Written for the RusAme Back to School Event, Day Three: School Dance
If there was one thing Ivan Braginski knew about middle school, it was that it was incredibly unfair. He had been in the same class as Alfred every year since kindergarten, but they were promptly separated once middle school began. It was surprisingly lonely to be in an Alfred-less class. Making new friends had never been Ivan's forte, and it only got worse in middle school. For some reason, his new classmates had decided that Ivan was a bully and to be avoided at all cost. It probably had something to do with his growth spurt. Ivan had been growing like a weed ever since the end of fifth grade, and now stood a full head taller than the entire class. Worse than that, he still had more than his share of baby fat clinging to to face and stomach. He was simply big, intimidatingly so.
He tried to smile at people, but they would just grin awkwardly and step back. He tried to be friendly. He gave one of the smaller boys a pat on the head once (just a friendly pat!) and then later everyone started saying that Ivan was being rough with him. And then there were the whispers behind his back. Tubby, fatty, fat-ass. No one had worked up the nerve to say it to his face yet, and that made it hurt even more. It wasn't fair.
From what little Ivan saw, Alfred wasn't fairing much better. Puberty had made him gangly, all elbows and knees and fast growing feet that kept tripping him up. He had recently acquired glasses and pimples, which was a terrible combination for someone who already had a reputation as a nerd. Ivan was big and clumsy and awkward, and so earned the label of stupid in spite of his good grades. It seemed to go hand in hand with being a supposed bully; someone his size had to be of the dumb brute variety. But it was never a secret that Alfred was intelligent, not when he would cheerfully show off how he knew the periodic table of elements by heart and broke out books on the Space Race during study hall.
In the eyes of their classmates, Ivan was the stupid, oversized bully. Alfred was the scrawny, loudmouthed geek. No one had the courage to bully great big Ivan. Alfred wasn't so lucky.
He would never tell Ivan anything, not when they ate lunch together or walked home from school side by side or shared their homework in Alfred's old treehouse. He always said he was fine, but sometimes one of Alfred's books would be torn up, and sometimes Ivan had to peel 'kick me' notes off Alfred's back, and sometimes Alfred's eyes would be suspiciously red on the way home (and the sight always made Ivan's stomach hurt.)
Perhaps they were growing apart. Why else would Alfred be so secretive? They always told each other everything in elementary school. What was different? Aside from Ivan getting taller and more clumsy. Aside from those really weird dreams he had about Alfred sometimes...
It wasn't fair, but something was growing up between them. And so Ivan found himself alone, sulking in a corner at the school dance and feeling oddly rejected as he watched Alfred do the Macarena by himself to the amusement of a group of girls. Ivan tried very hard not to care. Alfred could hang out with whoever he wanted. It wasn't like they had to be together for every second of every day. And it wasn't like Ivan wanted Alfred dancing with him. So it didn't matter.
He huffed a sigh and turned his attention back to the sickeningly sweet cup of punch in his hand. He had no one to talk to and no one to dance with (not that he wanted to!) which only left the food to keep him occupied. The punch was horrible, but there was an assortment of snacks on a table nearby. Ivan had been avoiding them, not wanting to encourage his reputation as a fat pig, but he was hungry and bored and just couldn't find it in himself to care anymore.
Ivan was just filling up his plate with chips and dip when the commotion started. It was just a crowd of students at first, gathering around someone at the far end of the table. Ivan ignored it at first in favor of grabbing a few celery sticks, but soon the voices began to pick up and turn rowdy. Ivan froze, celery still in hand. He could have sworn he heard Alfred's voice coming from that crowd. He hastily set the plate down and inched closer. He could hear laughter and jeers, and then Alfred's voice through it all.
"Shut up! I said shut up! It's not funny!"
Ivan grit his teeth. No matter how confusing thing were between them, Ivan would not sit by and let anyone pick on his best and only friend. He set his jaw and marched over, struggling to worm his way through the crowd. For once his bad reputation worked in his favor; the other students immediately backed out of his way once they got a look at his face.
The crowd became thicker, curled around the end of the snack table, and Ivan was still pushing his way through when he heard Alfred shout, "No, don't!"
Finally Ivan broke through, just in time to see Alfred, sans glasses, staring in horror at one of the taller boys, who was enthusiastically stomping on something. Ivan's stomach clenched when he saw Alfred's glasses, now a sad little heap on the floor, as the boy continued to crush them underfoot.
Ivan saw Alfred's shoulders slump in defeat, saw him bite his lip and blink hard, and suddenly Ivan saw red.
It all happened so fast, too fast for Ivan to think until after he had snatched up a cupcake from the nearby snack table and threw it into the face of the ringleader. Time froze for a moment, and Ivan could only stare at the other boy who now had a mess of icing and crumbs smeared across his face.
Ivan stood perfectly still, almost trembling with rage, waiting for the retaliatory blow. It didn't even matter. At that moment all he wanted was to hurt that boy as badly as he had hurt Ivan's Fredka.
And then someone shouted, "Food fight!"
It was amazing how the situation turned into utter chaos so fast. All at once food was flying through the air in every direction. Ivan wasn't entirely sure if it was the bully hitting back or if it was just a random act of the mob, but someone dumped a cup of punch over his head. He spit out the bit that got into his mouth, blinked through the stickiness that now coated his face and scanned the crowd for Alfred. Finally he found him, crouching under the volley of flying food and looking entirely bewildered. Ivan just grabbed his arm and tugged him away, towards to exit to the hallway and safety.
Now that the protective fury was starting to fade, Ivan felt very foolish indeed. What kind of idiot throws a cupcake at someone? Maybe he had entertained the idea of being a hero and getting to save Alfred from his tormentors, but he had certainly made a mess of that. Now Alfred would think he was stupid too, just like everyone else. And he was covered in punch and his hair felt all gross and sticky and-
Ivan stopped his tracks, realized he was still holding Alfred's arm and immediately let go. "Hm?"
"I can't see all that great without my glasses, but did you seriously just throw a cupcake at that guy?"
Ivan stared at the floor, cheeks burning. "I-I didn't have anything else to throw," he mumbled weakly.
"Dude!" Alfred stepped closer, beaming. "That was the coolest thing I've ever seen."
Ivan's head shot back up, hope flickering to life in his chest. "R-really?"
"Yeah, seriously! It was awesome. It was like...oh hang on, wait a second." Alfred reached up to grab Ivan's chin, turning his head to the left. "Oh my god, is that blood on your cheek!"
Alfred's face was suddenly very close, and his hand was still on Ivan's chin, and for one (horrible, fantastic) moment he thought Alfred was going to kiss him...
...and then it was over.
"Oh, false alarm!" Alfred laughed. "It's just ketchup."
Ivan managed a small smile and tried to squash down the soft burn of disappointment for a reason he couldn't quite name.
Life wasn't fair at all. But as Alfred grabbed Ivan's hand again and chatted about how cool Ivan had been, how he was a real hero for standing up to that jerk...he couldn't bring himself to be too bothered.
Author's Note: I'm not very happy with this one, but I really just wanted to get it over with at this point so I can move on to other things. Kind of drew on some of my own experiences here; I was bullied pretty badly in middle school. Oh well.