Series: Infinity Smashed
Word Count: 2250
Summary: When Raige gets an opportunity to play at a local marching band festival, he starts having trouble balancing the parts of his life. Meanwhile, Thomas crams for his GED and M.D. tries to heal.
Notes: This takes place in that yawning period between Shades of the Past and the Next Adventure, also during the Enron trials. M.D. is still in pretty intense mental healthcare at this point, and Raige is in his junior year of high school. For all the marching band notes, those are at the bottom.
Part Two: Thomas
Since moving back home, Thomas had started a mutually beneficial trade arrangement with M.D., trading granola bars, ginger snaps, and dollars in exchange for Treehouse scrip, sweets, and miscellany. It gave him an excuse to visit Treehouse and all his buddies there, plus check up on her every week. He still wasn’t entirely sure how he felt about her “descent into madness” (as she sardonically put it), but he knew that Raige’s combo of worrying and denial honked her off, so had chosen to deal with joking about it. Maybe it wasn’t the nicest thing to do, but at least it wasn’t pretending she was on vacation.
“Hey!” Thomas called, ducking under the root cage. “How’s it going, crazypants? I got your granola bars!”
M.D. rolled her eyes, but she was smiling when she got up. They swapped stuff, and while she put her side of the barter away, he took advantage of her back being turned to take a quick scan of her and the room. She looked tired, but both her and the room were clean and tidy. That seemed like a good sign.
Thomas leaned against the wall. Anatomical diagrams were pinned to it. “Flame and Scorch treating you right?” he asked.
“I keep expecting them to finally get sick of this and fire me,” she said, pulling the cabinet curtain shut. “But they just keep being nice to me. It’s weird.”
“Aw, they’ve adopted you,” Thomas crooned. “Their little baby dinosaur.”
“Please,” M.D. said. “No adoption jokes.”
Thomas winced. “My bad. Still on leave?”
Her expression lightened. “Nah, they finally realized I was going crazy from boredom. I’m on incubator duty high-set, want to see?”
Thomas hadn’t gotten to see the incubator very often, even when he’d lived in Treehouse full-time. Local-born children were rare enough to be something special, so people treated the place almost like a church, with awe and hushed gestures of reverence. While they waited to hatch, different eggs were packed in rotten logs, soil, hay, or sawdust, sometimes with warm stones to keep them at the right temperature. After following M.D. up and out to the building, Thomas sat on the packed dirt floor and got comfortable.
M.D. didn’t sit down. After relieving the minder from the shift before her, she got to work. Thomas watched her adjust the egg’s positions, check the eggs for cracks or signs of quickening, monitor the temperatures, take out cold stones, and replace them with warm ones. She looked haggard, but calm and still. Peaceful.
“You look better,” Thomas said. Even though the eggs couldn’t hear him, the incubator invited quiet whispering, like a library.
She snorted and adjusted an egg. “I’m tired and cry all the time.”
“Yeah,” he said, “but you don’t look like an Enron guy a week before shutdown either. You know, all manic like.”
She shrugged. “I guess. I miss the rush, though. Everything felt under control back then.”
Thomas knew he wasn’t really that knowledgeable about M.D.’s ‘before’ period—he didn’t know her as well as Raige—but he remembered the fourth of July last year, when she was gray and listless, and he recalled the bandages on her arms in fall and winter. And everything Raige had told him about the weeks before Thomas met them had made it sound like a hurricane of chaos, with M.D. dancing furiously in the middle, grinning like the devil was after her for unpaid debt.
He’d seen the scars on her arms.
“Yeah, well, that’s bull,” he said. “Pretty sure you’re remembering wrong.”
She rolled her eyes and carefully started placing stones by the fire to heat, setting a water timer for heating. Thomas got up to help her.
“Where’s Raige, anyway?” she asked. “Band practice again?”
Thomas set to passing cold stones to her, trying not to step on anything. “Nope, out with his girlfriend.”
M.D. froze in mid-stoop, stone still in her hands. “Girlfriend?”
In the exact same tone: “Raige?”
“Yup. The guy has finally found someone as geeky as he is, bless his soul.” Thomas tried to sound totally unbothered by this; after all, he had no claim on Raige’s love life. “Their kids will probably take over the music world—you know, the really, really nerdy parts.”
“Wait, wait, is this the girl who roped him into that last minute thing?”
“I don’t think she had to try all that hard...”
“Ugh!” She tossed the stone down into the fire, sending up a little flurry of sparks. “I hate her already.”
“Oh yeah, like you can complain about her being inconvenient.” She glared at him; he smiled sweetly. “Jealous, babe? Don’t worry. I’m here for you.”
“I’m not jealous!” She snapped, snatching another rock from his hands. “Why, are you?”
“What? No! I just--” he heard a cracking sound, and for a terrifying moment thought he’d stepped on an egg. But then he looked down. “Oh crap! It’s hatching! What do I do?”
“Get out of the way; that’s what you do!” M.D. hissed, rushing over with shooing gestures.
Thomas awkwardly hopped over the nests to make way, and in the ensuing two-hour hatching of the most hideous/cute naked bird thing they’d both ever seen, the topic was forgotten. Afterward, Thomas watched M.D. (covered in bits of shell and goop) present the dry and healthy hatchling to its doting parent, and he saw her smile.
Something deep inside him relaxed. For the first time in what seemed like forever, he wasn’t worried to leave her alone.
Thomas had been studying hard for his GED for ages, pretty much ever since he’d gotten back to Texas and realized two things. First, a year and a half in Treehouse had royally screwed his educational and social life. And second, adults treated high-schoolers like freaking morons.
Thomas had tried. Really, he had. He’d been so thrilled to come home and return to his family and buddies, and sure, he knew he’d be behind, but…
And now he and Raige were in the same grade. (And Raige was way ahead, because Raige was a Grade A nerd.) Thomas’s reputation was in limbo because there was still no official story as to what had actually happened to him for the past year and a half. (The current top rumors were: he had joined a cult, he’d been shipped off to military school, or he’d become a gangbanger.) Nobody was exactly sure what to make of him anymore.
And that was just the other kids. The adults were a whole other deal. Thomas was used to being treated as a fellow adult. In Treehouse, he’d worked his own jobs, lived in his own space (with Strong-Legs, anyway), and sure, it wasn’t easy, but he’d grown to like the freedom and responsibility. But in school, everyone treated him like an overly hormonal dumbass who couldn’t see further than his own dick. It was crazy-making, and around six months after returning home, Thomas had finally lost it.
“They say my pants are too baggy! Who the hell cares about my freaking pants? Have they seen Aaron Lindenhurst’s pants? You could hide freaking zoo animals in there, man!”
Raige had been clueless. M.D., however, had been the certified class psycho from at least the first grade on, and she’d understood completely.
“It’s too late,” she’d told him. “You’re a Problem now. Prepare to be hounded for the rest of your school life.”
Thomas had hated finding out she was right.
Finally, things had gotten bad enough that Thomas’s family had sat down and come to an agreement: if things didn’t get better by the end of the school year, he could quit and go for his GED on his eighteenth birthday.
And that had been last year. Thank god.
So now Thomas was working part-time at his dad’s friend’s landscaping business and prepping for his freedom tests. Mostly, he studied on his own—he wanted to prove to his folks that he could do it. But sometimes he needed someone to quiz and test him. His folks were busy working, and Christopher was too young, so Thomas had turned to Raige. Might as well put his nerdiness to good use.
Thanks to the Treehouse portal set-up, getting to Raige was easy. So after work, Thomas would go to Raige’s place and get relentlessly quizzed.
Some things, he remembered fairly easily—he’d already learned a good chunk of geometry and trigonometry building in Treehouse, and basic arithmetic was universal. Earth science and astronomy he also more or less had down.
English and algebra, however, remained the banes of his existence.
“You know, I’ve been in ‘the real world’ a while, and I’m pretty sure I will never need this stuff in it.”
“Come on, one more equation. You’ve almost got this.”
Thomas couldn’t lie, he could get further studying with Raige than on his own. For whatever reason, hearing someone explain something clicked better than reading the exact same thing in a book.
It didn’t help that Raige was hot. Good motivation.
But now Raige was at practice all the time, or with Wendy. Thomas tried not to be pissed, (he liked to think himself too cool for that) but come on man, his tests were coming. So he found himself quizzing with M.D. instead while on incubator duty. She wasn’t as good as Raige, but still better than Christopher. Plus, she’d found a way to make English interesting. (“Try to convince me of obvious bushwah. There, now you know why it matters.”)
“So he’s flaking on you too now?” she asked. “Capital of Alabama.”
“Mobile. And whatever, he’s busy with ROAR, I got this.”
“Alaska. I haven’t seen him since he got in.”
“Juneau. I’ve seen him a couple times. I think his life is band practice and caffeine now.” He wasn’t sure why he was defending Raige. M.D. wasn’t saying anything he hadn’t thought privately. “Thanks for helping me out, by the way. And Arizona’s Phoenix. Mix it up, I’m sick of A.”
“Utah, then. And no problem, I have to watch the eggs anyway, I doubt listening to us talk is bothering them.”
“Salt Lake City. And yeah, they’ll come out all educated.”
They went through state capitals. Thomas had almost all of them down, except Vermont and Missouri. The incubator was a good place to study, quiet and warm, and after the first hatching, Thomas kept hoping he’d luck into seeing another. So far, no luck, but hey, it helped get his butt in the studying seat.
They even proved handy in Thomas’s fight with algebra. M.D. used them for test problems.
“Okay, so, uh, the sum total of eggs in here are twenty-four. There are three times as many spotted eggs as there are blotchy eggs, and… uh… four-third times as many plain eggs as there are spotty ones. Tell me how many there are of each, show your work, and no peeking, jerk!”
Thomas slugged through that a while, but he got it, and then as M.D. adjusted an egg, he admitted, “Okay, I’m kinda pissed at him.”
“Like, I get it, busy happens, but come on, I’ve had these tests set for months! This is my ticket out of school bull and into work stuff. I’d be down if he’d, you know, actually warned me, but he’s just been last-minute canceling all over, and Christ is it getting old. No offense, babe, you’re cool too.”
“None taken. My education is mostly off-curriciulum anyway. Speaking of which,” she jerked her head at the water timer, which had stopped trickling, and got up to change rocks. Thomas got up to help; stretching and moving around helped him clear his head.
“Like, it’s not even this Wendy chick’s fault,” he continued as he pulled on the mittens to pass her hot rocks. “I’m totally cool with our little Raige growing up, that’s fine. He’s the one acting weird.”
“You know, I was sort of hoping getting kicked out of school would spare me this banal bushwah,” M.D. remarked, packing hay more closely around one enormous egg. “I swear, this wasn’t a thing back in Canandria… oh, and could you grab that hay bale for me? You’ve got upper body strength.”
Thomas went over, hefted it onto his shoulder, and then froze. A light bulb clicked on. “Oh man,” he said. “I bet I know why he’s doing it!”
“Besides that.” He carried the hay bale over, tossed it down, and started pulling it apart and tossing chunks to M.D. “Like, what was going on in those days? All sorts of crap, right? And the past year has been us trying to get it together. You’re dealing with your crazy stuff, I’m dealing with my school stuff, but Raige… he’s just been helping you and me, and just… I dunno, not dealing with his dad stuff. This is the first time he’d had a freaking chance to do something just about him! So I’ll bet that’s why he’s acting so weird.”
M.D. thought about it, fluffing the little egg nests. “Huh,” she said. “That’s not a half bad theory.”
“I know, right? Too bad common sense isn’t a part of the GED, I’d freaking ace it...”
It didn’t magically make everything okay, but it at least took some of the edge off, to the point that when Raige begged for him to come to ROAR, he felt totally fine saying yes.
This entry was originally posted at http://lb-lee.dreamwidth.org/805315.html.