April 11, 2010

When the Autumn Leaves Blush - Part VII

As dictated by Faranza Syns

When The Autumn Leaves Blush
Faranza Syns

The one thing I learned from writing WALB: Roman numerical.

Chapter 6

Danielle massaged her lower arm - around the bandage of her wrist - as she stared at Sean leading the way in the small, narrow tunnel. Her back was starting to ache from bending over as they walked. She had to wonder how she had ever gotten in and out of this tunnel before.

Just hours ago, she had been prowling the area outside of the military camp, stalking in the relative darkness as she sensed the oncoming rain threaten to unfurl into a full-blown storm - or so she believed it to be in her head.

Suppressing a shiver at the remembrance, Danielle paused in her walking.

"You alright?" Sean asked.

Nodding, she pressed on, trying to push aside the lingering fear she felt at being so exposed to the elements. Her breathing became shallow as she felt the fever that she had pushed to the back of her mind start taking over again.

As if sensing Danielle's weakening state, Sean turned and grasped her uninjured hand. "Come on." And they pressed on in silence.

It was by pure, unexpected and shocking chance that she had found this one and the same tunnel a few hours before. The entrance had been hidden amongst bushes and covered by layers of dead leaves and roots. The entrance had also been so narrow, like it had been dug out by some small creature as a burrow. Frustrated and wound up, Danielle had stamped the dirt ground in fury. When the ground shifted, Danielle had paused and went back down on her knees. Working mostly on auto-drive by then, her fingers clawed deep into the earth, and she dug, tearing apart roots and shifting the soil. Little by little, the hole grew bigger and bigger.

When the hole had expended enough to allow her to slither in, she had stepped in gingerly, holding on to the sides of the hole as she tested the with her feet to see how deep the hole is, hoping beyond hope that it was big enough for her to huddle in as she waited for the rain to stop. When her feet had touched solid ground, she was dismayed as she had only gotten in as far as her waist. But holding on to a shred of hope, she had wiggled in some more, and found room for her legs to bend. As she slid into the hole, eyes closed, almost sitting on the dirt, she lost her balance, and rolled down an incline.

That was how she had rolled into the tunnel, bumping her head against the hardened wall. Not really thinking ahead, she had dusted off her jacket, stood up and began walking.

After that, it was all a blur of actions that had been carried out without taking into account possible consequences - hence the twisted wrist and the worsened fever.

And her landing a spot in a military school's hostel - with only boys.

The gravity of the situation struck her at that moment, with her hand in the grip of a boy. She would soon be surrounded by many, many males - and that was an abundance of testosterone.

She looked up ahead at Sean. It was funny, but after spending so much time alone with him, she finally registered in her head that he was a guy at that point. The ramifications of that realization came soon after as well. But as he looked back at her, his face contorted with focus and sheer determination, Danielle felt her fears sit back on its haunches, wary, but not yet ready to attack.

He seemed like a decent enough person - a person who respected a female and knew the limits. He had after all been the one who was so adamant against her staying in his room. She finally saw his logic now. There would be four very male, very virile boys sharing their room with her. It was bound to stir up many, many problems.

Oh boy.

She nearly jumped when Sean used his other hand to uncurl her fingers from around his. She swallowed as she realised just how hard she had gripped his hand but let out a sigh of relief when he did not comment on it. "Wait here. I'll open the trap door, check if everything is secure, then I'll boost you up. Got it?"

Danielle nodded and he did likewise, his firm, almost regal nod an antithesis of her weak, wimpy one.

He reached up above their heads and slid the metal door open to the left. He boosted himself up on a ledge, then peeked his head out. Almost as stealthily, he came back down. "It's safe, but you need to be really quiet."

"Okay," she whispered, but her throat was so dry, she was not sure whether he heard that pathetic sounding croak or not. He positioned himself on her right, his feet braced apart, his knees bent. "Here, step on this with your right foot, hold on to the top and boost yourself up. Use your elbows - and please God, don't grab the ledge with your twisted hand."

Danielle frowned, but did not complain. He was the pro here after all - he could bite her head off all he wanted, she would not say a word edgewise.

She did as he said and struggled to pull her weight up with her elbows. She could feel herself slipping - almost shrieked when it happened - but a push from below steadied her and she found that she was already up to her thighs. She manoeuvred herself up and out.

Only after she was fully out and sitting on solid earth did it dawn on her where the push had been exerted.

Her ... behind. It was probably the wrong time to worry about it, but out of nowhere, her refined up-bringing reared its ugly head and began tinging her cheeks pink.

Sean emerged a few seamless seconds later, crouching beside her with nary a catch in his breath. "You okay? Damn, that fever's acting up again, isn't it?"

"I'll be fine."

"Good girl."

He then grabbed her hand and they were off.

"Where're we?"

"Behind the Chief Instructor's place."

"Is he important?"

It took a while for Sean to answer through gritted teeth. "Basically, if we screw up, he's the one who gets to cut off a chunk of our asses with a carving knife and feed it to the sharks."

No wonder his whole body was tense.

"Why are we going through here, anyways?"

"It's the only spot that's the least guarded around here. Come on," he urged as they stalked through the trees, trying to move as silently and as quickly as they could. Danielle's feet were almost flying off the ground as they crossed the back of the fenceless house, which made the crash even more powerful when Sean stopped abruptly.

Stumbling, Danielle held onto Sean tightly, trying to regain her balance and her wits. "What's going on?" she asked.

Sean was silent, staring with wide eyes and slackened jaw at the Chief Inspector's house.

"What's wr--" Danielle never got to finish her sentence as she saw what Sean was seeing.

It was a horrifying scene to stomach. A man, full-grown and muscled, stood over a woman who was on her back on the bed, her upper-body lifted up and supported by her elbows. From the fast and furious movement of her jaws, Danielle could only deduce that she was angry and was demanding for her own pint of blood. The man roared in response - it was freaky and weird to watch. There was no sound that accompanied the disturbingly turbulent feelings on display.

What happened next made Danielle's stomach churn further, made chills and shivers run a maddening stampede all over her body.

The man tore open the woman's clothes and lunged. Again, no sound. No rustling of the sheets, no snatches of quickened breath, no cries of desperation. But those were all sounds that began to echo in her head.

She saw the man lift a hand, and saw it strike. Saw the woman's head snap sideways. Saw him take off his clothes. Saw hands claw and grip viciously.

Saw more than enough.

Sean turned her around, then began pulling. When Danielle did not budge, but continued staring with wide eyes and choppy breaths, he turned her fully to face him. "Forget all you saw," he commanded with a harsh voice she had never heard him use before.

"How...how could--"

Was that her voice that shook and faltered?

"Listen, Dee Dee. We need to go--"

They both jumped when they heard a muffled thump of flesh against a window. On instincts that were unquestionable, they burst into a run, trying to save their lives, affording themselves a narrow escape.

An escape that Danielle knew would never extend to the catharsis her soul so desperately craved - a chance to maybe, just maybe, allow her to live her life without the haunting shadows stalking her dreams. Visions of what she saw kept coming back to her. With every step she took, her heart shook with a potent mix of fear and outrage.

But at least now her heart was brutally aware of the fact that she was not the only who has suffered through such show of bestiality.

Sean shoved Dee Dee's small body into the then empty room and tried to not slam the door closed.

Before he even had time to catch his breath, she was all over him, fury and fired-up indignation flaming in her eyes. "How could you! That woman was - was ... was being ra--"

He pulled her deeper into the room and dragged her into the bathroom, locking them in. He then turned to her again. "Listen, I need you to forget everything--"

His head snapped back at the vicious slap dealt by her small, seemingly harmless hand. As the sting faded and as his vision cleared, Sean stared down at her small frame, not really taking in the heavy breathing, the tears, the clash of emotions in her eyes. Instead, he saw the hand that shook from the force of the blow she had delivered and he felt anger burst like an inferno in his chest.

"What the hell!" he snapped.

"She was being raped."

"She wasn't," he gritted out, seeing the crushed expression on her face. Unable to accept the fact that someone else was emotionally affected as him - knowing that he could not handle both their emotions for them - he turned away from her, only to be pulled back by a surprisingly strong grip.

"How would you know?" she hissed, moving up and forward on tip toes. "You've never been raped, have you?" she jeered. When her eyes were close, he finally saw the confusion and anguish - the shattering pain and suffocating fury. For one moment, he was still - everything inside and around him seemed to cease moving for a breath, and understanding dawned in him. With that enlightenment, came the expected squeeze in the vicinity of his ribcage.

A thousand questions raced in his mind. How? Why? How could someone like her have gone through something as vile as...

Sean stopped himself from contemplating. All he knew now was that he had to be gentle - as gentle as he could allow himself to be.

"Dee Dee..." he began, trying to reach out for her arms. But as he saw her stiffen and shift backwards, he dropped his hands, trying to not let the frustration gnaw at his composure. "Calm down," he told her.

"You're telling me to calm down when--" she heaved in breath after breath, looking both sick and sickened. Pushing aside the fact that Dee Dee most probably did not want a male touching her, he dropped the cover of the toilet seat and forced her to sit down. He sat on his haunches and stared up at her. "Deep breaths," he whispered, trying to convey as much calmness as he could, hoping she would accept what little strength and equanimity he could offer. "Come on, you can do this," he urged gently.

She began with ragged breaths that soon slowed to deep, forced inhalations. She reached out, and Sean was quick to extend his own hand in offering. She grasped the tips of his fingers with an iron-strong grip, her nails digging into his flesh, but he held steady, looking up into a face of such open naivete, he could not help but grip her own hand tighter.

"Are you okay?" he asked. Her nod was slow in coming, Sean almost expected her to not respond at all. But respond she did, and her tiny, defeated nod sufficed for Sean.

He held onto her hand with a firmer grip as he tried to gather his wits. They should not have seen what they did. It was something that bordered on catastrophic to have accidentally stumbled over that scene. The fact that it seemed like forced intercourse was one thing, but the fact that the woman was not the Chief Instructor's wife was another.

But his hands were tied - Sean cannot say anything. If he did, one thing was that he would be questioned as to how he knew. Second, the Chief Instructor would make his life a living hell. He was going to graduate in two months. Two months was a long time, and it was a long enough to time for the Chief Instructor to bring him down to a level lower than dirt. He was an SUO. The shame would be monumental - he'd never be able to hold his head up anywhere if he had been demoted out of the blue.

Sean rubbed his temple with his free hand in exhaustion. It had been one thing on top of another since three o'clock in the morning. He really did not know what had made life deal him this deck of cards, but it sure sucked to high heaven.

But he had to handle this, before it got worse, or out of hand.

He looked back up at Dee Dee who sat stiff on the toilet seat, her face impassive, but her hand shaking in his grip. She was another problem. Sick as a dog, and in no condition to be wandering around on her own outside of camp - what with the rough weather that's bound to come around. It was mid-August after all. Soon, it would be autumn, and rain would be the least of her concerns.

But she saw something that even Sean wanted to erase from his mind. The gut-churning scene replayed in his head, and he shuddered.

"You have to tell someone."

Sean stared into eyes that were green and clear. "We can't. That was... the Chief Instructor."

The calm, nearly lucid face then contorted again with anger. "Even if he were the bloody Prince of Russia, he should be hanged!"

"You don't get it!" he cut her off. "If he finds out I know, I'm as good as dead."

"He can't kill you--"

"Yes," Sean forced through gritted teeth. "He can."

That seemed to take the winds out of Dee Dee's sails, but she was quick to regain it. "Rape is serious, Sean. How can you just ..." she waved her hand around in a sign of helplessness. "You can't just let it go like that." There was a loud plea in her voice, but Sean closed his heart off from her voice.

"Yes, I can," he said, his voice laced with cold steel. "And so can you." He yanked his hand away, and stalked towards the sink, leaving behind a disillusioned girl in his wake.

Danielle could not stop the shaking of her body as she stared at Sean's broad back. She could just let it go? Danielle did not know what to feel at that point - anger at the boy who had so callously regarded a helpless woman's dire situation as something that could so easily be pushed aside? Sheer disappointment because she had expected something short of a miracle?

Before she could separate and examine the feelings, Sean turned and looked at her. "You know, I'm starting to think it might not be such a hot idea to have you around here."

She inhaled sharply, unexpected pain in the region of her heart making her breath stuck in her chest. "What?"

"Two months is a long time - who knows what could happen within that period of time."

"But..." An alien yet strong feeling of needing to convince someone overtook Danielle, making the words tumble out of her mouth, unchecked and unfettered. "You just need to keep me here for a few days - it won't even be that long!" Danielle leaned back on the toilet seat when she realised how frenzied she sounded - like a desperate woman clinging onto the arm of a lover who was leaving without a backward glance. With a sinking feeling, it came to Danielle that this feeling was something familiar. She had done this once before, and failed.

She had thought the pain of the past had been dulled by time. Alas, time merely made the pain slice like a finely sharpened blade - the sting was unbearable, and it lingered.

Sean hesitated. Feeling the familiar taste of bitterness rise up like bile within her, Danielle looked away. She should not have expected anything. Nothing at all. It was a lesson she should have learned years ago with what used to be her family.

It was apparent Sean did not trust her to be around here and keep a low profile. He probably thought she would somehow slip up, and proceed to make everything blow up in his face. His SUO position was such an important thing for him, and she was just a stranger. What right did she have to demand his trust?

But it still made her feel betrayed.

Pissed off, Danielle forced herself back up onto her feet. "I'll leave tomorrow morning. I'm sorry for being an inconvenience, but I need to stay here until tomorrow morning. After that I'll leave - and your life will be saved." Sean frowned at the jeering note in her voice, but Danielle could not give a damn. "I'm sorry about the money you guys had to fork out for the throat swab - I'll repay you somehow. You probably don't trust me when I say that, either," she laughed at herself.

Sean pushed his hair back frustratedly, feeling his resolve slip and flounder. This SUO spot and graduating with it would be the final frontier for his catharsis. If he graduated with this rank - one of the highest ranks to be held by a hero in the military school - it would prove his mettle to himself, thus banishing the feeling of agitation that seemed to grow more and more restless by day.

He wanted to face his ghosts and come out the victor - the only way was to graduate with a high rank, to leave this place being one of the people whom many looked up to. And Dee Dee was going to ruin. She was bound to blow her cover. No matter how careful they were, someone would eventually find the hidden fuse - and that's when everything would fall apart.

This was too important to him - it was a once in a lifetime opportunity to exorcise his demons.

But listening to Dee Dee's jaded laughter, Sean felt his heart contract painfully. Something inside him did not want to disappoint her - at the price of his own downfall. Oddly, he found a part of him willing that to happen, having no qualms against it at all.

"Dee Dee," he began, his tone grave and low. "This is difficult for me. And this is a military school!' he said, trying to reason with her. "You'll be surrounded by guys - it'll be horrible for someone like you."

"Someone like me?"

Sean held himself back. He didn't entirely know for sure that Dee Dee had gone through what he thought she had, so it was probably best to hold keep that scrap of suspicion to himself for the moment. "You look... refined." With that said, he finally realised that she did look refined. Like someone from a family with old money. Someone who would probably never end up on the streets even if an earthquake shook her home into shambles - there would be plenty who would give up their beds for people like her.

But what bothered him most was how familiar she looked. Those eyes - whose did they look like?

As it came to him that he was deviating from the matter at hand, Sean shook his head and recollected his last words. "You won't feel so good around so many--"

"I've been on the streets for over a year. I'll survive." Again, that jeering tone. Somehow, it didn't suit her.

"No, you don't get it --"

"Are you trying to convince me, or you? Because I said I'm leaving tomorrow morning. If it makes you feel so scared that I'll ruin things for you, just put me under a bed and I swear I'll keep quiet till tomorrow morning."

It was probably best to leave it at that.

But he did not want it to end that way. Despite it all, despite the surety of this turning out to be a disaster, he knew he could not kick her out. He just could not.

Angry at himself for being so weak, he grabbed her arms. "Fine. But I need you to keep this in your head - you must keep quiet. It'll be hell for you here. You won't be able to walk around outside. If you get cabin fever, I'm sorry, I can't do anything for you."

"I won't get cabin fever."

"Not if you're staying in here for 2 months."

It took her a few minutes to get what he was implying. "You want me to stay here for two months?"

He really thought the question was stupid, so he deemed it not worthy of an answer. Besides, answering it would most probably make one of his veins pop, so he shut up.

Doubt clouded Dee Dee's eyes, and despite her less defensive pose, he knew she was still wary. He had after all changed his mind half-way through, just because she saw a crime in progress, and he had told her to keep it quiet when she wanted him to do the right thing.

It was something he could never do. It would jeopardize too much of what he had worked so hard to achieve. It was too important to him - he could not do it.

"You don't have to keep me here for two months," Dee Dee spoke after a while, her voice small and faltering. "I just need a bit of time to get my feet back under me."

Unbeknownst to him as to the reason, Sean felt a deep, ingrained sense of responsibility for her. It was as if now that she was in his care, she was his responsibility until he left school. He felt a need to set her up somewhere and make sure she was fine.

It was definitely a need he was not going to voice. It was weird enough that he was giving in to the softer side of him - but to eagerly take up the responsibility of looking out after a runaway girl?

No, thank you. He would do some intense psychoanalysis on himself some other time.

But in spite of that, he still could not deny the fact that he felt as if something deep within him had made a promise to her, and breaking that promise would be going against the grain of his whole being.

And so, he let her think that she was leaving soon. He'll think of some other way to make sure she stayed safe, although he had no idea why it meant so much to him.

"But you need to tell someone about what ... happened."

He let go of her arms and stepped back. "I can't. I'm sorry. There are times you just have to keep quiet about these things."

He saw the disappointment on her face, but he steeled himself against it.

"I need you to keep quiet about it, too. No telling the other guys. If word gets out about it, it's bound to circle back to us, and there'll be hell to pay."

"But a woman was... raped."

"And we can't do anything about it. I'm sorry. I hate doing this, but we really can't."

Danielle watched as Sean moved to the door leading back to the dorm room. She stared at her hands - one bandaged and the other roughened by a year of scrounging the streets.

It was not a matter of could not but a matter of would not. And it was because her family would not do anything that she had ended up like this.

It was painful to know that it was now her turn to close one eye - and let someone else suffer the same fate she had had to endure, to swallow the same bitter pill that did nothing but destroy whatever faith she had in life.

Vicious cycles were always a bitch.

"So?" Drake snapped as he saw the door crack open.

Sean jumped backwards in surprise, bumping against Dee Dee who followed close behind. He frowned at Drake when that movement caused Dee Dee's head to smack against the doorjamb, hissing painfully at the contact. "You don't have to kill anyone to get information from us, Drake." He grabbed Dee Dee's head and pressed around for the sore spot. "Where? Here?" Dee Dee nodded as he found it, and she grimaced as he proceeded to rub.

"So? Was it strep?"

"Not sure." Sean moved her hair around to look at the scalp, looking for bruises and cuts.

"Not sure?"

"Yeah," Dee Dee said, biting her lip. "I'm fine," she said, grabbing Sean's hand to remove it.

"What do you mean 'not sure'?" Drake's voice rose in displeasure at being ignored.

Annoyed, Sean threw him a sharp look. "The doctor says the results will only be out tomorrow."


"So you're staying here?" Robin asked from his study desk, turning in his chair to fully absorb what was going on. Dee Dee looked up at Sean in question, but Sean was already staring ahead at a point on the wall as if bracing himself for a blow.

"Yes," he answered, the one word sounding like a death-sentence on his lips.

"But... doesn't she have strep?" Clark asked.

Dee Dee shook her head slowly. "Doctor says it's most probably tonsillitis. Besides, I don't feel so bad anymore."

At that, Clark got off his bed in an energetic leap and moved to Dee Dee's side. He put his arm over her shoulder. "You should lie down," he led Dee Dee to his bed. Sean frowned at Clark's over-familiarity, noting Dee Dee's wide eyes of surprise.

"Yeah," Sean put in. "Lie down on my bed." He threw a look of silent challenge at Clark as his fellow SUO turned to look at him. The boy of very little words stood still for a few seconds. Then, he said the words that won him the argument -- point-blank.

"I washed your sheets."

Sean's eyes widened at that, and he gaped at his bare bed. That was right - he told them to wash his sheet for him. From the corner of his eyes, he saw Clark throw him an 'oh well, too bad' look.

That boy better watch out. Sean stared as Clark guided Dee Dee to the bed at the farthest corner of the room. His glare was intensely fixed on Clark, reading every move like a leopard calculating the moves of its prey.

He only relaxed when Dee Dee shook her head, telling Clark she was fine, and she got into the bed - dragging the sheet over her body, and turning away from Clark. A silly sense of cockiness enfolded Sean at that. It almost felt like Dee Dee had chosen him over Clark. At that line of thought, Sean's eyes widened and he mentally slapped his head. This was stupid. He turned away and cleared his throat, moving towards his desk in an act to put it to rights.

"You guys spent quite some time in the bathroom," Robin commented.

"Just laying down some ground rules about her staying here." Sean kept a bland face when Robin looked like he did not buy that explanation.

"In the bathroom?" Drake asked, his arms folded in front of his chest.

Sean looked over his shoulder and raised a challenging eyebrow at them, his face cool and calm. "Do I look like I care what you think?"

Drake looked over at Robin. "I hate it when he does that 'I'm above you, so move over, you plebe' thing."

Robin shrugged and turned back to his work. "He never does it to me. Probably respects me more than he does you."


"By the way, Sean," Robin called out without looking up from his work. "Maiza from Echo was looking for you again at lunch."

"What did he want?"

"Another fight, most probably," Drake surmised. "He hates your guts."

"I don't see why."

"We don't, either," Drake shrugged.

"That aside," Robin began, finally looking up from whatever he was doing. "Is your mom coming tomorrow? I need some detergent."

Sean paused. That was right. Tomorrow was Visitation day. The thought of his mother coming to see him always put him a little bit on edge. But he was not sure if his mother really was coming tomorrow, or if she would come the next week, so he tried ease the knots in his stomach, telling himself that maybe she won't come this week.

"Oh, and is Sophia coming tomorrow, too?" Drake asked eagerly.

At the mention of that name, Sean smiled. Really, that girl would not let him forget her. She came almost weekly these days (the joys of coming from a rich, and influential family), and when she came, she almost always rendered the guys speechless. She was a whirlwind of energy, and it seemed like Drake really fancied her.

Sean shook his head at that, chuckling to himself. Sophia thought of Drake as an annoying little puppy - she was not sure what to make of him. Hell, Sean was looking forward to watching another episode of 'Sophia Murders Drake Without Really Knowing'.

It could not be, could it?

After all, what were the chances that the person who would be visiting Sean was the one person Danielle missed so dearly after months of separation?

Nearly down to nil, that was how high the chances were.

Danielle closed her eyes again, and told herself it was alright. Sophia Dorwood was not about to see her in this sad state anytime soon.

...Or ever.

That thought brought tears of sadness and regret to her tightly shut eyes, but Danielle dealt with them the same way she dealt with her pain.

She ignored it.


End of Chapter 6

Author's note: I had to slap myself a few times to get the real feel of a slap. Am I taking this a bit too far? Hell no. It's good experience. =)

The part where Sean was having his inner battle on whether to let Danielle stay was a bit of a funny part for me. I kept on thinking "sepandai-pandai tupai melompat, akhirnya jatuh ke tanah juga." I've been on a mental block for a long time, so idioms don't come to me as quick as they used to. So I sorta winged it, and tried to type non-stop to see what idiom would come to mind off the bat. I wrote down a part of a song instead -

"someone would eventually find the burst pipe, and as fast as they bow down they'll leave you behind." It's from Baby, Be Brave by the The Corrs. Haha. What the hell.

By the way, I wrote this after going through a rough week, so I would really appreciate comments on how bad I've written this chapter - it'll teach me to not be so down on the dumps too long.

Apologies for typos or grammar mistakes. I am only human (and a lazy one at that. I need a BETA reader, la).


April 3, 2010

When the Autumn Leaves Blush - Part VI

As dictated by Faranza Syns

When The Autumn Leaves Blush
Faranza Syns

Chapter 5

A few years back, due to her very refined and rather protected upbringing, she would have cringed inwardly at the crude sound of a curse on someone's lips. But now, after years of disillusionment and shattered security, Danielle barely blinked as Sean -- or at least that was what she thought his name was -- let out a very colourful streak of curses in response to her announcement that he was her brother. That, and also because the cold was getting to her. Body weak and heating up very quickly - it was hard to care about curses in that situation.

"That's so much bullshit, I don't even know how to say it's crap!"

Drake made tutting sounds of admonition at Sean, his face full of mock-disapproval. "Watch your mouth, Hayes."

"But still!" Sean's voice rose, nearing a high falsetto. Realising just how much this was affecting him - and how inevitably it was bound to embarrass him - Sean took a few steps back, away from the girl lying on his - his - bed. God, the audacity she had to lie about him when he had been anything but cruel to her.

Robin dabbed Danielle's forehead with the folded woolen cloth in his hand, wiping beads of sweat off her face. Then, he tossed the cloth into the water-filled container beside the bed and took out a thermometer from his first aid kit. "Open your mouth." When she did, he placed the thermometer in her mouth and patted her chin gently, motioning for her to close her mouth.

Danielle stared up at Robin, wary and thoughtful. Maybe it would've been better to say that this guy was her brother. She could always drag him aside and beg for him to help her - just this once. She would leave once she could figure out how to move on - without being caught in the rain ever again. She shuddered, then Robin removed the thermometer from her lips.

"Damn," he sighed. "Fever."

Despite it not entirely being her fault, Danielle still cringed, feeling as if Robin was blaming her for being such a pain in the ass. Leaning forward, Robin stared at her, his eyes serious. "How long were you in the rain?"

"It wasn't that long," Sean cut in, arms folded over his chest, his face the image of recalcitrance, clearly not appreciating his friends' move at trying to protect his sham sister. "How high is her fever?"

Robin gave a look of disbelief mingled with exasperation. "Pretty high, but not too alarming."

"But she wasn't in the rain long enough--" Sean rushed forth, closer to the bed, looking down at Danielle as if he had caught her red-handed, and he was going to celebrate the victory most eagerly.

"It's not that,"Robin threw a look over his shoulder at the charged-up Sean. He then frowned. "Why do you look so happy your sister's sick?"

"She's not my sister!"

"Still," Drake stopped him with a look of deceptive geniality. "She's sick. How can you look happy?"

Sean glowered at his friend, then at the Danielle. This Dee Dee girl was really pushing it. "Maybe it's God's way of telling her to stop... sinning," he said tightly. At Drake's narrowed eyes, Sean added in a forced smile for good measure.

A sense of trepidation came over Danielle as her eyes collided with Sean's heated ones. Maybe she really should not have said that he was her brother.

But if she took it back now, they'd all toss her out on her ear.

Danielle closed her eyes and looked away from the boys surrounding her, focusing instead on the scratchy feeling in her throat. It had been there for almost two days now - and no matter how much water she forced down, it would not go away. And god, why did she feel so whoozy?

Lately swallowing had been increasingly difficult, so she stopped trying to eat anything all together, not wanting to torture herself anymore.

"What's your name?" Robin asked.

"Dee Dee," Sean answered on a growl. Robin and Drake exchanged pointed looks, then gave Sean a bland stare.

"What now?" Sean looked heaven-ward, waiting for the next conspiracy theory his friends were going to cook up.

"You know her name - stop denying she's your sister," Robin said gruffly.

Danielle opened her eyes and stared at Robin. The obligatory smile he gave her told her that at least he believed that she and Sean were related. A quick glance at Drake who was leaning his shoulder against a wall as he shook his head in Sean's direction assured Danielle that she had at least half the room at her disposal.

They fell for it.

Sean however, looked ready to mutilate a puppy. And the other boy had been sitting quietly since the beginning, Danielle really could not say whose side he was on.

Further thought on those lines were blurred as the feeling of being hot and highly uncomfortable - what with her throat feeling as if it had been stuffed with a spindly ball that were tearing gashing wounds into the walls each time she swallowed - continued to taunt her body and mind.

"Dee dee," Robin called out firmly. "I need you to tell me - have you been sick lately?"

Danielle swallowed the drool that had pooled in her mouth - and her eyes teared up at the pain of the forced movement. "My throat hurts," she whimpered.

At that, Robin's eyes widened. "Open," he pressed him thumb to her chin as his other hand fumbled around inside his first aid box and he took out a small tube. He poised the tube over Danielled's open mouth and pressed a button flashing light into her mouth. "A bit bigger, Dee Dee." Danielle's eyes teared up further, against her will, as she forced her mouth to open wider. The feeling was short, but excruciating - like the walls of her throat were being stretched beyond their limit and just like thin rubber strings, they snap.

"Whoa," Robin said in a cross of awe, shock and slight repulsion.

"What?" Sean leaned forth to look.

Drake and the other boy rushed over, eager as schoolboys, to take a gander at her oral cavity.

"It's so..." Sean began to say, but hesitated, shooting a quick, indecisive look at Danielle's face. It almost seemed as if he was scared to be graphic about it in case she freaked out.

Which just made her stomach cramp worse at the millions of possibilities.

"It's red," Drake stared.

"...and big," the quiet boy added in.

"It's not that bad," Sean added in hastily, as if trying to convince his friends so that they would stop giving her bad visions of horror and death.

Danielle shut her mouth slowly, staring up at Robin with worry. "What's going on?"

"Your tonsils are swollen."

"What does that mean?" Sean asked, before Danielle could get even a word in. "And what're those... white.. thingamajigs..." Sean rubbed the back of his neck, looking like someone was breathing down on it.

The look of queasiness on Sean's face embarrassed Danielle. She looked away, keeping her face impassive as it faced the ceiling. It's funny - a few weeks ago, she would have been fine with people sneering at her, telling her they didn't need a runaway to deal with, telling her without words how repulsive her mere presence was. She was even used to parents pulling their children away from her - when all she wanted to do was talk, or ask for directions.

But now, somehow, being around this group of boys - two of whom had already accepted her - made her feel like she needed to measure up to something. They reminded her of a time when she never had to worry about anything bigger than what was going to be on the pop quiz at school tomorrow morning.

She missed being around people like this - educated, clean, decent people. And it made her vulnerably shy to be sticking out like so much beeswax. To finally be amongst people who reminded her of who she was supposed to be and still make a spectacle of herself made her insides ache and her heart break.

This was not how she planned her life. This was not how she wanted to feel. But then again, since that night a year ago when she had been thrust into the fate that was not supposed to be hers, Danielle rarely felt surprised.


Sean swallowed as he looked at Dee Dee's closed-off face. It was either she was trying to deal with her fever, or his stupid words made her uncomfortable. Damn. Alright, he resented her for lying and putting him on the spot, but Sean recognised a sick person when he saw one, and he was a person who prided in reining-in his alter-ego. There were better times to harangue the girl, just not now.

"Well, it's hard to say. I think I read somewhere that these are the signs of tonsillitis. But it could also be strep throat," Robin offered.

Drake and Clark stepped back at that.

"Do you feel nauseated?" Robin asked.

Dee Dee seemed to think about it for a while. She rubbed her stomach over Sean's comforter. "A little? But it could be just gas." When she finished saying that, she seemed to start, then look away hurriedly, seemingly embarrassed. Sean found it very odd.

As he quizzed over that reaction, Robin queried Dee Dee as to her condition and her discomforts.

Once he was done, Sean moved to Robin's side, standing in front of his friend, his stance impatient. "Well?"

"I can't really say. Her fever's not that high, but she has most of the symptoms. Dysphagia, slight malaise... no red rash yet, though."

"Red rash?" Dee Dee croaked, eyes wide with horror.

"That would be Scarlett fever, another form of strep throat. You get this sandpaper-like rash on your tummy and it might turn bloody." Robin's eagerness at volunteering unwanted information to the obviously distressed Dee Dee annoyed Sean.

"What should we do, then?" he butt in before Robin could get it worse.

"Doctor. Do a throat swab."

Sean looked at Dee Dee and took in her flushed complexion. If he was not wrong, she would most probably be very, very lethargic, judging from the half-lidded eyes and the stillness of her figure.

And most importantly, they could not just waltz out of campus. Oh, he could see it now.

"And who's that you got there, Hayes?"

"Oh, nobody. Just a girl who says she's my sister. She sneaked in - smart huh? Oh well, I'll catch you later, Sir."

Definitely a no-go.

Drake came over, munching on a biscuit. "Look at this way - it's 4.20. Sneak her out."

"Today's Saturday, anyways. Nobody'll miss you," Clark added in slowly.

"And even if they did, they won't question it. You're a busy SUO after all."

Sean absorbed all of this information thoughtfully, rubbing his nicked jaw - then realised something. "Wait - I'm sneaking her out?" he asked, baffled.

"It's an obvious choice," Drake shrugged, tossing his folded underwear into his closet drawer.

"Why the hell is it?"

All three SUOs stared at their friend like he had lost his head. "Dude," Drake began. "You're like her brother - of course you have to bring her."

"Come on - you guys don't really believe that!"

Robin moved his head side to side as if contemplating the answer. "I can't say. You both have brown hair."

"So do you!"

"But I'm partially bald," Robin deadpanned.

"And she looks like she knows you," Drake put in.

"That's just crap."

Drake threw a look at Dee Dee, then relaxed when he saw she had obviously fallen victim to exhaustion, sleeping fitfully. He turned back to Sean, his eyes serious. "Look, she's obviously in some sort of distress, so put whatever you feel aside for now, and just help her, okay?"

Sean's teeth gritted at his friend's logic. One part of him nodded in humble agreement, but the other was miffed at being told what to do. He stared at a spot near Drake's elbow to collect himself.

"Besides," Clark leaned back in his bed, speaking in his usual low tone. "She's a pretty girl."

Drake laughed, turned and patted Clark's shoulder. "That's the spirit!" He looked at Sean. "See? Even he gets it."

Sean cast a glance at Dee Dee's face and took in the face. He frowned when that face reminded him of someone he knew - someone buried deep within the recesses of his mind. It tweaked his memory, but not enough for him to come up with a face, much less a name.

"Here, we're pitching in some money for the test," Robin handed a few notes to Sean.


"I took it from Drake's wallet."


Sean snatched the money away before Drake could get it back, and pocketed the money. He sent Drake a look of smug satisfaction. Drake responded with a dirty look. "You'll pay, Hayes."

"I definitely will - thanks for the money to do so."

Drake sneered, then let it go, sinking back into bed. It was Saturday after all.

Reluctantly, Sean moved to his bed and tapped Dee Dee on the shoulder gently. She stirred, and Sean sighed in relief. "Hey, get up. We need to get you to the doctor's."

She seemed rather unwilling to respond, but she moved nonetheless. He removed the covers and draped her arm over his shoulder, offering her as much support as he could, wrapping his arm around her tiny, tiny waist. It struck him that she felt awfully thin and scarily brittle.

"Use the old passage beneath the vines," Clark reminded. Sean nodded.

"If it's strep, get some antibiotics for yourself - it'll help decrease possibility of infection."

Sean nodded as he steered Dee Dee towards the door. "Speaking of infection - clean my sheets for me."

He felt Dee Dee stiffen at his words. God, she wasn't affronted, was she? "I'm just being cautious," he explained, his tone grave.

"I know," she muttered, then fell silent, leaning against his body, letting someone else besides herself support her this time.

At the meantime, Drake was about to get into the opening of his diatribe when Clark put in quietly, "We will."

Satisfied, Sean opened the door to his dorm, and proceeded to that old passage SUOs have been using for years. He never knew why a passage like that existed. He scoffed further at the thought that this sort of thing had happened to one of the SUOs before - it was too romantic a possibility, after all.

As the door clicked shut, Drake, Robin and Clark exchanged looks laden with hidden import. No words were spoken, but a silent pact - a silent agreement - was made in those soundless moments.

Robin cracked his fingers to break the atmosphere. "Well, Clark, since you offered to wash the sheets, you do it."

Clarke shrugged, too lazy to respond in indignation. "What if one of his JUOs look for him?" he asked. Both he and Robin turned to Drake.

"You know how Sean hates having more than one JUO report to him at a time - so if they see that he's not around, they'll be smart enough to assume one of the JUOs are with him. They'll cower in silence. Besides, knowing the Bravo company JUOs, they'd be too stubborn to ask anyone where Hayes is - thinks it makes 'em look stupid or something."

Robin scoffed, then brushed his hands together. "Well, I'll go wash-up -- don't wanna get strep." He threw a glance at Drake who was munching on another pack of biscuits. "Although someone is definitely going to be infected."

Drake paused, mid-chew. "What?" he demanded. "I didn't even touch her!"

"Right. Like I didn't see."

"Well, you touched her too."

"I'm not the one eating biscuits with the unwashed hand."

Another streak of blue curses rent the air as Clark fell back on his bed and laughed.


"There's a high chance this is just tonsillitis," the doctor said. "But if you want, I can do a throat swab and see if it really is strep throat."

Thank god.

Sean nodded from where he stood behind Dee Dee's chair. Dee Dee nodded as well, but at a much less slower speed. The doctor smiled. "There's of course, two types of tests. One takes about twenty-four to forty-eight hours to get the results, but it's highly precise. You'll have to come for the results tomorrow. The other one takes just a while, but the results might be a bit iffy. So which--"

"The long one!" Dee Dee cut in.

The doctor nodded and called for a nurse. Sean stared at Dee Dee's bent head and sighed, reading the apparent guilt in her pose.

Obviously the kid wanted to hang around a little longer.

The thought of having to allow her to stay brought to life many conflicting emotions and opposing arguments in his head. But as the nurse guided a weak-looking Dee Dee out of the room, Sean stared after their retreating figure.

Maybe for just a day?


"Here," Sean handed her a bottle of sports drink, uncapped and fizzling slightly. Dee Dee accepted the bottle quietly and stared into it. Sean watched her closely, then realised her hesitation. He rummaged around in the paper bag in his hand and took out a drinking straw. "Here," he said again, pushing the straw through the head of the bottle, into the sports drink.

Dee Dee cast him a look of gratitude from beneath lowered lids, a small, weak smile curving her lips. Her slightly bent head kept her face shielded from him, but Sean saw nonetheless. He smiled back in acknowledgment.

She sipped from the straw and swallowed slowly, grimacing as the pain pulled at her throat for the thousandth time.

"Can you swallow?" he asked, unable to mask the worry in his voice. Dee Dee nodded quickly, capping the drink again, holding it between her thighs, head still bent. Sean stared at her, and weighed the wisdom of taunting her right now, here, sitting at the bus stop near the hospital. His compassion won out, so he just stared ahead, keeping his mouth sealed shut. Besides, he knew the silence would kill her.

It certainly did.

Within a few seconds, she lifted her head and turned her body to look at him. "Please help me - I have nowhere to go. Not yet. I need to get my head and plan where to go - then I swear I'll leave!"

Elbows on thighs, Sean kept his eyes averted from her beseechingly bright ones. "How old are you?" Unbidden, flashbacks of when they were at the hospital came back to him. The girl filling up the form while hunching all over it, trying to block him from seeing her details. She even covered the columns and boxes with her hand for full effect. When he had grabbed the form to pass it over to the nurse at the reception, Dee Dee had snatched it away, her eyes wide with accusation and fear.

"I'm... eighteen."

Sean was not even sure if she was telling the truth - she could still be a minor.

"You should be at home - running away won't solve anything."

He felt her turn away from him, and like waves of heat, he felt the tension emanating from her. A look from the corner of his eyes told him that she was sitting as stiff as a pole. Bulls-eye. A runaway.

She offered no explanations - both remained quiet. It became a battle of willpower - who could stay silent longer, who could hold themselves back the longest.

Soon, the feeling of uneasiness and awkwardness overcame their prides. Sean sighed, and sat straight again. "What's your real name? We should call and tell your parents you're fine."

"They're better off not knowing."

Sean frowned. "You're right - at this rate, we shouldn't call them at all. Soon, after you die, I'll call them. At least they don't have to suffer over your stupidity for such a long time before they get that final bit of peace when you're dead."

The speech had been made up to cause indignation and hurt in any normal girl. But Dee Dee did not respond in rage - her lips merely tightened. "So be it."

He stared hard at her, trying to fathom what was actually going on beneath that skin, beneath the flesh. She seemed too much like a troubled, angered human being - the hatred and grudge in her seemed to singe her soul red.

"Listen," she bit off. "All I ask, is that you let me stay at your place for a while, until I can plan where to go--"

"Where do you want to go? And besides that, any idea how dangerous it is for a girl to be hiding in a military school? I'm an SUO. I can get sacked for sneaking in a girl like this morning."


"Senior Under Officer."

"Oh," she breathed. "Are you one of the highest..."


"I see. Well, me being there would be bad, huh?"

Sean looked at her, not understanding the sudden defeat he heard in her voice. She had been vehement about staying, but as soon as she knew he was an SUO, someone very important, she retreated. It was like knowing she was really threatening someone cowed her.

She looked like a girl who had been in the streets for so long, but somehow, she seemed utterly naive at the same time. She was not the ball-breaker she was expected to be.

"Yes," he answered.

His answer made her flinch, but only slightly. He could see a flash of devastation on her face - but then it was gone much too soon.

"Well, bye then."

Her sudden words shocked him. "What? Your stuff are still in my dorm."

"Throw it away. I don't need them anymore. There's nothing inside!" her voice rose to a high note, something between the sound of despair, desperation, and hilarity. Like the fact that there was really nothing of utter importance in the bag she had been carrying around for years was hilarious.

Sean frowned. "I'm not throwing your things away. You're taking them."

"Screw you, dick head."


Frankly, Danielle could not believe she had said it. It was just too hard to hold in. Her anger, the bubbling hate that was burning up her insides - it just would not be contained. She hated the world - hated it for what it had forced her to go through, hated it for the pain and anger she held on to everyday.

She hated her life, and the shambles it had turn out to be.

One day, daddy's little princess lost her crown and was banished to the Netherlands for a mistake that was not entirely her own.

And now, when all she wanted was a safe place to search for the pieces of her life and try to put them back together again, Mr. I'm-Too-Great would not allow her the luxury -- would not offer her a safe haven where she could slow down from her harried pace and try to make sense of her life.

Just like that, he became the enemy. He was with the world - all of them gathered against her.

"What?" he demanded.

"You heard me, you spaz. Screw you!"

"Dee Dee," he said in a low, warning note, but then, Dee Dee was too worked up to give it much credence. The anger inside -- the one she had been suppressing for so long, the one she had told herself time and time again was gone and dealt with -- fought free like compressed steam.

"Go back to your pretty little dorm and throw my things away. Nobody cares!"

"Dee Dee, calm down."

She rose to her feet, the sports drink boucing off the ground, rolling away. "I don't want to calm down! Don't tell me what to do! I hate you - I hate this! Screw you! Screw everyone! No need to call my parents - I don't want them."

At the mention of her parents, hatred overwhelmed her, and she sank back onto the bench, exhausted, but still worked up beyond her capacity as a sick person. Her whole body shook with rage, and her breathing remained shallow - the pain in her throat forgotten in the heat of the moment.

But as the moments passed, as Sean stayed quiet to, allowing her to collect herself, the initial anger faded away, leaving her drained.

Sean waited a few more seconds. "What's your full name, Dee Dee?" he asked, gently. "Give me that, at least."

She shook her head. "You're better off not knowing."

He paused a moment. "Do you want to talk about what... happened?"

For just a second - for just the length of a breath - Danielle wanted to tell all, and damn it all. To finally unload all that was weighing down on her heart and let someone else understand. But there was too much to let go in one breath, and so many dark places to venture. She couldn't.

"When people stop believing in you, that's when you feel like dying - especially when at that moment, you really needed someone." Unable to go on for the feelings were too strong and too potent, Danielle shut her eyes, and willed the tears away. She could not do this. Not now.

She stiffened when she felt an awkward arm curl over her shoulders, pulling her closer for a slight embrace. Danielle forced herself to relax enough to allow the hand to stay - a part of her rebelled at the notion, but another part of her welcomed Sean's awkward try at empathy. That part of her appreciated it - and his awkwardness made it all the more heart-warming.

She felt him shift, pat his shoulder, then remove his arm. "You act like a person who doesn't have fever," he said after a while.

"It's probably the sports drink talking," she croaked weakly.

Both smiled self-deprecatingly at each other and lapsed into silence.

In her head, she accepted the fact that her presence at the school would most probably trouble more than one person. Sean's friends would be pulled in too. She could not bear the fact that she could be so selfish. She might have lost most of things in her life, but she refused to lose what little education and up-bringing she had in her. But despite all that, she could suppress the urgent questions popping up in her head. What now? Where to? How?

"Does..." she began, hesitating. "Does it always rain around here?" she asked, just in case she could not find a place to stay, and ended up sleeping in whatever alley she could find, under whatever tree was nearby.


Sean paused to consider his answer. "Not really. Rarely." Sean noted the look of relief on her face, and recalled how she had reacted when the rain poured over her. "Are you scared of the rain?" he asked.

Dee Dee did not answer, but her eyes were wide as golf balls. She stayed silent, as if trying to trick him into thinking she had not heard, then opened a new subject entirely. "Why did you join a military school?"

This time, he pretended he did not hear. His face remained bland, but his lips could not quite resist showing a smile. When he saw Dee Dee frowning, he grinned. "You didn't answer my question - I'm not answering yours."

For the first time, a real, show-your-teeth smile bloomed over her face. "That's playing dirty!"

"No. That's playing fair," he said matter-of-factly, somehow unable to stop smiling.

Dee Dee nodded, then looked at her hands thoughtfully. "I'm... I just hate being in the rain. The last time I stayed in the rain, I fell awfully sick. It was horrid and I..." She stopped there, not knowing how to convey her fear. Just the thought of rain brought back the memories of the unceasing shivers, the cold, the gut-churning sensation before she began splaying her innards on the tarred street. "I just don't like it."

Sean saw more than what her words revealed. This girl was homeless, and lost. It was clear what she wanted was just somewhere safe to stay for a while. Maybe bringing her back won't be so bad? After all, he was graduating in two months. He would be stepping down soon. And nobody checks the SUO's dormitories - it was a quietly acknowledge fact for everyone that SUO's were superior and they never broke the rules. To make sure that other students accepted the fact that the SUO's are the authority, teachers limit their ragging on the SUO's. Hence, no spot-checks. All he had to do was hide her for a while and make sure she stayed quiet during his classes.

That decided, the stood. "Well, let's go back."

"Bye," she said, sullenly.

Sean smiled. "I'm bringing you back, dolt," he teased.

Her head snapped up. "Just throw my stuff away."

He gave her a droll look. He grabbed the sports drink that he had put aside. Then, he grabbed her arm. "Let's go. It's nearly lunch-hour. We need to get in before everyone gets back to their dorms."

"What?" she blinked, eyes wide. "You're taking me back?"

"Yes," he said. And hoped to God he was not making a huge mistake.


"You never answered my question."

Sean looked away from the window of the bus and looked at Dee Dee. "What question?"

"Why'd you enter a military school?"

He stared ahead, at the seat in front of him, thinking of an answer. He chose one that allowed him to be as honest as he could be without revealing too much. "I find it hard to trust people."

Preditably, Dee Dee blinked in question. "How does military school cure that?"

"Not really. I just have to face my ghosts, that's all."

"Who are they? Your ghosts?"

He smiled at her, as if just the smile could appease her curiosity, then turned to his window again.

"Well, whatever or whoever your ghost is, you clearly haven't laid it to rest, much less faced it."

"Why do you say that?"

"You don't talk about it."

Sean twisted his body to look at her, and caught the serious look on her face.



Author's note: Actually, I was going to reveal more about Sean, but since we've focused so much on him for so long, I think we should shift the attention to "Dee Dee". Okay, three guesses as to what happened prior to her running away from home! Haha. This chapter was done in a regrettably slapdash manner. Feedback is REALLY appreciated. By the way, do you still think Sean should be with Sophia? Hmm?