At twenty-five, Mr. Strange was, by far, the youngest teacher St. Jude's High School had ever employed. It was generally the opinion of both the principal and the board that the more years between the teachers and the students the better. However, Mr. Strange was a man with considerable charm and references that couldn't be matched. He was hired with a unanimous vote, and was named Teacher of the Year by the students his first two years. Now, as his third year neared its end, it seemed he might win it yet again.
A tall, thin man with dark brown eyes and brown hair that started out neat and ended up in wild spikes due to his habit of running his hands through it, Mr. Strange was regarded as "very cute" by both the female staff and students. He had a dimple on his left cheek that came out especially when he was particularly amused, and it was this look of intelligent delight, combined with a well-shaped, just barely-stubbled jaw line that made females, old and young, blush. Despite this, Mr. Strange was also known to be something of a dork. He had a manic style; laidback, hands-in-pockets slouch, until wham! something interesting. Then he would move constantly, quickly, thinking aloud in fragments, voice getting squeaky until, at last, the mystery had been solved and he would stand back grinning. His personality was reflected in his clothes. Mr. Strange favored pin-striped suits, brightly colored ties and a variety of converse sneakers. Vaguely professional, yet ready to break into a sprint at any moment.
With good looks, youth and a charismatic personality, it wasn't surprising that Mr. Strange's classes were very popular. He taught calculus, and since his joining the faculty of St. Jude's the number of students taking the subject had gone up thirty percent. Whether they got anything out of it could be debated, but a little extra education never hurt anyone. Anyway, Mr. Strange valued sharpness over brains and was more likely to reward a clever answer than a correct one. He was frequently sarcastic, but not unkind, at least not on purpose and he was quick to apologize when he was in the wrong. In his excitement, Mr. Strange sometimes forgot that other people had feelings or even existed.
Although very friendly, Mr. Strange had no close friends. He lived alone in a tiny cottage a short walk from the school. Sometimes, he would hold study sessions in his living room for his advanced students. These were casual, but Mr. Strange made sure never to be alone with any of his students. He was not an idiot; he was young, he was attractive and most of his students were seventeen or eighteen years old. Mr. Strange wanted to keep his job, so he took special care that no rumors started.
That was not the only thing Mr. Strange took care about. Mr. Strange had a secret. The upside of the secret was that if he told anyone, they wouldn't believe him. The downside was that if anyone did believe him, Mr. Strange was likely to end up in small pieces scattered around a government lab. This wasn't something he thought he'd enjoy, so Mr. Strange kept his mouth shut. There was no need for anyone on Earth to know that Mr. Strange wasn't entirely human.
Humanoid, yes. Part human, probably. Well, maybe. There was a lot of carbon-based humanoid life forms in the universe, and Mr. Strange's mother had only been able to narrow it down to two or three species. Outwardly, he looked human. A DNA test wouldn't be a good idea, but there was no way to guess the various details that revealed Mr. Strange's true origin . That his lungs were twice the size of a human's due to the thin atmosphere of his home planet. He could hold his breath for fifteen minutes, a talent he keep to himself. His bones were denser as well; he was more durable than he looked. It took a lot of pressure to break one of Mr. Strange's bones. There were other differences. For one, he had a chemical that blocked all UV radiation and gamma rays. He didn't tan, burn or freckle. He was the same color, expect of course for normal skin variations and the blood underneath. He could blush, but skin cancer was never going to be an issue. Still, these were small things. Mr. Strange was human enough to pass and that was all that mattered.
"Excuse me, Mr. Strange?" Jakob stood in the doorway, one hand resting against the jamb. "Do you have a moment?"
"Sure, Jake, come in." Sebastian Strange set down the crossword he was doing. He was leaning back in his chair, red converses braced against the edge of his desk. This was a common posture, as was the tendency to end up in a pile on the floor. "What can I help you with?"
"Just a couple of questions about last night's assignment." Jakob was one of Mr. Strange's older students. He was a cat-eyed blonde with sharp features and freckles. A senior, he had taken Mr. Strange's classes every semester and was consistently one of the top students.
"Okay," Mr. Strange said.
Jakob walked around the desk, dropping his neatly printed work in front of Mr. Strange. "Number seven," he said, tapping the paper. "I can't get the answer to match the one in the book."
Mr. Strange scanned the equations. "You copied the question wrong, idiot."
"Well, I feel stupid," Jakob said, leaning closer. "What about number eleven, then?"
"You've got the variables switched," said Sebastian.
"No, I don't," Jakob replied. "I already checked that."
"The rate should be equal to X."
"Not if I'm using an infinite limit."
"Oh." Mr. Strange rubbed a hand over his hair. "Now I feel stupid." He grinned at Jakob.
"Comforting," Jakob said, looking away. "I'm so glad you're the teacher."
"At least I'm not actually stupid."
Jakob glanced back at Sebastian, his eyes amused. He rarely smiled. It was his electric green eyes that laughed for him.
"Are you implying something?" he asked.
"No, you're just insecure," Mr. Strange replied. "Do you want to know what you're doing wrong?"
"Desperately," Jakob said.
Mr. Strange shot him a sharp look, but Jakob's face was innocent.
"You forgot to change the value of n. It should be two, not one."
"Damn." Jakob moved closer, switching to the next sheet of paper. "Can you just check number twenty-three? I'm not sure I did it right."
Sebastian tried to focus on the rows of equations, but it was difficult with Jakob so close. He smelled of… Sebastian inhaled, trying to place the scent-- rosemary, that was it. And oranges. It was an odd combination, but appealing. Sebastian's pulse sped up. He could feel Jakob's eyes on him, as solid as a touch tracing the curve of his jaw, the length of his throat. Mr. Strange moved away, putting as much distance as possible between him and Jakob.
"All correct," he said, sticking his hands into his pockets.
Jakob straightened up, his head tilted to the side. "Thanks," he aaid. "For the help."
"You know, you work oddly hard for someone who--" Mr. Strange stopped, for once before he said something rude. Jakob said it for him anyway.
"Has a trust fund larger than the gross national income of most small countries?" he said.
"I was going to put it more diplomatically than that," Sebastian said.
"I doubt it," Jakob replied, with his laughing gaze.
Sebastian smiled. "Yeah, you're right. So, trust-fund boy, you never have to work a day in your life. Why do you care so much?"
Jakob stared down, his fingers lightly stroking the polished surface of the desk. "Well," he said slowly. "I just fancy--"
A heartbeat of a pause, just long enough for Jakob's eyes to flick up to meet Sebastian's-- and have all the air rush out of the room.
"Learning," Jakob finished with one of his rare smiles.
"Gah." Sebastian's tongue had gone numb. His brain, a bit more capable, thought 'oh, this is so bad.'
Jakob picked up his homework and walked towards the door. "Good Morning, Ms. Wyndham," he said to the stout woman entering.
"Hello, Jakob," said the vice-principal. She gave him a quick smile. "The bell's about to ring."
"Yes, ma'am." Jakob glanced back at Mr. Strange. "See you in class."
"Such a serious boy," Ms. Wyndham said, watching him leave.
"Really?" asked Mr. Strange. "You think so?"
"Mmm. Very aloof. The girls in the office call him the Ice Prince. Not very original, but it gets the point across." She sighed. "I must say, he causes much fewer headaches than his sister."
"Got caught in the janitor's closet again, did she?"
"With Jason Myers. He was down to his skivvies when Mr. Harris walked in on them" Ms. Wyndham shook her head. "I don't know what to do with that girl. She has the brains of a gnat and more hormones than the whole rest of the student body put together."
"Teach her how to use a condom and hope she doesn't have a penicillin allergy," Sebastian suggested.
Ms. Wyndham laughed. "Don't let Mr. Baldwin hear you say that."
"She's in my office right now. We had to call her parents, not that it ever makes a difference." She paused, glancing back at the still open door. "Between you and me, I think--"
The vice-principal jumped. She turned to see who had spoken.
"Oh, Lydia," she said. "What is it?"
The thin, twitchy woman gave Mr. Strange a nervous look. "There's a fight in the cafeteria."
Ms. Wyndham shook her head. "Who is it this time?"
"Evan Farveau and Jason Myers," Lydia answered. She was the freshman English teacher and so shy that Sebastian was surprised she lasted fifteen minutes in a classroom, let alone fifteen years.
"Today just isn't Jason's day," Sebastian said as he followed Ms. Wyndham to the lunch room. "I thought he and Evan were friends."
"Mmm," Ms. Wyndham replied. "I believe it has something to do with Jason asking out Evan's sister last week."
"I see." Sebastian laughed. "I don't remember high school being this dramatic."
"You've forgotten what it's like being a teenager already? How quickly memories fade."
Mr. Strange smiled, but didn't reply. He didn't think his memories of being a teenager were quite the same as Ms. Wyndham's. For one, he didn't remember his teachers being so concerned about who was with who in the janitor's closet. There were more important things to worry about.
When they got to the cafeteria, the two boys were grappling on the floor. Neither one really had any idea how to fight and were just scrabbling at each other. Mr. Trent, the music teacher, was attempting to pull them apart. Mr. Strange pushed through the growing crowd, leaving Ms. Wyndham to shoo the students back to their classrooms.
"Like some help?" Sebastian asked cheerfully. Mr. Trent looked up with his usual mournful expression.
"That would be nice," he said in his slow, deep voice.
Mr. Strange grabbed one set of arms and Mr. Trent the other, and pulled. The boys split apart, still kicking and swearing at each other.
"My office, I think," Ms. Wyndham said.
"What about Delilah?" asked Mr. Strange.
"She'll just have to wait."
It was five minutes past the bell by the time he returned to his classroom. His students were all there, gathered in small groups talking, mostly about Delilah's lastest exploit. They quieted down when Sebastian walked in, though one or two called teasing remarks about being late.
"If you're so desperate to learn algebra, maybe we should start early tomorrow," Mr. Strange said.
"No thanks," replied one of the students.
"All right, then. Who wants to put the homework problems on the board?"
Jakob lay on his bed, on his stomach, reading. His room was simply decorated in muted tones with few knickknacks. Most of the walls were covered with bookcases, full of leather-bound editions. Jakob liked books; he loved expensive books. There were no paperbacks on Jakob's shelves.
"You slept with Mr. Yummy yet?"
"No," Jakob said absently.
"Well, what's taking so long?" asked Delilah, her hands on her hips. She was blonde, as was Jakob, but her eyes were a pale brown, round and vivid like a tiger's.
Jakob glanced up at his sister. She was frowning at him.
"I heard you got caught with Jason Myers," he said.
"Damn Ms. Wyndham." Delilah pouted. "I've got detention for a month."
"Maybe next time you should try a different closet," Jakob suggested. "Or really go wild and use a bed."
"What, like I carry one around in my back pocket?" Delilah rolled her eyes. "I'm not like you. I don't plan everything to death."
Jakob ignored this. Delilah was his favorite sibling, but she could be very annoying. He hoped she would grow out of this slut phase soon. A year ago, she was mad about gymnastics. Before that it was bartending. Let the obsession go its course and eventually Delilah would move on. Try to stop her and it would last even longer. Despite their differences, Jakob and Delilah shared one trait-- stubbornness. Both would fight to the ends of the earth to get what they wanted, although each in their own way.
"What are you waiting for?" Delilah demanded. Jakob scrolled back through the conversation.
"The right time," he answered.
"What right time?" Delilah asked. "Every time is the right time. You're nineteen. Everything's legal."
"That attitude is the reason you keep getting detention," Jakob said. "And, by the way, Jason Myers? Ick."
"Oh, shut up," Delilah snapped.
Sebastian walked home from the school, hands shoved deep into his pockets. He didn't have a car. His first trip in one ended with him throwing up violently. To his great annoyance, Mr. Strange always got motion sickness in a car. He could build one without instructions, but traveling in one was out of the question.
"Hello, Mr. Strange."
Sebastian looked up. Jakob was leaning against an ancient oak tree, looking more mussed then usual. The reason for this was the long, low convertible parked on the side of the road with its hood up. Steam was leaking out. Mr. Strange stopped.
"Is that a '76 Cadillac Eldorado?" he asked.
Jakob gave the car a dismissive glance. "I don't know. Is it?"
"Oh, you're beautiful," Sebastian cooed, stroking the car. "Has the mean boy been mistreating you?"
"You have got to be kidding me," Jakob said.
"Such a pretty car," Sebastian continued, running his hand over the sleek paint like a lover. "What's your name, gorgeous?"
"Do the two of you want to be alone?" Jakob asked sarcastically.
Mr. Strange was buried in the engine, various metal clanking and endearments floating out.
"Christ," Jakob said. "I practically send you an engraved invitation and I get nothing. But show you a big hunk of rusted out metal and you're all over it."
Sebastian raised his head. "Did you say something?"
"No," replied Jakob. "I wouldn't want to interrupt your torrid love affair."
Sebastian said. "Jealous?" Then looked horrified. Jakob laughed. "I didn't mean to say that. I mean, I don't-- I didn't--"
"Relax," said Jakob. "I won't tell." He nodded towards the car. "Can you fix it?"
"Sure," replied Mr. Strange. "It's just overheated. If you just turn the radiator cap-- you don't care at all, do you?"
"Okay." Sebastian bent back under the hood. Jakob shifted slightly in order to enjoy the view. He had fancied Mr. Strange since his arrival at St. Jude's, but after getting to know him, Jakob discovered that he liked him as well. That was the odd part. Jakob didn't like people, especially not people he found attractive. He wondered if it was him or just that all good-looking people were morons with terrible senses of humor.
"There." Sebastian slammed the hood closed. "That should hold it for a while, but you should take it to a mechanic soon."
Jakob thought about saying 'my hero' but dismissed it as too obvious. Instead he said, "Thanks. Want a ride home?"
"What? Oh, no." Sebastian looked wistfully at the Cadillac.
"I'll let you drive," Jakob said, keys dangling from his index finger. He could have sworn Mr. Strange whimpered.
"I can't," Sebastian said. Jakob tossed him the keys, which he caught automatically.
"Just get in," Jakob said. He slipped into the passenger seat and raised his eyebrows at Sebastian.
"Damn." Sebastian sighed.
The engine growled into life. Sebastian resisted the urge to molest the steering wheel. Instead, he slammed in the clutch, shifted into first and screeched away.
By the time they reached Mr. Strange's house, he was already nauseous. It was worth it, though. He patted the hood while Jakob watched, bemused.
"You can have it," he said.
"The car. Do you want it?"
"You can't give me a car!"
"Sure I can. This is me, giving you a car." Jakob's eyes held a smile. "It was a birthday present. I wanted a first edition A Tale of Two Cities, but I got this thing."
"Thing!" Sebastian looked scandalized. "This is a work of art."
"Great. It's yours."
"You can't give me a car!"
"You said that already. It's getting boring."
"I--" Sebastian rubbed both hands over his head. "Jake, I'm pretty sure this would get me fired."
"Then don't tell anyone."
"I don't drive."
"You just did," Jakob pointed out.
"No, I-- I get carsick. I don't drive anywhere. Why do you think I live so close to the school?"
Jakob shrugged. "Then keep it to look at. Seriously, I don't want it. If it makes you happy, I'd rather you have it." He paused. "Just take the damned thing before I turn completely into a hallmark movie."
"I--um--okay." Sebastian had a rush of glee that he couldn't quite contain. He grinned broadly. "Don't tell anyone."
"I can kept a secret," Jakob said. "Can I use your phone?"
"You don't have a cell phone?"
"No, I hate those stupid things."
"What's that thing I see you fiddling with in class?"
"iPod." Jakob climbed out of the car and handed the keys back to Sebastian. "I should probably write you out a bill of sale too. Just in case."
"Oh, right." Sebastian thought of his rule against being alone with his students and sighed. Jakob had a way of getting around things like that. He was just so reasonable, Sebastian thought. Of course, he could refuse to let Jakob use his phone, but then he would seem paranoid and neurotic. Unreasonable, while Jakob retained the higher ground.
"Come in." Sebastian said, unlocking the front door. "The phone is in the living room. Through there."
"I know," said Jakob. "I've been here before, remember?" He walked through the archway, trailed by an increasingly worried Sebastian. "I'll reverse the charges."
"Don't bother," Sebastian replied. "Unless you're calling Mexico."
"Still," said Jakob, dialing.
Sebastian stood to the side, in the awkward way people have when they want to give someone privacy, but don't want to leave them alone in their house. His stomach growled. It had been almost four hours since lunch. Sebastian's metabolism worked faster than a human's; he needed to eat twice as many calories to maintain his weight. Yet, his tolerance for cholesterol was much lower. A value meal from Burger King put him in an eighteen hour coma. That meant eating lots of bread, vegetables and fruit. Sugar didn't effect him like fried things did. He could eat lean meat, if it was cooked properly. It made it difficult to eat out and considering that Sebastian could barely boil pasta, it left him eating a lot of things raw. Not meat, he did know enough that had to be cooked, but it usually ended up as grey, rubbery disks better suited for unarmed combat than consuming.
"Eric, can you send a car to--" Jakob stopped and looked at Sebastian.
"761 Hanson Rd," he said as his stomach gave a tremendous growl. "I'll be in the kitchen."
Jakob gave him an absent nod. Sebastian slipped away, through the archway on the right. It led into a large, well-lit kitchen with state-of-the-art appliances that were completely wasted on Sebastian. Pulling a bag of carrots and a couple of oranges out of the refrigerator, Sebastian began the elaborate task of peeling without injuring himself too badly.
In the living room, Jakob walked back and forth, talking to one of his family's servants. He came from old money, which tended to be fond of tradition. Eric was one of the footmen. Jakob was vague on what exactly a footman did. He knew they helped the butler, who ran the house, but beyond that they were just men in a navy and cream uniform.
"I'm sorry, sir, but all the cars are out at the moment." Eric-the-footman was Canadian and his accent got stronger when he was nervous. It was very apparent now.
"What, all of them?" Jakob's family had four chauffeurs, one for each of his parents and two for the children to share. Aside from the four town cars and the limo, the garage held a 1966 Aston-Marten, a Mercedes convertible, a cherry-red hummer, a trio of Porsches and until recently, Jakob's '76 Cadillac. Unfortunately, only family members were allowed to drive those and they were scattered about the city with the chauffeur-driven town cars.
"Would you like to speak to Mr. Langton, sir?" Eric asked. Mr. Langton was the butler.
"No, I'll just call a cab," Jakob hung up and dialed information. He stared at the bookcase in between the two arches. There was something odd about it. He had thought so last time as well, but hadn't been able to figure out why.
"What city and state?"
Jakob ignored the computerized voice. Still holding the phone, he walked past the archway to the kitchen. Sebastian was standing at the counter, swearing at carrots. The table was pushed against the wall, its chairs standing perpendicular underneath the window. Jakob frowned.
"What city and state?"
"Operator," said Jakob absently. He looked out at the entranceway.
"What city and state?"
"Operator," Jakob repeated. He peered at the books. They were covered in dust, except for three on the far left, third shelf from the bottom.
"Please hold for operator."
From inside the kitchen came a yelp. Jakob glanced over his shoulder, but Sebastian didn't come running out demanding medical attention. Tinny music played. Jakob set the phone down in self-defense. Green eyes glowing, he moved the three dustless books off the shelf. He had figured out why the book shelf looked so odd. It wasn't supposed to be there. There should have been three more feet of space in the kitchen, if the wall divided it and the entranceway. But there wasn't. The bookshelf was hiding something.
Jakob pressed against the back of the bookshelf, searching for a switch or button. He supposed this could be called an invasion of privacy, but that wasn't enough to stop him. The wood was smooth, no sign of a catch. Jakob laid his hand flat and shoved. There was a click.
The bookcase swung silently inward. Checking to make sure Mr. Strange was still occupied with his culinary maiming, Jakob peered into the open space. There was a light switch on the wall. Jakob flicked it on. Dull lights glowed, revealing a narrow staircase. If Jakob had been the type he would have been grinning wildly. Instead he just went, "hmmm" and ran lightly down the stairs.
Sebastian popped an orange segment into his mouth. Oranges didn't grow on his planet, nothing did. It was the soil. His planet traded its metal resources for food. It was known as some of the highest grade in seven galaxies. Worked metal was worth even more. Mr. Strange's people combined engineering with art.
It was quiet. Sebastian stopped, another segment half way to his mouth. He hadn't heard Jakob's voice for a couple of minutes. That was not good.
The staircase turned, opening onto a huge aircraft hanger. Jakob stopped and just stared. It was as if he had just been dropped into a government conspiracy movie. The room screamed 'secret base' in gleaming metal letters. The whole place was impossible. It would have taken years to build and someone would have noticed work crews. Yet, Jakob had never heard even the whisper of a rumor. Courtford wasn't that big of a town. A place like this wouldn't stay secret for long.
Still, it was here and while Jakob didn't know how, it was pretty easy to guess why. Taking up the majority of the space was a spaceship. It had to be a spaceship because it couldn't be anything else. In terms of appearance, it wasn't exactly Star Trek, though. The metal was a dull grey-green with a faded seal on one side. It was shaped like an off-kilter box with a smooshed pyramid on top. The front side of the pyramid, the one jutted that out over the box, was a sheet of smoky glass. It was the only window Jakob could see. There was a door underneath with a round spinning handle like you would find on the submarine.
Jakob smiled. He could hear footsteps on the stairs.
"Apparently, I'm not the only on good at keeping secrets."
The fight didn't last very long. Jakob caught Sebastian before he hit the ground. He wasn't sure how hard the blow to the head had been and he didn't want to risk another one. Looking down at Sebastian's unconscious body, Jakob sighed. He had wanted Sebastian at his feet, but this wasn't what he had in mind. He expected Sebastian to be awake at the very least.
Sebastian's pulse was steady. That was good. Jakob straightened up, holding his hands behind his back. Already he could see the swelling beginning to start. Sebastian was going to have a hell of bruise. Jakob left him on the concrete floor and ran upstairs for an ice pack. When he returned, Sebastian was moaning.
"Sorry," Jakob said, handing him the ice-pack. "I've taken self-defense lessons since I was four. Kidnappings. Are you all right?"
"My head is killing me," Sebastian groaned. He shifted slightly, wincing. "My ribs don't feel too great either." He looked up at Jakob; one eye covers with the ice-pack. "I'm sorry I attacked you. I'm not usually violent. I just panicked."
"No harm done," Jakob said. "Well, to me anyway." He said this in a way that implied that was all that mattered. "So which are you? Alien? Government agent? Time-traveller?"
"Neither. I mean, none." Sebastian started to blush. "Why would you think that?"
"Sebastian, you've get a bloody great spaceship under your house," Jakob said.
"It's a model," Sebastian replied defensively. "It's just a hobby. I'm a sci-fi geek. It's not a real spaceship." He forced a laugh. "That would be impossible." He paused. "Did you just call me Sebastian?"
"Models are goofy-looking things made of plastic and glue that nerdlings hang from their bedroom ceilings to scare away any chance of getting laid," Jakob replied. "That is three-thousand tons of metal sitting in a secret underground hanger. It couldn't hang from the Jolly Green Giant's bedroom ceiling. And stop trying to change the subject."
Sebastian blinked. "What?"
"Are you from Mars?"
"I'm not an alien!"
"Neptune? Jupiter's third moon?" Jakob raised his eyebrows and folded his arms over his chest. "Andromeda seven? Kypton? Gallifrey? Omacron Persi 8?"
"For the love of--"
"Romulus? Bajor? Tatoonine?"
"You're kind of a nerdling yourself," Sebastian said.
"Tell anyone and I'll kill you," Jakob replied. "Also, stop changing the bloody subject!"
"Your accent gets stronger when you're annoyed," Sebastian observed.
"You're asking for a proper beating." Jakob's family had moved to England when he was a baby and lived there until he was fourteen. When he moved back to America, his accent faded. He wasn't sure why, but his voice was easily influenced. After spending a month in New Orleans, Jakob sounded like a native. Still, a British drawl was his default, though and like Sebastian said, it did get stronger when he was annoyed. Having this pointed out to him tended to make the situation worse.
Sebastian laughed. He couldn't help it. He had never seen Jakob look so angry. Of course it was Jakob, so it was a restrained sort of anger.
"Stop being difficult," Jakob said, pulling together his last bits of calm. "This is not a spinable situation."
"Are you sure you weren't the one who hit their head?" Sebastian asked.
"Right." Jakob turned around and walked towards the spaceship.
"What are you doing?" Sebastian scrambled to his feet, hissing at the sharp stabs of pain. Whoever trained Jakob had done a good job. Nothing was broken, but Sebastian was going to hurt for a week.
"Taking a look inside the 'model'," answered Jakob. "You don't mind, do you? Since it's not real." He spin the wheel on the door and yanked it open.
"No, wait. It's not quite dry!"
Jakob ignored this. He stepped inside, closing the door behind him, mostly just to irk Sebastian. Lights flickered on, running up the edges of a ladder. The rest of the room was full of machinery. It smelt of burnt oil, metal and stale air. It was also disgustingly filthy. Jakob grimaced and began climbing the ladder. About fifteen feet up, he hit the ceiling. There was another submarine latch. Jakob had to wrap his legs around the bars of the ladder to keep from falling off.
"Jake!" Sebastian shouted. "Come back here right now!"
Jakob stuck his head back through the opening. "Did you really think that was going to work?"
"No," Sebastian admitted.
"You're not a complete idiot then." Jakob's face disappeared.
"Oh, please." Jakob's scornful reply floated down.
"Damn," Sebastian muttered. Tucking the ice-pack into his pocket, he gripped the rungs of the ladder. "Oooh, dammit," he groaned. He was going to throttle Jakob. After a couple of bottles of advil.
Jakob stood in the upper part of spaceship, slowly turning around to take it all in. The ceiling was low, he could stand up, but barely. Sebastian would have to stoop. Beige carpet covered the floor with the walls just a shade darker. The room was diamond-shaped, wider towards the front then the back. Near the window was a large, semi-circular console.
"Damn, damn, damn." Sebastian was not enjoying his trip up the ladder.
Seeing as how he had a few minutes, Jakob explored the cabin. A pair of handles set into the wall revealed a fold-down bed. A table pulled up from the floor with more storage space underneath. At the back, a small door opened onto the tiniest kitchen Jakob had ever seen. He assumed it was a kitchen, anyway. There was something that resembled a microwave and what looked like a stove with no burners. An even smaller door led to a bathroom. Jakob didn't linger. Bathrooms were the same, even in spaceships. The whole thing was rather like an RV, although the instrument panel was a bit more complicated.
Jakob took a seat at the console, and examined the switches. Most with labeled in unfamiliar letters with similar colors grouped together. A trio of red switches sat just below a small screen. Jakob flipped the first one. The screen turned on, all static and snow. The second switch made it go black, with red words scrolling across it.
"Jake, don't!" Sebastian pulled himself through the hole gracelessly.
"Too late," Jakob said and flipped the third switch. A loud siren filled the cabin. His hands over his ears, Sebastian staggered across the room and yanked on the switch.
"Hmm," said Jakob, already moved onto another part of the console. "What's this one do?" He tapped a dark blue button.
The engines screamed and clawed into life, making the whole ship shake. Sebastian dived across the counter, slamming down a large, yellow button.
"Are you trying to blow us up?" Sebastian yelled. "Even a drooling moron knows not to ignite a nova drive in an enclosed space! They're bad enough in the sky."
Jakob just looked at him. Sebastian realized what he had just said. He sank dejectedly into one of the chairs.
"Three years," he said. "Three years and I'm discovered by a high school student."
"I'm doing my best not to be insulted," Jakob replied.
Sebastian waved a hand. "You know what I mean."
"I don't think I do." Jakob sat down in the other chair, crossing his legs. "Are you saying because I'm a teenager, I'm stupid?"
"God, no." Sebastian ran a hand through his hair. "I mean, you're not with the government. You're not an alien specialist. You're not special."
"You just keep digging that hole, Sebastian," Jakob said.
"Will you stop calling me Sebastian? I'm still your teacher."
"I prefer your first name. And we're not in school." Jakob gave Sebastian an even gaze. Jakob had ordinary features made extraordinary by his vivid eyes. It wasn't a surprise that he expressed himself mostly through them. Sebastian gave up for now. There were more important things to deal with.
"What are you going to do?" He asked.
"Do?" Jakob tilted his head to the side. "What do you mean?"
"I can think of a few things," Jakob replied.
Sebastian flushed. "Jake, you have to stop."
"Stop looking at me like that."
"Like I'm a wounded gazelle and you're a tiger that hasn't eaten in a month."
The corners of Jakob's lips twitched. "In case you haven't noticed a lot of people look at you like that."
"Don't be a twit."
"I'm not being a twit. You're being obtuse."
"Yeah, all right," Sebastian admitted. "But they just look. You look."
Jakob smiled. He leaned forward, motioning Sebastian closer. "You know what," he said. "I think it bothers you because you like it." They were inches apart now, near enough for Sebastian to see the ring of black around the bright of Jakob's irises. His chest had gone tight again, as if someone had just dropped a lead weight on him. He was wanted to pull away, but those eyes held in place.
"Sebastian," Jakob said at last. "You might want to breathe at some point."
"Don't need to," Sebastian said vaguely.
"Really?" Jakob practically purred. "That could be...useful."
"Gah." Sebastian felt his mouth drop open. The rational part of his brain screamed, 'You moron! Wake up! What is wrong with you? Are you under a spell? Is he a witch? HAVE YOU LOST YOUR MIND?' The rest of his brain wasn't articulating much at all.
"You are so easy," Jakob whispered, his lips brushing Sebastian's.
There was something he was supposed to remember, Sebastian thought. What was it again? Oh, yes.
"Teacher," Sebastian said.
"Teacher," Sebastian repeated. "Teacher. I'm your teacher. That's what I am, your teacher. Right. Teacher."
Jakob sat back. "Only for another three months."
"I don't care if it's another three minutes," Sebastian said. "You're going to get me fired."
"I told you, I can keep a secret."
"It's still wrong."
"And faking a resume to get a job on another planet isn't?"
"It's still wrong," Jakob mocked. He stood up. "It's okay. I can wait." Bending down, he kissed Sebastian quickly on the cheek. "See you Monday."
"Don't do that!" Sebastian yelled after him. He spun around morosely.
"Damn," he muttered.
Jakob's full name: Jakob Patrick Arthur Mackenzie Aloysius Phillip-Jones. Just another reason for him to hate his parents.
"Where the hell have you been?" Leah, Jakob's older sister, stood in the entrance hall staircase, glaring. Leah was good at glaring. It was her default expression.
"I walked home," he replied.
"Why? That's nearly five miles."
"I felt like it."
Leah glared some more. She was twenty-four and spent most of her time being angry. Jakob couldn't remember ever seeing her happy.
"You're late," she announced. "Mummy is livid."
Jakob handed his bag to a hovering servant. "Late for what?"
"Susannah is here," Leah said, her scowl deepening. "And she's being perfectly wretched as usual. All smiles and roses when you know what she's really thinking." She flipped back her sheet of bleached blonde hair. Of the four children, Leah was the only brunette. She spent four hours every week preventing roots. Jakob thought she'd better just to leave it dark, but he never mentioned it. He liked having his limbs intact.
"Anyway, you were supposed to meet her today," Leah continued.
"No one told me," Jakob replied.
"Of course they did!" Leah snapped. "If you would just look at your calendar. Lord, you'd think you were still a baby. Do you need someone to wipe your bum as well?"
"Are you offering?" Jakob retorted.
Swiss finishing school had been completely wasted on Leah.
"I'm going to change," Jakob said. "Tell Diane I'll be in shortly."
"You are so bizarre." Leah stormed out.
Jakob took the back staircase up to third floor where his and Delilah's rooms were. Leah's and Nate's were on the fourth and their parents had the entire fifth floor. Getting called up there was rather like being called in front of the queen.
Eric-the-footman was hovering outside Jakob's door, doing his best to appear as though he weren't.
"Hello, sir," he said when he saw Jakob approaching. "Lovely day, sir."
"Yes," said Jakob. "What is it, Eric?"
"Ah, well, you see, sir, yesterday Mr. Langton asked me to add something to your calendar, sir, but then Mr. Nathaniel wanted my assistance and Miss Delilah was, erm," he fumbled for a socially correct word for 'pushy slut' then just gave up and plowed on. "With one thing and another I forgot to mark your calendar." He gave Jakob a worried look.
"Don't let it happen again," Jakob said, going into his room. He just caught the relieved look on Eric's face.
Apartment was probably more appropriate. Jakob had a large sitting room, private bath and bedroom. Delilah was allowed entrance whenever she liked, but Jakob kept the rest of his family out. He didn't like them very much.
Pulling on a pair of black pants and a thin-stripped button down shirt, Jakob debated wearing a tie. With his parents the more formal, the better. The tie he finally selected cost more than most people made in a week. Jakob had twelve more just like it. The hip-length jacket he slipped on was designer original, a gift from his mother. He had asked for a signed copy of Ulysses by James Joyce. Jakob wondered why they even bothered to ask him what he wanted.
Tea was being served in the Rose parlor. Delilah was there, looking bored. She had on a plain blue dress that Jakob knew their mother had forced her to wear. Leah was sitting by the window, biting into tiny sandwiches with an angry, fox-like quality. Across the room, Diane, his mother, was enthroned in a cream-colored winged back chair, her silvery hair surrounding her face like a halo.
"How nice of you to join us, Jakob," she said. "Come and sit down." She gestured to loveseat next to her armchair. Jakob sat down and found himself facing a dark-haired woman in her late twenties.
"Susannah, this is my little brother, Jakob," said Nate. He was sitting beside her, his arms draped carelessly over the back of the sofa. "Jakob, say hello to your future sister-in-law." Nate was thirty-two, handsome, and in Jakob's opinion, a pompous jackass.
"It's very nice to meet you," Jakob said.
"You as well," replied Susannah, smiling. She had soft features, pretty but somehow clouded as though she were in an old black-and-white movie. "I've heard a lot about you."
"Told her what a bookworm you were," Nate said.
"Yes, he mentioned you like to read. What are your favorites?" Susannah gave him another fetching smile. Jakob wasn't one to be charmed, though. There was something more in Susannah's dark eyes then just simple sweetness.
"I couldn't choose," Jakob replied and signaled a servant to bring him some tea.
"Is that why you were late?" Nate asked. "Nose stuck in a book again?"
"He walked home," Leah said with scorn.
"Walked?" Diane raised her perfectly groomed eyebrows. "Jakob, love, why didn't you call for a car?"
"I wanted to walk," Jakob answered. He felt like beating his head against the coffee table.
"You know that's hardly safe," said Diane.
Diane took a sip of tea. "I'll arrange for you to be picked up after school."
"No," said Jakob. But his mother had already moved on. Delilah rolled her eyes and made strangling motions behind Diane's back. Luckily, Nate didn't notice.
Polite conversation slipped around Jakob as he ate the tiny sandwiches and drank the tea he didn't like. If he was quiet long enough, he'd be able to sneak out without anyone noticing. His family had always ignored Jakob; he had learned to use it to his advantage.
"I'm sorry, I don't mean to be rude but do you wear contacts?"
It took Jakob a few seconds to realize Susannah was talking to him.
"Yes," he said.
"Oh." Sebastian seemed disappointed by this answer. "I hoped the color might be genetic."
"This is my natural eye color."
"Really? How lovely."
"Yes, Jakob is our green-eyed freak," Nate said.
"Lucky bastard," said Leah, whose eyes were as brown as her hair.
"Tell me, Susannah, have you settled on a date yet?" asked Diane, changing the subject. Jakob moved in the background, annoyed that Susannah had delayed his departure by at least five minutes.
I don't think that scene had a point. It might have had one once, but really, it was kind of pointless.
Sebastian moved the Cadillac into the hanger with the spaceship. He did it at three in the morning, heart racing not only because he might be discovered but also because his teleport was homemade. Living tissue couldn't be transmitted, not it wanted to remain living. Years of research still hadn't managed that. But inanimate objects were okay. The problem was a teleport needed incredibly accuracy. Sebastian could end up with a pile of loose parts, a solid lump of smoldering metal or nothing at all. Luckily it was none of the above. The windshield wipers were mysteriously missing, but that was nothing. Sebastian did wonder briefly where they ended up.
A stack of homework sat upstairs, ungraded as Sebastian tinkered with his new toy. He hummed under his breath as he worked, a lullaby from his home world. A few feet away, the spaceship sat, dorment, more like some modern grunge statue than a thing capable of traveling between solar systems. Over the last three years, Sebastian had rebuilt the entire engine. He had disabled most of those pesky tracking systems, but no one was perfect. Inside, in the cabin, a lone light at the very edge of the console, a tiny little light, blinked. Sebastian continued to hum to himself.
To Sebastian's relief, Jakob behaved as though the previous day hadn't happened. No significant looks, no slips of the tongue, no "accidental" bumps. Sebastian could almost believe yesterday hadn't been real. Almost.
"Sebastian?" Stacy Love knocked on the doorjamb, then walked in, smiling. "Can I ask a favor?"
Stacy Love was one of the gym teachers, a lithe woman in her late forties with more energy than most of the students. She was viciously nice to the point where most people couldn't stand more than fifteen minutes in her presence.
"Sure," said Sebastian. He was sitting at his desk, trying to finish his neglected homework.
"I hate to ask, but can you do my detention today?" Stacy gave him a pleading smile. "My sister is coming to visit and I'd really like to be there to meet her plane."
"No problem," Sebastian replied.
"Thank you. I owe you one." She paused. "Tell you want, I'll do all your detentions next month."
"No, that's all right. I don't mind. Really."
"But I have to repay you. Let me buy you dinner."
"Honestly, it's okay," Sebastian said desperately.
"Are you sure? I feel like I'm taking advantage."
Stacy still looked unhappy. Sebastian sighed.
"If you want, you can take my study hall tomorrow," he said.
"Done!" Stacy beamed. "Is there anything else I can help you with?"
"Nope, all set." Sebastian hoped she would take the hint. "Thanks." She did and Sebastian returned to his grading.
Jakob sat in the library, eating his lunch. He had a book across his knees and was slowly flipping through the pages. It was a full color reproduction of a medieval medical text and despite it's age, the pictures were quite graphic. Jakob was unfazed. He could eat steak tarter while watching the Jeffery Dahmer Story.
"You want to see a movie after school?" A voice asked from the next row over.
"I can't," said a disgusted male voice. "I have detention with Ms. Love again."
"Didn't you hear?" A third voice asked. "It got switched. Mr. Strange is doing it now."
"Really?" The second voice seemed marginally happier. "He's alright."
"Better than Ms. Love anyway."
Jakob closed his book and finished his sandwich in thoughtful silence. Then, brushing off the crumbs, he made his way to the freshman wing.
The Freshman wing was the newest part of the school. Most of their classes were held there and although it wasn't an official rule, the freshman stayed there during lunch and breaks. Upper classmen were rare. Jakob attracted a few stares and whispers. He wasn't well-known, tending to blend in, but being Delilah's older brother made him stand out. Three years of being ignored and now he was known as the school slut's brother.
"Excuse me," Jakob said to a skinny girl with a thick braid hanging over one shoulder. "Do you know where I could find Delilah Phillip-Jones?"
The girl sniffed. "Did you try the janitor's closet?"
"Oh," the girl seemed taken back. "Then how should I know?" Her friend, who had been staring at Jakob, nudged her and whispered something in her ear. The girl blushed. "She usually hangs out underneath the stairs," she said in a contrite voice.
"Thank you," Jakob replied.
Most of Delilah's friends were male. They ranged around her like bodyguards, protecting a beloved queen. As far as Jakob knew she hadn't slept with any of them. They knew they had no chance of getting any in the future. In Delilah's world, you were either a friend or a lover, never both. The freshman boys eyed Jakob warily. Delilah's conquests were sometimes tricky to deal with and they assumed Jakob was the latest one. Jakob ignored them.
"Hey, Del," he said. "I need a favor."
Delilah dropped her bag down on the table.
"Hey," she said. "Mind if I sit here?"
"Get lost, whore," said one of the girls.
"Aw, Deanna, you're not still mad about me playing with Jason, are you?" Delilah winked at the pale boy next to Deanna.
"Shut up!" yelled Deanna. "Fucking bitch."
"Don't call my sister a bitch," Jakob shot back. "Jealous skank."
"Yeah!" Delilah added. "Don't be mad at me because your cunt's leaking ice cubes."
"You- you-" sputtered Deanna. She turned to Jason. "Jason!"
"Get the fuck out of here before I make you," he said, glaring at the siblings.
"Is that a threat?" demanded Jakob.
"So what if it is," sneered Jason. "What are you going to do, you fucking faggot." He was standing now, leaning towards Jakob as though to crowd him into submission.
"This," said Jakob and punched him. Jason staggered back, then fell, landing on his ass. He clapped both hands over his nose, spitting curses. Deanna jumped up, screaming incoherently at either Jakob or Delilah or maybe both.
"That was fun," Delilah said to Jakob. "We should do more things together."
The guidance office was a series of rooms attached to a main room. It was decorated with large, leafy plants and posters listing warning signs. Jakob read one entitled: "Is your teen being abused? Ten signs to look for." He was the only one sent to guidance. Jason just got detention. Deanna and Delilah got off scot-free. They hadn't thrown any punches.
"Jakob?" A round-faced woman gave him a friendly smile. "Why don't you come in." It wasn't a question. Jakob followed her into one of the smaller rooms, taking a seat in the chair opposite the desk.
"I'm Becky," said the woman, sitting down, not being the desk, but across the Jakob. "Ms. Wyndham wanted us to get together and talk about what happened at lunch, okay." Still not a question.
"Why don't you tell me you side of the story, Jake. Is it alright to call you Jake."
"No," said Jakob.
"No, it is not all right to call me Jake," said Jakob.
"Okay. Jakob. So what happened?"
"He insulted my sister. I punched him."
"Is that all?"
Becky glanced down at her notebook. "I see you don't have many friends. Why do you think that is."
Jakob shrugged again.
"Do you ever feel lonely, Jakob? Feel like you have no one to turn to."
"No." Jakob folded his hands in his lap and gave Becky a blank look.
"I understand high school can be a confusing time, especially for someone who feels left out."
"I don't feel left out."
Becky tapped her pencil against her notebook.
"Do you feel angry, Jakob? If you do, you need to let it out. This is a safe place. Nothing you say here will be repeated."
Jakob just looked at her. Becky's tapping increased.
"How did you feel when Jason called you that homosexual slur?"
"What, faggot?" Jakob asked just to annoy her.
"Yes. Did you masculinity feel threatened?"
The tapping stopped.
"Well," said Becky, forcing a smile. "That's good."
"Can I go now?" asked Jakob. "I'm late for Lit class."
"Yes, go ahead." Becky sighed. "Just remember if you need someone to talk to, my door is always open."
"Sure," said Jakob and left.
"I have never met a more uncommunicative child!" Becky Black announced as she entered the teacher's lounge.
"Who?" asked Mr. Regan, a biology teacher.
"The Phillip-Jones boy, what's his name? Jakob?" Becky shook her head. "It's like talking to brick wall." She pulled her lunch out of the refrigerator and sat down. "No, brick walls are more expressive. I expect scorn, eye rolls, anger, tears, but not nothing." She bit into her pickle with a savage crunch.
Across the table, Mr. Regan was nodding.
"Tell me about it," he said. "I might as well be teaching a block of stone. And he gets A's!" He added this as thought it was a personal insult.
Sebastian bent over his salad, trying not be noticed. Jakob was not a subject he wanted to discuss with his fellow teachers.
"I don't know," said Lyn Jewett, the head librarian. "He seems like a pleasant young man. He always helps me put away the books and he gave me a very nice edition of Pride and Prejudice last Christmas."
Sebastian wondered if she had it appraised. It would be a good idea, given what Jakob considered a reasonable gift.
"Maybe he's just shy," said Lydia, her voice trembling. "He was always so quiet in my class. He wrote such interesting papers, though. Quite brilliant," she added thoughtfully. Sebastian couldn't figure out why she looked so disturbed as she said that.
"I just don't know what to do," said Becky. "Has anyone gotten through to him?"
"What about you, Strange?" asked Mr. Regan. "Jakob's been in your class every year."
"Yes," said Lyn. "What do you think?"
Sebastian froze, forkful halfway to his mouth. 'What do I think? I think Jakob is an evil genius dancing circles around all of us. I think he lets people see what he wants them to see. I think he will do anything to get what he wants. I think he's the funniest, most interesting, engaging person I've met on this planet. And I think I'm completely doomed.'
"Well," he began slowly. "I don't think he's shy." He scrambled for more, then opted for a diversion instead. "Why did he go and see you if he didn't want to talk?"
"Ms. Wyndham made him. He broke Jason Myers nose."
"Apparently Delilah and Deanna Favreau were going at it and he got involved, then Jason joined in and Jakob punched him."
"That doesn't sound like him," said Sebastian.
"I know," said Becky. "That's why Ms. Wyndham wanted me to meet with him. And we've all covered what happened there." She finished off her pickle. "He's got detention anyway, so I wash my hair of the whole affair."
"Detention?" echoed Sebastian. 'Damn.'
"You're unbelievable," Mr. Strange hissed.
"I know," replied Jakob.
They were in Sebastian's classroom during detention. The other students were scattered around the room. A few were doing their homework but most were texting, playing games, talking or listening to music. Technically all four were against the rules but Mr. Strange didn't mind as long as it was reasonably quiet. He also helped with any homework questions the students had. That was what he was doing now, in theory anyway.
"Picking a fight just to get a detention," Sebastian continued in a low voice so only Jakob could hear him. "What is wrong with you? Nothing can happen here. There's too many people."
"Maybe I just wanted to enjoy the view," Jakob said, then winked.
Sebastian stared at him. "You're a demon's spawn," he said.
"Oh, so you've met my mother," replied Jakob.
The town car was still there. Jakob had hoped it would leave when he didn't show up after school. He had sent a message with Delilah just in case, but that appeared to have failed as well. There was nothing to be done. He would have to deal with it.
Sebastian watched Jakob leave, relived that he hadn't made a fuss. He gathered together today's homework, a half-graded stack of quizzes and his lesson book. Turning off all the lights, he closed the door behind him.
"Have good night," he called to the janitor as he left. It was still sunny out, a warm April day. Sebastian was almost happy. Then he saw Jakob arguing with his driver.
"I don't want a ride," Jakob was saying.
"Your mother was very insistent, sir," replied the driver. "It's not safe."
"My mother is paranoid. Look around. It's not like we're living in Baghdad."
"I was given strict orders, sir, to drive you where ever you desired to go."
Jakob glared at him. The driver paled, but didn't back down.
"I'm very sorry, sir," he said.
"Fine," Jakob said. "Give me the keys." He held out his hand. "Come on."
Sebastian watched as emotions flickered over the driver's face. He felt a little sorry for the poor man. Jakob's accent was no where around which meant he wasn't really angry, which meant he was planning something.
"Give me the fucking keys," Jakob demanded. "I'm not being driven around like someone's senile grandmother."
"I don't think--"
"Of course not. We don't pay you to think."
"I have my fucking license." Jakob rolled his eyes. "So hand over the keys."
"I--yes, sir." Like a dead man walking, the driver passed over the key-ring. Jakob's angry demeanor evaporated.
"Thank you," he said in a pleasant voice.
"You're welcome," said the bewildered driver.
Jakob tossed the keys up and caught them. Then he spun around and flung them into the decorative pond on the front lawn of the school.
"Oops," he said. "Now we both have to walk. Bye."
Jakob strode off, leaving the driver gaping after him. Sebastian walked up behind the driver and clapped him on the shoulder.
"It's okay. You're not the first," he said. The driver looked at the pond and whimpered softly. Jakob, already half a block away, stopped and turned back.
"If you're lucky, they might have landed in the shallow end!" he yelled. "Have fun!"
"I am so fired," said the driver.
"Just tell them you got mugged," Sebastian suggested. "That might work."
The driver just whimpered again.
"Enjoying your walk, Mr. Strange?"
Sebastian stopped. "You went the other way! I saw you!"
"Ah, you see, on Earth, we have these things called 'short-cuts'" Jakob replied. "Maybe you've heard of them?"
"This is harassment."
"Report me," Jakob said. Sebastian looked away.
"Damn," he muttered.
Jakob stood up, brushing the dirt off his pants. St. Jude's had a strict dress code: black pants and jacket, blue and green plaid vest, blue or green tie and a white shirt. Jakob usually wore green. It went with his eyes. On the few times Sebastian had seen him outside of school, Jakob wore what Sebastian considered to be the unofficial teenage uniform of jeans, t-shirt and a hoodie sweatshirt. It seemed out of character. For some reason, Sebastian thought Jakob would be the kind of person to care about his clothes.
"What are you doing?" Sebastian asked.
"Going home," said Jakob.
"Good," Sebastian said, then stopped as Jakob fell into step beside him.
"This is the way to my house," Jakob said. "Come on. I promise not to molest you in public."
"Don't molest me at all."
Jakob's eyes with full of laughter. "It's wrong to make promises you can't keep."
"It's wrong to seduce your teacher as well," Sebastian pointed out.
"Mmm," agreed Jakob. "Would you like to punish me?"
"Gah." Sebastian stumbled, catching himself before he landed on his face. "Stop that."
"That! That-- that-- just stop it!"
"Your eloquence astounds me," Jakob murmured.
"Oh, shut up."
They walked in silence for a few minutes. Jakob lengthened his steps; Sebastian shortened his.
"What if he gets fired?" Sebastian asked suddenly.
"Who?" Jakob asked. "Or are you referring to yourself in the third person now?"
"Your driver. What is he gets fired because you're a selfish brat?"
"Then I shall feel really really bad and pray every night for forgiveness," Jakob replied.
"Liar," said Sebastian.
"No, that was irony. Don't they have it on your planet?"
"We invented irony," Sebastian retorted.
"Bullshit too, apparently."
This made Sebastian laugh, and he glanced over at Jakob with an amused smile, his dimples showing. Jakob loved the dimples. It made him melt inside. He spent half of the time trying to make Sebastian smile for just that reason.
"What?" Sebastian asked.
Jakob shook his head. "Pardon?"
"You're staring at me. Oddly."
"It's nothing," Jakob said. "I just like it when you smile like that."
Sebastian opened his mouth, then closed it when he realized he didn't have a response. There wasn't any undertones in Jakob's voice, no double meanings, no teasing jokes. It was quite possibly the most honest thing Sebastian had ever heard him say.
"Thank you," he said finally.
Sebastian stopped, his key in the lock. "Why are you still following me?'"
"I need to write you out a bill-of-sale," Jakob said.
Sebastian's eyes narrowed. "What?"
"Otherwise someone could mistake it for a bribe," Jakob replied innocently.
"Are you blackmailing me?"
"Only a bit."
"I don't even know why I try." Sebastian sighed. "Come in. Stay in the living room. Do not go downstairs."
"Yes, sir." Jakob stood in the center of the room, his hands clasped behind his back.
"I'm going to get a piece of paper and a pen," Sebastian pointed a warning finger. "I mean it, don't move."
"Do you want to tie me up to be sure?" There was the tiniest of smiles on Jakob's face.
"Gah." Sebastian rubbed his hands over his head, making it look as though he just stuck his finger in a light socket.
"Damn, damn, damn," mumbled Sebastian as he walked into his office.
As soon as Sebastian was out of sight, Jakob went into the kitchen.
"Vegetables," he said, opening the refrigerator. "And fruit." Sniffing a bit of cheese, he muttered, "Brie."
"What are you doing?" demanded Sebastian, coming in as Jakob dumped an armful of ingredients on the countertop.
"Making dinner," Jakob said.
"I'm hungry and you can't cook."
"I-- You have a point," Sebastian admitted. "But I told you to stay put."
"See?" said Jakob. "You should have tied me up." He pulled open drawers until he found a paring knife. With quick movements, he chopped up a couple of tomatoes. "Have you any bread?" he asked. "And oregano?"
Sebastian was torn. On one hand this was all too domestic, too intimate. On the other hand, food he didn't have to make himself.
"Oregano, no. Bread's in the cabinet over the stove." Sebastian pulled up a chair and sat down. "This is a one time thing, you understand? Never happening aga--"
A low rumbling cut off Sebastian. He glanced up, the lights were rattling in their sockets.
"Oh damn," he said.
"What is it?" Jakob asked.
"Trouble," Sebastian replied.
The rumbling got louder, a deep, unnerving sound that built up low in the gut until every cell was vibrating.
Jakob was thrown back into the sink as the whole house shook. Sebastian was knocked off his chair, head bouncing off the tiles.
"Don't move!" he yelled.
"Yeah, got that!" Jakob shouted back. "What's going on?"
"In New England?" Jakob's accent was pure English. "Are you mad?"
The drawers clattered out, silverware and other odds and ends crashing onto the floor. Jakob curled up, shielding himself from the cutlery shrapnel. He felt like he was the snowman in a snowglobe and some demonic child was trying to shake him loose. The fridge shook and tilted, back and forth, until it teetered hesitantly on it front corners. Jakob screamed as it smashed down, landing about six inches in front of him.
"Are you okay?" Sebastian yelled. "Jake! Are you okay? JAKE!" He clung to the edge of the counter, trying to pull himself up.
"I'm fine," Jakob said quietly. He touched his cheek. A bit of metal off the door had left a stinging cut. It was superficial, but Jakob wondered if it would scar.
"Are you hurt? Is that blood?" Sebastian demanded, peering around the counter.
"It's nothing," Jakob said, He wouldn't look at Sebastian. "What's happening?"
Another sharp jerk to the right, as if the ground itself had decided to leap up suddenly. Sebastian slammed into the table, cracking both legs, while Jakob rattled between the cupboards and counter like a pinball.
Then the whole thing stopped, so quickly it was like a blow. Jakob uncurled, feeling every bruise. He had quite a collection of them now.
"Sebastian?" He grabbed hold of the counter and pulled himself up. "Are you--"
"Get down!" Sebastian yelled. Jakob dropped as the windows shattered inward, showering the room in the ground glass. Smoke poured in, dense black smoke that obscured everything.
"Jake!" Sebastian shouted. "Don't--"
There was yelling foreign voices and the stomping of boots and a sharp prick to the back of Jakob's neck. Then black, empty silence.