The drive back to the dorms, after the fight at Nicky's, was... well. Quiet.
Reid sort of hunched into the passenger seat of the Hummer, aware of his friend looking over when he could spare the attention. After a while, he rolled his eyes.
"I'm fine, you know. Just taggin' along, nothing new."
"Hey, man. You're not just tagging along, you know that."
It sounded like a usual Reid flippant answer - he was damned good at those. They came when he was feeling okay, and he made sure they came when he wasn't. No need for anybody to tell the difference. Usually nobody could help things, with the usual source of shit like that being the 'discord' in his family. So why bother telling them he wasn't fine?
And now he wasn't, really. It wasn't the physical side of it - neither being slammed against the wall, nor crashing into the crates of bottles, was that big of a deal.
Some of Caleb's words, though...
'And that, I won't let happen.'
Things did usually end up how Caleb wanted them, which was not always fair. Well, not that what Caleb wanted was often unfair, it was just...
Just that he's just letting me tag along. I'm nobody he actually wants around, just allowing me to...
Somewhere, he suspected he was being ridiculous. That somewhere was very distant right now, though. More words drowned that.
'You've seen what happens if you abuse it. You want that, that's your business.' Not Caleb's. Caleb didn't care.
Caleb didn't want him there. It didn't matter what happened to him; didn't matter to anybody.
Whatever. Reid shook his head, slouched more . Closer to his usual half-slouched, half-hunched posture, fingers of one hand wrapped around the mitten of the other, tapping.
Tyler looked over once again and shook his head.
It hadn't been supposed to be like that. It had started as nothing special, schoolmates none too fond of each other betting over pool. It wasn't even hustling, they all knew each other way too well for that - but there might have been cheating. The four of them, Caleb, Pogue, Tyler, and Reid, had Power. They could make things happen when they wanted to - magic passed down, father to son, for centuries, their families sticking together since the founding of Ipswich.
Aaron and his friends didn't have that. When they'd filed out of the backdoor of the bar, Aaron and his two buddies, then Tyler, then Reid, Caleb and Pogue had followed almost immediately. The four of them sticking together, that's how it always worked. The other boys should have known better than trying to wave Pogue and Caleb off. 'None of your damned business.'
Reid's own words came back to him. 'Bet me I couldn't make a combo shot... I did!'
Caleb had immediately decided Reid had Used, taken steps to limit the damage, make the incident less memorable or remarkable for the the three belligerent boys. 'Why don't we just forget about it, okay?'
Then Nicky had interfered, bulk and baseball bat, and Aaron and his friends had gone away. No sweat, nothing special.
Except when Reid tried to get back to the bar, Caleb's arm stopped him.
... alright, maybe his own words might have helped with that. 'Why don't you quit being such a pussy.' But he always teased and taunted Caleb for his apparent reluctance to use. They all knew it was too good, and Caleb's dad had gone down for it, and Caleb was trying to be all righteous and not do the same and all. Nothing special. Caleb never rose to Reid's comments.
Except tonight, he had. 'I'm not finished with you yet.'
Goddammit. It hadn't been supposed to happen like that. They weren't supposed to fight among each other.
But they had.
Reid's phone rang almost as soon as Tyler'd closed the door as they came into their room. It took Reid a few moments to understand what his mother's cold, angry voice was saying; and when he did, a curse hissed out between his lips. Somebody had called her and told her about the fight at Nicky's, and Dr. Meredith Garwin was far from pleased about it.
It wasn't that she yelled at him - she never did that. The Garwins never yelled. They were quiet and poisonous and he didn't want to be like them that way; and she was still speaking to him. "I won't let you ruin your chances for college, Reid. Tomorrow is the first day of classes. I want you to pull your act together, be present, presentable, and paying attention. Or else, boarding school or no, I'll get you back home and make sure you are reminded of how you need to behave."
"I will not let you waste all the effort that has gone into getting you where you are."
And on, and on.
'I won't let you.'
He hung up as soon as it was possible.
"Man, you alright? What happened?" Tyler. Right.
Reid shrugged. "Somebody told her about the fight. Apparently, she won't let me ruin my youth. Or, possibly, their efforts in raising me or whatever. Never mind, man. Let's crash."
The younger boy look at him for a bit, then shook his head. "Whatever you say."
Reid waited until he was sure of Tyler's even breathing before he sat up in bed, very quietly. Drew his legs in, the blanket over his knees, under his chin. Words, voices echoing in his head.
'I won't let that...'
'I won't let you...'
The feeling in the pit of his stomach, hard and cold, wouldn't go away. He was only there because people let him, allowed him to be around. He was just an extra, tagging along. Riding on the passenger seat of his best friend's drive. Tagging along with the three of his friends because they tolerated him, parasite to them, parasite on the back of his family. Permitted there, not giving anything back, only taking. Always taking, always getting what he whined for. Why would anyone actually want to be a friend of his?
Over, and over again.
He was shivering a bit, cold, helpless, and didn't want to uncurl enough to pull the blanket so that it warmed him up more.
On the next bed, Tyler gasped, and opened his eyes, blinking. Then looked over in the vague light of the full moon. "Hey, man. Were you just... using, or something?"
"You sure? Because I thought someone was..."
"Do I look like I'm using?"
"Oh." The younger boy sat up in his bed, looking over. "What was that about you using last night?"
Reid shrugged. "I didn't. Don't know what was about it."
Tussled brown-haired head shaking slightly. "I just... I really thought somebody was using just now."
"Probably nothing. I didn't feel anything. You sure you weren't dreaming?"
"I don't think so. ... what's up with you anyway?" More careful look. "You haven't had any sleep yet, have you."
"No, but I'm fine. Don't feel like sleeping."
Tyler rose and came over to Reid's bed. "Hey, it's alright. Did your mom say anything?"
"No. I told you. I'm fine."
"Yu-huh. And I'm supposed to believe that."
Reid shot him a glance, then his mouth went behind his knee, lips pressed against the edge of the blanket. He felt the other boy's hand on his shoulder, like a small electric jolt, even if he was pretty sure Tyler hadn't just Used on him.
"Look, man. I just wanna help. I'm... I'm right here, when you decide if you wanna talk or not."
Reid didn't look at him now, eyes straight ahead, but he did give him a nod from behind his knees. Then he lay down, still kind of curled up, scooting away from Tyler, but still facing his way.
The younger boy shook his head and sat, then eyed the blond sideways, and stretched out on his bed, over the covers.
Eventually, Reid shifted a little closer again, arms crossed in front of his body; face almost, if not quite, into Tyler's shoulder. "I messed up bad with Caleb tonight, didn't I."
"He was pissed at you. With good reason. He'll get over it."
"What if he..." Quietly, looking up at his friend's face a bit. "What if he doesn't want me around anymore?"
Tyler's elfin brows shot up, and his blue eyes gave the other boy a sharp glance. "Come on, Reid. You can't be serious."
The blond looked back down and away quickly.
"You're one of us. He was just worried about something, and you did use on him, and didn't stop when he told you. You know how he gets! It'll be fine."
"Yeah." Skeptical tone.
But he shifted even closer, so his forehead was actually pressed against Tyler's shoulder. One of the younger boy's hands moved to rub his arm a little.
The first class in the morning was English and Tyler needed to finish clearing his papers so he wasn't there; everybody knew that the younger boy was one of them, but the red tape sometimes insisted that the fact that he was born in 1989 instead of 88 should make a difference.
Which left Reid to deal with facing Caleb after the fight on his own.
Well, not facing. Caleb settled on his usual spot - beside Pogue, that was - and didn't look up to where Reid dropped, eyes on the oldest boy.
On the brighter side, he and Pogue weren't whispering and looking at him sideways, as though planning something about him or anything.
Reid almost snorted at himself. Moron. They wouldn't be going on like that, no matter what.
And then Caleb was called to the Provost's office, and then he looked back at him. It was a brief thing, but it got his defiant hackles up, alright. Even as his insides churned with fear and worry again. I'm in trouble.
Nobody had to know that. The expression he showed Caleb in return was 'bring it'. And then he caught that they'd be studying Stephen King, and it was too easy a way to make sure that everybody knew he was just fine.
"Yeah! Dreamcatcher was the shit!"
But he didn't look around to meet people's eyes as they laughed. Just licked his lips, and paid attention to reply from down at the podium. He wanted the class to be over.
It was a relief when they got to gym, to the locker room - Tyler was there. There was the usual small talk, punching shoulders.
His friend was rolling his eyes at the small signs of tension which most people wouldn't differentiate from his usual carriage. "What's up, man?"
"Not much. Just... Class." There was a bit of an expectant silence, and he sighed. "The Provost sent for Caleb after it."
"How should I know?"
Then they were hanging around the pool, Reid's gray sweatpants over the obligatory black trunks. Waiting for the older two boys to show up; of course, they came in a pair. Caleb's eyebrows twitched a bit when he saw them, and he and Pogue didn't go anywhere else. Which was like usual, except...
Reid still couldn't shake away the sense that... he was unwelcome. Just allowed to hang out with.
He let Tyler ask the initial question of Caleb, but couldn't resist requesting clarification when all they got was, "someone told him about the fight at Nicky's..."
Shit did travel around quickly, especially in a place as small as Ipswich. Or maybe it was just that they were ... them.
"Feel like elaborating on that?"
Caleb was hiding something, and he thought that the other two absolutely knew it, too. But when he asked, all the other three looked at Reid; he made himself keep looking at the oldest boy. Hiding wasn't a good thing. He wasn't.
... and then Pogue reached his hand across Tyler. "You've got a piece of glass in your face."
Reid slapped his hand away, and they all laughed. Caleb's eyes warmed up, looking at him, and as simple as that, it was better. Nobody was talking down to him. Whatever it was the provost had wanted, whatever it was that Caleb was hiding - it wasn't that he was unwelcome. It wasn't that his place wasn't there.
He liked not being a parasite. Being welcome. Being a part of...
Being who he was. One of them.