((...I don't even know where this one came from. I think I was mad at people for writing in cliches, and wanted to give the 'stock characters' more depth...and then suddenly I had angels. Why? I do not know. I like angels.

Anyways. No real warnings in this one. They belong to themselves and not you, as always, so ask them first before you steal.))

"Shut the fuck up and get out of my fucking way, you slut."

The speaker is a tall boy with dark spiked hair. His eyes survey the girl in front of him with anger, disgust, even hate. One hand clutches the strap of a backpack, the other is shoved into the pocket of loose jeans, hidden beneath a black shirt with a band logo.

"Go back to picking on guys who have low enough self-esteem to fall for your bullshit. I don't need it, and I'm just looking forward to the day you realize that in the real world you aren't anything but a whore." he spits.

I'm better than you are. I'm more real. There's nothing good about you. Everything is fake. You're worthless...gilded outside, rotting core.

A very thin girl with fake-tanned skin is standing in front of him, one hand frozen tangled in her hair. Large blue eyes are wide, shocked and insulted. Her white sweater is twisted nervously in one hand, then smoothed out again to lay flat against a short denim shirt. Anger/hurt flashes back and she responds, arrogance on the outside but tears flickering just underneath her offended voice.

"You can't talk to me like that! What the hell is your problem?! All I was doing was being nice!"

It doesn't matter what he says. He's nobody. I'm somebody. I'm hot, I'm strong and independent and fun. He doesn't matter. No one important agrees with him. Everyone likes me—they wouldn't lie.

This is all registered in the brief moment before my attention shifts again, since so many small pageants are played out in the halls of this school that I would go insane trying to analyze them all. But something happens that makes me stop—a girl, shorter than both, pushes past me towards the boy who spoke. Short cut hair swings as she walks, and everyone is suddenly out of her way. Her small stature should make her less intimidating; it doesn't. Nor do her clothes, blue jeans and a t-shirt, like every other kid here but somehow unlike. She lifts her chin with a jerk, so much anger and outrage in her muscles and body. She speaks, with so much venom in her voice that I, an allegedly-innocent bystander, flinch.

"Did you enjoy that? Did it make you feel important, or superior? I'm sure it did. I'm sure you were going to turn away, and look at all the faces telling you 'good job' and say 'yeah, that was a good job. I took her down a peg or two. I hurt her. That's good.'

"She deserves to be hurt, doesn't she? She hurts other people. She has something people want, so she can play games with it. Little kitten testing her claws, scratching all the other little kittens in the box. Arrogance, deceit, facades and immaturity—that's what you see, isn't it?

And you think your little speech helped. A few scratches of your own, and the world is a fairer place now, isn't it? The evil have been reprimanded. The unworthy have been revealed. And the worthy one has risen, because he's better. He's smart. He can see further than the little kittens. Your speech made things better. "

That tone of voice is filled with the hurt that only a high-school girl can inject into her words. These girls use sentences like knives, and insinuation like the most delicate Borgia creation, stabbing, twisting and then leaving you to bleed for years.

"I don't think it did, somehow. And I don't think you meant it to, although you'll pretend later that you did, oh yes, striking a blow for the masses. No, I think it's just habit. Pure blind habit. And guess what, little kitten? Without executive control, we're animals. Dumb, mewling creatures in caves, passing off casual cruelty as if it doesn't matter. Scratching and tearing and biting because we're frightened. We're scared that we're not quite so special after all.

"Guess what—you did make a difference. Someone you cussed out yesterday, just like this girl here, just someone else who was trying to cope and chose a stupid way, went home and took it out on his sister, or girlfriend, or best friend. Because it's never our fault, no, if the universe were just a little bit kinder we could love everyone because they'd all be good people. Right.

"And they, that second link in the chain, they took it out on someone else, some easy target who is there just to be hurt because they're done, they decided to face reality and it tore their skin off. And that was the last little thing that tipped the scales, and that easy target killed, or hurt, or died, because there's only so much one person can take. Only so many kitten scratches before the blood begins to drip too fast.

"And a hundred thousand times the same thing happened, and it's all. Your. Fault. You don't say 'I didn't know.' You don't say 'I wasn't thinking.' It's your fault, and it stains your soul and heart and mind. Can you feel it? Can you hear their ghosts calling out to you? They're standing right behind you, and they're never going away. And when you die they'll be in front of you again, and they'll ask you, wide eyes begging for a reason, they'll ask 'why?' What will you say? 'I'm sorry' isn't going to be good enough. So think about that, dumbfuck." And with that, she whirls and strides off.

I'm left stunned and shivering, as are the rest of the onlookers and participants; something about the tone of her words reminds me of Cassandra of Troy, foretelling death and ruin with the fires of the Greek soldiers flickering in her eyes. The boy and girl are looking shattered, and I don't blame them at all. How would that feel? He was cruel, but…but what? But everyone is? But it's okay, it's not really that bad? What does that mean? If everyone…if the entire world…I'm scared. I'm scared and I want my illusions back. Is this the 'reality' she talked about? How could reality be that harsh? What would be the point, then?

A soft hiss by my side makes me snap my gaze, as if from a trance, away from the stunned tableau. Another boy, small and delicate, is glaring at the departing girl, not with the same cold fury she showed but with a hurt, disappointed anger. There are traces of makeup around his eyes and lips, and his hair is dyed brightly and colourfully to match the bracelets and jewelry on his wrists and neck.

"I hate it when she does this." he tells…me? The air? His voice is angry and sad, as if he's been hurt personally somehow. "Hate it. And she knows she'll never go too far because of course I'm here to pick up the pieces as always…" and then he's moving away from my side, towards the stunned tableau, quickly but not suddenly. His voice falls into the silence and shatters it almost gently, if that's possible.

"And then, an angel appeared." Everyone turns to stare at him. That sentence should have been funny…but it wasn't. I don't know why. I just know that I'm staring at him as if he's the only real thing left. He gives a smile that seems to reach out to the entire crowd. Calming, reassuring, completely in control. 'Listen to me, and if you do, I'll make the world a better place for a moment.'

"Can you see him? Maybe not. It would be hard to picture, wouldn't it? Someone told me that angels are more real than matter—that they damage it if they manifest. I like that idea. Something so beautiful and pure and real…and yet we can do something they can't.

"Angels may not exist, yeah. But it's nice to think about second chances, isn't it? It's nice to feel like we're good people underneath it all. It's nice to feel like the universe is a better place, and we could actually love everyone, after all. Let's pretend for a minute that we get do-overs. Let's pretend, for example, that I stopped her from talking, from hurting you." He's in front of the boy by this time, moving and talking as if calming a skittish animal.

"It hurt, I know. It scared you. It's frightening…you don't want to have heard what she said, but you did. You heard it and now it's going to haunt you. Lots of things make ghosts, after all.

"I don't think you deserve ghosts. Look at you; you're smart. You love your family and your friends…you have a future ahead of you, a bright one as long as you don't fuck up too badly." He reaches out to touch the boy, who flinches, looking torn between mistrust and vulnerability. "That's okay. We'll show you on your friend here, right?"

The smaller boy turns to the girl, who is shivering by this time, looking lost and scared. Gently, soothingly, he steps over to her. "Look at you. Beautiful…you know that, right? Of course you do. Your face…" His hand reaches out and catches her chin gently, stroking one thumb over her cheekbone. "Eyes, and such a smile, when you really use it…people don't tell you that much, which is a shame. There's nothing wrong with being proud of this kind of beauty." I'm confused; his words sound so…babying. Like she's a five-year-old being scolded for misbehaving on the playground. But even while listening to them…I feel better. I don't feel like he's throwing out false reassurances, coating what the girl said in layers of fluff to make it go away again. I feel like…he's bringing things back into balance.

"You've been on his end of things, though, haven't you? It isn't as nice over here, is it. Too much pride, maybe? It hurts, when you're the one being attacked. You'll do better, right? You'll think first, I'm sure…remember this hurt, and remember how nice it feels to have it taken all away again. It would be better if it had never happened in the first place, wouldn't it?"

"I think it would. Well you're lucky, because I'm calling in an angel." He releases the girl, just as gently, and turns back to the boy. "And I'm saying that none of it happened. You didn't decide to teach her a lesson. You didn't feel your life, your routines, your self-image crack just now. No one came up to you and told you about the ghosts, hungry and waiting. I just walked up to you and asked you to think about the consequences of your words, just like what your parents told you when you were a kid.

"And maybe you laughed at me. Maybe you told me to 'fuck off, fag' and didn't think anymore about it. But maybe your angel is having a really good day, and you stopped and thought for a moment. And you decided that maybe, a little consideration wasn't too much price to pay to keep those hungry ghosts at bay a little longer. A bit of perspective wasn't too much to ask…not in exchange for being able to say, when you finally face those ghosts 'I fucked up. And then I tried to make it better. I'm sorry.' And you know? That just might be good enough, if that's the path you chose.

"I'd like to think that that's what you did. After all, an angel just came down and helped you out. Least you can do is return the favour."

And then he's walking away, and turns the corner, and life returns to normal. The boy stands, stares, and then shakes himself. As does the girl, looking confused for a moment before looking at him. They both struggle to remember what just happened…why they're feeling an odd mixture of anger, hurt and comfort. Then they turn and walk away, as the crowd disperses, trying to figure out why they'd been standing there. The rhythms of the school start up again, a bizarre parody of interaction, larger than life and begging to be noticed. But I, standing there stunned and wondering if this is what it feels like to find religion, can pick out other faces. Just one or two, but there's something in the eyes there that tells anyone who looks that their world isn't going to ever be the same. I never knew that angels wore eyeliner.