BY : RandomJaz
Category: +S through Z > South Park
Dragon prints: 7362
Disclaimer: I do not own South Park or any of it's characters, nor do I profit from this fanfiction.

AUTHOR'S NOTE: Hey, Guys! College started again for me and I've got a lot of stuff going on, but I'm still trucking through because I love writing and I love your support! Shout out to my Archive of Our Own site readers for the continued feedback.

Also, the song referenced in this chapter is "Gospel" by Panic! At the Disco.


The sound of an alarm clock wasn't what woke me up when another unwelcome school morning began. I'd slept through my alarm, barely making out the sound of my phone ringing. I had a text from Mike, and a missed call already.

He had decided to call me twice in a row after getting no text back, or an answer, to the first call.

"Hey..." I mumbled in to my cellphone, raspy from my morning voice. "What is it?"

"... Did you just wake up?"

"Uh-huh." I grunted, looking at the time. "I didn't hear my alarm go off."

There wasn't any way I was going to get up and ready in time for the bus. I wasn't going to be inconsiderate and make Mike wait for me, either. I told him to go without me so he could get there on time. I'd find another way to school.

"If we're late to our first class, it's not a huge deal." he refuted the suggestion that he leave me behind. "Or, if we miss it, then we miss it. We don't have a test, today. It's fine."

Whatever we were doing that morning, if we even made it to First Period, was likely another worksheet from a reading we could easily do at home.

"I don't want to sit out here with the engine running, I'll see you in a minute."

Mike rang the doorbell for my mother to let him in when I rolled out of bed. I was at the sink brushing my teeth when he came upstairs.

The bathroom door was open so he could see me standing there about as limp as someone could be while still standing. I had to lean with one hand on the countertop while I brushed.

It was early, and my sleep was bad. I think I got four hours, maybe. I felt slow and sluggish, indescribably tired.

"Mornings aren't your strong point, but this is painful to watch." Mike said when I passed him, lifeless and hollow. "Did you not sleep well, again?"

"I'll wake up after a shower. I won't take long."

"Don't rush on my account."

The shower didn't do anything for me but freshen me up. I came out clean, and just as lethargic as I'd been when getting in. Today was going to suck more than usual, two days in a row.

All I could get on my body were underwear before I had to sit down. The pants I had ready to pull on, were in my lap. Getting them on felt impossible, my limbs were heavy. I didn't have the strength to use them to their full capacity.

"Is it hot in here?" I asked, winded. "It's definitely hot in here, right?"

"It's the dead of December, Pete. It isn't hot in here, trust me."

I didn't care what time of year it was. I was hot. Maybe Mom put the heat on too high or something.

My current struggle didn't cross Mike as the byproduct of someone who had trouble getting out of bed in the morning. He deemed something was off, picking me apart as I pushed with everything I had to get myself in to a pair of black sweatpants.

It wasn't physically possible to get myself in to skinny jeans, that morning. I couldn't mentally digest the hypothetical ordeal. Sweatpants were easier.

"Could you grab me a t-shirt from that drawer?" Saying the words themselves drained my dying battery further, I was running on fumes. "Literally any shirt is fine."

"Before I do that..."

The drawer full of black and gray shirts didn't get Mike's immediate attention. I should have been shivering, sitting there shirtless and fresh from the shower, but I wasn't. Mike lightly pressed his lips to my forehead in what it appeared to be an affectionate gesture. It wasn't.

"Oh…" Alarmed, Mike pulled back an inch. "That feels like a fever."

"Don't most people use their hands to decide that?" I criticized his methods.

"My hands are cold, you know that. It wouldn't have worked."

Convinced I was feverish, Mike requested I tell him where we kept a thermometer so he could get an accurate reading. He was going to make this a bigger deal than it had to be. I suck at mornings, and I was having another bad one. A thermometer wasn't going to tell him that.

"I got four hours of sleep last night, if I was lucky." I argued. "I'm tired, not sick."

"Thermometer, where is it?"

"You don't need to take my freaking temperature. Pass me a shirt so I can finish getting dressed and we can leave"

Mike crossed his arms, tapping the toe of his boot. He blinked at me twice, unyielding. The last person to give me that look was Mom when I put up a fight over going go get my flu shot at the local pharmacy. Which I didn't get.

Totally unrelated.

"Tell me where it is now, or I'm going to find one on my own." Mike threatened me. "If I have to drive to the pharmacy and buy a thermometer, you're going to be sorry."

"Why would I be sorry that you went out of your way to get something I TOLD you we don't need?"

Mike got a look to him that wavered on annoyed, but not there. Yet. That warning glower you hit your kid with when they're being difficult for no justifiable reason, that's what I was getting.

"Don't fight me on this. It's for your own good."

"I'm not telling you where it is. I'm FINE."

"Let me put this in a way you're more likely to understand…if you make me go to the pharmacy, I'm buying a rectal thermometer to get back at you. And, if you think I won't check your temperature when I get back, you have another thing coming."

If my mother had said that to me, I would have laughed despite myself. Could've been a Nurse. The school nurse, even. Stan could have said it and I wouldn't have taken it any more seriously.

Mike said it, and I could visualize the emasculating scene unfolding. There was Vaseline involved. And, running.

And, screaming. Because if I didn't have the strength to get dressed, I wasn't going to have the strength to out run him.

He would take my dignity right along with my temperature. Without giving a fuck as to whether my parents were home, or not. The entire neighborhood would hear me having my temperature taken like a temperamental toddler.

That wasn't an experience I wanted to have with Mike…the first time he goes near my ass and it's with a thermometer? Absolutely not.

"There's an oral thermometer in the medicine cabinet."

"That's what I thought."

Having something put up my ass wasn't foreign, obviously. A thermometer just wasn't something I wanted put up there by my boyfriend. Not a sexy vibe.

Unless I'm dying and there's no other way to get my temperature, that's a hardcore "no" in my book. Mike being the one to get it in there would be the end of me. I'd never live that down.

"Here we go." The device beeped when Mike turned it on.

He held it near my mouth. I glared at it. This wasn't fair.

"Lets do this the easy way. Open up." Mike instructed, gentler now that I'd cooperated and told him where that stupid thermometer was. "Come on, baby bat. Under the tongue."


I closed my lips around it, eager to rub Mike's nose in it when it beeped and showed I didn't have a fever. Seconds passed, I glared up at him the whole time. The little device went off and he pulled it from my mouth.

"101.4 degrees Fahrenheit."

"You're lying."

Putting the digital screen in my face, Mike provided evidence to his findings. I had a fever. Son of a bitch.

"You're sick. And you didn't get enough sleep." Mike put the thermometer down. "Get back in bed."

"I can go to school. I'm not using an absence for-."

"I said bed. Go."

"It's Friday. I'll have the whole weekend to sleep."

"Bed. Right now."

Mike got a shirt and pulled it over my head, getting me situated under the bed covers. Which I didn't want.

"It's too warm." I threw them off right away.

"It's not warm in here." Calm, Mike put them over my back for a second time. "You only think it's warm because you're sick."

"Doesn't make me feel any less like I'm dying of heat."

There wasn't medicine of any kind to be seen when Mike had poked around the medicine cabinet for the thermometer. First and foremost, he wanted me in bed. Secondly, he wanted to get my fever down. The barren medicine cabinet wasn't helping.

"Where are your house keys?" Mike asked, looking around to try and spot them on his own.

"My house keys?"

"I'm going to the store. I need a way back in that isn't through the second-floor window. And, don't forget to call out of work while you're still awake."

Funny how Mike told me he wants me to be a healthier person, finding me sick the very next day. A fever wasn't going to take me down, but he came back from the store lightening fast.

"You were only supposed to get fever reducer. Why did you get all this? Tylenol would have been fine."

He got Dayquil and Nyquil, explaining that they had fever reducer in them.

"We don't know what you're sick with. For now, these will take care of the fever. If other symptoms start popping up, this will cover that, too."

Peeling the protective seal off the neck of the Nyquil bottle, Mike twisted off the cap and poured out a measured dose in to the plastic cup.

"It isn't night time."

"It isn't night time, but you need to sleep." He said, handing me the medicine with sleep aid in it. "Just for today, you'll take this during the day."

Over the counter medicine wasn't the nastiest thing I'd ever tasted. I was actually guilty of drinking cough medicine with my friends before… I just didn't like having someone telling me what to do.

"Ugh…" I took the dose in one go. "There. Now step off, already."

"That's a funny way to say 'thank you'."

I made some disgruntled, dismissive sound and laid back down on my stomach, facing away from Mike. The covers were thrown off again. It was a matter of time before Mike would put them back on me so I could bake like a potato wrapped in tin foil.

"You're going to miss second period too if you don't head out, soon." I told him, praying he'd go soon and the nanny dynamic could walk out the door with him.

"Promise me you'll take it easy while I'm gone."

"I don't know. Today felt like the perfect day to break out Mom's workout videos."

As predicted, Mike fixed the bed covers. This time, he pulled them up past my waist instead of to my shoulders.

"It's cold in here, I can't not put them on you." Mike sighed. "I know you're going to kick these off. Just wait until I'm gone, okay?"

Mike knew I was going to kick everything off. But, he tucked me in no differently than if he had full faith in me to leave everything where it was and obediently go to sleep.

I was pissy and uncooperative. He was taking care of me how he promised he would. I was being a bratty prick about it and couldn't bring myself to stop.

What was wrong with me? Mike deserved gratitude, not this. He could have easily left without doing anything for me.

"Text me if you want me to bring you something after I get out of school." Mike raised a knee up on the bed behind me to lean over me and plant a kiss on to my cheek.

Mike's heels clicking as he left didn't relieve me. Each step stuck a pin in me. He was leaving...damn it, he was leaving.

I didn't really want him to leave.

"You'll be okay here, by yourself?" He got to the door, and didn't go right away.

"I'm here by myself, all the time."

"…Be good, baby bat. I'll be back for you this this afternoon."

Mike bid me goodbye, closing the door. He was gone. The room felt cold now. It wasn't the same cold Mike felt. This cold feeling couldn't be fixed with another blanket or a jacket.

I left the covers where they were, I couldn't kick them off.


Catching up with the sleep I missed wasn't refreshing or rejuvenating. Around Eleven in the morning, I woke up. I didn't have a cigarette or a mug of coffee yet, so I could feel my stomach twisting and rumbling for food. It was nauseating, I was so hungry.

Home alone, I went and looked for what I could have to fix this inconvenience. The coffee maker on the counter tempted me, but I didn't have the motivation to clean out the pot my lazy dad left in the sink, or wait around for the coffee to brew. Coming down here was enough and pushing it.

There were cans of soda in the fridge. I took one, scanning the shelf for something I could get in me without any effort going in to it. There was deli meat, but I didn't want to make a sandwich. I'd have to get the bread, cheese and condiments out, too… open it all, and then put it all away afterwards.

I was running out of time, feeling lightheadedness take over. Grab something and get back up the stairs while you can, Pete. C'mon.

The fridge wasn't getting me anywhere. I took another sleeve of mom's crackers from the pantry. Along with a cupful of peanut M&M's candies she bought in the huge party size bag. She yelled at Dad whenever he got in to them. I could take from it.

I got through the can of soda, half the sleeve of crackers, and a palmful of chocolate candies. A wholesome, nutritious meal it was not.

My stomach shut up, which was all I wanted. The carton of cigarettes was going to be next on my sampling menu, but I was already in bed and didn't want to get up, again.

Turning on the television was pointless. I kept my eyes open for five minutes, I think. I dropped like a rock, immediately. I felt a pattern coming on. I was going to be in and out of it all day now because of that freaking Nyquil.

Next time I woke up, something felt different. I stirred awake, slowly registering that I wasn't alone. There was the sound of pencil on paper. That wasn't who I thought it was, was it?

"There's my baby bat~" Mike was in my desk chair, math book open in his lap and his problem sheet rested on the side he wasn't reading off of.

Just Mike. False alarm.

My house keys were back amongst my possessions, Mike returning them after he let himself in sometime earlier.

"When did you get back?"

"Less than an hour ago."

According to the time, classes ended about an hour ago. He came straight from school, and did his homework while I slept. The sound of him writing led me to believe it was someone else who invited themselves in.

"Why is your textbook in your lap? My desk is right behind you."

"I don't have eyes on the back of my head. This way, I could keep an eye on you."

"If I'm sleeping, there isn't much to keep an eye on."

"But, you're so cute when you sleep."

The word "cute" wasn't in the goth vocabulary. Me, cute? Uh, no.

"You have a distorted view of 'cute', you know?" I got up to find a bottle of water tucked away in my room. "Your birds might be cute, but not me."

"You're all precious. Hush."

"Stick to what you know, Mike. Do your homework."

With water to wash it down, I started picking at what was leftover from my earlier scavenging. Mike rolled over as I got a cracker in my mouth.

"Is this everything you ate today?" He asked, taking a few M&M's from the cup.

I nodded.

"Flour, sugar and more sugar." He shook his head at the crackers, empty can of Sprite, and candy. "Lovely."

"Pick on me when I can fight back. I have to conserve my energy, right now."

The hard, sugary shell of the candy crunched under his teeth, he pointed a finger at me.

"It'd be easier if you had the right food in you."

"I didn't even smoke or have coffee today, I'm so god damn tired. You expect me to have to energy to put food together?"

"No coffee or cigarettes? I like the sound of that."

I didn't tell him for the praise. Believe me, I wanted that caffeine and nicotine more than anything.

"It won't last long."

"Such little faith. You can live without that crap."

"You could live without make up. I don't see you easing up on it."

"Make up isn't hurting me."

No. But, he didn't need it. I liked him better without it. He was always gorgeous, but his real face was better.

Some eyeliner was one thing…you could still see everything else. Mike had such beautiful features. That stuff on his face didn't need to be there, fashion or not.

"My mom started a beef stew in the crockpot before she left for work. It'd be good if you had some, she puts lots of vegetables in it." Mike changed the subject. "How about we pack up your clothes and medicine, and you come with me this weekend?"


Being sick didn't take away my weekend with Mike. Admittedly, it would have bummed me out.

"Aren't you worried you'll get sick hanging around me, like this?"

"If I get sick, it happens. I'm not leaving you to take care of yourself."

"I could do it."

"But, you don't."

Ladle in hand, Mike filled two bowls with hot stew. It smelled good, but the hot broth was what I wanted. I was cold now. It was seeping down to my bones, and Mike's house was warmer than mine.

"Let me get you a spoon." He placed the steaming bowl in front of me.

He presented me with a soup spoon, which I took with a faint tremble in my hand.

"Are you cold?"

"I don't understand what's going on. I was dying of heat this morning."

"You're sick." Mike reiterated, because I was in such denial over it. "You're having hot and cold flashes."

Before he sat down to have his own food, Mike dashed upstairs to the very top floor. Folded up in his arms was a black fleece blanket.

"It's fresh from the linen closet." He unfolded it and draped it along my back and shoulders like a cloak. "If that doesn't keep you warm, I can get you another one."

Mike's dad, who was actually his step dad, came home while we were eating. He was a portly man with a brown beard and glasses. He looked like a laidback school teacher or someone's goofy uncle, not a social worker.

"Oo, your mom made her beef stew." He came in with his brief case, dressed in his office attire. "It's that time of year."

"She normally waits until it starts snowing to make it."

"We're getting a dusting of snow later. Weather said so."

"That explains the stew, then."

I had a way of blending in with my environment even in plain sight. Mike's stepdad picked up on my presence, right away.

"Pete, how are you? Things okay at home with your parents, still?"

"…uh-huh. Everything's fine."

"If it's ever not, you come tell me."

Wanting to get out of his work clothes and wind down before dinner, he waddled up the stairs humming a happy tune to himself. I didn't look up from the table while I ate.

I never saw Mike's step dad in the times I've been over. I was either downstairs with Mike before, or after, his step dad came home and retired to his own bedroom.

He knew exactly who I was.

"He takes his work home with him. Sorry about that…"

"Don't be sorry. Not your fault."

"Are things really okay at home…?"


That was the end of that. Mike let me eat in peace. He was happy I accepted the food, he wasn't going to risk making me lose my appetite.

Small victories.


This wasn't how it was supposed to happen. Everything was supposed to be okay, I tried to keep it that way. The razor in my hand started at my wrist, running up my arm in slowly, but steady.

I was screaming for someone to stop me. No one could hear me. I was by myself.

The sharp edge cut in to me. Red came to the surface, pooling together in globs before running down my arm. Like rain spilling down a hill, it just kept going.

It all spilled in to the bathroom sink. I grabbed at whatever I could to stop the bleeding. A white towel quickly turned red as I desperately pressed it in to my the wound.

What have I done?

My reflection watched me panic.

"M-Make it stop." I begged, shaking.

He stared at me. Emaciated and sallow, with dark circles under his eyes. His bare neck had a scar far more gruesome than my own, as if someone had cut him from ear to ear with a rusty blade. It was a disgusting, purplish-red raised scar with uneven edges.

"Isn't this what you wanted?" He asked me, bringing a lit cigarette to his sickly, blue lips.

"I don't want to die…I don't want to die!" I cried, tears streaming down my face, holding out my bleeding limb. "I t-take it back. P-Please, make it stop."

This animated corpse in my mirror leaned out from the frame, curling his cold, dead fingers under my choker.

"Bye, Pete."

He yanked me in, smashing my head in to the glass, shattering the mirror in an explosion of bloody shards.


"AHHH! Make it stop! Make it stop!"

In the dead of night, I screamed at the top of my lungs. Mike bolted awake, just as panicked as me.

"Pete…" He shook me awake, worried. "Pete, wake up."

I couldn't see a thing when I came back, everything was black. Was I dead? It didn't catch up with me that it was a dream, and that I'd woken up, until Mike's cool hand felt for my face.

"M-Make it stop…" I was shaking. "Please, m-make it stop. I'm bleeding-"

"Shush, baby bat." He touched my cheek, feeling the wetness there. "You're okay. Don't cry."

Mike moved in closer, kissing my forehead, running his thumb over my wet cheek.

I wanted to say the tears were from my nightmare and I wasn't crying anymore, but I was. They rolled down my face, hitting Mike's fingers.

His chest was on mine. His heart raced harder than my own. I scared the shit out of him.

Who was I kidding? I scared the shit out of myself.

"You had a bad dream." Mike's words or reassurance were pitying.


"Are they often like this?"

"T-That was a fever dream." My attempt to explain came out unsteadily. "T-This isn't a regular thing."

"You were screaming bloody murder. You scared me, you poor thing. My heart stopped."

Resting his chin atop of my head, Mike tucked my face in to his neck. His rose smell drew me further away from the nocturnal disturbance. I'm here with him.

I'm alive.

"I-It was just a dream. No big deal."

"You kept screaming 'make it stop'." Troubled by it, Mike quoted my unconscious outburst. "Why were you bleeding?"

An attempt to lie never made it past my lips. The dream, it was so bad, I didn't know where to begin to conjure up a fake story.

My trembling was involuntary. I couldn't force it away.

"You can tell me." Mike whispered as I clammed up.

"N-No, I can't."

As badly as I wanted to ease the burden off my conscience, he couldn't know. Just exist with me, Mike. Hold me tighter.

Don't let the darkness drag me under.


Body aches bestowed themselves upon me. With nasal congestion. And, my chest was tight.

Whatever I had, was progressing. I had no energy, my body hurt, it was harder to breathe, and my head was killing me. Mike hypothesized it was the flu.

I may have done this to myself. If I'd went and got the shot when Mom wanted me to, I could have possibly avoided this...

It wasn't all bad.

Mike scrubbed down his tub, filling it with comfortably hot water. His mother had a selection of different therapeutic bubble bath and bath salts. The bubble bath he borrowed from her bathroom upstairs was some herbal, aromatic blend that was supposed to help me breathe. The Epsom bath salts he poured in were to alleviate the body aches.

He had a few chores to take care of, which he left to do after setting up my bath. I was partial to bathes, so I didn't argue when Mike told me he was running one. Some music, and I'd be golden.

Music played from my phone at a low, considerate volume. The throbbing in my head didn't incline me to put on anything rigorous or loud. This wasn't a bath to compete with racing thoughts and smother them out with something louder.

This is gospel, for the fallen ones
Locked away in permanent slumber.
Assembling their philosophies
From pieces of broken memories.

Oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh.

This is the beat of my heart, this is the beat of my heart.

Oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh.

This is the beat of my heart, this is the beat of my heart.

Steam wafted up from the water's surface, herbal and fragrant. The bottle said mint and rosemary. I needed to buy some of this stuff for my house. Good shit.

Resting my cheek on the ledge or the tub, I mellowed out along to the music and shopped online for this miracle mix Mike poured for me. My phone buzzed in my hands as I looked up the products, adding them to my Amazon shopping cart to buy later.

What did Stan want?

"Are you back with conformist idiot?" Henrietta's text read.

Not Stan.

When was the last time Henrietta reached out? Couldn't recall. She always relied on Michael to keep in contact with me, in the past.

"That's one way to initiate a conversation." I waited a few minutes to answer back. "Might want to consider starting with 'Hey, how are you?', next time."

"Yes, or no." she sent back within seconds, no wait.

This demanding approach my "friends" were taking with me was beginning to feel hostile. It wasn't outside Michael's realm to do it when he was in a mood of his. That mood wasn't fluctuating, these days.

The gnashing teeth, and criminal tongues,

Conspire against the odds.
But, they haven't seen the best of us, yet.

If you love me, let me go.
If you love me, let me go.

Henrietta didn't start treating me poorly until Michael took my rejection too personally. There had to be a connection. She and I had been fine, before. Even when I took some space during my rougher patches with depression.

Michael must be getting under her skin. His acrid, sour presence was nauseating in small doses. He was spoiling worse with each day that passed.

Maybe she was starting to gag. I did.

"Did Michael put you up to this?" I accused her.

"Yes, or no." She repeated. "Quit fucking around. Are you back with Stan?"

'Cause, these words are knives that often leave scars.
The fear of falling apart.
And, truth be told, I never was yours.
The fear, the fear of falling apart.

Oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh.

This is the beat of my heart, this is the beat of my heart.

Oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh.

This is the beat of my heart, this is the beat of my heart.

That type of information didn't do anything for Henrietta. She didn't care with an ounce of her body what the fuck I did with Stan. It was how that conformist interloper put a wedge in our group that she remotely concerned herself with.

She wouldn't ever go this far to confront me on it.

"I'm not playing this game."

"What game?"

"Yours, Michael. Nice try."

This is gospel for the vagabonds,
Ne'er-do-wells, insufferable bastards.
Confessing their apostasies
Led away by imperfect impostors.

Oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh.

This is the beat of my heart, this is the beat of my heart.

Oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh.

This is the beat of my heart, this is the beat of my heart.

He called, and I declined it. He called again, so I put my phone on "do not disturb" mode. His calls couldn't come through. Neither could anyone else's if they decided they wanted to dampen my Saturday more than this fucking sickness already was.

Don't try to sleep through the end of the world.
Don't bury me alive.
'Cause I won't give up without a fight.

If you love me, let me go.
If you love me, let me go.

Sending Georgie didn't work. He couldn't get through to me. Now, he tried impersonating Henrietta. Conspiracy, or desperation?

I disregarded my phone and put it down. I didn't need this bullshit, right now. There was bubble bath, and music, I was supposed to be enjoying. Having a tense text standoff didn't fit in to my Saturday, or Mike's treatment plan.

That was the beauty of a cellphone. If it was the only means of communication people had with you, there wasn't much they could do if you ignored them. I couldn't see Michael showing up at my house again after his last visit going nowhere how he expected it to.

He was losing his grip on me. I might've been losing a grip on myself, but it was safer than becoming his puppet.

'Cause these words are knives that often leave scars.
The fear of falling apart.
And, truth be told, I never was yours.
The fear, the fear of falling apart.

Oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh.

The fear of falling apart.

Oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh.

The fear, the fear of falling apart.

Mike's house calmed me down like nothing else I'd ever come across before. His room, specifically. His space.

It didn't cage me in. It caged everything else out.

Oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh.

This is the beat of my heart.
The fear of falling apart.

The basement was an entire floor just for him. It was closed off from everything else. No one came down without an invitation. That invitation was a golden ticket, opening the gate to somewhere safe.

Oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh.

This is the beat of my heart.
The fear of falling apart

Pry it from my cold, dead hands.

Oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh.

This is the beat of my heart.
The fear of falling apart.

Oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh.

This is the beat of my heart.
The fear of falling apart.

To avoid any guttural screaming erupting from my phone, it was set it to play one album on a repeat. Rested on the ledge of the tub again, I shut my eyes and dozed off. Time could stop here. I'd welcome it.

I was out long enough to cycle through the whole album at least once because I woke up to the same song playing. My guess was it cycled through at least twice because Mike was in there with me.

"Relaxed?" Mike, who was sitting on the floor by the tub folding clean towels from a basket, smiled.

He was putting the clean towels on to a low shelf, one by one, as he folded them. His technique was nicer than mine. Those towels looked spa ready, hotel presentable.

"I fell asleep, so probably." My wet hand came up to rub at one eye.

"I've always liked Panic! At the Disco." Listening to the music, Mike followed the melody. "I didn't take you for someone who listened to them."

"We all have our guilty pleasures."

It didn't weird me out that he was there while I was asleep in the tub. He probably came in to check on me in the middle of doing laundry, and wanted to make sure I didn't slip and drown when he found me asleep in a full bath.

"Is the water still warm?"

"I haven't frozen to death."

Dipping his fingers in, Mike tested the water. It was a notch warmer than lukewarm. He drained some, running hot water again to adjust the temperature back up.

"Better?" he checked.

"Yeah, that's better. Thanks."

"Do you mind if I join you?"

We didn't take up much room individually. We could sit at opposite ends of the tub and be fine. The tub could have the space to accommodate four people, and I wouldn't have been okay with sharing it with anyone but Mike.

Stan wouldn't didn't get that privilege. Soaking in a bath was a delicate, personal, time and space.

"I don't mind. We'll both fit in here."

Bath time was my time. I wonder if Mike knew I'd handed a golden ticket right back to him.

He used a hair tie to gather his hair up to keep it from getting wet before stripping off his pajamas. He didn't get in to the tub across from me. He nudged me forward to climb in from behind. I sat between his legs, back to his chest.

"Done with your chores?"

"Mostly. I was going to clean Poe and Lenore's cage, but my feather babies will make it another day."

Mike maintained their cage regularly, postponing the clean-up wasn't neglectful. Those birds really were his feathered babies. He wouldn't leave them to wallow in filth. He continuously cleaned their cage before it could accumulate much mess.

Mike took immaculate care of everything he valued. Why was I one of them?

Bare as the day we were born, we soaked in the aromatic waters. A reckless, stupid decision I made at a school dance led me to this. The first bad decision I ever made which worked out for me.

"You're still wearing your choker."

Yes. Yes, I am.

"It's not getting wet." I defended, weary that he was going to elaborate on how strange it was.

"I never see you without it. Just struck me as funny you're wearing it in the bath, too."

So, Mike picked up on that. Fuck.

There wasn't anything funny about me wearing it virtually all day, every day. I took it off to shower, that was about it. Stan and Michael knew why. They'd seen why.

I hid it from everyone else. It was my right, and my choice. What would Mike think if he saw what was under it?

Would he pity me? Or, would it scare him? Would it change how he saw me, for the worse?

"It's an odd quirk that I have, I guess..." I excused it, staring off at a tile on the shower wall.

There was little going for me, as is. Mike could go without knowing how damaged I really am. There were layers to me that he wasn't close to reaching. I wasn't giving him the opening to.

Why was it bothering me?


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