Disclaimer: Characters and situations are the property of MGM Pictures, Inc and were created by Walon Green and Douglas Anthony Metrov. No copyright infringement is intended.

Author's Notes: Thanks to nikkisilver for the beta. Yes, I am crazy. Why do you ask?

We Used to Be Friends
by Beth Epstein

"Darstar, bend your knees!" Jason called as his friend wooshed past.

He did, but failed to see that he was running out of space and crashed into a wall.

Gav reached down to offer Darstar a hand up.

"I bet I'm the worst in the class," Darstar muttered, shoving his bangs out of his face.

"You really should get that cut while we can still see you," Gav said.

Darstar shrugged. "I like it long."

"You're not going to be the worst in the class," Gav said. "That honor will likely go to Glasses Geek."

Jason frowned, watching across the practice arena where the subject of their conversation was still holding onto the wall and practicing how to move his feet. "He's not that bad, just more brains than brawn, you know?"

"Which is why he's a bully magnet," Gav said.

Darstar and Jason exchanged glances. Jason just shrugged. There was no point in reminding Gav that until the last year when suddenly he and Jason were the biggest in their class, the three of them were second only to Metron--the aforementioned Glasses Geek--in terms of being bully magnets.

"Come on, Darstar, you're not going to learn if you stand around staring," Gav pointed out.

Darstar rolled his eyes. "I guess it's now or in remedials next week when you and Jason are learning to play skateball."

"Don't worry, buddy, you won't be in remedials," Jason said. "Just keep your knees bent and quit trying to use your brake to push."

* * *

As Darstar had predicted, the next week, while the rest of the class started working with sticks and learning the basics of skateball, he and Metron were set skating fundamentals drills and banished to the side of the arena.

"I don't see what the big deal is." Metron shook his head as he and Darstar took a breather to watch the other kids. "It's not like the E Protectorate requires skating skills for any life grid other than professional skateball player."

Darstar shrugged. "Coordination? I don't know. The guys and I are going to the outside arena to practice during free period if you..."

"I'm rather attached to my limbs, thanks," Metron said, throwing an uneasy glance at Jason and Gav squaring off around the central goal post. "We should get back to those drills before the tutor notices."

"Or someone else," Darstar said, his eyes focused over Metron's head on the stands.

Metron turned, following Darstar's gaze. "Why does a strictor for the E Police want to watch a bunch of twelve year olds try to play skateball?"

Darstar shrugged, returning to the assigned skating exercises.

* * *

"Oh, pull the other one, Darstar, it's got bells on." Gav mock-swatted at Darstar with his cafeteria tray.

"I saw him!"

"Well, if a strictor was here, he's gone now." Jason put two cartons of milk on his tray. "They wouldn't be feeding us the usual slop if they had a VIP around."

"Outside?" Gav cocked his head in the direction of the patio as the three finished winding their way through the lunch line.

"Might as well," Jason said. "Before it gets too hot to be fun."

Darstar held the door open for the other two as they crossed into the outside seating area.

"Is it just me or are there a lot of crows up there today?" Gav asked, pointing at the sky.

As if on cue, one of the birds swooped down and landed neatly on Darstar's shoulder. He jumped, and the crow took back to the skies with a squawk.

The three boys stared at each other for a moment. Then Darstar started shoveling his food into his mouth at double speed.

"Library," he muttered through a mouth full of french fries when he realized the other two were staring.

* * *

It was halfway through free period before Gav and Jason realized that Darstar still hadn't returned from the library.

"Maybe he's talking to a girl?" Gav joked as the two of them headed towards the library.

Jason threw him a look.

"Yeah." Gav held the door open, his voice dropping to a whisper. "I didn't think so either."

They found Darstar on one of the infonet terminals.

"Find something interesting?" Jason asked.

"Lots of ways to call crows, but nothing that would explain why one just decided to come for a visit." Darstar brushed his hair out of his eyes.

"Call crows?" Jason echoed, leaning over Darstar's shoulder to study the diagram that was up on the screen and study the text. "Ceremony to call bird spirits? That doesn't look like anything on the approved reading list."

Darstar flushed. "Metron showed me how to get past the censorware onto the undernet last week."

"And you hacked it with a strictor on site?" Gav said. "When did you grow a pair?"

"Jason's right," Darstar said. "The strictor's long gone. Besides, I kinda doubt he'd be that interested in me, anyway. You two were the ones rocking the skateball sticks out there."

"Which brings us back to what the heck was he doing here?" Gav asked.

Darstar turned around to face his friends. "Oh. Now you believe me."

"You're not exactly a liar, Dar," Gav said.

"Darstar," he corrected absently. "Dar is a girl's name."

"You and Darlene could almost be uniform twins," Gav said.

Darstar reached out, smacking Gav on the arm. "Very funny."

"Come on, man, if we're going to sneak out to get you some skating practice, we'd better go," Jason said. "Don't worry about the bird. It was probably just one of those things."

Darstar pulled up the history file, purging its contents, and then logged out of the system. "Okay, then. Skating lessons it is."

* * *

Gav and Jason cheered as Darstar successfully navigated the arena. It had taken a second session after dinner, but in the waning light of evening, Darstar had finally managed to get the knack of it.

"It's a lot easier without Tutor Negra shouting at me every five minutes," Darstar said.

Who! Crash! Scrape!

"What the heck was that?" Jason asked.

Still wearing their skates, the three raced up the arena walls towards the source of the noise, Darstar only trailing the other two by a couple feet.

The three boys stopped short when they discovered the source of the noise.

"What the?"

"How are foxes living way out here?" Gav added.

"What are they doing? Trying to climb the rock?" Jason asked.

"Maybe they fell off the back of a truck," Darstar deadpanned as the three moved closer, his face darkening as he finally comprehended the scene in front of him.

The two foxes were frantically trying to climb the face of a large rock, in order to get to a dark shape on a ledge a few feet over the foxes' heads. Or they were, until a rock landed between them. The foxes scrambled away from the base of the ledge, and Darstar hurried to it, suddenly not caring that he wasn't 100% comfortable on his skates.

"It's an owl!" Jason exclaimed.

"Why didn't it fly away?" Gav asked.

"Its wing is broken," Darstar said, reaching out his hand. "It's okay, little fella, let me see."

"Yeah your A in first aid is going to help you fix that," Gav said sarcastically.

"Be careful, Darstar, it might bite," Jason added.

"You're not going to bite me, are you fella?" Darstar scooped the owl up. "There's some bandages and stuff in the lounge. We'll get you fixed right up."

"This is going to go over real well," Gav said as the three started skating towards the perimeter of the orphanage. "I'll get our shoes, you two meet me in the deserted club room that we found."

"But..." Darstar started.

"That club room is more private than the lounge," Jason pointed out. "If the guards get wind of this, we're maimed."

"Good point," Darstar said, nodding.

* * *

"You want to do *what*?" Jason asked about six weeks later as he and Darstar were sneaking to the club room to feed the owl.

"Teach him how to hunt," Darstar said. "I found the info on the undernet--its mother won't accept it back, it'll smell of humans. We have to teach him how to hunt or he won't survive..."

"Um, Darstar, we're in the middle of the desert," Jason pointed out.

"You do know I was joking when I said that they fell off a truck, don't you?" Darstar asked. "I mean, it had to be living somehow before we came around. Not to mention the foxes..."

"Next thing you'll be telling me that there's coyotes in the cliffs."

Darstar shrugged and held open the door to the club room.

Jason entered, laughing as the owl struggled against the bars of his makeshift cage. "I still can't believe that you charmed Nurse Jaelin out of a splint."

"That's nothing compared to what I snuck out of wood shop," Gav said, standing in the doorway and grinning like a Cheshire cat. He produced a heavy, leather work glove from behind his back. "This should keep the little guy's talons from ripping your hands to shreds."

"Thanks, Gav," Darstar said, accepting the glove.

"What did the warden want?" Jason asked, his face starting to cloud with worry again.

"Um, you know that strictor that Darstar saw watching us learn how to skate? Well, the guy wants to meet me--and a couple other guys in our class."

"Who?"

"Turtle, Puck, and I can't remember the third name--Cat? No, Cothlel."

"Don't know them," Jason said.

"You'll have to tell us what letters got him stuck with that name," Darstar added.

"Speaking of names," Gav said, looking pointedly at Darstar.

Darstar shrugged.

"We can't keep calling the owl 'little fella' forever, you know," Jason said.

"If nothing else, he's going to get big," Gav added.

"I know, but he hasn't told me his name yet," Darstar said.

"What, do you thin he's just going to wake up one morning and say, 'Hi, Darstar, my name is Feathers?'?" Gav asked.

Darstar rolled his eyes. "Naw, he's got a much cooler name than that."

"Yeah, so what is it?" Gav asked, crossing his arms.

"He'll tell me," Darstar replied confidently.

"Mmmhmm." Gav threw Jason a worried look.

Jason just shrugged.

* * *

Darstar and Jason picked at their food, both throwing worried glances towards the door to the dining hall.

Finally, about halfway through the dinner period, Gav bounded through the door, skidded into an empty chair, and snagged the cookie off of Jason's tray.

"Hey!" Jason said, trying to grab the cookie back. "Get your own!"

"I ate with the strictor," Gav said, breaking the cookie in half and returning half of it to Jason. "They'll make me take a real dinner too, and I'm not hungry."

Jason glared. "So why are you stealing my dessert?"

"Half of... because these are just my favorite."

Jason rolled his eyes.

"Guess what?" Gav said, between bites of Jason's cookie.

"You stole desserts for us from the strictor's dinner?" Jason asked hopefully.

"Um, no, I probably should have," Gav said, his face coloring a little.

"You had good news," Darstar prompted.

"He wants me to try out for the Scorpions."

Jason nearly choked. "They're the best skateball team in the orphanage! Have been for years!"

"They get special training and favors from the E-Cops too," Darstar added.

"Where did you hear that?" Gav asked.

"Maybe you should try *listening* to Saberstrike at lights out occasionally. You might learn something."

Gav shoved Jason affectionately.

* * *

Gav had no choice but to listen to Saberstrike that night, however.

"Which one of you knuckle heads is Gavial?" he asked.

"Call me Gav." He stepped forward.

"Your name is Gavial. Hence the "GVL" on your stuff, right?"

"Yeah, but..."

"Anyway, *Gavial*, here's the Scorpion's training schedule; we expect you to start coming next week."

"But we're still in the juniors until next month!" Gav said.

"Special dispensation, thanks to Strictor Grok."

"Oh. Right. Um... thank you," Gav stammered.

Saberstrike ruffled Gav's hear affectionately. "See you kid. Lights out, juniors." He left the room, hitting the light switch, but leaving the door open.

In the light still streaming in from the hallway, Gav looked at Jason and Darstar, dumbfounded.

"What'cha looking at Gavel boy?" someone taunted.

"Your face," Gav replied as he climbed to his bunk above Jason's.

Jason stood on his bunk, resting his arms on Gav's. "Better, but I think it only worked 'cause the comedy twins weren't expecting it."

Gav sighed. "I guess I should be grateful I didn't get G *R* L, huh?"

"Dunno, might give you a chance to show off once in awhile to prove you're not a girl." Jason grinned.

Gav rolled his eyes, shoving Jason affectionately.

Jason blinked. "Was that supposed to do something?"

Gav frowned. "I seem to be off my game, it usually sends you flying."

"Huh," Jason said.

"You're not on your tiptoes, Jase," Darstar observed from the next bunk.

"That'll do it," Jason mused.

Saberstrike stuck his head in the door. "Hey, juniors, didn't I call lights out? Go to sleep!" He shut the door, bathing the room in darkness.

There was a quiet scrambling as the boys all climbed into their beds.

* * *

Darstar looked nervously around the yard, making sure that the guards were otherwise occupied. He uncrumpled the scrap of paper that he had sketched the diagram on, and started copying laboriously into the sand.

He was soon rewarded with a crow tentatively landing at his side.

"Hi. Thanks for coming," Darstar said, reaching out a hand to the crow.

It jumped back, beat its wings rapidly and dashed for the sky.

"Damn," Darstar swore.

"How'd you do that?" Jason asked. He was frowning.

"Found it on the undernet," Darstar said.

Gav skated up to them, rolling over Darstar's diagram.

"Gav, watch it!" Darstar snapped. "I spent half an hour copying that!"

Gav looked down at the sand under his skates. "You were drawing in the sand? Why?"

"To call the birds."

"Why?"

"Maybe if I learn to call them they'll only come when I call."

Gav just blinked.

"Controlling it would be good," Jason said, giving Gav a pointed look.

"Yeah, bird squeeze all over our dinner would be a bit of a bummer."

"Our dinner?" Jason and Darstar echoed.

"Does this mean you're not eating dinner with the Scorpions tonight?" Jason asked.

"Nah, I kinda said I wanted to eat with my boys."

Jason and Darstar both clapped him on the shoulder.

The buzzer for dinner went off.

"First call, let's go," Jason said.

"Gav, do you ever walk anywhere anymore?" Darstar asked as he skated beside them.

"Only when I have to; it's Saberstrike's training methods."

"Guy's weird," Jason commented.

"Just a bit," Gav replied with a shrug. "But I kinda like him."

* * *

"Gavial." Saberstrike appeared in the dormitory doorway and beckoned.

"What's up?" Gav asked, shuffling and hoping Saberstrike didn't bust him for having his skates off all ready.

"When you said you wanted to eat with other friends, I didn't think you meant the bird boy."

"Huh?" Gav asked.

"The weird kid who's been doing all the stuff with the birds."

"He's my friend!"

"Look, Gavial, if you want to go far in the Scorpions, you need to keep yourself in the strictor's favor. You're a good player, and a good kid; I think you could make captain some day, but if you keep hanging out with that weirdo, Strictor Grok is going to freak."

Gav didn't say anything. He just stared.

Saberstrike sighed. "Fine, don't listen to me. You'll learn soon enough when you guys move up to the big leagues. Off to bed, squirt."

Gav nodded, heading back into the dormitory.

"What was that about?" Jason asked as Gav climbed to the bunk above him.

"Nothing. Don't worry about it," Gav muttered, climbing into his bunk and pulling the covers over his head.

Darstar and Jason exchanged glances.

Jason leaned over to Darstar's bunk. "It sure doesn't look like nothing."

Darstar nodded. "He'll tell us."

Jason nodded.

* * *

The next day, at lunch, Gav joined Darstar and Jason at their table.

"What, no Scorpions?"

"Nah, not today," Gav said, reaching for Jason's french fries.

"You've got your own!"

"Yours are better," Gav deadpanned.

"You two need to chill, Gav's other friends are staring," Darstar said, his eyes drifting nervously to the other inductees to the Scorpions.

"Let them," Gav said, mussing Darstar's hair.

Darstar batted his hand away. "Knock it off, Gav, Tutor Silver will have my head if it gets all messed up again."

"Or at least have her way with your head and a pair of scissors," Jason deadpanned.

Gav grinned.

* * *

Gav gulped, heading into the small office that he'd been directed to by Tutor Negra after the end of lessons.

He had a feeling this wasn't going to be pretty.

"You um, wanted to see me, Strictor Grok?" Gav said nervously.

"Gavial, you haven't even been in the Scorpions for three weeks and I'm all ready having to talk to you about un-Scorpion like behavior."

Gav scuffed his shoe on the floor.

"Well, sit, sit," the strictor said. "This isn't a punishment so much as a discussion. Punishment comes later."

Gav scrambled into the chair across from the strictor, landing in it with such force that it scraped backwards, away from the desk that the strictor was sitting behind.

The strictor raised an eyebrow. "Saberstrike tells me that you've been associating with undesirables."

Gav blinked.

"A boy who apparently has been doing weird things involving birds?"

Gav swallowed--he knew he was treading a fine line. He didn't want to get Darstar in trouble, but he couldn't out and out lie to the strictor. "Darstar's not an undesirable. He's just..." Gav trailed off, not sure how to continue.

"It's not wise to associate with people who are positioning themselves outside the system."

"Darstar's not a rebel, he's just a little confused right now."

"It's best that you don't associate with him, lest people think that you share his confusion."

"Darstar's been one of my best friends since..." Gav trailed off. "As long as I can remember, actually."

"Well, you're a Scorpion now. One of my handpicked young men who will make fine officers in the E-Police. You are an extension of me, and if you are seen as a subversive, then I will be seen as a subversive, and that cannot be allowed to happen. Is that clear?"

"Um, yes, Strictor." Gav's stomach twisted. Now what?

* * *

The next day, during free time, Gav skated up to Darstar, who was drawing in the sand again.

"You know, Darstar, as much as I'm for you learning to control how weird this bird stuff is getting, maybe you should do it by sneaking to the outside arena? Or you know, give it up?"

Darstar looked up at his friend blankly. "Why?"

"Because people are starting to think you're going to rebel against the E-protectorate or something."

"That's stupid," Darstar said.

"Well, yeah, but..."

"And by 'people' do you mean Saberstrike or the strictor?"

"Both, actually."

"I don't care what they think," Darstar said recklessly.

Gav frowned. "I don't either..."

"Look, Gav, he told you he doesn't care, so lay off of him," Jason said grumpily.

Gav started, seeing Jason huddled behind Darstar, with his Algebra homework sprawled across his lap.

"Jase..." Gav began.

"Look, can you guys argue somewhere else? This algebra is kicking my butt."

Darstar and Gav exchanged glances that meant, "and he's not at the library because...."

Gav rolled his eyes, then skated to where Jason was sitting, and awkwardly tried to sit down on the ground with his skates. He fell the last six inches, causing Jason to look up and glare at him.

"Do you want some help or not?"

"Yes."

* * *

"Gavial," Saberstrike snapped from the doorway.

The entire dormitory jumped at the sudden noise. Lights out wasn't for fifteen minutes yet, and while the boys were getting ready for bed, they weren't exactly expecting their dorm monitor yet.

Gav just looked up. "Yeah?"

"You. Me. Outside. Now."

Gav reached for his skates, which were resting on the foot of his bed.

"Forget the skates, we're not going far."

Gav gulped, following Saberstrike into the hallway. The moment they were out of earshot of the dorm, Saberstrike threw Gav into a wall. "What did I tell you about hanging around that freak?"

"I'm trying to get him to stop with the freaky stuff," Gav replied.

"Is that what the strictor told you to do?"

"Not exactly, but..."

"No buts. You do what the strictor says, or there will be hell to pay. Capice?"

"But..."

"Do you understand what I'm telling you?" Saberstrike shoved Gav against the wall fairly hard. It was a good thing he'd all ready been touching it, or it would've left a mark.

"Yes," Gav said dejectedly.

Saberstrike let him go and Gav slinked back to his bunk.

"What was that about?" Jason asked as Gav placed a foot next to Jason.

Gav stared at Jason long and hard. He then broke eye contact and hauled himself up to his bunk. "Scorpions stuff."

"Gav?" Darstar asked, looking up at his friend in concern.

Gav didn't respond.

Darstar and Jason's eyes met, and they both shrugged. Gav had moods and they both knew he would only talk about it when he was ready.

* * *

Gav was sitting on his own at breakfast the next morning, picking at his hash browns and trying to figure out what his next move was. He wasn't paying much attention to his surroundings, so when twin trays clattered to the table on either side of him, he jumped, causing his chair to scoot back, away from the table.

"OK, Gav, spill," Jason said. "What's wrong?"

Gav nervously glanced towards the table where his fellow Scorpions initiates were sitting. They were chatting amicably, and hadn't seemed to notice who had joined him.

Gav looked back at his friends briefly, but turned his attention back to his food when he was unable to meet their eyes.

"This is about the strictor thinking Darstar's a bad influence, isn't it?" Jason asked.

"K-kinda," Gav stammered, unsure of his friends' reaction to the news.

"You know, Darstar, Gav might have a point about being a little more careful. You don't want to attract too much of the wrong kind of attention," Jason said.

Darstar glared at him. "Whose side are you on, anyway?"

"Your side, Darstar, I don't want you getting in trouble," Jason replied.

"Me too," Gav added.

Darstar looked Gav straight in the eye, holding his gaze. "You don't want *me* to get in trouble, or you don't want me to *get you* in trouble?"

"I'd prefer if we could all three stay out of trouble," Gav replied. "You know the teachers start really cracking down on this kind of crap in the big leagues, right? What if they start picking on you and Jason too?"

Darstar frowned, but didn't say anything.

"So are you ready for the algebra test next period, Jase?" Gav asked, hoping they could put the subject to rest--at least for the time being.

* * *

After programming assembly, Gav followed his fellow initiates to the outside arena for Scorpions' practice. The looks that Saberstrike kept throwing him during practice made his stomach twist. Something was wrong.

As such, he wasn't exactly surprised when Saberstrike dismissed the rest of the initiates after they skirmished with the full fledged team members and asked him to stay behind.

What worried him was that the rest of the bigger team members stayed as well.

"I hear you had breakfast with the bird boy today."

Gav gulped, nodding mutely.

Saberstrike rubbed the bridge of his nose with his thumb and forefinger. "Look at you, cowering like a wimp or a little kid. You keep that up, and you're going to be a bully magnet when you hit the big leagues next week. You're too stupid to do what you're told and too chicken shit to back yourself up when you don't. What are we going to do with you?"

"Well, uh..."

Ivan cracked his knuckles. "Doesn't know a rhetorical question when he hears one either."

Saberstrike grinned ferally. "Don't worry. He'll learn."

* * *

"Gav, what happened?" Jason asked, running up to him as Gav limped back into the dormitory. "Where have you been?"

"Scorpions' practice," Gav said quietly.

"Are you sure you want to join a skateball team where they foul their own players?" Jason asked, reaching out to help him. "And why are you so beat up, anyway? No one else was."

Gav ducked away from Jason's arm. "Butt out." He gathered his toothbrush and headed to the bathroom.

Jason turned to glare at Darstar. "You see what you did?"

"Me?" Darstar nearly exploded. "It was those Scorpion bullies who gave him the split lip!"

Jason stalked off to the bathroom to see if he could talk some sense into Gav.

* * *

"Ow." Gav winced as Turtle wiped at his split lip with a handkerchief soaked in hand sanitizer.

"Why don't you go to the nurse?" Turtle asked. "I mean, she has stuff that doesn't sting as badly as hand sanitizer."

"Saberstrike said not to," Gav said miserably.

Puck entered into the bathroom and flopped next to the two boys on the floor. "Remind me never to cross Saberstrike. There aren't any band aids on any of the first aid kits on this floor. Think I can sneak back to..."

"No," Gav said. "Saberstrike's going to be here for lights out in like five minutes. You don't want more of the same, do you?"

Turtle stood, offering Gav a hand up. "Come on, we've done what we could, we should get you back to bed."

Puck pushed, Turtle pulled, Gav groaned, and he was soon on his feet, supported by his teammates.

The three Scorpions initiates were three steps out of the bathroom when Saberstrike appeared in the hallway, a first aid kit in hand.

"There you guys are, I was looking for you in the dorm."

Gav looked at Saberstrike warily.

"Come on, Gavial, let's get you cleaned up." He gently waved Turtle off, wrapping an arm around Gav in a way that was half supportive, and half a one armed hug, steering him back into the bathroom.

This time, Saberstrike helped Gav to perch on the sink, then soaked some cotton in antiseptic lotion. Gav winced as Saberstrike applied antiseptic to the cuts that were still stinging from the hand sanitizer.

"Sorry," Saberstrike said, blowing gently on the cuts to take the edge off the sting, then picked up some gauze and surgical tape, and went about dressing the wounds. His fingers drifted to a spot near Gav's eye.

"OW!"

Saberstrike winced in sympathy. "You're probably going to have a black eye."

Gav stared. "You helped do this to me."

"Don't make me do it again."

Gav looked down, unable to meet Saberstrike's eyes.

Saberstrike ruffled Gav's hair affectionately. "It seems like someone has to learn the hard way every year. Usually it's not this early though."

Gav didn't move.

"It was me my first year."

Gav looked up. "Really?"

"It took me awhile to realize that my true friends were the other Scorpions."

Gav eyed Saberstrike skeptically.

"We have each others' backs. No matter what."

Gav still stared.

"If you think this was harsh, you should see what the strictor would have done if he found out that you weren't listening to him."

Gav blinked, unsure what to say.

"Feeling better?" Saberstrike asked.

Gav nodded. "A bit. I'm still real sore though."

"That should go away in a couple of days. Come on, let's get you to bed." Saberstrike helped Gav to his feet, supporting him on the way back to the dormitory.

Ivan met them in the hallway, carrying something wrapped in a towel. "Here, kid, I snuck you a gel pack from the nurse's office."

"Thanks," Gav said, smiling weakly.

Ivan took Gav's other side, which greatly improved their progress as the two larger boys half guided and half carried Gav back to his dorm.

"Which bunk's yours, pal?" Ivan asked.

Gav pointed to the bunks where Jason had his algebra homework spread over the bottom bunk. "Top bunk."

"This will be fun," Saberstrike said sarcastically.

Jason jumped up at the sound of Saberstrike's voice, hurriedly clearing off his bed so that Gav wouldn't have an obstacle course to worry about while climbing to the top bunk. Jason got to his feet, approaching the three Scorpions, but Saberstrike practically growled at him, so Jason headed for the relative safety of Darstar's nearby bunk.

The two boys watched as the large skateball players half helped, half lifted their friend onto the top bunk.

Once Gav was settled, Saberstrike smoothed the covers over his chin, and ran a comforting hand along his hair.

Ivan gently helped Gav settle the chilled gel pack over his eye. "Get some rest, short stuff." With that he turned, pausing long enough to exchange high fives with Turtle and Puck, advising them to make sure Gav got out of bed all right in the morning.

"Lights out, shrimps," Saberstrike said, hitting the switch as he followed Ivan out the door.

* * *

Gav, unsurprisingly, joined the rest of the Scorpion initiates for breakfast the next morning.

Jason was late getting up, and consequently set his tray down across from Darstar's about twenty minutes into the meal.

"What are you reading?"

"This new bird calling ritual that I'm going to try at recess."

Jason raised an eyebrow. "How are you going to have time to sneak out to the arena?"

"Who said anything about sneaking out?" Darstar asked.

Jason stared. "After what happened to Gav last night, how can you..."

"No one told him to abandon us for those bugs!" Darstar exclaimed.

"They beat him to a pulp last night," Jason said. "Because he was hanging out with you!"

"He made his choice. Why are you so worried about him?"

"He's our friend, Darstar!"

"If he was really my friend, he wouldn't ask me to hide such a big part of myself."

"A big part of yourself?" Jason echoed. "You only..."

"It's important, Jason! It's a part of me!"

"You can't know that for sure. It's not like you know who your parents are or..."

Darstar leapt to his feet, his chair squeaking horribly as it slid across the floor. "I just know, Jason. Why can't you accept that?" He grabbed his tray and stalked off.

* * *

At recess, Jason stared out at the play yard, unsure what to do. Darstar knelt in the dirt, scratching symbols on it with his index finger. Gav, on skates, was standing in a knot with his fellow Scorpions initiates, all of whom were casting glances at Darstar that made Jason's stomach churn. Which was nothing compared to the flip flops it did when Gav, Turtle, and Puck started skating in Darstar's direction.

He wasn't sure what to do: ignore it, try to help Darstar, or to run for a tutor and let them sort it out. He moved a bit closer, unsure if he wanted to do much more. Maybe Gav and his friends were just going to talk some sense into Darstar.

Though Jason had a feeling that was wishful thinking, especially when the three boys skated right over Darstar's drawings.

"Gav, watch it!" Darstar said irritably.

"What's the matter, bird boy? Did we mess up your finger painting?" Gav asked.

"You need to knock this off, bird brain," Turtle added. "They don't like freaks in the big leagues."

"Do they like reptiles?" Darstar retorted, easing himself to his feet and starting to walk away.

It took Turtle a few moments of staring to digest what Darstar had said, but the taller boy had no trouble catching up to him. "You don't talk to a Scorpion like that." Turtle grabbed Darstar's arm, pulling him round to face him, then punching Darstar in the stomach.

Darstar flew backwards and tripped over a rock, which sent him flying onto the ground. Gav strode over, grabbing Darstar by the shoulders and hauling him to his feet.

"Thanks, Gav," Darstar said, then paled as he realized that Gav was pulling his arms behind him and holding him still.

"Gav, let go!"

Jason broke into a run.

Turtle and Puck started punching Darstar, with Turtle landing a good shot at Darstar's eye.

A tutor strode up to them, his longer legs carrying him to the fight faster than Jason's could. He pulled Turtle and Puck off of Darstar, as Jason arrived and stopped Darstar from falling over when Gav let go.

"Let go!" Darstar said, pulling away from Jason.

"Jason, take him to the nurse," the tutor instructed.

"I can get there on my own!" Darstar jerked away from Jason and limped in the direction of the nurse's office.

Jason took off after him, walking backwards long enough to say, "Gav, how could you?"

"My name is Gavial."

"Gavial, Turtle, Puck, go to the warden's office. Now."

The three boys started walking in the opposite direction.

"I believe I all ready gave you instructions, Jason," the tutor said.

Jason nodded, turning around and taking off full tilt after Darstar.

"Leave me alone," Darstar panted. He was just inside the admin block, leaning against a wall and panting hard--not even halfway to the nurse's office.

"You're not exactly doing that well on your own," Jason pointed out reasonably.

"I don't want your help."

"Tough," Jason said, reaching out to manhandle his friend.

A black kid and a squat, muscular boy happened by.

"Are you guys okay?" the muscular one asked.

"You look like someone used you for a punching bag," the other boy added.

"I'm fine," Darstar said.

"You're not," Jason said. "If you were fine, you wouldn't be trying to prop up that wall."

"Come on," the muscular kid took one of Darstar's arms, wrapping it around his neck. "You're freaking out your friend, that's not cool."

"Some friend," Darstar muttered as the muscular boy started steering him in the direction of the nurse's office.

"Need a hand, Tug?" the other boy asked.

"I got it, Rabbit."

"I'm Jason, and Mr. Personality here is Darstar."

* * *

It was shortly before lights out when Darstar limped into the dorm. Jason ran to help his friend. "Darstar..."

Darstar pulled away. "Leave me alone."

Jason stared, then sighed in frustration as Darstar limped to his bunk under his own power, flopping painfully onto the bed.

Then Gav, Turtle, Puck, and Saberstrike entered, and Gav paused while Turtle and Puck headed for their respective bunks. "Look, Jase..."

"Don't talk to me!" Jason said, stalking away from Gav and down the hall to the bathroom.

He leaned against the cool tiles, closed his eyes, and started counting deep breaths. When he got to around a hundred and fifty, he heard approaching footsteps and opened his eyes.

Saberstrike loomed in front of him. "Bedtime midget."

Jason nodded, stood up, and started to head back to the dorms.

"And Jason..."

Jason turned, wondering how on Earth Saberstrike was about to defend Gav's behavior.

"Gavial is a Scorpion now, you might as well get used to that."

Jason just walked away, heading back to the darkened dorm room.

* * *

Jason went to the library after classes the next day, staring mournfully at his algebra book and trying to will the equations to make sense. After an hour and a half of trying, he wanted to scream.

Because the only thing he wanted less than to flunk algebra was to be punished for screaming in the library, he settled for shoving his padd across the desk--except that he overshot and it nearly clattered to the floor.

Except that Metron reached out from the next table and deftly caught it.

"Nice save," Jason said.

Metron glanced at the padd. "I'm pretty good at algebra if you want help."

Jason blinked.

"I suck at skateball though."

"Are you suggesting we trade lessons?" Jason asked.

"If you don't mind being seen with 'Glasses Geek,'" Metron said shyly.

Jason shrugged. "It's not like Gav and Darstar are talking to me anyway. Can we start on algebra now, and I'll take you to the outside arena after dinner?"

Metron smiled, turning around his chair so that he was seated at Jason's table. "OK, so why don't we start with what you *do* understand..."

The End

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