You know what I hear right now? The sound of pigs flying, because I'm actually writing this fanfic! It's been in the planning stages for over two years, even before Code: Lyoko itself ended, and probably still isn't perfect. But, I likely would have exploded if I never wrote it, or at least began to write it, because the concept itself is looooooong. Anyway, it's a fairly straightforward continuation of the CL series, picking up where Echoes left off. Overall I tried to keep canon, but I did take a few artistic liberties, the tone's a bit darker, and some things *might* not have made it onto a TV-Y7 program, even one like CL where censorship is...scant. But I'll try my best to keep it believable!
Warnings: Canon pairings, messing around with said canon pairings, pairings that aren't quite canon but weren't really bothered with in the show anyway, blood, violence, some swearing, and moments of bull. See? Swearing!
Enjoy, if it's any good. I need to go chase some flying pigs out of my yard.
Disclaimer: I do not own Code Lyoko. I just twisted it up a lot.
(Adaptation notes: In France, school runs from Monday-Saturday, but Wednesdays and Saturdays are half days. I think. That's the way it's writ because I can't find any evidence to the contrary. This chapter takes place on a Wednesday. Also, when I talk about "English" class, I mean English as a foreign language. I'm using American grade names and the American letter grade system, though, cause that's what they use in the dub. Any unfamiliar student mentioned here is a show background character, not strictly an OC.)
A Code: Lyoko Fanfiction
March 21, 2007
Kadic Academy Cafeteria
It wasn't a particularly nice or bad day at Kadic Academy. It was in the middle, sort of overcast, but not many of the students cared. As long as it didn't rain, the weather didn't directly affect their lives. Besides, they had other things to fret about. Considering it was breakfast time, these things mostly involved eating food.
This was precisely what was happening at the table in the farthest corner, which held three perfectly normal Kadic students. Ulrich sat on one side, while Jeremie and Aelita sat on the other. Ulrich was staring out the window, not paying attention to what he was eating. Jeremie was buttering his croissant, and keeping up an easy patter with Aelita about the math homework the previous night. ("Even if she was trying to teach us the quadratic formula, it might've been more useful for her to teach us the p/q method to solve question 14...")
If she disliked the topic, she showed no sign. In fact, she seemed to hang on to every word he said, and answered him thoughtfully. It wasn't a closed conversation; Ulrich could contribute a "hmm" or a "yeah", but didn't seem to want to. The couple's chairs were close enough together to be one seat, and not once in ten minutes had they broken eye contact. Ulrich didn't have to look down to know that their hands were intertwined under the table. There was no reason to interrupt them too much, not when they were intent on being that close.
None of them noticed Odd leave the breakfast line and come to the table- at least, not until he slammed his tray down on said table, making them all jump and look up. He either didn't notice or didn't care, and slid into the seat next to Jeremie without a word. There was a pathetic, hurt look on his face, and much less food than usual on his plate. Jeremie looked uncertainly from Odd's tray to his own, sensed the danger, and wolfed down his croissant before anything else could happen to it.
"I don't believe it!" he started. "I asked her nicely, even groveled a bit, and what does she say to me? 'Sorry, Odd, but sniveling and being cute won't get you any more than anyone else anymore!' Lousy service, that's what it is. She had plenty of leftovers, she could've given me some."
"What a tragedy," Ulrich mumbled, grinning behind his styrofoam cup as he drank. Aelita was shaking with hidden laughter.
"I know, right?" Odd went on. Jeremie coughed into his hand. Odd shot him a dirty look, which got dirtier when he realized his croissant was gone.
"Hey, Rosa does have a point," Jeremie said, looking Odd right back in the eye. "What makes you think you're better than us, huh, Odd?" He sounded stern, but his grin gave him away. "What makes you think you deserve more?"
This time, Aelita didn't even try to hide her laugh. Ulrich looked up at her, and then burst out laughing as well. By then, it was too late- all three of them were in hysterics. Odd even chuckled before he could stop himself. "Alright, okay!" He grabbed his toast and shoved it into his mouth, chewing furiously. "Shnot thah funnh."
"No, Odd, it kind of is," Aelita said, composing herself. Absentmindedly, she looked over at the far side of the table, and noticed that the last empty seat at the table, the one next to Ulrich, was devoid of a chair, as well as a person. She looked up at Ulrich, who was still smirking a little. "Yumi's-"
"Eating at home again," he said automatically. "We can just take that for granted by now..." His gaze trailed back to the window.
"Don't hit yourself too hard, Ulrich. You'll have plenty of time to confess your undying love to her before class, just like you did yesterday." She gave him a teasing smile, before her eyes snapped back to Jeremie. "So, you were saying the...oh."
She stopped suddenly, and looked up, past Jeremie. Jeremie, curious to see what she had, turned around. Ulrich and Odd followed suit for similar reasons.
Once they saw, none of them dared to move a muscle on their faces. While they had all been laughing at Odd, an acquaintance of theirs had walked in. He now stood in front of them, a table away. Though dark circles had appeared under William Dunbar's eyes, and his hair was a bit more tousled than it usually was on purpose, he looked very much awake. He was looking in the opposite direction, as if determined not to notice them. Then, still silent, he walked to an empty table at the back of the cafeteria. Not-so-subtle whispers followed in his wake.
"Well..." Jeremie finally said, breaking the uneasy silence that had fallen over the group. "If that's still the way he wants to do it." He looked back down at his tray.
"Are you sure?" Aelita cut in. Jeremie looked startled- he evidently thought his statement would end things. "I mean...he looks a bit pathetic like that." She glanced over at William, alone at his table, with a look that might have been concern.
"Maybe," Jeremie replied, trying to look and sound confident and soothing, "I don't know how his mind works. I'll have to ask Yumi. But he doesn't seem to want to be near us, and the least we could do for him is respect that. Right?"
"Mmm," Aelita mumbled in reply, almost but not quite convinced.
"Sure, whatever," Ulrich muttered, hoping no one could hear him. "If he's going to sulk, it's better if he sulks over there. And I wish he'd keep his distance from her, too," he added even more quietly, so that no one actually did hear him.
Odd had been determined to stay out of the conversation. But now that his food was gone, and talk was at an uncomfortable standstill, he had no choice. "Well," he said, trying to sound light and airy, "No one said he's sulking. Maybe he's just-"
The noise at the entrance cut the tense atmosphere like a knife through cottage cheese. Everyone at the table, and indeed most of the room, looked up and around. The old, long-suffering cafeteria door had been slammed open. Sissi Delmas, following closely behind her own noise, ran in. She ignored the food line entirely, grabbed an extra chair from another table in transit, dragged it over to the corner table, dropped it in the empty space next to Ulrich, and sat on it, smirking in his direction. She looked almost exactly the opposite of how the others currently felt- well-rested and full of wanton energy.
Someone from the next table over whirled round toward her, looking annoyed. "Hey, Delmas, that was ours!"
"This is a community, Jolivet. We share here." She knit her eyebrows and, looking past Odd, frowned at Jolivet. "Besides, you weren't using it."
"Well, yeah..." He looked puzzled. "But you could've asked!"
"Okay then, I'll ask. May I please use your precious chair?" Her voice was high and cheerful. Jolivet stared at her, dumbfounded. She watched him for a second, highly amused.
"I'll take that for a yes." She grinned, then turned to face the other four at the table. They were now also staring at her, open-mouthed, William completely driven from their minds. She grinned wider. She'd gotten their attention. And she really, really liked their attention. "So," she said, flicking away a stray strand of hair, "How are my favorite people in the entire world doing this morning? Do they have plans? Hopes? Dreams? Hm?"
Odd opened his mouth, as if to continue, but thought better of it. The thought of Sissi actually being nice to them, let alone flattering them like this, especially when she had done nothing but taunt, tease, and sometimes stalk them all her life, was still startling, even after a week of considering her a friend. This was not to say, however, that they didn't like having her around. Somehow, she did a good job of lightening the mood when it strayed into darker, nostalgic areas.
Aelita was the icebreaker. "Oh, we're fine, just fine! Couldn't be better if we tried." She gave Sissi a warm smile, which, if possible, made her look even happier. "And, as for plans...er..."
"Who knows," Jeremie finished, helpfully. "It's going to be one of those days where anything can happen."
"Well, hopefully not anything," Odd cut in, confidence now in full swing. "I mean, if anything means I'm going to have to spend it with you, Sissi, I'd rather make other plans..."
Sissi laughed more loudly than she might have otherwise, and smacked Odd upside the head. The hysterics began again in earnest, and did not cease for the rest of the meal. Nothing in this world, or any other, could stop their laughter anymore.
First bell had different effects on different kinds of people. For some people, it meant the end of breakfast and the beginning of the mad rush to the first class. For others, it meant a minute or six to hang around, catch up with friends, and in some cases, laugh and make fun of others rushing by.
Some distance from the cafeteria entrance, two boys loitered near one of the larger old oak trees. One stood slouching against the trunk. He was tall and thin, with long, messy black hair and square-rimmed glasses. He wore an orange shirt, and a contented, leering smile. The other boy, who was sitting rather than standing, looked similar to his friend, though slightly younger. His dark hair was slicked back, and his shirt was purple, and open slightly more at the top. A blue bauble hung from his neck, over said shirt. He appeared apathetic, almost bored, and scratched at the ground with a stick absentmindedly.
"Huh, look at that," the first boy said, pointing toward the cafeteria door. A gaggle of giggling sixth-grade girls had come pouring out of it, so close together that they seemed to function as one. "Hey, Alex, look."
"I can hear them," Alex replied, not looking up. "Why do they have to be so loud? It's not like they deserve attention from anyone."
"Not yet, but they've got potential. That one-" He pointed at a girl near the front, a blonde with pigtails. "If she put her hair down, grew a foot maybe, and shut up, she wouldn't be too bad."
"Better not let her hear you. You never know how it is with girls. She might be the next Sissi Delmas." Alex looked up, adopted a sappy expression, and clasped his hands over his heart in mockery. "'Matt, oh, Matt! Wait up, Matt! I love you, Maaatt!'"
Matt laughed so hard he practically choked on his own breath. "That was brilliant! If I didn't know better, I'd think she was behind me right now." He looked back at the entrance. "Oh hey, there she is. And...of course. She's with them again."
Another crowd spilled out of the cafeteria and congregated around the steps, as if waiting for something. Sissi was indeed there, sitting next to Ulrich Stern, and talking very quickly about something they couldn't hear. Stern looked about ready to shoot himself. Odd Della Robbia, who sat on his other side, was smoothing his hair, ignoring his friend. Jeremie Belpois and Aelita Stones sat on the next step up, also talking, and stealing glances at the school gate.
"Yeah, them," Alex said, interest finally piqued. "Belpois's gang. The weirdo brigade." He said the last line slowly, mysteriously.
"They're not that weird once you get them away from each other."
"You're only saying that because you think Yumi's hot."
"Hey, she is!" Matt blushed furiously. "And I've told you before, she likes me back. Remember when she kissed me in the vending machines?"
"Yeah, and then never spoke to you again. She was on something. End of story." His eyes narrowed. "Look at them. They're never alone. They're like...a cult or something."
"Maybe they are a cult," Matt said, eyes widening. But before they could get into what sort of ritual worship they might perform after-hours, the group at the cafeteria stood up, just as two figures emerged from the gate- Yumi and Hiroki Ishiyama. Hiroki caught sight of something behind a building and ran off in that direction, while Yumi ran toward the rest of the group, and they exploded into talk. Phrases like 'should've heard Jolivet' and 'need to come down' floated across the lawn to them.
"Hey, Matt, look, it's your girlfriend." Alex nudged his friend in the shin.
"I seen her," he said, grinning. "If she didn't already have those two after her..." As he talked, a seventh figure exited the cafeteria- William Dunbar. It looked as though he had waited for Yumi to show up before emerging. He didn't go toward her, however- he only loitered in the doorway, staring into space. Alex and Matt looked at him, and then at each other. They bust up laughing.
The second bell rang as this was going on. The seven of them looked up in unison. Yumi looked around, caught sight of William, and said something to the rest. The younger set seemed to understand, as they all got up and walked in the direction of the academic buildings. Ulrich tagged along near the back, stealing furtive glances at the two left behind. Said two took off in another direction, toward the Science building. Their backs were to Matt and Alex, so they could not tell if they were talking.
"I can't understand why she wants to hang around with him anymore," Matt muttered under his breath. "Sure, he's attractive enough, but really..." It was a second before he realized his friend wasn't listening. "Alex?"
Alex was looking over the other way, toward Jeremie and Aelita in particular. They were still talking, still holding hands, still smiling at one another as though they were the greatest things on Earth. Alex's eyes narrowed further, and a grin spread across his face as he watched Aelita's retreating back...and her face...and her smile.
"I just realized...Stones."
Matt was confused. "Yeah...what about her?"
"She's...pretty cute." Matt's jaw dropped, but Alex didn't see it. "Very cute, actually. Terribly cute. A little too cute to be wasted on third-rate outcasts like Belpois and Delmas." He looked her up and down, and his grin got wider. "I think I've got an idea. Spread the word to the usual crowd."
Matt arched an eyebrow. "What word?"
He told him.
English was not Ulrich's favorite class of the day. Not only did the swirl of verbs and pronouns make it very difficult for him to actually remember anything he was taught, but the teacher, Mr. Smith, was obsessive-compulsive and highly excitable. He was the only teacher in the entire school who insisted on assigned seats. This wasn't so bad (or it wasn't for Ulrich, as he was lucky enough to be in front of Odd) unless one happened to get up during class, which would throw off Mr. Smith's sense of order and likely land one in detention.
Thankfully, Smith was calm just then. He started the class by listing off English nouns relating to food, and insisted that the students copy them down in the exact order that they were said. Ulrich looked at his notebook paper for three seconds before deciding it was pointless to take notes when Jeremie (who was two tables over, with three pages of notes already) was his friend. To make it look like he was doing something, he picked up his pencil and started doodling on the paper.
Behind him, he could hear a tap-tap, tap-tap noise. Was Odd texting someone? he wondered. His question was answered relatively quickly, as a girl across the room twitched, pulled her phone out of her pocket, looked at the screen, scowled, and typed a response. Odd swore under his breath as she put the phone away. Then, the tap-tap started again. Ulrich shook his head, half-wishing he could punch his friend. He'd seen this before. And Odd had definitely dated that girl before.
There were a few stick people on his paper now. Smiling suddenly, Ulrich gave one of them a jacket, pants, and scribbly black hair. He tuned out the lesson entirely, and devoted himself to thinking over the next part of the doodle. Should he run a katana through his chest, or maybe set his head on fire? He decided on the latter, and pressed pencil to paper, only to find his hand had frozen. He couldn't bring himself to do it. Grumbling and shaking his head, he abandoned him and went on to another doodle, this one of a far more handsome stick figure giving a dark, beautiful stick figure lady the best snog of her life.
It was a few seconds before he realized the kid in the seat next to his was looking over his shoulder at the doodles. When he did notice, he did a double-take, and tried his hardest not to jump. "Wha-"
"Hey, those are neat," the kid said, ignoring Ulrich's shocked expression. "Are they anyone?"
"No," Ulrich snapped back, turning the page.
The kid blinked. "The girl looks kinda like Yumi Ishiyama."
"She's not." He turned another page.
"Alright." He looked over his shoulder, at the back of the room, and then went back to his own notes. "Missed a line. Eh, whatever, right?"
Ulrich shrugged. He was a little surprised that Alexandre Pepin, as that was his name, was so eager to talk to him. They been in class together since the third grade, but they had rarely, if ever spoken to one another. Maybe he's as bored as I am, he thought. He tried to think of another stick figure doodle, but decided he didn't want another interrogation. Instead, he just drew an endless squiggle, or all the squiggle he had time for before a loud noise split the air.
"MOI, MA PLANÈTE EST NET, JE VIENS PÊCHER EN LIGNE CHAQUE JOUR..."
The entire class looked at the back of the room. A girl was tearing frantically through her bag, trying to find her phone. The boys were laughing, and the girls were looking on in concern. Finally, Aelita, her deskmate, grabbed it out of an inside pocket and shut off the offending noise. The only person who hadn't looked or gotten up at all was Odd, who slipped his phone back into his bag, looking very guilty.
A fair few looked back to the front, to see the effect the noise would have on Mr. Smith. It was just as wonderful as they had hoped. He was pacing up and down the front of the room, hands on his head, looking disturbed.
"[Interruptions!]" he shouted in English. "[All this noise, every single day! I can't stand it anymore!]" He tore down the aisle, stopped at the girl's desk, and held out his hand. "Give it to me, now!"
There were a few quick giggles. The girl reached into her bag, and took out the phone. She started to hand it to Mr. Smith, but got another idea halfway to his hand. She pulled it back, opened it, smiled, and read, in a very loud voice, "Hey babe, u meet me at the woods 2nite? txt y/y. xoxo, ODD DELLA ROBBIA."
The giggles turned into universal laughter and catcalls. Now everyone was looking at Odd, who looked like he wanted nothing more than to sink into the floor. Ulrich whirled round to face his friend, and gave him a mocking, gleeful him, Alex gave a low whistle. None of their reactions compared to Mr. Smith's, however. After yanking the phone from the girl, he ran up the aisle so fast that he appeared to teleport to Odd's desk. He grabbed him by the collar and opened his mouth, but was too overcome with stress to say anything.
"[This...this has gone on too long,]" he finally concluded, releasing him into his chair, where he glared at his desk. "[Now everything's out of order...back to your books! And you, see me after class,]" he growled at Odd. He marched back to the front of the classroom, and kept teaching as though nothing had happened, leaving a stunned class scrambling to take notes down. With a last stunned look at Odd, Ulrich too sat down, staring at his blank paper. He wrote about a line of the lesson, and then gave up.
"Well, that was interesting," someone whispered. Ulrich turned to see Alex facing him again, now intent on a conversation.
Ulrich shrugged in agreement. "Eh. Not at all surprising."
"I heard that," Odd whispered.
"I know you did," Ulrich deadpanned back, not turning back to look.
"Heh. Well, I guess it's good you two are friends," Alex went on, catching the thread of conversation from Odd, who had gone back to his own doodle-filled notebook page. "Or that habit of his might get annoying."
"Annoying? Hah." Ulrich didn't realize how loud his voice was getting. "That's hardly the worst of it. A few times, I-"
"[Stern! Pepin!]" Smith stopped midway through a sentence and pointed at Ulrich, looking livid. "[Don't speak French in my class! And get back to your notes, I don't see anything on your papers!]"
"[Yes, sir,]" Ulrich mumbled. He waited a minute before turning back to Alex. "S'all the English I know."
"Me too. Say, uh..." He thought for a second. "Are you doing anything at break? Wanna play a round of foosball in the Rec Room?"
"Uhm..." A knot formed in Ulrich's stomach, but he shook it off. Sure, he wasn't that close with Alex, or anyone besides his old friends. But something in the back of his mind was telling him that this was a good idea. Besides, he liked foosball, and Odd wasn't going to be there to play. "Sure, okay."
"Great, that's great." He smiled at him. "Now, shut up. If this is going to happen, you can't get detention too."
Ulrich nodded, and turned to face front. Somehow, he felt good, like he'd made progress on some sort of unknown project. To make a long story short, he kept his promise for the rest of class. By the end, he actually had half a page of notes, along with a few more Yumi stick figures and a rather detailed drawing of a katana. He was so absorbed, he entirely failed to notice that his deskmate kept stealing glances at the back of the classroom, watching one girl, and grinning in anticipation.
The ball popped out of the chute, and soccer players on sticks went flying every which way to keep the ball away from their side's goal. After about a minute's heated wrestle, Alex accidentally-on-purpose slid his goalie left instead of right, allowing the ball to roll right into the goal. He swore as he extracted the ball. "That's another one for you, Stern."
"Huh, wow." Ulrich slid his score marker over, unsurprised. "I gotta say, though, you're good. S'not usually this hard when I'm playing against Odd."
"S'not usually this hard when I'm playing against anyone." Alex stepped away from the handles, and leaned against the goal side of the foosball table. "'Course, considering you're Mr. Big-Shot Soccer Player, I shouldn't be surprised."
"Shut up," Ulrich shot back, laughing. "Foosball's nothing like soccer. This is more speed and luck than actual strategy." He spun one of his players around. "And, of course, there's a lot less running."
"Right. How's that going, anyway? You know, the sports. I haven't been to too many of the games lately..." Alex played with the ball in his hands, instead of putting it back in the chute. "Are we winning? Losing?"
"Um..." This wasn't the question Ulrich wanted to be asked. He looked to the side, blushing a bit. "I...don't know."
"What do you mean you don't know?" He put the ball back, and went around the table to Ulrich. "I mean, you're on the team."
"Well...not anymore." Ulrich admitted, in a small voice. "I didn't get on the team this season. Actually, I didn't exactly try out...at all..."
He trailed off, trying to make it sound unimportant. Alex, however, looked utterly thunderstruck. "What? You didn't try out? But-" He took a second to find the right words. "Aren't you supposed to be the best player in the whole school, or something? And you really like it, right? So why the hell didn't you try out?"
"I..." Ulrich felt himself sweating. "I'm busy, alright? I need time to...you know...study."
"Aren't you a C student?"
"I need all the time I can get."
He almost added that he'd gotten a loud, shouty visit from his father earlier that year after letting his grades slip, and really wanted to avoid a repeat episode. But, he then thought, that was none of Alex's business. Besides, as he thought of that visit, he was painfully reminded that he was, indeed, a C student. Even since then, he hadn't paid any more attention to his grades at all. They'd been secondary, just like the soccer team, compared to fighting on Lyo-
"Look, you can't really be studying all the time," Alex went on, bringing Ulrich back to earth. "Tell you what. If you really want to play, you can just go to Jim, and ask him if you can try out mid-season. Like I said, you're one of the best players, and Jim's really into the teams. He'll probably put you right on without a tryout at all. And soccer's just as good, right? I mean, it's school-related."
Ulrich sat down against the wall, thinking. Now that he did have the time, to put it simply, he could definitely make it back on the team. Yes, he could...maybe he could. And if he followed up on his alibi, and spent a bit more time with his books...a mental image of his father popped up in his mind, but he shook it away. No, he thought. This is for me, my own future, whatever I can accomplish.
"I'll give it a shot," he said, finally, standing up. "I'll try and get to Jim after lunch."
"See?" He held up his hand for a high-five, which Ulrich took. "You're a cool guy, I knew you could do it. And if you can't, well, who needs them, then?"
"Yeah, of course it's okay. You have to do what you want to get what you want. In fact..." Alex's face lit up- this appeared to be the climax of whatever he had been trying to say. "I've been thinking since we started talking...I might need to explain a bit. I'm a day student, y'know, and my parents are out of town for the week. They took the liquor cabinet, but they didn't lock the door, so I'm throwing a small party tonight, just for Kadic's best. And, if you're not too busy studying to come, well, this is your invite."
"Huh?" Ulrich's eyes went wide. The word 'party' was strange and unfamiliar against his brain; the last real party he could remember going to had been the school techno party the previous year, and even that had been interrupted, as everything in his life had been for the past few years. "Are you sure?"
"Of course I'm sure, stupid. And, if you want, you could ask those other kids you hang out with to meet me in the Quad after school, so I can pass the invite on to them. Then, you won't be alone." He grinned at him. "I think you need a little more time in the real world, Stern."
Ulrich continued to think. The thought of the rest of his friends being invited made the prospect of actually going a little more realistic and acceptable. Even as he was beginning to accept that the party might be worth it, one person stood out in his mind, one person he could possibly be alone with the entire night. Alone, without her stalker. Because, as he would make clear to Alex if he needed to, he didn't hang out with William.
"I'll be there." He smiled reassuringly. "But, I could tell them. You don't have to take time out of setting up or anything."
"Oh, no. I like to make my invites personally, so I can keep track of who's actually coming." He put his chin in his hand, as if thinking. "Speaking of that, you know how Delmas has been hanging around you for-"
"Yeah. I'd be happier if she, well, you know..."
"Oh, I'll get rid of her, no problem at all," Ulrich said, reading his mind. Even if Sissi wasn't acting like the terror she usually was, she was still annoying, and still attached to him like a human-sized leech. It was a wonder she wasn't next to him there and then. But more importantly, she got in the way of the fantasy he had for this party.
"Good. Really good. Now, what time is it...?" He pulled out his phone, and looked at the time. He swore again. "Running out of time. I have to go do my Science homework."
"Why's that so bad?"
"That's next period."
"Then run! I'm not stopping you." Alex followed Ulrich's words to a T- he darted out of the Rec Room without another word. Left in peace, Ulrich gathered his bags. He thought he would either head to English and wait for Odd, or else try and find Yumi, Jeremie and Aelita, or even Sissi to pass the time. He didn't need to, however. Barely a second after Alex left, Odd came in, looking like he'd been out in a heavy windstorm. Several older girls clustered around the TV looked up to watch him pass, and didn't even try to hide a new chorus of giggles and catcalls.
With this in his ears, Odd looked very relieved to spot Ulrich, and ran to get to him. "Hey!" He held out his fist, which Ulrich pounded back. "I didn't think I'd actually have any break. I thought he'd never stop shouting. And now them..." He looked toward the girls.
Ulrich just shrugged. "Hey, I'm sorry, but stuff like that gets around. Kind of...well, kind of like you."
"Oho, you're funny. What's the big deal, though?" Odd slouched against the foosball table, facing his friend. "It's more her problem than mine. She didn't have to read that aloud. It's not a crime to have a change of heart."
"That wasn't a change of heart, Odd. That was at least fifteen." Though Ulrich did sound serious, he was grinning mischievously. "I'm sorry to say it, but you've had a reputation for a while. Every girl at Kadic knows you're a serial dater. And not many of them take you seriously anymore."
"I'm not a serial dater!" Odd looked frustrated. "I just change my mind a lot. Besides, I texted nine girls. Nine."
"Do you even hear yourself talk?" Ulrich rolled his eyes.
Odd didn't answer him. He had taken out his phone, and was scrolling through his contacts, his face darkening as he looked at each one. "Blocked, blocked, blocked. Okay, you might be right. A bit." He closed his phone, looking forlorn. "So, is that it? Am I doomed to be a monk for the rest of my life?"
"Well, no..." As much as Ulrich didn't like to indulge his friend's womanizing ways, Odd did look upset. "I told you before. You just need to take your time, and treat girls like you actually care about them. And maybe eventually have a relationship that lasts a bit longer than a week."
"Easy for you to say...but you might have a point. What an awful day. First breakfast, now this..." He straightened up and walked over to the wall next to Ulrich, where he slouched. His eyes were fixed on the Quad outside the open door, where a group of seventh-graders were hanging out under another large old oak tree. Ulrich considered telling him about Alex's party to cheer him up, but before he could, he started talking again. "You think they'd care that much?"
Ulrich looked out the door, and then back at Odd, shaking his head. "You're not seriously-"
"Probably not. But, still. Sometimes they aren't as childish as they look." He walked a little closer to the door, while still maintaining a good angle. He looked at all the girls, muttering things under his breath. "Veronique? No, she's way too immature. Julie looks too much like that girl that rejected me. Ninon...oho, what's this?"
Ulrich knew there was going to be trouble as soon as he saw who Odd was looking at. Standing right under the tree, microphone in one pocket, pen and paper in another, deep in conversation with her camera-holding best friend, was...
"No. No way."
"It can't work."
"Yes it can."
"Odd, what- why would you ever want to date Milly Solovieff?"
"There's no law against it." Odd didn't look away from her. "Besides, you took her to prom last year. I have her oversized mutant teddy bear as my witness."
This is ridiculous, Ulrich thought for many reasons. "You know as well as I do that was a pity date. And back then, the journalism obsession was kind of cute. Now, it's annoying."
"Well, that proves she's got determination. And plenty of other good qualities. She's..." He tried to think of something deep and impressive. "She's intelligent, she has a definite goal in life, she can probably hold a conversation..."
"You already mentioned the teddy bear..."
"Which doesn't matter as long as it stays small and cuddly. Besides, she's grown a lot since that prom." He grinned.
"Well, sure, but still...she's...Milly." Ulrich threw his hands in the air. "Odd, she's the head of the frickin' newspaper. If that's not asking for a messy breakup, I don't know wha-Odd?" Instinctively, he looked up. Odd, who appeared to have ignored him, was already several feet away, eyes on the prize.
"Odd..." he grumbled, rather louder than he intended. Odd turned right back around, eyebrow arched. Ulrich blinked, and then remembered something. "You know, Milly's popular with the younger guys. Hiroki Ishiyama has a pretty serious crush on her. If you just swoop in and take her..."
Odd laughed so hard, he nearly fell over. He was still sniggering by the time he got back on task. Ulrich watched him with detached interest. He couldn't hear what was going on, but he saw most of what he expected.
Odd approached the two girls, wearing a cool grin, and started a casual conversation with Milly. Tamiya, who was entirely ignored, looked just slightly skeptical, but if Milly had any intention of turning Odd down, she didn't show it- she appeared almost too enthusiastic to talk to him. Both of them appeared oblivious to the growing crowd of sniggering girls around them.
Ulrich couldn't tell exactly when Odd asked her out, but he saw-and heard- her reaction. She blushed bright red, smiled as wide as her face would let her, and screeched "YES! YES!" at the top of her lungs, sounding as excited as if Odd had proposed to her. She then whirled around and said something at top speed to Tamiya. Tamiya said something else, smiled, and shrugged. Her eyes never left Odd- and it wasn't an approving look she gave him, either.
Just as Ulrich was preparing to look away from any spontaneous display of affection, the bell rang, signaling the end of break. Milly looked around, said something else to Odd, and then kissed him on the cheek (Ulrich was surprised to find that neither of them had to bend up or down at all) before darting off to her classes with Tamiya, who had taken off far earlier. Odd was in far less of a hurry. He strolled back to Ulrich, looking very pleased with himself. "Well, what do you know? It worked. Really well."
"I'm as shocked as you are." He shook his head. "I'll give you two hours."
"I'll give us two weeks." Odd smiled at Ulrich's incredulous look. "What? It's longer than a week."
"You're a moron."
"Sure am, Ulrich, but I'm a moron with a lady love." Still looking like he was on top of the world, Odd strolled ahead of Ulrich, toward Science class. Ulrich followed him after a second. He didn't say much else to him, as his head was too full of other things to make room for idle conversation. Alex, the party, Odd, Milly, his dad, soccer, his friends...his life...and how it was all so different than it had been a week ago.
"You really think that's going to happen?"
"I don't see any other way they're going to do it," Aelita took a sip from her cup of hot chocolate. "If Bastian Lestrange leaves the show, Dr. Shrank is going to have to have another 'disfiguring lab accident' to cover up the new actor, whoever he's going to be."
"So that's how they do it." Jeremie put his hand to his chin. "I always thought they just pretended not to notice."
"I guess it's not something you really need to know." Aelita smiled at him, a little too enthusiastically for the nature of the topic. "I wonder if Odd knows, though." She put her cup on the floor, came out of the small shelter where the vending machines were kept, and looked around the open Quad. "Do you think he's done yet?"
"I wouldn't waste your time. Mr. Smith isn't exactly known for his brevity." Jeremie chuckled a bit under his breath. "But...do you see anyone else?"
"Actually, no," she went on. "Yumi's probably with William, but...where's Ulrich? He's usually here with us at break..."
"I thought I saw him talking to Alexandre Pepin on the way out of English today." Jeremie stared at the wall as he said this. "Maybe he's with him."
"I didn't know they were on speaking terms..." Aelita looked back inside, at her best friend. Her eyebrows knit in concern, and she walked back over to him, touching his shoulder. "Are you okay?"
"Yeah," he mumbled, unconvincingly. "Maybe that's just what it's going to come to. We're going to find other friends, have other lives, go our separate ways...maybe keep in touch a bit, but...it's not going to be like it was. I mean, with us as a real team, and something to keep us together..."
Aelita knew instantly what he was talking about. She shook her head, smiling, and wrapped her arm around hers, joining hands. "Jeremie, don't get like this. I highly doubt that any of us will ever really abandon each other. Break off, maybe, because of changes in circumstances, but, in a way, we know we should be happy that it isn't like it was..."
She trailed off, much like Jeremie had moments earlier, and looked at the ground before she could stop herself. It was now Jeremie's turn to look concerned. "Aelita..."
"And I'll be here," she began again, suddenly, looking up and changing her face as if nothing had happened. "I mean, all of you are the only people I really know, or trust. And even then, you..." Her face brightened, and before Jeremie could react, she kissed him on the cheek. "I can't even begin to describe how special you are to me."
Jeremie blushed so hard, his face was almost purple. One could almost see steam pouring out of his ears. Aelita just smiled, and didn't let go of his hand.
It was in this position that Yumi found them as she stepped into the shelter, her bag in one hand, and two Euros in the other. They didn't notice her at all until she spoke to them, also smiling, though she didn't realize it. "I hope I'm not interrupting anything..."
"Yumi!" Aelita jumped away from Jeremie and looked at Yumi, as though trying to hide the tender moment she had just shared with him. "Of course not! We wouldn't just shoo you out of here."
"It's the school's vending machines, you couldn't if you tried," Yumi replied, a joking tone in her voice. She inserted the first of her Euros in the drink machine, and waited for the cup to fill.
"Why would we want to?" Jeremie said, looking overjoyed. "I've hardly seen you all day. Actually, come to think of it, I've hardly seen you all week."
"What can I say? My parents are happier when I eat meals with them and come home on time, and if they're happy with me, they're happy with...other things." She put the first filled cup on the floor, and started the process of dispensing the second. "Besides..."
She jerked her head toward the outside. Jeremie and Aelita walked to the entrance, trying to look as casual as possible. They saw exactly what they expected- William, still baggy-eyed and messy-haired, sitting on a bench under a nearby tree. Curiously, he was reading a big, heavy school textbook. Three more were piled beside him. He was reading the book with a wide-eyed, ravenous look on his face, as though he was trying as hard as he could to memorize every word he read.
"He's...studying," Aelita said, stating the obvious.
"I think that's January's science unit," Yumi said in a flat sort of voice. "He's already been through all of the History notes, and he's gone over the stuff for the math test this Friday at least a dozen times."
"O-kay..." Jeremie said, sounding confused. "Are you making him do this?"
"No, he's doing it himself. He's obsessed." She took a deep breath before continuing. "His grades weren't stellar to begin with, and then the clone decimated all his classwork and test scores. At this rate, he might pass the year." She picked up the second cup and took a long drink. "I'm lucky I've been here so long. Usually I can't go ten seconds without him asking me a question about something or other."
Neither of them laughed. Jeremie's face hardened, and he put his chin in his hand, looking thoughtful. "That doesn't seem like normal behavior for him...of course, considering the circumstances, I'm not criticizing it..." He looked up at Yumi. "How's he holding up? Is he showing any signs of stress at all?"
"If he was, he'd be a lot louder about it. But he's been...quiet." She watched him turn a page in his book. "You'd think he'd throw a fit or something, be more forward or angry about what happened to him...but he's like us. He's taken a realistic stance, and now he's trying to move on. He doesn't even talk about it...and he doesn't notice when people laugh at him anymore."
"Maybe it changed him," Aelita said, a small tremor in her voice. "So he's not acting like himself."
Yumi started, and looked back to her friends. "That might make a lot of sense. Considering..."
"Well, he's seemed kind of...distracted over the last two days. He'll just...stare off into space, and then snap back, like he didn't know what he was doing. But, I'm sure he'll get over it. He wants to." Yumi shook her head. "So, that's been week one as a homework help button...how about you guys?" Her eyes widened, and she looked around. "Wait, where are Ulrich and Odd?"
Jeremie and Aelita looked at each other, and gave Yumi identical confused grins. "Well, uh-"
"You mean you didn't hear yet?" The high, shrill voice made them all jump- a dangerous situation for Yumi, as she almost stepped on the other cup. None of them had seen Sissi approach, but she was indeed there, leaning against the other side of the wall and wearing a grin a mile wide. "For shame, Yumi, I'm a bit disappointed. Odd's in detention. Our little pet Casanova got caught asking girls out by text-message in English class. And it turned into quite a spectacle, you should have seen it."
In another world, Yumi might have said a few choice words to Sissi for talking that way about her friend. In this case, however, she just smiled back, and shook her head. "Smith's class? Of course it was a spectacle. Is Ulrich waiting for him or something?"
"Is he?" Sissi now turned to Jeremie and Aelita. "I mean, if he's not with him, and he's not with you..."
"Then it's none of our business where he is," Aelita cut in, possibly saving Ulrich's life by not revealing his location. "In any case, don't waste your break waiting for them. Stay here a bit, get a drink."
"Well, that was what I was going to do anyway, but thank you. You're sweet, Aelita." She reached into her bag, probably to get a Euro, before noticing the small cup on the ground. "Is that anyone's?"
"Oh! I forgot..." Yumi bent down to grab the cup. "Still sort of warm. William wanted me to get this for him. Completely forgot..."
"William?" Sissi shouted, apparently unaware of her volume level. She whirled toward the outside, and got a good look at the bench where William sat alone. "You still hang out with him? I thought you guys were staying away from each other." It was hard to tell whether she sounded excited or merely surprised.
"I changed my mind. Mostly."
"...Oh." Sissi threw him a sour look. "God, what a dork. Look at him sitting there, all awkward and alone." She paused for a beat, and then turned back to Yumi, her expression considerably brighter. "Of course, if he is your friend, then that's totally okay. Who knows, I might be wrong about him..."
"Nice try," Yumi muttered under her breath. "Look, can we talk about something besides William? Please?"
Her words were met with an awkward silence. After about twenty seconds, Jeremie coughed, looked around, and then said, tentatively, "Uh...did you guys know Bastian Lestrange is leaving Hospital of Horrors?"
"Already?" Now, four of them jumped in response to a sudden, unfamiliar voice. William had appeared, sans all books, leaning against the side of the entrance. Despite having answered Jeremie, he wasn't looking at him, or any of them at all. He was staring very intently at the soup machine.
"Uh..." Jeremie's throat froze for a second. "Yeah! From what I hear, anyway..."
William completely ignored him. He turned right to Yumi, making eye contact for the first time. "Do you get anything that happened in Chapter 28? They keep going on about wavelengths and Greek letters, and I still don't get what the hell that has to do with atoms."
"Oh-" Yumi looked a little startled. "Well, no, but I'll give it a shot. Sorry about the drinks, got a little distracted..." She smiled at Sissi, who was scowling in the other direction, and then at Jeremie and Aelita, who looked determined not to make themselves seen.
"Mmm. C'mon." He made a move, as if to grab her arm, but Yumi waved him away, and made as if to follow him out.
Unseen by both of them, Aelita twitched. A thought entered her head, and she called out after them. "The electrons in an atom release photons of energy when they leave an excited state. The wavelength of this photon is the difference in energy between the two states."
William stopped halfway out. He backtracked a bit- Yumi nearly bumped into him- and looked right at Aelita. He didn't reply, but stared at Aelita for a bit, as if the sight of her made him think of something that had nothing to do with wavelengths and photons. Aelita shivered. "I hope that helps."
For a second, William didn't move. Then, he straightened up, nodded his thanks, and strode away, clearly not intending to come back. Yumi followed him, after shrugging at everyone else left in the shelter.
"Well..." Sissi was determined to prevent any more awkward silences. She came closer to Jeremie and Aelita, smile back in place. "That was strange! Those two..." She laughed. "Well, as long as I'm here..."
Whatever she would have said next, she never said it. At that moment, a loud "YES! YES!" split the air, spoken in another less familiar voice. Sissi practically jumped with excitement. "Ooh, what's this? C'mon, let's go see!" She didn't bother to check whether or not Jeremie and Aelita were following her as she looked out. "Hey, that's Odd! Odd and...woah, what the hell is going on?"
Aelita didn't react. She was acting a bit like William, staring at inanimate objects with a glazed look in her eyes. Jeremie made a guess at what was going through her mind- and he didn't like it at all. He put a hand on her shoulder. "Don't think about him. You know he wouldn't want you to be miserable."
Aelita looked up at him, and nodded. Her eyes were shining, but Jeremie didn't see anything that looked like tears. Without any further warning, she pulled him into a bear hug, and refused to let go. Jeremie didn't mind this at all. If she smothered him to death, he was going to die a fulfilled man.
In front of them, Sissi continued to shout out the entrance. "Hey, what? Odd and Milly? What-what kind of joke is this? Hey, is this one of your stupid practical jokes? This isn't funny! You're not funny at all, Odd, not funny at all! Odd? Why aren't you answering me? Odd? ODD!"
And, cut to commercial. Oh sweet jeebus I finished a chapter. I'd like to give a big thank you to Stonecreek, who's still my ever-patient beta, and to Wikipedia, for helping me understand what wavelengths and Greek letters and whatnot have to do with atoms better than my Chemistry class ever did.