(A/N: This update contains intrusive thoughts, self harm mention, and mention of a drug overdose. Nothing is in graphic detail, but please proceed with caution.)
Toby’s reluctance was obvious as he stepped away, as was the restraint that he demonstrated from making further comments about spending the night together. Mitch genuinely appreciated that this didn’t turn into a fight, and once he buckled in, he put his hand on the window and glanced up at Toby with a smile. Toby raised an eyebrow and then emulated the gesture -his long fingers eclipsing Mitch’s- and they shared a small laugh. “Get home safe,” Toby said, his voice muffled by the glass, and Mitch nodded before he looked away and shifted the car into reverse.
After backing out, Mitch took one last glance at Toby through the rearview mirror and caught a rare glimpse at something authentic that he couldn’t quite find the words for. Toby didn’t exactly do sincerity, that would involve scraping away too many layers of gilding and paint and plaster, all of which was undoubtedly toxic. If the man was a building, it’d be safer to condemn and raze him. But as he stood there in the parking lot of Fighting Spirit and the flood lamps harshly illuminated him, he appeared withdrawn and uncertain, weighed down by the precariousness that hung heavy between them.
Nothing about this arrangement felt good. Better than it’d been in the past? Sure, undoubtedly. Then again, when was hard labor actually pleasant? It wasn’t. But it’d been a decade, and here they were, back at it again. They deserved one another, Mitch reckoned, because no one else should have to deal with either of them. If he had to guess, Toby probably came to the conclusion a while back, and that’s why he invested effort in this go-round.
He lit another cigarette, cracked the window, and tapped ash from his butt. The chilled air was refreshing against his sweaty scalp and flushed skin.
For the first time in nearly a year, he was somewhat centered. Too often, he spent his days feeling more dead than alive; it wasn’t a case of being actively suicidal, he was just indifferent towards existing. Though he never deliberately hurt himself, he’d sometimes daydream about a bus or a train hitting and instantly killing him. He didn’t disclose these morbid thoughts to anyone, neither Ann nor Jodie, because he considered them intrusive but harmless.
A conversation from years back resurfaced, after he overdosed and spent a few nights in the hospital to recover. While Basil was visiting, he made some quip about Mitch being the only queer in their age group that he’d ever met without self-harm scars all over his arms. They both concluded that life itself was trying to take him out, so there was no need to do it himself. But like a cockroach, he kept surviving.
Did cockroaches ever think about death, Mitch wondered. The resilience must get exhausting at some point.
But there were always reasons to hold on, at least for him. He enjoyed this quiet night drive while coasting off of the buzz from performing. In the face of adversity and temptation, he successfully managed to stick to his guns, and he dared to be a little proud of his own efforts.
Emboldened by cautious optimism, Mitch made another decision: come New Year’s Day, he’d have a definitive answer about Toby. If he still wasn’t entirely comfortable by then, he’d call it off for good. But if progress continued to trend positively, they’d pass the “yet” threshold. Six weeks was plenty of time to make that assessment. He couldn’t share this with Toby, or else there might be a grand gesture of effort before the date, only to be tapered off soon after it passed. It had to be organic, and Toby had to genuinely want to be with him instead of treating their time together as if it were a game.
Warmth blossomed in his chest, not over Toby and wherever that route may lead, but due to the fact that he was taking steps to prioritize his mental and emotional wellbeing for the first time in his life. If he could keep up this momentum, he could potentially enter his 30s as a functional adult. Healthy. Healed. Happy.
Each and every of those notions -these concepts and affirmations that he delicately cradled and fostered, gave life and warmth and love to- crashed onto the ground when he pulled up to the curb outside of Jodie’s house. On the front porch sat Avi, and who could tell how long he’d been out there in this weather. Mitch’s breath caught in his throat when Avi’s head lifted and they made eye contact. He was back to being small and helpless. Fragile and foolish.
Why the fuck didn’t he just go back with Toby?