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Raveled

Hitting the Books (IC)

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August 3rd, 2011

Claremont Campus

The David Sloane library was a huge building, built in the grand style that fitted in well with the rest of Claremont's campus. It was in fact a full story taller than the rest of the buildings around the quad, and even if the third floor was off-limits to students (in fact, from the rumors he had heard it was off-limits to most everyone) it still held more books in one place than Brian Harris had ever thought about before. He wasn't much of a student, preferring the athletic field to the classroom. In fact, just sitting in one of the soundproof study rooms, staring at the rows and rows of bookshelves through the glass walls, was an intimidating experience.

Of course, part of that crushing feeling might have been because he was failing biology. How one could fail summer school was anybody's guess, but Brian was finding that out. His grades were hovering in the C- range; he had one last test to bring them up to snuff, or... well, he didn't want to think about that. Thankfully his teacher had intimated that they had a secret weapon for him. He hoped it was true, or he was hosed.

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Gwen had finally settled in and had everything unpacked. She had gone to see the student resource office about possible jobs around town that would match her skill set. After some exploration into Gwen's background it was finally decided that she could be a tutor right here at the school. It worked out well for Gwen who was without a transportation power, which she had been learning many many other students here possessed some form of self transport or another. Gwen also doesn't drive. Gwen had been assigned her first case today, Brian Harris and biology was not his strong point. Gwen had dressed moderately, her favorite red t-shirt, blue shorts, and her favorite green sandals. She had decided to partially braid her brown-red hair. She walked into the building and gawked at the sheer volume of it. Gwen was always well read, her parents made sure she always had books on the road but she had not been in a proper library since she was small. She had grown custom to the small airport bookstores and didn't realize how much she loved the smell of old books.

"Excuse me, I'm Gwen. I have a tutoring session today with a..." Gwen checked the paper again but before she could find the name the librarian pointed her to the closest soundproof room. "Uh, Thanks." Gwen smiled at the librarian and hurried off towards the room. She opened the door, all 5 feet of her barely came half way up the large glass windows. Hi, I'm Gwen. You must be Brian?"

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Brian lifted his head from the pile of books in front of him and glanced at the young woman who was entering the room, then quickly did a double-take. He stood up and hurried around the table, smiling at her. "Uh, yeah. I'm Brian Harris. Thanks for agreeing to give me some help with this stuff, I don't have any idea where to start." He moved back to the table and grabbed his notebook. "I'm supposed to have a test on micro -- microorganisms in a week, but I just don't understand some things. Like, what's the difference between bacteria and viruses? They're both just really small things, right?"

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At first Gwen smiled, Brian seemed to be stumbling on his words. However when he got to

"Like, what's the difference between bacteria and viruses? They're both just really small things, right?"
her heart sank. He really did live up to the jock reputation that. She was hoping that it wasn't as bad as the lady in the tutoring office had made it out to be. We know Bacteria, We know Virus! the vines chirped in Gwen's head. You also have spent a year studying these things with me. Gwen reminded them. They started going through things they had learned from Gwen and she put their voices to the side. "A baseball and a tennis ball are also small things, but they're different aren't they?" Gwen opened up her messenger bag and took out her tablet computer opening it up fully and tapping away at the screen.

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I have actually used a tennis ball to play baseball, Brian thought, but he was at least smart enough not to say it. "Well, both bacteria and viruses have to be inside of houses to, uh, reproduce." Brian blushed at the word, coughed nervously, and suddenly reached for his notes. "No, wait, that's not right. They have to be inside of hosts. So that makes them different from, uh... pro-to-zo-ah." He sounded the word out a couple times, frowning at it in his notes. "Really little plants and animals. Which can reproduce on their own. So, why are bacteria and viruses so different from each other that they're called two different things?"

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Gwen frowned at Brian. "Look over those notes again." Gwen brought up a page on her tablet for Brian to look over and set the tablet up on a stand she pulled from her bag also. She settled in her seat across from Brian and grabbed his textbook from the pile. Flipping through it Gwen began to take small post-it tabs and began marking pages. She rummaged through her bag again, pulled out a yellow highlighter and began to mark important passages on the pages. She looked up and over at Brian's notes, Gwen balked. Whoa! she thought, noticing how scarce and sparse the notes were. We're going to have to start with proper note taking also. Have you thought about audio-recording your classes?"

Get comfy, this is going to take a while. she told the vines.

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"No, not really. I mean, I read the books over and over again. Listening to music while I do it is about the only thing that keeps me sane." Brian pulled his chair around and grabbed a pen from his bag. He hunched over the proffered tablet and started copying it over almost word-for-word. As Gwen worked to annotate his textbook, she could see that he was having trouble even writing it down! Several times she saw him scratch out a line or two and start rewriting it, going slower and more carefully.

Time passed in the little soundproofed cubicle, broken only by the scratchings of the pair of teenagers as they wrote. Finally, Brian pushed himself back from the table, clenching and unclenching his writing hand and rubbing at his eyes with his other. "Augh. Uh, sorry about that Gwen, but my head's about to explode. I need to take a walk or something." He stood and stuck his hands in his pockets. "Do you want to come with me."

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Gwen could see that Brian was having terrible trouble writing things down. She made note of his slow careful writing and then she noticed it. Small problems with his letter use and position. She made a mental note of it and looked at his file. There was no mention of it, maybe it was just stress. Either way she noted it and looked up at the frustrated teen. Sure, lets go get a drink. Gwen replied, grabbing her tablet and putting it into her bag. Not because she was worried about thief, Summers had assured all her property would be safe here, but because it was habit. Gwen stood up and pushed some braids over her shoulder so she could write a note. The motion made the edge of the base flower of the vines visible at her neck. Today it was a wonderful golden yellow with small purple spots on it. Gwen moved towards the door and held it open, taping the note to the door.

"Gone for a stroll, be back soon. -Gwendolyn Barr"

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Brian watched Gwen as she wrote, noticing the design poking above her shirt. A tattoo? That was the only thing that made sense, but he thought they were illegal on teenagers. Maybe it was related to her powers somehow? He resolved not to ask, at least not right away.

Brian left his books and such in the cubicle and headed for the library's side doors. All the buildings on the quad were actually connected internally as well as opening out to the green, which made it convenient when the weather turned nasty. The cafeteria itself was a stark contrast from the library, going from dark wood and narrow corridors to easily cleaned, white tiles and an almost cavernous interior space. Brian consciously shortened his strides to match the shorter woman's as they made their way towards the vending machines. "You know, I think I'd remember if I saw someone like you around campus. Are you a new transfer?"

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"Yeah, I've only been here for a few days." Gwen looked around the cafe, hoping not to catch sight of the bully from the other day. She may have made a show of looking big but she REALLY didn't want to get into a fight her first week. Can tell him? the vines asked in her head. Yes, we can tell him. He's not Renee, he's a student here like us. Gwen smiled up at Brian, who was about a head taller than her. Her braids bounced around her face as she walked. Down her arm trailed a vine that moved like water, she waved at Brian with the hand now covered in moving vine. Flowers began to sprout from her fingertips. "So, whats your specialty?" she asked.

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Brian watched the moving tattoo with his mouth open. No matter how often he saw a person's superpowers for the first time, it still floored him. "That is so cool," he said, reaching out for her hand and feeling the flowing ink, the flowers that were sprouting from her fingers. After a moment he raised his eyes to hers and realized that he'd taken her hand without even asking. He smiled at her and let go of her hand, dropping his back to his side. "I don't have anything as cool as that," he said. "I mostly just fly around and blow stuff up. Mind you, I do it well, but it's kind of a limited power set." He stopped in his tracks and thought for a minute. "Although, I did figure out a new trick just recently." He turned towards the serving line. It was past lunch and not quite dinner yet, so most of the cafeteria staff were either in the kitchen or on breaks, but there were still several bowls of fruit laid out for hungry students. Brian reached out with one hand and concentrated. A red glow, almost invisible at this range, formed around the rim of the bowl; the teen twisted his wrist suddenly and the bowl spun in place, the sound of metal on metal ringing through the open space.

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Gwen watched the bowl spin and her face paled, then blushed. A small 'whoa' came from her pale rose lips. "That is just..." cut her self off, pausing for a moment and turned to face Brian, her hand slipping from his but the vines held on to his wrist. Fly? the vines echoed her thoughts. Suddenly Gwen's eyes went wide like saucers, her pupil dilated so that her pale green eyes were thin rings. Her eyebrows went high. "Did you just say FLY!" Gwen stood looking at him. Clearly she had never met anyone who seriously said they could fly. "Summers told me that there were other amazing people like me here, but I didn't expect to meet anyone who could..."

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Brian felt a weird tugging sensation on his wrist and glanced down to see the tattoo lift itself off of Gwen's skin and wrap around his arm. This is a new one. Where does 'grabbing me with a tattoo' fall on the continuum between holding hands and sex? He took it as a positive sign, though. He took a second to respond to her question. Over the past year or so he'd come to take flying for granted, but in retrospect he could see how it would be exciting to someone. "I sure can fly," he said. "Actually, hold on to that." He stepped close to Gwen, slipping an arm around her waist. A flickering red aura enveloped them both and Brian's feet left the ground, pulling Gwen along with him. The pair rose slowly towards the roof of the cafeteria, almost to the roof, then descended again and landed near the vending machines. Brian let go of Gwen and stepped back, smiling at her and studying her reaction. "Ta da."

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Gwen was speechless as Brian grabbed her and they floated into the air, she looked down at the floor and then back to Brian. Her mouth was open but there was no sound coming out. The vines clung to Brian, less out of fear and more out of a desire to keep Gwen from falling. Whoa! they said to Gwen, like the aliens in the ToyStory movies. The feeling of unaccompanied flight a new sensation for the both of them. Gwen clutched closer to Brian, her head fitting just under his chin and was still and silent until her feet rested on solid ground. "I think there is a reason plants don't fly..." Gwen said, getting her bearings she looked up to Brian. "That was amazing!"

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Brian shrugged, reaching for his wallet. "It's not much," he said. "Lots of folks can fly, and sometimes I feel like I'm... a big blunt hammer, you know? Fly in, smash stuff, look good. Which I do," he added, "very well. But sometimes, I dunno, I want to be better! Do more stuff, be more than just the guy that makes stuff blow up. That's why I've started trying to do other stuff." He put his money in the machine and picked out a coke, putting the plastic bottle from the dispenser tray and collecting his change. "Damn, bunch of dollar coins. Here." He slotted a few of the big golden coins in the machine and stepped back. "As payment for the tutoring."

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Gwen blushed bright rose and the vine still peeking out from her shirt blossomed pale pink and orange flowers. "All I could do until a year ago was talk to plants, if I hadn't gotten curious about a plant I was helping some local farmers cultivate I wouldn't have the vines..." Gwen's thoughts drifted for a moment and she pushed the button for a coke. "I'd still just be a REALLY gifted botanist without them." She looked up at Brian. "Be glad that you have your own real power, I mean I'm a good climber, I'm strong-- ok I'm really strong and agile, but that is just from all my work." Even as Gwen said it she still wasn't 100% sure she believed that last part. "Everything heroic I can do is the vines."

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"Hey, just stop right there." Brian put his drink on the floor and tilted Gwen's chin up until he could look her in the eye. "One thing I've learned here. Being a hero doesn't have anything to do with having lots of flashy powers. You can have all the power in the world and still be a jerk, or a bully, or a murdering bastard, or even a couch potato. Being a hero is all about what you do with what you have, not with what you could do if you feel like it. If you protect people, if you help them, if you work to do good to the best of your ability, then you're a hero. Doesn't matter if you can't fly."

Brian broke eye contact, grabbed his drink, and stepped back. He broke the seal and took a long swig before speaking again. "I'm sorry. I'm not usually the one giving the speeches. I usually leave the Kirk impressions to my buddy, Morgan. But I hate to see someone get down on themselves just because they're not perfect." He scuffed his shoes, staring at the floor as the silence stretched between the pair. "Damn. I really hate dramatic moments. Is there something impulsive and stupid I can do to make you think I'm just a jock again?"

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There was a shock of static that went off when Brian touched Gwen's skin. It sent a shiver down her spine and left her feeling odd. Oh! the vines said, sending images from Gwen's mothers romance novels through her head. She shook off the images and she listened to his words. They hit home for her. He was right and she knew it. There was a pang of something Gwen couldn't place as as Brian's hand stopped touching her chin. Fly again?! the vines asked with their childlike curiosity and sheer excitement. I'm not sure I could stomach that again. It will take some getting used to that is for sure. Awww! Fly is fun! Gwen smiled at their observation. It surely was... something. Gwen remembered the conversation again and replied. "I think I met Morgan, He's Vicky's boyfriend right?"

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"Yeah. He's been doing the superhero thing longer than me, for a few years at least. He's a lot more... Mmm. Intense about it. Has a whole bunch of rules about how to fight. Like 'Always fight smiling,' and 'Never fight where your enemy wants to.' He's probably better at it than me, but sometimes... he can get a little scary, you know?" The teen with the red eyes shrugged and started walking to the rear doors. Outside, summer was on its way out but most of the students were still on break. There wasn't another living thing in sight, unless you counted the trees and the grass. "He's a pretty stand-up guy, though. We're roomies, so we talk a lot about stuff, you know?" He started walking along one of the dirt paths that tied the different parts of the campus together, headed for the gardens. "Who'd you get paired up with?"

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Gwen took a sip of her soda and followed Brian over to the doors. He's definitely something. Gwen thought. Crow man in tree? the vines asked her. Yes, Crow was the man in the tree. Gwen corrected them. She watched Brian as they walked. "Jeena, Jeena Vander--something. I can't pronounce it. I think its dutch. She moved here with her brother. Pale eyes, white hair like Vicky's. Jeena and Zach, that is her brother, always wear sunglasses." Jeena not here. The vines piped up. No, she's not. It was the first time Gwen could remember them making an inquiry about Jeena. Maybe she was growing on them.

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"I can get the sunglasses thing," Brian said quietly. "I used to wear a pair when I first got here. Was really self-conscious about the red eyes and the flying and everything. But at Claremont... Well I mean, last graduating class had another guy with red eyes who could go all misty-smoke on folks whenever he wanted. And he was one of the normal ones." He glanced at Gwen and reached over to brush his fingers against the flower on her neck. "Of course, around here 'normal' is all relative. These days I hear folks talking about getting their driver's license and I wonder, 'what do they need a car for?' And then I remember, 'oh right, not everyone can fly.'"

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Another feeling like a jolt of electricity went through Gwen when Brian touched the flower. She could control her reaction but the vines couldn't. They shivered across her skin and the flowers pulsed a pale iridescent pink. Seeing this caused Gwen to blush. "Maybe I was just too cut off from established society..." Gwen let the sentence fall for a moment. "I never had much exposure to people with quantifiable powers. Most kids who show hints of power are sold to families in larger cities, the rest are either normal or more the unquantifiable powers, like mine, or Telepathy, or Clairvoyance" Gwen looked up into Brians eyes. They were unique. She remembered something Vicky had said about people calling her a demon and out-casting her for them. She frowned at that thought.

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Brian felt a chill down his spine at Gwen's casual words. He stopped in his tracks and grabbed the woman's arm, turning to face her. His eyes searched hers for a long moment before he spoke. "Gwen, are you... are you talking about human slavery? Did you really come from a place where people are bought and sold, just on the basis of having superpowers?" He shook his head sharply. "I know I haven't seen a lot of the world, but that's just evil. Something like that... well, that's why we have superheroes, you know? To stop folks from forcing others into lives that they don't want. To make it so that everyone can make their own decisions, freely."

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Gwen looked Brian square in the eyes. "This is probably going to sound really bad, but its for the best in some ways. Children who would normally be a burden on a family with little to no money to begin with get to live fresh new lives in the bigger more populated areas, they get medical care and schooling. Most of them never even know they're "adopted", and in the cases where the powers are late bloomers they relish the idea of helping their family, and I'm sure that the chance to be a kid and not work a farm at the age of seven is a welcome change." Gwen searched Brian's eyes for some sense of understanding. "The children get to LIVE, they don't worry about dying of something that could be prevented by vaccines, working their butts off just to die at 30 and have sixteen more children. Their birth family gets money to plant more crops, cloth themselves, expand their farms." Gwen hoped that Brian could understand.

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Brian let Gwen go and walked off the path a little ways, rubbing his hand through his short hair. It isn't right. People shouldn't have their lives decided by other people. He kicked at the grass. But if things got really bad, the kids would die anyway. Maybe working them like that makes things better for everyone in the end. He started pacing in the grass, hugging himself with his free hand. That sounds like something a villain would say, 'the means justify the ends.' But I don't know how life is for these folks. I'd sure hate it for someone to judge me because of my parents.

After debating with himself, Brian came back and took Gwen's hand. "I don't agree with it," he said bluntly. "I think there should be a way to do things better. But... Well, I guess it's not the worst life these kids could have." He resumed walking again, keeping hold of Gwen's hand this time. "And hey, at least you got out of it, right?"

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