last01standing: (Default)
[personal profile] last01standing
Title: How the Sky Looks Different from the Ground
Rating: PG
Characters: Tobias, Chapman, Rachel, Marco and Cassie.
Summary: The AU where Tobias isn’t an animorph.
Disclaimer: I am not KA Applegate and plan to make no profit for this endeavor

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How the Sky Looks Different from the Ground
FOUR


The next day at school, Chapman cornered me before first period. The yeerk was smiling, hiding behind his borrowed skin and tailored suit. “Tobias,” it said amiably. “It was good to have you at the meeting. What did you think?”

I would have preferred to walk away without answering but I didn’t think there was any way I could conceivably pretend I hadn’t heard him. “I had a good time,” I said, trying to keep my voice friendly.

“I guess that means we’ll be seeing you again soon?”

I forced a smile. “Count on it.”

Chapman gave me a satisfied, almost fatherly smile and moved on to recruit some other poor lost soul to the yeerk army. I started moving away but bumped straight into Jake’s friend, Marco, staring at me with crossed arms. “What I want to know,” he said, “is why they’re going after you so hard.”

I looked over my shoulder trying to see if he was talking to someone over my shoulder. There was no one there. “I’m sorry?”

“I said—“ Marco stepped in closer to me. “—why is the Sharing breaking out the red carpet for you? I mean I’m the funny one and Rachel’s got the whole make me a supermodel thing going on but they’re gunning for daydream believer.”

“Daydream believer?” I echoed.

“It’s still early,” Marco said shaking his head. “It takes a little while for me to get warmed up. The Sharing though? Any organization that houses Chapman cannot be good.”

You don’t have to tell me.

I nodded, pretending to dismiss his information as I pushed past him. “Right.”

“Seriously though,” Marco called after me. “Legions of pure evil!”

I pretended not to hear him.

***


Biology crawled by at a snail’s pace. Things were more interesting last year when Rachel was actually my lab partner but this year, her and Cassie sat in the farthest back corner of the room talking in hushed voices. I was doodling absently on my paper, completely forgetting to take notes. Halfway through the lecture, someone snatched my paper from me. “What have we got here?”

What they had was a picture of Grace now marred almost past recognition by an ugly scratch of graphite. I felt a hot flush creeping up my neck. “Give that back,” I said, quietly.

“What’s wrong, Tobias?” the guy sneered. “This your girlfriend?”

I looked up. It was Bryce Daniels. The kid I’d leveled last week when I’d finally snapped. He had a dark black bruise under one eye and a sneer on his lips.

The teacher stopped mid-lecture. “Is there are problem, Mr. Daniels?”

“No ma’am,” he said sweetly, turning around in his seat but taking my sketch with him. “No at all. Continue.”

“I’m very glad to have your permission, Mr. Daniels.” The professor went back on with her lecture, but I couldn’t make myself listen.

I stared at the back of Bryce’s head, an odd sort of explosion taking place in the pit of my stomach. He didn’t have the right. He couldn’t just do something like this to me and get away with it. I was dealing with Grace’s death and my whole family blowing up and the yeerk invasion. I didn’t need to be dealing with jerks like him on top of everything else.

We moved into the actual lab portion of the class about ten minutes later and while I was preparing my slide, Bryce moved over to my lab bench and put the doodle down in front of me and walked away. I unfolded the paper slowly. There was a note scrawled over the dark outline of Grace’s face.

Payback’s a bitch.

Two years ago, I would have been terrified. I would have tried to think of an excuse to leave early. I would have found Jake and hidden behind the bigger guy until I could sneak away to safety. But I wasn’t that guy anymore.

I went back to preparing the sample slide with very little nervousness and had nearly forgotten all about the threat until Bryce slammed me into the wall and dragged me into the men’s bathroom while I was still dazed. I regained my footing as Bryce shoved me into the door. “You made me look like an asshole last week,” he said. “And I’m going to make you bleed for it.”

I pulled myself upright and straightened my back. “I’m not afraid of you,” I said.

I’ve seen monsters and people possessed and gravestones of people the mattered. I’ve seen the alien invasion the rest of the world doesn’t want to find. Of course I’m not afraid of Bryce Daniels.

“So take another whack at me,” Bryce said, pushing my left shoulder. “Prove this wasn’t a fluke.”

I couldn’t do that though. Not now. The last thing I needed was another one on one meeting with Chapman. There’d been too many of those these past few days. I couldn’t help but think of Marco arms folded, smirking and demanding, “What I want to know is why they’re going after you so hard.”

There was some puzzle laying here, the disjointed scramble of pieces just out of my reach. I was missing some key fact, something that would make everything tumble into place. “I’m not going to fight you,” I said and tried to walk past him.

He moved to block my path and I felt that all too familiar sinking in my gut. I may have taken Bryce down a few days ago but history was not in my favor. Bryce was four inches taller then me and at least fifty pounds heavier. He’d made the football team as a freshman and I spend most of my free time buried in a book.

This could end badly.

“Let me out,” I said.

“No,” Bryce retorted and shoved me again.

A white hot flash of rage swept through my vision and I shoved him right back. Bryce grinned and punched me in the stomach. I doubled over, seeing spots and then his knee came back up slamming into my chin and I staggered backward stumbling into one of the stalls, steadying myself on the porcelain toilet seat.

Bryce snarled and made his way toward me.

“What the hell are you doing?” someone said from the door to the bathroom and in another life, I would have been thrilled to see them there. I would have followed them around for a year like I did when Jake first saved me from a similar fate.

“I’m just giving this little punk what he deserves,” Bryce told the intruder.

What followed was borderline surreal. There were two guys I recognized vaguely who pulled Bryce away from me and sent him on his way. When he was gone, they came over to me and offered me a hand up. The taller one clapped me on the shoulder and said, “Hey, Tobias, you all right.”

I shrugged the hand off my shoulder. “I didn’t ask for your help.”

Neither of them seemed deterred. “We’re just watching out for one of our own.”

As unobtrusively as I could, I tried to sidle my way out of the bathroom. “I’m not even sure if I’ve met you before.”

“I’m Mike and this is Darren. We saw you at the Sharing yesterday. And we have to look out for each other.”

There was a pit forming in my stomach. The first nice unselfish thing anyone had done for me in weeks and it was a yeerk plot. It had ulterior motives. I forced a smile to my lips. “Thanks, man.”

“Don’t mention it,” Darren said. “Hey, we’ll be seeing you at the next meeting, right?”

The strain of keeping the smile on my face was almost unbearable. “Yeah, count on it.”

“Good to hear,” Mike said. “You want us to stick around until you get to the next class?”

“I don’t need protecting,” I mumbled.

“Never said you did, but there’s strength in numbers. Part of the Sharing is being a part of something bigger then yourself.”

“Look, thanks for helping me and all but I kind of need to clean myself up before next class.”

That seemed to give them the hint. Darren smiled and said, “Cool, we’ll see you at the next meeting.”

When the door swung shut, I was left in the mercifully empty bathroom. I examined myself in the bathroom mirror. I’d busted my lip slightly in the scuffle, but as far as injuries went I was better off then I usually was.

I barely looked like the kid I was when I moved her more than a year ago. My blonde hair had darkened a few shades. There were dark circles under my eyes and a gaunt cast to my cheeks. I turned on the water faucet and splashed some water onto my face.

I wasn’t sure how much longer then I could do this. The stress of everything was starting to pile up until it was almost choking me. I needed someone like Grace tying me down, reminding me why I was fighting.

Unbidden a picture of Rachel swam into my mind. Rachel with her long, blonde hair and dark eyes smiling at me when no one else would. She was probably infested. Working with Chapman to get a yeerk slug in my ear.

But I knew what Grace would have said to my doubts. She’d tousle my hair, grin and tell me to go for it anyway. She’d tell me to take a risk, to ask Rachel out.

And I should ask her out. There was a school dance in two weeks. Homecoming, I think. One of those things I never would attend by myself. Where I would spend the entire time standing awkwardly in the corner, lips dyed red from an excess of fruit punch. It was the kind of place where people like Rachel would thrive.

In that moment, I made my decision and before I could talk myself out of it, I found myself pushing my way out of the bathroom and turning into a different hallway, one that I was sure housed Rachel’s locker. She was standing under the stairwell when I spotted her, deep in conversation with Cassie. My throat clenched. My palms started sweating. I closed my eyes for a second as I thought I heard Grace whisper, You deserve some fun every once in a while, kid.

I approached the two girls resolutely, willing my voice to work but before I could say anything, I heard what they were talking about.

“I’m just not sure I’m really comfortable with this,” Cassie said. “I mean, he’s a person. It’s not right.”

“It’s the mission,” Rachel said in a low, even tone. “We’ve been over this a hundred times. I can handle Tobias.”

“Not exactly doing your best job, are you?” Cassie retorted. “I mean Marco’s started taking bets on if he’s gay. Ever consider he’s just not interested? And maybe that’s a good thing.”

“Oh, he’s interested,” Rachel said, tossing her hair. “I can get this job done---”

“Is this some kind of joke?” I sputtered before I could stop myself. Both girls turned toward me, slack jawed. Tears threatened my vision. I brushed them angrily away. “A bet to see if Rachel could convince some loser that she actually liked him?”

Cassie’s dark skin had lightened a few shades. Rachel’s face was twisted in a parody of pity. I didn’t want her pity. “Tobias,” she said.

“I can’t believe I actually fell for it,” I continued, the words tumbling out of my mouth.

“Tobias, please,” Rachel pleaded. “Let me explain.”

“Save it for someone who cares,” I spat, bumping shoulders with her ask I walked away.

I didn’t look back.

***


Not a lot of people know how to get to the school’s roof, but I was one of the lucky few. I waited until the halls had emptied for class and then I made my way up the flight of stairs and worked at the loosely locked door handle until it came unlocked.

It was a sunny day, the sky filled with billowing white clouds. I closed the door behind me and sat against the ledge, leaning back so I could watch the birds tearing through the clouds. There was a plane high up in the sky and I wondered how much longer I was going to be here. It had been more than a year since my Aunt shipped me cross-country to live with my uncle which meant that any day now my Uncle could ship me back and then I wouldn’t have these yeerk problems. I could disappear if I needed to.

And then there was Aria the message from my mysterious father. Everything could change. Maybe I’d be able to move in with my cousin and go to nature shoots with her. Maybe I could have a happy ending.

But I didn’t believe that. Not anymore. Grace was dead. The thing with Rachel was nothing short of disastrous. For reasons unknown, Chapman had picked out my own personal brain slug. I had no doubt the thing with Aria would go sour as well. I couldn’t spend my days with my head up in the clouds and the sky looks very different from the ground.

I lost track of time as I sat on the roof, stared at the clouds and thought about hope.

***


Two more chapters to go! See you next Wednesday!
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(no subject)

12/3/09 02:48 (UTC)
Posted by [identity profile] jadedkoi.livejournal.com
Awesome! It came out faster!

I really like how much recruitment pressure is on Tobias. I also like that he got to see Rachel and Cassie talking- and reminds me of how funny it was in the series that no one ever paid any attention to either of them.

You write this fandom really well. Hope the next chapter gets here soon.

(no subject)

16/3/09 03:24 (UTC)
Posted by [identity profile] trolllogicfics.livejournal.com
Awesome! It came out faster!

Yes, you've inspired me to grandeour! Also I had a really long bus ride so there's even more!

Thank you so much for reading.

(no subject)

13/3/09 01:25 (UTC)
Posted by [identity profile] laurahatesblue.livejournal.com
Keep up the good work!

(no subject)

16/3/09 03:24 (UTC)
Posted by [identity profile] trolllogicfics.livejournal.com
I'll do my best. =)