Schooling 24-12 (Summus Proelium)

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I had been through a lot of surreal things in the past couple of months. But I really couldn’t think of anything more surreal in that moment than making dinner in Arleigh’s kitchen alongside her, Ryder, and the skater I had been fangirling over since I could walk. 

Well, obviously there were things, like going into a virtual reality controlled by the girl who had apparently once been one of my best friends turned enemy because her psychotic supervillain father reprogrammed the computer her computer-brain and– yeah, the list of crazy things was actually pretty long. But, the point was, this was completely about my civilian life. It had nothing to do with being a Touched. If you took out all the Paintball situations, standing in the kitchen helping Arleigh, Ryder, and Inessa make pizza for dinner while we talked about skating was definitely pretty high up there. Even better, there was no real danger about it. This was a weird situation, but it wasn’t a life and death weird one. Well, there was danger of wanting to stab myself for spending more time in this particular house, but still. I could resist that urge. 

Obviously, Arleigh didn’t know anything about the skating scene, either board or blades. But, equally obviously, she didn’t want to admit that. She kept talking like she knew everything there was to know, and just made things up when she had to. Whenever any of us made it clear we didn’t know what she meant, she just waved it off as having learned ‘different terms’ when visiting places like California, and claimed that ‘the coast people talk different.’ Because God forbid she just say she didn’t know something and listen to others who did. 

I could see Inessa roll her eyes a couple times as she glanced toward me. But she didn’t speak up too directly, and neither did I. I guess because neither of us wanted to be rude inside Arleigh’s own house. That and I didn’t particularly want to give her even more reason to talk. 

Ryder, for his part, seemed equally clueless. But he was far more willing to admit that fact. He kept asking questions and seemed genuinely interested in what we were saying. And not just for Inessa either. He was interested in the stuff I was talking about too, as far as skating went. And, even more amazing, so was she. They both actually listened to my stories. Inessa freaking Sidorov listened to my stories about skating! It was like I’d died and gone to some sort of paradise. I honestly wasn’t sure which of their attentions made me blush more. But either way, it helped make up for the fact that I was stuck here in this particular house. 

Before the pizzas were done cooking, but after they had started to smell good, Errol came wandering down. From the way his mess of blond hair was sticking in every direction, I would’ve thought he had just woken up from a nap or something. But apparently this was just what he looked like all the time. I was pretty sure Arleigh was going to tell him to go away, but before she could, Inessa started chatting with him cheerfully, and mentioned missing her own brother with all these long trips she kept going on. Obviously, Arleigh did a complete one-eighty and started talking at the boy as though they were really close, and how he was just the best little brother anyone could have. None of us were buying that, of course, but I wasn’t going to give her any reason to stop treating her brother like a human being. 

Beyond that, I also found out that Ryder was apparently a vegetarian. He just spoke up about it to make sure we had a pizza that didn’t have any meat on it. Surprisingly, Arleigh didn’t say anything bad about that or even seem annoyed. When he brought it up, she immediately confirmed that they had a pizza that would suit him, and even asked, unprompted, if he had any other dietary needs. It was unexpected, to say the least, but still, good for her. It was one of the very few times that I noticed her act like a real human being who thought about others without it being forced or fake. For just a moment, I actually forgot about what sort of person she was. Then, of course, she had to go and ruin it by very clearly and obnoxiously faking interest in the video game her little brother mentioned, just because her special celebrity skating guest showed actual interest in it. Arleigh was a lot of things, but a good actress was not one of them. Given her apparently genuine acceptance of the food thing, it was even easier to tell when she was putting on an act. Or maybe she didn’t care enough to put in an actual acting effort. Either way, she clearly didn’t want to hear more about the game, yet (poorly) pretended she did just to impress Inessa. Which made me wonder why she bothered. I knew she didn’t like skating, so why would she care about a celebrity skater? Was it just the celebrity part, or did her father push for her to show off for her? But if he cared that much, why wasn’t he here? What was keeping him too busy to show up for this? And was I just being paranoid again about that whole thing? Yeah, I was probably just being paranoid. So, with some effort, I tried to push that thought aside. Whatever Trey Fosters was up to, it didn’t affect me. 

With Inessa’s suggestion, since Ryder was vegetarian, we dug through the large fridge and managed to put together something akin to a decent salad to go with the pizza. Arleigh didn’t seem interested in that sort of thing at all, but Errol knew enough to find the dressing to go with it. We chopped up some tomatoes and cucumbers to go with the fresh spinach leaves, and even found some pepperoncini on the door. In the end, it was a pretty decent salad. Nothing that even would’ve come close to matching anything Claudio or his assistants could make, of course. But then again, we weren’t Michelin Star-rated chefs. At least, I wasn’t, and I was willing to go out on a limb and say Arleigh, Ryder, and Errol weren’t. On the other hand, as talented and incredible as Inessa was, it really wouldn’t have surprised me to find out she actually did have that sort of skill. 

Finally, the food was ready. No sooner had we set it all out on the table and began to take plates and forks for the salad, than their other brother showed up. Micah came in through the back door, having apparently either been outside the whole time, or he just walked home and came in that way. Whatever it was, he grunted an uncaring greeting to us, reached out and shoved his sister none-too-gently out of the way so he could take the plate she had been about to use right out of her hand, and loaded it with pizza before grabbing a beer out of the fridge as he headed upstairs to his room. I could see Arleigh grimace painfully while rubbing her shoulder a bit where she had hit the wall from the hard shove, and felt a wave of confusing feelings pass through me. If that was an example of how her own big brother treated her when there was company around, especially famous company, who knew what he was like when they were alone? Was this the sort of environment she had grown up in? Weird thoughts passed through me about what that would do to a person. If he was that casually cruel in front of us, the things he could get up to in private… eesh. Yes, obviously she was still absolutely terrible to hang out with, and not exactly a caring person herself. Especially to her own younger brother. But now that it seemed like there was a reason for that, it felt a little different. Hell, maybe the fact that her dad wasn’t even here for any of this was another indicator of the environment she had grown up in. Yeah, my parents ran the Ministry and all that, but I had never gotten the impression they didn’t care about me. Even Simon had made it clear, despite the teasing and everything, that he cared about me. This whole thing was just… wrong and uncomfortable. 

I could tell the others felt the same way, especially Ryder, who sat next to me and kept glancing toward the doorway where Micah had gone. Something told me he was tempted to go after him and say something, but stopped himself. Which was a good thing, because I was pretty sure the older boy could have pounded him into a thick paste, and this probably wasn’t the best time or way to show off my fledgling self-defense lessons. To say nothing else my powers. Oh God, the thought of having to convince Arleigh to keep my secret made my entire body shudder. 

Inessa, of course, noticed, looking over at me from across the table. “Hey, are you all right? There’s nothing wrong with the pizza, is there?” She asked that while inspecting her own slice curiously. 

My head shook quickly as I took a bite to demonstrate. “No, no! It’s fine. It’s cool.” I shrugged, searching my brain for excuses that would work. “Sorry, I was just thinking of something else.” A quick thought came to mind, and I launched into a story about one time when I had misjudged a jump and ended up breaking my ankle. It distracted everyone from my previous reaction, especially when I talked about how gross it had looked while all bent out of shape. That made Inessa eventually jump into her own story about one of her bad injuries, and soon no one was thinking about my weird shudder. 

And yet, through all that, I saw Ryder glance at the door a couple more times, as if he couldn’t stop thinking about Micah and that whole situation. Eventually, he excused himself to use the restroom. I immediately felt a slight flare of alarm go through me. Was he really going to the restroom, or was he going to go find Micah and say something to him about that whole situation? This could be bad. I might’ve barely met the boy a couple times, but I liked him well enough. I sure as hell didn’t want to find Micah punching him in the face next time we saw him. Call me crazy, but I really didn’t think Arleigh’s big brother was the sort to take criticism very well. My own brother teased me and even wrestled with me now and then, but the way Micah treated his siblings seemed different. There was no love there, no care. It wasn’t that he was teasing them in a way that sometimes got out of hand, he genuinely did not seem to care if Arleigh was hurt by him shoving her into the wall. No way did I want Ryder to go find him on his own and have any sort of confrontation.That could only end poorly. 

Thinking quickly, I pretended I was getting a phone call and said it was my mom, so I excused myself to the other room while pretending to talk to her. As soon as I was out of sight from the kitchen, I looked around quickly just in time to hear footsteps disappearing up the stairs. Yeah, Ryder was definitely heading up there. This could turn really bad, really quickly.

Grimacing to myself, I painted black on the inside of my clothes just in case there were cameras (or spying plants) that would’ve seen me put it in any more obvious places, and made my way up after him. I wanted to get up there as quickly and quietly as possible, grab the boy, and get out before Micah noticed we were around. And before the others paid any attention to how long we had been gone. Reaching the top of the stairs, I looked around in time to see a shape disappear through a doorway at the end of the hall. Was that Micah’s room? Did Ryder just barge in there? Oh God, if I started to hear shouting, I was going to yell at myself for taking so long. Quickly, yet quietly, I made my way down that hall to the doorway. I stopped just outside it, hesitated, then peeked through the crack. I expected to see Ryder and Micah about to have a confrontation. But what I saw was… different. Very different indeed.

The first thing I saw was that this wasn’t a bedroom at all, and it certainly wasn’t Micah’s. It looked like a personal office. An expensive one at that, judging by the furnishings. Most relevantly, there was a desk there with a computer, which was where Ryder was standing. He was next to the desk, holding his hand out. Just as I peeked that way, my mouth opening to hiss that we had to get out of there, something happened to make the words die in my throat. A small, glowing figure appeared on the boy’s palm. It cackled softly before jumping from his hand to the computer. I recognized it immediately, and had to cover my own mouth to stop the gasp of shock.

Eits. Ryder was Eits. Oh God. Oh fuck. Ryder was Eits! No wonder he had seemed somewhat familiar! Had he recognized me? Did he remember my voice? I was pretty sure he didn’t, or he probably wouldn’t have tried something like this right now. But what was he even trying? Why was he here right now? Was he pulling off a job? Was this about stealing from the Taurus shipping company after he’d been embarrassed about being caught before? Trey Fosters was one of their primary owners, and this place was easier to hit than my own family’s home. Was that what this whole thing was about? Something told me that wasn’t quite right, especially considering where this place was.

We were in the middle of Sherwood territory. Would he really risk pulling a job like that around here? Especially with a gang like Sherwood, who were so good at spying on everyone. 

Needless to say, there were a lot of thoughts rushing through my head. Unfortunately, I didn’t have time to sort my way through any of them. And I definitely didn’t have time to focus on what Ryder/Eits was actually doing. Before I could even start to wrap my head around any of that, a sound from behind me made my gaze snap that way. Another door was starting to open. That had to be the room Micah was in, and he was about to come out. Eyes widening, I shoved the office door open the rest of the way and burst through before pushing it shut. 

Ryder looked up, mouth opening to stammer some excuse or another. But before he could, I rushed that way. The footsteps were approaching, and given the stairs were the other direction, this seemed like the only place Micah could be going. So, without another thought, I grabbed Ryder by the arm, and yanked him sideways toward the nearby closet. He heard the footsteps as well by that point, and didn’t resist. The two of us managed to get the door open and slip inside, shutting it behind us just as the other boy came into the office itself.

We could barely make him out through the cracks in the closet door, enough to see that he didn’t seem to be trying to find us or anything. He didn’t appear to have any idea we were there. Instead, the older boy walked to the desk and opened a couple different drawers, apparently looking for something. The boy was muttering curses under his breath as he rifled through the contents of the desk, then angrily shoved it shut. He straightened, apparently still annoyed about not finding whatever he was looking for. Then he turned to look at the closet. 

Uh oh. 

Yeah, he was definitely heading this way. And this closet wasn’t big enough to hide in. There were a few stacked boxes and two filing cabinets in there, but that was about it. There were no hanging clothes to hide behind, no deep corners to squeeze into. If he opened that door, which he was clearly about to do, Micah would find us instantly. And how in the hell would we ever explain being all the way up here, hiding inside the closet of his father’s private office? That… that would be bad. 

There was only one area in this closet that had any room where we could hide and possibly not be seen. As Micah approached and reached for the door, I looked up. Oh God. What was I about to do? Was I really going to–could I really–was this the only way to… my mind raced, going through what seemed like a million thoughts in those brief couple of seconds. 

I could feel Ryder tense beside me, obviously ready for some sort of fight. But before he could do anything, Micah was right there, just on the other side of the door. There was no more time, none. I had to make a decision right then and there, about whether I trusted him or not. Which was worse, exposing a secret to him, or letting Micah find us like that? Which was more dangerous? 

I made my choice. Reaching out, I shot Ryder, Eits, with a bit of black paint to silence the gasp I knew would be coming. Then I hit him with red paint as well as myself, before pointing upward. Just as the door started to open, we were yanked to the ceiling and held there. Next to me, I could feel Ryder’s jerk of surprise, and saw his mouth open to blurt something, only to react with even more surprise as no sound came out. His gaze snapped to me, as I held a finger to my lips. 

Below us, Micah poked his head in. His focus was on the boxes, Which he dug through for a moment. I had to renew the red paint on Ryder and myself as the boy below seemed to take his sweet time. But he never looked up. He rummaged a bit, found something he had apparently been looking for, and celebrated with an annoyed, “There you are, fuck.” It was a choice of words that obviously made me tense up, but he wasn’t talking to us. Instead, he had some sort of folder in his hands, which he tucked under his arm before straightening up. The closet door closed, and then he was heading out of the office. 

I managed to put black paint on the two of us again, as well as the floor, just before Ryder and I both crashed back down. We landed within the small space before I shoved the closet door open and both of us fell out together, landing in a tangled heap on the floor of the office. The two of us lay there, staring at one another for a solid five seconds before we both hiss-blurted the same thing. 

“You!” 

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9 comments

  1. Well well well, I guess Cassidy got jealous of Dani and Amber’s moment and just had to get her own revelation in. Hope you’re all looking forward to seeing how that plays out later! In the meantime, if you’d like to be just the most awesomest readers on the planet, you could boost this story on Top Web Fiction right here! Thank you truly and your tags are: Arleigh Fosters, Cassidy Evans, Errol Fosters, If Inessa Doesn’t Take Cassidy AND OR Paintball Skating With Her At Some Point Everyone Should Riot, Inessa Sidorov, Micah Fosters, Ryder Towling, Well Good Thing There Weren’t Any Other Identity Revelation Shenanigans Going On Earlier This Arc Huh?

    Liked by 3 people

  2. Whatever Trey Fosters was up to, it didn’t affect me.

    There should be some sort of ‘Wanna Bet?’ tag associated with this sentence, ’cause if Cassidy were real and as rich as portrayed, I’d be more than happy to take her money.

    Liked by 3 people

  3. it’s a good(?) thing Pack didn’t tell Eits that she was investigating Cassidy’s civilian persona, otherwise that would get super awkward if she ever needs help from him again.

    Liked by 3 people

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