Rating: G (universal)
Characters/Pairing: Layla, Warren (Will/Layla, Warren/Layla implied)
Summary: Layla finds out that Warren is transferring from Sky High.
Disclaimer: The characters aren’t mine and I don’t profit from this fan-written fiction.
Author's Note: With thanks to starrika for betaing; all idiocies are my own. 1,719 words.
If Layla hadn’t chosen to go down that particular school hallway right then, she wouldn’t have found out until much later. The reason she was there was because she’d volunteered to take down out-of-date posters that were still pinned up on the school notice-boards to make sure they got recycled, and had decided to do the job after school that Monday. So, there she stood, in the perfect spot to see Warren coming out of Principal Powers’s office. He was holding a few sheets of paper and grimaced when he saw her, but Layla never took his scowling personally. Besides, she was curious.
“Why were you seeing Principal Powers?” she asked.
He walked away from the closed door and didn’t answer until he’d covered half the distance towards Layla.
“I’m not in trouble, hippy. Your reforming work hasn’t gone to waste.”
“Uh, did I say that? Did I even imply it?” Layla replied, noting that his defensiveness was off the scale for a natural enough question about what was an unusual event these days. “All I asked was why you were there. I mean, is everything okay?”
Warren stared at her, his face giving little away, but the scowl had gone, which told Layla that whatever was going on, it mattered. Things probably weren’t okay. She stared right back at him, daring him to carry on walking past her without answering, mostly certain that he wouldn’t because he knew she would follow him and ask again. And again, if necessary.
He sighed, and then came near enough to her to thrust the papers he held at her. She took them, knowing they probably had the answers she wanted. The heading on the first page told Layla everything, and something inside of her churned.
She looked up at him, her mouth opening slightly, but she couldn’t come up with anything to say. Whatever Layla had been expecting, Warren transferring from Sky High hadn’t been it.
“Yeah.” Warren shifted his weight slightly from foot to foot, responding to the force of her gaze. After several moments, Layla looked back down at the transfer form to scan it, turning over page after page, the rustle sounding super loud in the comparative silence of the hallway at this time of day. She swallowed as she came to the end of the last page.
“When?” she asked, her voice quiet. The dates hadn’t been filled in, although Principal Powers seemed to have signed every page.
“We’re thinking the end of the semester. My mom got an offer to work in Washington, and my dad’s not coming out of solitary confinement any time soon.”
“But your education—“ she interjected sharply, hearing the bitter note in Warren’s voice as he talked about his father and hating it.
“I’ll go to a regular school. The faculty agree that I’ve got my temper under control, and I had to control my powers pretty quickly, so that’s never been the problem. They’re okay with me concentrating on getting the qualifications to help me get a good job as my cover. Powers is going to try to get me work experience shadowing a sidekick over the vacation.” His voice was steady, as if he talked that much all the time.
Layla just stared at him, not sure what to do with what he was saying. Her insides showed no signs of settling.
“You would have given anything for me not to be here when you came out of that room,” she observed. ”You weren’t going to say anything to us.”
“You’d make a big deal about it,” he said, his confirmation lighting up the touch-paper of her temper.
“Yes, we would. Because it is a big deal—our friend is leaving school. Leaving us.” Her voice rose every time she emphasized a word, and without consciously realizing it, she lessened the distance between them.
“I would have said—“
“When? On the last morning? ‘Hey guys, you won’t be seeing me next semester’ or ‘No, I can’t come to your cookout because I’m going to be packing everything I own.’” Layla knew she sounded shrill and upset. And sure, the state of the world often cut her to the quick, but it wasn’t some multinational company that was hurting her by harming the environment, it was Warren. His face seemed too calm to her. Didn’t Coach Boomer call him Hothead? Where was that guy? Who was this Warren who had been clinically planning an exit strategy as if their school was a situation he wanted out of? Who was this Warren who had intended to go with no goodbyes?
“Don’t you care?” she demanded. “Do you want to go?”
“Not here,” he said, his hand shooting up to cup her elbow. “Powers is going to come out of her office and bawl us out any second.”
Layla nearly said she didn’t care and why should he if he was leaving, but she let Warren lead her down the hallway towards the lockers, glaring at pieces of litter on the floor that she would have stopped and picked up normally.
“I do care,” he hissed, letting her go. She turned to face him, determined to make him explain himself. “But my mom wants this, and I’m not going to hold her back. I’m not learning anything much—“
“But the new curriculum—“
“Is great, but I wasn’t one to stick by the rules anyway. After I graduate, I’ll help out, if it’s as a sidekick, hero support, whatever.”
“And the other stuff?”
“Caping? Cutting yourself out of a net? I’m not going to wear a cape, and, like I said, I know how to use my powers.” Warren leaned forward, as if to add weight to his words. Layla finally started to believe he did feel something.
“School isn’t just about what you learn. It’s about who you learn it with,” she said, giving him no quarter in her argument or her stance.
“Which is great for you guys,” Warren said. “I don’t take classes with you, remember? I take classes with an ice queen who doesn’t want anything to do with me since we broke up, and then there’s the rest of the class who’ve taken her side without knowing the whole story.”
“I didn’t think you wanted to win a popularity award,” Layla shot back. She hadn’t thought he was all that torn up about his ex, either. But it was all of a piece that he’d hold back about that too.
“I don’t, but I’m starting to think about the future. Aren’t you?”
“Think about the future? Of course.” Layla answered automatically, looking down at the posters in her hand that were her proof. Seeing that Warren’s forms lay above them, she handed them back to him. “It’s because of the future that I want to stop all the waste and pollution that we create and get humankind to live sustainably. It’s because the global temperature’s about to reach—”
“Not like that. I meant your future.” Warren said. “High school only takes you so far. After that, it’s up to you.”
He stared at her, and Layla was the first to look away, reminded that he was older than her and that that meant more than his being in a different class. He would always have been the first to leave Sky High of their gang. Her anger was ebbing away, and in its wake was turmoil. She leaned her back against the wall of lockers, welcoming the coolness of the metal as it supported her.
“I’ve been thinking about what I want to do and how I’m going to do it,” Warren continued. Instead of looking at him, Layla stared instead at the bottom of the lockers on the opposite side of the hallway. “I want to go to Hong Kong for a while, see the world so that I know more about what we’re supposed to help save. What about you?”
She stood still, not acknowledging the question.
“You talk the talk, hippy, but you’re in danger—”
“Of what? What am I in danger of? Lay it on me, whatever you’ve always wanted to say, but you haven’t before. After all, you’re not going to get many more chances to say anything to my face.” She stared at him, furious again, her voice choked and her chin jutting out.
“No, you don’t really want me to do that,” he said, his tone not matching hers. But her expression didn’t change. He shook his head slowly. “I used to look at you and believe you’d go to the Amazon and help the rainforests grow back. Save the world your own way. Lately though, it seems like you’re comfortable being nothing more than the love interest in Stronghold’s heroic journey.”
It was the first time either of them had mentioned Will by name that afternoon, Layla realized. And when she’d accused Warren, she hadn’t truly been thinking about anyone else, let alone Will. It had all been about her feelings—her hurt, her rage.
“That’s not how I see myself,” she said eventually, but even the way the hallway was lit felt changed.
Warren let his palm rest on one of the lockers, not so very far from her head. She could see his arm in her peripheral vision, but couldn’t make herself look at his face. She really didn’t want to cry. She wasn’t that girl.
She scowled at his shoulder.
Warren broke the silence in a low voice, “I don’t want to go, but I do too. I think I need to.”
She sighed, and she could hear the choke in it, so Layla said nothing. Warren pushed away from the locker, and let his arm drop. She felt warmth brush over her left arm, and then linger over her hand as his hand hovered over hers, not touching, but impossible to ignore.
“I should get my stuff and let you carry on,” Warren said. Layla nodded and marched away, back to the notice-board to tear down posters for events that were now in the past.
Warren told the others about the transfer the next day. They were too caught up in their own surprise at his news to notice that whatever else Layla’s reaction contained, there was no surprise in it.
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