Chapter 11: Promise keeper
But when he opened his mouth, no sound came out.
Perplexed, he tried again, and was met with silence. He attempted to speak instead of sing, but the result remained unchanged.
Panic began to set in. He couldn't speak.
And suddenly, he realized, he couldn't move, either.
He blinked and was tied to a chair, his mouth gagged and eyes wide in fear. The stage lights slowly shown on the audience, highlighting a person who sneered and scoffed at him, some familiar and others not. They all spoke when the light shone upon them;
"'Look at your faggy ass. Is it really such a surprise you're a pussy virgin?"
"What do you have to say about really being a girl trapped in a boy's body?"
"I still have more of a chance than you, because at least I'm a girl."
"I betcha' no one is gonna want you after we give your face some actual color."
"It's obvious he only hangs around you to get into your tight virgin pants."
"Getting real tired of your shit, Day!"
"This is what happens when you act the way you do. Not in this town, freak."
"You're great, Skyler, but... if I wanted to date someone like you, I would be into girls."
"What a fag, can't even throw a decent punch back. And you call yourself a man."
"I'm sorry, Skyler. I'm sure you're awesome, but... I'm just not willing to risk coming out to my folks for you."
"I just can't take you seriously when you open your mouth and sound like that."
"I don't know what he sees in you. Is what you're wearing even guy clothing?"
"Your boy toy can't save you now, homo."
"What are your thoughts on your father spending so much time in Congress to be away from you more?"
"No one, not even Brian, is ever gonna love you. You'll die all alone, just like you deserve.'"
Over and over and over. Their voices overlapped, repeating and rising in volume as the room began to spin. His vision became more and more muddled, and he realized he was being blinded by his own tears. He tried to scream, to speak, to tell them to stop it, that they were wrong, to plead and beg and cry.
But he couldn't. He had been silenced.
He threw back his head in agony, his silent scream tearing apart his soul.
"It's just a dream, just a dream..." he whispered, the overwhelming relief washing over him as he found his voice intact.
He breathed deeply, keeping his eyes open as his allowed his heart to quiet. He knew it was a dream, he knew those people didn't know him, couldn't touch him...
But he couldn't help it. There was only so much abuse one could take before it began to take its toll.
He startled as he heard the sheets rustling, realizing with a jolt that there was a warm body behind him, an arm across his waist, holding him close and secure. In his fear, he had completely forgotten about Zack.
Zack was in his bed. Zack was touching him. Spooning him. Zack was nuzzling his neck, pressing a gentle kiss as he unconsciously registered Sky's distress. Even in his sleep, he was trying to help, trying to protect him. Skyler felt a knob lock in his throat as he choked back more tears.
He didn't deserve him. He never would.
As the boxer continued his quiet murmuring, Skyler continued his dangerous monologue. Why was Zack so into him? He was into sports, and an amazing singer and dancer, he was a fighter, wore leather and piercings and drove a motorcycle. His brain was so large he skipped an entire grade, and he had endless amounts of money that he was so modest and humble about.
And he wanted Skyler?
Skyler Day, who changed his middle name to his mother's name, who was paler than pale, had feminine, elvish characteristics, and a voice like Diana Ross. Sky, who hated to sweat, wore the strangest fashion styles, was atheist, who had a skin care regime an hour long. He can't even get facial hair, for Gaga's sake!
He had lied when he said the reason he had never been on a date was because he had never liked anyone like that. That was never farther from the truth. He liked plenty of guys; they just never seemed to like him. Or think he was worth it.
There was that embarrassing crush on Nick, before they became family; there was Angelo, who thought Skyler was just too... feminine for his tastes; Dan, who wasn't ready to come out, at least not for Sky; Chris, who just couldn't see past Sky's high voice; Will, who hated how Skyler drew attention to himself through his clothes, jealous.
Skyler was never allowed to even get a date before he was rejected.
He was tired of it. Tired of the judging, the assumptions, the stereotyping. Tired of the ignorance, the bias hatred, the bullying. He just wanted to be happy, like everyone else. Why wasn't he allowed to be happy? What did he ever do?
He smiled as Zack searched for his hand in his sleep, entwining their fingers together again before letting out a sigh of contempt. He felt his heart swell as the voices in his head were momentarily silenced at the gesture. Anyone who acted so in their sleep was sure to be genuine, right? He closed his eyes and exhaled slowly.
Who was he to wonder why Zack liked him so much? Everyone had a type; maybe he was just going to have to get used to the idea that he was Zack's.
He smiled at the thought. He liked being Zack's. He liked it a lot.
Maybe... even enough to let that last wall down. If not now, certainly very soon...
Humming softly, he tucked himself deeper into the boy's arms, which tightened around him in response. Raising their joined hands to his lips, the pale boy placed a gentle, loving kiss upon the tanned knuckles wrapped so securely around his own.
If this was what he was fighting for, then...
It was worth the fight.
The first thing Zack realized as he awoke was that he wasn't alone.
And that he wasn't startled in the slightest.
He remembered drinking. A lot. Spin the bottle, singing with Skyler, Sky letting him crash with him...
He hummed as he returned his head to the boy's chest, breathing in deeply the tantalizing scent of fresh fruit mixed with a bit of alcohol from the previous night. He blushed as he registered that he was the shirtless one of the two, but when Skyler tightened his arms around him unconsciously as he murmured in his sleep, he found that he really wasn't in the place to be complaining. He gazed at the boy beneath him in fond adoration, lightly brushing back some stray hairs that had fallen across his forehead.
God, he was so beautiful. He still couldn't believe he had found someone so amazing, so perfect. And even more shocking, that said person seemed to think of him in the same light.
It puzzled him, to be sure. For years he was teased for being such a paradox; liking sports but performing musical numbers, wearing bow ties while playing the guitar, having the looks of a 1950's crooner and choosing to 'ruin' it with the leather look. He just couldn't please everybody. Screw them, so what if he didn't fit the stereotypes? There wasn't a guide book of rules he was supposed to be following.
His parents, as supportive as they were of his sexuality, weren't so understanding in other areas. They were never home, they don't understand how he was such good friends with Katianna, because she was there more often than not, and have someone to talk to about his day. They didn't get why he wanted to pursue Broadway, why he never spoke to them about boys, why he insisted on looking like a delinquent when they knew he was raised to be a proper gentleman.
They were there; but they weren't there. They tried, he gave them that, but they just weren't.
Skyler was. Skyler understood him, let him feel he could be himself that he didn't have to put up the mask that was getting harder and harder to take off. With Sky, he could breathe again.
And he was going to hold on to him for as long as he would allow him too. He was starting to think that nothing, not even the terrifying and completely probable possibility of Skyler breaking his heart, would keep him away.
He frowned as said boy in question began to fidget, a tiny whimper escaping his lips. The boxer's brows knotted together in concern, and he contemplated whether he should wake the boy up or not.
"You're lying," Sky murmured, his tone coming out scared and desperate. Zack's heart plummeted as the started to form assumptions on what the boy could be dreaming of. "No, you're wrong, all of you, you don't know me, you're lying..."
Sky's face took on a pink flush, his skin feeling clammy to Zack's touch. He let out a moan, flinching away from Zack's hand like he had been burned. Scared, Zack gently shook his shoulder, speaking to him gently so not to startle him. He didn't know if waking someone like this was smart, but his heart wanted to cry each time Sky did, constricting in his chest and making breathing so horribly difficult.
Skyler's eyes opened wide, the blues standing out in sharp contrast to the irritated reds that surrounded them. Upon seeing where he was, Kurt drew in a shaky breath, his voice coming out rough from the combination of deep sleep and cold fear; "Zack?"
"Oh, Sky," Blaine whispered, agonized. The Italian's heart broke, and he gathered the boy he was quickly falling for into his arms, holding him to his frame tightly as he rubbed a soothing hand up and down his back. Skyler clung to him, a hand cupping his neck and holding on to the hairs there, while the other clutched tightly at his arm.
"It's not true, they're wrong, none of it is true, it's not, it's not, I know it's not..." Skyler babbled into his shoulder, voice breaking at several parts and changing octaves as he became more distressed. Zack could feel a damp spot forming where Sky was pressed securely against his chest. He sounded so desperate to believe himself, to fight whatever demons were plaguing his soul, and seeing the boy in such a state snapped something inside the boxer.
It was a position he was most unhappily familiar with.
He didn't even realized he had started to sing, quietly and softly, until he felt Skyler's hand slid down his arm to lace together with his fingers, anchoring them together.
"I've been alone.
Surrounded by darkness.
I've seen how heartless,
The world can be.
I've seen you crying.
You felt like it's hopeless.
I'll always do my best,
To make you see;
Baby, you're not alone,
'Cause you're here with me.
And nothing's ever gonna bring us down,
'Cause nothing can keep me from lovin' you.
And you know it's true.
It don't matter what'll come to be,
Our love is all we need to make it through..."
Sky's body had stopped shaking, a shudder running down every few moments instead, and he pulled his head back far enough to gaze into Zack's eyes. He hiccupped softly, a ghost of a smile beginning to form. Zack lifted a hand and carefully brushed the tears away from a porcelain cheek. Blue eyes blinked, and a single tear trickled down, met quickly by the calluses on an olive thumb. The act only made more tears fall faster.
There was silence in the dark of the room as the final notes faded into the air in a hushed breath. Zack was studying the boy's face anxiously, hopping he hadn't crossed any lines and screwed this up entirely.
He startled when he found himself softly aquatinted with a smooth pair of lips he'd had the pleasure of meeting before. The kiss was chaste and sweet, with a tiny tang of salt on his tongue. Skyler pulled back, his eyes shining brilliantly from the effects of the tears and his emotions.
"That was beautiful, Zack," the boy breathed, his arms coming up to encircle the younger boy in his arms, as he held the hypnotizing gaze between their eyes. "What was that?"
Zack swallowed hard, his Adams apple bobbing in his throat. He looked down bashfully, a look of uncertainty and shyness spreading amongst his features. He felt the room get a lot smaller all of a sudden.
"I wrote it," he mumbled, a pink blush rising fast to lightly dust his cheeks. He felt his heart rate pick up in speed as he awaited Skyler's reaction.
He heard a sharp gasp, and dared to dart his eyes up, quickly locating the blue orbs currently widened in shock, disbelief, and awe.
"Zack," Sky breathed, his voice hushed and full of admiration. "You wrote that? Oh my god, it's... it's amazing."
Skyler smiled at him, a real genuine smile that takes over your face and sends a sparkle into your eyes. Zack waited a breath, then two, but Skyler did not break into laughter, claiming he was kidding and withdrawing his wonderful compliment. He tilted his head and waited, a look of fondness causing the corners of his eyes to crinkle and his nose to scrunch up adorably. Zack couldn't help but lean in to kiss the tip of it, feeling high off the soft giggle it emitted, and continuing to press soft, gentle kisses over the porcelain skin.
"You are so incredible," Zack breathed into the skin, feeling Sky's arms tighten and draw him in closer, pulling their chests flush together. He could feel Skyler's excited heart pound against him, and he felt a swirl of pride inside him as he realized he was the cause of it. His heart fluttered for a brief moment, transfixed as Sky's copied the action a few seconds later.
Sky buried his face into Zack's neck, his nose skimming and nuzzling the warm flesh he found there. Zack barely repressed a shiver at the contact, heat coiling in his belly.
"We should get back to bed," Skyler murmured, his breath leaving warm puffs of air against Zack's skin, placing a gentle kiss into the hollow of his throat, and this time the boxer was unable to keep the shiver down.
Shakily he nodded, and Skyler turned around in his arms, snuggling back against his chest and drawing their hands to rest over his heart, which beat strong and sure. He breathed out slowly, tightening his hold on Zack's arms around himself. He let out a hum of contentment when he felt a fleeting kiss be pressed lovingly on top of his head, Zack's legs intertwining with his own.
"Thank you," he breathed, sleep already sucking him down into its grasp. Zack simply pressed another kiss to his head, letting the tears he had been holding in fall down in silent shows of agony.
Zack awoke again at a much more reasonable time, glancing at the clock and groaning at how late it was. He didn't even know if Sky's parents were home, or what they would think if they walked in and saw their son wrapped up in the arms of a shirtless boy, on his bed asleep, no less. He should probably get going if he ever wanted to see Skyler again.
Oh, but the warm body wrapped tight around him felt so good, and the head that rested on his chest, little strands of chestnut hair falling into his face, was so tempting. He would willing face thousands of angry, overprotective parents if he got to spend every night like this, every morning with this sight to greet him.
He rubbed at his face as he stifled a yawn, feeling the dryness of where his tears had tracked down his face. He still felt like he had to talk to Skyler about his dream, help him, and do something. He could kiss the tears away, but he wanted to keep them from even forming in the beginning.
Skyler stirred under his movements, moaning a little and burying his face deeper in Zack's chest. The arm thrown around the tanned boy's waist tightened subconsciously, and Zack could feel the shift in the elder's breathing as he gained awareness. Smiling tenderly, he began to smoothly card his fingers through the boy's thick locks, scratching lightly at the scalp and marveling at the sound of approval he received. Sky breathed in deeply before lifting his head slowly, peaking up at Zack through a crackled eyelid.
"Good morning," Zack whispered, his hand running through brown hair before sweeping down to cup one of the pale cheeks. Skyler leaned into the touch, his eyes closing momentarily as he nuzzled into the hand's caress.
"Morning," Skyler mumbled sleepily, not the slightest bit uncomfortable in their current situation. Yeah, they shared a bed, Zack had lost his shirt at one point in the night, and they weren't even dating, but... that was okay. Sky never liked labels anyway. Zack would be ready soon, he was sure of it... and he would wait forever for him if he had to.
Skyler yawned and stretched, his arms coming down to rest around Zack's neck, who wrapped his arms around Sky's waist to pull him up. Zack couldn't resist leaning down to brush their noses together, and Sky responded by tilting his head and capturing Zack's mouth. Zack tried to pull back, mumbling against his lips about morning breath, which really, Skyler could give a damn about right now.
They kissed softly and slowly for several moments, when Zack's stomach rumbled loudly between them. He pulled back and hid his face in Skyler's shoulder, embarrassed laughter shaking his body a bit. Sky bit his lip to hide the smile threatening to break out.
"Now, I could quote Twilight about breakfast right about now, but I don't want you to run screaming to the hills because I actually like that fandom, so..." Zack trailed off, his words slightly muddled against Skyler's skin.
Skyler rolled his eyes. "As long as you don't say you're team Edward, we're fine."
He started laughing when he felt Zack tense up under him. "No! Zack! Why? He's so cryptic, and 'self-sacrificing', and overbearing and... pale."
"Well, I obviously have a thing for tall, pale guys with pretty eyes and brown hair, who walk and speak with such inhuman grace." Zack retorted, pulling back to smirk at Sky. Skyler blushed, looking down at the implied compliment.
"Well, tanned, muscled, dark haired boys with brown eyes and alpha behavior has always been attractive to me," Skyler conceded, returning the smirk before winking playfully. "And making love to Taylor Lautner on a dewy meadow of lilac before he gets fat is on my bucket list, so..."
Zack laughed, pushing forward so he was sitting up. Gently he placed a kiss to Sky's forehead, letting his lips linger longer than was necessary before pulling back.
"I'd be into you even if you were a vampire," he whispered softly, speaking with such conviction that no color rose to accompany his words this time. He wasn't embarrassed of this. He was completely serious.
Skyler forgot how to breath for a moment, but when he did he could only smile and reply, "And even if you did have to walk around shirtless forever because of your constant need to shape shift into a giant hairy dog, I'd still be interested."
Zack laughed and rested his forehead against Sky's, their giggles quieting until they sat there in silence, soaking up each other's presence. Eventually Skyler reached down and found Zack's shirt, handing it to him with a forlorn smile.
"C'mon, let's get you home. My parents are due back in about an hour, and while I'm certain Nick is going to stay crashed at Brent's until dinner, I'm going to be a good host and make you some breakfast while you shower first."
Skyler should have known that after sleeping with Zack, he wouldn't be able to look at him the same way, ever again.
Granted, it was the act of 'sharing a bed' kind of sleeping, but still. Everything felt... different. More intense, more focused, more... hungry.
He was so insanely turned on to everything and anything Zack Brian, he was starting to consider wearing sweat pants to school now. Because no one should be allowed to be that insanely sexy at everything they do. It's just not fair.
So yeah. Things had definitely gotten more intense between them.
He couldn't stop thinking about Sunday morning, how sweet Zack had been when he was comforting him, how amazing it felt waking up with the person you could picture yourself spending forever with, how the domestic feeling that had settled over them took him with both hands and shook him upside down.
He had never felt more cheated in his life then he did in that moment when Zack drove his motorcycle, parked at Skyler's because Skyler drove them to the party, home that Sunday. And now Sky was acutely aware of every shift, breath, every move Zack made when he was in his range of senses. Every smile melted his heart, every brush of skin spiked his heart rate, and every flicker of the bracelet on his wrist seemed to brand Zack's name into his heart in hot, red letters.
Even though the bullying was still happening, even though Michael seemed to be getting more and more aggressive in his abuse, even though Skyler was finding it really hard to even look at his brother without getting pissed, Sky had never felt more blessed in his life.
Skyler Day was ready to take names and earn some well-deserved time with his favorite guy of all time, next to his father, respectfully.
"Where are you going?"
Zack froze in his tracks, cursing silently in his head before turning around swiftly, fake smile plastered on instantly. He should have known he couldn't hide this forever.
He saw questioning blue eyes, and a small, amused smile fall a bit around the corners when they took in the boxer's face. Guilt spread in his chest, making breathing a bit more difficult. Skyler was the one person who didn't deserve the fake appearances Zack bestowed on everyone else. He deserved more.
"Zack?" Skyker asked hesitantly, his eyes drawn towards the object Zack was trying to subtly hide behind his back. The shorter boy flinched back on instinct, and Sky tried his best to remain stoic. Zack didn't owe him anything, he shouldn't be offended that Zack had secrets to keep. Even if he wasn't an exception to them.
"Skyler, hey... Um... Listen, it's not what it looks like..."
Confused, Skyler came up and pulled the younger's arm back, who allowed it obediently. Zack turned his face away, cheeks flooding in shame as Skyker sucked in a gasp in shock.
"Zack..." Skyler spoke, his voice heartbroken. The delinquent swallowed hard, turning back to the countertenor with melted gold, pleading eyes.
"Please, please hear me out, Sky," he asked desperately. "I swear it's not what you think."
Skyler shook his head, his hand pulling back to cover his mouth. He breathed shakily before removing it, just far enough to ask the burning question.
"Then explain; why do you have a carton of cigarettes on you?"
Zack sighed, his shoulders raising in a shrug before falling back down. "It's part of the image. I cut a class every now and then for a few minutes to come out to the bleachers, where I light up a few smokes and pretend to use them. People don't approach me, least I burn them or something, and it gives a more menacing look, so they take me more seriously."
He approached Sky cautiously, reaching out slowly to grasp a pale hand. His heart thumped with relief when the shorter boy threaded their fingers together instantly, despite the current situation.
"I promise, Sky, that's all this is," Zack breathed, a reassuring smile starting to sprout. "It's all fake. I would never intentionally harm myself like that. I promise."
Skyler nodded shakily, reaching up with his free hand to wipe at his tears a bit. "And you haven't broken a promise to me yet," he breathed, smiling sweetly as the relief shone clearly across his angelic face.
Zack grinned, his heart beginning to hammer for a different reason. Skyler had intercepted him in the hall, and they were all alone. For the moment.
"God, I'm sorry," Sky said, looking away as his cheeks flushed suddenly. "I'm so embarrassed. It's your life, your choices, it's not like my opinion really matters anyway. Who am I to tell you what you can and can't do? I can't even give that courtesy to myself, just, god forget you saw me, ok?"
"No, wait!" Zack called, reaching out and grabbing the boy's wrist before he could escape.
Skyler turned to him and flinched, his teeth coming out to bite at his lip anxiously.
"Don't go," Zack whispered.
Sky's eyes widened at the heat he heard behind those words, a blush beginning to creep up his ears. Would he ever get used to the way Zack made him feel?
"Please?" Zack asked, pouting and pulling out a ridiculous puppy face for effect. Skyler could feel his resolve slipping as he gazed into those big, honey-hazel eyes.
"Alright, fine. The things I do for you, I swear…" he murmured, giving in. He was rewarded by a blinding grin. The hand holding his wrist shifted so their fingers were interlaced. He could feel the silver heart on his bracelet brush against his knuckles.
"Come on, then," Zack said, tugging their joined hands so Sky would follow him. "Let's go have some fun."
Skyler hoped they had the same idea of what consisted as fun.
Zack was careless. His guard was down, his mask was peeling. He couldn't help how Sky made him feel, how alive he was when they were together. He should have known it wasn't safe.
He should have known it was too good to be true.
Apparently, The Magnums still saw The Blackridge Choir as a threat. And apparently, Ash had found out about it and decided to use it to his advantage.
How was he supposed to know their spies had memorized his fake smoke breaks schedule? How was he to know, Ash had struck a deal with them to get two strong male voices out of the picture for Regionals? How was he to know they knew the only thing that would keep him from attacking them, was capturing Skyler first?
The truth is… he wasn't.
And he didn't.
And Skyler had no choice but to watch.
Sky felt like the tears would never stop. His voice was hoarse from his screams and his pleas, the begging and the insults that had sprouted from his face.
Zack lay on the ground, gasping for breath as the assault of punches and kicks finally ceased. He was choking on the blood from his nose dripping into his mouth, and the cut on his lip burned. His eyebrow and ears bled where his studs had been ripped out.
A hand grabbed his chin roughly, and forced his head up. Three bodies moved behind him to pin his arms down. He glared at the leering face in front of him, hatred burning within his brown eyes.
"And now, the finale! I'm sure you'll find it enjoyable," Ash crooned, mockingly patting Zack on the cheek. The Italian spit in his face.
Ash scowled and punched him in the face. Zack cursed as his head reared back, his eye beginning to swell instantly.
"Pay close attention, tiger!" Zack sneered, backpedaling towards Skyler. Zack's eyes widened in fear, his heart beginning to hammer. They had left Skyler untouched, he could handle anything they threw at him, just not Sky.
No, no no, not Sky, not Skyler notSkynotSkynoNO!
Ash pulled out a small switch blade. The medal glinted in the sunlight, menacing and utterly horrifying. Skyler whimpered in terror.
A few murmurs broke out among the crowd. Apparently Ash had kept the specifics of the 'finale' from them.
Ash went up to Skyler, his lips close to the boy's ear as he ran his finger across the smooth blade.
"I wonder," he whispered, raising the hairs on the back of the pale male's neck. "Who would possibly hire, respect, or even want you… if they knew exactly what you were?"
Skyler's heart hammered in his chest, pounding so hard it could be heard in the silence that had ensued. Zack began to struggle, prompting more people to come in and hold him down.
"GET AWAY FROM HIM!" Zack cried, his voice breaking in his fear. "It's ME you want! LET HIM GO!"
Ash kept his back to the boxer, but Skyler could see the sinister sneer sprout across his face.
"You're right Brian… it IS you I want. I could care less if this fairy has several slurs carved and scarred into his face. Wouldn't make any difference to me. You, however," Ash drawled, pivoting to smirk at the seething boy. "You, my fine prize, would most likely care, wouldn't you?"
A hush fell upon the group. Then a man slid next to Ash, murmuring in his ear. Skyler was close enough to catch it.
"This wasn't the deal, Drake! We rough up Brian, scare the two from competing, that's all! We never agreed to… to torture them!"
Ash shrugged him off. "Fuck off. Like I care about the specifics of the damn deal."
He turned back to Skyler, his face turning solemn.
"What will it be, Brian?" he asked, his voice soft and hushed; it contradicted both the knife and the body language he was using. Zack and Skyler shook a little, petrified.
"Will you transfer to Magnum, join the The Magnums, and be mine? Or…"
The knife drew up to Skyler's face, causing the boy to flinch back and gasp. The tip grazed the pale flesh of his temple, and Zack cried out in fury, veins in his neck throbbing from a combination of fury and his determination to break free.
"…Will little gay-face here… have to pay the price?" Drake asked, voice just as soft as before.
The pressure on the knife tip increased ever so slightly. Skyler trembled as his blue eyes poured a fresh trail of tears.
"Stop it, STOP IT! PLEASE! DON'T HURT HIM, don't, please, please…" Zack sobbed, his own tears pooling down his face and mixing with the dried blood and dirt already crusted there.
"This isn't… right," one of the guys holding Zack back murmured hesitantly. The rest of them around him seemed to agree.
"Yeah, this is just messed up," another, more feminine voice, added, prompting a few nods. Zack felt a surge of hope burrow in his chest.
The largest one pinning Zack paused for a few moments, indicated with his head, and the guy restraining Sky blinked in comprehension.
"I'm waiting," Ash drawled, gaze still fixed onto Zack, missing every exchange.
Slowly, the guy holding Skyler began to backpedal, pulling Sky away from the knife. Ash didn't notice the change in pressure upon the blade's tip. A few guys came up to flank him, and they pushed Skyler behind them.
The largest one whispered into Zack's ear, and Zack felt a wave or gratitude washing over him and clearing his head.
"Kick his crazy ass, man."
All the guys restraining Zack released him at once, and immediately Zack dropped into his fighter stance, malice and bloodlust morphing his face like a grotesque metamorphosis.
Ash startled, glancing back to see Skyker was gone, and being guarded by The Magnums members, boy and girl alike.
"What the fuck are you doing?" he hissed, disbelief and rage coloring his own features.
"I'll tell you what we're doing," the girl directly in front of Skyler said. Her face was a mask of shame and defiance. "The right thing."
"Drop the knife, Ash," Zack called, his voice calm and smooth, with venom dripping from every word. "Fight me. Fight me like a man."
Smirking, Drake threw the blade to the side, where the girl who spoke scrabbled to grab it and keep it out of reach. He crossed his arms across his chest and raised his eyebrow.
"If you wanted some foreplay, all you had to do was ask," Drake responded with a condescending tone.
Zack blinked in surprise. He wasn't expecting anyone to interfere.
"Zack, don't!" Skyler said again, struggling to get through the barricade of protectors he suddenly had.
"Let him through," the girl spoke again. Zack was surprised at how much she was doing; she hadn't seemed like anyone with power in the group before. Perhaps she just had the largest wake-up call of them all.
The crowd parted and Skyler came scrambling through, running straight to Zack. A bit dazed from the adrenaline and anger, Zack opened his arms without thought, a look of bewilderment on his face and the chestnut haired boy collided with his chest.
"I don't understand," Zack said. Skyler pulled back to look at him in confusion.
"Why don't you want me to beat the asshole who was about to scar your face?" Zack asked, puzzlement and a bit of hurt on his face.
Sky just shook his head. "It isn't who you are; it never was. I want revenge as much as you do, and I know you could win without a doubt. But attempting to right or fix violence with more violence is just… counterproductive. It's not worth the fight, Zack."
Vaguely, Zack saw movement out of the corner of his eye, and turned to look just in time to see Ash pulling back his fist. Zack reacted, pushing himself in front of Sky-
-only to watch a petite hand grab Drake's wrist, halting his action.
There was a general gasp among the crowd. Ash looking ready to burst. The girl who stood up for Skyler was doing it again.
"For fucks sakes, Tracy, I'm going to hurt you too if you don't back the fuck off," he growled at her. She met his gaze unflinchingly, straightening her back and appearing taller than she was.
"You never told us they were a couple," she seethed.
He looked momentarily throw for a loop. "The hell does that have to do with anything?"
"You just said they were strong voices and you wanted some payback in return for strength in numbers," she replied. "We aren't strangers to these things, it's a tradition here to egg the completion. We were all for that, but you convinced us you had a better plan.
"We are ambitious, and cunning, and will turn on each other to get solos here. But we do NOT torture, nor do we punish people based off their sexuality or gender. Talent? Yes. But for loving someone? Never."
There was shocked silence. Ash was quietly seething.
"And I would rather take a beating from you, than stand by and watch you punish these two boys, just for falling in love."
Her speech seemed to be drawing forth courage in others. More girls flanked her, lifting their fists as if they were preparing to fight back. The guys, most likely to keep from being shown up, surrounded them as well.
Zack and Skyler looked on in amazement as the people who had attacked them had suddenly taken their side.
"The deal's off, dick," Tracy smirked, crossing her arms over her chest and cocking her hip.
Ash was enraged. Two hands shot out and pulled him out of the center, where there was a slight scuffle, and The Magnums began to herd him away from the two boys.
A lot of the guys patted Zack on the back and muttered apologies as they passed by, and a few girls did the same. Sky looked to see Tracy returning with their stolen bags, shame encompassing every feature. She looked near to tears.
"Stop," Skyler said, reaching out and placing a soft, comforting hand on her shoulder. She chanced a glance up, fear and apprehension shinning in her blue-green eyes. He smiled at her in gratitude.
"Thank you. Thank you so much."
She began to sob.
Zack reached out and hugged her on reflex, and she curled her face into his shoulder as her body began to shake. Skyler rubbed her back slowly, concern starting to break through the shock of what had just happened.
"Y-you don't unders-stand," she sniffed. "M-my parents are l-lesbians; I've spent my ent-tire life being an advocate and ally. I, I couldn't stand myself if had let him hurt you. I'm ashamed I e-even agreed to this plan in the f-first place!"
"Everyone makes bad choices every now and then," Skyler told her sagely. "What matters is making the right choice in the end, and admitting to your faults. Hey," he said gently, guiding her head up to look into his. He smiled. "I'm really glad you did."
She sniffed loudly and nodded her head, the ghost of a smile pulling at her lips. She backed out of Zack's arms, frowning at him.
"I can't believe they tore your jewelry off," she said, referring to the missing ear and eyebrow studs.
Zack tried to shrug it off. "Always a bit of a hazard with those things," he said. "Besides, at least they left my tongue one alone. Though, it did cut my cheek on a few of those punches…"
"Okay, thank you Zack!" Kurt said quickly as Tracy's eyes began to water again. "Seriously, sweetie, don't worry about it, okay? Zack will heal, I wasn't hurt, and we can still compete; everything's okay."
She nodded, albeit still looking unhappy.
"If it means that much to you," Zack said, "do us a favor and use all that choir money you guys flaunt around and try to keep that guy away from us, eh?"
She smiled, her face still distorted from the redness of crying and her present disappointment. Her eyes were bloodshot… they made the green of her eyes seem to glow, like a beacon of emerald. Sky really emphasized with her; to be pulled into something as horrible as this.
"I have to go," she said, as a car horn suddenly echoed across the pavement. She turned away and started walking. After about ten feet she stopped, and turned around.
"I wish you two… every happiness."
And then she sprinted away from them as fast as she could.
They could hear tires squealing in the distance moments later.
The curly-haired boy was ignored. He sighed from underneath his umbrella.
"Sky, c'mon. You need to come in. Standing in the rain isn't healthy for you."
He was met by silence.
He frowned even harder. Sky had driven Zack to the police station, telling them Ash had attacked them and they both wanted restraining orders. Parents were called, photos of injuries were taken, the whole ordeal.
The shock of what happened… what could have happened, seemed to have finally settled into Skyler, now that there was nothing left to do about the matter. He seemed… lost.
The second it had begun to rain, he had marched straight outside and stood in the middle of his lawn, without an umbrella, without changing out of his designer clothes, without a word.
Zack was worried. But he knew everyone had different ways to cope about the matter. Zack's outlet was boxing.
Sky's was in song.
"She never slows down.
She doesn't know why but she knows that when she's all alone, feels like its all coming down.
She won't turn around.
The shadows are long and she fears if she cries that first tear, the tears will not stop raining down.
She won't make a sound.
Alone in this fight with herself and the fears whispering if she stands she'll fall down.
She wants to be found.
The only way out is through everything she's running from wants to give up and lie down.
So stand in the rain,
Stand your ground.
Stand up when it's all crashing down.
You stand through the pain,
You won't drown.
And one day, what's lost can be found.
You stand in the rain."
Zack approached cautiously, moving the umbrella over Sky's head as a sort of truce. Skyler seemed to blink unseeingly. He turned and locked gazes with Zack.
And when he knocked the umbrella out of Zack's hands and captured him in a desperate kiss, there was nothing Zack could do but give in to it. They kissed in the rain for what felt like hours, feeding off each other's fear and relief and desperation and emotion for the other.
...However, Zack drew the line when he heard thunder crack through the air.
"So, I see you finally pulled yourself away from the boyfriend," a slightly smug voice drawled as the front door opened and closed.
Zack shook his head; his blissed look drooping from his face at an alarming pace.
"He's not my boyfriend," he mumbled, passing her and heading up the long spiral stairs to his room.
"…What?!" he heard her exclaim, followed by several loud footsteps on the stairs as she hurried to catch up to him.
"How is that possible? You're telling me even something like that wasn't enough for you two to get your acts together-,"
"I'm trying to PROTECT HIM!"
She froze on the steps, looking up at him in alarm. Then she blinked and her face morphed into confusion. His turned his back on her and continued up the steps at a faster pace than before.
"Protect him?" she called after him.
"I don't want to talk about it, Julie, ok?" he sighed, reaching his room and attempting to close the door.
"Zack Wade Brian, if you lock me out I will rub chili peppers over all your underwear next time I do the laundry!"
"Fine!" he shouted in exasperation, storming away and promptly falling face first into the center of his bed.
She followed him in and closed the door softly, coming to stand by him for a few moments. She sat on the bed gingerly, as if afraid of startling him.
"Protect him?" she asked gently.
His groan was muffled from the comforter. He pulled his head up and began to pace his room, his fist clenched tightly.
"Don't you get it? I can't be with him! Look at all the awful things that happen to him without us dating! How can I put him at risk for the sake of my own selfishness?"
"Zack, surely you don't believe that…" Julie tried, standing up and attempting to intercept him.
"It doesn't matter if I do or don't!" he yelled, face hurt and angry. "Because that is what has happened, and it is what will happen again! No matter what I do, I'm not good enough for him! I'm not-,"
He paused, breathing heavily and blinking rapidly. He marched back to his bed and sat down upon it. His whole body tensed; and then relaxed with a large, depressed sigh.
"I'm not… strong enough," he whispered to the ground, his hands coming up to hide his face. Julie saw him inhale deeply, releasing with a heavy sounding sigh.
"I don't understand what's happening," he murmured.
She looked over at him sadly, seeing so much the little brother she never had, and never knew she wanted. She sat beside him on his bed, reaching up to run her fingers soothingly through his unruly black locks.
"Did I ever tell you about David?" she asked gently.
She waited patiently as the boxer continued to breathe into his palms. After a moment or two, she saw his shoulder rise slightly in a small shrug. She smiled softly.
"I was a junior in High school when we first met," she began, continuing her menstruations on his hair. "He was a junior as well, and we met through a mutual friend. We had the same gym period, but different classes, so I saw him every day. And he made it clear just how cool he thought I was.
"It was really exciting at first. I had been single since the second day of sophomore year, and the few dates I had at the dances didn't even have kisses. Heck, I kissed my best girl friend first, and that was because of Truth-or-Dare. So to have someone be into me, and into me so strongly, I was ecstatic. I'm a hopeless romantic at heart, and being single never sat well with me, even though I lived life perfectly happy without dating.
"Mind you, we never actually dated. We flirted, boy did we flirt and tease, but that was it. Then one day I invited him over to give me a guitar lesson. I'd always wanted to learn, and true alone time was always a good way to judge the extent of a crush. But as I was getting ready for him to come over, I realized I had opted to leave my glasses on instead of putting in my contacts. I had never done that before, not even for my boyfriends. Only this wasn't a good sign; not for me."
By this time Zack was looking up at her, genuine interest in his warm honey eyes. She felt her heart warm at the sight. Her own brother had never been interested in spending time with her, talking with her, even acknowledging her. He was always so embarrassed by her, how she was the opposite of conforming, and he was the very definition of it. Aside from threatening her ex after their breakup her sophomore year, it was more like having a live-in tenant than a twin. The fact that Zack truly wanted to listen to her was the kind of affection she never knew she craved.
"And it was confusing, because I liked when he put his arm around my waist, I liked when he teased me, I liked when he called me nick-names. But if I didn't care about him seeing me at perfection only, because in my mind the boys I like deserve someone so pretty... I realized that I wasn't trying to capture his interest; I was simply taking."
Zack cocked an eyebrow, the stud shinning in the lighting from his desk lamp. "What do you mean by that?"
She shrugged her shoulders sadly. "What I thought was a crush on him, was really a crush on the idea of him."
Zack frowned at that, confusion shinning stronger.
Julie smiled meekly. "As I've said, I'm a romantic at heart. It was damaging to my ego to not be asked out, to not be the catch I - modestly, I should say - saw myself as. I wanted to experience love, like I had with my ex, and I didn't want to wait. I connect with people through physical affection, and David was always providing it, all without crossing any barriers. I never felt uncomfortable, but I never let him do anything more than kiss me. And just kissing, there was no touching or biting or even tongue. He fed my ego, my hormonal need for affection, and curbed my loneliness."
"But you didn't like him enough to date him. You were settling," Zack filled in, piecing it together.
She nodded. "I'm not proud of it. But I also just had the feeling that... he would never be able to fully commit to me, you know? He just... never made me feel like I could trust him to not cheat on me. And I had never seen this, but he always made comments about his drinking habits, and I was never comfortable with that either.
"It continued through most of senior year, actually. He asked several times if I had changed my mind, I told him every time that I just didn't see him that way, he said okay, and then we went back to our habits. He walked me to class, I walked him to the bus. I sat on his lap in GSA, he agreed to sing a duet with me during open-mic. And once in a blue moon, I would let him kiss me.
"I felt horrible afterwards. He acted okay with what we had, so I told myself there was no harm, no foul. In a sense we were a couple during school hours only, only without the dates and without the expectations, and no titles. He even brought me flowers and cute stuffed animals every once in a while, again for no reason, just because he wanted to."
"He was so good to me, too. He called me bae, cuddled with me, listened to me rant and complain, we had inside jokes and he made an effort to learn about my fandoms and celebrity crushes and all the little details I told him, like how I didn't like soda, or how I wanted tattoos but didn't want to pierce my ears; no topic was taboo between us, and I held nothing back. It was... practically flawless."
"Why didn't you give him a chance?" Zack asked, confusion and a bit of fear creeping into his voice. "Why not just make it official?"
"Besides the reasons I previously mentioned? For what were, most likely, the same reasons you haven't with Skyler," she said softly, hesitance in her tone.
Zack felt the tips of his eyebrows touch his hairline.
"What?" he said in shock. "What are you saying?"
She held up her hands passively. "I'm not implying, just guessing. Hear me out."
He cocked an eyebrow, but crossed his arms and gestured for her to speak.
"I think you know you two are going to have to face homophobia, whether it's with each other or someone else. I think you know everyone assumes you two are together anyway, so making it official won't really change anything," she said softly.
"David and I were seniors in High school," she continued. "I was going to Illinois to study Architecture; he was staying there. There was a part of me that was afraid. I didn't want to give in to him, to start to gain actual feelings for him just as I was about to leave him and, possibly never see him again. I didn't want a boyfriend keeping me from experiencing college, I didn't want the possible heartbreak, and in all honesty... I didn't see him as worth the risk. I mean, I didn't love him. Why would I try then? So I didn't."
"It didn't last anyway. One day, two months from graduation, he just... up and stopped talking to me. No explanation, no confrontation... nothing. One day he was kissing my cheek; the next he didn't meet me at my locker, he kept his headphones on instead of talking to me, and practically ran from me whenever we happened to be near each other in the hall. I was perfectly fine without him in my life, but it still stung. I mean, how horrible could I be that he would run from me?"
There was silence. Zack looked across the room to his desk, where the framed photo of Skyler leaning against his motorcycle stood proudly. He was startled when Julie broke the silence again.
"But it's different for you and Skyler," she said, placing her hand gently on top of Zack's, who looked up at her in surprise. She smiled fondly, like an older sister whose little sibling was experiencing their first crush.
"You're both seniors; but you're both bound for New York, Waystar acceptance or not. You're both going into the performing arts; you'll understand why you might have to cancel a date, or why it takes so long to have one at all. You have a passion that will keep you bonded together. And you're both fighters."
Zack opened his mouth, but she held up her hand to ask for a few more moments of silence. "Yes, you're a boxer and he's a designer, but I didn't mean physically. You're both openly gay teenagers in Ohio, Zack. Tell me you two don't have to fight to be who you are everyday of your lives. Tell me Skyler won't have risk of being attacked for being gay, regardless if he's in a relationship with you or not."
Zack went to speak, but his mouth closed after a few moments of contemplation. He remained silent.
Julie grinned, a smile meant more for herself than anything else. "You two, are unlike anything I have seen in High school before. All my friends were single or dated for a few weeks. I've never witnessed a relationship that would survive college.
"But from the moment I first saw you two together, I knew this was different. This was the exception. I don't have to know anything else to believe this, and I do."
She took his hand into hers, closing it tightly and looking at him with the most serious look he had ever seen her give him.
"What you're doing with Skyler, is just like what I did with David," she whispered. "Don't keep stringing him along like this; don't act like a couple and then keep claiming you aren't. It makes it sound like you're ashamed of him. It wasn't right of me, but I had reasons and they included not returning his feelings and being too lonely to resist. You, on the other hand, are near about in love with this boy, aren't you?"
The shy blush that grazed his cheeks was answer enough for her.
"So stop fighting this," she whispered, her tone leaving no room for argument. "There is a boy that will do anything for you, who stands up against the world not just for himself, but for you as well. You only live this lifetime once, Blaine; and I believe soul mates do exist. I know you mean to protect him, but don't you think what you may have is worth the fight?"
"Without a doubt in my heart," Zack said instantly, not even blinking at the potency behind his words. "Skyler is worth the fight; he's worth every fight. He's mine and I'm his."
With a final smile, she squeezed his hands gently before releasing them. She stood up from the bed, looking down on the boy who was becoming a man before her very eager eyes. "Then don't lose him over fear. Love… is worth every risk, Zack. Love is everything."
Right before she reached the door, she heard a voice call out to her. Turning her body back towards the teen, she raised her eyebrow in acknowledgement.
"Do you really think there's someone out there who is meant to be with you?" he asked, hope shinning so brilliantly beneath his eyes.
She smiled softly, her face glowing with pride and conviction.
"I don't think," she said firmly. "My very soul... knows there is. And I promise you this; not even death will keep me from him."
With that, she walked out the room and closed the door behind her, leaving behind a boy so desperately crazy in love, it was a wonder he functioned normally at all.