The day passed in much of a blur, as often was the case for Ace within these walls. However, the distinct heaviness- directly oxymoronic to the truth- weighed across his lap with the notion that his most precious artifact was lost, kept captive within the hands of a teen who now most likely harbored only disgust towards him. He feared, posture tense and jittery, that his notebook would be opened, its contents read by prying eyes and passed around the academy, detailing in personal regards his deepest thoughts and desires. Ace winced as a crumpled up ball of paper knocked against his head, distracting his line of thought. A glance up found the frantically twisting form of one of the popular girls, her shoulders shaking, though the room remained silent. Behind his desk, the teacher conscientiously kept his eyes southward, pen scratching red marks against the tests that he was intent on grading. Ace sighed, unfurling the note.
A crudely drawn depiction of him stared right back up from the furled edges, the rope around his neck stiff with the weight of his body as he hung. Ace's face was carefully composed as he observed the sketch, a numbness settling over his chest as he stared; this wasn't the first drawing of this degree he had received, and despite knowing that his emotions should be contorted, Ace felt nothing. He chuckled humorlessly, folding the edges into a compact square and stuffing the paper into his pocket. A disinterested grimace spreading across his face, Ace peered up at the clock upon the wall, internally groaning at the hours that remained.
A sharp knocking resonated off the old oak of the classroom door then, disturbing the stale peace that had settled over the population within. Whispers of discontent were quickly subdued by the professor as he stood, strolling to open the barrier, his oversized statue barely conceding the frame. Ace stood as his name was announced, his focus concentrated upon the floor as he exited the room, following orders to appear before the mandated principal. A series of guffaws followed his departure, and, with arrogant clarity, their words trailed. Ace's thoughts had grown incoherent, philosophy tainting his posture as the folly of fate wrapped its clutches twice round; before him, leading the direction, marched none other than his morning aggregator, the slight lift to his lips an indicator of his own memory. Unconsciously, Ace purchased his teeth upon his lower lip, gnawing at the tender flesh, still sore and aflame.
"Washington." The astute man stepped from his office's confines, nodding to his student assistant before eyeing the teen. Ace let his feet clammer to a halt, sizing up the individual before him, a kindle of mischief alight within his gaze. Here posed the corporate menace that solidified all his scholarly sufferings- it was only with fair duty that he entertained thoughts of misbehavior whilst within such a man's presence. A sharp jolt- his peer shoving off to gather more disciples- returned the teen back to his predicament. No fathom of thought could lead to a conclusive reason as for his calling, and ultimately, Ace was befuddled.
"You requested my presence, Sir." Confused, yet not forgotten of his reputation. The principal, Callahoy, made motion, indicating for Ace to pursue, and waddled back into his station. Following, Ace paused as he caught the frame of another student perched upon one of the seats facing the principal's desk, the rose hue a good indicator of just who sat within that chair. His suspicions were confirmed as Zayn twisted, watching his approach with a widening grin across his face. Ace's stomach fluttered, a befuddled grimace marring his lips as negative thoughts spiraled within his mind. He knew not what the principal had called him for, however, speculation was a harrowed bitch- if not cruel in her approach.
"Take a seat, Mr. Washington. We have an important matter to discuss." Ace silently dropped into the open chair, purposely ignoring the eyes which desperately attempted to garner his attention. "I am aware that you and Mister Matthews have met before, is this correct?"
"We met this morning before class." Zayn was quick to interject on Ace's behalf, but Callahoy ignored the reproach, waiting until Ace provided confirmation of his own before continuing.
"Good. As I am sure you have been made aware, Matthews here is one of the newest students to join our student body." A nod of confirmation. "As with all new students, we request that another be set up to act as an aid, a welcome face in the crowd- if you will. It just so happens that this young gentleman persisted upon a special request."
Ace's eyes narrowed, gaze shifting to view the stiffened form of Zayn, he who now sat with a slight blush to his cheeks, chin downcast in embarrassment. Was this a joke? A cruel play upon the epitomes of fate and desire? Ace carefully shuffled his features into an impassive compass; He would grant no reason for any harassment from his peer. If this was nothing more than an attempt at getting closer to him, for purposes of mockery and humiliation, then he would cease to permit. Yet with all things considered, there was a pressing concern that gave slight hope to Ace's beating heart. Zayn, unless he was a reputable actor, possible with the lameness by which Ace understood his being, had not given any indication of resentment or ill intent towards Ace. It was a consolidating factor, one which gave heed to the first sparks of fear and mistrust.
"-Mister Matthews has specifically identified you as his desired classmate." Ace strung from his musings as the principal's words met his ears, confirming what assumptions had already been concluded. "Do you have any objections to this?" Tilting his head, the teen hesitated. Should he accept the proposition, it would garnet the possibility of an elongated friendship, and- if Ace was honest with himself- the dream of something much more- that was if Zayn honestly harbored no negative emotions towards himself. But with such acceptance, dangers persisted, much more fervent than before. People were quick to grow suspicious around Ace the longer they stayed, and naturally, in order to defend his lifestyle, they were shoved away. This case would be no different, of that he had selfishly assessed.
The peer that sat by his side, however, held hostage of a belonging that Ace desperately desired to return to his possession. This could be his only chance at establishing enough of a relationship in order to regain his artifact, suspiciously absent, and despite how his mind presented the dangers of allowing another person closer still, Ace knew that turmoil could result if he pleaded a negative to the case.
"No." Callahoy squinted huntingly. "No, I have no objections."
"Wonderful. I expect you two to make well of each other then. That was all that was needed- you both are dismissed."
The teens rose together, their movements synchronic. Zayn made motion as though to begin a conversation, but Ace twisted on his heel, shoving open the glass frame and exiting the office in haste. He was halfway down the hall before a heavier set of shoes joined his own.
"Hey!... Jesus you walk fast," Zayn huffed exaggeratedly as he leveled with Ace, his arm hooking around the back of his head, scratching nervously at his scalp as he spoke. "I'm sorry about this morning- I guess I just passed out, ya know?"
"Hn." Ace pondered- was it possible that the other teen had not bore witness to his assault? Or was he simply trying to avoid the subject? There were too many unanswered questions- questions upon which answer was necessary for settlement.
"Where'd you go by the way?"
"What do you mean?"
"Well, you weren't there when the bell rang, and you left your stuff behind-"
"You grabbed my stuff." It was not a question.
"Um, yeah. It's in my locker. Figured you didn't want anyone else touching it." Ace glanced down, the slight warmth to his chest burning its way from inside. The act may have been small, its kindness irrelevant to many, but to him, it showed a sense of solidarity and accomplice in his peer.
"I got- called away." It was mundane, but for the moment, it seemed such an excuse would appease Zayn. Ace winced as his ribs shifted uncomfortably, ducking his head to hide his features.
"My locker is.. This way!" Ace had to smirk at the enthusiasm by which Zayn performed, reminding him of childhood innocence he had often observed. Treading in the offered direction, an obtuse silence settled over the duo. Ace shuffled, peeking through his eyelashes at the other teen. Zayn had adopted an attitude of ease, his hands clasped behind his head and strut confident and emboldened. A brazen question built in Ace's mind, curiosity demanding answer; before he could control himself, the words slipped.
"Huh?" Zayn's head tilted, obvious confusion interrupting his concentration. He gazed at Ace expectantly.
"Why did you choose me?"
"As your guide. Why me?"
"Well, we didn't get to talk much before, and you seemed nice enough…" Ace watched as the teen ducked his head. "And- I wanted to get to know you more, ya know?"
"Hn." How to respond to such a remark, Ace had no clue.
"But look, I-"
"You should have picked someone else." Zayn stopped, eyes widening as Ace continued to walk. Hurriedly, he jogged to catch up, arm stretched out to catch onto Ace's shoulder, a movement so natural and familiar that he spared no second though, only to instead pull back a moment later when Ace flinched violently.
"I'm sorry! I'm sorry!" His pleas fell on drumming ears, the crashing waves of memories suddenly beguiling Ace's mind at the action too much to handle. Suddenly, a hand was twisting the back of his shirt, tossing his limp form into the brick. The warmth of the flesh served as a grounder, reminding Ace of his propriety and environs, and with a gasp, he inhaled sharply, eyes flashing between the corridor and Zayn's frantic face. "That's it man, breathe. Come on." Ace slumped, his head falling into his arms as his rear collapsed onto the ground.
"I'm okay. Back off." Shakily, Ace shoved the hands around his shoulders off, body slowly loosening its tension. So long had it been since such a severe reaction had taken place; Ace was ashamed- he had thought that he was past such moments. He expected Zayn to leave, his crumpled body abandoned to regain itself solitarily, but as his breathing evened, he realized heatedly that the other teen was crouched beside him, shoulders close enough to touch with just the slightest movement. "I thought I told you to back off." Zayn merely chuckled. Glaring up, Ace felt himself freeze, body stunned as he gazed into Zayn's eyes, an emotion of concern so strong that it was shocking. In that second, however, fate laughing in her throne, the bell rang, indicating the letting of classes. Ace stiffened, desperately struggling to his feet, knees clicking, before giving out. The floor swam rapidly closer, but before he could smack into the tile, two arms lifted him into a chest. The teen groaned, his stomach protesting the sudden change in momentum, bruises straining.
"What the hell are you doing?" He flinched, unused to such a vulnerable position. Zayn tightened his arms, strolling hurriedly down the hallway, ducking into a janitor's closet just as students began trailing out of classrooms. He carefully lowered Ace to the ground, ensuring he was steadied before twisting and steading a broom against the handle, effectively ensuring no one would interrupt their musings.
"You didn't want anyone to see us together, right?" Ace kept his lips sealed, head dipping in embarrassed shame. He could feel Zayn's eyes focus on him, but refused to glance up. A sigh resounded around the enclosed space. "It's okay. I understand." The teen took a spot on the floor, facing his newfound familiar. "You can ask me."
"Ask you…" The words trailed into silence. Ace chewed his lower lip, feeling unusually nervous- cautious.
"You ran from me this morning. It's because you didn't want anyone to know you were talking to me."
"No?" Zayn's brow furrowed. "Then why-"
"Why are you doing this?" Ace's tongue stumbled, struggling to get the words the way he wished them phrased.
"This," His arms swept around, before wrapping around his chest once more. "Why are you even here?"
"I told you this morning… you seemed like you needed a friend."
"...friend?" Zayn watched him, their eyes holding each others for a minute, before, with gentle admission, he stretched an arm forward. Ace winced as Zayn's finger ran down the tender flesh of his cheek.
"We should really get this bandaged."
"It's fine." A humorless huff was his only response. Zayn rose to his feet, peeking at the shelves momentarily before returning to his previous position, a box of A-grade bandages clasped between his fingers.
"I don't have any antibacterial spread, but this should work for now. Stay still." He scooted slightly closer, his warmth permeating the thin rags that clothed Ace. The teen inhaled sharply, remaining steady as Zayn worked, his movements oddly practiced.
"You've done this before."
"Um… yeah." The silence that settled then was oppressive, and uncomfortable, the two boys shuffled. Unexpectedly, Zayn spoke up. "My father, he used to get really drunk. Sometimes he would throw things…"
"He's better now; he got help a long time ago, but when I was younger… well, you understand, I'm sure."
"Why do you say that?"
"In the hallway, you thought I was going to hurt you." Ace kept quiet. "I would never hurt you."
"You don't know that."
"You're right," Ace glanced up at the mumbled admittance. Zayn smirked at his expression. "But I damn sure can try. And besides, you're my guide now- you're stuck with me. What you said earlier though… why wouldn't I have chosen you?"
"I'm not someone you should be around…" His head cowed, uncertainty radiating from his frame. Ace's arm tightened around his chest as Zayn pulled back, his bandagings finished with a pop.
"Because you're gay?" The teen's spine went stiff. So Zayn was aware, yet- still he sat with him, keeping him company and attending to his wounds- why?
"How did you know?"
"It's a small town."
"I don't hate you for it, you know."
"You should… Everyone should."
"I'd be a hypocrite to do so."
"What do you mean by that?" Zayn chuckled, scratching at the back of his head once more.
"You haven't guessed? I guess not… you're not the only one who likes boys now."
"You-" Ace instantly shot forward, clamping his hands instinctively over Zayn's mouth. "Don't say things like that! Do you know what would happen if people found out?"
"I'm not ashamed of my sexuality. And… neither should you." A warmth spread through Ace's chest; the news that he had found an accomplice in his struggle was endearing, the emotions that he felt for his crush building steadily higher, but fear was a stronger assailant, and he dreaded that someone would lay a hand on Zayn. This understanding had to be hidden- had to be kept secret.
"You don't understand. It's dangerous here."
"I know." Zayn captured his hand within his own, the movement so intimate that Ace gulped. "Don't worry about me." He hummed. "So that's the reason you ran earlier. You thought I wouldn't want to be around you anymore…"
A carefree laugh broke from Zayn's chest, his chortles leading to gasping snickers, and for a moment, Ace had to marvel at how beautiful he appeared. Heat rose to his cheeks with passion.
"You shouldn't hide your blush. It makes you… look good." Zayn's smile was beaming, and Ace's hue deepened considerably.
"Hn…" Ace stared at the door, searching his mind for something to say. Peering at the door, he was content to realize that the footsteps of students had ceased in volume, suggesting that classes had resumed. "We should leave."
"Yeah… I'm sure you want your stuff back, don't you?" He nodded, solemn. "I think you need a new journal by the way. It fell apart when I picked it up… I think I got all of the pages though."
"You didn't look at it, did you?"
"No," Zayn frowned at the desperation in Ace's tone. "It seemed really important to you." Ace said nothing, ignoring the searching eyes. Steadily, the two rose without words exchanged, having to maneuver carefully in the enclosed space, their limbs knocking together. The broom was swiftly removed, the door opened silently, heads peeking to ensure that the hallways were empty before exiting.
Lockers lined the walls in this part of the building, a hurried addition after purpose was initiated, their borders flicking of cheap paint and scrapyard metal. It was innately obvious that the school had spared little in terms of funding for such important extensions, but these matters seemed irrelevant as Zayn and Ace strolled by. The latter himself held his hands in tension by his side, eyeing his counterpart's own limbs. Zayn's hands were smooth, lacking the callouses earned from hard labour- how would they feel to hold? He focused back ahead, abashed, as the teen smiled at him suddenly.
"Here." Zayn tugged at the lock on a lower shelf, crouching slightly to spin the dial, before opening the door with a clang. There sat Ace's bag, the notebook levelled on top, and he made haste to lift it free, clenching it to his chest with a sigh. Dragging his bag as well, Ace thanked Zayn with a heartfelt nod.
"I should get back to class; my parents will kill me if they find out I'm skipping." Zayn frowned, exhaling, the light in his eyes dimming slightly. Tenderly, he reached out a hand, tucking a stray strand of hair behind Ace's ear. "We should go out sometime, you know."
"Well- you know- if you don't want to hang out, that's alright, I just thought-" Zayn's form deflated, a nervous light adopted in his gaze. For a second, Ace saw vulnerability in another, a feature he recognized without hesitation, and it stunned him. No other person had ever interacted in such a way around he himself, and even with their earlier admissions, such openness was unfamiliar to Ace. He stuttered, reddening.
"No- I mean, yes… I'd like that."
"Meet me by the tree afterschool, okay?" The teen nodded in answer, heart fluttering. Twisting, Zayn began waltzing away, a gleeful hip to his step and a backwards wave his passing. Ace stared at his retreating back, confused. What had he just agreed to?
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