Notes: Busy week, busy week, even though me and the fam are staying home together for the holiday. For those of you celebrating, Happy Thanksgiving, and please, please, please be safe.
Title: Rivalries: Chapter Eleven, Part One
Chapter Eleven, Part One
Charlie thought it would take a lot to surprise him these days, given the fuckery he’d lived through so far, but he still managed to be surprised right down to his core when he got a text the next morning at 5 a.m. from Johnny: Sorry, can’t make it today. That was it—not a word of explanation, just a quick, pithy apology and that was that.
Welp. Looked like he was on his own when it came to getting to school today. It was still early enough that he’d make it if he took the bus, but…
Everything okay? he texted back before getting out of bed and heading into the shower. He soaped up slow and careful, like he had to with the stitches still in, but the bruises were honestly feeling a lot better already, even after yesterday’s crater of a revelation. He felt…like he’d slept, really slept, without the zinging pangs of his knack’s untapped energy coursing down his nerves and keeping him awake. It was such a relief, he almost didn’t know what to do with himself. Even his morning erection, long vanished due to poor sleep and poorer dreams, had perked up today.
He ignored it as best he could, got out, dried off and impulsively checked his phone to see if Johnny had gotten back to him. Nothing. Shit. And here he’d thought the other man might be someone he could rely on. Someone he could…it didn’t matter.
He couldn’t stop thinking about it on the way to school, though. It was weird, going from having no close contact with anyone but his PT and being pretty okay with that to feeling weird just by being apart from Johnny, but that was where he was at. Hardly any time had passed at all since they’d come together again, and he was craving it. Was Charlie that starved for attention? “I need to get out more,” he muttered, even though he already knew he wasn’t going to. Get out in what? With whom? His nonexistent car, his nonexistent friends?
Pity party, table for one.
He folded up his petulance and hurt as the bus pulled in a block away from the school, grabbed his briefcase, and headed in to work.
Concentrating on his classes was easy—the kids might be little shits sometimes, but they were his to teach, and he was going to make sure they knew what they needed to whether they resented him for it or not. The seniors had had their first dueling session and were abuzz about it, more than happy to tell him about it and, in some cases, hammer home what he’d missed.
Honestly, it sounded pretty rote as far as Charlie was concerned. Face off—starting with similar knacks, for simplicity’s sake—and take slow, directed shots at each other, nothing to startle a knack out of alignment. Sure, it was just the first day, but still…they weren’t going to get far dueling, much less have an easier time of it in the military, which this was supposed to be preparing them for in the first place, without making it more interesting. There was something to be said for building confidence in the beginning, but there was also a lot to be said for working on specifics that would be good for the individual.
Mentioning that didn’t help, though. “Colonel Applegate is one of my dad’s friends,” said Willard, puffing out his chest importantly. Jesus, could this kid get any more self-important? “An actual colonel, not a sergeant like you were. He said my shield is one of the best he’s ever seen.”
Sure, mkay. “That good, huh?”
Willard scoffed. “Professional level, he said. Probably better than yours.”
“Yeah?” Charlie was about to do something unwise, something really dumb, but he’d already had it with today. “Okay, then. Move me backward.”
Willard had frowned while the rest of the class giggled and stared. “What?”
“Move my chair backward by, oh, no more than a foot. That’ll take a decent shield. You don’t have to do it,” he added. “Technically I’m not allowed to offer my input when it comes to practical demonstrations, but—”
“I can do it!” Willard shot out of his chair and held his hands out in the classic diamond pattern. Charlie, meanwhile, tapped into his knack with his right knee and left hand and prayed that he wasn’t about to blast his own ass into the air.
“Go ahead,” he said. Willard concentrated, gathering his knack, and then—
It sizzled out of his hands like a wave of blue lightning, hitting the desk and blowing the papers on it all over the front of the classroom.
It didn’t move the desk, the chair, or Charlie, though. His stasis shield had held. Stasis shields were weak shields that could hold you in place for a while—maybe long enough to hang onto a ceiling if you needed to sneak into a compound—but they only worked if you were completely still. He hadn’t cast one in over a year. Still…not bad.
“Woops.” He looked at the rain of papers, then out at the rest of the class. “No laughing,” he warned. “Unless you want to try your knack out too.” Some of them shifted in their seats, considering, but no one took him up on it. “Good.”
He lingered after class because why not, his bus wasn’t going to come for another forty-five minutes, and gradually his petty satisfaction at making a shield trick work again faded as he thought of Johnny. After ten minutes of staring at his phone wondering if he dared try calling him, Charlie pushed back his chair and stood up. He was done with this, he’d go walk around until the bus—
“Hey, Charlie!” Debra tucked her head around the corner of his classroom door. “Glad I caught you today. Any word on a source for equipment?”
“Yeah, I’ve put out some feelers,” he said, then did a double-take. “How did you know Principal Cross turned down using the stuff here?”
“Text from Johnny—Mr. Gibilisco, you’ve met him, yeah? He told me not to worry, but…” She shrugged. “It’s what I do.”
“He texted you? When?”
“Last night. Also let me know he wasn’t going to be in today.” Debra shook her head. “Damn treatments he has to get. They keep him going, but the attacks are almost completely random.”
Treatment? Attacks? “What’s wrong with him?” Charlie not-quite-demanded.
“Not sure. It’s been going on ever since he came to work at Stheno.” Her eyes narrowed slightly. “Why do you care? Do you know him?”
“Yeah, some. We…we went to Stheno together. We were…friends.” Not back then, not really, and he wasn’t sure what they were now, but friends worked as well as anything.
“And he didn’t have this problem back then?”
Charlie shook his head. He hadn’t, but—shit. Had Charlie done this to him, the time he knocked him into the hospital? Had he damaged him permanently in some way?
“Well, I don’t know what to tell you. He’ll probably be back tomorrow, unless it was a really bad one.” She sighed, then nodded. “See you later, Charlie.”
“Bye.” He didn’t linger in his room any more. His feet carried him, not to the bus stop, but in the opposite direction toward the little market at the corner a mile away.
It couldn’t be that difficult to find out where Johnny lived without calling, could it? No wonder he’d been terse—he was probably in the hospital. Shit. If he really was back home by this evening, though…
Well, then Charlie could make sure he was comfortable. That was all.