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Five

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I.

Whoever thought that putting a group of hormonal teenagers into one room for four hours of dancing was clearly out of their mind. And when the said hormonal teens were mutants? Horrible, horrible idea.

"How bad can it be?" Scott, Mr. Fearless Leader, had said.

For the first annual Winter Wonderland, the students had erupted into an absolute frenzy. The week of the dance, while the staff tirelessly prepared the gym (because hosting the dance in the Danger Room would have been suicide) for the evening, students could hardly focus on their studies. They gossiped in the halls, tittering with excitement everywhere they went.

Joshua Foley, AKA Elixir, smirked as red-faced girls and boys stammered out a "will you go to the dance with me?" to their desired dates.

He, of course, was sure to land a date –and a hot one.


Though they hailed for rival teams, Cessily, Noriko, Laurie, Laura, and Sooraya could put aside their differences much more easily than their male counterparts of the teams. There was an exception however; Sofia and Laura did not get along well due to conflicting interests and more often than not, Sofia would opt out of their meet-ups for 'girl time'.

True, none of the New X-Girls were too invested in the typical obsessions of teenage girls, but they were by no means exempt from constant chattering and giggling (of course, some participated in the noise-making more than others).

Inevitably, their gossip soon turned to the upcoming dance. All present had at least one rumor or fact to contribute to the conversation. Surprisingly, Laura was best at offering up the interesting pieces, and the other girls eagerly asked if she had heard of any plans their male classmates had made.

"Santo's trying to score a Cuckoo," Cessily said, "But everyone knows they think they're too good. Julian's being his usual air-headed self. He's had seven girls ask him to the dance, but he's said no to all of them."

"Seven?" Noriko pulled a face, "Keller's probably being worse than Josh than, but Elixir's getting all up on his high-horse, too."

"And he's said no to all prospective dates, too?" Cessily asked, shaking her head.

The girls expressed their opinions of the two rival teammates, making jabs and complaints over their pompousness as they were wont to do every once in a while.

"I have been thinking," Sooraya spoke up, "This Winter Wonderland has certainly… well, I have noticed that there are some, mainly Julian and Josh, who are becoming far too… arrogant over this dance."

"You think we should do something about it?" Laura asked, catching on.

"I watched a movie once," Sooraya explained, "Where there was a dance similar to the one we are holding. The females in the movie did not like the way their male classmates were acting so"

"-they went to the dance as a group of friends!" Cessily finished excitedly. "We should do that!"

Noriko tilted her head to the side, considering the idea. "Not a bad idea," she conceded, "It'll certainly be worth the look on Keller's face. Do you think we could get other girls in on it?"

"Maybe the ones who haven't got dates yet," Cessily said, "Great idea, Sooraya!"


And so, the plan was set in motion. With precise transmission of information, news of the single-girls group spread –and the idea was a hit.

Naturally, as the potential dates ceased to approach him, Joshua Foley became very confused. It was Thursday night and the dance was Saturday, and he was left without a date. His ego refused to let him go back and find any of the girls he had rejected, and most puzzling –even Laurie hadn't shown any interest at all in asking him to the dance.

He knew she was going –he saw her with her friends, discussing dress shopping and other girl things. But why had she not asked him to the dance yet? For her to ignore him like this when he knew she had some sort of feelings for him was –was unacceptable.

Such thoughts occupied Josh's mind as Friday began to pass by. He was a teen of little patience, and at dinner, he finally had an opportunity to talk to Laurie.

He set his dinner tray down across from her, and the other teammates looked up as he did so. It wasn't so often that Elixir sat with the team anymore –he had his own group of friends.

"Hey Laurie," Josh said.

She looked up, smiling, "Hi," she said.

"So," he began, going straight to the point, "Are you going to the dance?"

The girls around her froze. Noriko's eyes narrowed and she looked from Laurie to Josh, then back again, waiting for Laurie's response.

"Yes," Laurie said cheerfully, "We're all going," she said, motioning around the table to Noriko, Cessily, Laura, and Megan. "As a group." As she said this, they seemed to let out a breath of air, smiling.

"Oh," and Josh was genuinely taken aback, "Well if"

"-Laurie does not require an escort who waited until the last evening to approach her." Laura cut in firmly.

"I mean," Laurie said, "Josh, I like you, but… um, I'm going to this dance with my friends." She smiled. "Do you get that?"

"Er, yeah," Josh nodded. Internally, he was slapping himself. He looked like an idiot! "Of course. Girl's night. Yeah. I'm just going to –uh –I have homework. And um, yeah." With that, he fled, forgetting his dinner. He mentally cursed himself, and if his skin were not gold, his face would be burning red with embarrassment.

When Josh disappeared from view, Laurie slumped over, burying her face in her arms. "Did I just ruin my chances with Josh Foley?" she despaired.


And so, Saturday arrived, and last minute preparations were made by the dance committee for the Winter Wonderland and many students spent their day in anticipation, grooming and primping for when eight o'clock would arrive and they could finally live out the night of their dreams.

"This blows!" complained Julian Keller, however. It was just hours before the dance and he had just been informed by one of the Cuckoos (he was pretty sure it was Celeste) that he was going to have to be dateless. Some 'girl thing' had apparently come up, and she was going stag rather than with him.

Santo, the listening ear to Julian's current rants about what had occurred, shrugged. "Cess was saying something about a buncha girls going to the dance as friends," he offered up, "I guess the Cuckoos are in on it, too."

"That's –that's ridiculous!" Julian hissed, left eye twitching.

"That's what's up, dude," Santo shrugged again.

"Does it really make a difference?" Brian Cruz spoke up, shaking his head. "Everyone's gonna end up in the same room, no matter who they get there with."

"But the point is who you get there with," Julian insisted, still stung by Celeste's out-of-the-blue dumping of his very fine ass as a date. "I can't just –augh!" Finding that his friends' stares were blank, Julian abruptly flew away, as he was prone to do when frustrated.

Julian reveled in the feeling of the wind sweeping through his hair, and left his arms outstretched as he flew, letting the cold winter air run in between his gloved fingers.

"You're gonna catch a damn cold," a voice said, and he turned to find Sofia flying up to meet him, wrapped up cozily in a coat, scarf, mittens and hat. "What're you doing?"

Though it had long been realized between the two of them that nothing would ever quite work out, they remained on friendly terms. Julian had, of course, refrained from using his old nickname for her, as it had only created tension. Still, he appreciated beauty in any form and in that way, he considered himself pretty damn poetic. Besides, Sofia was beautiful…

Julian shrugged in response to her question, "Chilling," he said with a smirk, hovering in the air and crossing his arms.

"Punny," she replied. "Getting cold feet as well, out here?"

"Celeste and I aren't …going together… anymore." Julian forced a care-free laugh, "I'm a free man,"

"Oh? I didn't think the Cuckoos would care for the idea…" Sofia said, mostly to herself.

"Lemme guess," Julian said, "You're also going to the dance alone?"

She smiled, "No," she said, "I'm going with my friends."

Julian snorted and turned away, "Right." He said bitterly, "Well see ya later then," he saluted her with two fingers, "I've got things to do."

He didn't actually have anything to do, Julian admitted to himself as he flew back toward the mansion, landing near the boys' dorms. But he'd sooner cut off his hands and feet than stick around for Sofia's pity. So preoccupied with these grumblings was Julian that he didn't notice where he was walking until he'd started up the stairs to his room and had heard a "Watch out!" and had promptly found himself sprawled on the ground, a heavy weight on top of him.

"Shit," the assailant said, "Watch where you're going!"

"Watch where you're going, you dumbass!" Julian snapped back, blinking and pushing Joshua Foley off of him.

"You were the one who moved into my way, Keller," Josh said, brushing himself off. "What're you doing?" he demanded.

"Since when was that your business, Foley?" Julian countered, knocking the golden mutant's shoulder as he marched past.

"Asshole," Josh muttered under his breath as he headed in the opposite direction.

Julian turned to yell something back, but found himself simply staring at Josh's retreating figure, unable to think of the proper remark to throw back. He shook his head, grumbling wordlessly to himself and all but dragged himself to his room. Thankfully, Santo was absent.


The dance was in full swing by the time Julian arrived, fashionably late, with his hands in his pockets. He managed to turn a few heads, but not enough, in his opinion, and this made him frown. Usually, social events like this were where he thrived… but the feel was off that night.

Damn those girls and their weird ideas! No doubt it was their girls-going-stag-together plan which had caused all of this awkwardness.

Julian huffed, looking around, and right on cue, was asked to dance. He went off with the girl –Sarah, he believed she was called –chiding himself for freaking out over nothing. He just had to shake off the feeling that something was different that day; he'd be his usual, swaggering and confident self in no time.

But three songs passed and despite keeping up his cool pretenses, Julian could feel his mind wandering away from the dance. Taking a cup of (spiked) fruit punch from the refreshments table, he excused himself from the couple of girls who had taken to hovering around him and ventured out of the gym through the back exit, gulping down the punch.

The swinging door hit someone and forced a yelp of surprise out of them. Unfortunately, Julian had not expected this, either, and stepping out too soon, his body collided with the one outside and both persons went toppling over.

"Two in one day," grumbled the voice beneath Julian, "Congrats, you're officially a douche. Now get the hell off of me."

"Hold on," Julian complained, not budging, "You were the one who ran into me the first time."

"Great. Then we're even now. Move," Josh said, shoving Julian away. He made a face, sniffing at the air, "Have you been drinking?"

"It was in the punch." Julian shrugged, "What? Are you going to pretend to be a virtuous non-drinker?"

"I don't drink at every opportunity I get, actually," Josh said flatly, "My powers burn out the alcohol after a couple of minutes, anyway."

It occurred to Julian that his surprise at this assertion really shouldn't have been that… well, surprising. He and Josh weren't on good terms –and what he knew of the healer was only the well-established facts.

"Oh," Julian ended up saying rather lamely. He shrugged again and brushed past Josh, back into the gym. And maybe it was out of some weird-ass form of spite or (as Julian told himself) maybe the dance was just too lame to deal with sober, but he drank at least six more cups of fruit punch and the result was that –by midnight –he was magnificently trashed.

Hey, no one ever said he could keep his act together under the influence, but at least he could hold his liquor.

"Julian, Julian," Sofia sighed, later, when he was swaying on his feet as she ushered him out of the room for some fresh air, "Whatever are we to do with you?"

"Jus' leave me out'ere t'freeze," he mumbled, dropping to the ground as soon as they were out. Sprawled out on his back, his eyes drooped close. There was –what, two hours left of the dance? He hardly cared… it was rather comfortable out there in the hall and he was inclined to fall asleep where he was.

At some point, he became aware of some people talking around him.

"… no, it's alright, Sofia. You have your fun –I was leaving anyway."

"Are you sure?"

"Yeah, I'll just drag him up, it's fine." The male voice spoke again.

"If I find out you killed him on the way…" Sofia threatened, only partially serious.

Julian groaned where he was. Who the hell was dragging him off that would try and kill him? Besides a list of villains who decidedly would not be welcome to the mansion by anyone, least of all Sofia?

In moments the telekinetic found himself being pulled to his feet, supported by a strong body.

"…he's never going to live this down…"

And then, because time seemed to escape Julian when he was drunk, he was being thrown down on something squishy –a bed. He sighed blissfully, curling up, before his conscience seemed to kick him awake and he bolted up, looking around groggily. "Eh?"

The room was dark, a bit of yellow light seeping in through the crack under the door. And there were hands… hands undressing him, pulling tie off and pushing him down onto the bed after removing jacket.

Now, in the moments that followed, Julian could quite truthfully blame his alcohol-addled brain for his actions.

His owns hands sought out those moving over him, finding the outline of a person by his feet, forcefully removing his shoes. Julian's groping hands found slender wrists and he pulled them close. There was a resistance and a "no, no, just go the fuck to sleep" and he laughed, dazedly, everything reaching his ears in eyes through the effects of reality-warping alcohol.

He cupped someone's face, and it was a familiar motion, one he did often, with many people.

It was dark and Julian was drunk and so his brought his own face to close proximity of his hands. His lips found skin, but it was the skin of a jaw and he giggled to himself; how silly of him!

Distantly, he understood that the person whose skin he had kissed was not reacting well and there was a distinct "what the fuck?" which had him laughing even more. The face was wrenched from Julian's hands and he made a face, grabbing shoulders before they could escape his grasp also.

In his drunken state, Julian found a moment to appreciate how potentially poetic his life was (in retrospect, this was bullshit and he had no idea what his line of thought was supposed to even mean) and he crushed his lips against a surprised, open mouth, swallowing up an expletive that had been partially shouted.

For a moment, Julian tasted peppermint and dry, warm lips moved against his automatically for a couple of lazy seconds, before the owner of said lips realized what they were doing.

There was most definitely a struggle and, bemused, Julian soon let go of his victim, flopping back on the bed with an unhappy sigh. There went any prospect of …well, that.

"Jesus fuck!" and "Oh my God!" were hissed at him, but he simply stared up through the dark, unfazed –most likely due to his inability to grasp what was even going on. He saw a dull outline of something… gold…

And then he blacked out.


Sunday morning found Julian waking up with a splitting head-ache at ten-thirty. Santo was still in an eagle-spread on his own bed as Julian forced himself upright.

With a groan, he dragged his hand over his face and stumbled to the closet, grabbing clothes and toiletries before staggering out into the hall and moving sluggishly toward the shower rooms.

It took a long hot shower and then the splashing of cold water over his face to officially wake up and Julian was part way through brushing his teeth before the events of the night before came rushing back to him.

He choked, spitting out his toothpaste and stared at his reflection in the mirror with wide, shocked eyes and there was no denying it: he'd been making out with Joshua fucking Foley last night –or that morning –and oh shit.

Julian dropped his toothbrush.


II.

Cessily gaped at Laura. "Whadaya mean, you've never played 'Never Have I Ever'?" she said. "It's a classic plot device in basically everything ever,"

"I've never played it," Sofia put out, shrugging, "I mean, I've heard of it,"

"I played it," Laurie said, to everyone's surprise. "Once," she added with a blush, "It wasn't all that much fun,"

"You weren't playing with the right people," Noriko declared. "We need to play 'Never Have I Ever'. Tonight,"

"Tonight?" Laura echoed.

Sooraya shook her head, "I think I will sit out of this game. It involves alcohol, does it?"

"You can watch," Cessily waggled her eyebrows and then gasped, clapping her hands together, "Julian has a fake ID, we can ask him to go out and get the drinks,"

Sofia rolled her eyes, "You do realize he will invite himself over, then, yes? And I will have to ask?"

"Take one for the team," Noriko smirked, earning a pillow to the face.

"I'll go," Cessily said, standing and heading toward the door.

"Wait," Laurie called, "Are you sure this is a good idea?"

"It is Friday night," Laura said, "So should we become intoxicated, we will not be bothered tomorrow. As his teammate, Cessily is statistically most likely to convince Julian to do something, and Julian is experienced at purchasing alcohol, which I understand this game entails. Logically, this is the best course of action."

The other girls gaped at her, and to their surprise, an uncertain smile appeared on her face. "That was a joke?" she said.

"Damn, X," Norika said, first to utter a surprised laugh.


Somehow it happened that they all ended up in Julian and Santo's room surrounded by cans of beer. The room was barely comfortable for just the two of them, but it was beyond cozy with Noriko, Laura, Laurie, Cessily, Sofia, Josh, Santo, Victor, Julian, and Brian crowded inside.

Sooraya had eventually opted out altogether, and Jay Guthrie had gladly volunteered to keep her company in the Rec Room. David made his excuses when Noriko approached him with babble about a homework project he wanted to get a start on, and Megan had already made plans with a couple other peers for the evening. When she'd heard what game was going to be played, she'd expressed her regret said with a waggle of her eyebrows that she wanted to hear what happened later on.

Cessily explained the rules of the game to everyone: "We go around the room, and each person says a sentence beginning with 'never have I ever'. If you've done what they say, you have to take a drink. The point is to try and make everyone else drunk. Got it?"

Everyone nodded.

"So I'll go first, just to start out. Never have I ever… been arrested," she looks around, "So if you've been arrested, that means you take a drink,"

No one moved, and then Josh slowly raised his can to his lips.

Laurie's eyebrows shot up into her hairline.

"Twice," Josh explained after a swig. "Nothing to be proud of,"

"Twice?" Santo crowed, "For what?"

"Stupid stuff," Josh insisted, staring at the carpet in front of him a little too hard. Those who recalled his background as an anti-mutant activist didn't mention it, and there seemed to be a silent agreement around the room not to continue the line of questioning.

"Whatever," Julian said, "Next?"

"Never have I ever played a stripping game," Noriko said.

"What, already?" Laurie blurted.

Laura looked to her with her eyebrows furrowed ever so slightly, a sign that she didn't understand what was going on.

"As the game goes on," Laurie was obliged to explain, "The questions are supposed to get…well, they're supposed to get dirtier, I guess,"

"Question is still out there," Noriko said, and Brian, Julian, Santo, Victor, Cessily, and Josh took a drink from their beers.

"And it's my turn now?" Laura said, looking around for confirmation. "Never have I ever… I've never been on a date,"

The girls exchanged looks as all but Laura and Victor took a drink.

"Never have I ever kissed a girl," Victor declared triumphantly, shooting all male participants in the room a smug look at they raised their beers to their lips.

Cessily also drank. "What?" she said, "I was cheerleader. We played Truth or Dare at sleepovers a lot,"

"So you're a lesbian or something, Cess?" Santo wondered.

She laughed, "No," she said, like it was obvious. "It was just a bit of fun,"

Some of the others stared at her in confusion.

"What?" Cessily said, "Kissing is fun," She looked around at her classmates, frowning a little, "Like, no-strings-attached kissing is pretty healthy, in my opinion. You guys should try it out sometime."

Victor burst into laughter, one of the only people in the room who wasn't staring at Cessily with a scandalized expression.

Next was Josh. "Never have I ever dyed my hair," he said, offering a surprisingly tame question.

Noriko swore and took a drink. "You saying that color's natural, Cess?" she grumbled.

"Ginger all the way, dude," Cessily declared proudly. "Alright. Your turn, Santo."

Santo looked thoughtful, perhaps trying to find the most provocative thing he could say, and Victor buried his face in his hands, anticipating the worst. Santo didn't miss the gesture. "Hey, man, this one's for you, then," he said, "Never have I ever kissed a member of the same sex,"

"Come on!" Cessily said as she and Victor took their drinks.

Beside Santo, Julian had gone stiff, something Sofia noticed with a sly grin.

"I'd like to remind the room," she said, "That you have to take a drink if you've done it," To her surprise, it wasn't Julian who moved, but Josh.

He smiled sweetly at everyone's shocked expressions, "I was seven," he explained, "It was one of my classmates. Gabby Rojas gave James Kendricks a kiss on the playground and he said he would give it to me for fifty cents,"

Santo slapped the ground, roaring with laughter, and the others were compelled by his behavior to laugh also. Even Laura began to grin, looking a little uncertain, but Sofia noted that Julian's amusement appeared strained.

"Never have I ever gone skinny dipping," Sofia said.

Noriko, Cessily, Julian, Josh and even Laura drank.

"Never have I ever skipped class to hang out with my friends," Laurie offered after a moment of thought.

Julian, Santo, Brian, Josh, and Noriko drank.

"Never have I ever had a crush I never acted on," Julian said.

Laurie took a drink hesitantly, and after a moment of awkwardness wherein everyone knew what it was all about, Victor also took a drink.

"What?" Santo said immediately, "Who?"

"None of your business," Victor declared, though Sofia wondered if it was because he didn't actually have anyone in mind. "And you know what, I bet most of you are lying. Everyone's got someone they kind of like that they don't pursue,"

Laura took a drink and then Cessily, shrugging as if to concede the point.

"See?" Victor said to Santo.

Sofia also took a drink, and felt glad when she saw Laurie's embarrassment fade, replaced with relief. She caught the blonde's eye and gave a small smile, which was returned.

"Never have I done something I regretted while drunk," Brian said, "Or under the influence of something. Morphine counts,"

Sofia recalled with a shudder the time she'd broken her leg as a younger teenager and had tried to flirt with a male nurse while hazy with painkillers. She drank from her can of beer, swishing the bitter liquid in her mouth for a moment before swallowing.

Victor, Noriko and Julian took a drink, and Sofia took note of the way Julian was carefully avoiding everyone's gaze. It was odd. Sofia had been almost sure that, like Santo, Julian rarely regretted anything that he did.

They had come in a full circle by then and taking inventory, it was noted that Laurie was winning so far, followed by Laura, Sofia, and Brian. There was some debate over whether Victor or Santo came next, but after them was Noriko, Julian, Cessily, and last was Josh.

The next round ended with at least part of the room showing signs of the beginnings of drunkenness.

Laura, with her healing factor, was utterly unaffected, something Sofia found herself declaring was unfair.

"NEVER HAVE I EVER HAD SEX!" Noriko shouted on her fourth turn. She and Cessily broke into giggles, and toasted each other.

Sofia wasn't even sure that her peers were drinking truthfully anymore. Santo was even taking generous gulps of beer between questions.

Laurie had already fallen asleep, halfway between beer number two and three. Of course, she hadn't actually made it there by the rules of the game; at some point Cessily had insisted everyone chug as much beer as they could in their current can. Laurie had just started her second can.

Laura had volunteered to carry Laurie to her room, and had dragged along Victor, who had begun to fall asleep, too. Sofia didn't have a doubt that Laura would be able to get them back to their proper rooms without detection by any teachers.

Really, Sofia decided fuzzily, Laura wasn't so bad. She wasn't sure why they never got along… sure, the other girl was awkward and took everything too seriously, but given her upbringing, could anyone blame her? She was trained as an assassin from birth. And so what if Laura maybe had a tiny crush on Julian? It wasn't like Sofia had staked some sort of claim… they had broken up… were they ever really a thing, anyway?

Sofia stared up at the ceiling, vaguely wondering when she had laid back.

Sitting on Santo's bed, Noriko had fallen asleep on Brian's shoulder and the two were beginning to snore.

Laura would have more bodies to move when she got back.

Sofia giggled at the thought of X forcing everyone back to their rooms, put into the position of the mother hen.

Cluck, cluck.

Haha.

Sofia felt her eyes droop close and the start of deep unconsciousness fall over her.

"You're real fucking stupid, you know that?" That was Julian's slurred voice.

Sofia forced one eye open and turned her head to the side to peek at what was going on. Julian was lying on his bed. He rolled over and pointed an accusing finger toward Josh, who was sitting with his back against the wall between Santo and Julian's beds.

"Who the fuck buys a kiss for fifty fuckin' cents?" Julian demanded.

"I was seven," Josh mumbled, "Gabby Rojas was hot,"

"You messed up," Julian insisted, "Shoulda gotten the kiss straight from Crabby Roha…whatever,"

Sofia snorted softly. Fifty cents. Sounded like a good deal to her.

"For free," Julian added suddenly, "Free kisses are the best,"

Sofia closed her eyes and when she forced them open again, time had passed. Josh had at some point crawled onto Julian's bed. He was leaning over Julian, "What?" Josh said, sounding irritated, "I still got the kiss,"

"Secondhand kiss," Julian said flippantly, "Not the same thing,"

"Fifty cents," Josh tried to protest, "It was only fifty cents,"

Julian laughed breathily. "That espes –excepten –expressive –shit, expensive. Fifty cents's lotta money… fer a seven year old," he said.

"Maybe Gabby woulda charged more," Josh said.

Sofia thought that was a pretty good point. She wanted to nod, but the motion seemed like it might be too much effort. Sofia wasn't feeling like putting all that effort into it.

"I would give you a free… free kisses are the best kisses,"

"Are you drunk?" Josh asked quietly.

"Mostly. You?"

"It's starting to wear off,"

"Better sneeze –ahaha –I mean, seize the moment, then," Julian laughed.

Josh was straddling Julian's hips hands planted on the bed on either side of Julian's head. He didn't say anything for a moment, and Sofia's eyes began to close. Josh dipped his head and the last thing Sofia saw before her eyes closed was Josh pressing his mouth to Julian's.


In the morning, Sofia woke up with a sour taste in her mouth and a raging headache. It took her a moment to realize where she was, but she saw Santo sprawled on the carpet and Noriko and Brian still asleep on Santo bed.

Julian was nowhere to be seen, but peculiarly, Josh was asleep on his bed.

It was strange; Sofia could have sworn he started out the night somewhere on the ground.


III.

Josh staggered out of Santo and Julian's room, carding a hand through his hair, and made his way to his own dorm room. On the way, he considered the last night's events. As a rule, Josh usually tried not to drink too much, because when he drank, he found that he had to drink a lot or he alcohol would have not affect, and what was the point of drinking if you couldn't get drunk? When he did manage to drink enough, Josh was a very horny drunk, something that often came back to bite him in the ass, and he was now blessed with the memory of making out with Julian Keller after a dumb philosophical discussion of the value of kisses.

He'd even fallen asleep next to Julian, which could only have meant that they had been curled up next to each other in some way because the dorm beds weren't all that spacious.

When he woke up that morning, Julian was nowhere to be seen, but that meant he'd definitely woken up first, and had witnessed their close positions.

It was their second encounter in a month, Josh realized as he entered his dorm room. He couldn't be sure that Julian recalled the one from the winter dance, but there was likely definite recollection on both of their parts for the most recent incident.

Josh wasn't sure how he felt about it. In all honesty, he agreed with Cessily that no-strings-attached kissing was a good idea, and Julian was (in all honesty) pretty fucking hot (a thought he decided not to think too hard about), but what ultimately would stop Josh from really considering asking Julian if he wanted to continue no-strings-attached kissing was that Julian Keller also happened to be a major asshole. The guy was infuriating for reasons that Josh couldn't really place, other than for the fact that he was really full of himself.

He could also be a giggling drunk, though, Josh remembered, thinking back to the night he volunteered to actually drag Keller's ass back to his room. It was kind of adorable. The giggling, that was to say.

Josh shook his head, groaning. He didn't want those thoughts –no thanks.

As he headed to the communal showers, he forced his thoughts to shift to Laurie.

She was a sweet girl and had big doe eyes and blonde hair. She could totally be his type, and she adored him. It could work, Josh decided, except that who was he kidding? He didn't actually know that much about Laurie. They didn't really actually talk. She was shy, and when left together, they mostly just stood around, Josh asking about mundane things like school and the weather and Laurie stuttering her answers and blushing.

Josh was sure he could date her, if he felt inclined to –but that was just it, wasn't it? He didn't want to date Laurie, and there was not point doing it if it would only end badly for her. Laurie didn't deserve a loveless relationship, and Josh wasn't a complete monster.

"Move it, Foley,"

Josh startled, blinking out of his thoughts, and found himself standing in the doorway of the bathroom, Julian standing in front of him, freshly dressed, wet-haired, and scowling.

He stepped aside and Julian brushed passed, only pausing for a moment to look back and squint through a hangover at him, expression otherwise unreadable.


Victor was swearing off alcohol for the rest of his life –or until someone could convince him otherwise. He was reasonably sure it wouldn't take that much effort.

He'd woken up way late, and it was lunch time by the time he dragged himself out his room, through the showers and into a fresh set of clothes.

He plopped down in the open seat beside Megan, clutching his head.

"Whoa there," she said, "Someone had a rough night, huh?"

"Fun night," Victor corrected.

"Rough morning," Megan finished, grinning. She pushed her plate of fries toward him, "Here," she said sympathetically, "Have some,"

Victor gratefully stuffed a couple of fries in his mouth at once, focusing on the act of chewing. The fried saltiness was just what he needed. "

"Hey," Megan said, "Did anything interesting happen last night? I saw Julian earlier and he looked all broody. He was playing with you guys yesterday, right?"

"Yeah, but no. I mean, it's not like we really discovered anything surprising about Julian. Although apparently Josh Foley's been arrested twice, Cessily used to have casual makeouts with her cheerleader friends and Brian Cruz almost had sex with his first girlfriend right before he mutated."

Megan giggled, "Oh God," she managed, quickly collapsing into hysterics at the thought of Brian's girlfriend suddenly feeling compelled to run away during an intimate moment. "That musta been something,"

They paused conversation as Laurie Collins suddenly sat down at the table with them.

She looked somewhat nervous, but Victor figured that it might have had something to do with the fact that she was taking the initiative to approach someone.

"Hey Laurie," Megan said kindly, "What's up?"

Laurie shrugged, a careful gesture. "I have a little bit of a headache. Um, Victor, can I ask you a question?"

He stole a couple more of Megan's French fries. "Sure," he said, "Although I can't promise I can produce the brain power to answer if it's about homework,"

She shook her head. "Um, it's just… I was just wondering, um,"

Victor waited patiently.

Laurie stopped, took a deep breath and said all at once, "How do you know if someone might be gay?"

Victor blinked and exchanged a look with Megan, but she looked just as baffled by the sudden inquiry. "Well," he said slowly, "You can't really tell just by looking at someone. I mean, unless they're super flamboyant looking… and even then you can't really assume anything."

"How do you figure it out?" Laurie pressed, "I heard there's, like, a gaydar thing?"

Victor choked out a laugh, "Yeah, sure, I guess. It's more of an intuition, really. Why? What happened?"

Laurie turned red. "Uh," she stuttered, looking around guiltily.

Megan patted her arm, "It's okay, Laurie, you don't have to tell us anything,"

"But if you're asking about someone in particular…" Victor began, hoping that his voice was giving off enough 'HINT, HINT' vibes.

"It's just," Laurie shook her head again, stopping and biting her lip. "I dunno, I'm probably just being dumb."

Megan and Victor stared at her, anticipatory.

"It's about Josh," Laurie blurted.

Megan's eyebrows shot up, but Victor sighed. "Look, Laurie," he said, "When you're a kid, a lot of logic is a little screwed,"

"It's not that," Laurie interrupted. "Sorry, uh, but it's not that thing I was talking about,"

"Okay," Victor said slowly, "What's up, then? Because I can assure you almost one hundred percent that Josh Foley is definitely not gay,"

She sighed. "I said it was dumb," she said miserably.

"Come on, Laurie," Megan said soothingly, "I'm sure it's not,"

"It's just… so you know how Laura carried me back to my room?"

"Yeah?" Victor said. He'd been along for the trip.

"This morning I woke up and realized that I left my sweater in Julian and Santo's room, so I went over and the door was unlocked so I just went in." Her face was steadily turning redder and redder with embarrassment. Laurie tried clearing her throat and she glanced around for eavesdroppers before continuing: "I saw Josh on Julian's bed and they were both asleep and kind of… asleep together."

"Who?" Megan frowned.

"Josh and Julian," Laurie whispered.

"But they hate each other," Victor said. "And what do you mean, 'asleep together'?"

"Like, together," she emphasized, "Josh was kind of with his head on Julian's chest and one of his arms was, like, slung over him, and Julian was kind of… hugging him back?" she ended with a question and then shook her head fiercely. "I don't know, it was just. Weird, I guess. Because they're not even friends, and then I was just thinking about what Josh said during the game, and I wondered it maybe…"

"Dude," Victor gaped.

"I don't believe it," Megan decided, "That's just so…"

"Dude," Victor said again, because he couldn't quite figure out how else to express his disbelief. "Dude."

Laurie swallowed hard, "Should I ask him about it?"

"No!" Megan and Victor said at once.


Laurie was throwing Josh weird looks from the gym, and it was decidedly not in the usual way she gave him weird looks.

She was wide-eyed and scrutinizing all at once, like she was trying to figure something out, and not like she was mentally constructing a sonnet about his hair or whatever.

As he headed for the locker rooms at the end of class, Josh wondered if maybe he ought to talk to her and let her down easy or something. He had his private tutoring with Dr. McCoy next period, but maybe he could catch up to her outside the locker rooms. Then again, he'd probably want more time to talk to her to be nice about it…

Unfortunately, Josh was so caught up in his thoughts, he was moving slower than usual. It was only when he was still changing into his clothes and the warning bell was ringing that Josh looked around and realized that he was running late.

His decision appeared to have been made for him; he'd have to find a time to talk to Laurie later.

Josh raced out of the locker rooms and over to the stairwell, where he went down the stairs two at a time, tripped on the last step and stumbled out of the door onto the Med Lab's floor.

He hit a body and the next thing he knew, he was on the floor.

"This needs to stop fucking happening, this falling on each other thing," mumbled the voice below him. Julian looked less irritated and more exasperated as he stared up at the ceiling. There was a dazed look in his eyes. A slow smile suddenly spread over his face, "I remember this," he whispered.

Josh suddenly felt Julian's arms wrap around his neck. "What the hell are you doing, Keller?" he said sharply,

"I'm high," Julian said glibly, "Kiss me,"

"What?" Josh tried to pull away and get up, but Julian stopped him, using a surprising amount of strength to roll them both over until they have switched positions and he was straddling Josh.

"We should make out again," Julian said. Josh noted that there was a definite sluggish way he was moving his mouth, and his blinks were slow and infrequent. "I liked it,"

"Are you on painkillers?" Josh blurted.

"Yeah," Julian said, lowering his head until his face was mere millimeter's from Josh's.

Josh could feel Julian's breath warm on his face.

"Broke something in flight class," he said softly. "When I'm better, I'm going to pretend this…" he pressed his lips against Josh's in a close-mouthed kiss, "Didn't happen." He leaned back and for a moment, he and Josh just stared at each other.

They were in the middle of the hall, and nearly anyone could walk by, but Josh figured to hell with it and grabbed the front of Julian's shirt, reeling him in again.

It wasn't like the past times; the first had been nearly chaste, and brief to boot. Josh didn't quite remember the session from Friday night, only that Julian's mouth had been hot and wet and had reflected the bitter aftertaste of beer.

This time, as Julian pushed his tongue into Josh's mouth, he didn't taste like alcohol. He didn't taste like anything really, except perhaps a bit like mint toothpaste.

Josh pushed Julian away just as his hands had begun to wander out of Josh's hair and down his torso.

"C'mon," Josh said gruffly, pushing Julian off him and then dragging him to his feet, "Let's get you back to the Dr. McCoy,"

"You can just heal me," Julian protested, "That's what you do, isn't it?"

Josh laughed and suddenly felt compelled to grab Julian and plant another kiss on him, letting it go on until Julian moaned into his mouth, an embarrassingly arousing noise that Josh pretended didn't affect him. "Sure," he said, pulling away as Julian blinked owlishly at him, "I could do that, but then you'd be in your right mind quicker, and you're going to be fucking pissed when you remember what's happened, and I don't feel like dealing with you when you're sober,"

Julian appeared to be trying to scowl, but it looked more like a pout. His hair was mussed and his lips were just a little swollen. "You're a dick," he declared with very little venom.

"I know," Josh said. He fixed his hair and then Julian's and when he marched the telekinetic back into the Med Lab, he tried not to look too much liked he'd just been necking (like the teenager he was) with Dr. McCoy's escaped patient right before his own tutoring session.


IV.

What many failed to realize about Laurie Collins was that she wasn't an idiot. Quiet, sure, but not stupid, and she could be cripplingly shy sometimes, but she had common sense, same as most.

When Josh asked to talk to her (alone) after classes that Tuesday, Laurie knew that it couldn't be good news. He'd been avoiding her since asking her to the Winter Wonderland, and the chances that he meant to ask her on a date again now, nearly a month later, was close to 4.167% (Laurie'd asked David).

Still, Laurie followed Josh out to the courtyard, and when he stopped and turned around, she tried to read the pheromones in the air around him. It was a skill she'd been working on lately, instead of just sending out ones to influence others, but she was finding it more difficult to do when the emotions weren't very strong.

"So, Laurie," Josh began, seeming almost… awkward?

"Yes, Josh?" Laurie had heard that saying someone's name during a conversation created a stronger emotional bond between those conversing. She wasn't sure if it was true or not, but she followed the advice, anyway.

"I just want to let you know," he said, "that, um… Look, Laurie, you're a really cool girl, and you're pretty cute,"

-Laurie felt her face grow warm and she tried blinking rapidly to keep a straight face-

"But I don't want to lead you on," Josh said,

Despite the fact that there had been 95.833% chance of this happening, disappointment flooded over Laurie. "Oh," she heard herself saying, "Um,"

"It's just," Josh continued, sounding apologetic, "I feel like we've kind of had this sort of thing between us for a while, and I just wanted to say that I don't think that I can be what you want me to be…"

Something dawned over Laurie at his words. 'Of course', she thought to herself. She broke into a smile, "Oh, Josh, oh my gosh, don't worry about it," she said. She felt relief and a sudden giddy feeling of a weight being lifted off her chest. She nodded vigorously, "I totally understand,"

Josh blinked, evidently surprised, and Laurie supposed he'd been expecting a little more heartbreak. "Really?"

"Really. You know I like you, Josh, and I think you should be happy –with whoever you're with. Obviously I realize that I'm not the kind of person you're looking for." Laurie said. She reached out and put a hand on Josh's shoulder, "But I just want you to know that I'm great at keeping secrets and I'm here for you always."

Josh was smiling uncertainly, "Uh, great," he said, "So I guess… just friends, then?"

Laurie grinned, "Definitely," she replied. She linked arms with him and, still smiling, walked with him back to the school.


With the situation with Laurie out of the way, Josh felt a great sense of freedom. She'd taken it all surprisingly well, which only proved that she was stronger than everyone thought she was. Josh was glad for it, and had already decided that they were going to be good friends because, after all, it was always good to have friends who you knew adored you.

After saying his goodbyes to Laurie, who'd declined his offer to walk her back to her room by saying something about 'girls' night', Josh made his way toward the dorms, taking the side staircase rather than the elevator as he always did.

There must be someone Upstairs who Josh had seriously wronged, because on the second landing, the door opened and Julian came out floating some three inches off the ground with a leg in a cast.

They both stopped in their tracks and stared.

Josh had been hoping for a meeting between them to occur later –at least a week later, but it'd barely been two days.

"Dr. McCoy let you out of the Med Lab already?" Josh found himself saying dully.

"He might have been busy treating someone else's broken nose," Julian shrugged.

They fell quiet.

"Um," Julian said finally, "Look. I, um, may have been a little out of my mind the other day, and this thing is becoming somewhat of a bad habit,"

Josh felt his heart speed up unexpectedly. "What thing?" he said casually.

Julian made a face. "Don't make me say it," he said.

"Say what?"

He began to fly past, "Never mind," he muttered.

"Keller, wait," Josh reached out suddenly and grabbed Julian by the arm. "Your leg is broken."

"Really?" Julian said scathingly, "I honestly hadn't noticed." He gasped dramatically, "Is that why there's a huge white cast on my leg? I was beginning to wonder why I was flying myself everywhere"

"-Oh, shut up," Josh knelt down and rested his palm over the white cast over where he supposed the side of the knee was.

"What are you-?" Julian began.

"Shut up," Josh said again, "I'm concentrating," He felt along the cast, picking up on where things were twisted and wrong, and set about urging the cells to right themselves. He stood up, feeling only a little light-headed from the energy it took to heal Julian's leg. "I took the liberty of leaving the painkillers in your system. Your leg's going to be sore for a couple of days, but you can take off that ugly cast, at least."

Julian blinked, looking surprised. "Are you supposed to…" then he shook his head, "Sure, whatever." The cast suddenly split open, sending a dust cloud of plaster into the air. "I owe you one," he added, looking like the words were rough coming out of his throat.

"Sure, whatever," Josh said, earning a dirty look thrown over a shoulder as Julian continued on to descend the stairs.

He was decidedly satisfied by the whole interaction, he realized as he went his own way, climbing up to the third floor and exiting out onto the corridor. There was no way he wasn't going to use the favor he'd earned in the most efficient way possible. He tucked it away in his head and vowed to save it for a rainy day.


Santo and Brian burst into the dorm room mere minutes after Julian had returned, bearing Sharpies.

Santo gave a cry of disappointment when they took in his obviously unbroken leg. "Seriously?" he said, throwing down the Sharpies.

"Yo, man, who fixed your leg?" Brian asked, "Dr. McCoy said you'd have a cast for at least four months,"

Julian shrugged, "Foley did it a couple of minutes ago," He turned to search for a sock to put on his bare foot. He found one and put it on and when he turned, he found Santo and Brian still standing in the doorway. Santo was openly gaping while Brian was just giving Julian a look.

"What?" he said irritably,

"Dude, you'd never accept Josh's help," Brian said, "You loathe the guy,"

"'Loathe'? Really, dude?"

Brian shrugged and Santo back him up, albeit in his own, unique way; "Did he, like, take you by surprise?"

"Why do you guys think we don't talk?" Julian said, "He came over to this room a couple of nights ago and I didn't kick him out on sight or anything."

Brian put up his hands, placating, "You two haven't ever made it a secret that you can't really stand each other, though. Why would you accept help from him? No offense, dude, but I woulda thought your ego wouldn't have allowed it."

"Right, because I'd rather be in a cast for a couple of months," Julian snorted. He didn't really like the way the line of questioning was going. "Besides, it's not like he did it out of the goodness of his heart. He'll expect something back," Except from what it'd looked like, Josh had done it out of the goodness of his heart and Julian was the one to promise a favor in return. He was getting a bad feeling about it all –a feeling that, perhaps, something nefarious was in the works. He wouldn't put it past Foley. Who knew what the guy wanted?

When his friends continued to watch him with dubious looks, Julian scowled, "Whatever, guys. Let's go outside and do something."

The next morning, the last of Julian's pain killers had worn off and he swore loudly within seconds of waking. Josh had said his leg would be sore, not that it would feel like Santo fell on it.

Julian flew down to the Med Lab after quickly getting dressed and washed up and Dr. McCoy looked at his cast-less leg for a moment with confusion that quickly turned to exasperation and then a flicker of confusion once more. His furry face smoothed out. "Mr. Foley's work, I presume?" he said.

With a nod, Julian said, "He said it might be a little sore, but I think my leg might have actually died, doc."

"I'll prescribe you something, but you're going to have to come down here twice a week for some physical therapy for at least two weeks," Dr. McCoy said, "Josh hasn't actually completely mastered healing broken bones, but it's been something we've been working on. I suppose he thought you a perfect opportunity for practice," he sighed, turning away to get some pills, "This will be good for today and tomorrow –take one tablet twice daily with meals –but you're going to have to go to the pharmacy in town to pick up the rest of your prescription. It'll cover a total of eight days, but if you aren't feeling anything even before that time is up, I want you to stop taking the pills. Understood?"

"Yeah," Julian said, taking the medicine gratefully, "I'd better get to breakfast, then. Thanks, doc,"

When he walked into the cafeteria, he noticed that Victor, Megan, and Laurie were sitting together and when he went by their table, they stopped to watch him go with strange expressions.

He rolled his eyes. Weirdos.

There must have been some sort of drowsy side effect to the pain killers, because Julian found himself fighting to stay awake more than usual in Business and Economics.

He was startled awake by Mr. Beaubier slamming a huge book about 'winning' at the stock market he'd been ridiculing. "Mr. Keller, am I boring you?" he said, voice dangerously steady. It was the calm before the storm.

Julian sat up straight, "No sir," he said.

Mr. Beaubier didn't even arch an eyebrow. He just looked surprised, not used to such politeness from his most troublesome student. His eyes narrowed. "Pay attention, then," he said, and turned to walk back to the front of the class.

Despite the instruction, as Julian stared forward, he knew his eyes were glazing over.

There was a knock on the door and someone poked his head in, "Mr. Beaubier? Dr. McCoy wants to see Julian,"

His gaze snapped over to the door and he regarded Josh with narrowed eyes.

Mr. Beaubier looked between Julian and Josh with such a narrowed gazed that his eyes had practically become slits in his face. Then he shrugged, "D'accord," he said, "Let me write a pass. Will Keller be long?"

Josh shrugged, noncommittal.

"Gather your things, Mr. Keller," Mr. Beaubier said, holding out the pass.

Santo was giving Julian a look that he did not appreciate as he left his desk; it seemed everyone was giving him weird looks recently. If someone didn't say anything about it soon, he was going to lose his mind.

The hall was silent and it was only when they were in the elevator that Josh said, "We have to talk." He pushed a button to go to the third floor, rather than down to the Med Lab.

Julian sighed, "McCoy didn't say shit, did he?"

"I don't even see him 'til next hour for Philosophy," Josh rolled his eyes.

"What do you want, then?" Julian said sharply. "And great job on my leg, by the way. It still feels broken."

Josh pressed the emergency stop button for the elevator and turned to face Julian, pushing him up against a wall of the small room. "Did you say something to somebody?" he demanded.

"What?"

"I was in Chemistry and Megan asked me if we were going to the Spring Formal together and who was going to ask who and 'don't worry about it, you still have, like, four months to figure out how to ask'."

"What." Julian said flatly.

"That's what I said," Josh said, "So let me ask again: have you said something to someone?"

"No! Hell no!" Julian said in outrage. "As if I'd want somebody to know. Did you say something?"

"No," Josh said. "Shit, what do we do?"

"Deny it, because it's not fucking true."

"Deny what? She never actually accused us of anything,"

"Shit!"

They stood in panicked silence, Julian still pushed up against the wall. "Um."

Josh startled and looked at Julian as if suddenly noticing where they were –how they were. The tension in the elevator suddenly seemed tangible and Josh began to step back.

Julian found that he had reached out to stop him and then they both looked at his hands around Josh's wrists and Josh said, "What're you doing?" but his voice was shaky and Julian could tell that his breathing had picked up pace.

"You took me out of class," Julian said slowly, and somewhere in his head a tiny voice was screaming at him and demanding to know what the hell he was doing also, "And there's still fifteen minutes left. You got somewhere better to be?"

Josh didn't say anything, but comprehension appeared to be dawning over him like the first day of sun after an arctic winter. He swallowed hard; Julian could see his Adam's apple bob up and down. "So what is it this time?" He asked.

"Still on painkillers," Julian said, softer than he cared for.

Josh appeared to consider the answer, but apparently he figured it was good enough, however clearly bullshit, because he leaned in and pressed his mouth to Julian's in a way that was far too chaste for the latter's liking.

He leaned into it, and Josh sighed into his mouth and melted against him.

They really didn't have anywhere better to be.


V.

Julian was completely zoning out, which Sofia found odd because flight class was one of Julian's favorites.

She flew over to him, calling the wind to her aid to help propel her over to hover in the air next to him. "What's wrong?" she asked quietly.

He blinked. "Nothing's wrong," he said, "Why?"

"You've been distracted all hour," she said, "Something on your mind?"

He shook his head and forced his usual smirk onto his lips, "No. Are you worried about me, Sofia?"

She snorted but didn't grace a reply. "Mr. Beaubier is beginning to look suspicious of you," she said instead, "I believe he may think you're ill."

Julian looked around and upon spotting their teacher in the air above them a little ways away, he waved cheerfully.

"Jubilee and Mr. Drake are taking some people to town this Saturday," Sofia said, "Are you signed up to go?"

"Nah, but I probably should. I've gotta pick up a prescription at the pharmacy." Julian didn't say anything else, and looked lost in thought.

Sofia laughed, "You are distracted," she exclaimed.

"What? How?" he said indignantly.

"This is perhaps the only time you haven't tried to turn going to town into a date," Sofia said with wonder.

"Huh? Oh. Do I really do that every single time?" Julian asked.

"Amazing." Sofia said.

"What, do you wanna go out?" he said, appearing increasingly bewildered.

"The girls and I are planning to go shopping," Sofia shook her head, "Noriko wants to convince Laura to buy something that isn't black,"

"Well then you would've said no if I asked, anyway," Julian shrugged.

Sofia just stared at him. "Incredible," she decided. "Who is it?"

"What?"

"You've developed feelings for someone else. That is the only explanation," Sofia declared. She put her hand to her forehead and said dramatically, "I never thought I would see the day when Julian Keller stopped chasing every skirt in sight!"

"I resent that blatant misinterpretation of my character," Julian said, crossing his arms, "And also, there isn't 'someone else'. I haven't 'developed' any feelings, okay? My feeling remain undeveloped."

"Clearly," Sofia sighed, "Alright, who is it that you've been making out with, then?"

Julian froze. "I don't know what you're talking about," he said stiffly, which made Sofia raise her eyebrows because really. He was just making it all too easy.

"You don't?" Sofia said dubiously. "Because you sound like you know exactly what I'm talking about, and it never occurred to you that it was anything beyond making out. God, you're so emotionally constipated. You're lucky you have me,"

"I –I'm –what?"

Sofia patted his shoulder. "You can talk to me about it, if you want,"

"Right," Julian says slowly, "Okay."

Sofia nodded and when he flew away, she sent a message to Laura, who she knew would answer, because Laura did the weird thing where she always answered text messages immediately.

Sofia figured it had something to do with being deprived a childhood.

Laura's response came within a minute: "Yes".


Laura slipped her phone back into her pocket. "That was Sofia," she informed Cessily, who did not ask.

They were Anatomy with Dr. McCoy and had been tasked with labeling a worksheet based on some textbook reading. Laura had already finished.

"Oh yeah?" Cessily said absently, frowning and flipping through her textbook. "What'd she say?"

Laura drummed her fingers on the table. It was an unnecessary fidgety habit that she had carefully taught herself to do in her free time. It made her seem more relaxed. "Sofia is worried about Julian," she explained, "She said he is acting strange and she thinks he may be 'emotionally constipated'. Also, she asked me if I would identify whose scent is primarily on him. I said I would."

Cessily looked up, then, making a face, "Seriously?" she said. She leaned over to ask Josh Foley, sitting alone, at the table nearby, "Has Julian been acting weird lately?"

He made a face also, though Laura noted it was different from Cessily's but also different from the one he usually made. "How should I know?" Josh said irritably.

"Would you say he's emotionally constipated?"

Josh squinted at Cessily, then looked slowly to Laura. He appeared primarily confused, but Laura noted a spike in his heartbeat. "Is this some sort of trick?" he asked finally, "Because I seriously don't care. Sure, I guess he's got problems talking about his feelings. Isn't that the stereotype for us teenage males?"

Cessily turned back to Laura, "Ask Sofia about what she thinks Julian's getting worked up about," she instructed.

"What's this all about, anyway?" Josh asked as Laura went about typing in the question to Sofia.

"Sofia wants Laura to smell Julian," Cessily said, and Laura knew that she was smirking, even though she wasn't looking up.

A message came back to Laura mere seconds after she sent hers, the text incredibly long for having been written in such a short span of time. "Sofia believes that Julian has feelings for someone that he has been hanging out with and/or been making out with recently," Laura informed Cessily dutifully, "She writes something about Julian's obliviousness to romance,"

Cessily slapped the table with a snort of amusement that had Dr. McCoy wandering over to the table, "Is there something particularly humorous about the anatomy of the human arm, Ms. Kincaid?" he said, raising his eyebrows.

"That's a good one, Dr. McCoy," Josh called.

Laura did not tell anyone, but Hank McCoy was one of her favorite teachers. She found strange joy in observing his expressions; there was something utterly fascinating in the way his facial muscles moved with the fur that covered his face. Besides, he was intelligent and kind, and okay, so it was possible that he also reminded her of a giant stuffed animal, and it was more certainly possible that Laura had collected a small (read: extensive) stash of stuffed animals since she'd arrived at Xavier's. She understood why children liked them; they were furry and silent and dependable.

Back in the present moment, Cessily shook her head, "Uh, no, sir," she said, offering an apologetic grin.

When Dr. McCoy wandered away again, Cessily leaned over to Laura and said, "Let me see that text," and plucked Laura's phone out of her hand.

When Laura looked over, she saw that Josh was watching them with a strange expression. Briefly, Laura sniffed at the air and registered that Josh was feeling worried about something. There was something else, beneath it –a slightly faded scent of shampoo and deodorant, both of which were not Josh's usual brands.

Before Laura could give it more thought, Cessily said, "Oh, Sofia also wants to know if we're all still on for shopping this weekend."

Laura nodded. She knew that the objective of the shopping session was to find her a different style of clothing, no matter what the other girls might say about finding themselves something new, but she didn't mind. She appreciated that they cared for her; it was a warm feeling.

"I didn't know you two and Sofia were so close," Josh commented off to the side, "I thought you and her didn't really like each other, X,"

That had been true in the past. "We talked," Laura said, feeling mildly defensive, "And realized that our mutual resentment was unnecessary. We've… buried the hatchet,"

Josh shrugged, though Cessily beamed, looking proud.

"Whatever," Josh said, and turned back to his work.


At dinner, Laura was sure to stand in the line at the cafeteria behind Julian, but even if the scent of food hadn't been so strong, it wouldn't have made a difference; Julian had showered before going to dinner. His hair was still wet.

It didn't make any sense. Laura knew that he didn't have P.E on Thursdays and he didn't have any practice room sessions scheduled. Julian tended to take morning showers, anyway.

That he had, out of the blue, derailed from his routine was peculiar unless…

Laura frowned at the back of Julian's head. "You took a shower," she said.

He jumped and turned around. "Jesus, X," he said.

"You took a shower," Laura said again, "Why?"

His eyes narrowed, "What's it to you?"

Laura searched his expression and observed that his suspicion wasn't real, that he had been expecting this and that, as usual, his rudeness was also a façade. She couldn't understand why he chose to act like a total jerk sometimes, as Cessily would put it.

"I was merely observing that this is out of the norm for you," Laura said. She knew what was coming next when he opened his mouth, "And yes, I do make it a habit to memorize the routines of the people I know. I find predictability comforting."

Julian blinked in surprise. "Uh," he said. He stared at her dumbly for a moment before turning back around to advance toward the café.

Laura wondered it would be best to just venture forth with the truth. Cessily and the others often offered her helpful advice about 'social etiquette', but Laura still knew that sometimes bluntness was the best way to get answers. "Sofia is concerned for your emotional well-being," she told Julian's back.

"Hm," he sounded disinterested, and he didn't turn around.

"I don't have much experience" –she started over: "I don't have any experience in these kind of matters, but have you considered whether you may have romantic investment in whomever you're seeing?"

"What makes everyone think I'm seeing someone?" Julian complained, turning then. "I mean, Christ, can't I stop hitting on anything that moves without it meaning that I'm seeing someone?"

Laura stared at him. "Of course," she said, "But the likelihood that that will occur, keeping your history in mind, is approximately sixteen percent."

Julian gaped at her. "What the hell," he said, and marched into the café to get his dinner.

Laura frowned. Perhaps her last comment had been slightly offensive, but she had been sure everything before that had been polite.


Noriko slid the hangars of clothing down the rack, glancing at each top as it passed, "So what," she said, "You guys all think Julian's making out with someone and it's your business to find out who?"

"Yes!" Cessily said, just as Sofia began to try and explain.

It was Saturday, and the girls had gone with the first group into town, making a beeline for the mall when they arrived. Now Noriko, Sofia, Cessily, Laura, Laurie, Megan, and Sooraya were dispersed in the young woman's section of the latest store they had picked. Sooraya was going to the movies later with Jay ("It's platonic," Sooraya insisted, convincing no one, because it was rare that she ever agreed to accompany them all into town just to shop for clothes), and she was sticking around for little while longer to give the other girls opinions over whatever clothes they picked.

"Look," Sofia said, picking out a green top and holding it up in front of Laura, "Julian and I dated for a while and I know him. He may act like he doesn't care about anything or anyone, but he does. I bet he doesn't even realize he has feelings for whoever he's been seeing."

"How can you not know your feelings for someone if your tongue is stuck halfway down their throat?" Noriko snorted. "No, that color is all wrong," she added, pointing at the green shirt, "It's way too tacky. X, you like purple, right?"

Laura nodded.

"So Laurie," Noriko said, changing the subject as she turned back to searching through the clothes on the rack in front of her, "I noticed you've been hanging out with a certain healer a lot recently. How's that going?"

Laurie shrugged. "I still like Josh," she said, "But it doesn't hurt as much when I know that there's a good reason he wouldn't like me back,"

"What reason would someone have that's good enough to explain why they don't like you back?" Noriko said, sounding affronted on her teammate's behalf.

Laurie gave a small smile that said she appreciated Noriko's protectiveness. "Well. He's gay," she said, "We talked the other day and he said he thought I was cute, but he couldn't be what I wanted him to be and he didn't want to lead me on,"

The other girls were staring at her.

"Laurie," Laura said slowly, "I think you may be mistaken,"

"No, it's totally true," Megan interrupted, coming over from the shoe section, "Tell them what you told me and Victor. I think it'll answer everything,"

Laurie bit her lip, "Well I don't want to ruin anything for them by telling everyone…"

"Oh please, they're going to find out, and now we can all just act surprised when we do find out." Megan rolled her eyes.

"Laurie Collins," Cessily said, eyes narrowing, "What do you know?"

"Josh and Julian are dating!" she blurted out.


Julian had excused himself from Santo and Brian's company to go to the pharmacy and pick up his medication.

His leg was already acting up, sore and stiff, and he gave up trying to walk and just floated into the pharmacy, hoping no one would really be able to notice.

The man behind the counter looked at the prescription and then up at Julian, and said, "Oh, you're the student Dr. McCoy called about. Just a moment." He disappeared behind a shelf and Julian waited patiently for his return.

Outside, it was sunny and it all gleamed off the snow of early March blindingly.

Someone grabbed Julian's arm and dragged him behind the pharmacy.

"What the hell, Foley?" Julian complained when he was pushed against the brick wall of the building.

"Sh," Josh said. "They're looking for me," He put a hand over Julian's mouth and glanced over his shoulder.

"Laura!" he heard Cessily cackling, "Which way did he go?"

Josh stiffened, but whatever Laura said, it was too soft to hear, and it led the voices away from them.

"Thank God she's a decent human being," Josh muttered, relaxing and stepping away from Julian, who glared at him. "What? There's no way she couldn't track my scent,"

"I'm going to repeat this one more time," Julian said, "Because apparently you're a moron. What the hell, Josh?"

Josh sighed, "They found out, somehow," he said.

"They? Found out what?" Julian made a face. He could think of what the answer might be, of course, but preferred to hope he was wrong.

"Them," Josh waved a hand toward where the voices had gone, "and they found out about us. I told you to take a shower the other day,"

"I did," Julian hissed, "X couldn't smell a thing on me except my damn conditioner," He ran a hand through his hair, "What happened?"

Josh tapped his foot impatiently. "I was outside the mall, and they came out and when they saw me, they started congratulating me. Sofia said we were both douchebags sometimes but if I hurt you, she'll murder me and X will help hide the body,"

Julian snorted. He felt his anger seeping away. "Wait. And then you ran from them?"

Josh flushed, golden skin glowing, and Julian burst out in laughter.

That only provoked a comically astonished look on Josh's face that sent Julian into another fit of hysterics. He had to lean against the wall of the pharmacy for support or risk falling into a snow bank.

"Stop laughing," Josh hissed, "It's not –quit it, it's not funny,"

Julian peered up at Josh, saw his indignant expression, and burst into fresh laughter.

Josh kicked him in the shin, scowling. "What the hell," he said, "Shouldn't you be –Jesus, Keller, shouldn't you be worried?"

"You ran," Julian wheezed, "From a bunch of girls,"

"I resent that," Josh said, "And I'm pretty sure they would, too. Also, they're scary girls who think you and I are dating and want details,"

"Aren't we dating?" Julian said, just to get a glimpse of the horrified expression on Josh's face. Julian kept his expression carefully blank for a couple seconds of Josh's spluttering before he cracks and a small grin makes it onto his face.

"You ass," Josh said, punching Julian in the arm when he realized what was going on.

"Oh come on, you should've seen your face," Julian said. He mimicked Josh's stuttered response in a high-pitched voice, "Uh, I –well, I mean I don't want you to think –it's not that you aren't –uh, uh,"

Josh pierced him with a glare that would make weaker teens cower in fear, but Julian only side-stepped when Josh sprang forward to tackle him to the ground. "Shut up," Josh yelled, "Shut up, shut up,"

Julian leered, "Make me," and perhaps he really should have thought that one through, because Josh froze and stared at him.

"I –you" he stammered. His expression turned stony. "Seriously? Fuck off," he snapped, turning on his heal and storming away.

Julian watched him go, and felt that his amusement was quickly fading.


When it turned out that Josh had disappeared, the girls must've turned to hunting down Julian.

They didn't get very far, what with Julian flying onto the roof of the mansion after flying back to the school, and apparently none of them wanted to brave the still chilly weather just to find him.

However, sitting on top of the school was against the rules, and eventually Mr. Drake, or rather, Bobby (most of the kids didn't actually called him Mr. Drake, despite his weak insistence for them to do so 'for the sake of his dignity as an adult') made an appearance, coming up to the roof via ice-slide and decked out in nothing but an atrocious Hawaiian T-shirt and khaki shorts.

"Hey, Keller," Bobby said, sitting down next to Julian. "I'm morally obligated to ask you what's wrong,"

"Nothing's wrong," Julian muttered. It was pretty cold, and two hours out in the cold wearing only a jacket and gloves made him think he might actually just be frozen, sitting where he was, and that was why he hadn't moved yet.

"Naturally," Bobby said reasonably. "I mean, that's usually what I said when Annie –uh, Nurse Ghazikhanian –asked me. You know, back in the day. Not that it was that long ago –or like I'm super old –I'm not saying I'm super old or anything,"

Julian fixed the teacher with a look he hoped conveyed how unhelpful Bobby's current comfort talk was going. Honestly, he wasn't that sure why the teachers always thought they had to give the kids a talk. How about some space for once?

Bobby seemed to be thinking the same thing, "Look, I suck at this. The only reason I got sent up here was because I don't get cold, and it was me or Jean-Paul –ahaha, I mean, Mr. Beaubier –who also doesn't get cold, but let's be real, would he be any better at this than me?"

Julian snorted, a sign of agreement.

"So if you don't wanna talk about what's wrong, will you at least come back inside with me?" Bobby said, "You'll probably be able to figure out your thoughts when you're not freezing your nose and ears off."

"I'm not trying to figure anything out," Julian said stubbornly.

"So you're hiding from someone?"

That was more accurate, but Julian would still admit nothing. He stood. "Whatever," he mumbled, and launched himself off the roof.

Behind him, he could have sworn he heard Bobby muttering something about how dramatic kids were these days, which was just unfair considering he was the one who slid around on an ice slide and yelled bad ice-related puns at villains.

Julian managed to avoid any of the girls who were out for his blood, and hoped that they hadn't gotten to any of his roommates.

It was almost eight o'clock, so he expected the room to be empty anyway as Brian and Santo usually hung out with their classmates in the Rec Room on weekend evenings.

When he opened the door, he froze. "What are you doing here?"

Josh jumped to his feet, getting off the bed, and neared Julian, only to stop about a foot away.

"Josh," Julian said slowly, closing the door, "What are you doing here?"

There was something strained about Josh's expression, blank as it was.

"You were on the roof," Josh said,

"Was I really?" Julian gasped.

"Stop," Josh said, "Why did you go up there?"

"Uh, because Cessily couldn't find you and decided the better option to finding out more about our supposed love life was questioning me?" Julian said.

"So you were hiding," Josh said, "From a bunch of girls,"

Julian narrowed his eyes, "Are you mocking me?" he said.

"Payback's a bitch," Josh said.

"Look," Julian sighed, "I'll talk to Cess in the morning, but honestly, this is all your fault. Apparently Laurie was the one who got the idea we were dating from something you said."

"If you want to talk about whose fault this is," Josh snapped, "Let me remind you that you were the one to kiss me that first time,"

"I was drunk," Julian protested, "That time and the second time"

"-don't even try to argue with me about consent"

"-well you weren't drunk either times,"

"I was tipsy the second time"

"What about the third time?"

"You started that one, too," Josh hissed, "And also most of the times, actually, so what does that say about you?"

"You didn't stop me," Julian said, but it was a weak argument.

"Why did you kiss me the first time?" Josh said,

"I was drunk,"

"That's not a good reason. Why did you kiss me the second time?" Josh said,

"You kissed me the second time,"

"You told me to,"

"Not specifically," Julian said.

"God this is such a waste of time," Josh said exasperatedly, "You're a fucking moron, do you know that? I just want to know what the hell you want, okay? What're you doing?"

Julian considered saying 'I have no damn idea' and pulling Josh into a kiss, but this wasn't a porno or even a romcom –hold on, also, no he was not thinking about kissing Josh (a traitorous part of his mind points out that he can no longer deny shit). Unfortunately (okay, he's not going to backtrack on this anymore), life is not a rom-com or a porno, so Julian was set with the sad task of trying to figure out an answer while Josh was still waiting for one.

"I," Julian scrubbed a hand over his face, "How am I supposed to know?"

"What do you mean, how are you supposed to know?" Josh said, "I'm trying to figure out if we –if we're…" he trailed off, looking lost for a moment.

"What?" Julian laughed harshly because he knew what was trying to be said and he hadn't ever considered it and couldn't believe Josh had. "If we were dating?"

Josh's expression hardened like it had earlier, out in the snow behind the pharmacy. He surged forward but kissed Julian softly, cupping his face between two gold-skinned hands. "Don't be stupid," he said quietly, pulling away before Julian could really do anything in response. Then he shoved Julian to the side and brushed past him to open the door.

It didn't even slam behind him because Josh was too passive-aggressive for that and so he carefully closed the door after he left.