They sat at the kitchen table, drinking black tea since the only milk in the fridge had begun to ferment into cheese, not really talking but not really silent either. The brown envelope lay unopened in front of Mickey and he was staring at it as if he could see through the paper if only he tried hard enough.
"I'll open it, if you like." Jack had offered, but Mickey had shook his head. He wanted to do it himself. It was just harder than he imagined it would be.
Mickey wasn't afraid that Delaney was HIV positive. He knew enough about that bastard to know that if that he was, he would have enjoyed taunting Mickey with that. So the chances were good that Delaney was clean. But that didn't silence the nagging doubt that pointed out the flaw in that reasoning - maybe Delaney had picked it up and didn't know. His lifestyle of prostitutes made him high risk.
But even then...
The doctors at the rape suite in St Hughes hospital had prescribed Mickey anti-virals and he had taken them. No-one guaranteed their success but they had told him they significantly lowered the chances of infection.
And if Mickey was being totally honest with himself, he had more chance of catching it from all those slappers he'd slept with these last few months. He had lost count of how many there'd been now and he never bothered with condoms. When he stopped to think about it, it terrified him. So mostly, he didn't think about it.
Until now, when he had too, when the reality was made of paper and ink and it was right there in front of him demanding his attention.
"There's a lot they can do these days." Jack said. "It's not the death sentence it used to be."
Mickey looked up. It sounded like empty comforts and even if it were true, HIV would still be a life sentence and he already had one of those to deal with – living with the rape.
"Not that..." Jack trailed off.
Mickey took a sip of black tea and found it had gone cold, but swallowed it down anyway, needing the kick from the caffeine now that the haze from the alcohol he'd drunk on the train had started to fade. It had left his head achy but reasonably clear.
He reached for the letter. The fear coiling in his gut surprised him. These last few months had been so bad and trapped in his world of shame, it felt like every minute of every day his soul was being sliced with a razor. And yet... he was afraid of dying. No matter how terrible his life was...he wasn't ready to give it up. There had to be some hope in that.
The envelope tore easily. His fingers didn't tremble when they pulled the letter free and they remained firm when unfolding the paper. Nor did they shake when his eyes scanned the words on the pages.
His hands only began to tremor after the letter fell from his fingers. He heard it flutter to the table as he buried his head in his palms.
He heard a frantic shuffle and looked up to see Jack grabbing up the letter, his face deathly white, dread patterned starkly in his eyes.
"Negative." He gasped out as Jack frantically searched the pages of the letter. "Jack, it's negative."
Jack's relief was evident as was his awkwardness when that immediate rush wore off. He put the letter back on the table with badly concealed guilt in his eyes. He really had no right to pry into Mickey's mail, no matter what the reason.
But perhaps it was the relief Mickey felt or the tiredness burning behind his eyes or the tug of some half forgotten feeling in his chest that kept him from calling Jack on his nosiness. He let out a long breath and sat back in the chair.
Jack began tidying away the tea cups and making token efforts to bring order to the disaster area that was Mickey's kitchen, probably to cover his embarrassment.
Mickey watched him for a long while, not really thinking, just letting time tick by. Jack was surprisingly efficient at cleaning and the sink was full of water soapy water and dirty dishes and mouldy mugs in no time. He found himself smiling and was glad that Jack's back was to him.
He got up and pulled a tea towel from a draw. "I'll dry."
They talked about Jack's work as cleaned, safe topics like Jack's opinion of the new staff at Sun Hill before moving on to the more emotive conversation of Juliet's funeral and memorial service which Mickey had missed.
When they'd finished the kitchen, they moved on to the sitting room, which was hidden under a stack of fast food cartons and newspapers. Jack gave up trying to sort through the mess and simply grabbed a black bag, put it in the centre of the room and they both began filling it with rubbish. Jack found the mammoth task therapeutic. It was easier to talk when their hands were full and their attention was taken up by other things.
They touched on the court cases that Jack had coming up but Jack diverted the conversation as soon as he saw the guarded, haunted look in Mickey's eyes and realised what was causing it: his thoughts had turned to Delaney's trial, still awaiting its court date. But the look passed when they got on to happier topics like Jack's new year with his family.
It was somewhere in the chatter and the occasional laughter that Jack realised that he hadn't felt this companionable with Mickey since before all that business with Ron Gregory. Jack had never really understood what changed or had been lost that terrible day when Mickey and Robbie were in that paedophiles clutches but since then it had always felt like he was two sentences away from anger in the young man's presence. Had it been found again?
He looked over at Mickey, really looked, at the pallid colour of his skin, at the hair that hadn't been cut in months falling over his brow and at the clothes that hung off his too thin bones and it was like looking at a stranger.
Perhaps it was just that so much water had passed under the bridge since then?
He sighed and glanced at the clock. The position of the hands surprised him: nearly midnight.
"I should go." He said.
Mickey stifled a yawn. "Yeah." He took the black bag, tied the top and disappeared with it.
Jack had put his coat on by the time Mickey got back from taking the rubbish out.
"Looks good." Mickey said, glancing around the room.
Jack smiled. "Could do with a vacuum."
It was something of an understatement and Mickey gave a rare smile. Jack returned it before heading towards the door. He opened it to let himself out and turned to offer a goodbye.
Mickey caught his eye. "Thanks, Jack." Simple words but full of meaning.
He gave a quick nod, "you too."
Jack gave him one last smile before walking away.
It was raining. Just like it had been that first day. And here he was again, sitting in his car outside the MIT offices, his stomach clenched tight, torn between going in, facing up to what had happened to him and getting on with the job he loved and running away to that place inside himself that he'd found in Brighton.
Mickey took a breath. It was so hard. Why did it have to be so hard?
These last few days had been about getting himself back on track and during every second of it he had wanted to give up. But he hadn't.
His house was tidy. His hair had been cut even though the process of having someone so close and touching him had made him sick to his stomach. And...
And he'd talked to Charlotte, briefly and over the phone, but it was a start. He stopped short of promising her he would keep those counselling sessions but it didn't matter. His lips might not have made that vow but his heart had despite the ache it caused.
Because his heart wanted to beat this.
Because he knew he could beat this.
He was Mickey Webb.
A smile crept across his lips.
Then he got out the car, pulled up his collar against the rain and ran towards his work.
-End of Part One-
Notes: This isn't the end of "Bleeding Inside" but I have intentionally left it in a place that doesn't feel so open ended. I've got so little time for writing fanfic these days and I'm not sure quite when I'll get round to more.