Writing from 2006 posted for gits and shiggles. I like looking back on old stuff :3
American Sake: The Starting Line (Avrit, Tobias, Kitty)
"You ready for this, bastard?" the boy asked as he bent over. Fingertips touched down upon hot rubber tarmac. A foot shifted backward and knees bent.
Another bent forward, holding the same stance. "I suppose so."
The sun beat down upon both their backs. They waited as three students of the Saint Jerome's Private Academy for Boys and Girls track team dashed up into the bleachers to watch along with another small group of students. The spectators cheered from the stands, rooting on their captain.
Avrit Pistel always wondered how he got into odd situations like this. He had a long history of ending up in the wrong place at the wrong time, and his first Monday at Saint Jerome's was no exception. He'd just been sitting in the cafeteria when some other students tried to start conversation with him. They mentioned sports, and when Avrit mentioned his track time, it garnered a little more attention than he was willing to take. One rumor led to another, and now here he was, out on the track after school, facing off against one very pissed-off track team captain.
"Go, Russ!" Shouting came from the stands. Some students other than track team members had decided to show up to their little face off.
Avrit sighed. "Mark."
"Set," Russ replied.
"GO!" they shouted. Both took off from the starting line. The small student crowd cheered loudly as both dashed. Their cheers slowly faded as Avrit quickly pulled into the lead, and the excited shouting immediately resumed just before the new kid crossed the finish line.
Avrit slowed to a stop and turned to see Russ approaching him. The other students from the bleachers were heading in his direction as well, some looking as though they didn't mean to congratulate. The captain stopped before him, huffing and glaring accusingly. "What, are you a fucking transmuter? No human has ever beaten me."
Avrit's eyes flickered to the other approaching students before he looked back to Russ. "No." He shook his head. "Full human."
Russ grabbed Avrit's shirt and yanked him forward. "So you're just a smart ass, huh?"
Avrit shook his head quickly. "No! No, I'm not." He smiled sheepishly, pointing to the nearing crowd. "If you wanted to win in front of your friends, you could have just told me so."
"You son of a bitch!"
Avrit ripped backwards as a fist flew in his direction. He placed his hands in front of him, taking another step back. "Now, really, I don't think-" He quickly dodged another fist. "I'm not really one to fight, you know."
"Then you better fucking run!"
And so, he did.
He got as far as the edge of the tarmac before his arm was snagged, and his body snapped violently out and back with the force of his momentum. The sensation of falling was brief; he was buffered by a strong arm and torso, a hand firmly pressed into his shoulder, holding him steady.
"Oi, what the hell, Russ?" The chest moved with each syllable. Unable to fight his nameless guide, Avrit stilled as he was unwittingly steered toward the seething team leader. "Beatin' down on new kids ain't cool. You remember the school motto? 'Take the hand of your fellow and hold it well.' Which means-?" When no answer was presented, Avrit was let loose. He could have dashed off again were he not stopped by the return of a tanned palm on his shoulder. "Stay."
Avrit glanced over his shoulder to see his captor. Sunlight flickered over each individual hair, granting the anonymous an appearance of having a head of fire. For his height and long, spindly limbs, he could have just as well look like a match. He moved, spoke, breathed with easy confidence, and Russ was obviously abandoning his conviction to fight.
Avrit should have felt relieved.
Russ was one thing: the track team leader, well respected and quick. But, Avrit realized someone much larger had caught him.
Really, the only thought he could manage was: Shit.
"Russ, what does our motto mean? C'mon, I know you know it." A finger was repeatedly jabbing Russ's forehead.
Russ batted the hand away, shooting Avrit a nasty look. "It means we welcome each other with due respect."
Avrit tried to get away again, but the hand on his shoulder turned into a grip. He fidgeted uncomfortably, eyes flickering between his antagonist and his restrainer. A hand was thrust in his direction and he flinched, recoiling slightly. At feeling no pain, but instead a steady release of the captive grip, he opened his eyes. Avrit stared down at the hand Russ was offering to him.
Hesitantly, he accepted it.
"There, satisfied, Tobias?" Russ took his hand back. He looked Avrit up and down once and turned away, signaling for his fellows to follow. "Practice is on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Meets are on every other Saturday. Show up tomorrow if you're interested."
Avrit shifted uncomfortably as he watched them go.
"Alright, my work here is finito." Tobias grinned, stretched and clapped his palms together. After a few seconds of congratulating himself on another potential riot avoided, he finally regarded Avrit face to face, looking down at him with curious golden eyes.
Befitting of a fox transmuter.
Avrit stared back through bright blue eyes, shrinking slightly. His nose twitched and he blinked. "Smoke…. Fox," he found himself whispering. "And... Herbal Essence... lavender." At realizing what he'd just said, he gasped and his hand flew to his mouth.
"Yup." The fox only laughed, leaning back, then forward, nose-to-nose with Avrit. "And you're obviously not human either."
Avrit squeaked and quickly gained some distance between their faces. He franticly looked around to see if anyone had overheard, and his hands clasped in front of his chest. "Please don't tell anyone," Avrit begged. "I don't want any trouble."
Tobias raised a brow and scratched behind his ear, pursing his lips together. "Trouble? I hate makin' trouble, man. S'not to say I don't do it anyway, but it's more or less animosity towards The Old Man." At Avrit's blank stare, he added. "Student body prez. Old Man. He acts like one, the geezer."
Again, a long fingered hand was flattened against Avrit's shoulder. "Anyway, I, Tobias William Reynard, hereby declare that one-" he paused, "-insert name here's 'secret' shall be kept for as long as insert name here desires." Tobias bowed, nose twitching, and a grin settled beneath it. "Y'know, you're pretty twitchy for a husky transmute." He prodded Avrit's nose experimentally.
Avrit instinctively bit at Tobias's finger. "I...." Red tinted his cheeks. "You just caught me off guard is all," he said, standing up straight and taking another step back. Tobias had a tendency to gravitate into a person's personal space. "I'm Avrit. Avrit Pistel."
Gravitate indeed. The fox matched Avrit's step, holding his hand out palm up. "You look great when you run."
The blush grew in intensity. "I- wh-" He took a deep breath. "Thank you?"
"Really." The grin broadened and Avrit had to stare. Was this guy...was he...was he-? "You've got the natural grace a runner needs, and the determination isn't just in your face, it's in your body language too. I mean, like, the pure urge to run, not just to win. I like that."
"Go for the team, man. If Russ starts giving you trouble, you call me." His hand was still outstretched. "And get some water. You look like you're about to pass out." Grin.
Avrit slowly shook Tobias's hand. "I...would love to be part of the track team." He gulped and took his hand back, staring at it. "But it's not really fair for the others. I'm a transmuter."
Some of the amiability left Tobias's eyes. He straightened to his full, imposing height and kept Avrit's gaze on his. "Avrit, is what they do to us, as transmuters, fair?"
"No, but..." Avrit's eyes flickered away from Tobias. "But sports are different. It could damage the game if I enter."
"Life ain't fair. But if you've got a talent, you should use it. Don't matter if you're a transmuter. Me? I use my appearance and my speed to my advantage." Tobias shrugged. "I'm Vice Prez of the student body. Sure, I had to suck up sometimes, but I got what I wanted."
Tobias turned to face the track. "If you wanna survive, you've gotta give up this 'fairness' thing. Just do what you feel is right." A long pause settled between them before Tobias glanced over his shoulder, grin renewed. "I'll be there tomorrow. Choice is yours, man."
A slow smile crossed over Avrit's face. "Alright. I'll see you there."
HLYPOPCRNBTMN: Yo. That link you gave me was dead.
HLYPOPCRNBTMN: And how the hell do you work MPEG4 files?
The messages were at least three hours old. Apparently, Lowe didn't understand the concept of time and Avrit's lack thereof. As soon as he stepped into his apartment and settled down in front of his computer, clients and numerous online buddies desperate for attention assaulted him. At least in the digital world, he was wanted.
HLYPOPCRNBTMN: Dude, I know you're there
A thousand more 'Dudes' popped up. Among these was a newer screen name a girl from school had given him. She was desperate to find someone who could fix her website.
NEKOFLUER: Hi this is Avrit right?
Avrit brought up his Outlook Express inbox and clicked the 'Send/Receive' button. A second box popped up, showing the progress of his command. He then turned his attention to the instant messages.
Iditarod101: I'll be right back with you, Lowe.
Iditarod101: Sorry. I didn't realize my computer was left on.
There was an agreeing beep, signifying the completion of his email message collecting. His eyes rested upon the new screen name. He clicked the bar and stared at the note. It was only a minute old.
Iditarod101: Yes, it's Avrit.
Iditarod101: This is Julia, right?
NEKOFLUER: Yeah Julia Anne. Umm, about my website would you mind if I entered you in a chat? My friend is cohosting and I want to make sure she knows what youre going to do too. Is that ok?
A chat room invitation flickered on screen. Avrit clicked 'accept'. The window changed and he took a quick glance to the chat list. "KittyBadWolf?" Avrit murmured, scratching the back of his neck. He returned his hands to the keyboard.
KittyBadWolf: Hey sexy!
Avrit blinked and shifted in his chair.
NEKOFLUER: Hey Kitty. this is the guy who told me hed be able to help with the site. he lives in the same apartment complex as you do. Right?
KittyBadWolf: Sure is
Iditarod101: What? You're the same Kitty that lives down the hallway from me?
KittyBadWolf: Hey sry for scaring you last night Avrit
KittyBadWolf: I didnt know you were sensitive about my boys love manga collection
Avrit visibly twitched and closed his eyes. He sighed and left the computer for the kitchen. Kitty, a cat transmuter with more energy than a super nova, was kind enough to him when she introduced herself. As for the strange, foreign-originated 'graphic novels' she collected.... Well, she had meant well, at the very least.
The husky opened up the refrigerator and grabbed a water bottle. He returned to his desk and sat down to see a barrage of instant messages in the chat room, most consisting of the story about the look on his face when Kitty had so willingly thrown herself upon him.
Iditarod101: I'm sorry to interrupt, but if you need help with your website, I'd like your http. I need to know what I'm working with.
NEKOFLUER: ummm, kitty?
KittyBadWolf: I havent worked with html much, so im having problems with the frames
KittyBadWolf: Can you fix it for me
Iditarod101: Sure. It's really simple, actually. I'll also send you a link to a helpful site.
Avrit clicked on the link and the Mozilla browser popped up.
Iditarod101: By the way, what's yaoi?
NEKOFLUER: Umm well see its basically a japanese term for no plot no peak no uh...
NEKOFLUER: its um...see...
NEKOFLUER: you know...guys...
Julia didn't offer much else.
The loaded page popped up.
"Oh sweet Jesus." Avrit looked away from the screen, bringing a hand to his forehead. His computer beeped at him as the chat box suddenly buzzed with activity. "They've got to be kidding me." Avrit clicked on the chat box bar to see a long series of 'pleez's from Kitty. He let out a heavy sigh and shook his head.
KittyBadWolf: I love you Avrit!
NEKOFLUER: sorry ^^
NEKOFLUER: are you sure youre okay working with us? I can understand if you dont want to...
Iditarod101: Oh, no, no. It's perfectly fine. I just didn't expect it is all.
KittyBadWolf: Yur such a sweety
Iditarod101: Ok, let me have your server access and I'll get to work cleaning it up.
Avrit brought the web page back up. He was a professional; he could handle this. Yes, they weren't paying. Yes, they were just a couple of girls he was going to help out. But, he was still respected as a professional, and he could still handle any situation.
He took a deep breath. He'd do a quick search of the site, see what it needed, and he could immerse himself in code afterward. "Do...jin...shi," he sounded out as his eyes scanned across the links. Apparently they offered 'Dojinshi Downloadables'. He clicked on the link.
Iditarod101: Is this bootlegged?
Iditarod101: These download files- are they legal?
KittyBadWolf: Uh sure?
NEKOFLUER: Theyre scans from my personal collection of doujinshi
Avrit just wasn't going to ask any more questions
NEKOFLUER: Hey kitty I heard theres going to be a class assembly tomorrow. did you know about it Avrit?
Iditarod101: No, I didn't.
KittyBadWolf: Whats it for
Avrit leaned back in his chair, watching his chat box. He unscrewed the top of his water bottle and took a long gulp.
NEKOFLUER: I dunno i just want to see Charles and Tobias arguing. its so cute ^-__-^
KittyBadWolf: I agree : )
Iditarod101: Who's Charles?
KittyBadWolf: Our class president hes stiff compared to Tobias
NEKOFLUER: yeah. its mandatory whatever it is so youll have to go too. we can all sit together
NEKOFLUER: ohh ive gtg guys. moms home and shes gunna kill me if she sees what im up to!!!
KittyBadWolf: Kisses, hon
Iditarod101: Good bye.
The computer announced a closing door and her icon disappeared. He went back to working on the frame set up.
It was going to be very long night...
School literally passed over Avrit's head. He'd worked a little too late last night talking to Kitty and 'fixing' her site –it was closer to reconstructing- and by the time he got to the Academy, he was still lost somewhere online. He sat through the assembly with only a twitch and an occasional glance up at the stage to the heated debate about...something. He couldn't remember. The only thing he got out of the argument was that Tobias was right and Charles was most assuredly wrong.
By the time the last bell rang, Avrit was still lost to HTML coding. When he suddenly found himself being dragged out to the track by a skinny, feminine hand, he awoke. Well, thanks, Kitty...
The blonde girl dragged him behind her through the gym, hips swaying in time with her hair. "I've got him!" she announced as she threw open the gym door and shoved Avrit forward towards the track.
Avrit blinked in the sunlight and allowed himself to be pushed around the bleachers and onto the tarmac. He vaguely noticed that the entire track team and some others were staring at him. He yawned.
"He's all yours now." Kitty left his side and hopped up onto the bleachers, taking a seat next to Tobias.
Avrit blinked and turned quickly, staring at the fox transmute. He was here. He really was here.
"Hey!" Russ shouted for the fifth time. "Pistel! You wanna run with the team or what?! Pay attention!"
Avrit quickly looked back. "Oh, sorry. Long night last night...."
"I don't have time for that," the captain said, taking a few steps forward. "Ryan, grab your stopwatch and get to the end of the track. Let's get his tryout over with." A member began to sprint to the end. "You going to run in that, Pistel?" Russ pointed at Avrit.
He was wearing his school uniform. If he took off the jacket and tie, it wasn't a bad outfit, but it wasn't for running. To tell the truth, between unpacking his apartment and working on Kitty's website, Avrit had completely forgotten about track. Still, Avrit never let what he was wearing hold him back from a good run. "Oh, yeah. It's not a big deal for me."
Russ looked cross. "Not my fault if you’re inhibited. We'll do a couple of times, sprint and long distance, and the team will vote."
Tobias draped an arm over Kitty's shoulders and thrust a finger into the air. "Do I not have an eye for talent? Kick ass team. Kick ass and show The Old Man what our school can DO!"
Several track members cheered. Ryan rolled his eyes as he fiddled with his stopwatch, impatiently waiting for the newcomer to start.
"Show us what you got, Pistel." A boy of Asian decent nodded toward Avrit as he stretched; apparently, yesterday had impressed a few of them and pissed off the rest.
Tobias grinned, thumping his hand against Kitty's arm.
Avrit stood in his place at the starting line. He fiddled with his shoelaces, and then took his position, fingers down, legs bent, and head set.
"Mark." Russ began, "Set. GO!"
Avrit bolted down the track. A few from the team cheered him on, and before they realized it, Avrit had crossed the finish line.
"Time!" Ryan called from down the track. "Twenty-two point four seconds!"
"That beats your twenty four seconds flat, Russ," said a blonde runner from the sideline.
"Shut up," the captain snapped.
"Ruu-uuss, remember the motto!" Tobias cajoled from the sidelines, leaning into his friend as he spoke.
Russ glared at Tobias and gritted his teeth. "Again!" he shouted.
Avrit jogged back to the start again. Once again, he sprinted.
A good fifteen minutes of this proceeded and Avrit hadn't broken a sweat. Russ ordered long distance running, and there, too, Avrit excelled. It soon became apparent who on the track team was willing to accept Avrit and who was going to reject him. Russ grumbled and waved his hand dismissively. "Fine, he's on the team. We'll inform Coach when he gets back on Thursday."
Students in the bleachers let out cheers, Tobias and Kitty among them and both certainly among the loudest.
The Asian boy that acknowledged him earlier jogged over and congratulated Avrit with a pat on the back. "Congrats. I bet you could take out the vice president with your speed." Lowering his voice, he muttered, "Russ isn't going to admit defeat so watch your back."
"Thanks, Kuro," Avrit murmured back. He looked over to the bleachers, watching Kitty and Tobias continue their raucous cheering well over what was due. Tobias's arm was tightly wrapped around Kitty and his cheek was pressed against hers. Avrit grinned but looked away. "Alright guys, you can stop now."
This was answered with a beckoning hand from Tobias. "C'mere, man!"
Avrit dutifully obeyed and padded forward, jumping up the bleachers to Tobias's level. Kitty grinned from the fox's side.
Avrit's ribs were suddenly crushed and as he struggled to breath, he inhaled an overwhelming, musky scent- not bad, necessarily, but very powerful. Tobias had, unsurprisingly, jumped up and embraced Avrit. No one else but Kitty paid them any mind. The rest of the student body had long since developed immunity to Tobias's frequent personal space invasion.
Avrit, however, had not.
"Ahh!" Avrit squirmed, shocked by the sudden movement. "Tobias! Let go of me!"
Avrit struggled more, but the embrace only grew tighter and his breath started to fall to wheezing. He slowly settled down and then stilled. "Tobias," he said quietly, twitching occasionally. "Please let go of me...."
Avrit struggled again, bringing his hands up between him and Tobias. He pushed, but was yanked back into a tight embrace. "Tobias!"
With this exclamation, some of the students began to take their leave. The runners had called it quits after watching Avrit, and a few were already heading in the direction of the gym to pick up their school bags.
Avrit growled lowly, a sour look on his face.
"Hey, Pistel!" Russ's voice caught his attention. Avrit's head jerked towards the track to see the captain pointing at him. "You need to have your physical turned in by Thursday. If you are even a fraction of a second late, you won't be accepted onto the team, you hear me? Not a fraction."
Avrit suddenly slackened in Tobias's arms. "A physical...."
A hand sifted through his hair. "That's not a problem." Tobias's forehead, eyes and nose appeared in front of him as the taller transmuter leaned over. He winked.
Avrit's eyes widened slightly and his cheeks flushed. Kitty leaned forward to peer around Tobias curiously. He shook his head, waiting for the rest of the group to file out before he spoke. "What do you mean it's not a problem?" he asked heatedly. "If I get a physical, they're going to know that I'm a transmuter. Forget not being able to join Track; I'll be expelled for lying on my school transcript! There could be legal ramifications!"
Tobias rolled his eyes. "Feh, minor technicalities. I know a physician I can hook you up with. You walk in, you tell him what they want and what you want and voila, no problem. See?" A finger prodded at Avrit's spine. "It's not a big deal. Right, Kitty, my sweet?"
Kitty grinned. "Naturally, Tobias. This doctor is a really-" she shifted her hips, "sweet guy. I went when I entered for soccer last year."
Avrit's eye twitched. "A....alright."
Iditarod101: I don't know, Kitty. I just feel really uneasy about all of this.
KittyBadWolf: Dont worry about it Avrit. I did the same thing last year and I got away with it.
KittyBadWolf: live on the wild side a bit more. lighten up
KittyBadWolf: sometimes you just need to bend a few rules to get around the world
Iditarod101: But I'll be screwed if I get expelled from the Academy. It's not worth it if I ruin my high school career over it. Not to mention it’d ruin the doctor’s credibility as well.
KittyBadWolf: first things first- there is no such thing as a high school career
KittyBadWolf: Youve got the winners and the losers, and you know what side youll be on if you wimp out
KittyBadWolf: Besides, you told Tobias you would
Avrit sighed as those words popped up on the screen. He knew it would come back to haunt him soon, and here at nine o' clock at night with a hell of a lot of homework to do and a frozen dinner in the microwave, it did. Tobias had given him a pathetic look and he had wilted like a night lily in the sun. Avrit held his head in his hands and let out a stressed breath.
Iditarod101: Then will you come with me tomorrow?
KittyBadWolf: Sure! Id love to come to your physical ; )
Iditarod101: Thank you.
Avrit listened to the humming of the microwave in the kitchen. He shifted slightly.
Iditarod101: Hey, Kitty?
Iditarod101: You and Tobias...
Iditarod101: Is there something between you two?
KittyBadWolf: Well weve been acquaintances since middle school
KittyBadWolf: We really turned into friends when I needed to get into soccer sophomore year
Iditarod101: Is that it?
KittyBadWolf: Yeah. Why
The microwave beeped in the background.
Iditarod101: Just wondering, that's all.
Ears twitched. Bells softly jingled as the door was thrust open and ushering them in was Tobias, flourishing his arms wide. "Alright! Yo, Yolene. Sup m'love?"
Both guests turned toward the reception desk where a harried secretary was watching them. Motioning toward the seats, she smiled slightly and shook her head as Tobias spoke. This secretary was unfamiliar to Kitty. "Toby, did you need anymore tranquillizers?"
"Nah. Friend here needs a physical done for track." He wiggled his brows. "Good friend, too."
The receptionist sighed, gesturing to Avrit. "He's the first we've had all week. It's been too slow, Toby."
The fox shrugged.
"The doctor can see you now. Go on back, kid."
Avrit looked pleadingly towards Kitty, who eagerly gestured him forward. He turned and nodded once to the secretary before disappearing down the short hallway. He knocked timidly on the door. There was an agreeing cough from within, and Avrit looked back at his friends again.
Tobias and Kitty gave him thumbs up.
Avrit fidgeted and entered.
Tobias plopped bodily into a chair, and it creaked. He crossed his arms behind his neck and grinned over at Kitty. "What d'you think's going to happen when the doc asks him to 'disrobe'?"
Kitty placed a finger in the air. "We'll be able to tell by the shouts."
Tobias laughed. "Someone's just a little sensitive, eh?" He reached out to pet Kitty's blonde hair fondly and toy with her bangs. "Well, let's see what we can do with him, huh, Kitty? Take him under our paws as they say."
Kitty gained a sly grin. "I'll work him good for you, if you know what I mean."
"Just don't scare him off, alright, Kitty cat? And as you know, no one can resist the Reynard family charms." He laughed. "So, how've things been? Aradia been pissed I haven't been in to work lately?"
"Mother has been most displeased." Kitty leaned back in the chair and threw her feet in front of her, letting them rest on the coffee table. She grabbed a two-month-old magazine from the rack beside her and opened it up. "If I were you, I'd change my name and move out of the country. However, I know you don't work like that."
She watched Tobias shift in his chair and lift a hand to flutter it through the air dismissively. "Nah. She likes it more when I'm begging for mercy, anyway. She hasn't been visiting you at the complex, has she? Because the last thing Twitchy in there needs is to meet that bombshell." He laced his fingers together, sighing deeply. "I tell you, man, between your mom and Charles, I'm beat."
"Mommy hasn't stopped by my place for about a week or so now. I check in with her." Kitty turned the page of 'Health Magazine'. The feature article read 'Twenty Secrets about Your Transmuter Man'. "Avrit is a good boy. Mother would eat him up alive."
"Which is why," Tobias leaned over and peered at the magazine article, "-I was worried. Transmuters like him are of a rare breed. We're all jaded and corrupted, y'know."
The receptionist was appropriately ignoring all of this.
"What the hell are you reading, Kitty?"
"About your penis. Want to see?" Kitty held up the magazine for him to take a better look. "I can't really tell, but you would know: Avrit's a pure-bred husky, isn't he?"
"Dude, that's some weird shi- Oh, sure. He's a pure breed." Tobias squinted. "I'm not sure if this applies to the vulpine because I know we don't do that."
"Are you sure?" Kitty leaned towards Tobias and stared down into his lap. "Maybe you're not doing it right, because I certainly know feline, lupine, and full humans do it."
"Hey, hey." Hands omitted further viewing of his lap. Tobias pouted. "I know what I'm doing, thank you."
There was a random explicative from the back room.
Kitty smirked. "I knew it...."
The door swung open and Avrit quickly exited, shutting it behind him. He tightly gripped at a piece of paper and crossed his arms self-consciously. The husky hunched his shoulders and trudged down the hallway.
"And?" Kitty asked expectantly.
Avrit stopped at the entrance to the lobby. He held an embarrassed blush in his cheeks, and his eyes narrowed in dissatisfaction. "I've got it."
She stood up. "Splendid."
Avrit had intended on doing his homework over the weekend. Honestly, truthfully, he had. But somehow, the systematic balance that had been his life was thoroughly ripped, shredded then roughly sewn back together by Tobias. The guy had no sense of time or work ethic. He was the laziest, most laid back transmuter in existence –most likely, anyway. And currently, the bum was attempting to squeeze himself in through Avrit's door, grinning apologetically and attempting to keep both hands firm on the handles of several six-packs he held. "Come on, man. You have to have time for some fun, right?”
Avrit groaned and pushed harder on the door. It wouldn't be much use; Tobias had firmly set his foot down before he had the chance to shut it completely. "Tobias, I really have to finish my homework. Between track on Tuesday and Thursday and meets every other Saturday, I don't have time to be drinking with you." Avrit pressed his back to the door, desperately trying to make it close. "Besides, hangovers really aren't my thing, you know?"
"Don't have to drink more than one. Hell, if you don't want all of yours, I'll drink the rest. Pleeease?" The wedged foot became a wedged leg. Tobias was stronger than his lengthy, stick-like limbs suggested.
"Nooo!" Avrit exclaimed as he felt his resolve and his grip on the door fading. "I really really need to do my work. I've got government, history, chemistry, math, and three websites to build by Wednesday! I just can't afford to-"
"So? I've got gov, econ, history, chem, math, two DC ENC 1102 papers due, and some student council stuff, whatever that happens to be, due by Wednesday. We're even!" He nudged at the door. "Come on. You know you want to." The beer bottles clinked against each other.
"Underage drinking is illegal," Avrit muttered as he was slowly overpowered. He pushed against the door once more in a last ditch effort, but it was to no avail. With a sigh and a desperate whimper, Avrit backed away from the entrance, and the unhindered door swung forward on its hinges. "Alright, but I don't really have a space for entertainment…"
"Ehh, doesn’t matter. We can just go to your room."
"T-Tobias, I-I really don't think-" Avrit padded after Tobias quickly. "I-I get nervous when people enter my personal space, you understand that, right?" The fox transmute didn't seem to notice this comment as he disappeared into the confines of Avrit's room. "T-Tobias, please."
The first thing that Tobias saw when he entered the husky transmuter's room was the computer. It was currently running a slide-show screen saver of computer graphics. The entire desk was completely organized through the use of shelves, drawers, and plastic cubbies. Beside that was a window with open, but not lifted blinds. Further along the wall was a wooden dresser. The adjacent wall was folding doors that apparently lead to a closet. The wall coming towards the door had a twin size bed pressed against it and then a bookshelf.
"I-I," Avrit wrung his hands together as Tobias stepped into the room with clear intentions of exploration, "I don't normally let people into my room…." Why was he even trying? There was no stopping Tobias once he got started on an idea.
"Dude, it's so impersonal and clean. You need some crap in here to lighten it up. Some misplaced dirty clothes or something. I mean, hey, that poster there? That's cool. I like Twain too." He whirled on his heels and narrowly missed smacking Avrit upside the head. He pointed to the computer. "I mean, it says so little about your personality."
Avrit fidgeted in place, looking over at his computer. "I think it says a lot about my personality. I do like things… orderly, Tobias."
"But that's so boring. You need to have something somewhere! Like, a little figurine or something. I'll buy ya some crap. How bout that? Stick it wherever." Tobias stepped back, glanced over his shoulder, flopped on Avrit's bed and spread his arms wide.
"Tobias!" Avrit whined. "Y-Y- I don't think it's appropriate to be-"
"Look, man, we gotta get you over this twitching problem. Seriously. It's just your bed." His bed that Tobias currently happened to be lying on and rubbing his scent all over.
Avrit twitched. "I'm not twitchy." He paused, watching Tobias purposefully rub his head into the pillow. "D-don't do that."
"Ahh, see, now you're going to smell like me and I, my peculiar canine companion, have your odor all over me." Roll, roll, roll. The fox grinned.
"Tobias," he hissed lowly. "Stop that."
"C'mon. Take a seat." Tobias patted the bed next to him. "Chill out, man. Chiiiill."
He shook his head quickly. "No thank you."
The playful expression vanished. "Don't make me come over and get you."
Avrit stepped back wearily. "No, I'm fine over here."
"Okay." For a moment, Tobias was lounging innocently on Avrit's bed and then- he vanished in a streak of tan and red and Avrit found himself being hauled off his feet. "Feel my wrath, pretty boy!"
Avrit shouted and squirmed in Tobias's arms. "Let go of me!"
"Dude, what are you? A twelve year old girl?" He was tossed at the bed and Tobias flopped on after him. "Seriously. Let us chill."
Avrit immediately sat up and hugged his knees to his chest. He held an embarrassed blush. "Fine. Fine, I'm chilling."
"You don't look like it." Tobias pointed out, sitting up as well and cracking his knuckles. Avrit jumped when Tobias slapped both hands on either shoulder, gently massaging. "Ta-da!"
Avrit slowly relaxed as the tension in his shoulders faded. His head tilted forward slightly and his once erratic breathing slowed into a reliable rhythm.
As Tobias continued, Avrit began to realize that through his stupor, Tobias had been talking to him. "-many times to count, but you know how that is. Well, not sure. Do you? What with the state of affairs between transmutes and humans, a lot of kids aren't that well off." The fox kneaded at a knot below Avrit's shoulder blade. "But yeah, I'm not one to talk. I've led the easy life, y'know. Got a hell of a lot of relatives. They don't leave me alone."
"I…" Avrit sighed as Tobias pressed his thumb into a muscle. "I don't know much of my family. You're a lucky person, Tobias."
"Sorry to hear that, dude." Tobias was laughing. "Hey, you've got someone don't you? Don't have to have a large family. Even one person is good enough."
Avrit gained a sad smile and nodded. "Mmhmm." He took in a deep breath. It wasn't so bad, his sheets smelling like Tobias. "I was emancipated when I turned sixteen."
"Sucks to be you." Again Tobias was patting his head, but with a gentle affection and not so energized. The other hand was still working at his back. "Life's a bitch sometimes. You've gotta grin, bare it, and give it a good lay."
Avrit laughed lightly at that comment. "Of course." He fidgeted slightly and then shifted away from Tobias's touch. "Do you live with family?"
"Sure do. But I've been thinkin' about leaving soon. Once I find a good place. I've got stable work, pays a lot so, you know. It's inevitable." Tobias yanked him back. "C'mere."
Avrit didn't do much to fight against it beyond a slight backward yank. "I…" Tobias's hands were back on his shoulders. He had already tensed back up. "I'm not really used to talking to people."
"I'll coach you. So rule one, ask people about themselves. It's commonly known that humans are largely egotistical, and transmuters, as you know, want details about what they smell on you. Gotta greet them first but that's a given."
Avrit held his silence for a long time. Tobias couldn't quite tell if the transmuter was lost in thought or if he was half falling asleep. However, the husky finally did speak. "How…" his voice was hesitant. Avrit's hand touched his nose as if to aid his mind in forcing out the question. "How did you get that scar?"
"Hmm, this old thing?" Tobias scratched at it, eyes flickering to the computer screen. "Well, long story short, some racial tension. One thing led to another and, y'know, the guy pulls out a knife and I'm like 'bring it bitch' and he's like 'fucking bastard' and yeah. Slash. Ow. Ran away. I'm a coward, what can I say?"
Avrit let out a deep breath and shifted slightly. "I don't think it's cowardly," he murmured. "How old were you?"
"Uhh, like, nine?" Tobias shrugged. "Shit happens, like I said. Other than that, nothin' else traumatic. Maybe seeing my cousin naked." He laughed. "Okay, rule two. When someone asks you a question, which they will, try to be open about it. I mean, hell, you don't have to tell them everything, or even the truth, but a polite response is favorable. You're shy, so at first, you can just stick to simple stuff like 'Thanks for asking, but that's a sensitive subject' if they're talking about something really personal."
"Mm'kay." Avrit nodded. It was unclear if he had taken all of that in or not. He seemed to melt so easily under Tobias's touch. "I'll 'member that."
"For example: What do or did your mom and dad do for a living?"
"My mom was a pharmacist. She donated her service at a small clinic in Newhark." Avrit let out a deep breath. "My father…" he paused, letting Tobias work at another knot, "I don't really remember what my father did. I think he ran some sort of business."
"What happened to your father?" Tobias's cheek was suddenly against Avrit's; the fox's touch went lower.
Avrit's head tilted to the side to break the touch, but Tobias quickly filled the space. "He ran out on me and my mom. Or my mom chased him out, I don't know. I was four, I didn't really understand."
"Dude, keep in mind you don't have to tell me everything. Remember to assess the type of person you're talking to; if they're safe, you can say stuff like that. But if you're even remotely hesitant about them, you should try keeping out some details that can be used against you. Third rule, observe and analyze."
"I've already assessed that," Avrit murmured quietly. "And I'm not telling you everything."
"Good." He could feel Tobias's grin. "So we've got some basics." Skilled hands were working at his lower back. "Some people use hand gestures, some prefer physical contact when they speak. It's important not to offend anyone. If they want to hold your hand for a moment, go ahead and do that. Try not to flinch when they pat you on the back." Tobias did so. "If you don't like it, you can tell them, but really, just try to take it like a man."
Avrit opened his eyes to half slits. "It makes me nervous when people get near me."
Tobias rolled his eyes. "Yeah, I figured. Look, touch is part of life. Especially a transmuter's. It's in the culture." He laughed. "We need to hook you up with someone. That'll fix your touch-phobia real quick. So, what kinda chick do you like? Tall? Short? Blonde, brown, red?"
Avrit fidgeted uncomfortably and tried to lean away from Tobias. "N-no, that's fine. I don't need someone else."
"When someone persists, you can ignore them, answer them or, y'know, do something else. Run away if ya want." Tobias laughed. "Come on, I know all the nicest girls in this city. It wouldn't be a problem."
Avrit turned his head away. Apparently he chose 'ignore'.
"Of course, the rule is different when it's concerning myself. Because I don't shut up." He prodded Avrit's spine. "At least give me the ideal type! I wanna know!"
"No," Avrit answered.
Avrit twitched. "I never gave it much thought," he admitted. "I just always figured I would know when I saw it."
"Ahh. We'll just have to take you around town then." He jabbed again. "Unless you're not telling me something…is it…Kitty?"
"No!" Avrit exclaimed. "It most certainly is not Kitty."
"Then I can infer that there is someone. But not tall and blonde. Or big busted."
Avrit's eyes narrowed at Tobias suspiciously. "There isn't someone. You just twisted my words."
"Short and black? You seem like the type to for some mystery." At no answer Tobias scratched his chin. "Well, what about brunettes?"
Avrit gave an exasperated sigh and scooted away from Tobias. He let his legs hang over the edge of the bed, and he leaned back on the palms of his hands. "I dunno." He said, rolling his eyes. "I guess I like red heads?"
"Alright! The feisty ones are almost always red heads." A long pause followed. "Okay, most of the time. Maybe. Well, they have a reputation anyway." He thumped Avrit on the back. "We'll find you a pretty red head."
This comment was both a blessing and a curse. Avrit had lived in the city all his life and nearly all of the people he had ever come in contact with were either brunette or blonde. However, that didn't mean that there weren't any red heads out there. "You do that, Tobias."
"Sure. I know plenty of red heads. My boss is a red head. Of course, she's both too old and way too salacious for you, man. No offense, but I just can't see you holdin' your own against a wild cat like that." The fox grinned. "C'mon, Avers. Keep the conversation going!"
"Why do you call me 'Avers'?" Avrit looked over at the red head. "I've never heard that nickname before."
"'Cuz I feel like it? There isn't much of a point to nicknames; just endearment. Or because the person's too lazy to pronounce all of the syllables."
"But 'Avrit' and 'Avers' have the same number of-"
"See, I said 'Or'. I didn't just say 'because'. I said 'or because'." Tobias fell back, curling up into a ball. A large, lanky ball.
Avrit would have to remake his bed by the time Tobias left. The sheets were all wrinkled and the pillow was currently on the floor. How that happened, Avrit wasn't sure. "You know, I think I could get used to having you as a friend."
KittyBadWolf: Hey. I heard there’s gonna be a meet!
Avrit stared lopsidedly at the message on his screen. His vision blurred and he let out a deep sigh, brushing back damp bangs from his face. Track practice today hadn't been so kind to him. Rather, Russ hadn't been so kind to him. Tobias hadn't been around to shout his usual 'remember the motto'. Well, at least a cold shower had brought back some of his sanity, but that was quickly squashed by the pile of homework that Saint Jerome's tended to place upon its students.
Iditarod101: Oh, hey Kitty.
KittyBadWolf: I saw you in the hallway but you didnt say anything back to me. Are you ok
Iditarod101: I'm fine. I suppose I'm just a bit tired is all. I didn't see you, I guess.
KittyBadWolf: well you seem to be hitting it off real well at school
KittyBadWolf: making track and all. Theres some girls talking about you in the cafeteria
Iditarod101: Please don't tell Tobias that.
Iditarod101: Especially if one of them has red hair.
KittyBadWolf: i dont think I want to know
KittyBadWolf: About that meet-?
Iditarod101: Oh yeah. First competition on this coming Saturday. The team is excited.
KittyBadWolf: are you?
Iditarod101: I suppose so. I'm a little nervous.
KittyBadWolf: Awesome. Me and toby will be there rooting you on then
Cheers exploded from the crowd in the Saint Jerome's Academy track and field bleachers. It was Avrit's first competition ever, and he had come as a nervous wreck. However, with encouragement from his friends and the welcoming from Kuro and Ryan, Avrit had quickly calmed down.
This track competition was a meeting of four schools: Saint Jerome's Academy, Lancaster High, Belladonna High, and Saint Jerome's rival school, Daniel Rochester's Academy. Avrit had heard that Rochester's Academy had a history of good track teams, but as evidence of his team's reaction, this year was particularly excellent. Ryan was the first representative from Saint Jerome's, and he had come in second to Rochester's. Russ had yelled at him for fumbling at the starting line, but Ryan just shrugged off the scorn. The next round was in the girl's division, and from that point the competition began to run smoothly.
Kuro, Ryan, and Avrit sat beside each other on the bench, watching the proceedings. They occasionally spoke to one another, mostly concerning their team's standings and the condition of the other three school's teams. Occasionally, Ryan made a rather perverted comment about the female runners that always ended with a chuckle from Kuro and a short scolding from Avrit.
The three congratulated each of their teammates as they walked past them towards another set of benches. One wished Avrit good luck, but most had come to the general consensus that he wouldn't need any. Avrit, rather guiltily, silently agreed.
"What do you think Russ has been talking to Coach about?" Ryan murmured, leaning forward to peer down a stretch of track to watch his captain. Russ was locked in serious conversation with their Coach. "Bastard's probably just sucking up."
Avrit shook his head slowly and then shrugged. "Doesn't matter. He can do as he likes."
"Don't look now; he's coming this way." Ryan smirked, looking up to the track. A round of runners were taking their positions at the starting line. The three watched them take off.
Avrit flinched at the harsh call of his name. He looked over to see Russ slowing to a stop before him. "Mm?"
"Scratch running today. You're off the listings."
A simultaneous 'what' erupted from the three boys.
Avrit stood up as Russ started walking away. "What do you mean I've been taken off of the listings?" Avrit demanded, quickly chasing after Russ and stopping in the human's way. "What's going on?"
"You heard me. Coach and I discussed it. Now, get out of my way." Russ glared at Avrit and shifted around him.
The husky transmuter snagged Russ's arm and roughly jerked him back. Avrit was surprised by his own aggression, but it didn't faze him. "What's your problem, Russ?" He felt anger swell up inside him, and he locked eyes with the captain. "You know just as well as everyone else that I can outrun you and any other person on this team. It would be stupid –stupid- to keep me from competing just because you're adverse towards me."
"Look, Avrit." Russ yanked his arm back. Kuro and Ryan cautiously neared the escalating argument. "It's nice that you showed up, but this team can take top ranks with or without your assistance. We don't need you, so get the fuck over yourself."
A chorus of cheers erupted in the background, signifying the end of the race. The announcer's voice buzzed along with the crowd, but all declaration of a winner was lost on the husky's ears. Avrit took a step forward, entering into Russ's comfort zone. "I'm a part of this team too. The only one that seems to have a problem with it is you."
A rough hand shoved Avrit back. "Step the hell off, benchwarmer!"
Avrit was about to shove back when he stopped himself and snapped his hand to the side instead. "You're not even worth it."
Russ leapt towards Avrit, but Ryan abruptly caught up his arms and struggled to hold him back. "Russ!" Ryan looked once to Kuro for help. "What the hell's your problem, man? Just let him run his turn."
"Seriously! Don't be a henachoko, Russ." Kuro muttered something else in Japanese that, though said politely, obviously was not. "Avrit's trained with the rest of us. He's worked just as hard within a difficult time restraint. Don't give him crap just because he sprints better than you do."
"Fuck you, Kuro," Russ snapped at him, shrugging off Ryan's grip. "You're not the captain here. I said he's off the listings, so he's off."
"That's a load of bullshit, and you know it!" Ryan protested.
"You wanna join him?!" Russ whirled on him and jabbed a finger in the boy's chest.
Ryan quickly looked to the ground.
"That's what I thought." Russ lowered his finger. "Got a fucking problem with how I run things then take it to your mamas. I say he's not ready for competition, then he's not." With that, Russ left them.
Avrit glared after him, silently seething. "Hey, Ryan. When's my round coming up?"
Ryan muttered lowly and brushed himself off. "You were after this race here."
Avrit shot a sideways glance. Kuro was busy reviewing something with Coach and Ryan was currently engaged in an argument with Russ. The announcer buzzed in the background, working up the small crowd. His team looked on expectantly.
Everything was going according to plan.
The husky transmute stepped onto the familiar, hot track and walked to his position at track number three. With a 'mark' from the referee, all competitors dropped into position. He set his fingers on the ground, shifted his weight. 'Set', their knees bent slightly. Somewhere in the back of his mind, he heard a harsh string of explicative from Russ, but it was already too late. "GO!"
Avrit was already triumphant as he darted down the track. Pulling into the lead was simplistic, and he passed the finish line with a relieved laugh. It had been the best ten seconds of his life.
"What the fuck, Pistel?!" Came the exasperated shout from down the track. "You better not fucking come back here, or I'll beat your ass!"
Avrit grinned, running his fingers through his hair.
-and rookie runner, Avrit Pistel, grade eleven of Saint Jerome's Academy, clocks in an amazing first place run of ten point three four seconds! Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, where has this boy been for the past two years?-
With a glance to his supporters, he saw Tobias and Kitty jumping up and down together. No amount of scorn from Russ or Coach could ever take that away from him.
"You burned rubber, baby! Burned fuckin' taar!" Again, Tobias nearly choked him as he squeezed tighter. Everyone worth something to Avrit had retired to a local pizza parlor and because of Tobias's 'generous' patronage, were filling their bellies with everything the buffet offered. Kitty was animatedly chatting with Kuro. Avrit had the suspicion it involved her site and he wondered exactly why Kuro would take such an interest in it...
Ryan was complaining to Julia and Sarah about Russ as Valentino looked on with an occasional roll of the eyes or shake of the head.
Tobias refused to relinquish his grip. "You, my friend, were hot."
Avrit laughed and let Tobias squeeze him. The positive attention was enjoyable, to say the least. "Thanks, Tobias. It was fun."
Kitty turned back to Avrit. "You're second run was even better. What was it?"
"Ten seconds flat." Avrit grinned widely. "After Coach saw me take the first run, he didn't give a damn what Russ had to say. It was nice, being able to stick it to him like that."
Kitty snorted and grabbed her soda from off the table.
Tobias sighed deeply. "Ahh, victory is ours."
Kuro pointed a straw at him. "Hey, how come you never tried out for the team, Reynard? It's got to be better than sitting in the Council room all day listening to the chicks whine about non-biodegradable foam trays."
Julia glared. This was ignored. "'Cuz Avers is doing a much better job than I would and because I'm a lazy ass bastard."
"Nooo shit." Avrit's track buddy raised his glass with a sheepish grin. "Well everyone, to Avrit Pistel. Kanpai!"
Plastic cups clanked in the center of the table and they all drank. Avrit shyly set his cup down, looking to each of his friends. To think, just two weeks ago, he hadn't known anyone. Now here he was with a group of people who truly appreciated each other. "I've never had this before...." he murmured quietly.
"Mm?" Kitty looked in his direction. "What'dya say?"
Avrit perked up and shook his head. "Oh, nothing."
"Oi, oi," Ryan cut in, leaning back in his chair and peering over to the windows. "What the heck they doin' here? Isn't that Rochester outside, Kuro?" The track kid pointed at a small gathering of foreign students, apparently meeting up before entering the pizzeria.
"Un. It's Grober, Stevens and Hans. I mean, looking at it logically, this is where everyone comes for pizza, but..."
The three Rochester boys stepped into the restaurant. Stevens was talking energetically and Grober was agreeing animatedly. They paid the cashier and grabbed trays, getting in line for the buffet. Obviously, this was a concern to everyone except for Avrit, who obviously hadn't quite gotten the concept of school rivalry yet. "What's wrong? They're just coming here to-"
"Hush, Avrit," Kitty placed her finger to her lips, watching with gleaming cat eyes the approaching enemy. The boys took a seat at a table near them.
Ryan turned with his back to them, nabbing up a crust on his plate and chomping off a bite. "They're talking about us."
"Sure are." Tobias said with a grin. "But talk is cheap, so-" He turned in his chair and promptly saluted them with his middle finger.
Valentino sighed, placing his forehead against the table as Julia patted his back in consolation. Stupid SGA president...didn't know the meaning of staying 'neutral'.
The Rochester boys paused in their talk. Stevens saluted Tobias with two middle fingers.
"Tobias," Avrit scolded. "Don't do that! It's rude!"
Grober snorted, eyes locking on the husky transmute. "Hey, you're Pistel, right?"
Avrit blinked at being addressed and he pointed at himself. "Uh, yes. Yes, I am."
Tobias was busy trying to take off his shoes in an attempt to salute the man with two middle fingers and two middle toes.
Hans merely watched Avrit with narrowed eyes.
Stevens stood up and approached their table. He leaned in between Ryan and Kuro so that he could place his palm on the table and speak directly to Avrit. "You're a good runner."
Avrit was unsure of how to take this compliment. "Oh, thanks… You are too."
"What's your training regimen?" Stevens asked.
"I… I just work with the team." Avrit pointed at Kuro and Ryan.
The Rochester team laughed at that comment. "No, seriously, how did you get so fast?"
"Same way you got fast, Stevens." Tobias but in. "He was born with the goods and he utilizes them." Tobias leaned back in his chair, having effectively accomplished his goal of the four finger salute.
Kuro and Ryan nodded their consent.
"Give him a year and he'll be running like a trained college student." Stevens stood up straight, eyeing Avrit skeptically. "He can beat me no contest, I saw him. There has to be more to it than just talent."
Besides the fact that he was illegally registered as human? No. "Uh," Avrit played with a drop of water on the tabletop. "Well, I guess it's because I've been working at it since I was really little. It's just a passion of mine, really."
With this response, Stevens seemed curiously satisfied enough to wave a dismissive hand. "Whatever. I'll be looking forward to next competition." He placed a hand on Kuro's shoulder. "Good job." He left for his own seat.
"Ignore him, guys. They don't merit our attention." Tobias grabbed his root beer and took a swig. "Avers is a good man. Kuro, Ryan, good job. That's all there is to it."
"That's right." Sarah chimed in. "You guys worked hard for the school."
"Ryan, Kuro. I think these gentlemen deserve a salute."
The track members grinned. "Yessir."
Avrit grinned, pocketing his hands as he idled along the sidewalk. He shuffled his feet from time to time, playing with the idea of stepping on cracks or keeping his step in sync with Tobias's naturally long strides. They had bid farewell to their friends at the pizzeria and headed off to Avrit's apartment. Kitty had decided to stay behind with Sara and Kuro for a longer time.
"You know," Avrit finally opened conversation between them. "I have a lot to thank you for, Tobias. So, thanks."
"No problemo. I thank you for thanking me, really." Tobias executed an elaborate bow in mid-step, laughing it off as they continued around the bend.
Avrit was jerked back by his shirt collar and the fox holding him still was literally snarling. "I thought I smelt a bastard."
A human was walking in their direction. A young man about their age, tall and lithe with hard features, dark hair and eyes and a darker aura looming about him. He waved amiably. "Reynard."
"How was the meet?"
"I noticed you weren't there."
The boy drew closer. "And would that be the infamous Pistel Pistol behind you?"
Avrit shifted, trying to step around Tobias, but the fox had kept him carefully locked behind him. "Erm..." he eyed the boy carefully. "Yeah. That's me, I guess...." A finger poked Tobias's spine. "Who's this, Tobias?" he murmured.
"Avrit, shut up and stay away from him. Don't. Say. Anything."
"That is very rude, Reynard." Smoke gray eyes bore into Avrit. "He can speak if he chooses to. Avrit, I am Julian Harmond. An old friend of Mr. Reynard's."
"I don't speak to racists."
"And I don't normally speak to Demi-humans either. But as you know, you're an exception."
Tobias's hold on Avrit tightened and the fox drew back, forcing Avrit to move with him. "You're an assistant coach now, aren't you?"
"Yes, I am. Thanks to you."
"Well, Avrit. I heard quite a bit about you."
Harmond laughed harshly, drawing up in front of Tobias and staring intently at his captive. "Congratulations."
Julian and Tobias obviously had a history, and judging by Tobias's surprisingly hostile tone, it wasn't a good one. The word 'racist' hadn't slipped past him, and Avrit couldn't help but cower behind the shield he had been offered. "Uh... thank you?" he murmured hesitantly, eyes flickering to Tobias's face and then to Julian's eyes.
"Funny thing you call me a racist, Tobias." Harmond raised a brow and stepped back once. "Because it seems to me that you're the intolerant one."
"That's old news."
"The past is the foundation of the future. And right now, I've currently taken an interest in Mr. Pistel. Avrit, I'm pleased to have met you so soon before the next meet. I'd like to speak on friendlier terms next we see each other."
Avrit sniffed once and fidgeted from foot to foot like a nervous pup. "Uh, yeah...." He lifted a hand and waved. "I'll see ya around...."
No more words passed between them.
Harmond brushed by, then he was gone. As Avrit glanced back to Tobias, he saw dullness in the fox's eyes.
Avrit sat on the edge of his bed in silence. He twiddled his thumbs in his lap. "Tobias," he finally said softly, turning slightly to look at the lump curled up under his sheets. "I know you're uncomfortable giving details about your problems to people, but… I guess I'm just trying to let you know I'm here to listen to you, Ok?"
Silence persisted in the room after this. The lump of sheets shifted once, and finally, Tobias let the sheets fall away from his head. "Guilt…” he murmured quietly. Avrit watched, waiting patiently for him to continue. “Just seeing him instigates this guilt…Y'know, I can't stand the feeling."
Avrit shifted, pulling his feet up onto the bed. He looked over to Tobias silently.
"It sucks." The transmuter repeated. Tobias sighed and flopped onto his back. "Harmond let me in on a secret. Secrets. And being the talkative jackass that I am, I blew it and that forced him to lose his position on the track team and the respect of the people closest to him. They started letting him act as assistant coach this year; only because he's a senior and he's at the top of his class."
"Oh," Avrit mumbled. "What was the secret, if you don't mind me asking?"
"Harmond had slept with the principal's daughter then cheated on her with her boyfriend."
"Oh damn." Avrit looked away from Tobias as if he had nearly said something offensive. "That's… that's pretty bad."
"So you see why the man would hate me? I didn't do it purposely. But the scary thing is," Tobias sighed. "The guy was going to cheat on the daughter's boyfriend with me."
Avrit pressed a finger to his temple and shook his head slowly. "'Was going.' That means that you didn't, correct?"
"Well, he tried. But no, I don't do assholes, man." He laughed bitterly.
Avrit laughed. "In both senses of the word, I assume."
"Exactly." Tobias placed a finger in the air. "Don't get me wrong, man. I'm not against that sort of thing. Attraction is attraction, regardless of gender…it's just that, stupid things led to stupid reactions and grudges were born. It's my fault you're getting shit from them. Harmond saw you with me and assumed that we were together or, if we weren't a couple, that you wer- let's just say, he's probably jealous."
Avrit grinned and shrugged. "I don't know. He hasn't been a problem to me."
"My friend, you don't know Harmond." The fox dived back under the sheets. "So that's the story, pathetic as it is. I mean, it's not the only problem, I guess, but…eh…I don't deal well with negative emotions…" He yipped and curled into himself.
Avrit reached out and placed a comforting hand on Tobias's shoulder. "How about I toast some strawberry poptarts?"
The lump deflated and a fuzzy reddish snout poked out of the sheets. 'Dude, that's like…my favorite…'
His friend smiled. "I know."
"Alright, team!" Russ exclaimed, pointing a finger at the group before him. Saint Jerome's track team was sifting through their bags, pulling out their uniforms and starting to change in the designated locker room. "This may be the Specials, but we're on Daniel Rochester's home terf, and I expect you all to crush them!" Russ may have been a little too energetic this Saturday, but the team wasn't going to complain. When he was charged with competitive spirit, it always meant good times for the team. His excitement usually rubbed off on a few of the other members, especially Kuro, who was an excitable person.
Avrit had been careful to avoid Russ at all costs, and it seemed to have worked so far for this competition. In all actuality, Russ seemed to be acting rather neutrally towards him today. It was strange, but he wasn't going to question the blessing.
The Specials, as they called it, was a competition that Daniel Rochester's Academy put on once a month on an off Saturday. Each team selected one of its runners to compete in one, and only one, of the races. It had been decided that Russ would take long distance, Ryan would take hurdles, Kuro and three other students were competing in the relay, and, of course, Avrit would run the sprint. This competition meant nothing for a school's standings, for it was a 'friendly competition between rival schools', so attendance was voluntary. Saint Jerome's, however, had never in its history missed a Specials Competition.
"I heard Hans was suspended from this game," Ryan said as he sat on the locker bench next to Avrit. He began to tie his shoes. "Because of that fight he got into."
"He was pretty good." Avrit quickly pulled his shirt over his head. "It's a shame he won't be able to compete today."
"Are you kidding me?" Ryan nudged Avrit. "I think it's great. If I was running against Hans, I might lose and then Russ would have my head on a silver platter."
"You shouldn't discourage yourself like-"
Heads turned as the gym-side locker room door swung open with a loud creak. Footsteps echoed through the immediately silent room, and their eyes landed upon the intruder.
Low murmurs broke out among the boys. Ryan hissed lowly. "What's he doin' here?"
Avrit blinked. "Harmond?"
Russ had turned, an irritated look on his face until his eyes landed upon the opposing assistant coach. Surprisingly, his disposition lightened. "Hey."
"Hey." Harmond turned an amiable smile on all of them, flourishing a hand in an imitation of a wave. "Run fast, boys, and good luck."
Ryan rolled his eyes and the other's grinned sarcastically. Avrit avoided Harmond's searching gaze.
"I think it will be your team needing the luck," Russ retorted, handing Harmond a thumb's up.
"Actually, gentlemen, I don't believe either of our teams need luck. We're just that good." He laughed, nodding to Russ. "Burn tarmac, Jerome!"
And he vanished as quickly as he'd entered.
"That guy creeps the hell out of me," Ryan announced loudly.
Avrit nodded his agreement.
High fives passed around the team as Ryan returned from the track. "Right on! You hauled ass!" exclaimed one of the boys as their palms met in the air.
"I had to after I told that Rochester guy to lick my balls at the finish line." Ryan grinned widely. There was a chorus of laughter and sickened groans around the group. "You're up next Kuro and co." Ryan landed a friendly punch to the boy's shoulder. "Bring in another first place for the team, alright?!"
There was agreeing cheer from the group as the selected members peeled away from them in exchange for the track. Avrit, Ryan, and the leftovers had a seat on the bench.
Avrit turned to look over his shoulder. Russ waved him over.
"Asshole's gonna turn you into an errand-boy." Ryan mumbled, turning to look back at the track. "He did it to me when I first joined."
Avrit shrugged as he jumped to his feet. "I don't mind. As long as he's not yelling at me." The husky transmute jogged over to his captain. "Yeah?"
Russ pointed with his thumb over his shoulder. "Coach's clipboard got left in the locker room, and I run next. Go get it."
Avrit glanced over his shoulder once to see Ryan give him an 'I told you so' look. He nodded. "No problem." The husky jogged to the chain link fence and hopped over it, taking a short cut under the bleachers. He walked down the school sidewalk a little ways and pulled open the locker room door.
The main lights were turned off, but the office lights were on, leaving enough illumination for easy sight. The door swung shut behind him and he walked down the isle of lockers. Avrit immediately spotted the clipboard on the bench, and he began toward it.
Avrit stopped in mid step, sniffing once. He wasn't alone. His ears fine tuned to the silence, and he heard a slight shift of a foot on the concrete floor. "Hello?" Avrit asked, walking around the row of lockers to peer into the open center of the room.
A few boys from Rochester were waiting for him, aggression emanating from them, flowing over Avrit and instigating nausea. "Yo, Pistel. You know why we're here?"
"Y'even hafta ask?"
"Why we here, Pistel?"
Avrit immediately turned to leave.
"You know we aren't going to let you do that." A shorter male, radiating angry heat, stepped in front of him. He was quick. And, Avrit recognized later, he was one of the boys he'd beaten at the last meet. He reached out and shoved the transmuter into the chest of a larger boy. Flashes of tiled floor and fists and different faces shifting rapidly temporarily blinded him with panic. He was living the cheap, cliché film where the protagonist is shoved into one bully then tossed unceremoniously from jock to jock, beaten mercilessly during the process. Hard bone connected with his jaw.
Avrit rocketed into the choke hold of another foreign set of arms and the reality sliced deeply. Instantaneously, the strange allure of fresh blood lined his nasal passages and clouded the scents around him. They were too fast…too…he stopped his mind as his body kept reeling. Avrit calmed.
They were quick. Avrit was quicker.
Avrit was thrown towards another person. He quickly ducked into a roll to miss the grabbing arms. He slammed hard into the lockers and wheezed as the breath was knocked out of his lungs. A foot slammed into his chest and he let out a cry of pain, tears welling up into his eyes. He automatically curled inward, coughing up blood. The strong scent filled his nostrils.
A flash of white light followed by extreme pain in his head signified a connected kick. The foot swung back again. The calf muscle tensed, the knee shifted, the foot began its forward shot and-
Cloth shredded as a familiar, blind sensation hit Avrit. Fangs clenched deeply into flesh as the victim let out a pained cry. Growls and shouts exploded into the air as he instinctively ripped his head side to side, clenching his jaw tighter. The scream intensified among the pounding, retreating footsteps of the unfortunate's companions.
Another, desperate, misdirected kick hit Avrit. The husky flipped to the side, letting go of his attacker's leg. He flattened his ears against his head, bearing his bloody fangs and narrowing his eyes. Avrit crouched, shifting his hind legs once.
The human let out another terrified, desperate shout. He curled towards his mangled leg, and curses intermingled with pleas could be clearly heard through sobbing.
The trembling husky slowly stopped his growling. The cloud of confusion and bloodlust lifted from the corners of his mind, allowing leeway for him to take control of himself. The dog's ears slowly unfolded from the back of his head as his heart rate slowed and breathing regulated.
The transmute's eyes suddenly widened as understanding returned to him. Avrit felt his body shift back, and humanoid hands clapped against warm, wet concrete. Blood. Blood was pooled everywhere around him. It tainted his skin, his nostrils, his mouth. Avrit lurched and gagged on the rich taste of iron.
He brought his hands to his arms, digging his fingernails into his own flesh. He couldn't feel the pain; adrenalin was still pumping through his veins. Among the echoing groans from his victim, Avrit began to feel another hot surge of panic grip at his chest.
Avrit struggled to his feet and dashed for the showers, fighting back the urge to shift again. He collapsed to his knees under a faucet, yanking on the handle. Scorching hot water spat out of the head, and he cried out as every point of broken flesh suddenly raged. He folded forward, spitting the taste of blood from his mouth.
In that moment, only one thought struck him. "What have I done? What have I done?"
Clear and high, resonating over metal and tile, the name pierced his jaded thoughts as the water bit his open wounds. He vainly tried to lose himself in the steady, heavy sting of the hot water which could not heal nor hide him.
"Avrit!" It hurt to hear that voice call his name…"Jesus Christ!" He'd found the Rochester boy. "I thought something smelt seriously fucked up but- AVRIT!"
Tobias wavered into focus within the doorway. Steam roiled past him and Avrit's name seemed to disappear in the heavy air as it slipped over quaking lips. "W-what the....what….what-?"
Avrit's entire body trembled and heaved with sobs. He shook his head quickly, water flicking from his hair. He coughed and gagged, clamping at his stomach as his own blood dripped from his mouth into the heavy flowing water. Pink swirls gathered in front of him and slipped into the drain. He shook his head again. "To-" he cried out as he shifted his shoulders. "Tobias, I-I…" It hurt even more for his friend to see him like this. "I don't know what came over me. Oh god, Tobias. Oh god, oh god, oh god."
He couldn't feel Tobias's hand on his shoulder though he wished he could, if only to lose himself in the comfort of the familiar touch. It slipped away and returned again. Tobias's words were blurring together, jumbled by Avrit's mind and by Tobias's own stress. Avrit allowed the numb hands of his friend steer him away from the punishing heat; the sudden drop in external temperatures heightened the pain in his limbs and joints. He nearly fell back and felt something soft wrapping around his waist. "Stop."
"It's okay, man." Avrit was turned around and pressed into the comforting warmth of Tobias's chest. "I'm here. People are on the way. They'll help you…"
He could smell things on Tobias that should not have been there. Blood. The boys from Rochester. Fear and anger. Avrit's hands subconsciously clenched at his friend's shirt as what lurked beneath the stench of drying blood finally surfaced in his mind. Harmond.
"Avrit, are you with me-? Hey-?"
A high pitched whine escaped him and he turned his head, burying his face into Tobias's chest. "Harmond…."
"What about Harmond?" There were fingers running through his hair, massaging his scalp.
Avrit quivered and shook his head as his mind trailed off onto a tangent. "I need my clothes," he whispered.
Two minutes and thirteen seconds.
Two minutes and five seconds.
One minute and thirty-eight seconds.
The dish rotated and turned, washed in a dim, synthetic little orange light and Tobias couldn't tear his eyes away. Shouts from children and from the adults scolding them created only a small portion of the din that was the daily conducted Reynard family den. Familial comfort had seemed ideal…
Too bad they hadn't gone shopping in a while. Grandmama had insisted on going 'organic' for what she'd deemed as Transmuter pride month. Tobias had cheerfully proclaimed that since he had a guest, they'd be eating microwave dinners and there was no need for his siblings to hunt for him.
One minute and twelve seconds.
He'd kicked the younger ones out of his room for Avrit to occupy and vaguely wondered if they'd infiltrated it anyway. For their sake, they didn't.
Tobias jerked back as shrill mechanical beeping assaulted his migraine. He spouted light curses as he removed the macaroni and cheese with a half burnt pot holder, attempting to navigate the living room. Pups lay on the floor, toys lay scattered and wires ran from laptop to fan. There was the occasional unidentifiable substance or object but otherwise, the path was safe today.
Shoving a miscreant out of the way, Tobias gently rapped a knuckle on the door. "Yo, chow's up."
There was a long, hesitant silence that was eventually broken by the sound of shuffling. The door cracked to expose a tired blue eye. At the sight of Tobias, the door opened all the way to allow him in. "Thanks."
Three locks adorned the inside of the door. Tobias used all of them, carefully balancing the mac and cheese in the opposite hand before handing it off to Avrit. "Hope you don't mind. We've been going 'natural' for the past month as part of appreciation for 'our heritage and identities', whatever. Hope you don't mind the den. It's big but crowded. Kinda loud…"
Avrit accepted the food and sat on the edge of Tobias's wrinkled bed. He shook his head slowly. "No. I actually kinda like it. I always figured this is how families were supposed to be." The transmute looked down into the bowl, welcoming the pleasant smell but not quite sure he could stomach food quite yet. "I don't know how I got out of being arrested," he said quietly.
"I did that." The fox raised his chin vainly and broke out laughing. "I'm a Reynard. We can fox our way out of anything. Consider it a favor or a debt. Whichever you'd prefer."
But Avrit didn't laugh. Instead he flopped to the side and hid his face in Tobias's sheets. They smelled strongly of him, and it was comforting. "That boy. He won't be able to run again. Not on a track team."
"Hey, I'm not going to sugar coat it, dude. You're both at fault. I mean, naturally, they were the instigators so the blame rests primarily on their shoulders but-" Tobias breathed in slowly. "Nah, you don't need to hear that now. Eat some of this and rest. You need it." He laughed. "Do you really find fox musk that interesting?"
"Mmhmm." Avrit took in another deep breath. He finally eyed the macaroni and sat up again. He felt an overwhelming wave of guilt. "Harmond…" he began, "he was behind this." He forced himself to eat a bite of macaroni. "He came into the locker room before the games began. He and Russ spoke."
"Expected. The bastard was keeping me from getting in. Started pawing me so I sucker punched him in the gut." Tobias sat down near the boy, staring at a poster of a red fox adorning the ceiling. Courtesy of National Geographic. "I'm sorry, man. They're obviously not going to let you back on the team."
"Forget the team," Avrit groaned and exchanged the food for holding his face in his hands. "I'm going to be expelled from school. I've been uncovered for lying on my transcript. I won't even be able to go to public schooling."
"Funny thing about that. Neither will I." He flashed a big, toothy grin.
"What do you mean?" Avrit looked over to his friend. "You didn't lie, did you?" Who would have missed something as obvious as Tobias?
"No. They knew I was a transmute since freshman year. Both schools did. Problem is, I literally chewed out a few guys because they wouldn't let me in the locker room. Ross isn't going to be doing anything for quite some time, heh. But my reign as student body president has been officially terminated and I've been suspended for ten days."
Avrit's eyes fell. He could have scolded Tobias. He could have told him that he didn't have to do that. That it was wrong to have put himself at risk for someone else. He could have said that the damage was already dealt and that further violence wasn't needed. But, instead he said, "…Thanks."
Tobias scratched behind Avrit's neck. "Eat. You need it, dude. Just try to ignore the periodic whining from beyond the door. Nothing that merits attention."
Avrit let out a deep breath, accepting every ounce of comfort Tobias was willing to offer. He agreed with Tobias that he had to eat, but no matter what he did, he felt it tasted of blood. Avrit forced himself to go half way, but stopped after that and refused to take any more. "What time is it?" Avrit's internal clock, along with everything else, had been severely warped by exhaustion.
"Like, nine p.m. The folks are out but they were here earlier. They want to know how you feel later, so they'll be checking in."
"I hope I haven't become a burden on your family," Avrit said. He laid back down on the bed, tucking his head slightly so that it didn't press against Tobias's leg. "It's just kinda cold at my apartment. And I couldn't face Kitty's questions, not yet."
"Hey, you can stay here as long as you like. Really."
"I appreciate that a lot, Tobias."
"But…" The fox bit his lip. "Actually, my siblings can be uh…They're intelligent, they're just…and they somehow manage to sneak in here despite the locks. You wouldn't mind being in a household with twenty other people would you? Because they're not all home and…"
Avrit shook his head. "I'm going to leave first thing in the morning." Or rather, when he had the will to walk home, which could occur in the middle of the night if he had trouble sleeping.
"Ya want me to come with ya?"
Avrit paused. He nodded.
"You're welcome to work with me at Aradia's for a while. I'll keep her off your back, I swear." Tobias snatched the plate of mac and scarfed the rest down. "Pay's great and you get some pretty good connections in the higher ups."
Avrit shook his head. "I have a means of income. That's not a problem for me. Thanks for the offer anyway, but Aradia sounds scary."
"Uhh, yeah, she scares me too, but you learn to deal with it."
Avrit took refuge in his apartment for the next seven days, dodging knocks on his door and phone calls from newspapers. In the event that Avrit was caught by a reporter, he would only respond with "No comment," and try to get away. When he needed to go out, he avoided any path that Saint Jerome or Dainel Rochester students might take. Despite all of his efforts to keep himself as removed from the situation as he could, he still heard about the major newspaper stories, the twisted rumors spread from person to person, and the many threats to press charges.
Throughout the entire week, Kitty and Tobias stayed with him. Tobias had practically moved in with Avrit for the past week and had taken the role of 'aggressive lookout' as he liked to call it. Avrit found that he didn't really mind, and at some points, when some particularly irritating reporters stopped by, he thanked Tobias for his efforts.
The first few days, Kitty spent her time in his apartment after school, but when serious talk of lawyers and criminal charges began to come into play, she disappeared from school and Avrit's apartment to work with her mother. Coincidentally, shortly after Aradia's information-gathering lackeys discovered some particularly juicy details concerning some serious financial fraud, all allegations were dropped and the storm blew over. Avrit didn't have room to care how Kitty had handled the situation, he was just glad.
Avrit sighed as he set the phone back on its receiver. "That was the school," he murmured.
Kitty watched Avrit over the rim of her soda can. She used her feet to shift the rolly chair across the kitchen tile so that she was closer to him. "And?"
"I've been officially expelled." He scratched at the back of his neck and sighed. "It went straight to the Committee. They didn't even think it was appropriate to handle a hearing; it was just immediate expulsion." Silence fell between the two as Avrit crossed his arms and stared at the tile. His brows furrowed in thought. "Well, it wasn't anything we didn't expect anyway."
"Aw, Saint Jerome's sucks ass anyway," Kitty waved her hand, trying to brush it off. "You can do online courses. Get your GED and stuff like that. You're really smart; you shouldn't have any trouble with it."
Avrit pulled himself up onto the counter and leaned back, bumping his head against the wall. He looked worn, and his dead appetite was starting to affect him. "Yeah, I guess, but now I've lost any financial ticket I had with my Aunt and Uncle. They don't want to have anything to do with me."
"How's your money now?" Kitty leaned forward on the back of the chair. It creaked as the hinge gave way a little.
"It's fine for the moment. My business is going well, but I don't know if that will last forever." Avrit's eyes shifted to the side and he sighed.
Kitty watched him carefully. "That's not what's bothering you, is it, Avrit?"
A frown twitched at the corner of his lips. "It's just…."
Avrit sighed as something in his mind gave up. "It's just that I worked so hard to gain the respect of so many people, and then…" He closed his eyes. "And then I screwed it all up."
Kitty jumped, and a hand jerked to her back pocket. "My ass is vibrating," she murmured as she pulled out her cell phone. She glanced to the glowing number on the screen. "It's Toby. Hold on a sec, Avers." Kitty flicked the top with her thumb and it flipped open. "Hey sexy."
Avrit opened his eyes, watching Kitty carefully. Tobias had disappeared some time this morning. He said he was going to work for Aradia for a few hours.
"Ah, alright… Yeah, he's here." Kitty swiveled the chair so that her back was to Avrit. "You sly fox.... Do you want to now? …Perfect. Love ya! Buh-byes, hon." The phone clicked shut and was placed back in her pocket. Kitty grinned over her shoulder to Avrit, and then stood up. "Come on, sour puss. We're taking a walk."
Tobias greeted them in the usual manner, with the usual broad grin and shining eyes. Yet something seemed amiss.
"Yo, Avers! Kitten!"
He looked normal...And then he glanced up and there was the answer. The headband. His 'Tobiasness' as he so fondly called it. Avrit noted as well that the stench of cigarettes hadn't been as strong around him lately -he'd cut down on smoking inside for Avrit's comfort- and that today, as far as he could tell, the fox hadn't had any yet.
He winked at them, waving them over enthusiastically from across the street. "C'mon, man. I actually made reservations for one of the good booths. Don't wanna be late, do ya?"
Avrit eyed Tobias skeptically. His attention slowly shifted upward to the sign Tobias was standing under. "Cici's Pizza? What's all this about?"
Kitty grinned and grabbed Avrit's wrist. "Come on! Tobias spent all morning working on this surprise!"
"You what?" Avrit was yanked in through the door. There were cheers from the back of the room. Avrit looked over, immediately spotting Kuro, Ryan, Sara, and Valentino.
"Yo!" Ryan waved at the three entering. "What up, Pistel!"
"Oi!" Kuro grinned over a glass of root beer nearly overflowing. Sarah ducked away as it sloshed, Kuro raising it in greeting. Valentino laughed and smacked his own cup against Kuro's in a mock toast.
Tobias looped an arm around Avrit's shoulders. "You shoulda known it was coming, dude."
Avrit grinned and sat down at the table with the others.
Ryan shoved an empty glass into his hand. "Don't look so worried, man. You're still our buddy."
Kitty laughed and looped her arms over Valentino and Sara's shoulders. "Yeah, and tell him the rest of the good news, Ryan."
He and Kuro exchanged sly glances. "Russ has been kicked off the team for having a hand in the fight. I told them he was the one who sent you into the locker room, and he admitted that he and Harmond had been talking some time beforehand."
"Unfortunately, none of the blame has touched Harmond." Valentino sighed deeply. "It's troublesome but nothing can be done about it."
"Eh, it sucks the guy behind-"
"We don't know it for sure, Toby." Sara interjected.
"-it wasn't caught but hey, whatever. Right now, you're the one that matters, my friend." Tobias snatched the frothing glass out of Kuro's hand. "Let's party." Tobias caught Avrit's eye and after a long, expectant pause from the husky transmuter, he grinned.
Avrit grinned back. "Thanks, you guys. You can't even imagine how relieved I feel right now."
Kitty sat down in Tobias's lap and took the glass from him, taking a long sip. "Valentino's the new President. Sara's the Vice President, and guess who decided to join as treasurer?"
Avrit perked up. "You?"
"Hell no," Kitty shook her head. "Julia Ann."
"So even if I'm not there, my minions are." Tobias reached out toward Avrit with his free hand. "Avers, you started something here. It's like, up until you got here, we've just been waiting at the starting line and now...we're running." He laughed. "And it's a hell of a way to the end. But you and me? We're going to rock this town. Cheers!"
And the clink of glass against glass resonated over them all.