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Matthew had only just turned twelve, when he realised he was different. The snatches of conversations he heard from his parents, brief words, angry sometimes-- he had always brushed off as asides he was meant to ignore. His father often talked about him as though he were not there, such a disappointment he was, and Matthew never looked him in the eye to make sure. He learned that trick from his mother, who never even flinched when her husband whispered another woman’s name into the darkness.

It was the day he rode back from town on the family’s only horse. The beast slipped in a hole in the road and he, being unsteady and unused to riding such a big animal, was tossed in the air and landed with a crunch of pain against the hard root of the trees to the side. Freed from its rider, the horse had run away down the path and he lay against the roots of the trees for hours, leg broken and delirious with pain, until his father found him.

Matthew had smiled with relief, no one had passed for hours, and to be found by his father made him brave enough to keep his father’s gaze even though he had lost the horse and all their money with the saddle bags.

His father’s mouth never moved, but Matthew heard him say as clear as day: Pathetic. I’d have done better to find him dead.

Matthew knew he was a disappointment.

***

Matthew always disappointed.

He was a bad son, then he was an orphan.

His father died of a fever, and his mother followed not long after. He tried to live alone, but the villagers would not suffer his solitude, and he was declared Misfit and sent to the work farms, but a lame slave was all but useless to the Council.

He limped. His leg was misshapen. He could not make the long treks to the white-stick groves, and he had not the patience to refine it.

He could hear the chaperons whispering about him, he could hear the other orphans resent him.

Madame Vega was different. She was cold and indifferent, but her smile was warm and Matthew knew she hadn’t lied when she said he was special, and he ignored the heavy darkness that clouded around her every word. After all, she had chose him, alone out of all the other orphans. She thought he was special. She gave him a new tunic, and did not mind his limping gait as he followed her to the carriage that carried them to Obernewtyn.

But he disappointed her too, once they reached their destination. This time, he didn’t mind that he hadn’t lived up to expectations. He knew that if he had been what she had been looking for, the darkness that surrounded her would’ve touched him too, and he knew he wouldn’t survive the experience.

***

Obernewtyn was a revelation. Though the food was worse than the orphanage, and the work was both mind-numblingly boring and achingly exhausting, there was something calming in the air.

He made friends. Cameo, the bright and beautiful girl with the flowing blonde hair. Dameon, who though blind never stumbled, and who’s smile was full of kind secrets.

They lay in their beds, facing each other in the dark. “I hear people’s thoughts.” Matthew confessed quietly and he heard Dameon’s smile in the darkness.

“I feel people’s emotions.”

“Is it hard for you to be near other people?” He asked, after a few moments of silence.

“No.” Dameon said immediately, then rolled over onto his back, staring up at the stone ceiling as though his blank eyes were seeing through the solid rock and were resting instead on the stars above. Matthew watched his friend’s face as emotions flickered across his features, lit up in the darkness through the moonlight streaming through the window. I think it is beautiful.

“I don’t find it hard either.” Matthew confessed, as he knew he couldn’t lie. His chest tightened and he clenched his fist around his blankets. “Is everyone here like us?”

“Not exactly like us, but we are not alone.”

Dameon continued to stare at the stars and Matthew slept soundly that night, knowing there would never be secrets between them.

***

He settled. The work was hard, but he did it. He learned. He milked cows, he groomed the horses, he helped till the fields and sowed the seeds and when the food had grown, he helped harvest the crop. He relished being useful, because as he learned his menial tasks, he lavished in his mind, stretching it beyond the confines of his own consciousness to reach out to others, and he began to love the rush of being bonded mind to mind with another human being, knowing there were no secrets to be hidden.

He learned about the other Misfits, and what they could do. He learned the name for his talent: farseeking. Dameon was an empath. There were those who could converse with beasts, and those who could persuade others to act contrary to their will—called Coercers. And there were those would could do many at once. He grew into his talent. He learned that he could push at the minds of others and have their secrets laid out before him, like an oldtime book for him to peruse, and he learned that he could protect himself from the same treatment from others. It became a game for him

I know about you, he whispered into the new girl’s mind when he felt her defences lower and smiled when she reacted with such shock. He knew exactly how she felt, after a lifetime of being isolated by his talent he had loved to discover that he was no longer alone. He loved that he was the person who opened up her mind to this newfound companionship.

He told her about his mother, and in return he snatched a brief thought about her brother from her mind. “Elf,” he called her, liking the way the nickname formed on his tongue, relishing that he had bested someone who was clearly stronger than himself. She seemed reluctant to trust him though, and the stray thoughts that he had caught before she was aware of him were snatched away, suddenly hidden by a mind shield as strong and formidable as a stone and mortar wall. Matthew could not help but be impressed. With Dameon’s help he had begun to work on keeping his own thoughts and emotions to himself, but never so efficiently as the dark haired girl before him.

“I’d be pleased if ye’d show me how to shield so well,” He said honestly, as he could do nothing but benefit from the guidance of someone more powerful than he.

“I will teach you.” She promised, and he offered her a genuine smile.

It seemed to work because she smiled back, and Matthew was sure he’d never seen anything quite so beautiful.