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With Me, By the Old Tree (IC)

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It had been quite the eventful day for Zachary Vandermol. He'd had his first real run in with high school drama on Earth, and he wasn't sure that he'd liked it. In fact, the more he thought about it, he was very sure he did not like it. Still, it seemed like it was something he would have to put up with as part of building a life here. If he ever wanted to make it back home, he'd have to make friends. Making friends meant he'd have to put up with their drama. He sighed, and chalked it up to making progress, and leaned back against the tree.

Zachary sat below the lone tree far out on the Claremont grounds. The sun had sett, and he was thankful its piercing light was gone from the sky. He sat and he waited, hoping that Gwen would remember his promise to tell her how he'd communicated with her mentally. Hoping she'd remember that he'd told her to meet by the tree later. Hoping she'd still want to see him after all the trouble he'd caused.

He softly whispered a Tektani lullaby to himself. It was one of the few memories he had of his mother.

"Shard's Light, Shard's Might,

Guard those that watch the tunnels this night.

Meeka may, Meeka might,

Sleep soft and sound, this cave tonight."

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Gwen was dressed in a black hoodie, her hair hidden beneath it, she wore long blue jeans and a pair of brown walking shoes. She seemed to be bundled against the cool breeze that swept the warm evening. There were no vines to be seen around her, though the trees she passed seemed to reach out for her, almost calling to her as she went by. She walked over to the tree at a slow pace, bottle of Gatorade sticking out of her pocket. She finally approached Zach's place under the tree. "Hey." she managed.

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"Hey yourself," Zach returned, standing from his spot next to the tree. He couldn't help but smile. He was glad she'd decided to come, and he let that show. "I'm sorry about earlier. If... If I did anything..." He looked away briefly.

"Are you okay?" He was bad at changing the subject, "I see they've got you drinking liquids. Was it dehydration after all? I tried to get you water earlier, but Brian and Morgan just spirited you away to the nurse's office before I was able to do anything."

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"I... You'd think a girl who lived in some pretty hot and hostile environments wouldn't forget to drink." Gwen shrugged. "I don't think that the Vines helped the situation much. We seem to feed off of each other and... I guess we will have to be more careful with eating and drinking now that they are active more often." Gwen put a hand on the tree they were next to and closed her eyes for a moment. Feeling the sleeping giant with her mind. She looked back up at Zach. "I'm sorry you thought it was you-- I mean, I guess it sort of was, you made the Vines curious and that made them more active, taxing our mind more."

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"See, that's the thing. I knew that my mental abilities weren't directly harmless. They told me that when they first unlocked them. But I didn't really count on their interactions with other specie-" Zach stopped himself, before he said too much, "I mean... special types of people."

Going out on a limb, he gently placed his hands on her upper arms, trying to meet her eyes he said, "So, there's the apology I owe. Now the explanation. But Gwen? You can't tell this to anybody. Not even Jeena. She'd kill me. I probably shouldn't even be telling you. But I... I like you. I have to tell someone other than my sister. So I want to tell you. You promise?"

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Gwen listened to Zach. He and Jeena had, since the first day they met, reminded her of a foreign plant among many natural occurring ones. He and Jeena reminded her of herself everytime she visited a new town. She once reminded herself that they WERE exactly like her, people visiting a new town but there was always something different about them. She smiled at his near word miss and listened to him continue. "We've all got secrets here, I promise."

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"Okay, here goes." Zach blew out a tense breath, "I'm slightly telepathic. My sister is as well. The fact that we're twins made us even more pronounced than the usual standard genetic modifications produced on others."

Zach concentrated, and looked Gwen in the eyes, We can communicate with our minds over short distances. Or over any distance no matter how far, but only between the two of us.

"Unfortunately, we can never hear responses." Zach suddenly adopted a curious expression, "I just thought, earlier, you said the vines wanted an explanation, what did you mean by that?"

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Gwen was very glad that the Vines were asleep. She didn't think she could take another round of excitement from them. "Since they... appeared--" Gwen couldn't find a better word for it. "It's always been them and me, no one else. They weren't even allowed to touch other people until we came here. No one knows about them." Gwen leaned her bare cheek on the tree. "To the world I'm Gwendolyn Barr, junior botanist and sustainable agriculturalist. Heck, my parents don't even know I can talk to plants and that has been going on since birth." Gwen closed her eyes for a moment. "They're asleep right now, like real plants they seem to need an active time and a resting time to properly function. They're getting smarter by the day, more inquisitive, more--aware. They're remarkable honestly." Gwen looked Zach in the eyes. "You've made yourself a mystery to them. The inquiring minds wanted to know how you got into our secret place."

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Zach smiled, At least part of her is interested in me, he thought.

"Well, then, I won't try to wake them. But I guess that means we'll need to see each other again, when they're awake so we can have another chat." He hoped he wasn't being too obvious. He wasn't even sure if there was such a thing. He still wasn't even sure how to properly play this game, if you could call it that.

"I could write a book on the things that the world doesn't know about me. Or Jeena." Zach sat back down, next to the tree, "If you want to stay a little longer, I could tell you more. It's pretty clear that you know how to keep a secret. And you're Jeena's Roommate, so you might end up finding out one day or another eventually anyway." Zach patted the ground next to him, indicating a space for her if she'd like to sit.

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Gwen pulled her hoodie down past her hips so it covered the seat of her jeans. She folded her legs under her at the ankles and slid into an "Indian style" position. She pulled her hands out from inside the sleeves and started running her fingers through the grass. "I've got some time, and I'm feeling better than I did this morning." She pulled the string that held the hood around her head tighter, seeming to fight off the cool breeze as if it were icy cold.

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"Well, you know a few things already. You know we're not from around here. We're Dutch." Zachary shrugged, it was easy telling people the things they already knew. Now came the hard part.

"You also might know we didn't have an easy life by any stretch of the imagination. Starting from birth. We never really knew our mother. We were taken away at an early age." Zach looked up again at the stars he'd been singing to earlier.

"I always think Jeena took it a little harder. But once the training started, it got worse. Have you ever heard of the IRA? They're branded as terrorists, but they're really just fighting for what they believe in. We were like that, but smaller. More scientific. The IRA fought for their freedom from being ruled by the British." Zach turned to Gwen, leveled her with look that was a little distant, but serious, like his mind was in another place, "We fought for our survival as a people."

Zach turned away again, "They caught Jeena once. I got her out. But not before..." He turned back to the plant controller, "Well, she told me she showed you the scars. Well, some of them."

"We can't really go back home. And even if we could, we're not sure what we'd find there. If there'd be anyone left alive..."

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Gwen couldn't help but smirk, Dutch. She didn't want to tell Zach and Jeena that she had spent a lot of time in Zeeland studying the effects of the climate change on plants there. Her mother had a love for Dutch Windmills also. Gwen could feel that something about the story wasn't right, but as she said everyone here had secrets, they didn't all have to come out at the same time. Gwen frowned at the last part, about people being left alive. "I lived in villages in South America, Asia and Africa, where it is a popular practice to sell potentially gifted children to richer families in larger towns." Gwen's face fell thinking about it and the chat she had with Brian about the same situation. "It sucks."

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"It does." Zach agreed quietly.

Zach felt something catch in his throat. The lump hovered between his chest and his neck. It felt like there was something trying to get out. Words he wasn't sure he should say just wanted out. Before he knew what he was doing, he was talking, "Gwen, I have to be honest. I like you. I do." His eyes were transfixed on the laces of his shoes, "But I don't know what...I've never been... I don't know how to do this. After this afternoon, I would be really upset if anything hurt you. Especially if it was me. So before I say anything else that could potentially result in disaster, are you and Brian... Well, what are, 'you and Brain'?" He finally looked up at her, "Is that a thing? Is that not a thing? If it's a thing, what type of thing is it? I... I'm probably talking way too much. I probably shouldn't have asked that." He shook his head, "Just forget I asked that." Zach abruptly stood, turned away, and placed his left hand on the trunk of the tree. His eyes turned up toward the sky and his thoughts began to drift away toward the stars...

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Gwen blushed a bright shade of red and looked up at the foliage of the tree "I...It...uh..." Gwen stumbled over her words and took a deep breath looking back at Zach. "No. He's not my boyfriend..." Gwen thought about that for a moment. "He's a boy I enjoy spending time with, but I--We, we aren't in a relationship." Gwen clarified while she rubbed her hands on her jeans. "I don't do the relationship thing."Gwen finally said her hands settling on her knees.

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"No. He's not my boyfriend..."

Zach breathed a deep sigh of relief. "Well, that's a relief." He looked down at his sneakers again, "Honestly, I don't think I would know how to do the 'relationship thing'."

For his own part, Zachary wasn't even sure what the 'relationship thing' was. He was working from context clues, and was able to half assume that said 'relationship thing' was one of the serious, romantic type. Perhaps her relationship with Brian might be romantic, but it didn't sound serious. At least not coming from her. Zach imagined Brian telling it differently.

Zach whirled around, letting his mouth get the best of him and go off running itself again he said, "When we went to 'get the pizzas' today. Brian took me aside and 'explained' about what was going on between the two of you. I'd be careful. He made it sound more serious than you do. And from what happened after you passed out," Zach hesitated. He didn't want to slander his fellow classmates. He wasn't sure if anything like this was covered under 'may the best man win' scenarios, but Brian had attacked him. Gwen deserved to know about it, right? "He probably didn't tell you. He probably doesn't want you to know how he attacked me because he thought I'd hurt his girlfriend. I think he's got temper problems. I'm not sure if it's ever happened before, but from the way that Corbin stepped in to break us up, it sounded as if he was well used to diffusing such situations."

Zach slid down the trunk of the tree to sit next to Gwen again. "I'm not trying to tell you what to do or think. But there was another reason I wanted to see you out here. Besides the explanation I owed you, that is. I wanted to let you know that even though I've only been here a few days, I like spending time with you." Zach looked away for a second, when he turned back, he asked sheepishly, "I was hoping maybe you can tell me what to do or think?"

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Gwen's head snapped up and she locked eyes with Zach. "No one should EVER tell you what to do or what to think. You are your own person and no one but you should be making those decisions for you." Gwens eyes went wide for a moment and her fists tightened into balls, she began flexing them. "I... I am young. I don't think its the right time for me to get into a a friendship with anyone. Titles like boyfriend and girlfriend are superficial and they just..." she stared off somewhere over Zach's left shoulder for a moment. "It's hard to explain, I'm sorry."

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Zach shook his head, "Don't apologize." He was used to not being close to people, so Gwen's rebuff didn't sting all that much.

This rejection thing isn't that bad. Don't know what all those articles were talking about. he thought to himself.

"You don't owe me anything. Least of all an explanation. I'm just glad we're still friends. I'm glad that you're not mad at me for this afternoon. Zach started walking away from the tree, "I think that's enough fresh air for one night for me. I'm going back inside where it's stuffy. But, you'll keep what I told you secret, right?" Zach smiled sweetly, gave Gwen a wave, and stuck his hands in his pockets. He began a slow walk back to the dormitory, electing not to use his flight.

He had a lot to think about.

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Gwen watched Zach go. She felt like something had come out wrong, but she couldn't exactly figure out what. Gwen had never had a boyfriend, she had never lived anywhere long enough to hold a title like that. It wasn't to say that she wasn't sought after, she had a few talks about boys and girls with her mother but... Gwen never felt a need to classify a relationship. Plants don't, most non human animals don't, why should I? Gwen thought to herself, wondering why this title mattered to much to people.

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