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DUEL Heroes

"Not again! I'm so gonna be late!" Jaden groaned, slightly breathless. He was sprinting through the streets, yet again, since he had fallen asleep on the couch and had forgotten to set his alarm. Not that it would have helped since it would have gone off in his bedroom and not in front of his face where it was most effective.

Jaden steamrolled down the streets towards the Academy. If he had woken up earlier he could have taken the electric train and travelled in style. No old ladies to dodge around and no Duel Spirits clogging the air; just him and his thoughts…most likely napping if he were honest. He could just see it now…the city passing by peacefully as the sun rose over the Wall, Jaden himself completely unaware as he slept while the train did all the hard work…

Blaring horns jolted Jaden out of his wishful day-dreaming. In a daze he had managed to cross the street during a 'no walk' sign without actually getting hit. Luckily, most everyone on the road was more caffeinated than he was. Glancing back he saw a motorcycle zoom by where he had just crossed; most likely the source of the honking. …did motorcycles even have horns?

"Guess I'm not the only one in a hurry." Jaden scratched the back of his head. The motorcycle reminded him of his experiences in solo heroism the other day. The yellow, chunky-looking bike raced around the corner and out of sight.

I wonder if that guy fixed his bike yet. She was a pretty sweet ride…it would be a crime if she never got fixed…Jaden shook his head to clear it of the thoughts of the older teen. The brunette took off towards the Academy again, this time taking care not to run out into traffic.

"I've got better things to worry about right now!" Jaden could see the Academy rising in the distance; he was almost there. If he could just get there before the first bell, he would be golden. He couldn't give his dad a reason to keep homeschooling him. If he couldn't even manage to be on time just this once... Lingering thoughts about a guy with an awesome bike and an even weirder tattoo would just make things worse.

"I…I actually…made it!" The starting bell hadn't even rung yet as Jaden burst through the front doors, panting heavily. His legs finally gave out and Jaden sank to the floor, oblivious to the stares his entrance had gotten him. Jaden tried to get his breathing back under control while taking out his school schedule.

"Alright. Phase one complete! Now…where to next?" He stared at the page for a few seconds before giving up on deciphering it. Even if he did know how to read it, there was no way he was going to figure out how to get to the right class without a map.

Jaden sighed and levered himself up off the ground. "Guess I'll just have to ask for directions." He plastered a bright, and he hoped friendly, smile on his face. Who said guys couldn't ask for directions? Jaden knew when he was beat and this was the perfect opportunity to make friends too! The teen was hopeful as he scanned the halls for someone to ask.

Making a good first impression was important, he had heard. One wrong move and he would be known as 'that weird new kid' with no friends. Or worse, 'the freaky homeschool kid'. Not that Jaden had a problem with that; name calling had kind of lost its effect on him since becoming a Hero and always being chewed out by the press. He just hoped that public school would be different. If Jaden tried hard enough, and smiled enough, he was sure he could make friends. Friends that would be there for him and not for what he could do for them as a Hero.

His smile started to lose some of its brightness at the thought. It wasn't fair to think like that about his colleagues. But that was just it. His friends at work were just 'friends at work'. Jaden couldn't really talk to them about personal things. Couldn't invite them out for ramen or to the arcade. Divine's stupid rules about 'secret identities' and what not.

Sometimes Jaden hated being a Hero. It could just be so…lonely.

Jaden slapped himself. He was being ridiculous. Now was the time to fix all that, and he was wasting precious time! Jaden spotted a group of girls that seemed to be about his age. They look promising. Here goes nothing!

"Hey guys! I'm new here and I was wondering if you could—"

"You! You're the pervert from yesterday!" The brunette girl shouted, pointing accusingly at Jaden. Jaden jumped. That was definitely not the reaction he had expected.

"W-what? What are you talking about?" He tried to defend himself. Jaden took a few steps back to put some distance between himself and the crazy lady. If she could call him names, why couldn't he? She kinda deserved it if that was how she was going to act when someone asked for help.

"Don't try to deny it! You're even wearing the same hoody!" The two other girls in the group, probably Crazy Lady's friends, seemed to recognize Jaden as well. The blonde's eyes seemed to harden while the girl with light blue hair cowered behind her.

Jaden blinked. He didn't remember ever meeting these girls before in his life. Yet they obviously seemed to remember him. Jaden looked the three over again; he definitely would have remembered such pretty girls if he had met them.

The brunette flushed, either in anger or embarrassment, when Jaden just continued to stare dazedly. Crazy Lady crossed her arms over her chest as if Jaden had x-ray vision and was using his 'pervy powers' to peek at her. The boy blinked again at the action. I wonder if any of my heroes do have x-ray vision…

"What are you looking at?! You want another slap, pervert?" The girl reeled back to let the kid have it, only to be held back by the blonde.

"Sorry, she gets a little touchy sometimes." The other girl tried to apologize for her friend and stepped between the two, although still glaring slightly at Jaden. The blonde girl seemed to be more curious about the new kid.

That's when it clicked. Yesterday he had been in such a rush to make it to the conference that he had run into a group of girls his age on the street. Jaden rubbed his cheek, remembering the phantom sting of the slap.

"H-heh heh, right, sorry about that. I was in a hurry yesterday. I was late for…something really important." Jaden rubbed the back of his head, slightly embarrassed. He may or may not have touched something he shouldn't have when he crashed into them. "I really didn't mean to cause any trouble."

The blonde let go of the other girl's arm, crossing her own arms to look sternly at the brunette. "I'm sure you were by the way you hardly stopped to apologize." She tried not to smile at the kid's properly chastened face. She could tell he was sorry for the incident. Crazy Lady wasn't so convinced and continued to glare daggers at him.

"I dunno, he seems kinda cute to me." The two girls blinked at their friend. The third girl had stepped around her friends to peer at Jaden. She was apparently lost in her own little world, completely ignoring any hostility that had just happened. The girl smiled at Jaden, making him blush. "Would you carry my books?"

Crazy Lady and the blonde blinked at their friend before letting out identical, resigned sighs. If she was hitting on him, it meant that all was forgiven and right in the world. By this point, Jaden had given up trying to understand what was going on and was staring at them owlishly.

"Uuh…?" He looked between the other two girls who had also been staring at the bluenette. Although their looks were more of the 'not again' variety rather than the 'what the hell?' kind.

"Don't mind Miho. She's always like that around cute boys. I'm Alexis and this is Tea, by the way. Nice to meet you…?" The blonde held out her hand to Jaden who blinked some more before finally taking the offered hand.

"Uh. Jaden. Nice to meet you?" Jaden winced. He hadn't meant it to sound like a question but these girls were starting to freak him out a little. Jaden tried not to let his anxiety show, but he wasn't fast enough. Alexis smiled comfortingly, seeming to understand what Jaden was thinking.

"Nice to meet you Jaden. Sorry for the rough welcome. First impressions are hard, right?" She smiled again and Jaden could feel some of the tension fall away. He smiled and shook Alexis' hand with confidence; it looked like he still had a chance after all.

Alexis looked to Tea who was still frowning at the other brunette, although thankfully no longer glaring death at him. "It's not every day we get a new student, is it Tea?" Alexis let Jaden's hand go to shoot the other girl a look. Tea huffed a little, obviously still mad. The blonde continued to stare before Tea finally dropped her arms and sighed again. She held out her hand to Jaden with a sour face.

"I'm…sorry. I guess I overreacted a little bit." She glanced over at Alexis then back to the slightly shocked boy. "It's nice to meet you Jaden. I hope we can still be friends." A small, slightly forced smile graced the previous Crazy Lady's face.

Jaden cautiously took the proffered hand, becoming more confident when Tea's smile grew. She seemed to be more sincere now that they had made up. Jaden was surprised when she released him and clapped, bouncing in place a little.

Holy—she goes from zero to sixty like…crazy. Huh, maybe 'Crazy Lady' wasn't too far off after all…

"So you're new, huh? Did you transfer or something? You don't look young enough to be a new freshman from one of the middle schools." Jaden smiled good naturedly at the sudden questioning. It was certainly better than the yelling from before.

"Actually, I'm a senior. I convinced my dad to let me go to public school for my last year. Wanted to feel normal for once before getting my diploma, y'know?" Miho's eyes seemed to sparkle, zeroing in on the boy.

"Oooh! Did you go to a private school? You must be incredibly rich or something right? Are you a millionaire?" Jaden chuckled, slightly uncomfortable. Miho didn't seem to notice his discomfort, completely serious and innocent. The other two girls shook their heads.

"Come on, Miho. Leave the kid alone. Besides, what about Honda? Doesn't he usually carry your books or something?" Miho blinked, confused. She pouted cutely, a finger on her chin as she tried to think.

"But, the bell already rang, didn't it? He's usually here by now." She flashed a huge smile at Jaden, surprising the group at her sudden 'sanity'. Apparently Miho was the only one to hear the bell ring amongst their chatting. They hadn't even noticed that they were some of the last students in the hall. "So I'll need someone else to help me with my books. Right, Jaden?"

Jaden chuckled nervously, Alexis and Tea groaning in exasperation. Alexis gently reprimanded Miho for her 'man-eating ways', something that was going right over the bluenette's head, when Tea suddenly gasped.

"Omigosh! Miho's right! The bell just rang! We're late! Come on you guys, we gotta go." Tea grabbed Alexis' arm and started dragging her down the hall. Jaden stood there staring after them at a loss for what to do. He looked down at his schedule only for it to suddenly disappear.

"Looks like we have the same first class. Come on, don't wanna be late for your first day." Miho smirked playfully at the brunette before dumping her books into Jaden's hands. "And don't forget these!" Miho smiled, all innocent sweetness, before turning and heading to class. Jaden fumbled, slightly stunned and blindsided by the whole ordeal. Two minutes in public school and already he had three beautiful girls willing to help him. Or more accurately, two who wanted to help and one who wanted a new 'boy toy'. Jaden couldn't decide whether or not he should laugh at how his luck was turning out so far.

He stood there for a few more seconds before it finally sank in. He had friends. Jaden ran to catch up with the bluenette, feeling lighter and freer than he had in awhile. All thoughts of Divine, the Hero Department, and yesterday's fiasco were left behind. It was the first day of high school and Jaden only had one mission: make as many friends as possible. A grin threatened to split Jaden's face in half as he flew down the hallway.

Today is going to be awesome!

By the time Jaden caught up with Miho, he barely had any time to prepare himself for his first 'real' public school experience. The rush of voices and the sound of the teacher trying to gain control was both exhilarating yet at the same time underwhelming. Somehow everything seems a bit too normal to be real. Jaden mentally shrugged. I guess that's what I wanted. But still…

Miho took her books back and made her way to her seat, practically swallowed by the group of guys suddenly all standing around her. Jaden was left high and dry at the front of the classroom. A few people nearest the front just stared back at him as Jaden stood there at a loss for what to do.

"Jaden! Come sit by me! We can share notes and stuff." The mob of guys parted enough for Jaden to make out the empty seat Miho was gesturing to. Relieved, Jaden walked over and dropped his stuff next to the seat.

"Thanks Miho." The girl smiled back at him. She's actually pretty considerate, I guess. Jaden smiled back in thanks and sat down.

"Hey, Miho! That's my seat! We always sit next to each other." One of the guys standing around Miho's desk complained. The guy shot Jaden a glare before turning back to Miho beseechingly.

It's like he's begging for a Lady's favor. Does that mean Miho is the 'it' girl? Jaden glanced around the class and found that all the guys were surrounding Miho's desk. She's practically holding court. I guess she is a Lady. Jaden chuckled to himself. He was cut short when he noticed that now all the guys were glaring at Jaden and his 'coveted' position. Just when Jaden had decided to move to somewhere else to avoid a scene, Miho spoke up.

"But you always sit there, Tristan. It's getting boring." Miho pouted, practically tearing up. Tristan clutched his heart dramatically looking like he just might have a heart attack on the spot. "Besides, Jaden is new and it wouldn't be very nice of you to not let us sit together. After all, I'm his only friend right now. You'll help me, won't you?"

Jaden wasn't entirely sure what was going on anymore but he was definitely shocked when the group of guys, including Tristan, all immediately started assuring the teary eyed girl that they would do anything to protect her.

When did this become the Knights of the Round Table? Are they gonna go slay a dragon in her honor next? Eventually the mob dispersed leaving a very confused Jaden and a suspiciously innocent looking Miho. Tristan practically shoved another guy out of the seat directly behind Miho. Jaden tried to smile at him in apology but only got more glares in return. I guess this makes me the favorite right now. I'm sure the guys aren't that serious about where we sit…

As the class went on Jaden tried to be as inconspicuous as possible. He had already drawn enough attention for one class period and just hoped it wouldn't stop him from making friends with everyone. His plan only worked partially the way he wanted. Slowly the rest of the class stopped turning to stare and began to pay attention to the teacher. Yet by the time the bell rang Jaden felt as if his shirt would catch on fire from the force of Tristan's glaring.

After the bell rang Jaden packed his stuff away and followed Miho out of the room once again laden with her books, the weight of Tristan's stare still on his shoulders. Jaden sighed. It was going to take some doing to make Tristan and the rest understand that he wasn't into the bluenette like that. And so the dreaded High School drama begins. Jaden tried not to feel the sudden anticipation at the thought, but couldn't help but feel excited at the prospect.

Jaden stepped into his next class and was struck by three things in quick succession.

First, complete and utter silence that almost made him believe there wasn't actually anyone in the classroom at all. He was proven wrong when the second thing, an eraser, landed on his head with a thump and a cloud of white dust which resulted in the third: a wave of laughter from the apparently very full classroom.

Jaden blinked owlishly, stuck in place by sheer confusion before the chalk dust finally made him sneeze. The laughter only grew louder when the sneeze, instead of shaking off the dust, only made it worse. Now the only parts of him not covered in white powder were his pants and shoes. His upper half was doing an excellent impression of a ghost.

"Dude, that is priceless!" Jaden looked up between sneezes and could just make out a guy with moppy blonde hair high-fiving some other guy. While the rest of the students were sitting in their seats, these two were standing in the back by the windows. Most likely the best place to escape the wrath of their 'victim'.

They were probably aiming for the teacher. Jaden glanced over to the desk at the front to confirm that the teacher had not, in fact, shown up yet.

As the class settled down, going back to whatever people did before class, the two guys in the back, one of whom Jaden could now tell was actually Tristan, continued to laugh and joke at Jaden's expense. They were completely oblivious to the kid they had pranked still standing awkwardly in the doorway.

I wonder if they do this every day. It didn't seem like anyone was really shocked…well, besides me. Eventually the two stopped laughing and ducked their heads together, most likely already scheming their next prank. I guess teachers are targets too. I bet they wouldn't be so high and mighty if they had a taste of their own medicine.

Any plans of revenge on resident school punks were interrupted when a loud voice boomed from behind him.

"All right everybody! Cool your jets, it's time to get this party fired up! Sit down and get ready to learn!" Jaden yelped and jumped into the room to more snickers from the class. The teacher just blinked, because who else could it really be?, before smiling bemusedly. The man turned to the class and smirked.

"Ya gotta try harder than that, Jounouchi!" The blonde flinched but recovered quickly, looking downright scandalized.

"How come ya pickin' on me, teach? I ain't done nothin'!" The teacher barely had time to raise a brow in question before Tristan stood to attention.

"As School Beautification member and officer Tristan Honda, it is my duty to inform you, sir, that it was in fact Jounouchi who put the eraser over the door." Jaden tried not to laugh. Jounouchi's face was murderous.

No honor among thieves I guess.

"Traitor…" the blonde mumbled. Honda didn't seem to notice, or at the very least didn't care. He was still standing at attention, waiting for the teacher's approval.

He's like a puppy. Jaden smiled a little, imagining a little dog waiting patiently for a pat on the head for bringing in the newspaper. The two troublemakers were becoming less and less of a threat in Jaden's mind. Maybe I was giving them too much credit as the 'school bullies'.

The teacher chuckled good naturedly and gestured for Honda to sit. Evidently he agreed with Jaden's silent observation of puppy-ness.

"Now that that's out of the way, why don't you take a seat and we can get this show started!" Jaden was prepared for the shouting this time so he didn't jump, at least, but he kept his spot at the front of the room.

"Aren't I supposed to introduce myself?" Jaden hadn't really had a chance to try the 'introduction' thing and it was his first chance to try and stop any rumors about him. Well…to stop any more strange rumors. It was the teacher's turn to blink this time. A bright smile lit up his face and Jaden couldn't help but smile as well.

"I like your spirit, kid! Go for it!" He punched the air, gave Jaden the thumbs up, and collapsed at his desk with his feet propped up and arms behind his head. As if that was the natural way a teacher sat at a school desk.

Whatever else happens, I think I'm gonna like this guy.

Turning back to face the class, he found that he once again had their undivided attention. Butterflies swarmed in his stomach. Jaden attempted to clear his throat to buy some time, but only succeeded in causing himself another coughing fit. Blood rushed to his face in embarrassment. At this rate, Jaden was going to end up a laughing stock. Everyone continued laughing, under their breaths this time, but still enough to elicit another outburst from the teacher.

"Quiet down y' numbskulls!" Jaden got another thumbs-up and brilliant smile combo (did his teeth just…sparkle?) but it didn't do much to cheer him up this time.

Come on Jaden, you can do this. They're just a bunch of teenagers! You've faced worse, now talk already!

Jaden took a careful breath and smiled his best please-don't-hurt-me-I'm-one-of-you smiles. Apparently choking half to death wasn't the worst impression he could have given because a few people even smiled back.

"Hey guys! My name's Jaden Yuki and I'm new here at Duel Academy!"

"No shit, Sherlock!" Jaden spared a quick smile to the now pissy blonde before continuing.

"I'm really looking forward to getting to know everyone and making as many friends as possible…"

"Yawn! Yer borin' me t' death!" Jounouchi was still chafing from the failed prank, but Jaden didn't let that stop him.

"Because this will be my first year attending a public school. So, please take care of me!" He knew everyone already knew that bit by now, but what else was there to say really? 'Hi, I spend my free time kicking butt as a big green duel monster?' Yeah, that'd go over well. They'd probably eat him alive if they knew that.

Not gonna lie, I'm really hoping they aren't the cannibalistic type…

"So, wait…" This came from one of the girls in the front. "You've never been to a real school before?" Jaden smiled and tried not to cringe.

"Nope. Completely homeschooled!" And so it begins…Without any of the Girls around to back him up with their popularity bubble, Jaden knew the inquisition was about to begin.

TV sitcoms needed to do more research on homeschool kids making the transfer into the real world. They always depicted the new kid as being some backwater hick who didn't know the basic times tables, or at the very least, as a kid with so many health problems they would have been better off in a bubble. Jaden's classmates must have been watching the same shows.

The sudden wave of questions felt like it should have knocked him over. And, Jaden's lack of immediate response only spurred them on further. All of their questions were either some form of 'Why now? Why were you homeschooled?' or a sudden interrogation of the latest pop culture.

Jaden stammered as best he could but as soon as he seemed to answer one question, two more would pop up. One on top of the other until he was completely lost again. A now familiar and obnoxiously loud voice rang out over the onslaught.

"So what was wrong wit ya that you were homeschooled, huh? Ya got some weird disease or somethin'?" The questions from the rest of the class cut off. Everyone seemed to double take at the new kid and then back to the prankster, trying to decide if they wanted to be nice or if they really wanted to know too. Another guy sitting in the back was the first to recover from the silence.

"Yeah. Did the doctors decide that you were too contagious to be with the regular kids? Is that it?"

"Well, no…that's not really—"

"Yeah man! He even looks pale!"

"Do you think that means he's still contagious?" The room filled with anxious murmurs. Things were spiraling in a way that Jaden had not anticipated at all. He felt his hands clench in frustration.

"That's just the chalk! I'm fine, really! There is ab-so-lutely nothing wrong with me." Jaden tried another smile. It had worked last time. It did nothing to stem the murmurs but did increase the number of students that thought pushing their chairs back would keep them safe from 'patient zero'.

"My dad just wanted to teach me himself, alright? Nothing wrong with that…" His hands were shaking at his sides and Jaden could feel his palms start to sweat. He knew it wouldn't be long before his voice would start to tremble too. It was gonna take a miracle to recover from this disaster. Jaden resisted looking to the teacher for help; it would only look like weakness to the horde of his peers.

I bet they can smell fear.

"Come on, guys. Leave the homeschooler alone." Honda said. He kicked Jounouchi under the desk, maybe to prompt him to stem the mob too. Jaden felt grateful for the help. Just one person on his side was a great relief. If both of the thugs could convince the class to back off, they would.

The blonde backhanded the brunette and settled back in his seat, still miffed. He closed his eyes and reclined even further, completely at ease and totally ignoring the paranoia starting to escalate. Jaden could feel the teacher starting to move from his desk, most likely to intervene on the new kid's behalf yet again.

So not good. Jaden could kiss any street cred he would have had goodbye and watch his social life go down the toilet. He was already a glorified handbag for the girls; no one liked a teacher's pet.

"Just sit down already, homeskillet. Yer ramblin's puttin' me t'sleep." Jaden started. He hadn't expected Jounouchi to say anything, let alone give him an escape.

I guess today is just gonna be a whole bunch of surprises. For some reason, that thought didn't help as much as it would have normally.

Jaden glanced back at the still, thankfully, seated teacher for permission before taking the last empty seat. The others were still side eyeing him, but at least a few had reverted back to laughing instead.

Who would have thought I'd rather be a joke than a freak?

So far, public school was proving to be almost completely opposite from hero work. Jaden was still trying to figure out if that was a good thing by the time the bell rang.

Jaden made his way through the halls carefully, heading towards his third class. After finding Alexis and following her to their next class he had learned that news does indeed travel fast in high schools. Through the hallways and in their shared art class, everyone had been staring and or glaring at him. Well…staring at Alexis with pubescent lust and glaring at Jaden with ill-concealed envy.

It's not as if these three girls are the only ones in the whole school or something...

Although there were some good things about the 'power of the popular'. There was almost an unspoken rule that no one was allowed to approach the reigning 'it girl' without her permission. So while everyone was glaring at him, at least no one was getting in his face like last time.

Well, almost everyone... Jaden smirked then, remembering the shaggy blonde who had slept all period before hurriedly painting something before the class ended. That guy doesn't know how good he has it here. Dad would never let me sleep in 'class', let alone even have an art class.

Jaden was grateful for everything that his dad had done for him, even taking time out of his schedule to teach him. But he was a very strict man and didn't like to give instructions twice. Fun things like art or drama were very much absent from Jaden's homeschool schedule. "There are more practical things for you to focus on, Jaden."

Jaden snorted. "I bet if he saw how awesome Alexis was with her charcoal he wouldn't be so sure." Her intense focus on her work made her 'popular bubble' completely unnecessary. Jaden had almost been afraid to tell her when the bell had rung because she was still going.

"Hey homeschool! How's it hangin'?"

Jaden sighed to himself before plastering on another fake smile, waving back at whoever had yelled. Laughter was his only response, followed by a shove that almost had him eating locker. Somehow the news of him being homeschooled his entire life had also spread around. Apparently, this was the most hilarious thing in the world to the school bullies. Jaden clenched his fists and jammed them into his hoodie front pocket. The last thing he needed was to let them get to him. 'Homeschool' was bad enough without being labeled as the guy with anger problems, too.

He really should have taken notes from all those day-time tv shows. Making sure people knew he had never been to a 'real' school before was supposed to make the other kids want to be his friend; if not for any other reason than to have him completely dependent on them for a social life. What said High School Status more than having another student under your complete control? What else was tv lying to him about?

Jaden was glad he had run into the girls first. Already Tea had backhanded a few kids for the name-calling. He wasn't sure how well he would have handled the thugs if she hadn't. Probably would have done a lot more than backhand them. Not exactly Hero behavior, but Jaden didn't think anyone could really blame him.

Said thugs were currently at the end of the hallway lobbing spit balls at passing students. Well, the blonde one was, anyway. And Jaden recognized Tristan from his first two classes. The brunette with the particularly 'sharp' haircut was just standing there watching and trying to look intimidating.

Typical. Jaden rolled his eyes as he walked by. Looks like Shaggy is the brains and Sharkhead is the muscle. Jaden felt a few spitballs bounce off his back with another added 'homeschool' to match. Seems like my 'favorite' status doesn't work when the girls aren't here. Oh well, I can handle a little teasing. Jaden took a few deep breaths to center himself and not retaliate.

"Lookin' good Syrus! Watch your head!" Jaden turned just in time to see a small blue haired kid get pelted with spitballs.

"Come on guys, knock it off! You know how long it takes to get this stuff out!" The kid, Syrus, pouted as he tried to defend himself with his textbooks. The guys just laughed at his efforts to dodge. Jaden hoped Shaggy would choke on his straw. The brunette ruffled the shorter teen's hair roughly, most likely trying to drive the spitballs deeper into his hair.

"Hurry up and get out of here. You're gonna be late, man." Honda pushed the bluenette farther down the hall. Syrus dodged a few more spitballs from Jounouchi and ducked into Jaden's next class, just in time as the tardy bell rang, clearing out the halls. Jaden smirked when he heard a teacher start yelling, presumably at the spitball-twins.

Serves them right. Jaden thought smugly. Now is the perfect time to swoop in as the loveable goofball and save the innocent victim from the evil school bullies. Jaden's smile took on a slightly more impish slant. Thus solidifying us as Best Friends Forever.

Hope and nervous anticipation both rushed Jaden at the prospect of securing his first real male friend.

Making friends with the girls was great and all, but he could tell that he didn't quite fit in with them yet. They talked to him between classes, defended him when they saw he needed it, but it didn't feel like friendship. It felt like he was their little brother or a small animal that needed to be coddled.

More like their little sister, maybe. I do not want to spend the rest of the year rating the 'yummiest boy booty in school'. Jaden shuddered.

"Guy friends. I need some regular guy friends." Jaden tried to psych himself up before walking into the room. Tea apparently also had this class, and was trying to flag him down to sit at her table. Jaden spared her a quick glance before focusing on the blue haired boy. He'd have to make sure to talk to her later to make sure she knew he wasn't trying to snub her or anything. At the very least, Jaden could feel the tension in the classroom dissipate a little. Without Jaden, the potential suitors had a clear shot at Tea.

That's one improvement already. Jaden smiled to himself and refocused on his real goal.

Syrus was sitting by himself at one of the long science tables. His head was hanging down, his shoulders hunched, and hands clenched in his lap. Jaden frowned at the obvious defensive behavior. The kid's body language showed that he was trying to make himself a smaller target; trying not to make eye contact with any potential bullies.

Maybe it wasn't so surprising that he sat alone.

Jaden had been experiencing being a target all day. His whole life actually, but there were different rules as a civilian. In the field, all you had to worry about was getting attacked by the giant duel monster. Here, an enemy could be lurking around any corner, just waiting for you to let your guard down. The butterflies disappeared from Jaden's stomach to be replaced with a steely resolve. This wasn't just about making friends. This was about standing up to an institution that supported oppression. No one should have to live in fear in a place that was supposed to be safe.

This wasn't about making Syrus his friend. It was about being a friend to Syrus.

Jaden's confidence swelled. This was what being a hero was about. This was what he was supposed to do with his life. He was determined to make a difference in any way he could. Not just because it was his job, or because he wanted people to appreciate him. But because it was the right thing to do.

Slowly, so as to not startle the kid, Jaden walked up to Syrus' table. It was situated all the way in the back corner; perfect for keeping an eye on any incoming threats as well as preventing sneak attacks from behind. Jaden could tell that he wasn't unnoticed by the way the bluenette's shoulders grew tenser when he finally stopped at the empty seat.

"Yo! This seat taken?" The kid jumped. Syrus glanced up quickly before gathering his things and scooting to the far end of the table. Jaden sighed in slight relief but didn't let himself relax yet. He might not be seen as enough of a threat to make the kid run away, but cowering in fear wasn't that great either.

Jaden took the open seat, silently berating himself. Yo? That's the best I can do? So lame. And what's with the shouting? Nice job, me. He sighed again in slight frustration. First impressions might not be his strong point, but Jaden had yet to meet a person he couldn't win over with sheer determination. Let's try this again.

"Hey, my name's Jaden. I'm new here." Jaden turned in his seat to face Syrus directly. Class was starting, but it seemed that no one had noticed that Jaden didn't care. Or more accurately, no one cared what the 'outcast table' did. Syrus didn't move other than to twitch again at the attention.

Jaden refused to be put off.

"Although most people are callin' me homeschool, or homeskillet." Jaden leaned back in his chair, crossing his arms behind his head. If he acted like it was no big deal to talk, then maybe the other kid would follow along. Jaden kept his eyes on the ceiling; the ball was in Syrus' court now.

There was something about the blue haired boy that made Jaden need to talk to him. It could be because he was the first person that he had seen get called out by hecklers specifically. The two thugs weren't especially harsh on the smaller teen, but their attention was also equally spread out to anyone else who got within range.

I guess we're just lucky. I can handle name calling and some rough housing. I've gotten-and given-worse as Flame Wingman. This kid though… Jaden glanced over out of the corner of his eye. Syrus had begun to fidget a bit in his seat. He looks so…breakable. Like a stiff wind would blow him to pieces.

"...Sy-Syrus. Nice to meet you…"

A surge of protectiveness swelled, only to be crushed quickly. This was the reason that he wanted to make friends with Syrus; he didn't want Alexis, Tea, and Miho to be overprotective with him. It wouldn't be fair to Syrus or himself if he did the same thing. They had the same problems. Probably. They were brothers in arms. United together against the forces of…evil?

Jaden thought about the thugs, comparing their bad-ness levels to his Hero work. Maybe not evil. It's not like they had destroyed a building full of deaf orphans or anything. Just a harmless misnomer. Wads of paper were easy enough to dodge and get rid of. Being tripped wasn't so bad, especially when they weren't that subtle about it. They weren't really thugs so much as they were just punks.

Something about that…revelation…lightened Jaden's mind. The bullies and thugs on tv did much worse than what he had seen so far. As long as it was just playful and harmless, he could handle it.

But as soon as they slash up my books and start spray-painting my locker, we're gonna have some serious words.

The teacher had just started talking about lab safety or something, Jaden wasn't really paying attention, which was good, because then Syrus spoke. He was so quiet Jaden almost missed it.

"Don't worry about it. They'll forget about you in a couple of days." Syrus looked up just enough for a small smile to peek through.

"Ya think so?" Jaden leaned back in his chair and blatantly ignoring the teacher in favor of talking. This time Syrus turned to face the other teen.

"Yeah. You're the new kid, so it's like having a new toy to play with for a little bit. It doesn't last long, though. I know from experience." Syrus was no longer hiding his face, but looking directly at Jaden. The brunette was also happy to note that most of the tension had disappeared from Syrus' shoulders.

Success! I'll fist pump later.

"They give you a hard time too?"

Syrus shrugged. "Yeah, at first. Then I made friends and things weren't so bad anymore. How about you? Have you made any friends yet?"

Jaden grinned.

"You bet! Two steps in the door and I already had a posse. What can I say? I'm a chick magnet." Jaden winked, jokingly. Syrus gaped.

"What?! Really?"Syrus chuckled. "You're too much Jaden. I wish I had that kind of luck with girls." Jaden laughed and smacked Syrus on the back. The bluenette gasped a bit, scrambling to keep his glasses on his face.

"What? A lady killer like you? I bet you have to beat 'em off with a stick!" Syrus fixed his glasses to look at Jaden incredulously.

"Wha-! Me?! You're just saying that, Jaden." Jaden internally face palmed. Syrus had retreated slightly back to his shut-off self.

"Well, maybe not with those spitballs in your hair. Need help, Sy?"

Syrus blinked, confused."Sy?"

Jaden copied the action, also slightly confused.

"Yeah. Your nickname. I just thought it, well, y'know…fit. You don't like it?" Crap. Too much? Am I too clingy? Are nicknames for level 3 friends? What level am I right now? Is there a point system? What if…

"No, it's fine. ...I-I like it." Syrus smiled and Jaden felt the pressure in his chest loosen. Being the friendship instigator was more stressful than he thought.

"But," whoop, there's the butterflies again… "Only if I can call you Jay." It took a second for Jaden's mind to catch up. Syrus only smirked at him. When he finally caught on, Jaden laughed so hard that he drew the attention of the whole class. He only laughed harder when the added attention made Syrus squirm.

Jaden held out a fist, still giggling. The strange looks from the rest of the class not even registering besides the fact that he could tell that Syrus was slightly uncomfortable.

"You've got a deal, Sy." Jaden grinned so hard it took up most of his face. Syrus only hesitated for a second before bumping his fist with the brunette's.

"Deal, Jay." Jaden's sudden laughter was contagious; Syrus joined in and they were both finally reprimanded by the teacher. Syrus smiled abashedly and started to actually take notes for the class. Occasionally the two would glance over at each other and dissolve into laughter again.

It really was no wonder that they ended up setting their work station on fire.

"Well that was definitely the most fun I've ever had in a science class." Jaden strolled out of the classroom, completely at ease. Syrus hurried after him, his shorter stature not carrying him as far as his new friend.

"You set the table on fire! ...And I'm pretty sure that was your first science class." Syrus muttered the second part almost to himself. If there was one thing he'd learned in the last hour, it was that Jaden would not be deterred from doing whatever he thought would be 'fun'.

"I know! Who knew public school would be so fun? I wonder what we'll do tomorrow." Jaden grinned over at Syrus, whose face had paled at the thought.

"Jaden! You have to be more careful! Someone could have really gotten hurt! Or at the very least, you might get detention next time." Syrus pouted a little, but Jaden just kept smiling. It was kinda funny that Syrus turned out to be such a worry wart. But Jaden was just so excited! Science classes definitely had the best stuff to mess with.

I wonder if I could convince dad to get me a science kit…do those things come with bunsen burners too?

"Don't worry, Sy. I promise, I won't set anything else on fire. At least not on purpose."

"Why does that not make me feel better?" Syrus wasn't pale anymore, but he still sounded worried. Jaden's stomach decided to change the subject. Loudly.

"So, uh. Is it lunch time yet?" Jaden laughed kind of nervously. Syrus smiled a little, sighing slightly exasperatedly. The bluenette sped up a little to take the lead.

"Come on. The cafeteria is this way. You can sit with me and my friends. I promise they won't tease you too much." Jaden quirked an eyebrow at that, but brushed it off as being the 'new kid'.

"Sounds good to me. Lead on!" Jaden grabbed Sy's arm and charged down the hallway.

"Jaden!" Syrus was Jaden's unwilling captive until they finally burst through the large double doors of the cafeteria, with only a few shouted directions from the smaller teen. One thing the TV dramas got right was the cafeteria. All long lines of tables with the various cliques spread throughout. As well as the dreaded Cafeteria Lady doling out ladles of…something. Well, almost correct. There was a large group of shouting teens gathered around something Jaden couldn't see. That can't possibly be a dance circle during lunchtime…could it?

"Hey Sy, what's goin' on over there?" Jaden turned to his friend for help. It was much too soon to be spiraling in confusion already. But if it is a dance circle, everything I know is a lie.

Syrus took one last gulp of air before looking up.

"That? Oh that's…that's just the bread bin. It's to test your draw power." Syrus finally collected himself to make his way towards the end of the food line, keeping a wide berth around the 'bread bin'.

"Your what power?" Jaden grabbed a plastic tray and followed Syrus' lead. He didn't pay much attention to what was put on his tray, but instead kept an eye on the crowd around the bin. It looked like people were taking turns picking out packages and walking away happy or dejected depending on the outcome.

"Well," Jaden shifted his focus back to his friend. "You know that Duel Academy is for teaching about Duel Monster Spirits and stuff right?" Jaden nodded, not quite sure what that had to do with anything.

"Well, lots of students want to graduate to become Pro-Duelers—"

"Really? I thought only people with strong dueling spirit could do that?" Jaden glanced back to the crowd. It looked like someone had gotten a really good one. If there're that many people with strong abilities, how come the government hasn't gotten more help with Arcadia?

"It takes a while for some people to develop enough strength to actually use the cards, but some students can even see their spirit forms." The two teens reached the end of the line and walked closer to the bin. Jaden looked down at his plate, only slightly surprised that the school lunch looked like sludge. I wonder if this is the 'mystery meat' I've heard so much about…

"The bread bin, though, is just a game of luck to see if they can train themselves to draw the card they need for a duel. You know, when they get that far. I'm not real good at it, but it's usually better than this stuff."

"You mean lunch is always the goo from the black lake? I think I'm gonna starve." Jaden made a face. He was slightly confused when Syrus laughed; he was completely serious about his dislike. Food is a serious matter.

"That's why everyone does the bread bin. Even if they don't want to be Pros. Even a liver sandwich is better than this."

"Aw man! I got eel and sourdough!"

"Sucks to suck, man! I'll trade you my corn beef and pumpernickel."

Jaden watched two students walk away bickering over their bread picks. "Doesn't sound like there's a lot of good ones in there." Syrus made a face as the two found a spot at the bin's edge.

"Still better than this stuff. Trust me. If you can, try to get the Golden Eggwich. I've heard it's the best in the bin, but I've only seen it once so far." Jaden's grin was sharp.

"That sounds like a challenge to me!" Jaden balanced his tray on the edge of the bin and rolled up his sleeves. He closed his eyes, raising a hand in the air. Deep breath in, deep breath out, and he plunged his hand into the bin as far as it could go. Jaden's tongue stuck out a bit as he concentrated.

"AHA!" Jaden wrenched his arm out of the bin, flinging sandwich bags everywhere. Syrus ducked but still managed to get hit in the head.

"Come on, Jay! Watch where you're flingin' that stuff!" Syrus looked up from the floor, hands still covering his head. Jaden scratched his cheek sheepishly.

"Sorry 'bout that Sy. Here, have this." Jaden tossed the sandwich he grabbed before turning back to the bin for another go.

"Wh-? Jaden! You got the Golden Eggwich on your first try! How'd you do that?!" Syrus jumped up next to his friend who was already shoulder deep in the bread.

Jaden shrugged, still concentrating. "I dunno. Just lucky I guess. You have it. I think I can find another one in here somewhere…" Syrus looked back and forth from the bread to the brunette. He held the bread to his chest, stars in his eyes.

"You really mean it, Jay?" Jaden grunted, completely absorbed.

"Sure thing, Sy. I'll meet you at the table, alright?"

"You're the best, Jaden!" Syrus rushed off somewhere, leaving his tray of gray mush behind.

The second one took a little more time, but Jaden managed to 'draw' another Golden Eggwich, no problem. Either I'm really lucky, or this thing really is a test of duel ability. I bet I could make a killing at poker. Jaden whistled tunelessly to himself, scanning the room for his blue haired friend. He finally spotted him sitting with another blue haired kid and a guy wearing some kind of beanie. Jaden made his way over, making a mental note to count how many people had unusual hair colors in this school. Maybe it was a teenager thing that he should look into…

"Come on, kid. You know it's more fun at our table." The guy with the hat, sitting on one side of Syrus, draped an arm around his shoulders, snatching Syrus' glasses with the other. Syrus looked like he wanted to escape, but couldn't without sliding off the end of the bench.

"Heheh. Yeah. We have better connections than those losers you hang out with anyways. You don't want to be a nobody for the rest of your life, do you?" This was from the other blue haired kid sitting across from the other two. This one also had glasses, and would have been a good candidate for Syrus' brother, but something about him made Jaden's skin crawl.

"I-I'm not…that's not why…" Syrus shrunk into himself, obviously incredibly stressed, but didn't attempt to shake off the offending arm still trapping him.

"I mean, what would your brother think if he knew that his baby brother was such a loser? I bet he'd die of shame." Syrus cringed. Even from where he was, Jaden could see that Syrus had started to shake. Jaden tried to speed walk over to help his friend, but was cut off by more students trying to get to the bread bin.

"…-ciety can make you stronger, right? We've all done it. It won't take much and it won't cost you anything important, really. Just sit with us from now on." Syrus was really shaking now.

Something wasn't right here. It didn't look like the two strangers were being overly aggressive, but whatever was happening didn't look to be alright with Syrus.

"Don't worry buddy, I'm—" There was a loud crash, followed by shouting.

"Watch where you're goin' you punk!" The cafeteria seemed to freeze, the tension rising as all heads turned to the table the three were sitting at. Well, where now only two of them were sitting. The guy that had trapped Syrus was now standing and sputtering in rage, covered in gray lunch goo.

"Ah, geez. Sorry 'bout that Rexy. I guess I didn't see ya sittin' there. My hand just kinda…slipped." Jounouchi stood over 'rexy', dangling his lunch tray in one hand. There was not an ounce of apology in his voice and everyone in the room knew it.

"Cut the crap, Jou! You did that on purpose! Argh! This stuff never comes out!" The guy whipped off his beanie to try and shake off some of the gunk, revealing a shock of lavender hair in the process. Jaden momentarily forgot the seriousness of the situation and just stared. Alright then…teenagers have weird hair here…

"I have no idea what yer talkin' about Rex. I honestly thought you were a trashcan with all that crap comin' outta yer mouth." Jounouchi's smirk was downright evil and sadistic; not one ounce of repentance in him at all. Rex was about to yell back when the other blue haired stranger also had a tray dumped over his head.

"Hey, Jou! You missed! This one is the trashcan." Honda looked over the head of their newest victim to smirk at the blonde. The 'trashcan' was sputtering in his outrage, completely unable to form any kind of sentence.

Jounouchi dropped his tray with a clatter, the resulting clang startling a few onlookers to jump. The blond feigned a look of surprise, not paying any attention to the fact that he and Honda were the center of attention. In fact, he seemed to be drawing from that. Like he was putting on a show to humiliate the other two.

"Oh, yer right! My mistake! Here, let me help you two out." Jounouchi grabbed the two trays still on the table and dumped them over the bluenette's head.

"There ya go Weevil. You're finally living up to yer true calling." Jaden couldn't figure out if he wanted to laugh or try to stop them. On the one hand, bullying was wrong and he shouldn't endorse it, even if Syrus was saved in the process. On the other hand, Weevil and Rex's faces were priceless.

Are they fighting over who gets the rights to bully Sy? Is this school not big enough for the four of them? Jaden's visions of cowboy shoot-outs were interrupted by more yelling from the bug guy.

"That is it, Wheeler! You're on our list now! You better watch your back from now on. We will get our revenge." There must have been something else going on that Jaden didn't know about. Whatever tension there had been before had somehow tripled in thickness. Jaden was surprised that he couldn't actually see his breath with how cold the room felt.

"Yea yea, whatever beetle brain. Scurry off already, would ya?" Jounouchi was unaffected, looking bored and all together done with the incident. He continued acting nonchalant through the venomous glares the two were shooting him. Honda seemed equally indifferent to the situation, simply helping Syrus up and away from the table.

"You're gonna regret this Wheeler!" The two goo-covered teens stormed out of the cafeteria, somehow managing to make the swinging doors slam shut. Huh, nice. Gotta admit, they know how to storm out in a huff. Jaden turned back to the table to find Jounouchi staring back at him. The brunette tried to stay still under his scrutiny, suddenly worried he would be the next 'trash can'.

"You okay Syrus?" Jounouchi asked without breaking eye contact.

"Yeah, I'm fine Jou. It's no big deal. We were just talking." Jaden looked over at Syrus, now seated at an adjacent table with Honda. The smaller teen wasn't shaking anymore, but was still very pale.

"What're you guys gawkin' at? Show's over!" The blonde barked at the rest of the still gawking crowd. There was a great rustling as everyone jumped to look like they hadn't all been staring in shocked awe just a few seconds ago. Jounouchi turned without another glance at Jaden to sit with the other two boys.

Jaden shifted anxiously still a few feet away. Now that Syrus had been commandeered by the two punks, he wasn't sure if he was welcome anymore. Syrus was his friend now, but it looked like the other two were also. They seemed to be on the same team just a few seconds ago, at least in Jaden's mind, but they hadn't exactly been on the best of terms earlier that day.

"Hey homeskillet!" Jaden jumped. "Get yer butt over here already!" Jounouchi had sat across from Honda, leaving the other seat next to Syrus open. Jaden barely paused to think about the strange invitation before plopping down on the bench.

"Man! First day and already those two are up to their old tricks! Don't they get it that no one wants to join their stupid club?" Jounouchi slumped on the table, his arms stretched all the way across and just barely avoiding smacking Honda.

"Dude! Watch where you throw those things!"

"Aw shut up, Tristan." While Jaden watched the two bicker, Tea, Alexis, and Miho filled the rest of the available seats at the table.

"That was quite the spectacle, Jou. Although, I don't think the lunch lady will forgive you for wasting all her hard work." Alexis poked at her food with a small smirk.

"Why do you guys even eat this stuff? You should just bring your lunch like I do." Tea unwrapped her boxed lunch. There wasn't even a competition of which was obviously the more edible food. Miho looked at it longingly.

"I wish I had something good to eat too." Miho pouted. Tea rolled her eyes, moving her lunch away from the other girl. Honda perked up, his whole demeanor changing.

"Don't worry Miho! You can have my lunch!" Jaden covered a snort. He had almost forgotten how much like a puppy the sharkhead could be. Miho just pouted some more.

"But Honda's lunch is gross too." Honda's face fell, completely crushed.

"Pfft! Haha! Foiled again, Tristan!" The blonde grinned at Honda who just glared at him before turning back to Miho.

"Don't worry, my fair Miho! Honda will get you the best sandwich!" The brunette practically leaped over to the bread bin. Jounouchi followed after, something about 'wasting good food on trashcans'.

Jaden looked over to the girls, partly confused and amused. "My fair Miho?" Alexis chuckled.

"You get used to it. Tristan's had a crush on Miho since middle school. He'll do practically anything for her." Alexis explained. Her expression was one of a long suffering mother constantly plagued by mischievous children. Jaden looked back to see Jounouchi and Honda throwing sandwiches at each other but mostly hitting other students. Alexis shook her head good naturedly. Apparently it was an everyday occurrence that those two caused a scene like that.

Tea just rolled her eyes again. "Yeah, and she knows it too." Tea pointed her fork at Jaden warningly. "Don't let her fool you Jaden. She's a maneater." Tea and Jaden looked over at Miho who gazed back with wide eyes.

"Are you talking about Miho?" Miho looked around uncomprehendingly. Tea squinted and leaned over to whisper 'maneater' before going back to her lunch. When Tea looked up again to wink at him, Jaden was beyond confused.

"So, uh, I guess you guys are all friends, then?" Jaden looked around at the group. They all seemed to be getting along well despite the fact that their group was half cheerleader and half wannabe-gangbangers. Said thugs came back to the table, Honda dejected and without a sandwich and Jounouchi happily hoarding all the 'failures'.

"Of course. We all grew up together. My brother Atticus and Syrus' brother Zane always hung out because of school and the rest of us kinda…came along too." Alexis glanced at Jaden curiously.

"Woah, hold on a sec! Are you saying that your brother is Zane Truesdale?! The Pro-Dueler? I heard he's ruthless!" Jaden turned to Syrus, surprised. Said bluenette seemed to be recovered from the incident enough to smile almost enthusiastically.

"He's not that bad. He just doesn't like losing, so he tries his best not to." Jaden was stunned.

"A-and your brother is Atticus Rhodes? The Motoracer? Doesn't he ride in the same league as the King?" Jaden's voice was rising with excitement, but he couldn't seem to control himself. This was amazing! Alexis stared back before laughing out right.

"Pfft! Yeah, I guess. I don't really talk to him much; he has a large…personality. I take it you follow the Motoracing circuit?"

"You bet! They're so cool! I wish I could race like that some day! Can you imagine how awesome it would be to go that fast?" Alexis laughed some more at Jaden's enthusiasm. Even Tea was affected enough to crack a smile.

"Ya think that's cool? We used t' hang out wit the King of Games." Jaden gaped at the blonde. Jounouchi smirked haughtily around a mouthful of sandwich.

"You're friends with Yugi Mutou?!"

"You know it, shrimp." Jounouchi grinned, milking his superiority over the new kid. Jaden slumped back into his seat, well and thoroughly stunned. He knew they were all enjoying his reaction to the news, but he couldn't seem to care.

Oh. My. God. I knew Neo Domino City was a small world, but I didn't know it was that small. If they know that many duelers, would they know the other high class people in the city? Jaden stiffened with the sudden revelation that they could already know who he was.

Goddamnit. Not one day and my cover is already blown. Jaden tried to subtly gauge the others reactions. They all seemed caught up in their own conversations about Pro-Dueling and not Arcadia. If they did know who he was, they were hiding it really well.

"I don't know why you guys are all caught up on the duelists when the Hero Department has all the cool stuff." Jounouchi said. Jaden could almost swear that his blood really did leak out of his face and into his shoes. Theyknowtheyknowtheyfreakinknow!

"Whatever man. You know Security does all the really hard work." Honda pointed at the blonde.

"No way! Have you seen them in action? There is no way that the weak-sauce Security can do half the stuff they do." Honda fumed a little before suddenly turning to glare at Syrus and Jaden, still quietly sitting there.

"What about you two?! Which is better, the Security or the Heroes?"

"It's totally the Heroes, right homeschool?" Jounouchi and Honda stared the two down like their answers would solve world hunger.

"Uh, well. The Security office has an important role to fill, but so does the Arcadia Department…so, both?" The two taller teens looked at each other before they both shouted 'wrong!'.

"You have to make a clear decision, so that doesn't count!" Honda directed his piercing gaze to the bluenette next.

"W-well, I really like the Scarlet Witch so…the Heroes?" Syrus shrunk back a bit. Everyone at the table, however, jumped when Jounouchi leapt in the air with a whoop.

"Ah yeah! That's right! Eat that Tristan!" Honda 'hmphed'.

"Yeah, whatever."

The two went back to their bickering discussion of dueling, completely ignoring the rest of the table yet again. As lunch went on, Jaden became more and more relaxed around them. So this is what it's like to have friends with a secret identity. Panic attacks and sandwiches. When the bell rang for lunch to end Alexis and Tea had managed to bully Jou ("Stop callin' me 'Jounouchi', we're friends aren't we?") into easing up on the 'new kid bashing'. Miho only had to pout a little to get the same result from Honda.

"I swear by my sacred duty as Hall Monitor and future Public Security Bureau Officer that I will always look out for those in need!" Honda stood at attention with a fist over his heart. He only relaxed when the girls had disappeared around the corner. Even then it was with a love-struck look on his face.

Jaden laughed quietly to himself. This guy is too much.

"Really, man? Sounds a bit above yer paygrade, dontcha think?" Jou draped himself over the pointy haired brunette and they continued to argue down the hall. Jaden turned to go his own way when he heard Jou yell back.

"Keep yer eye out, homeschool! You're still the new meat, after all!" Jaden shook his head, suddenly fond of the obnoxious blonde. In less than a day they had gone from semi-enemies to lunch time buddies. Who knew what would happen by the end of the day?

Jaden cupped his hands around his mouth and shouted over the crowd of rushing students. "Whatever you say Jounouchi!" Whatever the other teen said after that was lost in the crowd. The young Hero walked to his next class whistling to himself.

I wonder if I'll meet anyone else today who's even half as fun as those guys are.

The next day wasn't that much different than the first. Once again Jaden had forgotten his alarm and once again he chauffeured The Girls to each of their classes. Jounouchi and Honda continued to be annoying, but Jaden was grateful that their bullying hadn't escalated after the 'eraser incident'.

At least if they're bullying me, they won't have time for Syrus. Although Syrus had said that he didn't really mind, Jaden wasn't so sure. The two boys only shared the one class, but Jaden tried his best to find the other between classes as often as possible. He didn't know what the smaller boy had gone through before Jaden arrived, but he was determined to make sure none of it happened again…whatever it was.

Jaden strolled into his next class, smiling to himself. Lunch had been just as entertaining as the day before. The good food and his good mood hopefully enough to get him through the hardest class of the day. He had thought that having math so early in the morning was bad, he hadn't been prepared for having to struggle through a food coma during a personal finance class.

A groan escaped the teen as he sat down at his desk. Math is one thing, but a class with nothing but word problems? When will I ever even use this stuff?!

Glancing around the room, Jaden saw that things were once again the same as they were yesterday. The oppressive atmosphere that came with a tough teacher and a tougher class descended over the students as they waited for class to start. The guy in the back once again glowering at everything and everyone, and the front-middle seat was once again avoided by everyone as well.

I can understand why that desk is dangerous. No one in their right mind wants to be called on in here. Jaden glanced back at the guy in the back. There was something about him that seemed really familiar although Jaden could swear that he'd never seen him before. What I don't get is what this guy has against smiling…or maybe he just reeeaally likes frowning...

Jaden jumped when said frowner glared directly at him. Oops, busted. Jaden tried a small wave but only go an angry 'pft' in return. At that point the teacher had walked in and had already started writing on the board. By the time Jaden had finally given up trying to understand the problems on the board, he had completely forgotten about the consistent glaring of the black-haired teen.

Trying not to get caught this time, Jaden peeked back to see how the guy was doing. Maybe he's just frustrated like the rest of us… Jaden's eyes bulged, whipping back to the front of the room. He's not even pretending to take notes!

Jaden looked down at his notebook. It was covered in numbers and letters that slowly morphed into confused squiggles. Jaden's head hit the desk in defeat. He could feel a headache building. This class was going to be the bane of his existence. He could just feel it.

Dad is sooo going to kill me if I fail. Then I'll be trapped back at home, probably with double the finance! And nobody to share in my misery…

When staring at the board, unblinkingly, for the rest of class didn't yield any results, Jaden finally came up with a new idea. If the angry guy was so smart to not need to take notes, maybe he would share?

Or if he's as clueless as me, maybe he can teach me how to fake it through a test.

When the bell rang, Jaden shoved his things haphazardly into his bag to catch up with his target. For a guy who had just spent the whole hour glaring out a window, he was surprisingly fast.

"Hey guy! Wait up! I got a question for you!" Jaden dodged and squeezed his way through the halls before catching up.

"What the hell do you want?" The Angry Guy crossed his arms and glared down his nose at Jaden. He wasn't even that much taller than the brunette, but somehow he made it work.

"Ah, well. I was just wondering if…y'know. You could help me out with this?" Jaden scrambled to pull his roughed up notebook out of his bag. He presented his poor notes for inspection. "I mean, it looked like you knew a lot in class so I was hoping—"

"Help yourself, slacker. Do you even know who I am? I've got better things to do than hold your hand through such an easy class!" He turned, his long white coat snapping behind him.

If he were a girl, I bet he would have flipped his hair at me… Jaden sighed in defeat before heading off to the locker rooms. At least he had one class he was actually good at for a confidence booster.

Jaden almost face palmed his way to a concussion. He had completely forgotten that the Angry Guy was in his gym class. Although it was understandable considering the guy spent the whole period lounging on the bleachers. Even in the same gym clothes as everyone else, the other teen somehow still managed to look 'suave' and 'aloof'.

I'd almost peg him as the 'school stud' if he weren't so moody. Maybe he's the 'loner' type…

The teacher had just announced a game of dodgeball when Angry Guy gave a huff and made his way over to the bleachers. The teacher didn't even attempt to get him to join in. Jaden was just contemplating what it would take to get him to not frown when he was called.

"Hey, new kid!" Or at least, he assumed they were talking to him. How many new kids could there possibly be? Jaden turned to find two guys he hadn't noticed before walking towards him.

"You're gonna be on our team, y' got that?" Jaden blinked. A little blindsided. It was the first time someone had taken the time to instigate something other than bullying. Even weirder? They were definitely the 'trashcan guys' from lunch the other day. They had harassed Syrus at lunch, gotten harassed by the other punks-turned-pseudo-friends in turn, and now they were asking him to play a game with them?

That's it, everything I know is a lie. Nothing makes sense. Right is wrong, up is blue…


"Don't worry, we'll keep an eye on you." This from Weevil. "Dodgeball can be a dangerous game if you're not careful." He laughed, a little bit nastily.

"Thanks…I guess?"

"Just don't make us lose and we'll get along just fine. Got it?" Rex smiled predatorily. Jaden blinked back at him before smiling his own determined grin, game face firmly in place.

If their warnings were anything to go by, then the things he had heard about dodgeball were all true. Gym was the one class where the lines between competition and physical violence were blurred and dodgeball was the king of war sports. From the way other students started to line up behind the two boys, Jaden could tell that he had been recruited for the 'veterans' team.

"Alright newb! Show us what you got!"

Jaden smirked. Finally, a chance to put my Hero training to work!

The whistle blew and the two teams rushed into battle. Red rubber balls flew like missiles across the court, hitting targets left and right. The PANG! of contact rang throughout the gym. A few groans of pain were barely heard above the shouting of war.

Adrenaline pumped through Jaden's veins, fueling his actions. He dodged sloppy throws, deeming them too easy targets. Jaden snagged a ball and launched it at a player in the back who also had a cannon.

"Bam! Right in the kisser! Way t' go, newbie!" Jaden deflected another ball and looked towards the shouting.

The bluenette had organized a row of players in front of himself and was shouting out directions. He looked even shorter when compared to everyone else, but he made up for it with his excellent supervision. Rex was also behind the wall but would occasionally take a few foot soldiers out of the wall to retrieve loose balls. One such excursion ended up losing them a few of their players, but it did get them more ammunition for their fortress.

Jaden found he was the only one out in the open on their team. He had been too focused on the action in front of him that he hadn't noticed.

I guess that's why there are so many aiming at me. While their strategy led to a very big target, Jaden had to admit it was very effective. Jaden winced when one of the defenders took a ball straight to the face. A very BIG target.

By the time the game had ended, Jaden had worked up a decent sweat from all the dodging. He wasn't surprised to note that the two boys were mostly unruffled. Looking around, the same couldn't be said for the rest of the class. A few were sent to the nurse for ice while those who were left over gave the three a large berth.

The two other teens didn't seem to pay them any mind, simply congratulating Jaden on a job well done.

"Man, that was awesome! From now on yer gonna be on our side. I'm Rex by the way. And that shrimp is Weevil. Welcome to the team, dude." Rex slapped Jaden on the back, making him choke.

"Gee, thanks guys." Jaden rubbed the back of his head. He really hadn't done that much, but it was a relief to know they appreciated whatever he had done. I guess they didn't see me at lunch with the other guys yesterday. New friends? I guess?

"Not bad, slacker. Looks like you're not completely useless." The Angry Guy had left his perch on the bleachers.

"Uh…" Before Jaden could think of a good comeback, Weevil interrupted.

"Don't mind him, Chazz is always like that." Said Chazz shot Weevil a small glare. Deciding he wasn't worth the effort, the taller teen walked away towards the locker rooms.

"Say, why don't you sit with us at lunch tomorrow? New kid like you probably doesn't have a lot of friends, right?" Weevil asked.

Nope. Definitely don't know I sat with the other punk kids…and the Girls. And Syrus. Jaden paused. Maybe that was why they were being buddy buddy. Was he another 'mark' like Sy? But then, why were they being so nice?

"Yeah, it'll be fun." Rex draped an arm around Jaden's shoulders and steered him towards the lockers.

"Sure! Why not? Mind if I bring Sy with me?" The two other boys shared a look before quickly agreeing.

"No sweat, man. Bring whoever you want." With a final wave and a promise to meet them tomorrow, the three parted ways. Jaden changed quickly and made his way to his last class.

If things keep going like this, school is going to be a breeze...or a complete clusterfuck...

I'm just going to apologize now for switching between 'Honda' and 'Tristan'. More writing at 3 in the morning, but I'll try to do my best to make sense. Once again: the slowest of burns in every way. If you enjoyed, let me know.

Also, Merry Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanza, the works. I have chapter 3 lined out, just need a little push. Feel free to encourage with a review. :)