This will be Jeremy/Michael end-game, so if that's not what you're into, you won't enjoy this! This should be approx. 11 chapters long. No update schedule yet. Enjoy!
"Jeremy...Jeremy, it's not over. I'm not done with you just yet. We need to finish what we started. We're connected, Jeremy...forever…"
Jeremy shoots upwards, his back ramrod straight, his eyes wide with terror. His breaths come in short, hard pants and the sound of his blood pumping roars in his ears. His palms, which hold onto his bedsheets like a lifeline, aren't the only thing sweating.
"It's not real," Jeremy murmurs to himself, his voice shaky and uncertain. "You're not real. You're gone."
He waits for a reply that never comes. It can't, because the Squip is gone for good, but no matter how many times he tells himself that, it doesn't stop the dreams. It doesn't stop the flash of fear he feels when he looks in the mirror, every time he makes a mistake.
His clock tells him it's only 3 am, but Jeremy isn't sure he'll be able to get back to sleep. He hasn't managed a good, full night's sleep since he got released from the hospital a couple of days ago, where a bunch of hella nice drugs had been the only thing keeping him, and the voices, asleep. He'd hoped it would all accumulate to a point where he was finally tired enough to sleep through at least one night, especially with school starting again the next day, but he should've known that would be too much to hope for.
After propping his pillows up against the headboard, Jeremy settles against them and picks up his phone. Opening it takes him to the last message he'd sent Michael - a gif of a baby crying, 'when you have to go to school' written over it. As pathetic as it sounds, Jeremy really does feel like he could cry.
His thumbs hover over the keyboard. Michael has a habit of waking up for 'midnight/anytime of the night because hunger waits for no hour' snacks so there's a chance Jeremy might catch him awake. Even just a couple of meaningless messages might be enough to make him feel like he's not dangling off a precipice. Like everything's normal.
A few moments of agonising indecision later, Jeremy ends up putting the phone back down. He can't do it. If he did, regardless of whether Michael happened to be awake or not, he'd want to know why Jeremy was up. He could lie, but Michael had become even more astute at calling his bullshit lately. He'd know something was wrong, he'd get worried, and after everything Jeremy has put him through these past few months, he can't add to that. He might've apologised in the hospital, but it still doesn't feel like enough. Maybe saving him from the knowledge of Jeremy's freaky, phantom voices was a start.
With his phone down, all distractions are gone and Jeremy squeezes his eyes shut and tries to think of anything but the Squip. He thinks about seeing Michael tomorrow, greeting him on what's going to be the first regular school day he's had in a while. He imagines what it's going to be like seeing Christine again, since the last time they spoke she'd said she'd like it if they 'hung out' some more. He even pictures his maths classroom, making sure to include all the details, right down to the scratch marks on the ceiling. He tries coming up with scenarios as to how they might have got there.
"I can give you everything you ever wanted, Jeremy. You just need to trust me."
Jeremy's body spasms, his body feeling like it's falling, and it violently rips him away from the clutches of sleep. Hypnic jerk, Michael had once told him it was called when it happened during a sleepover, and jerk was right. Once again, Jeremy's forced to try and calm his erratic breathing and when he's finally successful he accepts that, yeah, sleep just isn't going to happen. He gets out of bed, switches on the light, and once his eyes have adjusted to the sudden brightness, he shuffles over to his desk and switches on his laptop. May as well play some video games to kill the time.
Jeremy's alarm starts to blare at 7 am, and it's with dry eyes and cramping hands that he shuts down his laptop and moves with stiff limbs to make the noise stop. He's never been much of a coffee drinker, he doesn't need caffeine making him even more of a jittery nut, but he might need to make an exception today. He heads into the bathroom, splashes water on his face, and studies the dark circles beneath his eyes.
So much for trying to keep Michael from worrying.
Calling them a lost cause, Jeremy finishes getting himself ready for the day. He intends to just grab some toast on his way out and walk to school, but when he gets into the hallway, the smell of bacon greets him. He finds his dad in the kitchen in front of a sizzling frying pan, scrambling some eggs.
He's not convinced he's not just hallucinating. He doesn't know what's more shocking, the home-cooked breakfast, or the fact his dad is wearing pants unprompted.
"Morning son! Breakfast is nearly done. No need to worry about catching the bus, I'll drive you in."
"Uh, are you feeling okay?" Jeremy asks. He pinches himself and nope, not a dream.
Toast pops out of the toaster and his dad places them on a couple of plates. "Mind buttering these for me, Jer?"
Jeremy walks almost on autopilot to the fridge as his dad continues to speak. "I'm feeling good. Better than good. Seeing you in hospital, kiddo, knowing that I was to blame for that, it gave me a kick up the ol' backside. It made me wanna do better, so I'm changing things up. Starting with bacon and eggs! Here ya go."
His dad serves up the rest of the food onto the freshly buttered toast and urges Jeremy to sit down.
"Dad...you don't have to," Jeremy says, guilt swirling in his stomach despite the fact this what he's wanted ever since mom left.
"It's something I need to do. That I want to do. Now, eat up! You look like you haven't slept a wink."
"Just couldn't fall asleep, I guess," Jeremy deflects. He watches his dad squirt ketchup on everything and copies him once he's done. He doesn't feel all that hungry, but he also doesn't want to let his dad's efforts go to waste, so he takes small bites. His dad keeps up a light conversation as they eat, and once they've finished both plates go in the sink and his dad picks up the car keys.
"Remember, straight home after school," his dad orders as they pull up to school. "You're still grounded for two weeks."
"I know, dad." He'd been on the cusp of sleep in the hospital when he'd overheard his dad consulting Michael about how long his grounding should be. Michael had been pushing for a month, the jerk.
"Have a good day!" His dad calls from the car, and Jeremy gives him a wave as he pulls away. He then grabs the straps of his backpack, takes a deep breath, and turns toward the school. It looks the same as it always has, but Jeremy can't help but feel like a freshman again, about to start his first day. It's the uncertainty of where he stands, the not knowing of what's going to happen. It makes his skin prickle uncomfortably and he hurries inside, hoping that seeing Michael by the lockers will make the feeling go away.
Except, Michael isn't there.
Jeremy checks his phone and there aren't any messages either. He gets his books out of his locker and then hangs around awkwardly. Some kids glance at him as they pass by. Probably wondering where the cool, confident guy has gone. Or maybe wondering what the guy who fainted in front of everyone in the school play was doing there staring creepily at the wall.
He considers just leaving when suddenly brown hair fills his vision. He knows it isn't Michael immediately from the height difference, but the smell of peaches is also a good giveaway. The flutter of disappointment fades when Christine smiles up at him, taking a step back so there's a more appropriate level of space between them.
"Hey, Jeremy!" Christine chirps, and suddenly, blood is rushing right up to Jeremy's face. He'd run through scenarios of seeing Christine last night, but all of them had taken place later in the day, under his control. None of them had involved him being half-dead on his feet, drowning under the judgemental stares of his classmates.
"Uh, Christine! Hi! How are you?"
"I'm good! Excited to be back after, you know, everything. I mean, I'm still pretty bummed about the school play getting ruined, but since Mr. Reyes' been fired, I'm hoping we might actually get a competent teacher. Someone who really appreciates theatre, you know?"
"Wait." Jeremy blinks. "Mr. Reyes got fired?"
"Well, yeah. Turns out doing drugs with a bunch of students doesn't make the school board too happy," Christine says dryly. "Anyway, in the hospital, I mentioned that we should hang out so well...do you want to, sometime?"
"Uh, yeah! Yeah, I'd love to, except um...I'm kinda grounded? For two weeks." Embarrassment doesn't even begin to cover what Jeremy's experiencing.
"That's okay! Maybe we could do something during lunch one day? I'll think about stuff we could do. Oh, I should be getting to homeroom now, see you later!"
Christine runs off and the bell rings shortly after. There's still no sign of Michael, so he heads off to homeroom alone.
Since he and Michael don't share that many classes, Jeremy doesn't see his best friend all morning. Hoping nothing's wrong, Jeremy heads to their usual table at lunch. It's at the back of the cafeteria, shared with some of the other 'losers' in different grades. It has a lot of questionable stains on and surrounding it, and there's the faint smell of rotting food, but it's out of the way, and that makes it a haven.
Jeremy is the first one there, but thankfully, it doesn't take long for him to hear the muffled beats of an electro-reggae track. He lifts his head and nearly sinks in relief at the sight of Michael and those chunky headphones. So relieved is he, that he nearly misses that Michael isn't actually alone.
"Hey, Jeremy! Sorry I didn't catch you this morning. Ended up picking up Rich on my way in and I got lost on the way. Is it cool if he eats with us? Dude's a nerd now so needs to sit at the nerd table."
"Hi!" Rich grins, his outfit way more elderly professor than Jeremy's used to, but still bearing the Deadpool belt.
"Uh, hey." Jeremy watches as Michael pulls out not only his own lunch but Rich's too from his backpack. Makes sense since the guy is wearing two slings but...the guy is wearing two slings. "Are you sure you should be in school? With the, uh," Jeremy waggles his elbows, a half-hearted attempt at the chicken dance.
"The docs weren't sure but Michael here said he'd help me out. I ended up missing a lot of classes thanks to the Squip, it told me it would give me all the info I needed, so with it gone, I've got a lot of catching up to do."
Jeremy debates asking then and there if Rich has also heard the Squip since they all got deactivated, but with Michael there, he quickly decides against it.
"So, what, you're like his arms buddy now?" Jeremy asks Michael.
"Just call me Mother Theresa," Michael grins, throwing an arm around Rich that makes something spike painfully in Jeremy's stomach. This was his and Michael's table. This was their time together. Jealousy wasn't a new emotion for Jeremy, but he never thought he'd have to experience it with Michael.
"Michael's been really helpful. Opening doors for me, carrying my stuff," Rich says, a look in his eyes that reminds Jeremy of when he discovered Rich in the hospital. When he'd asked if Michael was single. It shouldn't annoy him that Rich clearly has a thing for Michael, that Michael's just being a nice guy in helping out, but it does.
He blames it on the lack of sleep.
"You've never opened any doors for me," Jeremy teases, trying to make this new dynamic work best he can, and Michael shrugs lazily, retracting his arm from Rich's shoulders.
"Didn't want to offend your big macho man sensibilities," he says, before fluttering his eyelashes and adding, "but if you're feeling left out then, of course, I'll treat you right, Jer-bear. Would you like me to start by feeding you those grapes?"
"Shut up," Jeremy laughs, swatting Michael's grabby hand away. Michael is grinning, and sure, Rich is there, but he's feeling good. He's feeling normal for the first time all day and-
Shadows descend over them and the three of silence, then look up.
It's Brooke, Jake, Chloe, Jenna, and even Christine, standing awkwardly behind them.
"So, this is like, where you guys sit?" Chloe asks, her nose wrinkling. "It's whatever. You guys need to sit with us." She pauses briefly. "And you too, Michael, I guess."
"Uh, thanks?" Michael says, at the same time Jeremy says, "Us, why?"
"It's like, this weird feeling. Ever since we all did drugs together, it's like we're bonded. We have this...this connection," Jake says earnestly.
"Which means you're part of the group. So, you need to sit with us, kay?" Chloe says, or rather, demands.
"They won't take no for an answer," Christine pipes up, her eyes connecting with Jeremy's. She offers him a small smile that Jeremy can't help but return.
"I'm down for that!" Rich says. He stands, looks at his lunch sat at the table, and then his slings. "Um...Michael…"
"I got it, bro. I guess we're gonna live the high life now, huh?" Disbelief colours his tone, and Jeremy empathises. He'd thought that the others would just go back to ignoring them. To hear them say he's still a part of the popular crowd, even without the Squip...Jeremy doesn't know what to make of that. Doesn't want to think too closely about it, either.
"So, what's up with you, dude?" Jake asks Rich after they've sat down at their new, far more central, table. "Ever since you burnt down my house you've been different. Nerdier. Which, you know," he adds, looking at Michael and Jeremy, "isn't, uh, bad or anything."
"Yeah, sorry again about your house," Rich says, his face turning red. "I was just on, um, a ton of drugs. Have been for a while. Burning down made me realise I needed to get clean, you know?"
Jake nods solemnly. "I get you, bro. And we're still cool." He holds out a first, then quickly drops it when Rich just waves his slings around uselessly.
"Ugh, Jake, you're so kind," Chloe gushes, sliding closer so that she can place a perfectly manicured hand on his arm. "Like, super kind." She pouts her lips a little, tilting her head, and Jake gives her a relaxed smile and shrugs.
"I'm just me."
Jenna, who's sitting beside Jeremy, leans towards him and hisses, "Chloe is totally trying to get Jake back. My bet is they're together by next week."
"Oh, that's…interesting?" He glances at Christine, who's sat opposite and has definitely heard what Jenna just told him. She looks like she's trying to hold back laughter and that's a good sign, isn't it? If this bothered her, she'd look more upset, right?
Lunch passes in a very weird fashion, with the two halves of the table who would normally have very different conversations trying to find some common ground. They do find out that both Christine and Brooke go to the same shops in the same mall, albeit looking in different sections, and it's discovered that Michael and Jenna have an undying love for reggae music By the end of it, Jeremy feels wrung out from all the social interaction, but hopeful that he might just make it to the end of high school less than a loser than he started out as.
As they break away for their respective classes, Christine asks Jeremy if he can talk for a minute. He ends up waving at Michael, who's in his next class, to go on ahead and the smile Michael leaves with goes a bit strange for a reason Jeremy can't decipher. He's probably just trying to get used to the fact that the girl Jeremy has been crushing on for years is actually talking to him.
Jeremy knows he's still getting used to it.
"So, I've done some thinking, like I said I would, and I thought, what if we had a lunch date sorta thing? Maybe a picnic? We could both bring food and drinks and just hang together. The rehearsal room is going to be empty now the play's done, so we could go in there? You can say no if you don't want to, if it sounds lame, but I think it could be fun. Do you want to?"
It takes Jeremy a moment to pick out the key bits of information. "A lunch date? Just the two of us?" At Christine's nod, he says, "That sounds great! Uh, when?"
"This Wednesday?" Jeremy can't stop his voice squeaking.
"Is that okay?"
A date. He has a date. This Wednesday. "It's fine! Great," he repeats and Christine lights up.
"See you there, then! Well, I'll probably see you tomorrow since, well, we've kind of become popular now, but you know what I mean. Wednesday!"
"Wednesday," Jeremy echoes but he's already watching Christine skip away. His heart skips a beat, and he smiles.
Take that, Squip.
Jeremy's good mood manages to last until he gets home, and he messages Michael to ask if he wants to play something online.
Sorry dude got Rich over and I don't want to make him just watch
Knowing that not only is Jeremy grounded, but Michael can't play video games with him because he has Rich over, makes the ugly green monster he'd experienced at lunch rear its head again. Clearly, they'd bonded way more than Jeremy had first thought. Clearly, he didn't need Jeremy as much anymore.
That's cool. Jeremy texts back.
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