North Shore High School

Chapter 1

Ian had a gun in his backpack. It was his father's gun, from the shoe-box on the shelf in the family coat closet. Ian had never fired a gun, not in his life, but he knew everything about them. This particular gun was a Smith & Wesson Model 686-P, and it fired .357 Magnum rounds. His father had kept the gun for self-defense in case someone broke into the house, and had shown it to Ian two years ago, in case something bad happened. Ian had the Smith & Wesson in his backpack, and it had been in there for three weeks.

Tobias had a condom in his backpack—well, he had four, and some schoolbooks, and a few papers and homework assignments that other people had done for him. But nothing as interesting as a gun. He slung his duffel bag over his shoulder, and walked down the hallway like he owned the world—like he had since he was twelve and had joined the junior-high football, basketball, and baseball teams.

Ian slouched down the hall, head down, weaving through the people and trying brush shoulders with as few as possible, just wanting to get to his locker and take a breather before he went to his next class. Unfortunately for Ian, Toby saw him skulking around, and he laughed, and shoved his arm into Ian's collarbone, sending the skinny teen staggering against the lockers.

Ian grunted as his shoulder connected with the locker, making a hollow clank, and he winced, straightening and trying to get by Toby without making eye-contact.

But Toby caught his sleeve, and said with a jeering laugh, "Hold up, Crow, where're you going?!"

Ian exhaled slightly, thinking about the gun in his backpack, and how easy it would be to pull it out and blow Toby Sylar away forever, before he voiced a reply.

"What do you want," he muttered, still not looking up at the jock.

Toby pinched his cheek, jiggling his hand slightly, "Just can't wait to see you in English!" he laughed cruelly, one of his teammates standing with him laughing.

Ian sneered at him, slapping his hand away and turning to try and go around him again. Toby let him go that time, walking off, very self-satisfied.

Ian tripped on the toe of one of his boots slightly as he trudged down the hall, stopping when he reached his locker and leaning against it, gripping his stomach slightly as the ever-present dull ache knifed into a sharp pain before subsiding into a slightly sharper dull pain.

He took a few deep breaths before turning to open his locker.

Someone showed up beside him, leaning on the lockers, grinning at him with a look that didn't match his lidded eyes, "Good morning, Sunshine."

"Hi, Izzy," Ian said dully, discarding a few books into his locker, and pulling out a few others.

Isaiah grinned at him, "What class you got next?"

Ian sighed, looking like he might throw up, and muttered miserably, "...English."

"Fuck," said Izzy, shaking his head, "you're fucked."

"I know..." Ian muttered with a groan, shouldering his backpack and shutting his locker, wincing as his stomach twinged.

"S' wrong?" Izzy asked, noticing the change in Ian's facial expression.

"Nothing, I'm fine," Ian grunted, heading down the hall, "See you at lunch."

"All right, man!" Izzy called, walking backwards down the hall, waving at him vaguely, then stopped and said, "Hey, what are you doing this weekend?"

Ian turned slightly and shrugged in reply, then slunk down the hall to English class. Normally, Ian would have enjoyed the class, as he was rather fond of poetry, literature, and most of the English package. However, there were certain elements to this class that made it, to put it lightly, the bane of his existence. Namely, the fact that he was forced to spend it staring at the chalkboard while trying to ignore Toby Sylar, who sat behind him and enjoyed doing things to his back, or kicking his chair, or various other forms of meaningless cruelty meant solely to make Ian miserable.

The teen ducked inside his teacher's class and dropped his backpack onto the floor by his desk, sitting down with a wince as his stomach seemed to bite itself. His parents still didn't believe than anything was really wrong, even though Ian had been complaining of the pain to them for almost a month now, they wouldn't schedule an appointment with the doctor, and the feeling was getting gradually more agonizing.

The feeling of the edge of Toby's shoe against the nape of his neck broke his reverie, because the jock had his feet up on his desk. Toby jiggled his foot and grinned at the back of Ian's head, saying teasingly, "Hey, you make a better punching bag than you do a footrest."

Ian hunched forward, trying to get out of the reach of Toby's foot, again thinking about the gun in his backpack and muttered, "Leave me alone..."

That was when the jock on Ian's left, who wore the same blue and yellow jacket as Toby, but had blonde hair and greener eyes, leaned over into the aisle and said with a sneer, "Hey, Suicide Machine, you know what happens when you tell us to do that?"

He paused for effect, and then crowed, "Nothing!"

Both of the jocks laughed, and Toby jiggled his foot again, nudging the back of Ian's head roughly with it.

Ian let out a sharp hiss of breath, clutching his arms over his stomach as it walloped him with another sharp pain. He did his best to keep the pain from showing on his face, but it was too much of a distraction to do that and try to push Toby's foot away.

Toby leaned over his shoulder slightly, grinning, "Oh, come on, it wasn't that hard. Four o' clock in the gym, I'll show you a hard kick."

"No thanks," Ian gritted out through he teeth, biting back a wave of nausea that hit him as he said it.

"Ha," Seth added, "I think we ought to show you anyways."

Toby nodded smartly, "Got to get you ready for college, and the real world. People'll beat the shit out of you, Crow."

Ian hunched forward on his desk, covering his ears and picturing the Smith & Wesson in his backpack to distract himself from their insults. He pictured every curve, edge, and opening. He forced himself to envision it, to hold it in his mind's eye, mouthing the name of gun silently to himself, mouthing the name of the Magnum bullets over and over—anything to tune the jocks out, and to take his mind off of the throbbing pain in his stomach.

"What's that, Suicide Machine?" Seth asked, putting a hand to his ear, and leaning forward slightly, "Some kind of Satanic chant?!" He stood up, "Ms. Rowley!" he said accusingly, pointing at Ian, "Ms. Rowley, he's speaking in some scary language!" He grinned, and the class laughed.

Ian looked up at his teacher, shaking his head quickly, his eyes wide as he silently denied the accusation, but the teacher just shook her head at the class, and kept droning on about positive syntax.

Ian sighed slightly, hunching back down and putting his head in his arms. The jocks did lay off after a while, reducing the terrorization to the occasional poke in the back with a pencil, and finally the bell rang, dismissing them to lunch, where Ian nearly sprinted to get out of the classroom.

He made his way to the dingy little table in the far corner of the cafeteria that was right next to a window that was stuck open and had been for years. The window let cold drafts of wind inside to blow at him and his lunch-mates during the winter, and it leaked in water in the days when it rained.

Ian put his stuff down, and sat, sighing and groaning simultaneously, putting his face in his hands, "This day sucks."

Izzy, who was already sitting, looked at him, chewing on a mouthful of sub, and said through the food, "Hey, comphon, it cuun' geh worh."

"You do realize that no one understands you with your mouth full, don't you?" Maggie said, setting her lunch tray down beside him and then punching him three times in quick succession on the shoulder, "Red, red, green punch buggy."

"I can't believe you're still taking part in that elementary game," Ian said, faking a snooty little accent.

"I can be as elementary as I want," Maggie snapped before taking a huge bite of her school pizza.

Izzy swallowed the bite of sandwich that was too big for his throat, and his dark eyes bugged out slightly as he did so. "Maybe you should transfer out of that class," he said to Ian once the sandwich had gone down, "I tell you every lunch period, and do you ever go see the schedule people?"

"They're not going to let me transfer out," Ian grumbled in reply, dumping his bagged lunch out onto the lunch table. He had started packing things that hurt less to eat, so his lunch consisted of yogurt and a bottle of water, and had done so for about a week.

He hadn't been able to eat much at all since his stomach had started to hurt, but he hadn't mentioned why to anyone, hoping that if he couldn't go to the doctor than he would be able to get rid of the problem by eating food that was gentle on the digestion.

Izzy noted this, and said in an off-hand sort of way, "Yogurt again."

"Yeah..." Ian said as he peeled the foil lid off of it, and then said again, "...yeah."

"You're not going anorexic or anything on us, are you? Snowball can't have a bony fag as an owner, you know," Maggie said, raising an eyebrow slightly and giving Ian a 'look' over her glasses.

"Hey, shut up," said Izzy, kicking her under the table, "I grew up a fat little kid, you know. Freshman year I lost forty pounds because I stopped eating everything but Cheerios and water for a coupla' months. Works better than any diet I know of."

"Yeah, and your point? I'm still a fat little kid," she snapped, her braces making her lisp slightly.

"You're not fat, Maggie," Ian said, stirring the yogurt with his plastic spoon, "You're just stocky."

Maggie kicked him from under the table in the same manner that Isaiah had kicked her, "You're not supposed to call girls stocky, Ian."

"Like I said. Cheerios and water," Izzy reiterated, "Look at me now."

"But back to the topic at hand," Ian said, glaring at the both of them irritably, "I'm not trying to lose weight."

He looked down at his yogurt, and gagged slightly as a waved of nausea hit him. Before he knew what he was doing, he leapt up, tripping slightly, and sprinted for the bathroom, the pain in his stomach almost unbearable.

Izzy leapt up as Ian ran for the bathroom and called his name, but didn't make an effort to follow.

Ian ran into the bathroom and into the nearest stall, emptying the contents of his stomach into the toilet. Toby had been admiring himself in the mirror over the sink, and he half turned, shaking out his hair so it swept perfectly over half his forehead, flattering his eyes.

Ian half groaned and half sobbed as his stomach heaved agonizingly again, its burning contents forcing themselves up through his throat and out of his mouth. Tears streamed down his cheeks, and with utter horror he realized he was throwing up blood.