Magical Security Taskforce




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Chapter 28: Hexagram

Session One

Troy wasn't sure if it was a blessing or a curse to be seated around the lunch table with four girls, but two weeks into the new school year he was leaning towards curse. This wasn't universal, of course, but given his particular situation and his particular relation with these four particular girls... he really missed Kurt.

It could have been worse, namely not having any real friends at all. Regardless of gender, he was thrilled to have four in his inner circle. Good make-up too: one significant other, one childhood friend, one loudmouth and one irritatingly cute mascot. But losing Kurt to the workplace changed the dynamic completely. The balance had been disturbed and he was now the oddity in the group, a pretty daunting label considering the group included a twelve-year-old sophomore. Far too often, the context of their conversations skewed toward the feminine side, sometimes forgetting that Troy was listening.

For example, Troy was aware of a certain special time in every girl's life involving biological functions that immediately signaled to him that mere awareness was more than enough. When it happened to Yuki a week into the school year, oh he got all the details, plus anecdotes, product comparisons and a sudden lack of appetite. By the time Marie caught on, wrapped her arms around his shoulders and joked, “Having fun?” he was gone.

Unbelievably, that wasn't the worst of it. Troy didn't think the topic of romance would be too much trouble. Kamila was single, Marie couldn't gossip about her boyfriend as he was privy to the conversation and Yuki, blossoming or not, deterred anyone from getting too risqué. At least in theory: turned out that Kamila was bent on dating vicariously through Kathryn. Kathryn tried to be discreet out of respect for Troy and Yuki, but modesty was not her nature. She let enough slip out accidentally to make him uncomfortable, with the only reassurance that Marie seemed to feel the same way.

On this particular day, Troy might have thought himself off the hook if he hadn't been so surprised at Kathryn's absence. She normally had a study hall before lunch, was first out the door, and had the fastest sprint time to the cafeteria.

When brought up, Marie said, “I saw her coming out of her math class third period. She didn't look so good. I'm guessing she didn't do very well on that test.”

'That test,' and Kathryn's dread of it, had been the conversation du jour the previous day, omitted because it classifies as generic high school stress and not one of those girly topics that bothered Troy.

“Why would she miss lunch? She wouldn't go home sick over that,” Troy said.

“Give her a call,” Kamila suggested.

“I don't want to bother her if she did. I'm sure it's no big deal.”

“Yeah, we can take care of things without her for a day,” Kamila declared, as if their lunch group had some far-reaching mission statement. “So, uh... what's up with you, Troy?”

“Nothing since yesterday,” Troy replied. Silence ensued.

Eventually, Marie said, “Boy, Kathryn really does keep things going here.”

Still, they held their own talking about various classroom travails, again omitted due to lack of relevance. To their surprise, their savior arrived ten minutes later. Contrary to Marie's report, Kathryn seemed healthy, happy and satisfied with life.

“Sorry I'm late. Did you miss me?” she said, taking her usual spot next to Kamila.

Troy was already suspicious. “We did. Where were you?”

“Recharging after I bombed that math test. I feel a lot better now.”

“Do I want to know what you mean by recharging?”

She grinned and said, “No.”

Marie groaned. “Don't suppose it has anything to do with Kurt?” she asked, somewhat accusatory.

Kathryn held back a fit of laughter. “Might have a lot to do with Kurt.”

Another groan from Marie, this time burying her face in her hand.

“Wait...” Kamila was more amused than appalled. “You saying you ditched study hall for a booty call?”

Harder to restrain herself, Kathryn replied, “That's one way of putting it.”


It wasn't so nice for Troy and Marie, who both looked away and shook their heads, Marie with a severe blush.

“Isn't that cutest thing? Both of you reacting the same way,” Kamila added.

Still incredulous, Marie said, “You don't even have a car. How did you-”

Kathryn opened her mouth, but froze. Suddenly, she wasn't feeling naughty so much as busted. After a moment of stammering she mumbled, “I walked.”

Troy and Yuki caught it immediately and stared back, shocked. Marie was less informed: “But he lives all the way on Cherokee. How do you get there and back in an hour?”

“Um... jogged a bit of it.”

Marie raised her eyebrows. “You must have went pretty fast.”

“Maybe Kurt went pretty fast,” Kamila quipped.

While Kathryn choked on her bite of imitation steak, Marie needed a second... but then she got it. “Oh, God!” she cried. That sent Kamila in a fit of uncontrolled laughter as Marie continued to act scandalized. “That's awful!”

“Sure is!” Kamila shouted between laughs. Kathryn, for her part, was trying not to chuckle too much, but couldn't help but acknowledge a snappy comeback, especially from Kamila.

“I'm um... not gonna comment on that...” she said, generating more laughter.

Even Yuki was shaking her head. “Marie, you forgot to cover my ears for that one.”

“I wish somebody would have covered mine!” Marie replied, with both her and Yuki caving in and laughing herself.

Under the din of a conversation now completely and irredeemably in the toilet, Troy stared back at Kathryn. Yes, he was now tortured once again by a group of girls laughing at Kurt's alleged performance, but frankly he was too bothered by the truth to care. When Kathryn saw him, she stopped laughing and raised an eyebrow. With Marie and Kamila distracted, he motioned through his trigger gesture. She nodded, somehow more bashful about that than the inadequate boyfriend jokes.

“You see Troy's not laughing,” Kamila said, drawing his eyes and ears back to the conversation. “Sensitive subject?” Even Kathryn snickered at that.

“Hey, hey!” Marie stepped in to defend that, but Troy was still in the spotlight.

Rather than dwell on the thought of using magic for something so selfish, Troy shrugged. More obligingly than anything else, he said, “What can I say? Kurt's into racing.”

Marie punched him in the shoulder, but Kathryn and Kamila's reactions ensured there was no saving them.


Session Two

The other tables in the cafeteria weren't immune to their antics. As the five continued to joke, laugh and raunch up the place, they drew more and more attention from their neighbors. Across from them, Renee watched the proceedings, fascinated with the lowbrow entertainment that had been drummed up.

“What can I say? Funny 'cause it's true,” she heard Kathryn say, to more snickering from the table. She didn't catch what had started the uproar and had no idea what they were all talking about, but their behavior was amusing on its own.

To her, at least. “Jeez, shut up already,” Madison said with a haughty scoff. “Acting like a bunch of children.”

Some ostentatious head-shaking ensued, part of her drawn-out posturing to sell the notion that their social circle was far more civilized. Then she faced Renee and said, “Hey, you know what Donna told me in the bathroom this morning?”

Renee wasn't listening. She was still fixated on the plebeians enjoying themselves.

“Renee? You there?”

Snapping out of it, Renee turned to her friend. “What did she say?”

But Madison didn't become part of the snobby high school elite by ignoring little non-verbal cues and failing to overreact. She took another look at the loudmouths and saw Troy. Cuing a smile that would have awed Kendrick, she said, “Oh... it's that boy from the beach you were chatting up.”

Finding herself exposed, but knowing the game well enough to avoid denials and defenses, Renee looked down. “Um... yeah.” The less said, the less fuel for the gossip column.

Madison kept observing the subject, as he wrapped an arm around Marie. Marie, in turn, rested her shaking head on Troy's shoulder and wished things would go back to a G rating.

“Ooh... looks like he's spoken for,” Madison said, almost reveling in the development.

“Yeah,” Renee said.

“So who's the girl?”

It wasn't a question for Renee. Madison snapped her fingers twice. On cue, a third girl in the group whipped open a reporter's notebook and read, “Marie O'Donnell. Sophomore. GPA 3.45. Set designer for the drama club and second chair clarinet in the school orchestra. Steady with Troy Monroe since last September with no scandalous activity reported.”

Madison nodded. “Thank you.”

“I so need minions,” Renee muttered.

“Sounds like you could take him if you wanted.”

Renee sighed. The way Madison put it, it sounded wrong on so many levels. She'd be breaking up Troy's happy group, testing Molly's patience, undermining her relations with her MST teammates and potentially breaking the heart of what sounded like a decent girl. And yet, Renee had already made her initial move back at the beach.

“Maybe,” she relented. Clearly, she was going to have to put more thought into this. If she was going to 'start something,' she needed to make damn sure it was worth it.

“Well, you've definitely got her beat in looks and in smarts. It's all in how you use it. Frankly, that guy doesn't look too hard to tame. What's up with him anyway?” Again, Madison wasn't asking Renee. “Jordan?”

Again, Jordan had her notes. “Troy Monroe. Junior. GPA 3.00. Mostly harmless.”

“Huh. Well, that settles it. If you want him, go get him.” Before Renee was able to take in such profundity, Madison was onto more important matters: “The real question is how do we get your sister to give us a more civilized lunch period.”

Renee leaned back; naturally this subject was much more controversial to Madison. “Well, it's probably difficult. Unless you did something to piss her off, she wouldn't meddle with your schedule. It's a bit late to tinker with it now.”

Madison whimpered. “See if you can get something arranged anyway. I don't think I can make it the whole semester with these idiots.”

“Um... okay.” Renee nodded. Normally, she brushed off Madison's passive-aggressive bullying, but the prior talk of 'stealing' Troy had her a little on edge. She'd make a good faith effort as a token of friendship, but Molly was the one person Madison deferred to unconditionally.


The rowdy table, meanwhile, had slowly simmered down as the group ran out of jokes and Marie started to coerce some decorum. “Seriously, though, do you think it's a good idea to sneak out like that?”

Kathryn scoffed. “Probably not. But it was either that or mope for the rest of the day.”

“Think you made the right call,” Kamila said. “Ballsy, awesome, and sure made this table more entertaining.”

Glaring unhappily at Kamila, Marie went on: “Aren't you worried about what happens if President Pearson found out?”

Shrugging, Kathryn replied, “Maybe, but I can't imagine she'd throw the book at me for skipping a study hall. I wasn't really thinking about it.”

“I don't know. Isn't Molly friends with Kurt?”

“What's your point?” Kathryn narrowed her eyes.

“Well, outside the council, is Molly friends with anybody?”

Kamila chuckled. “You saying Pearson might have the hots for Kathryn's man?”

Marie raised her voice in defense. “I'm not saying that at all!” Softer, she added, “But whatever friends she does have are probably pretty close to her. I don't know if it's a good idea to get too out of line with one of them.”

Troy and Yuki remained silent. Even knowing the true connection, they weren't entirely sure what Molly and Kurt really thought of each other. This was just idle speculation anyway, so they both figured it best to sit it out.

“Don't take chances, that's all I'm saying,” Marie continued. “I mean, what if she does have feelings for him? You sure don't want to flaunt your relationship in her face. I mean, bad enough that she'd ruin your life but... well, that's just mean.”

“To hell with her,” Kathryn grunted. “I'm not tiptoeing around my boyfriend just because of Pearson. Frankly, if she is trying to land somebody, maybe she should stop being a manipulative, deceitful-”

And then God spoke: “Kathryn Santos, please report to the student council office.”

All Kathryn could do was glare. At Marie, at Troy, at the loudspeaker- it didn't matter. In the end, her opinion on how she should handle the Kurt situation deferred to Molly's. That didn't sit right, and this time she wasn't playing along.

“That's bull,” she spat, standing up and abandoning her half-eaten tray. By now, the rest of the cafeteria was staring at her, part of a timeless 'dead man walking' tradition.

She got a pat on the back from Kamila. “You go tell her that. Fight for your right to screw around!” Her voice was boisterous enough to echo throughout the room. The room echoed back with a great cheer.

The flames of rebellion were stoked, and they fed Kamila. “You got her this time. Why should she care who you go off with? You didn't do anything wrong! Go get her! Kathryn! Kathryn!” The masses picked up the chant, rallying around whatever cause Kathryn was fighting. So long as it was against the Pearson regime, they didn't need details. In fact, knowing the details, Troy and Marie remained silent.

But Kathryn was moved by the show of support, and spurred on by Kamila she nodded. “You're right. I got this. And I'm gonna tell her for once!” Propelled forward by the cheers, Kathryn marched onward, accepting the encouraging slaps on the shoulder and back. She reached the student council office, threw the door open and shouted. “All right, Molly, what the hell's this all about?” And there was much rejoicing as she slammed the door shut behind her.

Inside, Claude didn't look up from his desk. He just pointed to Molly's office and went on eating his lunch.


Session Three

“All right, Molly, what the hell's this all about?” Kathryn tried again when she entered Molly's office.

Molly looked back, not defiantly as Kathryn had expected. Just confused.

“Feeling rebellious today?” she asked, somewhat mockingly.

“You know what? I am.” Kathryn dropped herself into a chair. “Because I know why you called me in here and it's absolute bull. And everybody in that cafeteria's got my back.”

The despised tyrant just stared back cluelessly. She was used to getting the occasional rebel in her quarters, but normally it was justified and thus anticipated.

Her intercom buzzed. “The students are a getting a little too loud. Permission to use the ops?” Claude asked.

“Yes, yes,” Molly replied, dismissively. She eyed Kathryn. “That takes care of your back-up. Now would you like to know why I called you in or are you confessing to something I don't know about?”

Now Kathryn froze. She took a moment to calm down, then asked, “You're not calling me in because I skipped fourth period?”

“Yes, but did you think you were a revolutionary because you did?”

Kathryn was tempted to say yes, but now that she thought about it, simply skipping a class hardly constituted class warfare. It all depended on where Molly went with it.

“Frankly, I'm not interested in you skipping a study hall. Mrs. Carlton can deal with that. But I got word that you used a teleportation spell in the meantime.”

Smirking, Kathryn saw more potential now. “Please, you use magic all the time for stupid stuff. If you're going to drag me through all this, I might as well use it once a while.”

“Having a change of heart all of a sudden?” Molly flashed half a smile too. To Kathryn's shock, it was sincere. “Thought you weren't interested in magic.”

It threw Kathryn off until she realized it: Molly wanted her to get better at magic. To do so would be falling into the MST's order. No way that was happening: “Look, I was having a bad day. I just... dammit.” She shook her head in defeat. No matter where she went, Molly would win. Molly always won.

After a moment to revel in Kathryn's undoing, Molly continued, “I've already gotten through to Renee and I've got my hands full enough with Donovan, so I hope to only explain this once. As long as you make sure not to get caught, you can use all the magic you want. The problem is that teleportation like that introduces spacial and continuity gaps. If someone were to ask where you went and how long it took, you have to have answers. Otherwise people get suspicious.”

“So I noticed,” Kathryn muttered. Marie and Kamila had already proven Molly's point.

“You have an alibi then?”

Chuckling but far from jovial, Kathryn replied, “Yeah, I stumbled my way through it.”

“Good.” Molly took a breath. The hard part was over. The rest was simple curiosity: “Where did you go anyway? You can't get anywhere interesting from here.”

“Kurt's,” Kathryn blurted. Defeated and miserable, now it was just a matter of spite. “I went to see Kurt. He cheered me up.”

Molly wrinkled her nose. “You can spare the details.”

Kathryn leaned in. She could sense Molly's revulsion and wanted more. “Why? Can't handle us being together? Pissed that you can't stop me like you stopped Troy? Jeal-”

The glare stopped her cold. By the time she could away from those heartless eyes, she already regretted everything she had said. Kathryn caught her breath, sat back and waited anxiously to be put into place again.

Molly's words were careful, but firm. “Now that Kurt is our field agent, it is absolutely essential that I maintain a professional working relationship with him. I have no business in his personal life, nor do I want any. I will not be influenced by some petty sentiments and must assume that Kurt will not be either.”

When Kathryn felt able to move again, she nodded slowly. She opened her mouth to say something, but Molly wasn't finished.

“And furthermore, please drop the rebel act. I'm already stressed enough over the Hageshoni; I don't need you plotting a coup.”

“The Hage-what?” Kathryn snuck in as Molly took a breath.

“Kurt didn't tell you?” Kathryn shook her head. “They're the most temperamental demon faction you'll ever come across. And there's a good possibility that for the last year they've been quietly establishing a presence in town.”

Kathryn gulped. She was well beyond wishing she had never gotten involved with the MST. Either way, Kurt was and that sounded awfully dangerous.

“Yeah,” Molly said, gravely. “Clearly, Kurt and I may have some very serious problems to deal with. And as one of the few students aware of the MST, I certainly hope that you'd know better than to get the masses worked up over whatever is it they blame me for.”

“Sorry,” Kathryn mumbled, looking to the floor. To her surprise, she was sincere.

“Besides, Claude and I are seniors. We'll be gone in a year and I'm trying to keep things moderately peaceful. You don't want the next president to be determined through violence, I assume.”


“Then just attend school like everybody else. No uprisings, no insubordination, and please no skipping class to magically facilitate some sordid affair.”

Kathryn heaved a sigh. Molly wasn't even yelling and it still stung.

A knock on the door disrupted the conversation, followed by Claude wanting in. Molly assented and the assistant entered... followed by two of the special ops carrying a languid, disoriented Kamila. Kathryn's jaw dropped.

“Once we tased the ringleader, the populace quieted down,” Claude reported.

“Fair enough,” Molly said, barely interested.

“Um... what should we do with her?”

A scoff later, Molly replied, “Take her to the nurse's office to recover. The point has been made.”

“Uh...” Claude looked at the door. “I don't really want to drag her back through the mob. The symbolism would be quite intense.”

Molly closed her eyes and exhaled the irritation away. Slowly, she replied, “Then use the secret passage.”

“Ah. Right. Thank you, Madam.” Claude and the ops hauled Kamila out of the room as Molly sighed and returned to Kathryn.

“Anyway, it's our last year. I would rather things be peaceful.”


Session Four

For all the talk of Kathryn and Kurt's escapades, Troy and Marie were much more traditional, at least on paper. That night, the two sweethearts got dressed up just a little more than usual, Troy borrowed just a little more from his mother for flowers, and they would have eaten at someplace a little more fancy had such a place existed in L. B. Gould. They were fine with Rosa's anyway.

“One year down,” Marie said, raising her glass of Sprite.

“So far, so good,” Troy replied, smiling as he klinked it with his Coke.

One-year anniversaries were typically big occasions in relationships, particularly in high school where nobody can fathom time beyond one year anyway. Troy and Marie were proud of the achievement- 365 days of relatively stress-free dating, spared from the pressures, betrayals and hormonal imbalances that usually doomed such couples. As they toasted, they looked each other in the eyes, focused on nothing but each other and both fully aware of the secret to their success.

Marie gasping when she realized it. “Shoot, I forgot to bring your Lost box. I finished it last week.”

“That's fine. Not like I haven't seen it already.”

Innocuous as the revelation was, it called attention away from their relationship and onto less pressing matters. For them, it worked like a charm.

They didn't spend a lot of time dwelling on what exactly they had going for each other. They just went there. Perhaps open, honest communication was the key for most successful long-term relationships, but the 'knock on wood' approach suited these two fine. After all, they were only in high school, had their entire lives ahead of them and honestly weren't concerned about being together forever. They were happy with 'together indefinitely' and to think otherwise would be a jinx.

That's where the pair were a little unorthodox. Both Troy and Marie had long recognized that dating had an extra benefit beyond being with someone they liked. L. B. Gould High's students were always looking for an easy path to survival. Troy and Marie had one in each other. Neither were considered hot property when it came to the lookers in the class, nor were they considered defectives. By being together, it effectively took them off the market, spared them the embarrassment of scrambling for dates at social functions, and assured the populace that at least somebody considered them a catch.

Across the street, Kathryn almost shed a tear as she watched them talk eagerly. Granted, Troy and Marie were actually discussing the episodes in that box set, but they could have been sweet nothings to Kathryn.

An arm draped around her shoulder. “You raised him up right,” Kurt said.

“Damn right I did.”

“Too bad we can't eat in there now. Don't want to bother them.”

Kathryn shrugged and started walking away. “Eh, I'm not that hungry anyway. Let's just go to McDonald's and hit up the dollar menu.”

Kurt chuckled. “Again?”

“No sense spending too much when you're not hungry.”

He followed her down the street. For some reason, he didn't want to let this go. “That's not what I meant. One day I should take you someplace out of town. Someplace nice.”

She scoffed at the idea. “Us? At a fancy restaurant? You're joking.”

“We don't have to get that fancy. Olive Garden's an upgrade over where we're going.”

Kathryn spun around, smiling back mockingly. “You really want to drive thirty miles and spend twice as much on the same stuff they got at Rosa's?”

Kurt shrugged, keeping a straight face. “Well, sure. Something different. You're really okay with the same crap in this town all the time?”

She chuckled, shaking her head as Kurt caught up to her. Poking him in the stomach, she said, “Are you complaining about me being a cheap date?”

He took a step back, throwing his hands up. “You know what I get paid; that's not the problem. But don't you want to mix things up a bit once in a while? Don't you get bored doing the same thing all the time?”

“Why? I got good friends, starting to get better grades, the football team's 3-0, and I'm constantly having awesome sex with my hot boyfriend. What's not to like? Get me out of this magic business and I'm set!”

As Kurt looked up to ponder that, Kathryn continued walking. Holding back a laugh, he said, “You know, you were the one who teleported from school to my place today to have this awesome sex.”

“Yeah, and Molly got on my butt about it,” she muttered.

He nodded. “Continuity speech?”

“You've gotten it too?” She stopped to let him catch up.

“I've given it to Donovan a few times.”

She shook her head. “Well, she gave it to me. Then she went on about how she's so stressed out and wants us to be nice and obedient for her sake. Kamila starts one silly riot and suddenly I'm this big instigator.”

Kurt raised an eyebrow. “Have you considered the possibility that maybe Molly really is under a lot of stress right now?”

“Yeah, right,” she said, dismissive. “If some demon attacks, we all get dragged into it. And maybe she'd have it easier in school if she'd stop lording over all of us.”

“Well, there's a chance that some bloodthirsty demon is lurking around town. I don't blame her for being worried. I am too.”

She frowned suddenly, holding back a sneer. “Don't you dare defend her. Molly is a ruthless, conniving bitch. I gotta wonder if she's trying to sink her claws into you.”

Kurt sighed and put his hands on her shoulders. In a moment of rare morose, he said, “Kathryn, I love you, okay? And there's no way she can change that. But between the Hageshoni, Donovan's grimoire and just what she is capable of, there's more on Molly's plate than she deserves. Whether she thinks so or not, she can't handle it alone, but who else does she have? So I'm going to protect her, and I'm going to worry about her and I'm going to be there for her.”

Kathryn looked away. She knew it was the truth, but it still seemed like there was too much gravity being applied. Molly didn't seem incapable of anything, especially with a unit of subordinates around and the full might of the MST watching.

“Still, you don't have to be that close to her. Doesn't she have a sister she can talk to? Let Renee handle Molly's inner torments,” Kathryn replied, saying the last two words mockingly. “Why do you have worry about all that?”

He shrugged. “For starters, because it's my job. And I don't know if Renee understands half of what's really going on. She and you have only been in this for a bit more than a year. I've been around magic my whole life, so I can appreciate just how bad a situation she's in.” After a moment, he sighed. “That we're all in, really.”

Finally, Kathryn just shook her head and continued walking. “Whatever. Let's get going. Sooner we get some food, the sooner we can go back to your place.”

Kurt sighed. All that, and she just dropped it. “Can't argue with that.”

In a weird way, he almost wanted to.


Session Five

“Your wish is granted, long live Molly.” Renee handed Madison and Jordan their revised class schedules. After a week of sucking up and negotiating with her sister, then several days of Claude rearranging the cosmos, Renee had come through for her friends.

By that time, Madison had forgotten all about it. “Hmm?”

“You wanted to get back into the first lunch period?”

“Oh... right. Thanks,” Madison replied, obligingly.

“They couldn't change mine. I'm a junior so I have, like, classes and stuff.”

Madison frowned. “Right, classes.” She remembered those. “That sucks.”

“You gonna survive on your own?” Jordan asked.

Renee smiled. “I'm a big girl, Jordan. I'll be fine.”

They shared a group hug and Renee's socialite friends were out of the picture. The revised schedules took effect immediately, and postdated to the beginning of the semester. No one questioned this: Madison and Jordan had always been at war with Eurasia.

As for Renee, it wasn't that she was a big girl so much as she was an outgoing girl. Her many club involvements and superb networking skills meant that she would have no problem finding a new social circle. In fact, if word ever got out that she was a free agent, she'd be in high demand. Normally, she'd have been selective about her tables, or even alternate between several.

But you all know where she's gonna sit, right?

They didn't. In fact, it came as quite a shock when Renee set her bookbag next to Yuki, smiled brightly and said, “Hey, guys! Mind if I sit here?”

While Kathryn and Troy were left stunned, Marie impulsively gulped and inched a little closer to her man and Kamila glared at the interloper, Yuki smiled back. “Sure!” said the precocious little idiot.

It's not like anyone had veto power, so Renee sat down and explained, “The friends I usually sit with got switched out, so I thought I'd hang with you guys. We never get to chat outside...” She stopped to do the requisite search for any non-magi within earshot and realized there were two. “We never talk at school,” she said.

“Since when did you talk with us losers?” Kamila replied, then noticed Kathryn taking offense. “Okay, Kat's not a loser...” So she pointed across the table at Yuki, Marie and Troy. “These three losers.”

“Oh, we all know each other,” Renee answered, all the while thinking of ways that they know each other. “Yuki and I were in science club together, I was in the motor club for a bit with Troy back when Kurt ran it... um... and Marie's in the orchestra! Woodwinds for life!”

“You're not in the woodwind section,” Marie said, flatly.

“Oh yeah, I switched to cello this year... and Kathryn and I were on the softball team.”

“Kathryn's not on the softball team. I am,” Kamila said, just as skeptical.

“I mean freshman year.”

Kathryn shook her head. “I wasn't on it freshman year either.”

“Yeah you were! Molly kicked you off, remember?”

“Oh yeah...” Kathryn rolled her eyes. “Good times.”

Troy, of course, was keeping his damn mouth shut. But he couldn't stay out of the conversation any longer, as a major point had yet to be made. “Uh... is anyone watching for Claude?” he said, looking over his shoulder as he watched for Claude.

“He eats at his desk,” Renee answered, well prepared. “He only monitors the other lunch period. One of Molly's other underlings watches this one.”

“Still, don't you thinks it's a bit much to just barge in on us and expect us to be your replacement friends all of a sudden?” Kathryn said bitterly.

Renee was taken aback. “Well... I thought you were. I mean...” She raised her eyebrows a few times. “You know...”

“Look, if you need a place to sit, that's fine. I just don't get why you're all buddy-buddy with us all of a sudden.”

“We have a nice little circle here, Renee. There's a good balance between the sane people and these two,” Marie said, pointing to Kathryn and Kamila.

Kathryn snickered. “That, and it's already Troy and four chicks.” That got Troy to look up, but he didn't say anything. If anything, he was glad someone sympathized. “Add one more and he's got a freaking harem.”

Okay, scratch that. His eyes narrowed. “There are so many things wrong with that statement,” he said, returning to his food.

“Oh, don't act like you wouldn't enjoy us all fawning over you,” she joked.

Troy looked up, leaned forward and turned his head, making it clear to Kathryn that he was staring at Yuki. She nervously leaned back and waved at him. He returned to Kathryn, who was sufficiently convinced.

“Okay, good point,” she said, a little hushed.

Marie cleared her throat and stood suddenly. “You know, I have to go to the bathroom,” she blurted.

“Look what you did, Troy, you made your real girl sick,” Kathryn joked.

“No.” Marie shot Kathryn an exasperated look. “Just have to go potty.” She turned to Kamila, who wordlessly stood up and joined her.

Troy watched them warily. “I hate when they do that,” he muttered.

Kathryn smirked. “Hey, this time at least you know they're talking about Renee.”

“Wha...” Renee was shocked at that, and at her reception in general. “Come on, guys, just because we have to keep it secret from those two doesn't mean you have to pretend you don't know me.”

Kathryn shrugged. “Far as they're concerned, we don't know you. Honestly, why are you sitting here?”

“Like I said! Madison and Jordan got moved to the other lunch period and Molly couldn't get me changed too.”

“So her powers are limited after all.” Kathryn replied, snickering.

“I've got calculus during the other lunch period. It's the only time it's offered. There's not much she can do about that.” Leveling her voice, Renee continued, “But with them gone I thought I'd try to spend a little more time with you guys. Get to know you a little better. Sounds like you do a good job hiding it from those two. Why can't I join in?”

“Because it never comes up. And 'those two' are very good friends of ours, and one of 'those' is dating Troy, if you haven't been keeping up.”

Yuki had been darting her head between Kathryn and Renee. As Renee searched for words to volley back, Yuki jumped in. “I don't see the problem. We spend three weeks with Renee at Central then never see her again until January.”

Kathryn looked up at the ceiling and sighed. “Yuki, we could say the same thing about Donovan. You wanna invite him, too?”

Now Renee was just plain offended. “Are you saying I'm as unwelcome here as Donovan?”

“You might be as dangerous,” Kathryn muttered.

“What?!” Whether Kathryn meant it to be heard or not, Renee was perceptive.

Kathryn was not prepared to elaborate. In fact, she was a little flushed that Renee had heard it at all. Not that an explanation was necessary. Everybody, with the possible exception of Yuki, knew what she had meant. It was the same reason Troy continued to keep his damn mouth shut, even with Marie gone.

“I... I don't believe this,” Renee said in a hushed voice. Whether intended or not, Kathryn's verbal warfare had landed a strong blow and Renee was genuinely hurt. “I'm trying to make something out of this situation and talk to you more and the only one who's welcoming me is Chiyo-chan here.” She gestured at Yuki, frustrated.

Finally, Troy had something to say... to Kathryn, at least. “That was a bit much, Kathryn. I mean... I know what you're trying to do but... she's right, we should all be friends.” He turned to Renee, who sighed and flashed a coy smile. Troy turned back to Kathryn and raised his eyebrows. “And she sure as hell isn't Donovan.”

“Yeah, yeah.” Kathryn sighed. It was hard to accept, but it was hard to argue against common decency, especially with Yuki and Troy defending it. She turned back to Renee, apologetic. “Renee, I'm...”

In the moment every stubborn individual needs before actually saying 'sorry,' Kathryn noticed something amiss. She tilted her head and pointed at the bare part of the table in front of Renee. “You planning on actually getting lunch?”

After a moment of bewilderment, Renee's eyes flashed open. She checked her watch, exclaimed “Crap!” and ran off to catch a meal before it was too late.

The distraction let Kathryn turn back to Troy. “You know we're just asking for trouble.”

Troy shrugged. “Then we'll just have to deal with it. I don't know what's going to happen, but we're tight. We'll get through it.” Kathryn nodded. That much she could count on.

It just left Yuki. “One question though...” Kathryn and Troy looked over as she asked it: “Who the hell is Chiyo-chan?”





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