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The Boy Behind the Mask

Chapter Text

     Zacharie was that weird kid who wore a mask vaguely resembling a cat to school, and he never took it off. He didn't speak very often, either. Though when he did, it was almost always insightful and useful information. Everybody teased him for it, though, somehow, it didn't seem to get to him.

     Zacharie's messy and untamable black hair spilled over his porcelain white mask with a smile bearing three teeth and two large oval eye holes. They were covered with thick black material on one side that he could see perfectly fine through, though it was difficult to see his eyes through it. His usual attire included a white sweater with a heart in the middle and black leggings or black skinny jeans, and today was no exception.

     The only reason he wore the mask was because he had scars on his face. And he'd rather have people staring at him because he's wearing a mask and being mysterious than have people staring at him for scars echoing across his face. That, and he liked the attention. Well, some of the time, he did. Other times, people would tease him for it.

     He didn't really mind it, though. It usually didn't get physical, which was good, because if it did he'd have to explain to his foster parents why he came home with more scars than he already had.

     His school days were boring ones, he didn't dare eat at school in fear of seeing some of the scars around his mouth.

     Zacharie didn't really pay attention to his surroundings. He didn't need to a lot of the time, his height stood at four foot ten, making him very short and nimble so it was easy to get around people in crowds. Though somehow, someone else hadn't been looking where they'd been going, and the two bumped into each other. Zacharie, being shorter by many inches, stumbled back slightly, looking up to meet the... orange gaze? He had orange eyes? How peculiar.

     Aside from his unique eyes, the boy stood at about five foot ten, more than a whole foot taller than Zacharie. He wore a black baseball cap over his undercut. The top part of his hair (which was mostly covered by his hat) was colored blonde, and the bottom part was a deep chocolate brown. Much more attractive that Zacharie's pitch black hair, or a least he thought so. He also wore a baseball uniform for the school.

     "Sorry about that!" Zacharie said, a bit more than flustered. He laughed, and he was glad that the much taller (and attractive) one couldn't see how red his face had become.

     "It's fine." The man just went on his way. Zacharie thought he had remembered hearing him called the Batter around, he was supposedly the best baseball player in the league. And completely consumed with his talent. Sigh.

     Zacharie walked to class dreamily and with a half-smile on his face. He was in love.

Chapter Text

     Zacharie sighed, propping his head in his hand and doodling on his paper instead of paying attention to the lesson in front of him. His mind was wandering to earlier, how he had bumped into the Batter... and how tall and intimidating he was. Though oddly attractive.

     The teachers couldn't tell where he was looking, anyway, as long as he kept the mask at least tilted up slightly, so he could doodle and daydream all he wanted in class

     The lesson was taught with time to spare at the end of the class, so the teacher reminded everyone to attend the baseball game after school to support their team. Zacharie perked up a bit at that, and for the first time in that class, he actually listened to something the teacher said.

     "...four o'clock will be the JV game, varsity starts at five-thirty. Be sure to stay hydrated, it's going to be hot outside!" Zacharie began to pack up his things moments before the bell rang, slinging his backpack over his shoulder and headed for the library. That's where he spent his lunch period, he liked to read.

     He scanned his school ID card and practically made a bee line for the science fiction/fantasy section. Those were his favorite types of books, after all.

     Zacharie thumbed through the books. He had already read most of them, and there wasn't a title he didn't recognize. He picked out his favorite fantasy book, Majyk, and checked it out of the library. He could use a brush up on the series, anyhow.

     The rest of the day passed at an agonizingly slow pace. Dragging on and on, and seeming to loop unendingly.

     Finally, though, the school day ended. Zacharie had written down the times of the games on a small sheet of paper that he could easily reference. What he didn't know was which team the Batter would be on, varsity or junior varsity. If he had to guess, he would likely have been on the varsity team, though he wouldn't dare make assumptions, so the plan was to just attended both.

     Of course, it was only around three o'clock, and the JV game started at four, so he's have to entertain himself for a whole hour before the games. He dropped his backpack off in his locker (so he wouldn't be carrying it around everywhere) while thinking about what to do between the game times. Maybe he'd go to the library, maybe he'd just kind of... wait.

     Despite what probably would have been the right or sensible choice, Zacharie decided to just kill time by walking around campus.

     It would be quite poetic to say that his footsteps echoed through the empty halls, though that wasn't exactly true. Lingering students hanging around by their lockers hummed in discussion, and the after school clubs were in session. Some of the doors were open, and Zacharie could hear murmuring and laughter coming from the clubs. His footsteps hardly made a dent in the toned noise filling the hallways.

     He walked into a part of the school that was a bit less traveled, now would be the correct time for such eloquent phrasing. As he walked, he passed the old baseball field nobody ever went to.

     Zacharie stopped, looking out at the abandoned baseball field with curious eyes. The Batter was there with the pitching machine set to its highest setting, and yet the Batter seemed to hit every single ball that came his way.

     Zacharie watched in awe for quite some time before Batter began to feel the gaze on him. He stopped and looked over his shoulder to see some strange boy in a cat-like mask staring back at him. The two stared at each other from across the field before Zacharie decided to say something, shouting out towards the other.

     "Don't you have a game to be getting to, amigo?" As Zacharie said this, Batter looked down to the watch on his wrist and shook his head.

     "Doesn't start until 5:30." Zacharie clicked his tongue on the roof of his mouth. So he was in varsity baseball, how fancy. Zacharie continued to stand there and watch for a while, fascinated with how determined and dedicated the Batter was.

     Batter eventually got rather... uncomfortable with Zacharie watching him. He walked over to turn off the machine and brought his bat with him as he walked over to the boy with the mask.

     Zacharie wasn't exactly leaning against the fence, more like he had looped his fingers through the small openings in it. The Batter did the same, though he stood quite a bit taller than him. When the two were right next to each other, their height difference was much more noticeable and apparent. The Batter practically towered over the small form of Zacharie.

     It was just about then that the Batter recognized Zacharie. "Didn't I bump into you earlier?" Batter squinted his bright orange eyes, looking into the eye holes of the mask and attempting to see through the thick layers of fabric.

     "Sí." Zacharie replied, nodding a bit. He was blushing just out of view. "And, again, I'm so sorry about that."

     The Batter shrugged, loosening his grip on the fence and tightening his grip on the bat. "Why were you watching me?"

     "I love baseball." Zacharie didn't know the first thing about baseball. He supposed he could either admit he was basically stalking the other, or he could say he enjoyed baseball.

     "What's your favorite team?" Batter seemed to immediately perk up at the mentioning of baseball. Crap.

     "I dunno," Zacharie shrugged, pulling off a stunt no man should be able to pull off, "I like all of them, but I guess if I had to pick I'd say the Brewers."

     He had literally just thought of a random name and had hoped it was a valid team. And apparently it was, because Batter started to talk about their wins and losses this season, and how they were absolutely crushed by the Dodgers.

     Zacharie listened and nodded at appropriate intervals, not so much interested in what he was saying and more so intrigued by the silky sheets of his voice that were being spoken. Before either of them had noticed, it was 5:18, and the Batter had to get to his game before it started so his team could go over the lineup.

     "I'll walk you?" Zacharie asked hopefully. The Batter accepted his offer, glad for some company, and the two of them walked to the other baseball field.

Chapter Text

     Zacharie slipped his hands in his front pockets, feeling extremely giddy on the inside as he and Batter walked in silence to the baseball field. He didn't know why he felt this way, and right about then wasn't the right time to be doing a feelings analyzation.

     They reached the field all too soon, and the Batter turned to Zacharie. "Will you be watching the game?"

     "Of course." Zacharie said. That was his plan, anyway, though he wouldn't dream of telling the Batter that he came to the game just to see him. A ghost of a smile made its way onto Batter's face, and he turned to go join his team in the dugout.

     Zacharie wasn't the first person there, there were people that had shown up for the junior varsity game and stayed for varsity, and people were beginning to file in in small groups, chittering and laughing as they took their seats. Zacharie decided to take a seat near the front, but not completely in the front. He figured that would be a good enough view, but, knowing zip about baseball, he truly had no idea.

     The game passed by what would generally be considered eventfully, though, again, the masked boy didn't know what was going on. However, he cheered when others cheered, (and especially louder when the Batter was up to plate), and watched the game, trying to make a guess as to what was going on.

     The game ended shortly after the Batter hit a home run at the bottom of the seventh, causing everyone to erupt into cheers. Zacharie just smiled and clapped as the other ran around the plates seemingly without a care in the world. The Batter was lifted up onto the shoulders of the other teammates as they continued cheering, melting into loud talking and laughing. Zacharie was the only one left in the bleachers at this point, save for the baseball equivalent of soccer moms staying behind for their sons. Zacharie figured he should probably leave then at this point, so he stood up and began to exit the ballpark

     The Batter noticed Zacharie leaving. He hopped off the shoulders of his teammates and jogged on over to the masked boy.

     "Hey, headed home so soon?" Batter asked softly. Zacharie nearly spun around and laughed with glee at the other's voice. He didn't, though, instead turning his head slightly so his mask faced the baseball star.

     "Yeah," Zacharie replied with a shrug, "I've got a project that won't do itself."

     "Ah, okay." The Batter replied indifferently. "Talk to you later, then."

     Zacharie retrieved his backpack from his conveniently located locker, and headed off campus. It was getting a bit later than he would have liked it to be, so he made sure to keep walking at a decently pace. The silence in the streets unnerved him.

     He made it home, and found his foster parents doing what they normally did: cooking and watching television. Typical stuff for a "typical family", which they honestly were not.

     "I'm home," Zacharie called out. Katie, his foster mom, hopped off the couch to greet him.

     "Where were you?" Katie asked concernedly, "Your father and I were so worried!"

     "At the baseball game," Zacharie replied, shrugging softly. Upon hearing the commotion, Zacharie's other parental unit, Pierre, came from his post in the kitchen and enveloped Zacharie into a hug.

     "Don't keep us waiting like that," Alex said, ruffling Zacharie's hair. It's not like it was doing any more damage to it than it already was.

     "I thought I told you about the game earlier in the week."

     "We didn't think you'd go to it," Katie replied, "You're not exactly the sportiest person around, you won't even watch college football with me."

     Zacharie just shrugged, choosing to keep his mouth shut for the time being. His foster parents didn't exactly seem to mind, Pierre dashed back into the kitchen to save his food from burning into a flaming inferno, and Katie's attention was snapped back to the red dirt rivalry game after the opposing team made a touchdown. The masked one went to his room and set his bag down, his cat rubbing against his leg and purring in the most insistent manner. Humans adore that. Zacharie picked up his cat and held him in his arms, stroking his fur gently.

     "Hola, Pablo. Nice to see you." Pablo just purred and rubbed against Zacharie's hand, snuggling up to the warm human whose arms he lay in.

     Zacharie sat down on his bed and set Pablo down next to him, slipping his laptop out of it's case and booting it up. His first priority was to complete his homework, then he'd spend the next hour pretending he had more homework, but actually surfing the internet like the introvert he truly was meant to be.

     However, during the research of a Very Important Article, an external link caught Zacharie's eye. He clicked the link, and it redirected him to a local news page.

POLICE INVESTIGATING STRANGE DEATHS GO MISSING

          Over the course of the past week, there have been inexplicable deaths at various locations in the nearby area, and they all look like they were murdered by a rather large dog, too large to be an actual dog. The victims' bodies are torn to shreds and several limbs seem to be missing, which the police have concluded cannot be caused by a dog. The police on the case mysteriously disappeared on Tuesday, and have not been heard from since. The remaining police on the force are still unsure as to the causes of the deaths, and have issued a warning to all citizens to stay inside their homes past 7 pm. If any suspicious activity is spotted, please report it to the police immediately. 

     The article made Zacharie feel slightly nauseous, and a feeling of dread seemed to loom over his room now. The silence that was comforting now only seemed deafening and uncomfortable. Even Pablo seemed to be humbled by even being in the presence of such a heavy article.

     Zacharie checked the date on the article; it was written yesterday. No chance of it being outdated. He'd have to... he wasn't sure what he'd have to do, but he'd definitely have to do something about it, if only returning home earlier than usual.

     When Zacharie had 'finished' his homework, he went back into the living room to find his foster parents oogling over the tv and what seemed to be the last shreds of a football game. They usually liked it when he joined them, even if he didn't really watch or care at all. Just the company was nice he guessed.

     He sat down on the cushioned chair with the rather tall back that sat at an angle and next to the couch. People ran back and forth across the TV screen in a desperate attempt to get the ball for the final touchdown. One of the teams eventually did, and that's when Zacharie's step mother erupted into cheering, hopping up from her seat and throwing her arms into the air victoriously. Zacharie never understood why she did that, it's not like the people in the stadium or the players could hear her cheering and rooting for their team.

     After Katie had managed to calm herself down a bit, Pierre asked Zacharie about his day. Zacharie just responded with the usual "same as always, nothing new". Somehow, the conversation was steered towards the murder cases Zacharie had read about. He tilted his head to the side a bit as he recalled information to be useful to the conversation, even though he didn't speak up.

     "I heard that it's just a guy savagely mauling people to death," His foster mother said in awe.

     Pierre wasn't so thrilled with the talk of it being a human. "It can't be though, no one would do that to just... random people, right?"

     "I dunno," Katie sighed, stretching her arms behind her head nonchalantly, reclining back against the couch. "People do some weird and crazy things nowadays."

     "Maybe... it's an escaped zoo animal," Pierre offered to the conversation, folding his hands. "Perhaps a lion, or a crocodile."

     "That only attacks at night? No way. Plus, wouldn't officials tell the public if a dangerous animal escaped the local zoo? And wouldn't the people in the surrounding area hear the snarling or agonizing screams? Someone had to knock these suckers out before he did them off."

     Pierre only nodded at her logic, looking down at his hands. Zacharie made a mental note of all the things having been said by either party, this was a rather fascinating thing for him to hear about.

     After a bit more talk of this, then eventually talk of uninteresting things Zacharie sat through politely, he excused himself to bed, he was getting fairly sleepy. He trailed his hand along the smooth, off-white walls of the house as he went. When he got to his room, he began to change into his pajamas. That was one of his least favorite parts of the night, because he could see his burn marks and scars adorning his chest and upper arms. More lay dormant on his back, though, thankfully, he didn't have to look at those all the time. He slipped his pajama shirt on and walked over to the window, folding his arms on the windowsill and looking up at the stars.

     He brought a slow hand up to the back of his head, loosening the strings that kept his mask around his face and letting it fall into his open palms. Everything seemed so much brighter without a thin layer of fabric between his eyes and the world.

     Zacharie's face could be faintly seen reflected in the window. His face was a pale mess. Freckles ghosted his face on his cheekbones and left trails over to his nose, highlighting the single, long and broad line that went across his face diagonally, above his right eye, over the bridge of his nose, and under his left eye. His eyes were a forest green. Additionally, small scars adorned the corners of his mouth, scattered seemingly capriciously.

     He sighed, closing his eyes and pressing his forehead against the glass of the window. The cool surface soothed him.

     When Zacharie found himself slowly drifting off to sleep, he moved from his place at the window and slipped between the sheets of his bed, laying his weary head down on his pillow. Thoughts of slumber began approaching his consciousness as he enveloped himself in sleep and dreams.

     Zacharie was roused from his sleep by his phone, singing to him in order to alert him that it was time to get ready for school.

I come home in the morning light
My Mother says "when you gonna live your life?"
Oh Mother dear, we're not the fortunate ones
And girls
They wanna have fu-un
Oh, girls just wanna have fun

     Zacharie reached over and turned off his alarm, yawning softly as he slowly sat up. He didn't want to leave his bed, it was so warm and comfortable.

     Alas, he needed to get a move on. He stood up slowly, steadying himself when the blood began to rush from his head, making him dizzy. Zacharie changed into his usual ensemble, tying his mask into place as he slipped his phone into his backpack and dragged it downstairs with him.

     His foster parents weren't awake yet, apparently, so Zacharie slipped a bagel in the toaster for himself. The pop of the toaster, despite being expected, still made him flinch.

     His foster mom came downstairs, pulling her bathrobe around herself and yawning. "Good morning, Zach."

     " 'Morning, Katie." Zacharie spread cream cheese on his bagel. Josie sighed.

     "You don't have to call us by our names, you know, we're your parents now." She rummaged through the cabinet, getting out the cereal and a bowl. Zacharie didn't respond after that, but just ate his bagel after slipping his mask up just slightly. She wasn't his mom.

     He finished his bagel and made sure everything he needed was in his backpack before heading over to the door.

      "...Have a good day." Zacharie didn't respond as he closed the door and began to walk to school.

Chapter Text

     The air around him seemed to be filled with millions of tiny lightning bugs in the dismal gray sky. Of course, it was just the way the headlights of the school bus shattered through the pouring rain, but Zacharie liked to think he was in a fantasy world all of his own. The nasty names being thrown around the hallways wherever he went were just drifting ghosts of the people they came from, but he was immune so long as he kept his eyes on the prize. Well... Zacharie wouldn't exactly be fond of assigning the materialistic term to another person, but, well, Hollywood has gotten the best of this generation.

     The fog around the school was so thick that it was difficult to see who it was with the unoriginal snide remarks this time. Zacharie found his way, though, and walked to his first class with a small sigh. The barren, pale landscape painting the room as an untarnished paradise sent shivers through Zacharie's spine. The cold and unforgiving classrooms were always his least favorite part of the day, aside from the exponentially unfunny comments strewn towards him.

     His next few classes weren't any more eventful. The storm outside didn't show any sign of rolling to a stop, and as the students hurried through the soaking rain, the school became in attitude as it was in the atmosphere-- dreary and dismal.

    Before Zacharie knew it, the day was almost through. The teacher he was supposed to be aiding preferred to run the class by himself, so he would let Zacharie do whatever he'd like so long as it didn't disrupt the class. So he'd sit towards the back end of the classroom, farthest away from any of the students as possible. For many reasons, almost too many to count, but the biggest reason was that it was a class of freshman, and he didn't want to get involved in the post-middle school drama that almost always occurred within such a group. The class had been passing by with such ease, surely the teacher wouldn't notice if Zacharie used his phone, at least for the purposes of filling up the mellow hum of class discussion with music.

     Before he found himself able to reach for his headphones, however, a siren began blaring through the school, echoing and bouncing from place to place. The teacher stood up and paused, counting the alarm's duration. Zacharie counted with him. A flurry of voices rose up in the class, some asking questions about the bell, others mumbling incoherently.

     The bell ceased ringing. A petrified look crossed the teacher's face.

     "Get under your desks," He hissed, scurrying for his keys. Panic fell upon the class as people rushed beneath their desks, whimpering and whispering anxiously. Zacharie followed suit, grabbing his backpack and taking shelter beneath the desk. The bell was ten seconds long, which meant that there was an armed intruder on campus, and the teacher only explained what was going on after the lights were off, the blinds were shut, and the door was locked. His terrified voice quivered as he spoke, letting the students of the class in on what Zacharie had deduced moments before.

     A hush fell over the classroom. The teacher hid beneath his own desk, and what seemed like hours but likely were only minutes went by before a shadow passed before the window. The anticipating air about the classroom quickly tensed to a fearful quiet. Zacharie looked up at the shaddow. It was human, and whoever it was was dragging something long and rounded behind him, metallic and uneven scraping taking the place of the silence. The figure's footsteps were staggered, unpredictable, leaving Zacharie in curious terror as he watched the intruder stop in front of their classroom.

     Zacharie braced himself as the door wobbled. There was a pause. He didn't dare look.

     A loud clash of metal was heard as the handle bent, and the door drifted open...

Chapter Text

     The door swung open with a crash. Heavy footsteps clicked against the monotonous linoleum, perfectly matching the color of the ceiling-- a rich, soft, and blissful gray. Something thick and dark dripped from the man that came walking through the door, steps rhythmic yet unpredictable, as if part of an off-beat orchestra. All that was visible from where Zacharie was hidden was the thick cleats supporting a thin and frail figure, and the back end of a baseball bat, saturated with an aura that made his stomach tie itself into knots.

     There was a moment of silence where nobody dared let out a breath- hoping, waiting, praying that things would be okay. This had to be a drill. It was the only logical explanation, the school was holding one of their district-enforced drills. Only, things were a lot more realistic than previous drills, sinking a hole in the notion that everything was fine.

     Zacharie hoped that he was imagining the snarling and heaving breaths filling the room with an air of dread. Zacharie could feel himself begin to shake, cold sweat beading up on the back of his neck. He took a breath, forcing the exhale to stay in his chest for longer than he would have liked, as he hoped it wouldn't make any sound.

     Whoever it was drifted their way to one side of the classroom, almost as if their feet weren't moving at all. The sound of carelessly disregarded desks crashing to the floor mingled with the screaming of the students created a chaotic blanket over the looming dread that hung in the air. Even through the discord, Zacharie began to poke holes in this hour and decided that it must have been a dream. Yeah... a dream would have to make sense. It has to. Right? He just had to wake up.

     Zacharie snapped out of his thinking as he watched as the teacher slowly and shakily stand up from his desk, reaching for the gun mandated by the school, but it was already too late. A gun shot pierced the air with the sound, shattering a window. Water began raining in through the now open hole in the wall, accompanied by a strong wind that only seemed to make things worse. Not long after the window had broken, a sickening thwack echoed through the room. What could only be described as the sound a sack of meat makes when it hits the floor soon followed.

     The students were smacked with the blunt weapon one by one, and the panic in the room only seemed to grow as the students who fought back were... stabbed? and thrown back against the wall. Zacharie clutched his knees close, shutting his eyes tightly. There was nothing he could do. There was nothing he could do. He could hear the blood pounding in his ears, adrenaline leaving him lightheaded and sick to his stomach, and his shallow breathing wasn't helping. He wished he'd been nicer to his foster parents. He wished he'd given his... his mom a hug this morning. He wished he'd stayed home, and he wished he could disappear, slipping up his mask and burying his face in the soft fabric of his sweater, waiting, waiting...

     It seemed like forever, but the moment arrived where the classroom was dead quiet. Everyone was... dead... and Zacharie was the only one left. He didn't dare look up, warm breath heating the fabric beneath him and giving him a calming sense of security. It must have been only moments, but he could almost forget what had happened. His comfort was short-lived as he was forced back to now, interrupted by slow footsteps headed his way. Fuck fuck fuck. Tears began gathering at the edges of Zacharie's eyes as he realized that today was the last day of his life. There were so many things he had left to do. I-I haven't even graduated High School or attended college, or- or experienced a real relationship, I... fuck, I can't die today, I can't die, I... 

     The desk slowly scraped back from Zacharie's head. He could feel someone standing over him, and in the brief moment it took to realize that, his body made the decision. This was a life-or-death situation, a fight-or-flight conflict...

     And his body chose to fight.

     Something reached towards him, and Zacharie's fist made contact with whatever it was. He leaped up to his feet and his mask slipped to the floor, but that was the least of his worries right then. He could vaguely see a figure through his teary and blurred gaze, so he lunged. He was met with significantly less resistance than he thought. His jump was way over calculated, and the figure and Zacharie both went toppling to the floor. The person was trying to say something.

     Once Zacharie had the chance to wipe his eyes and let go of the breath he was holding, he looked at who he had pinned against the floor.

     "Cher Batter?" Zacharie exclaimed in surprise, feeling the blood rush to his face as he scooted back aways. The lights of the classroom had been turned on, and there was a rather large crowd of people he could see gathered just outside the door. Zacharie's eyes widened, darting around, trying to make sense of the situation.

     "Ow..." The Batter mumbled, sitting back up. "What the hell?"

     "What happened here?" The principal exclaimed more than asked, rushing over to the two boys.It was now that Zacharie began noticing the distinct lack of weight on his face, turning towards his broken mask with an almost look of panic on his face.

     It was now that Zacharie began noticing the distinct lack of weight on his face, turning towards his broken mask with an almost look of panic on his face. "H-huh?" He asked, the response more just the shock of his broken face-wear. He breathed in sharply as he collected the shards in his hands, turning his back to the classroom and running out the door. He just needed to... get away, the crowd of people was making him anxious, and he needed to fix his mask, and-

     The color drained from his face as he skidded to a halt outside the classroom. The school faculty was there, standing outside of the classroom, but the thing that shocked Zacharie the most was the mass of students pushing to get past the teachers. They unanimously looked at him, and there was a brief moment of recognizance before Zacharie regained his scrambled consciousness and bolted.

Chapter Text

Zacharie ran until he couldn’t feel his legs, until his chest heaved and pushed and forced air in and out of his lungs. His thoughts raced, running marathons in his head, too quick to keep up with. He didn’t stop until he’d run through the school gates, and across the street, and down the block. He wasn’t sure where he was going, he just needed to get away. He rushed past the empty streets and seemingly vacant houses, where he tripped over a broken piece of sidewalk and crashed to the floor. He cried out in surprise, the pads of his hands scuffed the floor and had begun to bleed.

Zacharie sat up. Breathing was difficult. His heart pounded in his ears. His head felt like it was about to explode. He could taste a metallic flavor in his mouth, the reason he didn’t run anymore. A small daisy had pushed its way up through the rifts in the asphalt, catching Zacharie’s attention for a moment. Everything spun around the unmasked boy as he struggled to stay conscious, he couldn’t pass out in the middle of the street, in the middle of…

Where was he?

He looked up, away from the cracked cement, as it became easier for him to draw breath. The relief of having caught his breath and the happiness he felt when the street stopped spinning was quickly saturated with fear and anxiety as he realized he didn’t know where he was. The neighborhood around him didn’t seem familiar. Zacharie looked back the way he came, he didn’t recognize that either. He reached for his phone, and quickly realized that he’d left it in his school bag, back in the classroom he’d dropped it in.

His body shook as he forced himself to stand up. His palms had mostly stopped bleeding, but small bits of gravel had embedded themselves in the skin, he figured he’d deal with that when he got back home. Zacharie set off back the way he’d come from, or at least, the way he thought he’d come from. He wasn’t too sure, his mind was still vaguely disoriented and direction was hard to tell.

“Zacharie?” He turned towards the woman’s voice. A tall and almost painfully thin girl stood about ten feet from him. She wore a black-and-white striped shirt tucked into high-waisted pastel blue jeans, and her white bobbed hair framed her ghostly pale face.

“Simone?” He asked in disbelief, smile pulling its way at his face.

She grinned and came sprinting towards Zacharie, tackling him to the ground. “Je n’en crois pas mes yeux, mon petit canard est ici! Tu m'as manqué très beaucoup! Ç a roule, mon canard?”

Zacharie laughed softly at his old nickname as a wave of nostalgia passed over him, replacing his anxiety. “Je vais bien, je vais bien… mais, mon fille de sucre, je pensais que tu as déménagé en Allemagne après l'école primaire! Qu'est-il arrivé?”

Simone stood, gesturing with her hands as she spoke. “Enfin, j'ai fait! Ma famille et moi avons déménagé en Allemagne, c’est vrai, mais nous avons déménagé ici, allez savoir pourquoi…” She rolled her eyes at that, holding out a hand to help Zacharie back to his feet. “Pourquoi es-tu ici? Est-ce que ta famille a déménagé ici aussi?”

He took her hand, brushing his hands on his jeans. “Ah, enfin... c'est une longue histoire, c’est naze, t’sais? Bref, mes parents ne sont… ils ne sont plus ici.”

“Quoi?!” Simone exclaimed. “Je suis tellement désolé, j-”

“Ne sois pas désolé, tu connaissais mes parents tout aussi bien que moi.”

There was a silence between the two before Zacharie let out a gentle chuckle. “I seem to be lost, ma chérie. Do you know where we are?”

“Of course! Alma Drive.” Simone replied, hugging Zacharie again. He laughed sweetly. “Where are you going to?”

The two of them walked together and chatted about menial things that generally aren’t important to the character arc. It almost made Zacharie forget about the trauma he’d experienced less than an hour prior. Of course, until he thought about the fact that he almost couldn’t remember, which made everything seem all the more real to him. Narratives can be confusing, no?

“Ducky?” Simone asked, head dropping at an angle while she looked over at the other. “You okay?”

“Of course, Sucre.” He smiled gently. “Just thinking.”

“If you say so,” She didn’t seem convinced, but she didn’t press it.

Chapter Text

“Zacharie?” Katie asked with haste as she heard the gears of the door unlocking, “Zach, are you okay? We got a call from your school saying that there was an intru--” darting around the corner to see her foster son walking through the door with an unfamiliar woman. “What happened to your mask? Who is this? Zach, what’s going on?”

“Who’s what now?” Pierre asked, joining everyone in the entryway as Zacharie and Simone stepped inside. Simone gave a little bit of a wave to Zacharie’s foster parents, but they didn’t wave back, so she returned her arm to her side.

“Katie, Pierre, this ma fille de sucre , Simone.” Zacharie put an arm around Simone’s shoulders. “Simone, meet Katie and Pierre, my foster parents.”

“Ma fille de…” Katie repeated quietly, butchering each word. “How do you two know each other?”

“We knew each other as children--back in Salisbury--and our parents were… close.”

Simone smiled. “You could say that.” As she spoke, Zacharie’s parents noticed that they had very similar accents, but hers was just a bit heavier.

“When middle school came along, she moved from France out to Germany, and we hadn’t spoken since. We tried to remain penpals, but it was difficult once my parents moved to America, then once I entered the foster care system. I was always moving from family to family, address to address… it was hard to keep up.”

“But I moved here from Germany a few months ago, and we were reunited when mon petit canard went for a run earlier!”

“After what happened at school, I went for a run, I’ll… tell you more about it later, but I wasn’t sure where I was, so ma chère walked me back,” Zacharie smiled at Simone, and she wrapped her arms around him.

“You two seem really close,” Katie remarked.

“We were best friends,” Simone explained, turning to Zacharie. “ Mon canard , I bet my parents would be thrilled to meet you again. They always loved you.”

“We could invite your family over for dinner one day,” Pierre suggested with a smile.

“That would be fantastique! ” Simone laughed, lacing her fingers in Zacharie’s. She glanced at the clock above the entryway and gasped. “ Oh zut , it’s so late! I have to be home for…” She looked at Zach, “ Leçon de danse? How do you say that?”

“Dance practice,” Zacharie supplied. Simone nodded, letting go of him and taking both of his hands in hers.

“I really enjoyed speaking with you again! You still have my number, yes?” Zacharie nodded and pat his pocket. Simone grinned, squealing softly. “Wonderful! Goodbye, Mr. and Mrs.! Au revoir , Zachy, bisous !”

Bisous ,” Zacharie smiled back. He and Simone pressed their cheeks together and made a kissing noise on either side, and she headed out.

“You two are awfully close,” Katie commented once Simone had left. “Were you…”

Zacharie shook his head with a smile. “No, just very close.” When his foster parents still regarded him with an odd expression, he explained, “Kisses on the cheek are a French tradition, it’s polite.”

They exchanged conversation about what had happened at school earlier, and Zacharie explained everything. As soon the lighter topic was dropped, he’d felt like crying. Breaking down and crying. Katie and Pierre held him in their arms, comforting him, and for the first time, Zacharie wasn’t protesting.

When he excused himself to search for his old mask, Zacharie caught his own gaze in the mirror, and watched the rise and fall of his shoulders with every breath. He stared at his reflection for a moment longer, touching the cool glass with a tentative hand.

“Why not me?” he whispered. “Why not me?”

Zacharie sighed softly, averting his gaze from the mirror. He dug through his room until he located another mask, one fashioned after some sort of frog. It was his old one, the one he wore before he’d invested in his cat mask, made of plastic instead of porcelain. It was a little smaller, a little less secure on his face, but it would have to do.

His stiff hands positioned it over the scars and marks decorating his face like so many sides of a geode, looking at his reflection in the mirror and tentatively deciding that this was the best course of action. He looked at the clock, and sighed, headed downstairs. “Headed back to school to get my things, I’ll be back in a bit.”

“Okay. Be safe,” Pierre called from the kitchen, returning to his hushed conversation with Katie.

Zacharie opened the door, and on the other side of it preparing to knock was the school’s principal, a disciplinary dean, and… the Batter, carrying Zacharie’s backpack.

“Oh,” he said in surprise, reaching up to double-check that his mask was secure. “Can I help you?”

“Michael was insistent that he bring you your backpack,” The principal said.

“Michael?” Zacharie asked, attempting to look around the three. The principal stepped to the side so the Batter could hand the boy with the mask his belonging. He nodded in appreciation. Michael.

The principal continued, “and Mr. Pleasant and I decided to come with him, because we have a few questions to ask you.”

“You do?” Zacharie asked, only half-surprised.

“Yes, and I’m not sure it could wait until tomorrow,” Mr. Pleasant began, clearing his throat professionally and folding his hands in front of him. “It’s about what happened earlier at school today. You don’t mind, do you?”

“No, not at all, any way I can help,” Zacharie said, dropping the backpack against the wall of the hallway. He’d pick it up later and take it to his room.

The dean and the principal exchanged a glance before Mr. Pleasant said, “We would like to be upfront with you about all of this: you’re a suspect.”

Zacharie’s mind stopped working. His thoughts froze, and his mouth refused to move, even in defense of himself. Even the Batter seemed off put by this--or at least, as off put as he would let on to.

“That’s why you came along?” The Batter asked almost incredulously, looking over at the two faculty. The principal nodded. “He shouldn’t be a suspect.”

“He was the only one still in the room, and he tried to attack you.” The principal turned his head towards the Batter with a stern look. “And you are not in a place to be questioning the decisions of the school.”

“With all due respect, sir, he attacked out of fear, not malice,” the Batter shifted almost protectively, so he was facing the two authority figures more than he was facing the accused. Zacharie’s interest was piqued, however anxious he might be. He stood on his tiptoes to get a better view. “He was traumatized when I went inside to investigate; he was sitting on the floor beneath the desk with his knees pressed into his chest, whispering to himself. I don’t think he’s a suspect.”

“We can’t rule o--”

“Yes, we can.” The Batter said definitively, clearly through with wordy explanations, moving into a silent stand-off between the two parties. It might’ve been Zacharie’s panicking imagination, but he thought he saw the Batter’s posture straighten. He stood a little taller, a little more intimidatingly.

The dean and the principal looked at each other with mixed emotions. Their eye contact was worried, fearful, but stern and softly stubborn. To say the least, their conflicted feelings created interesting facial expressions that amused Zacharie, easing the anxiety, and he was once again thankful nobody could see him smile.

The heavy, gray clouds in the sky began to let a little rain down--just a sprinkle, enough to give warning of heavier showers in the near future. Zacharie glanced upwards, eyes towards the sky to take in the sights of the rainy day out.

The dean was the one to break his eye contact with the principal, turning towards Zacharie, who looked back down from the sky to show they had his attention. “I’m sorry for the confusion, Mr. Bauer and I will be on our way.”

Just like that, the two had left the porch, lawn, and block, walking out until they turned a corner and disappeared from sight. A soft, hazy quiet settled down as both boys stared after where the faculty had gone. Zacharie turned to the Batter, who corrected his orientation to face the masked boy, resting neutral expression hiding almost as much as the mask. “I can’t believe you stood up for me,” Zacharie said simply.

“I wouldn’t want an innocent man to be falsely accused,” the Batter replied, righting his posture, almost as an anxious fidget.

“Thank you,” the Batter gave a gentle nod. “And… thank you for bringing my bag to me, I was just headed out to pick it up.”

“You’re welcome.” He looked at his wristwatch, noting the time with a nod. “I’ll see you around.”

He turned to leave, taking no more than a few steps before Zacharie blurted, “Wait. Uh. Do you… want to come inside?” the Batter turned to look at him, and he could feel the blush atop his cheeks. “It looks like the rain will be coming down in no time, amigo. I don’t want you to get sick.”

Even through the eye-coverings, they managed to make eye contact. Zacharie began chastising himself for asking, cursing his mind for making a fool of himself, before the Batter tipped his baseball cap down. “If you don’t mind.”

Chapter Text

“Zach, who was that at the door?” Katie asked as Zachaire closed the door.

Cher Batter brought me my backpack,” Zacharie explained, motioning the Batter to follow him into the kitchen, where his foster parents were. The two looked up, at the Batter, then at each other with their unspoken language Zacharie still had yet to decipher. “It’s raining out, so I invited him to step inside until it lightened up a little.”

“The… Batter, was it?” Pierre asked, raising his eyebrows.

“Yes,” the Batter tipped his cap at the two. Despite his want to end his dialogue there, he pushed himself to say something more. “It’s nice to meet you.”

“It’s nice to meet you, too. I’m Katie, and this is Pierre; we’re Zacharie’s foster parents,” Katie smiled politely, turning to Zacharie with raised eyebrows and a slight smile. “You’ve never mentioned him before--”

“Well, we are not particularly close, but…” Zacharie looked over at the Batter for help.

“He came to one of my baseball games and we talked about the sport,” the Batter supplied bluntly, shifting so his weight was evenly distributed, “we sometimes make conversation.”

Zacharie internally facepalmed as a look of realization washed over Katie’s face. She smiled knowingly at Zacharie and nodded. “Uh-huh. Well, you two have fun with whatever you plan on doing,” she didn’t break eye contact with Zacharie, “Pierre and I have some talking to do.”

Zacharie knew exactly what that meant. He fought back a groan, motioning for the Batter to follow him into the next room. The masked boy turned on the television on a low volume to create some white noise. “Do you have anything in particular you’d want to do to to pass time, my friend?”

“We can talk,” the Batter suggested.

“You don’t seem much like the talking type,” Zacharie chuckled as the two took their seats on the couch--close enough that it was clear the two were engaged in dialogue, but not too close where it might be mistaken for something new.

The Batter tilted his head up so he could better see the other, neutral expression borderline curious. “I want to know you better.”

“You do?” Zacharie asked with a laugh. He hated to continuously remind himself of it, but he was very thankful that his mask hid the majority of his emotions and feelings… especially the redness in his cheeks. “Well, I’m sure I can answer anything you need.”

“Where’s your accent from?” The Batter asked.

“I grew up in France,” Zacharie replied with a wave of his hand, “so my native language is French, and Spanish was my second. Since English is my… third language, it’s a bit more difficult to get the right pronunciation.”

“Oh, je suis dans une classe de français ,” The Batter commented.

Zacharie breathed out a laugh, smiling (unbeknownst to the Batter). “It shows.” When the Batter gave him a confused look, Zacharie just shook his head. “There’s certain words and structure you just have to learn from immersion, friend. May I ask you a question?”

The Batter just nodded, emitting an affirmative hum.

“Are your eyes naturally orange? And…” He paused, unsure if he wanted to ask, but he’d already begun the sentence, so he might as well finish it. “Is Michael your real name?”

“Yes,” the Batter answered flatly, anticlimactically with no explanation. He looked over the boy, tilting his head to the side slightly. “Why do you call people ‘friend’ so often?”

“It’s just something I picked up from my…” Zacharie paused. The Batter could tell he was thinking something, hesitating, but he couldn’t tell what. The break in conversation lasted a bit too long before Zacharie cracked his knuckles as a fidget. “...from my birth father.”

“Why do you always wear that sweater?” The Batter picked up right away. “I haven’t seen you wear anything else.”

Zacharie’s fidgeting hands found their way to his upper arms, almost as if to cover the sweater. “I enjoy it.”

“Even when it’s one-hundred degrees outside?” The Batter pointed out.

Zacharie let go of the breath he didn’t realize he was holding, relaxing his arms, drooping his head gently. The mask tipped forward slightly, but Zacharie’s hands were quick to reposition the plastic. It took much more effort than it should have to speak. “It’s… a long story, and I would prefer not to talk about it.”

“I have time,” the Batter replied, motioning to the window, where it was raining fairly hard by that point.

Zacharie was amused at the Batter’s first hint at having a sense of humor, and he grew curious, overriding his discomfort for a slight moment. “Maybe another time.”

“Why do you wear a mask?” As soon as the Batter spoke it, he knew he’d struck a chord, but his curiosity kept the question in the air.

“You really aren’t beating around the bush, amigo ,” Zacharie chuckled half-heartedly, but when he realized the Batter was still expecting an answer, he cleared his throat. He brought a hand up to his mask self-consciously, leaning back ever so slightly--hopefully, not noticeably--away from the baseball player. He got quiet for a moment, thinking, then shook his head. “You already know why.”

“I don’t think there’s anything wrong with your face,” the Batter leaned in to make up the distance Zacharie set by leaning back. His orange eyes were very convincing, and his ease in picking up on exactly what Zacharie meant was persuasive. The soft tint to his tone didn’t help, either.

“Well… it certainly is not normal. I’d rather have people stare at me for my mask than stare at me for what’s beneath it, which I know they will,” Zacharie admitted quietly, honestly, softly.

The Batter took off his baseball cap, holding it in his lap, pausing as if considering his next words very carefully. “I wear my cap most of the time so people won’t stare at my eyes any longer than I let them, so I… understand how you feel.”

Zacharie turned his head to the side to look at something other than the Batter, to distract him from whatever feelings were coming up. He could feel his mask slipping forward again, but the taut string tied behind his head assured him that it wasn’t in danger of falling.

When he turned back, the Batter had begun to reach his hand around the side of the mask to caress Zacharie’s cheek with his thumb. As soon as the cool hand made contact with the warm skin, the masked boy jumped, pulling away in a panic, heart beating fast out of his chest.

The Batter retracted his hand quickly. “Sorry,” he said, returning his hand to his lap and leaning back to where he was before. Zacharie could see a twinge of genuine remorse behind the blank expression he wore, and he was immediately hit with a guilty feeling he wasn’t quite sure of.

“It’s… fine,” Zacharie mumbled, fixing his messy hair to hide the parts of his face his mask failed to cover, mind racing. Once it was comfortably situated, he reached a hand under his mask to touch the part of his face the Batter had brushed against, breathing to calm his heart rate, mind racing. Why did he try to… “Ideally, I would prefer to keep my mask on, but do let me know if you’re going to do something like that again, mon ami . I’d rather be informed than it be a surprise.”

“You seem really… uncomfortable with people touching you,” the Batter began to lose his neutral facade bit by bit, face softening into something real as the rain pounded against the window panes rhythmically. Zacharie kept his gaze down in neither a confirmation nor denial, but his lack of response told the Batter all he needed to know. “Does it have to do with your scars?”

“Mostly,” Zacharie whispered, sighing. He didn’t like thinking about it, and he usually got away with his dodgy excuses… but now, all of a sudden, here’s someone keeping him in check. Someone to call him out on his bullshit, someone to… be real with.

“I don’t judge you for them,” the Batter said softly, calculating his next words. “I still think your face looks good.”

He laughed softly at the awkward phrasing, and the ghost of a smile appeared upon the Batter’s lips. “Thank you, mon ami . And I think your eyes look good.”

Merci ,” the Batter’s slight smile spread into a full smile, and his posture almost seemed to relax for Zacharie.

He didn’t know what compelled him to do it, but when the Batter reached his arms out in a tentative gesture of a hug, Zacharie didn’t hesitate to fall into the embrace he didn’t know he needed. It was the first real hug he’d gotten in a long time--not one to fix his sadness or one obligated to provide him solace. He wasn’t being hugged for selfish gain, or in an empty apology, not even as a custom or part of culture. The hug was one that made him feel genuinely comforted and warm inside, and he felt… safe with the Batter, something he couldn’t say about many people. He smelled like vanilla.

Lightning struck outside, and Zacharie’s body twitched in fearful reflex. Just as his body jolted, his mind jolted him from the romanticized thoughts and knocked some sense into him. He didn’t dare look at the Batter as he pulled back, fidgeting with his sleeves. Pablo seemed to sense Zacharie’s discomfort, jumping up onto the couch and laying himself on the masked boy’s lap.

“Who’s this?” the Batter asked. He and Pablo made eye contact as Zacharie stroked the cat rhythmically.

“Pablo, or as I sometimes call him, The Judge. I thought it fit, as he always seems so watchful over everyone he meets,” Zacharie noted, looking up to see the unbroken eye contact between the two of them. The moment of silence was prolonged to be much lengthier than it needed to be, until Pablo looked back at Zacharie, rubbing against his chest with a soft purr.

The Batter put his cap back on, expression hardening back into the one Zacharie was familiar with. “He’s adorable.”

Chapter Text

The rain began to clear up closer to six, when the clouds were becoming more scarce and the sun was drifting closer and closer to the horizon. The Batter and Zacharie had shared  much more conversation, before the former noticed the lapse in weather and reacted harshly-- he seemed adamant that he got home soon.

“My parents don’t like it if I stay out too late,” he explained, hand on the lid of his cap, pressed down to obscure his eyes. His other hand, Zacharie noticed, seemed to be twitching slightly, though the Batter seemed to be doing his best to keep it under control.

“No problem,” Pierre replied, “do you need a ride?”

“I’ll walk.”

“Zach’ll show you to the door,” Katie said, “you’re welcome anytime.”

Zacharie did as he was told, and the Batter left with a simple “Bye.” As the masked boy walked back inside, picking up his backpack--which he’d remembered was laid by the door from earlier--he felt guilty. The reason the Batter was so quick to want to leave was because Zacharie had said something dumb, or something that made him uncomfortable. Or… he did something, or maybe it was just him as a person.

“So,” Katie said, leaning against the wall with a smirk and crossed arms. Zacharie didn’t have time to ask why she looked so sure of herself before she continued, “You’ve never mentioned this Batter before, but you’re going to his baseball games?”

“Katie, it’s not like that,” Zacharie defended, picking up on exactly what she meant. She just raised her eyebrow, and Zacharie’s hands started fidgeting. “It’s really not.”

Katie took a few steps towards Zacharie, putting her hands in the pockets of her jeans. She wasn’t trying to intimidate the boy, but she was so much taller than him, so he couldn’t help but feel at least a little defensive.  “You don’t even like baseball, you won’t watch it with me. If it’s not like that, why are you taking time to watch the games?”

“To support the school,” Zacharie fibbed quickly. “Come on, you think I have a crush on everyone I introduce you to. Simone, Cher Batter...”

“I never said I thought you had a crush on him.”

“You implied it,” Zacharie shrugged up his shoulders just slightly. “You think I like him, you can’t turn this into a freudian slip, you put all of the hints there.”

“One of these days I’ll be right.” Zacharie rolled his eyes, then rolled his head and index finger to show that he was rolling his eyes before he slung the bag over his shoulder and ascended the first few steps up to his room. “Just be safe, always use pro--”

“I get it, mom,” Zacharie retorted, stopping in his tracks as he stared straight ahead. He felt dizzy, and it took all of his attention not to panic. I called her mom. I called her mom.

Before she could say anything, he picked up his speed and hurried up the stairs, into his room, and shut the door behind him. The next thing he knew, he sat on the ground with his back to the wall, shaking uncontrollably with his thoughts racing faster than he thought they ever could. I called her mom. She is not my mom.

He reached up blindly onto his dresser and gripped his hand around a wooden box, bringing it down and removing his mask so he could properly see the chipping paint and breathe to the simple designs. He opened the lid, looking over the inner workings and brushing a finger along the edges of the box. His trembling fingers moved their way around the handle, cranking it once, twice, three times, and a fourth. When he let go, the familiar melody he’d always known began playing, and he closed his eyes, breathing out slowly, chest shaking and breath wavering. He could almost hear the words sung along with the chimes of the music box. Katie is not my mom.

When he fell asleep later that night, he opened his eyes and she was smiling at him. He took her hand and she pulled him close. He stood on her feet while she danced them around the room, smiling, laughing like the ringing of so many bells as the room faded from around them.

Au clair de la lune, mon ami Pierrot prete-moi ta plume pour écrire un mot,” she sang softly. “Ma chandelle est morte. Je n’ai plus de feu ouvre-moi ta porte pour l’amour de Dieu. Au clair de la lune, Pierrot repondit, ‘Je n’ai pas de plume, je suis dans mon lit.’

Zacharie picked up, singing, sounding just as he did when he was young, “Va chez la voisine, je crois qu’elle y est car dans sa cuisine on bat le briquet. Au clair de la lune, l’aimable Harlequin frappe chez le brune. Elle repond soudain,

His mom’s smile grew as she picked him up, pressing their foreheads together lovingly. She put on a silly face, gasping, smiling as Zacharie giggled. “ ‘Qui frappe de la sorte?’ Il dit a son tour, ‘Ouvrez votre port, pour le Dieu d’Amour!’

Au clair de la lune ,” she continued to sing, smiling even as the darkness began to swallow her. “ On n’y voit qu’un peu, on chercha la plume, on chercha du feu.

Zacharie awoke to his alarm right before she completely disappeared from sight, tears freeing themselves from his eyes with ease. The room seemed so much quieter once he was awake. His lip quivered as he whispered, “ En cherchant d’la sorte, je ne sais ce qu’on trouva, mais je sais que le porte sur eux se ferma…

 

Zacharie came to school that day and the first thing he saw was the sporty kids hanging out by the steps up into the school. It was almost mesmerizing watching the--for all intents and purposes--clique chatter amongst themselves. They were laughing, showing off their equipment as per usual and exclaiming how jealous they were of each other. Zacharie looked down in routine as walked on, bracing himself for the emotional bashing he knew he’d receive from them. It was bad usually, but it… was going to be worse today.

Surprisingly, as he approached the steps, their taunts were limited to the usual jeering and snickering, with a few comments about him being a ‘scar-face’, to which he almost had to keep back his laughter for. They really couldn’t think of anything better. As he began to climb the steps, someone said something that made the group fell silent. Zacharie could’ve sworn it was the Batter, but… he wouldn’t have any reason to…

He got to his locker and exchanged a few books for others. Slowly, to pass more time, since he didn’t have much else to do before class began, and there wouldn’t have been enough time to do anything of substance, anyway. The bell rang, and the group of kids on the steps began filing in.

Batter was walking straight towards Zacharie. “Hey, Zach.”

“Hello, Batter,” Zacharie wasn’t sure how else to react until the Batter held out his hand. Zacharie slapped their hands together and the Batter finished it with a fist bump, walking off towards his class, leaving the posse of stunned sports kids behind. Zacharie took it as an opportunity to be smug, giving a wave and a tilt of the head towards the group before closing his locker and walking to his first class.

Why did he do that? Zacharie couldn’t help but ponder as he made the trek to his class, sitting down in his seat. I’m not complaining, of course, if it will shut les connards up, but… Does cher Batter have something to prove? ...or maybe not. Maybe he just likes me as a person.

Zacharie gave up thinking about it for a while, doodling aimless circles on the corner of his notes before the thoughts pressed his consciousness to think about it again. If he… does like me as a person, that still wouldn’t explain how he acted last night once the rain had cleared up, but… maybe he really did have to be home at a certain time. I need to stop overthinking things.

“Zacharie, are you paying attention?” Asked the teacher.

“Si, mister Erikson,” Zacharie responded immediately, practiced. Since the teacher couldn’t prove anything, he just continued on with the lesson, almost defeatedly.

In the middle of Zacharie’s fifth class of the day, as he was wondering what he’d do for sixth, he received a note marked from the counselors’ office.

 

Zacharie (and several crossed-out incorrect spellings of his last name, followed by a non-crossed out incorrect spelling),

Due to unavoidable circumstances, your period 6 class as Teacher’s Assistant has changed from B7 to M12. Mrs. Gomez will be expecting you at 2:25pm. Please excuse the inconvenience.

Sincerely,

 

...an unintelligible signature. Helpful.

When Zacharie got to Mrs. Gomez’s class, he found that the note was no lie--she certainly was expecting him. When he informed her that he’d taken the class last year and passed with a high grade, her joy was amplified.

“My sixth period is pretty rowdy, as far as students go,” she explained. “They usually have conversations between themselves instead of doing their assignments. For the most part, though, they turn in their work, but it’s not always… correct. Excluding lesson and note-taking, would you mind pacing the class and helping the students who need it?”

So much for a relaxed class period.

The students filed in one by one until the one-minute warning bell rang, then larger groups of students began filling the classroom and taking their seats. Zacharie set his backpack down by the desk reserved for the assistant, sitting in his chair as he curiously looked about to see if he knew anyone in the class. He made eye contact--or at least, as close to eye contact as he could--with the Batter, seated a few rows away, facing the front of the classroom.

The final bell rang, and Mrs. Gomez stood, waiting for the class to settle down before she began. “You should have picked up a handout from the projector cart as you came in, but if you haven’t already, please grab one when I’m finished explaining the activity,” She picked up a copy of the worksheet, gesturing to it as she spoke. “In the first column is a list of terms we’ve studied this unit, and in the second column you’ll write at least three sentences about the…”

Zacharie stopped listening after that, but still faced her as if he was listening, until he heard his name.

“...Zacharie, our lovely new TA will be helping anyone who has any questions,” Zacharie waved a hand to the class. “Don’t be afraid to ask him for help when you need it. I’ll check in fifteen minutes before the bell rings to see how everyone’s doing.”

Almost as soon as the teacher sat down, someone raised their hand. So it was gonna be one of those classes. He stood and paced to where the hand’s owner was, and it was the Batter. Zacharie was surprised-- the Batter had been making a lot of effort to have conversation, it seemed, or at least as was unusual for the character he built for himself. By the time he’d walked up to the desk, the people around him stopped hushedly whispering to the Batter.

“What’s the Big Three ?” the Batter asked blankly.

“It’s the term given to the leaders of the three World War 2 superpowers; Russia, the United States, and Great Britain,” Zacharie explained with confidence.

After that, the Batter seemed to call Zacharie over more often than the rest of the students--more often than not, it was for simple definitions or spelling. Whenever Zacharie looked over, the people sitting around the Batter chattered amongst themselves with giggles.

Once the bell rang signifying the end of the school day, the Batter was nowhere to be found, and Zacharie was left to wonder what the day meant.

Chapter Text

Katie and Pierre didn’t question it when their foster kid told them he’d be home later than usual. After all, the school’s baseball team had a home game against their rivals, and Zacharie had been showing much more of an interest in… the sport as of late, so his staying to spectate was no surprise.

As he sat in the bleachers, Zacharie decided he was indeed picking up on the game’s rules, so he knew when to cheer and when to stay silent. From what he’d deduced, a teammate would go up to bat, and a ball would be thrown at them. Depending on where they hit it was how many bases they could run to, so long as it wasn’t caught before it hit the ground. What a lovely passtime.

The board at the far end of the field displayed the scores--the Batter’s team was behind by three points, and if he was reading it correctly, this was the last chance to pull through to victory.

All of the bases were full, and there was a dispute over who to send to bat. Arguing, requests for a time-out, and hushed sounds of frustration. The team hurriedly sent the Batter to the plate, and he grinded his feet into the dirt, hunching over with a focused look as the audience held their breath.

“Strike one!” Called the umpire as the Batter’s swing fell short. He reached up and tilted his cap to obscure the sun from his view, locking eyes with the pitcher. The ball flew, and he swung. “Strike two!”

At that, the Batter kicked a bit of dirt up onto the plate, glancing into the crowd. Zacharie made that same sort of one-way eye contact with him as they’d done before, and the Batter took a breath, exhaling. His next swing made contact, and an audible gasp was heard from the crowd as it disappeared from sight. He dropped his bat and sprinted, as did the people on the bases, while the crowd erupted into cheering. Zacharie clapped.

Once the final score had tallied to prove their victory, the parents and family members of the home team hugged their sons and loudly declared their pride. Instead of finding his own family, however, the Batter found his way to the boy in the mask.

“That was a good game, cher Batter, and I’m flattered you’d speak to me of all people,” Zacharie commented, and the Batter nodded, “But you should probably find your parents first, I’m sure they’d like to give you congratulations.”

“They don’t come,” the Batter replied blankly, brushing some dirt off of his uniform.

“Oh. Desolée, friend,” Zacharie apologized, and the Batter cast his eyes over the setting sun. Zacharie looked down, and noticed that the Batter’s hands were doing the… clenching thing they’d done before, and his searching eyes somehow seemed anxious. Zacharie raised an eyebrow at that. Not that the other could see it.

“This talk has been fun, but I should get home.” The Batter excused.

“Right. Strict curfew,” Zacharie nodded, pretending he wasn’t suspicious and… sad. The two said their goodbyes, and headed their separate ways, not again meeting until the sixth period of the next day.

Throughout the class period, the Batter had been less talkative than he usually was. Less talkative as in asking less questions, which should be specified… since he was still chatting with the people around him in his normal, neutral expression and they were still laughing and nudging him. This went on until a little less than five minutes before the end of the class, until the Batter raised his hand, and Zacharie paced over to answer his question. “Are you busy after school?”

Way to catch me off guard. Is this really the place and time for this? Zacharie stayed quiet for a moment as the boys around them called out ‘oooh’s, like typical high schoolers whose maturity stopped growing after seventh grade. Zacharie just rolled his eyes, habitually moving his finger along with his gaze to show he was rolling his eyes. He didn’t mean to, but he wasn’t going to correct it. “No, I don’t believe I’m busy today.”

The Batter seemed unaffected by the eye roll, though it certainly did its part to shut the other boys up. “Do you want to go on a date?”

How subtle. Zacharie found himself chuckling softly. “Where?”

“The pier.”

“And when?”

“Five.”

“Sure,” Zacharie replied nonchalantly, trying to hide his giddiness.

The bell signaling the end of class rang, and even though he didn’t see the Batter, he was excited… but nervous about the date.

Once they both had shown up, and Zacharie was internally assured that this wasn’t a joke or a prank, the two spent their time casually strolling along the pier, enjoying the sights, sounds, and smells of the dock. Not much conversation was exchanged, but neither complained--they seemed to share some wordless bond that made the silence cozy.

By the time the sun had almost set, the two had broken the silence. Zacharie and the Batter were laughing and talking away between buildings, away from the eyes of people who might stare. Zacharie opened his mouth to say something more before he noticed that the Batter’s gaze was no longer focused on him, it was on the setting sun, and the darkening sky. His hands were in his pockets, and his feet continuously shuffled, restlessly.

“Anything on your mind, cher Batter?” Zacharie asked, shuffling slightly so the Batter could see him.

He looked back at Zacharie. “No.”

“Are you sure? You seem restless,” Zacharie replied, combing a hand through his hair. He looked at the ground for his own comfort, suddenly feeling self-conscious. “Amigo, I’m sure you don’t need to be reminded that you can confide in me.”

The Batter took a long time to reply. He shook his head, looking at Zacharie and speaking in a deadpan tone. “I’m nervous.”

“And I have a bridge to sell you,” Zacharie knew that there was something the Batter wasn’t telling him, and he wasn’t nervous up until this point, so why would that be different now ? Some shift in dynamic must’ve caused the change of attitude, reverting the Batter from a human being back into an emotionless template. “What’s wrong, really ?”

“It’s nothing,” the Batter clenched his fists in his pockets, gritting his teeth just barely enough to be noticeable. His gaze flickered to the sky again before returning back to Zacharie, and before he spoke, it was clear what he was going to say. “I just--”

“Need to get home, I get it,” Zacharie said before he knew he’d even thought it. He frowned, exhaling, leaning back against the building wall. The back of his skull pressed against the… whatever material it was. “I get the feeling you don’t want to be around me right now. I’m not hurt, but is that what it is?”

The Batter frowned, shifting his weight over and keeping it there. “It’s not.”

“Then what is it?”

Those four unexpected words triggered the Batter in some way, and he seemed to be thinking hard, contemplating something he--perhaps--had never contemplated before. Zacharie couldn’t help but watch as he tried to keep the emotions from his face, while simultaneously having a mental struggle of some kind. “My parents don’t have a curfew for me.”

“I figured,” Zacharie replied.

“It’s harder to deal with when it’s night, so I set my own curfew.”

Zacharie stared at the Batter in blank silence for one… two… three seconds too long, before his mind began to process what he was told. “What? What do you mean, ‘it’?”

The Batter was definitely regretting his decision. “I can’t tell you.”

“Friend, you can’t just drop a cryptic explanation and refuse to elaborate,” The… peculiar sentence piqued Zacharie’s interest, and he wasn’t ready to give up, to let the Batter brush it off just yet. He pushed off the wall, somehow finding it within himself to approach the significantly taller figure, looking up and speaking gently, “What’s harder to deal with?”

“Zacharie, stay back ,” the Batter warned with much more force than Zacharie had seen him admit to, moving away until his back hit the wall. The restlessness and fidget in his hands grew, and his fingers seemed to almost contort themselves at unnatural angles… but Zacharie, lost in his own curiosity, didn’t seem to pick up on any of this.

“Please tell me? I’d like to be able to help you if I can,” Zacharie said, pacing closer and pausing just before he touched the other.

“You… can’t… help…” the Batter breathed, and his body became rigid, shoving Zacharie away before he got any closer.

The masked boy tumbled to the ground, and when he looked up, it wasn’t the Batter anymore. It was… something scary, something inhuman. Something that had transformed Michael into a monster . It reached up a hand, thick-skinned with claw-like nails, and paused. It dropped its arm and both hands held the crocodile-like head as it slammed itself into the wall. Zacharie couldn’t take his eyes off of it, transfixed--it almost seemed to be having a battle with itself. He thought about stepping in until it crumpled to its knees, and Zacharie witnessed a slow and possibly painful transformation back into… the Batter, looking at Zacharie, who still laid where he fell.

“I call him Bad Batter. It’s easier to deal with if I’m alone, with all the lights turned on. That’s why I set my own curfew.” The Batter held out a hand in an offer to help Zacharie up. Zacharie tentatively placed his hand in the Batter’s, silent as he rose to standing. He stared at the Batter, and the Batter stared back, unsure and tentative look on his face. “Zacharie, I’m sor--”

“However frightening that was, that might be the coolest thing I’ve seen in a while,” Zacharie breathed out with a slight smile. He didn’t even realize he was thinking that.

The Batter stared at him with surprised disbelief. “It is?”

Si . Is… that why you keep your emotions under wrap?” The Batter didn’t respond to that, tipping his hat down to obscure his eyes, which gave Zacharie all the answer he needed. He concluded, “And I suppose that’s an explanation for your eyes as well…”

“You can’t tell anyone.” The batter said, deadpan, but very serious as he looked up to make the iconic one-way eye contact they’d been so practiced at.

“Wouldn’t dream of it, mon cher ,” Zacharie smiled. He took a step towards the Batter, standing on the very tips of his toes, and moved his mask upwards just enough to plant a kiss on the Batter’s cheek. When he stepped back and fixed his mask again, the Batter’s face was red. Zacharie chuckled. “You can head home if you need to, have confidence that I won’t tell a soul.”

Though he didn’t say it, it was clear that the Batter was relieved and grateful at the out. “Goodbye, Zacharie.”

A demain, mon cher, ” Zacharie nodded as the Batter walked away, then out of sight.

Chapter Text

I won’t tell a soul? I said that! I won’t tell a soul? What’s wrong with me? Zacharie pleaded with his thoughts as he trekked along the boardwalk, headed in the direction of his house, shaking his head. I just learned that mon cher has the potential to be very dangerous, and instead of having the sensible and well-reasoned mind I am known for, I told him I wouldn’t tell a soul. He attacked me, with his… Bad Batter self, who seems extremely violent, but apparently I won’t tell a soul. Stupid. Idiot. That was a disaster.

“How was your date?” Katie chimed, smiling towards Zacharie as he entered through the front door.

“Wonderful,” Zacharie replied. Won’t tell a soul. Great.

“What did you two do?”

“We walked the pier, and didn’t do too much talking.”

“Sounds boring.”

“It was comfortable.”

“Yeah, sounds boring ,” Katie teased.

“Some of us can be comfortable in silence, Katie,” Zacharie teased back.

“Do you like him?”

Zacharie paused, tilting his head to indicate thought. “I don’t know. He’s attractive, and I enjoy being with him.”

Zacharie headed to climb the stairs to his room before Pierre called out to him, “Just as a side note, Katie and I agreed that you should be home before dark every night, with the occasional exception if you get it approved through us first.”

“Huh?” Zacharie mumbled, retracing his steps back to the living room where his foster parents sat.

“This morning, there was another report of the mysterious slaughtering thing the police force can’t seem to identify,” Katie explained. “Late last night, a married couple were reported missing when they didn’t show up to their friends’ house and all of their messages went straight to voicemail. Then, this morning, their bodies were found all mangled and bloody and stuff.”

“You don’t need to describe it,” Pierre shuddered.

“Huh,” Zacharie repeated, clicking his tongue against the roof of his mouth. “Good to know… good to know.”

 

It was about a week before the Batter decided to call Zacharie over during class again, asking for help on his assignment. “What was the twenty-first amendment?”

“It was the ban on the selling and consumption of alcohol, passed in 1919 but repealed in 1933,” Zacharie replied.

“Thank you.” As he turned to leave, though, he heard the Batter say something more. “Wait, I have another question.”

Zacharie turned back towards him, humming as if to say continue?

The Batter glanced at the girl sitting next to him, who smiled encouragingly, then returned his gaze to Zacharie. “Would you like to go on another date after school?”

Zacharie smiled brightly--enough that it could be heard in his voice. “Where?”

“The roller rink.”

“And when?”

“Four, four-thirty.”

“Which is it, four or four-thirty?”

“Four.”

“It’s a date,” Zacharie chuckled softly, and the group seated around the Batter let out little ‘awww’s. The Batter looked down, but not before Zacharie caught the slight smile he wore.

 

Their date at the roller rink went very well. As it turned out, the Batter wasn’t too good at roller skating, but Zacharie was. The night was filled with soft laughs as Zacharie helped the Batter skate, holding onto him so that he wouldn’t fall.

Towards the end of the evening, once they’d given their skates back, the Batter pulled Zacharie off to the side.

Cher Batter, is everything alright?” Zacharie asked with concern.

“Zacharie, I have to be honest with you,” the Batter said, striking worry into the masked boy. “We’ve been on two dates and… this thing I feel, I’ve never felt this way about anyone. Or anything.”

Something in Zacharie’s chest seemed to warm at that. “What might that feeling be?”

“I don’t know if it’s too soon to say this, but I think I love you.” Zacharie’s heart seemed to stop. He stood where he was, and just stared at the Batter, dizzying feeling beginning to pound from within his skull. The Batter’s eyebrows furrowed, and he opened his mouth to say something more before Zacharie hastily cut off whatever it was he was about to say.

“You don’t want to love me, mon cher , I can’t be loved.” The Batter just looked at him, shocked, before Zacharie felt it necessary to continue talking. “You don’t know my past, but if you did, you would know that I just can’t be loved. Don’t tell me you love me, because I-- because I can’t--”

The Batter just pulled Zacharie close, embracing him, and that was enough to stop him from saying anything more.

 

Their third date was at the park, late on a Saturday afternoon. They met up with friendly greetings and strolled around across the grass for a while, before heading up a hill and seating themselves beneath a particularly tall and leafy tree that provided a lot of shade. From the hill, they could see just a bit more of the park than they could if they were on the ground.

After a moment of hesitation, Zacharie laid his head in the Batter’s lap, looking up at him. The Batter smiled goofily back. Zacharie laughed. “This is okay, right?”

“Of course.”

“Okay, I don’t want to make you uncomfortable,” Zacharie mumbled.

The Batter reached out a hand and combed it through Zacharie’s hair. “You won’t.”

Zacharie just smiled and giggled a bit, closing his eyes and taking in how perfect the moment was.

“Hey, Zacharie?” the Batter said softly. Zacharie nodded to show that he was listening. “Would you ever feel comfortable being without your mask, in the presence of someone you trust?”

Zacharie opened his eyes and turned his head slightly to face the Batter. He was looking down at Zacharie with a genuine look of care. “That all depends.”

“On?”

“In what way I trust them.”

The Batter nodded gently, tilting his head ever so slightly to one side. “Do you trust me in that way?”

Zacharie quieted for a moment, thinking his next words through as the Batter waited with baited breath. “Maybe one day.”

The Batter exhaled but paused, thinking before he spoke. “I know you say that the reason you wear your mask is so people won’t see your scars, but… I don’t see anything wrong with them. Everyone has something .”

Zacharie chuckled, shaking his head softly. “You don’t see what’s wrong with them because you aren’t the one who received them.”

“That doesn’t make sense,” The Batter murmured.

”The truth is, I don’t really keep my mask on to hide my face from others,” Zacharie sighed. He continued, prompted by the Batter’s confused gaze, “I know that the most likely thing to happen would be a few names here and there, maybe some odd looks or some curious children, and business as usual.”

The Batter was growing curiouser by the moment, perplexed by the carefully worded, maybe even rehearsed speech Zacharie gave. “If you don’t wear it to hide from others… then why do you wear a mask?”

“Do you want to know the truth, or just something to satisfy your curiosity?”

The Batter thought hard--he wasn’t expecting a question like that. He decided with a firm nod, “I want the truth.”

Zacharie sighed softly, and he motioned for the Batter to lean his head down. He did as he was told, and Zacharie moved his mask up just enough so he could whisper into the Batter’s ear, “I wear it to hide from myself.”

The Batter sat in silence for what seemed like forever. He leaned back against the tree and thought, not brave enough to say anything more. So many questions arose, but all he could think about was how still that hilltop was. He could hear the children in the playground, laughing and running, but everything around him seemed deafeningly quiet.

Cher Batter?” Zacharie asked after the thoughtful silence became slightly uncomfortable. He looked up, making eye contact with the Batter, who had been looking away in confused contemplation but now gazed curiously back at the boy in the mask. “While we’re asking questions, if it’s not too much, I have been wondering this for a while and I can’t seem to figure it out; why were you in the classroom when all the students…”

Even though Zacharie trailed off, the Batter understood what he was referring to… but he took just a little too long to answer, twinkle in his eyes disappearing. “The deans send me to make sure the classrooms are safe whenever there’s a danger, they’ve seen how far I hit baseballs and believe I’d be the best one on campus to deal with an intruder.”

“Ah-ah-ah. I saw how you shut down your emotions at that, it’s quite easy to tell.” Zacharie shifted himself so he could get a better look at the Batter’s face, which was back to the blank slate it had been during school hours. “So, what’s the truth, mon ami?

“That is the truth,” The Batter insisted bluntly. Zacharie sighed.

“If it is true--”

“It is.”

“Like I was saying, if it is true, isn’t it a little bit too dangerous? And frankly, it sounds like something the deans could get fired for--sending a student into a situation with an armed intruder,” he pointed out, pursing his lips (not like they could be seen).

“It’s true.” The Batter repeated, narrowing his eyes. Zacharie, however, combed through what he’d just said and began connecting the dots, furrowing his brows and sitting up. The Batter gave him an odd look, shifting to face the other.

Mon cher, I don’t recall hearing it leave before you moved the desk. It… wasn’t Bad Batter… was it?” Zacharie exhaled tentatively, and the Batter gave him the blankest expression he could without a response. Zacharie averted his gaze, turing his whole head to follow as a tell that he was looking away. “Right. Sorry, dumb question. Of course it wasn’t Bad Batter.”

“Don’t be sorry. It’s a fair assumption,” The Batter tipped his cap down, and Zacharie was once again suspicious, but he decided he didn’t want to ruin the rest of their date with his paranoia.

The date ended comfortably, with the Batter and Zacharie standing in front of his house while the sun set in the background.

“Thank you for walking me home. And… for the date,” Zacharie said softly.

“I had fun,” The Batter smiled. He reached up towards the mask, but Zacharie flinched, causing the Batter to hesitate before he spoke. “Trust me.”

Zacharie didn’t respond to that, but stayed still as the Batter shifted his mask up just a little. He leaned down, softly pressing his lips up against Zacharie’s, who melted into it and rose to his tiptoes to meet the Batter’s kiss.

“Zacharie?” The Batter asked. Zacharie sighed in response, seeming to forget that part of his face was visible. “I want to know you.”

“You do?” Zacharie was lost in a smile, but so attentive.

”I do.” The Batter smiled back. “I want to know the Zacharie you feel you can’t show the world. I want you to be able to trust in me, and I want to be somebody you love.”

“I don’t love a lot of people…” Zacharie murmured.

The Batter pressed his forehead against the mask. “I want to love you, Zacharie.”

“I can’t be loved,” Zacharie whispered.

“I want to be there for you, to have your back and care for you when you think the world has given up on you, when you think you can’t be loved.” The Batter’s arms wrapped gently around Zacharie, holding him in an embrace he could feel safe in. Zacharie exhaled, resting his head against the Batter’s chest, smiling. “You can be loved. And I want to love the boy behind the mask.”

Chapter Text

The blue light from the ancient television framed the figure seated in the armchair, silhouette moving slowly and deliberately as he minded his own business. The sounds of static could be heard, and the flickering of light told that nothing worth watching was on.

Zacharie stood facing the silhouette, looking down at his small, young body, familiar yet so unexpected. His gaze turned back to the figure, who took a deep breath from a cigarette, exhaling, tendrils of smoke illuminated by the tired light. “Zacharie, ven aqui .”

Zacharie stepped forward, standing at the side of the arm chair while his father looked at him with disdain. “ Tu madre se ha ido por un tiempo .”

¿Cuándo volverá? ” He asked softly.

A hand came down hard on Zacharie’s cheek. His arm was in a tight grip, and his father pulled him close, speaking with pure hatred. Zacharie could smell the alcohol on his breath. “ Ella no va a volver. No hagas preguntas estúpidas, cabrón .”

Bien… ” Zacharie bit down on his lip, squinting his eyes as he felt them brim with tears.

Nunca nadie te amará si lloras ,” His father’s grip on his arm tightened as he brought the cigarette down, pressing it onto Zacharie’s skin. He let out a cry, doing his best to hold on to his tears but failing as the ashes burned into his arm. “ Si eres emocional, no puedes ser amado! eres un hombre así que actúa como si!

S...sí padre ,” Zacharie whimpered.

 

Zacharie awoke with a start, breathing quickly. His head felt light, and he was… cold, slightly shivery, and extremely disoriented--he didn’t know where he was until he took a breath, registering that he wasn’t in that household anymore. He was in Katie and Pierre’s home, his foster parents’ home, not… not his father’s. His hand mindlessly trailed up his forearm, feeling the burn mark slightly risen from his skin as his quickened heart rate began to decline steadily. It’s just a dream. It’s just a… I haven’t dreamt about him in years, why did I…

Zacharie shook his head to clear his mind, but immediately regretting it as he became aware of a headache against his forehead. His eyes wandered to the clock by his bed, and widened when he saw what time it was.

His clothes were a quick (and rushed) change, and he tied his mask around his face, taking his backpack and rushing to school with sluggish limbs. Zacharie barely made it to class before the final bell, out of breath and nauseous, but on-time all the same. Close call.

As Zacharie took his seat, he found it hard to keep his eyes open. He hardly made it through the first two periods, wondering why he was drifting off in the most engaging of classes. His face felt warm, his body cold, and he felt as if he could throw up at any given moment. It has to just be post-dream paranoia, when someone is disoriented and feels sick after a bad dream. I read about it somewhere. I think.

He closed his eyes, sitting up straight and taking a breath to focus on the lesson.

 

Zacharie didn’t realize he’d fallen unconscious until he woke up on a cot in the nurse’s office, maskless, with a wet cloth over his forehead. The sleeves of his sweater were rolled up and he could see all of his scars and burns, no matter how hard he tried not to look at them. Pale scars of too many parallel lines by his wrist and trailing up his forearm, splotches of discolored skin showing burn trauma, and all the memories to go with it.

“Good morning,” The nurse said softly, smiling as he moved to address the recently woken boy. He waited until Zacharie had moved his gaze from the scars to make eye contact before he spoke again. “You passed out during class, and I took your temperature. It seems like you have a fever.”

“Fever?” Zacharie repeated hazily, finding it difficult to focus on the nurse. A fever made more sense than post-dream whatever it was.

“I hesitated to call your parents, because…” the nurse trailed off, glancing down at Zacharie’s exposed forearms.

“Oh, these,” Zacharie said softly, furrowing his brow. “No… my current guardians didn’t do this, they’re very nice. I’ve had the scars for much longer than they’ve known me.” He quirked his mouth at an angle that let the nurse know wordlessly that he didn’t want to talk about it anymore.

“Ah,” the nurse nodded reluctantly, leaving the room with, “I’ll be sure to give them a call, then.”

The next time Zacharie opened his eyes, Pierre was chatting quietly with the nurse. Zacharie sat up slowly, head pounding. He winced, removing the cloth from his forehead and exchanging it for the mask that lay on the bedside stand, tying it securely around his face before he walked over to join the conversation.

Pierre took Zacharie home and made sure he was situated with a glass of water and a snack--just in case he gets hungry--before reluctantly returning to work.

Zacharie untied his mask, setting it down on the table before lying on the couch with a blanket wrapped around himself. He turned the TV on, with low volume as white noise, and he soon fell asleep with Pablo curled up on his side.

Chapter Text

Zacharie awoke later to the sound of the doorbell chime echoing through the hall. Looking over at the clock, he concluded that it was likely Katie coming home from work. After some careful thought, he reluctantly settled for not bothering to put his mask on, considering the most likely case was that he’d go back to sleep right after he let her in. It wouldn’t be worth the effort to put it on, just to take it off in less than a minute.

He made his way to the door with one hand still clutching the blanket around him like a shawl, stifling a yawn as he opened it. “Katie, did you lose your key agai--”

“Are you okay?” The person at the door asked in a masculine but soft voice, minimalistically and carefully laced with concern. It took Zacharie a little longer than he would’ve preferred to register that it was the Batter at the door… and not Katie.

His eyes widened. Not Katie. He pulled the blanket up around his cheeks in an effort to conceal as much of his face as he could while still being able to see his company. He only hoped his hair would do the rest. I should’ve put on my mask. Cher Batter! Ah--You, uh--What… are you doing here?”

“I didn’t see you at school today, and wanted to make sure you were okay,” the Batter replied, balancing his weight out to one hip and almost striking a faux candid pose.

“Yes, I’m okay,” Zacharie replied, “It’s just a fever.”

“That’s not good, are you going to be okay?” The Batter asked. He was doing a pretty good job at hiding the worry in his voice, but Zacharie could tell. He could always tell.

“I think I’ll be alright,” Zacharie chuckled slightly, closing his eyes for a moment before taking a breath and speaking much quieter (it didn’t help that his words were muffled by the blanket). “You don’t need to worry about me.”

The Batter laid his hand on Zacharie’s, lowering the blanket from his face tentatively. Zacharie resisted, opening his eyes again, but one look at the batter let the blanket drop to his shoulders. The Batter gently tilted Zacharie’s chin up, kissing him softly. Zacharie closed his eyes again and moved closer before he pulled back. “I don’t want to get you sick.”

“I’m not worried.”

“I am,” Zacharie laughed softly, shaking his head a little. He yawned.

“Get some rest,” the Batter said, pulling Zacharie in for a hug. “I’m glad you’ll be okay.”

À demain, mon cher ,” Zacharie replied with a sigh, watching the Batter go. As he left, however, Zacharie noticed that the car parked across the street veered into his driveway, and another glance revealed that the car belonged to… “Katie?”

“Zacharie, oh my god!” Katie exclaimed, rushing towards him after turning off the car and getting out. “That--that was so cute, straight out of a movie, you didn’t tell me you were kissing already!”

Zacharie’s face flushed with color as he brought the blanket up to his face once more. His nose scrunched up as he accused,  “Were you watching us?”

“Yes and no.” Zacharie’s incredulous stare prompted Katie to laugh nervously and continue. “I got home and didn’t want to interrupt you so I waited in the car.”

“How respectful,” he replied sarcastically.

“What, did you want me to pull in and stop that from happening?”

“No,” Zacharie said, “but I don’t know what I expect anymore.”

Katie smiled as Zacharie huffed, heading inside. “There’s the angsty, foster-parent-hating-teen Pierre and I expected.”

“I don’t hate you, I’m just annoyed.”

Katie followed him inside, locking the door behind her. “I like hearing about your life.”

“You didn’t hear about it, you saw it,” Zacharie corrected.

“Potato, potahto.”

“Do you need to know everything ?”

“Well, I won’t grill you while you’re sick,” she ruffled his hair. He rolled his eyes, habitually moving his finger in an arc despite his bare face, “but I do like knowing what goes on with you.”

Zacharie nodded slowly, “I’ll tell you.”

“You will?”

“Maybe one day.”

 

As the family ate dinner, Pierre switched on the TV to a movie he assumed Zacharie would like since it was in French (Zacharie, in fact, had seen the movie before, and did not enjoy it. He wouldn’t tell Pierre, though). About halfway through, Katie changed the channel to the news, met with the gruesome sight of yet another one of the systematic slaughters.

“Katie,” Pierre complained, “we’re trying to have dinner.”

“Oh! Oh, if you saw this headline, you wouldn’t be complaining!” Katie turned up the volume, and Zacharie looked over towards the television.

...killer is still on the loose, but we believe he or she may have gotten a bit careless with this one. ” The camera switched from the too-enthusiastic female reporter to a plain, black baseball cap, lying on the floor, stained in blood, and sectioned off with police tape. A number was drawn next to it in white paint. “ A black hat was discovered alongside the bodies. Stained with the blood of the victim, seventeen-year-old Vader Eloha, it can only be assumed to have belonged to the attacker.

Zacharie set his cup down a little too hard as he stood up, met with the curious and confused gaze of his foster family. “I’m still not feeling well,” he excused, “I’m going to bed.”

“Without finishing your dinner?”

“I’m not hungry.”

“Well… get some rest, sweetie,” Katie said supportively, to which the boy in the mask murmured a quiet thanks .

Zacharie walked up the stairs, slowly, and waited until he was out of their sight before breaking out into a run towards his room. That’s Michael’s hat. That’s Michael’s hat. He said he wasn’t the cause. But… it’s his hat, what was it doing by the body?

 

The next day at school, Zacharie took all the necessary precautions to avoid running into the Batter. He took different routes to class, avoiding the areas the sporty kids hung out in, and successfully avoided talking to him. That is… until the Batter sought him out during lunch, at the school library, where he somehow knew he’d be found.

“So nice to see you,” Zacharie commented without looking up from his book. He could tell it was the Batter by his footsteps, and didn’t need anything else to know for certain.

“Zacharie, if you are asked, I’d like you to say I was with you last night,” The Batter said. Zacharie breathed in and closed his book slowly, looking up at the unapologetically blank expression staring back at him. Today, the Batter wore a different black hat--one that said ‘ O.F.F. Little League ’ in white letters with a drawing of a ghost next to it. I wonder what happened to his usual cap. Hah.

“Why would they ask that, Batter ?” The word dripped from his mouth like poison, sounding empty and hollow. The endearment, cher , he usually placed before the title didn’t feel appropriate.

Batter noticeably reeled from this, physically shifting back with slightly widened eyes. Zacharie didn't move, though he felt slightly guilty for his tone. “Because…”

“Because there is something you aren’t quite telling me?” Zacharie said softly enough so nobody else could hear it, but just loud enough for the Batter to noticeably shift. Slightly to counter the harshness of his earlier tone, too, but he wouldn’t admit it. “Or, rather, there is something you aren’t telling the truth about, no?”

The Batter’s shoulders pushed back with his breath, and he was a blank canvas once again. “I can’t talk about it now.”

Zacharie knew he had picked up on exactly what he meant. Tilting his head to the side knowingly, he paced himself to add the perfect amount of silence before his response. “Can you ever?”

Shake of the head. “Not now.”

“Right.” Zacharie said softly, correcting his head and folding his hands on the table in front of him. His heart was pounding in his throat, but he was doing a great job pretending it wasn’t. “Well, until you tell me what’s going on, you’ll have to forge your alibi with somebody else.”

“It’s not an alibi,” the Batter replied quickly.

“That’s not the point of my speech, Batter .” There it was again, the plain title, sans endearment and sans emotion. So mechanical and unnatural to his voice, Zacharie found it hard to believe he’d spoken it.

The Batter paused with an inhale, then exhale, making steady eye contact with the holes in Zacharie’s mask before speaking. “I’ll tell you after school.”

“Where?” Zacharie inquired.

“The faculty parking lot.”

“And when?”

“When school lets out.”

Zacharie waited, watching the Batter as he tried to hide his increasing anxiety. It didn’t seem out-of-place for his character. “I’ll be there.”

 

“If I don’t let it do this sometimes, it’s much harder to control,” the Batter explained to a quiet Zacharie. “I get restless, fidgety, and everything colorful irritates me.”

“Is that why you enjoy being with me? Black hair, white sweater, black pants, white mask?” Zacharie said, and the Batter couldn’t help but to smile a bit at that.

“No. I enjoy being with you because you’re kind.”

Zacharie chuckled softly. He was expecting any other answer, but not that one.

This time, Zacharie didn’t stop the Batter as he lifted the mask up, pressing their lips together with the passion of newly reunited lovers after years of solitude. Zacharie’s heart fluttered, and he draped both of his arms around the Batter’s neck as the Batter pulled him closer by his waist. He couldn’t help propping himself up on the tips of his toes, he was just so much shorter than the other.

“I won’t tell,” Zacharie promised against the Batter’s lips.

“Zacharie, I love you.” The Batter whispered. Zacharie said nothing, stunned and confused, but not upset. He smiled. A sad laugh muffled against the Batter’s chest was all the noise he could make, and too many tears slipping from his eyes was all of the emotion he had to give.

Chapter Text

The café down the street was small, comfortable, and surprisingly, very empty that Saturday morning. Simone had expected that there might be more people than that--people getting coffee, snacks, utilizing the free wifi--but was pleasantly surprised when she learned that it was mostly empty.

“It’s so great to see you again, Ducky!” Simone grinned the broad smile she was known for, giving him a tight hug before sitting in her seat with perfect posture. Zacharie chuckled, seating himself across from her with… slightly less perfect posture. Some might call it poor.

“It’s wonderful to see you too,” he commented, folding his hands on the table in front of him.

“We should catch up, I’m dying to know what got you here,” Simone took a sip of her drink. “After all; last time--well, the time before the last time we met--you were in France for good, and I was off to Germany. Now you’re here, and you know how I got here--daddy’s job--so fill in the blanks, mon canard ! Tell me your view.”

“Well… it’s a long… what’s the word?” Simone shrugged her shoulders, and it took a moment before Zacharie snapped his fingers. “Story. It’s a long story.”

“We have time.” Simone cocked her head to the side, and Zacharie mirrored her subconsciously. “You don’t have much to do today, right? That’s what you said when we were making plans.”

“That’s a fair point, you got me there,” Zacharie sighed. “About a month after your family had left for Germany, I was told that my mother had gone somewhere else to live, but I now know that not to be the truth. Regardless, with her… not there, I was in full custody of my father--”

“You were not--you are serious ?” Zacharie nodded, and Simone shook her head enthusiastically. “ Injuste! Quel connard, tu ne le méritai--

“It’s in the past, it’s alright,” Zacharie said softly, turning his head to see the people who’d looked over at the rather loud French. “You might be careful what you say in public, you never know who speaks français .”

“He was un connard to you, Zachy, I’m just saying the truth!” Simone defended.

Ma chérie ,” Zacharie said softly. Simone looked at him helplessly before she sighed, shaking her head. He took this as a cue to continue. “Then he took me to America, I’m still not sure why. Most of it’s a blur, but I’m fairly certain he is dead now.”

Il n'a que ce qu'il mérite ,” She muttered, crossed her arms.

Sucre !”

Desolée ,” she laughed softly. Zacharie rolled his eyes, moving his finger with his gaze. “Anyway, continue?”

“I ended up in the foster care system here one way or another and have been ever since, going from house to house and school to school, until I found myself in Katie and Pierre’s custody a little more than six months ago.”

“Are they nice to you?”

“Some of the nicest people I know,” Zacharie laughed softly. “I think I consider myself lucky.”

“You deserve all the luck, after everything you’ve endured.” Simone stated definitively. “I really hope things continue to be as wonderful as they have those six months, Ducky.”

“I hope so,” Zacharie paused. Simone took a sip of her drink, and sighed. Somehow, the two were comfortable just sitting in that moment--not talking, just being.

“I had a lot of fun,” Simone smiled softly as their visit began to wrap up, a little later in the morning. “We must hang out again soon!”

“Agreed,” Zacharie nodded, pressing his cheek on either side of Simone’s face and making a kissing sound. “ À bientôt .”

 

That night as Zacharie lie awake in bed, he reminisced the times he and Simone had spent as kids for a reason that was beyond him. Every little laughter-filled moment spent avoiding their families and running away, down to the large pipes by the river where they’d stay until dark and race each other back--she’d always win, and give him a hug to make up for it.

Zacharie smiled and closed his eyes. He didn’t notice how much he missed her company until he saw her again, until she tackled him on the street with laughter like clinking ice in a cup of liquid memories. His consciousness began to fade, and he fell asleep with things to say drifting through his thoughts.

 

“Dad, this is Zacharie,” the Batter introduced, fingers intertwined with Zacharie’s.

His father looked up blankly. So that’s where he gets that expression from. “Who?”

“I explained this to you yesterday. He’s my boyfriend.” Zacharie’s heart fluttered. It didn’t matter that the Batter’s father only hummed in response, dismissing them to do whatever they pleased. He called me his boyfriend.

The only way Zacharie agreed to be without his mask was when the lights were dimmed, and the door was closed. Once it was off, the Batter ran his thumb over Zacharie’s cheekbone, feeling the texture of it curiously. “You’ve been quiet.”

“I have?” Zacharie asked, only now daring to open his eyes and meet the orange irises gazing back at him.

“Yeah. Quieter than usual.”

“I guess I’m just thinking,” Zacharie shrugged his shoulders up just slightly.

“Your accent’s thicker,” the Batter observed.

“It is?” Zachare asked, trying to tone it down. “I was with a close friend yesterday, we grew up in France together and the… thicker accent must be from talking with her again.”

“You don’t need to change it, it’s cute,” the Batter smiled.

Zacharie smiled back, laughing in the dim yellow light, just barely illuminating the Batter as he brushed their noses together.

“I like this you better,” he said softly, planting a kiss on the bridge of Zacharie’s nose.

“Better than...?”

“Just better. You’re so much more free and happy without your mask.” Zacharie smiled, pressing their foreheads together while the Batter smiled again. “It’s a pure feeling, isn’t it? Not having to hide?”

“I guess that’s true.”

The Batter closed the distance, kissing Zacharie softly. “Why do you wear the sweater? Even in harsh heat, I’ve never seen you without it.”

“It’s comfortable.”

“Is it?”

Zacharie breathed in, and exhaled, shaking his head. “To hide more scars.”

“You mean, to hide from yourself?”

“You know me,” Zacharie chuckled, snuggling his head up to the Batter’s chin.

The Batter laced his fingers in Zacharie’s, gently scrunching the sleeve up with his free hand. Zacharie looked away as the Batter ran his thumb over the scars, gently, then another sensation--lips against his skin. The Batter kissed each and every cut, every scar, every last memory he withheld from the world.

“This is so surreal…” Zacharie mumbled helplessly as a feeling of butterflies rose within him. “I’m with the sweetest, kindest man, but he’s a regular murderer, who has the very real option to kill me at any second. Probably with just a single sweep of his arm.”

The Batter paused, giving Zacharie’s hand a gentle squeeze. “Doesn’t that make it special, then? The fact that I’m not murdering you?”

“Well, when you put it like that...” Zacharie laughed softly, squeezing his hand back. If they were going to be trapped in a dark situation, at least they had the sense to joke about it. “I guess it does, mon cher . It’s almost romantic, even.”

There was a quiet settling over the room, comfortable and warm, only moved as Zacharie made a request he didn’t know he was capable of making. “ Cher Batter, I know you are convinced that you have to… you know… but I would feel more comfortable if you kept it to a minimum, if it’s not too much to ask.”

“I’ll do my best,” the Batter replied quietly.

“Do you promise?”

The Batter was quiet for a moment, but held Zacharie tighter in his arms. “I promise.”

Zacharie hesitated. “And… Batter?”

“Hm?”

“Don’t you get the feeling that this has all happened before?”

The Batter’s eyebrows pushed together, and his nose crinkled a bit. “That it’s… happened before?”

Zacharie wanted to say something, but was caught frozen in his ‘I can explain’ look. He shook his head, too intimidated by his nerves to continue. “Never mind. It’s nothing.”

 

“I’m home,” Zacharie sighed, closing the door behind him. His body was visibly relaxed, and he was practically floating on air, but it was all too short-lived. He became grounded again when it registered that nobody answered back, which was… very out of the ordinary, he’d usually receive a chime of ‘welcome home’ or ‘hey, kiddo’. He glanced outside again. Their cars were in the driveway, so they were home, but… didn’t hear him?

He sighed, wandering into the livingroom to see Pierre and Katie, eyes fixed on the television to a report Zacharie couldn’t see from the glare. “I’m… home? What are you watching?”

“Zacharie,” Katie furrowed her eyebrows, barely managing to tear her gaze away from the screen to look at him. “Isn’t… that your friend?”

He took a few anxious steps forward to see the screen. His first thought was, it’s cher Batter. They found him out, but that was very quickly disproven by the collapsed figure on the screen, white hair dyed red and body so lifeless, unnaturally still. He moved a bit closer to the TV, feeling himself go numb. The reporter spoke, but all he could hear was estimated time of death: last night .

“Yes, that’s my friend.” He murmured emptily. “Simone.”