“Why have you sequestered yourself in your dormitory room and personal bed when you know you have a timetable to abide by and follow, and a set schedule, Mr. Reed?”
Gavin opened one eye, and he nearly bit back a mighty groan of disapproval when he saw Brother Josh leaning over his bed while young Charlie Snow was holding onto his hand tightly. The dark-skinned android frowned down at Gavin, no doubt in disdain for the fact that he’d been skipping the rest of his courses that same afternoon following his ‘swimming’ class with Brother Nines.
The cold water had gotten to him, and Gavin wasn’t one to lie about it at all. No less than half an hour after they’d finished with the swimming exercise, Gavin felt his bones aching, his body trembling involuntarily, and now, his throat and tonsils really were driving him insane with pain. He simply had caught a cold, and he knew it’d been because that son of a bitch Brother Nines hadn’t allowed or given him time to adjust to the temperature of the water.
Gavin had weakly taken off after lunch, retreating to his own dorm and bed to ‘hide out’ while wishing for a speedy recovery and for his cold not to get worse. Mackenzie promised him that he’d provide Brother Josh with a good enough reason-and the truth-for why he wouldn’t be able to attend classes, but it seemed as though the lanky, gangling teenager hadn’t been able to keep up his end of the bargain after all.
He’d expected it, unfortunately. It wasn’t at all that he held no faith or trust in any of his friends; it was just the simple fact of life that boys were boys, teenagers were teenagers, and they either forgot to pull through for each other at times, or it just perhaps wasn’t plausible.
Gathering his sheets around his trembling, aching body, Gavin peered up at Brother Josh with a pleading look in his eyes. “Please, Brother Josh,” he found himself begging, “I swear, I don’t feel well!”
Glaring at him after he’d momentarily let go of little Charlie’s hand, Brother Josh placed a hand on his hip, and then the other on top of the headboard of the bed. Leaning down, he hissed out dangerously, “Do I have to wrangle you off your bed, boy?” he raised both eyebrows, as if thinking about the tempting idea over a few times, “hmm? What’s it going to take for you to stop lying and deceiving your Brothers??”
Shivering, Gavin managed to work a hand out from under his blankets, and he held it close to where Brother Josh had his hand resting above the headboard. Once their hands touched, Brother Josh gasped out in shock, and he reeled back while staring back and forth wildly between Gavin’s hand and his face.
“My word, child!” he cried out as he held a hand against Gavin’s forehead, “you’re chilled to the bone!!”
Gavin wanted to lash out with something along the lines of: ‘no shit, I told you, dumbass’, but he held his temper in control and merely nodded weakly. “I’m sorry, Brother Josh, I’m just very sick.”
Shaking his head in bewilderment, Brother Josh asked, “What on earth have you done to yourself to end up like this, Gavin?”
As if it were his own fault…the nerve…
Shrugging that off, Gavin felt his teeth clattering and chattering together, and when he went to swallow the bile rising in his throat, he found his tonsils and throat really did ache more than he thought.
Brother Josh must’ve seen his pained grimace, and even Charlie seemed to be affected by it. The small boy peeked up curiously at Gavin with nothing but concern and fear brewing and billowing about in his light-colored eyes. Eyelashes fluttering quickly a few times at Gavin, he finally whined at the back of his throat while tugging on the hem of Brother Josh’s black shirt.
The android sighed down at him, “Yes, Charlie?”
Babbling and whining incoherently, the boy began sucking and biting his thumb. The longer Gavin studied and observed Charlie doing this, the more he was reminded of his younger brother Elijah once again…
Elijah wasn’t actually Gavin’s biological brother, at least not by blood, but Gavin still accepted and considered him closer than blood. Elijah had been more devoted, dedicated, loyal, and exciting to be around than Gavin’s own relatives. The boy had been adopted and accepted into the Reed family when Gavin’s father received a late night visit a few years ago from an old University friend. Gavin couldn’t recall what the man’s name was at all, seeing as this was when he himself had just barely turned eight-years-old. But he remembered it’d been a harsh, cold night in late December, as Christmas had just been two days away when the visitor had arrived. The man had then presented Gavin’s father with a small baby carriage, and within it happened to be a two-year-old toddler…
Although they were six years apart in age, Gavin and Elijah were best friends. The youngster had followed Gavin practically everywhere since he imprinted on him. Gavin was more of a father to him than anyone else in the family could’ve been. The two boys were thick as thieves, and they were hardly ever seen apart…until Gavin had started going through puberty, and demanded he wanted his own free time, personal space, and wanted to hang out with a group of new friends. Still, Elijah had always been loyal and honest with Gavin, and he would always be there after school, after whenever Gavin was through with hanging out with his friends, young Elijah could be found just hanging by Gavin’s bedroom door late at nights ready to talk and spend time with his older brother.
Thinking and reminiscing about his younger brother now, Gavin felt even more homesick, and he felt misty-eyed while still gaping at Charlie.
The little boy shook Brother Josh’s hand wildly, “Brother Josh!” he cried and whined, “is Gavin going to die?”
That question apparently was so innocent, silly, and infantile that Brother Josh actually laughed at it. Gavin glared at the Android Brother for even daring to laugh, and when Brother Josh saw how irate Gavin was, he wiped the smirk and smile off his face and replaced it with an apologetic one.
“Forgive me, Gavin,” he pressed out while making another grab for Charlie’s small hand, “I’ll see to it immediately that you’re caught up in my class, but I’m going to have to leave and call upon Brother Nines so he can—”
Nearly having a heart attack upon hearing the infernal android’s name, Gavin choked out, “What?!?! Why does he need to be here?!?!” gripping the sheets tightly, he cocooned himself within them, shaking both from the hot and cold temperatures. He couldn’t believe his luck; being sick and then having to receive a visit from the cause of all his problems.
Someone in heaven must’ve hated him, and he didn’t even believe in heaven and hell…
Scowling at him, Brother Josh huffed, “Please don’t interrupt people when they’re speaking, Gavin; it’s very rude!”
Rolling his eyes at this statement and lecture, Gavin merely coughed out, “Whatever.”
Carrying on, Brother Josh explained, “I have to attend to my next class, and besides, Brother Nines is technically your homeroom teacher, Gavin…” when Gavin shook his head while throwing him a curious and perplexed facial expression, the android sighed and placed a hand on his forehead. “Gavin, your homeroom teacher’s name is printed on your timetable, and I know you have one now because Father Anderson told me you have it,” he laid out factually, “refer back to your timetable, top right-hand corner, and you’ll see it labeled perfectly clearly for you that Brother Nines is your homeroom teacher, and therefore, your overseer and temporary guardian!”
Feeling heat pooling in his cheeks, Gavin shrank back into his sheets, “He m-may be my homeroom teacher,” he argued blearily, “but th-that doesn’t m-mean he’s a doctor or my therapist!!”
A long finger had almost rammed itself into the tip of his nose suddenly, and Brother Josh leaned down while holding a very domineering, vitriolic expression on his face. “I don’t care what you believe or what opinion you may hold of Brother Nines, our school, and how things need to be run here, Gavin Reed!” the android spat down at him while gently pushing Charlie away from the edge of the bed when he got too close to the ill Gavin, “but according to our policy here, I’m required to report this to your homeroom teacher, and he will be the one who takes control from here on!!”
Not even waiting for Gavin to offer a retort, Brother Josh grabbed strongly onto Charlie’s hand, and he practically dragged the little boy out of the dormitory in a flash. Before he closed the door, he called out to Gavin, “Take your rest, Gavin, and Brother Nines will be up shortly to take care of you and give you whatever else you may require. Good day.”
The door closed shortly thereafter, but thankfully, it closed gently.
At least Brother Josh had been respectful and sensitive in regard to Gavin’s massive headache…
If he didn’t have anything else, he could at least close his eyes and relax a little better knowing one Android Brother in the entire school so far seemed more… ‘sensible’…
The dormitory door opened with a loud, obnoxious BANG!
Gavin reared up in sheer panic and fright, trying to cough out while he desperately choked on mouthfuls of air, but the moment he’d made an attempt at clearing his windpipe and throat, he was yet again reminded with how much it fucking hurt.
Yes, his sore throat had gotten worse, so it seemed.
Thinking it’d just been one of his friends who’d stormed in on him, Gavin rubbed his eyes and blinked hard to clear his vision up. He had an awful lot of rheum in the corners of both his eyes, and it made seeing anything properly difficult until he’d cleaned his eyes. Grabbing a tissue off the tiny night table beside his old bed, he carefully wiped his eyes and then threw the used tissue into an old, grey garbage bin.
Blinking up at the figure, he spat out, “You insensitive—”
“Oh, piss off, Reed,” Reese’s cruel voice cut through and interrupted him abruptly and rudely, “I’m only here to see if you’re still alive or not, and seeing as you unfortunately are…” the British boy snorted, “…well, bollocks to all that, right?”
Gavin rolled his eyes, “I don’t get what your deal with me is, Reese, but I seriously am not in the mood to bicker with you right now, okay?”
Waving a hand dismissively at him, Reese made his way over towards his own bed, and he straightened it out a little before bending down beneath it and producing a few textbooks and binders he’d obviously been storing and hiding away. Yanking them all out towards himself, he hoisted them up onto his bed with a grunt. “To you, it may seem like a ‘big deal’, Reed,” he whispered while sorting through his textbooks and selecting a few thick ones, “but to me, it’s no big deal at all.”
Pushing aside his sheets, Gavin snapped, “Then why do you hate me so much?”
The question could’ve been a slap to the face for the other boy, and there’d be no difference in his response either way. The moment Reese heard it, he froze, and he stared down at his bed and textbooks while a shocked expression dominated majority of his facial features. His eyebrows rose steadily up towards his hairline, and his nostrils flared. He seemed absolutely surprised, and for the longest time, he couldn’t even more.
Wondering if he’d somehow offended the other boy, Gavin tried repeating his question again, but his throat really was hurting…
Still frozen to the spot, a creepy, dull smile slowly etched its way onto Reese’s face. It hadn’t been the exact reaction Gavin was looking and hoping for, but it was at least something, anyway.
After smiling in silence for almost a full minute, Reese grabbed one of his thickest textbooks, which happened to be a yellow geometry textbook. Holding it up into the crook of his left armpit, he huffed an arrogant, conceited breath down at Gavin while regarding him with nothing but contempt.
Marching over to the side of the sick boy’s bed, Reese leaned over the edge, and he spat out before Gavin, “You don’t know anything about me, and you never will!”
“But I’m already friends with the other guys here,” Gavin pointed out while holding a hand around his throat, “why can’t you and I just be—”
“Be what?” Reese snarled, “friends?” throwing his head back, he laughed a dry, bitter laugh, “oh you’re bloody hilarious, Reed!”
Gavin sighed, “I wasn’t trying to be…”
“I’ll never, ever be friends with the likes of you, Reed!” Reese barked out, “I’d rather die, truthfully!”
Gavin had wanted to snap back with a million different insults, but something in the doorway to the dormitory shifted from side to side quickly. It caught his attention, and he stared over beyond Reese at the figure.
When he blinked hard enough, he could make them out perfectly well.
It was Brother Nines.
Sensing some other presence behind himself, Reese turned around, and then winced when he saw Brother Nines standing in the doorway and smiling over at them both.
The android merely grinned at both young boys for quite some time, dressed in his usual all-black garb. For some reason, in the dim lights and due to how sick Gavin was, Brother Nines appeared more menacing and creepier today. He seemed too tall, too menacing, too cruel, too cold, and too machine-like…
Gavin didn’t like it, and the longer he studied Brother Nines, the more ill he felt. Physically, bile actually rose to his throat, and he had to hold back on vomiting. It was better to just look away…
“I see no reason why you two shouldn’t become the best of friends,” Brother Nines almost purred out delightfully while inching over towards them both, “after all,” he paused, studying Gavin first, and then Reese, “enemies are often competing and fighting for the same cause, I find. Best not to waste all that energy.”
Reese stared down at the floor and remained silent. Brother Nines held out a hand, and he laid it down on Reese’s shoulder while smiling from ear-to-ear at the boy.
“You’ve done your job well,” Brother Nines declared while still smiling, “head back to your class, now.”
Throwing a dirty sneer over at Gavin, Reese quickly whispered, “Yes, Brother Nines.”
Reese left immediately, and as much as Gavin found himself hating the boy, he felt he didn’t despise him nearly enough to want to be left alone with Brother Nines. He began coughing and crying out for Reese to stay, but the boy grabbed the door handle and pulled the door shut behind himself in no time.
He was truly alone once again with the Devil.
Shivering at the prospect, Gavin inched back against his headboard, simply trying to avoid Brother Nines’ penetrating gaze. It was impossible, unfortunately; the strange android merely followed Gavin’s body and traced it every which way with his blue eyes, and he wouldn’t relent, even when Gavin hid his body beneath his heavy blankets again.
While this all went on for some time, Gavin began losing himself to rounds of serious coughing fits, chills, aches, and a massive headache. It literally felt as though his head was going to explode into a million tiny pieces, and even blinking his eyelids hurt him. Light, sounds, odors, movement; anything hurt. He’d never had a headache as bad before, and he began wondering what truly was going on. This couldn’t have been a simple cold!! It truly didn’t feel like it…
Brother Nines grabbed a stool by one of the large windows, and he dragged it over towards the left side of Gavin’s bed. Placing the little wooden seat down close enough to Gavin, he then moved back towards the dormitory showers and washroom. Gavin wondered what he was doing in there, but when he shifted and moved upwards to try and catch a glimpse of it, his lower back stung and stabbed him with intense pain. He had no choice but to lie back on his mattress. Glaring at the ceiling and the lights, Gavin found that even those warm sights hurt his eyes and head, even.
What the hell was going on???
His brain and ears told him that Brother Nines had eventually turned on one of the taps on one of the sinks in the washroom.
Deciding not to think about it since it would likely hurt his brain even more, Gavin just resorted to closing his eyes while trying to drown out every sound and bit of light source from his eyes and mind.
Brother Nines finished whatever he’d been doing in the washroom, and soon, his footsteps came padding back over towards Gavin. The stool shifted, and then creaked. Brother Nines had sat down upon the stool, and when Gavin opened an eye slowly and gently, he sighed in relief when he saw the android holding a round black bowl of water in his hands, and a small hand towel draped over one of his kneecaps.
Dipping the white towel into the bowl of water, Brother Nines soaked it well enough, and then simply let it rest upon Gavin’s forehead. The water was indeed warm, and it felt so good on his heated forehead. The rest of his body felt frozen, but right now, with all the gentleness Brother Nines was bestowing upon him and his forehead, Gavin felt all the heat gathering there eventually spreading down throughout the rest of his body. It was like spring slowly coming to a winter wonderland, melting away all the ice and snow…
Shivering, he leaned up against the android’s hand over his forehead, and when he did, the cloth moved downwards slightly. The water dripped over his skin, soothing it greatly, and unwittingly, he began licking the water right up when it dribbled by the corner of his mouth. His tongue wasn’t in his own control; he let it move upwards, and he collected and gathered every bit of water he could…
Was he even thirsty??
A deep chuckle hit his ears, though it wasn’t loud or obnoxious sounding at all. In fact, it soothed him and almost tranquilized him…
“It’s not at all unusual to feel thirsty when experiencing a migraine, Mr. Reed,” Brother Nines explained gently, allowing Gavin a few more seconds of slurping up the water before he moved the cloth up and down Gavin’s cheeks.
It occurred to the teenager then that Nines was cleaning him, but he was also right…he was having a migraine!!
Smiling at him, Nines merely continued with washing and cleansing his skin. “You’ve never experienced a migraine before, I know,” he accurately stated, “there’s a first time for everything, I suppose…” as his words hung in the air between them, Gavin shivered once more, but remained silent and immobile while Nines continued washing his face. He eventually moved down lower towards Gavin’s neck. The boy merely tilted his head back, revealing the long pallor of his throat for better reach.
Sighing, Nines leaned back in his stool, though his hands never stopped moving about. “I doubt you’re the only one who’s under the weather you know,” he pointed out, “the others just don’t say a word because they feel it’ll make them seem stronger somehow…or perhaps, more manly…” his words ghosted along Gavin’s chin and neck, tickling his skin, but he was far too exhausted to move or make a comment.
Suddenly, a particularly dark, nasty thought struck Gavin right in the chest like a hammer.
Brother Nines could do whatever he wanted to him in this state, and no one would know anything!! No one was here to help him, no one was here to listen, and no one would be able to get help in time if Brother Nines—
Gavin couldn’t be sure, and he didn’t want to take the risk. Fearing for his life and safety, Gavin tried screaming, but it just came out like a dull wheeze or whine.
It made the android seated next to the edge of his bed snort, “Still putting up a fuss?” he tsked, “such a shame, Mr. Reed…when are you going to just permit me to take proper care of you, hmm?”
Was that even his intent?!?
Gavin groaned, eyes rolling back into his skull. He barely had enough energy to even wriggle his fingers and toes! How was he supposed to fight back against Nines, let alone scream or cry for help?!
Realizing how utterly screwed he was in this situation, Gavin blinked back a few tears while whispering out in a raspy tone, “Please…don’t…”
“Hmm?” Brother Nines wasn’t even the least bit fazed, but he paused in his cleaning.
When an eerie silence had gone on for too long, Gavin opened his eyes widely, and he nearly came apart at the seams when he saw just how close Nines really was…the android was so damn close, that Gavin was able to see his light brown eyelashes, his freckles, his cream-colored skin, every bit of perfection. The android didn’t have any pimples or acne, of course, and his skin was so smooth…absent of any hair, marks, scars, it all made Gavin self-conscious and a tad bit envious.
He gently shifted the sheets up to cover his own scar, remembering the moment he’d received it so long ago…
He’d been outside in the park playing with Elijah. Gavin himself was ten, and Elijah was four. The child hadn’t meant to, but he’d found a delightfully enchanting stone on the top of a hill while Gavin had been busy with swinging on the swings. Every time he moved up higher and higher, Gavin promised himself he would fly. He could see the entire world soon enough, and to a ten-year-old child, that had been the best sight and experience.
Still, he knew he had to be watching his baby brother.
He didn’t want to get into trouble, so he glanced up and called out for Elijah. The young boy could hardly hear him. It was natural, given how much fun they were having, and given how the other young kids in the park were all just as excitedly yelling, screaming, crying out for joy, and talking so loudly.
While swinging himself up higher, Gavin cried out for Elijah again.
It was still no use.
His voice rang out high in the air, and he had a good idea on how to get both his voice and himself up higher so that Elijah would be able to see him from his vantage point on the small hill.
Standing up carefully, Gavin gripped the ropes of the swing for leverage, and he soon planted both his feet onto the seat of the swing. It was still swinging mightily back and forth, up and down, and a few concerned parents even yelled out at him for sit down.
But he couldn’t; not until he cried out for Elijah and got his attention.
He stood to his full height at that age, and when he shifted forward, the swing rocked quickly. The wind blew wildly in his face, but it was so refreshing! He could smell the flowers, the bees, the warmth of summer, and the hot dogs roasting nearby…
Crying out for Elijah again, Gavin finally gathered enough courage to rock the swing with his legs. It moved under his weight, and just as he’d called out to his brother one final time, the youngster had turned around to face him.
Those light blue eyes met his own, and in an instant, Gavin couldn’t help but smile. Elijah had such a warm, loving, contagious smile…
Taking a step forward, he went to wave at his brother, but then the swing jolted. He must’ve forgotten he was standing up, and he swayed about on the seat while the swing cut through the air like a dart. The mechanisms of the swing groaned and creaked, and Gavin began panicking like mad. Holding on for dear life to the ropes, he tried steadying himself, but it was no use when his foot had already slipped and taken off into the air.
He’d seen what would happen even before it’d happened. He could feel the pain, and it wasn’t here yet.
Gavin let go of the ropes, and while the other kids who were witnessing the horrific event screamed out in reverent terror, there was little anyone could do to stop it. It was already in motion; a set event meant to happen in this moment, at this particular hour, on this particular day.
Sailing through the air, the young boy closed his eyes when he saw he’d flown right over a pile of freshly cut branches. The park and wildlife maintenance crew had tied majority of the branches and twigs together and stacked them in the neat pile, and while it hadn’t been anywhere near the playground, Gavin must’ve sailed way too hard and way too far. He was directly headed towards the sharp pile, and he looked away while his heart bled and ached already.
And he was glad he’d looked away.
Nothing could even remotely come close to preparing him for how it actually felt to cut and soar through the air like a bird one moment, and then in the next, the stinging, burn, throbbing, dull aching sensation across his nose and forehead was unlike any amount of pain he’d ever felt in his young life.
Later, he’d found out that after being rushed to the hospital, he’d received almost ten stitches across his nose and slightly over his cheek. He’d apparently fallen face-first right onto a particularly nasty, sharp-ended twig that had yet to be tucked away with the rest of the pile he’d flown into, but that one had cut and dragged along his skin, opening it up quite horribly. He’d lost a pretty decent amount of blood, and both his parents had been pulled out of work to come rushing to the hospital. They’d taken turns standing by his side in his room until he’d woken up from the anesthesia and post-surgery.
In the end, the scar remained with him, and he’d had a hard time for many years getting used to seeing it there on his face anytime he looked into a mirror.
“Scars and pain let us know we’re not dead yet…”
He opened his eyes and gasped up at Brother Nines, “Wha—”
The android huffed, gently moving the warm, wet towel directly over Gavin’s nose while staring intently at it. “Pain reminds you that you’re still alive, Mr. Reed,” he purred out, and then his eyes met Gavin’s, and something knowing and beyond recognition burned in the android’s eyes right then and there. Seeing whatever it was paralyzed Gavin, and he could only gape in horror.
He was truly helpless.
Smiling at him, Brother Nines gently dabbed the towel over his scar, and then moved it down towards the tip of his nose. “Your fever’s slowly going away, I’m pleased to announce…”
That was the very least of Gavin’s concerns for the moment.
For now, he’d been faced with the knowledge that he was up against a battle, and it wasn’t between himself and Nines…
It was between himself, and his confusion over what he defined being right, and his concept of wrong.