Precious Things
by JenX

I chewed on the end of my pencil, frustrated and trying very hard not to project my emotion onto those around me. I'd oh-so-conveniently left my calculator in my room from the homework I hadn't managed to finish, and this quiz that Frost popped on us demanded that I use one. Of course, I couldn't share a calculator. That was against the rules. And we simply couldn't go about breaking the rules. So I dealt with it as best as I could, using arithmetic when possible and flat-out guessing when all else had failed. The pencil I used, though, had no eraser; I'd used it up working on sketches.

That was the problem with the Massachusetts Academy: no art classes. Fortunately, the schedule worked out so that there was a long break in the middle of the day and classes resumed in the afternoon, so I could draw then. Or write, or practice the piano, or whatever.

I hadn't practised in a while. I was going to get rusty and then piano therapy, when I needed it, would only frustrate me further.

How the heck was I supposed to do this without a calculator?

"Please pass your papers forward," Frost instructed coolly.

But I wasn't finished! I frantically scribbled down some random answer -- forty-two -- just so I could have something on paper. There was no chance it was actually right, but it comforted me in a strange sort of way. Reluctantly, I passed my paper forward.

Monet whispered a quiet ~disgust~contempt~ as she accepted my paper. Of course, I noted, she's taking in my absolute imperfection and wondering how so inferior a creature could possibly exist.

I grinned. Being imperfect was quite all right with me. And if some people refused to accept me the way I was, so be it.

(*Are yer directing that thought at anyone in particular?*) Jono's psionic words came with certain humour directly to me over the link that had been established between us only last week.

I tried my hardest to pointedly ignore him, but it was rather difficult to simply ignore someone inside my head. Instead I just didn't answer, hoping he'd get the hint.

Of course he did.

The clacking of chalk on the blackboard called my attention to the front of the room, where Frost had written the assignment.

I sighed heavily and turned my attention to the textbook that lay closed on my desk. After opening it to the prescribed pages, I tried to read the words before me, but they only swam in a circle like a lonely goldfish trapped forever in its terrible prison of a bowl.

I didn't understand those words, so I didn't really read them. There was no point in even trying because Frost would never actually help me if I needed help. She was a terrible teacher. And I didn't like her, either.

"Please concentrate on your texts," she instructed, issuing a blanket statement which was actually directed at the daydreaming Jubilee. "Jennifer, could I see you a moment?"

Oh, Light above. I abandoned the notes I wasn't taking and went to Frost's desk. When I arrived, she spoke in the quiet tones teachers use when they're certain the rest of the class can't hear, even when those in the second row pride themselves on their impeccable hearing.

I ignored Monet's sudden interest in this conference. "Ms. Frost?" I asked.

"Yes ... Jennifer, is everything ... okay?"

No. "Everything's fine ... ma'am ... why do you ask?" Had I just called her "ma'am"? Ew.

She eyed me suspiciously.

"Ah, well, I ... I left my calculator in my room," I admitted. "I couldn't, ah, finish the quiz." Maybe that was what she was looking for -- I hoped so.

She looked perplexed. "That's all?" she questioned, hoping to elicit a responce from me.

"I think so, Ms. Frost. Yes, that's all." Light, I sounded like a Girl Scout.

"Why were you unable to begin note-taking after the assignment was given?" she demanded.

What? Her question had come out of thin air, catching me off-guard and I wasn't sure how to respond.

"You are aware that there is to be no communication during class," she told me.

"Communication?" I echoed.

"No talking," Frost reminded, "no passing notes, and no telepathy."

Oh, crap. She didn't ... she didn't know about the link, did she? I'd be in so much trouble.... "I'm not -- I mean, I don't --" My voice escaped in short bursts of sound, spouting incoherent thoughts. Smooth, Jen. Real smooth.

"I am well aware of the nature of your powers. I am also aware of your classmates' powers. Do not let it happen again."

A warning -- not bad. Maybe she didn't know about the link, per se. "It won't," I promised.

"You may return to your seat."

I did so, feeling like I'd been trampled upon. I stared at the open book on the table in front of me and opened my notebook. I had no desire to take notes. I scribbled something on the paper to appease Frost, hoping I could just get this done with so I might be allowed to leave this dirty fishbowl.

Scratch, scratch, scratch, as my pen travelled over the paper, the dark ink marks spelling out my frustrations with bad teachers across the world in free verse. I glanced to the book and then back to the notebook -- I could pretend I knew what I was doing. If I could convince her I'd be free to go ... just as soon as she let us out.

If only this school worked on a bell system instead of the whims of its headmistress! Then I wouldn't have to wait so long ... and the time spent here turned long, much longer than usual. Was this some sort of group punishment for some infraction of the rules I was unaware of?

I hoped not.

A few seats behind and to the left of me, Jubilee was becoming ~nervous~ and drummed her fingers on the table in front of her. It was irritating. Everyone else was ~anxious~ to leave ...

Oh, please excuse us from the misery of class!

"Class dismissed."

Thank you! Thank you! The ~gratitude~ in the classroom was almost palpable as the slim student population of the Massachusetts Academy left the room in an eager hurry.

I fell into step beside Jubilee and Alison. "Hey," I greeted.

"Hey," Alison replied.

"Dude! What was up with that, like, thing? Wha'd Frosty talk t'ya about?"

"Eh ... " I evaded the question with a vague answer. "Stuff."

Jubilee grinned. "C'mon, 'stuff'? Wha'd she say?"

"Nothing important," I answered. I didn't need my personal business public knowledge, though I imagined nothing was very personal here. There weren't many students and word had a tendency to travel fast. The link would eventually be known, and the longer I kept the information regarding its presence to myself, the better.

Jubilee raised a suspicious eyebrow but said no more.

"Did you guys want to do something this afternoon?" I asked.

"There's a test tomorrow," Alison pointed out.

"So?" Jubilee wondered.

I grinned. Even though she could be obnoxious sometimes, I had to agree with her philosophy now. "Look," I pointed out, "if you don't know the material now, you're not gonna know it."

Alison just stuck her tongue out at me.

"Oh, now that's mature," I commented.

Jono breezed coldly past the three of us. I knew he'd been coming, so he hadn't scared me, per se, but the icy emotions he emitted just seemed so off.

Alison glanced at me, slightly worried.

"I --" I started to answer, but my voice caught in my throat.

"You okay?" Jubilee asked.

I was so tired of that question. "Yeah ... yeah, fine."

"Somethin's goin' on between you two," Jubilee observed.

"Not really." I thought maybe there had been. But nothing could ever come of these feelings I harboured -- these feelings I knew he was aware of -- because neither of us wanted to do anything about it. Even the link went by undiscussed -- we hadn't discussed anything. We hadn't even spoken to one another -- not really, anyway.

"Not really?" Jubilee echoed.

"Could we just drop the subject?" My words were perhaps a bit too harsh, but I had sensed Alison's ~discomfort~ as the subject was brought up.

"Sure," Jubilee agreed a little hastily. "Not a problem."

Going back to our respective rooms, we abandoned the thought of doing anything since Alison needed to study for tomorrow's test. I probably should have studied, too, but I didn't feel like it.

As I went through my e-mail, I grew increasingly bored. There was nothing of interest to be found in my mailbox.... Why not just talk to him? Why not just clear everything up?

Because I had no idea how to do that. And this bloody flaming link wasn't helping anything. His ~boredom~ filtered into my own emotional state and altered it -- or was that my boredom changing his emotions? I wasn't sure. But we were both bored and irritated, coloured with impatient tinges of ~regret~. And though my regret wished I could only speak to him properly, I didn't know just what his was directed at. Paige? Maybe. It certainly wasn't outside the realm of possibility.

I really should just go talk to him, I thought. The worst that would happen is that he'd only confirm that he did indeed hate me.

No, I corrected, pushing the chair away from the computer, he didn't hate me. They didn't hate me. I didn't know what it was, but it wasn't hate.

Well, it wasn't love, either.

I took my case into the hallway -- Jono was close by? What was he doing in the girls' dorms?

Oh, Light. I didn't know what he was doing up here and I didn't care. It would be so much easier for me to just forget this. Forget all these things that I felt and forget about them sitting in there doing only Light above knew what. I didn't want to deal with this. They could just lead their happy lives together forever because it was like destiny with them or something and I just wasn't in the picture and --

Oh, Light, I needed space.

I needed to get out of here. Now. Lots of space. So far away from him -- from them --

How could I be so stupid? I should have known --

It was a little bit of everything, I guessed. It was always a little bit of everything. There was never just one thing -- it was always a build-up of little precious things, just breaking and cutting me up until I finally snapped, and then I started feeling masochistic. Blood would have been nice about then.

I ran back into my room -- my room? Yes -- my room. The room I lived in. Complete with X-Files poster and CDs and all. Tubes of acrylic paint and brushes littered the floor amidst the dirty laundry. I'd attempted to paint fire last night ...

The yellow was still uncapped. I ignored it. I was beginning to hate that colour.

Even though I paid good money for that paint. Light -- it didn't matter. Hell, nothing mattered. I wanted my keyboard. I wanted to play -- I needed my music -- but there were people down there and I couldn't disturb anyone.

Light! I needed more space than this! I had to get out of here! I got out of my room.

"Hey, Jenny!"

I walked right past Jubilee in the hallway without so much as my typical "Don't call me that" -- I just kept going.

"Where ya goin'?"

Don't stop, don't answer, I told myself, don't do anything. I didn't want to hurt her or snap at her. She wasn't a part of this. Of course, she followed me, emanating ~worry~ like someone was sick or hurt.

I was not sick or hurt.

Well, I wasn't sick.

"Jen, stop! Please."

I stopped and prayed I wouldn't do anything rash. Control, I reminded myself, it's all about control. I held my gaze level; Jubilee fidgeted with the edges of her jacket as she spoke.

"Well, I mean, like, you're ... um, emoting ... and stuff ... again. I know Frosty was like it'd happen and stuff but this seems like way too much or somethin'."

"Your point?" She did seem to have one, but I didn't think she'd get to it soon.

"Well, uh ... it's like yer upset about somethin'. And I know it isn't like my business or nothin' but I just wanted to know like what was wrong and stuff."

I nodded and uttered some non-committal sound, then continued on my way downstairs. I didn't want to talk about it now. Talking would solve problems, and I was still feeling masochistic. Besides, if I did want to talk, I didn't want to talk to Jubilee. She was nice and all, but ... well. She was Jubilee.

"Jen! Wait!"

I stopped and turned. What was it now? Couldn't I just leave without having to talk to someone?

"Look, ya don't hafta tell me what's wrong if ya don't want to. But ... c'mon an' have some fun and stuff."

Fun? Sure. I wanted to ... have fun ... now.

"Ev an' us were gonna watch a movie, order a pizza."

A pizza. And a movie. Right. Just what I wanted.

"C'mon, Jen! It'll be fun!"

"Er ... maybe later."

She grinned. "Yah, well, y' wanna go with Ange to get the stuff?"

I didn't want to go anywhere. Hadn't I made that perfectly plain? "Um ... why don't you guys go. I'll stay here."

"Dude, like, yer goin'. Yer not gonna just, like, mope around the house. S'like, wrong, or somethin'."

In a whirl of motion, I was dragged downstairs, stuffed into one of the school's Jeeps, and subjected to Angelo's driving skills (or the considerable lack thereof). Why, I wondered, hadn't Jubilee come with, if it was her idea? Or Alison, or Everett, or even Monet?

She just wanted to take my mind off of Jono, didn't she?

Of course she did.

As if that could even be done.

I remained in the car, having no desire to go into the video store or even come here in the first place. Whatever happened to the masochism I'd felt before?

Going to rent movies was not the kind of pain I wanted to inflict upon myself. I sighed and turned the radio on.

"... anywhere you go, I'll follow you down ... "

I didn't bother changing it. It didn't matter. Not much did.

***

And that was how I found myself watching Star Wars for the bazillionth time, surrounded by four crazy people.

"Jen! Take the popcorn!" Jubilee insisted, shoving the bowl at me.

"But I don't like --"

"I know! This way I know ya won't, like, eat it all."

I really hated popcorn. I held the huge bowl, though, despite any of my protests. This wasn't so bad. After all, I liked Star Wars. A few years ago, I even wanted an ewok. But that was --

Something flew at me from the side -- !

-- grey fingers took a handful of popcorn from the bowl in my lap.

It was just Angelo. But it wasn't funny.

For a while the movie held our collective attention, but every once in a while, Jubes or Ange would yell at Han for being an idiot -- especially Jubilee -- but then of course Alison had to defend her hero, which resulted in an argument until Everett finally mediated and things quieted down again.

I didn't care. Not really.

I wondered how it would be to have Jono here -- not just here, of course, because that would be hard on me -- but here with me. How would it feel to have him sit beside me on the couch, holding me close in the darkened room as the television flickered before us like a blue fireplace?

I had no right to think of him that way. He was with Paige and she was the one he'd be holding.

Her.

Not me.

Her.

It wasn't the first time I'd been rejected. But this was different -- this was different.

"Anyone want anything to drink?" I asked, and left before anyone could answer. But I wasn't going to the kitchen. Was I? I did need more pop. And snacks were running low. But I wasn't going to the kitchen. My feet gained a life of their own and propelled me towards the bathroom. Upstairs. To the bathroom.

Why there?

I didn't know. I turned on the shower and let the steam rise. I wasn't crying; my face wasn't even hot. Instead it seemed all blood rushed from every part of my body so that everything was numb except this awful sick feeling in the pit of my stomach.

I listened to the water fall on the shower floor and it sounded like the rain that refused to come. I was wasting water and I knew it. I didn't care, though. I was feeling wasteful. I opened a drawer and found a tube of toothpaste. I emptied it into the sinks, squeezing right in the middle where I wasn't supposed to, building mountains of toothpaste. I poured a bottle of Scope into the toilet. I couldn't very well waste the bar of exfoliating soap that rested on the soap dish; it didn't wash away so easily. Instead it replaced Paige's soap. That'd work very nicely for her. Too nicely. I decorated the entire room with toilet paper streamers, hanging long white strips over the rod the shower curtain hung on -- I tossed it into the air and let it fall where it pleased. I wrapped my surroundings like mummies in bandages --

-- in bandages --

-- in --

I was still so numb. I wanted to scream and tear things apart; I wanted to break things but I knew the consequences would haunt me.

Damn the consequences.

I tore the shower curtain from its rod and threw it onto the floor. The water still ran. Someone's lipstick became a wonderful crayon for the mirror. I just scribbled until the entire stick was used. There was no need to draw anything specific. Just anger.

I slammed the door a few times. Hard. Harder.

Emma was so lucky I didn't have an offensive power. Paige was even luckier.

"These precious things -- let them break -- let them wash away!" I screamed. I wanted to scream even louder but my voice wouldn't let me. "I wanna smash to pieces these beautiful boys ... " My voice grew quieter as I continued my shaky rendition of "Precious Things". Quieter and softer and --

-- someone was coming. Quickly, I hid -- somewhere. Anywhere. Who was coming? I checked. Not Paige -- she was terrified of me. Good.

Monet?

Oh, Light, she'd give me a talking to.

I ran out of the bathroom, but was grabbed fiercely by the arm and forced to stop. My captor, as I'd predicted earlier, was in fact the matchless Ms. St. Croix. She glared at me sternly and ordered, "Do not run in the house."

"I wasn't --" I protested.

"Yes," she interrupted, "you were."

"But it's not my fault!" I blurted. Oh, Light, now I'd have to tell Monet! Great. But of course, she already knew everything. Monet always knew everything. Maybe she knew of a cure for this disorder I seemed to have.

"Then whose fault is it?" She was sceptical -- after all, my feet had moved me so quickly, not anyone else's.

"No one's," I dismissed.

Monet was appropriately confused. "I do not understand."

"Neither do I." I tried to wrestle free of her grasp but couldn't. "Could you let me go now?"

She released her grip on my arm. "Do not run in the future."

I nodded and Monet proceeded to the bathroom.

The --

Oh, no.

"Monet!" I called. "Don't go --"

A shocked scream pierced the air.

"-- in there." I was too late. Sheepishly, I jogged to the bathroom door. The mess was awful, with toilet paper and lipstick all over the place. I couldn't believe I'd done it myself.

All by myself.

"Jubilation!" Monet called, prepared to rectify the situation as immediately as possible.

"No -- it wasn't --" I tried to explain.

She left to track down Jubilee.

"Listen to me. Jubilee didn't -- I mean, she -- it wasn't her." I certainly couldn't admit I'd done it.

Monet turned and eyed me curiously, her arms folded and radiating ~impatience~. "Then who was it?"

"I don't --" I began to lie, but had to hold it back. Something inside me -- or perhaps that imperious glare held over me -- made me confess. "I did. Me."

Again she was sceptical. "You? But --"

But I followed the rules. I was a good girl. "What?"

"Why?" she implored, confused.

"Jono," I blurted. No, stupid! He had nothing to do with this! This was all Paige's fault!

Monet raised an eyebrow. "I fail to see a connection."

"I -- well, I mean I -- actually it was more Paige, I just -- I don't know." I sat on the tile, giving up. I didn't see a connection either and I wanted it all to be over. "I mean, I thought I was done with all of this," I admitted, looking up at Monet's tall, slim form.

"You have feelings for Jono and you're upset at his apparent interest in Paige," Monet concluded clinically.

I banged my head against the wall behind me in frustration.

"You are going to hurt yourself," Monet informed me. "That will bruise."

She was probably right.

Okay, she was right. I quit banging my head.

"It is unnecessary to vandalise the bathroom because of it," she insisted.

"So what else am I suppose to do?" I demanded. There wasn't much I could do. "Just watch it happen?"

"You cannot change how others feel," Monet said. "Simply accept it. Your own emotions will wane with time, no?"

Not bloody likely. I sighed and looked at the still-running shower and then back up to Monet, standing over me like some imperial queen about to issue an order to one of her servants.

"Good," she said.

Good what?

"Now clean up this mess."

Queen Monet at her best, may her majesty live forever. "Um ..." I began, unsure of how to ask the question I knew she'd probably respond to negatively.

"Yes?" she prodded.

"I ... um, I don't suppose you could help me with this?" I indicated the disaster area that surrounded me.

"Don't be ridiculous." With that, she spun on her heel and left.

Ugh. I didn't want to clean this up! Maybe, I reasoned, someone else would help. It wasn't that I truly wanted to clean it -- I would have preferred to leave my signature in the room, proclaiming my anger for all to see. But either Frost or Cassidy would see it sooner or later, and then I would be faced with those consequences I'd condemned earlier. And that would be embarrassing -- with a class as small as ours was, everyone would know of my misfortune in short time.

Feeling slightly hesitant, I cautiously entered the den. Star Wars had ended long ago, and now Alison had seated herself before the television, prepared to deluge herself with images of Highlander reruns.

"Hey, um ..." I ventured.

She peeled herself away from the screen just as the theme song ended and a run of commercials began. "What?"

"Could you, um, help me?"

"With what?" she asked.

I hesitated. If anyone would help me, it was her, but ... "Eh ... cleaning the bathroom."

"What?" she asked, disbelieving. "No! I'm watching Highlander!"

Some friend she was.

I went back upstairs. I walked right past the bathroom, not looking into it. I didn't want to deal with it or anything else. I just wanted to get out of here. And go somewhere else.

Somewhere.

I went downstairs and got a bowl of ice cream. I needed it right now. With lots of chocolate sauce. And I took it up to my room, turning on some music.

"Jubilation!" someone -- Emma? -- yelled. What was she doing back already? I thought her ... meeting ... was going to last until midnight at least -- or even later. It was only 8:00.

I continued eating my ice cream. I wasn't the one being called, though I was certain I was the one the punishment was intended for. Poor Jubilee. She was always blamed for those acts which were even the least bit immature. And even though she was perfectly innocent, I didn't go to her aid. I wasn't prepared for the fate that awaited me.

But alas, my name was next on the list of suspects. "Jennifer!"

I'm not here. Go away.

"Jennifer!" Frost called again.

I dug my spoon deep into the cold chocolate ice cream and let the wonderful stuff melt in my mouth around the hard, metallic spoon.

The long instrumental introduction of "Etienne" finished just as a knock sounded on the door. I ignored it and turned the music up.

"Maybe I'm a witch lost in time ... running through the fields of Scotland by your side ... "

"Jennifer!"

" ... kicked out of France ... "

"Jennifer, open the door."

" ... taken to a land far across the sea ... "

"If you don't open this door I'll --"

"Go away!" I shouted, interrupting her threat. I skipped the CD to the angrier "Take to the Sky" and screamed along with the lyrics, drowning Emma out. Ignoring her.

Emma opened the door herself, using some weird psionic trick to unlock it. "Explain the condition of the bathroom to me," she demanded.

I said nothing.

"Jennifer, I am not amused."

"No kidding," I told the wall, my voice flat and face expressionless. Didn't she know I'd know if she was amused?

"You're so much smarter than this. This sort of behaviour is beneath you."

"If I were Monet St. Croix this would be beneath me."

Emma radiated a slight ~confusion~ before going on. "This isn't about Monet."

"And you figured that one out all by yourself!" I commented sarcastically.

Emma's ~frustration~ was plain as her attempts to get through to me failed.

"Ms. Frost," I addressed her, turning from the wall to the slim figure in the doorway, "stay out of my life."

"You will not tell me what to do." She was getting angrier. Good. That was what I wanted. Then she'd leave me alone.

"Get out of my room."

"I am calling your parents."

Her threat hit me cold. Light -- not my parents. In my anger I believed I was invulnerable, and I'd forgotten that Emma was still my teacher and retained all authority of that position. She could easily call my parents, and tell them I'd been insubordinate. And then I'd be sent home. Back to my parents. Back to all those people back at public high school whispering about the "psycho". Back to internet addiction and a reputation I didn't deserve. While I had my share of problems at the Massachusetts Academy, they weren't the same problems that faced me at home.

"Fine. I'll clean your stupid bathroom." I I turned back to the wall.

"Jennifer, this is a problem that does not end at the mess you've made of the bathroom."

"So where does it end?"

She said nothing, unsure of how to answer.

"I don't like you, either." I felt the adrenaline course through me as the words left my mout; something in my throat tightened and I recalled all too plainly the threat she'd made only moments before that she'd call my parents.

She held back her ~anger~ at my comment. I hoped she wouldn't follow through with her promise! She opened her mouth to say something -- issue a command, perhaps -- and then shut it again, examining me with a curious expression on her face. "I had my suspicions earlier," she mused softly, "now ... "

"What?" I asked, hoping for all the world that she would just leave.

"I'm certain," she said decisively. "But it isn't possible."

I refrained from speaking, fearful I might say something that would just ... not be good. And I wasn't sure what she was talking about, but I had my theories.

"Ms. Frost?" I asked, trying to bring her out of her weird trance. "Ms. Frost, are you okay?"

"Yes," she muttered absently. "Yes," she repeated, her voice firmer now and her eyes fixed on me. "You will clean the bathroom tonight," she ordered. "I don't care how long it takes. It will be done tonight." She left.

I sighed. In minor defiance, I left the ice cream bowl where it was, vowing not to put it away for at least a week. That decision made, I headed for the bathroom and prepared myself for the task that lay ahead of me.

***

Stupid bloody greasy lipstick. I'd wiped it off as best as I could, but there remained a red outline where the lipstick had coloured the mirror.

It had been easier to simply dispose of those things that needed to be thrown out. The shower curtain, however, was nearly impossible to put back up; some of the rings had snapped. If I remembered correctly, duct tape was kept in the basement -- and I wasn't going back down there. I'd done everything I possibly could have, and I was too tired to do any more. I wasn't sure what time it was, but I'd been up since six that morning and I needed my sleep. If Frost wasn't satisfied, well, she'd just have to live with it.

***

I awoke the next morning later than I should have if I was ever to get to class on time. You'd think classes would be scheduled for later in the day, considering there were so few of us.

Breakfast would have to be deleted from that morning's schedule.

I hurried across campus to the classroom we were to meet in for that morning's history lesson. I didn't wear a watch, so I didn't know exactly how late I was, but could have easily been five minutes. Or more.

I shoved the door open and as I did so, all eyes turned to look at me. I entered, mumbling a hasty apology to Cassidy and taken an open seat near the back of the room, as far away from everyone as I could possibly be. It wasn't my assigned seat, but I just wanted minimal contact.

Jono glanced over at me from across the room, worried.

I ignored him.

(*I'm sorry about yesterday,*) he apologised.

Yeah, sure. Whatever. I opened my notebook and the heavy history text, concentrating on the information contained within its pages. Was he still looking at me? I allowed myself a glance up and found that he was, apology in his soft brown eyes. I felt my own features soften into something of a smile -- he meant it. ~forgiveness~, though, turned to crisp ~suspicion~ as another query came to mind ... what about Paige? Why on earth had he ... and she ...

(*I'll talk to you after class,*) he promised.

I nodded almost imperceptably. After class? Could I wait until then? History droned on forever -- it wasn't that Cassidy, or even the content, was boring, but I was tired and worried and nervous and a whole myriad of things all at once. Maybe, even, for the first time in days, feeling something hopeful for once.

Maybe.

***

Finally, Cassidy's lecture ended and we were allowed a break before he returned for the next class. Trying to be inconspicuous, and my heart racing, I walked across the room to where Jono stood -- waiting for me?

"You said you were going to ... talk to me?" I asked quietly. The volume was unnecessary; it was inevitable that everyone would notice I was actually speaking to him. I didn't care. He was the one who wanted to talk to me, not the other way around.

Right.

*Yes,* he replied. *About ... that.*

Just "that"?

Oh, that. I sat down at a nearby desk. Jono's ~uncertainty~ was plain before he finally settled on the proper words. *Like I said before, she's my friend.*

I almost snorted, except that would have been extraordinarily embarrassing. Instead I chuckled brusquely. "Of course," I commented.

*It isn't like that,* he continued, catching my meaning. *We're friends. That's all.*

"That's all?" I echoed. "Are you sure you don't mean me?"

*It ... we ... there was the potential, but it never really happened.*

I could have sworn Paige was looking right at me. But with my back to the rest of the class, I didn't know for sure -- empathy was erratic during these strange conversations. "But you were so -- last ni --"

*I was trying to tell 'er about the ... about this.*

So there was a this!

~skepticism~ *I'm not sure what 'this' is,* he admitted.

"But -- but it's -- it's --"

*Yes, it's there.*

Something was there. I became aware of my own hands shaking. Had they been shaking this whole time?

*You're a friend,* Jono reminded me. And that was all. For now. I didn't know if that would change, and neither did he, but that was a concern for the future. Now was good.

"But ... she knows about ... " /the link?/ I finished.

Jono nodded.

"And she's ... " /okay with this?/

*Can't tell.* He was worried about her, though. I was okay with that. Friends did worry about one another. I couldn't help feeling jealous, though, despite any confirmations of "this". Or maybe that was the ~jealousy~ I felt from her regarding me and I only confused her emotion as my own.

"Please have a seat," Cassidy instructed. I hadn't even heard him come back in. I didn't move back to the faraway desk I'd originally sat in, content to remain here. Besides, a seat was a seat.

A soft knock sounded on the door and Frost strode decisively into the classroom before Cassidy could respond. "May I help ye, woman?" he inquired.

"Yes ... " she answered, her voice trailing off into Light above only knew where. She was giving me that look again -- that same curious look she gave me last night. She surprised me, though, by gesturing for me to come forward. Nervous, I went to the front of the room. I hated these "discussions" with Frost, and would rather be in class. I would rather be anywhere than "discussing" things with Emma. A sinking feeling settled in the pit of my stomach as she also motioned for Jono. Oh, Light what was this?

(*She knows,*) Jono informed me privately.

I swallowed hard. I'd figured as much. Maybe, I hoped, it was something else. It was always possible.

Possible, I reminded myself, but not very probable.

(*She's going to cut it.*)

His psionic words hit me hard -- like a dead weight. I was worried -- worried, nervous, and scared -- but Jono added some morose sentiment to that. Knowing that the link would be severed -- I felt like Emma was some white-costumed executioner and I was headed for my death.

Our death.

As if in some response to these fears that flooded my mind, Jono's cool fingers touched my own, sending along some sort of ~comfort~ -- or was that the emotion I sent him, taking his hand and squeezing it hard?

(*It'll be okay,*) he assured me.

I wondered how that could possibly be when it was the same fate that awaited both of us -- of course he minded the initial set up, but didn't he also mind the link's termination?

An eerie, oxymoronic ~confidence~ began to stream steadily from him, and if he could have, he would have been grinning wildly. What? But my questions went unanswered, confusing me even more.

Emma opened the door to her office. I didn't want to go in there. But I had no choice.

Jono strode forward, unafraid and defiant.

I still didn't want to go in there. I lingered in the doorway. Emma glared -- Best to go in before she forced me in there. Resigning myself to the situation, I entered and sat on the couch beside Jono -- not too close, though.

But I wasn't even sure if I was in trouble. Of course I was in trouble. And now she really was going to call home and tell my parents what had happened and then they'd want to meet "this Jonothon guy" and they wouldn't like him for all the exact reasons that I did and then some and then Emma was going to cut this link and I didn't want her to do that!

(*Don't worry, luv. Everything's under control.*)

No, it was not! He probably just wanted to be rid of me. Well, fine. If that's what he wanted,there was no need to keep this unnecessary link. And I could just go away.

Emma's cool voice brought me from my thoughts. "I am, as I'm sure you both know by now, aware of the psychic rapport that exists between you two. I am ... interested ... in knowing how such a thing occurred. However, no child of your age is psychologically prepared to handle such a thing. It must be taken care of. Lower your shields."

I kept my shields firmly in place.

"If you do not lower your shields, I assure you this will hurt. It would be so much easier if this were a pleasant experience for all of us."

She was lying -- this would never be pleasant. Not to me.

*Do as she says, Jen.*

"No!" I surprised even myself with my vehement exclamation.

But Emma wasn't stupid. And she was much more experienced than I was, and so much stronger than I would ever be. The force of her probe tore through my mind as she tossed my weak shields away like so much rubbish. I wanted to scream, to tense, but my body remained limp and unmoving. The freight train rolled through my brain until it hit a wall with terrible force.

Wall?

I hadn't --

~anger~

but I hadn't --

~ANGER~

"-- I didn't!" I exclaimed.

Jono's ~satisfaction~ rolled in waves masked by a thin veil of transparent ~indifference~.

"Jennifer, leave," Emma instructed.

I couldn't move. My head hurt. But slowly, the feeling came back to my body and I stood. Jono, too, started to follow me out of the office.

"No, Jonothon," Emma said, vexed, "you stay here."

He offered ~apology~, the emotion in his eyes helpless. Choices were easily made when they were pre-arranged.

I waited outside the door, having neither the desire nor the order to return to Cassidy's class. The only emotions I received from Jono were alternate ~defiance~ and ~satisfaction~ -- sometimes ~amusement~. That was a good sign, right?

But he was still a student, and Emma still held authority over him. That, I was certain, would be the deciding factor in how this situation would end and --

-- well. Well, wouldn't life just ... go on?

Of course it would. Life would still keep plugging along at an astonishing rate of normalcy, whether I had Jono in my head -- whether I had him at all -- or not. And what about when this ended? All relationships, all things eventually end. I wouldn't want that sort of constant contact then.

No matter how much I wanted it now.

It wasn't even that I'd had a crush on him -- that I'd "liked him" like that. I'd lived life alone before coming here. Time had gone by and I hadn't had enough to spare for friendship. Add to that my reputation of "psycho" and there was no way I would have any sort of relationship with anyone.

I imagined Jono's life -- since his powers manifested -- had been much the same. Though in his case, it wasn't a matter of time or reputation -- just a deep, abiding hatred of himself. I hoped that could be changed. And though I'd tried to change it myself, I didn't care who actually opened his eyes as long as his view of himself became more positive. He wasn't a terrible person.

I sensed Jono approaching before he actually opened the door. Again, I caught the distinct impression of a wild, almost maniacal grin.

"What happened?" I wondered, eager and very confused.

*She gave me a lecture,* he replied, starting down the hallway -- presumably back to the classroom.

A lecture? That was all? "What did you do?" I heard myself say. "I mean, why ... Are we in trouble?"

*Probably,* he admitted with certain humour.

"What? What did you do?" I repeated.

*I put a lock on it,* he explained. *Yer don't need to worry about Frost gettin' in your head, anymore.*

What was that for? Just so she couldn't --?

Jono increased his stride to pass me up in the hallway. I ran to catch up with him, but he paid no attention to the fact that I was even there. So I stopped and fell behind.

I didn't get it.

He turned around slowly. *Jen -- * he began.

"What?"

*Just take it for what it's worth.*

For what it was worth. He'd used that phrase before. I nodded -- but I lingered in the hallway, watching the back of his leather-jacketed form retreat. Away from me.

What was it worth?

I couldn't go back to class now. Not if I were to pay any kind of attention.

Instead I went back upstairs, back to the bathroom that still carried scars from the wounds I'd inflicted upon it. Class didn't matter. Nothing mattered. I knew it wasn't the end of the world. There were plenty of other people out there.

But none of them were Jono. I hadn't seen anyone else the way I'd seen him.

And it certainly felt like the end of the world, no matter how many times I tried to convince myself it wasn't. And these tears weren't going to solve anything. I grabbed a fresh washcloth and ran it under the faucet, letting the hot water soak into the cloth and spill over my hands. I brought the soaking rag to my face and inhaled the steam it gave off.

So that was that. Jono wanted to be as far away from me as possible and the world would keep on spinning. I -- spinning. I sat on the tile floor, my face buried in the wet rag. The world kept spinning beneath me and it was starting to make me dizzy. Why did I keep thinking things would suddenly change?

(*Sometimes things do change.*)

That wasn't me talking.... It still scared me when Jono appeared with complete thoughts instead of the plain emotions I was so used to.

(*Well, I can hear every word.*)

Everything -- he knew everything I felt. I knew that and yet I tried to deny it, feeling so free to emote whatever I wanted. I felt so naked. And it hurt inside -- I was so --

(*Violated.*)

Yes, violated.

And that was why he shielded his thoughts so closely. I wasn't a telepath, but I would be able to read him as though I were unless he kept a close guard on his mind.

(*Yer don't want to see wot I'm thinking.*)

And he knew that wasn't true. He knew full well what I wanted -- needed --

(*Here, then.*) A floodgate opened, and ~compassion~friendship~ shone through the black veil of Jono's predominant, darker emotions.

And his theories -- We hadn't ever built on those moments, only tore down the foundation every time we spoke to one another so we wound up at point zero. It was stupid to argue, and it was stupid to go back and forth. But no decisions ahd been made before; why should they be made now? Neither of us had a better idea -- or any idea, for that matter. It was a different sort of relationship, and thus, had to be treated differently.

But beyond that clinical analysis was the same ~compassion~. (*I do care about you,*) he confirmed.

I must have misread that emotion.

(*Why are you so certain nobody cares for you?*)

/Why are you the same way?/

~amusement~ -- from both of us, this time. I liked that -- I was a friend to him, maybe even a good one. But if that was the case, why was he always trying to avoid me?

(*I'm only going to wind up hurting you,*) he admitted, almost reluctantly. (*And ... and you don't need that.*)

Well, I'd had enough pain myself sometimes, without anyone's help. I'd withstood the pain being "psycho" had brought -- I could handle this. Besides, he couldn't hurt me ... pain came from miscommunication, from lies, from any number of things that just weren't possible in this case.

And there was no avoiding each other, despite any previous efforts either of us had made to do so. Because he was with me. And I was with him.

(*And it isn't so bad.*)

Frustrating, and confusing, but no -- not so bad. Not so bad at all.

I wanted to draw this moment out as long as I possibly could, enjoying the touch of mind on mind and the quiet comfort Jono's presence gave -- albeit from a distance.

(*Do you want to come back to class, now?*)

Not really. But I didn't see why not. After ringing out the washcloth and drying my face, I went back to the classroom. All eyes and emotions fixed on me as I entered: Paige's glare, Monet's ~disapproval~, Everett's ~confusion~, Jubilee's ~curiosity~, Alison's ~concern~, Angelo's ~indifference~ ... Jono's ~welcome~comfort~pride~.

"Is everything all right?" Cassidy asked me softly so the others might not hear.

I nodded. "Yeah. Sorry I'm late."

"The assignment is in chapter six; the questions are at the end of section two. Just the answers, ye don't need complete sentences."

I nodded again and took my seat.

(*Missed yer.*)

/Did not./

(*Did so.*) ~ :) ~

I almost laughed, opening the physics text to the end of chapter six, section two and preparing my paper with the proper header.

What, I wondered, happened now? Everything wasn't "okay", of course, because Emma still wanted to cut the link. And Jono and I -- neither of us were really sure what happened next. If this was ... if this was anything.

But it was a start, that much I knew.

And that was all we needed.


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