Sunday, August 10, 2014



*Story contains M/M relations and explicit violence*

He had never been so scared in his entire life - and that was saying something for a kid that was scared of everything from dogs to girls. At sixteen, in his third year of high school, Ethan had seen his fair share of nasty shit go down in this cafeteria. Nothing like this. This was the kind of scary shit that happened in Hollywood movies. Not in the life of a peace-loving, self-professed geek.

An angry voice, a string of pings, and a sudden cackle of shocked screams had him flailing to cover his ears. He bit his lip in an effort to hold back his own voice, to keep in his screech, as if the taste of blood could somehow provide antidote to the fear that threatened to consume him.

Too young. He was too young to know what to do, too timid to do it even if he knew what 'it' should be, and too weak to think about trying. He didn't even know how to pray. After all, he'd spent most of his young adulthood scoffing at the weaker-minded that lifted angst-weighted hearts and tear-filled eyes to the sky. The wise knew the only thing that could be trusted was science. Everything boiled down to a perfect combination of DNA, the mind's version of the intense and careful zero's and one's that patterned awareness. Now, however, right now - he'd give his left hand to know that the man in the sky was watching. He might even throw in the arm if he could be guaranteed a few moments of the big guy's attention.

The sobs that bounced off the concrete walls lent credence to the fact that the last set of sounds had, more than likely, taken another life or two. He'd already seen at least half a dozen young bodies fall, whether wounded or destroyed, before he'd taken refuge behind the flipped table. A shoddy cover, no doubt. But here, where everything was open and in view of the young madmen that currently controlled, well... it would have to do.

He was too frightened to look, could not even force himself to peek around the flimsy pressed wood barrier and take a count. He didn't even have the will to look to his side, neither left nor right, to see who cowered around him. Acquaintances from math class, the science club, his chess buddies. The jocks, the princesses, the kids from that one table in the corner that painted their fingernails black and pierced everything they could get away with. They'd all been reduced to shivering animals, to quivering prey. There was no cool here. They were all emo this morning.

Another shout of panic, a furious scream, a single shot, and the most horrifying glugging sound that Ethan had ever heard in his life, were followed by a crescendo of screeches and sobs. He tightened the hands over his ears and his eyelids against his cheeks. 'God, please!' his mind shrieked. Why wouldn't they stop?

The panic grabbed him. His legs began to shake and the tears began to track from the corner of his eyes. Sound, light, emotion - he wanted it all to just go away. He wanted to be back at home. In bed. Safe. He needed his mother. He needed his cat, his pillow, his computer. If only he could believe this wasn't happening, that it was all a bad dream. It was all so wrong. And when the body slammed into his right side, he almost lost control of his bladder. He opened his eyes wide, his mouth followed, and only the hand that clasped itself over the lower half of his face, that squeezed the sound back into his throat, prevented the scream from tearing from his lips.

"Quiet," a voice hissed. "Fuck, Ethan!"

He stared in stunned confusion, trying to sort out thoughts that tumbled chaotically. He knew this kid. Everyone knew this kid. He was that kid. Mr. Perfect. Mr. Everyone-Wants-To-Be-Me. Mr. Fabulous.


Josh with his letterman jacket and beautiful teeth. Josh with a crazy wild-eyed expression in his stunning blue eyes, and sweat on his forehead. Josh: looking just a little too damn pale for that perfect tan. He pulled at Josh's hand until it was lowered.

"Wh-what are you doing?" Ethan's voice cracked in an effort to make it as quiet as possible, more mouthing the words than speaking them.

"Shutting your fucking mouth," Josh growled, turning to peek around the table. "And playing the odds."

Ethan reached out and yanked Josh's jacket to pull him away from the table's edge. "Are you fucking nuts?" he hissed. "Don't draw attention! And what the hell do you mean you're playing the odds?"

Josh looked back, gave an eyebrow lift to the grip Ethan had on his jacket, then scooted back. With heavy breaths, he rearranged himself beside Ethan and ran a hand through his hair. When Josh dropped his palm to his jeans, wiping distractedly, Ethan could see wet streaks soaking into the denim. "Playing the odds," Josh muttered. "Hoping I'm overlooked. They never come after guys like you."

Ethan shot Josh a look of distaste around his whispered reply. "What do you mean 'guys like me'?"

"Oh, come on!" Josh shot his own look right back. "You know what I mean! Hell, you probably know those two idiots!"

"I... I," Ethan sputtered, and looked away quickly. He did know them. Not that he would admit it to the ignorant prick. They weren't close and personals or anything, but they had been members of his debate club last year. They'd been damn good debaters too. Smart, quick, lively... extremists. Go figure.

Josh huffed, with a surprisingly good-natured tone behind it. He lifted his knees and hugged them against his body. "It's us they want. We're the ones they hate."

"Ha," Ethan scoffed quietly.

Josh turned and nudged Ethan's thigh with his sneaker. "Ha? What's that supposed to mean?"

Ethan frowned. "Like you'd have any clue. You guys are the kings and queens of everything." He dropped his eyes at Josh's level gaze. "You guys don't know what it means to be hated."

"Oh, no?" Josh pointed his thumb through the table in the direction of the chaos.

Whether it was just how beautiful Josh managed to look no matter what, even in this moment of absolute disaster, or the plain old stress of the incident, anger got the better of him. Ethan turned and stared directly into the blue eyes that mocked him. "No," he snarled, hissing his words quietly. "You don't. That," Ethan said, pointing in the same direction, "that's fear! One day out of your perfect fucking life. One moment of angst around your parties, and your friends and your happy little fairy-tales. Try being us! Every day you guys walk all over us, talk down to us, treat us like shit - and then you have the nerve to sit here and say 'woe is me'? Maybe if you acted like humans, you'd get treated like humans! You have no clue what it's like when you're not one of the perfect ones. Or what it feels like to be different!" Ethan sat back, his cheeks flushed. However, whether it was anger or embarrassment, Ethan wasn't quite sure.

"Wow," Josh whispered. "You sure you're on the right side of the table, champ?"

Shaking his head, Ethan turned away. Then he changed his mind and flipped Josh his middle finger. An argument erupted out of nowhere, echoing though the wide space, bouncing into Ethan's ears like the wails of banshees. Once again, his body reacted without consent. Josh was the last person Ethan wanted to tremble like a child in front of, except there was no way to stop it. But when the shaking hit Ethan's body, when the whine began to surface, he was still shocked to all hell by the arm that got dropped around his shoulders.

Ethan flinched and pulled back.

Josh grinned, almost sadly, "Well, at least I stopped the tears."

A high-pitched squeal, followed by a distorted voice, broke across the sound system. There were no happy announcements; no cheerful administrator to remind them all that picture money for graduating students was due on Friday. No bell warned them all that third period would start in ten minutes. No, this voice was unknown to Ethan. Firm, direct - it was a distant promise of safety - yet illusionary in Ethan's perspective. Even if a dozen heavily protected officers stormed the place, more people were going to die. Ethan had no doubt that the two gun-toting radicals intended to go down in a blaze of self-righteous glory.

He looked over at Josh and while he couldn't be sure, he would have put money on the fact that Josh knew exactly what Ethan was thinking. Josh tightened his grip on Ethan's shoulders and pulled him closer. They both heard the screaming, the frustration raging in the voices of the two fanatics, then the bullets as the speakers were blown off the walls. There were no answering screams this time. Only quiet sobs. It was then they heard the first table get dragged across the floor - wood marking polished concrete, metal legs scratching. A set of voices sobbed louder, shots answered them.

Silence followed. Then the sounds of metal clacking. Ethan's mind searched its databanks - reloading. A crash of wood being tumbled away, murmured prayers this time, and more shots: the boys had started to make their rounds. Bodies would fall, life fires extinguished. Parents would weep tonight, even those that still had children left to cling to. Their tears, however, would not be nearly as bitter as those left weeping alone.

He felt Josh swallow. Registered it, in fact, only because it was one of those loud clicks that meant muscles were working hard at forcing down something big. Something painful. "Okay," Josh said, and Ethan bristled at the closeness of his breath. "Here's the thing." Josh was speaking quickly, mumbling the words together like he was afraid to stop saying them. "I didn't come over to protect myself. And yes, I do know what it's like to be different. Which is actually why I came over. Because I needed to talk to you. To be here. Just in case, you know... if this is it. If this is the last moment of my life... well, I guess... I wanted it to be here."

'Hold on,' Ethan's mind told him. 'Just one second...' Ethan shook his head at his own thought. Because obviously, obviously Josh did not mean what Ethan thought the other teen was implying. Obviously.

Ethan looked over slowly and watched Josh's throat work again. "Remember my thirteenth birthday?" Josh continued, without catching Ethan's eye. Which probably, Ethan considered, really wasn't a bad idea. Ethan could only imagine that the look he had on his face at the moment wasn't exactly supportive of Josh's belaboured speech. "Remember I invited the whole class? My friends, your friends, you... everybody? Remember? And I made sure my mom called everybody's parents and pressured them just the right way? Like only my mom can? It wasn't 'cause I wanted everyone there Ethan." Adam's apple, dry swallow, bead of sweat... "It was 'cause I wanted you there. And I knew you'd never come if I just invited you. You and your friends would laugh it off like it was some kind of mistake. Or you'd think my friends and I were just setting you up for something awful."

Ethan had to give him that. As it was, he'd begged and pleaded with his mom not to make him go. And shook all day like a Chihuahua in winter. He didn't recall Josh talking to him, or showing him any attention. At the same time though, Ethan had made every effort to avoid the other boys, sneaking away into dark corners with his Game Boy.

Not too far away a heavy boot met wood with a loud splinter, the prequel for another round of screams and shots. Josh's voice got faster. "I like you. I like you a lot. I have since I was nine."

Josh finally caught Ethan's eye. And he looked serious. Surprisingly serious. Tears shone in Josh's eyes. Sweat beaded on his forehead. Besides, Ethan could only conjecture that it was a hell of a time for game playing, even for Josh. Ethan opened his mouth and said the only word his brain could format. "Why?"

"Why?" Josh questioned. "Why do I like you? Or why haven't I said anything? Or why now?"

Ethan watched the other teen struggle. Felt the tension in Josh's arms and saw it in his jaw. "Yes."

A sombre gaze watched Ethan right back. "I don't know why I like you. I just do." Josh looked down at his lap, embarrassment flushing his cheeks. "You're cute. You're smart as all fuck. And you have no idea how cool it is that you just do what you want and don't care what everybody else thinks about you." Smiling sadly, Josh lifted his head. "I'm jealous of the way you control your own life. I think you could teach me a thing or five hundred about it. I'm terrified to tell anyone that I... you know. My parents would lose it. My friends would disown me. And you... well, Icouldn't tell you, Ethan. I couldn't lay that on your shoulders. Or run the risk that you'd be willing to try and live with my silence. It wouldn't be fair."

Maniacal laughter erupted from a location far too close to their own. A girl shrieked, sweaty palms slapped, and sneakers slipped with a rubber protest against the floor. Mechanical pops resounded and a wet, sloppy splat that had Ethan doubting the possibility of him ever eating anything with sauce again.

Josh pulled Ethan's attention back with a touch to his chin. He took a deep breath. "And the reason I'm telling you now is because in less than two minutes those assholes are going to be standing in a spot where I can rush them." Ethan's eyes opened wide. He opened his mouth to say something but was stopped when Josh's thumb slipped up and brushed his bottom lip. Josh nodded. "Yes I will. It probably won't end well but maybe it will give someone else a chance to run. Or react. Or give the cops time to get in." Josh's free hand found air, and his shoulders shrugged. "I don't know. I just know I have to do something."

Ethan was stunned. And confused. And suddenly terrified for the outcome of Josh's statement. He swallowed. His lip tingled from Josh's gentle stroke. "But first... you wanted to... first..."

Josh nodded, "Tell you, yes." His eyes softened as they traced Ethan's face. Ethan could feel the path of those blue orbs as if it were a physical journey against his skin. Josh's voice was husky when he spoke again. "You think," he cleared his throat. "You think if I make it out okay, if we make it out, you might want to... go out or something? Eat? Or see a movie maybe?"

Stunned, with nothing more than outright amazement on his face, Ethan nodded. Boots began to clump towards them. Ethan's heart jumped and his belly dove. His balls tightened.

Josh frowned and looked up, worry etched into his forehead. His eyes fell back to Ethan's and he leaned forward. Their lips met. In front of anyone who cared to see them, with death a breath away, Josh stopped the world with a kiss.

He pulled away far too soon. A shame, Ethan would have been more than content to see what lay beyond this realm with his lips pressed against the other's. Then, with a twist of Josh's body, he was gone and crouching against the table. Ethan wanted to scream at him, to beg him to stop. A moment from now and this could all just be a hallucination that Ethan had during a traumatic event. Eventually he'd even convince himself of it, he was sure. He didn't want it to end like that. He didn't want it to be over before it started. Yet even as he struggled to find a statement to make Josh stop, he argued with himself to let the boy be a hero if he needed to be.

And then Josh was moving.

Josh's timing was off. Ethan knew it the second the teen leapt. He hadn't waited long enough to strike. Ethan calculated it all - simple math, an equation of angles and distance - but there was nothing he could do as Josh's form moved over space and tumbled against emptiness instead of another body. Both of the snipers turned towards Josh at the same time. Both of them lifted their guns. Trajectory and geometry flashed in Ethan's mind, in the calculator that was he, and he called out the greatest threat.

"Josh, beside you! To your right!"

Josh recovered on the ground, sweeping one leg around him like a wheel, and Ethan watched in fascination as the knees of the taller sniper buckled and deposited him with a hard thud beside Josh's sprawled form. But even as the one fell, as he landed on knees and palms with his gun skidding from his grip, Ethan knew - it was simple science, calculating the time of movement and reaction - it was too much for Josh to pull off.

Josh jumped the fallen teen, using his body weight to force the boy's face into the ground with a crunch, wrenching the army-jacketed arm with a disgusting snap behind a similarly draped back.

Ensconced in his efforts Josh failed to consider the other militant. Ethan did not. He watched, horrified, at the leering face of the attacker left standing; watched him as he levelled and aimed his gun, watched him chuckle through grit teeth. After all, this would be his prize. The kill of the day. Oh how the mighty would fall.

The gun was aimed at Josh's back. Girls shrieked soundlessly behind Ethan as the world blurred into nothing. Josh looked up at him, something akin to pride shining amidst the blue as he immobilized the struggling man and then his face changed to confusion. Concern. Shock.

And the final gunman's chest caved with the unexpected entry of a flying bullet. Blood sprayed out behind him. His gun fell lax in his hand. A look of unabashed surprise was painted around already fading eyes. Not Ethan, the expression said. That could not have been Ethan! Ethan was one of them! Ethan understood! And as they watched each other, both attacker and destroyer, through the haze of approaching death, Ethan knew that they would have picked past him. They would have left him standing: perhaps the writer to blog the story, the programmer to design the next video game in their honour.

The attacker on the floor began to scream, began to call out a name. As if in response, with a sway, the still standing body began to crumple to the floor.

Ethan let the gun he held follow the corpse to the floor. A sense of disbelief washed over everything. He had just killed a man. A young man like himself. Another teenager that he'd walked with, talked with. Ethan had just pulled the trigger that released the bullet which took another person's life. Not for his own safety. But for the safety of an elite group of people that didn't even know his name. A group of people that, up until this point, would have most likely walked past him while he choked to death on the floor of the very cafeteria they sat in.

Not a sound disturbed the space left behind by hundreds of held breaths.

It was Josh that found sanity first. "The door," he hollered, "unbar the door. Let the cops in!"

Where there should have been a rush of movement, only heads swivelled. Quiet contemplation, exhaustion, the need to stop and breathe - they were the emotional rulers for a long moment.

"Now!" Josh barked. "Move!"

Heads lifted, bodies suddenly animated, and a surge of activity followed. Doors released, boots ran, teenagers sobbed and screamed, and officers hollered orders. Ethan merely found Josh's eyes.

Fingers directed, stories were gushed out, and heavy blue bodies shoved Josh from his captive. Chaos amassed around them. Sprawled on the floor, almost upended by the squat team, Josh reached out. Ethan smiled. And stepped forward.

Fingertips reached fingertips and Ethan's hand was caught. Gentle pressure pulled Ethan down beside the most beautiful boy in the school. Right knee against the other's left, shoulder to shoulder and hand in hand, they sat and watched blood bloom across the tiled floor.

"You'll be all right," Josh stated. It wasn't a question, it was a statement; almost an order. He was going to be all right. He had to be. Josh said so.

"I'm all right," Ethan agreed. Josh tightened his grip on Ethan's hand. And they sat. And they waited for the future to reveal their next steps.

The End.

Copyright © 2011 AF Henley

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