, pulling the blankets over himself.

He was all alone.

He was always alone.

Chapter Text

Matteo tried to sleep till Monday, but his mind wasn't wired that way. Plus, he felt guilty. He didn't want to disappoint Lydia; he didn't want to disappoint himself. So he dragged himself out of bed midday on Saturday and collapsed on the sofa instead. He did fall asleep again, but it still felt better than laying in bed all day.

On Sunday he managed the same, but he actually brought his books through with him and tried to read them. He didn't get very far, but he did try.

Then after sitting there on the sofa staring into space for a while, he actually pulled out his phone for the first time since Friday. He wandered around the flat while he checked his messages. There were a lot of increasingly worried texts from Jonas. He replied saying he was fine and not to fuss, although he did appreciate it, deep down.

He didn't let Jonas know that though, he would only fuss more.

Matteo frowned as he spotted David's beanie on the table by the door. Fuck. He'd thought that was all over. He knew he wasn't being fair either, David had said he had to go. Matteo couldn't be mad that he wouldn't stay here with him all weekend. Just because he was all alone didn't mean David didn't have anyone more important in his life. He should feel lucky that David deigned to spend any time with him at all.

He didn't know why he did it, but he pulled David's beanie on and smiled. He was being stupid, but it made him feel a little lighter. So he didn't take it off. Instead, he went into the kitchen to get something to eat. He frowned. The mess was gone. He hadn't tidied up; he hadn't eaten since Friday. His stomach hurt badly from it.

He frowned at the now clean kitchen, wondering if someone had broken in and cleaned.

That was mad, but he couldn't think of any other way it had gotten cleaned. Yesterday he had come in to clean it up, but he'd gotten upset and gone back into the living room to avoid thinking about David. He felt a bit better about David today, so he sat down on the stool and looked at his phone.

He opened up David's Instagram and added him. He thought that might be ok now. He had a reason to message him.

Matteo: hey you took off pretty quickly the other night, but I had fun with you.

His stomach hurt really badly now, he needed to eat something.

He went over to the fridge and stared at his mouldy cheese. Gross. He hadn't been shopping since he'd moved in. It was weird, when he was living at home he did everything. He did the groceries, the cleaning, he sorted the bills. He made sure there was always food in the house.

But now he just had himself to take care of, he'd lost track completely. He just didn't feel up to taking care of himself. Except now he was hungry, and he had no food. It was Sunday, so he couldn't get any food, even if he did feel up to it. He could order take out, he supposed. But he felt like real food, he wanted something cooked, fresh.

All he could find was cold cuts, so he started munching on them, feeling only a little guilty that they weren't his. His phone buzzed in his pocket. David was messaging him back.

David: I had to go

Well, that was that then he supposed. Short and sweet. No explanation. Clearly Matteo was bothering him, and David just wanted him to leave him alone. He'd done something to upset him, and David wanted nothing more to do with him.

Then another message came through.

David: Sorry I had to leave so suddenly

Maybe David wasn’t annoyed with him after all.

David: I hope you're ok

Matteo swallowed down the lump in his throat. He didn't know why he felt so emotional. It just seemed like David cared, was showing genuine concern. It was just a few words in a text but Matteo felt he really wanted to know he was ok.

Matteo: it's ok

Matteo: are you ok?

Matteo: also you left so quickly you forgot your beanie

David: I'm ok, just some personal shit

Matteo got that, but he had to ask, he needed to know.

Matteo: did I upset you?

There was no response. Matteo started to worry again. Perhaps David didn't want to lie, which meant he didn't know how to say it without hurting Matteo's feelings. At least he was trying to spare them.

David started typing, it took a few minutes but finally a message came through.

David: you didn't upset me, but I was upset that I had to leave. I really didn't want to. I was having fun.

Matteo: you seemed upset after I asked you to play Zelda

David: I panicked? Can you just accept that? I think you might get that, sometimes things get too much and I didn't want you to see that

David: also can I have my beanie back? Or are you going to hold it hostage?

Matteo smiled at his phone. He did get that, and he thought he might get David. David had his own shit just like he did. That was ok. Matteo didn't know what was going to happen between them, but he knew he wanted David in his life. Whether they would become friends or more, David just seemed to get him. And he was starting to get David too. David liked to run when he got scared. Needed out sometimes. Matteo could accept that. As long as he came back. They just seemed to get each other. And that was pretty special.

Matteo: I do get that, I have shit too

Matteo: I'll bring your beanie to school

David: thank you for getting it, and for the safe return of my beanie

Matteo just grinned stupidly at his phone. He couldn't think of anything to say in response. Not without sounding like a stupid loser.

"Something funny?"

Matteo jumped out of skin, almost flinging his phone across the room. He'd thought he was home alone.

"No?" he said, shoving his phone in his pocket.

"Oh yeah?" Mia said, "is that Hans’ sausage?"

"No?" Matteo shrugged.

She took the pack of meat from him and put it back in the fridge.

"Hey, I'm hungry!"

"Yeah? Is that what happened in here? You trying to feed yourself? What the hell were you making?" Mia demanded.

"Sandwiches," Matteo mumbled.

"With marshmallows and whipped cream?"

"It was David's idea," Matteo said with a shrug.

"Who's David?" Mia asked.

"A friend. From school," Matteo said.

"You ok Matteo?" she asked, pulling out some boxes from her shelf in the fridge. She put a box in the microwave and started heating it up. Matteo’s stomach rumbled. He watched her tip the other box into a pan and start warming up some vegetables.

Matteo sighed and sat down. He felt a little dizzy.

"Did you clean up?"

"Yes, next time I won't," she warned.

"What are you doing here?" he asked, confused. He'd thought he was going to be all alone all weekend. He didn't think Mia liked him much, but he'd still rather she was there with him.

"I live here," she said.

"Yeah, but... I never see you," Matteo said.

"Felt like a break," she said.

"Ok, cool I guess, I think I'm gonna go back to bed." His head was pounding now, and he felt a bit sick.

"Nope stay where you are." She placed a glass of water in front of him. "Drink that slowly," she said.

He wondered if Hans had made her come back to take care of him. Or Hanna, if Jonas told her he was home alone. Regardless, he appreciated her presence.

He watched her moving around the kitchen and realised she was making two plates. He smiled to himself and sank back against the wall.

After a few minutes, she placed a plate in front of him.

"When did you last eat?" she asked.

"Friday. I forget sometimes," he admitted.

"Ok, then eat this slowly," she said.

He started to pick at the food, still smiling. He had to try and remember that he had people who cared about him.

"I can help you plan your meals and groceries," she offered.

"I used to, when I was at home. I'm not so good at taking care of just myself," he said.

"Ok, but that's why you need to try and make sure you have staples in," she insisted.

That wasn't his problem, though.

"I have pasta and shit, I just couldn't face cooking, and I had no vegetables," he explained.

"It's ok to cheat, get some ready meals and keep them in the freezer for days when you can't cook," Mia suggested.

"That's a good idea. My mum never let us have ready meals in the house, I guess I held on to that," he said.

"I mean cook when you can, it's quite therapeutic, but there's nothing wrong with a shortcut," Mia said.

"Thanks, Mia," Matteo said.

"No problem," she said with a smile, nudging him to continue eating. He did for a while until his phone buzzed. He pulled it out of his pocket, ignoring Mia's tutting.

David: so not to sound lame but how was the rest of your weekend?

Matteo blushed and stared at his phone, not sure about how honest to be.

"Matteo, phone away, eat," Mia said, tapping the table with her fork.

"But it's David," he argued.

Matteo: honestly not good, I was by myself which sucked, but my roommate is back now so I'm feeling a bit better

"David huh?"

"Yeah," he said, not giving her anything else. "How's Alex?"

Mia rolled her eyes at the topic change. "He's fine," she said.

"Yeah? How come you're back then?"

"Space is healthy," she said.

Matteo nodded, but he was confused. If he had a boyfriend, he wouldn't want any space from him, he would happily spend all his time with him. That's why he'd been so upset when David left the other day. He wanted to spend all his time with him. But he knew Mia was right. He knew he had serious issues with being alone, stemming from a childhood of being left alone and forgotten. He had to work on it, but he would probably always struggle with it a bit. He would learn to manage it though, and it helped to know he did have people who were there for him.

David: that sucks

David: at least you're not alone now

David: sorry again that I left

David: have fun with your roommate, see you at school

Matteo just smiled and went back to his dinner, continuing to listen to Mia whining about Alex. She seemed happy whenever he nodded in agreement, so he kept doing that.

 

 

 

Matteo was glad he didn't do sports. The boys were here to watch girls dancing, he couldn't really tell what they got from that. He didn't want to watch girls dancing. He didn't want to watch boys dancing either. It all just made him feel even more tired than usual. He glanced at the boys, the way they were sitting there gawping at the dancing girls. He rolled his eyes. It was so unattractive, they definitely didn't have any chance with these girls. Matteo didn't know much, but he was pretty sure sitting around, staring with their mouths open, was not the way to catch girls.

He rolled his eyes as the very camp dance teacher wound up the lesson, sending the girls off stretch or whatever happened at the end of a dance lesson. God, this guy was worse than Hans. Matteo didn't get it, why be so over the top? Was that really required? It just seemed so unnecessary. They got it; he was gay, why advertise it?

"God, that guy is so gay," Matteo muttered.

Jonas frowned at him. Matteo didn't like the confusion, what he was implying with that. Did he think if Matteo was ever brave enough to come out, that he'd suddenly be like that guy? No. He absolutely wouldn't, he was never going to be like that. It was half the reason he was pretty sure he was never going to come out. He just wanted a quiet life. He didn't want to flounce around; he didn't want to wear glitter or skimpy clothes or advertise to anyone that he was gay. He wanted everyone to leave him the fuck alone.

"What?" he demanded of Jonas, not liking the way he was looking at him. "I just think it's over the top, why the fuck does he need to show it off?"

"He's not Matteo, he's just being himself, don't shit on that," Jonas said.

That was the heart of the problem. He was just being himself. He wasn't putting anything on. He wasn't trying to advertise anything. He wasn't even showing off. He was just comfortable. Confident in who he was. Matteo thought he might never get to feel that way. He didn't want to be like this guy because he wasn't loud or confident, and that was never going to change. But god did he wish he could feel that comfortable in himself. He wished that he could just accept this about himself, without absolutely hating himself. Without feeling shame or disgust. The heart of the matter was this guy was proud of who he was, and Matteo just wasn't sure being gay was ever something he could be proud of. He hated himself for a lot of aspects of his character, but being gay was certainly up there. Fifteen years of Sunday school and a dad who commented meanly on anything Matteo did that he deemed unmanly, certainly cemented that shame within him. Hell, even Jonas used to make the odd comment about the music he liked, the clothes he wore. He'd heard 'that's so gay Matteo' so many times, how the hell was he supposed to feel anything but shame?

And now Jonas thought he could speak up for this guy? Matteo knew he was being shitty, but who the fuck did Jonas think he was?

"Don't comment on shit you don't even understand, Jonas," Matteo spat.

He felt like being nasty. Jonas had no idea what it was like. Everything was hard for him, his sexuality just caused him misery. Jonas suddenly being woke didn't take away his shame.

"No Matteo, I don't but I don't like you shitting on gay people," Jonas insisted.

Matteo glared at him. Who the fuck did he think he was? Deep down Matteo knew they weren't even really arguing about the teacher. He was shitting on himself by shitting on the teacher. He didn't have a problem with the teacher; he wished he could be that brave. No, he had a problem with himself and Jonas knew that too. But Jonas didn't get to comfort him on this. Matteo didn't want his support right now, he wanted to wallow.

Abdi and Carlos were both looking at them, confused. Great, now Jonas had drawn all the attention to him. Now they were probably suspicious.

"I'm not... I'm not shitting on gay people," Matteo muttered.

"Yes, you are. There's nothing wrong with being a little more enthusiastic about things," Jonas argued.

"Oh yeah, because that's what it is, enthusiasm, he's rubbing it in out fucking faces," Matteo spat.

"Is he?" Carlos asked, confused.

"I don't get it Matteo, if he wants to show off being gay, that's ok right? We're not homophobic, right?"

"Fuck off all of you!" Matteo snapped.

He felt on the edge of panic, his heart was pounding and he felt dizzy. They were all going to know; they were all going to see him and he wasn't ready. He felt raw and vulnerable.

"Hey, hey, it's ok Matteo it's ok, don't panic ok?" Jonas said.

"Leave me alone," Matteo muttered.

"I really don't understand what's going on," Carlos said.

"Why do you hate gay people, Matteo?" Abdi asked.

"I don't hate gay people," Matteo muttered.

"Hey."

Jesus fucking Christ, right now?

David was standing in front of them. Matteo had been so in his head, he had no idea how long he'd been standing there. He'd probably heard Matteo say all that shit he didn't even mean. God, he'd think he was awful.

"Hey," Matteo whispered. He felt angry and sad. He wanted to cry. Fucking Jonas, it was all Jonas' fault. Why couldn't he shrug off Matteo's usual apathy? Why did he have to question it this once?

"Do you have my beanie?"

"No," Matteo muttered.

"Oh ok," David said, frowning.

"Why would he have your beanie?" Jonas asked.

David looked at him, but Matteo stared back, giving him nothing. He felt himself shutting down. Everything was ruined with David, there was no point trying anymore. He was exhausted from everything that had just happened.

"Er... I left it in geography class," David said.

"Well Matteo won't have it then, he never goes to class and if he does he's sleeping," Abdi joked, high-fiving Carlos. Both of them sniggered.

He was so glad they all found his struggles so funny. He was just a joke to them. He stood up abruptly, but then that put him right in front of David. David frowned, concerned. Matteo shoved him away. David blinked at him, but stepped back. Matteo whirled around.

"I'm glad it's all so fucking amusing to you, that everything is fucking harder for me. I'm glad you find it so funny that my life is so hard I can barely get out of bed. I'm glad you can make jokes about me and laugh behind at me behind my back. I know I'm a failure, but it's great that I have you two to remind me in case I actually manage to forget how shit I am at life!"

He pushed past David and ran out of the gym, but he didn't get very far. He collapsed to his knees; he was too dizzy, he couldn't breathe.

Then there was a gentle hand on his back.

Matteo looked up. David was there. Matteo had no idea why.

"Hey," David whispered.

"I can't breathe, and I'm a fucking failure, and everything is so hard, and I was mean to that teacher because I'm mean and shitty and now you're missing your class, and I forgot your beanie because I left it at my flat and I just can't breathe!"

"Let's focus on that then, take one deep breath," David said gently.

"I can't!"

"Try," David said, "I'll wait."

Matteo took a breath. It hurt, his chest was so tight.

"Ok, that's it, now another one," David said.

Matteo did, he kept taking deep breaths until David smiled and the remaining tightness in his chest loosened.

"Ok?"

"Not really," Matteo said.

David took his hand and helped him up, leading him to the locker rooms. When Matteo's knees gave way and he stumbled, David wrapped his arm around his waist and helped him onto the bench. Then he sat down beside him.

"I don't think your friends meant to upset you," he said.

"I know, but I totally overreacted," Matteo said.

"Well it upset you, it's clearly something you're insecure about, tell them that and they should stop," David said.

"The problems I have with my head make school hard for me," Matteo said.

"I get it."

"Yeah?"

"I really do," David said.

Matteo nodded.

"Did you hear me shitting on the dance teacher?" Matteo checked. He really didn't want David thinking he was an asshole. Even if it was the truth.

"No?"

"Ok," Matteo murmured. That was good.

"What did you say?" David asked.

Matteo looked up at him then. He was just staring back, a slight smile on his face, and somehow Matteo knew that he would understand where Jonas didn't. He knew that David wouldn't hate him immediately, would let him explain, not excuse, but explain his shitty behaviour.

"I asked why he had to be so gay," Matteo admitted.

David's expression didn't change at all. "Why?" he asked.

"Because I feel like if people are obviously gay around me then somehow everyone will know... that I am too," Matteo said. And that was terrifying to him.

David nodded. "It's scary," he said.

"It really is... but it's not an excuse to be shitty," Matteo said.

"Did the guy hear you?"

"Don't think so," Matteo said. He really hoped not, he was so tired of being the asshole. That guy didn't deserve his shit, didn't deserve Matteo taking out his issues on him.

"Well, at least there's that," David said.

"Still feel bad," Matteo said.

"I think that's probably good," David said.

"Yeah."

Matteo stayed quiet for a little while, still trying to calm down. David made no move to leave him. He was sitting very close, and it wasn't helping Matteo calm down one bit.

"Sorry I forgot your beanie," Matteo said finally.

"No problem," David said, grinning now. It was the smile he wore whenever he was amused with Matteo. Matteo liked that smile. He couldn't help but smile back.

"I'll bring it tomorrow," he said.

"Thank you, Matteo."

Matteo shrugged.

"I have to get back to class," David said.

"Ok, thank you for coming to check on me," Matteo said.

David squeezed his wrist, smiled, and then let him go.

Matteo just sat there, staring at the space David had vacated. What had just happened? How the hell had that just happened? How the hell did David pull this information from him? Make him want to volunteer this information?

David made him feel better about his mistakes. He'd tried to explain to Jonas, why he'd been so shitty, but Jonas just couldn't understand it. David had understood him straight away. He hadn't excused him, Matteo knew he'd been awful, but he did get why he'd behaved that way. He wondered if it was because David understood what that was like, or if he just understood Matteo. Or maybe a bit of both.

 

 

 

Matteo felt strangely nervous as he approached David the next morning. It was dumb, he'd already agreed with David that he would see him today, to return his beanie. But he felt anxious, the last time he'd seen David he'd been on the verge of a panic attack and David had been trying to talk him down.

David was looking for something in his locker, and Matteo was unsure how to get his attention. He chickened out and went to his own locker, trying to look busy. He had no plan, he'd already failed on the one thing he was supposed to be doing, returning David's beanie.

"Matteo!"

Matteo jumped so hard he almost knocked himself out on the door. That was why he chickened out of approaching David, he didn't want to make him jump. Instead, he was so wound up overthinking things that Kiki almost gave him a heart attack.

"Fuck," he muttered, pulling out his biology books and trying not to drop them.

"Sorry, I didn't mean to make you jump," Kiki said.

Sam was with her, eyeing him suspiciously.

"It's ok, I'm just feeling a bit on edge today," he admitted.

"Well, school's almost over," Sam tried to assure him.

"That's actually why I'm anxious," Matteo told her, "I don't know what's next."

"Well... do you want to keep studying?" Kiki asked.

"I don't know, I don't think so," Matteo said.

She nodded thoughtfully.

"You don't have to go straight into something as soon as school's over, you can take some time, figure it out, there's time Matteo," Kiki assured him.

It was a little bit comforting, not much, but it did ease his worries a little.

"Thank you," he said.

"So," Kiki said.

He looked between her and Sam. Great, he was pretty sure he knew what was coming.

"So?" he said reluctantly.

"We were just wondering-"

"And you can say no, and we won't push, we're going to ask you just the once, and if you say no we'll drop it," Kiki said.

So they'd obviously all been talking about him. Surprisingly, he wasn't upset like he thought he would be. He appreciated that he had an out. That was all he wanted, to be taken at his word, not to have to argue.

"Ok ask," he said.

"So it's the last week of school, and I think we need to celebrate, so we were thinking, maybe you could host a party?" Kiki said.

Matteo sighed and rubbed the back of his neck. He wasn't keen on the idea, but then the weekend alone was awful.

"Please Matteo, please please ple-"

"Stop it Sam, we said we wouldn't do that," Kiki warned.

Matteo grinned at Sam then. Sam wasn't the problem at all, and he was pretty sure Kiki knew that too. She felt guilty.

"I don't know," he said.

"Ok that's fine but hear me out, it won't be anything huge, I'll handle the decorations-"

"The decorations?" Matteo demanded.

"Yes! It's gong to be neon themed," Kiki said, like that was something obvious.

"Of course it is," Matteo said, rolling his eyes.

"And we'll bring the food and beer," Kiki said.

"Great," Matteo muttered.

"And extra food for you because you can't drink?" Sam offered.

He smiled then, that was the way to win him over, food.

"We'll finish by midnight," Kiki said.

"You'll finish by ten thirty," Matteo said, firmly.

"Matteo," Kiki whined.

"I have to go to bed early Kiki, I have to, it's not for fun, I'm just... I'm just not stable enough to risk it." His voice trailed off to a whisper.

"Ok... if I will make sure everyone is out by ten thirty," Kiki promised, "and I'll come by early and set up, you just have to let me in."

"Ok, fine," Matteo relented.

Kiki flung her arms around him, and he tried not to flinch.

"Did he say yes?" Carlos said, bounding over and wrapping his arms around both of them, forcing Matteo to have to free himself.

"He did," Sam told him.

"Party time!" Carlos whooped.

"There are rules and you will be sticking to them," Kiki said firmly.

Carlos looked put out, but Matteo just shrugged.

"Thank you, Matteo," Kiki said.

"No problem," he said.

"I'll text you ok?" Kiki said.

"Ok," Matteo said, wondering if he should regret this.

Sam waved, and he watched them leave. Matteo sighed and tried to sneak a glance at David's locker. To Matteo's surprise he was still there. Huh. What on earth was he still looking for in his locker? Oh. Oh, David was trying to delay leaving. Matteo hid his face in his own locker for a minute to try to calm down. Then he took one last deep breath, closed his locker, and approached David.

"Hey," he said.

"Hey Matteo," David said.

"I er... I have your beanie, as promised," Matteo said, pulling it out of his bag and handing it to David.

"Thank you," David said.

"No problem," Matteo said quietly.

David didn't say anything, just smiled. Matteo smiled back awkwardly until David looked away, fiddling with something in his locker. Matteo wasn't sure if he was supposed to leave now. He shuffled his feet and waited. Then David closed his locker, shouldered his bag and turned to Matteo, giving him his full attention.

"Are you doing ok today?" David asked him.

Matteo nodded. Yesterday had been scary and intense, he was so glad David had been there to help calm him. Jonas was learning, had committed all the tips they'd gotten from Lydia to heart. David though, he just seemed to know to wait it out, stay with Matteo until it passed. It had helped, knowing he wasn't alone in his panic. He thought he'd feel embarrassed at David bringing it up again, but he was so sincere in his concern, that all Matteo could do was feel cared for.

"Thank you for helping me," he said.

"That's ok, glad you're doing better," David said.

Matteo smiled and decided to take a chance.

"I... I've kind of been roped into throwing a party at mine," he said, "and er... if you wanted to come that would be cool."

Matteo tried to ignore the reluctance on David's face, tried not to take it to heart. He tried to remember that David might just be busy. And that not everyone wanted to come to a party where they didn't know anyone. Hell, if David asked him to come to a random party, it didn't matter how much he liked him, Matteo didn't think he could face that.

"I... yeah ok, maybe," David said.

"It's cool, you don't have to, you're probably busy... and it's Kiki's party anyway, it's neon themed, so it will probably be a nightmare so-"

"Matteo?" David said gently, stepping a little closer.

"Yeah?" Matteo said, staring down at David's feet.

"I'd like to come," David said.

Matteo looked up and smiled at him.

"Ok, cool," he said.

"Cool?"

"Cool."

David grinned. "Have a good day, Matteo," he said.

"Er you too," Matteo stammered. He watched David leave, then collapsed against his locker until he could calm down. He felt like a five year old, all giddy and excited because David was coming to his party.

 

 

 

Sara was avoiding him. He wasn't even seeking her out, but he'd seen her three times in the hallways between classes and every time she'd turned around and walked away. He got it. It hurt, but he did understand. She'd asked for space and he was doing his best to give it to her, but they were at school, there were only so many places he could go to stay out of her way.

She was approaching him now, though. Her and Leonie. They didn't look angry or anything, but he still stepped back until he was backed up against the lockers.

"Don't look so scared, Matteo," Leonie teased.

"Hello ladies," Matteo said, "all ok?"

"Heard you're having a party," Sara said.

"Yeah, end of school thing, neon, Kiki promised it'd be done by ten thirty," he said, knowing she would still worry.

"How sedate," Leonie mused. "Yeah, Kiki already told me, we're all gonna hit the clubs after you've been tucked up in bed," she added.

"Fair enough, you coming then?" he asked.

Leonie nudged Sara.

"If you don't mind," Sara said, finally looking at him.

"Of course not," he said.

"See?" Leonie said.

"Did you think I wouldn't want you there?" Matteo asked quietly.

"No, but I thought it would be awkward," Sara admitted.

"Like this you mean?" Leonie teased, then she gave Sara's shoulder a squeeze and left them to it.

Matteo gave Sara a nervous smile. She came to stand by him and then sank to the floor. Matteo joined her.

"Doing ok?" he asked her.

She nodded. "Yeah actually, I'm doing good, still sad but... getting there," she said.

"Good, that's good," Matteo said. "Are... we ok?"

She grinned at him.

"We will be. We're going to socialise outside of school, that's a good step, right?"

"Yeah I think so," Matteo said.

"Be warned, I'm going to get pretty drunk," she said.

"Be warned, I'm gonna stuff my face with junk food, because I can't drink," he countered.

"Fair enough," Sara said. "So guess who told us about your party?" she asked, looking excited, like she had gossip.

"Kiki?" he guessed with a frown.

"No, we found out the details from Kiki. But David told us, said you'd invited him," she said, raising an eyebrow.

Matteo went red, his face felt hot, he couldn't help it. "Oh?" He tried to sound unbothered, but he knew he sounded flustered.

"We're friends now, me, him and Leonie," she said.

"Oh ok," Matteo said.

"Brave of you," she said, giving him a smile.

"It almost killed me," he admitted.

Sara chuckled. "It's tough isn't it, talking to boys?" she asked.

"It really is," he agreed.

"Thankfully, I'm good at it," she said, flicking her hair back.

He looked at her and smiled. She really was going to be ok, he felt so relieved at seeing her smile.

"You'll be fine, you're cool and pretty, and you're confident," Matteo said.

"God, you're too sweet, you're so annoying," Sara said.

"Sorry," he said.

She just laughed.

"So Leonie and David are friends?" he asked tentatively.

"What did I tell you?"

"You're not getting involved in my drama?"

"I'm not getting involved in your drama," she repeated, grinning wickedly.

"But... it's not drama?" he tried.

"They're friends, we're all friends," Sara said.

Matteo waited hopefully.

"He seems very excited to be coming to your party," she said finally.

Matteo leant back against the lockers. He started to laugh. This was all so silly. He'd never felt like this, it was wonderful. He’d never thought he’d be able to do this, talk about his crush with someone. He’d thought it was something he’d have to bury deep until it went away. It hurt. Talking about it, being teased by Sara about it felt absolutely wonderful.

 

 

 

There was no point trying to learn biology, it just wasn't going in. He'd met up with Amira earlier and she'd seemed pleased with the work he'd managed. Well pleased was a stretch, but she'd said it was good, that he understood it well. Then she'd given him more work. That was what he was trying to do now. She'd printed off a load of past exam questions, photocopied her notes, and then told him to complete it for next week. They were supposed to compare their answers. Matteo was trying to do it now because he knew he wasn't going to get much done this weekend. Not with Kiki's stupid party.

As if she'd known he was thinking of her, another message came through. He'd been added to a group chat, for the sole purpose of setting up this party. It was mad. She'd been texting him all day. All the other girls were in the chat, but they all just agreed with her demands, even Amira. He supposed they were used to this, keeping the peace. He didn't dare argue with her, even though he desperately wanted to tell her that normal people did not just have an endless supply of balloons and neon paint.

Apparently she was finding it hard to get a hold of enough glow sticks. Too short notice or something, too many people celebrating the end of term he supposed. He didn't know what he was supposed to do about that. She'd promised all he'd had to do was let him use the apartment. He didn't dare remind her of that, though. Instead, he told her he'd see what he could do. Now what was he supposed to do?

He dragged himself away from the mountain of notes he was supposed to be reading and headed to Hans' room. He knocked on the door because unlike Hans he had manners.

Hans opened the door and stepped out, wrapped only in a blanket. Matteo frowned. He tried to look round him to see who was in there; he had manners, but he was also nosey.

Hans shut the door and raised an eyebrow.

"Who's in there with you?"

"You don't need to know butterfly," he said.

"If you're having sex, why did you come out here?" Matteo demanded, feeling himself going red. "Why the hell didn't you just tell me to go away?"

"I could never tell you to go away," Hans said, "all ok?"

"Nothing important," Matteo hissed, feeling embarrassed for interrupting Hans.

"Ask me anyway?"

"The party tomorrow," Matteo began.

"I've told you already Matteo, I'm too old for high school parties, plus I'm going out with my friends, to the Melandra Ball remember?"

He had asked Hans yesterday if he wanted to come along, thought he might enjoy it. Hans had given him a strange smile, then a big hug, and thanked him for thinking of him. Then he'd told Matteo he was going to some very fancy party with someone called Andi. Then when Matteo had just nodded, Hans had taken that as his cue to launch into a full explanation about the party, the nature of his relationship with Andi, what he was going to wear, all sorts of information Matteo never knew he needed. It had felt like Hans had talked for hours. But it had been fun. Eventually he'd been shooed away, but not before getting another hug for being so considerate. He hadn't thought he had been; it was hardly fair to have a party at their apartment without inviting Hans. He'd invited Linn too, and she'd been far less enthusiastic.

"Yeah, I know, but... Kiki can't get hold of glow sticks or something, I said I'd try to find some," he explained.

"I have glow sticks," Hans said.

"You do?"

"Of course, and glitter, and paint, and streamers too if she needs some," he offered.

"Oh. Thanks Hans, I'll let her know, she was stressing," Matteo said.

"She's highly strung that one," Hans said.

"Tell me about it," Matteo agreed.

"All ok?"

"Yeah," Matteo said, bouncing slightly on his heels.

"Or?"

"I invited David? And Sara says he's excited so..."

"Oh Matteo, proud of you," Hans said.

"Nothing's going on," he said hotly, feeling it was important to clarify that before Hans got carried away.

"I know, you move slower that's ok. Let it build. I think whatever happens between the two of you, you seem destined to become close," Hans said gently.

"I'd really like that Hans."

The door opened behind him, and the nerdy guy from grindr stuck his head out of the door. "Hey er.. Are you coming back?"

"Yeah just a minute Claude," Hans said.

The door closed and Matteo grinned at Hans. "Oooh Claude," he teased.

"He's French," Hans said. "Shut up, Matteo," he added when Matteo continued to grin at him.

"Just saying," Matteo said with a shrug, feeling pretty smug right now.

"You picked him at random, you know nothing," Hans said.

Matteo just giggled when Hans shoved him away. It would be funny if they started dating properly. Matteo could lord it over Hans that he'd set them up.

He dragged himself back to his books, texting Kiki about the supplies Hans had promised. She was delighted about that, told him he'd saved the party. He couldn't help but smile, it was good to feel useful, wanted. Even if Kiki was just being dramatic, it still felt nice.

When he got back to his desk, his brain felt slow and fuzzy again the minute he looked at the papers. He was tired, his eyes hurt, he just wanted to chill. He'd been at school all day, why did he have to study all night? It was too much.

His phone buzzed on the desk and he grabbed it, grateful for the distraction, but also worried that it might be Amira, demanding that he study better.

It wasn't Amira.

David: hi, this party tomorrow, do I need to bring anything? You said it was neon? So like strobe lights?

Matteo got up from the desk and collapsed onto the bed, curling around a pillow and burying his face in it. When he'd calmed down, he went back to his phone.

Matteo: haven't you ever been to a neon party before?

David: no I can't say that I have

Matteo: me either, do you have strobe lights?

David: yeah actually, for a film thing I did

God, David was so cool, Matteo was in awe of him. He desperately wanted to see him, before tomorrow. He wanted to hang out, just the two of them. They wouldn't get to do that tomorrow, and it made him feel miserable.

Matteo: that's cool but no thanks, Kiki is handling supplies, it sounds like she's got plenty of bright lights to give me a headache

David: why Matteo, one would think you didn't want to have a party

Matteo: did I not make that clear, I am being forced into this

David: sucks. Well at least I'll be there

Matteo: true

He threw his phone across the room then, too scared to see David's reply. He buried his head in the pillow and tried to ignore the buzz of the incoming message. But he needed to see, so he dragged himself up and grabbed his phone again, wandering over to the desk as he read it.

David: don't worry I'm great at parties, you'll see, you'll end up loving them after tomorrow night

Matteo didn't doubt that.

David: so what are you up to?

Matteo: trying to study

David: and failing?

Matteo: it's hard, I'm too tired to concentrate, but also I can't sleep so I'm just constantly in this zombie state

Shit. He shouldn't have shared that. What the fuck was going on? Why was he letting David know these things? He didn't want to scare him off. Not yet. But he found it hard to keep things from David. Partly because despite how much he fought it, therapy forced him to be honest with himself, and by extension others. He'd lived a secret for years and it had exploded out of him painfully.

He knew keeping secrets hadn't caused his episode, but he never wanted people to find out like that. He wanted agency and control, that had been taken from him. So he was trying to be more honest. It was hard. Lydia was helping, though. And now he found himself doing at random. He'd told Jonas about him and Sara. He'd told Hans and Linn about David. And now he was hinting to David that he had issues. It was good to be truthful, rather than trying to deceive David about who he was. At least that way, if for some reason David wasn't scared away, then that had to mean something.

David: that sounds rough, but maybe if you feel so exhausted you shouldn't be studying

Matteo: I always feel guilty

David: ok but if you sit there staring at your books are you actually learning

Matteo: touche

David: so you totally deserve to do something fun

Matteo: like sleep?

Matteo got up from the desk again and went over to the bed. David was right, he wasn't actually learning anything. He needed sleep. If only he could actually sleep.

David: you could sleep or you could watch a movie

Matteo: I guess

Maybe it was a good idea. He was tired, but he could tell he wasn't going to fall asleep that easily. Part of that reason was probably because he was on his phone. But he didn't want to stop that, not yet.

Another message came through from David, a link to a fileshare. Matteo frowned, but he clicked it.

It opened to a link to a folder with a ton of movies.

Matteo: wouldn't have thought a budding filmmaker like yourself would be a pirate

David: I'm poor

David: but if you wanted to only lovers left alive is in there, you said you hadn't seen it

Matteo opened the link on his laptop and settled down.

David: you don't have to

Matteo: no I will

David: cool

David: you can tell me what you think tomorrow at the party

Matteo: ok

David: enjoy. I have to study now, I'm getting behind in geography

Matteo: too busy looking for your beanie?

David: funny

Matteo put his phone to one side and pressed play. He was probably too tired to take anything in, but he was going to try. This was David's favourite movie, he wanted to learn a little bit more about him through it, have something to talk about so he wasn't just staring at him. He knew a lot of it was probably going to go over his head, but he thought David might just enjoy explaining it to him.

 

 

 

This was the first time Matteo had been excited about a party since he was a little kid. He wasn't enjoying himself yet, just waiting for David, but he was trying. He'd said hi to Sara and Leonie, hung out with Jonas and the boys, and now he was sitting with Sam talking about music. He liked Sam; she was chill, easy to talk to, and she'd brought him a ton of sweets because he couldn't drink. They were currently splitting a bag of gummy sweets.

"Super awesome party dude," Sam said.

"I mean Kiki sorted it all out," Matteo reminded her.

"But you provided the location, therefore it's your party," Sam said.

Matteo smiled. He was almost having fun. Almost. The sweets definitely helped. He tipped the rest of the bag into his mouth and grinned when Sam handed him another.

"Are you supposed to eat this many sweets?" she asked.

"Probably not, but it's gotta be better than alcohol, right?"

"That makes sense to me," she said.

Matteo's smile faded when he saw David coming into the apartment. He should've been happy, it was what he was waiting for after all, the whole reason he was even here if he was honest. But David had brought a girl. Matteo felt himself sinking into himself. He wanted to curl up. He wanted the party to be over so he could just go to bed. He was overreacting; he knew that, David had never promised him anything, but this fucking hurt. He watched David with his arms around this girl and felt his eyes burning. He blinked to clear the tears and took a deep breath.

"You ok?" Sam checked.

"Yeah. No. It's a bit loud, I think I need a break," Matteo said, getting up and stumbling to the other side of the room. He wanted to go hide in his bedroom, but for some reason he also wanted to torture himself watching David with his girlfriend. He looked so happy, laughing and talking with her and his friends. He'd never seen David like this, so easy and chill. He always seemed hesitant around Matteo, nervous at school. This was amazing, he could watch him like this forever, despite how bittersweet it was.

"Hey Matteo," Sara said, collapsing against him, drunk. He wrapped an arm around her to steady her, then leant her up against the wall.

"You look sad," she said, only slurring slightly. She wasn't wasted then. Or not yet, at least.

"Parties," he muttered.

She nodded and offered him her beer. She must be pretty drunk, if she wasn't trying to stop him having fun. He shook his head, but then he watched David's girlfriend handing him a beer. Fuck it. Why couldn't he have fun? He took the beer and gulped it down, then leant his head back against the wall.

"Why so grumpy?" Sara asked.

Matteo shrugged. "Miserable Matteo, that's me," he said.

"Don't talk crap Matteo, you're lovely," Sara said, kissing his cheek and swanning off. He watched her collapse into Leonie's arms and smiled a little. He was glad she had Leonie. He grabbed another beer and sipped it more slowly, he wanted to get absolutely wasted, but he knew he shouldn't. He watched Sara and Leonie hugging and sighed. Then he looked at David and his girlfriend. Fuck it. He downed his beer. Then he grabbed another and did the same. It didn't take much to get him drunk these days, and he sure was a sad drunk.

He stumbled over to Jonas. He was making out with some girl, but Matteo couldn't wait. He pulled Jonas away from her.

"Dude what the fuck?" Jonas asked, not angry just confused.

"I need a hug," Matteo mumbled.

Jonas frowned. "You drunk?"

"No," Matteo said. "Maybe," he admitted. "Just a little?"

Jonas gave him a fond smile and held his arms out. Matteo stepped into them and Jonas gave him a squeeze. Matteo relaxed a little, it didn't take away his misery, but it helped.

"Er... Johnny?"

Matteo sniggered.

"Hold on a second," Jonas said.

"Nah it's ok Johnny, you helped, go make out with this girl who isn't Hanna," Matteo teased.

"Matteo," Jonas hissed.

Matteo waved him off and smiled as he spoke to the girl awkwardly, hopefully correcting her on his name. Then they started making out, which was Matteo's cue to get out of there. He didn't know where to go now. He saw Hanna in the corner, but she looked a little sad. He couldn't deal with that. It was selfish, but he also didn't think he would be much help in this mood he was in. He just backed away to another corner of the room, grabbing another beer as he went. He was already drunk; he didn't see the harm.

"Hey," a quiet voice said.

He looked round and down slightly. David's girlfriend was standing next to him. He hadn't noticed her appear next to him. Damn, she was quick, like a ninja. She was small too. And sweet looking, she was probably a really good to David. Ok, he was pretty tipsy. Already. After only two beers. No, wait four. Or five?

He offered her a smile.

"Hey," she said.

"Are you Matteo?"

"Er yeah?"

"Laura. So this is your party?"

"Sort of. More like I live here, so my friends take advantage of that," he explained.

"Ah. That makes sense. Not a fan of parties?" Laura asked him.

He shook his head.

"Not really," Matteo said, finding himself smiling at her for some reason. "They're too loud, too crowded, everyone's drunk-"

"You're drunk," she pointed out.

"No, I'm not, I'm not allowed to drink," he admitted.

She pointed at the beer in his hand, and he laughed quietly.

"I'm drinking because I'm sad," he admitted.

"How come?"

"Can't tell you," Matteo said.

She looked amused at that. Matteo wanted to hate her, but he didn't.

"So-"

The front door slammed open and Hans came marching in with his friends, laughing and whooping, and throwing glitter and streamers everywhere.

"Who's that?"

"My roommate," Matteo told her.

"Now he seems loud," Laura said.

Understatement of the century that.

"He is, but he always shuts it down when I ask," he said. He complained about Hans a lot, but he was his friend and he always looked out for Matteo.

"That's good," Laura said.

"Matteo, come dance with us," Hans said, pulling him away from Laura.

"Hans no," Matteo muttered, but he was quickly encircled by Hans and his friends. He didn't complain when Hans made him dance with him, or when he wrapped a feather boa around his neck. But when one of Hans' friends pulled him toward him to dance, the nerves set in. He was awkward and uncomfortable, he'd never really liked dancing with anyone, especially not strangers. He tried to step back a little, but the guy followed him.

It was too loud, and he was getting dizzy. He just wanted to go to bed. He wanted out. He didn't want this. He started to panic. He was trapped with this guy and he didn't know what was going to happen. He didn't want any of it. He looked to Hans, but he was dancing with someone else, he was drunk and he couldn't help him. Matteo was drunk and he couldn't think fast enough to get out of here. He was sure Hans' friends were nice, but he didn't want to dance right now, didn't want anyone so close to him, in his space, touching him.

"I'm Andi," the guy said.

Matteo nodded awkwardly. His head was pounding. He wanted out, but he didn't want to be rude. Hans liked Andi, he didn't want to upset him. "Yeah, Hans has mentioned you," he mumbled.

"You must be his cute roommate," Andi said, winking at him.

Matteo shuddered, he was too drunk and miserable for this. He knew what was happening. It happened with Sara all the time, but Sara was small and stopped when he asked her. And if she got carried away, she was easy to get away from. This guy was bigger than him, Matteo didn't know if he would stop.

Matteo tried to step away from Andi, but he wasn't letting him go, he was crowding him now. Matteo felt scared, panicky. If this guy didn't stop, he was going to have a panic attack in front of everyone. Then he would be humiliated. Hans would be embarrassed with him. He'd probably ask him to leave for offending his friend.

Matteo looked around for him now, but Andi grabbed him. He placed his hands on Matteo's waist and pulled him to him, but that was it, Matteo was out. He couldn't do this. He was already upset, and now this guy had his hands on him. He was too close. Matteo was sure Andi was probably just a touchy feely guy, but Matteo wasn't. He didn't like strangers in his personal space, sometimes he didn't even like his friends in his space. He pushed Andi away and rushed to his room, ignoring Hans’ worried face.

He got in his room and locked his door. He didn't even know what was wrong. His skin was crawling from being touched, he hated it; he wanted to scratch it all off. So he did, he scratched at his arms to quell the feeling, but it didn't help.

What the fuck was his problem? Why was he so rude? Yeah, he was upset that that guy Andi had grabbed at him, but this was an overreaction wasn't it? But he was also devastated that David had a girlfriend. Plus, he was pretty drunk by now and it was messing with his head. He hadn't had a drink in months, this was probably going to fuck him up.

His heart was beating so fast, the room was spinning. He needed to calm down. He reached under his bed and pulled out his stash. He cleared a space on the table by throwing all his shit across the room. He rolled a joint with shaking hands and then finally took a drag. It didn't help. So he took another and another, but he was still on edge, still panicking.

He couldn't calm down. He could still hear them all out there, having fun and enjoying themselves. David was probably dancing with his girlfriend. He'd probably forgotten all about the fact he'd said he was going to chat with him. Matteo wasn't exactly memorable.

That was that, then. Now he was drunk and a little high and he was going to pay for this with low mood tomorrow. It was all for nothing. He was all alone. He'd messed up. God what if he went off the rails again? What if he really fucked up? He needed out. He looked at the balcony, but he didn't want to go out there, not when he was like this. He wanted to go to bed, but he couldn't while there were people here, not even with the door locked. But he also couldn't go back out and ask Hans to shut it down. Not after he'd been rude to his friend.

He wanted to scream, but he didn't; he grabbed his headphones and put on some calming music. He pressed them into his head so hard it hurt and then clung to his pillow. When that didn't work, he finally buried his face in the pillow and screamed until his throat was raw and his head felt like it was going to split in two.

When he finally calmed a little and pulled the pillow away, everything felt quieter. He took off his headphones. The music had stopped, Hans was yelling and Jonas was knocking on the door asking if he was ok. Matteo ignored him. He waited until the door slammed and everything went truly quiet. Then he waited some more. Finally, he dragged himself up from the chair and ventured out. He needed water.

When he stepped out into the living room, the boys were there waiting for him. So was David. Matteo stared for a minute, then turned around and tried to go back to his room.

"Matteo wait," Jonas said

"Why are you still here?"

"Where else would we be?" Carlos asked.

Matteo squeezed his eyes shut and took a deep breath, if he wasn't careful he was going to cry.

When he opened them, he looked at David. He got why the boys were there; he didn't get why David was there. He looked nervous.

"Hey?" he offered.

"Hey?"

"I never got to see you tonight," David said. He sounded so disappointed too, which made Matteo pause.

"Oh," he whispered.

“I have to go in a bit, but I think these guys are gonna stay with you so er... could we just I dunno hang out for a little bit?"

"Oh yeah ok," Matteo said. To be honest, all he wanted to do was go to bed, but he'd force himself to say for a few minutes of David's company. He begrudgingly stepped back into the room.

"Oh no I meant just us," David said, taking Matteo by the wrist and leading him to his room.

"What the fuck?" Abdi demanded.

"Yeah seriously, what?" Carlos asked.

"Leave it boys, here have a beer," Jonas said.

Matteo wondered what David had told them. He found right now he didn't much care, not with David here. They weren't doing anything wrong; he was allowed other friends.

David shut the door behind them, and they went to sit on the bed.

"Are you ok?" David asked gently.

"Not really... I'm a bit drunk," Matteo admitted.

David was sitting so close to him that Matteo felt dizzy with it. But it was a good feeling this time, even if he was confused.

"So we never got to talk. And I was so excited to see you tonight. Did you watch the movie?"

"Yeah, but I fell asleep," Matteo admitted.

"Matteo," David teased, eyes lit up, smiling at him fondly.

Matteo's heart ached so much. This was so painful. David had no idea how wonderful he was, the effect he was having on Matteo. None of this was fair. He'd kept telling himself he just wanted to know David, have him in his life, but he didn't know if that was enough anymore.

"Sorry," he mumbled. "I warned you I was tired."

David shuffled closer. Matteo had no idea what was going on now. David was staring at him and he felt like his face was on fire.

"I also wanted to tell you that you look really good today," David whispered.

Matteo laughed a little darkly at that.

"Shut up, I look a mess because I am a mess." He pulled back from David, but he tried to stay calm. He wasn't sure if he was on the edge of tears or yelling. "What are you even doing here? Isn't your girlfriend waiting for you?"

David laughed a little then, smiling in amusement.

Matteo's eyes were burning again. It was going to be tears then. "Stop it," he whispered.

David's smile dropped, face serious and concerned now. He shuffled closer to Matteo again, not leaving any space between them.

"Do you mean Laura?" he asked carefully.

Matteo nodded. Sweet funny Laura, how could Matteo ever hope to compete?

"Laura is my sister. I was too nervous to come by myself," David said. "Hey," he said softly, as Matteo felt the tears running down his face.

"Shit," he muttered, rubbing at his stupid eyes.

He finally looked up at David, he was so close. Close enough to kiss. Matteo wanted to kiss him. So badly. He'd never wanted to kiss anyone as much as this.

David was going to kiss him, he realised. He was just waiting for the ok from Matteo. Matteo nodded, just fraction of a movement, then he let his eyes drift close and he leant in. David was so close now. This was really happening. It was painfully slow and yet too fast for Matteo; he wanted this moment to last forever. Finally their lips brushed, just as a door slammed somewhere in the apartment, causing Matteo to open his eyes and David to pull back confused. Matteo stayed put. Then there was yelling and screaming. Matteo winced and closed his eyes again, so David moved even closer, squeezing his knee.

Then someone pounded on his door, before it swung open and the boys piled in.

Matteo wondered if he should move away, if David would be embarrassed to be caught like this, but he couldn't move. Not now. Plus, David didn't move either, just looked up at the boys.

"What the fuck?" Matteo muttered.

"Alex and Mia are murdering each other out there," Abdi said, collapsing onto the chair. Jonas and Carlos sat down beside him.

"Mia is my roommate," Matteo explained for David.

He hadn't moved away. He had hold of Matteo's wrist now and was rubbing it with his thumb. It was soothing away all his worries, calming his racing heart. The yelling had set him on edge, and David was soothing all that away again.

"Can we order a pizza?" Abdi asked.

Matteo sighed and rolled his eyes. "Can you just go away?"

"Nope, not when you're like this, sorry bro," Carlos said.

He both loved and hated him right now. But deep down, he appreciated them so much. After his episode, when he was skipping school pretty much daily, Carlos and Abdi had shown up at Jonas' where he was staying. They'd followed Jonas home and refused to leave without seeing him. So he'd let them in and they'd jumped on him. They said nothing about his episode, nothing about whether or not he was coming back to school, just asked him to let them hang out with him. All they wanted was to play video games or basketball, or just mess around. They didn't care about anything else.

Matteo had cried and Carlos had promised sincerely that it would get easier, and that none of them were going anywhere.

"I do have to go, Matteo," David said gently.

That didn't hurt as much as he thought it would. He wanted David to stay, but he understood that he couldn't.

"Are you sure?" he checked.

"I'm sure," David said. He seemed just as disappointed as Matteo.

"Ok," Matteo mumbled.

"But I'll see you soon ok? And watch the movie, and stay awake, then text me ok? Tell me what you think," David said.

Matteo nodded.

David made to get up, but then he turned and hugged Matteo, squeezing him tight. He didn't even hesitate. Although it surprised him, Matteo wasn't taken aback, he'd needed it. He wondered if David had been watching him tonight, if he'd noticed how he'd needed a hug from Jonas earlier. Or maybe David could just sense what he needed. Whatever it was Matteo relaxed into the hug and let David hold him for a moment. He held him tight and Matteo could tell David didn't want to let go of him, wanted to stay here with him all night.

He couldn't though, and Matteo understood.

After a long few minutes, David reluctantly pulled back and got up to leave, saying goodbye to the boys and then he was gone. Matteo felt bereft. That was it he was done, he had nothing left. He needed to sleep.

Instead, he just sat there a little stunned at the turn of events. Fucking hell, they'd almost kissed. Matteo smiled and touched his lips. He couldn't believe that had just happened. He wanted to chase after David and kiss him senseless. He also wanted to curl up in bed and hide, he was feeling so overwhelmed. He did the latter, pulling the duvet up over his head.

"Er who was that guy?" Abdi asked.

"David, from sports the other day," Carlos said, "Matteo had his beanie, remember?"

Matteo grinned under the covers. His friends were so dumb. He hadn't worried for a second when they'd all piled in here; he doubted they suspected anything.

"Yeah I know, how the hell are you friends with him Matteo?" Abdi demanded, "he seems cool."

"I'm cool," Matteo mumbled.

"Out of all of us, you're the least cool," Abdi said.

"I think that might be you dude," Carlos said.

Matteo listened to them bickering and relaxed further. He was glad they were here.

"Ok Luigi?" Jonas asked quietly.

Matteo felt the bed dip, and he turned over, uncovering his face.

"Yeah," he croaked.

"We're gonna stay a bit longer, make sure you're ok, then we'll leave you too sleep. Hans will be back tonight or in the morning at least, and Linn stayed, she's in her room. Do you want to eat?"

"Not hungry," Matteo said. He felt a bit sick, probably from all the sweets.

"Ok," Jonas said. "There's water and painkillers on the side here."

"Thank you. I don't need you fussing," Matteo insisted, although he loved it really.

"But I want to," Jonas assured him.

"Ok thank you," Matteo said. He felt Jonas stroking his hand through his hair.

"I know you're not sleeping at the moment. I know you sleep better when someone's here, let me help," he said, laying down beside him.

"Ok," Matteo said.

"So..." Jonas whispered.

"So?"

"David?"

"Fuck off!" Matteo hissed.

"Ok Luigi, handsome guy though," Jonas teased.

Fuck him, he didn't know anything. Hell, Matteo didn't know anything. But he thought, just maybe there might be something there with David. He didn’t quite know why, but he was pretty sure now that David liked him. And that was a fucking wonderful feeling. Matteo thought he might never stop smiling.

Chapter Text

Matteo hadn't slept so soundly in a long time. He woke up once, in the middle of the night to use the bathroom, and that was it. The next time he woke sunlight was streaming in through the window. Considering it was usually dark when he woke up, Matteo was pretty impressed. He didn't think it was the beer either. He was pretty sure it was David, and Jonas, and the boys, all of them checking on him last night, reminding him they were there for him. It was wonderfully comforting.

He slowly blinked awake and dragged himself up to the balcony for some fresh air. He passed the half smoked joints on his coffee table and sighed. He left them, but grabbed some cigarettes and a lighter instead.

He wasn't out on the balcony for long before he heard pounding on the door.

He ignored it, but it continued.

"I know you're awake Matteo, I heard you go onto the balcony," Hans yelled.

What the fuck? Was he pressed up against the door or what? Matteo rolled his eyes and stubbed out the cigarette, before dragging himself back into the room to see what Hans wanted.

"What?" he said, opening the door.

"Are you going to come help clean up?" Hans demanded.

"No? What time is it?"

"Three," Hans told him.

Matteo stared, blinking slowly. "Really?"

Hans nodded.

Fuck, he'd slept all day. He must have needed it. Usually when he slept this late, it was because he couldn't sleep at night. This was different he must have been in bed by eleven the night before. That was about sixteen hours. He felt pretty good for it.

"Nice," he said.

"I know you've been trying to get up in the mornings, but I figured you could do with the rest," Hans said.

"Yeah... I feel better for it," Matteo agreed.

"Perfect, then you can help me clean up," Hans said.

Matteo looked around the room and groaned at the mess. He felt he was within his rights to demand Kiki come back here and tidy up. It was her party, after all. He didn't think that would go down very well.

"Actually... I think I'm going to take a mental health day," Matteo tried.

Hans put down the bag of beer bottles he'd been collecting. He straightened up and folded his arms across his chest. Matteo wasn't sure if it was supposed to look intimidating, he didn't think Hans could ever look intimidating.

"You can help me clean, cleaning can be therapeutic," Hans said.

Matteo knew he was right. Still, he sighed and leant against the door frame, pulling out his phone. There were messages from Sara, from Kiki, from Jonas and the boys. He ignored all of them. He didn't care about them. What he cared about was several messages from David that had come in that morning.

David: morning luigi

David: why do they call you luigi?

David: anyway I had fun at the party

David: wish we could have chatted a bit longer

David: hope you're not too hungover

David: text me later ok

Matteo just stared stupidly at his phone for full minute before he built up the courage to reply.

Matteo: hey I just woke up

Matteo: it's just a nickname, cus I'm half italian

David: Matteo not italian enough?

David: you really just woke up?

Matteo: yeah not hungover though but Hans is making me clean

David: I'll leave you to it

David: message me when you're done

Matteo: ok

He pocketed his phone and started pulling down the decorations, folding them carefully, in case Kiki wanted them back. Then he went over to help Hans with the bottles.

"You ok?" Hans asked.

Matteo shrugged.

"You disappeared pretty early last night," Hans observed.

Matteo looked up at him.

"Do I need to tell Andi off?"

"I don't... I was already feeling off and I dunno I didn't say anything," Matteo said quietly.

"Still, he should've been able to tell you weren't into it. I'm sorry I wasn't paying attention," Hans said sincerely.

"I..."

"Andi's harmless... but he shouldn't have put his hands on you if you didn't want that, especially if you weren't ready for that," Hans said.

"I'm not but it wasn't that... I... David came with his sister, but I thought she was his girlfriend so I got pretty drunk. I think the booze combined with my meds made me a bit panicky, on edge, so I just couldn't stand anyone in my space at that point. Andi pushed my limits, but I know he wasn't trying to hurt me," Matteo said.

Hans nodded, relieved. "Did you talk to David? He stayed behind with the boys didn't he?"

"Yeah and he came to check on me, he waited to see if I was ok. We went to my room, and he explained about Laura, his sister," Matteo said.

"And?"

"And?"

"What else? Come on, stop holding out on me," Hans demanded.

"We almost kissed," Matteo whispered.

It still felt a bit like a dream, but he was sure it was real. It felt real. Plus, if he'd dreamt it, surely they would've actually gotten to kiss.

Hans clapped his hands together excitedly. "Almost?"

"Mia and Alex came back, yelling and screaming," Matteo explained.

"Yeah, they're fighting, she bit my head off when I tried to check on her this morning," Hans told him.

"She's kind of intense," Matteo said.

"Not always," Hans said.

"No, she is nice, when Alex isn't around, he brings out the worst in her, or they do in each other, they're volatile together," Matteo said.

Hans tapped Matteo's nose with his finger. "Mind you don't let her hear you say that," he warned.

"I would never," Matteo said, heading to the kitchen to get a cloth and bucket to wipe up the spilt beer.

Hans was right, it did feel good cleaning up. Hans had thrown open the windows. Despite it being the afternoon, the temperature was low, but the air was fresh, blowing through and taking away the smell of stale beer.

Matteo knelt down and methodically scrubbed at the floors, letting his mind wander back to last night. He touched his lips again. He couldn't believe it. He wondered if he'd get another chance. He hoped so. David seemed keen. Matteo was sure he was keen. Surely he wouldn't have messaged him so much if he wasn't interested. And he'd stayed last night, fielded whatever questions the boys must've hassled him with, just to check on him.

Yes, Matteo was sure he was interested. Probably not on the same level as Matteo, he knew he was getting carried away already, but right now he would take what he could get. And who knew, maybe in time David could grow to like Matteo as much as he liked him. He knew deep down that was unlikely, but then there was something different about David. He seemed like someone who didn't judge, who got that everyone had their shit, and didn't write them off for that.

Matteo thought that maybe, just maybe, something good would come of this.

 

David had kept texting him over the weekend. It started out with him questioning Matteo about every aspect of Only Lovers Left Alive. Making sure he'd paid attention throughout. He had, he'd watched it yesterday, and although he thought it was a bit weird, he found himself enjoying it. Well, that was a stretch, it wasn't really his kind of film. He did however enjoy David peppering him with questions afterwards, explaining the bits he'd missed, pointing out cool film techniques. Now David was telling him about all his own ideas, short films and projects he wanted to make at film school. He was applying as soon as he'd finished his Abi.

Matteo had told him he'd be amazing, told him his worries about getting in were ridiculous, that they would be mad not to let in someone as determined, as creative, and as talented as David. David hadn't replied to that, so now Matteo was sitting there wondering if he'd overstepped. He always was a little too much.

He was on the floor in the doorway of his room. All the girls were over, trying to help Mia with her Alex drama. Hans was there too. Matteo was out there because he felt pretty vulnerable right now, and he didn't want to be on his own. They hadn't told him to go away, so he thought it was probably ok.

David still hadn't messaged him back.

He was getting nervous. He typed up a quick apology, saying sorry if that had been too much, for being over the top, then he shoved his phone in his pocket and closed his eyes.

He listened to the girls talking. They were all going on about what an asshole Alex was. Matteo had to agree there. Well, not really. He didn't have a problem with Alex exactly. He didn't really know him; he was rich and pretentious, but that didn't really affect him. No, he only disliked Alex because he stole Jonas' attention from him last term with their stupid little gang. He didn't much care about that now. And if he was honest with himself, Jonas gave him so much attention, he deserved to fuck around with Alex and Sara and whoever else. It wasn't like Matteo had been particularly nice to him. He was working on that. Accepting care and attention, seeing it as what it was, not as pity. It was hard, but he was getting there. Hell, he hadn't sent Jonas and the boys away the other day, that had to be growth.

He looked up at the girls again.

"Just a thought, maybe if you want things to work out between the two of you, you should stop calling him an asshole, and stop letting your friends call him one too. It's no better doing it behind his back you know? Like you have this long list of complaints about him, but how's he supposed to work on it? If you're not telling him? You'll just sit here getting angrier and angrier, and then you'll just go over and yell at him," Matteo said.

Mia whirled around and Matteo flinched, ready to be chastised. He was just trying to be honest. He understood why she was talking with the girls, but she'd been getting more and more annoyed the past half an hour. If she kept this up, by the time she spoke to Alex again she'd be furious and he wouldn't know why.

"Like you're any better?" she demanded.

"I'm not dating him though?" Matteo said quietly.

"Why are you even out here? Just eavesdropping or-"

"Mia," Hans warned.

"Just didn't want to be alone," Matteo mumbled.

Mia's face softened, immediately apologetic. "Sorry Matteo, I'm not mad at you, just frustrated."

Matteo shrugged.

"Why don't you come sit with us?" Hanna suggested.

Matteo shook his head and sank down further. He felt like hiding. He felt like everything was going wrong. He was fucking up everything.

"Matteo?" Hans said, getting up and coming over.

"I'm fine, don't fuss," he whispered. "Just... just let me sit here, keep talking, I won't interrupt again."

"No... you're right I shouldn't be talking about Alex, I should talk to him," Mia admitted.

"Who knew, Matteo would be the one with relationship advice?" Amira teased.

"Not really, you've all been saying the same thing really," Matteo said.

They'd been listening to her, consoling her, advising her, but it all boiled down to the same thing. The one person she needed to talk to was Alex.

Amira smiled at him.

They all turned round and continued talking. Matteo just sat there trying to stay calm. After a few minutes his phone buzzed but he didn't dare take it out. He was too scared. It buzzed again and again. Probably David telling him in no uncertain terms to leave him alone. It buzzed a fourth time and he finally pulled it out of his pocket.

David: sorry Laura was making me clean

David: sunday is our cleaning day and she said I was slacking. You know, because of you

David: that's really kind of you to say, I think maybe you're a little biased, the admissions people might not see it that way

David: but I think if everyone saw people the way you do, honing in on the positive things in that way you do the world would be a better place

Matteo dropped his phone then, it clattered to the floor, but he didn't care. He was too busy scrubbing at his eyes and trying to hide his red cheeks.

"Matteo, what's wrong?" Hans asked worriedly.

His phone buzzed again.

David: and please don't ever think you're too much of anything, you're exactly the right amount of you

He really threw it that time, watched it slide all the way across the floor. Fucking hell, he was going to die. He was so overwhelmed he thought he might faint. He curled up on the floor, and Hans and Hanna were on him in a minute.

"God, Matteo, what's wrong?" she asked.

"Nothing," he whispered.

Hans pulled him upright, and now he felt very stupid. Everyone was looking at him. He'd totally overreacted. He didn't know how to get out of this, so he decided to be honest.

"I'm just happy," he said.

Hanna smiled then and wrapped him up in her arms. Matteo just laughed quietly. He was happy. Not because of David, but just because he was safe. He was happy here with his friends. He wasn't alone. And that meant everything.

David hadn't texted him today. He was probably busy or whatever, but it left Matteo in a bad mood. He knew that wasn't good, that his mood shouldn't depend on David, but it wasn't that simple. He was usually in a bad mood, but hearing from David always cheered him up. That was ok surely. That wasn't him being over reliant on David. Other things cheered him up, too. Like Jonas. Or at least he was certainly trying to.

They were sitting outside because Jonas insisted the freezing winter air would do him good. He was chattering away about something he'd done with his family that weekend because he could tell that Matteo wasn't in the mood to talk, but he also wasn't in the mood for silence. Matteo smiled a little and let the sound of Jonas’ voice comfort him. Jonas, of course noticed and bumped their shoulders.

"There we go," he said quietly.

"What?" Matteo scowled.

"Nope you smiled, I saw it," Jonas said, grinning.

Matteo just rolled his eyes, but he leant against Jonas, relaxing. He smiled again. He was ok. He wondered if perhaps he should just text David. He didn't usually text first, apart from that first time. He was always too scared of bothering him. He was scared that David would get fed up of him, but it seemed that was happening anyway.

"Oh look there's David," Jonas said, grinning when Matteo's head whipped up. "Oh damn, you got it bad," he teased.

"Fuck off," Matteo muttered.

David was indeed there, up on the ledge, smiling and chatting with Leonie. He supposed that was why he wasn't texting Matteo today. Leonie was far more interesting than him, far better company. He wondered if Friday had been a mistake. Or perhaps it was just because he couldn't get Leonie's attention, as she was busy dealing with a very drunk Sara.

Matteo knew he wasn't being fair to David.

That was a really shitty way to look at it. David was kind. Matteo knew deep down that David wouldn't mess him around. Or Leonie. He was allowed to talk to whoever he wanted. Matteo was just very insecure. He had no idea how David felt about him, no idea what he wanted from Matteo. And he was just worried that it would be very easy for David to realise that he wasn't worth it, that he'd be better off with someone stable like Leonie.

"Leonie likes David," Matteo whispered.

"Yeah? She'll hate you then," Jonas said.

"Why?"

"Because David likes you dummy," Jonas said.

Matteo shrugged, he trusted Jonas, but he couldn't believe him on that.

"What if she tells him?" he whispered, terrified. That was a surefire way to put David off.

"She wouldn't, she would never Matteo," Jonas assured him.

He knew that was true too; he knew she wouldn't tell him deliberately, but what if it slipped out? What if she assumed he already knew? Everyone else did. He knew he would have to tell David eventually, or he would find out, but he wanted a little more time.

His worries faded a little when David looked up and spotted him. He smiled wide and gave him a small wave. For some reason Leonie seemed to find this hilarious. Matteo flushed and ducked his head, before looking up and returning the wave.

David pulled his phone out then. A moment later Matteo's phone buzzed in his pocket.

David: hey

Matteo smiled fondly, ignoring Jonas sniggering beside him.

Matteo: hey

Matteo: are you ok? You didn't message me this morning, I was worried

Matteo sent it before he realised how needy and desperate it was. He stared resolutely at his feet, knowing he'd scared him off for good now.

"Fuck," he muttered.

"Ok Luigi?"

"I ruined it," he said.

"Doubt it," Jonas replied.

Matteo continued to stare at his feet until another pair of feet appeared in front of them. He blinked and looked up. David was standing in front of him now, looking excited but also nervous.

"Hey," he said.

"Hey," Matteo whispered, cursing himself for how pathetic he sounded.

David just smiled.

"I'll just fuck off shall I?" Jonas asked, getting up from the bench.

"That would be great, thanks Jonas," David said.

Jonas rolled his eyes, but he waited until Matteo nodded before leaving. David took his seat, right next to Matteo, almost impossibly close. He was so warm, Matteo could feel it. He was always cold. He just wanted to curl up against David.

"You could have texted me, you know. To check if I was ok," David said, not unkindly.

Matteo nodded.

"I didn't want to bother you," he mumbled.

When he braved a glance at David, he was smiling, so fondly that Matteo blushed again.

"I figured. You can you know, you can always bother me. This morning I wanted to message you about the weird smoothies Laura is making us drink for breakfast, but I dunno I just thought, Matteo doesn't want to hear this-"

"I do!"

"I know, I know, but your worry about bothering me? I have that too," David explained.

"Oh. You can message me anytime too," he said, smiling now.

Maybe David wasn't as cool or as confident as Matteo first thought. That was ok. He liked that David had these worries too. Matteo found it made him like him even more, if that were possible.

"Thank you, Matteo," David said.

"What was in the smoothies?"

"Kale," David said, shuddering.

Matteo giggled, and he shoved him.

"Seriously, she's doing some weird health kick. I don't see why I had to suffer, all I wanted was some toast," David groaned.

Matteo hesitated. "I can make you some toast," he offered.

David beamed. "I wish I could, I'm having lunch with Sara and Leonie in a bit, I'd blow it off but we're supposed to study this afternoon," he said, sounding a little sad. "But I might show up at yours early one morning, half starved if this goes on much longer," he added.

"I'll stock up on whipped cream," Matteo said, grinning at the delight in David's eyes. "I suppose I should go study for Spanish."

"Yes you should, get to it," David said, standing up and dragging Matteo from the bench. "Text me later ok?"

"Ok I will," Matteo whispered.

David stared at him. Matteo wondered if he was going to kiss him. He looked like he was thinking about it, his eyes kept drifting to Matteo's lips. Matteo wanted to, desperately, but he didn't think he could handle it. Not here, with other people around. He fiddled with his sleeves, and David seemed to read something in his body language because he just smiled. Matteo could sense he was relieved too, and he appreciated that they seemed to be going at the same pace, that it wasn't too slow for David.

David reached out and squeezed Matteo's wrist, a gesture that was fast becoming one of Matteo's favourite forms of affection. Then he smiled again.

"Go study," he said quietly.

Matteo just nodded and watched him leave with a grin. He was absolutely fucked. There was no way he was going to be able to think of anything but David all afternoon. Still, there were worse fates than that.

 

Tuesday was not a good day. Matteo was dreading his Spanish exam. He was going to fail, and he knew it. What hurt was that he'd tried, he'd studied all last night, plus he did some over the weekend too. It didn't sound like a lot, but seeing as he struggled so much, it was significant for him.

He still smiled though, when he found Jonas waiting for him in the corridor. It helped a little, Jonas always made him feel a bit better, always calmed his nerves.

"What are you doing here?" he asked.

"I'll walk with you to your exam," Jonas said, offering his arm.

Matteo took it and let Jonas lead him away. He leant against him. He had the best friend ever. Matteo hadn't even asked him to be there, yet he was. He was always there for him. This may not be a big deal to most, just an exam, but it was a big deal to him.

"Nervous?" Jonas asked.

"Yeah," he admitted.

"Why, though? It's Spanish, right?"

"What do you mean?"

"Well, I mean you're Italian, right? It's not that different is it?" Jonas asked.

Matteo shoved him away for that. He was such a dumbass sometimes. It helped him though, Matteo found himself laughing despite his stress. Jonas was dumb, but he was probably trying to be funny too.

"Yes, it is!"

They were completely separate languages, just because it all sounded the same to Jonas. He'd like to see Jonas do the exam. He hadn't done Spanish since middle school, and even then he was shit at it.

"Is it? We went to Spain when we were twelve and you were fine," Jonas argued.

"I was speaking Italian dummy. It's like... they understand me, I can understand them. There's enough similar words to get by. I need to actually do this properly," Matteo said.

"But you can, though? When you want to, I know you can," Jonas assured him.

"Still exams scare me," Matteo said.

"I know... how about I take your mind off it? What are we doing for Abdi's birthday? We can do something, right?"

"We could have a party? Not at mine this time, clearing up was a bitch," he said.

"Yes! Ok, it’s on. Party time, this Friday!"

Jonas had been hinting, he knew it was a stretch to get Matteo to two parties in a row.

"Fuck," Matteo said.

They'd reached his classroom. Jonas turned and placed his hands on Matteo's shoulders and squeezed.

"Good luck, Luigi," he said.

Matteo just stared for a moment then nodded.

"I'll text you, just think about the fun we'll have on Friday ok? We'll throw Abdi the best party, that's good, right? Something to look forward to."

"Yeah, that's good, it'll be fun," Matteo said.

"That's the spirit," Jonas said, clapping his shoulders, then letting him go into the room.

 

 

Twenty minutes later, Matteo didn't understand how it could be going this badly. Spanish wasn't that hard, was it?

He used to be top of the class. He knew he'd missed a lot of school lately, but surely the language hadn't changed in the time he was away. It was strange; the words were familiar, and he understood them, but he couldn't put them together. He knew he'd done ok in his listening and reading exams, those were just a test of his comprehension. He was fine at that. But this was different, he was supposed to write an essay on some book they'd read in class weeks ago. It was a book of Spanish poetry, and he was supposed to analyse and discuss the literary techniques. How the hell was he supposed to do that? Perhaps if he'd been in class, he would've understood it better. But he wasn't sure how true that was, he was into logic and science; he wasn't particularly creative.

He'd picked Spanish because he picked up the language quickly. He didn't expect to write poetry in it. He couldn't even write poems in German, so this was impossible. Don't get him wrong, it wasn't that he didn't like the poetry; it was good, he even quite enjoyed reading it. But he couldn't exactly write that. He couldn't write this is quite good, I like it.

He just wanted to put his head on the desk, just wanted to cover his ears and close his eyes. He knew the room was quiet; it was exam conditions, yet to him it felt just as loud as the party the other day. Every single sound was deafening. How the hell was he supposed to concentrate? He couldn't focus. It was getting louder, and he was getting stressed. He knew he'd failed; he knew there was no bringing this back. He was on the very edge of panic and he didn't want to do this here. Shit. He didn't want to fail. He didn't want to sit the year again. Yes, he knew they were giving him consideration because of the time he'd missed, but there was no consideration for a score of zero.

He raised his hand and tried to ignore the look of pity on his teacher's face.

"Yes, Matteo?"

"May I go to the bathroom?"

"Espanol?"

"Er... bano... por favor?" he tried, wincing. It felt like he was messing up even simple sentences. But he was nervous, he hated having the focus on him. At least four people had looked up now.

The teacher raised an eyebrow and Matteo hoped he wasn't going to make him say it again, or test him more. His heart was pounding now, his vision blurring, he wondered what would happen if he just walked out. He was going to have to; he was going to pass out otherwise.

He was waved out, and he tried not to stumble as he rushed out of the room. Fuck this. He wished Jonas had waited for him. He didn't think he could go back in there. He didn't think he could make it to the bathroom either. He didn't know if he wanted to throw up or just lay down on the ground. There was no one around. The corridors were empty. He felt so alone. He was getting overwhelmed, sinking into his dark thoughts. He headed to the bathroom; he didn't want anyone finding him like this.

He blinked when he ran into David coming out of the bathroom.

He always wanted to see David but not like this, not when he was on the edge of a breakdown. With the little focus he had left, he could have sworn David didn't want to see him either. He looked nervous for some reason, but Matteo couldn't begin to figure out why. Right now he could barely see straight. He could just about see the nervousness shift to concern.

"Matteo?"

Matteo stumbled into the wall and sank down to the floor.

"Hey it's ok, Matteo," David said crouching down beside him.

"Everything's fucked," Matteo muttered.

David looked around and frowned.

"Are you supposed to be in your Spanish exam right now?"

Matteo nodded. "I can't... I just can't..." he whispered.

"Ok Matteo, let's just wait it out," David said.

"No, you have an exam," Matteo said, struggling to calm down.

"I can't leave you here," David said, squeezing his shoulder.

Matteo just closed his eyes. He didn't want David here right now. He wanted to be alone. He didn't want to drag David into this.

"What's going on here?"

Fuck, now they were in trouble.

"Shouldn't you boys be in an exam?"

Matteo looked up then and relaxed a little. It was his history teacher, Mrs Krause. She'd always been kind to him. She'd sent work home with Jonas when he wasn't going in, and when he finally went back, she took him aside and offered him as much help as he needed. He liked her.

"I was in the bathroom," David explained, "I... he was just out here..."

"Ok, er?"

"David."

"You get back to your exam, David," Mrs Krause said, crouching down on Matteo's other side.

"But-"

"Leave this to me, we have an action plan in place for Matteo, I've got this," she assured David.

David nodded and stood up hesitantly. Matteo didn't want David to know he had an action plan. He didn't want him wondering what the hell he'd got himself into with Matteo.

"Ok Matteo, having a tough day?"

"It's too much," he whispered.

"Where are you supposed to be right now?" she asked him.

"Spanish," he told her.

"Ok, did you go in?"

"I tried, it's too loud. I know it's not, but it is to me," he explained.

Mrs Krause looked at her watch.

"How about if you were allowed to sit in a room by yourself? Let's ask Mr Rivera. I'm on a break, I could watch you while I do my marking," she offered.

"There no point," Matteo said, although he thought that would be better. She was so kind, he felt himself tearing up.

He started to sniffle.

"You've got about an hour left, you can at least try, that'll feel better, right? And I like to have music on when I'm marking, we could put something quiet on, to distract you from all those little sounds you pick up on," she offered.

That was absolutely perfect. He could do that.

He nodded, and when she stood up, he got up and followed her.

"You're doing really well Matteo, I know it probably doesn't feel like it, but just showing up is so brave," she said.

"Thank you Mrs Krause," he said.

"No problem, Matteo, I'm proud of you."

He relaxed a little and let her take the lead, half listening as she argued his case and smiling when it appeared she'd won. He watched her gather up his papers and then smile at him as she handed them over. He wasn't surprised that Rivera was letting him go with her. Everyone liked Mrs Krause.

He had another shot. He was going to try. He wanted to try because Mrs Krause believed in him.

 

Despite his mini breakdown yesterday, Matteo was back in school the next day. He didn't even have an exam today, but he'd promised Amira he'd come in to study. And it had been fine. She'd graded his paper and gently corrected his mistakes. She'd kindly reassured him that he wasn't dumb, that he'd just misunderstood the questions, and agreed with him when he'd said it felt like a trick. Apparently the questions didn't need to be worded in such a complex manner, and it was likely because their teacher was a bitch. The real exams wouldn't be like that.

Now she was teaching him how to interpret what the questions meant.

His phone buzzed in his pocket. He knew he shouldn't look, Amira would get annoyed, but hadn't he heard from David yet today. He knew David had said he could text him whenever, but after he'd seen him in the corridor yesterday, Matteo felt too raw. He was too scared to take the first step. If he didn't message David, then he could still hold on to the hope that David hadn't written him off as a hopeless case.

It wasn't David, though. It was his mum, spouting her religious bullshit. Ok, that wasn't fair, he shouldn't take his misery out on her. She was clearly going through it, and he should try to be more understanding.

Mum: Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.

Mum: Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions. Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin. For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me.

That hit him hard. That felt pretty on point. He was suffering badly right now, was it because he was a sinner? Was that what his mum was trying to tell him? He'd never known if the verses she chose were random or if there was more to it. Lydia had advised him not to read too much into it, not to let it wind him up, but it was hard not to.

He'd shown her all the messages, and she'd said that perhaps his mum was reflecting on her own sins, not accusing him. He just couldn't see it that way, it was difficult not to internalise it. It's why he still hadn't spoken to her. He knew he needed to, knew they needed to talk properly, but he was too scared.

He was startled back to the present by Amira snapping her fingers at him.

"Pay attention," she demanded.

Matteo just blinked at her, still thinking about his mum.

"Why are you religious?" he asked, instead of focusing on the work in front of him.

"Excuse me?"

"Just wondering. You're such a science nerd, I don't get why you're still religious," he continued.

He knew he should stop; he was being rude, but he was feeling reckless. His mum tended to bring that out in him.

Amira scowled and took a deep breath, she was pissed he could tell. She was also holding back, she clearly wanted to have a go at him. She'd been holding back with him for a while now. He didn't deserve kindness. He was a sinner, after all.

"Science and religion aren't mutually exclusive," she said, voice thin with her restraint.

He should've let it go then, but apparently he had a deathwish.

"I mean they seem to be, hasn't science pretty much disproven religion by now? And yet people still hold on to ridiculous and sometimes barbaric practises," he said.

He saw the moment her restraint snapped.

"Barbaric?" Amira demanded.

"Yeah... you know, like stoning gay people to death," he said. He had no idea where he was going with this. He wondered if his mum would stone him to death for being gay. Probably not, but her words felt as heavy as rocks sometimes.

"You think that of me? That I hate gay people? You think I hate gay people? I've never known you be particularly tolerant, Matteo," she said.

Amira didn't know about him, but he didn't like what she was implying. Did everyone think he was homophobic or something?

"Fuck off," he muttered, sinking down in his seat.

"No Matteo let's break this down. Yes, some religions, including Islam, have their rules on homosexuality, but your precious science isn't that much better Matteo. You know that scientifically homosexuality is an evolutionary dead end, right? What is the point when you can't reproduce?" she demanded.

How the fuck was he supposed to know why things were this way? All he knew was he couldn't help it, that wasn't wrong was it?

"Don't turn this on me," he said.

"I'm not, we're having a scientific discussion. You think science is supportive of gay people, yet it was science that locked them up and tried to cure them, until recently being gay was considered a mental illness-"

Matteo was up and out of his seat at that. Amira knew she'd hit a nerve there, and she did look concerned.

"I'm not gay because I'm bipolar!" he hissed, "it's fucking real! It's not all in my fucking head!"

He'd talked about this with Lydia, too. He'd tried to pass off being gay as some side effect of his episode. He hadn't been ready to face it. It had taken a long time to come to terms with it. He couldn't sit and listen to Amira imply that what had taken him months to accept was all just a side effect of his illness. He knew that wasn't really what she was trying to say, but it just highlighted his very real fears.

"No Matteo that's not-"

"Leave me alone," he muttered, grabbing his books and shoving them into his bag.

"Matteo, wait-"

He stormed out of the library and bumped straight into Sara.

"Matteo, are you ok?"

"Leave me alone, why won't everyone just leave me the fuck alone?" he said, trying to push past her. She didn't let him though, she took hold of his arm and stopped him leaving.

"Because you're panicking right now, come on," she said, leading him a quiet corner. "Breathe for me, Matteo," she said.

He did. God, he felt ill and weak, but he appreciated Sara's patience. He hated going through this alone. She held his hand and squeezed it, waiting until his breathing slowed down.

"What happened?"

"I had a fight with Amira," he admitted.

"You did? Shit. What about?"

"Islam and homosexuality," she said.

"Was she homophobic?"

This wasn't Amira's fault, he was the one who was in the wrong. He was the one who'd started on her, accusing her of hatefulness. It wasn't fair on her for Sara to put the blame on Amira. It wasn't fair that that was the conclusion she jumped to.

"No. It was me... I was shitty about Islam, she was just defending herself, fuck," Matteo muttered, rubbing at his eyes in frustration.

"Well, just apologise then. Maybe give it some time, she'll forgive you," Sara said.

"I hope so, she's dragging me through biology," he said.

That wasn't it though, Amira was his friend, and he hated that he'd hurt her feelings.

"Just grovel Matteo, you're good at that," Sara teased.

He smiled weakly at her.

"Thanks Sara," he said.

"No problem. I was looking for you actually," she said, grinning.

He raised an eyebrow, suspicious now. "Why?"

"You're having a party?"

"Yeah," he said, knowing where this was going.

"Can me and Leonie come?"

"Sure," Matteo said, shrugging.

"Don't sound so excited," Sara said.

"I've been roped into setting the whole thing up, I don't have Kiki helping me this time," Matteo complained. He didn't know how to do all that shit, balloons and decorations, it wasn't his scene.

She rolled her eyes and sighed fondly.

"Would you like me to help you?"

"You're the best, Sara," he said.

"You know it," she said. "Go home, chill out, then text Amira to say sorry ok?"

"Ok, ok," he said.

"Nothing is unfixable Matteo," she assured him.

He watched her leave, then headed home, he was over today. He knew he'd fucked up with Amira. Why couldn't he think before he spoke? He always did this, it was a wonder he had any friends at all.

He'd witnessed how upset Amira had been after their biology teacher had a go at her for her hijab. He knew it was shitty to equate Islam with homophobia. He knew it was far more complex than that.

Deep down he knew that applied to Christianity too. He knew that being a Christian didn't mean his mum was going to be homophobic. But then it would hurt all the more if she still cast him out. That was the crux of the matter, that was why he still hadn't spoken to her. He was just too scared. He knew he had to, but he was going to avoid it for as long as possible.

Matteo's mood did not improve by Friday. He hadn't messaged Amira to apologise. She had messaged him and he'd muted her. He knew that would make it worse, but he just couldn't deal with it. He needed to say sorry; he knew that, but he didn't know if that would be enough with Amira. She would want to talk about it, she'd want to make him squirm for it and he just wasn't ready for it. So he was doing what he did best, ignoring it.

Matteo continued to ignore everything. Two days later he was sitting in a chair ignoring Sara while she tried to decorate the hall. He knew just how shitty that was. She had volunteered to help, not to do all the work. He knew really he shouldn't even be here, not in this mood he was in. He should've stayed home, but it was Abdi's birthday and he'd promised Jonas. Jonas who wasn't even here. He'd called him three times now, but he wasn't answering. In fairness, he was supposed to be distracting Abdi until they were ready, but Matteo just wanted to get them here so that it would be over quicker.

"Are you sure you're ok Matteo?" Sara asked.

Matteo scowled and dragged himself out of the chair and started fiddling with the banners. "I'm fine," he muttered.

"You seem on edge," she said.

"Do I? Like you'd fucking know," he spat, ignoring the way she winced at his tone.

"What's wrong with you, Matteo?"

"I'm an asshole, didn't you get the memo?"

"Stop it," Sara said.

Matteo just laughed darkly.

"Hey, we're here to help," Leonie said, stepping into the room.

David was with her because of course he was. Matteo didn't want to see him right now, not when he felt like this.

Sara wiped her eyes and hugged both of them. How lovely. The three of them all happy and smiling, crashing this stupid fucking party that he didn't even want to have. He hadn't even invited David. Why would he when David had ignored him all week?

"Alright Matteo?" Leonie asked.

Matteo rolled his eyes, then went to sit in the corner, burying his face against his knees.

"Don't worry I got this, you should go drop off your coats, then can you help me set up? Matteo's not being very helpful," Sara said.

Matteo groaned, but it was muffled by his knees. When he looked up David and Leonie were gone and it was just Sara again. She was watching him nervously. He hated that he was scaring her, one thing he never wanted to do was scare anyone. He hated how volatile he could be sometimes.

"Fine, I'll help, prove I'm not completely fucking useless," he said, standing up.

"I know you're not useless," Sara said, smiling encouragingly.

"I am useless and you all know it, you're all fucking laughing at me," he said.

She frowned, properly concerned now. "No one is laughing at you, Matteo," she said, trying to be reassuring, but it just got his back up more.

"You all are, I know you are. Ha ha Matteo he's such a joke, can't even get through Spanish without panicking, how pathetic!"

"No one thinks that. Matteo, are you ok? Are you... slipping?"

"Don't you fucking dare!" he yelled, causing her to flinch. "I can be upset without it being a fucking episode!" he continued, advancing on her.

She took a step back but held firm.

"Have you been taking your meds?" she persisted.

"Shut the fuck up, Sara! You're not my girlfriend!"

"Matteo-"

"And thank god too! You're such a pain! You're so annoying! You think I want you acting like my fucking nurse?" he demanded harshly.

She burst into tears then, and ran off crying. He didn't even feel bad; he was too wound up. Leonie and David came back into the room a moment later. Great. Now everyone thought he was an asshole. He was an asshole. Why was he trying to deny it?

"What happened?" Leonie asked.

"Fuck off!" Matteo said, running his hand through his hair. He wanted to pull it out, he wanted to rip down all the decorations and trash the place. He wanted to fucking scream.

Leonie looked torn, she clearly wanted to go after Sara, but she didn't want to leave him alone in the state he was in. No one ever trusted him.

"Go!"

She sighed and rushed off after Sara.

He turned to David and waved his arms. "Go on then! Go!"

"I think I'll stay," David said gently.

Matteo tried to push past him, but David stepped in front of him, arms held up. He didn't reach out, didn't touch Matteo, but he also didn't let him leave.

"Stop it! Just go! Leave me alone!"

"Do you want to be alone?" David asked.

"No!" Matteo cried, all his rage leaving him as he deflated.

He tried to run and that time David grabbed him. When he didn't struggle, he pulled him close. When Matteo's knees gave way, he sank to the floor with him.

"What do you need Matteo?"

"Quiet," Matteo whispered, "I just want to run away."

David gave him a squeeze and then pulled him up.

"Come on then," he said.

"What?" Matteo croaked.

"Let's run away," David said, grabbing his wrist and pulling him towards the door.

"Where?"

"I know a place," David said, gesturing to their bikes.

Matteo stared.

"Come on Matteo, let's go," he said encouragingly.

Matteo sighed and picked up his bike. He frowned at David, waiting for him on his fancy sports bike. It made his look like an antique.

"Nice bike," David said, grinning and proving his point.

Matteo didn't smile, he couldn't right now, but David's teasing eased something in him.

"At least no one will steal it," he countered.

The moment Matteo was on his bike David was off, speeding down the street. For fuck sakes. Matteo set off, struggling to catch up. He knew David wasn't even going at full speed either, he could tell he was going slow for him.

He kept glancing back and grinning at Matteo. After a few blocks he seemed to realise just how much Matteo was struggling, and he slowed down a little more so that they were level.

"Ok?"

Matteo just gasped, trying to catch his breath.

"Is it far?" he asked.

"Yeah," David said honestly.

"Fuck," Matteo muttered.

David just smiled and reached across to squeeze his arm. Matteo almost fell off his bike then, but he managed to keep his cool.

He looked ahead and focused on pedalling. Slowly he felt the rest of his rage fade away as he put all his energy into moving forward. He felt calm again. He continued to pedal, finally smiling as he watched David showing off, hopping curbs, letting go of the handle bars and generally being silly. Matteo wondered if he was trying to impress him. It was working. When David looked over at him and laughed, Matteo found himself joining in. Laughing unit his eyes streamed. His chest ached with it.

Why couldn't he feel like this all the time? If he had to describe it, he would say he was content. Every now and then David would glance at him and smile. Matteo could do nothing but smile back as his heart warmed. He wanted to cry. He wanted to laugh. He wanted to pull David off his bike and kiss him. All he did was keep pedalling and smiling to himself. He was just happy to be in David's company.

 

 

Matteo frowned when David pulled up next to some big metal gates. Where the fuck were they? They'd been cycling for at least an hour. Matteo hadn't been paying attention. He'd half wondered if they weren't even going anywhere, if David was just trying to tire him out, calm him down. It had worked, but apparently David had had a destination in mind. Matteo climbed off his bike and set it next to David's.

Then he stared as David grinned at him and gestured to the gate. Were they going in? How exactly? When David climbed over the gate, Matteo knew he was fucked. How was he supposed to climb that?

"Come on then," David said.

Matteo glared, but David just beamed back at him. Matteo huffed, but approached the gate. How hard could it be? Very hard, it turned out. It took all his effort to get up and over the gate, and he almost fell twice. Still, he managed to land on his feet, only wobbling slightly. David laughed at him so Matteo thought it was only fair that he wipe his hands on David's jacket.

David shoved him away and Matteo laughed until his face hurt.

He followed David toward a pretty scary looking abandoned building.

"Where the fuck are we?" he demanded.

"Just go with it, Matteo," David said.

So he did. Despite his trepidation, he just laughed quietly when David showed him the little window he expected him to climb through.

Once inside, he stuck close to David. He wasn't sure how often David crawled around in places like this, but they weren't places Matteo frequented. He wasn't scared exactly, but he was a little nervous about getting lost in there. He didn't think David would abandon him there, but he stuck close anyway.

David thought he was so cool with his torch, Matteo felt smug pulling out his phone and shining his own light. David offered him no explanation when he picked up a random valve. But then he hadn't explained why they were there either. Matteo figured it was just a David thing, he probably came to places like this all the time. He probably had all sorts of things he'd found.

Matteo relaxed a little when they got upstairs, and it was a bit lighter. He felt better out of the dark, even if David did start bossing him around immediately. He actually took Matteo's phone, snatched it straight out of his hand and just grinned at him.

Matteo shrugged. He didn't need it anyway. There was no one in the world he wanted to contact right now. Still, he did as David asked, climbing up the stairs and stomping around for whatever little movie scene David wanted him to act out. David had to ask him to be louder three times. He was quiet again now, he no longer needed to scream or shout. He was calm and that meant he was quiet. Too quiet for David's little film, apparently.

"Come on Matteo, you're supposed to be angry, shout for me," he demanded, pointing Matteo's own phone at him.

Being loud wasn't something that came naturally to Matteo. He huffed and stomped down the stairs, trying his best to bellow. He didn't think it was what David was asking for, if the fond amusement on his face was anything to go by.

"Come on, let's explore some more," David said, grabbing his hand and tugging him along.

David sure was bossing him about a lot today. Matteo found he quite liked it. He didn't have to think, didn't have to worry about anything. All he had to do was let David take the lead. He trusted David to keep him safe. David wasn't asking what the fuck Matteo's problem was, wasn't asking why he was such an asshole. No, when Matteo asked him to take him somewhere quiet, David dragged him halfway across the city to an abandoned base. There was no one around to bother them. It felt like they were the last two boys in the world and it was perfect.

He felt so joyous he couldn't help but kick David. He wanted his attention, wanted to remind him he was there.

David turned around and grinned. "Fuck you, Matteo," he said.

Matteo couldn't help the little laugh that bubbled out of him.

"Through here," David said.

"Whoa," Matteo said as they stepped into the empty, crumbling pool hall.

Did David know this was here? When he'd asked to come somewhere quiet, was this what he had in mind? This was perfect. This was exactly what he needed. He stepped up beside David and whistled, listening for his echo. David did the same, and then they grinned at each other. Standing there at the edge of the pool felt like they were standing on the precipice of something. Something was going to happen here tonight, and it was going to change everything. Matteo was scared, but he was beyond excited.

David tilted his head to the stairs, and then he was off, Matteo hurrying after him. They climbed down into the pool and then David was running down to the deep end. Matteo scrambled after him. This was the most exercise he'd gotten in a long time. It was hardly fair. David did sports, Matteo barely got out of bed, so of course David beat him to the other side.

When Matteo got there, he turned around and stared back across the pool, letting his mind drift, zoning out. David was there to take care of him, Matteo didn't need to worry or concentrate, he could just let his mind wander.

"I've always wanted to come here," David said.

Matteo looked over at him, but he couldn't speak right now. He wondered why David hadn't come until now. Was he saving it for something special? Was this special enough for him? It felt pretty special to Matteo, pretty significant.

David smiled at him, seemingly unbothered by his silence.

"Come on," he said, tugging him along again.

Matteo walked beside David slowly. He needed to be more present; he wanted to take all of this in. He ran his fingers along the pool dividers to try and bring himself back. He took in the surprising rough texture, listening to them clack together.

Matteo blinked when David appeared right in front of him, turning them around and walking backwards.

"Technically, we're underwater right now," David told him.

Matteo smirked at him, letting out a little huff of laughter. He mimicked swimming and David laughed in delight. It wasn't that funny, Matteo was never that funny, but David always seemed amused by him.

"So really we can't breathe," David said carefully, stopping now, standing still.

Matteo knew all about not being able to breathe. But then he vaguely remembered David's own breathing problems, he got it too.

"I bet I can hold my breath for longer than you," David said.

Matteo just stared. He could hold his breath pretty well, he used to swim. Although he'd smoked a lot since then, probably fucked up his lungs.

David nodded and took a deep breath. Oh. They were doing this. Matteo managed half a breath and held it, still on the back foot. He wasn't going to let David win that easily, though. He jumped forward, getting in David's face, trying to get him to breathe. David just blinked at him, smiling calmly. Then he kissed him, and all the air left Matteo's lungs in a huff. David grinned. Oh, so that's what was happening. All of this, coming to this place, this quiet, abandoned pool where Matteo could feel safe and calm, was all so he could kiss him.

"I win," David said.

Matteo wasn't so sure. He felt a lot like he'd won something too.

"Rematch," he whispered.

David blinked. "Ok," he said.

Matteo took a deep breath that time, David barely inhaled. He knew what was happening. Matteo stepped closer, but he hesitated. He'd wanted this for so long now, he was scared to fuck it up. But he looked at David's fond smile and realised he couldn't fuck this up, David wanted it too. So he went for it. He grabbed David, and he kissed him. He kissed him again and again. He never wanted to stop. This was it. This was everything. Everything felt like it was falling into place for Matteo. He never wanted to be doing anything else. David's lips were soft and warm against his and Matteo couldn't get enough. He'd never kissed anyone like this. He never wanted to kiss anyone else. He moved his hands from David's jacket to the back of his head, holding him close. David didn't pull back, in fact he pulled Matteo closer. Matteo just couldn't stop, he could easily get lost in this.

They were startled apart by a dog barking.

"Oi!"

"Fuck!" David said, glaring at the guard, then grinning at Matteo. "Run Matteo," he said, pulling him along.

Fucking hell! How were they going to get out of this? Well, David might, he pretty much vaulted out of the pool. Matteo had to struggle up the stairs. He was terrified now, heart pounding. Panicking as David disappeared through the door. He didn't want to be here alone. He ran as fast as he could, but the adrenaline wasn't enough to keep pace with David. Fuck, he'd lost him. He could hear the guard's heavy footsteps. He was fucked.

Suddenly he was pulled to one side and into a dark room. Matteo screamed, but there was hand over his mouth, muffling any sound he made.

"Shhh, it's me, you're safe, I'll keep you safe, but you have to be quiet," David whispered.

That was all well and good, but he couldn't fucking breathe. David seemed to realise he was panicking. They could hear the guard outside the room stomping about. David placed a hand on Matteo's chest and pressed him against the wall.

The guard wasn't stomping about, Matteo realised. His footsteps were fading. He'd run through the room, chasing after where he thought they'd gone.

David removed his hand from Matteo's face, but placed a finger on his lips.

"Stay quiet," David said. "I'm right here," he added.

The only thing stopping him from freaking out in this dark cupboard was David there with him. The hand on his chest moved down to hold Matteo's hand and then David stepped forward, so that he was pressed against Matteo. Matteo let out the breath he was holding, finally calming down. The minutes ticked by. It was so quiet now. The guard was gone now, but David still hadn't moved.

"Ok?" David whispered after another minute.

Matteo nodded.

David removed his finger from Matteo's lips.

"Ok Matteo?" he asked.

"Yeah," Matteo whispered.

Then David's hands were on his face, he paused and when Matteo didn't pull away, David kissed him again.

"Fuck," Matteo whispered when he pulled back.

"Ok?"

"So ok," Matteo said.

"Let's go, we're gonna have to run for it," David warned.

Matteo groaned quietly.

"Can we go back to yours?" David asked. "We'll get the train," he assured him.

"What about the party?"

"Fuck the party, I only came to see you," David told him.

Matteo was very glad it was so dark in the cupboard, his face felt like it was on fire.

"Ready to run?"

"Don't leave me," Matteo whispered.

David's grip on his hand tightened. "Never," he promised.

He flung the door open and Matteo blinked as they stepped into the bright room. Then they were off, running through the rooms and corridors, David dragging him along. His grip on Matteo's hand never loosened, and he whooped and cheered as he pulled Matteo along. Matteo couldn't remember ever having this much fun. Never had he felt this light and free. He started to laugh wildly. David glanced back and grinned at him. He only let go of Matteo once they reached the window they came in through, but he let Matteo out first.

As soon as David was out Matteo stepped forward, but David held him back, pointing out another guard, patrolling the grounds. His back was to them, but he could turn around at any minute. David pointed to the gate. It looked like it was miles away, but if David thought they could make it Matteo trusted him.

"Ready?" David whispered.

Matteo nodded. Then they ran. They made it to the gate before there was another shout. His fear made him fast because he was up and over the gate much quicker this time. David still made it look much easier though, climbing up and over, effortlessly graceful. When he saw Matteo was on his bike, David gestured for him to go.

Then he turned and gave the guard a little wave, before jumping onto his bike. And they were off, racing back down the street.

Matteo could barely focus on the road in front of him.

David had to be the coolest guy he'd ever met and for some reason he was into him. Matteo couldn't understand it, but he wasn't going to question it. He was just going to enjoy it while it lasted.

Tonight he was going to go back to his place with David and kiss him for as long as he could. When he glanced over at David and saw the smile on his face, the way he smirked at Matteo, he was pretty sure that was exactly what David wanted too.

Chapter Text

Matteo blinked awake slowly the next morning. Everything felt so calm and peaceful. His body felt slow and content; dragging himself out of sleep was tough. He felt so safe; he didn't want to ever wake up. He wanted to stay exactly where he was forever. He felt himself drifting off again. He almost gave into it. Then he felt David pressing soft kisses to the top of his head, so he stretched and tried to wake himself up more. He was tired, but he didn't want to miss a single moment with David.

They'd stayed up all night, which Matteo knew he wasn't supposed to do. His weekend sleep was becoming pretty messed up, but he couldn't possibly sleep, not with David there. He hadn't felt tired at all. Despite his hellish week, despite fighting with Sara, despite cycling and running around all over the city, he'd never felt so awake.

The flat had been empty when they'd gotten back, it was Friday night after all. Matteo had been frozen by that point, his muscles aching from all the exertion. He'd turned the heating up high and then chased David into his room. Both of them had dived under the covers to get warm. Then when Matteo was still shivering uncontrollably after five minutes, David had grabbed him and tackled him, pinning him down and bundling him up in his blankets. He'd laughed when Matteo was trapped there, unable to get free. Matteo didn't care. He'd just laid there watching David smirking down at him. Once he'd finally warmed up, David freed him again and pulled him straight into his arms. They'd spent the rest of the night just cuddling and kissing and chatting about anything and everything.

Matteo had never done anything like it, never had he felt so comfortable, so at ease. He'd been nervous at first, the idea of laying in bed with David was pretty intimidating. But at no point did David push or hint that he wanted anything more than what Matteo was able to give. At that point, cuddling and kissing was all he could handle. Plus rolling around and touching David everywhere he could get his hands on him. David seemed content with that, seemed content to pin him to the bed and kiss him senseless, but not push any further.

At around one in the morning, David had pulled back and stared at him with heavy eyes. He'd rolled off of him and asked Matteo if they could sleep, that he was tired. As much as Matteo had wanted to stay up and keep kissing, his own eyes were burning with tiredness and he'd come close to dropping off several times already.

He'd nodded and rolled away from David, assuming he'd want to stretch out and wouldn't want Matteo draping himself all over him while he tried to sleep.

But Matteo couldn't relax, despite how tired he was, he started to feel restless the moment there was space between them. He'd tried to hold still, but he couldn't help but shuffle. David had just yawned, stretched out and pulled him close, wrapping his arms around him. He'd asked if it was ok, to hold him like that, his voice no more than a whisper in his ear. Matteo had nodded and snuggled against him.

He'd never slept so well, never woken feeling so rested.

They must have shifted at some point in the night, he was now curled up on top of David, his head resting on his chest. He just lay there listening to David's heartbeat. He could tell David was awake, could tell he was staring down at him, but he wasn't speaking yet. Matteo was glad of it, he couldn't speak just yet. After a few minutes David started to run his fingers through Matteo's hair, pushing his hood back to get at it properly. Matteo shuddered, he'd pulled his hood up last night because he felt a bit raw, a bit like he needed to hide. He still felt like hiding, he felt so seen around David and it was scary.

"Hey," David whispered finally.

"Hey, what time is it?" Matteo asked, all he could tell was it was light out.

"Dunno, like two, maybe," David told him.

God, he'd wasted the whole day. He felt a little disappointed with himself. There was nowhere he'd rather be, but he wanted to be awake, wanted to spend his whole day with David. He didn't know how long he had him for. He wanted to spend proper time with him.

"Fuck," he muttered.

"You have somewhere to be?" David teased.

"No, but... I didn't want to waste the day sleeping, not when you're here," he mumbled.

David smiled and tilted Matteo's face up so that he could kiss his forehead.

"I can stay a little longer," he said.

Matteo squeezed him tight, a little desperately, not ready to let go. He wanted to keep David in here forever.

"I can stay until tonight," David offered.

"Ok," Matteo said, grinning now.

"So how are you going to entertain me?"

Matteo had no idea, he knew he wasn't all that interesting. So he decided to be bold. He shifted and climbed up over David. He hesitated, but when he saw the challenge in David's eyes, he leant down and kissed him. God, he could do this all day, he truly never wanted to stop. He kissed David again and again. He kissed David until he pushed him away.

"Go brush your teeth," he teased, laughing at the way Matteo scrambled out of bed.

In the bathroom, Matteo couldn't help stare at his reflection. He almost didn't recognise himself. His eyes were bright and his cheeks were flushed pink. Even the dark shadows under his eyes were fading.

He jumped when David appeared behind him, almost choking on his toothbrush.

He rinsed his mouth out and spun round to face him

"Fucking hell, I could've been peeing," he said, running his hand over his face.

David giggled.

"Do you not lock the door when you pee?" he asked,

Matteo flushed red as he realised that David could've caught him a few minutes ago. He was all over the place, so distracted.

"Go away," Matteo groaned.

"I actually need the bathroom," David said.

"Ok, fine," Matteo said, stepping aside.

"Do you have a spare toothbrush?" David asked

"Hans does," Matteo said, opening a drawer to show him.

"What the fuck?" David said, staring at the myriad of toothbrushes and other various toiletries.

"Hans has a lot of overnight guests," Matteo said, blushing a little at David's raised eyebrow.

"Clearly, now shoo, I have to pee," David said, shoving him out of his own bathroom.

Matteo grinned and ducked back into his room. It was a bit of a mess, but there was no point tidying it up now, David had already seen it. He already knew Matteo was a bit of a slob, and he didn't seem to mind so much.

Still, he decided to open the window and let a bit of fresh air into the room. He sighed, he needed something to entertain David. He didn't want David to get bored of kissing him yet. He looked around. Maybe David would want to play video games. No, that was what made him leave last time. He frowned and looked around again, spotting his stash in the corner.

David raised an eyebrow when he stepped into the room and found him sat cross-legged on the bed, rolling.

"Wanna smoke?" he offered.

David shrugged and climbed onto the bed. "Sure," he said.

He laid down one way with his legs dangling over the end of the bed; Matteo laid down the other way, so they were face to face.

Matteo lit the joint and took a hit, trying to ignore the guilt that settled in his stomach. He handed it to David and watched him inhale, watched the smoke drifting up from his lips. It was mesmerising, he couldn't help himself, he reached out and ran his finger over his lips. David smiled and grabbed his hand, threading their fingers together.

"You know we don't have to do this," he said.

"Do what?" Matteo choked out.

"Smoke," David said. "I'm happy to just chat, you don't have to smoke, I know you're not supposed to."

"Did Leonie tell you?" Matteo asked, terrified.

"Tell me what?"

"Why I'm not supposed to?"

"No. I just paid attention, to what you told me," David assured him.

"Ok," Matteo said, his voice just a whisper. He took the joint from David, took one long drag to steady his nerves, and then stubbed it out.

David smiled and rolled over to kiss him.

"It's just... I'm... I'm not very interesting," Matteo admitted. "I was just... I didn't want you to get bored."

"I'm not bored, Matteo," David promised.

Matteo sighed, so David kissed him again. And then again. David kissed him until Matteo relaxed again.

"I want to be here," David said, lips millimetres from his.

Matteo started to laugh, he couldn't help it, it bubbled up from within him. David kissed him again and rolled away, laying on his back. Matteo shuffled round to get closer.

"Tell me something interesting," David said.

"I just said, I'm not," Matteo mumbled.

"I don't believe you," David said.

"I... I..."

David propped himself up on his arm. He stared Matteo down.

"Ok. Questions then," he said.

"W- What?" Matteo stuttered.

"I know you're interesting," David said, "I'm gonna prove it."

He shuffled closer. Matteo pulled his hood back up over his face. He desperately wanted to hide from David's intense stare.

"Tell me something surprising about yourself," David said.

"I..." Matteo took a deep breath, trembling slightly.

David just waited.

"I can sing," he whispered, "but I'm not going to prove it," he added.

"Yeah?"

"Yeah, I used to be in the choir when I was little, I was quite good."

"Go on," David insisted.

"I... used to do ballet and tap too, I had all this energy so my mum tried to focus it on something."

Matteo remembered the arguments between his parents, his dad going mad at his mum for letting him do something like ballet, demanding to know why he wasn't doing football. But Matteo hated football. He'd loved dancing, loved the way it made his body feel graceful and light. He'd loved losing himself to the steps. He'd loved that no one looked at him like he didn't belong. Football wasn't like that, the other boys sneered at him because he was smaller, slower, clumsier than them. He could dance for hours without stumbling once, but put him on a football pitch and he would trip over his own feet in seconds. It was nerves, no it was pure fear, he'd been scared of the other boys. His mum understood that, understood him. She never thought him girly or delicate for his interests, she was just happy he came home from dance class tired and worn out. He'd been a bit of a handful back then. Ballet stopped him getting into mischief. So she'd told his dad to get over it and he had eventually, he even came to a few of his shows in the end.

"Really?" David asked excitedly, sitting up and leaning over him. His eyes were shining with his delight, like he couldn't quite believe this about Matteo. Matteo got it, he didn't exactly scream grace and poise. As he'd gotten older, his body grew slower and clumsier, he lost the easy grace he'd found with childhood, and he didn't have the drive to work at it.

"Yeah," Matteo mumbled.

"I won't make you," David promised, settling back down so he was lying on Matteo now. "I used to do ballet too," he said, voice no more than a whisper.

This was a source of shame for him, Matteo could tell. He wondered if David's father had been mean about it. Wondered why there had to be so much stigma about these things, why two boys couldn't dance without it implying certain things about their characters. Ok yes Matteo had turned out gay, but it was nothing to do with a ballet class he took when he was eight.

"Really?" he asked carefully.

"Yeah, I hated it, my mum made me," David explained.

He was upset, Matteo could tell. He didn't think asking David why he hated it would help him right now, didn't think he wanted to go into more detail. In fact, David looked afraid, like he wished he'd never brought it up. So Matteo took a different approach.

"Oh yeah, and let me guess, ballet wasn't your style? You were a street dancer at heart, you wanted to go to dance battles with your crew in abandoned buildings, but your mum dragged you to recitals instead," he teased.

David burst out laughing then, all traces of fear vanishing from his face. He climbed on top of Matteo properly and pinned him to the bed.

"What the fuck?" he said, pushing Matteo's arms up over his head.

Matteo grinned up at him innocently. He just loved to make David laugh, he would do it all day if he could.

"You're so silly," David said.

Matteo shrugged.

"Ok, next question. What's your favourite memory?"

"What the hell is this?"

He didn't understand how David was coming up with all this. These questions were surprisingly personal, and Matteo felt a little vulnerable sharing so much of himself with David.

"Trying to get to know you, learn about you," David said.

"Oh," Matteo whispered.

And wasn't that exactly what Matteo wanted? From the moment he saw David he wanted to know everything about him. Exactly like this, learning about each other, while entwined, while tangled up so close Matteo felt like they were one person.

Matteo couldn't have dreamt it would be like this. He felt raw, vulnerable, but so willing to share, to show David his heart. He trusted him, on some instinctive level. He knew David would treasure every truth he could volunteer, and accept everything he couldn't share yet.

"I want to know you, Matteo," David said.

"I don't know my favourite memory," Matteo said, it was only a half lie, he just couldn't remember a specific memory, but there was a favourite period of time he could think of.

"No?"

Matteo closed his eyes. He did remember, or he had a vague idea. Summers in Italy with his grandparents. Getting up to mischief with Jonas. The one time his dad told him he was proud of him, after one of his recitals. His mum, all his memories with his mum before she got sick. The fierce and unwavering way she loved him, supported him in everything he wanted to do. The way she would listen to him for hours on end with nothing but a fond smile and her complete focus. He missed her so much.

"Matteo? Are you crying? Shit," David whispered, looking worried.

"No, it's fine, I'm fine," Matteo said, wiping his eyes furiously. He hadn't even realised, but his eyes were burning at the memories of his mum.

"You don't have to answer," David said, backtracking now.

"I... I don't like thinking about it. It's just good memories, with my family, before things went to shit," he mumbled.

"Ok. I'm sorry for bringing it up," David said, reaching up and stroking his face.

Matteo smiled, relaxing at his touch.

"Ask another question," he said.

"We don't have to do this anymore," David suggested.

Matteo shrugged. He didn't mind, despite the tears he was enjoying himself.

"Ok. Ok. How about... let's get really clever, do you believe in fate?" David asked.

Matteo just blinked. "Fate?" he repeated.

"Do you believe everything is destined? That it all happens for a reason?" he asked.

Matteo frowned. Was David asking about them, if they were some predetermined thing? He wasn't sure if he liked that idea. It was kind of nice, the idea that they were destined to be. But better than that, he liked the idea that perhaps they were destined to meet, and everything else was up to them. That way if they got it right, if this worked out the way Matteo was hoping, then they'd won. He would've found someone who liked him, just for him. Who tried to understand him, who worked with him.

He didn't dare tell David all that. Perhaps he would one day. "I... no, I don't know," he whispered.

"I don't," David said.

Matteo realised this was one he wanted to answer, he wasn't really asking Matteo; he was volunteering something about himself.

"How come?" Matteo asked.

"It's scary isn't it? The idea that everything is predetermined," David explained.

"I... find it comforting," Matteo admitted.

David stared, confused, like he couldn't imagine anything worse.

"You do?" he asked.

"It... means it's not all my fault, that I can't help it," Matteo told him.

"That's bullshit Matteo, you have to face up to your actions," David argued.

Matteo winced a little, David could be so blunt with his words sometimes. Matteo was starting to understand he didn't mean to be. Starting to see that David had his own fears and issues. He wasn't perfect. All of it, everything he'd learnt so far, it just made Matteo like him even more.

"I know," he said quietly.

"Sorry I'm not having a go," David backtracked gently, like Matteo knew he would.

He climbed off him and sat up, pulling Matteo upright. "What I mean is... you can't blame fate when things go wrong, you just have to, you have to take control and... make things better. Matteo... I hate... the idea of not having control," he said.

This was something Matteo would commit to memory, the fear on David's face then, at the idea of not having control. He would remember that. He was starting to truly understand David now. Understand that he and David weren't all that similar after all. He liked that. It was funny, Matteo hated losing control too, his whole life felt out of control sometimes, but he didn't think David meant the same thing. Matteo couldn't trust that he would always have control of his mind, he would lose it again and he had to accept that. He didn't know when, but if he spent all his time worrying about it, he would go insane. He wondered what David needed to control.

"Is that so bad?" he pushed gently.

"What do you mean?" David asked.

"Like giving into it, letting it just happen," Matteo explained.

"No, you need to make your own decisions," David insisted.

"But sometimes the decision is taken out of your hands, like in the case of a natural disaster-"

"Ah, but that's when I make the decision to run," David countered.

"Run?" Matteo asked confused.

"Run away, get to safety," David said.

It wasn't always that easy, though. You couldn't always just run away. If it were that simple Matteo wouldn't be here, he'd be long gone.

"But you can't always run. You... sometimes you need to stay, you have people you can't leave behind," Matteo said, thinking of his mother. He couldn't just run off like his father, he had to stay and take care of her. Yes, he'd left that house. Yes, he was ignoring her right now, but if she truly needed him, he would be there in minutes. Then there was himself, he wasn't stable enough to just run away. He was stuck here, and he had to accept that.

"I don't have anyone like that," David admitted.

Matteo didn't believe him. He had to have people. He had Laura didn't he?

"So you'd just be alone?" Matteo asked, amazed at how much he was pushing back here. He was not confrontational, usually he just gave in. But he had to make David see his point on this one, he couldn't let it lie.

"Is that so bad?" David asked him.

Matteo wanted to cry. Did David really think it was better to be alone? Sometimes his illness made him push people away, but he never truly wanted to be alone. Matteo hurt for him. Everything was so much harder when you tried to go it alone. He stared at David. He must be so lonely.

"Yes," Matteo whispered.

"But you're here, alone. Where's your family?" David asked, genuinely confused that they were clashing on this.

David had thought they were the same too.

"They left," Matteo whispered and David's face was immediately concerned.

"Matteo-"

"My dad left... he just fucked off to Italy, he left me behind and my mum... it broke her. It broke us and… now I'm here because no one wants me," Matteo said. Then he tried to pull away from David. It was too much all of this. David stopped him moving away though, wouldn't let him go.

"Hey shit, Matteo, I'm sorry," David said.

"You don't get it, you don't get it at all. Do you have any idea what it's like to be cast aside? Written off as unimportant by your own family?"

"Yes Matteo I do," David said quietly, pulling Matteo into his lap and pressing him against him. "Shhh I'm sorry, I'm sorry pushed. I'm sorry, Matteo."

Matteo knew then that David really did have stress with his parents. He'd thought Matteo would understand that. And he did, but whereas Matteo desperately wanted things to go back to how they were, David wanted to move forward. Neither option was wrong Matteo realised.

"It's ok," Matteo mumbled.

"No, it's not, I didn't mean to upset you," David said.

"I know, I know," Matteo said.

"It hurts doesn't it?"

"So badly," Matteo said.

David pressed several kisses to his temple.

"It puts you off forming connections with others," David said, staring at him, begging him to understand.

Oh. Matteo had thought he'd seen himself in David, that they were the same. But they were actually very different. David refused to connect with people in case they left him behind, he was brave enough to go it alone. Matteo clung onto them so desperately, terrified of being alone.

"Sometimes... sometimes you have to let people in," Matteo said, scared that David was telling him this wasn't going to work. Matteo wanted to try. He didn't want to give up yet.

"Yes, but... you also have to be able to go it alone," David said.

Matteo's face fell.

"But... it's all about finding a balance," David added.

"Balance?"

"Like a middle ground, you have to be able to be alone. But... sometimes you have to let people in," David said.

Matteo knew then that that was really hard for David to accept. He was being so brave right now.

"Oh," Matteo said. David wanted to let him in. Him. Matteo. David was willing to change all his rules. For him. Matteo burned with this new knowledge. It was overwhelming.

"Ok?" David whispered, kissing him again.

Matteo just stared.

"Do you understand what I'm saying?" David asked.

Matteo thought him might, but he needed David to be clear here.

"I... I no... can you explain anyway?"

David smiled. "It means as scary as it is... I want to let you in," he confirmed.

"Oh."

"And I might... I might push back, but... I really do want to try," David continued.

"I... I don't know what I'm doing either, I'm no good at this," Matteo said, trying to assure David it wasn't just him figuring out how to do this.

"You're doing pretty good," David said.

Matteo giggled.

"Yeah?"

"Yeah. Can I ask another question?"

Matteo huffed and rolled his eyes.

"Can't you just kiss me again?" he demanded.

David laughed then, but he obliged, kissing Matteo over and over. Matteo realised he was scared, so scared of what was to come, but so excited too. This was so important, he realised, what was happening was so important, what they'd talked about was so real, so deep and heavy, but they were both still here. They'd pretty much tried to warn each other off, but all that had happened was they ended up wanted to try harder. Matteo knew the risk of fucking up was huge. But that didn't mean it wasn't worth trying.

 

Matteo had no idea what time David left him last night. It was late, though. Way later than David had planned. It had taken him three attempts and Matteo pretty much falling asleep before he'd actually left. Matteo wasn't even ashamed to admit he'd grabbed onto him at one point and refused to let go.

When he woke the next morning, Matteo felt almost as safe as he had done yesterday. He was all tucked into his blankets. David must've done that. Matteo rolled his eyes. David was too sweet for his own good, so kind and caring. Matteo absolutely loved it. If he was honest with himself, it was what he needed; it was why he kept his thing with Sara going for so long. He wanted to be cared for.

It was different with David though; he did these things not because he was worried about Matteo, not because he thought Matteo needed extra help to stay stable, to get through the day. No, he did them as little gestures of affection. Which meant he wouldn't be averse to Matteo returning such gestures.

Matteo stretched, but stayed snuggled down in the blankets for a few more minutes. Eventually, though, his stomach forced him out of bed. He was absolutely starving, which was weird for him. He and David had shared a pizza yesterday afternoon, so Matteo couldn't understand why he was so hungry now. He didn't usually get hungry. In fact, it was only because David had prompted him yesterday, that they'd even had pizza at all. It was the meds that fucked up his appetite, that combined with the depression which stopped him taking care of himself, stopped him feeling much of anything, including hunger. Now he was ravenous. It was all a little disconcerting, all this eating and sleeping properly, he wasn't used to it. It felt good though.

He sat up in bed and smiled at the little cartoon David had left him. Matteo supposed the vampire boy was supposed to be David, and he was holding a toastie maker. That was what he would take with him in a natural disaster, apparently. Matteo thought he might understand what David was saying here, the gesture he was making. Toasted sandwiches were going to become their thing. Maybe he was overthinking it, but he found he didn't much care.

He frowned though, wondering when David had made it. It must've been after Matteo had finally fallen asleep. How long had David stuck around? He smiled, David had insisted several times that he really did have to go home and study, and yet he'd stayed a little longer, even after Matteo was dead to the world.

He pulled out his phone and opened up his chat with David.

Matteo: thank you for the drawing

David: did you like it?

Matteo: yeah

Matteo: it's very good, you're very talented

David: if you're good I'll make one of you

Matteo buried his face in his pillow, David always knew just how to make him blush.

Then he couldn't wait any longer. He needed to eat, or he was going to die. He dragged himself out of bed and stumbled into the kitchen. He was surprised to find Hanna sitting there with Mia.

"Morning," he said.

"Early for you," Mia replied.

"Woke up hungry," he told her, grabbing a pot and filling it with water.

"There's coffee if you want," Hanna offered.

"No coffee, fucks up my sleep," Matteo reminded her, and she nodded. "No booze, no drugs, no coffee, no fun," he said with a smile, putting the water on to boil.

He'd had plenty of fun yesterday, and he'd been completely sober. It was possible. He didn't need to smoke to have fun. He didn't need to smoke to impress David. Somehow he was managing to do that with his personality alone.

"You're in a good mood," Mia observed.

"I am. I really am," he said, grabbing the pasta. "You two hungry? I'm making pasta," he offered.

"For breakfast?" Mia asked.

"Matteo would eat pasta for every meal if he could," Hanna teased.

"If I don't have pasta everyday I die, it's like one of my five a day," Matteo joked.

"That is not how that works," Hanna said, tutting at his silliness.

"My nonna eats pasta every day, she's in her eighties and she still works a farm," Matteo said.

"Well studies do show that the Mediterranean diet is one of the healthiest in the world," Mia said.

Both Matteo and Hanna looked at each other and smirked.

"It is," Mia insisted

"Not the way Matteo does it," Hanna said.

"I'm carb loading?" Matteo tried, chopping up the tomatoes.

"Do you even know what that means?" Mia said.

He shrugged. "Not really, some sports thing," he admitted

"It's nice to see you smile, Matteo," Hanna said fondly.

"Yeah?"

"What's got you so happy then?" Mia asked.

"Nothing. I dunno. It's Sunday?" he suggested.

He didn't feel ready to share David with them yet.

Still, he didn't miss the glance between. He figured they could probably hazard a guess at his upswing in mood.

He just ignored them and nibbled on a tomato whilst the pasta cooked.

 

Matteo was actually feeling a lot better about his history exam than Spanish last week. It helped that Mrs Krause was so nice to him. He wanted to make her proud. He'd even studied yesterday.

After he'd eaten way too much pasta, he'd gone back to bed again for a while. But when he'd woken up, he'd managed to find enough focus to run through two practice exams. And he'd done reasonably well. He thought he just might pass this one the first time around.

That was if he could actually get into the school. Right now he was hiding under the overpass, avoiding Sara. He'd seen her coming and ducked out of the way like a coward. He needed to apologise to her for the other day, but he was scared she was too mad at him. He also still needed to apologise to Amira. He probably ought to apologise to Leonie too. God, the list was getting longer and longer. This was what happened when he behaved like an asshole.

So right now he was hiding instead of facing up to his problems. He was going to. He just needed to psych himself up a little. He pulled out his phone and sighed; he had so many messages he was ignoring now. It was overwhelming. The more messages that came through the worse he felt. He was tempted to just delete them all. He wouldn't. He was going to reply; he was.

A message came through that he did want to read. It was from David, but it was just coordinates. Matteo frowned. What was he supposed to do with that?

David: meet me here thursday 14.00

Matteo continued to frown.

David: I was trying to be cool did it work?

David: Or are you just scowling at your phone

Matteo looked around, wondering if David was watching him.

Matteo: I don't scowl

David: so you'll come?

Matteo: I'll be there

David: good luck with history today

Matteo: thank you

"Are you hiding?"

Jonas was someone else he needed to apologise to. He'd missed the party and then he'd ignored all the messages he'd sent over the weekend checking on him. Matteo had known he was worried about him, but it was difficult to explain what was going on with him.

"Yeah," he admitted.

"From me?"

"From Sara," Matteo told him.

"You really upset her the other day," Jonas said, reaching out and pulling him up.

"I know."

He stood there hesitantly, but Jonas just smiled and pulled him into a hug. Then he clapped him on the back and they headed to the exam. Matteo tried not to drag his feet too much.

"Where did you go?" Jonas asked.

"I just... I needed to get out of there," Matteo said.

"With David?"

Matteo whipped around. "What?"

Jonas wasn't mad at him. Jonas was fucking teasing him. He was smirking like he knew something. He knew nothing, Matteo wasn't going to give him the satisfaction

"Leonie said you ran off with David," Jonas said.

Matteo shoved him, he wasn't doing this now.

"Did you?"

"I needed out, I was... panicking and David... David took me... somewhere else," Matteo said.

"And?"

"And?"

"Did anything happen?"

Jonas looked so excited, so gleeful. Matteo rolled his eyes. What were they twelve?

"We kissed," Matteo whispered.

"Yes!" Jonas reached out to high-five him.

"You can't... you can't tell anyone," Matteo said.

"I won't," Jonas promised.

"I'm sorry I ignored you all weekend," Matteo said.

"Too busy thinking about David?" Jonas teased.

"Actually, I was with him," Matteo said.

Jonas let out a whistle at that.

"Not like that!" Matteo said hotly.

Jonas just grinned and pinched at his blushing cheeks until Matteo shoved him away.

Then they both grinned at each other and started giggling. Matteo couldn't believe this was his life now. That he could giggle about boys with his best friend. He'd never thought he would get that. He was so happy he did.

"Ok you ready?"

"Yeah," Matteo said. He was ready, he could do this. School was almost over now, but for the first time he felt hopeful. He could do this exam, and maybe everything wouldn't be a complete disaster.

"Let's do this," Jonas said.

"Jonas?"

"Yeah?"

"Thanks man, for everything," Matteo said.

Jonas just smiled and hugged him tight before shoving him into the room.

 

"Matteo Florenzi!"

Oh fuck. Fuck. He looked around wildly, but there was nowhere to run, nowhere to hide from her. So he just backed up slowly until he was pressed against the lockers. That was better somehow, it supported him. He held his hands out when she stepped in front of him, and he tried not to cower.

"Hi Sara," he said, offering her his most charming smile.

She was not impressed.

"Come with me," she said, dragging him through the halls.

Oh god she was going to kill him. He was tempted to scream, but he didn't think anyone would actually help.

She shoved him into a room and shut the door behind them. Fucking hell, they were in the girls’ bathroom. Maybe she really was going to murder him.

"Christ Sara, I'm sorry ok? And this is the girls' bathroom, you can't just drag me in here, I'm not supposed to-"

"Oh, don't be a baby. I needed to talk to you. What the fuck was Friday, Matteo? You can't talk to me like that and you can't just disappear! Not when the last thing you do is scream in my face. Do you have any idea how worried I was about you?" she demanded.

And he did know, she'd sent him so many messages, and he'd ignored all of them. He'd thought she was mad at him, which she clearly was, but he should've known she'd be worried too.

"I really am sorry," he said quietly.

She softened a little at that. She was too kind for her own good was Sara.

"I know, Matteo. But look, you said you wanted to be friends. Well you can't treat your friends like that, it's not ok. Matteo, you made me feel like shit on Friday," she said, sighing and climbing up onto the counter. Now that she'd got it out, she was deflating. But she was right, he was so desperate for her to stay and yet he tried everything he could to push her away. He did the same to Jonas and Hanna. He was so scared of them leaving he tried to force them to, as if that would give him more control.

"I... god I'm sorry... I am... I felt like shit and I took it out on you. Please, just... let me have another chance," Matteo begged, even though he didn't deserve it.

"I will," she said, "of course I will, but you have to try harder Matteo."

"I... yeah I know. Sara?"

"Yeah?"

"I just... I know you're all going to leave me, you'll all get fed up and-"

"So you just push us away?" Sara asked sadly.

He nodded. "Yeah."

"But we're not leaving ok? Look I'm still here!" she said, grabbing his shoulders. He flinched a little, but didn't shrug her off. "You were the shittiest you've ever been to me on Friday, and before that you absolutely broke my heart, but I'm still here Matteo," she reminded him.

"That doesn't make me feel any better," Matteo mumbled.

"But you don't get to choose, it's not your choice who loves you, like... with Jonas, would you ever leave him, stop being his friend?" she asked.

"No, of course not, but it's different he's always there for me," Matteo tried to explain.

"But you're there for him too, if he needed you, you would be right?"

"Of course!"

"Because you love him, he's your best friend, you're always there for him. And for me, too. If I needed you and you were able to help you would right? Look at the other day, when my parents were fighting, you came over even though there was nothing you could do. You're a good fucking friend Matteo and we remember these things when you're shitty and it's why we stay. But if you keep deliberately being shitty, then... yeah you're going to lose us," Sara said.

"God, I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm so scared, I'm so scared you'll leave," Matteo said desperately.

"You need to work on that... I think... I think you need to remember... not that we won't leave, you can't accept that, but remember that we don't want to leave, that we want to be there for you," Sara told him.

Matteo nodded. That did help a little. They didn't want to leave him. Even if they did eventually, it wouldn't be an easy choice. And that meant...

"And... and if... if you did leave?"

"We would come back the moment you asked us to," Sara said.

Matteo climbed up onto the counter beside her.

"Ok," he said.

"Ok?"

"I'm going to try not to push, I... I might still be grumpy and snappy but... I'll apologise straight away, instead of just trying to let go of you. I wanted to message you on Saturday, but... I just thought instead, 'why don't you just let her go?'"

"You are such an idiot sometimes Florenzi," Sara said.

Matteo laughed and leant back against the mirror.

"Plus, I hear you were busy?" Sara said, voice teasing now.

"What?"

"David is our friend Matteo, you have no idea what you're getting yourself into," she warned.

"What the fuck?"

"Two boys from two warring friendship groups," she said dramatically.

Matteo laughed then.

"Sara, for god sakes we're all friends now," he reminded her.

She just laughed. "I like a little drama," she said.

"Well, you'll have to find it elsewhere," he said.

"You ok though?"

"Yeah it was an anxiety thing, honestly I was stressing over the Amira thing," he admitted.

"Have you sorted it?"

"No."

She gave him a look as stern as Amira then.

"Ok I'll sort it jeesh," he muttered.

She continued to stare.

"What you want me to do it now?"

"I know you'll just put it off if you don't," she said.

He rolled his eyes and pulled out his phone, opening up his chat with Amira, he'd muted it after their argument, but there were only three messages. Amira wasn't like Sara or Jonas. She knew he'd come to her when he was ready and not before.

Amira: you were very shitty, implying that all Muslims are homophobic. I'm still angry about that. But I think I understand a little bit now what you were trying to say. I hope you didn't think I would be homophobic, or think any differently of you for your sexuality, I wish you'd felt more comfortable telling me under better circumstances

Amira: I am sorry if I implied that I thought homosexuality is a mental illness, that's not what I think at all, I was just trying to drag your argument, but I didn't mean to hurt you like that, I didn't mean to scare you. It must be very hard, you've had a lot to come to terms with in a pretty short space of time, you didn't need me calling it all into question

Amira: I hope you're ok

Matteo: I'm really fucking sorry

Matteo: it wasn't even about Islam, it was about my mum and church stuff, she was scaring me

Matteo: I'm so fucking sorry

Amira: ok Matteo, I forgive you

Matteo: thank you

Amira: we still need to study are you free at the weekend?

Matteo: Sunday, you can come to mine?

Amira: Sunday, 7am?

Matteo: not a fucking chance Amira

Amira: I'll be there in the afternoon

Matteo: cool

"Done?"

"Done. She forgave me," he told her.

"You are so dramatic sometimes," she said fondly

"Yeah I know," he said, smiling. "So, this is the girls' bathroom huh?"

"Yep. Should've seen your face when I dragged you in here."

They just grinned at each other and then started to laugh. He was finally ready to accept that perhaps it was ok with Sara, that she'd forgiven him and he had to let her do that. Not let the guilt get in the way of the friendship he so desperately wanted. It was the same with Hanna and Jonas. By holding onto his guilt and using it as an excuse to push them away, he was hurting them, and he never wanted to do that.

 

Matteo was both nervous and excited. He'd been feeling like that a lot lately. David brought it out in him. He was always excited to see David, always wanted to spend time with him. But he was nervous too, a little scared of messing things up. It wasn't a huge fear though, not like the spikes of anxiety he got over exams or when he was worried about his mum. This was more like uncertainty because he didn't know what was going to happen. But he also knew that how it went would be down to him, and David liked him, so he thought it might just be ok.

He was late, but not by much, just a few minutes. He'd been foolish enough to let Hans know where he was going, and that had led to more questions and it was tricky to get away from him. Still, he was here now, in the park, where David had told him to meet him. Matteo wasn't sure what David wanted to do, hence the nervousness, but this felt an awful lot like a date.

He spotted David and was about to run up to him, when he thought of a better idea. David was facing away from him, so Matteo crept up to him and grabbed him, laughing when he startled.

"Don't be scared," he teased.

David just turned and rolled his eyes, but Matteo could tell he was amused. He was trying to hide that little smile of his.

"So what's here then?" Matteo asked.

"I'm here," David said.

And that was all he needed.

"I figured you could do with just fucking around," David said.

"Yeah," Matteo said.

"Come on," David said, grabbing Matteo's wrist and dragging him along the path.

Matteo wriggled free and grabbed a tree branch, hitting him with it. David wasn't having that, though. He grabbed Matteo's wrist and when Matteo wouldn't let go of the branch, David jumped on Matteo's back, very nearly tackling him to the ground. Matteo was delighted, he laughed and grabbed at David's legs to steady them.

"Hyah!" David shouted, and Matteo stumbled forward.

"David I'm gonna fall!"

David jumped down and threw his arm around Matteo's neck, pulling him along.

"Ok?"

"You're heavy," Matteo said, panting.

"Rude," David muttered, but he didn't pull away. "Let's climb up there," he said instead, pointing at some little houses.

"You might break them though," Matteo teased.

Matteo was on the ground before he even knew what was happening, David pinning him down.

"Take that back," he said.

"Or what?" Matteo challenged.

David started tickling him.

"Fuck ok, I take it back!" he said gasping.

David grinned and helped him up. Matteo stumbled and pressed closer. He was loving all of this, the teasing, the rough housing, it was just what he needed. David was right, Matteo was glad he'd brought him here. He let David help him up onto the little house and then held out his hand. When David was up beside him, he didn't let go of his hand. Matteo blushed but held on. This was wonderful. He kicked out his feet and laughed.

"So what do you want to do?"

"Honestly? Smoke," he admitted.

"Why?"

"I'm nervous," Matteo told him.

"Do I make you nervous?"

"A... a little, more I'm just nervous and scared of saying the wrong thing," Matteo said.

"Smoking makes that easier?"

"Yeah."

"I have sweets," David said, pulling a packet of sour gummies out of his pocket and offering them to Matteo.

Matteo grinned. He seemed to be replacing all his vices with sweets.

He stared down at their joined hands.

"Is it ok?"

"Yeah," Matteo whispered. "Is... is this a date?" he asked.

"Yep."

"Cool."

"Cool," David agreed.

Then they grinned at each other.

It was all so perfect.

Matteo kicked David's feet, and then they were fighting again. David kicking back and the two of them wrestling until Matteo worried about falling off the roof. So he jumped down. David stared down at him, so Matteo stuck out his tongue and ran off.

"Hey!"

He knew he couldn't outrun David, but he sure did try. When David did catch up Matteo braced himself to be tackled again, but David just grabbed him and pulled him along to a wall so they could catch their breath. David was panting, seemed to be struggling a bit, Matteo was immediately concerned.

"Are you ok?"

"Yeah, I'm fine," David said tersely.

Matteo winced and ducked his head.

"Sorry, fuck," David muttered, rubbing at his ribs. "Can we just lay here for a minute?" he asked.

Matteo nodded, still a little nervous to say anything. He didn't want to say the wrong thing. So he just lay there quietly beside David, fiddling with his sleeves while David stared into the distance.

Eventually Matteo felt David's eyes on him, but he continued to stare resolutely ahead, scared to say anything.

"I'm sorry," David said again.

"I'm sorry too," Matteo mumbled.

"Why are you sorry?"

"I don't know," he whispered.

David took his hand then and squeezed.

"You don't need to be sorry. You're allowed to ask if I'm ok, I've just got to get better at not snapping," David said.

"I do it too, when people ask me if something’s wrong. I always get mad and say I'm fine, even when I'm not. I'm working on it, Lydia, my therapist is helping me- shit." Matteo hadn't meant to say that.

It was so hard, keeping all this information in around David. Fuck. He pulled his hand free and walked away. He wasn't ready for this. He wasn't ready at all. He kept walking even when David caught up to him again.

"You're in therapy?"

"I don't want to talk about it," Matteo begged.

"Ok," David said, taking his hand again and leading him down to the water.

"Ok?" Matteo asked, sitting down and staring at David.

"You don't have to tell me anything you don't want to," David said.

Matteo kissed him then, he couldn't help it, he launched himself at David. He only pulled back when he realised where they were, when realised that he'd just pretty much attacked David.

"Sorry," he mumbled.

David was still looking at him, a little startled. "It's ok," he whispered.

So Matteo kissed him again, more gently this time, pausing to make sure it was ok. David pulled back after a moment and sighed.

"What's wrong?"

"I brought you here to tell you something," he said.

"Ok," Matteo said, frowning.

"I don't want to," David said, pulling at his sleeves.

Matteo stared, he'd never seen David like this, never seen him so nervous or afraid.

"You don't have to tell me anything you don't want to," Matteo said, repeating what David had told him.

David smiled weakly at that.

"Oh!"

"What?" David asked.

"I need to apologise to you too," Matteo said.

"About what?" David asked, confused.

"Friday, for all the yelling, I apologised to everyone else... so I'm sorry you had to be there when I went off on Sara," Matteo said.

"Did you apologise to Sara?" David asked.

"I did. She dragged me into the girls' bathroom and yelled at me, but then I apologised," Matteo explained.

"What's the deal with you and Sara?" David asked, simply curious, no judgement in his tone.

"She didn't tell you?"

"Not really," David said.

"We used to kind of date but... I'm gay, so it wasn't real. But I know how shitty that is. I... liked that she liked me, despite all my problems, she was there for me when I couldn't stand being alone. But that wasn't right, I wasn't enough for her, so I had to let her go. She deserves so much does Sara," Matteo explained.

"You're a good person, Matteo Florenzi," David said, staring at him.

He looked devastated, like he wanted to weep. Matteo didn't understand what was wrong, why he was upset, so he shuffled closer.

"Can I play you a song? It's important," David said.

"Ok," Matteo said, reaching out for the earphone David offered.

"Listen to it," David insisted, he looked so sad and all Matteo wanted to do was hug him, but he didn't want to overstep.

So instead he just put the earphone in his ear.

...My lover's got humour

She's the giggle at a funeral...

This was familiar, Matteo had heard it before, long ago. Jonas had probably made him listen to it. But he liked it. He continued to listen and shuffled a little closer to David.

He snuck a look at David; he was staring at him intensely. Matteo kept listening, wondering what David wanted him to hear. He listened as closely as he could; he wasn't good at focusing like this, but he tried his best.

"Do you like it?"

"It... is it sad? Not sad I... dunno I do like it... melancholic that's it," Matteo said.

"Big word," David teased.

"The poetry in my Spanish exam was melancholic, that's what I wrote about," Matteo told him.

"Impressive."

Matteo shrugged and continued to listen to the music, listening to the lyrics about worship and sin.

"Is it about church then?" he asked David.

"Kind of, there's a lot to it, but... it's kind of saying sex is a better act of love than church and religion," David explained.

Matteo laughed at the mention of sex like a twelve year old and David rolled his eyes.

"That’s a bit..."

"What?"

"Blasphemous," Matteo said.

David looked impressed. Matteo wondered if he was getting it like David was hoping he would.

"Oh yeah?" he said.

Matteo leant back against the steps, still laughing quietly.

"I like that," Matteo said.

"You do?" David asked.

"Old Sunday school hangup I guess, it feels like I'm doing something I shouldn't," Matteo admitted, feeling mischievous, feeling like he was listening to something his mum would forbid.

"I bet you were a little terror," David said.

"I was an angel," Matteo insisted.

"Uh huh," David said doubtfully.

"I was... for my mum at least, I never got in trouble," Matteo said.

"Goody two shoes then?"

"Pretty much," Matteo said, smiling.

He had some fond memories of his childhood. He had been a good little boy, when his mum was around. As soon as her back was turned, he was a little menace. His grandparents, his teachers, he'd exhausted them all.

They grinned at each other and continued to listen to the song.

"I liked it," Matteo said, when it finished.

"Good," David said.

Matteo reached out and ran his index finger over David's knuckles.

"Ok?"

"Yeah. I had fun today," David said, looking up and smiling at him, but it seemed forced.

"You're sad though," Matteo said.

"I... it's just my own shit... I had fun with you," David said.

"Ok, good. You have to go home?"

"Yeah," David said reluctantly.

"Can I walk with you for a bit?" Matteo said, standing up.

"Er... ok," David said, frowning in confusion.

"I don't have to sorry," Matteo said.

"No, it's ok, it's out of your way though," David said as they set off.

Matteo shrugged. "Don't want to say bye yet," he admitted, not even embarrassed.

"Loser," David said, shoving him as they walked.

"School's pretty much done after tomorrow," Matteo said, wondering if David would still want to hang out once school was done.

"I mean we still have more exams," David said.

"Yeah, but it's Easter first, I might even have enough time to study for bio," Matteo said. He thought he really might have a chance. Well, with Amira on the case he didn't have much choice. He wasn't looking forward to Sunday, she wasn't going to go easy on him.

"That's all you've got left?"

"Yep," Matteo said.

"I have maths and sports," David groaned.

"Ugh those both sound horrible," Matteo said.

"Maths is fine, sports not so much," David said.

"No?"

"Just grief from Mr Neuhaus," David said

"Scary bald dude?"

"He's an ass," David said.

"Why's he giving you grief?" Matteo asked.

"Just... he thinks I can't do the practical exam," David said.

"Because of your chest?" Matteo guessed.

David whirled around then, looking terrified.

"What?" he asked.

"You have breathing problems," Matteo said carefully.

"Oh... yeah it's to do with that," David said.

He was lying, but Matteo didn't push, not when he was scared like that.

"That sucks, you'll show him though," he said instead.

"Huh? What do you mean?" David asked.

"You'll... do the exam and it'll be like 'fuck you I can do this and you should give everyone a chance'," Matteo said.

"Yeah?"

"Yeah and then you'll get an A, and you'll probably be so smug," Matteo said.

"I'm not smug," David argued.

"I bet you are, though. What do you do in the exam? The physical?"

"Athletics," David said.

"Yeah well whatever that is. So you'll lift all your weights and do push ups and all that, then you'll finish, Neuhaus will give you an A and then you'll be all-" Matteo mimed wiping his brow, "good game bros," he said, dropping his voice lower.

David burst out laughing

"I don't fucking sound like that," he said.

David made to jump on him, but Matteo was ready for him and they started wrestling as they walked, pushing and shoving each other, laughing.

"This is me," David said after a while.

"Yeah?"

"Yeah."

"Ok then... are you... can we hang out over Easter?" Matteo asked hopefully. He was pretty sure he knew the answer.

"I don't know," David mumbled.

"Ok," Matteo whispered sadly.

"I'll... I'll message you ok?" David said.

He looked upset and Matteo felt devastated.

"David-"

"Goodbye Matteo," David said. His voice was firm, like he was trying to convince himself this was something he had to do.

This felt heavy. This felt final. Matteo felt like something was broken, and he wasn't sure how to fix it.

"David?"

David turned away and placed his hand on the door. Matteo just stood there, unable to move.

Suddenly David was wrapping his arms around him. Squeezing him tighter than Matteo had ever been held.

"I'm sorry ok? Matteo, I'm sorry."

Then David was gone.

Fuck.

 

Matteo felt all out of sorts. He felt weird. Sad. More than sad. He felt both restless and exhausted. He was just laying on his bed, unable to move. He'd fucked up. He didn't know what he'd done, but he'd fucked things up with David. And he was making it worse. He'd sent a shit ton of messages throughout the day. Asking David what was wrong, if he was ok, telling him he was sorry. He knew he needed to stop, but he couldn't, it was like he couldn't control himself. David wasn't replying. Of course he wasn't, he was probably scared. Or relieved. Probably relieved at the narrow escape he'd had. He'd probably blocked him. Matteo wasn't sure. No, he couldn't have, he could see his messages had been read. So David was just ignoring him.

Matteo cried easily, he always had. He felt like he should be crying now, but he couldn't, he was too numb.

There was a knock at the door, and Hans crept into the room.

"Ok butterfly?" he asked, sitting down on the bed.

"Fine," Matteo lied.

He wanted to wallow a little longer, didn't want Hans trying to make him feel better, not yet.

"How was the date with David?" Hans asked.

How was Hans always so excited? So enthusiastic? It was too much for Matteo to handle in the mood he was in. The warning bells were going off in his head now, his mood was dropping and dropping and that usually meant he was going to get mean.

"It was good. I had fun," Matteo said.

"Yeah? What did you do?"

"None of your business," Matteo mumbled.

"Oi Oi!"

"No Hans," Matteo said, tiring of this. He just wanted to be left alone.

"Well I don't see why you're being so secretive, you were telling me all about it yesterday, no need to be shy now, these ears have heard all sorts," Hans joked.

"I bet they have," Matteo muttered.

Hans frowned then and pulled away a little.

"What's that supposed to mean?" Hans asked.

When these things happened sometimes he was in the moment, but sometimes it felt like he was outside his body, watching events unfold in slow motion. This was the latter.

"It means I'm not like you," he spat viciously.

Hans looked completely taken aback. He hadn't seen Matteo like this. His precious little butterfly wasn't around right now.

Then Hans’ face hardened too, cold and defensive, ready to have an argument he'd probably had countless times before.

"And what do you mean by that?" he asked, tone even.

A voice in Matteo's head was screaming stop this now, but he didn't, he kept pushing. Right now Hans was the one person who could help him. So he pushed, and he pushed hard.

"Just because I'm gay doesn't mean I'm going to fuck around, and sleep with a load of guys. And I'm not going to start prancing around in tights and mascara. I'm not going to parades or seedy clubs, I'm not you," he said.

Hans just blinked, eyes filled with tears, hurt very clear on his face. He took a deep breath.

"That's what you think of me, Matteo?" he asked, calmly, with more grace and patience than Matteo deserved.

He deserved to be yelled at. He wanted to be yelled at. He wanted to be hated. Right now he hated himself more than ever, and he wanted everyone else to hate him too.

Matteo shook his head, but he knew there was no backtracking now. Hans would never forgive him. Matteo didn't deserve his forgiveness.

"You think I'm a whore?"

"No... no just... fuck ok, I'm not like you that's all. I'm sorry I didn't mean it like that, I just meant, you know just because I'm gay I'm not going to go around talking about cock like you do ok?"

Hans' composure broke then, tears running down his face. It didn't make Matteo feel any better. He always tried to make people around him as miserable as him, but it didn't work, it always made him feel worse.

"I don't know what's going on with you right now, but you have a lot to learn Matteo, what you've just said to me is disgusting and I hope you never speak like this again. To anyone. I don't care what's going on, you don't get to talk about me like that, you don't get to shit on me. You don't have to be any particular way to be gay, you're right there, but pathetic homophobe is not a good look," Hans said, his voice so stern and cold he may as well have been screaming.

Matteo flinched from the intensity of it.

"I'm sorry," he mumbled.

"Whatever Matteo," Hans said, getting up from the bed.

"Hans, I'm sorry," Matteo said again.

Hans just got up from the bed and left the room. He left Matteo all alone. Hans was going away for the weekend too, he'd told him yesterday, some conference. There was going to be no one here. He was going to be alone. He deserved to be alone. He tried not to panic.

Then his phone buzzed.

David: Hey - I think it all went a bit fast somehow. I need some time, some space. Don't be angry.

Matteo wanted to scream. How could David do this to him now? What the fuck had changed? What had he done? He needed to know what he'd done. He needed to try and fix this.

So he went to see David.

 

He did hesitate when he got to David's apartment. He knew deep down that this was a terrible idea. He knew he should respect what David was asking of him. If David wanted to be left alone, then he deserved his space. But Matteo was able to squash those thoughts. Matteo wasn't thinking rationally. He was on edge; he was wound up, his thoughts were going a mile a minute, and he just needed to see David. So he dragged himself up the stairs and knocked on the door.

It opened after a minute, and Laura stepped out.

"Can I speak to David please?" Matteo asked.

"David's not here, Matteo," Laura said gently. She was lying, she was doing that voice, the same voice the nurses used on him when they pretended he was going to be ok.

He wasn't ok was he? He should leave now. He should let David go. David deserved better. But Matteo was selfish, he'd always been selfish.

"Where is he? When will he be back?" Matteo demanded.

He was getting loud. He didn't feel quite present, hadn't since the fight with Hans, everything was going a little too fast. He squeezed his eyes shut and tried to get his thoughts under control. He couldn't do this now. He needed to focus. He couldn't fix things with David if he went off the rails.

"I don't know Matteo, you should go home," Laura said, gentle but firm.

But Matteo knew that David was in there, knew she was lying to him. He just needed a chance. He just needed to try and fix things.

"Please, I just want to say sorry, I've fucked up, I just need another chance, please," he begged.

"Go home, Matteo," Laura said, trying to usher him back down the stairs.

"Oh god," Matteo groaned, he pushed past her and moved down the corridor so he could press his head against the wall. Fuck. He couldn't think. He realised she was right. He needed to go. He didn't want to see David anymore. He didn't want David to see him like this. He pressed his head hard against the wall, trying to calm down. He pressed so hard it hurt, then he pressed a little more. He started pulling at his hair and groaning, trying to calm himself down.

"Matteo, stop it," she said, voice raised a little.

No one ever raised their voice to him when he was like this, it was all hushed voices and whispers.

It helped; he blinked and pulled away from the wall, stumbling as he tried to orient himself.

"Matteo?"

"Fuck," he muttered.

His head hurt now, he shouldn't have done that.

"What's happening right now Matteo?"

He'd fucked up. She could see him. She could see he was all wrong. She was going to tell David. And David was going to want to stay as far away from him as possible. If he wanted space before... well, it was well and truly over now.

"Please don't tell him, I'm getting better... please Laura," he begged.

"Matteo-"

"I'll go... I'll go, please just tell him I'm sorry, fuck!"

"Matteo, wait!"

But Matteo was running. Laura was yelling after him to come back. He shouldn't have come here. He should've left David alone. David had only asked for time. Matteo had gone and blundered in and ruined it. David wanted time to think about whether Matteo was worth his effort. Now Matteo had gone in and proved it wasn't.

He got out onto the street, and his phone buzzed.

Matteo pulled it out with shaking hands. It was from David.

David: I'm sorry Matteo I just can't do this right now. I need you to leave me alone. I made a mistake. I'm sorry for leading you on. I'm sorry for making you think this would work. I'm sorry for tricking you. Please be ok. I'm so sorry Matteo.

Matteo stared at the message. He stared and stared. Then he shut off his phone. He didn't understand what was happening right now, but he knew his head was too much of a mess to deal with this. He was making everything worse. He just needed to shut down for a while. There was only one way he knew how to do that. He headed home to get completely baked.

Chapter Text

Matteo was fucking up big time, and he knew it. He'd been smoking since Friday night. He hadn't eaten; he hadn't moved from his chair or even washed. He probably stunk, but he'd just laid there, trying to empty his mind. He had medicine for this, for when it got like this, but he didn't want that. That would calm things sure, but it would also give him a clear head and that was the last thing he wanted. He wanted his mind blank and empty, and if he smoked enough weed, he figured he could get there. He'd stopped taking his meds full stop. Which was really fucking stupid. It had only been two days, but Hans wasn't there and he was all alone. He wasn't Linn was there too, but she didn't push like Hans. He knew he could just get up now and take them and the damage would be minimal. But he couldn't. He didn't want to. What was the point? He was never going to be normal. He was never going to get to have fun like he had last week. Dates and boyfriends weren't for him. He was alone. So what was the point of trying to be normal?

He wished he'd never met David. He wished he hadn't shown him what it was like to feel wanted, desirable, only to take that all away from him. And Matteo couldn't exactly blame him. He knew he'd fucked up on Thursday, revealed too much of himself. Then he'd made things a million times worse on Friday, scaring poor Laura. She'd probably gone straight back inside and told David he wasn't to see Matteo anymore, that he was unstable and possibly dangerous. David had said stay away and Matteo completely understood.

He hadn't switched his phone back on yet; he didn't even know where it was, he'd thrown it somewhere in the mess that was his room. When he did finally turn it back on, he was going to delete all his messages, remove David's number. David had asked to be left alone, that was the least Matteo could do.

Somewhere, deep down, there was a quiet voice in his head that was telling him this was all a big overreaction. That he needed to calm down and think rationally and remember what David had actually said. The voice sounded a lot like Jonas, the most reasonable guy he knew. It was trying to make him remember that this wasn't just about him, that David had his own stuff too, and to give him the benefit of the doubt, give him the space he asked for and give him a chance. To not write him off. But this was about more than David, this was about him and how he always fucked up. This was about how someone like him never got the happy ending and how it was stupid to even try. So he drowned that voice out with more weed.

The buzzer rang, startling him slightly.

He ignored it, but it got louder and louder, killing his buzz.

He got up and stormed over to the intercom.

"What?" he snapped.

"It's Amira let me up."

He buzzed her in. Great, just what he needed, more judgement. Mia wasn't even here, what did she want? Why couldn't everyone just leave him alone?

"Jesus," Amira whispered, taking in the state of him when he opened the door.

He knew he was a mess, he'd barely left his chair since Friday.

"What?" he mumbled.

"Matteo, what's going on with you?" she asked, stepping into the apartment even though he hadn't invited her in.

"Mia's not here, you should go," Matteo said. He was sobering up quicker than expected, and he didn't like it. He didn't want to be aware of anything right now.

"I'm here for you," she said, heading into the living room like she owned the place.

He followed her and collapsed on the sofa. She was here to study. She was here because he'd asked her to come and now, as usual, he was letting her down.

She sat down beside him. He couldn't study now, he couldn't even think.

"We were supposed to go over the test paper I asked you to do, remember?"

Matteo nodded.

"Go get it then," she said gently.

What the fuck was going on? Why was she still here? Why couldn't she see this was hopeless?

Still, he found himself going to his room and rooting through his notes. He knew he'd done the paper. Or some of it. He couldn't find it, so he grabbed all of his notes and brought them out to her. She raised an eyebrow at the mess, but didn't comment. Instead, she took them from him and began to sort through them.

Matteo laid down again. He didn't feel well. He felt panicky. He just wanted her to tell him off. He didn't like this.

"You're high," she said quietly, not looking up from the paperwork.

He recoiled. He felt like she'd slapped him. She was being too gentle with him. He couldn't handle it. He wanted her to yell, to tell him off, to make him pull himself together. But she wasn't going to do that. She cared, and it made him want to cry.

He nodded. He couldn't lie to her.

"Did something happen?" she asked.

Matteo frowned. No one usually gave him that kind of understanding. It was always why do you do this to yourself Matteo? Matteo, you know you're not supposed to. Matteo, you've fucked up. Again. No one ever asked what had happened. No one ever acknowledged that there were other factors. That there might be a reason he needed to shut down.

"I fucked up... I think I'm heartbroken..." he whispered.

Amira waited.

"I... just didn't want to think. I just wanted to switch off for a while," he explained.

"This is a dangerous way to do that," Amira said.

"Aren't you going to tell me off?"

"No. That won't help you," she said.

"Oh."

"I'm going to stay here and study, like I said I would. I assume you're in no fit state to join me?"

He shook his head.

"Ok. You're going to stay there though. I'll read out anything I think you should know. Hopefully, you'll take it in. If you don't it doesn't matter, we'll reschedule this for when you're feeling better," she said.

"I'm not ill or not like that... there is no better for me," he reminded her.

"No, you're not... that's... the bipolar won't go away, but you can get back to stable. You were doing ok. And the heartbreak will fade," she said. "Do you wanna talk about it?"

"Can't," Matteo said.

It was too soon, too painful. She just nodded and continued to sort through his notes.

"Are you annoyed with me?" he asked her.

"I'm relieved you're being honest with me, that's important," she said.

"Ok," Matteo mumbled. She was going way too easy on him. But if she was harsh like she normally was, it would break him. They could both tell he was fragile, on the verge of breaking.

"Where's Hans?"

"Conference," Matteo said.

"Linn?"

"Linn can't she... she has her own shit," Matteo said.

"Ok then I'll stay awhile. You need to call Jonas, but if shit gets bad you need to let someone stay with you, even Linn ok?"

"Ok," he mumbled.

Linn had been checking on him. Every now and then she would just stand in his doorway and stare at him, reminding him she was there. She never told him to stop, never interfered, but she was there.

"I... this can wait until you're head is clear, but I also wanted to talk more about the other day. I'll tell you more later, but I want to reiterate that being gay is not a mental illness, you being gay and you being bipolar are two completely separate facets of who you are ok?"

"Ok," he said, surprisingly comforted by her words.

He closed his eyes and listened to Amira rattling off facts for a while. Eventually he stopped listening as he drifted off and fell asleep for the first time in days.

When he woke up, Amira was gone. She'd covered him with a blanket though, and placed a glass of water on the table in front of him. He gulped it down gratefully. Next to it was his exam paper with a note stuck to it.

Finish this please and do the other one I've left for you. You got everything right so far, apart from the bit about the Krebs cycle, I found a good website that explains it and I've sent it to you. We'll go over it next week.

Amira

Matteo smiled a little, he couldn't help it. Then he dragged himself up from the couch and headed to bed. He needed to sleep this off.

When he got into his room, he noticed Amira had cleared up all the weed. He laughed to himself. Her parents were going to think she was a drug dealer soon. It was sweet what she was trying to do, as if he couldn't get any more if he wanted to. He pulled his photo box out from under the desk and checked. She was really good. And fuck, she'd seen his baby pictures. She was going to tease him horribly when he was better. He patted his pockets. Well, at least she hadn't searched him. He didn't want to smoke anymore right now though. He just wanted to sleep.

 

Matteo was scaring the boys. They were looking at him like they'd never seen him before. Only Jonas had seen him like this. Only Jonas had witnessed this intensity. Jonas wasn't scared. Jonas was annoyed because Matteo was smoking again. He had two joints left. He was grateful he'd needed to do something with his hands yesterday when he'd rolled a shit ton. Amira hadn't found those because she wasn't brave enough to delve into his smelly pockets. Jonas had tried to confiscate it, but had backed off when Matteo gave him that intense stare. Now he was just sitting there frowning and huffing because he wasn't getting his own way. Well, fuck him. Matteo deserved to do what he wanted. It was his brain he was fucking up. No one had asked Jonas to be here. Well actually, he was pretty sure Amira had asked him, but Matteo didn't care. He was fine; he didn't need them. And he sure as shit didn't need to go to a spa.

Carlos was rambling on about some couples' spa he and Kiki and been to; trying to convince him it would do him good. Couldn't they see he was very relaxed right now?

"I'm not going to a spa," he mumbled.

"No? You and Sara could go though, very romantic," Carlos insisted.

Matteo blinked, confused.

"Me and Sara broke up," he said slowly.

He didn't understand how Carlos didn't know, he'd told Jonas. He looked at Jonas now, but he shrugged.

"Not my place to tell Luigi," Jonas said.

Matteo had assumed it would be top gossip by now, everyone talking about it, fuelled along by Kiki. He needn't have worried, apparently.

"Oh. I thought you knew," Matteo mumbled.

"No dude, what the fuck?" Carlos demanded, immediately concerned. Matteo smiled a little, he couldn't help it.

"Are you ok? Is that why you're so upset?" Abdi asked.

"No offence dude, Sara was lovely, but she wasn't the one for you," Carlos told him.

Matteo rolled his eyes, Carlos didn't even know the half of it.

"What the fuck? Don't be so rude, he's just had his heart broken," Abdi said, hitting him.

"Nah, the vibes weren't there," Carlos insisted.

"What vibes?" Abdi asked.

"You know, they weren't compatible or whatever."

Matteo just rolled his eyes. Carlos talked such bullshit sometimes, although with this he was pretty much on point with this. From someone else Matteo would worry they knew about him, but not from Carlos. Or Abdi, for that matter. Those two had no clue sometimes.

"We'll find you a rebound," Abdi said determinedly. "Me and Jonas met some really hot girls the other day."

"They were so hot," Jonas agreed.

"Did they have names?" Matteo asked coldly, tiring of this. He didn't want a rebound. He wanted David.

"I... yeah... Dagmar and Doris!" Jonas said, snapping his fingers.

"Dagmar?" Carlos asked, "what was she fifty?"

"She was fucking hot though," Abdi said dreamily.

"Did you fuck her?" Carlos asked.

"No, but things got pretty heavy before she had to leave," Jonas told them.

Did they have any idea how easy it was for them? Now they could apparently just go pick up girls off the street and fuck around with them. By some miracle Matteo had met someone he actually liked, someone who he'd thought liked him back, and it had all been snatched away from him. And what happened to Hanna or Sam? They were supposed to like them, but instead they were fucking around with other girls. It wasn't fucking fair.

"Shut up!" he bellowed.

They were all scared now.

"Do you ever talk about anything but fucking? It's gross. And you can stop pretending to care about me and Sara breaking up. You never cared before, all you ever did was ask if we'd had sex, even if we had why would I talk about that with you? Why can't we ever talk about anything but sex? You have no idea what it's like... you'd fucking hate me if I ever got to really talk about myself," he spat.

"Matteo no," Jonas said gently, getting up and walking over to him. "No one hates you."

"I'm disgusting Jonas, I'm all wrong, I'm going to hell," Matteo said.

"No, you're not, you're good, you're so good," Jonas whispered.

"I want you to leave," Matteo said defeated, he didn't deserve their comfort.

"We're not going anywhere, Luigi," Abdi said, holding firm.

They never left, no matter how hard he pushed, even when he was like this they stayed. They always stayed.

"You need us right now," Jonas said.

"And we don't thing you're disgusting, what the hell?" Carlos demanded.

"I'm... you don't know..."

"Maybe not, but you're the best ok? We love you," Carlos said firmly.

Matteo collapsed into Jonas' arms then and he just held him tight.

"I'm not doing too good right now," Matteo mumbled.

"Let us help you? What do you need?"

"Sleep, I can't fucking sleep," he whispered.

Jonas nodded and led him to the bed, tucking him in and climbing up beside him. Carlos and Abdi dragged their chairs closer, and Carlos put on some gentle music. Matteo didn't deserve any of this. He started to cry, but Jonas continued to hold him tight.

"Why would we think he's disgusting?" Carlos asked after a while.

They thought he was asleep. He was pretty close to sleep, but he knew he couldn't. Still, it was peaceful laying there like that.

"Maybe he's into weird shit," Abdi said.

"It is always the quiet ones," Carlos agreed.

"Well, whatever it is, we love him," Abdi said.

"Even if he likes to have sex in a bathtub filled with pasta sauce?" Carlos asked.

"What the fuck?" Abdi asked.

"That's a thing, I saw it online," Carlos said.

Matteo made a mental note to never go through Carlos' browsing history.

"Will you two shut the fuck up?" Jonas muttered, but he was shaking with laughter beside him.

"Ok, fine. But if he is we gotta be supportive," Carlos insisted.

"We could buy him some pasta sauce? Or do you think he'd prefer it homemade?" Abdi suggested.

"Shut. Up."

Matteo couldn't help but smile to himself. Maybe it really would be ok. Maybe these guys would still love him if they knew. He hoped they didn't buy him anything though. He could just picture them turning up with pride flags. Or worse, sex toys.

 

This was his last joint. He was going to stop after this. He was going to take his meds again, too. He needed to pull himself together. It wasn't worth it, throwing all his progress away over a boy. Except it wasn't just David, it was everything. It was the fact that school was ending, and he wasn't sure he could keep the boys around for much longer. It was the fact that he desperately missed his mum, but still couldn't bring himself to talk to her. He even missed his dad. He felt so fucking alone and David pushing him away, whatever his reasoning, it just reminded him of that. Just proved that his life was destined to be lonely. And he couldn't handle that.

"Hey!"

Matteo looked down over the balcony and saw Hanna there.

"Let me in?" she said.

He nodded and went to the door.

When she got there, she pulled him straight into a hug, didn't hesitate at all, so he clung to her. When he pulled back, she didn't comment on the fact that he needed to wipe his eyes, or the fact he probably smelled bad.

"I'm meeting Mia in a bit," she explained, "but I thought we could hang out for a bit."

"Ok," Matteo mumbled, leading her to the kitchen. "I'm not the best company, I'm not doing so well right now," he admitted.

"That's ok, I miss you Matteo," she said.

When he went to relight the joint, she plucked it from his hand and shook her head.

"Hanna," he whined.

"Matteo," she countered.

"It helps," he insisted.

"Does it?"

"Not really," he admitted. "It used to, before I had meds it was the only thing that worked."

"But now you do have meds," she said.

He shrugged. "Do you really miss me?" he asked instead, knowing he wasn't getting it back.

"Of course," she said.

"Hanna, do you promise to stay my friend after school is over?"

"Oh Matteo," she whispered, getting up to hug him again. "You know that I'm not friends with you just because we're at school together. We're gonna hang out even when we're old," she insisted.

"Yeah?"

"Yeah, look things have been a bit messy for me lately and I've been avoiding you a bit, I didn't want to drag you into it, but... I'm going to pull myself together, and then I'll be around all the time. You'll get fed up of me," she said.

"Not possible."

She smiled.

"Are you ok?" he asked her.

"Yeah it's just a lot..."

"You can talk about Jonas. It's ok," he said.

He knew he'd gone off on her before. He'd accused her of only being friends with him to talk about Jonas, but he didn't mind talking it through with her if that was what she needed.

"Yeah, I... it's not even Jonas. That's a whole mess that I don't even want to touch right now. I'm scared of exams, I'm scared of the future. I don't know what I want to do. I don't even know what I'm capable of doing," she explained.

"Oh. Yeah me too."

He was stunned. He thought Hanna was fine. He thought it was just him that was struggling with this.

"I'm going to go see the school about my options, they have a careers service you know," she told him.

"Oh. Can I... maybe I should go... I just... I don't know what I like," Matteo said.

"They can help with that, point you in the right direction," she said.

"Just got to get through exams first," Matteo said.

"Yep."

"We can?" he asked, wanting reassurance.

"I think so, it's scary but we can," Hanna said.

"I had a panic attack in my Spanish exam," he told her. He didn't think he'd told anyone that yet. David knew, but he'd been there.

"Shit," she whispered.

"But it was just... Spanish was supposed to be the easy one for me you know? History is a lot to remember and biology is just difficult, I put too much pressure on Spanish thinking it was the one I would pass."

"I'm terrified of maths, German too," Hanna said.

"God yeah, I don't envy you, good luck though," he said.

"You know what's unfair?"

"What?"

"Jonas fucked around all last year and messed up all his classwork, but he's somehow pulled it back," Hanna complained.

He grinned, remembering all their study sessions over the years. She used to hate the two of them. He should've been more sympathetic, less teasing he realised. But she gave back pretty good. He hadn't realised it was insecurity for her.

"He's that lazy kind of clever," Matteo said.

"You are too sometimes," she said.

"No... yeah a bit but it's not the same. I know a lot of stuff, but it's not easy because I overthink and get wound up," Matteo said.

"Well, the first step is dealing with that," Hanna suggested.

"I think when I'm done with school that's it. I'm not going to go back," he said. He wasn't academic anymore, and there was no point pushing it. What would he even do?

"There's nothing wrong with that. You could do an apprenticeship?" she suggested.

"In what?"

She looked at him for a long time. "Pasta?"

"Fuck off," he muttered.

She laughed, and he joined in.

"You'll figure it out. We're eighteen, we're not supposed to know this stuff yet. Hell, my mum only realised she wanted to be a teacher when she was thirty-two," Hanna said.

That did make him feel a bit better. Just because school was ending didn't mean they were ready, didn't mean they had to walk into the job they would have for life. He had time to try a few things on.

"I loved your mum, she was my favourite teacher," Matteo said.

He'd been most teachers' favourite pupil back then. Oh, how things had changed.

"She wasn't mine, always nagging me about homework. But I miss her. How's your mum?"

"Ok I think, she's messaging me... or I've been a bit switched off. But her messages have been calm lately," he explained.

"That's good."

"Thank you for hanging out," he said.

"No problem, I'll be around more often," she promised.

"Without the pretence of seeing Mia?" he asked.

"I really do have to see Mia, Alex drama," Hanna insisted.

Matteo rolled his eyes.

"Boyfriends, who'd want them?" Hanna teased, a little carefully.

"Not me, just a lot of heartbreak," he said tiredly.

"Oh yeah?"

"There's a boy," he admitted.

That caught her full attention.

"Is there really?" she asked excitedly.

"But nothing came of it," he whispered.

"But you're sad?"

"I am," he said.

"It's ok to be sad about a boy," she assured him.

"Thank you."

"Even if nothing came of it, even if it feels like you're overreacting. You're not, they're your feelings and if he's hurt you, it's ok to be sad about it," she insisted.

That felt so good to hear. He knew he'd put too much in, pinned too much hope on David, but that didn't ease his pain one bit.

"Thank you, Hanna," he said.

"Now who do I need to beat up?" she demanded.

He giggled then, the ache in his chest easing slightly.

"It's nice to see you smile," Hanna said.

"It's good to smile. I think... I think I need to see Lydia, I don't think I can pull through this by myself," he said.

"When's your next appointment?" Hanna asked.

Matteo glanced at the clock on the oven.

"About ten minutes ago," he told her.

"Matteo," she chastised.

"I just... I couldn't," he said.

"Make another appointment," she said.

"I will. I will," he insisted when she looked doubtful.

"Ok," she said.

He stretched out on the table and smiled when Hanna stroked his hair from his face.

"Everything is going to be ok, Matteo. You are going to be ok," she promised him

He believed her. Maybe ok was all he got, maybe he didn't get wonderful and brilliant and fantastic. He'd gotten a taste of that last week. Maybe he'd get it again, maybe he wouldn't. But Hanna was right, everything didn't have to be dark and terrible either. He could manage with ok. It took all he had, a shit ton of effort, but he'd gotten there before. He could get there again.

 

Later that evening, Matteo still wasn't ready to turn on his phone. He wasn't ready to deal with all the messages. Or perhaps there wouldn't be any messages at all. That would hurt just as badly. Instead, he turned on his laptop and sent Lydia a very apologetic email, pretty much begging for another appointment. He wanted to pull through this, he did, but he didn't think that was possible on his own.

He needed help; he needed her to help him get back on track. He hoped she would; he hoped she'd give him another chance. He didn't think she would just write him off.

He was feeling very lost now, anxious, nervous, panicky. He needed a joint, but he had nothing left. He could go out and get some more, but he knew he shouldn't. It was tempting though. He was pushing it, sitting there on his laptop. Just a few clicks and he could have some more easily. Hell, he could get something even stronger, really numb his brain. But he didn't. He closed his laptop and went back to his bed, laying down and pulling his pillow against his chest. He turned to the bedside table and pulled out his pill box. He had a seven day organiser. He needed it to keep on track. There were pills he was supposed to take daily. And then he had a bottle of sleeping pills he was supposed to take if he really couldn't sleep, but he didn't take those often because he always felt exhausted the next day. The organiser should've been empty by Sunday, but he hadn't taken anything since Friday. So he shook Saturday's dose into his hand and took them. He wrinkled his nose at the taste of the water; it had been there a while, and it tasted funny. Still, he'd just taken a huge step.

He sat up properly and counted out his doses for the next week. He was going to have to start taking them in the early evening now. Maybe that would be better. He usually took them in the morning because that seemed natural to him. He used to take his vitamins in the morning to make his mum smile. There wasn't a particular time he had to take them, just the same time every day. He'd certainly fucked up there. Waking as erratically as he did, it meant sometimes he took them at five in the morning, sometimes three in the afternoon.

He filled up the organiser and put it to one side. Then he grabbed his laptop and opened up his emails again. It was certainly weird doing this, but he wasn't ready to use his phone yet, plus Hans might have blocked him on everything else. He hoped Hans hadn't blocked him on here too. He was back on Thursday, but he wanted to do this now. It was easier like this.

Hi Hans,

I know this is weird, but I'm not on my phone at the moment. I kind of went out of reach for a while. I'm not ready yet, to get back on my phone, but I wanted to reach out to you. I just wanted to apologise for the other day. I was horrible and I don't have any excuse for my behaviour. None. I was just shitty. I am shitty and I just always seem to try and bring everyone down. I'm not a nice person. I am working on it. I was in a bad mood when you came into my room; I was dealing with some shit, and then I just didn't want to let you help me. You could've helped me and I knew that, but I wanted to wallow in it. So I wouldn't let you in, wouldn't let you see. I was defensive, but that wasn't fair on you. You had no idea what was going on. To you I was just being an asshole. But the thing is I am an asshole. I don't want to be; I want to be kind and let my friends help me, but it's hard. So fucking hard. Again, not a fucking excuse. What I said was disgusting, and I knew it would hurt, but I said it anyway.

But also you were right. I hate myself. I hate myself so much. I'm nowhere near accepting that I'm gay. Part of it is my dad making fun of me my whole life for all those little things about me that weren't manly enough. The other half is the fear that my mum will hate me for who I am. I couldn't bear that. If she does I don't know if I could ever love myself. So for the first two months of therapy I insisted that it was all just a side effect of my bipolar. That I wasn't gay at all, even though I knew that was wrong, I didn't want to face it.

I still don't. I still can't.

I'm so fucking scared Hans.

I'm so scared for it to be real.

Because it fucking hurts. It hurts so badly. And I'm so fucking sad and I thought maybe I could come out and not be so lonely, but I am. I am so fucking lonely. I know I'm not alone, I know I have people who care so much, but my depression doesn't always let me see that.

I'm not brave like you Hans. I'm scared of everything. My life is one big fucking panic attack.

But I'm trying.

And I'm so fucking sorry for everything I said. I didn't want to hurt, not really, I just wanted you to see what an asshole I was. That I wasn't worth the effort. But I knew it would hurt and I didn't stop.

I hope you can forgive me.

I'm not ok right now, but I will get there again. Linn is watching me. I think she's scared. I'm not going to do anything, she doesn't need to worry. I'm sorry I'm like this, I'm sorry for scaring all of you.

But I get it, why she's worried. I went off my meds. I've been smoking. A lot. It's fucked me up. This is probably going to get worse before it gets better. But I'm going to get better. But I need you. I'm sorry I pushed you away, I hope you don't hate me, I need you. I understand if you want nothing to do with me. I'm not your responsibility I do know that.

And I went off my meds after I was shitty not before, I have no excuse, I already told you. But I'm back on them now. I don't know what the damage will be. I just took my first dose. I haven't been all that good about it. And some days, if you didn't check, I probably wouldn't take them at all. But I want to try harder. I need to start taking them at the same time every day. So if you still want to be my friend, and still want to remind me could we maybe make a proper plan?

Anyway, I hope the conference was good and not too boring. See you soon,

Matteo.

 

On Thursday morning Matteo blinked awake slowly. He felt warm and safe. He felt rested for the first time in days. He tensed a little when he realised he wasn't alone. He turned over. Hans was back and laying there smiling at him. No sense of personal space with him. Matteo had wondered what had woken him up, apparently it was being watched by his roommate.

"Hello butterfly, I got your lovely email," Hans said, beaming at him.

"Oh. No, that wasn't... I need to apologise properly," Matteo insisted.

"I forgive you, Matteo," Hans said, taking the matter out of his hands.

Matteo sunk back into the pillows.

"How are you doing, Matteo?" Hans asked him.

"I... I don't want you to forgive me because I'm a mess," Matteo mumbled.

"Good. Because I don't. I've forgiven you because you're sorry. So, how are you doing, Matteo?" Hans asked him again.

"Not good," he said, honestly.

Hans waited.

"Really bad actually but... I'm back on my meds. I'm seeing Lydia today, and I'm just taking it slowly. I know I can be ok," Matteo said.

"That's good. Ok, what time is your appointment?"

"Ten," he said.

"Let's have breakfast then, pancakes?" Hans asked.

"Can you make pancakes then?" Matteo asked back, knowing the answer. He yawned and stretched, he felt kind of good physically. That was probably the good night's sleep.

"No," Hans said cheekily.

"You want me to make you pancakes?" Matteo demanded.

"Well, you were quite mean," Hans said.

Matteo groaned. He'd walked right into that one.

"Make me pancakes and I won't ever bring it up again," Hans offered.

"Ok Hans," Matteo said, climbing out of bed and stumbling into the kitchen after him.

"I'm glad you're doing better. I'm proud of you. I think you're really brave, Matteo," Hans said.

"Thank you," Matteo mumbled, focusing on the pancake ingredients, too overwhelmed to look at Hans right now.

"So?"

"So?"

"How are things with David?" Hans said, coming to stand beside him.

"There is no me and David," Matteo told him.

"What happened?" Hans asked, passing Matteo the eggs.

Matteo sighed. His mum had taught him how to make pancakes. She'd taught him how to cook. He used to spend his weekends following her around the kitchen with her recipe books, demanding she showed him how to make it all. She'd been so patient with him too, even when his dad had been grumpy with the mess they'd made. It was just their thing, cooking together. He missed that.

Matteo wasn't sure if he could talk about David yet, but he knew he should, knew Hans would help.

"He asked me to leave him alone," Matteo told him.

He poured the batter into the pan and stared at it; he didn't dare look up at Hans. He didn't want to see the look of pity on his face.

"Ok? I'm sorry about that Matteo, but maybe it will still work out?"

"How if he doesn't want to see me?"

"That's all he said? Leave him alone?" Hans asked.

Matteo handed him a plate of pancakes.

"Uh uh, you're eating too," Hans said, transferring half of his plate to another and nudging Matteo to join him at the table.

Matteo grabbed the whipped cream and chocolate sauce on the way, then sat down opposite Hans.

"At first he just asked for space, but... I went over there and I think I scared him," Matteo said, picking at his pancakes.

"Ok." Hans said, tapping his chin. "Is David out?"

Matteo shrugged. "I don't know. It's dumb... we talked and talked about all sorts of things, our fears, our dreams, stuff I thought was important, but I guess we didn't talk about stuff like that," he admitted.

"Oh no that stuff you talked about is important too," Hans insisted.

"Yeah?"

"Of course, you were learning each other, you were at that wonderful stage where you're awkwardly figuring each other out, it's cute," Hans said.

"Not cute," Matteo grumbled.

"But there are other things you do need to talk about, when you're ready. Are you even out yet?"

"To some people," he said.

"Exactly. So were you planning on dating David? Being public?"

"I don't know," Matteo said.

"And that's fine, you don't need to know straightaway, but maybe that's why David got scared, maybe he's not ready," Hans suggested.

"I think... I think he has problems with his family," Matteo guessed, based on the way David was, the way he'd talked about his parents.

"I know all about that," Hans said.

"Yeah?"

"I didn't come out to my family until I moved out and knew I was safe. They would've kicked me out otherwise. And when I go back... I still have to... be straight," Hans said.

"Be straight?"

"I have to tone it all down, I can't talk about it or even hint that I'm gay, they're getting better but it's exhausting," Hans said.

"I'm so fucking sorry Hans, for what I said, I'm sorry for saying you were too much," Matteo said.

That was exactly what he'd said to Hans. God, he was awful.

"You know what? I am too much, but for the first eighteen years of my life I didn't get to be myself, I had to hide who I was. So now that I can be me, I'm gonna be the most me I can be and fuck whoever thinks I'm too much," Hans said.

"That's beautiful," Matteo said quietly.

"But when I first came out, it wasn't as easy, I was scared, knowing how my family reacted, I was scared that was all there would be. It takes time. Maybe David isn't there yet," Hans suggested.

"So what do I do?"

"Give him time, give him the space he asked for, do you think you could do that?"

Matteo nodded. "But what if he never speaks to me again?"

"He might not, he might not ever be ready, but I really hope that he is," Hans told him.

"Me too."

"And you?" Hans asked him.

"Me?"

"Are you ready to be you?"

"I think so. It's not just David, I want to tell the boys, I want to talk about it and just be more me, I'm so scared, but I'm so tired of hiding," Matteo said.

"What's stopping you?" Hans asked.

"I have to tell my mum properly. I told her when I was manic, but to tell her again I'd have to tell her I'm bipolar," Matteo said.

"Ah, so that's what's stopping you?"

"Yeah, I don't want to scare her."

"I'm sure you won't, I'm sure she will just be happy to see you," Hans said, taking his hand and squeezing it.

"I think I'll tell her soon, I'm in a bit of a dip at the moment, but I can't put it off much longer and I don't want to," Matteo said.

"Good man. Matteo, you're going to be fine. I'll wash up, you get to your appointment," Hans said, taking their plates and dumping them in the sink.

"We're ok?"

Hans just grabbed him and gave him a big squeeze. "We're fine butterfly," he promised.

 

All the calm he built up with Hans faded the moment he stepped into Lydia's building. He felt afraid. He was going to have to explain himself and beg her to forgive him. He'd thrown away all the progress they'd made together. She would know what a screw up he was. He sat there in the waiting room, head in his hands, trying not to cry, trying not to run away.

"Come on in, Matteo," Lydia said, poking her head out of her office door.

Matteo couldn't move. He stayed sitting there until, Lydia sat down beside him. "Don't feel like therapy today?"

"I'm really sorry about Tuesday," he mumbled.

"Come with me, Matteo," Lydia said, standing up and waiting for him.

He stood up and followed her into a little kitchenette.

"Do you like tea, Matteo?"

"Not really," Matteo said.

"Would you like to have tea with me?"

"Ok," he said.

She didn't speak while she made the tea. He watched her and frowned. She was using a teapot and everything, just like his mum did sometimes. It all felt quite proper. When she was done, she gestured for him to pick up the tray and follow her back to the office. He was so focused on not dropping it; he forgot his trepidation over the appointment. He put the tray down on the little table and sat down. She poured him a cup and nudged it toward him.

"It's chamomile," she said. "No caffeine."

"Ok thank you," he said, placing his hands on the warm cup. It felt good, comforting.

"So," she said.

"So?"

"Take your time, I'd like you to tell me what's going on with you at the moment. I won't be mad, I promise," she assured him.

"I fucked up," Matteo said.

"In what way?"

"I've been smoking. Weed," he clarified.

"Ok. You know that it can mess with your meds?" Lydia asked him.

"Yeah."

"And how much have you been smoking?" she asked.

He started to squirm now; he hated this.

"It started with just one or two. Just casually, I thought it would be ok," Matteo said.

"That doesn't sound too bad. One or two every now and then is ok," she assured him

"But I was drinking too," he admitted.

"That's not good," Lydia said.

"It was just the once at a party, but I was sad so I drank... not a lot compared to how much I used to, but still too much. But then... everything this weekend got fucked up. I stopped taking my meds, I smoked nonstop," he said.

"Why?"

"I just... I wanted to stop everything for a while."

"Did it work?"

"No," he admitted.

She smiled. "Ok, that's good that you're aware of that," she said.

"I... I think I figured it out," he said.

"Go on," she said, focusing on him completely, knowing he needed it.

"I didn't feel good smoking, it didn't help anything. But then Amira came over to study, and she understood that I wasn't in a good place, so she just sat with me instead, kept me company. And Jonas and Abdi and Carlos came over and stayed with me all of Monday. And Hanna came to see me, and we just chatted, it was so nice. And Hans is back now. And even though I resisted as hard as I could, they made me feel much better than any weed could," he explained.

Lydia clapped her hands together. "Oh Matteo well done, that's exactly it. You did so well. And it's ok that it took something like this for you to realise that," she said.

He smiled then and felt so validated.

"Yeah?"

"Of course. You're not perfect, nobody is, it's ok to screw up. At least you knew you did. That's important," Lydia said.

"Thanks," he said, knowing what was coming next.

"But you know what we have to talk about?"

"I don't wanna," he whined, finally taking a sip of his tea. He grimaced. "This is disgusting," he muttered.

"What's your poison of choice?" she asked.

"Black coffee," he said.

"How is that better?" she demanded.

He shrugged. He found himself continuing to sip at the tea. But he didn't like it. He didn't.

"So firstly, those first couple of joints, why did you smoke them?" Lydia asked.

"Trying to be cool, feel normal," he said.

"That's not too bad. If you think you can control it, I'm not going to forbid you, that will probably make it harder. But I'm going to ask that you take a long break, let yourself get on track. You did well and you can again. The drinking?"

"Everyone else was, and... I was sad," he said quietly.

"You were sad why?"

"I thought... I haven't been telling you stuff," he admitted.

She nodded, not angry, just waiting.

"There was a boy," he said.

"Do tell," she teased, making it easier for him.

"His name is David. And... I invited him to my party, and he came, but I thought he brought his girlfriend, so I got drunk. But it was his sister. So it was ok. And the other times I've been smoking it was because he makes me nervous."

"Ok, does he know about you? That you shouldn't be smoking?" Lydia asked.

"He knows I shouldn't smoke, but he doesn't know why and he's really good, he hasn't asked," Matteo said.

"Good."

"No, because... I thought we had something but we don't, I scared him away," Matteo said, trying not to get upset.

"I don't believe that," Lydia said.

"I did, I was too much, too intense," Matteo argued.

"Did he say that?"

"No, he asked for space, but then I went over there and I was freaking out and I scared his sister, she probably told him to stay away from me," Matteo said.

"But Matteo, you don't know this, you're just guessing," she said.

She was right, but it was so hard to accept that.

"But..."

"And I understand it, you're guessing the worst so you have some control over it," Lydia said.

"Yeah," he agreed.

"But you don't know what David is thinking, do you?"

"No."

"You can guess as much as you want, but you don't know," she reminded him.

"Yeah."

"Have you reached out?" she asked.

"No, I turned off my phone," he told her.

"I think you should reach out," she suggested.

He stared at her. Was she mad? He couldn't do that. It would kill him. He would only make everything worse.

"No," he whispered.

"It's up to you, Matteo," she said.

"Ok?"

"No pressure but... maybe before school's over, properly over, just reach out. I assume he's another student?"

"He is," Matteo said.

"How does that sound?"

He wanted to, desperately. Even though he'd written off any chance he had with David, he couldn't bear the idea of never seeing him again. Even if it was just once more, to apologise for pushing, he did need to see him again. He wasn't sure he could be that brave, though.

"Maybe," he whispered.

"You've done well Matteo, all is not lost," she promised him.

"Am I going to be ok?"

She took a deep breath.

"I don't know," she said honestly, "going off your meds, plus the weed and alcohol may still have ramifications. You might be ok. You might struggle to stay stable, but it will even out," she said.

"I have to go see Agata?"

"I would advise it," she said.

Matteo groaned, he knew it was his own fault, but that was the last thing he wanted.

"Why so scared?"

"She's going to be mad," he whined.

"She won't be, I promise," Lydia assured him.

"Ok I will, not yet, but I will," he said.

"Call her... or email let her know what's going on, and let her know you may need to check in," Lydia suggested.

"Ok, good idea," Matteo said.

"So feeling better?"

Matteo nodded.

"Proud of you, Matteo," Lydia said.

"Thank you," he whispered, choking up.

"You're doing very well, this was a blip, and you will have more, but the important thing is how you handled it. You did so well, Matteo," she said.

He nodded. He wanted to cry, but he was happy, he was feeling emotional. This had gone better than he'd expected. He also realised Lydia was right. Considering how badly he'd fucked up, he'd pulled himself out of it. He'd let his friends help him, and he'd made it.

 

Matteo wasn't going to message David, despite what he'd said to Lydia. Not yet, at least. But he was going to turn on his phone. He was. He'd found it under his cushions, where he'd thrown it last week. It had been good to switch off for a while. But now it was time. He sat there on the end of the bed, holding it in his hand, staring at it. He'd been staring at it for ten minutes now.

Finally he powered it on and resisted the temptation to throw it again. He watched it load and realised he never really turned it off, not on purpose at least. It ran out of battery all the time, but he'd never gone offline like this before. He'd needed it.

Slowly the messages started coming in. There were a lot. Matteo groaned. He only wanted to text Jonas. He didn't want to deal with the others. So he didn't. He swiped them all away and opened up his chat with Jonas.

Matteo: hey can we talk?

More messages were coming in, Matteo didn't understand it. Hell, even Leonie was messaging him. Apparently he'd scared people, disappearing like that.

While he waited for Jonas, he opened up a few conversations. He thanked Amira for coming over at the weekend, and for the resources she'd sent him. He told her he was doing better and asked if they could study next week. Then he let Hanna know he'd been to see Lydia and that he was working through some shit, but he was feeling better.

He messaged Carlos and Abdi in the group chat saying he was fine, but he still wasn't up to coming back online properly. He suggested that maybe they could hang out during the week. They were the only two that replied immediately, telling him it was chill and arranging for them to meet up and play table tennis on Wednesday.

He let Leonie know he was ok. He let Sara know the same and apologised for disappearing. He didn't give her any details, but he let her know it had gotten bad for a while and that he was doing better now.

He ignored the message from his dad confirming his rent had been paid for another month. That was all he ever got from the man. Receipts. He never acknowledged them. Why should he say thanks to a man who had no interest in his life?

Instead, he opened his messages from his mum, the only person he considered to be his parent, the one who cared, the one who stayed. There wasn't a lot, a few bible verses, interspersed with questions about him, school, his friends. He smiled. He was going to see her soon he decided. It was time. He sent her a quick text apologising for being out of touch and asking if he could see her soon. He knew he wouldn't get a response for a while. He didn't mind. They both liked to take their time with these things, and that was fine.

Finally, a text came in from Jonas.

Jonas: yeah man what's up?

Matteo: no I need to see you, can we meet up?

Jonas: yeah of course, I can come over now?

Matteo: I'm going to bed in a bit, tomorrow is good

Jonas: it's not even nine

Jonas: you're such an old man

Matteo: fuck off. I'm not going to bed bed, but by the time you get here it'll be nearly ten loser

Jonas: fair point

Jonas: tomorrow then, let's go to park

Jonas: you can buy me lunch

Matteo: what the fuck?

Matteo: no

Matteo: fine but if I buy you lunch, I'm not apologising for being shitty

Jonas: lunch is fine

Matteo: nothing extravagant

Jonas: kebabs?

Matteo: kebabs

He smiled and closed the conversation, grateful for Jonas' easy going nature. The way he always just accepted him, let him have his moods and then welcomed him back with open arms. They'd been best friends since they were tiny. Jonas had stuck around with him through a lot of shit. Hell, he'd stayed even after Matteo had confessed he was responsible for his heart break. So had Hanna. If either of them had felt anything like he had the past week, then to stay meant they really must love him. That they really were going to stay.

He sighed. There was one last person in his unreads. David. There were seven messages. Matteo's hands started to shake. He couldn't deal with this yet, couldn't be crushed again. He wasn't strong enough. The messages still had the power to pull him right back under. So he chickened out. He muted the conversation and archived it for now.

He would look he would. Just not yet.

 

David had continued to message him. That was the first thing Matteo noted when he looked at his phone the next morning. He hadn't read them, but he'd checked and more had come through, the number slowly going up. He couldn't resist checking, apparently. He was going to read them soon. He just needed to talk to Jonas first.

He stood there leaning against the wall, letting his mind wander. His phone was burning in his pocket. David was being pretty brave to keep messaging with no response. Matteo was desperate to check now. But he didn't. He didn't think David would send him that many messages asking him to stay away, but the fear was still there. If he had, it would break him.

So Matteo hadn't looked at the messages, but he had given in and looked at David's instagram. He'd seen his dark drawings, and he was worried. God, he ached to reach out. He wanted to check if David was ok. Even if he wanted nothing to do with Matteo, he wanted to know that he was ok.

"Feed me then, Matteo," Jonas said, throwing an arm around his neck and pulling him from his thoughts.

"Ugh you're such a pain," Matteo said, but he bought them both kebabs and then led them into the park.

Now that they were here he didn't know what to say. He didn't even know why they were doing this. He just wanted to talk to Jonas. Properly. Like they used to. But it was like there were no words.

Jonas seemed to get this though, he was rabbiting on about how he was swimming in the mornings now, how he'd stopped fucking around and chasing girls because it wasn't making him happy.

"You need to be happy with yourself," Matteo said.

"Exactly!"

"It's not that you can't have a relationship, like you totally can form connections with people, but what you were doing was trying to distract from your sadness over Hanna. Maybe it would've worked eventually, but it's better to work on it, even though it's much harder," he said.

"You're so fucking right and it is, it is harder. I went with those girls because they liked me and to me it was like see Hanna is wrong, I am worth it," he explained.

"Hanna loves you Jonas, I don't believe you, if you're saying that's what she said about you," Matteo argued.

Jonas chuckled and then sighed, running his hand through his hair sheepishly.

"No, you're right she didn't I just... I just interpreted it that way... I made it about me. Hanna left me to work on herself, to figure things out. She struggled to be herself with me. She wanted to figure herself out on her own. I just got shitty because she was living her life and it felt like she was leaving me behind. I made it about me."

Matteo rolled his eyes. These two were ridiculous. He stared out across the park, watching the people going about their lives. He pulled his hat down further over his face. It was cold, and he needed to hide.

But what Jonas was saying struck Matteo hard. Wasn't that what he was doing? David had asked for space, had hinted several times that he was dealing with his own shit. Matteo had turned it all around on himself. It wasn't his fault, he'd struggled with insecurity for as long as he could remember. But maybe David was doing what he did. Maybe he was pushing. Maybe Matteo needed to step up. It would be terrifying. It could go horribly wrong. But it could also go so right. He wasn't ready yet, but maybe, just maybe, he would do what Lydia had suggested.

"So?"

"So," Matteo repeated, sighing. It was time to do something long overdue.

"Was there something you wanted to talk about?" Jonas asked gently, putting no pressure on Matteo. If he changed his mind, that would be fine. They could just go home and try again later.

But he was ready.

"I wanted to talk about when I kissed you, I want to talk about... me being gay," Matteo said.

"Ok?"

"It's not fucking fair," Matteo muttered.

"How do you mean?" Jonas asked.

"I never got to do it properly, I never go to tell you properly, I had no control, I didn't want to tell you like that. It's why I can't talk about, I know it's stupid but I feel like something was taken from me," Matteo explained.

Jonas looked at him thoughtfully. "Tell me again," he said.

"What?"

"Tell me again, we're here now, tell me again on your own terms," Jonas said.

Matteo blinked, he stared at Jonas. Was he really offering him the chance to come out again? God, Jonas really was the best person he knew.

"Tell me like you haven't told me," Jonas clarified.

"I..."

Matteo took a deep breath, this shouldn't be so hard, Jonas already knew. But despite Jonas' best efforts, Matteo had refused to talk about it, he'd refused to even utter the words around him except in anger.

"Jonas?"

"Yeah?"

"I'm gay and... yeah, I'm gay," he said, sighing in relief. It was stupid, but it felt so good to say it out loud.

"Good," Jonas said.

"Good?"

"What it's good? I'm happy for you," Jonas said, bumping their shoulders.

"I'm gay and for a little while I was into you, but I'm not anymore. You're my best friend and I never want that to change. You've been so good to me, so patient, and I know I don't say it, but I fucking appreciate you and everything you do. I'm so glad I met you, I'm so glad you stuck around," Matteo said.

Jonas' eyes were shining now, and he pulled Matteo closer.

"I'm not going anywhere Matteo, you're my best friend, you're my family and nothing will ever change that," he said, wrapping his arm around him and pulling him close.

"Thank you," Matteo whispered.

"Is there anything else?" Jonas asked, knowing how hard it was for Matteo to volunteer information.

"Yeah. I want to talk to about shit again. I don't want to hide what's going on with me anymore," Matteo said.

"So what's going on with you?"

"I... I fell for a guy," Matteo said.

"Yeah? David?"

"Yeah."

"What happened there?" Jonas asked.

"I... I thought there was something, I wanted there to be something, but I think I ruined it," Matteo admitted.

Jonas just shook his head fondly. "How?" he asked gently.

"Being too much," Matteo said.

"Did David tell you that?"

"No, but I scared him away," Matteo said.

"Ok?"

"He asked me for space," Matteo said, feeling silly about his reaction. He'd literally done the opposite of what David asked of him.

"And let me guess you went over there?"

Jonas knew him so well, too well.

"I panicked," Matteo mumbled.

"Yeah you do that, he'll get to know that about you I guess," Jonas said.

"No, but he asked me to leave him alone then," Matteo said.

"He did?"

That wasn't quite right either.

"No, he said I should leave him alone that... he was sorry for leading me on? That he was sorry, but it wasn't going to work," Matteo said, trying to remember, trying to understand where it all went wrong.

"That sounds like his issue not yours," Jonas said patiently.

"I..."

"You turned it all around on you?"

"Yeah," Matteo admitted quietly.

"What are you thinking now?" Jonas asked.

"I need to talk to him?" Matteo suggested, the idea terrified him, but he wanted to.

"Yep. It's the only thing that's going to put your mind at ease," Jonas said.

"I'm scared," Matteo said.

Jonas squeezed him and gave him and encouraging smile.

"You don't have to do it yet," he said.

"He's sent me nine messages now," Matteo said, checking his phone. Fuck. At this point, he was just being rude.

"You read them?"

"Too scared," Matteo said.

"Ok. Ok. You don't have to text him yet, but by the end of today I want you to read the messages," Jonas said firmly.

Matteo balked at that, shaking his head.

Jonas just waited.

"Ok, fine," Matteo said.

"And I'm going to make sure you do," Jonas said.

"How?"

"I'm not going to leave you alone until you do," Jonas said.

"Ugh."

"Fuck, it's freezing," Jonas said, standing up and holding out his hand.

Matteo took it and let Jonas pull him up.

"We could go back to mine?" he offered.

"Play Mario Kart?" Jonas asked.

"Yeah, ok," Matteo said.

"And you'll feed me?"

Matteo shoved him as they walked back to his apartment. "You just ate an entire kebab!"

"I mean later, getting you to text David is going to take all day," Jonas teased.

Matteo kicked him for that.

"Fuck you!"

 

When they got back to the apartment and into Matteo's room, he stopped dead, so suddenly that Jonas bumped into him.

"The fuck dude?"

Matteo just stood there, staring at the paper on his bed with his name on it. He had a feeling he knew who it was from.

"What's that?" Jonas said, reaching out for it.

Matteo shoved him hard and snatched up the paper.

"Fucking hell Matteo," Jonas said, laughing at his eagerness.

"It's not for you," he said, opening it with shaking hands.

"Is it from lover boy?"

Matteo stared down at the drawing, running his fingers over the ink. David had drawn this. David had been here. David was sad.

"It's not you it's me? Told you dude," Jonas said.

Matteo marched out of the room, Jonas trailing after him.

He burst into the kitchen, startling Mia from her cooking.

"Was David here?" he demanded.

Hans chuckled.

"Was he here?" he asked again, getting louder as he got wound up.

"Calm down Matteo, no he wasn't here," Hans told him.

"He was downstairs, I ran into him posting this," Mia said, gesturing to the drawing in his hands.

"Fuck," Matteo said.

"Calm down," Hans repeated.

"I missed him," Matteo grumbled, although deep down he knew it was for the best, he clearly wasn't in any state to talk to him.

He stared down at the drawing again. Then he ran back into his room and threw himself onto the bed. Jonas padded into the room a minute later, munching on some crisps. He offered them to Matteo who shook his head.

"Where did you get them?"

"Hans gave them to me, I think he likes me," Jonas said.

"No."

"No?"

"Gay people can be nice without fancying you," Matteo muttered. "Plus, he thinks we're kids."

"Yeah I know, he thinks I'm sweet, said I'm a good best friend to you. So you ought to remember that, I've got your weird gay dad's approval," Jonas said.

"Hans isn't my fucking dad... but..."

"But?"

"All of you are like my family now, is that weird?" Matteo asked.

"I've thought of you as family for a long time now Matteo," Jonas said.

Matteo smiled and shifted onto his front, snatching some crisps and pulling out his phone.

"Time to be brave?"

"Time to be brave," he agreed.

He finally opened up his conversation with David and began to read. The first couple of unread messages had come in an hour after David had told him to leave him alone.

David (Friday, 22.53): Laura is worried about you, she said you seemed a bit out of sorts, I hope you're ok

David (Friday, 23.32): fuck it. I'm worried about you not Laura. I mean Laura is too, but I am too. I am so fucking sorry for earlier. Matteo I just want you to know this isn't about you. This is my own shit ok? Please be ok.

David (Saturday, 14.33): I know I'm being really shitty now, I know I told you to leave me alone and now I'm texting you. I sorry for giving you mixed messages. I don't even know why I'm messaging you. There's nothing I can say to fix this.

David (Saturday, 14.35): I'm just sorry. I always do this. I get something good and I ruin it. You've had a lucky escape Matteo, please be ok

David (Sunday, 04.07): I miss you, please just let me know you're ok

David (Tuesday, 16.55): Matteo are you ok? Leonie and Sara both say you're ignoring them too.

David (Thursday, 17.09): If you're not going to message me I get it, but could you let Sara know you're ok. She's really worried.

David (Thursday, 19.15): I have no fucking right to ask that of you do I? I'll leave you alone.

David (Friday, 09.51): I think maybe you've blocked me, that you're not getting these messages, but I can't stop myself sending them. I fucked up. I fucked up so badly. It's funny I never wanted to end things. I just wanted a little more time. I told you I had something to tell you? Well I'm ready now. These past few days without you have been the most miserable days of my life. It's ridiculous how much I miss you. I'm going to leave you alone for real now but if you can ever find it in you to give me the time of day, I'd like to explain a few things

Matteo wiped his eyes furiously. God. It was real. It had all been fucking real. He hadn't overreacted at all. David was even worse than him. He started to laugh. He was still crying, but he started to laugh.

"Let me guess, he misses you?"

Matteo nodded, he couldn't speak.

"Are you going to text him?"

"I can't... I'll fuck everything up."

"Matteo, come on he drew you a picture," Jonas insisted.

"He's an artist, he draws hundreds of pictures," Matteo countered.

"Matteo," Jonas said.

"He hurt me Jonas, he could hurt me again," Matteo said. He was so scared, he didn't think he could handle it.

"But he probably will, you're both figuring this out, it's never perfect. You'll hurt each other, but you won't want to. That's the important thing, that you talk about it, that's where me and Hanna went wrong we tried to ignore the problems, tried to pretend everything was okay when it was far from it. If I can give you one piece of advice, it's to talk to each other," Jonas said seriously.

Matteo stared at his phone.

Matteo: thank you for the drawing

"I don't know what else to say," Matteo said, looking up at Jonas for guidance.

"Be honest," Jonas told him.

Matteo: I don't know what to say now. I'm so confused. And scared. I'm so scared of saying the wrong thing. But I'm not mad. And I wasn't ignoring you. Well, I was, but I was ignoring everyone. I do that sometimes. I'm not doing too good at the moment. But it's not your fault. It was long overdue. And I'm sorry for coming over when you told me not to. And I'm sorry I scared Laura.

Matteo: I know things moved too quickly, I know I can be intense, but if you'd like to talk, I'd like that and even if you just wanted to be friends for now I'd like that, school's almost over and I don't want to never see you again

"Well?" Jonas demanded when he looked up.

"I was honest," Matteo said.

"Good."

"He won't reply, I was too intense like always," Matteo said.

"He'll reply, trust me. But for now you promised me Mario Kart, I'm gonna fucking thrash you," Jonas said.

"Not possible," Matteo said, laughing and grabbing the controller.

He loaded up Mario Kart and waited for Jonas to join.

"Gonna beat you," Jonas insisted.

"Nope. You ready?"

"Let's go," Jonas said, already shoving him.

Ten minutes later, and Matteo had beaten Jonas three times. They were on their fourth game and Jonas was losing again. He was not happy about this fact and had resorted to playing dirty, pushing and shoving Matteo until he snapped.

"Will you stop fucking shoving me you fucking asshole? You're never going to win and what's more remind me never to get in a fucking car with you, you drive like my fucking grandma on her tractor for fuck sakes!" he yelled, gripping the controller so hard his hands shook. He wasn't going to let Jonas beat him.

There was a quiet laugh from the doorway and both boys whipped around.

"Hey," David said, "Hans let me in."

"I didn't even hear the door," Matteo mumbled, all his frustration disappearing, immediately replaced with nervousness.

"Too busy driving like a maniac," Jonas complained, tossing the controller down and going back over to his crisps.

David was still standing by the door. Matteo didn't know what to do. He turned around and stared at the screen again, watching his little Luigi avatar on the screen.

He started playing around with the controller to distract himself. When he told David he wanted to talk, he hadn't meant so soon. He wasn't ready. If he tried to talk now, he'd fuck up and scare David away.

"Can I come in Matteo?"

Matteo continued to shake. He saw Jonas nodding out of the corner of his eye, and then the bed dipped beside him. David was there. David was sitting right beside him. David was taking the controller from his hands and taking his hands in his, holding him gently.

Matteo was on the verge of panic, couldn't control it. But David just waited.

"I don't know what to say," Matteo said.

"You don't have to say anything," David said.

Matteo knew he'd said they could take it slow. He knew he'd said they should talk, but he couldn't wait. He launched himself at David, but David was ready for him. His arms were already open for Matteo, and he wrapped them around him.

He heard the door closing softly. He didn't look, but he knew Jonas was gone. They were alone.

"I'm so fucking scared David," Matteo whispered.

"I'm here," David said.

"You'll leave," Matteo said.

"I won't, I swear," David said, eyes shining.

So Matteo just curled against him while David held him so tenderly Matteo thought he might just die.

"I missed you," David mumbled. "I missed you so much. I'm so fucking sorry."

"Don't do that, it's ok, don't be sad please," Matteo begged.

"Ok. I have to tell you some stuff," David said. He sounded like he was in pain.

Matteo looked at him. David looked terrified. Matteo didn't want to hear it, not if it caused David this much pain. He knew what these kinds of secrets felt like. He didn't know what it was, but he knew if it caused David to behave like this, caused him to push away those he cared about, caused him to be so scared, he had a pretty good idea how serious it was.

"I don't want to hear it," Matteo said.

"What?" David asked, looking startled.

"If it causes you this much pain, I don't want to hear it, I just want to cuddle," Matteo said.

"But... you need to know," David insisted.

"Probably. But there's stuff you need to know about me, too. Can't we just have tonight?"

David looked so relieved then, he smiled at Matteo, gave him an inscrutable look. Then he laid down, pulling Matteo with him.

"Can we just hide in here?"

"We can," Matteo said.

"Forever?"

"Yeah forever," Matteo said.

Matteo closed his eyes. He knew they needed to talk and they would, but for now he was just going to delight in this, being held by David, being comforted and wanted.

Lydia said he was allowed to do that, postpone the heavy stuff until a time he was able to deal with it. So that was what he was doing. He was too fragile right now to have the heavy conversation, and from the way David was clinging to him, he was pretty sure David was too. They would talk when they were ready. For now, this was enough.

Chapter Text

When Matteo woke up the next morning, it was because he was no longer being held. He was bone tired. He'd had a fitful night's sleep. David had been restless, which had made him restless. But it was more than that, Matteo was on the edge of something. At least he was aware of it, that had to be something. He could get it under control, he was aware, and he could get it under control. God, he hoped he could. He couldn't let David see him like that.

Right now, all he wanted to do was curl up with David and sleep for a thousand years. When he started to feel like this, sleep became elusive, so he needed to get as much as possible.

The problem was David didn't want to sleep. He'd shuffled all night long. He kept pulling away from Matteo. He was so uncomfortable, so tense. Matteo ached for him, wanted to take away whatever it was that was causing him pain. He kept pulling him back, holding him tight, trying to help him fall asleep. David was clearly distressed, so Matteo tried to comfort him as best as he could, through hugs and soft kisses. It didn't seem to work, and at some point David had gotten out of bed.

Matteo knew he'd said they didn't have to talk about things and at first that seemed to relax David. He'd been so relieved to have the pressure taken off, he started to get agitated. If Matteo had to guess, it was because he didn't want to stay over. Whatever it was that had him leave last time. Really, he should've let David go home, so that he could be comfortable. He had even offered, but David had turned him down through gritted teeth. Matteo hadn't insisted, he'd wanted David to stay. It had all been fine, they'd stayed up late, talking about everything and nothing, playing video games and watching dumb videos on YouTube. Just being together. It was inconsequential stuff. Stuff that mattered, but not really. Every now and then David would trail off and stare at him, biting his lip nervously. The later it got, the more he did this.

David wanted to talk. He wanted to speak his truth, and Matteo knew he was going to have to listen. He was ready. He was scared, but he was ready. So this morning they were going to talk.

Matteo blinked slowly as he tried to figure out what time it was. David hadn't gone far, he was standing by the window, staring out at nothing, his whole body thrumming with tension.

Matteo groaned, stretched and pulled himself out of bed, padding over to David, trying to comfort him and steal his warmth. He was freezing now that he was out of bed. He'd flung off his sweater in the night because David was like a fucking radiator. Another reason he was so perfect.

"Are you ok?" Matteo whispered.

David shrugged him off and turned to stare at him. He looked reluctant and devastated. Matteo got that feeling. It was all well and good promising things in the moment, but in the cold light of day that wasn't nearly as easy.

"I think have to go," David muttered.

"David," Matteo begged, feeling the panic setting in.

"I'm sorry Matteo, I don't think I can do this," David said, pulling away from him.

Matteo felt himself shutting down. Felt everything slow, felt himself falling down into the darkness. It wasn't David's fault. David had his own shit, but Matteo wasn't sure if he could keep doing this, keep being rejected. He couldn't keep being pushed away. He wasn't strong enough. He was still too fragile from last week.

He turned away from David and crawled back into bed, pulling the sheets over himself. He was just going to sleep for a long time. Maybe one day David would be ready, but Matteo wasn't sure he could survive this.

But David was pulling him up again, and into his arms. He held him tight and whispered apologies into his hair.

"I can't do this, I'm not strong enough David. Whatever it is that you can't tell me, it can't possibly hurt as much as you leaving me all the time. I'm so sorry that it's hard, I am, but David... I'm not... I can't keep being left behind," Matteo said.

"I am so fucking sorry, I am. I'm so scared, but you're right, you're right. I need to tell you, for me, I can't be comfortable until I do," David said, pressing a kiss to his temple, then pushing Matteo onto the bed.

He moved away slightly, but Matteo understood that, understood the need for distance when talking about heavy things.

"I wrote it all down, everything I wanted to say to you. I could send it to you?" David offered.

Matteo sighed and shook his head. "Or you could just tell me," he said, trying to keep his tone light.

"Or I could just tell you," David repeated. "Ok. Ok. The thing is... fuck this is hard. Ok. Matteo the thing is, some boys are born as boys and it's simple for them. Some girls are born as girls and it's easy, but sometimes it's more complicated, do you understand?" David's voice was shaking, he was desperate for Matteo to understand, desperate to not have to explain this. But Matteo was confused, he didn't know what David meant.

It felt like if he told David that it would break him.

"I don't understand David, but I want to," he said. "Keep going. I'm listening."

When David blinked, a tear rolled down his cheek, and all Matteo wanted to do was reach for him, but that wouldn't help things right now.

"It's called transgender, it means... it means I was born... wrong... no I was born different, it's not straightforward or easy for me. I was... when I was born they thought I was a girl, but I am a boy, do you understand Matteo?"

Matteo stared. He knew about this, not much, but he didn't live under a rock. Oh. Oh fuck. This was huge. He hadn't been expecting this at all. He'd had no idea what it was going to be. But not this. Never this. This was so huge and so private, and Matteo knew it had taken everything for David to tell him that. Everything. David had such trust in him, and Matteo wasn't sure he was ready for that. He wasn't sure he was ready for what it all meant; he wasn't sure he could be enough for David. He wasn't sure if he could ever be enough. But he wanted to be. He wanted to try.

"Matteo?"

"I don't know what to say," he admitted.

"Ok," David said encouragingly, hopefully.

"I... would it be hypocritical if I asked for more time?"

David’s face fell. He looked devastated, but he nodded.

"I should go," he mumbled.

"What?" Matteo demanded, trying not to panic. Why the fuck was David always leaving him? "You can't! You can't leave me! You always leave!"

He tried to take steadying breaths; he wasn't panicking yet, but he was close.

"But you said... you said you needed more time," David said.

He was confused, but he still reached out and took Matteo's hand, rubbing his wrist with his thumb. Matteo immediately relaxed.

"I get it, it's a lot to understand, but I really like you Matteo, I'll give you the time you need, it's worth it," David said, still gripping his wrist.

"I like you too, David. I don't know anything about this, about being transgender, I don't know what it's like for you, I can't even begin to imagine. But... I want to, I want to understand, I want to know you it's just... I don't think I'm ready," Matteo tried to explain.

"Matteo," David whispered.

"No, I'm saying this all wrong... please just give me a minute," Matteo said, clinging to his hand.

David nodded. He waited because of course he did. Matteo didn't know much about being transgender. But it didn't matter because David was fucking perfect. So Matteo would learn everything he could, but it didn't really matter, there was nothing he could learn, nothing he could discover that would change his opinion.

"What I mean is... what I'm trying to say is… I need more time... to be as brave as you, to show you all of me," Matteo said, desperately hoping David would understand.

And he did, Matteo saw the moment David relaxed, the smile back on his face as he understood exactly what Matteo was trying to say.

"Take all the time you need Matteo," David said, laying back and pulling Matteo into his arms.

"I... think you're pretty perfect David," Matteo whispered, snuggling against him. "I want to learn every single thing about you. I want to understand you."

"I want to learn you too," David whispered into his hair.

"Did you think I would leave you?"

"No. I did at first, but... I don't know, Matteo I feel like I know you, I just knew. I knew I would tell you and you would be ok. It didn't stop it being scary."

"I have shit," Matteo said.

"I know, you've told me before," David said.

"I'm scared to tell you," Matteo admitted.

"I can promise you that nothing you will ever tell me will change how I feel about you."

"I'll tell you soon," Matteo promised.

"No rush," David assured him.

"Do you have to go?"

"I will soon, I have some stuff that I need, I shouldn't have stayed last night," David told him.

Matteo nodded, he got that too. He never stayed out, he'd miss his meds if he did.

"I'll tell you about it, soon, it's difficult for me to talk about it," David said.

"I get it," Matteo said.

"I know you do," David said. "Sleep?"

"Yeah please," Matteo said. "I... was this ok?"

"What?"

"You... you told me your shit... I feel like I stomped all over it with my own shit," Matteo worried. He tended to do that.

"It was exactly what I needed though, you took the attention off me," David said.

And didn't that just show how perfect they were together? David wanted to rip off the band-aid, get it over with and move on, not dwell. They could talk about it properly. They would have to, but just saying it had taking everything David had, he needed time before he was ready to talk properly. Matteo got that.

"Cool," Matteo mumbled sleepily. "You'll be gone when I wake up?"

"Yeah, I'm going to give you some space," David said.

"I was getting back on track, I was always going to text you, I just wanted to set my head straight first," Matteo explained.

"You do that Matteo, but whether you get there or not, I think you're pretty perfect, so call me whenever ok?" David said.

"Ok David," Matteo said, he was drifting now.

David just kissed his forehead and held him. Matteo was only going to nap, to rest, and then he was going to get up and start sorting himself out. There was shit he needed to do. It was Easter and there was someone he had to see.

 

 

 

Matteo had slept until early afternoon. As he'd expected, David was gone when he awoke. But that was fine, that was what they'd agreed. There was a drawing left behind on his desk though. It was both of them this time, David the vampire, sitting next to a human Matteo. Well, he presumed he was human in this drawing, there was nothing out of the ordinary about his likeness. The little cartoons were holding hands and their ankles were hooked together.

Above David's head was a speech bubble. You're fast becoming my favourite thing in the world Matteo Florenzi, it said. Matteo had almost died at that, at David being so open, so comfortable baring his feelings. That fucking boy. It had given Matteo a resolve like he'd never known before.

He'd spent the rest of the afternoon researching all things trans. He knew he was prone to saying the wrong thing, so he tried to do every thing he could, learn everything he could to negate that.

He'd found out a lot of stuff, but it was a complicated issue and Matteo wasn't sure that a lot of what he found would even apply to David. It would be like trying to apply every facet of bipolar disorder or anxiety to himself. Everyone was different, and the best person to learn from was David. But David shouldn't have to do all the work either. Matteo needed to go to David with the knowledge, and get David to teach him how it applied to him.

So he'd kept reading, he'd watched some videos, he'd even listened to a couple of podcasts. That was actually the easiest for him. He could move around while he did that, get on with other things. He'd cleaned his whole room while he listened to a trans man and his nonbinary co-host talk about their experiences in the world. It was in English so he'd struggled a bit, had to slow it right down, but he thought he got the gist. He listened to six episodes and felt like he understood the pair of them pretty well. He liked them. They were both pretty funny, and he enjoyed listening to their back and forth. They bickered a lot, a bit like Abdi and Carlos, it was funny. They talked of heavy topics with a light-hearted spin.

Matteo would probably listen to more, he'd even subscribed to it. It was good audio for cleaning, at least. His room had been spotless by the time he'd finished.

That was yesterday though. Today he had other things to solve, wounds to heal.

His mum had texted him that morning, asking him to come to church with him for the Easter Service.

He couldn't do that, he couldn't step foot in a church right now. He couldn't do this in church, but he did want to see her.

So here he was, he was home. He hadn't been back here in months. He standing at the door, working up the courage to ring the doorbell. He still had a key, but he felt like he wasn't allowed to just let himself in. This wasn't his home anymore. He'd left. He'd left home, and he'd left her. The guilt settled on him heavily. If he wasn't careful, he was going to sink into it.

So he took a deep breath and pressed the doorbell.

His mum answered within moments, and something broke within Matteo the moment he saw her. God, he'd missed her so much. She smiled at him warmly, opened her arms to him. Matteo was frozen in place. He stood there sniffling until she tutted.

"Now, now, none of that, this is a happy occasion, oh how I've missed you Matteo, my darling boy," she said softly.

That was something he always remembered about his mum, her soft quiet voice. She'd always been that way, as long as he could remember. As a child everything had been loud and intense, but never her voice. She always talked softly with him, brought him out of his head when everything overwhelmed him.

"Come here Matteo," she said, gentle but firm, when she realised he was frozen. He did as she said, stepped into her arms.

The moment she wrapped them around him, he began to cry, huge gulping sobs.

His mum just tightened her grip on him, pulling him inside the house and closing the door. She ushered him into the living room and helped him onto the sofa before sitting down beside him. She was so strong his mum; he needed that right now.

She just waited, she let him cry it out, rubbing his back and speaking in hushed tones until this passed. And it did. It took a few minutes, but he settled down, relaxing against her. He felt her stroking the hair from his face, wiping the tears from his cheeks.

"Ok?"

"Yeah, sorry," he mumbled.

"Not a problem, my darling, it's so good to see you sweetheart," his mum said.

She really did seem overjoyed.

"I missed you, I missed you so much, I'm sorry I haven't been to see you, I was too scared. I... wasn't ready to deal with some stuff but... I think I am now," he said.

"That's good my darling. Would you like a drink?" she offered.

"Ok."

"Coffee or juice?"

"Do you have chamomile tea?" he asked.

"Chamomile tea?" she repeated.

Matteo wasn't sure how he felt about the amused expression on her face. But it had helped him talk to Lydia the other day, so he thought it might work now.

"I'm not supposed to have caffeine," he told her.

He saw a worried expression flit across her face, but she maintained her composure. "Wait here," she said, "one chamomile tea coming up."

He watched her leave, then got up and went to look at the photos on the mantel. God, they'd been so happy.

Or had they?

He'd thought they had been, but he'd been a kid, he wasn't aware then of the strain life took on family and on relationships. But he'd been happy, as a child he'd been happy, and his mum loved him fiercely. As a five year old that was all he needed.

"You were such an angelic little boy," his mum said, coming back in with two cups of tea. She set them down on the coffee table and waved him over. "Look at you now Matteo, my handsome young man."

He laughed quietly.

"I have some stuff to tell you," he said.

"I'm listening," she said.

"I'm scared you won't love me when I'm done," Matteo said. It was the reason he'd put this off for so long.

"Nothing could ever stop me loving you Matteo. Nothing," she said, her voice firm and strong.

"Are you ok? Right now are you ok?"

"I am. I'm stable, I'm well. I'm so sorry for everything you had to witness, you were far too young to see all of that. I'm doing better. For me. That's what's different. I tried to get better to be a good mum, I tried to get better to make your father stay, to make him come back. I tried to get better to bring you back. Every time I slipped up. I can't get better for others, I just drag you all down with me-"

"No mum-"

"Yes, I needed to do this for myself. That's how it works for me. I needed to get better for me. I needed to get better to be able to live my life, to see you growing up and making something of yours," she explained.

"Oh," he whispered.

"And I needed to realise I might slip up again and I might disappoint myself, but I can pull myself back," she said.

"You're very brave mum," Matteo said.

"Thank you sweetheart. Now you," she said.

"Do you remember the last time you saw me?"

"I do," she said sadly.

"You were scared of me?"

"Not at all, but I was very scared for you. I know I was a little... you know how I get... but I could see you were going through it, you were struggling, badly," she said.

Matteo hated thinking about that time, hated remembering it. It had been a terrifying time.

"Yeah. It was so hard. Mum?"

"Yes Matteo?"

"I was manic," he told her. Just uttering those words brought him relief.

"Oh my sweet boy, that must have been very scary," she said, taking his hand and squeezing it for a moment.

"Do you know what that means?" he asked.

"Manic as in bipolar?"

"Yes mum," he whispered.

"Oh Matteo," she said softly.

"I'm sorry," Matteo mumbled.

"Why on earth are you sorry?" she asked.

"Because I was supposed to take care of you, and now I can't even take care of myself," he explained.

"Bullshit Matteo," she said.

He laughed, he couldn't help it. He could count on one hand the number of times he'd heard her curse.

"You are not supposed to take care of me, I am supposed to take care of you. If you'll let me, I'd very much like to do that again. I know you're a young man now, but you still need your old mum. But you are very clearly able to take care of yourself, you look so well. I'm so proud of you, so proud of the man you've grown to be. A wonderful, kind, and thoughtful young man," she said.

Matteo was crying again, but these were happy tears. He picked up his cup to have something to do with his hands.

"Are you getting help?" she asked him.

"Yes. I have a therapist, a psychiatrist, and an action plan. Jonas knows it, he knows what to do. And my flatmate Hans too. If I have an episode, they know how to take care of me. And I might not need it because the mania wasn't extreme last time, but there is a crisis team they can call if they're worried. But it's more about managing the depression for me. That's a big part of it," he said.

"But you're doing ok?"

"I... I went off my meds for a while and had a pretty big dip. I'm still scared it might catch up to me," he admitted.

She just nodded. "Keeping on track is hard, you're young and you're still figuring it out, Matteo," she said.

"Yeah?"

"You're going to slip up again, probably a few times, it's not because you're weak, it's because these things are so hard, it's all about finding that balance, it's all about picking yourself back up when you fall," she explained.

"And I can?"

"Of course you can," she assured him.

Oh, it was so wonderful to talk with her about this. No one understood him like she did, no one knew what he needed to hear like she did.

"Thanks mama," Matteo said.

"How's the tea?"

"Disgusting, but I drink it with Lydia and it helps," he said.

"Did you have anything else to tell me?"

He blushed.

"You remember what I yelled at you?"

"I do.”

He waited, but she shook her head.

"Wouldn't you like to tell me again, now that you're calm?" she suggested.

"I would," he said.

"Well, I'm here, I'm listening," she said.

"Mum... I'm gay, I like boys," he told her.

She reached out and stroked his face.

"Sweet boy this changes nothing, I love you ok? Nothing changes that. Is there a boy?"

He blushed.

"There is. His name is David, I think I love him mama," he said.

"Oh my darling," his mum said, beaming at him. "Tell me about him?"

"He's so nice to me, so kind, he knows me. We only met a few weeks ago, but I feel like I've known him a long time, and he gets me, the way he speaks to me, the way I can just be me with him. I've never felt like this before, but it's real. He makes me so happy mama, he makes me feel so happy," Matteo said.

"That's wonderful," she said.

"And he's handsome too, he has the nicest smile," Matteo said, still blushing.

"Do you have a picture?"

Matteo nodded and showed her the picture he'd taken of the two of them mucking around at the park. She smiled at it.

"He does look kind, you look so happy with him," she said.

"I haven't told him about me yet," Matteo said.

"No?"

"I think he'll get it, but I just... it was important for me to tell you first," he said.

"Thank you Matteo, you two will be ok, just talk to each other, that's all it takes."

"We will."

"Will you stay for dinner?"

"Yes please," he said, relaxing into the sofa cushions. He felt so wonderful, he felt giddy and joyous. He could run around, dance with his happiness. She still loved him, she was treating him exactly the same.

"I'll make you pasta," she said, smiling fondly at him.

"I'd love that mum, thank you," he said.

She just smiled at him and Matteo sat there, happy to be home with her for a while. He could have two homes, he realised. His new home with Hans, Linn, and Mia. The place he felt safe, wanted and welcomed. But also this place, the home of his childhood, the safety his mum had provided him growing up. He'd lost it for a while, but he could get it back. He didn't have to let that go.

 

 

 

Matteo was still feeling out of sorts. Spending the day with his mum had been wonderful, but it had taken a lot out of him. He'd left feeling bereft. All he'd wanted to do when he'd gotten back to his apartment was call David for comfort, but he couldn't do that, not when he'd asked for space. So instead he'd sat in Hans' room and let him distract him with tales of his burgeoning relationship with Claude. Hans seemed quite smitten. Matteo now knew that Claude was a fashion student from some small village in France, trying to make it in Berlin. He'd seen some of his creations and pretended to be very interested in all the portfolios Hans had shown him. It was just nice to see Hans so excited.

He'd tried to study on Monday, knowing he was meeting Amira, but it wasn't that simple. His head felt messy, and he was scared. He'd stayed in his room all day, refusing to leave. He was scared of the state he was in, and he didn't want anyone to see him like that. He was confused. The next step was losing time, and he was terrified.

He'd braved venturing out today, he'd promised to meet Amira, so he was here in the little cafe she'd asked to meet him at. He was trying to ignore the other patrons, but it felt like they were staring at him. He focussed on his cup and tried to tune everyone out.

It meant when Amira sat down opposite him he jumped out of his skin.

She immediately looked concerned.

"Ok Matteo?"

"I... no..."

"What's going on?"

"Everyone is watching me," he said, staring around the room and rubbing his temples.

She didn't even blink. "No one is watching you, they wouldn't dare, not when I'm here," she said.

He smiled then. She made a show of glaring at everyone else in the cafe and he finally relaxed a little. He appreciated that she didn't call him crazy. He knew he was being silly, he just felt on edge, he felt too seen, he just wanted to hide.

"Not doing too good?" she asked.

"Not doing good at all," he told her.

She just nodded.

He nudged the cup of hot chocolate toward her.

"For me?" she asked, smiling.

He nodded.

"See that's the thing Matteo, even though you're clearly going through something right now, you're still being sweet," she said, smiling fondly at him.

"What do you mean?"

"I mean this is your nature, kindness. I think it's nice. I don't know what it's like to have bipolar, but I tell you what, when I'm even a little bit down I resort to cold hard bitch," she said.

"Yeah but... you don't keep it up for long, deep down your default is like... teddy bear princess," he argued.

"Teddy bear princess?" she demanded, scowling at him.

He shrugged.

"Teddy bear, because I know you're just as soft as me when you want to be. Princess because I dunno it suits you, you're like glamorous and stuff," he said.

She rolled her eyes and didn't comment.

"Don't get the wrong idea, these are from my mum, not me," she said, pulling a tupperware box out of her bag. "It's baklava."

He raised an eyebrow. "Your mum made me baklava?"

"No it was going spare," she insisted.

"Sure it was," he said, taking a piece.

It was good, sweet and sugary, just what he needed. It eased his trembling somewhat, helped him feel a little calmer.

"How are you doing Matteo?" Amira asked, pushing the box to him, ensuring he ate more.

"Are we going to study?"

"We are. We have all afternoon, so how are you doing?"

"I saw my mum the other day," he told her.

"That's good," she said.

"And... I told her and she was ok, the church stuff didn't even matter. So now I'm telling you... I'm gay Amira, I know I told you, but... I was all panicky then, so I'm telling you again, calmly."

"Thank you for telling me. I sent you a link the other day, but I've been sending you a lot of links so I don't know if you saw it?"

He shook his head. "What was it?"

"It was about homosexuality and the animal kingdom, how it's actually a really important part of evolution," she explained, essentially admitting she was wrong about what she'd said the other day.

"Oh, I didn't know that," he said.

"Me either," she admitted.

"Er... I'm sorry for what I implied about Islam, honestly everything I was saying were my own fears about Christianity, I don't even know what Islam says about being gay. I assume it's a sin, like in Christianity?"

"It is... and just like with Christianity there are gay Muslims and they get shit for it, but not from me, you will not get shit from me. And I tell you what else, it may be a sin to be gay, but it's also a sin to judge others," she said.

"It is in the bible too," Matteo said.

"Exactly so you know what that means, if Muslims or Christians judge you for being gay, they are committing a sin themselves. Only Allah can judge you, and anyone saying they are speaking for Allah, is talking utter bull. And there is no place for hate in Islam, and hate stems from fear, not faith. That's the same for your mum and her bible too."

"Thank you," he whispered.

She just smiled.

"And thank you for what you said, about me being gay and being bipolar being two separate things. For a while I tried to say that it was just a side effect of being bipolar, but it's not. I have to face up to that. No I want to. I... I'm gay, that's who I am. I also have a messed up head, but I'm getting better at dealing with that," he said.

"Well done Matteo," she said.

"Thank you," he said again.

He looked around the cafe again, but Amira tapped the table, pulling his attention back to her.

"Ok did you watch the video on the Krebs cycle?"

"Yeah, I'm still a bit confused though," he admitted.

"Ok no worries I made you some notes, but from what I can see, the question will only have one or two formats so I want you to learn it and understand it, but you can hedge your bets and be ready for the kind of question we're going to get," she said, handing over a bundle of notes.

"Amira thank you," he said, taking them and grinning.

"It's just a photocopy," she said.

"Still," he said, beginning to read through the notes.

She may have photocopied them but she'd also annotated them in a way the he would understand, colour coded to break up the blocks of text, knowing how he struggled to focus on big chunks of text. He looked up and smiled at her. She rolled her eyes, but he knew she cared.

 

 

 

The next day it was easier to get out the house, not much, but the overwhelming fear wasn't there. He was tired though. Exhausted. He wasn't sleeping properly, and he still felt shaky and weird. But he was also excited. He woke up felling giddy and wanting to see his friends. Despite not sleeping and feeling tired, he also felt energetic. He actually wanted to play table tennis with them. He wanted to burn off some of this restlessness, and then perhaps he would be able to sleep through the night. Plus, he wasn't terrible at table tennis and was looking forward to beating all of them.

Despite his eagerness, he was still late meeting the boys though. He'd stopped several times on the ride over distracted. He'd been listening to more trans podcasts, but kept having to stop and rewind whenever he heard something important. At least he wasn't trying to watch a video at the same time. David could do that. When they'd been cycling away from the abandoned pool, he'd filmed Matteo without even wobbling.

By the time he got to the park, the boys were already there, hanging out by the tables. Matteo tossed his bike and joined them. He decided he was going to tell them. No more secrets.

"Luigi!"

Carlos pulled him into a hug, clapping him on the back.

"You alright man?" he asked.

"Yeah. No. There's some shit with me, I'd like to tell you about it, if that's ok?"

"Ok?"

"Yeah dude, no problem," Abdi said.

Matteo sat down on the table and stared at them for a moment.

"Ok. You know how last week in my room I was freaking out? I was worried about you thinking I was disgusting," he reminded them.

Abdi didn't even hesitate. "Oh yeah, your pasta sauce kink?" he asked.

Jonas groaned and covered his face with the paddle.

"No dude, we were guessing that," Carlos said.

"I don't have a pasta sauce kink, what the fuck are you on?"

"No but whatever it is, we're chill," Carlos insisted

"Well, what it is, the thing is... I'm gay so..."

"Oh... well, that's way more normal than the pasta sauce thing," Abdi said.

God would they let that go? How had he implied any of these accusations applied to him?

"Jesus Christ," Jonas muttered.

Matteo just laughed.

"So it's ok?"

"Yeah man it's chill," Carlos said.

"Is there a boy?" Abdi demanded.

"Yeah... yeah David," Matteo told him.

"Oh yeah I see it, the vibes," Carlos said.

"You do?" Abdi asked, confused.

"Yeah man David likes him. Remember when Matteo was locked in his room, David was all freaked out? He was like 'I need to stay... me and Matteo need to talk about movies'. He was definitely lying. That was code, right? For sex?"

"No it fucking wasn't," Matteo said, groaning and laying back on the table. "He wanted to stay and check I was ok, without you three interrogating him."

"Still... the vibes were there, it's undeniable. It was like eagerness, but in a caring way, he was desperate to see you, he's super into you. Suits you Luigi, that's the kinda guy you need, someone super keen," Carlos said.

"He is quite keen on me," Matteo said, blushing.

Abdi and Carlos jumped on the table, either side of him.

"Oi oi!" Carlos said.

Jonas grabbed his wrists and pulled him upright. He grinned at him, as if to say I told you so. Matteo didn't even care, he just felt relieved. He knew they were never going to be shitty; they had big hearts these two. That didn't negate the fear he'd had. It was getting easier though, trusting, letting people in. He just smiled when all of them piled on him, almost knocking him to the floor. Nothing had changed, nothing had to change.

"Right boys, let's play! Teams? Me and Matteo versus you two?" Jonas suggested.

"Prepare to get your asses kicked," Abdi said.

They did not get their asses kicked. Jonas was the only decent player and Matteo wasn't half bad, so Abdi and Carlos had no chance. But they put up a good fight, yelling and cheering every time they managed to score a point. Despite the fact they were really far behind and had no chance of catching up.

It was good to play, Matteo had so much energy he was bouncing with it. Even after an hour when the boys were flagging he felt like he could play for hours. They humoured him for another half an hour, then all of them collapsed, staring up at him while he bounced around the table.

"Come sit with us for a bit Luigi," Jonas said gently.

Matteo did, settled himself against Jonas, who wrapped his arms around him, holding him.

"Ok Matteo?" he asked carefully.

"I have so much energy," Matteo admitted, "but I'm so fucking tired too, it's so weird."

"Yeah?"

"Yeah," he said, relaxing against Jonas completely. This was nice. He always loved to be held. David was better at it though. David gave the best hugs.

"I bet he does," Jonas said.

Apparently he'd said that out loud, all three boys were grinning in amusement.

"When do we get to meet David properly, then?" Abdi asked.

Matteo shrugged. They weren't allowed to meet David. He wasn't allowed to see David. He wasn't allowed to see David until he got back on track. He couldn't remember what he needed to do, why he couldn't see David yet.

"No you can't... David needs space... no I need space," Matteo said slowly.

"You need space?" Jonas asked.

"Yeah, to sort things out, David told me stuff and... I need to sort stuff out."

"What stuff Luigi?" Carlos asked.

What did he need to do? He'd had a plan, but he felt confused. He wanted to be enough for David. He wanted to be a good boyfriend and be good enough for David. He needed to be better. He was getting back on track. He was back on his meds, he'd stopped smoking. He felt fine, but he still felt like there was more he needed to do. He was trying to learn everything he could about being trans. It wasn't easy, but he wanted to.

He'd never been good at studying. Either something made sense to him and he remembered it. If he didn't understand something, then it was very hard to hold on to. He understood some of the stuff, but he thought he might need David to explain it to him, he understood it better. Just like when Amira explained biology to him. Fuck, biology. He still needed to study. David was clever. David was on track to pass all his exams. As it stood, Matteo was barely passing anything. Perhaps that was what he needed to do. Biology was his hardest subject. If he could pass that, then maybe he wouldn't be a disaster in David's eyes. Perhaps he could show promise.

Yes that was what he needed to do. Pass biology. And he wasn't going to do that fucking around out here.

He stood up and started bouncing on his toes, trying to shake off the nerves. Passing biology was going to be tough.

"I have to go now," he told the boys.

They frowned, disappointed. It was alright for them, they clearly didn't care about their studies, they'd tricked him here and distracted him from his work.

"Ok?" Jonas said, standing up too.

"I have to study," Matteo insisted.

"Ok let's go," Jonas said.

The other two nodded and stayed put, waving them off.

"Let's get you home Luigi," he said.

"I really need to study," Matteo said.

"I know I get you, you have time," Jonas said.

"No you don't understand, I need to pass. It's not easy for me Jonas," he said.

"I know-"

"No you don't!" Matteo snapped. "It's so easy for you. You fucked around all last year and you're fine. It's easy for you!"

"Actually, it's not, I had to drag myself back Matteo. I know I'm lucky I'm pretty smart, but I was so close to throwing it all away," Jonas admitted.

"Oh. I'm sorry Jonas," Matteo mumbled.

He'd never even suspected anything. Everything always seemed so easy for him.

"No problem. Do you know why I pulled myself together?"

"No why?" Matteo slowed down a little, fiddling with the brakes of his bike.

"Watching you," Jonas said.

"What?"

"Watching you try, every day you tried. Even though most days you couldn't go in, you still tried, you read the notes I brought you because you found it interesting and here I was, I was able to get to school and I was squandering it," Jonas said.

"Oh. Jonas I don't feel too good anymore," Matteo admitted.

"What do you feel?" Jonas asked.

"Afraid," Matteo whispered. "I'm gonna fuck up I can feel it."

"Matteo you're doing so well," Jonas said.

"No I'm not! I need to fucking study! I have to pass biology, I have to Jonas!"

Jonas frowned at him.

"I need to go home and study," Matteo insisted.

"Ok Matteo, we can-"

"Fuck I have an exam in a week and I just wasted an afternoon fucking around! I can't repeat the year I can't," he said, starting to panic.

"Ok we'll study come on," Jonas insisted, trying to calm him.

"No you can't study with me, you're no good," Matteo muttered.

Then he was off. Matteo jumped on his bike and fled. He'd never been a particularly fast cyclist, thank god he had all this energy. He heard Jonas yelling after him, but he kept going, ignoring traffic, racing to get home. The streets raced by in a blur. He dodged cars and pedestrians. He almost wiped out twice, but he made it back in one piece. He threw his bike down and ran up the stairs, locking the door behind him. There was no way Jonas was even close, he backed away from the door anyway.

Mia came out to greet him.

"Don't let Jonas in," he said.

"Matteo-"

"He wants to stop me studying don't let him!"

"Ok Matteo," she said placatingly. "Can you study out here please?" she asked him.

He stared at her. Then nodded and brought his books out. It was time to get to it. He had two years’ worth of biology to learn.

 

 

When Hans got back an hour later, the living room was covered in notes and post-its and Matteo thought he might finally be making progress.

"Doing ok Matteo? Jonas is outside," Hans said, stopping dead when he saw the state of the room.

"Send him home please," Matteo said, not looking up from his books.

"I'll send him home if you let me keep an eye on you instead," Hans offered, standing firm.

"Don't need you to keep an eye on me. Jonas thinks I'm crazy, but I'm just studying. I have an exam Hans, there's nothing weird about studying," Matteo said.

He tore a page from his textbook to look at it closer. It wasn't going in.

"Lot of post its," Hans observed.

"Cell division," Matteo explained.

"Cell division?" Hans repeated. "Wanna tell me about it?"

Matteo finally looked up, staring at Hans, trying to see if he was being sincere. He did look concerned, but he also looked fairly interested in understanding Matteo's thought process.

"Send Jonas home first," Matteo said. "Please?"

"So polite," Hans murmured, going to the door.

Matteo could hear him at the door talking with Jonas. He just couldn't deal with Jonas now. Jonas tended to get to fussy. He was learning, but right now Matteo was safe, right now he needed to study. Hans was here, he didn't need both of them hovering and fussing over him.

Hans came back into the living room, moved some papers aside and sat down opposite him.

"Tell me about cell division, Matteo," he said.

Matteo smiled and started to explain how he'd used the different coloured post-its to represent the stages of cell division. When Hans didn't stop him he launched into genetics and from there he pretty much gave him a run down of everything he knew so far. Hans listened patiently and then let him continue to read and make notes while keeping him company. He stopped him at six to take his meds and eat a sandwich. Then again, at nine to take a sleeping pill. It took almost an hour to kick in because he was so wired, but when it did Hans was on him. He took the books away, promising no one would touch them, and he gently guided him to bed.

Matteo was vaguely aware that he was being tricked into sleeping, but he was exhausted. This energy he felt was fake. He was fucking tired. He also knew sleep was fleeting at the moment, so he should take advantage of it.

 

 

 

Matteo's intense urge to study had waned by the time he woke up the next day. He'd tried, he really had, but he didn't even manage an hour. Instead, he'd thrown his books to one side and wasted a day playing stupid video games, he just couldn't focus on anything else. Now he was kicking himself for wasting so much time. A whole day. He'd spent a whole day doing nothing.

It was late now, too late to study, but he couldn't sleep either. He couldn't play anymore because it just made him feel guilty.

So he was just sitting there on the end of his bed, paralysed and unable to move. The room had darkened around him. And yet he still hadn't moved.

He felt trapped in here; the room felt tiny, stifling, he couldn't bear it. But he couldn't go out there either. He looked at the door. He couldn't get out. He couldn't leave. It wasn't safe. He knew he was being silly. He knew Hans was out there and that it was ok. That if he asked he would come sit in here with him.

He pulled out his phone; he was going to call Hans and ask him to come in when he thought of someone else he wanted to talk to.

"Matteo? You ok? It's late," David said, when he answered.

"Sorry," Matteo mumbled.

"Not a problem, studying was making me miserable anyway, it's nice to hear from you. You doing ok? I know I said I'd give you space but damn... it's hard, I miss you, is it silly?"

Matteo gasped. God, he ached to be with David right now; he missed him so much. Then it hit him again that he was supposed to be getting better for David, and he hadn't made any progress at all. He wanted to cry.

"Fuck," he muttered.

"What's up Matteo?" David asked gently.

"I... think I've fucked up," Matteo said.

"How?"

"I... was supposed to study today."

"When's your exam?"

"Two weeks," Matteo told him, flinging himself back on the bed. This was all such a mess. How the hell was he going to learn two years’ worth of biology in two weeks?

"Plenty of time," David said, Matteo could hear him chuckling in amusement.

"No!" Matteo snapped.

"No?"

"I have to be better, if I don't pass then I'm no good, you won't want to be with me," Matteo said, covering his face with his hands.

"What the fuck?"

"And I've been trying my hardest to learn everything I can about you, to be good enough but it's so fucking hard and I'm so confused and fucking useless and you're so strong and you've probably been through so much already and you deserve-"

"Matteo?" David cut him off so gently.

"Yeah?"

"Please don't say I deserve better," David said.

"But..."

"Matteo I really fucking like you ok?" David said, tone firm and sincere.

"Oh," Matteo whispered. He wasn't expecting that.

David really, really liked him. He'd hoped, he'd hoped so badly, but it really seemed to be true. David was always honest with him. Hadn't lied to him once. In fact, when he got into situations where he couldn't tell Matteo the truth he just left, rather than lie. So David was serious on this. Matteo just blushed and continued to hide his face.

"And what the fuck is this about you needing to pass your exam? I want you to pass because failing sucks, but I won't leave you if you do, please don't think that," David said quietly.

"But I'll be a failure," Matteo insisted.

"No you won't, I would never think that ok?"

"Ok," Matteo mumbled.

He couldn't continue to argue with David, and he didn't want to. Partly because he was tired, but also because he'd rather believe David would stay.

"And Matteo are you trying to learn about being trans?" David asked curiously.

"Yeah," Matteo admitted. He really had tried his best, but he felt like he'd failed.

"That's really sweet, but some shit it's probably best I explain," David said, not chastising, just gently explaining.

Matteo couldn't help but get a bit overexcited then.

"That's what I thought too! There's so much to it you know? And it's like this huge multi faceted complex thing and surely not all of it can apply to you, right? It would be like... I dunno assuming Amira can speak for all Muslims. You’re just one boy, but there's so much to you. Like you're trans yes, but you're also sporty and cool and mysterious. You're so interesting, do you know what I mean?"

Oh boy he was rambling now, getting loud too. He was getting pretty close to showing his heart, and he didn't know if he was ready for that.

"Wow. Matteo fucking wow. I wanna hold you so bad right now," David said.

"What?" Matteo mumbled.

He was scared to let David know just how gone he was, in case it scared him off, but in moments like this he thought maybe David might be just as bad.

"You just get me Matteo, I don't know if you have any idea what that feels like, but you just get it, I never expected... I knew you were good, I knew you'd be good, but fuck I never expected this," David said, sounding awestruck.

"Oh. And that's good?"

"So good, Matteo," David assured him.

Matteo giggled, smiling to himself. He felt like he'd got something right. He wasn't sure what, but right now David was happy with him. He hoped he could continue to do that. All he ever wanted was to make David happy, hear the smile in his voice just like he could right now.

"Oh," he murmured.

"So you don't need to change, you don't need to do all this stuff Matteo, I'm already there," David said.

And wasn't that something? Matteo was so worried about being too much for David. He tended to forget that David was pretty intense himself. David waited for him after his tantrum just to make sure he was ok. David dragged him to abandoned pools just to kiss him. David took him on a date just to goof off because he just knew what Matteo needed. David told him his greatest secret because he felt it was too close to lying and he wanted Matteo to know his truth.

"Oh," Matteo whispered.

"Oh?"

"I don't think I'm very well right now," Matteo admitted.

It hit him suddenly; the fear was back, that he wasn't enough for David. It was more than that. He was scared now. Nervous and afraid. It felt inevitable that something bad was going to happen. David was going to find out about him. David was going to realise that he wasn't good enough. But he was also scared that he was on the edge of an episode. Or right in the middle of one. Yesterday had been a lot. He'd been bouncing off the walls trying to study. That wasn't normal was it? It certainly wasn't normal for him. He'd fucked himself up going off his meds and now he was going to suffer. He didn't want David to see that.

"Matteo?"

"I'm going to go now, good night David," he mumbled.

"Matteo-"

Matteo hung up the phone, but it rang immediately, and he couldn't ignore it.

"Matteo are you there?" David sounded worried, panicked.

"Yeah I'm here," Matteo said.

"Don't do that ok? Fuck!"

And now David was annoyed with him. He sounded angry, and Matteo was scared he'd fucked it up.

"Sorry," he mumbled.

"No it's ok, you scared me, but I'm not mad," David assured him. "What's going on Matteo?"

"I... think... I'm scared. I'm not doing so good," he said.

"Ok thank you for telling me," David said.

Matteo smiled at that, David really cared about him.

"I was trying to get better, but I think I've made it worse. I think I've pushed myself too far," he told David.

He was suddenly exhausted. He felt like he had nothing left. He didn't think he could go on.

"Matteo are you alone?"

"Yeah," he said.

"In the apartment?"

"No Hans is here," Matteo said.

He'd popped in to say goodnight about an hour ago, making sure he was ok. But he was in bed now.

"Does he know what's going on with you?"

"Right now, no, but yeah in general," Matteo said.

"Ok can you go to him?" David asked.

Matteo looked up and shook his head, even though David couldn't see. He couldn't go out there. He didn't know what was stopping him, but he just couldn't.

"I can't, I can't get past the door," he said.

For some reason David wasn't freaked out by this. "Ok can you call out to him?" he suggested.

"No," Matteo said, trying to stay calm.

"Please Matteo, I don't want you to be alone right now," David said.

He sounded so concerned that Matteo forced himself out of bed and stumbled to the door.

"Fuck it's dark, everyone's in bed," Matteo muttered.

"Ok knock on Hans' door," David said.

Matteo just stood there. He closed his eyes, trying to block out the dark. He tried not to let the fear creep in.

"I can't, he'll be annoyed," Matteo said, his voice hushed, terrified.

He was reminded of the few times he'd gone to his mum's door after a nightmare and been dragged back to bed by his angry father. He'd soon stopped going to their bedroom door, instead choosing to hide under his blankets and cry until morning came. It was an old fear, but right now he felt just like that five year old boy. Except this time, he had David.

"Matteo?"

"What if he's mad?"

"He won't be... but if he is, you'll go back to your room and wait there and I'll come over ok? So can you please try?"

Matteo took a deep breath and knocked gently, hoping Hans wouldn't hear him. But the door opened anyway. And Hans smiled at him, not angry at all.

"Oh Matteo, you're going through it huh?"

He nodded.

"I'm gonna go David, Hans is here," Matteo said.

"Ok good night Matteo, call me tomorrow," David said.

"Ok," Matteo said, sighing and hanging up the phone. He half wished Hans had been mad, so that David had come over instead. But it was late and cold out, he didn't want David biking across town at this hour.

"Come here butterfly," Hans said, holding out his arms.

Matteo stepped into them and let Hans comfort him.

"I can't sleep," Matteo told him.

"Did you take your meds?"

"They're not working," Matteo said. He figured maybe was beyond help by this point.

"Actually, I'm not a doctor, but I think they are. Ok you can't sleep, but you're pretty calm, yesterday you were way off," Hans reminded him.

That was true. Yes he wasn't doing great right now, but he was already better than yesterday.

"Yeah," he said.

"So don't stop taking them Matteo," Hans warned.

"I won't," Matteo assured him.

"Wanna try and sleep?" Hans suggested.

"I probably can't but... can I sit in here for a while?" he asked.

"Yeah sure," Hans said.

"Can I play video games?" he asked a little cheekily.

"Sure," Hans said, amused.

"Thank you Hans," he said, rushing off to grab his laptop. Then he frowned and put it down, instead grabbing a blanket and his headphones. He went back into Hans' room and curled up in his chair. He put on some quiet music and settled down. He knew sleep was not going to be forthcoming. But he hoped he could switch off for a little while. Safe in Hans' company, he finally felt able to relax.

 

 

 

Matteo was losing time. Everything was getting messy in his head. He was still with Hans. Hans had stayed with him all day. Hans had taken him to see Agata that morning, promising to break him out if they tried to lock him away. He'd even described how he'd do it in pretty alarming detail, involving fire and him dressing up as a sexy nurse. It made Matteo smile. Hans seemed to get his fear was very real to him, and dismissing it wouldn't help him. He believed Hans would keep him safe, if anyone could talk their way out of a hospital it was him.

But there hadn't been anything to worry about. Agata had sat with him and asked him some questions. She hadn't told him off when he'd said he'd been drinking and smoking and skipping his meds. She hadn't looked at him with pity, or like he was a hopeless case. She'd just smiled and said she was proud of him for pulling himself up.

She'd told him to remember he wasn't alone, that that was what her and Lydia were there for. All his friends, too. And while she was mostly there to push drugs on him, her words, just to make him laugh, she could also dish out advice. And her advice was to let people in. This was always going to be hard, but he needed to remember how quickly things had started to get better once he wasn't alone. Once he'd opened up to Amira and then she'd rallied the boys round half the weight had been lifted.

She'd also assured him that while she knew he was scared right now, this wasn't the end of the world, he was going to be ok. That all this seemed to be a side effect of coming off his meds and smoking, combined with the stress he was under. School, his mum and yes David too, all of it just pushed him over. He'd asked her why he was still so aware of everything going on, and she'd explained that it was probably because he was back on his meds.

And then she'd explained to him exactly how it all worked, in his body and his brain, and why his previous episodes had been more severe. When she'd realised he understood some of the biology, she'd pulled out what she called her bible.

It was just a massive psychology textbook.

They'd gone through it and she'd explained just exactly why it all felt so imprecise. How because everyone's brains were different there was no one treatment plan. It had to be personally tailored to each patient. Plus she had to take into account all the other conditions a person might have, like Matteo's anxiety. They had to work on it for years sometimes. Matteo had lucked out that his meds were working for him, but they might not always. One day he might have to switch up and the side effects could be huge, but she believed he would get through it.

Still, he'd appreciated her honesty. He'd also found it all very interesting, just like biology, and he told her as much. She'd smiled then and explained how important it was to know what he was putting into his body, how it worked and what happened when he missed a dose or changed times. And he got it. He'd been pretty bad. Even before he went off his meds, he'd only taken them whenever he remembered.

They'd talked about sleep too, and how when this all passed one of the best ways to get on top of this was regular sleep. He'd made a joke then, that it wouldn't be hard because sleep was his favourite thing.

She'd promised him he was going to be ok. That this might get worse before it got better, but for now he could go home and wait it out. He was to take his meds both in the morning and evening for now, and she would reassess that in a month. She'd told him that even though he felt full of energy, it was important to get sleep, and if he needed to take medicine for that there was no shame in it, the more sleep he got, the quicker he would recover from this.

She'd also spoken to Hans, with Matteo's permission, and explained that if things got bad, he could call the crisis team or her and get a prescription for emergency medication that should bring him down, albeit pretty severely, so they wanted to avoid that at all costs. She'd also reminded Matteo that there was no shame in him coming to the hospital for help, that it would be no different to this, they'd talk with him, monitor him, adjust his meds and mostly let him sleep. At no point would he be locked up or restrained and he would be free to go at any point. The only reason they would keep him in would be if he was too heavily medicated not to be under medical supervision.

After all that, Matteo felt like he was coming out of it, but he was pretty sure it was just the calm before the storm. Still, he appreciated Hans bringing him home, sitting with him all day, even though all he could do was play video games. He was just exhausted by all of this. But he had so much energy, too. It was a horrible feeling, all this energy in a body beyond exhaustion. He was filled with enough energy to run all over the city, but his body was heavy and slow, weighing him down. It left him restless and anxious.

Hans' kindness, his insistence on staying with Matteo even though he was being boring made Matteo want to cry. He was so kind to him, even after the way Matteo had treated him. He wasn't scared of him, even though he must seem so unbalanced to him. He didn't treat him like he was delicate or fragile. Yes, he made sure he took his meds, but he also made jokes, teased him, made a show of it, his usual dramatics. It made it all seem a bit more normal.

They were currently in the living room. Hans was supposed to be going on a date with Claude, but he'd blown it off to stay there with Matteo. Apparently this meant that he had to hear all about their sex life. And if he groaned or pulled a face Hans would just remind him that he could be having sex right now instead of babysitting his favourite child.

"Oh! I've just remembered!" Hans exclaimed suddenly, breaking Matteo's concentration. He was desperately trying to tune out anything Hans was saying.

"What?" Matteo grumbled.

"My fatherly duties," Hans said dramatically.

Then he ran off into his room and Matteo just stared after him. What the fuck was he talking about? What fatherly duties could he be thinking of? Not to mention the fact Hans was not his father.

When Hans returned, Matteo knew this wasn't going to be good. He placed a large bottle on the coffee table and sat down opposite him.

"What's that?" he asked carefully.

"Lube," Hans said, grinning smugly.

Oh god no. He wasn't doing this. Not now, and not with Hans. He felt his face going red, and he hated how easily he blushed.

"What?" he muttered.

"It's time we had a sex talk Matteo," Hans said.

"It is absolutely not Hans!"

He made to get up, but Hans reached out and placed a hand on his knee, stopping him gently.

"No, I know you're not there with David yet, but I bet no one has sat down and talked with you about this stuff. When I came out I had no one, I had no idea what I was doing, and it was scary, I want you to be safe," Hans said.

Matteo blinked at him. His face was on fire and he hated this, but he had to admit Hans was right, it was scary. He was lucky to even have someone to talk about this stuff.

He still groaned and covered his face.

"So let's talk lube," Hans began.

"Let's not," he whined from behind his hands.

"And I guess you might not know your preferences yet but..."

Hans pulled out his phone, god he'd obviously prepared all this. He got up and came to sit next to Matteo, showing him some very detailed anatomical diagrams, a few very graphic photos, and launching into an explanation of why he might enjoy doing that himself.

Matteo wanted to die.

He just wanted this to be over, he was so uncomfortable talking about this stuff. It was embarrassing. Well, it was embarrassing when it was about himself. He appreciated what Hans was trying to do, but he couldn't do this. For starters, he didn't even know if David wanted sex; they hadn't talked about any of this. Based on the heated looks he gave him, he thought he just might, but there was no pressure there.

"Hans?" Matteo said, cutting off his very detailed discussion about the different positions he could try.

"Yes butterfly?"

"It's going to be different with David, to what you're talking about," Matteo said.

Hans frowned.

"How do you mean?"

"Well David is trans so I think-"

"Oh Matteo you shouldn't have told me that," Hans chastised, although it was far gentler than he deserved.

Fuck, he didn't even think of that. Of course he shouldn't have told him. David had been so scared to tell him, and he'd just blurted it out like it was nothing. Hell, even Hans had warned him about shit like this weeks ago, how he should treasure the secrets entrusted to him. This was exactly why he wasn't good enough for David.

"Fuck fuck fuck," he groaned. He was going to scream.

He threw himself back in his chair. He'd ruined everything, David was never going to forgive him. He'd just messed up everything. And he'd been starting to get things under control, he was just starting to feel like maybe he was enough for David and then he went and did this.

"Matteo calm down, it's ok," Hans said.

"No I ruined it! I always ruin it!"

"Matteo I won't tell anyone," Hans said.

"I shouldn't have told you! Fuck, what if I'd told Jonas or someone else? God what have I done? I never fucking think!"

He stood up and started to pace the room.

"Matteo calm down, nothing is ruined, you're ok," Hans insisted.

Matteo just covered his face and groaned, he needed to fix it. He went down and sat in front of Hans.

"I need to fix it," he told him.

"In a bit, tell me more about David, this was why he stepped back?" Hans asked.

"Yeah, he was scared," Matteo told him.

David had been scared, so scared of people knowing about him. He'd foolishly confided in Matteo, and now his secret was out because Matteo couldn't keep his mouth shut.

"But now he's not? If he came back?"

"He missed me too much," Matteo said.

"So he told you?"

"Yeah," Matteo said.

He still felt panicky. He felt like Hans was gearing up to tell him off. And he deserved it. It was only going to be worse when David got mad at him. He had to tell him. David deserved to know he'd betrayed his confidence.

"And it's ok? With you, I mean?"

Matteo stared, not understanding at first. Then he realised what Hans was asking, did it matter to him that David was trans? It was exactly what David had been afraid of.

"Oh yeah, it's fine but... I did freak out a bit," he admitted.

Freak out was putting it mildly, he'd wound himself up over the silliest things. He'd stalled on talking with David because he thought he could become better, become good enough for David in a matter of weeks.

"In what way?"

"Just... David went all in you know? And I started to worry that I wasn't enough, that he shouldn't be putting all his faith in me, I thought maybe he'd made a mistake," Matteo admitted.

"And now?"

"I think I might just love him Hans, and... I think that might be enough," Matteo said.

As soon as the words were out, he knew it was the truth; he knew that right now this was the only thing that mattered.

"Oh Matteo," Hans whispered, tearing up.

Matteo blinked. Why was Hans so emotional? He was so dramatic sometimes.

"I know it's too soon and I'm probably being way too intense, but it's how I feel. My feelings are real. For a long time I tried to deny these sorts of things, tried to deny my feelings and my attractions, tried to pretend I felt other things when I didn't, so... Hans I'm sure," he said.

He refused to look at him, not willing to see the look on his face, the pity.

"I believe you, Matteo. It's not too quick, how you feel is how you feel, no one else can tell you how you to feel," Hans insisted, tapping his knee until he looked at him.

"I... I... want to tell David," Matteo said.

He needed to. He had this intense need to tell him.

"Ah well, now I don't know if that's a good idea," Hans said.

"But it's the truth, he should know," Matteo said, he could feel himself getting wound up.

"Matteo," Hans warned.

But Matteo wasn't having it. Why shouldn't he tell David that he loved him? Surely David deserved to know? Surely he would want to know?

"Why are you trying to stop me?" Matteo demanded, jumping up and backing away from Hans.

"I'm not, Matteo," Hans said.

"You're spoiling it!"

"Matteo-"

"Leave me alone fuck!"

He ran a hand through his hair, trying to calm down. But he couldn't. He was stressed. Hans wasn't going to let him see David. Hans wanted to ruin things. He needed to tell David he was sorry and that he loved him. He had to tell him. Right now. He stared at Hans for a moment, then he was running before Hans even knew what was happening. He heard him shouting, but he was already out of the door. He'd managed his shoes, but had forgotten his jacket. No matter, he would get pretty hot running anyway.

 

 

 

All the extra energy Matteo had meant nothing in terms of his general fitness. It didn't make him any good at running. By the time he got to David's he was just about ready to throw up. His chest was heaving, he was sweaty and dizzy. And he still had two flights of stairs to climb. God.

He took a breath and dragged himself up to David's apartment. He was just about ready to collapse when he pounded on the door.

Laura opened the door, and he braced himself for a fight, he knew he must look a state. She could very easily send him away, but although she looked concerned, she ushered him inside immediately.

"Is David here?"

"Yes he's in the kitchen, come through," she said. "David you have a visitor," she called out, as she ushered him through with a gentle hand on his arm

"Who is- Matteo!"

David ran up to him, but stopped and stared when he realised the state he was in. Matteo knew it wasn't pretty. His face was hot and sweaty, his hair was sticking to his forehead. Despite the heat, he was cold and shivery.

"Matteo what's wrong?" David asked gently, approaching him slowly. When he reached him, he took his hand and tried to lead him to the sofa.

"No!" Matteo shoved him away. David stumbled and stepped back.

"David-"

"Laura can you give us some space?"

"I don't think-"

"Please Laura," David insisted.

"Ok fine," she said, shaking her head, but in fondness not anger.

Matteo watched her head into the kitchen. She gave David a displeased look as she went, but she smiled at Matteo so she wasn't annoyed with him. Probably with David bossing her about.

"Ok Matteo, what's going on?" David asked.

"I fucked up David! I fucked up so badly I've messed everything up and I have to tell you, but I'm so sorry. I have to tell you I'm sorry before I do, please David you have to understand I am sorry," Matteo begged.

"Ok Matteo? Whatever it is, I'm sure it's fine," David said, trying to get closer, but Matteo backed away from him.

"I told Hans! I told Hans about you!"

David just blinked and then sat down, rubbing his hand over his face. Matteo had fucked up. He knew it. Everything was ruined now. He should go, but he just stood there, trying not to cry.

"Ok," David said after a moment. But it wasn't ok at all, he sounded devastated.

"Ok?" Matteo whispered.

"No it's... it's not ok Matteo," David said.

Matteo knew he had to leave, David didn't want him there. But instead he went and sat beside him. He left enough space between them so that he wasn't pushing David.

"Fuck! I know, I know. I'm so sorry. I didn't think David! I didn't think, and I came here to tell you that. That this isn't a good idea, you were wrong to trust me, I've fucked up," Matteo said, eyes burning. He'd ruined this before it had even started.

"No," David said.

"What do you mean no?" Matteo asked confused.

David shuffled closer.

"Yes you fucked up, but I'm not letting you just give up. You're allowed to fuck up," he said.

"I told Hans your secret, even though I knew I was supposed to treasure it!"

David smirked at that and Matteo realised he wasn't that mad at him. He was so confused; it made no sense.

"Treasure it?" David asked amused.

Matteo just shrugged. "I dunno, something Hans told me once, that these kinds of secrets were ones I should treasure," he said.

David smiled and took his hand.

"You're not mad at me?" Matteo asked.

"No. I am upset, and scared, I always get scared of people knowing but I'm not mad. I like Hans, I think I know he won't be a bully, but could you... could you please tell me why you told him? What he said?" David asked.

"Yeah it was so fucking stupid. He was... he was trying to give me a sex talk, and he was trying to explain to me about preferences and positions. He had a bottle of lube David! He was showing me diagrams and pictures David! Graphic ones! I was feeling awkward and embarrassed. I just... what I wanted to say was it would be different, that you were trans so it would be you that I had to talk to about this stuff you know? But Hans cut me off right away, he told me I wasn't supposed to tell him that. And I did know that," Matteo said. He was blushing again, just from thinking about that conversation.

"Ok," David said, he was trying to stay composed, but Matteo could tell he was amused.

"But he won't tell, he promised he won't tell," Matteo insisted.

"You trust Hans a lot?"

"Yes, I... I haven't known him very long. Like I'd met him at parties and stuff... but then a few months ago he took me in even though he knew... some stuff about me... I'll tell you in a minute, but he took me in and even though it's annoying, he does take care of me," Matteo said.

Despite what Hans said about fatherly duties, he didn't think of him as a father figure. He'd long outgrown the need for a father. But he did think of him as family, he did trust him.

"Ok," David said.

"He won't tell anyone and he... obviously you're scared that people will be bad to you, but is it also because you don't want people to change how they see you?" Matteo guessed.

David didn't say anything just stared, so intensely that Matteo started to tremble, but he continued.

"And er... Hans doesn't, I promise, and all he wanted to know was how I feel about you," Matteo told him.

"And how do you feel about me?" David asked curiously. Matteo thought he just might have forgiven him. He didn't deserve it, but he had to accept it. He thought David just might know exactly how he felt about him.

"I don't want to say, it's too soon," he said.

"Oh," David said, disappointed.

"But also... I'm not quite right at the moment I don't want to say it until my head is clear. When this happens, everything is out of my control, I always say stuff I'm not ready for," Matteo said.

David nodded.

"Could you tell me what it is? What's going on with you?" he asked.

"I... think maybe I'm manic or... hypomanic most probably... I went off my meds and fucked up a bit," Matteo explained. He wasn't telling David because he was manic either, he was in control of what he was saying. He was telling because it was time.

"Manic as in bipolar?"

"Yeah," Matteo mumbled, waiting for judgement. He didn't think he would get it from David, but it was still a fear.

"Shit," David said.

That wasn't a good response. Matteo stared down at his hands, their hands.

"Matteo?"

He refused to look up, refused to look at David. David was going to ask him to leave, and Matteo could bear to see his face when he did that.

"Matteo please," David said, squeezing tight.

"I'm sorry, please give me another chance, I can get better," he begged.

"No that's not what's happening, I'm not going anywhere. But Matteo... I don't know what to do here, I don't know how to take care of you," David explained.

He sounded scared, and Matteo finally looked up at him. He was regarding him with concern, worry. Matteo wasn't sure how he felt about that.

"Take care of me?" he asked.

David nodded. "Is that wrong? Do you not... you said Hans takes care of you," he explained.

"Oh yeah, I guess, not like... he just reminds me to take my meds and checks in with me," Matteo said. He appreciated it, but he didn't want to lumber David with that burden.

"Ok. What do you need from me Matteo?"

"I don't know," Matteo admitted.

"Have you... do you need to take meds?" David checked.

Matteo didn't know how he felt about David doing this, it wasn't uncomfortable like he thought it would be. It felt an awful lot like being loved.

"In the morning," he said.

"Should I take you home?" David asked him.

"Will you stay?" Matteo asked.

"Of course," David said with a smile, the look on his face said there was nowhere else he'd rather be than by Matteo's side.

"Ok then," Matteo said.

He knew he had to get home, he couldn't stay here. He needed stability; he needed to get back and go to bed. He needed his meds. And he needed to let Hans know he was ok. He hadn't even brought his phone with him, Hans would be panicking. If he didn't get back soon, he would call Jonas and then it would become a whole thing.

"Could you message Hans? On insta or something? Tell him we're coming back," Matteo said.

David nodded. "You seem very calm," he observed.

"It's not... I'm up and down... volatile," Matteo said.

"But you're aware of what's going on? You understand what you just told me? You wanted to?" David checked.

God, he was so wonderful. He understood his fears exactly, how terrifying that lack of control was. But he was right, this was different to last time.

"Yes, so I don't think it's like... full blown mania, that happened before it was bad... I lost six whole days," Matteo told him.

"That sounds terrifying," David said, squeezing his hands again.

"It was, it really fucking was, I hurt myself and ended up in the hospital and they drugged me and I was so afraid David. I don't want that to happen again, David!"

He was already panicking, scared. This wasn't the bipolar, this was his anxiety.

"I'm here," David assured him.

"Don't take me to the hospital," Matteo begged. He knew Agata had said it would be ok, but he was too scared.

"I won't, but Matteo you gotta promise to stick with me," David said, "if I take you home you've got to stay with me."

He was reading on his phone. Matteo knew he was looking up about him. He frowned. David noticed.

"I want you to tell me all about this yourself. But you're important, in fact you might just be the most important person in my life and I've gotta keep you safe. That means I need to look this up because Matteo I can't trust you to tell me what's best for you right now. Not because you're bipolar, but because I know you, because you hate to feel like a burden, so you won't let me know how bad it is for you. I am absolutely not going to do anything you don't want me to do, but I need to know how to take care of you," David said, a little firmly, staring him down, waiting for him to object.

But David was desperate, Matteo could tell. He was desperate to take care of him. And Matteo wanted him to. He was so tired of trying to struggle alone, pushing everyone away. He hated being alone; he knew how much easier it was when he had people around him. He could tell having David with him, with his fierce desire to care for him would feel wonderful.

"Hans knows how to take care of me," he said.

David nodded and smiled.

"Then let’s go to Hans. Laura!"

"Yeah?" She came out of the kitchen and smiled at both of them.

"I'm going to Matteo's. I don't know when I'll be back," David said, getting up and bouncing on his feet.

Matteo realised that despite the way he'd phrased it, he was asking for permission. He wondered vaguely about David's parents. He made a note to ask him sometime.

"You have an exam on Friday," she reminded him.

"Yes mum," he said cheekily, then held out his hand for Matteo.

Matteo took it and let David lead him to the door.

They put on their shoes, and then David frowned at him. "Where's your jacket?" he demanded.

Matteo blushed. "I ran," he admitted.

David pulled his jacket on and ran back to his room. He came back a moment later with a hoodie for him. Matteo pulled it on and smiled. It smelled like David. He pulled the hood up over his face to hide. He felt shy wearing David's clothes. He didn't know why.

"Ok?"

Matteo nodded, and David took his hand again.

"Let's go," he said, stepping in and pressing a kiss to his cheek. Matteo ducked his head and blushed.

"You really ran?" David asked when they got outside. Matteo noted he didn't let go of his hand. Probably because he didn't want Matteo running off, but Matteo decided to pretend it was simply because David liked him.

"Yeah," Matteo said, shifting a little closer. And when David didn't pull away, he leant against him. David just pulled him even closer.

"You ran all the way?" David asked.

Matteo didn't like his tone.

"Yeah it was easy," he said defensively.

Matteo could tell David didn't believe him at all. Matteo knew he was thinking about how slow he'd been at the pool, how much he'd grumbled about all the running.

"When I'm like this, I have lots of energy," Matteo insisted.

"Still."

"But yeah it doesn't make me any fitter, I almost threw up twice," Matteo admitted.

David laughed then and squeezed his hand. "Yeah, that sounds about right," he said.

"Running is exhausting," Matteo complained.

He hated running and always would. Walking was ok though, especially in present company. But even David couldn't get him to run for fun.

"I like to run," David said.

"Of course you do," Matteo said, slowing down and looking in shop windows as they passed. All the bright displays were colourful and mesmerising. David had to tug him along to keep him moving.

"Are you really surprised?" he asked.

"Nah you do sports, of course you like running," Matteo teased.

David was quiet for a moment clearly thinking about something. It gave Matteo a second to glance into a video game store and stare at all the games he wanted to play. David tugged him again.

"Yeah... I like sports, I'm good at it, football especially but athletics too. But... I just wanted to prove I could do it. When I came here, the principal said I could, but Neuhaus is giving me shit," David told him.

That got Matteo's full attention. Had him full of concern for David.

"What shit?" he asked gently.

David took a deep breath and Matteo knew what he was about to say was going to be painful for him. Matteo squeezed his hand, trying to let him know it was ok.

"He's trying to mark me as a girl," David said, his voice a whisper and dripping with shame.

"But... I don't understand," Matteo said honestly.

"Because of my id, my birth certificate it's all wrong," David explained.

Matteo still didn't know what that meant, surely David was at the school as a boy? And what did it even matter?

"But... that has nothing to do with anything, you're just running around," he said.

"I'm not just running around," David argued, shoving him.

"Do girls and boys get marked differently then?" he asked.

"Do you really not know anything about the PE exam?"

"Why would I need to?" Matteo countered, he barely knew how his own exams worked, let alone others.

"Yes girls and boys are graded differently for sports," David explained.

"But... but... for the whole thing? Don't you have to sit a paper?" Matteo asked.

"Yeah, we get marked the same on that," David said.

"It doesn't make any sense, chemistry has a practical and they don't mark by gender," Matteo argued.

David led Matteo over to a bench and pushed him down.

"Hey!"

"Sit for a minute," David said, "we don't live that close, I still can't believe you ran the whole way."

"It nearly killed me," Matteo admitted.

He had been getting pretty breathless just from walking.

"We'll move in a minute, before you get cold," David assured him. "But yeah, it's stupid."

"It really is David he should just... he should just mark you as a boy because... what if you went against the girls you'd thrash them, you'd be so fast, and that wouldn't be fair to them, they'd be upset," Matteo said.

"Ok, I get what you're saying, but I really feel like you're imagining my sports exam to be a race around the gym," David said.

At least it was amusing him.

Matteo shrugged. David was standing in front of him, arms folded across his chest, trying and failing to look stern.

"It's two physical exams actually, one was football. I did it already, and it's mixed, there aren't enough students for it not to be. The second is athletics actually, so three races, discus, javelin and long jump," David said.

"So I was right?" Matteo teased.

"No Matteo," David said, rolling his eyes. He pulled Matteo back up and started pulling him back to his apartment, keeping a tight grip on his hand again.

"Ok but... you do all this together and then what? Neuhaus gives you a lower grade because he thinks you're a girl? That seems like bullshit," he said.

That felt very unfair. Sara was in sports, and she'd never complained about this.

"No the opposite, like there's two assessment sheets the boys have to meet all these high criteria and the girls have to meet less, I would do better probably," he said.

"Oh, so it's just sexist?"

"Yeah," David agreed, swinging their joined hands, happy that Matteo agreed with him.

"So the immediate problem is that you're being marked incorrectly but the bigger problem is the whole marking thing is dumb I think. Is there a biological reason for it? I know there's a difference in muscle and stuff. But like I assume you take testosterone so that would make you stronger but... if you're all playing together, if you're all competing together then it's dumb. If you were going against each other, I'd get it but... no offence you're not exactly Olympians," Matteo teased.

He got another shove just as he expected. He quite liked it, the way David was rough with him. It felt affectionate.

"Rude, some of the students do want to go into sports," David argued.

"I guess, but it just seems so unfair. What are you going to do?"

"Don't know, I can't- I can't be graded wrongly Matteo," David said, devastated.

Matteo nodded. "Have you spoken to him?"

"Yeah. He won't listen," David said.

"Do the teachers know? About you?" Matteo asked.

He noticed they were almost home, which was a relief, his feet were hurting.

"Yeah," David said.

"Talk to a different teacher, or the principal," Matteo suggested.

He didn't really know what else to suggest; he wasn't exactly good at this sort of thing. He was far from an ideal student.

"What if they agree with him?"

"Explain why they shouldn't and just... hope that they listen," Matteo said.

What else could he do? They were just teenagers, they could hardly go up against their teachers.

"If they don't, I won't do the exam," David said firmly.

"Ok," Matteo said.

"Ok?"

"Yeah, you shouldn't do it if it causes you pain," Matteo said.

He wasn't going to convince David to sit the exam if he didn't want to. If it was something that hurt him, then Matteo wasn't the one to persuade him.

"Thank you Matteo," David said.

He sounded so relieved to have Matteo's support. Of course he would be behind him on this, of course he would have his back. He understood exactly what it was like to have teachers who didn't understand you, who were prejudiced against you.

"Oh, we're here," Matteo said, glad to be home. "You were distracting me? Why were you holding my hand then?" he asked.

"Because I like you Matteo. But yeah, I was trying to distract you a bit, trying to keep your focus on me. But also I wanted to unload, I wanted you to know my shit," David said.

"You're... you're not wrong, about keeping my focus, I can be a flight risk when I'm like this," Matteo admitted.

He didn't remember much of his last episode, but Jonas had told him getting him to Hanna's apartment had been particularly tricky. He'd run off four times, distracted by all sorts, trying to get into parks, closed shops, wanting to catch the train and go to the airport to go see his dad.

Once he was inside, he was probably going to be manageable, Hans had kept him in most of the past few days.

As soon as they got inside Hans was on him, checking him over, fussing over him, generally being dramatic. Matteo could tell he'd been crying and was immediately guilty.

"I was so worried Matteo," Hans tutted, finally pulling him inside.

"I'm sorry," Matteo mumbled.

"I know, butterfly, I know," Hans said, forgiving him as always.

"David is here," Matteo said, looking at his feet, worried Hans was going to embarrass him.

"I'm gonna stay over for a while if that’s ok?" David checked, kicking off his shoes and nudging Matteo to do the same.

"He told you?" Hans asked.

"Yeah," David said.

Hans nodded and led them into the flat properly.

"Ok, it's best if Matteo stays in just until this passes," Hans suggested.

Matteo felt himself curling up, he hated been talked about like this. David frowned and shook his head.

"I don't think that's a good idea, he's not a prisoner," he argued.

"No but if he needs to go out-"

"I'll go with him," David said.

"Not a dog," Matteo muttered.

"I know butterfly, but you get all these ideas, one after the other and then before you know it you're lost, your phone is dead and you have no way of getting back to us, if David's with you I'll feel a little better," Hans said.

"I dunno, I'm pretty impulsive," David said, clearly not happy that Hans was insinuating he was boring.

Matteo smirked.

"David likes breaking into abandoned military bases," he told Hans.

Hans looked horrified.

"Jesus Christ," he whispered. He turned to Matteo properly and looked him over. "Ok take a sleeping pill Matteo, get to bed. I think we can get this thing under control, like Agata said."

Matteo nodded and went into his room and grabbed his meds. David followed him, but he immediately started rifling through his bio notes. Which was rude.

"David you have to watch me," Matteo said, trying to get his attention.

He looked up.

"No? Do you want me to watch you?"

"Not really," Matteo admitted.

He shrugged and went back to the notes. Matteo took the pill anyway and went over to him.

"You have me for about an hour," he said.

"Are you gonna get all sleepy and clingy?" David asked him, amused.

"Yeah probably."

"That's cool, I'm tired too, we can snuggle in a bit. What's all this?"

"Bio," Matteo said, draping himself over David. David leant back and kissed him.

"Looks a lot like my anatomy shit," he said.

"When's that?" Matteo asked.

"Wednesday," David said.

"We could... study together," Matteo suggested. He felt shy and silly asking, and he didn't know why. He supposed it was the idea of David saying no, not wanting to spend time with him, it scared him.

"I'd like that, only if you're feeling ok," David said, putting the notes down and turning around, kissing him again.

"Cool," Matteo said.

"You learning about the brain too?" David asked.

"No er... some of this is psych. I was trying to learn a bit more about myself how it all works because... this is weird, it's not a proper manic episode, but I'm not normal right now either," he explained.

"Did you figure it out?"

"I think so," Matteo said.

"Come on, then let's sit, you can explain it to me," David said, pulling him over to the bed without letting go of him. They both sat down.

"You want to hear?"

"I want to hear every single thing you have to say," David said.

"You're killing me David," Matteo groaned.

David just blew him a kiss.

"Ok, so I think I'm not in a manic episode, but I'm in something, the very edge of something bigger. It could go either way, but I think it will be ok. Because I'm taking my meds and they do help, they do even me out. So I take mood stabilisers and I'm also on antidepressants. It's all supposed to keep me even like before? But I came off them after we... after you upset me, it wasn't your fault it was everything, but that made me unstable," Matteo explained.

"But... you were kind of unstable before that," David said.

And he had been hadn't he? He'd been all over the place for weeks, months. To be honest, he'd been up and down since the big episode. Not nearly as extreme, but still, he'd felt like a mess for months.

"Yes that's why I stopped taking them, because I figured they weren't doing anything," Matteo explained.

David nodded.

"Do you take testosterone from like the pharmacy? Like on prescription?"

"Yeah why?"

"And does it tell you when to take it and stuff, like not eat before and stuff?"

"Erm no or... there is a bit of paper that comes with it," David said.

That was what Matteo was talking about, the little pamphlet. The ones that he had were huge swathes of text.

"Did you read it?" he asked.

"No. Yeah the first time, but it didn't say any of that. It actually says I'm not supposed to take it," David said.

"You're taking it for an unintended use?"

"Yep," David said with a shrug.

Matteo wasn't going to challenge him. His medication was actually anti-seizure medication.

"Ok, not all medication has such strict instructions. My mood stabilisers... they're actually epilepsy medication too, but there are different instructions depending on what you're taking it for. So mine is supposed to be taken with or after a meal, and at the same time every day," Matteo explained.

"Ok?"

David seemed a little confused, wondering where he was going with this.

"But I was just taking it whenever I woke up," Matteo said.

"Ah, and that was different times?"

"Yeah and I never feel like eating so... it was wrong a bit but not properly, so yeah that's why it probably seemed like I was unstable," Matteo said.

David just nodded and placed his hand on Matteo's chest. He gently pushed him down, then made him shuffle up the bed. Matteo had to admit he quite liked being cared for like this, the way David did it, by pulling and pushing him about. Still, he couldn't let David know this.

"Hey!"

"You're getting droopy," David said, "your eyes are all unfocused."

"Oh," Matteo said. David was right, he could feel the pills kicking in. His head felt heavy, so he sank into pillows.

"Didn't want you falling down," David teased.

"Don't wanna sleep yet," Matteo whined even though he knew it was inevitable now.

"You don't have to, but don't fight it either, I'll still be here when you wake up," David said, smiling at him fondly.

"Promise?"

"Promise."

"I was scared, like you were scared, you know to tell you?"

"I would never leave you," David said.

"I know but... my dad left my mum, she's ill, different to me, but she was too much for him," Matteo said.

"Well, that's different," David said, getting up and pulling the sheets around Matteo, tucking him in.

"Not really," Matteo said.

"Well, yeah," David insisted.

"This isn't... David you have to know this isn't as bad as it gets, this is pretty tame," Matteo reminded him.

"I know but-"

"No David, you have to understand, it could get really bad. I could fuck up big time, go off my meds badly, go completely off the rails, do reckless things," Matteo warned him.

David frowned and laid down beside him. "I don't know what you want me to say."

"I... what?"

"I'm not going to go, if that's what you're trying to get me to do. I'm not leaving, I'm not just going to give up on you just because you-"

"No but David it might get really bad!" Matteo shouted, sitting up. David sat up too.

"Or it might not," he said firmly, raising his voice. Not shouting, but loud enough that Matteo couldn't ignore it. "I'm not giving up on you for a fucking maybe Matteo, because what if it doesn't? What if everything's ok?"

"But-"

"Or what if it gets shit but then it gets better?" David said, close to shouting now. "What if you have shit times and good times just like everyone else?" he demanded.

"But my shit is worse," Matteo said.

"To you, but Matteo I have shit and it may not seem as heavy as yours, but to me it is. Everyone has shit and to them it's the worst thing, you can't... you can't just give up, don't give up on me, give me a chance," David said.

"I-"

"And I know, I know you'll have the depression and bad feels really fucking bad for you, but it will pass, let me be there with you, I want to be, you can't make that choice for me," David said, begging now. "Matteo I know this is going to be hard, I'm not stupid. I've known for a while you had issues with your mental health, you were hinting about it pretty much since we met. I've gone into this knowing there was something, but that doesn't put me off. I like, I like you... a fucking lot, I know what we're not saying yet, but I feel the same. And that means I'm willing to put the work in ok?"

"Oh," Matteo whispered.

He didn't feel dismissed. He felt a little bit told off, but it didn't make him feel bad. It made him feel loved, that David would fight for him, even if it was him he was fighting. He felt overwhelmed in the best of ways.

David just smiled and settled him down again, laying beside him.

"Are you going to sleep?" Matteo asked.

"In a bit," David said.

Matteo frowned.

"I'm gonna change once you fall asleep, if that's ok?"

"Ok you can borrow whatever," Matteo said. His eyelids were really heavy now, he didn't have long left before he was out.

"Thank you Matteo," David said.

"Are you... ok staying over?"

Matteo's brain was sleepy and confused, but he understood that David was uncomfortable about some of this stuff.

"I am... I'm so comfortable around you, but it's still going to take some time," David admitted.

"You wear something on your chest don't you?" Matteo asked.

"A binder, yes," David said.

Matteo figured that was why he shuffled so much.

"When I fall asleep you're going to take it off?"

"Yeah, it's late it hurts," David admitted, stretching and wincing.

"It's why you can't breathe?"

"Yeah," David admitted.

Matteo reached out and stroked David's side. He watched David carefully and then dug his fingers in a little. David winced slightly, but didn't push him away. Matteo continued to run his hand up and down David's side, gently.

"Do it again," David whispered.

Matteo dug his fingers into David's ribs, trying to press his pain away. David closed his eyes and let out a heavy sigh.

"Hurts?"

"Yeah," David admitted. "Feels good though, I... close your eyes."

Matteo did. He felt the bed move around a lot, David moving beside him. He leant over him and Matteo heard the lamp switch off.

"Ok. I don't want you to see," David admitted. "But you can open your eyes now."

"Ok," Matteo said, opening his eyes. The room was darker now, but Matteo still could make out David in the dim light. David took his hand and placed it on his side again. He wasn't tense at all, so Matteo dug in his fingers again and tried to ease the ache in David's ribs. He had no idea what he was doing, but David had said it felt good.

"Still ok?"

"Yeah it hurts but a good hurt, don't stop," David said, sounding relaxed.

Matteo didn't, but he sat up, pulling David with him.

"Matteo," David warned, nervous now.

"Just your sides," Matteo assured him, running his hands over David's back and pressing into his sides.

"God Matteo," David groaned, relaxing into it. Matteo continued this for a while until he was sure David was going to beat him to sleep if they weren't careful.

"Tired David," he mumbled.

"God me too," David said.

They laid down again, snuggled close together.

"Is this ok?" Matteo checked.

"Yeah, I thought it wouldn't be, but it is," David said. "Probably because you're barely conscious."

"Rude," Matteo murmured.

David just laughed and reached out, running his fingers through Matteo's hair.

Matteo just stared at him, trying to make out his face in the dark. His eyes kept closing, they felt so heavy. David just shuffled closer and pulled tighter Matteo against him.

"Go to sleep Matteo," he said softly.

Matteo could no longer fight it. His energy may be boundless right now, but the sleeping pills were strong. It was time to sleep. He focussed on emptying his mind like Lydia told him, letting his thoughts drift away. He was safe now. He was home. He'd never felt more like this was where he was supposed to be, safe in David's arms. He needed to stop pushing, stop fighting this. If David wanted to stay who was he to fight it? He wanted David here. David wanted to be here. He needed to accept it. It was hard, so hard not to believe that David, just like everyone, would leave one day. But he believed David when he said he didn't want to, that here was where he wanted to be. Maybe that was enough. He liked what David had said earlier. That maybe things wouldn't get bad. Matteo always focused on the negative side of the maybes, but there was a whole other option out there. Maybe, just maybe, he would get to be happy.

Chapter Text

Matteo had hoped that the combination of his sleep meds and being wrapped in David's arms would've gotten him through the night. His brain didn't get that memo though. He woke four times in the night. The final time, around four, he gave up. He carefully untangled himself from David and crawled out of bed. He stood there for a long time, staring at David, wanting nothing more than to climb back into his arms. But he couldn't, not right now.

Instead, he grabbed a hoodie, his pack of cigarettes, and climbed out onto the balcony. He pulled the hoodie on and collapsed onto the little chair in the corner. After a few minutes, he lit a cigarette and leant back against the wall, closing his eyes. He couldn't sleep, but he was exhausted. It was still dark out, cold and drizzly, miserable just like how he felt. He shivered, but he didn't want to go back in. Not yet. He was so fucking fed up of this. He hated being so tired and so full of energy. He wished he could just be one or the other. He was so fucking exhausted and all he wanted to do was sleep, his body ached with it. Every time he closed his eyes, instead of peace he found his racing mind. His thoughts were flitting through his brain, driving him to madness. It would pass, he knew it would, but he was a little scared about what was next. It usually wasn't a middle ground, but straight down into depression, a mood far deeper and darker than his usual melancholy.

Last time it took months to pull himself out of it. It was painful and exhausting. There were times when he felt like he wasn't going to make it through. He was terrified of that happening again. He took another drag of his cigarette and stared out into the city, watching the light growing on the horizon. When his cigarette burned out, he lit another, and then another.

On his fourth he heard the door open behind him, but he didn't turn around.

"Can't sleep?" David mumbled. He was barely awake. Matteo dragged his eyes away from the skyline and took in his rumpled state. He smiled a little at the state of David's hair, his cheeks still warm and pink from sleep.

Matteo shrugged.

"May I join you?"

"Yeah," Matteo whispered.

He offered David the cigarette, but he shook his head. "No thanks," he said.

Matteo just stared, not up to talking yet. David didn't seem upset, he continued to smile at him.

"Does it affect you?" he asked.

"I need some vices," Matteo muttered, but he still stubbed it out.

"No I wasn't... I wasn't telling you off, I was just curious," David insisted.

"I... drinking and weed fucks up my meds, and my brain. Caffeine messes with my sleep and I need to get every minute of sleep I can. Smoking is shitty, nicotine is probably not good for my brain, but fuck I need something. I can't give up everything at once, I'd fling myself off this balcony," Matteo said.

"Matteo," David tutted, pulling Matteo up off the chair, sitting down and pulling him back onto his lap. He wrapped a tight arm around his waist.

"Not a fan of dark humour?"

"Not really," David said.

Matteo chuckled at that. "I dunno I like it," he said.

"Then I'll allow it, but go easy on yourself," David said, pressing a kiss to his cheek.

"You'll allow it?" Matteo asked, amused now.

"Yeah, didn't you hear? No one gets to be mean to you, not even you. And it's me who kicks the asses of anyone who is," David said.

Matteo laughed at that. Laughed with joy at the way David had his back. He knew part of it stemmed from his ridiculous up and down mood, but it also real joy. He'd known he had support, from so many people, but this felt different. This kind of support and care was fierce and unwavering. Matteo wasn't sure if he was ever going to get used to it, but it felt fucking wonderful.

"Noted," he said. "You ok?"

"Could've done with a bit more sleep," David said.

"Sorry," Matteo said.

"It's funny how quickly I've gotten used to sharing a bed with you, how quickly I miss you when you're not there. That first night I stayed over? I was terrified, that you'd somehow know," David said quietly, pressing a kiss to his temple.

"You put way too much faith in my observation skills," Matteo mused.

"You were laying on my chest Matteo," David said.

"I was sleepy and all I could think about was the fact you'd kissed me, the way you were holding me, so carefully, like I was precious, all I could think about was the fact I was surrounded by you, nothing else mattered."

"Ok. But the second night I stayed over, I was really scared, because I was going to tell you. You holding me actually eased my fears a little. But once I'd told you and you begged me not to leave, when you'd explained why you needed space, that it wasn't me, the way even though you knew about me all you wanted to do was curl up against me, I just knew."

"What?"

"That all I wanted to do was hold you close, always," David said.

"That's all I want too," Matteo said, leaning back against him.

"Well, I could do with breakfast too, I'm kinda hungry," David admitted.

Matteo laughed. "I can feed you," he said, getting up and holding out his hand for David.

They went back inside, but David stopped him before he opened the door.

"I need to change," he said.

"Ok, you ok?" Matteo turned to him, but kept his eyes on David's face, not wanting to make him uncomfortable. David gave him a small smile.

"Feeling kinda naked," he admitted.

It had been different out on the balcony, still dark, both of them barely awake. Now it seemed to be hitting David just how much of himself he'd bared both last night and this morning. Matteo decided to give him some privacy.

"Take your time, meet me in the kitchen," Matteo suggested.

"Can I borrow one of your sweaters too? Your thick ones?" David asked quietly, sounding vulnerable and a little afraid.

Matteo closed his eyes and stepped closer to him, he held his arms open, hoping David would get the hint. He did, he stepped into Matteo's arms and let him hug him tight. "Whatever you need," Matteo said.

"I just need a few minutes."

"I won't come back in, you can lock the door," Matteo said.

"Thank you Matteo." David pressed a kiss to his cheek and let him go.

 

Of course, just as Matteo was really starting to feel better, feel calmer, feel like he might just make it through this, something had to go and bring him crashing back down. Or wind him back up. This time it was his dad texting him. Usually he could ignore it. His dad only ever texted him over the rent or his allowance. It was only ever about money. He never wanted to know how Matteo was doing. He had no idea what was going on in his life anymore. Matteo couldn't remember the last time they'd even had a real conversation.

Usually the messages would come through, rent paid, that was it. Matteo would delete it. The last message he'd kept was a happy birthday three days late. He'd kept that one and spent hours staring at it. He'd never replied though.

This message was different. This time his dad was wishing him luck in his exams, and Matteo had no idea what to do with that. It broke something in him, all the calm he'd built up dissipated in seconds.

How dare he? How dare he wish him luck? Who the fuck did he think he was? He'd never been there for Matteo, not once. He'd upped and left without a fucking goodbye, and now he was wishing him luck? Matteo knew what was happening. He was sweetening him up. He wanted something. Matteo thought he might know what that was, something to do with money. That was all his dad knew.

"Matteo?" David whispered, sensing the tension creeping back in.

It was late afternoon, and they were curled around each other. They'd just been laying together, chatting. Matteo had been so relaxed. Not enough to sleep, but enough to ignore the restlessness for a while. He didn't know how else to describe the useless energy constantly buzzing through his body. In David's arms it had been at bay, he'd poured it into chattering away until he wasn't even aware of what he'd been saying.

It had been perfect. Then his dad had to shatter that peace.

David could tell something was wrong. The change in Matteo's body language was immediate and obvious. He was tense again, thrumming with energy, and this time it was angry. He didn't even answer David.

Instead, he pulled away from him and did something he hadn't done in a long time. He called his dad.

"Matteo hello-"

"How dare you? How dare you pretend to give a shit about my exams? Who the fuck do you think you are?"

"Matteo, I'm your father-"

"Barely," Matteo muttered.

"Matteo. This isn't like you, are you alright?"

Matteo got where he was coming from, he couldn't think of one time he'd spoken back to him like that. He disagreed with him all the time, but he kept it to himself. Not this time.

"Am I alright? No, I'm fucking not alright, but you don't have to worry, it's not your problem anymore," Matteo spat.

David grabbed his wrist, but Matteo pulled free.

"Matteo that's unfair," his dad said.

"Let me guess, you're reaching out to let me know you're going to stop my allowance, right? I've been expecting this. I'm eighteen, I'm about to finish school, it's time I got a job, right? You always used to bang on about how you worked through high school, how lazy I was for not doing the same," Matteo said.

Matteo got up at that point and started pacing. He appreciated that David didn't try to stop him. He was watching him with concern, but he knew not to step in yet.

"No Matteo," his dad insisted.

"Well guess what? All the luck in the world isn't going to get me through these exams. I've already failed Spanish, I had a massive panic attack the moment I sat down. Because guess what dad? I have anxiety, probably thanks to the hell that was my childhood. It's crippling sometimes and I can barely get through the day. I'm so afraid all the time!"

"Matteo-"

"And guess what else? I'm just as fucking crazy as mum so there we go!"

"Matteo-"

"I'm bipolar dad!" he yelled. "And I was just getting coming down and you drag me back into it. I'm supposed to be studying for exams, but I can't because my brain is a mess so I'm going to fail and everything is ruined and how the fuck am I supposed to get a job if my head is like this? Now you want to take away my allowance? Do you want me to starve? You're my dad! You're going to cut me off? You're supposed to take care of me and-"

"Matteo! Stop this! Get a hold of yourself! You're spiralling!"

And while that had never once worked on his mother when she was out of control, Matteo felt it working on him. He felt himself immediately run out of steam. For the first time in his life, he heard the panic there in his dad's voice, not anger. Perhaps it had always been there. Perhaps this really was the only way to get through to them when they were like this. No, that wasn't right. There were other ways, but even David had gotten stern with him when he wasn't listening. When he was scared, scared for Matteo.

David was staring at him now, concerned, worried, looking a little like he wanted to snatch the phone away. He also looked very confused.

Matteo realised he couldn't understand what he'd been yelling. To him Matteo had just picked up the phone and started screaming in Italian. Matteo just shrugged and continued to pace. He couldn't deal with both of them right now.

"Matteo? Are you there?"

"I'm here dad," Matteo said quietly, all his anger leaving him. The calm didn't come back, but the exhaustion made itself known.

"Are you really bipolar?" his dad asked him. He sounded devastated. He should try living through it.

"Yeah," Matteo mumbled, going back to sit on the bed. David immediately took his hand, but still didn't say anything.

"Good God, why didn't you tell me Matteo?"

"How the fuck was I supposed to tell you?"

"I am so sorry Matteo, so sorry," he said.

It was all too little too late. This neglect had started long before his dad had left. Matteo didn't think there was anyway of fixing it.

"Whatever, I don't want to talk about it with you."

"Matteo, I wasn't calling you about money," his dad assured him.

That left Matteo more confused than ever.

"Oh. What did you want, then?"

"I was reaching out, I wanted to see you, Matteo," his dad said.

"What?"

"I'm back in Berlin," he said carefully, like he was worried anything he said would push Matteo over the edge. He wasn't wrong to worry.

"Why?"

Why the hell was he back? Why couldn't he have come back for him? Matteo had begged for him to stay, and he'd left him.

"I... have some stuff I need to sort out here, with your mother and the house," his dad said.

"No leave her alone!" Matteo snapped.

"I've already seen her. Yesterday, she's ok Matteo I promise. We didn't even fight. All very civil."

Matteo believed him, if they'd fought his mum would be upset, she'd be sending him endless messages. The last message he'd had from her was last night, asking him and David to come to dinner soon. Not even a bible verse.

"Are you getting divorced?"

"Yes Matteo," he said gently.

"Is there someone else?"

"No, Matteo, but your mother and I fell out of love a long time ago," he said.

"Oh."

"But Matteo I do still love you," his dad insisted.

"You do?"

"I know I didn't say it enough, I know I didn't show it. But me leaving was nothing to do with you. Matteo, I left because I could no longer stay in that house with your mother, I tried to take you with me," his dad said.

"You've hated me since long before then," Matteo muttered, leaning into David, exhausted now.

"Matteo no," his dad said, sounding devastated.

"You were awful to me always, you hated that I danced and sung. You hated that I was too soft, you were so worried I was going to turn out gay, well guess what? I am and I always was, so now you can hate me even more. But mama loves me, so you're wrong!"

"Matteo I don't hate you... I could never hate you. I am sorry. So sorry for how I was with you when you were a child, I-"

"You made me hate myself for the longest time," Matteo told him.

"I am so sorry Matteo," his dad said.

Matteo wondered if he'd had any idea what he was letting himself in for the moment he answered the phone. He bet he didn't want to see him anymore. He bet he was going to get on the first plane back to Italy and never see him again.

"Whatever," he muttered.

"Matteo don't hang up!" his dad warned.

He did know him well did his dad, knew his energy was waning, that he was switching off.

"What do you want dad? I'm tired," he said.

"I'd like to meet up, if you're up to it," his dad said.

"I'm not... I'm not good right now," Matteo said.

For the longest time, he'd just wanted his dad back. Now he couldn't face him.

"Is anyone looking after you?"

"David, my boyfriend, he's taking care of me," he said.

David smiled at the mention of his name. He gave Matteo a squeeze to let him know he was still with him.

"I... you have a boyfriend, Matteo?"

"That a problem?"

"No Matteo, not a problem. When you're doing better, I'd like to know more about all that. Look, I'll be here until the summer, I still have a lot to sort out," his dad said.

"And then you're gone for good?"

"I'm moving to Rome properly, yes. But, if you ever need me I'll be back," he insisted.

Matteo knew he shouldn't put too much stock in that, his father was flighty and unreliable. But he wanted to, so badly. It was a lie when he said he didn't need a dad. He would be ok without him, he was strong and a lot braver than he'd ever realised, but he desperately wanted the man back, he missed him. It was stupid, but it was how he felt. That wasn't wrong, he realised that now.

"I'll think about it. I don't know. I won't just come straight out of this, that's not how it works," Matteo said.

"I do understand, but Matteo I want to be there for you, if you can't see me when I'm here, then maybe you could come down to Italy and have a break, you could even bring David?"

What the fuck was this? Guilt Matteo supposed. Or pity. He'd see him one last time then that would be it, he could cast him aside with a clean conscience. But Matteo desperately wanted to. He was scared to trust it, but he wanted his dad back.

"I have to go now," Matteo said.

"Matteo wait-"

"Bye dad."

He hung up. He couldn't deal with this right now. He was so fucking confused. He threw his phone across the room. It bounced off the chair and landed on the floor with a bang. It was probably broken, but he didn't care right now.

"All ok?" David asked.

Matteo shrugged and stared at the wall.

He felt David wrap his arms around him, and he sighed.

"It was my dad," Matteo told him, although he was pretty sure that was obvious.

"Figured. You were angry?"

"A bit yeah. He wants to see me," Matteo said.

"Ok?"

"I don't want to see him," Matteo said.

"Ok." David repeated like Matteo knew he would. This was something Matteo both loved and hated about David. The way he wouldn't make his decisions for him. The way he wouldn't take the choice out of his hands. He wanted David to say he shouldn't meet his dad, but he knew it wasn't that simple. He knew it wasn't David's choice to make.

Still, he was going to ask anyway.

"What should I do?"

"What do you want to do?"

"I do miss him," Matteo admitted. It was stupid, but he did.

"Tell me why," David said.

"He wasn't a very good dad, wasn't around much, when he was he was always angry and mean, but he was good sometimes. He would hug me when I was sad, he taught me how to cook some of my nonna's dishes. He used to take me camping, and he didn't tease me when I got scared. He did... he did love me in his own stupid, angry way. So I still miss him, it's stupid right?"

The good memories were outweighed by the bad ones, but they were still there. He could still think of his dad fondly, even after all he'd done. He was so confused. He'd never thought he'd get an apology from the man, let alone acceptance, for everything about him that he was terrified to share.

"Not stupid at all," David assured him.

"I don't think I'm well enough to meet him yet," Matteo said.

"Tell him that. I heard you say bipolar, you told him?"

"Yeah... I didn't want to, I was upset. Sometimes I reveal so much when I'm like this," Matteo told him.

"Not everything," David teased, knowing Matteo was holding back on the three words he wanted to hear.

He shuffled them and pulled Matteo until he was in his lap, so that he could stroke his hair, comfort him through gentle touch.

"Talk to me," he said.

"I feel angry at him and confused that he's being nice and I want to go to wherever he is and punch him in the face," Matteo muttered.

David looked alarmed at the idea of Matteo even hinting at violence. Matteo got it, he'd never punched anyone in his life.

"I don't know where he is, don't worry," he said.

"That's probably best," David said.

"He's moving back to Italy, for good. He's here to divorce my mum and sort out the house and stuff I suppose," Matteo told him.

What a fucking time to pick. But it wasn't intentional, they'd been in limbo too long. This was long overdue.

"Shit."

"Yeah," Matteo agreed.

"You ok?"

"It's all over I guess... I think... part of me hoped for a long time he would just realise he missed us and come home, but I don't think it's been his home for a long time. And... I love my mum, and I'll go back often, but I don't think it's mine either, I don't have to let go of it. But home for me... it's right here," Matteo whispered.

"Right here? In this bed?"

"In these arms," Matteo said, then closed his eyes because he'd said so much. Too much.

"I like the sound of that. Text your dad, tell him you're not up to meeting but you're ok, and you'll talk properly when you're out of this, but it might be a while," David suggested.

"Ok in a bit," Matteo said.

"I'm your home, huh?" David said, but he wasn't teasing, he sounded so happy at the idea.

Matteo shrugged.

"I left my parents’ house when I was sixteen," David told him. "They... they didn't want me and... I couldn't stay. I ran. Laura took me in, but they... they..."

His eyes had filled with tears at just the memory of whatever awful things his parents had said. Matteo wrapped his arms around him, squeezed him tight.

"It's ok, you don't have to say it, I know David," he said.

"Thank you. So... I've lived with Laura a couple of years now and it's good, so good and safe too, but I've never felt like this," David said, staring at him.

Matteo frowned. "Like this?"

"Like I have somewhere I belong," he explained.

"Oh fuck you, David," Matteo whispered.

David pulled back and stared at him, confused by his reaction.

"What?"

"For fuck sakes," Matteo muttered.

He furiously rubbed at his eyes, but it was too late, the tears were falling and he couldn't stop sniffling.

David pulled his hands away and wiped his eyes far more gently. "Your emotions are just all over the place huh?"

"It's ridiculous," Matteo whined.

David just squeezed him.

"Tonight's gonna be rough," Matteo warned him.

"Yeah?"

"I... I'm restless I... I can feel it... god I wanna get out of here," Matteo said.

Restless didn't even begin to cover it, he wanted out, needed out. He needed to run, to scream, to get out of these four walls.

"Not happening sorry," David said.

"Fuck. Fuck David come on, I wanna go out, I wanna find my dad," Matteo said. The idea had been building in his head since he rang, but now he knew that was what he needed to do tonight.

"Absolutely not," David said, holding him tighter.

"David please," Matteo begged. He couldn't stay here, not now he had the idea in his head. Nothing was going to quiet it now.

"Matteo-"

"I'm not a fucking prisoner you can't keep me here," Matteo said, struggling to get free of David's grip. David realised what he was doing and let him go.

"Jesus," he muttered.

Matteo was up and backing away from him, on the verge of breaking down. David was giving up on him already. He hadn't thought it would come this soon.

"Matteo this is so fucking hard," he said.

Matteo fell to his knees and started crying properly, David was on him in an instant.

"Shit Matteo that's not what I mean," he said.

"I'm too much," Matteo said.

"No, I just hate keeping you here, you're asking to go out and keeping you here is the hardest fucking thing I've ever done. It's cruel Matteo, it feels cruel and I hate it," David explained.

"Let me go out David please, we've been in here for days," Matteo begged. He knew he couldn't stay in here any longer, not now the idea had taken hold. If he had to fight David for this he would, but he wanted David to let him.

David stared at him, assessing him for a moment.

"Ok," he said finally.

Matteo was on his feet in seconds, but so was David. David placed his hands on Matteo's chest and walked him backwards until his back hit the wall. He stared at Matteo in that intense way he did sometimes and in that moment Matteo knew he would do anything David asked of him. If he asked him to stay he would, just to keep him looking at him like that.

"Ground rules," David said.

"Ground rules?" Matteo repeated, squirming a little under David's stare.

"We are not going to find your dad. You will hold my hand, or you will let me hold you in some way. You are not going to run off from me. If you want to run, we'll run together. But if you leave my side, if you even think about leaving my side, I'll be really mad at you," David said, stepping so close there was no space between them at all.

Matteo could stay in if they stayed like this.

"Yeah," he whispered, his body feeling warm and flushed from how close David was. But also from his words. Matteo hated losing control like this, but he'd happily give it up, give it to David any day.

"Yeah and you don't want that," David warned, but there was amusement in his voice.

"I don't?"

"Absolutely not," David said.

"Can we go out?"

"Yeah, I know a place," David said.

Matteo groaned at that.

"Oh god, the last time you said that we ended up biking four hundred miles," he said.

David let him go and threw a hoodie at him.

"It was like twenty. This place is closer, but still far enough to burn off some of that energy, and... it's important to me, I'd like you to see," he said quietly.

Matteo nodded and waited for David to throw on some layers.

"Ok," he said.

Thoughts of finding his dad were completely gone from his mind. The idea of seeing a place that was important to David, completely consumed him. He was good at this was David. He had no idea what he was doing; he was still learning, hell Matteo was still learning, they all were. But while he was no expert in bipolar disorder or anxiety, he was fast becoming an expert in all things Matteo. And that was far better for taking care of him, for keeping him safe. Matteo stared at David and realised he'd probably follow him anywhere. He trusted him like he'd never trusted anyone before. He felt safe with him always. He knew this was pretty mild, that worse was to come, that the depression would hit, but he couldn't think of anyone else he'd rather have by his side, fighting his corner than David.

David finished getting dressed and looked up at Matteo with a smile.

"Let's go," he said softly.

Yes, Matteo might just follow this boy anywhere.

 

Well over an hour later, in the early hours of Monday now, David was picking the lock on the gate to a children's play park. He was struggling because he wasn't keen on letting go of Matteo, so he insisted he stood as close as possible.

Matteo wasn't a flight risk right now, he was far too curious to see what David had in store for him.

"Fuck it, I can't get it open."

Matteo sighed disappointed.

"We're going to have to climb it," David said.

"You're joking," Matteo whined.

"Where's your sense of adventure? Use some of that energy come on," David said, squatting down to give him a boost.

Matteo rolled his eyes, but let David help him over the gate. David was up an over in a flash.

"You're like a fucking monkey," Matteo muttered.

David just grabbed his hand and pulled him into the park. Matteo wasn't sure what they were doing here, but he followed him anyway. It was just a kids' play park, not really all that fun at night in the dark.

"David?"

"Yeah hold on."

David pulled out his torch because of course he had it with him. He swept the beam of light over the park and then pulled Matteo along to the jungle gym. There were all different sections to it, monkey bars, a climbing frame, a twisty slide and two normal slides. Matteo had flashbacks of his mishaps with the skateboard. He looked at the slide now and wondered what the hell he'd been thinking, trying to skateboard down one. He watched David check inside the little enclosed bit, then he pulled back and gestured for Matteo to get in.

"You're kidding me, right?"

There was no way he was getting in there.

"C'mon," David said, pushing him inside.

Matteo squeezed in and then grinned when David climbed in beside him. There was no space at all. Still Matteo sat down, sticking his feet out of the gap in the bottom. He reached up and pulled David down into his lap. David shifted around so his back was to Matteo's chest. Matteo wrapped an arm around him, pulling him close. It was kinda nice, being squashed in there with him.

"So er... what's here?" Matteo asked.

David laughed quietly. After a minute, he shone his torch at the wall.

Carved into the metal, by a shaky hand were the words my name is David.

"That was you?" Matteo asked.

"Yeah," David whispered.

"How old were you?"

"Twelve."

"Wow, what a young vandal you were," Matteo said, amused.

"That was me. It was the first time I ran away," he said.

"Oh."

"I came out to my parents," David whispered.

He was quiet, but Matteo could still hear the distress in his voice.

"They weren't good?" Matteo asked gently.

"No."

David was shaking now, trembling in his arms, so Matteo held him tighter.

"What happened?" Matteo asked gently.

"I... I told them I was a boy. I'd known for a while by this point. So I told them and I asked them if they could call me David from then on. And... they didn't get it, which I expected, but I wanted to explain it to them. I had it all planned out, I had articles printed for them to read. I sat them down in the lounge and I said, mum, dad, I'm a boy. My dad laughed, but not in a funny way, like mocking. I'd never heard him sound like that before. They... they weren't bad or hateful... I never thought they would... reject me. I was such a fucking fool. I was naive. I really thought they would accept me. My mum just started to cry. She kept saying shit like 'what had they done wrong?' and 'what had happened to her little girl?'. She begged me not to do this to her. Kept calling me wrong, do you know what I mean?"

Matteo nodded, he wasn't going to speak right now. He wondered how often David got to vent like this. Matteo had a feeling he kept this shit inside. He knew how that felt. He gave David another squeeze.

"I should've stopped there, but I insisted, I tried to make them see," David whispered.

Matteo was pretty sure he was crying now, under the cover of darkness.

"They wouldn't listen?"

"No... my dad got mad, he yelled at me, he said... he called me wrong and he said 'look what you're doing to your mother' and he was angry and embarrassed. He went upstairs and found my laptop and he took it from me, he took away my stuff, my clothes, the big shirts Laura bought me, he forbade me from wearing boy's clothes, said I wasn't to go online anymore and fuck... I just couldn't take it, so I ran," David said, his voice choked up with tears.

Matteo just held him close.

"That's so fucked up David, I'm sorry," he said.

"Yeah, so I ran, and I came here and hid. Laura found me hours later, she just climbed in with me and promised me she saw me right, that it would be ok, that she would look after me."

"She's good is Laura," Matteo said.

David smiled then as he thought about his sister.

"She got me through these past few years," he said.

"It was hard?"

"Lonely too, I... on really bad days I felt like I was doing this to myself. They never tried to get me, they never once tired to understand me, they wouldn't get me the help I needed. They didn't believe me. At school I was bullied, and the teachers gave me shit too, and they didn't help, said this was my fault, that I'd brought it on myself."

"That's fucked up."

"Yeah."

They were quiet for a bit, Matteo just holding David while he calmed down.

"Why did you bring me here?" Matteo asked, after a while.

"I wanted to show you, I wanted explain what I meant earlier. I used to come here and hide all the time. I would stare at that." He pointed the light to his name again. "I used to stare at it to remind myself why I was doing it. Remind myself who I was on days where the self-doubt was drowning out everything else. Even after I moved in with Laura, I kept coming back. I had to remind myself one day I would get out of here, get away," David said.

Matteo remembered then that David was going to leave, the whole world was an adventure for David. It was just scary and vast to Matteo.

"Where are you going to go? Detroit?"

"Nah it was more... get out of school, get into film school, somewhere no one knew me. That was my plan. But... school got so bad I had to leave so... so I already got that, you know?"

"To be you? At Barnim?"

"Yeah, no one calls me the wrong name, no one sees me wrong," David said.

"That's good," Matteo said, feeling glad David wasn't going anywhere.

"Yeah, so... things were already on the up, but then I met this wonderful boy," David said, the final traces of sadness leaving his voice, replaced by the usual fond teasing.

"You did?"

"Yeah, and you were so sad, and hiding, but I saw you and... I knew I wanted to know you," David said.

Matteo smiled.

"It was the same for me, I wanted to know you immediately," he said.

David leant back and kissed him.

"I never ever thought I'd meet someone like you," he said.

"Like me?"

"Someone who gets me, you understand me, you just... know me. For a long time I thought I was probably going to have to go it alone, like I told you. But then I met you, I met you and Matteo you're just perfect for me."

"I... damn David..."

"So when I say I feel like I belong, what I mean is... I've found what I've been wishing for since that first night I came out here to hide. Understanding."

Matteo sniffled, he couldn't help it.

"I... I've felt like I was drifting for so long, and for the first time I feel settled, like... I can be ok. It's... it's not you David," Matteo said, trying to figure out what he meant.

"It's not?"

"Sorry," he mumbled.

"No, I know, it shouldn't be me," David agreed, letting Matteo know he was just teasing.

"It's... I started to try and get better because I wanted to be good enough for you, but I pushed myself too far. I was dealing with too much and I'd just had a depressive episode and I just went over the edge. But... I had the depression, and I pulled myself out, and now I'm up but I'm not floating away. It's so fucking hard David, like I could just give in, just let it take over, it would be so much easier than what's coming, I could stop my meds and let it happen, but I won't. It's so fucking hard, but I want to level out, I want to be in control, even though it's shit sometimes," Matteo said.

"I'm so proud of you, I'm proud of us," David said.

Matteo just smiled, his lips pressed against David's neck. He was glad he'd brought him here, glad to see a little piece of his history. When he first saw David all those weeks ago, his first thought had been I want to know him. Matteo knew now that that was impossible, he would never know all of David, that wasn't how it worked. David was complex, fascinatingly so. He could be so deadly serious and in the same breath, so teasing. He felt things intensely, but couldn't bear to show it. He loved fiercely and passionately, and Matteo could tell he was going to be so fantastically supportive, in that quiet, stern, unassuming way of his. It would probably take a lifetime to know all of David. Matteo hoped so. He wanted to spend the rest of his life learning him.

 

None of this was fair, Matteo thought to himself as he lay there in bed, completely motionless. It wasn't fair that he barely got the high, and yet he could feel himself sinking so low. They'd stayed at the park, hidden inside the jungle gym for a few hours, talking about David's childhood and his own. Slowly, as the time passed by, Matteo got quieter and quieter, until he couldn't speak at all. So David brought him home, and he climbed into bed and he hadn't moved since. He was crashing. All that false energy he'd had was gone. David had practically had to carry him the last few streets as the lethargy set in and his body, that he'd pushed far too hard, gave in to the exhaustion that had been chasing him for weeks.

David was still here, sitting quietly. He wasn't speaking because Matteo had begged for quiet.

Matteo was going to send him home soon. David was here out of some noble sense of obligation. He shouldn't be here. Matteo couldn't keep him here. He desperately wanted to, but he couldn't.

He lay there for a few more minutes, just appreciating David beside him. He was sitting up, on his laptop, studying something. Maths maybe. He was answering questions and getting a little frustrated with it. Every time he got something wrong he would let out a little huff of annoyance and the hand he had tangled in Matteo's hair would tighten its grip for a moment. It felt good, but Matteo couldn't have this.

He sat up, and David smiled at him.

"Hey are-"

"You should go," Matteo said, his voice all croaky. He hadn't spoken for hours.

"Matteo no, I told you, this is where I want to be," David insisted.

"But I don't want you here," Matteo said.

"And if that were really true, then I would leave. I would give you space if that's what I thought you really needed, but that's not it. You think you're protecting me from you, you think I deserve better than this, well I've told you already, you don't get to decide that for me," David said firmly.

Everything he was saying was right. But it was also stupid, yeah he might want to stay right now, but he would get sick and tired of him eventually. He would get angry and fed up and he would leave him. It was better they called this whole thing off now.

"I want you to leave!" Matteo said, shoving at him weakly.

"No Matteo," David said.

"I don't want you here," Matteo said.

"Matteo-"

"Leave, leave me alone I don't want you here!"

"Ok ok, do you want Hans?"

"No!"

David looked nervous but determined. He looked so young and unsure. He shouldn't have to bear the burden of Matteo. Matteo knew exactly how it felt, having to deal with this, having no idea what to do. Being so terrified and unable to reach out for help. His whole childhood had been one huge struggle with his mum.

God, he missed her right now. She would look after him. She always looked after him when he was like this. Because Matteo realised, then that perhaps this had been going on longer than he could even remember. But he remembered being young, maybe nine or ten, and laying in bed crying for hours at a time. And his mum had been there with him, throughout, she'd never left his side. She'd been stable then, able to care for him exactly like he'd needed.

"I don't think you should be alone right now," David said.

"I'm always going to be alone!" Matteo screamed.

The door opened then, and Hans stepped into the room, but that was worse.

"Get out! Both of you get out! I don't want you! I don't! I want- I want-"

"Who do you want Matteo?" Hans asked.

Who did he want? Who did he need? It wasn't David, not right now. Hans couldn't help either. It definitely wasn't Jonas or Hanna, though he knew Hans was keeping them in the loop. He wasn't letting them in because Matteo had already begged him not to. Nobody could help him right now. Nobody.

"I want... I want my mum," he cried, tears streaming down his face, "I want my mama, please, please Hans," he begged.

Then he laid back down and curled up. He just wanted his mum to make all this go away like she always used to do when he was small.

David still didn't leave, even after all that. Matteo could still feel him beside him. He was too tired to ask him to leave now. He'd try again later.

He didn't know how much time passed, but when he was aware of things again, David had gone just like he'd asked. In his place, sitting in the chair by his bed was his mum

"Mama!"

"I'm here my sweet darling, I'm here," she soothed, climbing onto the bed and gathering him up in her arms, rocking him and hushing him as the sobs broke free. "Hush now Matteo, it's all going to be ok," she assured him.

"I'm sorry mum, I'm so sorry, I'm ruining everything," he said through his tears.

"None of that now Matteo, settle down, it's all going to be ok, I'm here now," she said.

Matteo let her settle him back down. He was so tired. He'd been drifting in and out of sleep all day. He laid back and closed his eyes, too exhausted to stay present. He didn't fall asleep though; he was past that, so he just stayed still, letting his mum comfort him.

It was quiet in the room for a while, peaceful. Matteo let it wash over him, felt himself calming down a little.

After a while, the door opened, but Matteo stayed laying there with his eyes closed.

"Are you David?" his mum asked.

"Erm... yes," David said nervously.

If Matteo had the energy, he would've smiled at that. How ridiculous it was that someone as charming as David would be nervous around his mum.

"Lovely to meet you, my son is quite taken with you," his mum said.

"I'm quite taken with him," David said quietly.

Matteo's heart ached with how much he loved David then, it felt like so much, and then David went and said something like that. David who never let anyone in, showing his heart to Matteo's mum.

"How wonderful," his mum said. Matteo could hear the smile in her voice.

He felt the bed dip, and then David was holding his hand.

"Are you ok David?" his mum asked.

"Yeah."

"Or?"

"I feel helpless," David admitted.

"I'm sure you being here is doing wonders," his mum said.

"He asked me to leave," David said sadly.

"It's very hard, to let people in when you feel like this, let them see you at your very worst, it's so hard David," she said.

Just like Matteo, his mum knew exactly how that felt. She'd screamed at him and his father to leave her alone so many times.

"What do I do?"

"You just stay, give him space if he needs it, but you stay," she said.

"I want to make him better," David said.

He was probably always going to struggle with this, with not being able to fix this immediately. This was the way he was wired, he was very reactionary, needed solutions to problems. There was no solution to this.

"You can't, you just have to let it pass, it will pass. Take it one day at a time, and if the days feel too big, focus on the hours and if the hours feel too big, then take it one minute at a time," his mum said.

"Thank you," David whispered.

He squeezed Matteo's hand and Matteo squeezed back. David laid down beside him, and when Matteo turned to him, he pulled him close.

"Why don't I make us all some dinner?" his mum suggested. "Is that alright?"

"Yes mama," Matteo mumbled.

"Perhaps I could meet all your wonderful roommates, I could certainly tell them some stories," she teased.

He always liked that about her, how unfazed she was by all of this, how she took it in her stride. To her, her son was sick, no different to if he had the flu. She would take care of him, with a little coddling, a lot of love, but most of all patience.

The door slammed open. Of course it did.

"Mrs Florenzi I would love to hear some stories!" Hans said from the doorway.

Matteo groaned. How the hell did Hans get there so quick? He must've been listening outside the door.

"Please, call me Sophie," his mum said. She squeezed Matteo's shoulder and then she was off, to entertain Hans with stories about him. Matteo could hear her chattering away with him and he knew he was in for it, she would be telling him all sorts. Hans would never let him hear the end of it.

"Ok?"

"Not really," Matteo mumbled.

"Can I stay?"

"Please," Matteo said.

David pressed several kisses to his cheeks and held him tight.

"Did you hear what your mum said?" he asked.

"Mm."

"That's what we're going to do, we're going to take this each day at a time. You don't need to worry about next week, you don't even need to worry about tomorrow, we'll just focus on this hour, this very minute we're in right now. And this minute I'm going to hold you, and the next minute I'll kiss you, and a few minutes from now we'll eat some food, does that sound good?"

"Yeah," Matteo croaked, his eyes were hot with tears. He probably wouldn't have any tears left to cry by the time this was over.

"Good. That's what I want to do too," David said.

"Where's my kiss?" Matteo demanded.

David pressed a soft kiss to his lips. Matteo sighed, and his eyes fluttered closed. He felt nothing but relief; it was overwhelming. David just kissed him again and again only pulling back to giggle.

"Why are you laughing?" Matteo was just confused now.

"I'm just so fucking happy," David said, and that didn't seem right at all.

"You are?"

"I know everything is shit right now and god it hurts so much to see you like this, but I'm so happy that... that you're mine," David said.

Matteo smiled at that, even though it hurt his face.

"I'm yours?"

"Yep, and Matteo I'm never letting you go," David said seriously.

Matteo believed him.

"I don't want you to," Matteo said. "I'd er... I'd like to sleep again please."

David gave him another kiss. "You sleep, I'll wake you when the food is ready," he promised.

"I hope it's pasta."

"Mm me too I'm starving," David said.

He kissed him one more time, then cuddled him close.

"I'm so fucking sad," Matteo whispered.

"I know."

"So sad."

David gave him another squeeze. There was nothing he could say to negate that right now, Matteo appreciated that he didn't try to. He closed his eyes. He still couldn't sleep, but he let himself drift in that place in between wakefulness and sleep. He thought about what his mum had said, about taking each minute as they came, not worrying about next week, not worrying about the fallout from this. She was right. He needed to focus on the now, needed to focus on getting better, healing his mind. To do that, he needed to rest. He needed to stop worrying about trying to drag himself out of this, he just needed to give into it for a while. He didn't have enough energy to pull free yet, but David, Hans, his mum, they wouldn't let him drown. They'd pull him back to shore the moment he started drifting too far.

 

It took a few days, but slowly Matteo started to come out of it. He wasn't better, not by a long shot, but he at least felt able to function again. The lows had been just as bad as every other time, but Matteo supposed he had his medication to thank for it not being so drawn out.

He'd been in bed pretty much since the early hours of Monday; it was Thursday now and Matteo was awake in the morning for the first time in days. Well, it was almost noon, but he was awake enough to actually get out of bed and get out of this room. He knew that was the first step on the road to recovery.

He slowly sat up and stared around the room.

David was there, at his desk, studying. Matteo frowned. He'd worried about David putting his life on hold for him, to take care of him, but that wasn't the case at all. He'd gone into school on Tuesday for an exam, then popped back home after having dinner with Laura and getting more stuff. He'd been studying constantly, too. Yesterday he rang Leonie to talk about some sports thing, and they ended up talking for over an hour. The entire time he'd played with Matteo's hair. David could do both, it wasn't an either-or situation. David's life didn't end just because Matteo was depressed. It felt that way for Matteo, but that wasn't the case at all. They just needed to find a balance, take space for themselves sometimes. It was something they should do regardless of his mental health problems, communicate, find what worked for them.

Realising this, Matteo felt a little less guilty about keeping David here. Only a little, but it eased his mind somewhat. David wanted to be here. He'd told him that again last night. He'd said, 'every time you want to send me away, just remember this is where I want to be and if you send me away, I will be much much sadder'. Matteo would always want to send him away when he got like this, he just had to remind himself that if he did, he'd be going against what David himself wanted, making decisions and choices for him. It was hard, but he was going to try and remember that.

He got up and slowly walked over to the desk.

"Morning," David muttered, scowling at the screen.

It made Matteo smile. Not once had David been extra gentle with him. He'd been gentle, sure, but the same level he'd always been. He'd also been just as rude, if not more. Yesterday David had pointedly told him if he didn't shower soon, he was going to have to call in a hazmat team. When Matteo had just rolled his eyes and turned over, David had dramatically sprayed him with body spray. But then he'd cuddled him close anyway, despite his apparent smelliness.

Still, it was definitely time to wash.

"Maths?" he asked, gesturing to the screen.

"Why am I doing this to myself?" David groaned.

Matteo just shrugged. "I'm gonna shower," he mumbled.

"Good you stink," David said, not making a fuss even though they both knew this was a big deal.

After his shower, Matteo felt a little better. He couldn't wash away the depression, but it felt a little like it. He felt clean and fresh. He put on clean clothes, and they felt so much lighter than the sweats he'd been in for days. He was still warm from the hot water, so he didn't even put on a sweater. Instead, he went back to his room and flung open the balcony doors, letting fresh air in. The sun and the cool air felt so good on his face, on his bare arms that he stood there, basking in it for a moment, letting the day wash over him.

Then he turned around and started gathering up his laundry. He put all his dirty clothes into the bin, then moved onto the bed. He stripped it, partly so he wouldn't get back in it for a while, but also because it must stink by now. As soon as David realised what he was doing, he got up from the desk and started to help. He began clearing up the trash. Matteo didn't even complain, if he wanted to help, he was going to let him help. Plus he got how much more appealing cleaning was than studying.

He put the laundry on and then went back to collect the plates of uneaten food. His stomach grumbled. He was finally hungry. Just as he was finishing up with the washing up, David joined him in the kitchen. He'd taken the trash straight out because he was good like that.

"All clean," he said, coming to stand behind Matteo at the sink.

"All clean," Matteo agreed, grabbing a pan and filling it with water.

He put it on to boil and then turned to David.

"Hungry?"

"I'm always hungry so yeah, feed me," he said.

"I'm hungry too," Matteo said. "That's... that's usually a sign that this is passing," he added.

David nodded. "Noted. It makes sense. There's lots of little signs like that? Cleaning?"

"That's another one, or not the cleaning, but being aware of my hygiene again. It's not that I was unaware, it was just that I wasn't capable of doing anything until now."

David nodded again and smiled. He was going to learn the signs, Matteo realised. That was why he was asking, so he could learn for next time. When he'd first gone over to David's, David had been scared of not knowing what to do, not being able to keep him safe. Matteo realised he was going to learn everything, so he didn't feel as helpless as before. He was going to learn everything he could, so he could keep Matteo safe. He was going to learn everything he could because he was planning on staying.

He just smiled to himself and grabbed some gnocchi from the cupboard because that was quick and easy. He stole a couple of tomatoes from the bowl and got to making a very basic sauce.

"Did you... did you maybe want to go grocery shopping with me? Tomorrow? I'd like to get out of the house," Matteo asked hesitantly.

"I have my maths exam tomorrow," David reminded him, "but we can go after? If you don't mind me being a bit grumpy."

"You'll be fine," Matteo assured him, "look I'll test you in a bit," he offered.

"Thank you," David said, kissing his cheek.

"Can you grate some cheese?" Matteo asked, putting on the grill and moving David over to the fridge and out of his way.

"Which cheese is yours?"

"Steal Hans', middle shelf," he told him.

David turned to him. "Thief," he said with a smile.

"I'll buy him some more tomorrow, where is Hans' by the way?"

"Said he was going out for coffee, with someone called Claude," David told him.

"Nice," Matteo said, turning back to the hob.

"Cheese," David said, coming over with way too much grated cheese.

"Jesus Christ, David," Matteo said, grabbing a handful and munching on it.

"You didn't say how much," David said.

"You don't cook often huh?"

"Laura doesn't let me," David admitted.

Matteo grinned and ushered him over to the table.

"You're sure pushing me about today," David said, amused.

"You push me about all the time," Matteo argued.

"Yeah, you like it though," David said, reaching for him and pulling him into his lap.

"David, the food," Matteo said, but he allowed David to hold him and press kisses along his jaw.

When he did get up to sort out the food, David followed him, draping himself over Matteo, stepping around the kitchen with him as he got everything ready. Matteo smiled to himself, he hoped this would become a regular thing, the two of them cooking together. Well he would be cooking, David would provide the cuddles. Matteo leant back and pressed a kiss to his cheek. Then he pulled back and handed him a bowl.

"Eat in here or in your room?" David asked.

"Living room," Matteo suggested.

He followed David into the living room, and they sat down together on the couch.

"Fucking hell this is good," David said, shovelling big spoonfuls into his mouth. Matteo grinned and copied him. He was starving, it felt like he hadn't eaten in days. He supposed he hadn't. David grabbed his wrist.

"You should slow down," David warned, "you haven't been eating properly."

He was right. Matteo had been starving, but he started to feel sick after about half a bowl so he left David stuffing his face and went to get his laptop.

"Is that mine?" David asked.

"Yeah, hope there's nothing incriminating on here," Matteo said, sitting down on the floor opposite David.

David rolled his eyes.

"Gonna quiz you," Matteo said.

He opened up the laptop and clicked through David's notes. Damn, it was complicated. He hadn't done maths in a while. He scrolled through, trying to find something he recognised.

"Quiz me then," David teased.

"This looks hard," Matteo said.

"Told you," David said.

"Statistics is boring, don't you have mechanics?" Matteo said.

David stared at him.

"What?" Matteo asked.

"You know mechanics? You don't even do maths!"

"It's physics David," Matteo said.

"You don't do physics," David said.

"No, but I like it, it's interesting," Matteo insisted.

David didn't say anything, he just got up and came over to him. He took the laptop out of his hands and climbed into his lap, pinning him down.

"You're really bad at studying," Matteo mused.

"You're such a nerd," David teased, "you like physics."

Matteo smiled. "I'm not... I'm not stupid, I just struggle," he said.

"Hey... that's not what I was saying, I know you're smart, and school is hard, it doesn't mean anything, doesn't prove anything," David said. "What proves you're a nerd is that you find physics fun," he teased.

"You're doing maths," Matteo said.

"I'm a fool. Nah, I had to do something, but art is my best subject."

"I like science, I like biology best. Hey, maybe I could test you on anatomy?"

David sniggered and Matteo went red.

"Not like that, for PE," Matteo said hotly.

"What for the practical? You don't want to learn anatomy with me?" David teased, shuffling in Matteo's lap so that he was almost kneeling over him. He ran his hands over Matteo's chest and over his arms. "I already sat the theory paper. So I can teach you all the different muscles. These are your biceps," he said, giving them a squeeze.

Matteo rolled his eyes. He knew that. "I'm supposed to be testing you," he whispered, face still hot. He felt a little overwhelmed, but in a good way. He let his hair fall over his face, but David reached out and pushed it back.

"Test me then," he said, his tone challenging, "don't hide," he added, before Matteo could duck his head.

Matteo reached out and ran his hand over David's chest, along his shoulders, and then tangling them in his hair. He didn't ask any questions though, just pulled David in for a kiss. It had been too long since they'd kissed like this.

Before he knew it, Matteo was on his back, David straddling him, running his hands over Matteo's chest.

"This isn't much like studying," Matteo said.

"Yeah it is, I'm studying you. See here." David dipped his hands under Matteo's shirt. Matteo shivered, but he wasn't cold. David's hands were warm and strong as they traced over his stomach and up to his chest, then down his sides. He did this until Matteo was shaking.

"Ok?" David whispered.

"Yeah," Matteo said

David stared at him for a long time, then settled down on top of him, laying his head on his chest. "We need to talk about this shit," he said.

"Yeah?"

"Not yet?"

"Not yet, when you're feeling a bit better," David said.

"Yeah, I'm still coming out of it," Matteo said.

"I know," David said. "It's... scary to me too."

"Sex?"

"Being vulnerable," David explained.

"Oh yeah, but it's ok," Matteo said.

"It is?"

"Yeah because it's me," Matteo said.

"Yeah, it's you," David said, looking up at him, staring at him with that intense stare of his, making Matteo feel on show in the best of ways.

David could be vulnerable with him. Matteo knew exactly how he felt. He'd shown David more of himself than he'd ever shown anyone before. He wanted David to know all of him. He wanted to know all of David, in every way. He tangled his hands in David's hair and held him close. Vulnerable was right, he felt so vulnerable and it was wonderful.

 

The next day Matteo stepped out of the house for the first time since the play park on Monday. As things went, he knew this was actually pretty quick for him, this recovery. That didn't make it less real. Nor did it make it any easier. It was still hard; he was still fighting his mind at every turn. No, the only difference this time was that he was medicated, he had help, and he was letting people in. That and the episode hadn't been full blown mania, so it hadn't taken everything he had. It meant that while he was still depressed, and he was still tired, he had a little energy. He was able to use that to help pull himself out of this.

He was taking it step by step. He had just three things he wanted to do today. Step foot outside the apartment. Meet David outside school. Get groceries on the way home. He was also going to make dinner for David, but that was easy, cooking felt like second nature to him. It was also a great comfort rather than a chore. Not that meeting David was a chore, just getting there was.

He'd walked because he couldn't face the bus on his own, but at least he knew David would come back with him on the bus, so he didn't need to worry about his energy.

Still when he got closer and closer, he felt the fear setting in. He tried to push on, but he felt himself freezing.

Then he felt a gentle hand at his elbow. It was Amira.

"Hey," she said. "Hanna said you haven't been well?"

"I had... an episode, not... I just wasn't right, you saw it," he said.

"I did."

"I'm depressed now. I feel like I have nothing left," he said.

"Yet you're here?" she asked.

"I'm meeting David, he had maths," he told her.

"Nice, I'm meeting Hanna and then we're all going dress shopping."

"Fun," Matteo said dryly.

"It will be," Amira insisted.

"Is Kiki going?"

"Don't be rude," Amira said.

He just smiled.

His smile faded when he realised where they were. He'd been planning on meeting David in the main entrance, in fact he'd been planning on staying outside and waiting there. Instead, his feet had carried him all the way to the principal's office.

"Er... Amira I think I need to make an appointment," he said.

She nodded. "Want me to come with you?"

"Please," he whispered.

She stepped inside, and he followed her over to the secretary.

"Can I help you?"

"I er... I need to make an appointment with the principal," he said.

The secretary nodded and started clicking away on her computer. Matteo started to fidget, playing with the little plant on the desk, trying not to get wound up.

"What is it regarding?"

"Er... my Abitur exams I guess," he said.

"I'm going to need more detail and-"

The door to the office opened and Dr Steinberg stepped out, with two sheepish looking boys from the year below and their parents. Matteo watched her show them out. Then she turned to him and smiled. He'd always liked her. When he'd had his episode, the one that ended with him in hospital, he'd had to meet with her after. He'd missed almost two months of school, after all. She'd been very understanding. She'd tried to convince him to take a break and resit the year, but she'd also understood how he just wanted it to be over.

"Hello Matteo how are you doing?" she asked him.

"Not good," he admitted.

"Want to chat? I have a little time," she said.

He nodded and turned to Amira. "Can you tell David where I am?"

"Yeah of course, she you in a bit," she said, leaving them to it. Dr Steinberg led them into her office and gestured for him to sit down. She reminded him of both Agata and Lydia, she was stern and yet gentle. He liked that.

"So what's going on with you Matteo?" she asked.

"I had... I went off my meds, and then I think I was hypomanic for a bit. But I was back on my meds by that point so it never spiralled... but now I'm low, I'm depressed and my biology exam is on Tuesday and... and I just don't think I can do it. I'm here to meet David and if Amira hadn't been with me I don't think I would've been able to step foot in the school. It's my anxiety, my depression makes it so much worse."

Steinberg nodded. "I see. And you're still against taking the year again?"

"I just can't," he whispered. "I need it to be over."

"How are you doing in biology?"

"Not... not good, but... Mrs Borchert hates me, because I'm ill. She doesn't like that I was allowed to miss so much class and come back. She thinks... I'm a headcase, that I'm gonna have a breakdown and smash up the school or something. That's not how it works though, she teaches biology, she should know that," Matteo said.

"She should," Dr Steinberg agreed. "I will speak with her about that. Do you think you could pass, without the depression and the anxiety?"

"I could pass. Not well but I could pass," he said. Amira thought so too. If he just had a little more time, he could pass this.

Steinberg sighed. He supposed her hands were tied.

"I know there's nothing you can do, you don't set the exams," he said.

"You do have to sit them, I can't do anything about that."

Matteo nodded sadly. It was all just bad timing. Hell, she was offering an alternative, he could just stop for now, finish this next year with no penalties.

"Mrs Krause came to see me the other day. She had a provisional mark for your paper," Steinberg told him.

"Oh."

"She said you passed, and well. She said she let you sit at the front of the class, and that you didn't understand what the questions were at first, the way they were worded. She couldn't tell you what they meant of course, but she reminded you to take your time, to remember what she'd taught you, what you'd covered in class. She said your essay was very interesting," Steinberg explained.

"Interesting usually means bad," Matteo said.

He'd tried though, He'd tried really hard. He'd been calm and able to focus, there was no panic there which had helped a lot.

"Not at all, she said just because it was a bit different didn't make it wrong. It was well thought out, and you clearly showed an understanding of the topic, even if you didn't quite grasp the question," she said with a smile.

Matteo was confused.

"Oh... but I won't get the grade?"

"That was why she was here, as you know it has to be marked by another teacher," Steinberg reminded him

It was a shame, if Mrs Krause had been marking him he would probably get full marks. That wasn't fair though, she liked him too much, couldn't be objective.

"Oh."

"It was supposed to be Mr Huber, but I will mark it," Steinberg said.

"Oh. And?"

"You will pass, I can't give you as high as Mrs Krause wants, but I understand why she does want that. I also went to see Mr Rivera, your Spanish teacher."

"Oh I failed?"

"Yes, but only just, by a couple of marks. You will easily pass with a resit. But he says you had to step out, that you had a panic attack?"

"Mrs Krause let me sit in with her instead," Matteo told her.

"Yes, but you wasted half the exam panicking," Steinberg said.

That wasn't fair.

"I couldn't help it," he insisted.

"No sorry that's not what I meant, I meant you failed because you lost all that time. That's on us. We put a lot in place for your bipolar disorder, but we forgot about the anxiety. We could argue that for a pass, but I really think you should give it another shot. Mrs Krause was right, you needed to sit by yourself. You also needed extra time, to help calm your nerves. And I think you could've benefited form sitting with the teachers beforehand and having them explain how the exam worked, how to answer the questions. We should've put that in place for you and I'm sorry we missed that."

"Ok. But I still failed?"

"You did," she said gently.

"I er... I do know stuff I just get nervous and that makes me confused."

"I know Matteo," she said gently, smiling at him like she was proud of him.

"I noticed you chose the history of medicine question as your main big mark question? For your history paper?"

"Yeah?"

He was confused now. Had it been bad? He thought he'd done ok with that.

"You're really interested in that huh? I could tell, from the way you wrote about it."

He really was, he supposed he always had been, but he finally felt able to focus his interest. It was a shame it was too late.

"I do find it interesting, and bio too. Especially the stuff about the brain. I... I went to see Agata, my shrink, and we ended up talking about medication and the brain for ages and then I went home and studied it for hours. I found all these psychology papers online and found out so much. I... understand now why I need the medicine, it's not just to make it easier for me. There is literally an imbalance in my brain and my meds correct that. It's so complicated and things in body can change but... if I take my meds properly I realised I might actually be ok. Like things can still go wrong but I really might have a chance."

Dr Steinberg nodded.

"Ok. I would like you to sit the exam. I know it's going to be hard for you, but I feel you're capable, and I know you want this to be over. You are so close. But no matter what happens you will be allowed to come back next year and I will do everything I can to make it easier. So if you come in on Tuesday, you can walk out again if you need to. If you manage half the paper you can back it up with a resit in a few weeks to get a pass. But you can do so well. I really hope you have a good day. So, I would like you to sit it in a room by yourself, well, with me, to help with your anxiety."

"Can I have music?" he asked.

Steinberg frowned.

"I found a study that said it really did help, with anxiety," he told her.

"I will pick the music."

Matteo grinned.

"Why do exams have to be in silence?" he asked.

"Because some students need it, some students can't concentrate with noise," she explained.

He got that, he did, but he wasn't one of those students.

"But the thing is to other students the silence is so loud," he told her.

"I do agree, but there's not much I can do about that. I can allow it for you because of your circumstances."

He knew what that meant.

"I need a letter?"

"You do, or at least a phone call," Steinberg said.

"Ok, I'll go see Agata," he said.

"Good man."

"Thank you Dr Steinberg, for getting it," Matteo said gratefully.

It was a huge weight off his mind. He would sit the exam on Tuesday. He would study this weekend, he would study a little on Monday, but he would also try and see Agata and rest. Then he would sit his exam and school would be over. Well there was still his Spanish. But it made him feel so sad. He knew it was just the loss of structure and routine, but he really had loved school once.

"I was a teenager once. I do remember how hard it was. You have all this extra stuff on top of that and yet I see how hard you've been trying these past few months, I'm proud of what you've achieved."

"Thank you so much," Matteo whispered, immediately feeling overwhelmed by emotion. Typical.

"Now let's talk about the future," Steinberg said.

Matteo frowned, he thought this was over. She was a busy woman, and he'd already taken so much of her time.

"What?"

"Plans?"

"None. Just surviving I guess," he admitted.

He still had no idea what to do with his life, and it terrified him.

"Of course. No further studies?"

"Come on," he muttered.

"Now now don't disparage yourself," Steinberg said, sternly. She wasn't having it. But she was a teacher, they did love pushing learning on them.

"I..."

"I know school is very hard for you, I understand that you want to leave it behind, but I remember having this conversation with you, when you first came back after your episode. You said you had no idea what to do next," she said.

"And I still don't," Matteo said.

"But have you considered psychology?"

Matteo just laughed.

"Matteo," she warned.

"Dr Steinberg psychology is hard," he said.

"Yes, but you said you've been reading papers online," she said.

That was different.

"Yes, because it's interesting," he explained.

"Well, isn't that enough of a reason to study it?"

"No," he mumbled.

She raised an eyebrow.

"Look you're academic, you love school and you push it onto us, but some of us aren't wired that way," Matteo insisted.

She didn't get mad, no she just smiled, which confused him.

"I am not trying to push school onto you. I'm just saying you've found something you're interested in, don't give up on it just because it's hard, just because it's harder for you. You shouldn't let being mentally ill limit you. I know it's not that straightforward, but I truly believe you're capable of doing this. And there are many options of school, it's not nearly as restrictive as it has been for you. You can do part time, you can do online leaning with the open university. You could just do a short course. You could do an apprenticeship even. Hell, you could just go in for the lectures out of curiosity, it's called course auditing, you don't have to commit. Just don't write it off before you find out more. And if you come to me, I will write you a letter of recommendation, and so will Mrs Krause, if you wanted to go down the historical route," Steinberg said.

Matteo just stared. He hadn't realised it could be like that. He'd been so adamant that he was done with school he hadn't looked into it at all. He'd thought it would just be a continuation of what he was doing right now.

"Oh, but I barely have the grades."

"I believe if your mental health team writes you a letter you can do a couple of catch up exams at the start of term. Speak to your therapist, she can advise you on how you can approach this, taking your mental health into account. I must say she seemed shocked at how little we had in place for you coming back. I think she was expecting more having worked with a few Uni students," Steinberg told him.

"I'm her youngest patient, they didn't know whether to put me in children's services or not," he said.

That had been a whole thing back at the hospital. He'd still been seventeen, so he should have been seeing a child therapist. But this was a long-term problem, and changing again at eighteen would've been hard for him. Plus, as vulnerable as he was, as immature as he sometimes was, he'd been an adult in many ways for a long time now. So he got Lydia, and she was wonderful to him, and as much as he resisted he wouldn't mind her being his therapist forever. She got him.

"You are a young man now Matteo," Steinberg reminded him.

Matteo smiled

"You'll think about it?"

"I will," he promised.

He really would, too. He had to admit even though he didn't think of himself as remotely capable of continuing his studies he would like to. He'd been thinking the same ever since his meeting with Agata. He found all this psychology stuff fascinating. How it related to him and his mum. How it could be treated. How the brain worked in general. It was so interesting and complex, but in exactly the right way to keep his focus. He hadn't found that in his studies for a long time. He knew that was important.

"Well then, I guess I'll see you in a few days, for biology, and don't worry about it ok? Like I said you can do a resit too, to bring up your grade. Spanish will work out, I'm sure it will. I know you're perfectly capable, there's nothing wrong with needing extra help. Get me that letter and I will do everything I can to get you through this year." Steinberg promised.

"Thank you so much," Matteo whispered.

 

Ten minutes later he was sitting on the floor outside David's maths exam. He'd started standing outside the door, but had soon sunk to the floor. It was taking all his energy just to be there. There were so many other students around, crowding the halls. Amira was standing next to him, she was talking, but he couldn't focus on what.

Then Jonas was there, trying to pull him up, but Matteo wasn't having it. Jonas and Hanna started bickering, and Matteo felt like he wanted to scream. He knew they were trying to look out for him; he knew they didn't know that all he wanted was to be left alone. How could they? He hadn't spoken a word. He closed his eyes to stop himself crying or freaking out or whatever the fuck was happening with his brain right now.

After a minute, he felt a hand in his, squeezing gently, and he relaxed.

"Ready to go?" David asked quietly.

Matteo nodded.

"I think Jonas wants to check on you," David warned.

"Please Matteo," Jonas begged.

Matteo sighed, but he stood up and let Jonas pull him into a hug.

"I've missed you so fucking much Luigi," Jonas said.

Matteo hated how devastated he sounded. He hated all of this. He pulled back from him.

"Sorry," he mumbled. "I'm still not doing good."

"It's ok, I get it, just... don't be a stranger ok? Even if you get lover boy to be messenger, keep me in the loop, ok?"

Matteo shoved him away for that while David just cracked up beside him.

"Hey Hanna," Matteo said.

She just smiled and hugged him close. "I'm so proud of you Matteo, you're so much stronger than I think you even realise," she whispered.

Matteo pulled away and wiped his eyes. He smiled though; he liked that sentiment.

"Ok, ready?" David asked.

"Yeah," Matteo said.

"See you guys later, ok?" he said, then he led Matteo away.

They ran into Leonie in the corridor, and Matteo hung back a little to let them chat. He wasn't in the mood to talk, but he was happy to let their chatter wash over him. Because he was a little behind them it meant he bumped into David when he stopped dead. Matteo was confused until he realised Neuhaus was approaching them.

"David, have you thought anymore about what we talked about?" he asked.

David just glared. Leonie looked concerned. She looked to Matteo, but he just shook his head.

"I'll er... I'll see you later ok? And Matteo can you please let Sara know what's going on with you? She won't shut up about how worried she is," Leonie said, excusing herself from the tense situation.

Matteo took a step back so they could talk, but he stayed close by in case David needed him. Not that he thought he could do much, but David was clearly very upset and Matteo would do anything he could to take that feeling away for him.

David looked around, there were still a lot of people milling around in the corridors. He looked embarrassed at the fact he even had to have this conversation. Matteo was reminded of his run in with Borchert and how it felt to be belittled like that. How Amira had had to step in because his mind went blank. He remembered how shitty she'd been to Amira the next week and how even though Amira was the strongest woman he knew; she was reduced to silence under Borchert's comments. Just like David was now, it wasn't quite the same, but he was being made to feel small, ashamed of who he was. Matteo knew he needed to stay out of it, not make it worse, but he needed to do something.

So he approached the pair and gestured for them to follow him down the corridor a little way.

"Excuse me sir, I don't think you should be accosting your students in the corridor, not about private matters, you need to have another teacher present."

He knew about this; the teachers weren't allowed to talk to him about his mental health. Or they were, but if they had an issue with him they had to have another teacher or the principal with them. He supposed normally that role would fall to his parents, but he didn't have that luxury.

Matteo rubbed his hand over the back of his neck. He forgot just how scary Neuhaus was. And he'd just bossed him about. He looked to David for guidance, but David looked seconds from fleeing. Matteo supposed it was up to him then.

"Mr Neuhaus?" he said nervously.

Neuhaus didn't say anything, he just waited for Matteo to state his case. He didn't look impressed, which made Matteo more nervous. He looked to David once more, then took a deep breath.

"Ok so... the thing is... fuck... the thing is you shouldn't... this is something you've decided yes? How to mark David?"

"No Florenzi, he's-"

"Don't!" David hissed. "When I registered, they said I could be marked correctly."

"Right, so does Dr Steinberg know you're doing this? Being difficult?" Matteo asked, he didn't think so. Steinberg was lovely, but she'd been surprised about Borchert. She needed better oversight of her teachers.

"I'm not being difficult, I'm trying to make it fair for him," Neuhaus said. He was being surprisingly patient with him. Matteo had expected him to yell, which was why they were down this corridor. To Neuhaus they probably seemed like annoying argumentative teenagers. But he was wrong on this, and they were right and he had to listen to them.

"You want to grade me as a girl!" David said, almost yelling.

"Biologically-"

"Fuck biology, I mean... come on, can you just... I know David's been here only a few months, but you see him running around and shit, right? If you didn't know, if it wasn't on the records you wouldn't question it, would you? Like I've tried to race him and wrestle him and I can tell you if you were grading the two of us together it would be total bullshit, and downright unfair on me for David to get more points even though he's already way stronger than me. And it's even more unfair on the girls, he'll fuck up the grading curve for them right? So like obviously the whole system is crap but for now, can't you just be reasonable?”

"It's the rules," Neuhaus said, refusing to budge.

Matteo looked at David, he looked like he was giving up on everything.

"Sir you have to make allowances. Like for me, I have anxiety and I can't sit my exams without having a panic attack, so Steinberg is allowing me to sit in a room by myself because... because she puts the safety of her students first over some stupid arbitrary rules," Matteo said.

He was amazing himself with all of this bullshit he was spouting. But Neuhaus' conviction was waning.

"Look look I don't agree with this," Neuhaus said, gesturing at David in that dismissive way that Matteo hated.

"But-"

"But we'll meet with Dr Steinberg on Monday and discuss a way forward, he's right it's inappropriate to discuss this with you without another teacher present," Neuhaus said. "Ok?"

"Ok," David mumbled.

Neuhaus nodded and left them. That wasn't a win, but it wasn't a loss either. He hoped Neuhaus would go away and think about what he was doing, how it affected David. Matteo thought he might understand his reasoning, and he hoped it really was because he thought it would be fairer on David. Neuhaus' problem was that David was just student to him, just a grade. He thought David couldn't compete with the boys and it would reflect badly on his teaching. If he stopped to think about it for a second he would realise that even if David was the worst in the class, he should still be encouraging him. He should still be marking him in a way that David was comfortable with. It wasn't about Neuhaus' statistics. David would rather come dead last among the boys, than top of the girls. Not that he would come last, he was a competitive little shit. Matteo wouldn't be surprised if he came top of the class on sheer stubbornness alone.

He waited for David to speak; he was scared he'd fucked up by speaking for David when he hadn't been asked to. But David just stood there, staring into space. So Matteo stepped forward.

"Ok?"

"Fuck is it even worth it? Why the fuck did I even choose PE? It's too much work," David said.

He was close to tears and Matteo ached for him, desperately wanted to take away these painful feelings.

"No it's not, you deserve to play sports and be marked correctly. You deserve to be treated with some basic fucking respect by your teachers. You're a boy and you should be graded as such. He just... I think... I think he knows he's fucked up. If Dr Steinberg said you could be marked correctly when you registered, and he's going against her then he's in trouble, she can be scary," Matteo said.

David smiled a little at that, so Matteo gestured for them to leave. They headed back out into the main corridor, thankfully deserted now.

They headed out of the building and Matteo saw David starting to relax, as soon as they were outside. It was like a weight was lifted from him. Matteo got that, he felt pretty similarly.

"What was that, by the way? Neuhaus isn't allowed to talk with me without another teacher?"

"That's a me thing," Matteo said. "Er... since my episode, if I'm like getting out of control there has to be two teachers to talk me down. Or if they want to like... talk about how I'm doing and stuff, because my parents aren't around and because they're a little bit scared of me they have to two people," Matteo explained.

"Damn."

"But erm... did they not... because it's such a personal thing I don't think Neuhaus should be just shouting at you in the corridors," Matteo said.

"No you're right, he seemed scared," David said, smiling properly now.

Neuhaus had made his exit pretty quick as Matteo's words sunk in.

"He should be scared, you'll see," Matteo assured him.

"I will?"

"You will," he insisted.

"Now I've got to come in on Monday," David whined, shoving Matteo like it was his fault. He soon pulled him back though.

"Yeah, I probably do too, Steinberg is making me see my shrink for a letter, I'll have to bring it in," Matteo told him.

"Can you get an appointment?"

Matteo nodded and pulled out his phone, texting Agata. He was only supposed to do that in emergencies, but he explained himself in the message, said that if she was busy, she could ignore it.

"Yeah I have to, I need it before Tuesday, Steinberg wants me to sit the exam," Matteo said.

"Bio?"

"Yeah, I went to see her, see if I could get out of it. She said no, but that I can sit it in a quiet room, to ease my anxiety," he explained.

"That's good," David said.

"But I need the letter."

"What if you can't get it?"

"She'll call the school if she can't see me," Matteo said.

"Mm."

"You ok?"

"Thank you for that, before, with Neuhaus," David said.

"I didn't fuck up?"

"No you helped, I have so much I want to say to like defend myself. Even though I shouldn't even have to defend myself. But it's like I just can't speak, I just get all quiet and scared and he wins," David said.

"No he doesn't. He doesn't win. You deserve to be marked correctly. But erm... when you see Steinberg, tell her all this stuff, and hopefully Neuhaus will listen," Matteo said.

"I hope so," David said.

"Mm."

"So, groceries or are you tired out?" David asked, obviously able to tell he was flagging.

"I don't know," Matteo said. He needed food, he wanted proper food in, but his energy was waning.

"Ok come with me," David said, wrapping an arm around his waist.

Matteo let him lead him over onto the grass. They headed over to some trees and sat down.

"We'll get groceries in a bit, let's just sit ok?"

"I'm really tired David," Matteo said.

"I know, it's tough, so let's recharge, we'll just chill here for a bit and if you're still feeling shit afterwards, I'll grab some bits for us," David said.

"Oh," Matteo said.

He hadn't thought of that, stopping to take a break. He always tried to force himself to get everything done. And if he didn't get his energy back David would help, and he didn't seem to mind helping him out at all. In fact, David seemed eager to help.

"You'd do that?"

"Yeah? I want dinner tonight," David teased. "But seriously, I don't mind. It's easy for me and it's hard for you so let me help," he said.

Matteo smiled and sat down beside David, immediately leaning against him.

"So just rest a while Matteo," David said, pulling him close and wrapping his arms around him.

"Ok," Matteo said, settling down and relaxing.

"Thank you for today, for speaking up for me," David said, playing with Matteo's hair.

"I... you were scared?"

"I was scared," David said.

"I didn't realise I was any good at stuff like that, but... I just... I know how it feels, to be belittled by your teachers."

David pressed a kiss to his cheek.

"And I didn't want you to feel like that," Matteo said.

"Thank you," David whispered.

Matteo relaxed against him and closed his eyes. He wasn't going to sleep, but he did let himself drift a little; he let his mind wander. David held him close, running his hands through his hair.

"I failed Spanish," Matteo admitted quietly.

"Shit," David whispered. "It's not fair though, I saw you outside that exam, you were so wound up, can't they give you some leeway?"

Matteo shrugged. "Steinberg said it's borderline, that they could argue it, probably with another letter from Agata. I could get the lowest pass, but she wants me to do the resit instead, give it a proper shot," he explained.

He understood where she was coming from, right now he'd take a barely there pass, but when he was feeling better, he would kick himself for not taking the shot at doing better. Resits weren't for a little while, hopefully he could pull himself up by then. He did want another shot. He wanted to do well; he knew he was capable of good grades; he wanted to show them. He wanted to sit fair exams and prove what he could do.

"Yeah? That's good, you can just nerd out in the resit, I'll help you study," David said, grinning.

Matteo just rolled his eyes, he knew David's studying techniques by now, it always ended in them making out.

"Steinberg thinks I should study psych," he said after a while.

"Yeah?"

"Yeah," Matteo said.

"What do you think?" David asked.

That was the important question.

"I don't think I can," he said.

"No?"

He liked that David didn't argue with him. Liked that he gave him space to air his fears, but also to be honest about what he wanted.

"But... it does interest me. I do like it, I would like to learn more about it," he admitted.

Right now, Matteo thought David was probably the only person he could be honest with about this.

"There you go then," David said.

"But I can't. I can't go to Uni," Matteo complained.

"I don't know what you should do," David said truthfully.

As much as Matteo wanted him to tell him what to do, he knew David was right about this, that only he could make this decision.

"Look I've wanted to go to film school since I was eleven, you're only just realising this now, so maybe take some time," David suggested.

"Yeah?"

"You don't have to decide now. School will be there next year, hell it'll be there in five years ok? No pressure," David assured him.

"I... yeah there's time?"

"We have time, we're still focusing on the present remember? We're taking it day by day. You're still in it right now, so I don't think you should be making life decisions," David said.

Matteo appreciated that, he really did, but he was depressed, not manic. If he wanted to do something when he was in this state, then it was realer than anything. If he wanted to do something while he was drowning, while he was running on empty, then it was something he really did want.

"But... I do kinda want to. It's terrifying, but just knowing what I could do, that I could do something feels comforting, settling you know?"

"That's so good Matteo," David said.

"But you're right I'm nowhere near ready," Matteo said.

"And that's fine. You will be one day, and I can't wait to see it," David said with a smile.

Matteo stared at him. He was stunned by that, that David was thinking ahead. They were supposed to be taking it day by day. Perhaps David only meant that for getting through the depression?

"You can't?" he whispered.

"Of course I can't. I'm already picturing it, you surrounded by all your text books, telling me about what you learnt that day, really nerdy clever stuff, and you'll be so passionate about it. And I'll listen to every word, even though I won't understand it, I'll listen to every word you say because everything you say is interesting to me," David assured him enthusiastically.

"Even in a year?" Matteo asked.

David didn't even hesitate. "Even in five years," he said. Then he bit his lip, worried that he'd shown his heart.

Matteo didn't care anymore, he was tired of dancing around this. He was tired of all the stupid rules that said it was too soon and they had to keep these things back, not show their hand so early on in this. What was the fucking point of that? Why couldn't they just be honest with one another?

"I love you," he said.

Fuck.

It may be way too soon, but he couldn't keep it in any longer, he'd wanted to tell David since last week. He needed him to know before it exploded out of him. Matteo had been learning not to keep the bad stuff bottled up inside, but the result was he couldn't keep anything in anymore. He was honest and open in ways he'd never thought possible.

David didn't even blink. "I love you too Matteo," he said, pushing Matteo away and making him turn to face him. When Matteo ducked his head, David lifted it gently, needing him to look at him.

"I have done since I told you about me. Or since before then, even. It was the thought of losing you, it was the most unbearable thing, I know it was only a few days, but it hurt so badly. I don't think I quite realised how it would be, you know? But that's what it was. And that trust I felt with you? I've never had that before, never wanted someone to know all of me. I can go through life making friends, meeting people and they don't need to know. But you, I wanted you to know exactly who I was, why I am, I wanted you to know all of me and love me back for exactly who I was."

"I do," Matteo said.

"I know, I've known a while," David said.

"Since when?"

"The same day, it all fell into place for me then, when you asked for space to figure your brain out I knew what this was. I knew you had something as huge as my secret to tell me, and I knew if you wanted to tell me, then this was it. We were all in. And... I know we're young and this is probably all very quick but-"

"I know it's the truth," Matteo said firmly. "I know because I have to constantly analyse my feelings for what's real and what's not. I have to know what's a trick of my condition and what are real feelings. Does that make sense?"

David nodded.

"When I was diagnosed I had an episode, and I came out to Jonas before I was even close to ready. So I tried to blame it on my bipolar, tried to say it was just the episode. It took a lot of work with Lydia to accept that I was gay but I did. And she taught me that while being gay was nothing to do with my bipolar, sometimes it would affect and influence and even intensify my feelings, but those feelings are still real. When I was manic or whatever was happening last week, I loved you so much I thought I would die from it, it was so intense, it took everything not to tell you. I didn't want to tell you when I was like that, because even though I knew it was real, I was worried you wouldn't. I wanted you to hear it properly. I didn't want the first time I told you to be when I was like that," Matteo said.

"And now?"

"It's the same, it's just as fucking intense, if not more. Every damn day it gets more intense, and it's nothing to do with my fucked up head. David it's real, it's the realest thing I know," he said.

"God Matteo, it's the same," David said quietly, reverently, looking at Matteo like he was the most wonderful thing he'd ever seen.

Matteo liked that look, liked being wonderful in David's eyes.

"It's fucking real," he said.

"It is," David said.

"This is it David, this is it," Matteo said. It was scary, but with David he was never scared.

"I know," David whispered, sounding just as terrified and excited as Matteo felt.

This was it. He didn't know what the future held for them. He knew things might get worse, but they also might get better, he couldn't predict that.

Like David said, there was no such thing as fate. Relationships that lasted weren't because of love, but because of work, because of the effort you put in. But damn would that effort be worth it. He knew it wasn't going to be easy. He knew at times it was going to be downright hard, for both of them. But there would be so much good stuff too. And that good stuff would outweigh the bad.

And like Lydia always told him to, he was going to hold on to that; he was going to grasp the good stuff with both hands and treasure it.

This really was it. Matteo thought they just might make it.

Yeah, perhaps there was no such thing as fate, destiny, all that shit. But it was undeniable that some people were better suited to each other. David felt perfectly suited to him. He understood him on a level that Matteo had never experienced before. He knew his needs sometimes even before Matteo did. And it wasn't magic, Matteo was the same when it came to David. It was easy to understand him, know him, because he cared. He cared, and he paid attention, and he tried his best to learn every little thing about David. He was going to keep learning David for the rest of his life.

For the first time in a long time, the future felt bright. It wasn't because of David. No, it was because he was finally realising just how strong he was. David was telling him. Hans was telling him. Hanna and Jonas and Amira were telling him. Dr Steinberg this morning told him as much. He stood up to the scariest teacher in the school for David and it felt good. He was going to sit his biology exam, and it was going to be brutal, but he would survive it. He would survive.

"I'm strong David," he whispered.

"You're the strongest boy I know," David said.

Matteo just smiled, turned back around, and leant all his weight against David again. There was no one around to say anything, and even if there was, he'd just tell them to fuck off. He was in a certain kind of mood today; he wasn't going to take shit. He wouldn't always feel strong like this, sometimes he would feel like the weakest boy in the world. But that was when he would let everyone else step in and be strong for him, just like he'd done today for David. He would let them help, until he could be strong again.

He couldn't wait to tell Agata all this realisation, he knew she would be proud of him.

He was proud of himself.

Matteo knew he was going to be ok.

Chapter Text

Waking up in David's arms was fast becoming Matteo's favourite thing. He'd never slept so soundly as he did curled up against David. He'd never liked sleeping alone, always had a better night's sleep at sleepovers with Jonas. But this was on a whole other level. It was one thing sharing a bed, but being held this way was something else. It wasn't always like that, sometimes David was just too warm and Matteo felt too wriggly and had to roll away from him. But they always seemed to drift back to each other. Most mornings they woke up completely entangled in one another. It was absolutely wonderful.

Matteo tended to wake first and bask in this feeling. It was pure contentment. He just lay there completely surrounded by David.

Considering David was so sporty and always had tons of energy once he was awake, he was surprisingly slow to wake up. Grumpy too. Sometimes he would even snap at Matteo when he woke him. Matteo found it cute. Once he was a little more awake, David would always apologise sheepishly and pull him close for cuddles.

Today though, David was already awake and watching him sleep. Matteo blinked slowly and turned to him. David just smiled sleepily.

"Everything ok?" Matteo asked him.

"Yeah, all good. I need to pee, but I didn't want to wake you," David said.

Matteo groaned and rolled away from David, he felt him get up from the bed. A few minutes later he was back, wiping his cold, wet hands on Matteo's face.

"Fuck off David!" Matteo yelled, shoving him away. "You're so gross!"

"Am not! I washed my hands," David argued.

Matteo just laughed and pulled him close. "David?"

"Yeah?"

"I don't think I can get up today," he admitted quietly.

"Oh? But I wanted to go out running today, I thought we could do an easy five miles," David teased.

"Oh fuck off," Matteo muttered.

"Nah I'm good, my only exam now is my sports practical on Friday, and you already know I'm good at that," David said.

"Yeah yeah, super fit that's you," Matteo said, rolling his eyes.

"You know it."

"I need to study for bio," Matteo said, but he couldn't face it. Just the thought of studying made him feel ill, made him want to curl up and sleep forever.

"Not today?"

"Not today."

"There's time. You've been studying for weeks already. At this point it sounds like all you need to do is keep practising and just keep calm when you're in the exam," David said.

Matteo shook his head. "It's not as easy as that," he said.

"Why not?"

"Because David, it's just not," Matteo said. It wasn't easy at all, it was going to take all his effort to get through this exam. He was dreading it.

"If you say so," David said.

Matteo knew he wasn't mocking him though, he thought perhaps David really thought he could do it.

"It's not," Matteo insisted, wanting more encouragement from David. It felt really good.

"No, but you're a big nerd," David said.

"Am not," Matteo said, trying not to smile.

"You are too, nerdiest nerd I've ever met," David insisted.

"I'm cool," Matteo said.

"You think you are, but you're not. But you are cute," David said, grinning.

"I am?"

"The cutest," David said, kissing his nose.

Matteo smiled and rolled over, reaching for his phone.

He had a lot of messages this morning. Several from Sara. After Leonie had threatened him, he'd texted her last night, telling her what was happening, and that he wasn't good at keeping up with people at the moment.

He told her that he was ok and he was being taken care of by David and Hans. She'd replied that she was just happy he was doing ok and to take care. Then she'd sent him a couple of messages, teasing him about David and insisting they meet up to gossip soon.

He'd also texted the boys and asked them to give him the weekend to recover, but that they could hang out in the week sometime.

Carlos and Abdi had replied immediately, demanding to meet David properly, so they were all going to hang out on Wednesday evening, if Matteo was up to it. They'd messaged him again this morning saying they wanted to go drink beers in the park because exams would be over. But if Matteo didn't want to be around beer so soon, they could do something else. He appreciated that, but he thought he would be ok.

He'd texted Jonas separately, letting him know he was doing ok and that he missed him and was looking forward to seeing him soon. Jonas had been so excited to hear from him properly that he'd called him and talked for a full hour. He wasn't bothered at all by the fact Matteo could barely speak. Maybe Matteo just needed to remember that sometimes, that Jonas didn't need him to be on all the time. That he was just happy to hear from him. So he just let him chatter away until he was too tired to listen anymore.

Matteo was genuinely looking forward to just messing about with the boys, showing off David, showing off to David, and just generally being silly.

He groaned when he read the next message though.

"What's wrong?"

"Agata can squeeze me in on Monday," Matteo told him.

"Yeah?"

"At eight thirty," Matteo said.

David got why he wasn't all that excited.

"Damn, that's early," he said.

"Yeah she's starting early just for me," Matteo said.

Her message said not to worry that it was short notice, that she would be able to get the letter written and he could pick it up on Monday, but she'd really like to see him. She was booked all day long, so she was going to see him before she started because she wanted to talk to him before his exam, check him over and decide whether or not he was actually fit to sit it.

"That's nice of her," David said.

"She is nice. Scary but nice. And she knows it'll help my state of mind to have a shot at the exam. She only needs to write me a letter, but she wants to see me, check in," Matteo explained.

"That's good, you gonna tell her what's been going on with you?"

Matteo sighed, it wasn't that simple.

"I'll try. It's not that easy, but I'll try. She's usually good at getting it out of me," he said.

David just grinned. "My meeting with Neuhaus and the principal is at ten. I can take you to Agata and then we can go to the school together."

"Yeah?"

"You have to drop off your letter, right?" David asked, propping himself up and smiling down at him.

"Yeah, or you could just drop it off for me, as you're already going," Matteo teased.

"I'd really like it if you came with me, I feel braver when you're around," David said quietly.

Matteo nodded; he would be there to support David. He would be there whenever he needed him.

"I'll be there. I'll be right outside," he said.

"Thank you Matteo," David said. He was smiling, but his eyes were shining.

Matteo stroked his cheeks and waited.

"I... for so long I always did stuff alone. I didn't want anyone helping me. I... am brave, and I am strong and I can stand up for myself. But... it's not easy. Yesterday when I saw Neuhaus in the corridor I froze, but... but... you didn't leave me. And you stood up to Neuhaus even though you're scared of him. And I felt so strong beside you. And I just thought, look how much easier it is when you have people fighting your corner. I liked it. So I'd like you to come with me on Monday, not into the meeting, I have to do that alone, but knowing you're out there will help me."

"That's good. I want to be there," Matteo said.

"Then after, if you're feeling up to it, I'll take you out somewhere," David said.

Matteo perked up at that, even though David probably wanted them to break in somewhere. Still he would, if he was feeling ok, he would follow David anywhere. "Where?" he asked.

David shrugged and reached out, stroking his face then leaning over and kissing him. Matteo just relaxed under him, completely boneless, sinking into the mattress. He'd never feel so calm and safe.

"Like a date?" Matteo asked.

David kissed him again. "Like a date," he agreed.

He laid down with his head on Matteo's chest, sinking him further into the bed.

"My mum texted me," Matteo said.

"Yeah?"

"She er... she wants me to come over soon, er... she wants me to bring you along, she says it would be nice to meet you when she's not distracted worrying about me," Matteo said. He knew David had already met his mum, but this felt different. He knew David wouldn't say no, but he still felt awkward asking.

"That was her distracted?"

"She's good at seeming calm," Matteo said.

She always was. On her good days. Whenever he was sick or hurt himself as a boy, she would be calm and collected. He'd never been worried as a kid, for the most part. Whenever he felt scared, he ran to her, and she took care of him. It seemed now that she was working on herself she was getting that back.

"Yeah damn, but er... I'd like that, she was really nice," David said shyly. He'd been shy around his mum, too.

"She likes you," Matteo assured him.

"Yeah?"

"Because you were looking after me, that makes you the best in her eyes," Matteo said. All she wanted was for him to be happy. David made him happy, so she loved him.

"That was easy then, won her over. You text your dad?"

"Yeah, last night, told him I was ok. Stable again. I'm going to call him again soon and... maybe I'll go visit... I dunno, I'll see how I'm doing," Matteo said.

He wanted to. He'd been shocked when his dad had implied that he wanted to see him. But now that he was calmer he was finally accepting how much he missed him, and that that was ok. Yes, the man had left him, but if he wanted to see him, Matteo wasn't going to pass on that. He was his father, and he loved the man.

"I haven't seen my parents in almost two years," David said quietly.

"Damn."

"But if... if they ever asked me back I'd be there in a heartbeat," he whispered.

Matteo pulled him into his arms.

"God David," he said.

"I miss them every day," David said.

Matteo could tell just how painful it was for him to admit that. He thought he might have an idea of exactly how David felt.

"David..."

"But... but I'm ok. Because I'm not alone am I?"

"You're not, but David... you keep saying you were going to go it alone but... but what about Laura?"

David laughed.

"You make me sound like an asshole huh? You're right though, I take her for granted sometimes, she's just been there for me so fiercely my whole life. It's not that I forgot about her it's just... she's supposed to love me right? She's my sister. When I say alone, I mean just the two of us. That was how it felt, us against them," David explained.

"Oh ok," Matteo said.

"And now I have you too, don't I?"

"You do," Matteo said, there was nothing he was surer of. David had him, completely.

"And you come with so many people," David said, amazed.

"I do. I thought they'd all leave me, but they stayed. They're going to stay," Matteo said.

"They are, no one is going to leave you, how could they?"

Matteo giggled.

No one was leaving him. The friends, the family he'd made himself were good people. They knew it wasn't easy, but they stayed anyway because they loved him. He didn't have to be alone. He knew he wouldn't always feel like this. That there would be days when he pushed everyone away from him. But he knew that would pass again and his friends would be there, they wouldn't leave even when he pushed them. They'd give him space, but they'd still be there for him as soon as he was ready again. God was it a wonderful and comforting realisation. His greatest fear was being alone. But perhaps he would never have to be.

 

 

 

Matteo had said about two words to Agata so far. She was writing his letter first, drafting it, she would edit it after they'd talked. She was reading aloud as she typed, and he was mostly just agreeing with her. She knew best, so he just sat there staring around the room, wondering how many times he was going to have to do this. How many times he was going to have to come to her for excuses.

"What are you thinking right now Matteo?" she asked, putting the laptop to one side.

He shrugged.

"You went somewhere, where did you go?"

"Just... thinking about the future and stuff, will I keep having to do this?"

"Get help? Yes probably," Agata said.

Matteo sighed and rubbed his face.

"You won't have to see me all that often, that's Lydia's job, you like seeing her?"

He nodded. "Seeing her makes me feel good," he said.

"I don't?"

"Seeing you is draining," Matteo admitted.

"Charming."

"Sorry," he mumbled.

"You know why you're seeing me right now, not Lydia?"

"She can't write letters," Matteo guessed.

It was all pretty confusing, who did what. Lydia was the one to advise the school on how to help him, so he wasn't sure why he'd reached out to Agata instead. He'd suggested it, and Dr Steinberg had agreed. So it must have been the right choice, but he wasn't sure why.

"She can, she can write letters or call the school to advise them on how to help you. But this is a medical letter, signed by a doctor. Me. Essentially it carries more sway. Your principal understands that. It's all just in case the higher-ups aren't happy with your special treatment. She can just show them the letter, they won't argue," Agata explained.

That did kind of make sense. Dr Steinberg already knew what she wanted to do for Matteo, it was just getting it okayed that would be the tricky part.

"Oh."

"This is all about your anxiety. I'm outlining how the exams exacerbate that and make it hard for you to concentrate, and if they could do everything they can to make it feel less like an exam, you'd have a better chance. Does that sound good?"

"Yeah," Matteo said.

She was right, pressure didn't work for him.

"I also agree with Dr Steinberg that you should do the resit for Spanish, and if Biology is too much tomorrow, then you should get the resit for that too, both under the same conditions," she said.

Steinberg had said the same. Did they not understand he wanted this to be over? He was going back and forth on resitting his Spanish. He had hoped Agata would unjust rogue that it was close enough to a pass and write him another letter.

"God Agata," he whined.

"You're better at that, talking it through," she insisted.

"I..."

"Matteo I know you are capable of top marks. If you've already passed or come close, then wouldn't it be nice to have a shot at boosting your marks, with no real pressure?" she said.

"I suppose," Matteo admitted.

He would like to do as well as he could, but she was making it sound much easier than it was.

"You don't have to, If you really want I will argue for you to pass Spanish right now. But I want you to do well. Resits are a few weeks after the last exam, right? By then I think you will be doing better, so I'm suggesting you give it a try. If it gets to that week and you really can't face it, then I'll write you a letter, we'll take the borderline pass and it'll be over. But give it a chance. I've asked Dr Steinberg to call me to talk about this, is that ok with you? I won't be talking about you, but about what she can do for you ok?"

"Ok thank you," Matteo said.

He felt like she had his back, and he appreciated it.

"No problem. Now this isn't therapy, so we don't have to chat. You're allowed to come here just for a letter. But is there anything you want to say to me?"

"I crashed. I was up for a few days, when I saw you I was up, but then I crashed," he told her, even though she could probably already tell.

"And how are you doing now?"

"I'm coming out of it, but it feels too quick," he admitted. Everything felt so tenuous and fragile, it wouldn't take much to pull him back under.

"Sometimes it's like that, sometimes the lows last only a few days, sometimes they can drag on for months," Agata said.

"God."

"I know, it's so hard, but we will always do everything we can to help you out. You still taking your meds?"

"Yeah."

"Morning and night?" she asked.

"Yeah, and I took the sleeping pills while I was feeling manic," he told her.

"I imagine that helped stop it becoming more, getting sleep," she said.

"Yeah," Matteo mumbled. It hadn't been the best sleep, restless and troubled, but it was sleep.

"You work on your sleep with Lydia?" Agata asked.

"Yeah, she even makes me get up at the weekend," Matteo complained.

Agata just smiled, no sympathy for him. "Consistent sleep is really good for your brain." She glanced at the clock, then got up and went over to the coffee machine, switching it on. She went over to the printer then and grabbed his letter.

"Would you like a coffee Matteo?" she asked.

"I'm not allowed caffeine," Matteo said, frowning.

"Lydia tell you that?"

"Yeah," he said, confused now.

"She clearly doesn't drink coffee," Agata said, amused. "But listen to her." She poured herself a cup and came back over. "But a little caffeine isn't bad, black coffee is actually good for you. I drink coffee in the morning, but none after eleven am, no matter how tried I am. That way it doesn't effect my sleep."

"Oh so maybe when I've got my sleep really good, I can have coffee again, I love coffee," he said.

"Yeah?"

"I'm half Italian," he reminded her.

"Oh, so you've been drinking it since you were a toddler?" she joked.

"Funny. My grandma gave me coffee once when I was eight. Wine too," he said.

Agata laughed. "Ok, so this isn't really an appointment, here's your letter. I have a little time before my day actually starts. Can I tell you about a study I think might interest you?"

"Ok," he said, not quite knowing where she was going with this.

"I know you like all this stuff," Agata explained, clearly sensing his confusion.

"Dr Steinberg thinks I should study psych," he told her then.

"Oh that's a good idea, that would really suit you," Agata said.

It wasn't that simple. He wasn't a good student, he'd proved that time and time again.

"No," he mumbled.

"Yes. I've been thinking the same thing, the other day when you were here, I saw how interested you were when we were talking about your medication," she said.

He stared at her for a long time. She was a very clever woman. And she knew his mind pretty well by now, that was her job after all. And she was good at it. He couldn't help but trust her judgement.

"You think I could do it?"

"I do and I think it would be good for you, to understand yourself better," she said.

He did like that idea, that was part of the reason he was so interested.

"I don't want to be a shrink," he told her.

"Oh no I definitely wouldn't advise that. We're not talking about career paths here, just something for you to do with that brain of yours for the next few years. Psych will open up a lot of options for you, and your academic advisors can tell you all about that. Now let me tell you about this study."

She grabbed her laptop and started searching for something.

"Ok I'll print it for you to read properly, but I thought it might be something you'd find interesting. It's about the link between paranoid schizophrenia and insomnia," she said.

"I'm not schizophrenic?"

"No, but we're not talking about you right now, we're talking about sleep in general. So did you know insomnia is prevalent amongst schizophrenics?" she asked him.

"No, but I could've guessed," he said.

"Yes, insomnia is pretty common in a lot of mental illnesses," she said.

Matteo nodded, that made sense. He wasn't sure if he had insomnia exactly; the mania kept him awake. And before that he'd struggled a bit. But the past few days he'd slept well. He thought he would be able to get it under control. He would say he was probably more prone to it though.

"And I've told you how lack of sleep exacerbates your condition?"

"So the schizophrenia causes the insomnia, but the lack of sleep makes it worse?" he asked slowly.

Agata snapped her fingers.

"Exactly, so scientists are looking into it, do you know about circadian rhythms?" she asked.

"When you sleep and wake up?"

"Yes, and one study showed the circadian rhythms of a set of patients with schizophrenia to be out of whack by up to twelve hours," she explained.

He'd never been that bad. If anything, he was the opposite, his worst sleep was when he was sleeping all night and all day.

"They were up all night and slept during the day?" he asked.

"Yes, and they were the ones that were suffering the most with their condition. But do you want to know something even more interesting?"

Matteo nodded.

"So the article I wanted to tell you about was a group of scientists in Bonn. They were studying the effects of sleep deprivation and they found that over twenty-four hours without sleep lead to the participants exhibiting similar thought processes and symptoms to patients with schizophrenia," she said, watching him carefully for his reaction.

Matteo thought it through slowly, figuring out exactly what she was saying.

"Oh, so it's really important," he said, fiddling with his sleeves. He got a little nervous, the way she was waiting for his opinion, like it mattered or something.

"It is," she said, smiling.

"So what's the cure?" he asked.

She laughed then.

"No, these are just studies, to understand the brain," she said.

"But that's stupid," he argued.

"But?"

"It's pretty fascinating too," he admitted.

"Exactly and through understanding the brain we can hope to find perhaps not cures, but better way to alleviate these conditions. Another study looked into behavioural therapy to reduce the insomnia in patients and combined with medication they managed to achieve normal sleeping patterns and thus, reduced their psychosis."

"Oh wow. Agata this is really interesting to me, what about... what about the opposite? What about oversleeping?"

"Highly linked to depression," she said.

"It's why Lydia makes me get up?"

"Exactly."

"I'd like to learn about this stuff," he admitted.

He really would, even though he didn't think himself capable. Agata nodded and went over to the printer again, collecting everything she'd printed for him and handing it over.

"Then why don't you?" she asked.

"Exams and shit," he reminded her.

"Perhaps you should learn about the psychology of exams and anxiety," she suggested.

He just stared at her for a moment. He wasn't sure if she was teasing him. He didn't think she was. Maybe there was something in that. Some way he could understand his brain better so it didn't get overwhelmed by the pressure of exams.

"Oh. Yeah, ok," he said.

"Take your time. School, Uni, psychology, it's not going anywhere. You focus on yourself for a while," she said.

"I will," he said.

"Good luck with your exam," she said as he stood up.

"Thank you. Agata?"

"Yes Matteo?"

"I have a boyfriend now, his name is David, and he's really good to me," he said shyly.

"That's lovely, is he the boy who was in the waiting room with you?"

Matteo nodded.

"Why did I not hear about this until now?" she demanded.

"Because you would tease me," he said.

"I would," she agreed, shooing him away. "Now off you go, I have to see my other patients."

Matteo grinned and went back to the waiting room to get David. He felt better after that. He felt like he had something to focus on instead of worrying about the future. He didn't have to think about the big picture. He could learn new things and let the rest fall into place.

 

 

 

David had been beyond nervous about his meeting with Dr Steinberg. They'd walked to school together and the whole time David had been silent. Matteo had tried to fill the silence with chatter, telling David about what he'd learnt from Agata. He'd felt a little awkward at first, and he found himself trailing off a few times. After the third time he did it, David grabbed his hand and gave it a squeeze, letting him know he was listening.

So Matteo continued to tell David all about it, and by the time they got to the school Matteo was pretty sure he knew what he wanted to do now. He just wanted to run it by Amira and get her to encourage him a bit. It was all well and good David telling him he could do it. Agata telling him she thought he could do it felt good too. But Amira studied with him, she'd seen his work and understood it, the same way Mrs Krause did. She saw past his mistakes and understood what he was trying to say. She would know if he was capable of this.

Matteo felt pretty positive about things. He knew it was tenuous; he was probably going to lose this feeling again, but he was going to hold on to it for as long as possible.

He was all giddy again, but it was different, he was just happy.

He was annoying the secretary though. He was worried about David and the room was boring, nothing to distract him. He'd already moved the little plants around, rifled through all the pamphlets, read all the posters. Four times the secretary had cleared her throat pointedly. He'd gotten the hint. He was just sitting there, staring at the ceiling.

He was tapping his feet though. He could almost feel the secretary's eyes on him. He ignored her and continued to stare at the ceiling until he heard the door open.

He sat up and frowned when Sara and Leonie walked in.

"David still in his meeting?" Sara asked him.

"Yeah," he said.

"Why is Neuhaus such a dick to him?" Leonie asked.

"Language!" the secretary exclaimed.

Leonie smirked and waved him over.

"I can't tell you," he said, "but it's good that you're here."

"Of course we are, David is our friend," Sara said.

"We're here to show our support," Leonie said.

"Even if you don't know why?"

"Of course, that's what friendship is, unconditional support," Leonie said.

"Yeah, Matteo it's why we support you even when you're behaving like an ass," Sara teased.

"Plus Neuhaus is a dick, so of course we'll take David's side," Leonie said.

"I am warning you ladies," the secretary said, getting fed up with them. "You shouldn't even be here."

"What about him?" Leonie asked, trying to drop him in it.

"He has an appointment," the secretary said, unimpressed.

"You do?" Sara asked.

"Brain shit, gotta give Steinberg a letter from my shrink," he explained.

"You've seen your shrink? Matteo how bad was it?" Sara asked, looking him over, worried about him.

He rolled his eyes, amused at her concern, whereas once it would've annoyed him.

"I can't... I can't quantify that. It's always bad to me, to everyone around me it probably didn't seem that bad. I was manageable I didn't do anything reckless, but to me I felt completely out of control," he said.

"How was the crash?"

"Rough. I'm still in it, but I'm getting there," he said.

Sara just smiled at him and pulled him into a hug. He didn't resist just let her hold him for a minute.

"So you let him take care of you then, David?" she asked.

"I push him away, but he won't have it," Matteo told her.

"People care Matteo, if they didn't want to be there, they'd leave you. Look, if they put up with you the way you get mean when you're in it, that just shows how much they love you ok?"

"I am sorry for being mean," Matteo mumbled into her shoulder.

"You always are, you're always so sincerely sorry, and you're not mean, not at all, you don't have a mean bone in your body. Fear brings out this nastiness in you sometimes but we know it's not you, not really," she said.

"Thank you," he said, pulling back from her.

"Just accept that you're loved dude, you deserve it ok?" Leonie said.

Matteo just nodded. He'd known Leonie a long time now, almost as long as he'd known Jonas. He had a feeling she knew a lot more about him than she let on to most. But she kept it to herself because she was good like that. But it meant she knew him pretty well. She knew who he was, knew what he was really like. She knew that his sometimes prickly attitude was just a front. He was nothing like that really.

The door opened, and David finally stepped out. He looked surprised to see the girls there, nervous too, as if he was wondering what they knew.

Neuhaus looked annoyed, so Matteo presumed it had gone well.

"I'll see you on Friday," the man muttered as he passed them.

"What are you doing here?" David asked.

"Just came to say hi, make sure you're ok, glare at Neuhaus the usual. All sorted?" Leonie asked

"Er... yeah, everything is ok," he said.

Matteo was so relieved for him. He knew Steinberg would listen. Stupid Neuhaus, making David worry.

David looked between Matteo and Leonie, Matteo just shrugged, and started looking through his bag for his letter.

"I just have some shit and Neuhaus wasn't being fair, but it's sorted now," David told her.

"Good, that's good," Leonie said, not pushing him to say more

"Matteo do you have something for me?" Dr Steinberg asked him.

"Yeah, I've got it," he said, trying to sort it all out. It had gotten mixed in with his biology notes and the papers Agata had given him.

He spread them all out on the counter.

"The impact of sleep deprivation on the brain? Interesting," Steinberg said, rifling through his papers. He didn't mind.

"It really is. Agata gave it to me," he said.

"Looks complex," she said.

He nodded. "Here's the letter," he said, passing it to her.

She scanned through it quickly, then looked back at him. "Thank you," she said.

"It's ok?"

"It's ok. It's just to cover what I'd already suggested. I will see you tomorrow Matteo," she said.

"Thank you, Dr Steinberg."

He went back over to David. He was mucking around with Leonie and Sara now. They were teasing him, and Matteo could tell they were about to start shoving each other.

"Might I remind all of you that this is an office? You want to rough house I advise you go to the lower school playground," the secretary said, very annoyed now.

Matteo grinned, waved at her, and then ushered David and the girls out of the office. He trailed behind them as they made their way out of the school, reading through his papers while they all chatted away.

Despite being engrossed in his reading, when David wrapped his arm around his waist Matteo didn't even flinch, just leant into him. David guided Matteo out of the building, so that he could read and walk without stumbling.

He did jump when Leonie waved her hand in his face.

"What?" he mumbled sheepishly. He knew he'd been a bit rude.

"We're off now Matteo," Sara teased.

"Oh yeah, sorry I just wanted to read this," he said, shoving the papers back in his bag.

"Nerd," Leonie teased.

"Bye girls," David said, waving them off.

"See you later Matteo, later David," Sara said.

Matteo watched them go, then turned to David.

"Back with me?"

"Yeah just reading," Matteo said. "It went ok, with Steinberg?"

"Yeah, she just reminded Neuhaus that they had an agreement and that a bad grade as a boy would be better for my state of mind than a good grade as a girl. And it wasn't up to him to decide what was best for me."

Matteo hugged him tight. David looked like all the weight had been lifted from him. He was bouncing and shaking, both with excitement and relief.

"I told them, Leonie and Sara," David said.

"What when?" Matteo asked, confused.

"Just now," David said, grinning, clearly amused at how out of it Matteo had been.

"Holy fuck really?" Matteo asked.

"You totally lost awareness huh? Good job I had hold of you," David joked.

"Did you really tell them... just like that?"

"Matteo we were stood here talking for twenty minutes," David said.

"Oh... I got a little lost," Matteo admitted.

"No worries. I wasn't planning on telling them, but they were just being so supportive. They were completely on my side, even though I hadn't told them anything. I was just trying to explain how much of an ass Neuhaus was being, and I just told them. And they were completely on my side, completely furious about Neuhaus. They... at my old school I didn't have anything like this. They're my friends, because they like me, for me," David said.

He sounded completely amazed by this. Matteo didn't get it all. Of course they were friends with him, he was wonderful. He told David as much and got that fond, amused smile in return.

"Are we going on our date now?" Matteo asked, not sure if he felt up to doing much. He was happy and relaxed, but it had still taken a lot out of him. He felt like he might crash at any moment. Plus he had biology to study for. He knew what's why David wanted the date, to distract him a little.

David stared for a moment.

"Rain check?"

Matteo sighed with relief.

"I'm not feeling up to it either, I feel... exposed?"

"On show? Because you had to talk about yourself, prove yourself?"

"Yeah, exactly that," David said, happy that Matteo got it.

"Let's go home then," Matteo said.

"Or... we could go back to mine," David suggested.

"I..."

Matteo hated this. David just wanted to do normal things, just relax in his own space and because of Matteo he couldn't. David sensed his hesitation.

"We don't have to," he said.

"To stay over?" Matteo asked quietly.

"Yeah, I want to tell Laura about today and... I haven't been back in a while," he said.

"Sorry," Matteo mumbled.

"No, I'm not annoyed or anything," David insisted.

Matteo just shrugged, guilt settling heavy on him. David reached out and cupped his face.

"Hey, come on stay with me please, Matteo come on," he said, trying to keep him present.

"I'm keeping you from your life," Matteo said.

"No Matteo, you are part of my life now ok? With you is where I wanna be, I'd just like to see Laura before she forgets about me, will you come?"

"I can't stay over David," Matteo said. He didn't get to do normal things like that.

"Why not?" David asked.

"I have to get home and go to bed, I have to take my meds, I'm not normal remember?"

"Ah shit ok," David said, running his hand through his hair, trying to work out what they could do.

"Sorry," Matteo mumbled.

David just took his hand and started leading them away from the school.

"Where are we going?" Matteo asked.

"Back to yours," David said, smiling at him as they walked.

"I'm sorry," Matteo said.

"Don't be silly," David said.

"You can just drop me off, and go see Laura," Matteo suggested, terrified that he was just too much, that he was going to ruin it.

"Nope, we'll go back to yours, get your shit, then go back to mine, you could do with a change of scene too I think," David said.

"Oh," Matteo said quietly.

"That ok?"

"Yeah that's ok, you don't mind the fuss?" Matteo checked.

"Not at all," David said, practically skipping with excitement. He was so happy about how today had gone nothing could bring him down. Matteo was so happy that David got to do the exam as he should, that he'd been listened to as he should.

"I do want to come back with you, I'm getting sick of my room," Matteo admitted.

If David was happy to go all over the place, then Matteo was happy. He just wanted to be where David was.

"I thought you might," David said.

"Was this the plan for the date?" Matteo asked curiously.

"No, but I was planning on us staying over, I should've thought about what you needed, I didn't think," David admitted.

"You shouldn't have to," Matteo muttered, hating that David had to think of all this extra stuff, just for them to go on a date.

"Yes Matteo I do, it's a few extra steps, hell I should know better, usually I never stay over places. I just got too excited, that's all," David insisted.

"Are you sure?"

"I'm sure, let's go get your shit," David said.

Matteo had an idea, but he wasn't sure if he should say anything. He was nervous to share it because it felt like he was assuming too much. But he wanted to. It was a good idea.

"Maybe..."

"Maybe?"

"Maybe you could keep... a... bag with stuff I need," Matteo suggested, then closed his eyes, feeling embarrassed about suggesting something so silly, being so needy.

"Oh, kinda like a go bag, but instead a stay bag," David said, understanding immediately.

"Yeah?"

"Yeah. I have a bag ready, in the back of my closet, in case I have to run, I've had it since I left my parents," David explained.

Matteo knew there was more to that story. He knew David would tell him when he was ready. There was plenty of shit like that he had to tell David too, but there was time.

"Yeah kinda like that," he said.

"Yeah, you could keep it at mine," David said.

Matteo smiled and blushed. It was silly, but he liked what that would allow. He could stay over at David's casually, without having to plan or worry. He also liked that David wanted him at his place, wanted him to have his stuff there, so he was safe.

"Let's do that then," David said.

"I still have to study and get to bed early," Matteo reminded him.

"Yes sir," David teased.

 

 

 

Five hours later Matteo was stretched out on David's bed surrounded by all his notes and textbooks. He wasn't studying anymore; he was just staring around David's room, entranced by it. He absolutely loved it. He wanted to stay here forever. It was so David. From the art on the walls to the little treasures he'd collected from his exploring. It was so much cooler than his own room. Both their rooms were kind of sparse, but that was where the similarities ended. Matteo's felt lonely and a little cold to him, he hadn't really done much to make it feel like home. David's felt warm and inviting. It wasn't any brighter, but the light was warmer. There were colourful throws and blankets. Lamps and plants everywhere. It was all so random, but it all fit together perfectly and was completely David. Matteo ran his fingers over the blankets now and smiled.

He'd been studying for a few hours. David had quizzed him. He'd done a couple of practice papers and passed them. He'd read through all his notes twice. He didn't think there was much more he could do. If he wasn't ready now, he probably wouldn't ever be. There was nothing more he could do, so he sighed and sat up.

"Lay back down," David demanded, not quite aggressively, but almost. He'd been sitting at his desk, alternating between fucking around on his laptop and talking to Matteo. He was watching Matteo intensely now, sketchbook in hand.

"What?"

"Lay down," David repeated.

"Are you drawing me?" Matteo asked.

"Yep. Lay back exactly as you were," David said.

"I don't remember," Matteo said.

David rolled his eyes, then he actually got up and strode over to the bed. He pushed Matteo down and started arranging his limbs. Matteo didn't resist, just stared up at him amused. When David was satisfied, he grabbed his sketchbook again.

"Just stay still for a moment, ok? And just relax too, you looked so peaceful," David said.

"Ok," Matteo said, sinking into the pillows and letting his eyes fall closed.

He just laid there listening to the sounds of David's pencil scratching against the paper.

The next time he was aware of anything was David stroking his face.

"Hey," he said softly.

"Hey," Matteo said, "can I see?"

David nodded and moved some of Matteo's books and papers out of the way then climbed up beside him, handing him the book.

Matteo held it in his hands like a treasure and ran his fingers over the page. It was him, laying there, surrounded by books. But it was the expression on Matteo's face that David had captured. He'd never seen himself look like this, so calm, so peaceful. He looked so relaxed and at ease. It was beautiful.

"Thank you for showing me," Matteo said.

David nodded and turned back a few pages, to the secret pages. He opened them up carefully. Oh. Matteo saw instantly that these were David's innermost thoughts, fears, worries. Hopes and dreams too. He stopped on a picture, a sketch of a crying boy in a dress, angry tears streaming down his face. It was a collage, stuck over what looked like the entrance to a school building. Then the same boy in shorts and a t-shirt, hand in hand with an older girl, both of them scared but determined, on a train station platform.

"You and Laura?"

"I found some old photos, but they were wrong. I made them right?"

Matteo turned the page and frowned. It was the bird with the broken wing, but it was in the bottom corner of the page. It was hunched and alone, unable to fly. Tall trees looming over it. Matteo closed his eyes, overwhelmed by the emotion it evoked in him.

"Here hold on," David said, taking the book and flicking through to another page. The bird was there, perched on a branch this time, there was another bird beside it.

"Is that me?" Matteo asked.

David shrugged, blushing.

"But..."

"But?"

"You've drawn me whole," Matteo whispered.

David shook his head and Matteo looked closer. His bird was leaning against David's. It only had one leg. They were holding each other up.

"We help each other," David said.

Matteo nodded and stared. "Wow... this is so... wow, you're so clever with this David. Because you see, both these birds, they could be ok, but together they are more than ok," he said, realising he didn't need to use fancy words to explain what he saw. David wanted to hear it, whatever his thoughts were.

"Thank you," David said, blushing even more at the praise.

"We help each other," Matteo said, "we... lean on each other?"

"Exactly. I think you might be my favourite thing to draw," David said.

"Shut up David," Matteo muttered, hiding his face.

David just pushed him down and climbed on top of him, pulling his hands away. "I'm not teasing you," he said seriously. He reached out and stroked Matteo's face. "You're so fucking pretty I could stare at you for hours," he said.

"David stop," Matteo whispered.

"And god when you blush, your pink cheeks take my breath away. The way your eyes sparkle with mischief whenever you grin. Your ridiculous hair that looks like it's never seen a comb, but still looks so good."

"David stop, I'm dying," Matteo whined.

"Don't get me started on your lips Matteo," David said, running his finger over his bottom lip. Then his lips were pressed against Matteo's, and they were kissing.

It was inevitable really, had been since the moment David admitted he was drawing Matteo. It had him feeling a certain kind of way. David's hands were in his hair, holding him in place. Like Matteo was going anywhere. No he was going to stay here kissing David until he ran out of air.

David's hands moved from his hair to cup his jaw tenderly before moving lower and lower. They crept under his shirt, tracing patterns over his stomach.

"Is this ok?" David whispered against his lips

Matteo nodded, he couldn't speak right now. He couldn't breathe. He couldn't think. He just stared up at David.

"Matteo?" David checked.

"What are we doing?" Matteo choked out finally.

"No idea. Nothing. I just wanna touch you, ok? Just touch," David said.

Matteo closed his eyes, he was getting close to overwhelmed. David's hands were getting lower and lower. When they dipped below his waistband, thumbs pressing into his hipbones, Matteo sucked in a sharp breath. He couldn't help it. Things were getting a little fast, a little blurry. He was starting to feel a little lost. David stopped there, waiting.

"You still with me?"

Matteo didn't answer, his mind was going a mile a minute. His heart was pounding in his chest. He was clinging to the sheets to stop his hands trembling.

"Matteo," David said, digging his thumbs in hard.

"David," Matteo whispered brokenly, eyes finally opening to see David looking down at him. He looked a little concerned, but also filled with want.

He returned his hands to Matteo's face, holding it gently, tenderly, like it was the most precious thing his hands had ever felt. He kissed him again, this time without the heat, without the intensity. Bringing him back, grounding him.

"David," Matteo whispered again.

"I know." David kissed him once more and rolled off him, throwing his books to the floor in the process.

Matteo didn't even care. He felt bereft without David's weight on him. But it didn't matter, David pulled him against his chest, stroking his hair, kissing his temple.

"Was that ok?"

"Yeah," Matteo said.

"I didn't push you?"

"No, yeah a little, I..."

David just continued to press soft kisses all over Matteo's face.

"I've never felt like that," David admitted.

Matteo knew he shouldn't say it. "Horny?" he asked, grinning to himself.

David squeezed him tight for that. Matteo wasn't sure if that was supposed to be punishment. It didn't feel like it. Being squeezed was one of his favourite things.

"No Matteo, I've felt horny before," David said, patient and amused. "But... I thought... I thought I would need more time."

"What do you mean?"

"I want you, I want this, when you're ready Matteo... I want you," David said.

Matteo's stared, if David wasn't careful he was going to get overwhelmed again.

"Ok," he whispered.

"And... and... we need to talk obviously, but you've been learning right... about me?"

Matteo nodded.

"My body... it's not..."

"It's not like the pictures Hans showed me? Don't worry neither is mine," Matteo said, trying his best to stop the shame that was creeping over David's face in its tracks.

David laughed then, relaxing into him.

"It was all buff dudes?"

"Yeah and... yeah..."

"I mean, would you rather see Hans' own pics?"

"Absolutely not," Matteo said.

"All that was fake probably, no matter what it wouldn't be like that for us but... but... you understand how I'm different?"

Matteo nodded.

"And that's ok?"

"Yeah but... I won't have any idea what I'm doing," Matteo admitted.

"Me neither... well no I... I'm pretty sure I can make you feel good, doesn't seem all that tricky," David teased.

"Hey!"

"Matteo I only touched you here." David leant over him and ran his finger along his hipbone again, causing Matteo to shudder and David to grin. "See easy."

Matteo rolled his eyes and dipping his hand under the waistband of David's joggers. Just below the small of his back. He traced all the way round so their touch was mirrored and David collapsed against him, shivering.

"Fuck," he whispered.

"Oh it is easy," Matteo said.

"Fuck you Matteo."

"We'll learn?"

"We will and it might not be easy, sometimes it will be really hard for me, to let you see me, touch me, but... right now I want you to touch me everywhere and I've never felt like this Matteo, this trust I have for you, I've never felt it before, not like this," David admitted.

"It's scary?"

"Terrifying, but the good kind of terrifying."

"Yeah... we'll just keep talking yeah?"

"Yeah, we're getting pretty good at that. I want you to tell me what you want and what you don't and I'll do the same. Like for me, there's some shit I just can't do, some places where you can't touch me and things I will need ok?"

"Ok," Matteo said. He frowned while he processed David's words.

"Ok Matteo? You've gone quiet," David said, nudging him to speak.

"I don't know if there's stuff like that for me?"

"Boundaries? There will be, we'll figure them out. But you gotta talk to me ok? You gotta tell me when you feel uncomfortable, and I will do the same," David said.

"Yeah ok. I can't... believe we're talking about this," Matteo said.

"What do you mean?"

"The boys are always talking about sex, nothing like this, but... I always felt uncomfortable, showing myself you know? Even now I'm out with them I don't know if I could. Maybe with Jonas or... not in that casual way they have," Matteo tried to explain.

"It's because you're still getting used to your normal. Their idea of sex is different to ours and it's been pushed on them and normalised probably since they first hit puberty and I don't know if you realised but... you probably felt like it was all wrong, uncomfortable and didn't fit you. Now you've found what does, you're still behind and it still feels odd, right? Different to the norm," David said.

"It feels like I shouldn't talk about it, like it's something I should keep hidden. Even when Hans was talking to me, I felt like it was something shameful. Even though it was fucking embarrassing the way he did it, it did help, seeing how comfortable he is, how fucking unashamed he is for the way he loves, did help me a little and..."

"It's so fucking hard Matteo. I hope you can get there, I hope you can make dirty jokes with your friends without even blinking, that we both can. But right now you have me and I have you, and we can be completely true to ourselves," David said firmly.

Matteo smiled then, and held David close. He liked that thought. He was behind, of course he was. The idea of what was normal had been pushed on him for years, so of course it was difficult to see past that. But he would, he'd get there. And for now he could talk about this stuff with David, easily and comfortably. And that was all he needed.

 

 

 

It was finally here. His biology exam. David had dropped him off and promised to be back for him later. Matteo wasn't sure why he wasn't waiting with him, he'd been pretty quick to leave him. There were still ten minutes to go, and Matteo was standing outside Dr Steinberg's room. He was trying to stay calm, but it wasn't easy.

"Hey," Amira said, walking up to him.

"Hi?"

"David sent me," she explained.

Oh, that's where he'd gone. He knew he couldn't reassure Matteo on this, but Amira could.

"This is a good idea," she continued.

Matteo nodded.

"You're really nervous huh?"

"Yeah," he whispered.

"I can't tell you it won't be hard. But you know your shit Matteo," she assured him.

"Yeah?"

"Yes. Whenever I quiz you, you've got the answers. If your mind goes blank in the exam, just take your time, take a deep breath and wait for the answers to come. Don't get hung up on what you can't answer, focus on the stuff you know," she told him.

Matteo nodded. He trusted her. He could do this. He could just take his time and answer as much as possible. He knew some stuff. He could answer those questions first and then worry about the trickier stuff.

"At least you're not hungry, right?"

"Right?"

Laura had made him eat breakfast that morning even though he felt sick with nerves. At least it was just toast and not green smoothies. Apparently she'd given that up pretty quickly.

"I ate," he said.

"I'm starving, it's Ramadan," Amira explained.

"Shit, how will you even focus?"

"I find it makes me more focussed actually," Amira said, "I'm hungry right now, but when I get in there and sit down, it will fade. I don't know how it works, but that's how it is for me. I think I'm lucky it's a morning exam, if it was in the afternoon it would be worse."

"You're very strong, to put it out of your mind," Matteo said.

Amira smiled and looked at her watch. "Five minutes, I better go, good luck Matteo."

"Wait... I... if I wanted to study psychology do you think I could do it? Not soon but... maybe in a year or two," he said.

"Absolutely," she said, without pausing.

"I... really?"

"Yes Matteo really. I like bio because I want to go into medicine, I'm interested in the facts. You get caught up in all the little details, the imprecise stuff we don't really understand yet, and it doesn't frustrate you at all. I think you'd be really good at it. I want to go into cardiology, like my dad, and obviously every one is different, but there's only a limited scope of options for it. It has an end you know? Psychology doesn't every single brain, every single condition is a little different per person. But there are similarities you use to tie it all together. It's far more complex than how I am putting it, but I think you'll thrive on that complexity. It can be both so vague and so precise and while I would absolutely hate that, because I need an answer, I think you can accept that sometimes there isn't one."

Matteo nodded and took a deep breath, feeling trembly. "Thank you," he whispered.

Amira smiled. "Good luck in there," she said, before leaving him to it.

 

 

 

Matteo was getting himself wound up. He could feel it. He was halfway through the exam; it had been going well, or he thought it had. He was starting to get confused. He wasn't sure if he'd done any of it right. He'd already answered all the short questions, but now he thought he'd done them wrong. If he had, there wasn't enough time to do them again. He took a deep breath to calm himself. Then another. He couldn't take a third, couldn't get enough air in. He couldn't breathe. He was suffocating. This was worse than Spanish, the panic had come on so suddenly. He was getting dizzy.

"I need you to breathe for me, Matteo," Dr Steinberg said gently. She was right in front of him, but she was blurry. He blinked to try and clear his vision, but it didn't help. He tried to breathe like she asked, but it got caught in his throat.

"Ok let’s try to focus on something else, can you tell me three things you can see right now?" she asked.

He stopped trying to calm his breath and tried to focus his eyes instead.

"The desk," he choked out. "The board... the... the... clock..." he gasped, finally taking a deeper breath.

"Ok, now three things you can feel?"

When he slid off his chair to the floor, Dr Steinberg just crouched beside him.

"My clothes, the desk," he said, reaching out for the table leg. "The floor against my cheek."

"Does that feel good?"

"Yeah," he said.

"Focus on that," she suggested.

He did, he closed his eyes and focused on the cool floor until his heart rate slowed.

"Ok?" Dr Steinberg asked.

He opened his eyes and stared up at her for a moment. Then he sat up slowly.

"Carefully, that's it," she said.

When he was upright, he took a few deep breaths, finally calm.

"Doing ok? Feel sick?"

He nodded.

"Are you going to throw up?"

"No," he said quietly.

"Let's get you back into the chair," Dr Steinberg said, helping him up.

"Sorry," he mumbled.

"Not at all, it's why I'm here," she said.

She'd known this would probably happen, he realised. Yes, she was giving him the room to himself because she knew it would help with his focus. But she'd heard about what happened in Spanish, she knew it was likely to happen again, and it was better for both him, and the other students if it could happen out of sight. If this had happened in the classroom, with all the other students, that would've been it. He would have had to leave and never come back. But he really felt like he could keep going. If he could calm down a little bit more, stop his hands from trembling, then he thought he might be able to continue.

"How are you feeling?" she asked.

"Shaky," he said.

"Can you continue? I know it's hard," Steinberg said.

"I... can you just read what I've put?”

"Matteo," she warned.

You don't have to tell me, but look here 'the function of the lysosome?' like how much detail does it want? Because I know it's for intracellular digestion, but I also read that it can play a role in fighting infection and actually it's kind of dependent on the cells signal function but it doesn't specify here what that is."

"Oh Matteo you're getting caught up," Steinberg said. "You know too much huh? That's your problem. But see here, it's only worth one mark, just a simple answer is required."

"I've already written too much?"

"You won't be docked marks for that, but we also can't give you extra, so try to focus a little, check how many marks the question is worth. You've clearly been doing further learning, but the paper isn't taking that into account I'm afraid."

"Amira has too, she gave me all this extra stuff to read," Matteo told her.

"And it's given you more than enough knowledge to get through this paper," Dr Steinberg assured him.

"Oh. I know too much?"

"You know plenty Matteo, carry on ok? And if you're stressed about a question call me back over and we'll talk it through. I can't explain the questions, or the answers, but I can do what I need to calm you down ok? You have two hours left, is that enough? You've already written a lot."

"I've done most of the short questions."

"Well done," she said.

"This question, response to environment, this is twenty marks, this wants a lot right? I can write a lot about this," he said, he wasn't even really asking. He had an idea of what he wanted to write, so he started scribbling away. He wouldn't get any points for his writing style, but he hoped to bring up his marks with the content.

"I will warn you when you have half an hour left," Steinberg said, going back to the front.

"Ok thank you, Dr Steinberg," he said, while he outlined the factors of internal and external environments.

He wasn't misunderstanding the questions. Amira had taught him too much at a higher level because that was how she learnt. She learnt more than just what was needed for the exam; she learnt everything around that too. And so had he. His problem was he was so worried about the questions being tricks, of misunderstanding them, that he hadn't been able to differentiate the extra stuff he'd learnt as irrelevant and had been stressing about how to get it in. He was going to put it in his essay question. He knew he wouldn't get extra marks, but he'd learnt so much about this and he had two hours, he could get it all written down. For the first time, he thought he just might pass this one.

 

 

 

When he finally stepped out of the classroom, he was done; he was absolutely exhausted. He was shaking with it. Dr Steinberg looked like she was in two minds whether or not to let him go. She needn't have worried, the moment he stepped out of the room he was in David's arms. Amira was there too, but he couldn't focus on anything else but David right now.

"Ok?" David whispered after a few minutes.

Matteo nodded and pulled away.

"It went ok," he mumbled.

"Yeah?"

"Yeah. Well no I had a panic attack, a bad one, I ended up on the floor, but Dr Steinberg just talked me out of it, and it was ok," Matteo told them.

"I never realised it was this bad," Amira said, clearly concerned for him.

He shrugged. "It's... class is pretty bad, but manageable. I put too much into the exams. I start to think I've answered something wrong, and then I think I've failed, and then it's like, I've failed all the exams and I'm going to lose everything, that I've ruined everything. And that all the people who told me I could do it will be mad. So then I'm sitting there desperate to fix it, to make it right. But I start doubting all my answers and think I need to start again... but there's no time so I just freeze and sit there spiralling and that's when I stop breathing."

"God," Amira whispered.

"But Dr Steinberg noticed immediately and helped me out of it, then she told me not to overthink the questions, that I should have more faith in my answers and it helped. She reminded me to think about what I did know, not what I didn't," Matteo explained.

"That's so good Matteo," David said.

"So we're done," Amira said with a smile. "How does it feel?"

Matteo shrugged. "I don't know if I'm done. Everyone wants me to do resits to bring up my grades, for Spanish, and maybe biology, depending on how today went."

"You should, right? I know it's fucking hard and asking a lot of you, but getting your grades up now will make it easier for you later. And you're at a disadvantage right now, so you deserve a little extra help, a little boost," Amira said.

"I know, I know," Matteo mumbled.

It still felt embarrassing that he needed to do this.

"You definitely could, you had panic attacks in both exams," David reminded him.

"Exactly," Amira said. "My older brother had food poisoning when he sat his geography paper, he still went in but had to leave because he was throwing up. They let him do resits a few weeks later it was fine."

"Ok fine, thank you," Matteo said, right now they couldn't convince him of anything, he felt too raw.

"You're in it right now huh?" David asked gently.

"David I wanna go home, please," Matteo begged.

David just nodded and wrapped an arm around him, they said their goodbyes and then he led him away. Matteo didn't want to think anymore, and he didn't have to. He let David do the work, let David get him home safely. He let David help him and take care of him and for the first time it felt truly ok. He was allowed to feel exhausted, he'd had a tough day. And on Friday David was going to have a tough day and then it would be Matteo's turn to take care of him.

 

 

 

School was over. He knew he had more work to do, but he still felt like he'd finished, like he could relax. All the boys felt the same. Matteo was watching them now, running around the field, yelling and screaming like children. They were all done with exams. Except David, he still had sports on Friday. Matteo wasn't sure if that was why they were all playing football. He didn't think this was good practice for him. They were all drunk. It had fallen to Matteo to watch them, keep score. He didn't mind being sober for this; they were all pretty funny.

He wasn't keeping score though. They wouldn't even notice. He watched David score another goal then leap on Abdi's back, and they ran around the field cheering. He was pretty sure David was winning. Carlos hadn't scored anything and Jonas had only scored one. Between them Abdi and David had three. Or four. Matteo wasn't sure, but David was definitely winning. He was also definitely drunk.

Matteo just waved fondly at him. David climbed off Abdi's back and jogged over to him. The other boys followed him, grabbing more beer as they did.

"Did you see my goal?" David said, throwing his arms around Matteo.

"I did, it was very impressive," Matteo said.

"I think I'm drunk," David said.

"Yeah?"

"I've never been drunk with friends before," David told him.

"Have you been drunk alone?"

"Nah with Laura, but this is more fun," David said.

"Yeah?"

"I'm having so much fun," David said, grabbing Matteo and kissing him until Carlos whistled.

"Oi oi," Abdi said.

Matteo just pulled back and leant against David, he felt a little drunk himself. He always felt a little drunk around David, a little high, a little giddy. It was wonderful. He'd thought now that they were ok, now that they were together, he wouldn't still get butterflies, but every time he saw David his stomach did somersaults. It was wonderful. He hoped he always did.

David pulled him in for a kiss and then another, he kissed him until Matteo shoved him away. David was just being silly now because he was drunk. Matteo rolled his eyes when he pouted and pulled him close, smiling when he snuggled against him. Apparently David was a clingy drunk and Matteo was loving it.

"Ok boys," Carlos said, gathering them all round. "Boys, school is over-"

"Not for me," David muttered.

"School is over for all of us, but David, he has to run around on Friday-"

"Fuck off Carlos! It's not running around!"

"David has to run around and lift weights on Friday, but the rest of us are free!" Carlos yelled.

All of the boys clinked their bottles, then bumped fists with Matteo.

"Freedom!" Abdi cheered.

"So what next boys?" Jonas asked.

"Summer?" Matteo suggested.

"Fuck yeah! Are we doing anything?" Abdi asked.

"I... I had no plans... I didn't think I'd make to summer," Matteo admitted quietly.

They all turned a little serious and Matteo squirmed a little at the attention, but he wanted to be honest.

"I... I didn't think I had a future, or one that wasn't worth much and... it was hard to keep going like that. But for the first time in a long time I have hope. I have ideas of what I want to do, what I can do, but also... even if that doesn't work out, even if I never get anywhere really and just do enough to get by that's ok. Because do you know what I realised recently? I'm fucking strong. I've pulled myself out time and time again. Me. You all helped, I needed all of you, but it was me. I'm strong," Matteo said.

"You are so fucking strong Matteo," Abdi said.

"Matteo, I see you try every day, I see you dragging yourself through, the way you keep going inspires me you know?" Carlos said gently.

Matteo wiped his eyes, and David gave him a squeeze when he saw he was getting emotional.

"Guys, I fucking love you, even you David. You're new but you're one of us now ok?" Jonas said.

"Ok," David said. He was amused, but Matteo could see the delight on his face, it was so beautiful.

Matteo kissed him on the cheek.

"Boys?"

"Yeah?"

"I'm scared, that we're all going to go in different directions now we don't have school," Carlos said.

"Won't happen Carlos," Jonas assured him.

"Yeah bro, don't worry," Abdi said.

"Carlos we're not friends because of school," Matteo said, echoing Hanna's words from the other week. "We met because of school, but that's not why we're friends. We're friends because you're amazing, and you always make me smile, all of you. We're friends because when things are dark for me you do everything you can to cheer me up, even when I'm grumpy. When Abdi's moping about girls, we throw him sick parties and tease him until he smiles. We're just there for each other. That's why we're friends. And David? You're part of that now too ok? You have all of us, these guys are my family, and you're part of that now," Matteo said.

The boys cheered and surrounded them.

David just nodded, eyes shining.

After a few minutes, the boys ran back to the field, but David held back. He stood by Matteo's side, staring at the others mucking about.

"Thank you Matteo," David whispered.

"It's just the truth," Matteo said.

"I know. Thank you for saying it. Thank you for wearing your heart on your fucking sleeve. Thank you for teaching me to open up, and let people in. It's been terrifying, but so fucking wonderful, and I've never felt like this before. It's not you, this is who I am, who I've been hiding away and... you saw it anyway. Now for the first time in a long time I feel brave enough to be myself, not the guy who hides in the shadows you know?"

"David you should never be in the fucking shadows, you shine so brightly and everyone should see it."

"I fucking love you Matteo Florenzi," David said, finally turning to face him, staring at him with that intense look of his.

Matteo just blushed and ducked his head, stepping into David's space.

"You taught me how to hope again, no you taught me to trust my own hopes and dreams, and I fucking love you too," Matteo said.

David smiled, reached out and grabbed Matteo's collar, pulling him close, pressing their lips together. Matteo was beyond emotional at this point, so he poured those emotions into the kiss. He could tell David felt similarly, the way he gripped Matteo's shirt like he never wanted to let go. Matteo never wanted him to let go, never wanted to stop doing this. It was pure passion and love. It was everything.

 

 

 

Matteo didn't much care for sports, never had, but he could watch this all day. He could watch David do this all day. That morning David had said he didn't have to come watch, that it would be boring.

There was nothing boring about this.

They'd started with warm-ups, running laps around the gym, stretching all over the place. Matteo had stared at them, watching David stretch, bend, flex, do whatever it was he needed to do to get ready for his exam. Matteo had stared and stared. He'd never thought stretching was hot until now.

He was such a fucking hypocrite. Just a few weeks ago he couldn't understand what was interesting about watching those girls dancing.

He got it now.

When they were all warmed up, the class moved out onto the field to do the actual exam. Matteo trailed after them. No one else had come to watch. It was just him standing around at the edge of the field. Well him and Neuhaus. Matteo kept his distance from him after he glared. He just stood by himself, as close as he could get to David to get the best view.

He'd watched David throw discus impossibly far. When he'd stepped up to throw the javelin, he'd turned to Matteo and winked. Matteo had blushed, he wanted to duck his head, but he couldn't because he wanted to see David throw, so he'd just stared and tried to keep his cool while his face had gotten hotter and hotter. As distracted as Matteo was by David, he didn't miss how impressed Neuhaus was by him. Annoyed, but impressed nonetheless. Matteo got it, David looked fucking majestic.

After all the throwing, he'd watched David run distances Matteo couldn't even imagine. But he didn't feel tired watching him, he felt like he was buzzing with energy. He'd known David was fit and sporty, that much was clear in the way he always ran around. He'd known David was strong from the way he wrestled Matteo all over the place, from the way he held him so tight. He'd known all of that. But he hadn't known just how powerful he was. How fucking good he would look, focusing all that power. When he was running, David looked almost angry in his determination. Matteo didn't think he'd ever seen focus like that. He made it look so easy. And to think Neuhaus hadn't wanted to mark him correctly. Was he mad? How could he not see what David could do?

By the time they were back in the gym for warm down Matteo was feeling hot all over. He was tempted to step out and calm down, but he couldn't move. He was just sitting there staring, looking exactly as dumb as the boys had the other day.

He stayed sitting there even after they were done. He couldn't exactly follow David into the locker rooms anyway. He sat there until Neuhaus told him to get out. So he dragged himself up from the benches, wondering where he was supposed to meet David.

He didn't need to worry. The moment he stepped out into the hallway David was on him, dragging him down a corridor and shoving him into an empty classroom. As soon as they were inside, David shut the door and shoved him against it. Then he stepped back and stared at Matteo until Matteo had to close his eyes, too close to being overwhelmed.

"You did so good," Matteo whispered.

"I did," David agreed, "it felt so fucking good to do that, as me."

"You looked good too," Matteo mumbled.

"Yeah? I saw you watching me," David said, stepping into his space, pressing him into the door, trailing kisses along his jaw.

Matteo kept his eyes closed. When David's lips trailed down to his neck, Matteo felt like he was going to combust. He'd never felt heat like this, it was like a fire within him, consuming him.

"David," he warned.

"What?" David mumbled against his neck, his hands trailing down his sides and under Matteo's shirt, causing him to shiver.

"We're in school," Matteo said, sighing as he melted under David's touch.

"So?"

"David," he warned again.

David groaned and pulled back, resting his forehead against Matteo's.

"All this sport has you feeling a certain kinda way huh?" Matteo asked, grabbing David's hands and entwining their fingers.

David just chuckled and finally pulled back to look at him with dark eyes.

"You've got me feeling a certain kind of way," he said, which caused Matteo to blush again. Although he wasn't sure he'd ever stopped.

"You're free now. You did your exams as you, you're going to graduate as you," Matteo said.

"Not on paper," David argued.

"Fuck paper David, you fucking showed Neuhaus today, you ran rings around him. Paper can be changed, but what you did today, nothing can erase that," Matteo said.

"Fucking love you," David said, kissing him again then leading him out of the classroom.

"Where are we going?"

"How about I take you on that date?" David said.

Matteo just smiled and let him pull him along.

 

 

 

It didn't take long for Matteo to figure out they were headed to the pool. It didn't take much longer to figure out David was pretty much winging it. But they'd stopped at a bakery on the way, so at least there was going to be food. Matteo didn't really care what they did for their date, as long as he was with David he was happy. He didn't need fancy dinners at a restaurant, slightly squashed sandwiches in an abandoned pool was his idea of perfect.

Still it didn't stop Matteo teasing once they got there.

"So what's the plan then?" he asked innocently, knowing full well David didn't have one.

"I... er... we can hang out here?" David suggested.

Matteo grinned. He knew it.

"Interesting choice for a date Schreibner," he teased. "Very romantic."

"Oh fuck off," David said, handing him his sandwich.

He settled down against the edge of the pool, and then Matteo settled against him.

"I just wanted to come back here with you, I didn't have a plan or anything, but I wanted to come back here. It was important. We have a lot of places you know? The school where I used to watch you in the corridors. Your apartment, my apartment, hell even the bus, but this one is special to me. This was where I was brave. This was where I made a choice. I almost kissed you at the party the week before, I really wanted to. This was different. I didn't bring you out here to kiss you. I brought you out here because you needed quiet, you needed to be away from people. But when I saw it work, when I saw you starting to relax, saw all that frustration leave you and the relief set in, I knew what I wanted."

"What did you want?"

"I didn't have a plan. I liked you, I knew that, but I never thought it would work. I never thought I would get to have this, so it was all kind of half hearted because I thought it would all get snatched away from me. I was careful. I freaked out. I ran away from you even though it was fucking hard. I tried to stay away from you," David said.

Matteo frowned, David was talking about before the pool and Matteo wasn't sure what he was talking about. Maybe after his panic attack? David had ignored him the rest of that week.

"I... you did?"

"I was really bad at it," David said with a shrug. "But when we got here, and it was just us. There was no one around, and it felt like we were the last two boys in the world. And I realised I didn't mind that idea at all. I knew I liked you, I knew I wanted you, but that was when I knew I needed more. I wanted to be with you, and for that you needed to know me. I wanted to take a chance and have you stay. I decided to tell you. Not then, but I knew I was going to. That this was real and it absolutely couldn't be casual, I couldn't possibly have something casual with you. I wanted it all. I wanted all of you, and for that you deserved all of me in return."

"Fucking hell David," Matteo whispered.

David wrapped his arms around him. "I was going to tell you in the park."

"I told you not to?"

"That almost broke me, the way you said you didn't want to hear it, if it caused me pain. You knew I wasn't telling you stuff, but you didn't push at all. Matteo I've never seen patience like that," David said.

"But... you left me," Matteo said. He hated thinking about that time. Not because of David, but because of how he'd reacted. It was the most unstable he'd ever felt, and it had taken a lot out of him.

"I did," David said, looking ashamed of himself.

Matteo couldn't have that, he did understand why David did it; he understood he wasn't trying to hurt him. If anything, it was the opposite; he was pushing Matteo away because he thought it was for the best.

"I overreacted, but it hurt... I... my emotions and feelings can be really intense sometimes, and I know reading back over those messages, I can see what you were saying but... yeah it fucked me up," Matteo said.

He was always quick to react, to anger, to cry. But to smile and to laugh too. His emotions ran at the very surface and they were so intense sometimes. But they were real, just because they seemed like an overreaction to some didn't make them wrong. When he read David's messages he was devastated, that was truly how it felt to him. Maybe it was out of proportion, but not to him. Not to David either, he picked that up pretty quickly. Matteo knew he hadn't meant to hurt him, that he was devastated as soon as he realised what he'd done. Matteo knew panic too, knew the actions they took when they were afraid weren't always the best ones.

"I'm sorry," David said.

"It's ok, I kinda needed it, I needed to get on track properly, I was half assing it before. But... at the park you were upset, why? It wasn't because I told you not to tell?"

"It was because of what you said about Sara, how she deserved so much, because she was so kind and full of love and I was just staring at you and thinking how can you not see yourself in the same way? Here I had the most patient, wonderful boy sitting in front of me... how could I ever hope to be enough?"

That was just stupid, but Matteo wasn't going to say that right now. Self-doubt was a powerful thing, and David deserved to voice his worries.

"Oh," he said, instead of arguing.

"I thought you deserved more. I was going to run away, from you, but I couldn't. I fucking couldn't even before you came over I was trying to figure out ways I could keep you. I was desperate, If you hadn't come over I would've probably shown up the next day and told you," David said.

"But I came over," Matteo said, wondering what changed.

"And I remembered you had shit. And I had no idea what, but I could hear you outside and I knew I'd caused that. I was scared, so scared I'd hurt you. I realised how much I was hurting you, not letting you in. So I texted you, told you you deserved better. But then I was too worried, I had to know you were ok," David said.

"So you sent me a load more messages?"

"Yeah. I am sorry for messing you around," David said.

"It's ok. I wasn't in a place where I could be rational, but if I was... I look back at those messages, the first two and... I'd been on the edge of something all day, but if I hadn't been, I would've been upset sure. But the next day I would've come back calling bullshit."

"Yeah, you would and I would've told you right then and there," David said.

Matteo believed him, they'd been so close, neither of them could've stayed away. But it was better that David got the time he needed, to tell him under his own steam, without the pressure there.

"It was better this way, I got better on my own, I learnt how strong I was... I got to tell you my own truth when I was ready, you never pushed. If you'd have told me earlier, if it had been easier for you to tell, I think the pressure to tell my own shit would've killed me."

David nodded, he got it. The way everything fell into place the way it did was the right way. They may have gone through it, but they'd emerged so fucking strong. David had seen him at his worst. No, not his worst, but he'd seen a side of Matteo that he never wanted anyone to see. He'd seen that, and he was still here, knowing it was going to happen again. And David had got to share his truth, not because he had to, but because he wanted to.

"As painful as it was I'm happy it worked out this way," David said, clearly thinking the same thing.

"But..."

"But?"

"Can I ask one more thing?" Matteo asked, something that had been bothering him since he thought of it earlier.

"Of course," David said.

"Why did you ignore me... after my panic attack?"

"Oh... you caught me coming out of the wrong bathroom, they make me use the teachers' one," David explained.

That was such a simple explanation, and not the one he'd expected. In his defence, he hadn't even noticed.

"Oh. You thought I'd figure it out?"

"Yeah it's dumb, and you weren't messaging me, obviously because you thought I wasn't messaging you because of the panic attack, but in the moment it was because I was worried you'd figured me out," David said, realising they'd both been stupid.

All of this stuff was important though, they'd learnt how important it was to talk to each other, if they didn't they would constantly misunderstand each other. It was like Lydia said, he could guess all he wanted, but he had no idea what David was really thinking. Only David could tell him that.

"Ok, for the record David, you could have walked out of that bathroom completely naked and I wouldn't have noticed. I can't. When I'm in it like that, I have no idea what's going on. And afterwards, it's kinda blocked out, because I can't bear to think about it."

"Noted," David said, then he started giggling at the idea.

Matteo shoved him, and then they were rolling around on the floor, wrestling each other. David won. Of course. But Matteo put up a good fight. They ended up in the middle of the pool, side by side, staring up at the ceiling.

"I won't do that again. Pull away. There will be times when it's hard for me. When everything feels wrong and you can't help me. I'll push you away in those times, just like you do, it's why I get it, it's why I stay when you push," David said.

"You want me to stay when you push?" Matteo asked. He always wanted David to stay, even when he was yelling at him to leave.

"I do, but if I'm harsh, if I'm mean you should walk away, keep yourself safe. Just know I never mean it, I'm getting better at being gentle. I was gentle before and I tried to stamp it out, it made me kinda harsh, kind of short with people. You've seen it. I'm working on it, but if I hurt you, you fucking call me out ok? Me struggling with being trans, with my dysphoria is not an excuse to be shitty. You always apologise after you've behaved badly because of your depression, I will do the same ok? And I will be better, because I don't ever want to hurt you."

"It's ok. I get it I think. I don't know what dysphoria feels like, but I do know hopelessness, I do know... you must feel frustration that your body's not right?"

"I do," David said, sighing and closing his eyes.

"I feel like that about my brain, that I can't just be normal and it makes me mean sometimes, makes me want to be alone and wallow in it," Matteo said.

David looked at him and smiled.

"It's the same for me, sometimes my body feels all wrong and I hate it and I feel like no one understands so I push them away, but you don't have to be going through this to understand I'm in pain, you get it, we need to try and let each other in when we get like that," David said.

"Lift each other back up?"

"And our friends too," David said.

"Yeah, because we're not alone, you're not alone and you never have to be again," Matteo promised.

David nodded.

"I could've done it alone, but it would've been so hard, and what the fuck would I have become going through life alone like that? It was already making me colder, harsher, that wasn't me. With you, with our friends, everything is lighter. I feel like I can be the me that I've hidden away for so long. I don't have to be tough or aloof. I can be silly, hell I can be fucking soft who gives a shit? I can be gentle and it doesn't mean I'm not strong. Look at you you're nothing but gentleness, patience and kindness, you are so filled with love it spills out of you in every word. But I see you on days that are a struggle, I see you fighting your mind. It would be easy for you to be cold, to hurt, to become cruel with it, it takes true strength to keep hold of all that love that makes you you."

"Fucking hell David," Matteo whispered.

"Yeah," David agreed, turning to him.

There was nothing else he could say to that, so Matteo kissed him.

This really was it.

David was staring at him and he felt completely naked, completely on show. David could see all of him, every aspect, good and bad. And he loved him. He loved him, but even more importantly he understood him, he knew why he loved him; it was so complex, but at the same time so easy. Matteo knew it because he felt the same way.

Loving David was as easy as breathing. Breathing came naturally to him, just like his love for David. It seemed simple; breathe in, breathe out. It wasn't simple at all, breathing was one of the most complex processes he knew. Behind the scenes, so much more was going on. Just like his love for David. It was love, but it was also hard work, understanding, and trust.

Breathing wasn't always easy. Sometimes for Matteo breathing was almost impossible. It felt that way with David, that it should be impossible, to love him, be loved by him. But he wouldn't stop breathing. And he wouldn't stop loving David.

Chapter Text

Matteo knew he was truly coming out of it now. He had more energy than he'd had in days. It wasn't a huge amount, but it was getting late and he was still wide awake.

It wasn't really that late, only just after seven, but Matteo found his energy usually started to flag around this time. He was glad though. It was nice to be awake and to spend his time with David. Or it would be if David would pay attention to him. He was busy sketching something in his book.

It was difficult having an artist for a boyfriend sometimes.

"I'm bored," Matteo whined.

"What do you want me to do?" David teased, not looking up from his sketchbook.

"Entertain me," he said.

He usually didn't mind just sitting with David, doing his own thing, but tonight he wanted attention.

"You should entertain me really," David said, amused. "This is your place," he reminded him, tossing aside his sketchbook and climbing into Matteo's lap.

Matteo just stared for a moment, biting his lip. He didn't have an argument for that. So he just continued to stare up at David. "I just want your attention," he admitted.

"Ok you've got it," David said, smiling down at him fondly. "You're happy," he said.

"I am," Matteo said.

"I'm happy you're happy," David said.

"It's more than that," Matteo said, closing his eyes when David reached out and cupped his face.

"What is it?"

"I have energy, but it's not restless. The exhaustion is gone. It's not easy, it's still fragile but... my mood is ok. I can be happy without it being too much, that's what I'm at right now," Matteo explained.

He didn't know if he was making sense, but when he opened his eyes, David was looking at him with understanding in his eyes. He didn't need Matteo to make sense; he knew him well enough to understand him with ease.

David just kissed him. Then kissed him again.

"Seeing you happy like this makes me happy," he said.

"Kiss me again," Matteo said.

David did, he kissed Matteo until he was breathless, then kissed him some more. God, Matteo would never tire of this feeling, this warmth that spread through him, every time David kissed him. He felt completely boneless, completely relaxed and yet there was a tension there too, energy thrumming through him. It was almost like the restlessness he got sometimes, in that he needed to do something to ease it. He just wasn't sure what.

David looked like he might know. He was staring down at Matteo with determination in his eyes. He was waiting. Matteo nodded and David crept his hands under his shirt. He loved to do this, to touch him. Matteo loved it too, loved how it felt, the reverence with which David touched him. He felt some of that restlessness ease, but it wasn't enough, he needed more.

David could tell. He was smirking at him, amused by how needy he was getting. He continued to trace his patterns, the ones that only he knew. Matteo just lay back and closed his eyes, trembling now.

"David," he whispered.

"I've got you," David assured him.

He kept one hand under his shirt, but the other he moved to Matteo's face, cupping it, making him open his eyes.

"Ok?"

Matteo nodded.

"Ok Matteo?" he asked.

He wanted words. Matteo didn't think he could speak right now. He took a breath to calm his racing heart, then he smiled up at David. He was ok, he just needed a minute.

Before he could say anything, there was a lot of loud moaning from next door.

David looked up, startled. Matteo just groaned and shoved David off him to cover his head with his pillow. He absolutely didn't need to hear this.

"Who the fuck is this Claude?" David hissed, because that was what Hans was shouting. Over and over.

"God this is all my fault, he was some guy off grindr, I picked him out for Hans," Matteo explained.

"You're on grindr?" David teased, smirking at the idea.

"No Hans is on grindr," Matteo muttered.

"Ah," David said.

He pulled a face at the alarming noises coming from next door.

"He's not usually this loud," Matteo mumbled, blushing.

"Right," David said, getting up from the bed and pulling on his jacket.

"You're going?" Matteo asked, confused. He felt cold without David's weight on him. He was close to shivering, but he tried not to let it show.

"We're going," David said, throwing a hoodie at Matteo.

Matteo just blinked, so David pulled him up from the bed.

"Where are we going?" Matteo asked, slowly pulling on the hoodie. He was still kind of out of it, still distracted. David rolled his eyes at how slow he was being. He was bouncing on his feet, trying to hurry him up. As soon as he was dressed, David shoved him to the door.

"My place," he said, pulling on his shoes, and kicking at Matteo to do the same.

"Why?" Matteo asked innocently, as they stepped outside. He was teasing, he knew what was happening.

David skipped ahead to get in front of him, then turned around and started walking backwards.

"Why?" David repeated, voice low and serious.

Matteo tried not to stumble as he felt his face heating up.

"Why are we going back to yours? We could've just put on some music," he teased.

David didn't stop, but slowed down so that Matteo was almost on top of him.

"No Matteo," he said softly, not letting Matteo wind him up.

"David."

David came back to walk beside him, as close as he could get, their fingers brushing. Matteo grabbed his hand and entwined their fingers. David flinched a little, but didn't pull away.

"There's no one around," Matteo assured him.

David still looked around for himself, but when he realised Matteo was right he squeezed his hand.

 

It took them ages to get back to David's. Or it felt like ages. Matteo was so eager to get there, he was tempted to run. David wouldn't hurry though. Matteo knew he was up to something, knew he was planning something. When they did get there, Matteo made to run inside, but David stopped him.

"We have all night Matteo," David said calmly.

"I..."

"Don't rush. If you're nervous it's ok," he said.

Matteo nodded and let David lead him upstairs. He realised why David had been so slow, realised part of his own eagerness was nerves. He was trying to beat them, but they were there and he couldn't ignore them.

They got into David's room and Matteo felt himself freezing up as the nerves set in properly. He forced himself over to the desk. He needed to do something, so he started fiddling with David's trinkets while David moved around the room, sorting the lights and making it comfortable. Matteo tried to relax. It was David; he wanted this. When he couldn’t stop his hands trembling, he tucked them under his head, laying it on the desk.

"Matteo, come here," David said, standing in the middle of the room, waiting for him.

Matteo did, he dragged himself back over to David.

It wasn't that he didn't want to go to him; it was that he could already feel his thoughts wandering, mind racing. All his nerves and worries were at the forefront of his mind. He was scared of getting lost in it, of letting his worries and anxieties overwhelm him. He wanted this to be good, wanted things to be perfect, he wanted to be perfect for David. He didn’t think David was going to leave him over his nerves and inexperience, but anxiety was a bitch.

David's hand on his cheek pulled him back to the present.

"What's going on it that head of yours Matteo?"

"My thoughts are racing, I'm going to get overwhelmed. I’m nervous and scared. I’m scared of being shit, and that you’ll leave," he admitted. “It’s anxiety shit, I can’t turn it off. I do want this, I want you. I just need to calm down.”

David didn’t laugh. Even though Matteo was being stupid, David didn’t tease him. He just took a step closer and smiled.

"Focus on me ok? This is going to be amazing, beautiful because it’s you, I just want to be with you."

Matteo nodded and let David unzip his hoodie. He slowly pushed it off his shoulders. Matteo reached out and pulled at the hem of David's jumper, tugging at it. David chuckled and pulled it off. Then his hands were lifting Matteo's shirt. He waited and when Matteo didn't resist he pulled it up and over his head. Immediately his hands were running over Matteo's chest, his stomach, his sides. David had been waiting a while to get him undressed. Matteo swore whenever they kissed it was only moments before David's hands were sneaking under his shirt.

Matteo was more hesitant, they still hadn't talked about what was allowed to do, and he didn’t want to mess up. Fuck. He tentatively reached out for David's shirt. He wasn't sure if he was allowed. David just smiled and pulled it off. Then he took Matteo's hand and placed it on his stomach, letting him know he could touch, too. Matteo traced over his warm skin. Fuck, he wanted to touch him everywhere. His fingers trailed higher, up to the black material of David's binder, stopping just below the hem.

"I can't take it off, not tonight," David whispered.

"Can I touch it?"

David nodded so Matteo reached out both hands and dug his fingers into David's sides, like he'd done before, like he knew David liked. David let his forehead fall onto Matteo's shoulder, so he continued.

He went very still when David reached for his belt so David stopped too.

"Ok?"

"I'm... nervous. I really do want this, I do, but I'm nervous. But… I’m always nervous, so it’s ok. I’m excited too," he said, feeling himself calm down a little. It was David, it was always good with David.

"Me too, Matteo," David whispered, "me too."

Then he kissed him. He didn't stop kissing him after that. Matteo focused on David's lips against his. Nothing else mattered but that. The nerves didn't go anywhere, but that was ok because David felt the same. David understood him, understood what he needed. And Matteo understood David, he trusted him. And he wanted to make him feel good, and he thought he just might be able to. It didn’t matter that he was nervous and inexperienced, so was David. David just wanted to be with him.

So when David reached for his belt again, he didn't freeze up; he didn't tense. He stayed relaxed because he was comfortable with David.

When Matteo tried to step out of his jeans, he tripped and stumbled forward because of course he did. Of course, he couldn't just be smooth with this. David didn't laugh, he just pulled Matteo against him to stop him falling. He began to press kisses along his jaw, down his neck. He tangled his hands in Matteo’s hair while he kissed his shoulder, while he traced his lips over his chest. Then he took Matteo by the wrist and led him to the bed, kicking off his trousers as he went. David didn't trip or stumble. David was smooth. He had every right to have that smirk on his face.

He pushed Matteo onto the bed and climbed up beside him.

"I want to draw you like this," he whispered, leaning over him.

"Now?" Matteo choked out.

"No, not now," David said, grabbing his blankets and pulling them over them. He was creating a world just for them, where nothing but the two of them existed. Matteo’s nerves faded into the background, because it didn't matter. He was comfortable, safe, and that outweighed the nerves. He wanted this. Under the sheets with David, almost naked, he was excited. So he took a deep breath and shuffled out of his boxers. It wasn't graceful because that was impossible for him. David didn't tease. Apparently, Matteo had found the one time he wasn't going to tease him. He thought that might only apply this time around, he was pretty sure as they got more comfortable the teasing would come back.

David was nervous now. He was scared to be naked, Matteo could tell. He was fidgeting with the waistband of his own boxers. Matteo didn't push, he just leant over and kissed David, distracting him. Just like he’d done for him moments ago. David kissed back, letting himself get lost in it, distracting himself from his nerves. Matteo could feel him shuffling about, but he was too busy focusing on the feeling of David's lips against his own, the feeling of his warm skin against his own.

Matteo rolled them over so he was lying on top of David, desperate to feel more. He kissed David's neck, trailing his lips from behind his ear, to the exposed part of his chest. David was shivering now, but Matteo knew this feeling, knew it was good. He was feeling bolder than he'd ever felt. He leant up and stared at David. His eyes were dark, focused completely on Matteo, trailing over his body, drinking him in. He finally got to see what he'd been exploring with his hands for days.

David's hands drifted to Matteo's hips.

"Ok?" he whispered.

Matteo stared down at him, a little unsure. He knew what he wanted, he just needed a little guidance.

"I wanna make you feel good," he said.

David took his hand and linked their fingers. He shifted under Matteo and let his eyes drift close. "I'm feeling good right now," he sighed.

"I wanna make you feel really good," Matteo said.

"I'll show you," David said.

And then he did, he took Matteo's hands and showed him where to touch him. He let him explore, with his fingers and his lips, trailing invisible patterns over his stomach, his hips, his thighs. He gently stopped him at places he couldn't be touched and Matteo memorised them, committing to learning all of David in this moment. He watched David's face to learn what it looked like in pleasure and memorised that, too. David looked lost by the time he grabbed Matteo and pulled him back up with his hands, gripping his hair like a lifeline.

He pulled him in for a kiss more passionate, more desperate than any they'd shared before. Matteo pulled back and leant his forehead against David's.

"Need you Matteo," David mumbled, tilting his head for a kiss, then another. "Wanna make you feel good too," he said.

Matteo nodded, but didn't move.

"What are you afraid of right now?"

"Getting lost, in my head," he said. “I’m scared of panicking, of fucking up, I can’t mess this up David, you’re too important.”

Matteo also felt a little unsettled, he felt very close to overwhelmed right now, giddy, thoughts racing, mind in overdrive. He knew it was just because David was making him feel good, but it wasn't all that different from being up and that was pretty scary.

"I will never let you get lost Matteo," David promised. "I'm right here, I'm not letting you go anywhere, this is going to be so perfect. It might be clumsy, it might be rubbish, but it will be perfect because it’s you. I trust you, I just want to be with you Matteo, let me take care of you, ok?"

So Matteo gave into it. The moment he did, the moment David touched him, he sank into it and he knew it was different. He didn’t need to worry; it wasn't the same as being up at all. He felt a little out of control, something he usually hated, but David had the control right now. He was going to use it to make him feel good, make them both feel good. So Matteo let him. He let his mind empty of his worries and focussed on David beneath him, David all around him, in ways he'd never felt before.

It was indescribable, but it was everything. All his nerves were gone now. This was exactly how it was supposed to be.

 

Matteo did get lost, but it was nothing like he’d worried about. He got completely lost in David, his thoughts, his senses consumed by him. There was no feeling like it and Matteo never wanted to feel anything else, but what it was to be with David like that.

It was a wonderful way to get lost, he’d never felt so good, so content, so relaxed.

He did end up a little out of it though; it took him a while to find his way back, to focus again.

David was patient. Even if all he wanted to do was kiss Matteo senseless, he waited for him to be more present, not pushing, just watching him with a fond smile on his face. Matteo could never have dreamt it would be like this, that he could feel so safe with someone else when he was this vulnerable. But he was, David was his safety, his home.

After a moment, David finally kissed him, pulling him back completely, grounding him where he'd been floating. Matteo relaxed into it, let David take care of him.

"Ok Matteo?" David asked gently.

Matteo just nodded.

"Tell me you're ok," David said.

"I'm ok," Matteo said. He was more than ok, he was amazing, wonderful. Everything was perfect. He was exhausted though. He couldn’t speak, he didn’t have the energy.

"Good, that's good, we don't have to talk right now ok? I've got you."

Matteo let David wrap him up in his arms, holding him tight. He was already drifting, already close to sleep. This was the latest he'd stayed up since the mania. It was difficult to stay awake. He felt exhausted, wiped out in the best of ways.

"It's ok Matteo, sleep now, we'll talk in the morning," David said, pressing tender kisses to his eyelids.

"It was good? For you?" Matteo asked, that was all he needed to know.

"It was fucking incredible," David said, knowing Matteo couldn't take teasing, not right now. "I don't think I've ever felt so good in my own body before. You made me feel good, you made me feel desired and wanted, exactly as I am," David said, squeezing Matteo so tight it was as if he wanted to crush them together into one.

"Good, David... I..."

Matteo had so much he wanted to say to that, so much he wanted to tell David about just how much he desired him, wanted him, needed him always. But the words were stuck, his brain was still empty and he couldn't formulate sentences.

"I know. In the morning, ok?"

"Sleep?"

"Yeah let's sleep," David said, pressing one last kiss to his temple, then settling them down.

He threw the blankets off them and Matteo whined, but David held him close. In fairness, they were hot and sweaty, so he got it. David was even warmer than him, so Matteo snuggled against him. He'd never felt contentment like this. It was pure bliss. He just sighed happily and let sleep take over. There was nothing he had to worry about tonight.

 

David may not have been out of it last night, but he was this morning. It was gone ten, and he was still fast asleep. Matteo was getting bored. He'd already been texting Jonas for the past half an hour, but he wanted David's company. He'd tried shuffling about, tried prodding him gently, but nothing. It was time for drastic action. He was back to back with David now because he'd been on his phone. He dug his elbows into David's sides.

"Ow, fuck off Matteo!"

David shoved him back; so Matteo rolled over and wrapped his arms around him, pulling him against his chest. David wiggled and tried to get free, but Matteo had the upper hand. David was too sleepy to wrestle him properly.

"Kiss me," Matteo said.

"No I'm sleeping," David muttered.

"Stop being a dick and kiss me," Matteo demanded.

David just stared so Matteo pounced, pressing kisses all over David's face then finally on his lips. David didn't put up much of a fight, just smiled into it, letting him win for once.

"Morning," Matteo said cheerily.

"I'm tired," David whined.

"It's gone ten," Matteo said.

"It's Sunday," David argued.

"I'm awake though," Matteo said.

"So?" David said, but he was smiling.

"It's good, it's important for me to get up on the weekends," Matteo reminded him. "But I missed you," he added.

He could see David trying to resist, trying to stay grumpy, but he gave it up quickly. "Fine," he said dramatically.

Matteo beamed.

"Morning," David said softly, "sorry for being a grump."

"Why are you so tired?"

David raised an eyebrow, and Matteo giggled.

"Why are you not?" he asked, "you were literally out cold in minutes last night," he teased.

"I dunno, I feel well rested though," Matteo told him.

David smiled. "Guess we know what to do when you can't sleep," he said, smirking.

"Go away," Matteo said, but he pulled David close against his chest. He stretched. His muscles ached, but it wasn't unpleasant, it felt good. "I feel good, my body feels good," he said, stretching again.

"First time you've exercised in a while?"

"David," Matteo whined.

"You ok though?"

"Yeah, are you?" Matteo asked.

"So fucking good," David said, tracing his fingers over Matteo's chest.

"Is it ok?"

"What do you mean?"

"Er... you're touching my chest, is it ok? Are you ok? Does it upset you?"

"I'm fine, nothing about you could upset me," David said.

"Are you... do you want..." Matteo reached out and touched David's chest carefully. David watched his hands, but didn't stop him. "Do you want, something done?"

"Yeah, I want top surgery, my chest, to make it flat, like yours," David said.

"Like mine or like sexy?" Matteo asked.

David grinned at him and ran his hands over Matteo's chest.

"You mean buff? Toned?"

"Yeah," Matteo said.

"I think you're very sexy Matteo," David said.

Matteo smiled and blushed. He didn't think David was teasing him. He thought perhaps David really did think he was sexy.

"There's also... surgery down there," David said, more seriously.

Matteo had read a little about it, but it felt like such a private thing, like something he should learn about from David. So he'd stopped reading. He would research later, he needed to learn from David first.

"Do you want that?" he asked carefully.

"I don't know, is that ok?" David asked, looking embarrassed.

"Yeah, of course it is, but..."

David looked up at him, Matteo didn't miss the flash of fear in his eyes.

"But I think you're perfect, right now exactly as you are," Matteo said.

He could tell David didn't believe him, but it was the truth.

"Matteo..."

"I think you're perfect," he repeated. "But... any changes you make, are to make yourself more comfortable, more you, right? So if you're already perfect then you'll just make yourself more perfect, so it's win win, do you understand what I'm saying?"

David sucked in a breath and closed his eyes.

"I do Matteo, Jesus," he said, pressing kisses to his chest.

"I'm so happy with you David," Matteo said.

David reached up, tangling his fingers in his hair. They stayed quiet, just laying together in each other's company. It was a wonderful feeling, this contentment he felt around David. Matteo just laid quietly, letting it wash over him.

After a while, Matteo heard someone singing.

"Is that Laura?"

"Yeah she sings when she cooks, means there's probably food if you want some," David told him, sitting up and yawning.

His stomach rumbled, and he grinned, looking down at Matteo.

Matteo shrugged, not keen to go out there and face Laura.

"Everything ok?"

"The last couple of times Laura's seen me... I haven't exactly been ok," Matteo reminded him.

Even the last time he was here, he was still in the midst of his depression; barely speaking to her, trying to ignore the worry on her face.

"Yeah, she's been worried about you, but she won't mention it unless you do. I think she'd quite like to see you," David told him.

"Yeah?"

"Yeah, come on, let's eat," he said.

Matteo let David pull him up from the bed. He threw a sweater at him then shoved him out of the room. Gentle David was gone, it was back to pushing and shoving, but Matteo loved it.

"Hello boys," Laura said warmly. "Ok Matteo?"

He nodded.

"Would you like some shakshuka?" Laura asked him.

Matteo looked over at David.

"It's middle-eastern, egg and tomato," he said.

"Ok?" Matteo said, heading to the table.

"I can make sandwiches," David offered.

"No... I want to try it," Matteo insisted.

Laura gave him a bright smile and served him and David large bowls.

Matteo grabbed a big chunk of bread and dipped it in the tomato sauce, ignoring the way David was grinning at the way he was eating. He was starving, truly starving and he couldn't eat slowly right now. He stuffed his face until his stomach hurt, before he realised he should slow down. He was going to make himself sick if he wasn’t careful.

Laura had poured him a cup of coffee. God, he missed coffee. He pushed the bowl aside and held the cup in his hand.

"You gonna drink it?" David asked.

"Not yet. When my sleep is settled, Agata said there's no harm in it, but... I'm still getting back on track you know?"

Laura smiled and took the cup from him. He watched her move around the kitchen, making him tea instead. She placed it down in front of him. "Lemon and ginger, no caffeine," she said.

"Thank you," he said quietly.

"That shit is disgusting," David said, downing his own coffee and continuing to stuff his face.

"I quite like chamomile," Matteo admitted.

He never thought he would, but he'd been drinking it quite a bit. Linn had told him to help himself to hers, and then they'd started drinking it together, just sitting quietly and drinking tea. It was nice, that kind of quiet company Linn provided.

"That's good for relaxing, lemon is good to start the day," Laura told him.

Matteo nodded. He'd eaten about half his breakfast. His stomach was hurting, but he was still hungry so he slowed down and ate more carefully.

"So you boys are free huh? What's next?" Laura asked.

"I have a film school application," David reminded her.

"And I'm going to do resits to bring up my grades," Matteo said.

"Come on, you have a whole summer ahead of you, chill out will you?" she said, amused.

David looked at him. "Maybe we could do something? Go somewhere?"

"With me?"

"Yes Matteo with you, didn't you want to get away?"

"Not anymore," Matteo said, there was nowhere he needed to go now. He didn't need to run away anymore.

"But wouldn't it be fun? We could go on a road trip," David suggested.

Matteo laughed quietly. "Yeah, I'd like that," he said. As if he could go on a road trip. As if he got to do things like that.

"You don't sound too keen Matteo," David said, upset now.

Laura took that as her cue to leave, she ruffled David's hair, told him to do the dishes and left them to it.

"You might get fed up of me, and... I don't know about... if I can travel," Matteo explained.

David wrapped his arms around him.

"I will never get fed up of you. And we can travel," he said. "We can't just up and go but we can travel, we just have to plan a little more. Like me, I have to plan my shots and... if we did go on a road trip we'd still have to plan it carefully, like travel isn't as safe for me, you know? Transphobia and racism are a thing. I can't just go anywhere you know? And even you too, homophobia is scary, more so when you’re travelling, we have to go to safer friendly places," David said.

"Are there safe places?"

"Safer Matteo, safer," David said.

"Ok."

"So for you, you should see your shrink, get her to give you extra medication, maybe there's some kind of European crisis team, who knows. But if not fuck it, we'll just go out to Furstenberg, my godmother lives out there, we could go camping or some shit, anything as long as it's us," David said.

"Or..."

"Or?"

"We could go to Italy, maybe?"

"Yeah?" David said, immediately excited.

Matteo had been nervous to suggest it, but now he knew it was the right thing to say.

"To see my dad and... I'd like to go see my grandma, she has this huge farm, you'd love it," he said.

"Ok we'll work it out," David said.

"But I'd really like to do the road trip," Matteo said.

Now that David had suggested it, it was all he wanted, to travel with him, properly travel.

"Well, we'll see what we're allowed. How long your shrink thinks you can go for, how long you think you can go for and then maybe we could go for a few weeks, a month even, we could cover a lot of ground in that time."

"And you really want-"

"I want to spend all my time with you," David insisted.

Matteo grinned at him. A road trip with David sounded wonderful. Even if they only went camping, just a little holiday, just the two of them. Matteo wanted it, more than anything. And he knew that meant he could, meant he could handle it. Yes, he would have to plan, more than most, but he could. He didn't have to put his life on hold. He could live. He was going to live his life to the fullest, with David by his side.

 

When the boys showed up at Matteo's the next afternoon with a crate of beer, he almost sent them away. Almost. He had missed them though. He'd stared pointedly at the beer in Carlos' hands. Carlos had said it was necessary, but that if he couldn't deal they'd leave it in the hall. Matteo had sighed and let them in. He didn't mind; he was feeling good in himself. Absolutely exhausted, but good too. It wasn't the same kind of exhaustion as that from the depression. This was more of a social thing he thought.

He loved David, he did, but he'd been with him for days, practically twenty four seven. It wasn't that he needed a break from him exactly. It was partly that he was worried that David would need space from him. But he'd also just needed to get a little time on his own, just to shut down for a bit. He knew David wouldn't have a problem with it, but he wasn't ready to show him yet.

It was ridiculous really, David had already seen the worst of him, had assured him nothing was going to make him get fed up of him. But he'd understood Matteo's needs. Said part of it was probably Matteo wanting to be back in his own space. So he sent him home with a promise to be over later that afternoon. Matteo may have wanted time to himself, but only a little. A few hours at most. He'd warned David he'd probably be extra clingy when he saw him again. David had just said good.

"Ok Matteo, is David here?" Abdi asked, collapsing onto the sofa and cracking open a beer.

"No why?"

"He's having girl problems," Jonas told him.

"Why's he need David for that?"

"I need both of you, you guys are goals," Abdi said.

"I've told you, I can help you, I am dating Kiki, I know how relationships work," Carlos insisted, grabbing his own beer, looking a little put out.

"Yeah, but... that's different, you and Kiki are..."

"Careful," Jonas warned, playing with his guitar, clearly not wanting to get involved.

He was on the sofa with Matteo, sitting close. Matteo had missed him these past few days. They'd been texting a lot though, catching up. It was always easy with Jonas. He didn't like the way Matteo fell out of touch sometimes, but he would always welcome him back with open arms.

"Kiki is a lot, and you're kinda lame," Abdi said to Carlos.

"Hey!"

"No I'm lame too, I'm under no illusions. But Sam is cool, like David," Abdi reasoned.

"So I'm lame?" Matteo demanded.

"Yep. How the hell did you land David?" Abdi asked.

Matteo had to admit he had a point. He had asked himself exactly the same question. More than once.

"Honestly, no idea," he admitted.

"See? And I knew you were going to say that, that's why I need to ask David, because... I reckon he'll know, what I should do, how to flirt and shit," Abdi explained.

David didn't flirt, not in the way Abdi was thinking. Or maybe he did. But when he flirted with Matteo it was in a way completely specific to him. Gentle teasing, soft conversation. It would never work on Sam. Sam was different, she was far bolder than him.

"He's... not as cool as you think he is," Matteo said, picking up a beer bottle and playing with it.

Jonas watched him but didn't say anything.

"That's always the way," he said, holding out his hand. Matteo passed it over to him and collapsed against the sofa cushions. He didn't even want beer, he just felt a bit left out.

"What do you mean?" he asked.

"Before you start dating someone, they're the coolest person ever, almost untouchable," Jonas said.

"Exactly, you get super nervous around them and awkward," Carlos agreed.

"But then you start dating and you realise they actually felt the same way about you," Jonas said.

Matteo thought he might get that.

"Kiki thought I was cool, out of her league can you believe that?"

"No," Abdi said.

"Rude."

"And Hanna, I thought she was way out of my league and she is, but when we started dating, she was so down to earth, so nerdy and silly, she hid all that from me at first," Jonas said.

Matteo really got it then. He'd listened to Jonas go on and on about Hanna before they started dating. And he loved Hanna he did, he thought she was cool and fun. She was his friend, but he never got what Jonas saw. He didn't see her in the same way, but he'd known all that about her, that she was fun and silly. He'd seen a glimpse of what she'd eventually shown Jonas so he got it. Once they were dating, Jonas realised exactly what she was like. That she wasn't this untouchable girl. She was Hanna, and she was lovely.

"You really miss her?" he asked.

"So much," Jonas said, picking up his guitar.

Matteo had no idea why he had it with him, perhaps he'd just taken to carrying it around with him, while he was moping. That seemed like the sort of thing he would do.

He started playing a melancholic tune.

"What are you going to do about it?" Matteo asked.

"Nothing, ignore it, I dunno... I fucked up lately... I don't think we can work," Jonas mumbled.

"Ever?" Abdi asked.

"I don't know," he admitted.

"You will," Matteo said.

"How do you know?"

"Because Hanna is my friend, Hanna talks to me too," Matteo reminded him. He knew both of them wanted the same thing, it was getting them to see it that was the problem.

"What does she say?" Carlos asked curiously.

"Hanna is my friend, I don't tell her what Jonas says, just like I'm not going to tell Jonas."

Jonas just smiled and continued to play. Jonas understood. It was why he hadn't asked.

"Guys can we please focus on me?" Abdi demanded.

"Ok Abdi what's the problem?" Jonas asked.

"I like Sam and I don't know if she likes me," Abdi whined.

"And me and David are supposed to help you?" Matteo asked, amused by the ridiculousness of all of this.

"Yep," Abdi said. Apparently it was that simple for him.

"Well he'll be here soon," Matteo told him.

He turned to watch Jonas play, watching his hands moving on the strings. He'd always loved this, always used to beg Jonas to play for him. It didn’t usually take much, he often got his way.

"Do you like it? It's for Friday," Jonas asked.

"Yeah it's nice," Matteo said.

"It's kinda sad though," Carlos said.

"Yeah don't you want something more upbeat? It's a celebration," Abdi reminded him.

"So you don't like it?" Jonas asked, a little put out.

"I do," Matteo said. "It is sad, but I do like it because I'm sad that school's ending, aren't you? Happy and sad, like the song."

"See Matteo gets it," Jonas said.

"I never said I didn't like it," Carlos argued.

"Do you think Sam wants to have sex with me?" Abdi asked.

"No," all three of them said together.

"Thanks guys," Abdi said.

"How the hell do we know?" Jonas demanded.

"Just wondering. I want to have sex with her," Abdi said.

"I had sex," Matteo said quietly, "this weekend," he added.

He still couldn't quite believe that David found him desirable, that he wanted him in that way. But he knew it was the truth. David never lied to him, was so honest and open with him about his feelings. When he said he found Matteo sexy, he really meant it. When he looked at him, eyes dark with heat and desire, he really did want him. Being with David, in that way, was quickly becoming Matteo's favourite thing. Everything about David was, but that kind of intimacy they shared; that was just for them. No one else got to see David like that and Matteo loved it. He loved that David had chosen, him, trusted him in that way.

"Oi oi," Carlos said, raising his beer.

Matteo blushed, scared he'd shared too much.

"Matteo?" Carlos said more gently.

"Yeah?" he whispered.

"It's chill, you know that, right? You can talk with us, about this stuff. It's different, but it's not wrong and we will never ever think you're gross, we will never think you're disgusting for the way you love," Carlos said.

Abdi nodded enthusiastically beside him.

Matteo could cry at that. He loved these boys so much. He couldn't believe he'd ever been scared to tell them. They got him, in their own way, loved him for who he was.

"Thank you," Matteo said.

"It's good, with David?" Jonas asked.

"So good. It's perfect," Matteo said, still a little pink.

"Nice," Jonas said, holding his hand up for a high-five

Matteo clapped their hands together and grinned. He'd been so scared of this, that they'd think he was gross or abnormal. They didn't think that. They just thought he was different. But different was ok, different was good. They were all different.

"Matteo I do have a question," Carlos said.

"Oh god," Matteo said.

"I was just wondering, out of me and Abdi, if you had to, who would you have sex with?" he asked.

"Why am I not in this?" Jonas demanded.

"Because he'd choose you duh," Abdi said.

"Nah he's not into me, he rejected me," Jonas said dramatically, hand over his heart, pretending it was breaking.

Matteo threw a pillow at him.

"What?" Abdi demanded.

"You two had a thing?"

"I used to like Jonas, I don't anymore," Matteo told them. "He's a really bad kisser!" he added, ducking the pillow that Jonas flung back at him.

"You kissed?" Abdi demanded.

"Yeah, but I was manic," Matteo reasoned.

"Makes sense, you could definitely do better," Carlos said.

"Why does everyone keep saying that?" Jonas demanded.

"I have done better, David is an amazing kisser," Matteo told them.

"Nice, so Jonas is last because he's a bad kisser, but out of me and Abdi?" Carlos asked again. "I'll add that I am an incredible kisser."

"So am I!" Abdi insisted.

Matteo wasn't even going to go there. He felt his phone buzzing in his pocket. That was his cue. He got up and went to the door, leaving the boys bickering amongst themselves. Jonas was adamant that because Matteo used to like him that meant he was actually at the top of the list. Idiots. There was no list, it was David and only David. No one else even registered anymore.

And David was here now, Matteo pulled the door open and fell into his arms. He didn't even let him get inside.

"Ok Matteo?"

"Missed you," Matteo mumbled against his shoulder.

"It's only been three hours," David said, but Matteo could tell he'd missed him too.

"I'm just tired out," Matteo said.

David just held him close, peppering kisses all over his face.

"The boys are here," Matteo said, "they want you apparently."

"What? Why?" David asked, confused.

"Abdi's having girl problems," Matteo explained.

"And what am I supposed to do?"

"Teach him how to be smooth apparently," Matteo said.

"What the fuck have you been telling them?" David asked.

"Just how cool you are," Matteo mumbled.

"I have no idea how to be smooth," David said, pulling Matteo in for another kiss.

"I know, it just comes naturally to you," Matteo said.

David stared at him then, biting his lip. He looked like he wanted to blow off the boys, snatch Matteo out of there. Matteo half wanted that, too. But he also wanted to hang out, watch Abdi ignore whatever advice David gave him.

"Only around you, come on," David said, leading him back into the living room.

David greeted the boys, and Jonas moved over so they could share the sofa. They didn't really need the space, Matteo just settled himself on top of David.

Jonas offered David a beer, but he shook his head.

"It's ok," Matteo said.

"Yeah?"

"Yeah it's chill, I'm good. Don't need beer I have you, plus you're cute when you're tipsy," Matteo said.

He didn't need anything now David was here.

"Ok," David said, taking the beer from Jonas. "So, Abdi has girl problems?"

"You know Sam?" Jonas asked.

"I know Sam," David said.

"Abdi's super into her," Jonas told him.

"Ok?"

"And we don't know if she's into him," Carlos said.

"Have you tried asking her?" David suggested.

"Don't be ridiculous," Abdi said.

Carlos nodded in agreement. Matteo knew this would happen. He couldn't understand why Abdi even wanted their advice, he was only going to ignore it.

"No that's dumb, he needs to make a gesture," Carlos said.

"What does Sam like?" David asked, ignoring Carlos.

"Lollipops?" Abdi suggested.

"Jesus Christ," Jonas muttered, covering his face with his hands.

"Music you fucking idiot, do you even know her?" Matteo said.

How the hell did Abdi have any hope? He'd been banging on about Sam for months and that was the best he could come up with?

"I... oh no I did know that," Abdi said. "So I should talk to her about music?"

"Yeah or you could make her a playlist," Jonas suggested.

"A sexy playlist," Carlos suggested. "Filled with sexy songs that make her want to have sex with you."

"Jesus fucking Christ," David muttered against Matteo's temple.

"Remind me never to let Carlos choose the music for anything," Matteo said.

"Yeah. Should we have a sexy playlist?" David said quietly.

"Me and Hanna had one too," Jonas said.

"Oh my god," Matteo muttered, hiding his face.

"We'll make one tonight," David said, "filled with sexy songs, you won't be able to resist me."

Matteo didn't need music for that, he was never able to resist David. Still, he asked anyway.

"Like what?"

"Maybe you could get Jonas to record something for you, seeing as you used to find him sexy," Carlos suggested.

"What?" David asked, laughing.

"No I didn't," Matteo insisted.

"Rude," Jonas said.

"I used to like Jonas, or... I thought I did. No I did but... it feels like nothing now," Matteo said.

"Ouch," Jonas said, but it was good natured.

David just chuckled, playing with Matteo's hair, clearly not upset at all. He knew he was it for Matteo, that no one else could compare. He didn't need to worry.

"Play us a song," he said.

"Nothing sexy," Matteo warned, as Jonas started to play a mellow tune.

"So what am I doing about Sam?" Abdi demanded.

"Just be chill yeah?" David said.

"Talk to her," Matteo said.

"Be natural, ok? Don't fuck around, you want her to like you for you, so be yourself and just be fucking honest," David said.

That was all he could do, Abdi was a nice guy, if Sam liked him, she'd see that. If she didn't, he'd have to move on.

"I'll make her a sexy playlist," Abdi said.

"I'll help you," Carlos said, giving him a hug.

"Jesus Christ," David muttered.

"Hopeless," Matteo agreed.

Jonas continued to play, getting more and more melancholy

"And for Hanna?" he said, "the same advice?"

"No that's different, Hanna knows you already, but yeah be honest. Just tell her how much you miss her, she misses you so much Jonas and even if you're not ready it doesn't mean what you're doing, avoiding it, is the right thing. You two need to talk ok?" Matteo said.

"But playing her a song probably won't hurt," David said.

"Yeah," Matteo agreed.

Jonas grinned, and the tune changed to something vaguely familiar, Matteo recognised it, thought perhaps it was something David had played him. He settled against David's chest, David's fingers still in his hair. Then David started to sing and Matteo just about died. Could this boy get any more perfect?

"...I just think about my baby, I'm so full of love I could barely eat. There's nothing sweeter than my baby, I'd never want once from the cherry tree..."

Matteo felt the words from low in David's chest, the way they rumbled through him. He'd never been particularly good at listening to the lyrics, but he'd heard that. David was showing his heart. No one spoke, but Carlos was smiling at them like it was the most beautiful thing he'd ever seen.

Matteo smiled back, then snuggled closer, scared he might just combust if he looked at David right now. David continued to sing and Matteo just let it wash over him. He was singing about him and Matteo had never felt so loved. He realised this was going to keep happening. David was going to do or say something and his love for him would just increase. It was exponential, all consuming and never ending.

 

David was nervous. It was kind of funny. Matteo didn't get it; he'd already met his mum. She liked him; Matteo didn't see what the problem was.

Still, David was very nervous, so instead of going straight to his mum's, they were sitting on a bench just down the road. David was peppering him with questions, determined to make a good impression.

Matteo finally stopped him when David started worrying that he hadn't brought flowers for her.

"David?"

"Yeah?"

"Stop ok? She just wants to meet you, really she wants to see me, see how I'm doing, it's not really about you. She's not... it's not like what you're thinking. You're thinking if we go meet her and she doesn't like you, we'll break up. It's not a movie, if it was gonna be like that we wouldn't be doing this yet. It's way too soon for you to be meeting my mum if we follow all those stupid rules. That's not what this is," Matteo said.

"What is it?" David asked.

"Until two weeks ago, I hadn't seen my mum in over six months," Matteo told him, "I'm working on healing, rebuilding our relationship. It won't be like it was before, we're both different people now, but I'm hoping we can build something new, just as strong."

David frowned. "I don't understand, you want me there for that? Matteo this seems so important, I don't want to intrude on that."

"Ok. But the thing is David, you're part of my life too, and I'm not asking you to commit to anything, but you're a big part of it and I want my mum to get to know me again, and... I just think, she should get to know you too, to understand me, does that make sense?"

David nodded and stood up, smiling now. "Let's go see your mum," he said, holding out his hand for Matteo.

"For the record, I dunno about flowers, but she loves gardening," Matteo suggested.

"Maybe I could get her a plant?" David suggested as they got to the front lawn and he looked around at the fruits of her labour.

The garden was a good indicator of her mood. When she was deep in her paranoia, she wouldn't step outside the house, would barely step outside her room. But once she was better, tending to her garden was her favourite pastime. She was good at it too, always got the garden looking beautiful again, always managed to bring it back. It was a shame her illness kept her housebound, gardening really helped her.

He explained all this to David.

"Maybe we could get her some plants, for indoors?"

"She does already," Matteo said, shrugging.

David was so sweet, trying to impress his mum.

"But... she has the whole house, right? By herself, maybe we could I dunno, make her an indoor garden or something, there's gotta be room," David said.

"You're adorable, suggest it maybe," Matteo said.

David blushed.

Matteo quite liked seeing him like this, all shy. He grinned and pressed the buzzer. Moments later, his mum was ushering them both into the house. She gave both of them big hugs, then led them straight through into the garden, gesturing for them to sit, while she went to fix them some tea. She shot David down when he offered to help, so both of them sat down at the patio table.

"Wow," David said, looking around the garden. "Your mum did all this herself?"

"Yeah, I used to help, but I just did what she told me. It was all her."

It wasn't a huge space; they were in the city after all, but it was green and luscious. Absolutely packed with trees and plants. Matteo had loved it as a kid. Loved it still to this day. It was a beautiful little patch of paradise.

His mum came back with a tea tray and this time she let David help her set it all down.

Matteo smiled. She'd made him chamomile tea. He was slowly becoming fond of it. He liked the smell more than anything. Every time he'd held a cup, he'd had important conversations that left him feeling good about himself.

Plus, there was cake and biscuits. His mum was a good baker, Matteo had had cake every day as a kid. So had Jonas, his own mother despairing that he always came home bouncing and too full to eat dinner.

"So boys, how are you both doing today?" she asked.

David looked to Matteo, they both knew what she wanted to know.

"I'm ok mum," Matteo said.

"You're happy?"

"I am," Matteo said.

She smiled, she didn't need anymore than that. She was happy he was happy.

"That's good. And you David, you're both done with school now, right?"

"I... yes."

"I have resits, Spanish, in a few weeks, but I think I'll do ok," Matteo told her.

His mum nodded.

"Still you're pretty much free, what's next?" she asked.

"David is applying for film school," Matteo told her, knowing he wouldn't volunteer the information himself.

"Oh, how wonderful, you like movies then, David?"

"I do, I want to make them," David said, getting a little excited. Matteo wondered if his own parents had ever shown any interest in his passions.

"Lovely, and how do you apply? An essay? A movie?"

"Both. Two essays, three storyboards, and a short film, all with the actual application," he explained.

He'd told Matteo all about it already, it sounded intense. His whole degree was going to be intense, but Matteo reckoned he could handle it. Matteo couldn't wait to see it, to see everything David made.

After their road trip, David was going to get to work, and Matteo was going to help.

"Hard work. You know what you're going to do?" his mum asked.

"I have some ideas, but just ideas at the moment," David said.

"Well, keep me posted, I'd like to see it when it's done," his mum said, smiling proudly at David.

She loved him already, simply because he loved her son. That was enough. Sitting there with her, he couldn't understand why he'd ever been so scared of rejection. He knew it wasn't that simple though. His fear had been real, and to lose this would have broken him. Matteo was so glad that wasn't the case.

"You would?" David asked, surprised.

"Of course," she said.

David stared at his hands and Matteo realised it had probably been a while since anyone resembling a parent had shown that kind of interest. His mum had always been good like that.

She seemed to understand. She patted his knee, but didn't push, instead turning to Matteo.

"And you sweetheart, any plans?"

"It's all quite recent but I think maybe I might do some more school, nothing certain. But I'd quite like to learn more psychology, to better understand myself, you know? I don't know at what level, probably just basics but I'm interested."

"That sounds fascinating Matteo. Has Matteo told you what a little clever clogs he used to be when he was small?" she asked David.

Matteo blushed and rolled his eyes, she'd be getting the baby pictures out next. He was just lucky she didn't have them on display. There were a couple in the living room, but that was it. When he was younger, the walls were covered in them. David would've teased him endlessly. There hadn't been pictures up on the walls for a long while. Partly because broken picture frames were dangerous, partly to stop her destroying them in a panic. But he knew she had them in a big old chest in the spare room. She took them out from time to time, the same way he did. Hopefully, today was not one of those days.

"No, but I can imagine," David said, smiling at Matteo.

"He used to run rings around his poor teachers, they just weren't quick enough to keep up with his brain. You want to start in the autumn darling?" she asked.

Matteo shook his head.

"I need a break, maybe next year, is that ok?"

"Of course, but what are you going to do until then?" she asked.

Matteo frowned. He thought she'd support him. He didn't like the way she was asking. Why did he have to do anything? Why couldn't he just rest?

"I just need a break," Matteo insisted.

"No that's not what I'm saying love, I'm just worried. You'll get restless," she explained.

She had a point. As much as he loved to chill, it wouldn't take long for him to get frustrated over doing nothing.

"Yeah, I'll try and get a job or something," he said. He had no idea what, but he didn't mind working, he'd do anything really as long as it wasn't stressful.

"Ok. Well, if you need any help just let me know ok?" she said.

"Thanks mum," Matteo said, smiling.

If he couldn't find anything, he knew she'd find him something. He could always help out at the church. He used to in the summers when he was younger.

"No problem, but what about summer? What are you boys going to do?" she asked.

"We thought we might go on a road trip," David said.

Matteo kicked him.

"Absolutely not," she said sternly, giving Matteo a look she hadn't given him in a long time. He felt like he'd done something naughty. He felt like a little boy again. It was ridiculous.

"Mum!"

"No way Matteo," she said.

"I'm eighteen," he reminded her.

"Not happening," she said firmly, like he hadn't already moved out and was supporting himself.

"Mama come on, please," he insisted sweetly.

She looked at him, then David for a long time.

"You look after my son," she warned.

David nodded seriously.

"And you look after yourself, you're both so young, you think you're still immortal at your age, and I want daily contact Matteo, even if it's just a text, do you understand? I'm not happy about this at all."

"I'll keep us both safe," David said.

Matteo rolled his eyes. "Might I remind you I am an adult and... I am capable of looking after myself?"

"I know you are sweetheart," she said in a pleasant tone, which meant she wasn't happy about this.

Matteo just grinned at her, she always did let him get away with everything.

"And... I thought we could go visit dad, in Italy," he told her.

"He's here now Matteo," she said.

"I know we spoke on the phone. I'm going to call him again, but I don't want to see him here. This isn't his home anymore, I'd like to see him in his home, and I wanna see nonna too," he explained.

"Good boy, that sounds like a plan," she said.

He'd texted his dad all of this and he seemed happy with it. He was far more chill about the idea of a road trip than his mum, but he decided to keep that to himself. He didn't know how far he'd be able to go yet, but toward the end of the trip they were going to head to his grandma's farm, and so would his dad.

They would reconcile in a neutral space. Matteo was looking forward to seeing him, despite himself. He was looking forward to clearing the air. He wanted to heal their relationship. They may never be close, not like he was with his mum, but they could still build something.

His dad had been a shitty dad when he was a kid, he just wasn't built to look after a little kid. Not everyone was, Matteo got that, but perhaps now he was older they could work something out. He hoped so. He'd like his dad to be part of his life. He wasn't ever going to get back the family he'd had when he was a kid, but that didn't mean he couldn't have a family. His family wasn't just his mum and dad anymore. It was David too, and with him came Laura. It was Jonas and Hanna, who'd loved him the longest after his parents. It was Carlos and Abdi, Amira, Sara and Leonie. It was Hans who loved him like a little brother and Linn who pretended to tolerate him, but had sat with him when David couldn’t be around, without complaint. This family of his was huge and Matteo knew they wouldn't leave. He never, ever had to be alone. He never had been, and he never would be.

 

Matteo couldn't believe it was here. Their last day of school ever. He'd spent the past week denying it, saying he had resits, whatever excuse he could think of, but the fact of the matter was it was truly over. His resits would only take a day. This was it. He wasn't denying it anymore. Nor was he scared. He wasn't worried about the future. It scared him, so he was taking it day by day until he wasn't scared anymore. He was scared of the uncertainty the future held, but he knew one day things would be more certain. He would be settled, whether that was in school, in work, or even if he couldn't do that, something else. But he would find a routine. He would find certainty again, it would just take a little time.

For now, he could just enjoy himself. It was time for the abiprank, and for the first time in a long time, Matteo was taking part in something. He was even dressed up, as a pirate no less. Well sort of. He had an eye patch and a hat. But it was more than usually bothered with. David was beside him, he was only wearing sunglasses for his costume, yet it looked so cool. Hans had gone all out, full boating outfit, glitter, make up the works. He looked great, although Matteo wasn't sure he was supposed to be there. Him or Linn in her pink wig. Still, he wasn't going to say anything, he just grinned at Hanna beside him as she blew bubbles. Sam was in the lead and on her word they set off into the school, ready to cause havoc.

It wasn't anything particularly outrageous, but Matteo enjoyed breaking the rules, and he could tell David did, too. So they went for it. Matteo barged into classrooms, he climbed on the desks; he was loud and boisterous like he'd never been before.

After evacuating three classrooms, Matteo jumped off a desk onto David's back. David didn't shrug him off, just gripped his thighs and marched him into the next classroom where Jonas was ushering the younger students out.

Matteo cheered and squeezed his legs to get David to turn around, but before they could leave, Mrs Krause called out to him.

"Come back here, Matteo," she said.

Matteo jumped down from David, and went over to her. He turned and gestured for David to head back out.

"Hi Mrs Krause," he said.

"Looks like I'm free for the afternoon huh?"

"I mean, you have to stay right, keep us in line?"

"True, true," she said, "I don't think I've ever seen you this enthusiastic about school, Matteo."

"I don't know what that says really."

"No I don't mean class, I mean, social things, extra curriculars, you know?"

"I've not felt part of much lately, but... I am, this is my class and I have so many friends," Matteo told her.

"You're one of my favourite pupils Matteo Florenzi," she said, gathering up her papers, clearing her desk, clearly giving up on teaching for the day.

"I am?”

"You'll never be a historian, but... I like the way you write, the way you see things. I've always enjoyed reading your work," she said.

"Thank you," Matteo said, feeling shy.

"Plans?"

"I'm taking a year, maybe two, I'll just take it easy, work a bit, get my head on track, but... I'm quite keen on maybe going back to school," he told her.

"Not history, I presume?"

"No psychology, but I really find the history of medicine interesting," he said."

"Oh I know Matteo, the history of psychology is particularly fascinating, but be careful with it, it's quite upsetting too," she warned.

He nodded, he knew a lot about that already, was pretty sure it was half the reason for his anxiety.

"Yes, recent history that," he said.

"Very true," Mrs Krause said. "Good luck to you Matteo."

"Thank you Mrs Krause, and thank you for believing in me, you were my favourite teacher, you never gave up on me, I bet you've never given up on anyone."

"You know I don't think I have, no matter what their academic ability, or external circumstances, everyone deserves a chance," she said.

"That's why you're my favourite," Matteo told her.

She smiled at him. "You go have fun Matteo, go be with your friends ok?"

He nodded and left her to it, heading back out into the corridor. He blinked. When he'd stepped into the classroom, the corridors were starting to fill, but now it was chaos. It was absolutely rammed; Matteo swore all the students were out there.

He stepped back and pressed himself against the wall, not sure if he could face going into the crowd. David must've been waiting for him though, he appeared out of nowhere and pulled Matteo into the crowd, not letting go of him even for a second. He led Matteo to the front and turned to face him.

"Ok?"

David was smiling so bright, Matteo thought it might be the most beautiful thing he'd ever seen. The joy was practically radiating from him.

"You're so happy," Matteo said.

"I am Matteo, I am. I never thought I could do something like this, be part of something you know?"

"I do. I never let myself be part of anything, I resisted it and now I don't know why. I'm so happy David. I'm scared of the future of course, but... it doesn't matter, we still have summer and then... I don't know what's going to happen but it'll work out," he said.

"It will, you know why?"

"Why?" Matteo asked, not daring to guess, although he hoped he knew what David was going to say.

"Because we'll have each other," David said.

"Even after the summer?"

"Even after the summer," David said firmly.

"I..."

"I know you struggle to believe I'm staying, I get that, and you're right, I have no idea what's going to happen, but I know I want you in my life, in whatever way you're willing to be in it, I know I want that," David said.

Matteo just stared. God, he loved this boy. It was exactly what he'd thought since the moment he'd seen David. He wanted David in his life. He knew it was completely ridiculous, but that didn't make it any less real. His feelings were real and for once he trusted them.

"I... love you," Matteo said.

David pressed a kiss to his cheek. "I love you too," he said.

He nodded to the stage, and they watched Jonas step up to the microphone. Matteo leant against David and they watched Jonas sing, swaying in time to the music.

After a few minutes Matteo turned to Hanna, watching her watch Jonas.

He poked her face, and she rolled her eyes.

"You ever going to talk to him?"

"I talk to Jonas all the time," she said.

"Don't evade the question," Matteo said.

"I don't know, I... I want to," she admitted.

"He wants to talk to you, you're both just scared, but... just think about how good it will be after you have. You don't have to have everything worked out, you can do that together. I... wanted to get better, get on track before I started with David, but... it didn't work out that way and... there is no better for me, it will get shit again for me. So... what was the point of shutting David out? He would have to see it eventually and it's just easier with him so I let him in. You and Jonas aren't perfect, far from it, but isn't it easier to work on your shit together?"

"I broke up to work myself out, I'm not sure if I've done that," Hanna said.

"I think you have, I think you're stronger than before, and... you know now and Jonas does too, you have to talk to each other. You can't just dance around the issue. You have to talk ok?"

"I know," Hanna said.

"Even when it's hard, even if it's arguing, you talk ok?"

"Ok Matteo," she said.

"And you can both talk to me, don't drag me into your shit, don't put me in the middle, but you can talk to me," he offered.

He didn't mind it so much anymore. Before, it had been all they talked about. It blinded them from seeing what was going on with him, made it seem like they didn't care. He knew that wasn't he case now, that they loved him, differently from how they loved each other, but that was ok.

"You're so good at this stuff Matteo," Hanna said.

"I... I think it's the therapy. I think it's from learning to understand myself, how I form relationships, my feelings and emotions all of it. I have to try harder with this too, I have to be honest even when it's hard," he said.

He smiled when he felt David squeeze him. He knew David felt the same, understood exactly what he was saying.

"It's wonderful to see you like this," she said.

"What do you mean?"

"You hide this side of you a lot, behind your walls, I only saw it in glimpses, but now, it's all the time, I love it," Hanna said.

He leant away from David to hug her. "Talk to Jonas," he said.

He really wanted her to. At first it had been his own guilt, he wanted to get them back together because he blamed himself. Now it was because he wanted them to be happy and he thought they had a shot at being happy together. Maybe it would work out, maybe it wouldn't, but he was pretty sure if he hovered over them continually demanding they talk to each other, they would work something out. Maybe as friends, maybe as more, but they would be close, they had something special.

"I will," she said.

"Take your time, don't push it, but please talk to him."

"I will," she promised.

Matteo nodded and moved back to David, leaning against him heavily, just as Jonas finished up his song.

The crowd erupted then, everyone cheering and clapping as Sam fired confetti into the crowd. Matteo wanted to get his hands on that cannon, it looked fun. For now, he just turned in David's arms and danced with him, while a rainbow of confetti rained down around them. He stared up at all the colour.

His life had been so grey and dull for such a long time, lonely and cold. Now it was overflowing with colour, with joy, and with love. It was perfect.

 

Matteo managed to keep going longer than he'd expected. They'd spent hours at the school, mucking around, disrupting lessons, generally causing chaos, until the teachers told them to please go away. They ended up at some club Kiki had booked out for all of them, everyone from his year and the year below piling in to continue the party. It was fun. He'd danced all night, with David, with Hans, with Jonas. He'd run around whooping and yelling until his excited energy waned.

He hadn't drunk a thing. Everyone else had. They were all pretty wasted, but they kept going.

Matteo couldn't keep going. Once the tiredness set in that was it. But he didn't want to go home yet, so he decided to take a little break, try and wake himself up a little.

Amira found him a few minutes later. He forgot she'd be sober, too. It was funny, the two sober people at the party were the most sensible and the least sensible. He told her that and she just laughed and sat down beside him, reminding him that Mia also didn't drink, and there were plenty of ways to have fun sober. He didn't disagree.

"I am having fun," he said. "I'm just a little tired, just needed a little fresh air."

"This is fresh air?" she said, amused, gesturing to his cigarette.

He smiled, took one last puff, and put it out, not wanting to smoke around her.

"It's hard to give everything up at once," he explained.

"I know, you've done well."

"You stole my weed," he remembered.

"I did," she said.

"How are you hiding it from your parents?"

"Sam's looking after it for me, do you want it back?" she asked.

He wondered what she'd want in return this time.

"Not yet, probably best to give it to Jonas or Abdi, I'm not in a place where I can moderate myself yet," he admitted.

"I think you're pretty damn close. I know you had more on you, I know you stopped by yourself, you could've easily gone out and got more," she said.

"I know... but in some ways it's easier to stop completely stop, than to have a little, because of the way I use it, to block shit out," he explained.

"But if you're not using it for that, it might be easier," she said.

"Amira are you condoning me smoking weed?"

"Absolutely not, what I'm saying is, I think you're strong enough to make your own choices, to not smoke because you don't want to or need to, not because you can't," she clarified.

Matteo nodded and smiled. He got what she was saying, and he appreciated it.

"I do have a question," she said.

"Shoot."

"Why do you keep your weed in a box with your baby pictures?" she asked.

"Did you look?"

"I did. You were a cute kid, what went wrong?" she teased.

He knew she'd looked, he wouldn't be surprised if she taken photos. Whatever he didn't care, he was a cute kid, everyone told him so.

"Oh fuck off. When... when I was thirteen, my mum... she has these attacks, paranoia. She has paranoid anxiety and psychosis, and depression with it. And for her the paranoia manifests as like... religious obsession, she's so scared of sinning, of doing something to displease god," he explained.

"Oh... I didn't realise," Amira said, looking shocked.

It wasn't like her to give her emotion away, but this was heavy shit, the heaviest Matteo had.

"It was fucking scary. I don't know how it was for you, but... even you must have doubts or... you had to have done something wrong, lied or something?"

"Of course I did," she said.

"And you felt bad, right?"

"Yes and I prayed," she said.

"Yeah that's what your parents taught you to do?"

"That it is ok to make mistakes, yes," Amira said, confused, probably wondering where he was going with this.

"Well, that's not what I had... I had endless prayer, I had my mum washing me in freezing baths to cleanse the sin from me, locking me in cupboards to protect me from demons only she could see, made to read the bible out loud until three in the morning..."

He shuddered now at the memory of it. It had been bad. For a long time he'd thought it was normal, that that's how things were for everyone. When he'd realised it wasn't, it had broken him for a while.

"Good god Matteo that must've been horrible," Amira whispered.

"It was, but it wasn't her fault, no one was helping her. I tried, but I was a kid, it wasn't all the time, that was the thing, there were good times too," he said.

It wasn't black and white. Even though that had been terrifying, he still loved his mum. He was still mostly happy as a kid, but he knew part of that was likely due to the fact he'd been too young to process what was happening at the time.

Amira just stared absolutely horrified. He knew she wouldn't understand, not really. She couldn't, having never been through it. He still wanted to tell her, he respected her opinion.

"You forgive her?" she asked.

"Of course, you would too, and it's nothing to do with religion. I forgive her because she's sorry, and I know it's fucked up, but every single thing she did was because she loved me, everything was because she thought it was protecting me. My dad explained once that she was always had some kind of anxiety and it was when I was born that it started getting worse. Postnatal depression and psychosis. It never really went away, or it became something else. It comes and goes but... when she was in it, her reality was different to mine, but through it all, all she wanted to do was protect me."

"Wow. That's wow. You're right you know? To learn about this, to understand it, you'll be good at it, I really think so," she said, still looking like she was about to cry. She wouldn't, she had better control over her emotions did Amira.

"I've never told anyone this, no one except my mum and dad know how bad it was. I'll tell David one day, but there's no pressure there," he said.

He didn't really know why he'd told her all that. He just wanted her to understand him a little better. Jonas, David, the boys, they didn't need to know that shit to understand him. Jonas knew the most, had witnessed some shit, but knew not to push. He knew Matteo could only talk about it when he was ready. Hanna definitely had an idea of how bad it was, she was sensitive to stuff like that. Amira knew he was troubled, but didn't know why. He wanted her to know why.

"You are so strong Matteo, you... I didn't realise just how much you've been through and I know you struggle sometimes, but wow, have you done so well. You shouldn't have had to go through all that so young, but you've proved you're so strong and I know things will be good for you," she said.

"Thank you," he said.

"But er... what does this have to do with your box of baby photos?"

"So this one time when I was thirteen, my mum thought that demons could hurt me using the photos, so she burnt them all," he explained.

Amira gasped.

He'd burnt his own hands trying to save them, but he decided to leave that part out.

"Those in the box are the ones I have left. I protected them with everything I had. It's not just me, it's me and papa, me and mama, all of us together. It was all I had to remember those better times. It's silly, all of it was backed up on my dad's computer, he just printed more for her. But... I thought that was it," he said.

"So all of your precious memories are in that box?"

"Everything I need to keep safe," he said.

"Including your weed?"

"Including my weed," he confirmed.

She laughed.

"What's next for you?" he asked, he didn't think he'd ever asked. He burdened her with his own worries about the future, but he didn't think he'd ever actual asked about her. She'd told him once that she wanted to go to Australia, but they'd never talked about it properly.

"I'm gonna see the world, take a year," she said.

"Australia yeah?"

"Hopefully," she said.

"Nice."

"Hey when I'm back we could go to school together," she said.

"I'd like that, study partners," he agreed.

"Uh oh, here he comes," Amira said.

"He's drunk," Matteo said, watching David stumble over to them. All his had grace vanished. He wasn't really drunk, but Matteo was pretty sure David wasn't used to drinking, it usually only took a couple of beers to get him tipsy. Clingy too, but Matteo wasn't complaining about that.

"Matteo," David said, reaching for him.

"Hey David," Matteo said.

"Come dance with me," David demanded, frowning when Matteo wouldn't let him pull him up.

"No."

"Matteo!"

"I'm sleepy, David, and you're drunk," Matteo said, standing up and opening his arms. David stepped into them and tried to get Matteo to dance. It didn't work and after a few minutes David just sank into his arms and stayed there.

"Let's go back inside boys," Amira said, standing up.

Matteo took David's hand and led him back inside, following Amira. He saw Jonas and Hanna cuddled together on a sofa. That was where he wanted to be right now, so he dragged David over to the sofas. He pushed him down and climbed on top of him, snuggling into him.

"What's going on?" he said, gesturing to Hanna and Jonas, the way they were sitting similarly to him and David.

"We're going to talk," Jonas told him.

Matteo smiled and continued to snuggle against David.

Amira came over with Sam, followed by Mia and Alex. Linn and Hans were sitting on the other sofa with Kiki and Carlos, Abdi on the floor beside them. Sara and Leonie were still dancing. He had no idea how they were still going. He looked around at all of them, then to David and smiled.

"You happy Matteo?" Hans asked.

"So fucking happy, truly happy, in the best fucking way."

David kissed his temple.

"Matteo?" Hanna asked.

"Yeah?"

"You're not scared anymore are you?"

"No. I'm anxious sure, that's always going to be a part of my life. I've been through too much for it not to be. But I'm not scared. My biggest fear was the future, of me ending up alone. I know that won't happen now. I know I'm not the me I used to have in my head for a while, the one that no one wanted, easy to discard. It was hard to realise how untrue that was, but I know that now. You guys, all of you are my family, and you'll always be there for me, and I'll be there for you. And that means I won't be alone. So yeah, the future is scary of course it is. Lydia says that won't go away, that everyone feels like that. But just because something is scary doesn't mean it isn't good, doesn't mean it isn't exciting." He looked up at David again, smiling down at him with eyes full of love. "We don't know what's coming, but we don't have to spend all our time worrying. We can take it day by day. Life is pretty good right now, pretty fucking fantastic, with you, all of you. Especially you," he said, kissing David again. "And I am going to enjoy it."

Jonas clapped, and David held him tight.

"I fucking love you Matteo Florenzi," he whispered.

"Love you too David."

Life was good. Ten weeks ago he'd been unstable and angry, desperately trying to push everyone away, keep them out because he was so afraid they were leaving. But they'd all stayed. They'd stayed when he'd pushed them time and time again. Hell, even his dad was back. He was working on mending his relationship with his parents. But he had a family with these people here. These friends who loved him without question or hesitation, this boy who loved him intensely and with his whole heart, despite the fear it caused him. Yes, Matteo was loved and life was pretty good.

Chapter Text

Matteo hadn't wanted to go to the Abiball. He hadn't wanted to go when Sara asked him and it was nothing to do with him being gay and everything to do with him not wanting to take part in school stuff. He knew he'd done the abiprank, and it had been fun, but he'd thought that was it. He'd thought David and him were on the same page, that the Abiball was stupid and it would be more fun to stay in together.

So when David had nervously asked him if he would go as his date, Matteo had been blindsided. He hadn't reacted well.

He'd been studying for his oral exam. Spanish only. Biology and history had gone better than he could've imagined, but Mr Rivera had called him in, said he wanted to give him a chance to improve his grade. That he knew Matteo's Spanish was brilliant, and he'd honestly thought it was laziness holding him back. He understood that better now. He was sorry for assuming, and he wanted to give him a shot.

And he had. A week later Matteo had spoken with him for almost an hour, in Spanish, about the book he'd set him to read. About all the literary techniques he'd learnt and about the author, too. He'd talked a little Spanish history and politics and a little about his upcoming trip to around Europe, and Rivera had suggested places for him to visit. The teacher had been impressed, said he'd known Matteo had it in him and given him top marks.

Two days later he'd walked away with a transcript he couldn't quite believe, with the grades he'd been predicted back when he was fifteen and choosing his subjects, back when he showed so much promise. He'd done fucking well, and he was proud of himself for once. He'd felt like that a lot lately.

But about a week before all that he'd been focussed on studying for Spanish, what was supposed to be the last school thing he had. And then David had asked him to the Abiball. Out of nowhere. They'd been mucking around. Wrestling and making out and barely studying and he'd just stopped, stared at him for a moment, then asked.

Matteo had said no without thinking and David had looked crushed. He was brave though, he wouldn't leave it at that. He'd asked Matteo why not and shot down every one of his excuses.

What if he failed Spanish?

He'd practically already passed.

He couldn't dance.

David didn't care, they could just dance together and be silly.

It wasn't his scene.

David would make sure he had fun, and the boys would be there, too.

They needed to pack for their trip; they were going the very next day.

They would make sure to do it before they went out.

He didn't have anything to wear.

David would take him shopping.

He had too, had dragged him all over town, teased him for being fussy, until they found a charity shop with what he needed. David had of course teased him some more for his suspenders and his hat, but if he wanted him to go to the ball that was what he was wearing.

So now he was standing in front of the mirror, about as smartly dressed as you'd get him these days. He looked so different, he almost didn't recognise himself. The shadows under his eyes had almost completely faded now. His pale skin had a little colour to it. His hair was still messy, but it was clean, too. He looked healthier. He'd put on weight, was less gaunt. Linn had commented the other day, said he no longer looked like a strong breeze would blow him over. He was even standing up straighter, no longer hunching over, trying to hide. He didn't need to hide anymore.

Still, he sighed and tugged at his sleeves. He looked ok, he supposed. He still felt silly dressed up like this. He put the hat on, combined with his overly long fringe he should still be able to hide his face.

He still didn't want to go.

That was until David stepped back into the room, dressed in his dark navy suit, his wild hair tamed and slicked back. Fucking hell he looked good. He looked so good. Matteo looked down at himself and felt embarrassed, so he turned to David and stared.

"You look so good David," he said.

"Thank you, so do you," David said, coming over and pulling him in by his suspenders for a kiss.

"Shut up, no I don't," Matteo muttered.

"Yes you do, if we had time I'd draw you right now, you look so fucking cute I just wanna stay here and kiss you."

"We could do that," Matteo offered.

"Nope, I wanna dance with you, show you off, make everyone jealous," David said, kissing him again.

"Shut up David," Matteo said, feeling beyond embarrassed now.

David tutted, getting it right away.

"No Matteo, you look good and I'll tell you all night if I have to, now let's go dance," he said.

"You're a pain in the ass."

"You love it," David said, ushering him out of his room.

Laura caught them before they could leave. Matteo had been hoping to make a quick exit, but no, she had a camera in her hands. His patience with all of this was really wearing thin.

"Get your shoes on boys, let me get a picture," she said.

"What for?" Matteo muttered, but he did as she asked.

"Well you can send it to your mum," Laura suggested, ignoring his grumpiness.

Matteo just shrugged and let her arrange him how she wanted. Beside him, David was beaming with joy. Matteo knew he should be too, but he couldn't shake off this mood. He felt stupid and embarrassed.

"Smile Matteo," Laura said, pointing the camera at them.

Matteo didn't smile, just stared blankly.

"Smile Matteo," David said, poking at his cheeks. "Matteo?"

Matteo just turned to stare at him.

"What's wrong?" David asked gently.

"I don't know," Matteo whispered, feeling silly and overdramatic. What the hell was wrong with him? Why couldn't he be a good boyfriend? This happened sometimes though, his mood dipped and left him feeling grumpy and out of sorts. He was a lot more stable than he used to be, but not every day was a good one.

"Come here," David said, pulling him close. "We don't have to go if you don't want to," he said.

"You want to," Matteo argued.

"I do, but if you don't want to, we don't have to," David said.

"I just... I feel silly. And it's all really over with this, you know? When this is over, that's it. And I'm scared."

"Oh Matteo it's not over. It's just beginning. This is the end of one chapter, tomorrow is the beginning of the next, and you know what that is? That's all our adventures together, we're gonna have so many, you and me. Some of them will be exciting. We'll see new places, do new things. Some of them will be challenging, like school or work. Some of them will be boring, like when we're old and date night is just the two of us curled up on the sofa-"

"I wanna do that now," Matteo said.

"Me too, and if you want to we can, but... I know you hate endings, but this isn't the end. I know you hate change, but some things are staying the same. Like we're still gonna wake up together tomorrow, you'll still make me coffee and breakfast even though you don't drink it. And some things will be different, we're going on a road trip. So tonight let's dance, because you gotta get good, our life is going to be filled with dancing," David said.

"It is?"

"It is," David insisted.

"Ok. I like dancing with you," Matteo admitted.

"I love dancing with you," David said.

"Photos?"

"Yes please Laura, sorry for being moody," Matteo said.

"No problem, you don't have to be on all the time Matteo," she assured him.

"Thanks Laura," Matteo said.

"Now smile, you're cute when you smile," she said.

He blushed. She'd said that just to make him blush. But he continued to smile and pose while she took their photos. David got fed up before he did in the end. He dragged Matteo out of the door, yelling at Laura not to wait up.

 

It took them a while to get to the ball. David really did think he looked good, he kept stopping Matteo to look at him. By the time they got there, his face was on fire from all the attention. Part of it was to boost his confidence, but he knew David was being sincere.

They got there, and he tugged David over to Hanna and Jonas, not wanting to see anyone else until he'd calmed down.

"Hey guys," Jonas said.

He and Hanna were arm in arm.

"Whats this then?" Matteo asked.

"We're taking it slow," Hanna said.

"We're not," Matteo said, leaning against David

"No you're not are you? Practically married you two, going on holiday together and everything," Jonas teased.

"Not a holiday, Jonas," David said. "It's a road trip."

"What's the difference?" Hanna asked.

"The sense of adventure," David explained. He'd had this conversation several times now, wouldn't let anyone call it a holiday. Matteo had said holiday once, and he'd been tackled to the bed. It hadn't been so bad though. He'd tried calling it a holiday again, but David had learnt that rolling around with Matteo wasn't exactly punishment for him.

"How exactly are you doing a road trip? You don't even drive," Hanna said, amused by David's distinction.

"Hitchhiking," Matteo told them.

"Your mum know about that Matteo?" Jonas asked.

"She does not and you are not to tell her or your mum," Matteo said.

His mum had insisted they get the train. She'd given him money for a ticket, but they wanted to hitchhike. It was more fun that way, according to David.

Jonas just grinned.

"Where to first?"

"Amsterdam," David told them.

"Nice," Jonas said.

"Then just all the way out Portugal, and then we'll double back along the south coast to Italy until we get to Matteo's grandma's."

"My dad offered for us to fly back, but we might just take it slow anyway, there's no rush," Matteo said.

He was looking forward to seeing his dad. He'd gone back home now, everything sorted with his life in Berlin, but he sounded keen to see him. Matteo really thought they might be able to heal. They'd spoken on the phone a few times now, and Matteo believed him when he said he was sorry. He forgave him; he wanted him in his life, so he forgave him.

"I have to do my film school application, but I'm looking for inspiration in our travels," David said.

"Then when we do get back you all have to help him work on it," he said as Abdi, Sam, Kiki and Amira joined him.

"We do do we?" Amira said, amused.

"I'll help," Sam said. "I can do costumes," she offered.

"Yeah? Thanks," David said, grinning.

"No problem."

"We'll all help," Kiki said.

"Where's Carlos?" Matteo asked.

"Not coming," she said sadly.

Carlos had failed his resits. Matteo had had no idea he'd even been struggling. Abdi had, he'd done his best to support him, as had Kiki, so at least he wasn't alone.

Still, Matteo had felt bad. He'd called him yesterday, and they'd talked about school and the future and Matteo had reminded him he had options. That it wasn't over for him just because it didn't look too bright at the moment. He'd reminded Carlos how he'd been there for him when everything was dark and while this wasn't the same, he thought of him as a brother and he would always be there for him, too.

He got why he couldn't be here though, hell he'd barely been able to face it and he'd passed, so he got it.

"You ok?" he asked Kiki.

She was putting on a brave face, but she smiled brightly at him.

"I'm ok," she insisted.

"Carlos is missing out, you look very pretty tonight," he told her.

"Thank you Matteo," she said.

"Fucking charmer," David whispered, wrapping his arms around his waist and pressing kisses to his cheeks.

"He always has been," Hanna told him.

"I have to get to the stage, see you later," Kiki said.

They watched her go join Leonie on stage, and then Matteo turned to David.

"Having fun?" David asked.

"I'm not not having fun," Matteo admitted. It wasn't as bad as he thought it would be.

"Always an argument with you."

Matteo just threw his arms around David's neck and let him sway him as if they were dancing for a bit. Then he dragged him over to the food. That was the one good thing, that there was food.

Unfortunately, he barely got to take a bite before his name was being called out. As was David's. Best couple? What the fuck? He ignored it and turned back to the food, but Sam and Amira pushed him toward the stage.

This was fucking ridiculous, and he told David as much. David seemed perplexed, but unlike him he seemed kind of excited about it. So he let himself be dragged onto the stage for his stupid prize. David got a sash and apparently he had a tiara.

He tried to refuse; he struggled with David and Kiki as they tried to crown him prom princess or whatever the fuck was happening. He glared at Leonie, but she just smiled sweetly. Just as he was about to give in and let them put the tiara on him, a loud siren sounded, distracting everyone and allowing him to escape Kiki's clutches. Then they were being ushered back outside. He sure was being pulled about all over the place today.

David just grinned and handed him a sandwich he'd snuck from the tray before they'd been dragged away. He was the best like that.

Matteo had wondered where Jonas had disappeared to, he figured he was behind this, some abichaker thing. Jonas had been hinting about it all week, Matteo had been ignoring it, he just didn't care. He was impressed though; they stepped outside to chaos, everyone flinging paint at each other.

Now this was fun, this wasn't what he'd been expecting. He'd been expecting a stuffy dinner with their teachers, then everyone getting drunk around him.

He grabbed a pouch of paint powder, David did too.

He knew they were supposed to run into the crowds and throw it at everyone, but he stood there staring at David, like a standoff. Then they went for it flinging the paint at each other and wrestling to make the most mess of their clothes and hair. Then they joined hands and ran into the battle.

Five minutes later he was covered, filthy but colourful. He looked ridiculous, but he felt better. He felt less silly covered with paint than he had all clean. He felt like he fit in with everyone else. David looked good too, Matteo stepped towards him and brushed his cheeks, he was absolutely covered in the stuff. Matteo didn't care, he stepped closer rubbing his face against David's. Smearing paint over both their faces.

Hand in hand, they wandered over to Leonie. Matteo wanted to have a stern word with her about her shenanigans tonight. Trying to give him a crown. Who did she think she was?

"Looking good boys," she said as they approached. She hugged David and then him tightly.

Fine, maybe he wouldn't tell her off.

"You look lovely tonight too," he said instead.

"Having fun?"

"It's alright," he said. David kicked him.

"Alright? Alright? I'll have you know me and Kiki put this whole thing together and we've done an amazing fucking job Matteo Florenzi."

He just grinned at her, he wasn't scared of her anymore.

"You did a brilliant fucking job," he said. "Where's your shadow?"

"Sara? With her new man," Leonie told him.

That caught his attention.

"What? Who?"

Leonie pointed to Sara dancing with some tall guy who looked familiar.

"Who is that?" he demanded.

"Sam," Leonie said, amused at his annoyance.

"Do I know him?”

"He kissed Hanna," she said.

Matteo knew him. He scowled.

"He is a nice guy, Sara likes him," Leonie said.

"Wow, you're really protective of her," David said, squeezing his hand.

"Sara deserves the best," Matteo said.

"This was why I never broke them up even though he so clearly wasn't into her like that, he cares so damn much and Sara deserved that care. Go on, go interrogate them," she said.

"Ok?" he asked David.

"Go have some fun Matteo, mingle and shit, I'll come find you when I need kisses," David said.

Matteo kissed him, then and marched off to Sara and Sam. They were dancing together, but Sara pulled back as soon as she saw him.

"Look at you all dressed up Matteo, thought this wasn't your scene," she said.

"It isn't, David wanted to come, but the paint shit made it a lot more fun," he said.

"You're welcome. This is Sam," she said, introducing him.

"Matteo. And Sam is?"

"My date," Sara said.

"Nice to meet you," Sam said with a smile.

Matteo stared.

"Matteo's my ex," Sara said, smiling, she loved all this drama. Even though it wasn't really drama.

"Oh er..."

"I'm gay," Matteo clarified, before Sam got confused.

"So now we're friends, right?" Sara said.

"We are," Matteo said.

"So he's here to check up on you, I think," Sara told Sam.

"That's right," Matteo said, knowing there was nothing he could do to seem threatening to this guy. Still Sam seemed nervous.

"Er... I'm gonna go get a beer," Sam said, making himself scarce.

"You scared off my date," Sara said.

"He's a fucking chicken being scared of me," Matteo said.

Sara just smiled.

"He good to you?"

"Yep."

Matteo just waited.

"Look he's sweet, he's handsome, and it doesn't hurt that he's damn good in bed," she said.

Matteo laughed. "Yeah?"

"Seriously Matteo, last night he-"

Matteo covered his ears.

She grinned at him and kissed his cheek.

"Thank you for checking up on me, Sam is great, treats me right and we're having fun, that's what I need right now," she said.

"Good, that's good," Matteo said.

"You and David, he treat you right?"

"Yeah, he treats me good, he's the best."

"Good at sex?"

"Shut up. But yeah fucking amazing," he admitted.

"Nice." She held her hand up for a high five and he slapped it.

"Do you like my dress?" she asked.

"Is it the one I picked?"

"No Matteo, it's better," she said.

"I like it. You look lovely," he told her. It was the truth, she looked beautiful tonight.

"Right, I want to make out, and you're no good for that, so I'm gonna find Sam. I'll see you soon alright? Don't be a stranger," she said.

"I won't, have fun," he said, watching her go over to Sam and pull him into a kiss. He seemed able to keep up with her, at least.

He looked around, not sure where to go now, David was dancing with Leonie and some other people he didn't recognise. Jonas and Hanna were tucked away in the corner. Jonas looked up and smiled. Matteo waved, but he didn't go over, they looked happy together. All his friends were happy, and that made him happy.

He pulled out his phone and sent Carlos a quick text, letting him know he was missed, but that he got it. He asked if they could meet up later, after he was back from his trip. Carlos sent him a thumbs up which meant he was moping, but Matteo got it, he would check in again in a couple of days. Just as he was putting his phone away, Abdi jumped on him.

"Sam looks so fucking beautiful tonight," he said.

"You talk to her?"

"Yes. I told her I wanted sex, and to make myself stand out I told her I had a really long tongue," Abdi said.

"Jesus fucking Christ," Matteo said, covering his face with his hand. He thought he might die of secondhand embarrassment.

"Girls like that," Abdi insisted.

Now Matteo never claimed to be any good with girls, but even he knew that was fucking weird.

"Do they? Look go talk to her again and tell her you like her, and if she says she's not interested, then you just gotta accept that. Sam's lovely and you're lucky to have her as your friend," Matteo said.

"That's true, she's pretty amazing," Abdi said dreamily.

"What do you like about her, really?"

"She's cool, in a scary way," Abdi said.

Matteo raised an eyebrow.

"She intimidates you?"

"Yeah," Abdi said excitedly.

"And you like that?"

"Totally," he said.

"Go tell her that then," Matteo suggested.

"You think so?"

"Yeah why not, it can't go worse than telling her you have a long tongue," Matteo said.

"Carlos said-"

"I don't care!"

"Ok, I'm gonna do it," Abdi insisted, bouncing eagerly.

"Go for it," he said.

He watched Abdi rush off and watched him try to get Sam's attention, waiting patiently for her to finish talking to Kiki. At least he was polite. Abdi was a good guy, he had that going for him.

"What did you tell him to say?" Amira asked, coming to stand beside him.

"Told him to tell her she intimidated him, that's what he's into apparently," Matteo told her.

"Might work," Amira said.

"Yeah?"

"I think Sam's looking for something more casual though," Amira warned.

"Hm."

"Abdi's not?"

Matteo didn't really know, but he didn't think so. He'd been going on about Sam for a while now. He supposed he should pay more attention; he tended to tune them all out when they talked about sex.

"No I don't think so," he said.

"Probably won't work then," Amira said knowingly.

"They could still have fun, a summer thing, I think Abdi would take anything he could get," Matteo said.

He and Abdi were different in that way.

"Well Sam is honest, she'll let him know what she wants from the start, if he still wants something then that's on him," Amira said.

"True, he's a big boy," Matteo said.

If he still wanted to pursue something, he knew what he was doing.

"Oh look," Amira said.

Abdi and Sam were making out. Wow. That had worked. And fast too.

"Damn I'm like cupid," Matteo said.

"Sure you are, where's your boy?"

"Dancing with his friends," Matteo said, pointing them out.

"And you're not with him because?"

"They're all kinda cool," he said.

He was scared to approach them, David was having fun, and he didn't want to interrupt that.

"Fair enough. Summer's here, you made it Matteo," she said proudly.

He had. It had been hard, there'd been times when he genuinely didn't think he could, when he thought summer, passing his exams, Abiball, was all out of his reach. Hell part of the reason he hadn't wanted to come tonight was because it didn't feel real. He really couldn't believe he'd made it, he was scared he was going to wake up and it would be winter again and life would be beating him.

But it wasn't, summer was here, and he'd made it. He was going to keep making it.

"I did," he whispered. "I'm going on a road trip tomorrow, with David, we're going on an adventure."

"I know, I'm still working on my mum for Australia," Amira said.

"I'm not even telling my mum the full details," Matteo told her.

"I can't get away with that," Amira said.

"My mum worries too much, I'd be scared to trigger something, I told you what she was like. Also, Australia is way further, we're only going round Europe," he said.

"Fair point," Amira Sid.

"You'll get there, you're far more mature than me, far more sensible. Can't you tell her it's experience for Uni? You need shit like that for your application right?" he suggested.

"That's the angle I'm working," she agreed.

"Oh here." Matteo reached into his pocket and pulled out the tiara, placing it on Amira's head. "Perfect," he said.

It suited her way better, went beautifully with her dark headscarf and her glittering jewelry. She looked like real princess.

"Thank you," Amira said.

"Like the princess you are," he said sincerely.

Amira rolled her eyes, and then nodded to David.

He looked so good dancing, so cool the way he moved. Matteo wanted to go over so badly, wanted to be with him. David had said he'd make it fun for him. Surely he wouldn't mind if he went over? He didn't really know what was stopping him.

"Go to him," Amira said gently, seeming to understand his reluctance, that he needed a push.

"Yeah?"

"Yeah Matteo, go dance with your boy. And have fun on your trip, make sure you're back before the end of summer," she said.

"I will be," he promised.

He carefully approached David, feeling shy for intruding, but the moment David saw him he grabbed him and pulled him into the circle of his friends.

He shuffled awkwardly, not sure how to move, but David just wrapped his arms around him and shuffled with him, then started moving him, swaying him to the music. Matteo relaxed into it and let David guide him, let them move to the music. He wasn't an awful dancer; he did have ballet, after all. He was just awkward in general. David thought he looked good though. He whispered in his ear how good he looked, so Matteo gave into it. He let himself move, let himself dance with his boyfriend, let himself have fun.

They danced for hours, with each other, and with their friends. It was fun. Matteo enjoyed it a lot more than he thought he would.

David got steadily drunker and Matteo got more and more tired, until he felt like he would collapse. Eventually David took his hand and led him away from the dance floor.

"Wanna get out of here?" he asked.

"You don't want to keep dancing?"

"I wanna take you home and have sex, you look so fucking hot in smart clothes."

Matteo was glad it was dark, and he was covered in paint. His face went hot at that. David always disarmed him like that.

"Not happening," Matteo said, waving to his friends and letting David lead him away,

"Why?" David whined, grabbing at Matteo's waistband.

Matteo just grabbed his hands. Damn, David was clingy and horny when he was drunk. Well, more so than usual.

"Because you're drunk dummy," Matteo said, smiling and leading him home.

"I am," David agreed.

"So I'm going to take you home and put you to bed," Matteo said.

"Yeah ok that sounds good, we can have sex in the morning instead," David said pleasantly.

Matteo rolled his eyes.

"We're setting off on our trip tomorrow and there's no way you're not going to be hungover. I'll take care of you though," Matteo promised.

"That's because you're the best," David said, pushing him up against the wall and kissing him hard.

Matteo kissed him back until he was breathless. Then he pulled back and dragged him along the street, he wanted to get David home now. He wanted to make out with David all night. Or at least until he fell asleep.

"You have a good night?" Matteo asked, as they walked.

"Yes the best," David said, pinging Matteo's suspenders.

"I didn't think you'd want to go," Matteo said.

"I didn't," David said.

"Oh?"

Matteo frowned.

"I mean I did, I really really wanted to go. I wasn't going to and then we started dating and I really wanted to take you. I never thought I could, so I was just gonna stay in with you, because I knew you didn't much care. But I was with Leonie and Sara and they were talking about how fun it was going to be. So I told them I couldn't go, because of the ceremony, because my birthname is on all my paperwork."

Matteo hadn't even thought of that. He'd assumed until last week David just didn't care, but of course he did. David loved all this stuff. He deserved to have a fun end to his school experience, especially after all he'd been through. Now he was really glad they'd gone, and that Sara and Leonie were his friends.

He squeezed David's hand, and they continued to walk.

"Oh yeah, but... oh, it never happened because of the paint thing?" Matteo said, assuming Sara had had something to do with that.

"They'd already had it planned, so Sara just made sure it would cut off the ceremony," David said.

"Nice," Matteo said.

"Yeah, so I really wanted to go, with you, I just didn't think I'd be able to, because they would read out my birth name and shit. I'd called Dr Steinberg and told her I wasn't coming."

"But then they didn't get a chance?"

"Exactly and I got to have my Abiball just like I wanted," David said, swaying slightly in his drunkenness.

"Perfect," Matteo said.

"I'm so happy," David said, twirling him around. Matteo just smiled and let him. They were almost home now.

"And so drunk," Matteo said fondly.

"No Matteo seriously, I'm so fucking happy. Thank you for coming with me. I know you're not doing good today, your mood is lower right?"

It was nothing huge, but today had been harder than usual. "It is, it should pass," he said.

"I know, day by day, baby," David said.

Baby was new, Matteo blushed.

"Jesus David," he muttered.

"Love you Matteo," David said.

"I love you too David, let's get you home," Matteo said.

"Are you sure we can't have sex?"

"I’m sure. You're drunk and I'm tired, but we can cuddle and make out for a while," Matteo promised.

"That's good too, I love cuddling with you, it's the best. I'm looking forward to our trip, we can cuddle and kiss in all new places."

"I'm excited... I think I need a change of scene," Matteo said.

He'd been feeling this way for a little while. He wanted to get a way for a little while, somewhere no one knew him. No one except David.

"You scared?" David asked

"A little, but I am excited, it will be fun," Matteo said.

"It will, Amsterdam here we come," David said, swinging their hands.

"No weed though," Matteo said.

"There's plenty more to do," David assured him.

"Art and shit?"

"There is so much I want to show you," David said.

Matteo smiled. "Thats why I'm excited, to see all the shit you like, it's going to be such a fucking adventure," he said.

"It is," David said, spinning to face him. Grinning wide, his eyes were clear, he was sobering up. "I'm so excited," he said.

"For our trip?" Matteo asked.

"For our future," David said.

Matteo smiled then, he liked the sound of that.

The future wasn't scary to him when it involved David.

"I'm excited about our future too, I don't know what it's going to be, but I'm excited," he said.

"I don't know either, but I know it's going to be fucking great. I can almost see it, the road trip, the rest of summer, film school, it's going to be so good, and you're going to be there, every step of the way," he said, so happy it was infectious.

"I am and... I'm gonna go to school next year and they'll help me figure out what to do with my life but... I think I want to do something with psych, maybe helping people who've been though what I have. Childhood shit," Matteo suggested nervously.

David nodded.

"You'd be so good at that, you're so patient with people. Something caring would suit you," he said sincerely.

"Yeah?"

"You'll figure it out and we'll be so happy," David said.

They were home now, back to Laura's.

Matteo got David inside and into his room.

He collapsed onto the bed and watched David getting undressed; he was trying to be sexy. It was working, even though he was still a little tipsy.

Matteo knew what was coming next.

David came over to the bed and tried to pull his clothes off. Matteo didn't put up any resistance, he let David undress him, then pulled him into his arms, cuddling him close.

Matteo just smiled at his silly drunk boyfriend. He believed him. They were going to be happy. Because if Matteo had learnt anything it was that he could be happy, that he was in charge of it. That yeah times would get tough again, but he was strong enough to get through it. And when he wasn't, then his friends would take the weight until he was up again. He was so far from that lonely, sad boy he'd been in the winter. Summer was here. He was loved; he was happy, and he was content.

He was going on an adventure with his boyfriend.

Hell their whole life was going to be an adventure. Like David said, whether they were travelling or lazing in bed on a Sunday morning, every moment with David was exciting, and Matteo couldn't wait to spend so many exciting moments with David.