Categories > Cartoons > South Park > Learning to Swim - A Creek (Craig x Tweek) Fanfic

Chapter Six - To Go Through Fire and Water

by CrimsonCrowCreek 0 reviews

Over the course of several years, our faves Tweek and Craig support each other as friends and as lovers, from grade school to college, Colorado to California, to go through a lot of challenges that...

Category: South Park - Rating: R - Genres: Angst,Drama,Romance - Warnings: [V] [X] [R] [Y] - Published: 2022-04-27 - 6835 words - Complete

To Go Through Fire and Water (to face any danger)
Colorado, August 2010, Summer
Tweek tried to fight the shakes as he put his keys in the ignition. It’ll be fine. Thomas isn’t home. Besides, you took the gun.
Before this morning he wouldn’t have trusted himself to keep it together. But he’d kept his cool. Seeing Craig in such a state had forced him to, even as the grief and panic bubbled up inside. Now his composure was held in place by cold hard fury.
It wasn’t the first time that Thomas had hit Craig. Craig had been showing up to Tweek’s house with bruises and nosebleeds for seven years now. The first time they had been nine years old.
Tweek had been in bed, trying to sleep, when he heard something hit his window. He had gone to the window to find Craig in the snow below, shivering in his pyjamas. Even in the moonlight Tweek could see his black eye from a distance.
Even when they were too young to truly fathom what was going on, Tweek knew his friend was terrified to go home. And he hadn’t wanted him to, but his parents always insisted. Retrospectively, Tweek had realised that his parents were scared of Thomas Tucker.
The teachers had never asked about his bruises, given his reputation for fighting. Craig had told Tweek that he’d never been in a real fight before, but his rough appearance and resigned attitude from the parental neglect and abuse lead the teaching staff to assume the worst about him. Soon his reputation had preceded him.
Tweek had tried to get Craig to tell an adult. But Craig had shaken his head, looking resigned and far older than their eleven years. “My Dad says he knows every cop in town. They wouldn’t believe me.”
“Craig -”
“Remember that kid who got taken into foster care? We used to sit outside Mackey’s office together. He said it was even worse than when he was at home.”
Tweek had given Craig his snack bag of Chips Ahoy, and dropped the subject.
When Tweek pulled up outside the Tuckers’ house, he was relieved to see that Thomas’s car wasn’t in the driveway. Tricia, Craig’s sister, almost fifteen years old and about to go into her Sophomore year while they went into their Junior year, walked down the block towards him. She noticed Tweek’s car, and waved at him. He waved back, and unlocked the car, stepping out into the bright sunlight.
He closed the gap between them, and tried to smile at her.
“Hi, Tricia. How are you?”
“Good. Tweek, where’s my brother?”
Tweek carefully raised his arm, careful not to move too quickly since he knew it would make Craig flinch and possibly Tricia too, and gently placed a hand on her shoulder. Tricia frowned.
He sighed.
“Tricia. Craig got pretty badly hurt this morning. I took him to the hospital. He’s ok, just a few broken bones.”
Tweek blinked.
“It was Dad, Tweek. Wasn’t it.”
Tweek hesitated, and then nodded.
“That cunt.”
He must have looked surprised.
“He finally caught you guys doing it, huh?”
Tweek met her eyes, and slowly nodded.
“Tricia, does he ever hit you? Or your Mom?”
“No. Just Craig. It was only ever Craig.”
“Can I come over and see him?”
His breath caught in his throat. He hadn’t even stopped to consider Tricia in the mad dash to get Craig medical care and now to save his guinea pig and whatever possessions he needed.
“Yeah. Maybe not right now, sorry. I need to sort things first, but you’re always welcome to come and see him at my house. I know it would mean the world to him. He, uh, won’t be coming back here. I shouldn’t even be here. I just came to get his things.”
Silently, Tricia stepped forward and hugged him. Despite being younger, she was already taller than Tweek’s five foot five inches.
His resolve weakened. “Actually, fuck that. Come back with me. We’ll figure it out, somehow. I don’t know, but we will. I don’t give a fuck.”
As he hugged her back, he heard her muffled sob.
“Tricia! What are you doing? Get away from him!”
Laura Tucker stormed out of the house, her brown eyes flashing viciously in the afternoon sunlight. She threw her peroxide blonde hair over her shoulder as she bore down on Tweek, even taller than her daughter. Tweek suddenly remembered Craig telling him that his mother, from whom Craig had inherited his almost black locks, envied Tweek’s naturally light-coloured hair.
Why the fuck are you remembering that now? he wondered at himself, incredulous.
Tweek kept his face impassive as he glared back at Laura coldly.
“You have five minutes. The wretched guinea pig is in his room.”
“Okay, Laura.”
He stepped past her and walked towards the house. Behind him, he could hear Laura yelling at Tricia.
“What are you playing at, Patricia? You are not to talk to Craig, or to Tweek.”
“Mom -”
“That is final. Not under any circumstances.”
“But -”
“Give me your phone.”
Tweek turned back to see Laura snatching Tricia’s pink Nokia from her and stabbing at the buttons. She threw it back at her.
“There. I’ve deleted them from your contacts.”
“Mom -”
“No. You wait here until he’s gone and then you are grounded.”
Laura looked up at Tweek and saw him watching.
“Four minutes!”
Tweek hurried into the house.
He had brought a big duffel bag with him, and when he reached Craig’s bedroom he filled it in a matter of moments, throwing in the clothes from the dresser, books from the shelf, Craig’s hidden cigarettes and bottles and porn magazines from under his bed. He carefully pulled the posters from the walls, and the covers from the bed. Anything to make him feel less lost. It didn’t occur to him that the smaller twin bed covers wouldn’t fit his own double bed.
Tweek had put Speckle’s bag of food into the duffel bag, and lifted it onto his shoulder. He cooed to Speckle to calm her as he carefully picked up her cage. He turned to look at the stripped room from the doorway, knowing he would never set foot in it again.
Laura strode up the hall.
“Ok. That’s it. Now get the fuck out of here. Now.”
“I’m done. I’m leaving. Goodbye, Laura.”
Tricia’s frightened face had appeared from her room as he strode towards the staircase, her strawberry blonde hair falling over the mark on her cheek. His heart sank. He hadn’t even thought to ask Tricia if Laura ever hit her. Tricia shouted out to Tweek as he hurried past her, her eyes desperate.
“Tweek! Tell Craig I love him, and, I’ll see him soon! I’ll see you both soon!”
He nodded furiously, trying to reassure her as much as he could even as he fought the urge to vomit. Keep still, don’t shake Speckle.
“I will!” he choked out as Laura reached them.
“Tricia! Get in your room right now or I will lock you in there!”
Tricia began to reach for him, but Laura pushed Tweek out of the way and shoved her daughter back into her room, leaning on the door. On the other side of the door, Tweek could hear her scared sobbing, somehow so like her brother’s. He choked down the fear that bubbled in his chest.
Laura pulled a key from her pocket.
“You sick queers are not to attempt to make contact with my daughter, or to come back on our property. As far as Thomas and I are concerned, we have no son. If you do not get out of my home right now, I will call the police. And don’t even think about going to them, or CPS or whatever interfering government bullshit. It’s our right to raise our children the way we see fit.”
She narrowed her eyes.
“It will not go well for you if you do. And life will be much worse for Patricia. She’s our little girl. She’s not contaminated like Craig. If you leave her alone, nothing will happen to her.”
Tweek narrowed his own eyes.
“Goodbye, Laura.”
He didn’t give her the satisfaction of looking back at her as he returned to his car. Once he was safely inside with the doors locked, the duffel bag of Craig’s belongings on the back seat and Speckle’s cage carefully buckled beside him on the passenger side, he looked at Tricia’s window, his heart hammering with concern. Tricia was staring at him, her eyes wide. He met her gaze. She gave him a double thumbs up and a steely smile that seemed to say ‘Don’t worry about me. Worry about yourself. I’ve got this.’
Tough kid.
Kid? She’s only fourteen months younger than you are.
Laura noticed him watching. She began to approach the car. Tricia blew a kiss with both hands and waved as he quickly drove away.
As he sped home, Speckle squeaking curiously the way she always did on car trips, Tweek wracked his mind for the best move.
Fuck. What to do about Tricia? What could I do? I could call CPS?
Maybe it genuinely is better just to trust she can look after herself? She’s only a year younger than you are. Sure, Laura slapped her. But I believe her when she says that Craig was the only one who got beaten up.
Maybe it really would be best just to stay away. Laura only slapped her because you were around.
Am I just bitching out because it’s too hard?
You just went to the Tucker’s house with a gun. I don’t think it’s that.
I can keep an eye on her at school. I can tell a teacher if I get worried.
She’s tough as fuck. She always has been.
The main thing is to not make it worse.
Tweek pulled into the driveway and noticed that his parents weren’t home yet. He was grateful for that. When he walked into the house, he heard someone moving around. His heart racing, he set down the duffel bag and reached for the gun in his jacket, cradling Speckle’s cage under his arm.
Adrenaline and protective fury flooded his brain as he shouted out. “Who is it? Thomas? I swear to God if you so much as lay a finger on him I will blow your fucking brains out, I don’t give a fuck what happens to me.”
Craig emerged from the hallway, smiling weakly.
“Jesus Christ, Craig.”
“It’s ok. Get back in bed. Please. I’ll come upstairs in a minute. I’m just putting this gun back.”
He started to move towards his father’s study on the ground floor. But something about Craig’s expression made him stop.
“Craig? Honey? What is it?”
“Clyde called me when you wouldn’t pick up your phone. Didn’t you see the email? It’s been announced. You came top in our year. Your marks were above that expected of a senior doing your exams.”
Craig’s eyes were red.
“You got that scholarship programme with the Physics Department at Boulder. You start next week.”
“Craig, I won’t do it. I’ll stay here and take care of you.”
Tweek watched Craig force a smile, though his warm brown eyes were creased with grief.
“I can’t let you do that, sweetheart.”
“I don’t care about this scholarship. Fuck Boulder.”
“Angel. This is massive. You have to do it. You could get into any college you want with something like this under your belt.”
Tweek pulled at a tug of hair.
“Ok, ok, I’ll do it. You can relax in my room while I go to Boulder and then I’ll come home at night.”
“I’m so proud of you. I can’t even believe how proud I am. Seriously.”
Tweek reached out for him, feeling sick.
“Craig? Please lie down. I’ll make you some tea.”
Craig raised his unsplinted arm and Tweek stepped into his embrace. He rested his head on the unbroken side of Craig’s ribs. Goddamn, why am I so fucking short?
He started to talk, hoping to distract Craig and get him back in bed.
“Red Racer is on in a few minutes, I’m just in time for it.”
“Tweek -”
“I saw Tricia. She wanted me to tell you she loves you and she’ll see you soon. I told her she’s welcome to come over here and see you whenever she likes.”
Craig had been so tense as Tweek softly leaned into him. Now Tweek felt him deflate and worried he might collapse. He gently drew back and looked up, frowning.
Craig’s face was pale.
“Tweek. I can’t impose on your family like this. I mean, you haven’t even talked to your parents about this. How will they feel coming home to my whole life in a duffel bag and my squeaky guinea pig?”
His voice was barely louder than a whisper, or perhaps a prayer.
Like you’d even know what a prayer sounds like, Tweek found himself thinking.
“What are you saying, Craig?”
Craig shook his head slowly, blinking back tears.
“While you were out, I rang my boss. She’s had an old trailer that she couldn’t sell, so I gave her my card details. Thank God for child labour, right?”
He gave a hollow laugh that broke Tweek’s heart.
“Craig -”
“You’re an angel, Tweek. And you have so much potential.”
You have no idea what a prayer sounds like. Maybe that’s why you don’t have one.
I’m an angel with no chance in Hell.
Tweek watched as a tear fell onto the soft blue t shirt Craig wore under his jacket. The t shirt was one of Craig’s own. Tweek recognised it as one he had washed several weeks ago after Craig left it behind. He could smell the jasmine scented fabric softener. Craig had an unofficial drawer for his clothes in the bottom of Tweek’s tallboy.
“I can’t let you get caught up in this. You’re doing so well. You’ve honestly come so far with your mental health. I’m really glad I could help with that, but at this point I’d just fuck you up.”
“Baby -”
“I’m sorry Tweek. I can’t let you deal with this. I’m going to really struggle with this for so long. Like, I’m pretty fucked up inside, frankly. I think I just need to get out of your hair.”
“What are you saying, Craig?”
“Thank you so much for getting my stuff, Tweek. I put some money in your account for my bills. You’re the best.”
He clutched at Tweek, and Tweek could feel him shaking.
“I’m so sorry. I think I need some time on my own.”
Tweek had known that was coming, but he was still wasn’t prepared for that. He screwed up his face and let the tears come, thick and hard.
“I love you, Craig.”
Craig choked out a sob.
“I love you too, Tweek.”
“Please don’t leave now. Stay here for a few days. Please.”
“I don’t want your parents seeing me like this. I’m an embarrassment.”
“No, you’re not!”
Tweek broke away from Craig, who winced.
“Oh God, your ribs. I’m sorry, are you ok?
Tweek surveyed him for a few moments.
“Okay, so you need time. How long do you think you need?”
Craig reached out his good hand to cup Tweek’s face.
“I’m sorry, Tweek. I just don’t know.”
“So, what? Are we breaking up?”
“You could have anyone you wanted, Tweek.”
“I want you.”
Tweek could hear his voice rising, returning to the scared little boy who had befriended Craig nearly a decade ago.
Craig looked at Tweek with tears in his eyes.
“I’m sorry, Tweek. I’m so sorry.”
Tweek shook his head.
“Are you just leaving? Just like that?”
Craig nodded slowly. “I called a cab.”
They heard a horn sound outside.
Craig bit his lip and looked at the floor. Tweek watched two tears plop onto the carpet.
“I’ll go and ask him to help with my stuff.”
Stubbornly, Tweek picked up the duffel bag and Speckle’s cage.
“Tweek -”
Craig stumbled after Tweek as he strode outside to the taxi. He saw Tweek speaking to the driver, who unlocked the boot and helped him put in the duffel bag. Tweek held Speckle’s cage.
When Craig reached the cab, Tweek wordlessly handed him the cage. He wouldn’t meet his eyes.
“Tweek -”
“Have you even thought about this? You’re so hurt. You’re going to live in a trailer. Does it even have electricity?”
“No, but it -”
“How will you survive the winter?”
“I’ll be ok, Tweek. I know you live in this lovely warm house with thick walls and insulation and parents that let you turn on the heat but I’m used to freezing my ass off. Like, not to be rude, but it’s fine.”
“And what about Speckle?”
Craig sighed and rubbed his exhausted eyes with his one good arm.
“Fuck, you’re right.”
Tweek sighed. “Alright, here comes the custody dispute.”
“Tweek -”
“No, I’m being stupid. I don’t want a dispute. Why would I?
Craig slowly shook his head as Tweek finally met his eyes. “Would you like me to look after Speckle? Just, until you can sort something out?”
“Will your parents let you?”
“I’ll figure it out. What choice do we have? She can’t live in your trailer.”
“Thank you, Tweek. I really appreciate it. And I’m sure Speckle does too.”
For a brief moment they both smiled at each other, though their tears fell ceaselessly. Tweek crumbled first, gripping Speckle’s cage against his chest the way Craig knew he wanted to be gripping him instead.
“Craig, please please please don’t do this,” he choked out, shaking his head.
Craig took a deep breath, forcing himself not to drop his gaze from Tweek’s.
“I just - I have to, honey bee. Fuck. Sorry.”
The taxi driver suddenly honked impatiently, making them both jump.
Tweek shook his head and as he opened the car door for Craig he raised a hand, whether to stop Craig from speaking or to bid him goodbye, Craig didn’t know. Tweek refused to drop his gaze as Craig awkwardly climbed into the back of the car.
Craig expected Tweek to slam the door but he closed it with all the gentleness that he held Speckle’s cage, had held Craig that morning as he lay naked and facedown on the bloodstained floor, had held the dying baby bird in his tiny hands.

Tweek didn’t say anything to his parents after they came home from the coffee shop that evening.
He sat at the dinner table, staring down at his plate, playing with his cauliflower. His parents’ voices blared on in the background like television static, but his heart thumped louder in his ears. He blinked hard, his head spinning. His mother noticed.
“Tweek? Are you ok, honey?”
He shook his head hard to clear it, and forced a smile.
“Yeah, Mom. I’m ok. I’m just not feeling the best. I might wash up and go to bed early.”
“Okay -”
He quickly stood up and took his plate to the kitchen, leaving his dinner in the fridge and hurrying up the stairs before they could ask him any follow up questions.
The upstairs bathroom was rarely used by his parents, as they had their own much newer ensuite downstairs. Mercifully, there was also a lock on the door. He made sure it was inaccessible to anybody from the outside before stripping off all of his clothing and staring at himself in the full-length mirror his mother had left there years previously.
He didn’t look any different. He certainly felt differently. God, it really was not meant to go this way.
His face was flushed, the rest of his body utterly devoid of any colour. He looked himself up and down, taking in the protruding ribs, the narrow yet angular shoulders, the jutting hip bones. How could I look so much like nothing is wrong?
The throbbing pain he had been experiencing all day, and before falling asleep in Craig’s warm arms the previous night, hit a peak. He watched his face turn grey, and rushed forward to be sick in the sink.
Was it normal for it to hurt so much?
He had done so much research into it over the past few months, Googling with Incognito Mode on for hours at a time. He knew he needed to be stretched out for it to work, and he had felt his body change to accommodate Craig the following night. Despite Craig’s gentleness as he stroked Tweek’s hip and surveyed him watchfully with those loving brown eyes, his body felt irrevocably altered by the alien introduction.
Tweek picked up his jeans from the floor, flinching as he bent over to reach them. He hadn’t had time to put on boxers before throwing himself out of Craig’s window into the snow.
Should he have acted differently? Should he have tried to fight Thomas off?
If he wasn’t so consumed by grief, he might have laughed. Tweek was barely five foot five. Thomas was at least six foot six, maybe a hundred and fifty pounds heavier.
He opened his jeans and grimaced at the amount of blood he observed. Jesus Christ.
He had expected to spend the day after his first time lying around his parents’ house with Craig, playing video games in sweats and maybe ordering a pizza, or something easier to digest. He knew he had needed to take care of it, and rest it so that his body could conduct any repairs needed. In a million years, he never would have anticipated having to run around, taking Craig to the emergency room. Having his heart shattered by Craig’s injuries. Having his body freshly torn open and lacerated by the frantic sprinting around, trying to carry Craig to safety.
He should have anticipated it. He was the stupid fuck who let himself fall asleep afterwards.
If you had just sucked it up and kissed him goodnight and driven home, Craig would still have a home.
He turned his back on the mirror, and bent over to inspect the damage. Fuck.
Well, what are you going to do? You have to start at Boulder on Monday, if you’re going to get it together for that.
Tweek began to cry softly as he turned on the shower, and felt a gentle trickle of fresh blood begin to make its way down his legs. As he stepped underneath the warm stream, he began to openly sob once he knew nobody could hear him. As if in response, he felt his wound begin to bleed hard in the heat.
His head hanging down, he watched his blood turn pink as it mixed with the water and trickled down the drain.

California, August 2014, Summer
Tweek spent the next two weeks trying his best to take his mind off his anxiety around his meeting with the Dean. It was another twelve days before the Faculty got back to him to reschedule the meeting, setting a time for a fortnight after they were initially meant to meet.
Even harder than forgetting his anxiety was trying not to think about what Sam had told him. It frightened him how quickly his thoughts turned to temptation.
Surely you could just suck it up and do it for a bit? Just to get your grades up. It’s not like you’d end up a meth head. You could stop after college.
Maybe you’d be able to lose all this weight. That would certainly be a plus. You used to be hot. Well, maybe you’ve never been hot, but at least you were thin.
How is it that you worry about the health effects of a stimulant, but you’ve been eating and drinking and chain-smoking all your shitty feelings for the last six months?
Why would Mom and Dad have given it to me if it was really that bad? Maybe it was just exaggerated by the war on drugs? I mean, they really loved me.
He had Sam’s number saved in his phone, a work-related contact purposes hangover from a tutor’s introduction meeting at the start of the academic year, when he had taken the tutoring role to save to get Craig’s tooth fixed. Whenever these thoughts overwhelmed him and he couldn’t shove them out of his head, he would open his phone and stare at Sam’s contact, his winning smile displayed, automatically linked from his LinkedIn profile.
Surely I’m in withdrawal. I’m not stupid enough not to realise that much, at least. But I just feel like shit.
It’s not like I’m chasing a high. For me, meth was just normal. I don’t remember anything before that ‘normal’.
Fuck, how pathetic is that. How fucked is your life? How fucked is your brain? And you’re still trying to tell yourself that your parents loved you?
They must have loved you.
They must have not.
They must have.
Don’t be ridiculous.
Mentally he carefully plucked the petals from one of the white daisies that had grown through the snow on the lawn of his childhood home. After a while it became the only psychological ritual that calmed him.
Surely that’s doing some serious damage to your development, losing your childhood home. You wouldn’t be pretending you’re there so much otherwise. Is this regression?
Stop being so pathetic. You’re a grown ass man. Now grow the fuck up.
It happened to Craig too. And he’s dealing with it. He’s dealing with you and all your shit too. He’s dealt with being your only friend for far too long. Surely he just feels bad for you, it can’t be healthy.
That’s your biggest concern about your health? Really? The fact you only have one person in your life that you spend any kind of time with?
Yeah. I’m so stupid.
He’s so much better than I’ll ever be.
He would revert back to looking at the picture of Sam.
He’s so much better than I’ll ever be too. He managed to keep his scholarship.
Ironically, he looks waaay better than you do, Tweek.
Heaps of people do meth. It’s probably lead to so much progress for the human race.
Maybe the problem at this point isn’t doing meth. Maybe the problem is stopping.
He tried to imagine what Craig would say. The rational part of his brain had noticed how much fuller Sam’s face was in old LinkedIn photos, how much brighter his eyes and how much clearer his skin. Clearer Sam had figured out how to clean his teeth well enough to keep them. Tweek assumed his teeth had survived because a touch of anxious OCD meant he always felt filthy until he had scrubbed them religiously several times a day, and had since he was a child.
No matter where his thinking took him, winding through all the relationships he had ever had, he would always arrive back at his grades, and his pending conversation with the Dean.
You’re probably literally the only scholarship kid not using some kind of supplement. Be real.
He looks healthy there. Maybe I could just do it for a bit, just to get my grades up. It’s not like I ever spiralled out of control before. If anything, there’s less risk now because I actually know I’m doing it.
I could just do it for college and then stop. Or even just to get my grades back up.
Mentally he shook himself.
What am I talking about? I need to detox. I’ve come this far.
You’ve been detoxing for months. You still feel like absolute shit. Clearly it isn’t working.
The more days passed since the Dean had rescheduled their meeting, blurring together in a whirl of anxiety and rushing by faster and faster, the closer he got to calling Sam.
By the time he was back on a seat in front of the Dean’s office, he was fighting not to contact Sam.
No. Be rational. If it goes badly, you can call Craig.
Or you could leave him the fuck alone and stop being so dependent on him and handle your shit on your own for once. Christ. You’re such a baby.
The door to the Dean’s office opened and she emerged, smiling at him. He hurried to his feet, trying to smile back.
“Hi, Tweek. Ooh, it’s hot out here, isn’t it? Why don’t you come on inside, I’ve got the fan on.”
He desperately wished he could have brought Craig with him, as he sat at the chair opposite her. The fan was definitely on full bore, but it was stifling. It must have been comfortable for someone who had spent most of the last few years living in a climate like California. Suddenly, Tweek felt a rush of nausea, flushing in the stuffy office.
Trying to be discrete, Tweek struggled to pull his plaid over shirt from around his shoulders. He’d bought it the previous winter to wear around the house after he’d started to put on weight, but not before he’d reached his current physique. And, of course, he’d been too distressed by how his body looked after gaining fifty pounds to accept it by buying a larger shirt.
When he’d wrestled it off his shoulders, he quickly bundled it to clutch on his lap. The Dean blinked at him, her mouth tight.
“Of course, you’re a Wyoming boy, aren’t you! You must be roasting in here!”
Tweek tried to keep his laugh friendly and not let it sound as fake as it was. He didn’t see any point in bothering to correct her. He could feel the heat in his cheeks rising, adding to his discomfort. His t shirt, a baggy one he’d borrowed from Craig but which was far too long on him, stuck with his sweat to the back of the leather seat. He prayed to the old gods and the new that she wouldn’t notice.
As he had already learned to little surprise during their brief previous interactions, Professor Moran was a no-nonsense woman. She had already looked away from him and continued to flick through the stapled document on her desk, her curly grey hair falling over her lined forehead and brushing her prominent, pencilled eyebrows. Finally, she settled on a page and looked up at him, her hands clasped on the desk in front of her.
“So, Tweek. How are things going with you? Before we start, can I offer you tea, coffee, water?”
He forced a smile.
“No thank you, Professor. I’m fine.”
She pursed her lips, watching him for a few seconds. He kept his sterile smile in place.
“So, Tweek. I’m sorry to call you in like this. And I’m sorry again for the uncertainty -”
‘Oh, it’s ok.’
He had cut her off out of kneejerk politeness without meaning to. Something changed in her face, and he instantly knew this was a big mistake.
‘Sorry, Professor.’
Just shut up. You’re making this worse
‘I know you probably have an inkling what this is about.”
He nodded. “Yeah. I think so.”
She gave him the smile he recognised too well. It was the one countless acquaintances had given him after his parents had died, not knowing what to say. It was an understanding, sad, ‘chin-up’ sort of smile, accompanied by a head tilt. At least she wouldn’t give him the awkward pat on the arm, he hoped.
“It was good timing last term with your exams finishing. As you know, your grades were good. They were scholarship standard.”
In the depths of his shame and discomfort Tweek felt a flash of anger and shock.
What the fuck? Did she really just say that?
She doesn’t care about you, don’t be so naïve. She has barely any time and she’s got to get through it. Harden up.
“weren’t quite up to speed last term. They’d been exceptional initially, and we were still very impressed with how you performed after – um - ”
Internally Tweek sighed. He knew from her tone it already wasn’t going well.
“Yes. I know.”
“But this past term, as you know, your grades were borderline. And I’m sure you appreciate that in order to retain a full scholarship at a school like Caltech you need to keep a certain standard up.”
He nodded, his heart thumping painfully as she went on.
‘Tweek. Look. The Faculty met on this to discuss what to do. It’s a really hard situation, and we really do empathise with your situation.’
Shit. Here it comes.
He could feel the sirens beginning to go off in his brain. His mouth was dry as he registered himself speaking.
‘Isn’t there special consideration?’
Professor Moran sighed and pulled off her glasses.
‘Tweek. We do have an amount of discretion when there are difficult personal circumstances to consider. The issue is the proximity in time. If you had faced these challenging personal circumstances right before exams, rather than a term ago, it would be different.’
Tweek felt his chin wobble. Fuck. Don’t cry.
He focused all his energy on keeping his voice steady, but his words still choked out of him.
‘Professor, this was last term.’
‘Yes. In academia, that’s a long time. Like I just said, the bar is very high.’
Jesus. Control yourself. What the hell do you expect if you lose it at the Dean.
The silence stretched between them.
“You were meant to keep an A average at least for the duration of your degree. We thought given your situation your A- average at the end of the beginning of the term would be a brief blip, and we could let it slide. But unfortunately, Tweek, you don’t seem to be improving. Frankly, it’s been the opposite. I just reviewed your latest exam results, and I see a B+. That is simply not good enough for a Caltech scholar”
His breath was tangled in his vocal cords.
He clutched his shirt tightly, uncomfortably feeling how damp his palms were.
‘Tweek, the board has yet to make a final decision. But I have to be frank. It isn’t looking good.’
He took a deep breath. ‘When will I know?’
‘After our meeting, I will report back to the board and then we will make a final decision.’
Tweek nodded. ‘Ok. Can I ask how much our meeting impacts the board’s decision?’
She paused. ‘The board considers it as part of their overall discretion.’
Ok. So they’re just ticking a box.
Suddenly he felt a new strength. He knew it was from adrenaline and panic, but it spurred him on.
Fucking fight, you coward. You need this. What else have you got? Stand up for yourself, for once in your sorry life.
“Professor Moran. With respect, I understand that it isn’t ideal for the Department to take away a scholarship from a student. It certainly isn’t in their interests, after the investment.”
Her brow furrowed slightly.
“The Department has been so understanding, and I am so grateful. Truly, I am.”
Truly, I’m not. They haven’t done a damn thing.
That’s because it’s not their job.
Hey, if it works.
This time she raised her eyebrows. It was impossible to tell if that was a positive sign or a negative one. Steeling himself, he pressed on.
“Professor Moran, I truly believe that I could get my grades back up to how they were before. I know I’m asking a lot. But, who knows. Maybe if I were permitted to keep my scholarship, they’d even run a news article about a student facing considerable personal tragedy while studying at Caltech and with the support of the Department still managing to pull through and succeed. It’s not like my name hasn’t been on the national news.”
She was beginning to glare at him. He smiled in response, hoping he looked warm rather than rude.
Do your best not to come off entitled.
“I know that everyone has to deal with personal tragedy. I know that includes illness and death. But my parents were murdered. It was on national news. They were dealing methamphetamine, and then I had to watch the class action lawsuit against their estate.”
Professor Moran’s eyes widened. Ignoring the nausea rising in his throat, he spurred on.
“I can’t help but notice, Professor, that the Department hasn’t actually directly asked about my mental health at any point in the process. Will that go on the record?”
He truly thought he might suddenly vomit as he went on.
“Again, Professor, I really do understand that I’m asking a lot in requesting a chance to pull my grades back up this term and keep my scholarship. But did you read that Harvard article last month about the concerning lack of mental health support for STEM students in top ranking American colleges, despite rampant psychological breakdowns and suicide attempts?”
“Tweek -”
He could feel tears in his eyes.
“Clearly I’m not doing well, Professor. I look horrendous. I know people have noticed. I’ve stacked on sixty pounds at this point. I can barely get out of bed, let alone do any work. I look like a corpse. Do you not think that it might not look good to take away my scholarship in those circumstances, even if my parents were both murdered a matter of months ago? Maybe in the academic world that isn’t long, but do you not think there might be a public outcry if word got out about it?”
Suddenly he was crying as his voice rose, the bravado leaving him as suddenly as it had come. He could see the thinly-veiled panic on her face as she raised her hands to shush him.
“Tweek, Tweek, ok. Calm down. Look. Don’t get upset. I can recommend we give you this term to bring up your grades. But we’ll be monitoring your progress very closely. We’ll meet back again in October, once you’ve done some assignments.”
He blinked at her, sniffing hard. Tersely, she pushed the box of tissues on her desk in his direction. He nodded and forced a smile as he clumsily grabbed a handful and scrubbed his face with them.
“I’m sorry, Professor Moran. I didn’t mean to – I’m sorry.”
“Tweek. Are you ok?”
“Yeah, yeah, I’ll be ok.”
“It won’t be easy, however. We will require all your grades to be above 95%. But we’ll also refer you to a grief counsellor. And there won’t be another chance to keep your scholarship if you can’t make the standard this term.”
Really? That’s special consideration? 95% and a grief counsellor referral?
Slowly, Tweek nodded.
The silence stretched between them.
“Do you understand your obligations, Tweek?”
“Yes. Thank you, Professor Moran.”
“Good. You will receive a letter in the next few days confirming the board’s decision.”
“Thank you, Professor.”
“That will be all, Tweek.”
“Thank you. Sorry. Good – goodbye, Professor.”
He could feel her eyes on him as he avoided meeting them, gathering his shirt, leaving a wet outline of his back on her chair, and stumbling an apology as he clattered around the furniture and out the door.
When the letter arrived early the following week, its thick envelope embossed with the glossy Caltech Faculty of Physics emblem, it set out the conditions exactly as the Dean had.
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