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Printed from https://www.writing.com/main/campfires/item_id/1326418-Eudaimonia
Rated: 18+ · Campfire Creative · Fiction · Friendship · #1326418
You can get all As and still flunk life. They've all had it said to them.
[Introduction] Eudaimonia is the idea that we all have a purpose and that is to flourish. But sometimes bright people who have the most potential don't grow, don't reach the pinnacle of their promise nor the heights of their capability. It remains embryonic, pubescent in it's growth because no one is there to nurture it. No one honestly cares enough to analyse the vivacity within these people, the abeyant prowess that only needs to be stirred for it to prosper.

In this story a group of intelligent, creative but ultimately bored characters come together after causing far too much of a disturbance from where ever they were before. They learnt but never developed. They achieved but remained restless. They attained stars but only felt darkness.

These are the people that society shunned.

These are the people being given another chance at a new instituition called Telos. A place designed by an anonymous benefactor which aims to nurture those whose untapped ability is behind their difficulties. A place which holds hope by the hand for all those who have been shunted aside by people too enamored with normality to understand greatness when its looking through the eyes of the difficult.


*

Please write a bio-block like mine in your first turn and all that la la.

THREE DAYS to write or I skip because it's boring to wait.

Have fun being smart.

*

Saepe creat molles aspera spina rosas
Name: Cassiopiea Goodman
Age: 17
Birthday: May 10th
Gender: Female

Appearence: Cassi is a frail, delicate looking girl with pale skin and white blond hair that comes down to just below her shoulders. It's wavy, looking like she's just coming off the sea most of the time. She doesn't betray much emotion and has been described as frigid due to her lack of apparent feelings and her pale complextion, not helped by her dark, grey eyes. She has defined bone structure that gives her a sharp appearence and there is a confusion between whether she's striking or odd to look at.

Personality: She is apparently intangible. Cold and incredibly intelligent, she can come across as vindictive and cruel at times. She's quiet for the most part, preferring to just keep going and make it through. However not too long ago she started to skip school, walk out of lessons, argue with teachers and purposefully disregard rules. She's not naturally a delinquant but her innate sense of not fitting in and ultimately her desire to be acknowledged led to her break down of character and politeness. She's incredibly musical, playing the piano, violin and flute though she can't sing for anything. Music is the one place she lets herself go.

History: Having grown up in a small village in Norfolk, her parents decided to move to the big city so she and her younger brother Orion could go to school there. Her father was in the army and travelled a lot, his death in Afganistan when she was twelve left her with deep rooted issues and lead to her isolationist personality. Her father had been her encouragment and suddenly that was taken away from her. Her mother, though friendly enough, was never particularly interested in her daughter's interests and wanted her to be more 'girly' rather than academic which meant a huge rift grew between them. After her expulsion her mother became fed up with her 'wayward and stubborn' child and decided that Telos was the last chance she could give her.

Name: Sebastian Karslake
Age: 17
Birthday: November 5th
Gender: Male

Appearence: Standing at 5'7, he's not that tall and is incredibly thin, sometimes looking like he could be blown over but despite this he is actually fairly strong and by necessity, resiliant. He has cerulean blue eyes that he lines with black coal, bringing out their depth. People say his eyes are like the ocean. You can drown in them if you look too hard. Longish honey blond hair falls over his face in a constantly messed up way that makes him look like he only just made it out of bed. He has a small tattoo of a star behind his left ear and a scorpian at the base of his spine, the tail seeming to have cut down the long silver scar on his back. His clothes try to mask the fact that he's quite so petite as he mixes bold colours with the blacks and greys of punk to create a more artistic assortment of outfits. He will often find a fit he likes and redecorate it so it suits him more.

Personality: Bohemian ideals, he's an artist and musician. He loves literature and classical mythology and is fluent in languages such as latin because he found the poetry more emotive in the original form, thus giving him a purpose to learn it. However he hates being dictated to and despises people who try to impose their ideals, beliefs and rules upon him. He's clever but prefers to deal with things creatively, loathing maths and science. He's easily effected by the external world, though he doesn't often show it and often goes outside just to feel the cold or the heat or the rain or the wind. A lot of his art work incorporates the natural world in conflict with humanity or even the way nature is an intrinsic part of the human identity. He's loud, confident and mouthy on the outside. Inside he hides most of his emotions, often when he's frightened and depressed he gets angry and this is reflected through his sometimes erratic, eccentric behaiviour. It's easy to read him when he's writing music or painting/sketching, because all his feelings drain into them. He's not passive though, hating to accept things without fighting back. He's the type of guy to rush into things and go wild rather than wait and think things though because he's been taught that waiting will only leave things left undone. Much of his personality is based on his desperation to not just survive but to live.

Background: His parents are strangers and he's the accidental only child in the middle of their sick equation. His mother is a business woman who works overseas in places like Tokyo most of the time. His father is a tall man who reminds people of Sherlock Holmes because of his suits. However the man despises Seb and has played mindgames with him since the beginning of his young life as well as 'teaching' him about obediance through violence and starvation when he was younger. Now they rarely cross paths as Seb desperately tries to avoid him. When they do. It's not pretty. He was expelled from four different schools in less than a year, mainly for playing the devil's advocate far too well and never doing what he was told. Most nights he'd go home, change, leave and go hang out with people he barely knew so that he could smoke himself high and float away. His mother was the one to discover Telos. She sees it as a way of getting rid of him and his disturbing ways.
Name: Nathan Curtis
Age: 17
Birthday: June 11th
Gender: Male

Appearance: Nathan is tall enough to measure as average, with brown hair that seems way too soft for the tough guy appearance he usually wears. His eyes are hazel and his face is often set in a scowl or harsh expression. Although he has a somewhat girly appearance, with his oval face and pointed chin, most people don’t get to say that to him twice, as he’ll beat the crap out of them the first time they do. He tends to wear tight jeans and simple t-shirts, a black leather jacket over it. He can wear boots, but more often is in tennis shoes, the better for running in. He will slick his hair back, but only if he’s trying to make an impression of some sort, and more often will leave his hair the same way as his twin, just to confuse people.

Personality: Nathan can fool almost anyone into thinking he is Nik. He can act with the best of them, and he knows his brothers quirks like no other. In truth, he is hard where Nik is soft. He is violent where Nik is passive. He is action where Nik is thought. Nathan’s biggest worry is that something terrible will happen to his brother. Even though they argue all the time, Nathan is always protecting Nik striking first and asking questions later whenever Nik appears to be in danger and not caring if he gets into trouble in the process. His only confidant is Nik. He has a brilliant mind that he ignores in favor of keeping his brother safe, which has become a full time job. In his free time Nathan is usually drawing. He’s never tried to paint anywhere outside of school. He can create a landscape that is so true to life, you’d think it could walk off the page. He doesn’t seem to care about his talent, or know he has one really, and random doodles can be found just about anywhere a piece of paper and pencil happen to fall across Nathan’s path.

History: Nathan and Nik grew up in a house that was constantly broken by divorce. His mother kept marrying people that Nathan wanted to beat up, and several times he did. The only time he would sport an injury was when he took a hit for his brother, which happened more often when he was younger. He’s put two of his more recent step-fathers into the hospital. The fact that they started the fights never really counted much, and he’s been threatened with jail time if he does it again. That’s the only reason he’s slowed down his fighting. Nathan went to the streets and joined a gang to protect Nik. When the first one didn’t work out as he expected, he destroyed it from the inside and took the remaining members to a new gang, where he and Nik remained. When they needed money, Nathan started selling drugs to people, and his brother helped, which hit on Nathan’s conscience in ways he didn’t think about. Finally his mother got married to a rich man, and although he thought it was about to be good at home, his mother disappointed him for the last time, sending him and his brother off to some fancy ass school that was far away and kept them away from the house. Nathan doesn’t like the set up, but he’ll roll with the punches, keeping his first priority in mind, protecting his brother.
Name: Nik Curtis
Age: 17
Birthday: June 11th
Gender: Male

Appearence: Nik and his twin brother Nathan look almost exactly alike. If Nik’s honey brown, soft fluffy hair is a bit shorter it generally goes unnoticed. If his hazel eyes hold a softer expression it isn’t something most people see. The same high cheekbones, oval face, pointed chin and lightly tan skin covers both boys. Very few people notice that Nik smiles a bit more often then his brother and broods a great deal less. While some day such habits might cause different wrinkles on their faces at seventeen there are no obvious effects. The only real way to tell them apart is their scars, but you’d have to see beneath Nik’s clothing to find those.

Personality: Nik is shy but friendly. He’s often been hurt but he still trusts people even when he knows better. His brother has saved him from trouble so many times that he worships him but he still doesn’t always listen to Nathan’s advice. He’s often forgetful, even with important things. His grades reflect this, although he does well on tests and quizzes he doesn’t remember to do, bring in or turn in homework. When he’s not trying to make friends he can be found sitting somewhere singing. He loves to sing, it is the one thing that always brings him peace. When threatened he has an unfortunate tendency to freeze in place. The same reaction sets in when people he cares about are in trouble.

History: Nik and Nathan grew up with a mother who was constantly remarrying and divorcing and most of their step-fathers were abusive. Nik dealt with this by hiding mentally and physically. His brother often stepped in and saved him from bad situations. When Nathan decided to join a gang, Nik joined too. When Nathan decided to sell drugs, Nik helped. When Nik’s mother married a rich man, her ultimate goal, it was time for her embarrassing offspring to be forgotten. Her new husband suggested Telos and she agreed. Nik is just glad there was no fighting. He’s happy to get away from his mother and the constant string of tormenters.
Name: Jackie Yung
Age: 16
Birthday: January 1st
Gender: Female

Appearence: Jackie is a small, chinese girl with a very wiry frame. Her black hair is cut short, chin length at the front and shorter - the bottoms of her ears - at the back. This accentuates her pixish face - unlike most girls of her ethnic background, her face is not round and flat. In fact, her cheekbones are pretty marvelous, making her assume that there must be western blood in her family. Her eyes are large, very very dark brown and with lashes that are thin and not very long. Standing at about 5', she's small but tough, with a six pack and a good arm muscle tone. Although she's proud of her abs, she wishes her boobs and bum were bigger.

Personality: Tough, and at times difficult, Jackie doesn't take crap from anyone; not for herself or anyone she loves. She's likely to find small, scary ways to get her own back while she smiles like an angel. She craves danger; she amounts it to fun, to living. While she's intensly loyal, one sniff of a dagger behind her back and she becomes your worst nightmare. her motto is 'Keep your friends close and your enemies closer'. Has a strange sense of humour, but doesn't tolerate inhumanity towards the innocent - in fact she gets rather angry. And an angry Jackie is very dangerous. i.e., she once threw a kid off a bridge for burning the wings off a butterfly.

History: Orphaned, Jackie has no memory of her parents. It's actually pretty hazy whether her parents died or they just abandoned her - she has heard many different stroes from the authorities over the years. When she was about twelve, she became mischivieous, skipping school alone to break into houses and shoplift. Material possesions gave her some worth, back then, in the homes she lived in. When they began an outreach programme which involved more locking her up than reaching out, she took up kick boxing, and every type of matrial arts she could get her hands on. Her foster parents at the time thought it was a good outlet of energy - but they created a monster. The best escape artist, as well as the quietest, smallest, most agile thief. The night she faked her own death, she jumped on the back of a caravan and rode the whole way to Telos on the top of the vechile. Telos wasn't her aim - it was just where she ended up.
Name: Talitha Gillespie-Lighton
age: 17, just.
Birthday: May 5th
Gender: Female

Appearence: Tally has a regal expression that seems fixed, Her  dark, fairly plucked, eyebrows arch up in a high curve from the bridge of her perfectly symmetrical nose, which gives her eyes a somewhat cat like appearence and the pupils of her grey-green eyes seem to survey everything around her. Her skin is flawless and pale, it's translucence seeming to mask a faint blue glow. Defining her face are her cheekbones, brow bones and chin, making her face somewhat angular, although not bird like. Her hair, dyed a very dark shade of blue, is parted severely to the right and the fringe is tucked behind her ear, but she lets the rest of it flow loosely. It is Straight and falls to shoulder length, feathering slightly at the ends so that it is shaped to her face. Her lips are pale, plump and fairly rounded and are permanently formed into a smirk. Her 5"2 frame means that she barely measures up when it comes to most guys but her frame is petite too, so she is proprtionally correct and very slim - enough to fit into the clothes and hats from her Grandmother's trunks. Her style is polished and she wears a tailored sillhouette that suits her small frame, with carefully constructed and draped sweaters, Full skirted trench coats with hoods, Shirt dresses, pncil skirts, white button ups, Black Satin bows, extravagant hats, French plaits, white jeans, Capes, Leather gloves, stacked knee high heels, rounded toes and peter pan collars - much more old fashioned than most teenagers. On her nails she wears Chanel Rouge Noir

Personality: Tally only drinks straight Gin. She has a penchant for glamour, extravagance and musicians, and smokes out of a long cigarette holder. She was brought up in a stately home with sharp manners, a sense of self sufficiency, a penchant for hording things and a complete disregard for other peoples origins, and often feelings. Talitha is a recluse, caused by circumstances in her past and nurtured by her disdain of the closed minded pupils and teachers at her school. Determined, she passed her driving test in a month, having been driving on the estate's private roads since the age of 6 - her father won't touch a steering wheel and her mother locked in the morning room, there wasn't much to do except drive, shoot game and become self destructive. Tally is remarkably intuitive but she has become sadistic, pessimistic and short tempered. She is priveleged and throws money around, but more becuase she doesn't really care about money at all, only her own definitions of class, which confound normal conventions and puzzle those around her. She enjoys manipulating and tormenting people who try to smpathise with her and yet is fiercely loyal to her family, her old nanny and a little three year old from her village called Luca, who has taken to following her around like a lost puppy- both his parents are drunkards. She only shows her gentle side to Dotothy, the nanny, and Tristan, and never shows her deep loyalty to her family directly, as she is still bitter towards her mother and hurt that her father can't look at her. She appreciates beauty in all it's forms but is calculated and cold, so the artists and musicians never really find out.She can always tell the difference between twins, but tries to avoid them as much as possible because, well...

History: Her twin brother died in a car crash when they were 12 whilst being driven by his father, who has thrown himself into his work and now spends all of his time working in america. He can't look at tally in the eye because she was as similar to her brother as it is possible, and effectively leaves the room when she enters. Her socialite of a mother has become completely introverted and spends her live locked in the Morning room, filled with red flowers that Tally secretly replaces every week, murmering and pouring endless cups of tea. The family doesn't know what to do her, but she really should have been institutionalised long ago. Tally had the quality, single sex education of a priveleged girl, but has grown more and more restless and turns up to lessons sporadically, only to start arguing with her History teacher over Erasmus and generally disrupting the learning of everyone else. The other girls view the flying tempest that they see with a sort of wild respect and yet she treats them all rottenly, save for the foreign students who she occasionally converses with in languages picked up from the old library at the manor. Tally's parents were both only children and now Tally is too. Before the crash Freddie used to try to protect her. She has a canary called Giovanni who lives an antique white cage and a swearing parrot called Pablo that follows her to school and into shops- his wings aren't clipped. he annoys her, but belonged to Fred, who dilegently taught him all the cusses he knew. There's a worrying fact that as a macaw he has the potential to be with her for 50 to 100 years so she has resigned herself to his permanent companionship. Tally has taken to Drag racing in a bid at self destruction, and once got arrested in a scottish airport because she forgot that she'd left an antique pistol in her barbour jacket. She likes Big Guns, fast cars, sharp objects, music, culture, clothes and intelligent people. She's not sociable.

Someone once tried to mug her- He was put into counselling. Sent to Telos for leading riots and manipulting the governers.
Name:  Ichtaca Mendez

Age:  16

Birthday:  October 31st

Gender:  Male

Appearance:  Taco is Latino and speaks Spanish fluently, although that could be because he takes the class. He is 5 ft 6 in tall and approximately 125 lbs, just average all around. His hair and eyes are both black and he has rather long, shapely fingers, a musician's hands. He wears jeans and a t-shirt most of the time, and a smile.

Personality:  Ichtaca has two sayings and the first one is, "Call me Taco." He's amiable and friendly, with a smile for everyone. He is good company and never fails to lighten the mood. He is a good student and behaves in class, though is prone to silly jokes and never seems to take anything seriously except for his music.

History:  Taco's second saying is: "There's nothing wrong with me, my parents are just rich." The story he'll tell anyone who manages to actually ask is that his parents researched the best boarding school in the world and this was it. He came to Telos as a freshman, mid-year, and has been there ever since. That's all his permanent record will show, other than the usual report cards and a P.O. box somewhere in Los Angeles.
Freedom, Cassi, decided, was the right to choose, the right to create the alternatives of choice. Without the possibility of choice and the exercise of choice no one was anything, not a man but a member, an instrument, a thing. This was why she was so furious when her mother sent her a letter in the post telling her to meet Mr Hallowday at Liverpool Street and go with him back to the school she never knew she'd even applied for.

She was being treated as a thing.

Of course, by this point, she had already met the middle-aged man in his tweed suit and decided he seemed perfectly fine for a man so obviously stuck in the nineteenth century. She was, in fact, watching as her baggage was removed from the train and placed in a small taxi that was taking her to Telos, her new school. Listening carefully she could just about make out the hum of traffic from the road beyond the station and the murmurs of the men surrounding her in their uniforms. She wasn't used to seeing quite so many people simply hovering about like these people. In London she was used to the blank, determined faces of the workers as they trudges to their high rise offices off St Paul's Cathedral or marching to Barbican so they could travel back up to Moorgate. She wasn't used to the relaxed atmosphere of this tiny, traditional station.

The wind here, though still chilly, was touched with the taste of salt as it flooded down shoots in the hills. The golden fields, freshly ploughed for the harvest and the way the sun set a shimmering haze over the land made her breath catch in her throat. She'd never really been to the countryside. This at least was an experience. Even if it made her angry to be in her situation. No choices left open to her, this was her last chance.

As the settled into the backseat, arms crossed across her chest, she let her mind wonder over the countryside. Imagining the walks, learning to ride a horse, taking her violin and playing out on the hillside. Then she squashed her idle daydreams and remembered again why she had been sent here. Because she didn't have a hope of ever being worth anything if she unless she learnt to be good. The only way to do that was to come to the school slowly emerging out of the countryside.

From the outside, she realised, it looked like an old manor house or stately home. A little like Stowe did at first glance. There was a long drive riding up to a huge front entrance that was adorned with pillars and greek lettering, Telos meant the 'end of a goal orientated purpose'. It was Greek. Pretentious? Maybe. She couldn't bring herself to care. There was much more to the buildings than simply the name. It was easy to tell. It really was just a renovated mansion, she realised, in the middle of the countryside with a quadrangle in the centre and long windows.

Shadows flickered about within the building. People's silhouetted forms moving behind chiffon curtains and she scowled. This place felt nothing like a school. It didn't even look like one. It felt like someone's overly portentous home that had happened to remain in the middle ages. Yet still it managed to take her breath away. She hated the contradictions made by her own body. They made so very little sense. The crunch of gravel and the whir of the brakes brought the car to a halt.

"Welcome to Telos." The gentleman said brightly, his smile wittingly infectious. "We've got to get your uniform from the office but other than that the rest of the day is yours."

She nodded, "Right."

He seemed slightly unnerved and she smirked at that, letting him lead the way, babbling to her about rules that she would have to adhere to. Meals had to be attended and you had to be in uniform. You could wear whatever you wanted after the six-thirty supper and on weekends. The pool and stables were out of bounds unless you had permission to go there or had a member of staff with you. Lessons were fifty minutes long and if you had a music lesson during a set class, for whatever reason, then you had to tell the teacher, ahead of time, excusing yourself. The same went for if you were ill and had to visit the infirmary, the polite thing to do was to send word with someone else in your class so the teacher knew what was going on. If you were caught disobeying the rules there were a series of penalties available though for the first three weeks there was a 'grace period' for people to settle down in.

She didn't appreciate the way he smiled as he said all of this. In fact, it invoked a passionate desire to hurt him. But she wouldn't because she was sure he meant no offence. He meant to be friendly. She shouldn't condone him for that. Although surely he should have gathered by her silence that she did not want to listen to him. Or maybe not. Maybe he saw it as some petty form of politeness. Scowling, she followed him down the corridors lined with portraits of famous dead men such as Shakespeare and Oscar Wilde and Voltaire, paintings by Van Gogh as well as Jackson Pollack. There was definitely no sense of school here.

Intelligence?

Undoubtedly.


The uniform she discovered was black. Black skirt that came to her knees, fitted black jacket and plain white shirts with whatever colour jumper you desired. She wanted rouge and aqua-marine. They were dark enough to give her a semi-sense of colour. At least it wasn't grey or navy or something like that. If she had to live in it day in day out, she at least wanted the uniform to feel sophisticated and luckily this one just about did. Despite the scratchy feeling of the starched shirts.

Drifting out, she caught sight of a boy who couldn't have been much taller than she was if not smaller, head down, being led by a woman with the same benign smile as the man leading her about. Deciding that it wasn't worth waiting around to see if this guy was receiving his indoctrination speech too, she padded down the corridor, hoping that she'd now be allowed to discover her room. Assuming it wasn't a dorm.


A cold wind whipped through the narrow streets of High Wycombe and the chill of the autumnal air encircled Sebastian far more tightly than the worn out jacket he had donned for school. It seemed to be begging him to stop, to curl into himself and let it paralyse him with its numbness. But of course, that wasn't the way Sebastian worked. Even as he stumbled down the crooked grey road on the valley side, his gait similar to an old man's as he hobbled towards the red bus stop, he knew that today was important. His mother had left him a voice mail message on his mobile. That was something pretty much unheard of normally.

His body was bent inwards as he ducked his blond head away from the wind so only its fingers could snatch at his hair and clothes. The bus was drawing up the hill towards him and he sighed with relief, a smile perking up on his lips. Stealing a few breaths of cold air he picked up the pace so he met it exactly, stopping with a jolt as the little, advert-covered bus shuddered and wheezed to a halt. It was an odd shape for some reason, the door knocked in slightly, as if it had been kicked with a very strong shoe and the roof dented down like an up-turned rainbow. At least, as the doors squealed in protest at opening, he felt the rush of heat caressing his cheeks and warming his fingers. He really ought to invest in gloves that didn't only come up to his knuckles…

Sighing, he settled into a vermillion and orange squiggled seat. Whoever had come up with the design, had evidently used puke as his muse, he though absently, tucking his hands under his legs as he sat. Blurs of grey and brown houses fluttered by, the round-a-bout as they headed towards Hazlemere and Penn sending an ESSO garage and the local winery into the fray of rundown homes and overly decorative billboards ebbing in and out of sight.

He noticed a couple shaded in the lee of a building, leaning in and kissing, their noses pink and smiles flickering behind dark strands of hair dancing in the smaller eddies that still managed to sneak around the corner. He noticed an old man in an old fashioned raincoat, nose pitted by black heads, waiting at the zebra crossing as they passed by. He even noticed that across the park, just before they rolled up the bend on Amersham Hill, a dog with its shadow owner was running towards the playing fields just beyond.

Gently he laughed to himself, realising that he was nervous about seeing his mother at home for the first time in what seemed like forever. After all he could barely remember her face and she only ever came around if she had some sort of task to complete. This time it obviously involved him. The bus pressed on past Penn Street and ambled along at forty until it reached the edge of Amersham. This was his stop. Time to leave the humid safety of the interior and race the last few meters home.

*

Home, he had long ago decided, was a very vague term. A house, said Polly Adler, was not a home. But although this building certainly held no fond memories, he still called it home. And he certainly couldn't agree less with the old 'home is where the heart is' because at the end of the day, he'd rather be anywhere than home. Yet as he stepped up to the red painted door with its brass handle and large lion-mouthed knocker, he suddenly felt as if he was coming home, for the first time in his life. It might have been to do with the light smell of fresh baked bread peeling under the door. Or it might have been because he could hear laughter from behind it. But either way it felt as if, in that moment, home had a much greater meaning than simply being the place attached to the garage.

"Hello?" He called out, stepping onto the brown mat on the inside, brushing off his shoes before taking them off and placing them gently to the side, "Mother?"

The laughter stopped and he heard a spatter of murmured words growing louder, like momentarily startled budgerigars. His heart began to sink, though he couldn't help but cling on to that small sense of belonging as he distinguished the two voices as his mother and another woman, a woman he didn't recognise even as she stepped through the door from the kitchen.

His mother was still in a suit. The trim, black pencil skirt only just above her knees and the fashionably tight jacket pinned shut with a large silver brooch that he remembered his grandmother sending her for Christmas. Standing, poised and tall, with her five inch Ann Marino's and perfectly pulled up coiffure, his mother's cold eyes destroyed the last remnants of the home vibe he'd felt before. What had he been dreaming?

The other woman was less smart. A dark brown striped blazer and African-patterned skirt looked haphazardly pulled together by the brown belt around her slim waist. He frowned. Who was she? Why was she talking with his mother? This woman looked like a teacher. Everything, from the ready smile on her lips to the inelegant bun on the top of her mousy head reminded him of a teacher. He hated teachers.

"Sebastian, this is Miss Baxendale. She's from a new school that's been set up down on the coast, near the New Forest." His mother spoke up after a moment of awkward silence and confused expressions.

"And?" So he had been right. She was a teacher. He crossed his arms and took a step back so he could lean on the wall. He ignored the hand that was extended towards him from the woman as if he was going to take it.

"You're going to go back with her. It's for students like you." The way his mother said it, so flippantly, as if the fact that he had been expelled four times in eighteen months meant absolutely nothing to her… Anger flared and his eyes hardened.

So he responded, just as nonchalantly, "Fuck ups, you mean."

"Sebastian!" His mother looked disgusted, "I will not tolerate that language."

"It's a boarding school meant to help young, intelligent people find a challenge instead of wasting away their genius in-" Miss Baxen-whatever started to talk, her voice was soft and patronising. He hated her too.

"I'm not wasting away."

That wasn't true and he knew it. He spent minimal time on his work. He was constantly in trouble and always hanging out with people he didn't know or care about. Almost every night he would go out and smoke himself high. But his mother hardly cared and this woman was just another one of them. Then he realised what they had said.

A boarding school.

His mother was talking, somewhere in the background of his mind. His memory heaved and rolled as he dredged up every bit of information he knew about boarding schools. That meant he'd never have to come home. He'd never have to come back to this place. Never have to worry about coming home to find his father in a foul mood. Now there was a silence as his mother pursed her lips and the teacher's smile faltered. He let a glower overtake his face, though secretly he was beginning to realise just how good this could be.

"I don't have any choice do I?" He asked, looking at the ground and scuffing his socked toes against the green carpet.

"No."

"I need to pack then right?"

"I took the liberty of doing that for you. You can go and check on what you want. "

"Oh. Right."

Sebastian drooped his head, slumped his shoulders, trudged up the stairs and then up some more. He was going to go to boarding school by the sea… He was going to go to boarding school far far far away from here. He laughed out loud as he slammed the door behind him, spinning himself around in circles in his room as he flung his arms open and praised his good luck. He would never be coming home again. He was ecstatic.

*

Seb scowled. The uniform made him look tiny. The black trousers hugged his hips, the suit jacket, fitted, revealing just how small his waist was. He'd chosen to buy a selection of the blue and grey jumpers but each one was still slightly tighter than he'd suppose. Apparently his mother had guessed his measurements. It wasn't that the uniform even looked bad though, it just made him feel small. He'd left his hair as it was, unbrushed and tousled when he'd come to try on the new suits and now he was glad. Everything about the place seemed so smart and formal. It made him want to be sick. Everything was bloody rules.

"It looks so proper!" Miss Baxendale laughed with a sense of faux-delight in her voice that made him turn scarlet, "I had to wear a tie at school so you're lucky you don't have to. Do you want to see the school next or…"

"I want to go back to my room."

"Supper's in half an hour. It's not really worth-"

"I want to go back to my room and put some stuff away." Sebastian ignored her interruption, "I want to change."

"But you have to wear your uniform to meals."

He ground his teeth and jumped off the small pedestal they'd stood him on to fit his new clothes, "I don't want dinner then."

"Meals are compulsory."

He froze. Desperation crawled up in his eyes and he was tempted to scream because he hated so desperately, the mold that they were trying to force him into. He had thought he'd be freer here than he had been at home.

"Excuse me." He said quietly, pushing past her and out into the main school. Rushing as he passed through corridors and dashed through doors. He really needed fresh air.
It was beautiful, everything a wedding should be. It was being held outside, in the glorious sun with rows and rows of flowers blooming in approval of the match being made. A more perfect day couldn't have been planned on, as there were no clouds, no humid disgusting heat, no fear of random animals or bugs taking over the proceedings. It was all, simply, wonderful.

Nathan turned when his mother started down the aisle, a hint of a smile tugging at his lips. He refused to be completely happy about this, but he was, in fact, quite pleased. Who ever heard of an abusive rich guy? He must have been quite rich too, as her dress was beautiful, a light pink with pearls embedded in it's bodice, and of such a soft fabric that it looked as though it shouldn't be seen by normal people. For a moment, Nathan wondered how much it cost, and therefore, how much it would sell for. Then he shook his head, he wouldn't do that to his mother, the only reason he had hated her had to do with the people she married, not who she was. At least, usually.

He felt a hand sneak into his and he turned his gaze away from the dress and onto his brother. A brighter shade of happiness he'd never seen. What was it about things like weddings that made a person so giddy anyway? Maybe it was because all the other weddings his mother had in the past had involved courthouses, and telling the children afterwards. Nathan wasn't even sure if his mother had gotten different rings from all of the different men. He grasped hold of the hand and lightly squeezed it.

"How are you holding up?" he asked softly, gazing into the face that was so much like his own.

Nik squeezed his brothers hand, smiling. "Very well, there's a real feeling of hope isn't there?" Nik watched their mother. "It's nice to see her truly happy again." His voice was very soft as he spoke again, "I hope it lasts." Nik released Nathan's hand, but remained close.

Nathan nodded, "Yeah, I know. She really looks radiant, doesn't she? I didn't know she could look so beautiful, she always looks like shit."

"Of course she can," Nik glanced at him. "It's a talent that all women have, to look beautiful when they try. She just hasn't tried in a long time." Nik's attention was back on the actual wedding as he finished, his eyes bright and full of hope.

"Hmph," Nathan said, turning his eyes to the wedding as well. He'd half expected the man to dump her before the wedding had happened in the first place. When that hadn’t happened, he had expected him to leave her at the altar. Since that hadn't happened yet, he was reserving judgment on his mental state. Nathan couldn't imagine what anyone would see in his mother, well, anyone who had money anyway.

*

One week on their own while their "new" parents went out on a honeymoon. Nathan and Nik relaxed in their home, packing their bags for the move. What they wanted to keep, what they wanted to take. They got rid of things they didn't want, and smiled at each other in imagination of what they'd get in place of those things they'd gotten rid of. Nathan was hoping for a few pairs of pants that fit him properly and didn't come complete with holes in the knees or ass.

It came as no surprise when their mother came to see them after the honeymoon alone, she hadn't wanted her husband into her old home, and Nathan couldn't really blame her. It was a dump. What did surprise him was that she didn't come alone, she came with a man not her husband, who was dressed in a suit and carried an easy smile.

When the door opened, he turned his head around the corner to look at it, waving at his mother and then stopping the wave as he saw the man. "Mum?" he called. She nodded at him and walked into the kitchen, where he and Nik had been having lunch.

"Hello Nathan, Nik," she said, her voice somewhat clipped. Nathan narrowed his eyes, that tone did not bode well for them. "Did you get everything packed while we were gone?" she asked, and Nathan turned his eyes on Nik.

Nik's alert eyes signaled that he had not missed the tone or the man at his mother's side. Nathan could read hurt and distrust there, not surprising, since Nathan knew their mother's present tone was enough to upset his brother.

Nathan turned back to her and nodded. "Yes, we've packed. What's going on? Who's he?" Nathan couldn't hide the slightly angry tone in his voice as he turned his attention to the man. Much to his annoyance, the man's face lit up in a smile.

"My name is Mr. Albrem," he said, holding out a hand.

"My condolences," Nathan said, not shaking the hand, and not turning to his mother just yet. His tone was dangerous, and somewhat heavy with warning. The man didn't seem put out, in fact, he turned to Nik, extending his hand to him instead.

"It's very nice to meet you. I've heard a lot about you two, Nathan and Nik."

"I'm sure you have, what are you doing here?" My mother turned her angry eyes on me.

"Nathan, mind your manners, you're being rude."

"And so are you," Nathan retorted, finally turning his gaze on his mother.

Nik, in the meantime, had moved to the man and shaken his hand. Nathan knew Nik's lips must be curved up slightly in that half smile he reserved for strangers who were friendly to him.

"Hello, I'm Nik," Nik's voice was curious. "Mother didn't mention she'd be bringing someone with her when she returned, Mr. Albrem. I'm sorry my brother is being so rude, but we've learned to mistrust strangers that mother brings home." What made Nathan most angry was that Nik said he didn't trust the man, but his attitude and tone said the exact opposite.

"It's quite alright," Mr. Albrem said, finishing the shake and continuing to smile. "I can understand why would you feel uncertain in light of my arrival."

"Then you should go away," Nathan said, and he turned to Nik, "If you don't have any purpose in being here," he turned back to his mother, "then go."

"He has a purpose," their mother hissed and she shook her head. "He's come to take you to your new school." Nathan froze, his eyes focused entirely on his mother.

"What did you just say?" he said, and now he was really angry. What the hell did she mean, new school?

"He's come to take you to Telos, your new school," she said, and she crossed her arms, covering her chest in the way she always did when trying to seem more like a mother figure than a lost little child. "It's a boarding school, you and your brother both are going." Nathan stood up and quivered in rage.

"What the fucking hell did you just say?" he asked again, his face contorting in rage at the one person he was supposed to respect the most.

"Nathan! Your language!" his mother said in outrage. Nathan shook his head.

"Fucking shut the bloody hell up about my goddamn language, what the fucking hell did you just say!" Nathan's voice was raising several notches, and his fists clenched and unclenched. He wanted to punch something, hit something, hurt something. He was starting to see the red haze of anger.

Nik's hand on his shoulder calmed him immediately. "Nathan, there's nothing here that can be fought," Nik's soothing tones insisted.

Nathan shook off his brother's hand, but his instant calm that always came from his brother's touch made his eyes look a little less frightening.

"You're going, both you and your brother are going to this school. It's a wonderful place, very nice, beautiful campus, and has a well educated staff."

"So, are you going to try to make us high class, or are you getting rid of us?" Nathan snarled. "'Cause I don't really approve of either action myself."

Mr. Albrem looked rather shocked, "Neither of course!" he said, and Nathan turned his snarl on him. "Honestly," he held up his hands, "This school is perfect for you two, it's a wonderful place for talented people to learn to grow the gifts they were given."

"So it's like a military school of some sort? Going to beat us into shape?" Mr. Albrem looked horrified.

"God no! We aren't planning on any beatings!"

Nathan continued to glare. "You two are going," his mother said again. "Go get your bags, you'll be leaving with Mr. Albrem today."

"Now?" Nathan said aghast. "You're getting rid of us right away? Are you afraid your little rich husband is going to be better off without us around? Or are you scared we'd do something to him? Perhaps you just want the terrible things you gave birth to, to disappear?" When he saw his mother flinch, Nathan knew he'd stepped on the truth. "Fine," he snarled, getting into her face. "We'll disappear, Mother, so you can live your new, guilt-free, perfect fucking life." With that, he grabbed his brother's hand and ran upstairs, dragging him with him.

"Nathan," Nik protested, but he didn't really try to stop him. Nathan knew Nik couldn't have, even if he'd tried.

"We're getting out of here, through the window if we have to, I'm not going to be locked away in a school away from the city like this." Nathan glanced at his brother, "It's just absurd. What the fuck does she think she's doing?"

Nik shook his head. "No, I think we should go. What are you running from at this point? Do you really think a boarding school could be worse than what we're doing now? If we end up on the street I'll never feel safe." His twin shivered staring at him, "It could be a chance to start over, make friends you know? How do you know it's going to be awful? You don't know anything about it yet!"

Nathan stopped only once they were in their room, closing the door behind them. "What the hell are you thinking? Of course it's going to be awful! What do you expect? It's just going to be peachy keen? Do you really want to start over in that place? We don't know anything about it except our mother thinks it's a great place to get rid of us at. What about that do you like?"

Nik's voice raised then, which didn't happen often, "Well, if you would have bloody waited so I could ask Mr. Albrem a few questions, perhaps we'd have a better idea of what the school is like." He wasn't shouting, but he was close.

Nathan turned a glare at Nik, "What the fuck, fine!" he threw up his hands in exasperation. "Go ask him your fucking questions then, I'll leave, and you can have your fun in a damn boarding school." He turned away from Nik and started looking through the bags they had packed.

"Fine!" Nik fled the room, slamming the door behind him.

Nathan watched him go, glared, snarled and turned his back on the door. "Fine, you can do it all on your own Nik, see if I care."

Even in his most angry state, he knew he would never leave his brother alone to fend for himself. Nathan had never done that, and he wouldn't do it now.

That was the most annoying thing of all.
"What are you doing back down here without your things?" His mother snapped when Nik ventured down the stairs.

"I need to ask Mr. Albrem a few questions about the school," Nik replied quickly.

"There will be plenty of time to ask questions on the way," his mother responded, glaring at him now. Nik fought back the desire to begin an argument with her as well, knowing that most of his irritation was at his brother who was perfectly happy living as they did now. Nik didn't want to be part of a gang. He didn't want to sell drugs. He didn't want to worry that every time a fight broke out his brother might be mortally wounded or even die.

"No, I need to ask now." Nik's focus shifted to Mr. Albrem who was smiling and waving his hand dismissively at Nik's mother.

"Let the boy ask his questions. I don't mind at all. That's why I'm here. Well, one reason."

"I'd like to know what the focus of the school is. How many students are there in the average class? What classes are available? Which are required? What is the minimum course load and the maximum? What rules do we have to abide by? Where is the nearest town, and do we ever visit home at all? For example, for holidays." Nik stopped, that was more than he'd meant to ask at one time, but Nathan's disposition was on his mind, mixing with his curiosity.

Mr. Albrem laughed and lifted a briefcase Nik hadn't noticed at first look. "Those are wonderful questions for a student. Most of them are answered in this literature which I'm certain your mother received already." Mr. Albrem handed him some standard looking school pamphlets. "In brief, holidays are up to your parents. You'll find information about courses in the literature and the nearest town is quite a ways. There may be occasional visits with your classmates, depending on curriculum and behavior. Does that help? We should leave soon if we are to make it there on time."

Nik paged through the pamphlets with a smile. "Thank you Mr. Albrem, we'll be down soon." Then he looked at his mother. "You should have warned us. I suppose I shouldn't be surprised, but I am disappointed." Then he turned and walked back to the stairs. Behind him he heard his mother speaking to Mr. Albrem.

"As you can see Nathan really can't be trusted and Nik will do anything his brother does. Did I tell you about the incident when..." Nik opened the bedroom door, not the least bit surprised to find his brother waiting.

"Here," he held the pamphlets out to Nathan, "and I want them back intact please."

Nathan rolled his eyes. He had two bags slung over his shoulders and he grabbed the pamphlets and walked over to one of their beds, sitting down with them. He opened the first one and glanced at it, scowling, then passed it to his brother, opening the next one. This one too he scowled at, passing it again, and then looking at the next.

When he was done looking through them all, he turned to Nik. "You really want to go, don't you?" there was a defeated tone in his voice, and he was nibbling his bottom lip, a habit he only displayed in front of Nik, usually when he was thinking about something he didn't like.

Nik sighed and sat down on the bed. "I want to stop living like this Nathan. Can't we give it a try? I'm sure if it's terrible we can get out. I don't think it's going to be that bad, besides, we're seventeen. No one can hold us anywhere once we're adults, right?" He needed this place to be okay, because so far nothing had been. Nathan thrived in the environment they were in now, and he shriveled. Every day he felt a little less alive and a little more alone.

He had Nathan, yes, but he needed more. That was something he couldn't say. It was something he knew he had to keep to himself. That didn't make it any less true.

Nathan searched Nik's eyes for what seemed an eternity before he finally nodded. "Fine," he said, and Nik knew he had his brother now. Nathan would follow him anywhere he led. "But I'm reserving judgment until we get there. If there are bars on our windows, we're getting out. I'm not even going to sleep there, agreed?"

Nik grinned, laughing softly. "There aren't bars on the windows Nathan. They aren't allowed to lie about something like that, it's unethical. It's a school, not a detention center, alright?"

"Hmph, whatever," he said, turning his gaze away from Nik. His hand reached over and grasped Nik's. "Sure there aren't, sure there aren't."

Nik rolled his eyes, which was safe to do as Nathan was looking away. He squeezed Nathan's hand, knowing that would comfort and reassure his twin. In the past kids at school had suggested their relationship went beyond that of normal brothers, as they were often touching each other.

Nik thought that was ridiculous. After all, they were family and he'd seen girls who weren't related at all hugging and holding hands. He knew the only reason people gave them trouble was because they were brothers, and because people were warped.

He stood, releasing Nathan's hand and heading for the stairs. He couldn't help smiling brightly as Nathan followed. It was rare for Nik to win their arguments, so he enjoyed it immensely when he did.

Nathan followed Nik, both of their bags over his shoulders, and a set kind of anger in his stance. He wasn't happy, but he wasn't going to flare up in anger for the moment.

"We're ready to go," Nik told Mr. Albrem, suddenly remembering the pamphlets. He turned and looked at Nathan. "What happened to those pamphlets?"

Nathan shrugged, "I don't know, I handed them to you when I was done." There was a smirk on his lips.

"I can get you another copy," Mr. Albrem suggested but Nik shook his head.

"No, I was on my bed. They must be there. Just one more minute," and he dashed back to the bedroom. The pamphlets sat right where he'd left them. He looked around, he needed his bag too, but it wasn't there. Shrugging he decided that Nathan must have taken it and headed back downstairs.

*

"What the hell is this place?" Nathan said, looking out at the wide countryside and all of the trees. "I feel like I've gone back in fucking time or something." His eyes darted across the large manor they were coming up on, and Nik knew he was contemplating how one would get away from the place.

"Nathan, relax," Nik tried his most soothing tones as he knew Nathan was going to be on edge for some time now that they were in a new place. His brother hated change. He always thought the worst of it, but Nik always thought things had to get better eventually. There was only so much bad luck a person could have after all. "It's really different from anything we've ever seen. That's good right?"

"Depends," Nathan said, "Are they planning on slaughtering us or not?"

Nik sighed and wondered if he really had to reply to that. Their mother was undependable, moody, distrustful, and had bad judgment when it came to men. She didn't listen to them or trust them when they spoke ill of her husbands, whoever the flavor of the year was. None the less, it seemed unlikely she would pay to have them killed. She seemed to care about them a little bit at least. Well, he thought so.

"Will we get to see the stables and the swimming pool today?" Nik asked Mr. Albrem, ignoring his brother’s comment.

Mr. Albrem's voice was friendly and relaxed. "I believe so, it depends on how quickly we get your uniforms. If not, I'm sure someone would be willing to show you after dinner."

Nathan turned his eyes on his brother finally and glared. "You really are excited about this," he hissed, "aren't you? You really think this is going to be better somehow, from what we've been through."

Nik nodded, "If we can't hope anymore, what can we do?"

"Despair? That sounds good, despair and then beat people up who bother us. Isn't that what I'm here for? Isn't that what the point in life is? To struggle until you die?" Nathan looked away from Nik. "I don't hope anymore Nik, you should know that. I look ahead and see what obstacles are in my path, and beat them down. You're the one who hopes, not me." His voice was somewhat heavy as he said it, and he continued to stare out the window, away from Nik.

"Besides which Nik, I don't trust. Hope requires you to trust in something, either people, or things, or yourself."

Nik shook his head, "Why do you always have to be so negative? I don't know how you can stand it. If there's no hope than there's no reason to live" He sighed wondering if he should have pointed that out. Every once in a while Nik was completely mystified by Nathan's continued existence. He didn't seem to notice good things that happened at all. He was always fully immersed in the darkest details of their existence.

It wasn't a difficult trap to fall into, he knew, but it would kill him to dwell on them as Nathan did. Actually he would probably kill himself if he thought like Nathan. It was a very good thing really that Nathan hadn't killed himself. Nik didn't know if he could live without his twin.

"Here we are," Mr. Albrem said happily as he stopped the car in front of the school. "We'd better hurry if you want to see the school before dinner."

Nathan rolled his eyes and got out of the car, looking around before letting Nik leave the car as well. "Safe," he murmured. Then he turned to Mr. Albrem, "I suppose that should make me want to hurry?" he snarled. Mr. Albrem shrugged.

"Only if you want to see the school before dinner," he smiled at Nathan. Nik saw Nathan’s eyes flash and knew he was considering some sort of violence. Luckily the moment passed quickly. They followed Mr. Albrem toward the entrance. Mr. Albrem opened the door and a thin boy with tousled honey blond hair barreled through it like there was half a gang on his heels or something.

Nik immediately looked for pursuers, but he didn't see any, so he turned back just in time to see the boy slump against the outer wall of the building a certain distance away from the entrance and take a deep breath. Nik's initial instinct was to run over and make sure he was okay.

"Which is more important Nik," Nathan called out, "the school or some random boy?” Nik turned back to see he’d crossed his arms and was looking annoyed.

"The boy?" Nik replied, looking at his brother, then back to the boy who had heard Nathan and evidently decided he wanted to be alone for the moment. He had moved away from the wall and was walking away slowly.

"Oh don't worry, he's not in danger here," Mr. Albrem said jovially. "This place is very safe. Come now, let's hurry. I would feel terrible if you were too late to get your uniforms."

Nik allowed him to rush them in, taking a final look at the boy who seemed painfully thin. He wondered if he'd see him again and hoped they would. Maybe he would want to be friends? He turned to say something to Nathan about it and noticed his twin was scowling and glaring at everything as they walked through the halls.

"Is it really that bad?"

"It's too clean, too nice, too formal, too friendly, too happy, too clinically not clinical." He shrugged, and glanced at Nik, "But I guess you like that kind of thing."

Nik glared at Nathan. "I seem to recall you were quite excited about moving into Mom's new husband’s home. Don't you think that place might have the same problems?"

Nathan returned the glare with one of his own. "Don't compare the two. It's different, for one, I thought we might have a family, obviously I was wrong. For another, it was exciting because I was quite certain Mom wasn't going to be screaming all the time and I was fairly certain that our new "Father" wouldn't hurt you. It wasn't the cleanliness of the place that excited me. And lastly," he stopped and stared at Nik, his eyes hard. "Don't mention that woman to me again. She's abandoned us and obviously doesn't care about us anymore. In my book, that means she's no longer our mother."


Nik continued walking after Mr. Albrem. "She's still my mother," he said, the hurt obvious in his tone. He didn't feel abandoned exactly, well, maybe a little. He felt deceived. If she'd wanted to send them to boarding school why not just say? Besides, he had not failed to notice that the answer to “will we be going home for holidays?” had been that it was up to his parents. His mother hadn't exactly jumped in and said they would be going home either.

The thing that bothered him most was that he'd thought his mother loved them. She'd always said that she did. Yes, she'd ignored things his step fathers had done and she hadn't noticed other things. She hadn't believed them when they'd tried to tell her what was going on, but Nik had always forgiven her. He knew that she just didn't know better and now... Why hadn't she talked to them about the school ahead of time? Why?

"Fine, she's still your mother, but that doesn't mean she has to be mine. The first thing I expect out of her, if she still wants any kind of family vibes out of me, is an apology for what she's done. I don't really care that she's sending us off so much as the fact that she didn't tell us she was doing so. Bitch finally gets something good, and she doesn't even want to share it with the people that protected her. Fine then, if she wants to forget that I hurt other people in order to help keep her from getting hurt, whatever. I don't care." Nathan hissed the words out, then fell silent, following Mr. Albrem.

Nik wasn't sure if Mr. Albrem was listening to them or ignoring them. Either way, he did it so politely that Nik felt completely at ease with the man. Once they reached the room where their uniforms needed to be chosen he stared at the selection of sweaters.

"Do you really have boys sizes in pink?" he asked, knowing that whatever he chose his brother would also get and thinking how funny it would be to see Nathan in pink.

Nathan turned to Nik and glared. "I am not wearing pink, and neither are you. Absolutely not, I'll kill you first." He looked at the sweaters and pointed to one, a deep rich purple, "That's alright though, purple is the color of royalty and all. But no pink, no way in hell."

"What about yellow?" Nik asked, staring at all of the colors. "Or orange!"

Nathan made a gagging noise and pretended to retch on the ground near Nik's feet. "Are you kidding me? You have got to be joking. I think I'm going to be sick. Yellow? Orange?" He shivered dramatically. "I don't think so."

"Fuchsia?" Nik asked, tilting his head to the side.

Nathan turned to Nik, paused for a moment, then gave Nik an evil grin. "How about that puke green? I think it would look perfect with your mouth."

"Okay," Nik grinned, "we'll take our jumpers in puke green please." The woman who'd been handing them their clothes creased her brow.

"I'm sorry, we don't have that color."

Nathan rolled his eyes, "I think the color you are saying is called split pea soup or something. And we don't really want it. Nik, stop being difficult." Nik noticed that much of the anger and annoyance Nathan had been showing was gone now, as he was in familiar territory, bantering. The beginnings of an easy smile were on his lips, and his mood was much lighter.

"Purple," Nik told the woman, "we want purple."

Soon they had a pile of purple jumpers as well and Nik was looking hopefully at Mr. Albrem.

"I'm afraid there's no time," he said and he really did sound sad. Nik sighed and the three of them headed for dinner.
Jackie was enjoying herself nicking small nickknacks and items of clothing when they caught her.

She blamed herself.

Sloppy! She thought furiously as the two cops dragged her out of the food hall. You're getting cocky!

She was ashamed. She'd never been caught before.

"Hey!" she cried, suprised. "There's no need for cuffs. I'm coming quietly, aren't I?"

"Oh, Miss Yung, we've been waiting for you," chuckled the one on her left. Even his moustache was laughing at her.

"We're taking all precautions," the other finished.

All dread and anger at being caught was wiped out of Jackie's mind by the shock. They knew who she was.

But I was so careful! she thought urgently. Ok, a little drastic, but I'm supposed to be dead!

As if he'd read her thoughts, the policeman laughed again as he pushed ehr head down so she wouldn't hit it on the roof of the car. She landed on the back seat with a thud.

"Did you really think you'd get away with it? The Hughes' are foster parents. They're not killers, Miss Yung."

"How do you know that?" she asked sulkily. She felt ehr lower lip start to protrude. They just laughed again.

Her social worker, Kerry Dime, was waiting for her at the station, accompanied by a stern looking man in a black coat.

Uh oh, Jackie's hands began to sweat. I'm in REAL trouble if they brought down The Fingly.

"Jackie!" Kerry trmbled a bit at teh glare the girl gave her as the cuffs were taken off. "You gave us a fright."

"I'm sure," murmured Jackie sarcastically, raising her left eyebrow.

"Of course, we had been waiting for you to try to run away," she continued in her panicked way, "but I never thought you'd be so drmamatic."

Jackie snuck a look at The Fingly from under a curtain of hair. He looked enormous. His eyebrows had become a monobrow he was frowning so hard.

"So now what?" she demanded, her lower lip protuding even more. "Are you going to send me back? I don't think they'll wantto see me. So what, more relocation? Don't you ever get tired of it?"

"Yes, in fact we do."

The deep voice of The Fingly startled Jackie. Every time she had seen him, and there had been many, he had saved his voice for a word of warning at the very end of Kerry's hour long reprimands.

Even Kerry looked mildly suprised.

"So what are you going to do with me?" Jackie asked sullenly.

"Well seeing as you've so successfully managed to find your way to this lovely little town, we thought you might like to stay here."

This was new. Wha-?

He handed her a plastic bag. As she peered inside, she saw white shirts and black jumpers and skirts she was sure would fall off her.

"We took the liberty of enrolling you in your new school."

"Great," she interrupted, "So you're shipping me off. Who are the lucky foster parents?"

"You won't be getting any."

Jackie looked at Kerry in suprise. She'd never heard the woman sound so hard before.

"I'm sorry, Jackie." The social worker looked close to tears. "I've tried my best with you. For you. But I can't see any other way to help you."

The Fingal grabbed jackie by her newly uncuffed wrists and pushed her towards his black Range Rpver. Kerry joined them in the car.

"Telos is a boarding school," The Fingal explained to a shocked and silent Jackie. "It's a remedy of sorts - hopefully you'll find it hard to make trouble there."

She didn't waste any more words ont he pair of them. In fact, Jackie felt very cheated. How was life fair? She was never given a chance.

"I'm sure you'll do very well here," Kerry wavered, "They only accept the brightest kids."

"Wrong place for me then," Jackie whispered.

"Actually, you're wrong," Kerry smiled a little. "All your reports have told me that you're a very bright young woman, and I know that myself. You just don't..."

"...Apply myself." Jackie finished for her. "Yeah yeah, I've heard it before."

"Don't be sad," Kerry said worriedly as they drove through the gates of the school. "I'll come and visit when I can, see how you're doing."

"Don't bother." Jackie replied as she watched the gates close behind her. "I'm sure you've got better things to do."

And she hopped from the car, clutching her bag, determinded to face her new home without them.



It was a queer, sultry sought of day as Tally stumbled neatly out of the driver's seat of the bug, curling her fingers to neatly fold the Navy strays of straight hair behind her ear. The Constantines thumped out of the small round speakers in the leather-lined door, the beat and buzz of melody pulsating through the heavy air as it mumbled past her with its liquid heat. The fusty and familiar smell of old books and rancid developer solution rose through the shimmering heat as she surveyed the hot granite canyons of the car park, wavering in the sunlight as car tops sizzled and glittered in various muted tones of blue and grey.

Tally thought that the shiny new bright green beetle, resting momentarily on the melting blackness, looked positively sad amongst the dirty tones. Mud caked the cars and blistered into hot canyons, formed by the wet tracks of tractors through the idle country lanes of the shires. It really was far too hot for any sort of work, and the machines slept like farm animals would, with a dreary and confused light glinting from the mirrors in their headlights. She stepped around the car to the open boot, glimpsing the silhouette of the school cutting against the southern landscape. Its Victorian architecture was positively garish against the soft greys of the rolling pasture surrounding it. Turning to face the boot of the car, Talitha let her hands curl around the cold metal handle mounted onto the end of a Navy stained trunk. Ice seeped into her warm hands, the metal cutting into the soft palms as the darkened red nails of her right hand bit into the base of her thumb. She tugged, watching with satisfaction as a turquoise suitcase stumbled momentarily, but refused to fall from it's teetering position on several cardboard boxes.

The trunk see-sawed on the boot's lip flightingly, but her elbows flew back sharply and she deftly maneuvered her left hand to catch the right handle of her trunk, her legs buckling temporarily under the strain of carrying a trunk the size of her. She'd had it since prep school, and had by now mastered the art of weight dispersion. The tendons in her leg stiffening as she moved, Tally walked past the rows of grey machines until she had stepped onto the faintly risen, square courtyard of trampled grass at the end of the small car park. The opened door of the sixth form boarding house lay almost directly opposite her position and was separated from the tarmac by the 20 feet or so of lurid green. It was American lawn, Tally noted with a sort of faint disdain, not real british mossy stuff that was full of moles and bugs that made little girls scream. She let the trunk fall to the floor a few inches in front of her feet and turned on her heels, the palms of her hands covered with angry red welts. She wore a Trench coat and red heels, and nothing else, save for a slash of red dior on her now pursed lips. A seasoned boarder, Tally knew that the first thing to do when entering a new school was to leave straight for the boarding houses, thereby circumnavigating the false tones of bored teachers and the annoying prattle of excited plebians. It generally meant that your appearence was met with a sense of curiosity that kept others away and staring in awe. Incuding teachers. Her second rule - Never introduce yourself, merely be fabulous. That way everyone knew who you were, but no one dared to piss you off. It occured to Tally that she had avoiding people down to an art form. It helped that she had called ahead and been assured of a single dorm.

She didn't do sharing - not her life, no anything. Not with anyone except freddie, and now all that the could share with him was petals splashed with briny tears. As she approached her car again she noticed that haggard and boring students had begun to assemble with curiosity around it, their hair stringy and the female's faces devoid of make up. It seemed that all of the tired students were hooked up on a diet of caffeine and Benzandrine. They stared numbly as they gossiped and gathered in crowds like little black ants, their coloured belly's protruding like blackberries from a heaving bush. In a word, they were all plain. Their uniformity was like the pillars that bedecked the front of the main school, which lay across the playing fields, no doubt bedecked with proverbs in Greek and Latin. Tally had been at boarding school for her memorable life - The students independence seemed to have been sapped by the haze, but then again that had been occuring at schools for years without notice. She heaved a sigh and began to pace towards the nearest girl, pressing into her hand a school shop card, some notes and a piece of note paper with sizes scrawled on to it.

"Get me some royal blue, red, purple, brown, fuscia and"....tally drawled in her regal and melodious voice as she surveyed the other pupils that had begun to cluster around the car park with interest, "charcoal jumpers will you Darling?" The girl, clearly in Tally's own year, looked taken aback but nodded dumbly, as though she was so shocked that she would do it anyway. People were so easy to manipulate. But only if you had the right tone which, it had to be said, most people didn't. Tally seemed to exude authority and elegance, her disdainful manner and permanantly bored pout not nasty, but an amused and mysterious sneer, as though the people around her were infinitely silly and she were indestructible. Her grey-green eyes were like transparent agate and quartz, hard and polished like her milky skin. Her pallor seemed to melt outwards, freezing the air around her. She was small of stature, but then again, so was Napoleon.

Pausing, the air hanging as though waiting for her to speak, she furrowed her high eyebrows and then caught the girls gaze. "I can always tell the nice girls, straight away."

The girl's ruddy skin turned positively beetroot, matching the reddish brown hair that had been messed up artfully in the public school
manner, clearly glowing with a mingled sense of pride and complete, utter confusion. She probably had an awfully innapropriate name like Isabella, which tally felt belonged to people with cheekbones, Slavic eyes and glossy dark hair. Talitha stressed the word nice, all the while her mind flitting to what a boring, plain girl she was entrusting with with her money. It was always those sorts that would do it unquestioningly and without cheating, she mused as she smiled at the bemused girl and returned to the car, the corner of her eye traching her as she moved to gather a group and marched solemnly off on her mission. The gaggle merged into monotone as they moved further out of view, until all that Talitha could see was the suitcases in the boot once more. Spinning her keys on the keyring, she slipped them deep into the checkered pockets of her trench coat and grabbed the top of a wheeled turquoise suitcase, pulling it onto the ground and setting it into an upright position, it's handle telescoping upwards jerkily. The crowds had begun to disperse as they remembered that they would, in fact, be living with her for the rest of term. The dull buzz of people began to evaporate into the muted colours of the sixth form car park. Tally was somewhat appalled at how some of them had let themselves become so....messy, having arrived on the last day of the induction week unnanounced, she assumed that most of them had only been here a week - it being mandatory to take at least two weeks off before induction week, whether parents wanted it or not. Telos was not, after all, Hogwarts, even if there was a somewhat strange air to the place. It reminded her of the Eagles' song - "You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave."

Tally rotated on the heels of her red-soled shoes and began to wheel the two matching suitcases across the tarmac, the pale seafoam glinting in the sunlight as the expensive leather detailing fell under the hot shadows of the trees that lined two sides of the carpark. The view of the school, to her left, was not blocked by trees, the long grey gravel of the drive cutting like a glittering grey river through the playing fields until it joined the main driveway, which curved away further into the left side of the horizon. It seemed. so far away that people moving looked like the waitresses in a stadium.... small, selling drinks and cheap cigars to people crammed into a sea of orange plastic. Tally imagined wandering across the field at 6 in the morning with Murakami in hand, the peaceful air laden with the refreshing wetness that seeped in overnight and always dispersed by seven minutes past. Dropping her suitcases so that they lay next to the wooden trunk, she remembered the dog-eared copy of "A wind up Bird chronicle" that lay on the back seat and swore as she remembered that the canary was sitting in it's white Victorian cage, shitting all over the tea towel that she had lain over the passenger seat.... Pablo was probably scaring people away from the boot where he was perched, in his own cage, on a pile of books, DVDs and old oil paintings, all wrapped in saris and faded newspapers. Yet more stuff to carry.
 

         Taco pulled on his school uniform on the first day of term, black on black on black, and pinned on his prefect's badge. Then he clipped his i-pod onto the waistband of his slacks and tucked the earpieces in a pocket.

         He took one look around before he strolled out the door. As prefect and Hall Monitor for this floor of the boys' dormitory, he had his own room, a privilege he'd looked forward to all summer. He'd moved in a week ago, as soon as they'd let him, unpacking his few boxes and setting things up just the way he wanted. The tiny room held a twin bed, pushed up under the window, a chest of drawers in the corner, the closet, a desk in the other corner, and his keyboard, hooked up to the computer by a maze of cables he'd spent hours configuring because of course he hadn't remembered how he'd had it in his last room. There was a single bookshelf for his textbooks next to the desk and crammed in beside the stand for the keyboard. Everything was neat and proper, all in its right place. He nodded, satisfied.

         Outside then and a slide down the banister. "Morning, Professor!" he called.

         Professor Lisa Raines, arms loaded down with folders and portfolios, looked up. She smiled, shifting the weight in her arms to push up her glasses. "It's almost six o'clock, Taco," she said. "Don't you mean 'Good evening'?"

         "It's good morning for me, Professor. I got hall duty the first night of term."

         "You seem rather cheerful about that."

         "It's the first night. What could go wrong?"

         "Um-hmm ... Well, would you mind giving me a hand?"

         "Sure, Professor." She shifted some of her load into his arms.

         Taco perused the cover and wrinkled his nose. "Robin Hood, Professor?"

         She laughed at his expression. "It's actually more interesting than it sounds. It'll be the our first piece for the Winter Concert. What will the orchestra be doing, then?"

         He grinned. "Something Beethoven, of course!" He trumpeted a few bars of the 5th, making her laugh, and marched along a few steps. "Say, Professor," he asked, dropping back to walk beside her, "do you think we'll have enough for a jazz band this year?"

         She shrugged. "I haven't seen the roster for the new students, it's tough to say."

         "Aw, okay, guess I'll just have to wait, then."

         They reached the band room and Taco stacked the music books on the professor's desk and trotted out, waving. "See you at supper, Professor!"

         He checked his watch and saw that he had a half hour or so to kill and decided to check around and see if any of the new students had arrived yet. He didn't have long to look, as one came pelting around the next corner.

         "Hey!" he called. "No running in the halls!"

         The new student flipped him the bird and kept going. Taco laughed and waved back, shouting, "See you at supper, then, ya?"

         Laughing at his own private joke, Taco walked further on, taking a circuitous route to breeze by the supply closet and see if there were any new students there. I say! he thought, catching sight of the trio just leaving, presumably on their way to the hall. Twins!

         "Hey, Mister Albrem!" Taco called, waving and trotting over, eyeing the new students with interest. "Ola! Call me Taco!" he laughed at their stares.

         Mr. Albrem smiled. "Taco, these are Nik and Nathan. They'll be your classmates."

         Looking from one to the other, Taco wasn't sure which one was which. Who had he pointed to again? He looks them up and down. Brown hair, brownish eyes, oval faces, they could be angels, except for the huge scowl on the one's face ....

         "Cool. New seniors. I don't suppose either of you play an instrument?"

         "Taco here," explained Mr. Albrem, "is the pianist for our orchestra."

         "And I write the songs for the spring musical!" he added proudly. "We're always looking for good male leads, let me know if you're interested later, eh? Say! Mister Albrem, why don't you let me escort them to the hall? Come on, aren't you hungry? It's this way!"

         He struck off down the hall, waving. "Come on, you got here just in time! First night of term, the cooks always go all-out!" He laughed. "I can't wait to introduce you!"
Name: Vincent Dray
Age: 17
Birthday: April 1st

Appearance: The first thing you notice about Dray is that he's huge. Six foot five and broad shoulders but lanky. He has some filling out to do yet but everyone hopes he's done with the upward growth. His hair is carroty red, shoulder length and wavy. His eyes are faded blue. He's as tan as anyone with a pale redhead complexion ever gets and freckled, everywhere. He has three tattoos, a stylized wave pattern around the right bicep, barbed wire around the left bicep and the incomplete line art of an asian dragon on his back.

His usual attire usually involves Hawaiian shirts, board shorts and sandals. Jeans must be loose and comfortable, shoes are the enemy. He has a shark tooth necklace and a cowry shell choker that he is rarely without.

Personality: Laid-back. Dray seems to float through life with the serenity of the heavily drugged. He's not drugged, even lightly, he's not even apathetic, he's just deeply self-assured. Self-assured teenager? That's not even the weirdest part.

Dray is your stereotypical surfer. Dude is not just a word it is an entire vocabulary expressing a variety of concepts and emotions. He surfs, when he can't surf he skateboards, or roller blades. He golfs (Dude, fore!). He's studied a number of unarmed combat styles and mixes them freely (Dray-fu) which means he can't really be formally ranked in any of the styles. He also enjoys automotive repair but he's not very good at it.

Dray is very intelligent (despite appearances) and reads whenever he isn't indulging in more active pursuits. He reads a great deal of non-fiction but for recreational purposes he enjoys romance novels.

History: Dray's mom basically spawned him and left him with his dad. Dray Senior wasn't ready for the responsibility but "The kid needed me, dude." He was one of those parents who would rather be a kid's friend than an authority figure. Fortunately Dray took well to this behavior, becoming very independent and very responsible(despite appearances). His dad tried to hold down a steady job but he'd always been a bit of a nomad and Dray ended up moving around a lot.

Dray's dad married a businesswoman. He thought she was hot and she thought he was fun. She also thought Dray was a great kid "And so smart! We just need to clean him up a little." They ended up being too different to cohabit for long. The divorce was amicable and Dray started spending the school year with his stepmom so he didn't have to move around so much. He hated New York though, much as he loves his stepmom. So for his sixteenth birthday she got him out of the Concrete Jungle and off to Silicon Valley. Well, California anyway. An apartment in a nice neighborhood and in easy drive of prime surfing country.

Unfortunately the school system (while well funded) was more used to rich kids than intelligent ones. Those teachers who weren't concerned about such a bright boy going unchallenged in his school years got sick of being corrected by a giant sand-rat and Dray's stepmother got a concerned phone call or six about their inability to provide Dray with the quality education he deserved.

So Dray is being shipped off to Telos. An eternal optimist he is not only willing to go but enthusiastic about the opportunity.

*          *          *


Dray stretched, it felt good to finally be moving after that long flight, and looked around baggage claim. It was mostly empty, being between flights. He’d been delayed. There was one smartly dressed man seated in the plastic chairs trading glances between his watch and where the passengers emerged. He had a sign propped up next to him and Dray could read his name on it if he tilted his head a little.

The man’s bespectacled gaze passed over him twice before he seemed to realize Dray was heading for him. He still didn’t stand. The description ‘tall redhead’ hadn’t properly prepared him for the reality of Dray.

“Sorry I’m late, Dude. I got picked as terrorist of the day. Man, what a pat down. I think I feel violated.” Dray held out his hand. “You’re from Telos.”

The man stood then and took Dray’s hand. The hand was swallowed whole in Dray’s grip and the top of the man’s head reached Dray’s collarbone. “And you must be Vincent. I’m Professor Grayson.”

“Oh man, nobody calls me Vincent. I’m just Dray.” Dray used his grip to pull the professor close to him and thumped him lightly on the back with his suitcase. He released the now startled man and smiled amiably. “Good to meet ya, Prof G.”

“I say, that’s really not…I mean you really can’t just…” Professor Grayson settled for clearing his throat and straightening his suit coat. “You’re luggage has been lost or stolen.”

“Nah,” Dray replied.

“I looked for it when it became clear you weren’t going to be on time,” Professor Grayson insisted.

“I’ve got it right here,” Dray held up the little suitcase. “It’s mostly full of socks. Mom thinks I’m totally moving to the artic wastes or something. I ought to send them to Dad. Not that Mongolia’s really the arctic…or wastes. Steppes, right Prof?”

“Vin…Dray,” Grayson said in the gentle tone one uses with small animals and insane people, “there’s no need to lie to impress me. You’re a very bright young man or you’d never have accepted and…”

Dray chuckled. “Lying, oh man, if only. If only. Nah, I’ve got plenty of Dad stories without making any up. Let’s get going, the jet-lag is totally kicking my butt.”

“Yes, of course,” Professor Grayson didn’t seem completely flustered. Dray supposed that working at a school filled with bright eccentrics you got used to all sorts of strange people. And hey, at least Dray was friendly.

He opened the front door of the cab and leaned in a little. “Hey, taxi-dude. It’s ok if I ride up front right? Otherwise I gotta put my feet in the Prof’s lap and we just ain’t that close, you know?”

“Yeah man.”

“Awesome hair.”

When they reached Telos they ended up sitting for an extra five minutes so that Dray could finish his story about the ‘alligator incident’.

“You call me when you need a getaway car, yeah?” the cabbie told Dray.

“You’re totally going in my speed dial, taxi-dude.”

Professor Grayson looked concerned.

Dray raised his hands with a grin, “I ain’t runnin’ Prof. Just, you know, weekends. Thrashing on campus is a no-no right?”

Professor Grayson blinked at him.

“Wheels dude! The boarding and the blading. Surfing is out, but the wave withdrawal is going to be killer if I can’t even ride a little concrete.”

“Fair enough,” Professor Grayson said, using his calming tone again. “Why don’t we go pick up your uniform and then you can have a look around.”

“Why don’t we,” Dray finally actually paid a bit of attention to his surroundings. “Hey, swanky.”

*          *          *


Dray begged off the tour, citing the need for a short nap. He hadn’t gotten much sleep on the plane. First class left him with room enough for his legs…almost. But they’d kept hitting unexpected turbulence as soon as he dropped off.

The short nap turned into a long one and he woke just in time to get dressed for the meal. The mandatory meal! Weird. So much for staying up and getting over his jet lag. He supposed he’d just have to wander the halls all night, annoy the hall monitors. Better than keeping up his roommates…if he had roommates. He certainly hadn’t heard any yet.

He wore one of the blue sweaters. He’d realized he was a little culture lagged when he’d heard the word jumper and equated it with jumpsuit, which wouldn’t really go with the uniform. There were also green jumpers and one in a rusty-orange color that a redhead should never ever wear.

Now he just had to figure out where the food was.
Cassi was relieved to have discovered her single room, with bags all neatly lined up at the end of her bed, was not the midget sized tomb she had been expecting. The door opened up on to a spacious square. The green carpet brushed up against the white washed walls on either side. A window, large though antiquated, looked down across the lawns towards what looked to be a stream. She turned about; the cupboard wasn't too small and was made of dark, old wood, sitting on four, Victoriana claws that dug into the carpet. A desk stretched across from the desk to the far wall, shelves climbing up behind it, made of the same wood as the closet. The bed was lined up along the wall facing the desk and cupboard, single but comfortable looking and leaving enough room for her to walk easily between both walls to lean on the windowsill and peer out on the September dusk.

She smiled to herself, though the only hint of it was a small twitch at the corner of her mouth. Mr Hallowday coughed lightly behind her and she turned, lips drawn into a thin, discontented line across her pale face.

"I'll come up in about twenty minutes to take you to the Dining Hall. I suggest you leave out a duvet cover so that whilst we're out the cleaners can make your bed and -"

"We have cleaners? Maids?" She scowled but didn't voice her opinions on how it reflected the snobbery of the place.

"Yes. Um… I'll be back shortly." He tipped a hat that wasn't there and turned on his heel to stride off down the corridor. For some reason she could imagine him as part of the old aristocracy in the 1830's running around after foxes and conversing with men like Darwin. But it might just have been the jacket.

Slowly she moved away from the window, wondering if this place would stay seeming so out of time and away from normalcy. She would of course have to unpack and decorate this room at least a little bit. The large space above her bed was too stark white for tastes. She wanted something pretty there. Perhaps something by Salvador Dali. That wouldn't be so bad.

She bent to scramble through her bags and found the duvets and sheets and was tempted to make her own bed, only there was no actual duvet at this point so it made the task impossible. She scowled. She did not want to inhibit some poor soul with the pathetically trivial task of making a bed when she was perfectly capable of doing it herself. Next came her clothes, jeans, skirts, a couple of hoodies from Jack Wills, presents from her mother in a vain hope to make her 'darling rebel' less rebellious. But it hadn't worked. They went to the bottom of the pile and she found her father's old jumpers, squashed into the corner of her clothes bag, and placed them fondly on top of the rest of the pile before placing the lot on to one of the shelves in her wardrobe. There were four drawers beneath her bed but she figured she'd use them for laundry and underwear and sports kit. The trunk she had been obliged to purchase was shoved under the desk, empty.

There wasn't much point in unpacking the rest of what little she had packed. And she sat, feeling stiff and alien in her uniform and more than a little uncomfortable when she considered the implications of where she was. A boarding school for the unmanageable but intelligent. So it was a place to coerce people like her into conformity and strike off any remnants of independence that they still had. She would not give into that. If this was an institution full of people like her mother, then she would steal a horse and run away. And if a single one of the nattering girls that she could hear along the corridor so much as offered to do her hair, they would get one hell of a slap.

Yes. Cassiopeia did not want to conform.

*

Dining Hall was huge. A room, large enough to fit at least seven hundred people had only two tables in it with maybe one hundred students at maximum and forty teachers. The place was far too large for so small a number and when she glanced at Mr Hallowday, she knew that his mumbled about being late was true. So that meant that everyone in the school bar maybe one or two like them, were already present. She scowled. It was unnecessarily grand. She didn't like that.

Her guide led her to a table and smiled, saying something and then moving away. Although no one was looking at her, she felt as spotlighted as the newbie. A regal, snobbish looking girl was sitting, almost alone at the end of the table with three chairs on one side sperating her from everyone else, and on the other two chairs. On the latter side sat two boys, one looking like he was ready to burn the table with his glare, the other looking awed by the surroundings. She chose to sit opposite, leaving a gap of only two between her and the girl who was precisely folding her napkin in her hands. On her left now sat a sullen girl with an oriental look about her face. Cassi didn't smile. She sat and noticed for the first time the noise bursting about her head and scowled even more. There was a boy, inane grin on his face, talking at speed with the awed lad. She also realised that the scowler was quite obviously twins with the one being garbled at. She felt sorry for him. And then she felt angry at her self for feeling sorry for anyone in this place.

A commotion behind her, one that only she seemed to notice and perhaps scowler, scowler's school enamoured brother and little-miss-regal seemed to pay much attention to. It was the little kid, the boy she'd seen being traipsed into the school shop for his uniform, was now following in after a taller guy with a lopsided smile and a rather angry looking man in a university gown. She winced when she saw the unhappy glimmer in the smaller boy's eye. So the shouting must have had something to do with him. Maybe she could find out when he sat down, presuming he sat up this end. Not that there was much choice in the matter, only three seats remained anyway… And these were them.

She watched in semi-interest as they approached and listened dumbly as someone said something intellectual and the meal began.
The evening reminded him of late July, right before the heady, heat intoxicated days of August, when sunsets turn the sky purple before they die away. He could taste salt on his lips and though he had never seen the sea, he knew that that was what was making the dusk air into a soft musk. He sat on the grass, its cool mesh of fingers curling around his own as they dug into the earth and he sighed, content now he was away from the building. The hills rose up from a sea conifer trees that seemed to make up the view stretching out below him from his seat on the lawn bank. It was a whole different world in those woods, he could tell.

Dappled sun light would be shuttered by the leaves as they stretched towards the sky. The auburn pattern on the leaf strewn earth would match the orange and umber and gold of the autumn. The leaves hadn't yet all fallen but they would tremble in ever wind, clinging on to their mother branch and hoping they would not be cast aside too soon. Ghosts flickered between the trunks of old, gnarled trees as a breeze made the shadows sway, the rustle would pretend to be the voices of spirits as they told tales of a mythical world that ended long ago… Somewhere a little stream, giggling its way across cobalt grey rocks with their green laced collars of weed, would splutter down in a cascade of water, falling like magic downwards, gold in the reflection of the trees…

Sebastian smiled to himself, imagining the little details. The beautiful little wonders that made the world so incredible. He had loved walking for miles across the fields and through the woods behind Penn common, rising over the crests of the Chilterns until they reached Mop-End. He hoped he might have even more ground to roam over now. Or maybe they would stop him. Maybe they would force him to stay inside… There was a bang and he saw the black scrawls of birds rising up over the far side of the next hill, only their silhouettes visible in the indigo gloom. He didn't feel so claustrophobic now. And he wanted to see how many other people came to this place. He had heard voices chattering away, squirrel like in their inanity and even heard laughter peeling from under a few of he closed doors. But he had had to run away. He couldn't have breathed if he had stayed any longer. He lay back against the grass, letting it tickle his scalp.

A couple stars were already showing, pale pink cloud not disguising the knowing wink of the scattered sparks. He sighed and stretched and let time go for a moment, forgetting where he was, what he was doing. He just existed to feel that moment it seemed.

Then his stomach growled. He was hungry and he laughed rolling over onto one side and noticing quite oddly that he really was starving, the cavern that had gaped open in his stomach obviously yawning even more widely than normal. He hadn't noticed before… Perhaps because he didn't need very much to eat and he'd been so nervous earlier, not that he would admit it. Shaking himself of any dust or grass rose to his feet, wondering if he had missed dinner. It couldn't be too late, the sun had only just gone and it wasn't summer anymore…

He really ought to hurry back. But he didn't want to. So he ambled, bare footed, because he'd taken off his shoes and socks so he could bury his toes in the grass and feel the granules of mud squish under his soles. A soft smile lit up his face as he settled into the peace of the evening and let the blanketed silence ripple with tiny sounds from the rest of the world. Padding along, he made his way up to the white walled manor that gazed down at him as if displaced from its temporal home, an obelisk of change.

*

"Excuse me?"

It was the sort of enthusiasm shown if you were taking a child to a dentist to have a tooth pulled. That was the sort of smile, the sort of laugh that this teacher gave off as he tapped Seb's shoulder sharply. There was another guy behind him who looked a little bemused but he just shrugged when he glanced his way.

"Why aren't you wearing your shoes?" The man's nose was twitching, pulling his mouth up into one of disgust, "Do you realise you're late for dinner?"

Sebastian scowled and nodded, "I did know that."

The man puffed his chest up as if boasting of his height, which was probably a foot taller than Sebastian at any rate, "Manners." The tone was infuriating, suggesting to him that he had missed some phrase off the end of his sentence. But he ignored it and placed his shoes on the floor so he could put on his socks. There was a little cough. Then another. Then another.

"Look if you don't mind I need to put my shoes on…" Scowl had turned to glare and he almost snarled the words at the portentous figure.

"I say-"

The shoes were on, scuffed a little but. He turned to go as the man spoke and he noticed the sign for Dining Hall up the corridor on his left. He let himself relax a little bit when the man, seizing his arm, explained just how 'rude' he was being and that he was to apologise.

But Seb wasn't thinking too straight any more and lashed out with his other arm, striking the shoulder of the arm hold him, "Don't touch me!"

The man let go. Drawing back his hand as if he had scolded it on an iron. A strange look flittered across his face and he muttered something inaudible and strode on ahead in his billowing black university robes. Sebastian's hand rested on the place where he had been grabbed, feeling the blood draining away from his head and the drumming his temples stopping. The flurry of the school compared to outside, the heat, the noise… It made his head hurt and made him feel even smaller than he normally would against the giant youth loping beside him. They didn't ask names as they let themselves be shown into the oak floored, hall.

The space was the first thing he noticed, followed by the acoustics, the banter of the table striking one wall only to bounce back onto the far side. He was sure tht if you whispered at one end you'd be able to hear it at the other. The roof rose up into a giant dome, a phrase in Latin gilded around the edges. There were people in uniform everywhere, though not all the same. Teachers were wearing gowns that they must have worn for their graduation from university, some had coloured borders and some didn't depending on the degree and the students wore their uniform. There weren't that many people… Though their ages ranged from about twelve or thirteen to his age or a little older… And he noticed how all the girls had the same messy, preppy hair, the same layer cake foundation and the same blusher on their cheeks. They all looked the same. Boys weren't much better though maybe a little more varied… They at least had different hair styles and weren't wearing makeup to make themselves into the same unnamed beast…

There didn't seem to be much room though… The table was full except for right at the very end where what looked like the bitch from hell was sitting, eyes focused on the middle distance and fuchsia lips pursed in the same way as austere old grandmothers. There were three spaces free around her. Noticing that his silent companion was heading that way he decided to follow. Feeling that he was being examined by the people he was approaching, he felt his stomach knotting itself before furling itself into a tight web of hostility. If they said something he didn't like…

But it seemed there was no need because as he sat down at the table, a woman he assumed to be the headmistress rose to her feet and began to speak. First he didn't recognise what she was saying. Then he realised she was quoting something in French that he couldn't understand because of the odd accent. It wasn't Parisian French that was for sure.

"And now - to eat!" Someone else said from across the table as the woman sat back down to a smattering of applause.

People he assumed to be kitchen staff leant out over their shoulders and lifted lids from dishes revealing all sorts of foods. Mash potatoes were directly in front of him where as the girl with white blond hair had a mixed vegetable dish with sweet potato, parsnip, courgettes and other things in it and the boy across the table from her was face to face with what looked to be guinea fowl. He had never seen quite so much food in his life. Well that was a little lie. He had once been allowed to go with his parents to a party where they'd had a lunch party with some friends who also had a son. They'd never taken him out after that since he had ended up with a broken wrist and the other boy had torn the tendons in his knee from the two of them jumping out of a tree onto the concrete pavement over the garden wall… He smiled… He remembered lots of food from then.

"Hey. You can call me Taco." The same guy who had told them to begin was offering his hand to him across the table and he looked at it in surprise and apprehension. It was an unwritten rule in Wycombe that you never shake someone's hand unless… He doubted the rules applied here and he took the proffered palm albeit reluctantly.

"I'm Sebastian. Seb."

"And you are?" He offered his hand to the giant.

"I'm Dray dude."

Taco grinned and then turned to the identical companions that sat in front of him, "These guys are Nick and Nathan. Or Nathan and Nick…." The guy laughed and Seb wasn't sure whether he liked him or found the positivity annoying…

"I'm Nik." The one next to Taco said with a nice smile that made him feel a little more at ease than he had when he'd shaken the stranger's hand before, "He's Nathan…"

Nathan didn't look up from the mash potato he was further mashing but Seb was sure that it hadn't been Nik peering over the pale girl's shoulder as he'd entered the room. He frowned and glanced at the girl, whose dark eyes seemed almost black as he looked at her.

"Cassiopeia." She murmured after a moment and then stabbed a carrot rather savagely, "Saves you from asking."

Taco looked from person to person, blinked over the girl at the end who was now nibbling rather delicately on a perfectly cut piece of chicken, then offered his hand to someone on the other side of Cassiopeia. A snarl met him and Seb had to cough to cover up his snicker of delight. It wasn't that he was judging Taco, it was just that he seemed to be the only one willing to try and make them feel at ease. Whereas everyone was at least as hostile as him. Except perhaps Nik, whose smile hadn't faltered yet and who nodded to him as if saying, 'here's to a new chance'. But then again, maybe that was just his imagination.
Nathan tried to reign in his scowl, but the talkative nature of “Taco” was starting to grate on his nerves. He looked over at his brother, who was eating with interest and watching everything as though he was in a movie, the spy that knew everything.

“Yo, dude!” the exceptionally big boy on the other side of the table called, and Nathan turned, seeing he was staring at him. Nathan’s eyebrows raised.

“Are you talking to me?” he asked. The taller boy nodded.

“Yeah!” Nathan shook his head slightly.

“What?”

“Dude! Do ya gotta headache or something?” Nathan rolled his eyes, shrugging.

“Does it matter?” This seemed to make the boy think. Nathan rolled the conversation back in his mind, searching for the boy’s name.

“No, but I was wondering. It just doesn’t seem like a dark place dude, ya know?” Dray, that was his name. Nathan looked at his brother again.

“Of course it doesn’t.”

Nik’s smile strayed to Nathan, then Dray.

“He doesn’t always scowl, just… right now. It’s part of being in a new place for him.” Nik got the royal scowl directed at him, then Nathan turned his eyes on the small boy next to Dray. He looked familiar…

“Seb,” Nathan said, and the boy looked up, his eyes somewhat startled. “You ran from my brother earlier, didn’t you?”

Seb licked his lips. “I didn’t run,” he said softly. Nathan’s scowl disappeared, being replaced with a smirk. “I didn’t,” he protested.

“You’re right, you simply took an opportunity.” Nathan reached out his hand. “Let me properly introduce myself. I’m Nathan.” Seb stared at him in confusion.

“He doesn’t like shaking hands,” Nik said softly, so that only those listening closely could hear.

“No, I don’t mind,” Seb quickly protested. Before Seb could take the hand, Nathan closed it so it was a fist.

“Follow my lead,” he said and Seb’s eyebrows drew together. “Raise your fist.” Once Seb had done so, Nathan moved their hands closer. “Lightly knock your fist into mine, straight.”

Slowly, and with uncertainty, Seb did so. Nathan nodded. “There, that’s it.” He lowered his hand and watched as a touch of color spread across Seb’s cheeks. Nathan decided he was rather cute, he reminded Nathan of Nik when they were younger. Beside Nathan, Nik shook his head and took a bite of his mashed potatoes, but Nathan noticed the slight curve of his lips into a half smile.

Nathan looked at Cassiopeia and watched her eat for a moment. “How old are you?” he asked. She looked up and raised her eyebrow’s.

“Is it any of your business?” she asked and Nathan found his grin.

“No.” She was silent for a minute.

“17.” She said, and Nathan nodded once, turning to the Asian girl.

“You speak English girl?” he asked rudely, making her glare at him. “Oh good,” he said before she responded, “just making sure.”

“Asshole,” she said, and Nathan grinned.

“Yes.” Nik rolled his eyes and lowered his head a bit more.

Then Nathan turned to the lone figure at the end of the table. He was starting to feel more like himself. Violent, rude, and deserving nothing good.

“Miss Priss!” he called out. The girl didn’t even flinch. “Hey! Prissy lady,” he rose his voice a notch more. She responded by chewing another bite of food. Nathan cleared his throat, she continued to ignore him.

“Nathan!” Nik turned wide pleading eyes on his brother, “Please?” Nathan turned to Nik.

“Please what Nik? I’m just trying to make conversations.” Nik shut his eyes and shook his head.

“Nathan…” his tone was one of defeat.

Nathan returned his attention to the figure at the end of the table again. Most people were watching him now, and it gave him a similar rush as if he was pretending to be Nik. “I say!” he called, moving one chair closer, “are you ignoring me on purpose?” Nathan waited a second before moving the last seat so he was across from her.

“Bitch,” he said in conversational tones, “I’m talking to you.” Muddy green eyes lifted from the plate and looked right into his hazel ones for a brief moment before she reached out with her fork and stabbed his hand.

“What’s your problem?” she hissed, her eyes going cold.

“You, obviously,” Nathan grinned at her, somewhat disarmingly.

“Dude!” came a voice down the table, “Chill pill.”

“I didn’t ask for your attention,” the girl said, almost snarling as she dug the fork deeper into Nathan’s hand.

“Of course not, you’re too prissy to hang out with my kind,” Nathan’s smile continued.

“Alright guys,” came the Taco’s voice now, “Break it up, stop arguing.”

“We’re not arguing, are we?” Nathan said, and the girl lifted her fork off of his hand.

“Get out of my face,” she said, and Nathan grinned.

“For now, Bitch, for now.” Nathan stood up, turning from her.

“Oh yeah,” he turned back to her. “And for the record, I hate you.” She glared at him.

“The feeling is quite mutual,” she sniffed, putting her fork down and picking up her spoon.

Nathan turned to his brother, who’s beat red face was completely buried in his hands. Nathan felt a small rush of anxiety and shook it off.

There was no way to go back now, and he felt no shame.

Well, not much anyway.

“Dude! Your hand’s bleeding!” Nathan looked down at the four small lines of blood flowing from the fork holes.

For some reason, seeing it made him smile.
Nik pulled Nathan by his uninjured hand all the way to their room. The door opened into a sitting room, with a bedroom to the right and one to the left. Each bedroom contained two beds, two dressers, two desks with chairs and one enormous closet. Nik pushed Nathan into an arm chair.

“Sit, and don’t get any blood on the chair, or the carpet, or yourself, or… Just don’t get any blood on anything!” Nik rushed into one of the bedrooms, then the other, finding his bag and pulling it open. Mr. Albrem, or perhaps some other person entirely, had brought their luggage up and set it neatly on two different beds. Nik finally found some ointment and bandages stuffed away in his little first aid kit. He emerged with them and a washcloth, scowling. “I ought to douse it with hydrogen peroxide first, or even better rubbing alcohol.”

Nathan shrugged, “Go ahead if it’ll make you feel better.”

“Well it won’t.” Nik went to the bathroom, wondering if four people were going to be sharing the one bathroom. That sounded like a recipe for disaster. There had to be at least one other bathroom attached to the room right? Carrying the hot cloth out he knelt on the carpet in front of Nathan and began carefully cleaning the blood off his hand.

“Dude, how did you get that?” Dray asked, entering the room and taking a seat on the couch. His large frame seemed so at ease to Nik. Dray was a bit too big for the couch yet appeared to be quite comfortable. Nathan grinned as his eyes flickered to Dray.

“The Bitch forked me,” he replied. Nik slapped his leg. “Hey, what was that for?”

“Sounding so proud,” Nik replied, watching as the door opened a bit and Seb slipped into the sitting room.

“Seb,” Dray was enthusiastic, “come on in and sit down. You remind me of this guy I knew in Cali, always creeping around. Turned out he was a real talker once you got him going. Dude, you okay? You look a little pale.”

“I’m fine,” Seb replied, but Nik thought maybe he wasn’t entirely fine. He watched Seb out of the corner of his eye as he entered the room and took a seat on the far side of the couch from Dray. Once all of the blood was off Nathan’s hand Nik began spreading the ointment liberally.

“If it looks infected tomorrow we’ll have to disinfect it with the peroxide,” he told Nathan softly.

“You’re pissed because you didn’t get your tour aren’t you?”

Nik looked at his twin sharply, his attention straying completely from Dray and Seb. How did Nathan always know when he was upset and what he was upset about? He’d really been looking forward to seeing the school, the swimming pool and the damn horses. He and Nathan had seen many schools and not a single one of them had contained horses or swimming pools. Well, the one had had a swimming pool, but he’d never gotten to see it as it was down for repairs the entire year they’d attended school there. “No, I’m fine,” he replied softly, carefully wrapping the gauze bandage around the wound, pulling it tight, but not too tight.

“Don’t lie to me Nik. I hate it when you pull that shit.” Nathan glared at him, “We could go now.”

“We can’t, we aren’t allowed to go without a member of the staff or permission and we don’t have either one.” He secured the bandage testing it several times. Nathan was more than a little hard on such things. Satisfied with it he glanced at Seb and Dray. Seb was silently staring at Dray who was telling a story about getting lost with his father in a jungle in Africa.

“When has that ever stopped us before?” Nathan asked and Nik turned back to him.

“No, I don’t want to start this off by getting kicked out of school or something.”

“They won’t kick us out this soon.”

“Well I don’t want to start it off by getting in trouble.” Nik stood, “I think I’ll change. We’re allowed to after dinner you know?”

“Yes, I saw the same stuff you did Nik. I know.” Nathan grinned and Nik shook his head. It was easy to forget his brothers photographic memory as Nathan really didn’t put it to much use. “Let’s go, I know you want to see them. I don’t want to have ruined your first day here entirely.”

“If we get caught it will be ruined entirely anyhow.” Nik moved toward the room his bag had been left in.

“We won’t get caught, I promise,” Nathan’s tone told Nik that there was no hope. They were definitely going. It brought both pleasure and panic, because he really did want to see them, and he really didn’t want to be labeled as a mess up this soon.

“Where are we going?” Dray asked happily from the couch and Nik realized he’d stopped talking a few moments before.

Nik shook his head quickly, “Nowhere,” but Nathan was already talking right over him.

“The stables, and the swimming pool, are you coming?”

“Sure thing, Seb will come too!” Dray replied with a grin. Seb did not look entirely certain he wanted to come but he didn’t object nearly loudly enough to keep from being dragged along. Soon the four of them were dressed in everyday clothing and walking toward the exit. Nik stopped for what must have been the fourth time.

“Now what?” Nathan was obviously exasperated with him, but Nik was still suffering from a huge internal struggle. He’d already suggested waiting until later, doing this tomorrow night and trying the office to see if someone would go with them.

“Does Taco count as a member of the staff?” He asked.

“No,” Nathan said immediately, “he might be a prefect and all that but he’s just a student like the rest of us.”

“Is he?” Nik looked at Dray, who shrugged.

“Dude,” he replied in a way that made it clear he had no idea. Nik looked at Seb who shook his head.

“Let’s not,” he shrugged, “he talks a lot and…” he finished with a shrug.

Nik sighed, “Okay, sorry.” The four of them resumed their silent walk.
Jackie rasied an eyebrow as the 'asshole' who was actually just doing her head in got speared by the fancy looking chick sitting at the other end of the table.

She was almost impressed.

As the boys got up, she looked over and chucked her a clean fork.

"Here. You never know where he's been."

The girl glanced sideways at her and carefully smoothed her fringe back behind her right ear.

"Thanks," she said, looking a bit proud of having forked Nathan.

"Jackie."

"Talitha."

Jackie couldn't help herself. "Talitha?"

The girl scowled, and her shoulders straightened even more, if it were possible. "Tally."

Jackie swung back on her chair, balancing her knees up against the table with ehr weight on the back legs on the chair, and started to shred her tie. "Sucks here, doesn't it."

"That's one way to put it."

As one, the girls stood up and emptied their trays. Jackie pulled a packet of tobacco out of her pocket and started to roll herself a ciggarette. The flick of a lighter caused her to turn and stare as Tally fitted a long white cigarette into a long posh holder and sparked up in the corridor.

"It's the first day. Do you really want to get chucked out before we get really bored?"

"With the money our parents pay for us to be here?" Tally exhaled, her eyes narrowed against the sunlight as they stepped out into the grounds, "Yeah, they're really going to chuck us out."

"Right," Jackie muttered under her breath. "What our parents pay."

And then Tally put the icing on teh cake by pulling out a tiny hip flask and swigging from it.

"What's in there?"

"Gin."

"Straight?"

"How else?"

That was it, Jackie decided. Rich or not, this girl was just cool.
Tally glanced up at the girl and placed the flask delicately onto the table so that the silver metal became striped with the browns of the wood. Smoke traced up towards her in lazy spirals, idling through the air which was thick with the stench of rich, moist and overly complicated food. She flicked her hand gently, the fingers trailing behind the wrist and sending the flask flying in the general vicinity of the girl, who stopped it ith the butt of her fist.

"Judging on money. You'd think it would be considered as uncouth both ways." she drawled slowly, letting her chin sink into the bones of her right hand, the cigarette languishing. "I mean, half these assholes," she gesticulated wildly at the Jack wills clad school, "have and will always be idiots and pushovers, but then again democracy is a tired idea and god forbid a school judge on common sense as well as examined intelligence. I actually had him pegged as interesting too..."

"until you decided to stab him with a bloody fork?" Seb glared, his eyes boring into her as though trying to work her mind out. The stare bored into her forehead as the black lashes around his eyes remained unblinking. Tally stretched in somewhat feline manner and let the long ebony wand clatter to the plate, smouldering in a coagulated pool of gravy.

"it wasn't bloody before the encounter, I might point out," she turned to Jackie and flicked the fork into the fingers of her left hand so that the cold metal burnt the skin between her fingers. Nodding a message of thanks, she returned to meet the blue swirls of the boys gaze. "And besides. He's had scars there before. Might teach him to appreciate the difference between arrogance and snobbery. My arrogance has foundation. Snobbery is based on...what....the principals of tradition? that's hardly a logical argument."

"...and your arrogance is...let me guess, I should be using deductive reasoning." seb muttered, his hand lithely flicking to his neck as he began to knead the tension of the muscles around the black ink that penetrated his skin.

"Simpler than that. It's Clearly based on the awesome powers of blue hair." Tally let her eyes follow the dappled light that poured from the high windows of the hall, pooling over certain tables and leaving others in midnight shadows. "Aren't you already bored of seeing messed up public school mousy brown crap coloured hair?"

A smirk flitted across the face of the asian girl, Jackie. Her cheekbones were high and slavic, the almond eyes feline in their movements, as they darted around the room following streams of light. Those eyes... they reminded Tally of a thief she had once known, a master of his art. Tally respected the age old skill, even if she did not personally subscribe to the magazine- theiving from people who had nothing you wanted was, in her mind, a wasted activity. The girl's skin seemed to glow with a yellow light, her eyes sparkling with a permanant mirth. 'how do you manage to not turn it green?"

"trick my twin brother taught me. Hir dye, acrylic paint and some bizarre chemical theories. He was an artist, of sorts."

"you too?" Sebastian looked up, as though surveying the room for anyone of passing resemblance to her, as though her twin were present. She shook her head slowly, once again feeling the stabbing pains as they fluttered from her heart, through her shoulders and down until the tips of her fingers, in pulses as though signals of dark, choking smoke.

"The only thing Freddie could teach me now would be what the view was like from the other side of his gravestone. Sometimes when I look after this kid in the village I remember his christmas presents as ideas but...teaching post-grave is a skill he has yet to master." water ran through Talitha's tone as though tears could be shed in a voice, but the steel spiking it made it seem distant amd trapped. It was as if her voice cracked in an instant as she muttered his name, splitting the air in two and rendering the atmosphere around her momentarily clear, the diamond mist that she surrounded herself with shattered for a moment. She felt her lids grow heavy and closed her eyes, pushing herself up from the table as though her body was a deadweight. The air around was stagnant and stifling suddenly and she felt an overwhelming need to bury herself into a book, something that masked the visions filling her head. When tally died, she would do it onto her own terms...not spitting up into half moon basins as uncontrolable relatives appeared from the distance to view her, sunken and bruised, as she sat immobile in an eiderdown.

She glanced across at the other girl at the table, with darkened eyes and white blonde hair, who was doodling a melting clock on her hand. Tally had always liked Dali and the surrealists, but then again...anything not labeled post modern or conceptual had a possibility of attraction to her. But it was the...untangible quality that she liked...of all the dreams and images seared into Tally's mind, not one was truly ordinary.

Her legs ached with stiffness and tally kicked the chair aside with one repetto clad foot, the mid length skirt of jaquard silk glowing with umbers and creams as the midnight blue stripes swished against the various stripes in tones of gradiated yellows. She wore a soft charcoal blue boat neck sweater and a charcoal grey panama jacket, an erratically large corsage of white silk pinned just above her left bust.

"Give the gin to the bloke with the wounds, he may need to clean it up; the san will give him a strepsil if any of the sickness in the last 7 years of my life have taught me anything. Besides, if he turned his sullen good looks against the true prudes here the results would be quite endearing, and we can't have that if he's dripping blood," she smiled fleetingly at the two to disarm them, trying to diffuse the knives that they through at her unwittingly with any sign of sympathy. She noted as she peered at them through curved lashes that it was not obvious sympathy, their restraint giving her a modicum of respect for both - they knew how to handle crap. "Send my regards. and tell him to bring back the flask - It got nicked off some russian in the first world war and I shan't ever be able to return it if he goes and melts it in the fireplace....although I'm not sure pablo would take a trip to moscow well."

She ficked her head around to face the open double doors to the right of her and walked over, the crowded room was once again one being, functioning autonymously as though directed by the strings of an invisible pupeteer. Out of the corner of her eye the faces blurred, fading into tones of black and whiteas they dissapeared from her field of vision. She stepped into a metamorphing pool of light and outside, onto the black tarmac that cut through the green fields of grass. In the distance she could make out the stark victorian architecture of her boarding house, the glittering mass of cars in the distance muted and blurred into a writhing droplet of mercury against the dark viridian of trees. she turned back to look through the moving doors of the dining room once more, the black figures like clckwork soldiers as they moved jerkily and interacted in broken interludes. as the boarding ouse began to creep towards her slowly, it's red brickwork looming, she suddenly stopped. The sky was painted with crimson and sienna, pinks and ochres. The light filtered through the layers like a seive and fell on the lush green lawns of plastic blades and she allowed herself to breathe it in, stopping to appreciate the colours that she had not noticed before.

A darkened figure emerged from the dalmationed light, and as the tall sillhouette began to emerge she recognised it as the american redhead that she had seen before. He dwarfed her physically, and she felt the muscles in her back tighten out of instinct. She let her gaze wander past him to the building as it interrupted the beautiful canvas before her. As he interrupted it. Dude.

"Unarmed?"

"Still dangerous." she muttered darkly, looking up to study the freckles that seemed to be trapped in layers of translucence. His eyes were the faded blue of a well worn jumper, and reminded her of...Tally flinched and carried on, "The chinese girl, she is an emmisary of Gin. Can't be fighting people that are injured, now that just wouldn't be fair!" Her tone took on the falsified soprano of a dental assistant, or perhaps a guidance councillor. It grated against the parched roof of her throat so she returned her voice to it's huskier norm. " Besides, O want to see if his vendetta is unique, more of a spar or a general thing against the well of...which wouldn't be entirely logical as his mother just married an ogliarch." The boy looked up at her, catching her steely gaze in the graying depths of his eyes. He was well built and her head was tilted at a forty degree incline, although the slope seemed to be less due to the constant shifting of weight throughout his body.

He nodded in an offhand manner and remarked neutrally "I'm fetching towells from the laundry." It was an obvious meaning- I'm not takins sides against either of you because I don't plan on being caught in any crossfire. A defensive policy- she was suprised at how well the boy played it.... so that it did not seem weak but assertive. Credit to him. The sky was growing darker as it approached sunset, with the curious rapidity of a winter night. Tally tugged at her jacket's sleeves with balled fists and began to stride on toward the house.
 

         The bickering and arguing made Taco's gut clench instinctively and put his teeth on edge. He deliberately stretched his face into a smile, friendly, fighting back the urge flee. There was a keen familiarity between the two brothers, the twins, that awoke an old ache in Taco's chest, not the nightmares which still occassionally disturbed his sleep, but a quiet ache; for no reason he could see at all save that he sat alone amongst strangers.

         Taco had never understood where the anger came from, the desire to lash out and hurt others. His first year had passed so quickly he remembered little. The second year he'd barely said two words together; the third year, last year, he'd finally started to feel alive, and now here he was, words tumbling out of his mouth with such speed and zest he barely recognized himself. The more antagonistic the new students became the more Taco talked; he couldn't seem to stop himself, fending off that anger with the only defense he had.

         But an all-out brawl was too much. He stood, dread and his questionable gut putting a clear edge to his words. "Alright guys, break it up, stop arguing.”

         There was an end. The boys all got up together and left; Taco followed them with his eyes. They were soon after followed by Jackie and Tally. Taco stared down at his plate. Already, the new kids were an entity, a group, and he was left on the outside. He sighed and pushed away the remains of his dinner.

         "Excuse me," he said to Cassy, embarrassed and a little guilty for leaving her alone, but he had to get out of there! Surely someone as pretty as she was wouldn't have trouble making friends, even with the attitude. Most here came with one and there were certain allowances in the beginning.

         He left through the kitchen, sat on the back steps, fumbled for his headphones, and closed his eyes to the music, letting all other thoughts drain away. He set his chin in his hands, elbows resting on his knees, and breathing in deep. Those four were trouble-makers, through and through. Nik -- no, Nathan, was surely going to be a handful, and Nik and Sebastian were likely to follow in his footsteps. Perhaps Dray ... Dray didn't seem like a push-over, maybe he'd have a calming effect upon the others. Girls, well, Taco didn't even attempt to analyze them. Girls were aliens. He'd leave them to the other girls in the senior class.

         He thumbed the ipod idly. He wanted some Blues, the moodier the better. He sighed a little, listening to the music, eyes closed and trying his best not to think of anything.

         Soon enough, though, the concrete steps grew too uncomfortable to sit on and he wandered off across campus, taking a leisurely walk around the courtyard, his feet knowing the way, only paying attention enough to not walk into anything, but little beyond that. Soon enough the chill in the night's breeze drew him indoors and he curled up in the window seat of the lounge, ignoring the multitudes who thronged there before bedtime, playing games, reading, talking, playing foozeball, joking, laughing, catching up with friends. Taco leaned his head against the glass and wished it were the next day.

         The crowds thinned out aroun nine o'clock as Lights Out came closer. At quarter til, Taco chased out the last lingerers, putting things away and turning out the lights at ten. Then it was patrol time. He knocked on doors and told the students to turn the lights off and keep down the noise. He started with the younger students, giving the older ones a little more time. Most of those who'd been at Telos before knew the rules and their roommates followed suit, needing little more than a knock to settle in.

         But Taco had assumed the beginning would be strained and it was. He spent the better part of an hour and a half knocking on doors and giving warnings and he felt worn out by midnight, but by then most of the noise had died down and the halls were quiet. Jet-lag was catching a lot of the students and soon he was left to his music and his walking, up and down the halls on several levels. He enjoyed the quiet, feeling like he was almost in his own little world. He knew he'd probably hate this before long, but for now he took what enjoyment he could.
Nathan went first, he was followed by Nik and Sebastian with Dray bringing up the rear. This arrangement handily kept either of the less enthusiastic members of their expedition from just creeping back to the room. Not that Seb had put up more than a token protest and he didn’t strike Dray as the sort who couldn’t stick up for himself. Nik, on the other hand…

“I still think,” Nik’s whisper was very soft, softer than Nathan’s hushing hiss which cut it off.

“Hey, Nathan-dude,” Dray whispered. He cocked his head to one side listening.

“Shut up!” Nathan’s voice was louder this time.

“No seriously I think I hear…”

“Are all new students lunatics?” came an exasperated voice that was familiar from dinner. From the least disastrous part of dinner, even.

“Busted…” Dray moaned, then turned with a bright smile. “Taco!”

“It’s late, can’t you all just go to sleep?” Taco looked tired, or at least tired of telling people things they should already know.

“We didn’t get our tour,” Nathan said in a tone that managed reasonable and belligerent at the same time. That sort of thing took practice. Some people never mastered that perfect balance.

“And I’ve totally never been at a school with a stable before. We just wanted to have a look around.” Dray said, trying to take a bit of the edge off of Nathan. Some people just lacked that buffer between brain and mouth. Nik seemed to be Nathan’s but Dray didn’t mind helping out once in a while.

“Look, the rules apply to everybody, even you. It’s late and you can’t go to the stables without an escort, anyway.” Taco pointed out. He didn’t seem quite set on it though. Rule-breaking was out, certainly if it was malicious, but a little rule-bending, just for fun? Yeah, Dray thought that might be in.

“So escort us, dude,” Dray suggested.

“So I can get expelled too?”

“Aw, c’mon, man. Nobody’s gonna get expelled on the first day. Not for anything short of a stabbing, anyway. Relax,” Dray said with a glance at Nathan’s hand

“It’s not like we’re planning to blow anything up. We’re just looking,” Seb pointed out.

“Plus, like you said it’s late. Who’s going to be awake to catch us? What are the odds of running into two Hall Monitors?” Nathan added. Nik looked almost sullen enough to be mistaken for his brother.

“Pretty damn good,” Taco said, then he grinned to match Dray, “unless you use the back staircase.”

They reversed directions, this time Taco took the lead. The door to the back stair was locked, but Taco leaned his hip against it, kicked the bottom and lifted and it popped open.

“Awesome,” Dray said and Nathan nodded in approval.

The door at the bottom of the stairs led out into an odd corner formed by an addition to the building.

“So, who’s up for a detour to the girl’s dorm?” Dray said brightly. He waited a beat and then raised his own hand, waving it wildly. “But…underwear, dudes,” he added mournfully when no one joined his enthusiasm.

“We’re not sneaking out so you can indulge you’re voyeuristic tendencies ,” Nik piped up quietly but firmly. “In fact I still don’t think this is a good idea at all.”

“If you want to see underwear get a catalogue,” Nathan added.

“But dudes, think of the possibility of no underwear,” Dray traced an hourglass in the air with his hands and his face took on a dreamy expression.

“No,” Taco said. “A late night tour is one thing, one I shouldn’t be doing, remember, but I’m not helping you spy on anyone.”

Dray heaved a sigh. “Oh well. Maybe tomorrow.”

“Bloody well better not be,” Taco muttered.

Unimpressed, Cassi lay with hands folded behind her head. Did they really think that just because they told her to go to bed and pipe down, that she would. her head phones were blaring, her eyes wide open, and she was ready to find out more about this school which had so far only been able to prove that it was full of preppy bitches who all looked the same. Excepting the few new kids she'd encountered today, it seemed that the place was one huge cubby clique who probably had no idea of the bubble they lived in or of the outside world where she was from. They had probably never heard of Sid Viscious or Johnny Rotten or even considered undermining anyones pompous authority. She scowled, and despite her moaning she was doing exactly the same.

She was in her Norma Kamali rompersuit and a baggy grey cardigan she'd had for about four years, she hadn't bothered changing for bed yet. She knew there was little to no chance of her sleeping before midnight at any rate so that was all fine and dandy in her eyes. She just had to occupy her time. Maybe she'd go find that other girl... Talitha. She snorted at the name. It was so pretentious. But then again so was hers she supposed so she stopped laughing and stood up, opening the door and peering down the corridor. It was empty but she could see light filtering ot from underneath the door at the end, the one she had seen Tally go into earlier. Not bothering to stay quiet she decided it was best just to run over to her. In case she was in the middle of a flux or something.

The shadows on the walls seemed to flicker slightly as she passed through them on her bare feet and she pressed into Tally's room without knocking. The blue haired girl was still awake, holding a book of some sort in one hand and what looked to be a martini in the other. On the bed, sat Jackie, staring at her with her mouth open as if she'd been midway through saying something when she'd barged in.

"I'm bored." She said after a moment under their gaze.

"Yes, and...?" Talitha was glaring, it looked like she was testing her and Cassi shrugged.

"You're the only two that don't look like reincarnations of barbie and her motley crew so I figured I'd see if you could entertain me."

Jackie's mouth closed and there was another brief pause as Talitha's pursed lips drew into a thin line. Cassi stared straight at her. There was no point in denying the fact that, up until Seb and Taco had left the table in the minutes following the fork stabbing of one of the twins, they had been having an interesting conversation. One which was at least a little more than a plaintive moan about how Lacoste or Ralph Lauren was so last season.

"I think we should go for a swim." Talitha said suddenly, "This place has a pool. We should use it."

Cassi frowned but only slightly, "You know where it is?" She covered for her hesitation, trying to sound into it when really she was wondering if there would be an alarm or something like there had been at her old school.

"Sure. And anyway, Jackie mentioned a moment ago about how much she missed swimming." Tally stood, pressing her book to the table and draining her drink with the fluid grace of the old aristocracy.

"Let's go."

Cassi nodded after Jackie's enthusiastic response. If she got kicked out, sh got kicked out. Her mother would just have to put up with her again. But that didnt stop the niggling feeling that a swimming pool with a girl like Tally could be more than a little strange.


Seb loved night time. It was so much easier to behave normally when other people couldn't see you properly. At least that's how he felt. Traipsing about in the semi gloom of the dully lit corridors as they wove through the back passages of the house, he suddenly felt as if this place was far more than just a building, more than just a school for stuck up rich kids. He smiled to himself and followed after the others, ignoring the fact that he wasn't fighting against them. Normally he didn't like just blindly tracing someone elses footsteps... But he was intrigued by the school, by the strangely tranquil ethereal galmour that night time was casting over the walls and their adornments. In the half glow it almost seemed as if the unblinking eyes of the portraits were sparkling, as if the pictures were moving and greeting them as they moved along.

"I guess we'll go to the pool first seeing as it's closer." Taco's voice, peircing the smooth swathes of comfortable silence about them made him smile. He couldn't swim but he loved water and as long as he could stand he also loved the feeling of its silken motion against him. That was probably why he liked bathes and showers so much... They reminded him of those few times he'd been able to sit in a pool with other people and enjoy the ripples of sensation flow over him, watch the squares of blue shift as it moved.

"Then maybe the stables... Or maybe the japanese gardens down by the river..." Taco was still talking, voice barely above a whisper, but full of an enthusiasm that Seb wasn't sure he'd ever felt in his entire life.

Their shadows made waves between the dim lights and made the area flicker between orangey yellow and grey, like a candle in an old ghost story. It felt like an adventure, like one of the old romans, the early novels where the protangonist always bravely strove to fight evil and face any task with intrepid gusto. Seb felt the urge to spin around and watch as their passing made the world behind them ripple but didn't as he also didn't want to fall over himself in front of everyone. He didn't trust them. For all their pleasentries and the patient way Nathan had handled his dislike of shaking hands at dinner, he still couldn't trust them. This was a far too volitile mixture of people for his liking... At least in Wycombe he'd known where he stood... But then again... He had settled into line with them because not only did he not want to disagree with them, but he was also curious. They weren't the same as the other people here... He wanted to like them.

That was a start.

He had never really wanted to know people. Really knowing someone meant that they knew you too and he hated the thought of being vunerable to anyone. He had enough trouble standing up for himself due to his petiteness as it was, he didn't need the added bonus of having them understand the workings of his mind too. And if Nathan's rude behaiviour towards jus about everyone earlier was anything to go by then he knew that being turned on and spat at was not as unlikely as he might hope, even if he had shown a different side later...

Musing in his head, he realised he was already acting differently here to how he had at home. Back there, he had been viscious, cutting with every remark, ready to scare anybody, attack anybody, knife anybody... And he'd done so on occasion, though never to kill. He wasn't angry yet. Normally he was furious. Maybe he was just too tired to be angry. Maybe the excitement, the infectious allure of this late night excursion was dampening it. He knew that the lights out rule had pissed him off, the fact he had felt so confused before had made his blood burn. But right now there was a feeling of semi-contentness as he followed the back he assumed to be Nik's.

Mild, muggy and wrife with the scent of chlorine, the pool was a peaceful, dancing miasma of cerulean blue light that glittered like eyes in the frosted moon peering down through the glass ceiling.

"This is the pool. It's 25foot or something I think..." Taco was standing close to the edge, his outline being broken up by the occasional slithers of light glancing across his cheek and highlighting his face in blue.

"It's incredible." He breathed, unheard among the plethora of other exclamations from the others.

"Dude, this is awesome." For some reason Dray's was the only response to really make sense in his mind and he let himself smile.

This place was beautiful. It reminded him of Ovid's Metamorphoses when Diana, goddess of the hunt, bathed in the sparkling waters of a hidden oasis. He could almost imagine that the forest outside was leaping up around them, encircling them and making this moment forever. He stepped up to the edge and peered into the depths, realising it was deep and he wouldn't be able to stand if he fell in. He shivered and stepped back, slightly saddened that he'd always have to look from afar. But covering it up for himself with a wave of discontented anger at his stupidity at never finding a chance to learn to swim.

At least it wasn't part of this world. This place, at least at night, had lost all sense of reality as the obsidian night glimmered with light from the moon and danced with the twinkling stars. He sighed and let himself smile again, deciding now was now....

"Oi! What are you doing here?!"

Talitha, the girl who had stabbed Nathan with the fork was leading the other two girls behind her, looking apathetic towards their existance.

Out of the corner of his eye he saw Nathan move his hand behind him and let his own hands clench into fists. He didn't like the fact that this rivalry obviously lay between the two. Sure, in the few minutes he'd lingered behind before leaving after the other boys, she'd seemed alright, albeit completely etached from social norms but he didn't want her to threaten this outing with a show of female retribution because Nathan antagonised her. In fact he was pretty certain he'd do just about anything to stop any antagonism.

The girl, with her feral prowl, came closer, until she was plainly visible with Cassi and Jackie beside her. The smaller oriental Jackie, seemed more at ease than Cassi with her pale flowing hair but neither seemed as composed as Talitha. There was something about her, something ancient and powerful. And just as before when he'd fled into the Metamorphoses, he did so again now, only now he and the guys were Actaeon and his hunting party whereas these three were Diana and her legions of nymphs. Shaking his head, he was glad that no one could read his mind. But the magic still hung there between them.

"We're going for a swim." She said with a matter of fact tone that reminded him a little of his mother, "You can either leave or you can join us."

Seb saw Nathan catch Nik's eye and shrug, whereas Taco looked less enthusiastic than he had when he had first found them. Dray was grinning widely and looked more than eager to jump right in. He shivered. There was no way in hell he was admitting that he couldn't swim.
Nathan looked at Nik, felt his fingers curl and gave a small grin. Although he really wanted to communicate with The Bitch, he knew he shouldn't. He wasn't breaking rules just to have fun, he was doing it to make up to his brother.

"I'm not staying," he said, glancing at her and licking his lips suggestively. She didn't say anything but Nathan felt his blood boil with the desire to toy with her more. Fighting with a spirited person was so much fun.

He felt a nudge in his side and turned to his brother again. "I know, I know." He shrugged. "Have fun with your swimming, I'm only out here to see the sights. I've seen the pool now." He turned from the gathered group and felt the desire to throw one more thing out. "Oh, and Bitch? I can't wait to see you around again. Don't disappoint me."

He couldn't tell her that she had a title now and that meant that he was quite pleased with her actions. He really liked sassy women, women that didn't sit around and allow other people to push them around. But honestly, he was violent, and violent women were the only women he could stand. Weepy, tearful, delicate... ahh, not so much. A girl with a gun or knife in her hand, now that got the blood running.

"Nathan!" Nik hissed, "Could you stop it for even a few hours?" Nathan shook his head.

"I don't think so," he said honestly as he headed out.

"I'm sorry," Nik said, loud enough this time for others to hear him. "He's just..." he drifted off, not saying anything for a few minutes, then finished with, "angry."

"Where are you two going?" Taco asked, looking interested in their endeavors.

"Well, Nik still hasn't seen the stables," Nathan said, glancing at Taco. Dray had shucked his shirt and was kicking off his shoes as he walked to the pool, and Seb was outside of it all, as though uncertain about what he was going to do.

"I see," Taco said, looking at the pool, looking at the girls, and then looking back at Nik and Nathan. "Well," he turned to the girls. "You shouldn't be swimming this late at night. The pool is off limits."

"I know," The Bitch said. "We won't be here long." She had the air of someone who was trying to comfort someone while lying their ass off. Nathan was amused once again. What he wouldn't do to call her on that.

"What are you going to do anyway?" the little asian girl said. Nathan was willing to bet that she was narrowing her eyes. He wasn't waiting around to hear it all, he was ready to go.

"Come on," he said to Nik, and continued to walk off. Once they were out of hearing from the others, he leaned in and lightly kissed Nik's cheek. "I'm sorry," he whispered. He could see Nik blush.

"Don't do that," Nik protested, and Nathan shrugged.

"Why not? No one's looking."

"You don't know that, and you know I hate it when you kiss me."

"You're my brother, it's common to show affection."

"Hugs Nathan, an occasional ruffle of the hair. We're too old for kisses. Someone might think something is wrong with us."

"Something is wrong with us. We're one soul split into two bodies."

"That's not true." Nik stopped in the lawn and looked into Nathan's eyes. "Do you really believe that?"

"What? That we're one soul in two bodies? Yeah, you know I do, I always have."

"Then you shouldn't be so affectionate. A soul wouldn't do that to itself." Nathan rolled his eyes.

"Whatever. You think a person doesn't love themselves? It's the same thing."

"It isn't," Nik sighed, "I'm not arguing with you on this one again."

"Good, you know I -" there was a twig snapping, and Nathan turned to see who was following them. Seb stepped out of the shadows.

"Sorry, I... don't like to swim," he said softly, slightly hesitantly. Nathan shrugged.

"You're coming with us then?" Seb nodded. "Get closer, I don't bite your type." Seb shrugged and walked more than five feet away from them. Nathan admired the way he seemed to fit in with the tree's. Then he wondered how long Seb had been listening to them.
Nik had that exasperated feeling that always came from spending too much time with his twin. If they were one soul split in two he was fairly sure he got the sane half. He looked at Seb and smiled, glad he'd decided to come.

"I thought you'd stay by the pool," Nik observed as they continued walking, "you seemed transfixed."

Seb shook his head, "It was beautiful but I don't want to swim." There was a deception of some sort in that, at least Nik thought so. Just after he said but, the pause was a tiny bit too long as if he had to consider what he wanted to say next.

"I thought it was breathtaking," Nik agreed. "Did you notice the way the moonlight reflected off the water in places?"

"Aren't we supposed to be sneaking around?" Nathan asked sharply, "Maybe you could shut up for a bit." Nik heard the edge in his voice and interpreted it immediately. For some reason whenever he started getting along too well with someone Nathan would find some excuse to prevent him from making friends. Nathan trusted no one to be a good enough friend for Nik. Nik sighed and glanced at Seb who was looking around at their surroundings with interest.

Behind them came the sound of rapid footsteps and accelerated breathing. "Told them," Taco took a deep breath, "to be," another deep breath, "careful." He looked like he needed a long sit down, or maybe even a nap.

"Are you alright?" Nik went over immediately and putting a hand on Taco's shoulder. He couldn't imagine what might have gotten Taco into such a state.

"He's fine." That was Nathan, and Nik didn't figure Nathan was really an authority on whether Taco was alright or not, but Taco nodded.

"Fine, just..." he grinned, "I thought I'd show you the stables like I said I would." He was catching his breath now and looking a bit better. Nik still couldn't imagine what had exhausted him so thoroughly.

"Did they get caught swimming?"

Taco shook his head. Seb was wandering ahead, looking at the sky more than the ground. He was moving slowly, gazing intently into the star filled blackness. Nik looked up as well. Honestly he'd never seen so many stars flickering in the night sky. He allowed his hand to fall from Taco's shoulder finally.

"The sky out here is amazing," Nik said, still caught up in it.

"It looks like a sky Nik," Nathan said briskly.

Nik laughed softly. "No, you wouldn't see it would you."

"It's because there aren't any lights," Taco explained, also looking up. "We aren't near any big cities so the sky seems closer somehow. When I first came here I used to... we'd better get going."

Nik's eyes snapped to Taco, then he looked all around them for any sign of danger. He didn't see anyone else out on the grounds. Why had Taco stopped so abruptly?

"Lead on then," Nik said with a smile, and he followed closely as Taco resumed the quiet steady pace they'd held before. Nik wasn't as jumpy as he had been. There was something about the stars, the night sky and the boys around him, who he was already thinking of as friends, that made him feel even more safe than Nathan alone could. He felt like he was in a place of wonder and magic, a feeling he held close. Such feelings were so rare, one couldn't afford to let them slip past unremembered.
The water of the pool was glassy and black, it's mirored surface shattered, sending pale white cobwebs skittering across like the threads on a loom. It was so thick and cold and black that the heat radiating out of her was almost tangible, and Tally splayed out her fingers to send them dancing over the water as she tread water. Her bra was casually tossed over the bench, and instead she wore a scarf as a halter neck bikini, something that dray had been overly appreciative of. So she had shut down the lights. The stars, reflecting in the blackness and yet seeming to cut through into it's murky depths, glimmered through the glass roof. Jackie floated somewhere near the centre of the pool, her eyes absorbing he cosmos voraciously. currents left over from the others' movements undulated slowly across the water so that she seemed to toss like a battered raft on the lulling waves after a storm. Silence reigned, although drips of water, irregularly placed and yet endlessly repetitive, cut through the blackness.

Tally began to swim towards the side. They had been in the water for the best part of twenty minutes, and yet the sky was...overpowering them. The swim was restful, if not exciting. Placing her darkened nails onto the side of the pool, she began to heave herself out. Water dripping in beads down her body, she reached for a shirt, possibly dray's or her own, it was hard to tell in the dark, and buried her face into the warm cotton.

In hushed tones, Cassie's voice echoed around the room. "Wait, do you hear something?"

The sound of water spraying replied as Dray, idly paddling on his back in the shadows, lifted his head. Indeed, a light and some voices could be seen through the glass house walls of the pool complex. The circle of white danced around as it's shadowy possessor moved over the uneven ground, definitely headed towards them. "Nah, it's probably thosse other....guys." he finished, somewhat lamely. Tally stretched her neck, tilting her head to one side as though cocking her ears like a spaniel. Voices could be heard, but they were definitely not the dulcet tones of the boys.

"Two words.." Jackie countered. "Smoking. Patrol."

"they didn't have a torch anyway," Cassie noted in a somewhat absent manner.

"Mobiles?" Tally enquired.

"Nah. that's far too bright, and round. Definitely a torch chica." Dray noted, now standing waste deep in water as he craned his neck to catch a glimpse.

A silence felll over them. Nobody really cared if they were caught but...it was the principle of the thing. Teachers were born to be outwited. Jackie voiced as much in a few words and the others remained in silent agreement. "So....woods?" cassie murmured.

"It would seem we have to.....<not retreat but> put on any clothes you can find.

A few minutes later, thanks to the lock picking abilities of their group, they sat on a grassy roundabout of mottled white tree stumps, pitted with cigarette burns and worn smooth by hundreds of students. A stream could be heard gurgling over mossy rocks and slipping, twinkling and unseen over the debris of the woodland. The clearing, encircled by a large gorse bush which had a myriad of hard beaten paths leading from various hidden entrances, was silent, save for the occasional crunching of autumnal leaves and hushed chatter of other sixth formers as they passed by, completely obscured, on the other side of the thick branches. Under the bowed and smooth branch of an old sycamore tree was a pile of ash caused by cigarette buts and campfires - the students worked on the basis that you put them out, and then dumped them in the pile, since hopefully the ash wouldn't burn. Even so, butts and tin foil littered the clearing, trampled hard into the mud so that molehills and rabbit warrens seamed to gleam silver in the moonlight. The clearing was not big, could fit maybe ten people, and yet it was a sanctuary. Someone had even left a kindly and rather broken old broom for sweeping away tracks.

They had begun talking about the rather banal topic of subjects.

"italian, russian, french, art, history, philosophy." Tally murmured. "And I got into that critical thinking class"

"So...fuck it...7 as levels? That's fucked man."

"And general studies. But russian's not. Thats..." she paused and seemed to shrug, huddling into the jacket she was sharing with jackie in return for letting her bum a fag to get a nicotine fix. "it's a Spare thing. Not examined."

A rustling could be heard as seb pushed his way through the bush. Followng him came Nik, Nathan and Taco. Taco seemed to falter as he viewed the despondant scene before him. It was as though his prefect senses were being hastily switched off.

A steady drawl came from Nathan's mouth. Tally glanced up and studied the small patch of stubble now appearing on his face. She had almost forgotten that it was already tommorow morning. "well lets see. If it isn't the bitch again."

The insult, or title, as it were, seemed half hearted as Nathan let his eyes drift towards his brother, now stumbling around, grabbing a cigarette from the packet proffered, and sitting on an empty tree trunk. Nathan moved as if to join his twin.

"Oh dear, I'll have to think up a more appropriate name for you my good sir." Sparks of electricity flew between them, and yet beneath her calculated mirth Tally felt the cold rush of jealousy as he, quickly ducking to the right, sat on the seat next to nik. What was interesting was that they didn't share, one or other was definitely pissed off.

"MGS...sounds like an infectious disease." someone murmured. It could have been seb, although she doubted it as he moved to take the seat in between Her and jackie, and Nick.

"Well we can't have that. I'll just call you Dasha."

A barely muffled snort was emmited, although arguably it could have been a distorted "..the fuck?" Taco wrinkled his nose at the fumes of the cigarette.

"these don't smell of death sticks they smell of..."

"cloves?" cassie offered, as though trying to end speculation quickly so that she could enjoy the last of tally's packet.

"yeah."

"clear your throat too" tally muttered. " good for colds. Albeit still full of wonderful Nicoteney goodness." She stared down in the moonlight at the mark of her old lipstick on the filter. She hadn't smoked crude for years. "Makes your clothes smell nice too."

It was a somewhat despondant topic, but everyone was tired. After more brief words they fell into a comfortable silence, only broken up by glares between one or more parties. The glares didn't make it akward, because in their way they were....admiring. Ha. Try explaining that one.

"We locked smoking patrol in the pool" Dray offered as a new topic of conversation. A few more murmurs. The silence enveloped them like a comfortable cocoon.

"Anyone got any tats?"

"Stingray" Tally murmured into the darkness, barely glancing up as she studied the moon's rays filtering like snowfall through the surrounding foliage. She thought she heard the rustling of a small animal.

"where" Nik piped up, catching her eyes with is soft nutmeg brown ones. It was almost diffusing and perturbing how deep his eyes went into hers.

"Now that, that would be telling."

"Made it up bitch?" Nathan added, smirking.

"I hardly feel like a strip tease in this weather. Stupid fluctuating bloody british...She turned to face him. Besides, that would require me dropping a few more clothes than i care too for a secont time this night."

An owls hoot broke the silence. she lifted her head like a snake, watching its prey with one eye open.... It was a few hours until sunrise.
 

         What am I? Out of my mind? Taco asked himself as he led the others across campus. I don't break the rules! And I don't even like horses!

         "Hey," he said quietly as he leaned around a building to check to see if the coast was clear. "If anyone sees us, let me do the talking, okay?"

         "Why?" Was that Nik or Nathan? He couldn't tell.

         "Because I can at least try and keep us out of trouble. And don't run," he added. "That only looks suspicious."

         "Sure, dude," shrugged Dray.

         "Are we going, or are we going to skulk here all night?" Okay, that one was definitely Nathan so the earlier question had to be Nik.

         Taco frowned, but hurried on. I can't believe I'm doing this! he thought yet again as he pointed out the different buildings of the quadrangle, the gym and track in the distance, and the trail through the smallish wood that the students called a forest that led towards the stables.

         "I guess we'll go to the pool first seeing as it's closer."

         Seb wasn't the only one who sighed when they reached the pool. Taco stepped out to the edge, looking across and down, and sighed a little sigh of regret. He used to swim, he used to do a lot of things. He looked at the others.

         "This is the pool," he said needlessly, just to break the silence. "It's twenty-five feet or something I think ..." Taco shrugged and turned his back to the water, stepping away slightly about to urge the others on when a gang of girls stepped inside, led by the fork-stabbing girl, whatshername, Talitha.

         "Oi! What are you doing here?!"

         Taco started, his heart beating a sudden quick rythym and he turned from them to steady himself. He listened to the arguments, scowling, but too busy at the moment to interject. Then the twins started to move; Taco caught their reflection in the water.

         "Where are you two going?" His gaze slid sideways to Dray who was starting to undress. Oh, no, really, this was going too far! He took a deep breath.

         "Well," he turned to the girls. "You shouldn't be swimming this late at night. The pool is off limits."

         "I know," said Talitha. "We won't be here long."

         Taco started to reply, but Jackie interrupted with, "What are you going to do anyway?"

         Taco flushed, grateful for the weird light and his naturally tanned skin. He ignored Nik and Nathan who were walking away, and Seb who followed, to actually step towards the girls.

         "I can give you demerits," he said.

         They looked at each other and laughed.

         "And I can turn on the alarms." That shut them up. Even Dray paused. "I turned them off, I can easily turn them back on."

         Talitha scowled back at Taco. Then she shrugged and shook her hair back. "So what if you do? You'll get in trouble, too."

         Taco could feel his heart rate and blood pressure sky-rocketing. He was going to have a fit if he didn't get out of here soon. He really didn't have the time to argue. "You think I care about that?" he snapped. "Who're the teachers going to believe, you or me?"

         "C'mon, dude," said Dray unexpectedly. "I've been swimming practically since I was born. I cin watch over these ladies. No one'll get hurt."

         Talitha changed her tactics immediately, smiling engagingly at him. Taco frowned. He was breathing harder, he hated confrontations, and this was an unexpectedly simple solution, one that would keep everyone reasonably happy.

         "Fine," he snapped. He checked his watch, it was just after two. "But only a half-hour, got it? I'll be back then to turn the alarms back on and I want you all gone. Got it?"

         "Sure, dude," said Dray soothingly. The girls nodded silently.

         "Okay," well, the decision was made, for good or bad. He stopped again after a few steps. "Just ... just be careful!"

         "No problemo, dude."

         Stepping outside, Taco looked around. Where were those trouble-making twins? Blast! He shouldn't have let them out of his sight! Where would they -- oh, right, stables! Nathan had said something about stables. He walked as quickly as he dared along that path, cursing the dark and the trees. How did they get so far ahead already? Fast-walk, fast-walk, don't run, don't be stupid, don't make this any harder than it al -- there they are!

         He slowed down with relief, panting with more than exertion as he saw the three boys standing silently on the hill, talking. They all turned towards him as he trudged to join them.

         "Told them," Taco said, panting, "to be," another deep breath, "careful." He smiled, hoping he didn't look as bad as he felt, but, no, from Nik's concern (that was Nik, right?), he must not be succeeding.

         "... Fine," Taco assured him, blushing madly and glad again for the dark. "Just ... I thought I'd show you the stables like I said I would." While he was slowly bringing his breathing under control, his heart rate was another matter. He shrugged nonchalantly, but loathe to break contact with the nice twin.

         "Did they get caught swimming?" Nik asked, and Taco had to wonder if he ever thought of himself first.

         He shook his head at the question, wondering too if he was being too nice for the first night of school, and questioning his decision, but ... then again, to be outside on a night like this ... with boys who might be friends ... Seb got it, Taco just had to look at the delight on his face as he stared around. This place was magical, and healing to the soul. He sighed softly.

         Nik moved away and Taco saw that he'd been caught up in the magic, too. "The sky out here is amazing."

         Rubbing his shoulder where Nik had touched him, Taco looked up at the stars himself and smiled softly. "It's because there aren't any lights. We aren't near any big cities so the sky seems closer somehow. When I first came here I used to --" He stopped himself, alarmed that this place and these people and the events so far had all conspired together to get so far under his guard. He shook himself ruthlessly. "We'd better get going."

         "This way," he pointed down the path and took the lead, not looking back to see if they followed, too angry with himself to speak again until they arrived at the stables.

         On the other side of the woods, the land opened up into sprawling meadows. There was the main barn, a U-shaped contraption housing about four dozen horses, of varying temperaments, the stable manager's building, with the feed and tack rooms, and miscelaneous horsey equipment, the covered riding ring, the haybarn, and the miles and miles of fencing around paddocks, outdoor school, jumping ring, and other bits that Taco had to wrack his brain to remember what they were.

         "Let's see inside!" chirped Nik, glancing at him hopefully.

         Taco shrugged. "Sure, just leave the double-latched door closed. You disturb 'Fisto and we'll have Helen out here and our butts in detention faster than you can spit."

         "Who?" asked Seb, his voice floating over in the dark as they walked towards the stables.

         Taco pointed at one of the stalls in the inside ring, where the double doors were both closed. "Mephisto. That's Helen's horse, he's mean, and I'm not just saying that."

         "They named a horse Mephisto?" drawled Nathan.

         "Yeah, why?"

         The other three boys looked at each other and laughed. Taco trailed along behind them and wiped his sweaty face with the back of his jacket. He was tired! Too much excitement. He was going to have to get back soon. He dropped down to sit on an overturned feedbucket next to the furthest stall, watching the others, but making no move to join them. He leaned back and closed his eyes.

         "Taco?"

         And jerked upright again, heart thumping, and smacking his head. "Ouch!"

         Nik had snatched his hand away, as startled as Taco was. "Are you okay? You don't look so good."

         "Fine," snapped Taco. "Are you guys done yet?"

         Taco pushed back the guilt he felt at taking out his temper on Nik and frowned at the other two boys. Seb nodded and Nathan shrugged, his eyes glittering dangerously.

         "So, shown you the pool and the stables, are you happy? Can we go now? I need to get back and run off the others, too."

         Nik eased back into Nathan's protective shadow while Taco heaved himself to his feet. He wiped his face again, it was too cold to be sweating so much, he definitely needed to rest. He'd done more walking, what with getting everyone settled and then the trip out here, than he usually did in a week, he really shouldn't have done this ....

         "Then by all means," and Nathan's voice had an angry, sarcastic overtone, "if you so desperately need to be a goody-good, let's go back to the pool."

         Taco glared at Nathan, too tired to bother with being polite. "Fine." He started at a fairly brisk pace, for himself, but gradually his steps slowed again and his chest heaved with the effort to keep moving, glad for once that he was far enough separated from the others that they couldn't hear his gasping.

         "Hey, lights!" said Seb as they reached the other side of the woods.

         "Patrol!" Taco hissed at them. He swore, that's just what they needed! If they should notice that the alarms were off ... but no, they seemed content only with shining their torches through the windows, the four teachers laughing and talking to each other, as certain as Taco had been that all their new students were secure in bed their first night.

         "We can't go back that way," Taco told the others as the patrol came towards them. He pointed. "Go that way, stay in the trees. We'll circle back to the pool the back way."

         He directed their small group towards the smoking circle, the place where other degenerates often hung out between and sometimes during classes. Taco had never been, he wasn't considered cool enough for that particular clique, not that he'd ever much cared. He much preferred to hang out in the music hall, and smoking was just stupid, as well as dangerously bad for his health. But they went that way anyway, no one would be there and there was a hidden way back to the pool.

         Taco trailed behind the rest, loosening his shirt, and leaning briefly against a couple of trees to catch his breath. When he stumbled into the clearing, though, he thought he might have a fit right there. Talitha, Jackie, Cassie, and Dray sat around on the rocks, logs, and tree roots, at their ease and smoking. He sat down because it seemed expected, and, truthfully, because he needed to, his legs were shaking. He dropped his face into his hands and wondered just how things had gone so horribly, terribly wrong.

         He felt somewhat better after a moment and sat up, wrinkling his nose at the cigarettes. "These don't smell of death sticks they smell of --"

         "Cloves?" Cassie interrupted and Taco frowned at her. "Yeah."

         Talitha said something but Taco waved at the air in front of him with a grimace and settled for huddling the closer under his jacket, his sweat cooling as he continued to sit there, giving him a chill.

         "Look," he said finally, standing too fast. He closed his eyes briefly against the nausea as he swayed a little. "I'm not going to sit around here all night. If you want to, be my guest. After I lock up the pool, I'm going back to the dorms. I need to at least check in before someone thinks to check up on me. Don't forget there's classes tomorrow. Morning bells come at six-thirty, breakfast at seven, classes at eight."

         Turning, he strode with as much haste as he could muster away from there. He leaned on the doors of the pool after re-setting the alarms, then set off back across campus, keeping on alert in case the patrol should happen by again. He tripped on his own feet, once, twice, then sat down abruptly in the grass of the quad, suddenly just too flipping tired. He breathed loudly and hard, alone in the quiet, his heart pounding irregularly, the depression that normally rooted at the back of his mind sliding forward to cast everything in a pall. He was an idiot for coming out here tonight, he should have just sent them back to their rooms, the whole lot of them! Fuck. F--

         "Taco! You okay?" A small form slid down the slight hill next to him, to touch him cautiously on the shoulder.

         Taco whirled, with what began as a startled shout of surprise turning into a half-choking, half-wheezing sound as his heart leaped into his throat. He jumped, heart pounding so fast it was making him dizzy.

         "Nik!" he gasped, seeing the shapes that must be Nathan and the hulking form of at least Dray behind him.

         "I'm sorry," said Nik instantly, recoiling with a flinch. "I just ...."

         "Fu ... [wheeze-gasp] ... Fuck!" Taco muttered. He could get air in but he was having trouble getting it back out. He shivered, struggling for each breath, counting them, blinking with blurry eyes at his watch, but he couldn't hold his hands steady to push the backlight.

         "Dude, this some kinda asthma attack or somethin'?" That was definitely Dray from out of the dark, Taco couldn't tell, the world was spinning too much.

         "Sh ... it!" he wheezed. Too much, too much! He couldn't concentrate, he was losing it! He started to slide sideways, felt someone's arms grab him. Taco's breath came faster now, he was gasping harder, like a fish out of water. Not good, not good! I can't be doing this right now!

         "What's going on?" asked a feminine voice and there were suddenly more people.

         Taco fumbled, reaching inside his jacket pockets with hands that didn't want to obey him. He couldn't find his phone! Where was it? Where ...! His mind screamed at him, making him even more frantic with every pasing second. He knew he was going to pass out, he just ... had ... to get that phone!

         He wanted to tell the others not to worry, to go away, but he'd already passed the possibility of even partial conversation. He couldn't even summon the energy to be embarrassed. He could only gasp and struggle to stay conscious, at least long enough ... Finally! He grabbed the phone in a sweaty hand. His fingers found the buttons automatically, but he was really shaking bad now, it took all his effort to just push the call. The others' faces swam in and out of focus and he was dimly aware of them speaking to him, but then he was going ....

         Nathan picked up the cell phone. It was a simple device, designed for outgoing calls only and a hidious shade of green. There were four buttons, each color-coded but not numbered, a speaker and microphone, a jack for a power cable, and that was it. The whole thing was no bigger than his palm. He held it to his ear; the phone was ringing.

         "What's wrong with him?" asked Seb.

         "Looks like an asthma attack," suggested Dray.

         "Asthma?" echoed Tally, "That doesn't look like asthma to me."

         Nik pressed a hand to Taco's face. Even in the bad light, he looked white as a sheet. He was sweating, apparently, but his skin was cold to the touch. "This isn't good."

         "Taco?" that was a woman's voice on the other end.

         "Um, hello?" said Nathan cautiously.

         There was a pause, and then the voice came back, "Young man, this had better be an emergency and not some kind of prank."

         "Um ...." For once Nathan was rendered momentarily speechless.

         "Where is Taco? Is he conscious?"

         "No, he just passed out. He's having trouble breathing."

         The woman cursed. "Okay. Stay where you are. We'll be there in a minute."

         "I'd guess that was the nurse," said Nathan with a frown, lowering the phone. "She's on her way, and some others, I guess."

         "Whoa, dude," said Dray, "should we be here, then?"

         "Look!" hissed Jackie, pointing, "That patrol is coming back!"

         Sure enough, the bobbing light of torches showed a small group of four adults, running in their direction, nameless, faceless in the distance and the dark.

         "What d'we do?" asked Nik, staring at his brother.

         "Whatever's going on, he knew to call for help," said Talitha practically. "We should all get out of here."

         Nathan shrugged, of a mind to agree, but Nik's wordless appeal kept him from saying the words out loud. He sighed, irritated. "You guys should go, beat it back to the dorms. Me and Nik'll stay, they'd probably be able to tell it was me, since there's some kinda homing beacon in this thing."

         They hesitated a bit longer, and then Dray cocked his head. "There's someone else coming," he said, "That way."

         The only other avenue of escape led between two of the other buildings. "Come on," said Talitha. She started to jog, followed, one by one by the others. As the last of them disappeared around a corner, the two groups of adults converged on the three boys.

         One was an older woman, hair still in curlers, and an overcoat thrown hastily over her nightgown. She staggered along with a metallic case held awkwardly in her hands and dropped to Taco's side instantly, pulling him out of Niks grasp and laying him back against the grass. One of the other teachers pulled the two boys away and another dropped to the nurse's side to hold up his torch so she could see.

         Nik pulled at the grip on his arm, trying to see. He got a glimpse of a long and ugly scar as the nurse opened Taco's shirt, but then was yanked back, Nathan cursing on the other side.

         "You boys have a lot of explaining to do," said a thin-faced man in spectacles, frowning at them in the ring of torch-light.

         "For christ's sake, Jim, shut up!" snapped the nurse. She had her case open, glaring up at them all. She pulled out a mask and fastened that to Taco's face. Then she started adjusting dials on the little oxygen tank inside, her fingers moving quickly but surely. Taking Taco's wrist in her hand, she counted his pulse, shaking her head slightly. She pulled out a syringe, bit off the protective plastic cap, and plunged the needle into a vein. Again she checked the pulse, pulled open an eye to check the dilation, and, a minute or two later, sighed in relief. Taco's breathing was leveling out, slowing, coming back under control.

         "Is he going to be okay?" asked Nik.

         "What happened to him?" asked Nathan, almost at the same time.

         The school nurse held her hand out for the phone Nathan still held, considering them all in silence for a moment. "Taco has ... a medical condition." She frowned at them now. "He knows better than to stress his system. Just what was going on?"

         "Er," said Nathan, "He was giving us a tour."

         "At ..." she checked her watch, "... nearly three o'clock in the morning?"

         "Is there a better time?"

         She frowned again and turned her attention back to Taco, slipping the phone back into the pocket of his jacket and bundling that around him. At her gesture, one of the teachers picked Taco up, careful of the mask he still wore. Turning back to Nik and Nathan she shook her finger at them.

         "You boys are damned lucky," she said.

         "Miz Alice," the man in spectacles started.

         "Mr. Gilbert," she snapped, "there's been quite enough alarm for one night. The boys should be in bed. I'll talk to the headmaster myself tomorrow."

         "But --"

         "I'm sure there will be adequate punishment. In the morning." She turned away. "Right, Mr. Fallon, to my office, then."

         In a few minutes she was gone, leaving Nik and Nathan standing amongst three other teachers, with varying degrees of irritation, amusement, and concern on their faces.

         "Right," said one. He pointed towards the dorms. "Bed. Now."

Had he died? That was the only question running through her mind and it looked like it was the same question in Jackie's head too. Talitha's face was inscrutible. The cool air had made her cold and she was still shivering even now as they dashed back to their rooms.

The girl's boarding house was opposite the boys and she could see their shadow forms creeping along the side of the building. Or at least she told herself she could see them... It was more likely that she was imagining it thanks to the breath of air swishing the arms of branches to make life like shadows. The door was unlocked, a little foolish in her oppinion and they scurried to their corridor.

"Night." Jackie was the first to vanish into her door with the sound of air gushing through it as it closed behind them.

Cassi could see her room, saw the door and the way she had left it slightly ajar and sighed with relief. She was safe now and she couldn't wait to climb into bed and pretend this hadn't happened. Everything had been going so well until that moment when Taco had left. She was fairly certain she wouldn't have glared quite so hard if she had known he was sick. After all that was like kicking a man when he was down…You just didn't do it. The door was there, she pushed it open, collapsed onto her red and white striped coverlet and sighed outwards loudly.

Sitting on those stumpy logs, she had felt so content. The wafting scent of cloves and smoke had reminded her of her gran's house in York. The old woman had been batty as anything and smoked like a chimney but she had always smelt nice like a fresh field or like those cigs. Rolling on to her stomach she felt the food move and groan inside her before it settled. Was he dead? Was he just ill? Well she knew he was ill… That much was obvious. The others had been happy too she was sure…

Nik and Nathan were characters though she wasn't sure which she liked more… They were taking the blame for them. She shivered. She hated feeling as if she was indebted to someone, anyone, for that matter. She scowled. Normally so detached, this had shocked her… One night of frivolity and this happens… Dray had been happy, mooching along… Seb had seemed to relax around them, if not open up, the cigarette had dangled from his lips in an unconsciously beautiful manner. It was hard to describe. Talitha and Jackie… Well she had felt alright with them, almost friendly towards them. She was sure they would have to stick together… And Taco had seemed okay until the end. She scowled, rolling on to her side and feeling the sleepiness rising up behind her eyelids, he had better be alright or she'd really give him a scare.

*

The bell rang at 0629 on the dot, voices echoed along the halls behind her head and Cassi let out a plaintive moan at the obnoxiously uncaring voices. She felt like she had been hit in the head with a pickaxe, her mouth was dry and tasted stale in its stickiness. Light burst through her senses as someone flung open the door to her quiet, dark cavern and she rolled over to face the wall, pulling the duvet up over her head.

"Yes we all know the first day is the hardest but it's time to get up." There came a sneering voice from the general direction of her desk.

The door swung open again and feebly she groaned, peeking out from her safe zone to see Talitha perched on her desk with hipflask in manicured hand and Jackie just entering, dress in full uniform regalia.

"Jeez did you even change after last night? It smells of-" Jackie tailed off when she saw that Cassi had curled up even tighter and Tally was taking a sip of gin before breakfast.

They murmured to each other or a few minutes, low enough for her to forget their presence and she began to drop of again. Sleeping was so good… Three hours and a little bit wasn't enough. Cold barraged her senses, the duvet whisked away by the hands of a professional. Jackie grinned from the foot of her bed as Cassi howled, curling up into a foetal position on her coverless bed. The rompers were still on.

"You really didn't change." Talitha drawled out a slightly humoured retort that made Cassi feel embarrassed through the fog of sleep.

"We ought to get to breakfast. See if we can find the guys. Find out what happened."

Cassi sat up, hair tumbling down over her shoulders in enviously untangled waves and groaned, "Bugger."

"You could say that." Tally smirked, standing, stretching in that gracefully feline manner that was distinctly hers and pocketing the hipflask, "Hurry up and dress, will you darling. I'm in dire need of some coffee, especially if I can expect not to be able to match it with a good dose of nicki."

"Nicki?" She batted the sleep dust from her eyes, still dusting out the cobwebs from her head, "Oh… Nicotine."

"Quite. We'll be back in five to pick you up."

She watched, reproachfully gazing after them as they left the room.

It was 0635.
Sebastian didn't bother going to sleep. He knew he could run on adrenaline and caffeine for the most part of the next day and if he pushed himself he could keep on going like that. So he was curled up in a overly large hoodie, gazing out across the horizon, waiting for the stars, already fading, to be swamped completely and meld into a new day… He was trying to forget the way Taco had slumped to the floor. All of them who had gone to the stables, had shared a little piece of something he couldn't put a name to and it hurt to think that the same stars which had watched their misdemeanours had also watched as they bullied a sick boy into doing something he didn't want to do. At first he had been mad at Taco for being weak, then angry at himself for being so selfish and then he had settled into his seat that looked up to the sky… And he let his musings float aside.

He had always had to stand up for himself. Make himself louder and more obnoxious and vicious than he really was, simply because that was a defence mechanism. It was impossible to go through life otherwise. He hadn't bothered here, letting the softness of the night dampen his reflexes; the sweet tasting cigarettes had soothed him and settled the peace in his blood… For that evening he had let himself just move with the world, being so close to nature and feeling so balanced within it… Moments like that didn't last forever.

The sky was glowing an electric pink. Each cloud burned in the approaching dawn, catching the myriad of colours as they rose up out of the ocean. Something stirred as he watched the complex mesh of hues spread out from the horizon, it was as I he could feel them, breathe them… reach out an touch them… It was a royal procession, the wind casting aside the majestically coloured cirrus. A gentle purple filtered through the stratus of the early morning, a resplendent background to the vibrant blush of rose. Breath catching in his throat, Sebastian leant forward, pressing his forehead against the cold glass and staring. Blazing a streak of crimson shot with scarlet slashed the sky like a sparkling sword unsheathed. It parted the two worlds and then the sun crested the hills, a glorified hunter raise its standard in victory. Radiant orange, a smouldering sphere of flushed flame. A blinding white halo flickered across the high level ice as the light flickered across it and the pale sheen of violet and pink began to fade as it rode higher and higher…

A bell went. Loud and metallic, screeching through the hallways. Seb jerked out of his reverie, nearly slipping off his perch. He didn't want to eat. He hated breakfast. But he knew that he needed to go… to appease the teachers if not to find out what was going on with the others. Nathan had been prepared to take the blame and Nik was standing by him… He couldn't believe that they had just taken it like that. If they were expelled… Well Nathan wouldn't care but Nik would. Nik had been like him, in awe of the lavish amounts of beauty dolled out across this place. And now he realised that he had let himself go last night in a small way… Because he hadn't hidden behind crude sayings and spiteful remarks… And someone had been hurt, unintentionally, yes, but still hurt… And he cared.

For some reason that seemed wrong.

He wasn't used to caring about other people. He looked out for himself and that was it. Not matter how small he was, how big they were… He looked out for himself. Back home they didn't have hand shakes because it was easy to get shot or stabbed that way. They carried knifes and snapped them open if insulted or wary. If you were a virgin you were bullied into remedying the crime. They never bantered just insulted and god help you if you were caught talking politely with anyone of a different race. It was a war out there and in here things had seemed at peace. There was no chance to care for someone else… Not much point if you did… So this… fretting over a boy who had barely stopped annoying most of the evening before… And worrying for the twins.

That was another thing. Why the hell had they not just run? Why had they stayed? It just wasn’t normal. But fuck normality around here.

*
The end of the table looked empty compared to the evening before. Dray's hulking form looked was made even more massive by the empty seats on either side. He was helping himself to eggs and beans and sausage and bacon as if it was the most obvious thing to do in the world. Personally he just wanted coffee. Hot, black, Robusta bean coffee with a dash of milk just to accentuate the swirling flavours. He doubted they'd have it just as he made it… no he could see that it would be an automatic coffee most likely but as long as it gave him a kick he'd be fine. The girls were up by the drinks machines to the side of the hall, the twin's weren't there yet and Taco was no where in sight.

Straightening his back he sauntered across the hall to where Talitha was filling a mug with tea, earl grey by scent, he'd have guessed, "Smells good."

"Hm… Yes I suppose." She looked up at him, her blue hair shimmering in the room's lighting, "It's the prelude to coffee."

"Oh." He didn't really know what that meant but she was already moving away to sit down. He reached for the coffee, ducking his head when a shadow loomed over him. It was only a teacher, reaching for more sugar sachets but he hadn't known that at once. He let the liquid, ochre heaven fall to the base of his mug with a small splash and the flavourful fragrance spindled through his nose and made him sigh with relief. It was proper coffee… Even if it came from a machine.

Having perfected his brew with the dash of milk he needed, he went back to the seat he'd sat in the night before, the spaces across the other side of the table all too noticeable.

"Does anyone know what happened… to them all?" He asked after a moment of silence as the others all ate. Dray looked up through a mouthful of food and shook his head the other's did nothing. It didn't surprise him so much… Even though he wasn't sure that Talitha particularly cared about what happened to Nathan, he was pretty certain they all were at least a little curious about what had occurred after they had left.

Jackie was quite suprised at herself. When the alarm went off she pulled the covers back and didn't scowl at the mirror like always. In fact, she almost looked forward to her first day - quite obviously, she wasn't the only one here with plans that didn't involve following the rules.

How refreshing.

As she and Tally walked down the stairs for a morning 'breath of fresh air', she swung herelf from the bottom rungs of the stairs above their heads, swinging her legs up into her chest and catapulting down entire flight. Tally scowled as she took a glance around the room.

"Must you do that?"

Jackie shrugged. She liked Tally, but she wasn't one to take orders quickly. "Keeps my muscles awake."

After a quick fag break and a return trip to pick up Cassi, the girls sauntered their way to breakfast, where they settled back at the end of the table they had been at before. Dray was there alone but that didn't surprise her too much.

"Does anyone know what happened... to them all?" Sebastian was just sitting down and drawing his coffee towards him.

"Panic attack." Talitha was neatly buttering toast for breakfast and didn't bother looking up.

"I thought he'd died or something," Jackie added as she leant across and stole half a piece of Dray's buttered toast. They watched each other carefully, Dray suprised she was eating his breakfast, Jackie suprised he didn't protest.

"Do you think the others will be ex- asked to leave?" Another tentative question from Sebastian. He looked like he wasn't used to asking after others.

"I a place like this? Not likely. We pay too much for that!" Jackie sounded bitter.

"He had a panic attack." Tally finished for them, "So it doesn't mean much."

They all knew it wasn't exactly the truth but let it slide. Which was when Nik and Nathan crossed the threshold. They grabbed drinks on their way over and sat down. No one said something for a moment.

"So you're going to talk to the head master?" Talitha spoke up. She would.

"Something like that," Nathan muttered, taking a sip of his drink.

"So what do we have today?" Jackie asked, as if trying to move the conversation away from awkward niceties. Swinging herself on the back legs of her chair, she brushed the tips of her fingers over her lashes to make sure her mascara was dry.

"Registration... assembly?" Sebastian read from the board at the far end of the hall, squinting to see the chalked letters.

"Oh dude. Assembly." Dray shook his head in disappointment. "That's gonna seriously bite."

"Registration, Assembly, and classes. Timetables are given out at regitsration." Nik was reading it, squinting at the board.

"Anyone know the way?" Jackie asked, catching Cassi's eye. The instant they looked away, she knew neither of them would be going to assembly.

Mornings had never been a particular passion of Talitha's, in fact, most days she leaned towards hatred in her appraisal of them. The first windy mornings of winter were her least favourite of all after the warm, heated shimmers that had greeted her in the summer months. Of course, Autumn was not the problem, but simply the mornings and the sudden transgression from welcoming warmth to the calculated cold. Today was no different, though she had stretched quite languidly before rising and realising that she would indeed be needing the thick black tights she had packed just in case of early autumnal chills. By the afternoon it would probably be back up to the August temperatures if she knew anything about the fluky weather patterns of coastal England.

Sipping at her earl grey tea she glanced over the assembled assortment of new comers to the school. That the girl's had gravitated to her annoyed her slightly. She wasn't used to be part of a small, insular group like that, not with people she barely knew or barely cared to know. Last night on the mound had been more like her usual accompaniment, a collection of boys with a few scattered girls here and there, the centre of attention for her specially scented cigarettes and her refined habit of smoking only through the holder. The rest of the breakfast seemed rather unappealing in the morning glow, probably because it was far too early to be eating… Though she helped herself to a green granny smith to boost her metabolism for the day.

Nik and Nathan were glum to look at; though Nathan was peculiarly calm if you ignored the stabbing silver fork attacking the over cooked bacon on his plate. Nik on the other hand was frowning; brows furrowed into deep dents between his eyes and causing his otherwise young face seem old. There was pathos to their situation, Nik so obviously desperate to be here, Nathan overtly against it. They had taken the blame and their dreams seemed on the edge of fragmenting like ash on a wind. She narrowed her eyes, considering them carefully, knowing that their silence was most likely to do with the deep rooted tension that was taut about their necks and slowly she realised that both were upset at the other.

"You know, when you talk to the man, you should ask to see Taco." She said, crunching down on a last piece of apple before talking. The cup of tea was almost empty, it was nearly time for coffee. She waited for them to turn to her, all of them, she was once again in the spotlight, "I don't know if you've ever been at a school such as this before, but they won't expel you, not while the bills are footed. If you express intense concern and mention frequently that 'had you known'… You'll be unlucky to get even detention."

Nathan was boring holes through her, eyes pin prick sized machines tunnelling down into her body as if digging for the truth. She sipped her tea and drained the cup before putting it down with a gentle clink. He was very much like she was, though he still had his brother. She perked an eyebrow and tipped her head back so her spine straightened out. There was no lie in her argument this time.

"We should have assembly in a minute." Cassi broke the tenuous silence with a glance at the ornately decorated grandfather clock by the doors. The painting behind the face seemed to be a miniature renaissance, perhaps in the style of Michelangelo, Talitha couldn't help but admire the peach coloured cloud formations, the lazy brush strokes that made up each of the perfect, naked bodies, the radiance conveyed through the reflection of light on the water. It was pretty. Aristocratic.

*

Cassi and Jackie had disappeared by the time she and the five boys had reached the assembly hall. Nik was nibbling on his lower lip, obviously the closer they came to their talk with the head master the more worried he was becoming. Where as Nathan had slipped into a passive mask. It didn't surprise her. They were very different after all. It equally had not been particularly unexpected that the two other girl's had decided to skive. They were not to know that the first assembly of a year was the only time it was worth going. The rows upon rows of neatly aligned, red cushioned chairs were already filling up, the clumps of people giving away friendship circles and the different year groups. She raised her chin, above the rest, glad she'd worn her brightest Chanel red and used the more than fantabulous Dior Mascara. The bland, pale faces, the preppy 'sloane' hair slopped to one side, back-combed and stuck in place with fructis, she could not help but curl her mouth in snide contempt for their uniformity. She and Freddie had used to laugh at them. She glance at the twins. Noticed that Dray was now lounging in the middle of a row on his own and Sebastian was skulking, hands in pockets as his bright eyes roved over the other inmates with barely contained disgust. Tally decided she quite liked him.

With a second glance, she walked up the aisle to a seat slightly off of them, at the other end of the same row of a bunch of girls about their age. One shot her a rather puzzled look. From the end of the row, she studied the girl's textbooks as she listened to a rather insane blond called Georgie bumble half heartedly through what she had written on what sounded to be a rather poor essay on politics in 1950s America. Her books, however looked fairly interesting, 'How Do We Know Anything', 'L'Etranger' and 'Sophie's World'… Philosophy maybe?

The wooden table at the front of the old auditorium was raised on a small stage so all could see it. It was calloused, and carved. And as the Master rose, he room fell silence, even Georgie. The man started, droning away at the front in an accent that sounded thicker than it had yesterday, heavy as if his tongue was swollen. Talitha frowned and scraped her eyes over the room again. There was no sign of Taco. Poor guy, I really did like him, if only because the slight lilt of his voice had been slightly soothing. Sure he had been irritating at times what with the whole prefect thing going on but it was almost endearing, his desire to make the school work without the loss of any limbs or sanity.

*

Assembly culminated with a round of polite applause from the students after a long winded speech about pulling together to better oneself and also the school. To her amusement she would normally have the first three lessons free on a Tuesday out of a normal six. Each lesson was fifty minutes, starting at nine with a break called 'the half' at ten-fifty and lunch at one-fifteen meaning all lessons were finished by four thirty. She stalked out, ready to maintain her distance until her timing was perfect and would make the most impact. Having dealt with the girls' response to her arrival only the day before she was fairly certain that the rumours would soon start to spread like pollen on the air and she was sure that in no time they would grow and spiral and right before they flooded into an uncontrollable hysteria, then she would make her move.

Nik and his scowling brother had disappeared after the master, two strays dogging the footsteps of a despotic master. Dray waved and said he had politics and would maybe see her at lunch. The other two girls hadn't emerged from whatever hole they had buried themselves in. Sebastian was stretching, catlike on the other side of the oak doors. He wasn't waiting for her, she could tell, but she could also see that he didn't mind if she lingered with him for a moment. Just to help those rumours egg along.

The boy was small. Smaller than she was. And thin. Thinner than was probably natural for a guy, though not exactly weak looking... which was an odd mix. He had strong shoulders, she could tell that, despite the dark folds of the uniform jacket. There was certainly something feral about him. Something distinctly sharp about his face. The keeness in his eyes, as if he were hyper aware of the little movements, the details seemed caught there.

"Walk?" She said with a long appraisal, "These people seem to think I'm still drinking gin or something."

He focused in on her and slowly nodded. The fall of his fringe obscuring the eyes that flickered over her, "That wasn't gin earlier?"

"Lime cordial. It's much more satisfying in the morning. Wakes you up."

He nodded again, "There's a river."

"I haven't seen it."

The slope of his neck, pale even in the orangey light of the hall, bent ever so slightly as he inclined his head and began to walk away. There was a sort of reverance in his every step, as if in each second he was in a perpetual state of movement, taking in eternity with each tick of the grandfather clock or the winnie the pooh wristwatch she'd had since she was three and a half. Why she felt this. She was not entirely sure. There was an agression to him also but again not towards the world. Almost agianst himself. Well, she'd make the most of this wily character before the world became her oyster.




(Stormy's Post)

Nathan heaved a sigh as he closed the door behind himself and Nik. He rolled his eyes and looked at his twin with a touch of annoyance. How on earth could he possibly control the insane urges his brother had to take care of other people? Honestly, sometimes he felt as though he needed to do something to stop his brothers urges when it came to that shit. Nik nibbled on his lip and looked at him.

“Do you think Taco is alright?” he asked softly. Nathan shrugged.

“I’m sure he’ll be fine, he’s in capable hands, isn’t he?” Nik looked sad and shrugged.

“I wish we hadn’t gone out to see the stables,” he muttered. Nathan’s spine went ridged and his eyes blazed.

“Oh, do you now?” he snarled, his temper rising. “You wish we hadn’t gone out?” Nik looked at him in surprise.

“Of course not, Taco probably wouldn’t have over extended himself if we hadn’t gone out.” Nik said it as though it was a perfectly normal fact and something that Nathan should be well aware of. Nathan’s eyes narrowed and he shook his head.

“It’s not our fault he overextended himself. If I recall, he’s a big boy, capable of making his own decisions. Am I wrong?” Nathan’s voice wasn’t rising, which was a rare thing, but also something that indicated his state of temper. He was getting very riled up.

“Nathan?” Nik said softly. “I know he’s able to make his own decisions, but still, if we hadn’t gone, he wouldn’t have been encouraged to do more than he should. It’s our fault, and I feel terribly for encouraging him –“

“Bull shit Nik,” Nathan hissed at him. “Get a grip honestly. Think about what you’re saying. Are you going to let every person’s actions become your problem? Taco’s inability to walk, to react, to do anything should be judged by Taco himself. Not by us. If you think about it, we had no idea he had any kind of medical condition, and on top of that, he should have the sense to not overdo his body. Don’t make it your fucking problem!” During his tirade, which was spoken low and dangerously, he had moved closer to Nik, and had almost pounced on him at the end. He had Nik backed up against the wall, and Nik’s eyes were wide, and somewhat scared.

“Nathan,” he said softly. “I’m not your enemy. I’m really worried about Taco.” Nathan shook his head.

“You should be worried about yourself. Taco has himself in the arms of a woman, you’re stuck here, wondering if you’re going to be kicked out for allowing yourself to get caught.” Nik lost it then, his voice just as low and dangerous as Nathan’s.

“Nathan, a man almost died tonight because you wanted to break the rules. Don’t give me that shit. I know that I like to help other people, but don’t act as though you don’t either. I know you were worried about Taco, or you’d have at least hung up the phone when Taco dialed it, not spoken into it. Don’t fuck with me.” Nathan grabbed hold of the front of Nik’s shirt.

“Stop fucking with me! How many times are you going to get us both in trouble before you think about yourself? We could be expelled over this shit, and it’s all your fault!”

“It is not, you self-centered asshole!” Nik ‘s eyes blazed and he grabbed a hold of Nathan’s shirt. “It’s your fault for taking us out. It’s your fault for not getting into the car fast enough. It’s your fault for making such a big deal out of this whole school thing. Don’t place the blame on anyone other than who it belongs to!” Nathan felt his temper get out of control. He didn’t care if he woke up the other roommates, he had lost it.

“It’s not all my fault Nik, stop fucking with me. My God, you piss me off! I can’t believe you’re going to make the trip into my fault! I was doing it for you!”

“But you shouldn’t have been doing it at all!”

“That doesn’t make it my fault that Taco got hurt!”

“And it doesn’t make it mine either!”

They stared at each other for several moments, and Nathan did the one thing he always did when thoroughly pissed at his twin. He kissed him.

He earned a slap across the face for his efforts.

“Keep your mouth away from mine Nathan,” Nik hissed. “I have no interest.” Nathan let go of Nik and shoved him roughly against the wall, backing away from him.

“Yeah, well I have no interest in you either,” Nathan said. Nik shook his head and placed his hand on the back of his skull. Nathan moved away from Nik and started stripping, dropping his clothes onto the ground in a pile. When he was completely naked, he slipped in his bed.

“Try not to kill me in your dreams Nik, I’m all you have in this world.” With that, and without waiting for Nik to get into his bed, Nathan determined to sleep. The fact that he didn’t get to sleep until much later, after Nik had gone to his bed and buried his head in his pillow didn’t mean much. He was very angry, but very worried as well.

What would tomorrow bring to him anyway?

*

(M's Post)

Nik changed into his pajamas, shaking uncontrollably, picked up Nathan’s discarded clothing and put it in the laundry hamper. He slipped into bed wishing, not for the first time, that his bed was in a separate room. He didn’t know what got into Nathan that made him behave that way, but it scared him. They were always together and maybe that wasn’t a good thing. They were brothers, not two halves of a whole as Nathan liked to believe. Sometimes, when Nathan’s eyes burned with fury as they had earlier, Nik just didn’t know what to think. It was like inside of Nathan there was a demon, completely uncontrollable.

He buried his head in his pillow, trying not to cry and not doing a very good job of it. Everything had seemed so magical for a while, now it seemed like a complete mess. What if they got expelled? What would happen when they showed up on the doorstep of their mothers’ new home. As much as he wanted his mother to want them he knew somewhere deep inside that she did not. There, he’d admitted it, but only to himself. No one else had to know that, even their mother didn’t want them.

Nik woke with a start, early in the morning, drenched in sweat. A glance at Nathan’s bed told him that Nathan was still sleeping soundly. He was sprawled, mostly out of the covers, his leg hanging over the edge of the bed. A smile played at the edge of Nik’s lips and he fought it away. He was angry damn it. There was nothing to smile about. They may very well be going home this morning. That thought took the smile away completely.

He showered and slipped his diary out of his bag, making an entry about the night before and his anxiety about Taco. He wrote about Nathan’s explosion, another entry on his brothers’ temper, and found himself reading back, trying to figure out if Nathan was getting worse or not. It was so hard to tell. They were in such a different situation than they had been.

He didn’t look up when Nathan got up, nor did he say anything when Nathan returned to get dressed.

“Are you going to write in that fucking thing all morning?” Nathan asked, his voice cold.

“I’m not writing, I’m reading,” Nik corrected.

“Whichever,” Nathan’s eyes were hard. Nik wasn’t surprised. He knew the best thing to do was ignore this and pretend everything was fine between them. He just wasn’t very good at it. What he wanted to do was check on Taco, but he knew better than to suggest it. His eyes caught on the clock.

“We’re late!” He’d had no idea so much time had passed while he’d been reading. If they didn’t hurry they might even miss breakfast. He closed the diary with a snap and slipped it away. “Let’s go.”

On the way out the door Nathan stopped and pulled a slip of paper from it.

“What is it?” Nik asked, when Nathan crumpled it and tossed it over his shoulder.

“It says the headmaster would like to see us after assembly,” Nathan replied flippantly. Nik felt the color drain out of his face then slowly return as he considered it. They wouldn’t be going to assembly if they were just getting kicked out right? On the other hand the headmaster needed to attend assembly. His stomach flipped, flopped and landed upside down.

They entered the dining hall in silence. Nik took some tea and a muffin, then sat down next to Nathan sipping the tea and wondering if he could actually eat or not. If something terrible had happened, surely someone would have said something. Taco had to be okay. He prayed that if they did get expelled Taco, at least, would be fine. That scar, it seemed the sort of thing one might have after an operation. Of course it would have had to be quite an operation. Incisions for most operations weren’t that big these days.

Nik shook his head, what did he know? It wasn’t like he knew a ton of people who’d had operations, stitches sure, but not operations. He lifted the muffin. Then he put it back down. Whatever it was, the school nurse knew about it, and Taco had her on speed dial. She’d said he had a medical condition, but that could mean anything. Whatever was wrong Taco didn’t seem to want people to know about it and that had been why he’d just kept going, when he’d known he needed to stop. Nik was sure of that much. He stared at the muffin, as if it might have some sort of answer he didn’t.

He followed the crowd of students to the assembly and sat down, trying to pay attention. He was glad that his mind tended to pick up on things whether he listened or not, because it was hard to keep track of much. His eyes kept drifting around the room from person to person. None of them were Taco. He wasn’t really surprised. Taco was probably still under the nurse’s care and he was probably doing just fine. When his eyes caught on Dray he couldn’t help wishing he could be that relaxed. If only he could just… relax.

After the assembly he and Nathan left to see the headmaster. Nik immediately asked about Taco and it had nothing to do with Talitha’s advice. He really did want to know if he was okay.

“He’s doing fine. I imagine you could drop by and see him, so long as you don’t have classes to attend when we’re done here,” the headmaster said. Nick heaved a heartfelt sigh of relief and Nathan rolled his eyes. Then they listened to a firm lecture about the rules. It was boring, but certainly no big deal and about twenty minutes later the two were out of the office.

“That wasn’t so bad,” Nik remarked, temporarily forgetting how angry he was with Nathan.

“Lucky for you,” Nathan replied.

“Right,” Nik snapped, “because you didn’t want to be here in the first place, right?” He looked away, wondering how pissed Nathan would be if he suggested looking in on Taco.

“I should have left without you,” Nathan growled softly.

“Maybe you should have,” they’d stopped now and were glaring at each other.

“What the hell is your problem?” Nathan’s eyes darkened. Nik realized they were about to fight again. It didn’t seem to matter what he did, they always ended up like this. If they were going to fight anyhow, it might as well be about something that actually mattered.

“I’m going to check on Taco,” Nik replied, turning the conversation a bit.

“Fine,” Nathan snapped, “have fun.” He turned and stormed away. Nik stared after him, feeling lonely all of a sudden.

“Stupid,” he mumbled to himself as he walked in the opposite direction, “I don’t need him around all the time. I want to be alone,” he continued softly. Why couldn’t he be away from his brother and not be sad at the same time? It was because in order to get away from Nathan he had to fight with him, that or Nathan was going off to fight with someone else. Either way, there was really nothing to be happy about.

Nik began singing softly to himself as he wandered the hallway looking for the infirmary. It took him about ten minutes to find it. That wasn’t bad for aimless wandering. He walked in and immediately saw Taco, sitting up on a bed to the right. The door was open about a foot. Nik tapped on it.

“Come in?” the questioning look on Taco’s face was replaced by a bright smile as Nik opened the door, his cheeks coloring, “oh!”

Nik smiled a bit, knowing that Taco was once again trying to pretend he was just fine. “I just wanted to make sure you were okay.”

“I’m fine,” Taco said a bit too quickly, “I don’t know what happened last night,” he laughed lightly.

Nik nodded, “I’m glad you’re fine.” He really wasn’t one to force an explanation out of someone who was unwilling. “Can I stay for a while?”

Taco nodded, though he seemed a bit reluctant and perhaps embarrassed as well. “If you want to.”

Nik sat down on the chair that was near the bed. It was probably there just for visitors. “You didn’t really want to go with us last night, did you?” he asked, certain it was true, but not sure how he knew. Maybe it was because he hadn’t really wanted to go himself. It was funny, the things Nathan could talk him into.
(Muwahahahahah! Ya'll 're stuck with a second post from me!)

Nathan stormed away from Nik, furious with his brother, with himself, with Taco, with just about everything that he could possibly be furious with. He glared at the walls he passed, he glared at the people, and he glared at the fluffy white clouds. He walked in a huff past the walls of the school, stalked past the gates and the flower beds, and he found his feet doing more than just walking, they were running.

One of the ways he used to get away from everything was to run through the different alleys and pathways around their gang's territory. He also used to see how far into enemy territory he could go before he got discovered. It was always his brother that brought out the daredevil in himself. His anger at himself, and his brother, made him go crazy. It made him do those things he was always told not to do. It made him see nothing but his anger. In his frustration he would do stupid things that would endanger himself, or others. It was the only way he felt alive.

This time, in the safety of a school secluded in the middle of nowhere, he found himself running through tree's, battling with branches and bushes in a desperate attempt to feel some kind of danger, some kind of pain, to make himself feel something other than disgust with himself for his treatment of his brother. It didn't work out quite as well as he hoped, being out here, with nothing but the wilderness, and nothing overly threatening about it, here to try to ease his anger. He threw himself on the ground, beating at it in fury until his hand started to bleed. He glanced down at it and saw the bandage he had on his hand from the fork The Bitch had dug into his hand. Something about that made him even more angry, and he ripped the bandage off, flinging it to the ground in exasperation.

A fit of panic made him dig his fingers into the holes, pulling up the scabs and making it bleed. Fuck Taco. Fuck that crazy smile he had. What the hell made him so damn important? His brother obviously thought Taco was more important than fixing his mistake with Nathan. Nathan looked at the trickles of blood and smiled at it. That was more like it. Screw Taco, he didn't care about him, he knew his brother didn't really either, he was just worried about the boy because he had collapsed in front of him. It was nothing more than that. Nathan knew better than to think that Taco was more important than him in his twin's eyes. He knew it.

He looked around, snarled, and saw a low branch of a tree. He grasped hold of it quickly and pulled himself up, swinging his legs to wrap around the branch, using the strength of his thighs to climb up the first branch. He glanced around for a brief moment, spied the next available branch and pulled himself up further. He climbed, climbed some more, and finally climbed until he couldn't climb anymore. He was high up, over twenty feet? He looked down and couldn't see the ground. Yes, this was the thrill. Somewhere where a heavy enough breeze would cause him to fall. He stared around at the tree's nearest himself, and smiled. The view from up here was breathtaking, all the colors, all the small dots that were other things on the ground. The line of blue that was a stream. People were walking along it, but he didn't care, up here, he was nothing and no one, and that suited himself fine.

What the hell was his problem? Whenever he got exceptionally angry, he always lashed out at Nik. It was as though his whole purpose was to cause problems for Nik. He yelled, screamed, and made Nik feel bad. Why the hell did he do that? Why did he needle Nik until he got angry and then get more angry with Nik for being angry when he pushed Nik there himself? Nathan sighed. He sat down on the branch and stared out at the light filtering through the soft clouds. Somehow, being up here, away from other people, no noise to distract him, he was starting to feel relaxed, somehow... calm.

And why the hell had he kissed Nik again? Nathan felt his face flush with a deep seated embarrasment. He didn't know what it was about his anger that made him do those things. He was lucky he only got a slap across the face, Nik had threatened him with knifings the last time Nathan had kissed him. Was it a possessive streak in himself that made him do that? He looked around behind himself and realized that the school, nestled in the warm cocoon of trees looked lovely from here. It relaxed him further, and he took another deep breath. He really needed to stop with the furious anger he directed at Nik. He needed to calm himself down, he needed...

He needed to apologize. That's what he needed to do. And patch things up, and apologize for... the kissing thing as well. He really needed to figure that out, and stop it. He looked down, and grasped hold of the branch he was sitting on, swinging himself down to the next branch.

The climbing was going fine, until he was at the very bottom. He hadn't worked his arms like this in a long time. Lucky for him, he only fell about five or so feet. Several more scrapes, a new hole in his uniform, and several dirt stains later, he was climbing into the school. He needed to find Nik, and apologize. The very first thing he needed to do was apologize.
 

         Taco stirred a little before coming fully awake, recognizing the droning and the annoying beeping sound as hospital equipment. He sighed, the events of the past night coming back. He'd made a spectacle of himself, that much was clear, and likely gotten everyone into trouble to boot. Blinking, he lifted his hand to stare at the iv for a second, and then massaged the skin prickling under the tape holding the sensors to his chest. The cold rubber of plastic tubing shot oxygen into his nose and he fought the urge to sneeze. This sucks. And I really, really hate those dinosaurs!

         There was one private room in the nurse's office, painted a bright, happy blue, and liberally stamped with dinosaurs, pink and purple and green and yellow. Amazing that anyone would think those horrible things would comfort a five-year-old, let alone teenagers. Taco knew that beyond him were four other beds, but they were separated by even uglier curtains, so he supposed he ought to be grateful.

         Ms. Alice came bustling in, she always seemed to know when he was awake, and she carried a full tray. She smiled and he smiled back. She wasn't a nurse at all, but a physician's assistant, and in charge of the school nurse's office. Most people still called her a nurse anyway, and she didn't mind. She was one of the coolest doctor-types Taco had ever met. She fluffed up the pillows and helped him sit up, setting out the bedtray before perching beside him.

         "Aw, oatmeal?" he asked plaintively, giving her his best pitiful look, and ignoring the pink flesh of the grapefruit staring back at him balefully.

         "Your allowed foods list is quite explicit," she reminded him with a mock scowl. "Just eat it, you need proper food to balance out the drugs. I know you're not hungry," she added, forestalling his objection, "but eat anyway. You're too thin as it is."

         He poked at the squirmy gray mass with his spoon. "Can I at least have some sugar? Or milk? Or," he grinned hopefully, "I could really go for some cheese!"

         She fastened him with a dark look. "You know your stomach can't take the lactose, and I'm not shooting you with insulin just to satisfy your sweet tooth. Eat. And then you can tell me just what on earth you thought you were doing last night."

         He made a face. "I was just trying to be friendly."

         "Taco, you have to be more careful." She sighed. "You know I have to report this to your father."

         Taco dropped the spoon he was still prodding the oatmeal with, giving her a shattered look. "Oh, no, Ms. Alice! Please don't?"

         "Taco. Taco!" She snapped her fingers in front of his face. "Breathe. Come on, calm down, that's it." She continued, "I haven't called your father yet, but he will have to be told. Getting yourself into a state won't stop that, it only makes me wonder if he may actually be right." Clearly she didn't like that idea any more than he did. "Now, you eat, then try and get some sleep. If you're good, I may even let you have some graham crackers later, the kind you like, with the honey."

         He pulled the blanket up higher and crossed his arms over his chest, ignoring the bribe. "When can I go?"

         "When I say so. Maybe this afternoon. Not like you need to go to assembly, anyway." She grinned conspiratorily for a second and then turned all nurse-y again, tapping on the tray. "Eat. Drink your juice. When I come back here in a few minutes, I want to see this tray empty."

         He turned over on his side when she'd gone, holding back the panic by counting his breaths as he'd been taught. He didn't want to hyperventilate twice in what amounted to the same day, that would be a sure ticket back to his father. Ms. Alice was going to talk to him, and he would be angry, very angry. He hadn't wanted to let Taco come back this year, his sister wasn't doing well, and, after the last operation, Taco wasn't the most healthy kid either. Still, he'd wanted to come, this place felt more like a home than his father's house, and it sure beat hospitals. Here he was allowed to act like a normal teenager, most of the time, anyway. He'd prevailed in the argument only by demanding that his father hold up his end of the bargain, the promise he'd made to Taco's mother, and the bastard had agreed, but only so far as he wasn't endangering his health, as if he really cared about that.

         Taco pushed at the thin blankets and scowled to himself. It wasn't so much that he hadn't been paying attention as that he hadn't wanted to listen. What he wanted ... Damn his father and his money!

         Someone knocked on the door.

         Taco rolled over and sat up. "Headmaster?"

         The odd old gent in his spectacles smiled down at him and pulled the one chair over to the bed.

         "I thought it would be best to talk to you here, rather than have you come by my office."

         Taco swallowed. "Okay."

         The headmaster glanced at his pocketwatch. "I have to be at assembly soon, so supposing you tell me what happened last night."

         "Um ... well ... I wanted to -- to show the boys around, Headmaster. They were so excited, I guess, um, that I got carried away."

         "Records show you were in the pool last night." Taco flushed, but the headmaster pressed on. "Do you realize how completely foolish that was?"

         "But, we didn't --"

         "If you're not going to take a care for your own safety, think of those you're supposed to be responsible for! What if something had happened to one of them? All three of you could have drowned."

         "Headmaster," called Ms. Alice, sticking her head in the door and frowning.

         He sighed and ran fingers through his silvery hair. "I'm sorry to have to do this, but I must strip you of your prefect's duties."

         "What? Oh, must you, Headmaster?"

         He shook his head, frowning slightly. "It is evident that you are not yet ready for this kind of responsibility."

         "Oh! I ...."

         "Where's your badge, Taco?"

         "Um, on my jacket. Headmaster, I'm really sorry! There wasn't -- I didn't think -- it won't happen again. I can do this!"

         "No. Let's have it, please."

         Ms. Alice went to the neat pile of clothes, extracted the badge, and handed that to the headmaster. He tucked the little wire and plastic device into his own pocket, pulling out a folded envelope and giving that to Taco. "Your schedule."

         Taco took the envelope, but he didn't open it. He already knew what his classes were.

         "You are not as healthy as when you left us this summer."

         Taco didn't know what to say to that. He shrugged.

         The headmaster gave him a small squeeze on the shoulder. "You must take better care of yourself, Taco. No more midnight wanderings, hrm?"

         "No, sir," mumbled Taco.

         "Glad to hear it. You were very lucky last night, Taco. What if those boys hadn't found your phone and called Alice? Hrm? We could have lost you."

         Taco shrugged. "It's only a matter of time, isn't it, Headmaster?"

         "Taco!" chided Ms. Alice.

         He blushed and looked down at his hands, clenched in his lap.

         "Taco, look at me."

         He looked up, as the headmaster squeezed his hands. "I can't say I know what you're going through, kiddo, but I really would like to see you graduate, okay? Once you're eighteen, your life will be your own again. Let's try to get that far, okay?"

         Taco sighed and shrugged. "Okay, Headmaster."

         "And I expect to hear no more of you refusing your meals, understood?"

         A spike of alarm. "Yes, Headmaster, I mean, no, sir. I --"

         "Very good." He rose. "I must get to assembly, then. Get some rest, Taco."

         "Good day, Headmaster," said the nurse. Then she tapped on Taco's tray imperiously. "Eat. Or I'll tell the headmaster."

         He stuck his tongue out at her, but grimaced and ate as quickly as he could. At least it wasn't one of those cardboard-like non-wheat-thingie muffins. She ruffled his hair as she took the tray away and turned out the light so he could get some sleep. Taco lay back obediantly, but although he was tired, he wasn't sleepy. But he must have slept anyway because the next thing he knew the clock said a couple hours had passed and the sounds of feet tromping by the main door must mean that assembly was over.

         He flipped on the lamp he could reach and took a look at his schedule. It was pretty much the way he'd thought it would be, except that orchestra and drama had been flipped. Orchestra was in the morning now, first period, and drama right after lunch. In between was english, math, and history, and he was repeating chemistry, which was last. He sighed.

         Ms. Alice knocked on the door to draw his attention. "You want the light on?"

         "Yes, please."

         "Sacketts or dragons?" She held up two books.

         Taco grinned. "You're the best, Ms. Alice. I'll take the western."

         He yawned his way through the first chapter. Ms. Alice had a stack of books she kept in her office, but he'd read them all. This particular one was one of his favorites, and he almost knew it by heart. He looked up again at another, more timid knock on his door. He stared for a minute, then snatched at his blankets and pulled them higher up his chest, conscious suddenly that the only thing he had on were his trainers. Oh, god, he was blushing, I am such an idiot! Wait, what's Nik saying? That is Nik, right? Right, has to be, Nathan isn't this nice.

         The first thing out of his mouth was, "I'm fine." It was a standard response and he winced inwardly at how false it sounded, but shrugged it away with a bright smile. "I don't know what happened last night."

         Nik, however, seemed to take that at face value. "I’m glad you’re fine. Can I stay for a while?"

         Surprised, Taco stared at him again before he could gather his wits. Shit! Why can't I think? He nodded and said, "If you want to." He watched as Nik sat down in the chair the headmaster had been in earlier.

         He asked, "You didn’t really want to go with us last night, did you?"

         "No, no, I did, yes, really, it was a lot of fun." He thought about smacking himself for being such a dork.

         "Seriously, it's okay, Nathan talks me into stuff all the time."

         Taco huddled a little deeper in the blankets. He knew he was blushing again and mentally told himself to knock it off, but his cheeks stubbornly refused to obey, and he'd completely lost track of his brain. "What's it like?" he blurted. "Uh, having a brother, I mean?"

         Nik blinked. "Cool, most of the time, charming and sweet sometimes, but mostly confusing and annoying. Don't you have siblings?"

         "No -- well, yes, kind of. I have a half sister and -- well, yeah, I don't know her very well."

         "Are your parents divorced?"

         "They were never married."

         "Oh." Nik pulled the conversation back on track. "Did you get in much trouble? For last night, I mean."

         Taco frowned a little. "No -- yes -- maybe, I'm not sure. What does it matter anyway?" he asked bitterly. "It was no big deal, okay? I'm fine. There's nothing wrong with me!"

         "Okay," Nik replied easily, though his eyes roved over the machines.

         Taco blushed and looked away. "I'm sorry. It's not your fault."

         "That's okay."

         "No, it's not. I got everybody in trouble and ruined your first night. I couldn't -- couldn't even -- I just ... thought it would be fun."

         "We didn't get in trouble," said Nik. "Nathan and I got a lecture, and the others didn't get in trouble at all. Honestly, with as little trouble going on as there seems to be over this, we should really bend the rules more often."

         Taco stared at him for a minute, smiled slowly, and then started to laugh.

         "Tac -- oh!" Ms. Alice stepped inside and paused abruptly. "I'll come back."

         "Thanks, Nik," grinned Taco, "you've saved me from a fate worse than death, more of that tastes-like-anything-but juice." Not to mention more pills, but he wasn't going to say that out loud. "Say! Want to hear my Darth Vader impression? Ho-purr, ho-purr, pretty good, eh?" And he giggled. Oh, my god, I'm giggling. What is wrong with me?

         Nik smiled back. "I always thought that grape kool-aide tastes like cough syrup."

         Taco laughed, though, seriously, it wasn't that funny, he just couldn't help himself. He hadn't had anyone to talk to in so long. Could it be possible that he hadn't totally ruined things last night after all? Could Nik really want to be a friend? But then where was Nathan? Weren't they always together? Weren't twins supposed to be best friends, and wasn't it really bad being the third wheel? Middle school seemed so long ago, he really couldn't remember what it was like to have real friends.

         "Taco?"

         "Yeah?"

         "Can you answer me one thing?"

         "Maybe."

         "Did you get sick because of me?"

         "What? Don't be ridiculous, I'm not sick!" He almost laughed. "Honest, Nik, you had nothing to do with it. It's just -- I'm ... fine," he repeated, hating himself. "I did too much, but nobody was forcing me, and it had nothing to do with you. Has nothing to do with you." Nik did not look convinced, and Taco let the blankets fall, blushing with embarassment, to show the vertical scar on his chest and the collection of sensors.

         He pointed. "See this?" he asked quietly. "This is what gave me problems last night." He shook his head. "I didn't pay attention to the warning signs." He tugged up the blankets again.

         Nik looked both appalled and intrigued. "What's that from?"

         "I -- it's, um," Taco drew the blankets up a little higher, wanting to toss them over his head and hide. "Don't tell anyone, okay? I don't -- I've got -- my sis --" He kept trying to lie and tell the truth at the same time. He hated being serious. Being serious meant facing up to all his problems and he didn't want to do that, that's why he kept coming back to Telos, to get away from real life for a while.

         He whispered, "I've only got one lung. Took it out last Christmas, for my sister. She's sick."

         "Wow."

         "Look, don't tell anyone, okay? I don't want to be treated any different than anyone else, any more than I already am." He was almost in tears, begging, he hadn't felt this vulnerable in a long time. "Please?"
Cassandra and Jackie were hardly there together. She decided for herself after watching the other girl as she swung up over the branch of a tree to leave her standing on the ground. They had found their timetables posted under their doors in their rooms and now whilst Jackie was happily skipping her first class, Cassi was wondering why she was wasting her free time in a wood when she could be inside and finding out more about this place. She had heard they had a library that compared to the Bodleian and she was tempted to go back and find it and screw whatever Jackie had planned. She crossed her arms, feeling the material of her clothes tighten across her back slightly. She was fairly sure that blazer jackets were never going to be the sort of thing she could accustom herself to wearing. Just as it was hard to remember how to start up a conversation that didn't revolve around the mental slaughter of an intellectual inferior.

"So why are you here? I get the impression you don't want to be here." Jackie called down from above. Her question seemed innocent enough on the surface. After all, it was true, she hardly gave off vibes of wonderment and awe like Nik did. But Cassi decided she didn't want to answer. What could she say anyway?

"My old school didn't have a sixth form." She said, coldness edging her voice as if daring the girl to ask ore questions. It wasn't exactly a lie. Her old school hadn't had a sixth form. But that wasn't why she had come here. She could have very easily gone to a school nearer her home or another boarding school in a different part of the country. Her grades were perfect.

"Oh right. Fair enough." There was a pause, the rustle of leaves, "You didn't think of dropping out of school then?"

Cassi scowled and felt a rant welling up inside of her, "Of course not! Only idiots drop out at sixteen. What skills do you have? A few GCSES and perhaps your D of E Bronze Award? You won't get anywhere with that!"

There was an even longer pause in which she heard a snort and a twig snapping, "You think?"

This time she didn't even bother to answer. She had already made her point perfectly clear. People who dropped out of school after their GSCES might as well have signed an agreement stating their desire to become traffic wardens. Of course if they went and learnt a trade it was quite another thing. But as it was, she found the idea of her, or anyone else she could imagine, foregoing further education, ridiculous. There was little to no chance of ever having a chance of purpose that way. And of course the fact that she wanted to earn a Masters Degree at university had slammed the door on any potential rebellion in that area. She would not become useless.

"I guess you do think."

There was a crunch of leaves and a laugh from behind her. Jackie had landed there, hands dirtied and uniform muddied ever so slightly. Cassi gave her a grave appraisal. There was something very unusual about this girl. She wasn't quite the same as the others. Then again, none of the people she had come across so far had been exactly normal. Taco was sick or something. Sebastian seemed as if he were slightly estranged. The twins definitely had issues, it was like dealing with a split personality. And Talitha… Could she be more aristocratic if she tried? There was an aura to that girl she wasn't even sure she liked. Dray seemed the only vaguely normal guy there. Then again… She wondered if there were some secret they were all missing out on.

That was a sentiment she felt about the whole school. Everything seemed to verge on abnormal but didn't quite cross the boundary. She had seen people looking across at each other, sharing furtive glances. Was there some mystery? Or was it her imagination?

She made to turn back towards the school. Deciding Jackie could decide for herself if she was coming. It was ridiculously chilly for the time of year. September in the city was never this cold. It must have been the open landscape or the proximity to the sea or something that was making it so bloody cold. Her nose, she knew must have turned pink, her cheeks most likely flushed. She'd look like a Christmas decoration if she wasn't careful. Jackie, surprisingly, followed, perhaps thinking alone the same lines. Her skin was reddened by the cool wind also.

*

There was a commotion in the hallway as they entered. Obviously people were still making their way to classes. She thought she saw Sebastian and Talitha, the small boy looking ruffled and angry as he pushed through the crowds. Talitha looked aloof as usual, though her eyes roamed over everyone, gliding over her as if she didn't recognise her. Then the pair were gone, swamped by the crowds. She didn't know whether to be angry or not. How could that girl be so ridiculously obsessed with this superiority complex she had? But then again, it was possible in the crowd of dully dressed students; she hadn't been able to distinguish her at all. That would make more sense.

Cassi turned towards a flight of stairs which she hadn't seen before and decided then. It didn't matter. She wasnt going to worry about it any more. Talitha didn't really matter anyway. Thus she wandered into the tunnels of the school.

Not having meant to pick up Talitha on his way out, didn't really seem to matter. She didn't press for conversation and he didn't mind that either. The halls were crowded, people rushing to lessons. He saw whispers following Talitha and smirked slightly, noticing that she revelled in it. Obviously she liked to make an entrance which was all very well and to do at the end of the day. Perhaps if he was like her and carried that aura of superiority around him like a cloak, he too would roll in the stupor each person around them seemed to fall into as she passed. Some of the girls had their eye arrowed, a few of the boys had their mouths open. Most whispered.

They followed the corridor down a flight of tairs in silence. He felt slightly wary of all the people around him, the looks that flickered from Talitha to him, were not all kind. He almost wanted to round on one of them and ask what the fuck was so interesting that they had to watch the way that they did… But he didn't… Because he didn't really want to be angry at these people. After all, this was essentially their territory, them the new kids on the block
who hadn't yet found a gang to protect them. This was just a public school version of Wycombe in a way… though he guessed any physical violence would actually have consequences…

"Oi! New girl!"

Suddenly someone was shouting, he glanced up and looked at Talitha. She wasn't smiling. She wasn't frowning. She stared ahead, indifferent.

"Woof woof! Hello!?" It was some guy, probably in upper sixth… though he wasn't sure… The boy was taller, lean and muscular, a football player maybe and he was winding his way towards Talitha, looking as if he intent on catching her
attention. Which he still hadn't received. A little demon whispered inside him, snarling as he saw the boy coming closer. How could he speak to someone like he was? That ridiculous reeting… What was this place? But Talitha still had no
reaction. He frowned and they still kept moving, the boy now planting himself in their way. Sebastian passed. Talitha was halted in her tracks by one arm.

"Hey, stop right there." The guy seemed to be forcing his joviality now, the smile flashing white teach like vampire fangs in the corridor. Most were staring, "I'm Johnny. Johnny Wayle. And you are?"

Talitha looked at him, her eyes roaming up and down him once and then again before flickering up to meet his eyes and pushing down his arm in one movement. She seemed to make for to leave without answering when his smile faltered.
Sebastian tensed. There was something to this Johnny that reminded him of feral predators lurking in the dark and waiting to pounce.

"Look, there's no need to get bitchy here. I asked for your name."

Talitha said nothing. Johnny, however, was obviously frustrated. Perhaps his whiter than white smile usually blinded the girls into talking to him. Sebastian turned so he was closer. Other people were still milling from towards their classrooms, though it was gradually dwindling and the chatter, like a
cantata of birds, faded downwards.

"For godsake! I'm trying to be nice here." His free hand clenched into a bony fist. At Talitha's passive stare, "Is there something wrong with you or do you really think that your poncy fucking airs are that superior to us?"

At that, Sebastian snapped. You didn't talk to girls or women like that. Especially complete strangers. You didn't accost someone in a hallway and demand something from them. Especially not on their first day. You didn't
insult people like that. Especially not when he was the one accompanying them. He lunged at the taller lad with a growl caught in the back of his throat. Pushing Johnny Wayle against the wall as the last stragglers vanished around
the corner of the corridor with a couple of backwards glances. Alone with Talitha as his witness, he slammed him hard into the side and put his arm heavily against his collar bone, the other hand twisted into the blue cotton
jumper.

"You don't talk to her like that." He bit out, catching his anger in his throat and replacing it with a cold sneer.

Talitha was behind him. He could feel her warmth coiling in the air next to his shoulder and he relaxed, stepping back and letting go. Johnny was glaring, "Who is this? Your bodyguard?"

Sebastian bristled and glared.

"Not very big is he."

Sebastian stiffened. He didn't much care about this boy, not if he was insulting him now. That was fine. He knew that he could deal with it just fine. Of course, he was fairly sure Tally could too, but he didn't care about that either. What had been said, had been rude. And he didn't understand why, in a place like this, people couldn't be bothered with proper manners. In High Wycombe it was different. You lived in a council flat with your elder brother and his girlfriend, or in a house with a broken gate, or a simple semi next door to the Royal Grammar. In High Wycombe, you didn't bother with pleasantries because they didn't mean anything and there wasn't the time to exchange petty
words or really come to understand someone unless it was important. Here, there was no danger, no pressure, no desperate need for unpleasant banter like this.

"My name is Talitha. And this is Sebastian. We're going for a walk."

And Talitha was moving on. Sebastian stayed a little longer, "I'm not her bodyguard. But you could afford some manners." He murmured before turning his back and pushing shoulder down, into a fresh wave of the younger years, perhaps
removes, they were about his height, so it was quite likely really.

The corridors were still emptying even as he wound his way through the hub of movement after Talitha. She still carried her regal aura but a softer expression seemed to line her face. Smiling slightly, he matched his footsteps with hers and let the remnants of his anger ebb out of him slowly, inch by inch his integrity seemed to flow back inside him and the colours about them began to brighten, the sounds flow, the air bathe him in freshness. The scent of a fruity
shampoo drifted by, a floral perfume ebbing in and out of range.

And then they were out. Out into the cool morning air, staring out across the grass and he wondered if it would be too odd to take off his shoes and socks. He did so anyway, kicking the bland black Barrettes off before peeling away one red sock and one blue stripy sock from both his feet and letting the grass poke up between his toes. He grinned, euphoric for an instant and started out across the dewy grass. The feel was like silver, dusting over his naked feet and
soothing the anxiety from his body as it did so. A curious look from Tally caught his eye but he didn't want to explain. It was so much easier to do. With each step there was magic and he picked up the pace, wanting to reach the river now, to hear the gurgle of its path as it dashed and splashed over rocks, to sit in its serenity and gaze upwards at the path it cut down from the sky. Tally, it seemed, wanted to say something though. And he pulled himself from his reverie to pay attention to her as her mouth opened once then closed and then finally pronounced words.

"You didn't have to do that, you know."

"I know."

"Why did you?"

"In a place like this… There's no excuse for being rude." How else could he explain how angry he had been at the boy's distinctly cras behaviour? It just didn't make sense… Yet she seemed to expect more, "This isn't the real world. This isn't the place to be angry." Perhaps there was something in that. He doubted it. There was very little that could explain it without him explaining a lot more.

"Where are you from?"

"High Wycombe, well... just outside… I live in Amersham-on-the-hill."

"Near Wycombe Abbey?"

"Yeah. That's on the opposite side of the Wye Valley but it's not exactly a big one so…"

"I see."

He wondered what she could see. Maybe just by telling her that, she knew why he had been angry and Johnny Wayle for his indecent outburst. He kept on going, finally pushing into the leaf strewn woods and following a little track path
towards the place he remembered from the day before. Deep down he felt as if he should ask her something now. But didn't really want to. There was something unconditionally obvious about her which suggested she was from an eclectic background albeit a wealthy one.

"I suppose we ought to be glad that you didn't stab him then. Knowing you're from Wycombe." She was joking? But it wasn't funny and the temperature seemed to drop a notch.

"Yeah. Perhaps." He tried to joke back but found he couldn't muster the energy, "That's not really something to laugh over."

"Why? Have you ever-"

"Yes."

They fell into step again, silent. The trees were whispering tales of the wind to one another as they wandered through. The sing song thermals thrumming through branches and making the leaves dance down in a yellow hurricane… There was entoxication in the atmosphere. The clouds had cleared from that morning; the moon was visible still, its phantom spectre floating above the outstretched twig fingers. Crunching on the remainder of an acorn, a squirrel darted up into
the alcoves above them as they trespassed into its green and yellow world. He had admitted too much… Did she think him a killer?

"It wasn't fatal. But it meant I got away."

"You were attacked?"

"It's Wycombe and I dress different."

Why he was telling her this of all people, he didn't know. He didn't much like her, really. But he didn't much dislike her either. So maybe that was alright. And softly the tinkle of water brushed over his ears and he sped up and he
pushed back a branch from the overgrown pathway and revealed behind was the swirling stream that had traced a track down from the hills on the horizon. He let his eyes trace up to the sky, dropping down to the damp, grassy bank and
stared, caught up in the azure blue.

"So what about you? You not an alcoholic snob?" The insult was playful as a smile crept over his face and his eyes glazed, flickering into a different world.

“Only when it amuses me to be so.”

“Oh.”

There wasn’t really very much to say. Or at least Seb didn’t think so. She knew he’d stabbed someone and that it hadn’t killed the guy. He knew she wasn’t an alcoholic and only a snob when it took her flight of fancy. He let himself be lulled into the light song of the river and watched the lazy clouds in their luxurious stroll across the otherwise blue skies. She was saying something to him. But it didn’t make sense. Something about earlier. But the trees had caught his attention.

“I will fight. But sometimes all I do is watch the sky…”
Nathan walked into the school, looking at everyone, but no one as well. His eyes scanned the area, looked in every corner, gazed
into each classroom. There was a sense of frantic desperation inside of himself, he looked around, not able to find what he was looking for. He wasn't even certain what class he should be in, if any. He didn't know what time it was, but he knew one thing.

He had to find Nik and apologize.

He gave up looking around after about fifteen minutes, and finally decided he'd have to give in, and head to the one place he didn't want his brother to be. With Taco. He could feel the anger boiling up inside of himself again, that Taco creature, he wanted to hate him. He couldn't get angry with Nik however, especially right after he'd decided to give in and apologize, but also didn't want the distraction of Taco to be there goading him. He supposed it was better to get the apology over with no matter what he was feeling, and so he walked over to the medical area, and slipped inside, keeping himself out of the sight of the nurse.

He took a look around, and found the area that looked the most private, most likely only the best for the loved Taco person, stepped towards it, and listened in at the door. He could hear Nik.

"No, honestly, don't worry about it. We get into fights all the time. I guess it's a natural part of our relationship." Nathan felt himself curl up inside, a combination of anger and embarassment, why did he cause Nik so much pain anyway? Was it a defect in his character?

"I guess I see how well you two communicate, and expect that you just... well, get along. I suppose the old saying, those who love you the most hurt you the most, is true, huh?"

"I guess," Nathan sighed inwardly, Nik was smiling, there was a chance yet. "We do get a long a lot. He's... he's always been there for me. We just can't seem to spend more than a few days without arguing about something. We've always been like that." There was an "except for" in his voice, but Nik didn't elaborate. Nathan felt sure now was as good a time as any, and he opened the door, a light knock on it before he did so. Nik looked over, a small register of surprise in his face, and Taco pulled up his blanket, his face reddening a bit. Nathan moved right over to Nik, crouched so he was eye level, and took a breath, this was going to be hard.

"I'm sorry, alright?" he said, looking deeply into the mix of colors that was Nik's eyes. They seemed to be a bit blue today, must be the sweater. "I am an ass, can you accept that?" Nik sighed, gave him a small smile, and nodded.

"I suppose I have to. I'm very angry with you you know." Nathan nodded.

"I know, I deserve it." Nathan shook his head. "I just get so angry. I'm sorry I do, I'd try not to but I know that it won't matter if I try or not." He sighed, looked at Nik, and offered him a half smile. "So, you forgive me?" Nik shook his head.

"Of course I do Nathan, but next time I'm hitting you." Nathan grinned, relief flooding through himself, and nodded.

"I'd deserve it." He stood up, and looked at Taco. "So, you're not dead yet," he said lightly. Taco's face clouded over for a moment, then nodded, offering a smile to Nathan, but Nathan felt it seemed quite forced.

"Nope, not dead yet, must be doing something right." Nathan smiled back. He didn't know what was going on with Taco, but he didn't want to get too involved with it. Most likely his brother would see to it he was anyway, whether or not he wanted to be dragged into whatever was Taco's problem.

"Are you stuck here for a while?" Taco shrugged.

"Oh, probably not, you'll likely seem me around in a day. I shouldn't be stuck here for more than that. I'm fine, really." Nathan blinked at him, then shook his head.

"Alright, if you say so." He looked back at Nik, then back to Taco. There seemed to be some kind of familiarity with each other that he didn't necessarily approve of. It made him want to growl and bare his teeth, but he knew better. He certainly didn't want to cause a larger rift between himself and Nik, not when he'd just repaired it. He looked down at Nik's watch, and grimiced. "I think we have a class happening soon. We're going to have to go." He looked back at Taco, "Sorry to drag him away." Taco shook his head, and waved his hand in the direction of the door.

"It's alright, school is important. I'll see you later." Nathan nodded, and reached out a hand to his brother. Nik stared at it for a moment, before taking it, and allowing his brother to pull him up. They looked at each other and each of them grinned.

Something was very right in the world again.

Hey, maybe things wouldn't actually completely suck here.
"Look, don't tell anyone, okay? I don't want to be treated any different than anyone else, any more than I already am." Taco's voice was tinged with tears and he sounded quite vulnerable. "Please?"

Nik shook his head, "I won't tell anybody Taco. I promise I won't and I promise not to treat you any differently from anyone else."

The memory of that particular part of his conversation with Taco kept coming back to Nik. It echoed in his mind like a memory from long ago, although it had just happened earlier in the day. Nik sat outside, watching the clouds pass by and singing softly, under his breath. The song he sang was French, he didn't know what all of the words meant, but he'd always liked it. It had soft, lilting vocals that intrigued him.

Nathan had run inside to get Nik's books. Nik had forgotten them in their last classroom. It was nice to not be fighting again, though it never seemed to last very long. Talking to Taco had been nice as well.

It seemed that Nik had not been completely wrong about coming here. Maybe he could finally have some friends of his own, instead of borrowing Nathan's all the time. Of course Nathan didn't understand. Why should he? He'd always had all the friends he needed and more than he really wanted. If people didn't like Nathan they either feared him or hated him. Nik never had any of that. His sole purpose seemed to be to get in trouble and get saved from it by his brother.

The side door opened and he saw Talitha step regally into the afternoon sunlight. He'd meant to apologize to her for his brother's rude behavior, but as usual Nathan had been present every chance he'd gotten. It was hard enough to apologize for the behavior of someone who wasn't sorry, without trying to do it while they were standing right there. Nik stood and waved at her.

"Talitha," he called, then remembering that she seemed to prefer it he tried, "Tally!"

She half glanced, half glared in his direction, then her expression altered and she seemed completely neutral. She walked over to him, ignoring the fact that more than half of the students outside seemed to now be watching both of them. Nik had no idea why.

He'd noticed that Talitha had a way of drawing eyes in her direction, but he supposed that she was used to it. She had the airs of someone who'd been through this before. Nik supposed she'd been in boarding schools all her life, although he had no way of knowing if that was true or not. She seemed the sort who didn't want to blend in, and he had a feeling that she thought of herself as being far removed from other girls in this place.

Nathan thought she felt she was above everyone else. Nik supposed she did, but they knew nothing about her. Perhaps she had good reason to feel that way. The worst thing about Nathan was that Nik was pretty sure he admired Talitha. He always gave the people he admired the hardest time.

"Yes?" she stood in front of him now, and Nik stood as well.

"I just..." he always knew what he wanted to say until he was actually faced with someone, then the words seemed to melt away from him. "About Nathan, I'm sorry he keeps calling you... that is, I'm sorry he's so rude." Nik sighed, it was close enough to what he wanted to say.

"It's not your fault," Talitha said with a shrug, looking around them at the onlookers, then back to Nik. "Besides, I shouldn't have taken my fork to him like that. I sent a peace offering, don't know if it ever arrived."

Nik blinked at her, confused. "What was it?"

"Gin," she replied. Nik saw Seb walking toward the two of them.

Nik shook his head, "I think he'd have been impressed, but I'm afraid it never arrived. Perhaps the messenger drank it." He smiled at her and noticed that her eyes were a delicate grey-green. There was something about her, perhaps the way she seemed to survey the world from a higher vantage point, or the exact shape of her eyebrows, that made him think of cats. Seb seemed to be heading towards the school.

"Oh look, it's The Bitch," Nathan said, handing Nik his bag. Nik was surprised to hear him. He usually noticed his twin long before he got that close.

"Nathan, don't..." he started, but he didn't get to finish because Seb had stopped before he was past them to glare at Nathan, and he was louder than Nik.

"Don't call her that," Seb snapped. Nik blinked at him, then shook his head. He liked Seb, but he knew he was only a couple exchanges away from Nathan making him into an enemy. That was the problem with Nathan's temper.

"Are you going to make me stop?" Nathan asked with a grin. That was because, Nik knew, Nathan loved to fight. It had nothing to do with anything else really. He just wanted an opportunity to explode, and blame it on someone else. Nik shook his head, then he did the strangest thing ever.

"No!" he said loudly, this sort of argument always happened after the fact, alone with his twin, but not this time, "no, no, no," he focused his eyes on Seb. "You'll never make him stop calling her names by getting angry. I like you, and I don't want to never be able to talk to you again." Then he turned on Nathan, "And you just want to fight. I'm not forgiving you if you start another fight today Nathan! Are you listening to me?" He stared into his brothers eyes.
The air was stuffy and filled with the faint aroma of cleaning fluids. Underneath it lay hostility that was mossy and tangible, seeping in to the corridor with its musty stench and ages of old memories, memories that played like videos beneath the surface. Sparks flew between the boys as if they were motoring off each other. It was a feeling that Tally knew well, the steel of hatred pulsating through you, surrounded by fiery white bolts of affectionate protectiveness towards the other person. The tension in the air vibrated as it surrendered what little yield there was between the twins. They held each other's gaze like fencers, missing only foils. Tally had left hers in her room ready for Thursday. Although she was quite sure some rifles could be found in the clay pigeon club….

The state of wariness was rising so fast that she felt she had to intervene, before Nathan repeated her own mistakes and pissed off his brother to the point of…well, the point. Absently she let her eyes flicker over the frames of the three boys by the door to the san on the opposite wall of the corridor. Seb was a terrier; fiercely coiled, the whites of his knuckles facing her and his sharp jaw line jutting up to look at the two taller boys, challenging them. In a sharp and disjointed movement Nik's shoulders straightened, creaking with disuse like an old cupboard, his eyes glistening with emotions that swirled in angry reds as he held his stare. The twins seemed to be communicating wordlessly, and finally Nathan, his shoulders slouched, leaning against the wall sneered and turned to face her. She noted absently that they seemed disconnected.

"I suppose the shrew isn't worth it."

Shifting her weight onto her left foot, Talitha's red lips parted slowly as she contemplated a diversion, "I prefer vixen darling…or is that disdain?" She drawled. "Anyway, before we were so rudely interrupted by Lord Benedick here, we were discussing the use of 'bitch' as a term of endearment," she stepped forward unconsciously onto the ball of her right foot, as a ballerina rolling forward onto pointe, "Indeed, I know a small boy that I had to train out of it… for some reason the babysitter was getting ballsy about the whole debacle."

"Bollocks. Any child would run away from you. They're famous judges of character." Nathan snapped his gaze from his brother slowly, as though it took effort to break the scrutinizing connection between their eyes. He smirked, his eyes studying her angular features carefully.

"Actually my good sir, I hear that the boy, Luca, has been trying to escape the confines of Gloucestershire in order to visit Telos. Well… live here more likely. He spends most of his time in my room anyway. I might have to smuggle him in."

"Yeah, because that would be healthy and not at all mentally disturbing…" Nathan sneered.

"You can't say you don't know what it's like to have a brother you dunce." She snapped her gaze to Nik and caught his eye. Her mouth was frozen like that of a statue, but her eyes sparkled with hidden merriment. After a second he broke the interchange and stepped away from his brother, as if to pace an imaginary path to the other wall.

As he moved slowly like a tired dog, every movement became etched on her retina like dark shadows under tissue paper, clear and yet…undefined.  A note of bewildement entered his tone, "He's your brother?" The tension seemed to be latently dormant underneath new concerns. These seemed to be mainly involved with why Tally would have let a toddler learn how to swear.

"He adopted me. And as a wise leader should I not follow my influences wishes?"

A silence filled the corridor, which echoed only with footsteps against the industrial carpet, it's dusk pink, musty green and grey dots dancing under stilettos and brogues, creating a colour that resembled something a cat had coughed up. "It's odd…I can't quite pin down your reactions." Seb muttered almost silently after a while. Various replies reverberated between them, unspoken. Some involved cussing and accusations, some quality of opponents, and some the amount of caffeine in the bloodstream. After the short silence, filled only with the faintness of breathing and muffled foot falls, Nathan, his voice filled with mixed tones of both regions and emotions, asserted himself stonily.

"I still maintain that any creature with effective means of estimating character would flee, or face violence. Only fools and dogs can stand a bitch." He glared meaningfully at his brother as he walked to heel with him, trying to keep up with his dancing feet. Tally sensed that Nik was unwilling to let this occur. So the carefully concealed tension exposed itself again to Tally.

"Do I gather that, in your imagined majorities, one is enough for you to be satisfied in such a broad generalisation? Because if so, then I acquiesce. Because that would give an actual reason would argue that the bloody prick that accosted me earlier. Idiot appealed to be knocked against a wall by someone with an unlikely sense of chivalry. "

A look that crossed between…hey-only-I-should-get-to-do-that and humour crossed Nathan's face.

"Thinking back he should have at least been given a broken nose." Seb muttered.

"I'm surprised you let others fight your own battles." Nathan glanced at his hand. "I assumed more of a fork wielding madwoman."

"I was just gonna leave it. The guy was full of testosterone and was already wounded by my forgetfulness; I failed to remember to quake at his sex appeal. Besides… there are worthier opponents."

"Are you implying that you stake people you admire?" She didn't know who the question came from.

"No, I'm implying that I impale people who should know better, and leave idiots to do damage to themselves. To be honest, I haven't really met many gallant protectors in a while. It's always nice. Because I would have wanted to deck the guy had I not been wearing my good ring." With that, she glanced down at an irregular and bumpy silver ring. Metal shop. Year….hmm….whenever they let childlings run with soldering irons. For some reason, it always made her want to choke. She mused that she was actually getting used to having those girls around, and that perhaps they should go for a drive… One should always explore new experiences, and the girls weren't idiots like most. Who knew… maybe more. How many people could fit in a bug? As they approached the dining room to pick up coffee she hoped that they would be milling around somewhere.

Funny that. Hope, I mean.
 

         "But, Ms. Alice, I'm fine! Just tired, honest!" He gave her his puppy-dog eyes and thought he saw her soften a little. "I promise I'll go straight to bed."

         "Well," she didn't seem totally convinced. "If you also promise to try and sleep until dinner."

         "But it's only lun -- okay, okay, I promise! Can I go now?"

         She frowned as she withdrew the iv and slapped on a band-aid. "No funny business, Taco," she warned him, disconnecting each of the other sensors one by one. "Straight to your room and into bed."

         He nodded. "Okay, okay."

         "And hook up your tank."

         "Aw, Ms. Alice!"

         "I mean it. I'll come by and check on you in a couple of hours. Ah-ah, you should just be happy I'm letting you skip chemistry."

         Taco groaned. "I did fine first semester! It's only 'cause I missed all that school after Christmas ...."

         "Nevertheless, you don't want to fall behind again, so you better rest."

         "Fine, fine."

         "Do you need help getting back to your room?"

         He shook his head, then frowned as she started to object. "I'm not going to fall apart, Ms. Alice! Sheesh, I'll take the damn elevator."

         "Taco! You watch your mouth!"

         Sighing, he apologized, "Sorry, Ms. Alice."

         She gave him a long look before turning to the door. "You better behave."

         "I will, I will," he waved at her. She closed the door and Taco slid out of bed to get dressed. His legs were shaky; he held on to the bed for a minute to get his bearings, then decided to sit to pull on his pants and shirt. Forget the rest, he'd carry the jacket and his shoes, he wasn't going far. Lunch bell had already rung, so everybody should be in class again. He was really looking forward to the stash of cookies he had in his room, that would be just the thing after the whatever-it-was he'd choked down for lunch. He really had a craving for cheese, but the gingersnaps would have to do. Going to the door, he took a quick look around and scooted out of the office.

         Rarely had the dorms seemed so far! He kept a close watch on his breathing and heart rate and took several breaks, the last on the stairs. The elevator, to which he had a key, was just around the corner.

         "Hey, Taco!"

         He looked up and grinned. "Hey, Dorrie!"

         The freckled brunette waved to her two companions and trotted over. "I heard you were sick."

         He nodded. "Yeah, got all the way down and am trying to decide if it's worth it to go to class or go back to bed."

         She took in his flushed face and ragged appearance and arched an eyebrow. "Are you kidding? Why would you want to go to class when you can lounge about in bed all day? Definitely I'd go back to bed, but I would really like to talk to you about the spring musical. Got any good ideas?"

         "Actually, yes," Taco replied with a grin. "I heard this great song over the summer called 'American Pie,' and -- what? What's the look for?"

         "You. You and your preoccupation with death and dying."

         "We all die. No, no, listen, this song, I had a great idea. Small cast, maybe a dozen folks, four stories that wind around each other to tell the larger picture. I've already written a couple songs!"

         "Theme?"

         "Haven't written that yet."

         "Huh. Well, it sounds interesting, anyway. Since you've got the time, why don't I go with you back to your room and you can play me some?"

         "Shouldn't you be in class?"

         "It's only the first day. Mr. Pratchett won't care, anyway, not if we tell him tomorrow we were working on the musical."

         "True. Okay, come on."

         Dorrie hauled him to his feet and they started up the stairs together. Dorrie asked, "So who do you have in mind for the main characters?"

         "Les ... lie," huffed Taco, "except ...."

         "Yeah, she's graduated. That leaves us Marcia, Christine, and Darla's decent. Or Jerry and Martin for the boys. Of them all, Martin's the best actor, but Christine's got a better voice."

         They climbed the stairs slowly, with Dorrie thinking aloud over their actors. "I wonder," she said at one point, "if any of the new students can sing. Or act. I sure hope so! Martin's a jerk. Cute, but still a jerk."

         "Yeah," Taco agreed. "And ... Marcia ... nothing ever ... good enough."

         "You got that right. Diva if ever there was one and now with Leslie gone, she'll be even worse. You met anybody that sings, in that new group of seniors?"

         Taco shook his head. "Don't ... know."

         "There are some cute ones in that group you were sitting with last night."

         "Yeah ...."

         "Taco!"

         Startled, he stared at her. "What?"

         She leaned in to peer at him, then poked him on the shoulder. "You've got a crush on someone, don't you? Ha! You're blushing! Who? Who is it?"

         "I'm not -- I don't!" he protested, scowling, and continued up the stairs.

         "Ooh! Is it that crazy bitch? No, no, you've got to have better taste than that ... The asian girl? Ooh, I know, one of the twins! They're just your size, aren't they?" She giggled.

         "It's ... none of ... your ... business!" snapped Taco.

         Dorrie laughed. "It's gotta be true, or you'd have made some stupid joke about it by now ... Ha! I'm so going to win!"

         "Win what?" asked Taco, wondering if he really wanted to know.

         "Oh, just a little bet."

         Nope, thought Taco. I didn't want to know.

         "Hmm." To Taco's relief, Dorrie changed the subject again. "Guess we'll just have to wait until tomorrow and see if there's anybody new in class. Or choir, you talk to the choir director, hey?"

         "H-okay."

         "You know," Dorrie said as they reached Taco's room and went in, "you're not looking so hot."

         "Yeah ... yeah," muttered Taco, "people've been ... telling me that all ... day." He grinned. "If I ... promise not to -- to keel over and die ... will you let ... h-me alone?"

         "Taco!" she groaned, "Whatever," and perched on a corner of the desk. "Okay, lay it on me, this brilliant idea of yours."

         "All right ... hang on." He dumped his things on the dresser and moved to his keyboard. With a few quick movements, the sony stood ready. Taco raised his hands, then set them down to play.

         "Hey!" Dorrie exclaimed after a couple minutes. "The guy's dead, isn't he? Tac-co!"

         "What?"

         She shook her head and sighed. "The lead is dead, and the cast is all about how that affects them. Why can't you ever think of something cheerful? You're so morbid."

         "I am not."

         "This isn't 'West Side Story.' A school musical should be light-hearted, cheerful, happy. Not send people out of the auditorium crying. Why can't we just do the 'Wizard of Oz' or the 'Music Man' or something?"

         "Yeah, right. So how did you figure it out so fast?"

         She gave him a look. "We've written two plays together, Taco. Both tragedies."

         "They were not, they were disney-fied." He sniffed.

         "Yeah, well, they started off with terrible endings --"

         "They weren't 'terrible' --"

         "Okay, fine, but they were really depressing."

         "This one starts with a funeral, not ends with one. Come on, you going to tell me you didn't like the song?"

         She scowled. "Fine. What's the happy ending?"

         He grinned. "No idea, that's your forte, not mine."

         "Taco!" she swore. "I hate you."

         Laughing, Taco flipped off the keyboard. "With four different stories, there can be humor, or serious stuff, or pretty much anything you want. The star's a ghost or angel or whatever, and kinda gives a running commentary about everything. Mr. Pratchett will like that."

         "I suppose." She sighed. "Okay, fine, you write down those lyrics and we'll see if we can work out the scene, show it to Mr. Pratchett at the end of the week. If he goes for it, we'll really work it out in detail. Sound good?"

         "Sure. Adios, Dorrie."

         She waved and Taco flopped over onto the bed. He didn't bother climbing under the covers, just pulled the bedspread up around him. I guess the cookies will have to wait.

         As tired as he was, Taco expected to fall asleep immediately, but after tossing about for about fifteen minutes, he sat up again. He just wasn't sleepy. With a sigh, he slipped out of the bed and pulled out the box beneath the frame. Prepping the emergency O2 tank was the matter of only a few minutes. Finished with that, he crossed the room and slipped a book from his shelf. He eased open the cover to reveal a mail envelope, shiny with handling. Leaning against the wall, Taco tenderly pulled a letter and picture from the envelope. He held the photo.

         "One more year," he murmured. "Please, God, just let me last one more year, and then I can go home."

         In the picture stood a man and woman, grinning broadly and cradling two newborns. The woman had dark olive skin, long black hair tumbling freely to her waist in silky waves, her black eyes both happy and sad at the same time. The man beside her was much taller, with light brown-almost blonde hair, blue eyes, and a moustache. He seemed to be laughing at something off camera. The two babies were identical, wrinkled red worms in their blue blankets, but Taco imagined that they would have their father's eyes and their mother's hair. He traced their little faces with the tip of one finger and flipped the picture over to the back.

         "With all my love, Mom. Merry Christmas."

         He turned the picture back over and set it carefully on his knees before unfolding the letter. He had to be careful of the creases, the letter was very fragile from the many times he'd opened it to read it. He knew all the words by heart and scanned down to the bottom: "You will always be my greatest joy, my life, my son. amor y besos, tu madre."

         He reread the letter twice more, then set it aside, with the picture, and groped for a pen. With the book to write on, Taco flattened the remaining sheet and wrote a new wish underneath "Apply to Julliard" at the bottom. At the top of the sheet he'd written: "Things to do when I turn 18." The first thing on the list was: "Go Home." Then: "Apply for Citizenship," and "Get Adopted." One of the items was: "Babysit," followed by "Learn to Drive." He read through the rest of the short list, thinking to himself and beginning to hum.

         Then, carefully, he refolded the papers and slid them inside the envelope with the picture. He tucked everything away and slid the book back on the shelf. He leaned back against the wall with a sigh and a small smile. The tune he'd begun started to take shape behind his eyes when he closed them and after a moment he rose and sat down in front of his keyboard. He hit the record button and started to play.

         "Taco!"

         SHRONG! Taco's hands jangled on the keys.

         He gulped in a couple, quick breaths. "M -- Ms. ... Alice!"

         "I knew it!" scolded the nurse, coming all the way into the room. "Let you out of my sight for one minute and you've already undone all the good from this morning."

         "B-b-but ...!"

         "Get to bed this instant! Now, young man!"

         He flipped switches hurriedly on the instrument and clambored hastily to do Ms. Alice's bidding. Safely under the covers he shucked off his pants and shirt and dropped them to the floor as she tossed him his pajamas. In seconds he was tucked in, with the air tube firmly affixed to his nose.

         "I'll bring you supper, Taco," said Ms. Alice sternly.

         "But!"

         "You get out of that bed one more time before breakfast, other than to go to the bathroom, and I'll skin you myself." She smoothed back his hair tenderly, shaking her head as, even as she spoke, Taco's eyes slid shut. He was asleep even before she turned off the light.

         Or so she thought. Taco was up and at his keyboard again as soon as the door closed, playing back the recording and scribbling notes onto music sheets. This was to be a simple tune, a flute and oboe duet, with a bit of drums to keep the beat ... and maybe some cello for depth ... and one rousing chorus with the trumpets -- no, the french horn, yes, that would be better.

         This would be the opening song, the ghost's song and the recurring theme, for the heart of the play. Simple, but powerful, a tune that would be charged by the singer's own energy, sad when it needed to be sad, or mournful, or angry and defiant. His hands flew over the keys, switching instruments to capture the tune in his head. Yes ... yes, that was a start ....

         First, the ensemble with the quiet melody, haunting from the flute, picked up by the oboe, as the ghost sings about how he had all these great plans, these things to do in life, all these dreams. Taco played through the melody on the piano, sent it to the computer to be saved. Then the girlfriend on-stage, with the second repeat, singing we had all these plans, these goals, these dreams ... la la la ....

         Perhaps keep the stage black to begin, let the instruments play the song through, then bring up a single light, on the ghost as he sings through the first verse and chorus, then bring in the girlfriend, from offstage, then the rest of the cast, bringing up the lights slowly to reveal the setting. From there segue into the piece he'd played for Dorrie, the Denial song.

         "Mmm-hmm, mm-hmm, mm-hm-hmm-mm ... I simply refuse to believe that you're gone ...."

         The other song he'd written was what he called the Acceptance song, where the ghost understands that he really is dead, but that there's still things he can do, that he can help everyone else. What that would be would really depend on the characters Dorrie would write, but knowing her, they would be varied. The only one for certain was having to help the girlfriend come to grip with her grief and move on. Dorrie could always be counted on for a romance; that seemed to be the thing with musicals, anyway. Of course, it could be swapped; make the ghost a girl and the other the boyfriend. If Leslie were here, that'd be what they'd do.

         Then the last song found its way under Taco's fingers, its unfinished melody pushing out, wanting to be complete. Lyrics would have to wait, but the words to the chorus seemed to jump into his head. Here was where the cast sang about how happy they are now, about how everything is working out ... and the ghost has to say goodbye. His part would get smaller and smaller and he'd move out of the stagelights and into the dark. He'd move slowly away through the darkened auditorium, unheralded, forgotten, moving on. Maybe one last look back as he reached the doors, and a smile.
Dray hadn't slept, not really. The few minutes he did manage were interrupted by the the drowning dream. It started out with the perfect curl, his best dreams and worst nightmares were all about surfing. Huge and glassy blue and smooth as silk, a wave to ride forever, then it came crashing down and he was underwater, too deep to make it back up. Sometimes even that wasn't a bad dream, sometimes he could breathe the water in his sleep, but he'd woken up sweating and shaking instead. Seb wasn't there to be disturbed by him so that was good at least.

It was a night for bad dreams because he'd almost gotten someone killed, maybe had gotten someone killed. And it was his fault, never mind whose idea the expedition had been, once they'd been caught they should have gone back. Dray certainly shouldn't have gone swimming and...well, hindsight was twenty-twenty. If Taco hadn't been sick then they'd have had an adventure. They had a disaster instead, it was a common enough occurrence given the nature of adventures.

He was up and dressed before the morning bell, as soon as it rang he left the room. He thought about asking after Taco, but he didn't really know where anything was, except the dining hall...and the pool. Dray decided breakfast was the better destination. Dray worried sick was to the outside observer very similar to calm Dray, or angry Dray, or ecstatic Dray for that matter. He tried not to worry, surely if it had been serious the twins wouldn't have been back in the room and he'd heard them arguing.

Assembly was as awful as he'd thought it would be. Just sitting there without anything even remotely challenging to distract him. The twins had reappeared so they weren't expelled which meant Taco was alive. He realized he'd gone pretty much the whole morning without a word passing his lips and when he went to remedy the situation he found he didn't have a thing to say.

Dray found that, hideous as assembly had been, he was pleased enough that the classes were shorter than usual. Normally he'd have enjoyed himself. Good challenging courses, but he hadn't slept and he wasn't sure he'd have been capable of concentration with a solid eight hours behind him. He had half the instructors convinced he was a rebel and the other half that he was a retard and obviously in the wrong special school.

Dray poked his head cautiously into the nurse's office. He'd had to get directions twice but he was fairly sure he'd found the right place this time. It certainly smelled like a hospital.

Dray managed to get the location of Taco's room out of the after swearing on the graves of his ancestors and his slim hope of paradise that he wouldn't disturb that poor boy if he was sleeping or wear him out or so much as look at him cross eyed.

***


"Dude, you're pretty good," Dray said and the music cut off in a discordant tone. Dray held his hands up. "I come in peace. I knocked, but...I guess you were in the zone. Or you were ignoring me and I should get out."

Taco shook his head but didn't actually say anything right away so Dray plunged on.

"Anyway I just wanted to make sure you were still among the living, 'cause killing people is really bad for the karma. Life as slime mold can't be much fun. Point is I'm really really pathetically sorry I dragged you along."

"It's ok. I'm ok," Taco interrupted.

"I mean if I'd known you weren't feeling well, I'd have just sapped you and left you in the corner." Dray demonstrated a double fisted blow to the air at about the level of Taco's head with a grin to show he was joking. Sometimes when very large people threatened to knock others unconscious they got taken seriously. The noise Taco made was only about half horrified and the other half was laughter.

"Oh and the swimming, dude. That was so not in the plan, but all that water and then women and...like sometimes my lizard-brain just has to have a little time in charge. If it makes you feel better there was a lifeguard on duty."

"So you're not mad I got you in trouble?"

Dray laughed. "Oh man...not...Ok, first off I didn't get in trouble. Secondly I was pretty sure we got you into trouble. We'll just have to be more careful next time."
A Non-Existent User
Name: Henrietta Carlton
Age: 17
Birthday: 2nd September
Gender: Female
Hieght: 5'7

Appearance: Her eyes ar like a husky's, deep blue at the rim of the iris that shatters to sharp white before hitting the pupil. Apart from that, she has a very typical appearance. Her auburn hair is usually tied back in the typical accidental mess, a long fringe both hiding and framing her face. Her magpie-like obsession with sparkle results in frequent attempts to sneak various glittery hairclips and earrings past the ever-watchful eye of authority. She has three piercings on each ear lobe: in a line on the left and in a triangle on the right. Although slightly tall, there is nothing very striking about her figure, and liking baggy clothes she generally wears a hoodie with shorts and converses. She also has a bit of a fetish for socks and gloves, an her friends despair at the fact that she will wear knee-length stripey socks and other such oddities with her skirts or shorts.

Personality: Everyone (including most teachers) calls her Jinx, though few know the origination of the name. To them it is due to the fact that she's ridiculously clumsy and often the unintentional clown of the class. She smiles and laughs very easily, sometimes having to restrain herself from grinning at complete strangers. She's easygoing; usually the person to diffuse arguments and reach unanimous compromises. However if people turn on her she will quickly lose her head, and will wither stutter and withdraw into herself or become equally aggressive.
She has ADHD, though is medicated to the point that she seems very placated. In occasional fits of rebellion she will stop taking her pills, which results in a dramatic improvement in her art and an equally dramatic disintegration of her composure. She tends to have difficulty sleeping in this state.
Although she appears to have many friends, she doesn't really know any of them (or them her, in fact). She is known of, but that is it. Usually anyone who gets close to her will quickly get sick of the accidents and foul luck that follow them around.

History: Her mother died during labour, and so from birth she was labeled by her slightly eccentric family as a bad omen (hence the name). Whilst they tolerate her, they never really forgave her for the offence of being born, and sometimes whisper that her mother's ghost follows her still, seeking vengeance. Plagued by misfortune since she can remember, she faces life with eternal optimism.
In order to make up for fate's (and her relatives) sadistic humour she worked hard at anything and everything since childhood, taking care to have a variety of skills that might help her get out of tricky situations. As for Telos, she's been there a year now. It seemed an appropriate place for someone with a brilliant but overactive mind that hails all kinds of trouble.

*

The sun winked through the clouds, and Jinx beamed back, swinging her arms as she ambled down the pathways between trees. She felt ripples of crisp air stream past her, anticipating ringing melodies to break from her clattering footsteps any second. Alone, she brought movement to the silent afternoon.

Or not alone. Freesia Morten sauntered towards her, pointed nose held high, purpose in her dainty step.

"No lessons either?" Jinx asked, changing direction to fall in line beside the girl as she headed toward the car park. "Where you going anyway?"

Freesia raised a slender eyebrow to survey the brunette through the corner of her eye. With a swish of her silky blond hair she began to explain.

"Some...problem with the new kids. That Bitch in particular I believe. They've caused a bit of a ruckus one way or another... Johnny seems set on revenge."

By Johnny she meant her ex, Johnny Wayle. And by Bitch she could only mean the much talked of blue-haired, gin-swilling new girl. No one else could have earnt the respect necessary for Freesia to call them a bitch.

"And - you need to go to the car park - because?"

The word revenge made Jinx's shoulders twitch and fingers curl against her will. Any ombination of the vicious Johnny Wayle and the malicious Freesia Morten couldn't bode well.

"Well, it seems a few people can be found who are... not too thrilled and... oh, see for yourself" she drawled in reply. Her voice was like a hushed song, quiet enough to make people lean closer to catch her words. Every utterance was like dragging a body out of quick sand, every pause there to remind listeners that they weren't worth the effort.

Black pumps hitting the tarmac now, Jinx caught sight of a gaggle of people surrounding a green beetle, some sitting on it, others leaning against, arms draped over. And made slightly more ominous by the hockey sticks and other such they wielded casually.

A lump caught in her throat as she surveyed the scene. There was Hannah from her history class, scowling beneath her straight-cut black fringe. And there, disrespect burned into the way he spread his arms across the car and leant back into it, was Johnny Wayle.

"You're not thinking of attacking anyone right?" Jinx hissed at the other girl as they approached. The kids of Telos may hide behind a preppy exterior, but she knew from experience, they were all at the school for a reason. Somehow Johnny hear her.

"You kidding Jinx? Not worth the trouble. Just gonna smash the car up a bit. Get the message across."

His teeth shone brighter than the beetle as he grinned at her, but she was already planning how to calm the situation. In seconds strategies and careful phrasing built themselves up, knocked each other away and came together to form a convincing argument.

"Isn't that a bit primitive?" The crowd had turned to look at her now, a subtle change in her voice commanding attention. Johnny removed his arms from the car and folded them, eyes narrowed.

"Got a better suggestion?"

"Of course." She paused for the mutter that swept through the bystanders. "One with less trouble, more fun" her voice raised slightly. She could tell from the atmosphere that these people wouldn't walk away without feeling like they'd put up a fight, however underhand.

"We break into the car, drive it into the forest: she'll be looking for it for hours."

"That'll leave tracks" one person shot in.

"Not if we follow the route around the cricket pitch" another answered for her.

"And" Freesia sighed from behind her "who exactly can break into a car without the delightful reward of alerting the entire school?"

Jinx simply smiled in reply.

Across her torso was slung a bag of just about everything she could ever need, and many things she hoped she'd never need. In amongst the various objects was a tool box, with which there was little she couldn't fix or take apart.

Johnny looked at her appraisingly, and the group shuffled back to concede the bug to her. Success.

The window smashed quietly and instantly. The not-so-quiet alarm stopped seconds after she was in the car, tool kit open, seat-belt done up (carelessness wasn't an option). Grinning at a few impressed gasps from the onlookers, she continued to fiddle with wires.

But, somehow, the alarm started up again.

"Jinx - what the hell?" Hannahm yelled over the persistent wail, murmurs growing in intensity throughout the crowd.

"Hoh, shit!" she laughed in reply, hands leaping back from the dashboard. And then a series of much stronger profanity as the seatbelt refused to unlatch. She desperately pressed the button, and then tried to wriggle out, but only succeded in being pulled tighter to the chair. Beetle eats human. Adrenaline made her heart jump as she saw people scatter from the car.

"What you doing? Hurry up!" Johnny shouted in her direction.

"Hey hey, give me a penknife or something, I'm stuck," she threw back at him, but with a last deciding look he was off too, running to sanctuary whilst she awaited the fox's jaws. He may have roared something about not telling anyone, but she didn't feel like doing him any favours.

"Cowardly little rabbits" Jinx mumbled, drowned out by the piercing alarm. Why - why the hell did she not have a knife in her bag? She slumped as far down the chair as the belt would allow, stamping her feet on the floor a few times, thoroughly pissed off.


"So let me get this straight... You smash open her window, break the lock, attempt to hotwire her bug and then get stuck." Jackie had been the first to hear the alarm, though she herself had seen some of the other students as they had accumulated around the little green car from a window, half way up the stairs on the strange corridor she had been exploring. She had dashed down, expecting them to have smashed it up and for some reason wanting to protect the dinky car from being mutilated and rendered unusable. She surpposed it was for selfish reasons, hoping that if she became friends with the blue-haired, self-ostracizing Tally that she might be allowed to go into town in the thing....

Unlikely? But worth a shot. Obviously the same thing had occured to Jackie. It wasn't that they were using their 'friend' its jus that they didn't see the point in making her their enemy.

"We really ought to report this." Cassi said, rather absentmindedly flicking her hair out of her eyes as she did so, "I mean... This is illegal."

Jackie, she could tell, was holding back a smirk, "That's right. And I'm fairly certain that even if you don't get done for breaking into the vehicle, you might well be for trying to leave the grounds without permission during lessons."

The girl in the car, a girl who wasn't particularly special in any way, just looked miserably down at the half hotwired dash and mumbled something incoherent that showed off just how nervous the girl really must be. The auburn hair fell across her face, veil like, disguising the rest of her face. She had been trying to impress the others, Cassi was sure that otherwise, no one would be stupid enough to try and jack a car like this when it belonged to someone like... that. There was no alternative, logical explaination that would really suggest any reason for this girl, who really probably could just blend in with the others, to make herself known.

"Bloody badluck..." She caught those two words as they slipped the girl's tongue.

"Badluck? Or stupidity?" Jackie sneered, "I'm sure Tally will get here soon to set you free and turn off that racket. Perhaps you had better think up a better excuse."

"Perhaps if you lot hadn't all started acting like complete bitches, prancing in like you own the place, I wouldn't have needed an excuse." The girl looked up then, anger flaring up in her strangely coloured eyes, snarling.

Cassi stepped back at that, nodding to herself at the statement. It was true that they acted as if they didn't want anything to do with this place or its inhabitants. But that was because she didn't want anything to do with them. She wasn't going to pretend... Tallitha had acted as if everyone about her was one more grain of mud under her boot. But even then, it hadn't seemed so bad. For some reason... She just seemed not to care rather than consider. Therefore, she could certainly see why people may already hate her to such an extent. It was almost inevitable. It anything was inevitable.

"So why is it always the car that gets it?" Suddenly Talitha's voice cut through the reverberating alarm, a dulcet alto voice that didn't bother to raise itself above the noise, "Poor thing can only scream."

A small beep and the racket was gone and the girl was leaning on the bonnet, staring through to the girl inside, "What's your name?"

Auburn hair was pushed back by one shakey hand as the stranger focused on Tally and announced that her name was, "Henrietta..." but her friends called her "Jinx".

Tally laughed, "Well take off that seatbelt and get out. As long as you pay for the window and the lock and whatever else you've managed to mess with I'll let you off without getting you expelled alright?"

Cassi and Jackie shared a look which both could interpret as 'what the fuck' before Tally leant back and shook her head, "I was called out of my first calss for this. But I'll see you two chica's later."

Change of personality? Change of identity? Change of character? It was a completely different girl. And it scared her slightly as she saw Jinx slip out of the car and Tally wandering back up to the school. Was she schiz? It was just plain strange. Cassi couldn't help but wonder what sort of game that girl was playing...





The teacher, Proffessor Gabriel Cortez was standing at the window staring out at the dark swaying woods and the golden green sunlight that scattered across the grass and faded out towards the cliffs just visible on the edge of the horizon. It seemed very peaceful in his classroom despite the slight hum of conversation behind him from his well-trained, etudious students who were awake and buzzing with the thrum of holiday still in their veins. Papers were scattered over his desk and under it, more bluetacked to the cool stone of the walls and on the shimmering glass there were little bumble bees penned with dates beneath them 'une guepe enorme - 12/06/81' was under the biggest of these pictures. He smiled, reflection caught between the spots of pen on that same glass before he turned around.

The class dimmed the noise further and he smiled, he desired his life to be balanced, brilliant, a ballet of furthering knowledge. Depending on the day he would see his students as either Lords of Literature or crushed, impoverished writers deserving and desiring a chance at greatness. He was a handsome man of fifty-six and laughter lines about his mouth and eyes. His skin was tanned from living so long on the coast and the hot summer just past, his silvery grey hair sitting like a wild wisteria on top of his head and curling just above his large brown eyes. Expressive soft hands shushed the class to silence and there were some enthusiastic grins whirling about the classroom, his students knowing just how he worked. Some even had their own lapis lazuli on their tables just as he did in order to help him concentrate.

"Good morning." He smiled and folded his hands behind his back, "I hope you've all had a good summer and are happy to be back." It was then that the high necked shirt was noticed, for his voice was raspy and slightly cracked despite the warmth that flooded down through his eyes, "For those of you who are just starting with me this year, which should be three of you, my name is Gabriel Cortez but you can call me Proffessor, Prof, Sir, Gabriel, whatever you like so long as it isn't Gabby." He smilled again and there were a few giggles that could only be described as excited,

"Now this is an english class, one that will focus alternately on creative writing and literature, two things that should, but is sadly not, always delivered hand in hand in the study of this subject. But of course, you twelve that have elected for this are the chosen few, there are only eight more in my other class for your Year, so today, to keep you all happy, we're going to do a little writing using 'Algeria' as your prompt..." The man now stopped, dragged his eyes across the faces, picking out the faces of his old pupils and registering the new. He noticed two old girls who he had never taught before but who had been part of Mr Humphrey's class last year and a new boy, sitting at the back, leaning into the corner, watching him carefully. He smiled and finished, "I want to see what you can do."

*

Seb had arrived early to his first lesson of the day, having left Nik and Nathan to their own devices, feeling less and less safe around them and more and more wary of what they wanted and what they were about. They had seemed alright the night before but he wasn't so certain now. He had slipped in the classroom pretty much unnoticed, relishing the calm of the place, the tranquility that had lodged itself inside these four stone walls so close to the chaos of the corridor. Not wanting to disturb the pensive man in the window he had settled silently into a seat in the corner at the back, liking that he could press his forhead to the stone and feel its cool caress across his skin. The proffessor seemed quite eccentric if what the room told him was true. Messy but creatively so... Ah well... Creativity could never bloom in a tidy room. Or so he had heard someone once say.

Now he had finished talking, had given them a task and Seb had no idea what to write. He had expected... books, folders, sheets, orders to read some inane literary criticism that would take him three reads to understand. But no... He had to write a creative peice about Algeria? Having never England, or even strayed further than London before he had been sent here, he knew his knowledge would be lacking... Algeria... that was North Africa, on the coast. So maybe it was a little like Southern France? He had known a friend or two who had travelled there... So perhaps he should focus on what he knew, look at nature and imagine what it might be like in a desert country....

Cautiously, glancing up to catch sight of the teacher's turned back and the glimmer of a lapis, Seb set his pen to paper, anxiously scribbling the first few things that came to mind. Waiting to hear the call to stop, scrawling over a scrappy peice of thin, lined paper and wincing over each scratch he put through the mispelled or wrong words. For some reason he wanted this to be good... Everyone liked this man so much that they wanted to work for him, he was sure they'd put in every effort. He wanted to show him that he would work too, even if he didn't know him or like him or understand this game of his yet. And slowly his story began to emerge.

From May to September the sun always shines here... It’s settled and balanced and the clouds which streak through the cloak of cerulean blue are pushed aside with ease. It’s as if the whole world is happy with itself and there’s nothing that can blemish its contentment. From late August... things become tempramental. The sunny days become plagued with freezing nights, the likelihood of tempestuous days increases. On the coast you generally escape the fiercest summer heat, except when a hot dry sirocco from the south carries the scorch of the Sahara northwards. It’s times like that which turn the air into a shimmering heat, morphing the hot granite streets and wavering buildings into sizzling, glittering canyons. It is always far too hot to work but the blacked out shadows of men in shirts and ties as they walked, dreary and confused by the light glinting off windows and richochetting off cars. This year was full of that heat, that dangerous light from the unmoved mover, the sun.
And this year that summer heat was followed by purple storms that left the sky bruised and weeping. Moisture lingers and drowns you as you breathe. That feeling of helplessness is overpowering, there is no chance to think clearly or act desively... It’s as if the very thing that should grant you freedom from the heady heat is suffocating you and dragging you somewhere forbidden. Every time the rain cascades down the desire to carry through on any plans is thwarted... The sweating beasts sag and sigh as steam rolls out from under their heavy heat laden lives. Then they shiver and moan as the vehicles, that had dozed in the fierce glare of summer’s noon sun, are rendered useless by torrential flood waters. The birds which had frollicked in the heat now twitter and shelter in the alcoves made by windowsills. The younger people, like us, who were bronzed in the warm arms of early June and which swam in the silken sheets of the sea now settle in cafes and as their skin pales they begin to look like they’ve been living hooked up on a diet of caffeine and benzandrine.


Seb stopped at the call from the proffessor who was grinning widely, holding out his delicate fingered hands, "Yes, now pass them forward and I'll mark them and you can all start reading this, 'Suite Francaise' by Irene Nemirovsky. For all of you imagery fans you'll have a lot of fun. There's a man in there who is very much like me so do keep an eye out for him. And off you go. I'll let you out early."

There was a pause before everyone realised he was being serious and began to pack themselves up and wander out. Seb sat a moment more before doing the same, picking a copy of the book from the table at the back on his way out and nodding goodbye. Glancig at his watch, he realised he had twenty minute free before he was meant to have Art and then it was lunch... He guessed he'd just go outside and read until then... And pray that should he run into the twins he could either bring himself to apologise or that they would just pretend he wasn't such an idiot... Or maybe he'd go and see Taco... That would be a nice idea. Then he could see if he was really alright and perhaps say how sorry he was that he had played any part in making him stress out like that. With a sigh he turned away from the trek to the hall and turned back towards the boys House.

((M is writing Nik on Stormy's turn. Stormy will write Nathan on M's turn due to scheduling issues.))

Nik wanted to bury himself in a hole by the time he and Nathan were alone again.

"Why do you always have to cause trouble?" he muttered as he wandered towards the bench he'd begun on, half wishing he'd remained there singing and waiting for his brother.

"Why do you?" Nathan's flippant reply made Nik want very much to scream, but instead he thought it over.

"I didn't," Nik finally concluded.

"Didn't you? What makes you think I'd have gotten into a fight with him? He wasn't looking for one." Nathan said this, but Nik felt he had no right to do so. How could Nathan expect to be taken seriously after all the years Nik had spent watching him, learning him, knowing him?

"I don't think you would have, I know. The only way it wouldn't have happened is if he'd backed down."

"He would have."

"Don't say that like you know. We just met him. You don't know him that well. I'm sure he's seen his share of fights." Nik glanced at Nathan wondering if he was just trying to annoy him.

"I know, I can tell. He wasn't really upset with me anyhow. Something else was on his mind."

"If you say so, how can I argue. Still, you wanted to fight with him. A part of you just wants to see if he can hold his own against you." Nik looked at his twin in time to see him lick his lips. It made him even more certain he was right.

"How did you know?"

"I know you." Some days Nik felt like that was all he knew. His brother, the one thing he knew backward, forward and upside down.

"Dude," this was Dray, and Nik was pretty sure he was saying hello.

"Hi," Nik smiled at him. Nathan glared.

"Should I go?" Dray asked, evidently in response to the glare.

"No, stay," Nik replied. "What do you think of classes?"

"Dude," Dray sounded pretty impressed, "you should see the Ancient History Prof, she's all curves." Nik smiled. He had seen the Ancient History professor, but he wasn't taking the class, nor was he especially impressed by curves. What he cared about was personality. Appearances didn't seem all that important really.

"I meant the curriculum," Nik hinted. He noticed, out of the corner of his eye that Nathan was rolling his eyes. Dray gave him an odd look then nodded, as if to say he did too. Nik sighed and opened his bag. He got a full five minutes to work on his classwork before he had to head in.

"Where to?" Nathan asked.

"You got a schedule too," Nik replied. "Why don't you consult it?"

"Because I have you to lead me around," Nathan shot him a dazzling grin.

"Choir."

"Choir?"

"Choir."

"Who signed us up for choir?" Nathan glowered, his forehead creasing heavily. Nik gave him his most innocent smile.

"You left the classes to me, remember. You said to just pick them, and be quick about it." Nik watched as realization slowly hit Nathan. It was truly a beautiful sight.

"Just what did you sign us up for, besides the basics?"

"Nothing much, just choir, art and acting," Nik smiled at his brother again, but he didn't bother to try to feign innocence. He knew it wouldn't work.
((Stormy writing under M's. *phew* I made it just in time!))

Nathan looked at Nik, blinked, then shook his head. "Both of us? For choir, art and acting?" Nik's smile remained benign. Nathan glared. "You've got to be fucking kidding me, right?" Nik shook his head.

"We should go, we're going to be late." Nathan shook his head.

"No way, I'm not going to stand around and sing songs in a different language like some kind of fairy." He turned away from Nik.

"Thanks Nathan," Nik said, and Nathan shrugged.

"You asked for it. This is ridiculous, I can't honestly believe..." He rolled his eyes and remained with his back turned to Nik.

"Fine then, I'll see you later," Nik said, and he turned away from Nathan and headed out the door.

"Fine," Nathan could be stubborn. He heard Nik wait for a moment, then sigh, then leave the room. Honestly, who the hell did Nik think he was? Some kind of strange boy who liked to belt out notes for others while wearing ties that hurt the neck? He turned to the door.

"Dude, you're going to be late, aren't you?" Dray grinned at him. "Aren't you going?"

Nathan turned his glare at Dray, then shook his head, walking out the door, and bolting after his brother. "Nik!" he called, and he was glad to see he had waited just around the corner.

"Took you long enough, now we're both going to be late." Nik gave him a small smile, which Nathan returned.

"I'll just tell him, or her I guess, that I got us lost." Nathan shrugged. Nik turned from him and started walking.

"Do you take it back?"

"What?" Nathan felt his eyebrows draw together.

"The comment about fairy's." Nathan rolled his eyes.

"No, do you think I'm calling you a fairy?"

"Do I have to ask you if you're doing that?"

"Don't worry, I know you are." Nik stopped and glared at Nathan.

"I don't care if I am or not, but you shouldn't be so rude about it." Nathan shrugged.

"I don't care if I am or not either, but I can say whatever I damn well want to, can't I?" Nik looked at Nathan and a moment later color sprang to his cheeks.

"Are you saying you're..." he looked around, then leaned in to whisper to Nathan, "gay?" Nathan got a conspiratorial look in his eyes and grinned.

"Maybe." Nik rolled his eyes.

"I don't buy it," he said, then his cheeks blushed even more thoroughly. He was probably remembering the kiss Nathan had given him earlier. If Nathan had been in his shoes, he would be to. He shook his head.

"Anyway," he said, turning Nik to face the direction he had been walking in. "it doesn't matter does it?" Nik allowed himself to be guided and he took the lead again.

"I guess not," he said softly, and Nathan sighed. One hurtle done.

What Nathan wanted to know, was if he could convince people he couldn't carry a tune, and he couldn't act worth shit. Well, he supposed it was an acting dream to fool actors.
The emerald light that fell through the tree lined avenues was cool on fair skin. Echoing from the near distance, the faint voice of the choir could be heard, mingling and bouncing off several pianos' tunes as the music school became visible in Tally's line of sight. Once again, she lifted her finger to tackle a stray lock of sapphire from her eyes, feeling for a hair tie to manipulate the soft, fine hair into a neat bun at the base of her neck. A feline smile crept across the angles of her face as she closed her eyes and felt the green light bathe her face, allowing the beat of the music to wash over her.

Tally was lost in a world without loss. She was dancing again.

The soft moleskin soles of her black ballet shoes pressed against the warm blackness of the tarmac, as she approached an open glass door and entered a fairly large, modern building. Twigs crunched underfoot like old cocoons as she put pressure on the ground, climbing up the few worn steps that led into the light white corridor of the music block. She padded down the clinical cuboid in silence, ears alert to any notes that crept out from the practise rooms. Turning down through the small and compact maze of corridors, she paused and pushed open a large wooden door that led into a room whose sides were mirrored, a floor to ceiling studio window on the fourth. Leaning on this sheet of glass, a view of the manmade lake and willows, was a petite blonde russian, cigarette dangling from her lips as she swayed, eyes closed, in time to the music of Pugni.

"Pharoah's daughter?" Tally asked enquiringly as the teacher dropped her cigarette. "Isn't that a bit emotionally traumatic Mademoiselle?"

The teacher's eyes were apathetic as they glanced over her dark uniform, lips curled into their, Tally already noted, accustomed sneer.

<<So the once great ballerina does hate it here. Interesting. I like her better already.>>

Straightening her back the woman drawled, in a strong muscovite accent, "Created for best talian ballerina ever. Now for you. Go change." She gestured at one of the mirrored panels, a handle carved into it so finely that it appeared as would a secret door. Tally padded across the room, swearing in french. Not only had the difficult dances been designed for Carolina Rosati, but she was far too tired to go straight in to choreography.

"and drop ugly mud-cake shoes."

<<Stupid gin. Stupid school. Stupid headachey car alarms.>>

Tally's face crumpled as she rubbed thighs that would be aching soon, and hoped she had any rupping alcohol left for her toes in her dorm. She would need to get the pointe shoes from her pocket, no cheating like Pavlova. "Will do."

<<Fuck shit bugger>>

The room was small, dark, and filled with costumes. The smell of mothballs, powder and resin hit Tally at once, so powerfully that her own perfume, Penhaligon's bluebell, was knocked out. She shook her haid, wrinkling her nose and bending over as she stripped down to her leotard and tights uncertainly in the dark. Flexing her shoulder back, her elbow connected with the door thus sending it flying open and illuminating the room so that the dazzling pinks and moroccan blues could be seen, fantastic repros of the 1920s and 1890s. In her white tights, the blue leotard catching in the mirror against the vibrant green of legwarmers that had been slung over her right shoulder, she padded over to the general vicinity of the main door to the room, where a try of resin was placed on the springy mahogany floor.

"I expect other pupil in your second class."

"Boy or girl?" Tally murmured as she concentrated on tying ribbons around her fragiley thin legs.

"Not know. I hope boy, you must be girl. You..." the woman paused, smiling, "Could not carry pigeon. Also, I have hear your bourées like... how they say...string of pearls?"

"Merde." Tally muttered.

The teacher caught Tally's eye and, holding her gaze, Tally thought she saw amusement in the steel-spiked stare.

"You have been taught both Vaganova and Ceccheti? This is strange. Not unheard of, strange. Exams here ceccheti. You study for senior dancer now. Me? I have learn Vaganova."

The almond shaped eyes broke away from the gaze as the teacher stood in silence. Thhe break in music came, and the cd clicked into place in the sound system.

"Get on floor. We warm up.... legs crossed, in air, 24 abdominals. Then down, flat, 8 to each side. Down, crosed, 24. Down, knees bent to side, 24. Then we warm up hands, feet, do breathing excercised..."

as the teacher outlined the grueling warm up regime, Tally slipped across the floor and into position. From here, she could see through the window the choir rehearsing. She grinned as she caught sight of a few heads.

About ten minutes before the bell rang for second lesson, as she worked on different entries into the third arrabesque, Tally realised that she needed to feed Pablo. She also realised that she needed a real conversation... perhaps Cassie had or would watch Casablanca. Her back and arms in perfect alignment, she began to hold, when, in one last realisation, she realised that her foot was too low, and she hadn't given the girls the keys to lock the car up again. Whatever. They could take it for a spin. Wasn't like they were gonna crash it now.
Jackie scowled at the choir master. This being her usual facial expression, she was unaware that her face portrayed anything but a palid emptiness, and therefore was suprised when she was given a cold eyeballing in return. As the piano began to sound and the group began to sing scales and what not, she sidled over to the back where she ended up standing near The N Twins.

Having not spoken to them as such, this is how she knew them in her head. The N Twins. Not quite sure which was which, she chose to turn to the one who looked as reluctant to be there as she felt. She could see this as he was the only one who as also not singing.

"How did you end up here then?" she shouted above the racket.

"My stupid brother." He replied, tersley. Then he eyed her and realised she didn't look too pleased to be in the class either. "You?"

She shrugged and tossed her hair out of her eyes. "Signed up late, didn't I? Got stuck in all the classes that didn't have the full quota of people."

"I can't sing to save my life," the surly N twin confided. "I don't know how I'm going to stick this all year."

"I don't even know if I can sing," Jackie replied. "It's not like I've ever tried it!"

"You back there!" The choir master glared at them. "Girl, you're supposed to be in front with teh rest of the sops and altos. And you," he pointed at the N boy. "Stop shouting and start singing!"

Jackie looked desperately at the door. She turned to the N twin. "I'm Jackie."

"Nathan. This is Nik." Nik smiled as best he could around 'ah'-ing.

"Screw it." she muttered and pushed ehr way to the front.

"Are you a first soprano, second sop or alto?" The choir master barked at her, already seeing her as a trouble maker.

"I don't know," Jackie said, trying for nochalant and ending up sounding a bit like she was going to cry. She wasn't. She thought she might faint instead.

"Right then you'll just have to sing me a couple of scales."

Now she thought she might wet herself. "Now? In front of everyone?"

"Now."

So she closed her eyes and bit the bullet.


******


"I thought you said you couldn't sing," Nik said to her as they walked out of choir.

"I didn't say that, I said I didn't know if I could." She replied, annoyed. She wanted the conversation to be over.

"Well you seemed to do alright," Nathan scowled, walking backwards to face them. "I just about avoided him by sticking to this one."

Jackie saw Nik bridle at the submissive tone and groaned inwardly. She never had a family - she couldn't cope with other people's family affairs.

"Yeah, I managed it ok."

"Ok!" Nik gave her a push, and then went red. "You were actually pretty good."

"Well," she took a deep breath. Time to be friendly? She could give it a shotm despite her lack of knowing how. "It's nice to see familar faces there anyway."

Something in Nathan's demeanor changed and she didn't know what it was. And the next minute, he'd muttered a quick goodbye, grabbed his brother and hurried away. She stared in bewilderment, what had she said?

Chekcing her timetable, she saw that her next classes before lunch were: body shop, maths and gymnastics. Maths? Yuck. But body shop and Gym?? Cutting things, working with cars and doing some flips?

She grinned suddenly, spotting Cassi in teh car park. Now, this was her kind of day.



 

         Taco's first impulse was to swear. Would there be no end to the interruptions? But then he reconsidered, shocked and amazed that someone was actually checking in on him -- that wasn't an adult, anyway. First Nik, then Nathan, sorta, and now Dray. He wasn't sure whether to be amused or horrified and settled for politely confused at the things that just poured from the taller boy's lips.

         "We'll just have to be more careful next time."

         "Next time?" echoed Taco. He couldn't help the smile that lit up his face. "Really? 'Cause you know I'm no longer a prefect," his grin took on a wicked edge, "so I can't really head off any trouble should we run into any."

         Dray's grin matched Taco's. "But there's nothing to hold you back, either. Man, that's awesome."

         Taco laughed, then coughed.

         Shifting feet awkwardly, Dray asked. "You sure you're okay?" His eyes flicked around the room.

         "Yeah, yeah, fine," said Taco, deciding to act as if having an oxygen tank under his bed was no big deal. His fingers dashed across the keyboard, then he looked up at Dray. "How much did you hear?"

         The surfer shrugged lanky shoulders, giving him a puzzled look. "Not sure, but, seeing as how I was most forcibly impressed to not disturb you, shouldn't you, like, be, I dunno, ill, or something?"

         Taco rolled his eyes. "I'm fine."

         "Really?" drawled another voice and Taco's mouth fell open again. Seb stood in the entranceway, moving to stand beside Dray. His mouth was turned down in the corners in a disapproving frown. "You don't look that great to me."

         "I'm ... uh ..."

         "Seb!" cried Dray, thumping the much smaller boy on the back. "Good to see ya, dude. Say, how'd you find this place?"

         "Followed the music. Say, Taco, you should really get some headphones, if you're supposed to be in here on the sly."

         "Uh ...."

         "Which I'm gathering you are, as you're sitting around in your pjs in the middle of the afternoon."

         "Yeah!" grinned Dray. "No classes, man!"

         "Well, I," began Taco. He shook his head. "Now see here! You can't just go barging into peoples' rooms, you know --"

         Dray laughed. "Oh-ho, and here comes the little prefect again."

         Taco scowled, but Dray's laughter was infectious and he was soon laughing, too, giving into Dray's lighthearted teasing. He tugged on a sleeve. "What, you don't like the latest fashions here at Telos? We'll all have new uniforms, soon!"

         "So what are you playing?" asked Seb when they'd all stopped laughing.

         "Music for the spring musical," answered Taco cheerfully. "Say, you two don't sing, do you? Act, maybe?"

         "You write your own music?" asked Seb. "What play is it?"

         "It doesn't have a name yet, Dorrie hasn't written it yet. That's my partner, Dorothy Mills. I just do the music."

         "Dude," said Dray.

         Taco cocked his head at him, decided he didn't want to try and figure that out, and glanced at his watch. It was almost four o'clock. Wow, he'd been working longer than he'd thought. And that also explained why these two weren't in classes. He yawned.

         "So, how do you like Telos so far?" he asked, beginning to pack away his things. If Ms. Alice caught him at his keyboard again, he would be in loads of trouble. He hated leaving work in the middle of a project, but he wasn't likely to get anything more done at the moment, and he had a fair amount of notes to go through anyway.
A Non-Existent User
The sole problem occupying Jinx’s mind as she stomped away from her history lesson was – where on earth was she going to get any money from? Hannah’s glares through the lesson she could deal with. The two new girls interrogating her she could deal with. Heck, even getting caught red-handed by The Bitch herself she could deal with, but owing money? Now there she met difficulties. There was a reason her wardrobe was so simple. Not that her family lacked money – far from it. But although they were willing to pay good amounts for her to go to Telos and therefore advertise their prestige, fineries such as pocket money were out of the question.

Deciding, as she usually tended to, to let the answer come to her when it was ready, Jinx settled on going back to the car to try and estimate exactly how much she was going to have to pay for. There would be just enough time after lunch.

*
Lunchtime was a definite struggle, eyes appearing from everywhere, whispers magnified, threatening looks from the party of vandals and curious looks from those who had heard. But with perseverance she sat down in front of two new boys, an odd pairing, one being astonishingly tall and friendly looking, the other small and aloof.

“Hi, I’m Jinx, welcome to Telos. How do you like it here?” she asked, smiling at the large guy and then trying to catch the smaller one’s gaze, which he seemed to be deliberately avoiding. Eventually he looked up at her with his eyebrows raised, an expression in his oceanic eyes that essentially said “well this is what I look like, now stop it, it’s annoying.”

“Yeah, people seem to say that a lot here” The red-headed giant was saying.

“Ah right, sorry” Jinx replied, not wanting them to have to repeat their impressions.

“Dude, it’s all good. I’m Dray, this guy’s Seb”

“So why is everyone staring at you?” Seb spoke for the first time after a short pause in which they ate in silence. Jinx looked around and then shrugged her shoulders.

“Oh no, no reason, really” A suspicious look from the boy told her she should probably tell the truth or leave.

“Well, it’s a bit hard to explain; I sort of had to break into that blue-haired girl’s car to avoid a much worse disaster, and then… got stuck.” She felt her face flush even as she admitted it.

“Excuse me?” Seb’s eyebrows had raised once more, a slight warning in his voice. Oh. They were friends. She really needed to explain better.


“Well some kids were gonna smash it up for revenge or something, and I said we should just drive it into the forest ‘cos that’s not so bad right? But while I was hotwiring it the alarm went off and then my seatbelt got stuck. And these two girls turned up, and they were pretty scary, but when the girl that owned the car turned up she was actually really decent and just said I had to pay for the damage, which is really good and all ‘cept I don’t have any money” Jinx gushed in a long slur of words. Dray and Seb both stared at her for a few seconds as they mentally put spaces between her words to comprehend them.

“Your seatbelt got stuck?” Seb asked sceptically.

“Yeah, Jinx, y’know. There’s a reason that’s what everyone calls me”

“So. Who was out for revenge?”

“I… can’t say” Seb frowned at her and Jinx felt torn. She didn’t want to keep secrets from these interesting people, especially as they had been wronged. And she certainly didn’t owe any allegiance to Johnny Wayle. But she was painfully aware of the glares she had been receiving all lunchtime, and didn’t want to push her luck.

“So you need to fix the car?” Dray was unexpectedly grinning.

“Well… yeah, I’m pretty good at fixing things but I don’t have any materials or anything.”

“No, dude, this is great. I do body shop. I love auto repair! You should see the stuff they’ve got there; it’s unreal! I can get you some stuff and help you fix it.”

“Hey, I still don’t get why Tally would let you off, but I’m not about to leave you to destroy her car” Seb replied with a scowl, snuffing out Jinx’s sudden spark of hope.

“Dude the car’s toast already right? If it goes wrong we’d have had to pay for repairs anyway” Dray slapped the blond-haired boy on the back excitedly, and Seb scowled as he was nearly pushed into his lunch.

*
And so she found herself waiting at the scene of the crime, checking her watch and hoping Dray and Seb would hurry back from the workshop, having gone to see if they could use it. Dray had already had some fun with the car, though Jinx wasn’t sure if he was fixing it or making it worse. Leaning inside again, she tried to make an analysis of what he had done so far.

“What is this?” The slow drawl behind her made Jinx jump in shock, banging her head on the door frame and falling back into the car. Scrambling around she saw the two girls from earlier, one a miniature Asian pixie with a beautifully defined face, the other taller and strikingly pale with wavy sea-faring blond hair.

“Really, one would think you’d have more sense than to come back?” The blond girl crossed her arms and cocked her head to one side.

“I’m glad we decided to come check on the car. What damage were you intending to inflict this time?” The other said, contempt lacing her voice.

Jinx could almost feel her jaw preparing to break her reply into a stutter. It was the scene from earlier in the morning all over again. Freesia and the rest of them had got it all wrong. That Tally was the nice one. These two were the real demons.

Thankfully as she tried to explain that she had actually been trying to save the tiny car from the beginning, Dray and Seb arrived.

“We’re here to save the day” Dray explained charismatically, gesturing to the shiny beetle. Seb looked from the girls to where Jinx sat cowering and a grin pulled at the corners of his mouth.

“Don’t tell me these two where the ‘pretty scary’ girls from before?” He seemed to be resisting a laugh. One hand resting in his pocket and shifting his weight to one foot he pointed to them in turn.

“This is Jackie and this is Cassi. And believe me, they’re not scary” A slight grin edged its way up his face. Jackie scowled indignantly at him. Then she caught sight of Dray’s work so far on the car and sighed in exasperation.

“Oh god, I really can’t leave it like this. Let me do it.” She said, shaking her head resignedly.

Cassi was finding it all rather amusing. The way this girl was so desperate to fix the car when it was almost certain that she would just make the problem work. Of course, at first she'd been angry, thinking that this chick was being pedantic and obstinate by not graciously accepting that she had done wrong and the aforementioned punishment. But no, she was trying to help. Seb and Dray were surprising too, the giant helping the girl and the petit observing without intrusion, humour playing cross his face.

The late summer sunshine had vanished, settled into an autumnal blustering wind. She had been watching it twist in the trees in her history lesson. Wishing, not for the first time, as the young teacher tried to explain, that she had never left home. She had been jealous of Jackie who had departed for choir. But then she had almost vomited at the thought of herself singing. Now as she stood outside with these people, she didn't care at all that she was making friends slowly but surely and that she wasn't free to amble into the city. In fact, she kind of liked it.

"Pass me that screw, will you?" the girl, Jynx, called out, extending her hand behind her back whilst fiddling with something she couldn't see.

Cassi looked at the tools at their feet and watched, mildly curious as Seb handed her a tiny looking nail.

*

"I reckon this place could be full of ghosts." She told Jackie in a stage whisper as they passed another suit of armour, the wind making its empty limbs creak and twitch in its draft.

"Ha ha." Jackie shook her head and raised an eyebrow, "As if."

She had heard all about choir by this point and how the other girl had never really sung before. She was vaguely impressed. Though she wouldn't have admitted it. That Nathan was atrocious hadn't really surprised her at all. Seb had departed for Art just before they had decided to turn in as well, leaving Dray and Jynx to handle the battered vehicle. They were both looking for psycology. They were meant to be in classroom 23 with Mr Twicken... But they weren't quite sure where that was.

"They ought to give new students a map in order to navigate in this place."

Someone laughed behind them and they turned to find a boy, tall with his long, dark hair tied back, walking a few steps behind them. She felt Jackie tense and she glared. Both of them hoping to put off the stranger.

"What are you doing?" Jackie growled.

"I'm going to philosophy." He replied, fixing a crooked smile on his face as he did so and she couldn't help but dim her glare, "I couldn't help but hear your comment. I didn't mean to. But..." He made a sweeping gesture, "This place echoes a bit."

Ruefully, the two of them nodded, making to turn away.

"You're lost?"

Carefully, Cassi admitted, "A little. It's confusing."

"I know what you mean. I dont know how I ever learnt where to go." He grinned, stepping around them and making them turn, their feet automatically following, "I'm Rick, where are you headed?"

"Psycology."

He grimaced, "Yeah that's in the same area as philosophy. It's hard to find because it's in what used to be the servants quarters. All the room-twenties are there."

They nodded again. Either pretending to understand what he meant or simply agreeing, "I dare say you'll need a guide about this place for the first few days but after that it's easy."

Dimly, she wondered why the rest of the school couldn't have been like this before joining in on a new conversation.


Sebastian loved art. He loved painting and he loved feeling the creative rush that swamped him as he sank into the world running from his fingers on to paper. He loved the way it was so indefinable and raw at the same time as being contained within itself. He didn't love it so much when he found himself scrutinised by almost every set of eyes in the class. He lifted a hand in an off hand greeting, glancing around to see where there was a free seat.

Each table was pushed up against another so that people could sit around them from all angles and still be comfortable... It seemed that the old students were grouped together, circles of friends. There were a few spaces scattered about but he didn't really fancy trying to fit in to a seat which would land him in the midst of unfamiliar territory. Instead he ambled over to where there were a cluster of free seats at the end of a table with many less people.

"Hey." A couple greeted him and he smiled ever so slightly in response.

"I'm James." A boy with green, protruding eyes announced to him with a lopsided grin, "This is Alex and Gi." He said, indicating the two girls on the table, Alex was quite pretty, he mused before the boy spoke again, "And this guy's-"

"I'm Spencer." The boy interrupted, his face turning towards him. He had a pale face with heavy rimmed glasses that disguised the blue of his eyes. There was a small frown on his lips, "You're Sebastian? From English?"

He nodded, "People tend to call me Seb though." The words had come before he'd thought about who he was speaking to.

Glancing rapidly from face to face, trying to gage any reaction, he relaxed slightly. These four didn't seem the type who'd do him any harm. James, although obviously tall was skinny, the thinness of his arms giving him away. He wondered if the boy had ever done a day of sport in his life. Alex was small, slightly rounded and smiley to say the least, she hadn't stopped since he had entered the room. Gi had the same build as Tally, only her face was long and her nose slightly hooked making her seem almost crow like. Spencer was the only one who seemed at all threatening but the mischievous glimmer in his eye gave away his amicable personality. Although not exactly trusting them, he decided he'd chosen the right table to sit at.

"I can't believe you signed us up for art." Came an all too familiar voice down the hall outside.

"You were the one-"

"Yeah, yeah, I know I said you could choose."

Nik and Nathan appeared in the doorway, acting in a similar manner to how he had. Sebastian shivered slightly as Nathan's eyes caught his and he remembered their near fight earlier. Nik on the other hand, grinned and began to head over, Nathan following like a dejected puppy.

Following on from them was the teacher. A small middle aged woman, with dark hair greying around her temples but with fewer wrinkles in her skin than made sense, stepped into the room. She wasn't smiling, but she didn't seem unhappy, just pensive. Sebastian watched her carefully. Indubitably the teacher, she didn't act like one, fingers twitching as if she wanted to do something. Walking quickly to her desk, the class was still muttering, Spencer, James, Alex and Gi all introducing themselves to Nik and Nathan as Seb tuned them out.

"I'm meant to take a registration but there are 16 of you here and 17 names so I'm guessing it's just Henrietta that's late." There was a joke to the sentence which all the old pupils laughed at but which Seb, Nik and Nathan didn't really get, "So instead I'm going to start off with what I'm guessing most of your classes have started off with. A lesson of your free choice so I can get to understand what you're interested in and what you're good at."

She continued, explaining where things were, what thinngs were and then sat down in front of an easel and started to work on a painting of her own. Slowly the class moved into action. And Seb had an idea.
Nathan glared at Nik quite unhappy overall for the vigorous arts schedule he was on. How on earth had he forgotten that Nik loved to sing? How could he have forgotten that Nik liked to see plays? How could he have forgotten that Nik loved to watch him draw? He sighed, things weren't going his way right now at all.

Ultimately though, the one class Nik could have chosen for him that he might enjoy was art, so he supposed he should be happy. Nik seemed incredibly pleased at any rate.

"Sorry I'm so late!" came a breathless voice by the door. Everyone looked up and saw girl with bright green eyes and long brown hair at the door. She was gasping for breath, and the teacher shook her head.

"Henrietta, how many times are you going to be late this year?" she asked. Henrietta blushed.

"Sorry, really I am! I just lost track of the time." The teacher motioned to a seat, and the girl nodded, heading for it. She took three steps into the room then tripped over something, her own two feet maybe?, and fell flat on her face, spilling a ton of books out of her bag. Several people got up and helped her get her books back together, Nik for one, and Nathan took the time to stare at the paper in front of him. He was supposed to be drawing or painting or something.

He guessed he could draw the view from the window, or the view from the classroom, or... He looked down at the ants scurrying around the new girl and a thought came to his mind. He supposed he would have to draw, or paint, or whatever, what he was seeing. He thought that was usually the right thing to do. He picked up a palette and started putting paint onto it. He wasn't a total failure when it came to this stuff.

*

"Nathan! How could you?" Nik's face was beat red and he was almost angry. Nathan shrugged.

"It just happened," he said, no remorse in his tone at all.

"I just happened?" Nik said, his tone laced with sarcastic disbelief. "You knew exactly what you were doing, how could you even try to pretend it "just happened"?" Nathan shrugged.

"The teacher liked it."

"The teacher liked the art, not the subject!"

"I thought it was good," Nathan said, looking down at the drying canvas. "I've never tried to draw a comic before." Nik let out an exasperated sigh.

"Nathan, how could you draw us all as ants in a four panel comic? And where you had us picking her up and explaining to her the details of her duties! That's simply wretched how you put it all."

"Isn't that how ants do it? Doesn't the queen simply make more children?"

"That's not the point!" Nik stopped in the hall and looked at Nathan. "When will you stop making fun of people for your own amusement?" Nathan blinked, he hadn't expected Nik to say anything even remotely like this. He shrugged, but it didn't seem quite heartfelt.

"Nik, I'm a bastard, thats just who I am. You should understand that better than anyone else." Nik put his hands on Nathan's shoulders and brought him close, too close in Nathan's opinion.

"That's not who you are, thats who you want others to see. Nathan, I know better, alright? I do, and I don't want to see you falling behind." Nathan shivered slightly as he stared into those eyes that were so much like his own.

"I'm not going to fall behind Nik, who am I going to fall behind?" He said it rather light heartedly, but he had a feeling that there was some possibility that Nik was right. This was a good environment for Nik, and...

"Me," Nik said, forcing his word into Nathan's thoughts. Nathan froze, and he felt his hands go sweaty. He wasn't going to fall behind Nik, there was nothing to fall behind, Nathan always went first, he always did what was needed of him to protect Nik, he always... "Nathan, I love you because you're my brother, but you're not always going to be there for me. I need to have some of my own friends, some of my own people to talk to and-"

"NO!" Nathan shook of Nik's hands and grabbed Nik's shoulder. "You're always going to be with me, we're twins, we'll make our lives together! You never need to depend on someone else!" Nik shook his head.

"Let go of me Nathan," he said softly, "Don't make me angry." Nathan let him go and turned around swiftly.

"Fine, but I'm never letting you leave me, no one can protect you like I can."

"No one is going to be as obsessive you mean?" There was a light teasing edge to Nik's voice, but Nathan chose to ignore it.

"You're the only one in the world who can understand me, and that's how I like it Nik. I don't need anyone else, you shouldn't either."

"Don't make me out to be you Nathan." There was a finality to the voice, and Nathan knew that was all Nik was going to say on the matter. It would come up again, it always did.
Nik shook his head, he'd been looking forward to seeing what Seb would do and he hadn't even gotten to look. He'd ended up spending the whole class trying to get Nathan to do something else and complete something of his own in the mean time.

When it came to art, Nik had absolutely no talent. He was like a fish out of water in that class, but he'd known it would be good for Nathan. He'd chosen every extra class based on their talents. Acting and Art for Nathan, choir for himself, although he wasn't useless as an actor he was nothing compared to his twin.

The problem with Nathan was that he always had to sabotage himself. It was like he had to make a joke out of everything and if there was a way to be mean at the same time all the better.

"Did you see what Seb was doing?" Nik asked. He should have thought it out before asking, but he was really disappointed he hadn't gotten to see. "Is he good at art?"

"Who cares?" The reply came as a slamming door. Nathan had no interest and would say nothing more on the topic. Nik sighed. He'd painted a jumble of colors which had looked like nothing at all. He hadn't been trying for any specific art type or anything. He'd just been trying to get it over with. Besides, he couldn't successfully draw or paint anything more complex than a beach ball.

That was the reason art fascinated him. He could watch Nathan draw all day. His brother would say he was just doodling and Nik would see the most fantastic things crumpled and tossed in the trash. He had a small scrap book with some of them inside. He'd waited and rescued them when Nathan forgot about them.

"I think I'll go for a walk." Nik stood and headed for the door, Nathan was right behind him. He really wanted to be alone, but that was a luxury he rarely got. Around here he thought it might be safe, but he didn't want to have that conversation with his twin just yet. Besides, they had class in fifteen minutes. He just needed some fresh air again. Maybe he could get a look at Seb's artwork later.
A faint glow seemed to circulate through the cool air as Tally left the art block, fingers covered in oils following her session in the private studio she had been assigned as an art scholar. It was tiny, covered in paint, and the teacher had only dared interrupt her once, too preoccupied with the rest of the class as she admired their own works. It was a perk, and, though the petite blue girl could have joined the class, the vivid primary colours that flew across her own canvas were better, quieter company. Her latest creation was an old man so colourful that his skin seemed transluscent and shimmering, the large, bold brushstrokes so different from her usual expressive yet detailed style...a girl needed a break once in a while, and the fauvist dance of skittering boar was more than would keep the fiery girl from stabbing the canvas. Bigger than herself, she had promptly hidden it from view behind the wall. Grandparents and twins didn't belong in paintings.

The path towards the glowing red bricks of the sixth form boarding houses, joined by their covered air-bridge, wove through open expanses of sports fields, the spikes of rugby posts in the far distance like stakes, burnished in the dying sunlight. Football and Lacrosse nets cast dappled shadows onto the tufts of mellow english grass near the worn grey of the path, wet white footprints smudging lines like dew and moving in an intricate tango. As the girl surveyed this sky, she noted that it was like walking through the savannah of a Dali, the green firmament of grass and stone, its clouds dappled rosebushes and dry grass that vibrated like a cello between thumb and finger. The blue, unceasing ground above her pointed feet was disconcerting, and Tally finally flipped back onto her feet from her hands as she neared an aging golf cart used to carry battery acid and fertiliser by the red figures that were Telos' mainenance.

No point in wasting a pefectly good pair of pointe shoes on the tarmac that led between buildings. And 400 metres wasn't that far if you didn't weigh much...

As she commandeered the golf cart to drive the last few hundred metres to the bug, nestled in it's nest of other cars, her agate eyes flickered over the scene like a projection. A different group of vari-coloured people gathered around it once more, their colourful jumpers dazzling against the greys and blues of lupos and land rovers.

Apparently the colourful group had tired of people setting off booby traps.

Extending royal blue fingernails into the dark warmth of her pocket, Tally searched for a thin metallic form. Her fingers skating across its glossy surface, she fiddled with the Ipod momentarily, jade eyes hardening and glinting as she swerved nearer to the car using her left hand. With the click of a button, bass started pounding out of the car.

Tally was in a particularly good mood.

"What the Fuck... Seb?" Came a Californian drawl, filling the cooling air of the evening with the dust of California. Its possessor, sunning himself on the bonnet like a panther, glanced over his shoulder at Seb, who seemed to have drifted out of his lesson, for he was now pressing every button in her car like a meercat on speed.

"That was me." Tally muttered carelessly as she pulled the golf cart round 270 degrees on the tarmac. Her liquid, almond eyes darted around the group as she languidly stretched, feet on the steering wheel and her mouth broadening into a feline smile. Surrounded by the pale light, blue hair glinting, her petite form looked almost regal. Regal in a golf cart....odder things had been known to happen at Clarence house, after all.

The hon. Talitha Gillespie-Lighton herself had instigated a few.

"There is no such thing as remote controlled car stereo when the engine isn't even bloody switched on." Jackie noted idly, her voice ringing through the air clearly, its bored tone catching the girls' ear. The petite Asian was dangling an arm off the roof, examining the sky as the bright moon pierced the pallor of clouds and blue. Her dark clothing and slight shape made her like a shadow, save for the magpie-assortment of rings hat she wore.

"You have clearly never genetically modified an ipod." Came the reply from Tally's lips as she smoothed her fine hair back, raking fingers through and letting her neck lengthen to accomodate. She caught the girl's eye as her head moved slowly upwards and bleached elbows moved to prop herself up against the smooth green curve. Tally pointedly placed the altered video on the clubcart's dash, bringing her leg up and straightening the thing into an impossible angle, therefore allowing her to reach the ribbons of her shoe. Unthreading the delicate satin from her leg, she glanced once more at the bodies contorting around the green metal. Cassie, Jackie, Dray, Seb. And the girl who had broken in.

Someone winced at the contortion. Cassie, however, seemed to be enjoying the music itself, and slid off the bonnet to grab the machine. Tally let her. Might as well.

"Honestly, when will you learn that should never try and fix a car that has automatically trapping seat belts? Let me in there." Tally slid off the seat, bare feet hugging the tarmac as she slid into the driver's seat that contained the honey blond tousle that was Seb. The leather seat sank with pleasure at the weight, its clean smell released into the air to mingle with the sparkle of orange and bergamot, jasmine, morning rose, patchouli, vetiver, Seb, bluebells and just the tiniest bit of caffeine. Her tiny frame meant that she could fit in the bucket with him, although she had to sit between his legs. She flicked the boot button, slotting a key into the ignition and letting the engine purr as it revved.

The boy beneath her wriggled uncomfortably, but she chose to ignore it.

"Babe, Moving would not be ideal in the current situation" Dray muttered, inky waves rippling on his bicep as he ran a hand through red hair, pushing himself off the bonnet.

"I suppose..." Tally drew the words out, a sly grin creeping over her red mouth and mischievous glint entering her eyes, making them steely grey. She raised an eyebrow, studying her hand for chipped nail polish. "I guess it's a tad too early for mauling people. Well...most people. How are you for being smothered nto the backseat of a bug?"

"It's more muffling." noted Seb, wearily. HE smelled of turps. The boy did rt? Mmmm. Turps. And sandlewood. "are you planning on moving?"

"Im planning on driving, so...no." A dazzling smile and a shift so that no weight was on the boy. She slammed the seat back suddenly so that she could edge forward. The driver's door was slammed viciously.

Three girls piled into the back. There might have been more, but she didn't notice. Dray slipped into the seat beside her, and the door behind him slipped into place with a resounding clink.

"Less flower, more power" He remembered, fingering the dash with a miniature beetle dinky toy and watching it crash repeatedly into the windscreen. "Where to?"

"I was thinking an exploration. And the music block...I need to run an errand... Who knows where else? Terrible T?"

"Eh?"

"Tescos. Why do I surround myself with uneducated people? The money's in the wallet in the back."

A grin was flashed into the rearview mirror as the small car reversed and shot down the driveway. Somewhere, a seatbelt clicked.
*sorry its so short, manic time! Will be better next time, I promise..*

Jackie swung herself off the roof and scrambled into the back of Tally's car as best she could before they all shot off.

Not a bad start to her first week.

"Man, I'm gonna get a chocolate bar so big it's going to need to live in my bed," Dray shot a huge smile that bounced off the rear view mirror and lit up the back seat. The energy was electric - they were doing something different, something unexpected.

"I just want to see the outside world!" Cassi wound down the window and pushed the hair from her eyes, which glittered with anticipation. "And some extra food wouldn't go a miss either."

Tally nodded smoothly, turning her head to check her blind spot. Jackie kept quiet - she had no money to speak of. But that never stopped her before...

Driving a little too fast on a tiny little lane, Jackie turned her face to the sun. It seemed brighter than usual, hotter through the glass of the window, whilst the wind whipped up from behind her through the other.

She was glad her pockets were deep. Time for Tescos to give to the poor.
Tescos was not exactly freedom but at least it wasn't that school. Trapped in amongst the old buildings of a little market town, the blue letters glowed in the headlights as they swerved the round-a-bout. Cassi clung to her seat, clenching her teeth together as the aquamarine maniac pulled the bug back into a forward drive. She was feeling distinctly queasy. It wasn't that the driving was bad, far from it, though fast and more than a little reckless, it was still safe… It was the mass of bodies pressed into such a small space that made her breathing hitch and her stomach churn. She didn't know these people well enough to feel comfortable doing this…

Careening into a parking space, they halted perfectly spaced between the lines and the contents of the bug spewed out like an unrelenting flood. Bodies, squeezed out from beneath other bodies, tumbled and staggered into the sides of silver hooded Mercedes and bolt gun BMWs. She frowned; this reminded her of where she lived before. Quaint in appearance and full of the middle-aged success stories. She was almost tempted to scratch one, but refrained, knowing that for once, she wouldn't really feel any pride. The blank expression on Sebastian's face suggested that he too was unsure of this place. Or perhaps he was just musing over some secret that she didn't know about. He just grew in mystery. Every time she caught sight of him it was as if he was a different person.

That was ridiculous of course. He was the same small, quiet, intense youth he had been when she had first met him. But sometimes he seemed to be repressing himself, sometimes he seemed passionate, sometimes spaced.

"What are we on a quest for?" Dray drawled in his American slur, "I've got a fancy for a loada pork scratchings. I ate so many in the airport I think I'm hooked."

"You actually like those things?" the Jynx girl laughed, "I don’t even like the smell!"

"Well I promise I won't eat them in the car then." Dray paused a moment, "But maybe I'll come snack on 'em in your room."

"EW!" the new acquaintance giggled as she gasped out the exclamation, her mouth falling open in a blatant show of mirth.

Cassi smiled slightly to herself, she didn't mind those two… Dray and Jynx… they were happy people, funny people. She was sure they had down days but they knew how to joke and she appreciated being able to pick up the vicarious after-humour which she so lacked.

"Well I know that the mental masturbation going on over pork scratchings is incredibly euphoric but don't you suspect we ought to, ya know, go in and find them?" That was Jackie, her words slipping over the hood of the car, her petite frame not quite visible amongst the crowd of them.

*

Inside, the air conditioner hit her with the coolness of a corpse and the smell of drying vegetables. She wrinkled her nose. Her mother always bought food from Waitrose or M&S. Tescos, her mother claimed, was a ridiculous notion for the 'riffraff'. She had never understood her mother, with her working class background and snottily prim intonations and gestures. One could only imagine how she was taught as she grew up. The feeble facard was a fractured piece of jewellery that the mirror of Cassiopeia's eye condemned and revealed. Her father had always joked about that… about her mother…

"So split up?" Jackie suggested, this time striding out a head, eyes darting around at the aisles with glee as she appeared to decide which one to take on first.

"Wear are the pork -scratchings? And hey! They've got Krispey Kremes here too!"

"SHOTGUN!" Jynx yelled and dashed towards it just as a little girl with a dollies pram walked in front of her. With a yelp, a half skip and a squeal, Jynx stacked it over the pram, leaving herself sprawled on the floor.

"Perhaps we should make sure some of us stick together," Tally spoke with a lazy smirk, "Otherwise we don’t know what will happen."

Jynx flushed, her cheeks already red with laughter now burning with embarrassment. Even as she apologised to the girl who she'd almost knocked over and her staring mother, Cassi's attention was diverted. Sebastian was wide eyed, with some emotion she didn't know how to explain other than as love, staring at a draw full of fresh looking green apples.

"Seb?" She called, walking over to him, "Are you ok?"

"Yeah… I…" He looked at her, his mask gone for a second before he sheepishly admitted, "I fucking love apples." Before scuffing his toe on the ground and returning to the entity she was growing to almost admire.

It wasn't anything in particular and she certainly didn't think she could foresee anything between them, but his stoic disguise was only the surface level of him and she couldn't help but admire that. She knew he would need someone stronger than he was to draw him out of that shell. For it was a shell… and the person that stood before them was a ghost in that shell… He was alien to them all.

"Well I think we could get some."

"I…"

"In fact I'll even buy you some." What she was saying she wasn't sure. She didn't have much money one her. She'd only carried it because she wasn't sure what lunch was going to be like and she'd heard that there was a tuckshop situated somewhere nearby…

He looked up at her, he was just about smaller than her and so skinny that he seemed to lose inches. But very very structured and striking. There was nothing ambivalent about his appearance… just his attitude, "Thank you."

But it was nice to hear the acknowledge gratitude all the same. Yes, she was definitely warming to all of these people, even though she'd never warmed to anyone in nearly… well since her father died. And maybe this time she'd be able to keep them long enough to become friends. She briefly hoped so. And she smiled, "You're welcome."

No one noticed that in the melee Tally had vanished.

Seb hated Tescos. How had he forgotten that? He hated the plastic floors and the cold gush of air as he passed through the door and the noise of poeple as they carried ar too much shopping through the aisles in far too small trolleys with squeaking wheels. But for some reason he remained composed as the many different people he had journeyed with chattered absently. He loved apples. There was no two ways about it. When he had been little he had been given then when his parents had been pleased with him, when he had been upset, when he had been good and when he hadn't 'deserved to sit with the family' at dinner.They were a comfort food to him in the purest sense of the word and he could see their gleaming green faces winking at him in the artificial light. And Cassi had turned him into a child, wanting the comfort that they could give him, her offer making him irrepressably reassured with himself.

In fact... Seb felt alight with a new energy he hadn't felt in forever, a playfulness suddenly seeping through as he pushed a trolley at a run down the fruit lane, snatching bags of apples as he went. Dray was his usual loping self. Tally had flicked her hair once before proceeding to sit in a trolley and deadpanned as people looked at her as if she was mad as the Jynx girl pushed her along. He guessed it was a kind of penance.

No one could deny that they were excitable, mainly because they were so grateful to be out of the rural haven that was Telos. No matter how hard that place strived to not be a school, it still had their air of education. And none of them, he had soon realised, were stars like the other kids there. It wasn't a normal school... Not a normal school at all. He was sure of it. Spencer had been the one to tell him from art.

There were only about forty-five students. Every single one of them had to have an IQ in the top 2% to gain entrance. But most were enrolled by willing parents. Caring parents who gave a shit about their children. Others, like him, like Cassi and Nik and Nathan... he guessed that they were stars and darkness. Like really faint glowing stars. Not real ones. Not the ones that gave hope to people or that people wished upon. Just pinpricks that barely flickered but people one day hoped they might be able to see become more... What he found funny was that he found that he could relate to the idea of being a star... They glowed, steady and constant, made up of matter from all around them, then when they used up all of their original energies they adapted, became greater the self destructed, creating a pit of darkness in the fabric of time where nobody wanted to go or look. He grinned. That suited him just fine. He didn’t mind lonliness.

"Well I think the greatest necessities are chocolate, strawberries, ice cream (preferably B&J)." Tally was talking with her bright red lips forming each word as if it were something sacred or sensual, "Maybe some elderflower cordial, some proper coffee, a cafetière, milk, toastie machine, butter, several magazines, preferably iD, POP, Vogue.... Hmmm I can't think of much more but that could do for now... Oh and perhaps The Independent, I want to know what's going on in this ridiculous recession. God forbid that they're still denying it."

Seb smiled at that. Ever the versatile, he guessed, unsurprised at her interest in the economics in the press. Of course, he wasn't quite sure how he felt about Tally. He would defend her but he was fairly sure that he'd defend any of those here... Not because he liked them... He definately didn't trust all of them... But there was a kindred spirit in all of them, a newness to the area which linked them. He frowned, wondering if they should have asked the twins... And he thought of Taco... That boy was something... something very very... indescribable. He probably felt some connection with them too. Or at least to Taco and Nik. He wasn't sure about Nathan. He felt threatened by him. Angry at him. And he had no reason behind it. It made so little sense.

Apples apples apples... He saw them in the trolley and grinned. Nothing would matter as long as he had them.


Nathan stared at the wall and moped. He was pissed, both at Nik and at himself. He couldn't help making fun of people, that was just who he was, it wasn't a facade like Nik said, it was real, as real as anything that was Nathan. He hated feeling like he was being treated like a child. Nik was the only one in his life that could do that to Nathan. It was one of the links that made them who they were. One being, separated by fate. Fate was cruel.

He stood up, walked around the room, stomped into his room and threw himself on the bed, then stood up and paced some more. He felt caged, once again. It was frustrating, infuriating, and all too normal a feeling for him to be so worked up over it. Fine. He stopped and looked at the door. If Nik wouldn't come to him, then he'd just walk out, and do something on his own.

Like get into a fight. That sounded promising. Maybe he could pummel someone's face in, that might make him feel better.

A grin on his face, he started out the door, heading outside of the dorms. If he could just keep it from being public knowledge he could do this for a long time before he got in trouble.

A face swam in his field of vision, a boy on the ground, fear for his life, and the urgency to keep from getting into trouble. Taco, and now he was seen as not a terrible person, and maybe... maybe it would be a good idea to keep that image for a while. Nathan sighed, continued out of the building and climbed a tree, as high as he could go, pounding his fist against it until the pain made him return to some semblance of calm. He sat on the branch and sighed. This sucked. It really sucked bad.

He repositioned himself, back against the bulk of the tree and legs swinging out on both sides. He closed his eyes and leaned his head back. Maybe he'd nap a bit. That might be good.
(Shall we just shoot back into a linear timeline here, i think this is getting tough to follow, and I know my confusion is partly responsible. So, pick up the leftover characters from now on?)

Jinx's voice interrupted itself on a diatribe agains philadelphia cheese. "Why'd you let me off? From what I hear, you're not one to withold on the temper..."

Tally leaned back in the trolley, turning to eye up the auburn haired girl pushing her trolleyas she piled icecream on her torso. Sighing, she let her feetroll into a feline tretch, feeling her muscles tense. She observed the glittering earrings, upturned lips on the upside-down face, which was plain, but dominated by piercing blue eyes and a light smattering of barely there freckles.

"Darling, I rather object to the idea that I randomly stake just anyone. Some people just need respect beaten into them, and some people, such as one johnny somebody, aren't worth it. With you? I just made a character judgement, and besides, I liked your nail polish..... It matches my hair, if I coated it in glitter." She beamed, eyes twinkling as she randomly snatched at cheese, pears, gnocchi and mange touts.

"Fair enough. I am rather good with the glitter, i'll give you that. Although, you do realise that fork stabbings tend to classify you as a bitch?"

"O darling etta, of course. But it makes life interesting, infamy..... I suppose i'm really just grabbing attention because a) I don't get enough from somebody or b) building up facades is so much more interesting if they're impossibly larger than life. Besides, you must have been scene stealing to break into my car; i don't recall having specifically offended you as yet..."

"Hmmm, pointless trying to be introspective, you can't reach ultimate self-awareness...... You've pissed off alot of people indirectly, why not me too?"

"Oh trust me i'm not. I'm not planning on turning into my mother. If I'd pissed you off, you would have just smashed off my wing mirrors. No no...... clearly there was some subconcious desire to be caught and so meet me. Escape from the boredom of the banal youth of today."

"I can't work out quite how serious you are with your egotism. One thing I am sure of? You talk like an old man."

"I should hope so. Tell me, you can hotwire a car, well, one that's not boobytrapped, so why weren't you carrying a flip knife?"

"Is that some comment on the youth of today?"

"Oh no darling. Mine's mother of pearl and lives in my wallet...."

"There's such a thing?" The girl, Jinx, peered down at her, a sort of wry amusement that seemed to emanate from a film with Emma Thompson in it spread across her face. It was fun being an endless source of mystery, the small blue girl mused, since you got to provoke so many different faces, focusing all the attention on your superficiality. Some people tried to dig deeper. They weren't the ones in tn the dining room, shocked by a small fight. It was harder to pull of the mask around those ones that actually had a cynic's eyes. The trolley turned down the last corner. She could've sworn see saw a flash of small pixie arond. Jezzuz that girl, Jackie, was fast.

"You know, I don't think they *do* make them. It was my grandmother's..... I come from a family of inbred eccentrics...." Tally trailed off, idly scratching her neck again. she peered across the uniform aisles of bright packaging, Helvetca Typography, orderly yet chaotically peeling shelves. She spotted Seb. Theer, over lower counters of the fruit section, green crates spilling with frighteningly perky semlblances of plastic fruit. A blonde head. Seb. and another... Cassi? Yes, it was she, her blonde hair flowing down her petite frame. Tally waved, yelling as she attempted to prop herself up with one hand."Get you're bloody arses over here my darlings, I need out of this trolley before the wire caging gives me wrinkles!"

Evidently, Talitha mused, her voice was louder than intended. As cassi and Seb swivelled towards her as if interrupted from a reverie, Jackie and Dray popped their heads around the end of the aisle. She grinned at them. "Any takers? I don't want to waste this Ben and Jerrys. I would ask Jinx, but I think a steady trolley is desireable, and i'm not sure if she can take my weight."

"Dude, weight? You're pint sized!" Dray muttered, approaching.

"A pintsized ballerina of pure muscle, and I can at least pretend I'm heavy; a girl's got to complain about something!" She rolled her eyes, grinning. They seemed to be shocked that she could smile without schadenfreude. But interesting. They were all interesting.

"Are you gonna help or not? " She muttered provocatively. "I mean...Who else will pay for all this food so we can invade the San, cheer Taco up, dig up anyone interesting and have a feast like this vacuous town has not seen for a century. I'm thinking dangerous tea parties of not-quite bullingdon proportions here......... I call shotgun, who's driving?"
Jackie caught up with the group as they entered the parking lot, laughing as Seb pushed a spreadeagled Dray in circles in an abandoned trolley, the two boys howling with the delight of freedom.

"Where did you go?" Demanded Tally, one finger gracefully balanced on the trolley that Jinx and Cassi were pushing together - after all, she'd paid for the damn thing.

"Snuck out of the bathroom window," Jackie replied with a solemn glance at the long receipt spilling from Tally's open purse. "Couldn't let you pay for it all!"

"What are you talking about?" Jinx asked as she climbed into the drivers seat, ducking as the keys went flying at her head. "Oops."

"Jeeesus!" Dray exploded as he loped towards the car. "What happened to your boobs?!"

Jackie laughed and did a little bow as six giant packets of Haribo spilled out of her coat (something she'd picked up because it had a likeness to the one Dodger had been wearing in the film version of Oliver) and deflated her seemingly DD cup size.

Cassi finished unloading the bags into the boot of the car and reached over to pull a large bottle of champagne out of Jackie's oversized pocket. "I call shotgun!"

"Ah ha!" Seb called as he whirled past, grabbing the bottle. "Allow me!" and he shook the bottle before opening the cork, spraying them as much as he could. Cassi let out an uncharteristic shriek as he chased her around the car, the fizz directed at her blonde head with his thumb covering most of the top of the bottle.

Tally looked on, amused as Jackie handed her a packet of 'vogue' cigs.

"How'd you get behind the counter?" Dray asked as he opened a pack of Haribo. The loot in the boot seemed to be precious and to be saved - Jackie's stolen goods were good for a quick snack!

"Let me guess," Tally mused, her dark head tilted to one side so that her blue hair gleamed purple in the setting sun. "You didn't go behind the counter did you... you broke into the stock room."

"Guess again," Jackie said as she opened one of the back doors and sat on the seat sideways, her legs dangling over the side of the car. "Although that would have been amazing!"

"You set off an alarm and distracted them, and then snuck in?" Jinx suggested as her eyes follwed Jackie's deft fingers as she rolled a fag, her eyes shaded mysteriously behind her auburn hair.

"Nope," Jackie grinned, and licked the sticky on the rizla, deftly finishing and lighting up.

"How'd you do it?" Dray asked again impatiently, moving aside as Cassi and Seb came to a halt beside him, both dripping wet.

"I just walked behind. They didn't say anything - they guy was so out of it I don't even think he saw me." Jackie grinned triumphantly.

"What else did you get?" Seb asked.

Jackie took off her coat and proceeded to show them the handy elastic straps she had sowed into the lining years ago. She unloaded a couple of packets of biscuits, some cheese, an entire salami, a pack of tealights, and then proceeded to uncover two more smaller bottles of gin from under her shirt where she had tucked them into the top of her skirt. To finish off, she pulled a couple of bananas from her shoulders where they had been held in by the straps of her bra, to many shouts of laughter. "For Nik and Nathan," she explained. "To hit each other with!"

As they clambered into the car, the sky had started to darken. "Better get back," Seb said, shielding his eyes as he raised his gaze to the last of the sun.

"You two, no dripping on my seats," Tally ordered as she swung herself into the front passenger seat.

Cassi and Seb obeyed, sitting carefully of Jackie's outstretched coat. Dray folded his long body into the back seat, whilst Jackie settled between his feet on the floor.

"Point the way," Jinx said cheerfully as she started the car.
(earlier in the day)

         There was something refreshingly casual and pleasant, if exhausting, about having visitors. Dray leaned on the edge of the desk and Seb took one of the chairs, and they just talked. Easy banter, not requiring much on Taco's part to keep up. A smile here and there, a nod, a joke. He sat cross-legged on his bed, sheet music spread out on the comforter and ... relaxed. Yeah, that was the word. He had his pencil out and made a few changes, but his attention wasn't really for what he was doing, but rather the two people who were sharing their time.

         He looked up at one point, to find both pairs of eyes on him and froze, blinking. "What?"

         "You tunin' us out or somethin' over there?" asked Dray.

         Taco shook his head. "No, no, not, well, not on purpose, anyway. Am I bothering you?"

         They exchanged glances and laughed.

         "No," replied Seb. "More like we're the ones bothering you!"

         "Oh."

         "Are you sure you're alright?"

         "Positive!" said Taco with a bright smile. He rubbed his face briefly with the back of one hand. "Guess I am kinda tired, though."

         "Whoa, man, I don't want that nurse on my case. Maybe we should go."

         "But, that's not what I ...."

         "Yeah, Dray," Seb agreed, standing and moving towards the door. "That sounds like a good idea. We'll see you tomorrow, Taco!"

         "Oh, but I --"

         "Rest up, dude," added Dray with a wink, "we gots us some reconoiterin' to do, right?"

         Taco laughed. "Right! Hey will you ... uh ... about the play, will you ask the others? If they're interested at all?"

         "Sure, man."

         "Night!"

         "'Night," murmured Taco as the door swung closed. He leaned back against his pillows and fussed with the air tube for a minute. Now that he was lying down, he did feel quite worn out. Within a few more minutes, his eyes slid shut for real, his pencil falling from limp fingers.

         Later, he would remember something about an airplane, a hollowed out fusilage, with seating along the sides, like some old World War II movie, all the paratroopers getting ready to leap out. He was anxious and excited, grinning at the faceless people next to him. There was a lot of activity, uniformed men and women roving up and down the center of the plane, laughter and chatting, and he rose to walk with them.

         He walked and he walked and then he was on the beach. It smelled and looked familiar, all white sand and salty, green water. Motorboats purred beyond the rushes and gulls cried overhead. He looked around and felt someone grab him by the shoulder. He flinched from that tight grip, trying to back away, only the beach was gone, the soothing rush of waves overcome by the regular beeping of heart rate monitors and respirators. His father's thin, angular face, with its trim, snootish goatee, stared down at him from what felt like miles away.

         Taco started and yanked his arm away, backing up and turning, always turning, but there was nowhere to go, just white walls and white-robed doctors and nurses standing all around, and that awful, impersonal antiseptic smell. Their voices took on the mocking tones of seagulls as they plucked at him.

         "We need you, we need you," they said. "Just one more. One more won't hurt."

         Folding his arms protectingly over his chest, Taco backed away. He remembered this part. This part of the dream was always the same. They grabbed him; they always did, no matter his protests, taking what they wanted. In the background came his father's voice, saying that everything would be okay, that he was there, would always be there. Only when Taco turned to him, he was never there. His back was turned; his father spoke only to somebody else, a little, white hand and mounds and mounds of blue-black hair from over the side of the hospital bed.

         "Father!" cried Taco. "Please!"

         No longer able to watch the doctors as they took and took, Taco stared at his father's broad back, hand out-stretched for help. "Father!"

         The man turned. He smiled, but he had no eyes, and Taco now tried to run, but he never could get his legs to obey him. His father set one large hand on Taco's shoulder, squeezed gently, smiling, and said "Just one more thing, son."

         Taco fought; he always fought, but the dream kept on, oblivious to his wishes. His father reached down inside Taco's chest, and tore out his heart. Staring at the pulsing organ, words came to Taco's lips, the same words he'd wanted to say forever and never could: "I love you! I trusted you! Can't you love me as much as you love her?"

         The laughter. Why was it that the laughter was the worst part, that hurt worst of all? His father faded, still holding the bleeding heart, and Taco reached out to him, but he was being left alone, finally, hollowed out, numb, empty, there was no more use for him now and they were leaving. And always the laughter

*          *          *

         Coming out onto the hallway with a tray for Taco, Alice paused. She strained her ears to listen, heart thumping as she prayed that she really hadn't heard that, but there it was again, that half-sob, half-scream she'd heard far too often the previous spring. Dropping the tray with a clatter, she sprang into a run. She threw open the door to Taco's room, gathering the struggling boy into her arms with the ease of familiarity.

         His face was already washed of color and he sucked in air in huge mouthfuls. Alice ignored Taco's kicking and gasping screams, fumbling with the air tank for the mask, the more simple nose-tube having long since fallen away. There was more of a struggle as she pushed up one sleeve and gave him an injection from the kit she always kept in a pocket of her coat. Then she could settle on the bed again, pushing aside the papers in fretful annoyance.

         She tugged on damp hair and called his name. One hand went to his wrist, her eyes on her watch. He was still struggling, still crying out; this must have been a bad one.

         "Taco. Taco, it's alright, you're safe. This is Ms. Alice. You're at Telos, in your own room. Nobody's going to harm you." She kept up the litany, kept checking his pulse at regular intervals, until he quieted.

         He blinked at last and stirred, staring up at her. "Ms. Alice?"

         "Yes, Taco. You're all right, everything's okay."

         He pulled at the mask, chest still heaving with the effort it took just to breathe. "Don't tell him, Ms. Alice, please! Don't tell my father! Don't tell him, don't tell him!"

         "Oh, Taco ...."

         "Ms. Alice ... please!"

         She always had trouble when he looked at her that way. She, with all her years of experience, still had a hard time resisting, especially since she was so much on his side.

         "Okay," she relented. "I won't. Now lie back and try to relax. Go back to sleep."

         "No!"

         That panic again. The dreams must really have been bad this time. "Taco," she said soothingly. "I'm here now. He can't get you when I'm here, right?"

         He had a death grip on her arm, head on her shoulder. She could feel him shaking still. She picked up her litany again, using her free arm to monitor his pulse and pat him awkwardly on the back. She didn't take an easy breath again until his breathing evened out and his body relaxed back into sleep. Setting him down, Alice covered Taco with the comforter she tugged out from under him, brushed his hair back out of his face, and turned off the light. Shaking her head, she closed the door and leaned on it for a minute in the hallway. This was going to be a tough year.

*          *          *

         The troop raiding town 'sneaked' back into the school with their bounty, and Dray led the way to the room he'd located previously. Someone brave enough swung open the door and another flicked on the light.

         "Surprise!"

         Taco bolted upright, fumbling for the mask he still wore and blinking at the crowd at his door in confusion. His dark eyes looked even darker with the rings around them, his face tight over his cheeks, sunken-looking in his fatigue. His mouth flopped open, staring wordlessly as the gang invaded his space, chatting merrily.

         The sedative in his system kept his heart from going into overdrive, and the embarrassed flush on his cheeks gave him a semblance of life. Still, he was torn between trying to hide the mask, pretend to normalcy, or yell at the lot of them to leave him be.

         "I ... What?" he gasped.
A Non-Existent User
Their feet passing over the floor sounded to her like the thunder of applause in an enormous hall, rising to a crescendo as they raced towards Taco's room. Jackie, like a bat, a panther, a wolf, had assured their safety after flying inaudibly through the hospital wing on reconnaissance. Nurse Alice was with the narcoleptic student (one more brilliant but tragic showcase of the school who had told her once, in a calm and heartwrenchingly honest way, after waking up with a broken arm at the bottom of a staircase, that he didn't really expect to live past thirty). A thousand patters and beats hit her ear, the rattle of the heavy ornamented radiators they set shaking, floorboards creaking and the flickering beams of lamps and mini chandeliers crashing into each other over the dark wooden floor. It had been very dark by the time they got back, something to do with her getting lost but she'd been having too much fun to notice the direction. Fun... and Taco. She knew about Taco. Perhaps in their hearts all these new showcases did. It made her feel old. Things like illness and death never made you feel young. Then perhaps she had been feeling old since the day she was born. Silence played with her thoughts. They had reached Taco's door, a subconcious breath going through everyone in the group, a hospital breath. The smiling mask breath. They burst through.

"Aw man you look like Darth Vadar" Dray didn't even bother answering Taco's incredulous stutters, and made to slap him on the back with a great freckled paw. Then settled for ruffling the invalids hair. The Latino boy certainly looked ruffled. He removed the mask, sighed deeply as though gathering together whatever small motes of light still shone in the derelict colloseum of his soul, and looked up at them with a wry grin.

"Should I even ask how you managed to get past nurse Alice? No, you lot'd probably just find that insulting. And is that... Tesco bags?" Tally was, by virtue of being benefactor and, of course, infinitely above such things, not carrying a single bag as she strode over to Taco's bed and perched on the end of it. "Don't look at me with those great dopey puppy eyes. There was simply no stopping them, darling." Jinx swung over to join them, both arms behind her back. "Sup Mendez?" She grinned down at him, shards of blood and chocolate hair almost hiding the motes of light dancing across the surface of her eyes. "What's this I hear about you making a musical? I suppose there's no chance of you making me a rodie?" Taco winced. "With all the best intentions in the world, Jinx, I can't help but feel that you anywhere near heavy, damageable objects would be..." His voice trailed off as the door to the ward opened once more. The silence, suddenly, was palpable.

Jinx, herself, nearly winced as a charming, apologetic and slightly familiar young man surveyed the room in surprise. But no, it was the other, nicer one.

© Copyright 2007 Lascelles in Telos, Dr Matticakes Myra, Stormy is Editing, M, *Teddybear is back*, Flex 5th birthday just gone., KC under the midnight sun, Tanzenlicht, xx-xx, (known as GROUP).
All rights reserved.
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