A/N: This story is a sequel to Closer. Now it's January of Eric's junior year, and probably somewhere around the start of Season 2. All the chapter titles are Joy Division songs, for no particular reason except I suck at coming up with chapter titles. Thanks, M3, for the beta!
Disclaimer: I don't own any of them, and I'm not making any money.
I stared at the note for a moment, my blood frozen. Then I came to my senses and crumpled it up before Donna could see it.
"What was that?" she asked. She was leaning against the lockers next to mine, only half paying attention to me.
"Huh? Nothing, just an old math quiz. Here's your book," I said, digging out the copy of Lord of the Flies that I'd borrowed from her.
"Thanks. So you're not going home yet?"
"Nope, gotta go to the library and work on that History project."
"If you hadn't goofed off in class when he gave us time to work on it, you wouldn't have to do it all at the last minute..."
"And then you wouldn't have to walk home," I finished the thought for her. "But life is tough."
"Oh well, I can catch Kelso before he leaves." She kissed me quickly. "Bye, useless boyfriend."
I went down to the school library and tried to get myself to focus on Roman Architecture...but it just wasn't happening. Who the hell was putting those notes in my locker? That was the third one in the past two weeks, and I was getting fucking scared. All these questions kept swirling around in my mind: Who were they? What else were they planning to do to me? What did they know?
For the thousandth time since I found the first note, I told myself that they couldn't possibly know anything. The only person in the world who knew that I'd ever kissed a boy was Hyde, and hell would freeze over before he ever told anyone I'd kissed him. And there was that time Buddy kissed me, but I let him know right away I wasn't into it. And nobody knew about that but Hyde, and Donna, and Jackie, and Fez, and Kelso. Oh, and Buddy. Oh God.
Thirty minutes later, I had a two-page report on the Coliseum, half-plagiarized from three different encyclopedias. Good enough. I headed out.
There were hardly any cars left in the student parking lot. I headed for the Vista Cruiser.
"Hey, faggot!" someone yelled.
Oh, crap. I looked up and saw three guys hanging out by a blue Ford wagon, all of them looking my way. I recognized two of them as losers I'd been avoiding since middle school: Randy and Frank. I didn't really know the other one, but I thought his name was Chris. Were these the idiots who'd been putting those notes in my locker? I clenched my fists and then thought through it: three of them, one of me, and I'm a skinny weakling. I looked away, tucked my hands into my coat pockets, and kept walking towards my car.
They weren't letting me off that easy. They started walking towards me faster than I was walking away; I was scared, but not scared enough to break into a run and lose any dignity that I might possibly have left in this situation.
"Hey, fag, don't walk away when I'm talking to you," Randy said, getting right in my face. He was built like Hyde, but he had stringy black hair and a face made for scowling.
"I'm not a fag, I have a girlfriend, dumbass," I said, trying to sound like a dangerous man rather than a scared little girl.
Frank, on my right, gave me a shove that knocked me off balance for a couple steps sideways. "Your girlfriend is a dyke," he said.
"Hey!" I glared at him. Insulting me was one thing; starting in on Donna was another. "You take that back!"
"What are you going to do, pansy?" said Chris, and he shoved me the other way, back towards Frank.
"You know, Eric likes to look at naked boys in the locker room," Randy said conversationally. "Isn't that true, Eric?"
"Fuck off!" I yelled, and tried to punch him in the face. He ducked to the side and I missed, and then his fist connected with my jaw. I saw stars and staggered backwards, but amazingly I didn't fall down.
"Hey!" yelled a familiar voice, at the same time Randy punched me in the gut. Doubled over in pain, I heard Hyde say "Get off him, asshole!"
Randy's feet backed away from me a couple steps - that's all I could see. "Hi, Steve. You still hanging out with this pansy-ass?" he said.
"Why don't you get the fuck out of here before I decide to tell Diane what you did last summer?" Hyde said calmly.
Frank gave me another shove and said softly "You're not worth the trouble, fag." And the guys walked away, laughing to each other.
I wanted to thank Hyde for saving my ass, but I was too busy puking onto the asphalt.
"You OK, Forman?" Hyde asked as soon as my stomach stopped heaving. "Give me your car keys, I think we'd better get out of here before they decide to do something even stupider."
When I stood up, I saw that the three guys had gone back to their car - Frank and Chris were leaning against the car, getting cigarettes out of a pack. Randy was sitting on the hood, smirking in our direction and already smoking.
"Just walk away, man," Hyde said under his breath, and I followed him to the Vista Cruiser, not ready to think about anything just yet other than whether I was going to puke again.
I got in the passenger side and then huddled there, arms around my stomach, while Hyde drove us out of the parking lot.
"So," I said as we turned onto the street, "I guess I owe you a quarter." I looked over at Hyde, and his expression almost scared me. His mouth and eyes were hard and angry. He'd definitely lost the Zen.
He slammed his right hand, open-palmed, against the steering wheel. "Fuck those guys."
"Thanks for getting rid of them," I said, gingerly touching my chin. My fingers came away bloody. "Seemed like you know them better than I do." That was surprising, but useful, because whoever Diane was, Hyde's threat had got us out of there in one piece.
"I'm sorry about this, man," Hyde said.
"Sorry?" I repeated, confused for a moment. Then I understood... "You told them! Jesus Christ, Hyde, they're going to kill me!"
"Told them what?"
"About me kissing guys!"
"What?! Are you crazy, Forman?"
"You didn't tell them? Then why the hell do they think I'm gay?"
"They what?" Hyde said. "Wait, is that why they were beating you up?"
"Uh, yeah..." Maybe I was a bit woozy from the blow to the head, but I felt like Hyde and I weren't quite connecting in this conversation. "Why did you think?"
Hyde waited a moment before answering. "Randy has a problem with me. Remember a while back, you found out I was carrying a knife? Randy was the reason why." He glanced over at me. "Hey, Forman, you're dripping blood."
"Oh. Yeah." I didn't want to get bloodstains on my own car. I reached under the seat and found a crushed box of tissues; I wadded up a couple and pressed them against my lip. "Why was Randy threatening you?" I wondered if Randy'd decided Hyde was gay, too.
"He found out I'd screwed his girlfriend," Hyde replied evenly. The Zen was back, in full force.
Great. Hyde gets threatened for being a stud; I get beat up for being a fag. And I still didn't know why Randy and those guys suddenly decided I was an offense to their masculinity; I didn't know whether they'd actually heard something, or if they just didn't like the looks of me. I dabbed the tissue wad against my chin, and stared out the window in front of us. We were almost home.
"Hyde, man, you gotta promise not to tell anyone what happened!"
He looked at me, raising one eyebrow, keeping his eyes off the road just long enough to make me nervous. "Everyone's going to know what happened as soon as they see that beautiful fat lip."
"They'll know I got in a fight. I don't have to tell them why." I couldn't explain to myself why I desperately wanted to keep this a secret, so I hoped Hyde wouldn't ask me to explain it to him. All I knew was that there was something deeply humiliating about the whole experience, and I wanted to move as quickly as possible to pretending it never happened.
Hyde shrugged. "OK. They'll want to know what happened, though," he said as he pulled into my parents' driveway.
He was right, of course. Fez, Kelso and the girls were already in the basement - never mind that Hyde and I are the only ones who actually live there. As soon as I walked through the door, everyone's attention was on me. Kelso and Donna demanded to know what happened; Fez and Jackie just seemed fascinated and grossed out by my bloody lip. I shot a glance at Hyde, worried that he'd tell them after all - he doesn't often pass up a chance to laugh at me - but he was heading for the stairs, not saying a word.
I let Donna lead me to the couch and sit me down, and then I started lying through my teeth. There were four guys. They were picking on this skinny little four-eyed freshman right outside the school. Hyde and I came out the door and saw it, and we had to go over and help the kid. I put myself between the kid and the biggest guy, and told the kid to get the hell out of there. The kid ran. One of the guys started to run after him, but Hyde tackled him and took him down. Then the guy closest to me clocked me in the jaw, but I didn't fall down. I was so mad, I just punched him in the gut as hard as I could, and he doubled right over and lost his lunch. That took the fight out of the rest of the guys; they called a truce. I told them to think about this next time they wanted to pick on some skinny little kid, and then Hyde and I took off.
Hyde came back down the stairs with something in his hands just as I was finishing my story.
"Heads up, Forman," he said and tossed a bag of frozen peas at me.
I grabbed the peas out of the air, slightly confused. "What, are we making dinner now?"
Hyde rolled his eyes. "No, idiot. Hold it up to your lip."
Ohhhh, right. I pressed the icy bag against the lower half of my face.
"Hyde, did Eric really punch a guy so hard he made him puke?" Donna said.
"I believe it," Kelso said instantly. "Eric's skinny, but he hits hard." He rubbed his upper arm, as though remembering the last time I'd frogged him there.
"He sure did," Hyde said, playing it so straight I never would've guessed he was lying if I didn't already know. "He's stronger than you'd think."