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Wet...sticky...the thick smell permeated the air around him. His breathing was heavy, and his body exhausted.
It was to be expected - he had just crawled out of a garbage dumpster for the third day in a row, after being thrown in by some of the older kids.
Ten walked home after another eventful day at the IGNO University campus, where he attended middle school. He had only been going to school there for a few months, since his family moved to the suburbs of IGNO City. Before that, Ten was homeschooled by his adopted parents. And before that, Ten really had only the barest, most basic education - they didn't provide a whole lot more than that at the orphanage where he lived until the age of 7...and being passed around between several foster homes until he was 11 years old, constantly moving between schools, Ten never really had a chance to learn much of anything.
He couldn't complain too much, though. For the last three years, Ten had lived in a loving home with the family that finally adopted him for good. Of course, he had some nice foster families (and some not-so-nice ones), but it was hard to feel loved when you were only there for such a short time...now, Ten lived comfortably with his mom, dad, and pet dog, and was loved very much. The problem was really his education - or lack thereof - due to his circumstances. Ten was seen by the school system as 'special'. Having just turned 14 years old last month, Ten was sorted into the 8th grade class with his 13-14 year old peers. However, his lack of formal education for most of his life meant Ten could only read at a fourth-grade level...his math skills didn't pass that of basic algebra, and when asked what he knew about the history of IGNOLand he was only able to provide the sort of information you learn about the RAINBOW in the first grade. He didn't even know the history of the Empire's war with the Outback!!
At this rate, Ten was simply not ready to enter high school next year...he would end up being held back. At a younger age, that might have been alright - but Ten's relationship with his peers was already incredibly strained. Kids can be so cruel...able to pick out the one who is 'different' all too easily, and gang up on them to feel better about themselves. Ten's speech impediment made him an easy target, as did his frail body that hadn't quite caught up to the other kids his age. It was all too easy to aim their dodgeballs at him during gym class, or make sure he sat alone in the lunch room. But easy isn't always fun - which is where this new ritual came in. The ritual of two or three guys grabbing the weak-bodied Ten as he wandered out of the classroom on his way home from school, and chucking him in the dumpster.
There was little he could do to stop them...he was too shy to speak up and 'tattle' to the school authorities. Plus, those boys all got better grades than him. They were 'good kids'. Ten was pretty harmless, and they probably wouldn't think he was lying, but...those 'good boys' wouldn't likely be punished, either. Let off with a warning at best...or completely ignored at worst. It just wasn't worth working up the courage for...it was just easier to head down to IGNO Park before going home and washing himself off. They had water fountains and clean bathrooms there. He liked the park, anyway. People would take their dogs for walks down there, and sometimes let him pet them. He would have loved to feed the ducks, but he usually had his lunch taken away from him. Otherwise he would have saved some scraps of bread from his sandwich to share with the hungry ducks. He was hungry, too.
Sometimes Ten felt like these ducks were his only friends.
At first, there were some kids at school who were nice to him - but once he became a target for bullying, they stopped hanging around for fear of it spreading their way. There were also a few older people he knew......they were nice sometimes, but they usually made fun of the way he talked, or threw acid on him. They were just as bad as the bullies at school, except worse because they were older and should have known better. There was also his twin brother, Tru...they'd met again after being split apart years ago at the orphanage when Ten got adopted. For a while, they would hang out together...but Tru didn't like Ten very much. It was a long story - a story of the past, and one that needn't be told again. But really...there was no one else he could talk to, really open up to, besides these ducks. They couldn't talk back, but that was okay. They were happy enough to just glide along the water in front of him, happily gobbling up what little scraps Ten managed to find in the trash, or on the ground, from other people who came to the park to eat lunch. He'd been doing this almost every day after school for a while.
"Tomarrow Ill Bring U Guise Sum Crakers", he said, rising to his feet and brushing off the dirt and twigs stuck to his knees. "Thank U For Listening 2 Me...See U Tomarrow."
Unfortunately, Ten wasn't going to be able to make good on that promise.
When he got home, his parents wanted to sit down and half a talk with him. This wasn't the first time...and it was never good news, either. His parents were kind people, who only scolded him when he deserved it, and never raised their voices or made him feel bad for being himself. However, Ten knew - he knew he wasn't the same as the other kids, and he didn't learn as well as they did. His parents often had to sit him down and talk about the results of parent-teacher conferences, and his report cards. They were always supportive, but it's not like he could help feeling like he'd been a disappointment. He wasn't stupid - he knew this was going to be one of those talks. Sighing heavily, he set down his backpack and sat at the table where his mom and dad were waiting.
"Honey...", his mom began, "we know you have been working really hard since you joined the other kids at your school..."
"...but the teachers have reason to believe you're not...learning at the same pace as the other children.", said his dad.
"...Im Doing Tha Best I Can..."
"We know, sweetie. But--"
"But at this rate, you'll end up having to...repeat the eighth grade."
Ten's mother glared at her husband for being so blunt before continuing.
"...what your father means is...you might not be able to go onto the next grade when your friends do. You would stay there, with the same teachers, while they moved on ahead...which might be sad for you. We don't want to see you left behind your friends."
Liek I Care Abuot Those Jerks..., Ten thought, a scowl rising to his face. He turned away so his parents wouldn't see.
"...that said, there's still a chance to help you catch up, so that might not happen", his father continued, adjusting his glasses with his index and middle finger. "Your teacher suggested we get you an afterschool tutor."
"A Tooter? Whats A Tooter? Why Do I Need A Tooter?"
"There's no need to get defensive, honey!! A tutor is just someone who help you study a little bit, one-on-one, outside of the classroom."
"Hopefully the personal attention will make it easier for you to focus."
"That, and it will be another student, just a little older than you. Someone you can...relate to, a bit easier."
"They'd basically be doing a lot of the same things we did when we homeschooled you, Ten. Except you'll still be attending your main lessons during the day - just, instead of going out to play after school like you do before coming home, you'll stay after class for...well, more school."
"But I Dont Want More Skool!!", Ten said, forcefully standing up and slamming his hands on the table. "I Liek Going 2 Play With My Frends After!!!!"
"Sweetie, think of it this way...your tutor will be your new friend, too!!"
"I DONT WANT 2 MAKE FRENDS WITH A TOOTER, I HATE THOSE KIDS IN MY CLASS ALREDY!!"
Ten couldn't take it anymore - he ran upstairs to his bedroom, slamming the door behind him. His mom called out after him, but he didn't care. He didn't even care if he had to stay in his room all night and miss dinner, he didn't want to talk about this!! ...his stomach growled...he'd already missed lunch. But...he wasn't ready to go back out there...
"I Dont Want A Tooter...I Want To Visit My Duck Frends..."
Ten lay back on his bed and sighed, staring at the ceiling. He was still wearing his school-issued Scanner device, and decided to kill some time and distract himself by browsing his favorite website, funfictions.com - a website where people wrote and submitted stories about their favorite fandoms, like Ship Wars or Black in the Closet. Ten liked to write stories like these, too...they usually devolved into boys kissing other boys. He was teased for that, too - called a 'geyfaec' by his peers - so he wasn't entirely 'out' about these interests just yet. Fortunately, Scanners were easy to keep private, since the data on an individual's Scanner could only be accessed via retina scan. It was much more secure than a simple password system, and was standard for both the educational and business-model Scanners. The school-issued ones did come with some age-friendly blocks, but since funfictions.com was just text, and not an inherently pornographic site, it slipped through the cracks.
Though he had found a really good Ship Wars story a few days ago and was trying to catch up on the latest chapter...Ten just couldn't bring himself to focus.
"I Wander Wat Kind Of Tooter Ill Have..."
He just lay there, staring up at the ceiling, for some time, alone with his thoughts...his mom would be calling him for dinner before long, and he knew he'd have to come to terms with this decision. But all he could think about was how unlikable he was...and how there was no way he'd get along with a tutor his own age.
All Azaran could think was how much this sucked. He had come to IGNO City with high hopes of being able to find his purpose in life and instead he was stuck in school. The local authorities did not seem to understand that he was already a graduate from high school. Did he have the documentation for it? No, but he had moved from such a far away place and he didn't think he would need to prove anything to anyone.
Normally Azaran was totally against breaking rules but he was smart enough to know if he caused enough of a problem in school that he would probably just be expelled and then he could actually focus on what he wanted. That plan had not been going very well thus far. Instead of getting kicked out of school the principal just decided that he was going to be Azaran's best friend, insisting he was a "cool dude" that just wanted to "hang" with him. Azaran did not want to hang with this guy and he did not want to be in school.
Here he was though sitting in the office of IGNO City High School listening to the principal tell him about his cat or something when the conversation took an interesting twist.
"Listen, dude," the principal said making Azaran feel very awkward, "We need to do something about your bad behavior lately."
"How bout I just don't go to school," Azaran glared.
"Well all of you special kiddos have to go to school to graduate-"
"-I ALREADY GRADUATED UP NORTH!!!" Azaran interrupted finally feeling angry enough to yell at this man.
The Principal sighed, "You do have the best test scores of any student in the school, but I can't just let you not come to school, it's against the law."
"Well isn't there anyway that I could just not be in class? Make me do something else?" Azaran felt desperate but he just could not handle another PENIS joke from his peers.
The Principal was silent for a few seconds before he smiled. "Okay Azaran I have an idea. The middle school on campus has been bothering me for awhile to find tutors for their students. Recently they told me they would need someone very smart to tutor a student after school, they call him a problem. If you tutor him everyday after school I will make it so you don't have to come here, except on exam days. We will call it 'service learning'."
The idea of having to tutor some kid didn't sound great to him but Azaran knew this may be the only way to get out of school.
"Fine," Azaran sighed, "I'll do it."
The Principal smiled and put his fist out for Azaran to bump making Azaran doubly happy he wouldn't have to go in and see him anymore.
Dinner was largely silent...Ten's parents knew that the situation was not a fun one for him, and didn't want to spoil his mood further while he was eating. Of course...the conversation did come up again before he went to bed. It was much less heated this time...Ten resigned himself to little more than grunts of understanding and nods. He wasn't happy about this in the least, and they knew that - but he knew that wasn't going to change the situation. Besides...what if he was held back after all? These bullies may move on without him, but he'd just be another year older and an even bigger target for new bullies to harass. Ignoring the problem...wasn't going to make it better. Ten knew that.
"Im Going 2 Bed...Goodnite."
They were the first actual words he'd spoken to them since he stormed off earlier. After brushing his teeth and packing his school bag, Ten crawled under the covers and pulled them up tight over his head.
"I Have To Meat This Tooter Tomarrow, Huh...Sorrey, Ducks..."
Tomorrow came after a long, sleepless night, and Ten trotted off to school as usual. His house was far enough from the campus that he had to ride the train...his parents considered letting him live in a dorm when he'd first enrolled, but Ten vehemently refused. It meant having to wake up an hour earlier every morning, but he didn't care. He wasn't about to leave behind the family he'd finally found after so long to go live by himself among a pack of strangers.
Fortunately, most of his peers took school-issued buses in, and the train ride was generally pretty peaceful. The train was often pretty crowded, but it was mostly adults on the way to work, preoccupied with their Scanners - they didn't bother him. It was kids his own age that Ten couldn't deal with.
Finally, the train reached its stop on IGNO Campus. Apparently just a few years back this place was a lot smaller, occupying only the high-profile IGNO University...it had only recently expanded its grounds to encompass middle and high school, as well. Elementary schooling was still done in smaller facilities throughout the city, and most kids were sent to whatever one was the closest to their home. There were a few other middle and high schools in and around the city, as well - not everyone could afford to attend the private IGNO Campus, after all. Ten's parents were reasonably well-off financially, however, and felt that the higher standard of education would be good for Ten. That only made him feel even more guilty about how it was apparently not enough - at least if they'd sent him to public school, he wouldn't be flushing their money down the toilet with every failed test he brought home.
Of course, Ten's parents did not feel that way, and a part of him knew that. But he'd developed a complex about this over his years in the orphanage and foster homes...always striving to do his best with his chores, and being perpetually cheerful. If you were a good kid, you'd be more likely to be adopted into a permanent family, after all - but if you were a bad kid who disappointed the staff, or your foster families, no one would ever want you. These were the guidelines passed around among the children in the orphanage since a young age - kids who had no idea how the adoption process worked, being fed mean-spirited lies by the older kids who had been left behind longer than them, making them feel hopeless about ever getting into a good home. Ten knew firsthand now that these things weren't true, and he'd lived with many very nice foster families and eventually found a family that loved him.
...but growing up with those 'rules' driving his entire behaviour was harmful. If he stopped to think about it too hard, he might start to doubt...does my family only love me when I'm a good boy? If I keep disappointing them with bad grades, or start developing a bad attitude, will they hate me? Will they dump me, abandon me back at the orphanage and pick up a better kid in my place? These doubts were always swimming just below the surface, pushing Ten to always stay positive, even when he was bullied every day...to not tattle on other kids even if they deserved it. But no matter how hard he worked, he just could not improve his grades...and those worries became more and more prevalent, as much as he didn't want them to.
I know they love me...I know that, but......
Ten was so deep in thought he didn't even notice where he was walking, when he bumped right into another kid.
"O-Oh...Um, Im Sorrey..."
It was a boy, about his age...slightly older-looking. He'd never seen him before - maybe a high school student? He had shaggy blonde hair, wore a white scarf and...
"Wow...Ur Wings R Reely Pretty..."
The boy had beautiful white wings growing out of his back. Ten wondered briefly how he got dressed in the morning, figuring they must have to make special clothes for people with wings...but before he could ask any follow-up questions, the boy had already continued walking away, a scowl on his face and his hands in his pockets. Sure enough, he was going in the opposite direction of Ten - on his way to the high school building. He sure didn't look very happy, either - not that Ten couldn't relate to that.
Diiiing DIIIIING diiiiing diiiiiiiiiiiing...diiing diiiiiiiing DIIIIIIIING diiiiiiiiiiing...
Ten's head spun around as the middle school chime rang - he should have been in class by now!! As he began to run off towards the stairs, he turned and looked behind him one last time, hoping to catch another glimpse of the boy with the wings...but he was already gone. ...Ten wasn't sure why he was so curious, but he'd never seen anyone with wings before. He knew there were all sorts of races living in IGNO City...some of his classmates had animal ears and tails, after all, and he was even acquainted with a small talking tiger-like thing. But the boy's wings were just so pretty, as white as fresh snow...
"Ah...I Have To Get To Clas!!"
Shaking the thoughts from his head, Ten ran up the steps into his own school building, preparing for another long day full of academic struggles, bully problems, and probably an empty stomach. And after that was over...he still had to head down to the library wing and meet his new tutor. Ten sighed as he prepared for the rough day he had ahead of him.
Azaran was cursing his luck. Of course the first day that he wouldn't have to come to school during the day was a day he had an exam. On top of that his principal wanted him to talk to the guidance counselor to understand how to work with middle school students. What could be so hard about that? Just make the kid do his damn work...
On top of having to come in he was also in a sour mood due to being bumped into by some kid. He hated when people just "bumped" into him. Most of the time he knew it was intentional. Most of the other students knew that Azaran was smarter than them, mainly due to him repeatedly trying to him get out of class the first week by constantly answering every question to prove he knew the material. For some reason being smart made other people not like him. Normally he would just kick their asses but he had a code not to hurt people that couldn't hurt him for real. Still, people bumping into him and knocking stuff out of his hands had gotten annoying.
The exam went quickly and before he knew it he was sitting with the guidance counselor getting instructions on how to work with his new student. The main thing was about encouraging them, at least that was what he was told.
The whole being nice thing didn't come easy to Azaran. His difficult past and his shock of what "the real world" was had made him cold and distant. He decided that he would try his best to help this kid and then just spend the rest of the day doing what he wanted to do.
The end of the day came much quicker than normal for Azaran. Maybe it was the fact he didn't have to deal with his classmates that made the day so much faster.
Well I might as well get this over with, he thought as he headed to the middle school library.
He was not happy when he walked into the library and saw the same kid that had bumped into him that same day.
"I'm Azaran, your tutor..." He sighed as he greeted the kid with a hello.
Ten had been waiting in the library for about 20 minutes. He'd actually gone there early on purpose...he was ashamed to say he actually lied to his teacher when he handed him the slip that was written out for him, saying he had an appointment with a tutor. Of course this was true - the slip proved that - but it didn't say anything about the time the meeting was scheduled for. Ten thought that if he got out of class a little early, he'd be able to avoid the bullies - since he wouldn't be able to do his usual 'calm down' ritual after school to see the ducks at the park, he thought a little white lie would at least make his day go a bit easier. Ten was definitely not the type of kid who would normally do such a thing...but he really didn't want his bullies following him, or having trash dumped on him before his first impression with this tutor. Especially since he already had a feeling he wouldn't like them.
When the tutor actually showed up (right on time), Ten's eyes went wide with surprise...it was the same boy he'd bumped into earlier in the morning. He couldn't help it as his gaze wandered to the boy's magnificent wings again. When the boy sat down next to him, Ten could tell he wasn't the happiest to be there.
"Hello...", he said in a forced tone halfway between a grunt and a mumble. "I'm Azaran, your tutor..."
"Oh...Hallo. My Name Is Ten."
After they exchanged these greetings, it was silent. Azaran was looking off in the other direction, seemingly gathering his thoughts. Ten wondered if this was his first time being a tutor, because he didn't seem like he really knew what to do. Eventually, Azaran pulled out his backpack and began rummaging through, laying a few thin workbooks on the table in front of them.
Ten...was very bad in social situations. He almost always behaved in one of two ways - either he'd clam up and be quiet, shy, and out of the way...or he'd try too hard to be friendly, and end up asking way too many questions. This was a case of the latter.
"Um...How Do U Ware A Back Pace Around Your Wings...?"
It was a reasonable question. Ten had never seen a boy with wings before, and all sorts of thoughts began spinning around in his head as to how this boy's life may have been different than his.
"Where Do U Live? Do U Need Speshal Cloths Made For Your Wings? Do U Fly 2 Skool? Flying Must B Fun..."
"THAT'S ENOUGH!" Azaran shouted.
Normally Azaran tried to be nice but these questions were just too much. All he wanted was to review the material with the kid and get out of there. All he knew was that the longer he was here the longer he was away from people that could actually use his help, not some kid from a family wealthy enough to send their kid to a private middle school.
Azaran regretted shouting instantly. He looked at the kid, who looked ready to cry from his shouting.
"I'm sorry," Azaran said awkwardly, "I am not used to so many questions. Hell, most people here don't even want to talk to me."
He took a second to pause to regain his composure.
His name was Ten right? Azaran thought. This was when it hit him, he was so preoccupied with wanting to get out of there early that he had difficulty remembering the kids name. He sighed knowing he had done wrong.
"Listen Ten," Azaran said hoping that was the right name, "I'm here to help you with homework. Let's do that."
Ten had been so nervous about meeting this tutor since this morning. All day long, through class, through lunch (though his sandwich was, predictably, taken from him), through break period, all that was on Ten's mind was how much he was going to hate having to deal with this new obstacle...and his parents wanted him to do it every day after school? It made him wish he could just go back to being homeschooled again.
However, when he saw that his tutor was the strange, winged boy he'd bumped into this morning, his cloudy mood was instantly washed away. His eyes were even sparkling!! He was just so full of curiosity about his origins that he had all but forgotten that he was here to study...that is, until the boy snapped at him in a voice so loud it caused every other student (all 3 of them) in the library to spin their heads around and stare at them. The last thing Ten wanted was to draw attention to himself - he already felt stupid for having to stay after school to do extra school after school had gotten out. And besides that...he remembered the reason he was so upset about this tutor in the first place. Older kids were all bullies, after all, and this boy was no different, even if he did have pretty wings.
The two sat there in silence for what felt like forever...Ten could do nothing but stare blankly at his open notebook. He was trying to pretend that he was concentrating on the material, but...the only words written on the page were his name and today's date. Once he realized that, he felt even more foolish for trying to act like he was reading...he couldn't hide his feelings anymore. His brow wrinkled, and he was now struggling to hold back the tears. Ten had started crying in the middle of class once before, so he knew how embarrassing it could be...if even a single teardrop falls, it leaves a telltale stain on the note paper. The ink of the little blue lines get runny, and it's noticeable even after it dries. Your words smudge, and you can't read your notes later. When you open the pad on the bus to try and catch up on the things that confused you in class, someone looks over your shoulder and notices the suspicious little circular shapes on the page. In an instant, yet another name is added to the list of horrible things the bigger kids shout at you. "Crybaby Ten". He was certain that this boy, too, wouldn't hesitate to call him by that name...
So he was surprised when the silence was broken, not by more shouting, but by a brief sigh.
"Listen, Ten", the boy said...Ten. Not Crybaby Ten. "I'm here to help you with homework. Let's do that."
Ten took a moment to regain his composure and make sure he wouldn't cry after all, then looked up at his tutor. He was being very careful not to make eye contact with Ten, instead staring into the distance of the library with a strange grimace on his face, and scratching his head. He seemed more embarrassed than angry...that's when Ten realized that, as much as he didn't want to spend another hour after school doing this stuff, his tutor probably didn't want to do it either. At the very least, what they had in common was wanting to get through the work as quickly as possible, and get home...or, in Ten's case, to be able to see his duck friends before the sky got too dark.
Maybe that's why he yelled...he just wants to go home too.
"Im Sorrey, um...Arazan", he said, not sure if he pronounced the boy's name correctly. "Um, The Subject Im Having Tha Most Truble With Is Math..."
Ten pulled his workbook out of his backpack, flipping open the page of the day's lessons. He pointed at the problem he was stumped on...and once again braced himself, fearing that he'd be made fun of for being unable to solve such an 'easy' problem.
Azaran was glad that some progress would be made that day. He was hoping that if he could just get the kid to do the work he would be just fine and everything would go fast.
"Math, huh," Azaran said confidently, "I happen to be pretty good at it. Let me see what you are working on."
Ten handed the sheet of his work to Azaran and the teen couldn't be more surprised.
He doesn't understand any of this! Azaran thought now understanding why this kid needed tutoring.
"Okay let's go back up to problem one and start it all over," Azaran said with a sigh knowing this would take awhile.
The two continued to work for the next hour and a half on the homework. Azaran eventually got so frustrated with math that he basically told Ten the answers. He was intrigued by the writing homework Ten had. Apparently he was supposed to write a poem about anything. While the structure was bad and the spelling was terrible the older boy saw something in the words written, loneliness.
Azaran knew about loneliness. No one wanted to be his friend, something quite different from up north. Azaran wasn't popular by any means back home but he had a few friends to spend time with. Here no one cared about his opinion. Most of the kids here just seemed to be so wrapped up in their own little world that none of them noticed what was happening around the city! When he had tried to inform others they just rolled their eyes and ignored him.
Though Azaran was curious if Ten was ignored he had no intention of trying to figure out. This was just some rich kid wasting the premium education his mommy and daddy were buying for him.
Finally Azaran was able to look at the clock and tell his pupil that it was time to go home.
"Uh, g-good job today," Azaran said as he stood up from the table.
Once Azaran got settled into his role as the tutor, Ten thought that he seemed to soften a bit compared to how harsh and mean he had seemed initially. Something about his face told Ten he was confident and proud of being so smart - something Ten envied greatly. It was discouraging in a way to see someone make these problems he'd struggled with so much seem trivial, but at the same time the tutoring session went much better than he had been fearing...Azaran never once yelled at him or called him stupid for not understanding something right away, and he took the time to explain the steps and how he solved things when it seemed like Ten was still unsure. He even managed to solve a few problems on his own, though he was definitely a long way from legitimate improvement.
By the end, Azaran did seem to get a bit more frustrated and started practically telling Ten the answers. Ten, who had begun to relax a bit, felt tense all over again...Azaran wasn't outright calling him stupid, nor was he raising his voice, but Ten couldn't help but feel like he was annoying the boy and making him stay later after school than he'd probably wanted. Ten started to apologize a lot, which seemed to annoy the boy even more...eventually, he just decided to move on from the math entirely and focus on a different subject - in this case, English. Ten groaned under his breath...while he enjoyed English class much more than Math, he was struggling just as much. When he was homeschooled, things went more at his own pace and he really liked writing freeform stories...but there were more rules here. They had to follow strict prompts on the syllabus, and their poems had to fit such specific rhyme schemes that it didn't even feel like art anymore. Ten liked when he was able to express himself through writing and wrote Scanfiction a lot during his free time...but now his favorite subject was quickly turning into just another way the school environment stifled him from expressing himself.
Azaran, however, seemed intrigued by the poem Ten had written for his assignment. He told him that the grammar and spelling was pretty bad, but he liked the themes...Ten wasn't entirely sure what that meant, but he could see something in Azaran's eyes as he was reading that told him his tutor wasn't lying. He read over the poem silently to himself for a long time, though Ten wasn't able to figure out what about it had drawn him in so much in the end. He seemed pretty eager to end their session altogether after that - but it had already been a full two hours after all. Still...as the two walked out the door and headed their separate ways home, Ten swore he caught Azaran glancing back at him a few times.
When Ten got home, his parents were very eager to know how the tutoring session went. Honestly, Ten thought it wasn't so bad, and didn't really mind the idea anymore...but he didn't want his parents to know that. He may have been timid in a lot of ways, but Ten could be very stubborn when he wanted to be - and he was still upset with them for deciding to go through with this whole tutor thing without consulting his feelings on the matter. Thus, he played it off as though it was a chore, and continued to act distant and angsty - rushing through dinner quickly, and retiring to his room for the night.
The next morning, Ten headed to campus in a somewhat more upbeat mood than usual...he had another tutoring session after school, but he wasn't dreading it as much as he had the day before. That mood, however, wouldn't last.
Ten grit his teeth against the taste of muddy grass as his face was shoved hard into the dirt by a gang of three "peers". Should have known...it was Caleb and his goons who were always harassing him. The problem was, they were really good at covering their tracks - they always did it when no one was looking, and since they were able to act as witnesses for each other they always had alibis. It didn't help that Caleb was a gifted student to boot, and generally polite and well-liked in class. Whenever Ten tried to tell a teacher that Caleb was bullying him, he'd be dismissed because 'Caleb is a good kid'. No one even tried to take Ten at his word. Caleb was also really good at picking on Ten's minor annoyances that went unnoticed by everyone else, like deliberately squeaking his shoes against the freshly-polished hallway floors - the sound was like nails on a chalkboard to Ten, and Caleb and his goons knew that. But what could Ten do? How do you begin to explain yourself by saying 'he squeaked his shoes at me'? No one would take him seriously, so he didn't even bother. All he could do was grin and bear it, even as three boys held him down behind the school building and took turns kicking his face into the mud.
And to think, he started taking this behind-the-buildings route on purpose to avoid people...leave it to the bullies to find a way to use even that to their advantage.
Azaran was exhausted from a long night of working at his secret job. Unfortunately, today was one of the days that he had to go to school per the deal he made. He didn't mind though because he actually liked taking tests. In a way it was a relaxing thing for him.
Originally he had planned to go into the school through the front entrance, but he hated how his classmates looked at him. He was aware that he may have rubbed them the wrong way, but he couldn't help that he was smart. He just wanted to share that knowledge with people. I don't understand why these kids don't appreciate the chance they get here , Azaran thought, This school really is amazing, and so many people at the shelter wish they could have their kids come here. Of course all of these kids, with the exception of a few like myself who got in on scholarships, are rich little punks who don't give a fuck about anything or anyone but them-
Suddenly, Azaran was pulled out of his thoughts when he heard a loud, "Stop it!"
When he looked up to see who it was, it was no other than the kid that he was tutoring. This wasn't the kind of situation Azaran wanted to see him again, face down in the mud while three kids that looked to be a little bigger than him laughed at him.
"What the hell is going on here!?" Azaran shouted making the three noticeably jump.
"We are just playing with our friend here," one of the kids sneered trying to convince Azaran of the obvious lie.
This was the kind of shit that always happened in the city and no one ever did anything about it, except Penguinman. Of course Penguinman couldn't be here right now, he only came out at night so Azaran knew he would have to step in.
"Cut the crap," he growled at the group of bullies, "You obviously don't like him so why not just leave him alone?"
"Awww did you hear that guys?" Another boy laughed, "Tenny actually has a friend."
"First time for everything," another replied.
Azaran was getting very upset but when saw Ten's face looking like he was ready to cry he snapped. Quickly as he could he flipped each of the three boys into the dumpster close by. Unfortunately it was empty but it got the message across.
"Get out of here," he barked as the three ran away.
Turning his attention to the more pressing matter. "Hey you okay kid?" he asked offering a hand out of the mud for Ten.
Ten was surprised when he heard a familiar voice come to his rescue. It was hard to see from the angle he was at, face in the mud with another boy's boot on his back and all...but he was pretty sure it couldn't be anyone else.
"Get out of here", Ten heard, just following a loud clashing noise over by the dumpster. This time he was able to sit himself up and, sure enough, confirmed his suspicions - it was his tutor from yesterday, the winged boy Azaran. It was a little surprising that Azaran would come save him like that, considering he didn't seem to really like Ten...wasn't he scared at all? Caleb and his friends had teased Ten so much that he couldn't imagine someone courageous enough to stand up to them like that.
"Uh...Tank U..." Ten said softly as he pulled his dirtied body up from the ground, dusting himself off. "I Have 2 Go 2 Clas Now...Ill See U Arond."
Truthfully, Ten was still not sure what to make of this kid, and though he was thankful for the help, he didn't really want to stick around and chit-chat with him. Using the class bell as an excuse, he made his way to the middle school building on campus.
As the lessons dragged on, Ten found his mind wandering as it often did...rather than taking notes on the lectures, he'd find himself jotting down ideas for his new Scanfiction in the margins, and daydreaming. He knew that this probably wasn't doing him any favors as far as learning, but the stifling environment of sitting in a class listening to impersonal lectures was something he couldn't handle...he wasn't used to it, and even when he did pay attention he felt like he was only listening to the information and being asked to memorize facts...and not actually learning anything.
Finally, lunchtime came, and Ten was ready to recharge his brain cells with some mediocre school food. He carried his tray through the line as usual, and when he reached the cashier in the front and fished into his pocket for his lunch money...he made a startling discovery.
"Is there something wrong?" the lunch lady asked in a bored, monotone voice. It was obvious that she couldn't wait to go home.
Ten started to panic. Where could it be?! He was so sure he had grabbed it from his mother this morning before heading off to campus...then he realized his mistake.
Caleb and his goons...after they pushed him down and started kicking him, one of them reached into his pocket, didn't they...? Of course...all that was left was a single 5-kok piece, not enough to even buy a pudding cup.
"Kid, if you don't have the money, you're gonna have to put your tray down and get out of line..." said the lunch lady, her voice a mix of annoyance and pity.
Ten hung his head in shame as he stepped out of line, returning his lunch tray to the pile of dirty ones. He could feel the glares of the peers he'd made wait in line behind him for so long, and he heard the snickers of the others laughing and murmuring behind his back. All he could do was avert his gaze and make his way over to one of the empty tables in the back of the room - not like he had a group of friends to sit with, anyway. And now he didn't even have anything to eat...but there was nowhere else for him to go. He had to sit there and endure it for the rest of the lunch period - and worse, he still had two classes and a tutoring session after school before he could go home, throw his head down into his pillow, and try to escape from this embarrassment.
Azaran was shocked when he caught himself smiling as Ten walked off to class. Sure it was normal to be happy when you help someone, but why was he so happy to help this kid? Azaran decided it was best not to overthink this and get to class, he really didn't want to spend time with his pal the principal today.
The rest of the morning was pretty uneventful for the winged teen. Azaran took his test with zero issues, except that kid kept wandering into his mind. Something seemed different about Ten but he couldn't put his finger on what.
When it was finally time for lunch, Azaran was ready to welcome the distraction. Now he would be able to forget about that kid and just enjoy the food he brought from home. Unfortunately for Azaran his lunch did not go the way he planned. When he walked into the lunch room the first thing he noticed was Ten sitting at a table alone without any food.
Why wouldn't he have food? Azaran questioned. Normally these rich kids had money from their parents per-loaded on their scanners to use at the cafeteria. He knew the look on Ten's face, he saw it too much at the Sanctuary, hunger. Maybe if Ten was hungry the kid wasn't as well off as Azaran thought.
Though he wasn't sure what to think, Azaran had a hard time ignoring someone that was going to go hungry. He sighed as he walked up to the table.
"I'm assuming you lost your lunch money or something?" Azaran questioned. Without waiting for a response he removed the second tuna sandwich and bottle of water he packed, just in case he had to do some after school hero work, and gave it to the hungry boy.
"Eat that," Azaran said as he walked away, "I'll see you after school."
It happened so fast, Ten could barely process it.
Realistically, it wasn't surprising seeing a high school freshman like Azaran in the cafeteria. Originally, this campus housed only IGNO University and various facilities surrounding it for the students who lived in the dorms, including the cafeteria service. As it expanded to have a middle and high school as well, those services were made available to all students. It was a large building with separate dining areas for the university students and the middle/high school kids, so overcrowding was never an issue. It was a bit of coincidence that he'd meet Azaran of all people again here...but not that unusual.
What was unusual was that he pulled a sandwich out of his bag and gave it to Ten...and then left before Ten could even thank him. Why would he do that? Ten didn't understand. After watching for a long moment to be sure Azaran had left, Ten sniffed the sandwich.
"Ew...Smells Liek Tuna..."
Ten wasn't crazy about tuna, but the growling of his stomach was hard to argue with. Reluctantly, he downed the sandwich quickly...and while he wished he at least had a drink to wash the taste down with, he found his hunger satisfied.
After school, Ten headed to the usual place for his second tutoring session with the boy he'd already been helped by twice today. There were a lot of questions on his mind, but Ten couldn't bring himself to ask them. He decided he'd put his nose to the grindstone and focus on his workbooks without asking pointless things this time, already feeling guilty for making so much work for his upperclassman today.
Even so, periodically he'd steal a glance at the winged teen between problems...and he felt that his face looked less harsh than it had the day before.
Azaran had no idea what he was doing anymore. This kid had been under his skin all day. Maybe it was that he seemed defenseless or maybe he was reminding Azaran of his brother. Whatever it was spending time with him at the end of the day wasn't what he wanted to do. However, when he walked in and Ten smiled at him, Azaran decided to put his negativity aside and help the kid with his homework.
During the session Azaran noticed a few things that took him by surprise, first being that Ten was so quiet. Yesterday he was asking questions nonstop. While Azaran was enjoying how hard his pupil was working, the quietness was a bit off putting. He just wish he knew what Ten was thinking.
The second thing he noticed was that Ten didn't have as nice of stuff as his peers had. Everything the kid pulled out of his backpack was the bare basics. Even the notebooks were the simple 5 kok bargain bin ones. That was the type of thing you would see in public schools but not at a private school like this.
"How do you afford to go here?" Azaran asked.
"Wat?" Ten said perking up from his books.
"It's just most everyone who goes here is rich and has nice stuff. Everyone except you," Azaran replied in a matter-of-fact tone, "So why is that?"
Ten paused for a second before admitting, "My MoM an dAd werk reely herd 2 send me hear. Wer not rich butt they wana smart kid."
Hearing that hit Azaran like a ton of bricks. All this time he assumed that everyone that was on this campus was wealthy, but this kid was challenging everything he thought he understood. Maybe there were other kids there like Ten. Azaran realized he never gave the other kids much of a chance. Though he felt bad for asking about money he knew that he wouldn't have given Ten a chance either unless he asked.
"Oh, I see. Well, let's make your parents proud," Azaran said with a determined look on his face.
Ten smiled at him, giving Azaran an odd feeling.
Three months passed by quicker than Azaran expected. Though he stilled hated going to school, he delighted in his daily tutoring of Ten. He didn't quite understand why the teachers struggled with Ten. After the first month his pupil really started to pick up on things fast. The kid even lost his speech impediment. Not much made Azaran as happy as Ten showing off a high test score, much like he was doing today.
"Wow a B on your Math test, not bad," Azaran told the younger boy, "However, you should not have messed up on problem three, you know how to do that."
Azaran knew the kid just wanted his approval but he wasn't going to give it that easily. Though Ten was doing better, they still had some hard work to do to ensure he would move on from grade eight.
As their tutoring session came to a close for that day, Ten offered, as usual, to walk out with Azaran. Though the serious teen wanted to take him up on the offer, there were still some strange feelings lingering.
Azaran still could not explain to himself why he liked helping Ten so much. He helped so many people everyday, but the person who he liked to see smile the most was Ten. He rationalized as long as he kept the kid at a distance those feelings would eventually leave.
"Sorry kid, not today," he said rejecting the boy as he left ahead of him.
When he got home, Azaran was annoyed to see that his least favorite person had sent him a scanmail message, with the subject line reading "Meeting with your PrinciPAL tomorrow."
Things had been going fairly well for Ten these past three months. Not only were his grades improving, and his speech becoming stronger as he became more confident in his English studies...but he had begun to feel like he had finally found a friend in Azaran. Of course, the boy insisted that he was just his tutor, and Ten's attempts to hang out with him after school always failed...but during their study sessions they would occasionally have small talk or even joke together, which was something Ten couldn't have imagined from the surly Azaran back when they first began these sessions. Thus, Ten wasn't discouraged by Azaran turning him down - he believed that, eventually, they could become friends outside of school, too. That would be a first for Ten, who had gone from the orphanage to homeschool with his adoptive parents to being bullied since he first arrived at this school. To him, that made this a big deal, and so he didn't try to find a deeper explanation as to why he was so often thinking about Azaran.
But that wasn't the only reason Ten had become more upbeat as of late - it had also been several months since Caleb and the other bullied had harassed him. In fact, if he thought about it, the last time he remembered being hasseled by them was the day Azaran saved him and threw them in the dumpster...had he really been so long since then? It almost felt as though Azaran had become his very own Winged Guardian, those legendary beings you often heard about in folklore who came to the aid of the weak. Ten liked the sound of that, though it made his cheeks flush red when he thought about it. Even so, it did seem like Azaran's presence had driven the bullies away, and because of that Ten's confidence had shot up considerably in these past months - he was a far cry from the timid little pushover he had been when he'd first enrolled.
With a smile on his face, Ten confidently walked past the very spot those boys would often ambush him, not knowing what would be in store for him one week from now...
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