Heartbeats and Heroes

Mitchell Schubert isn't exactly a shining picture of health. Ever since he was a kid, he's had what he calls "random heartbeat attacks". The adults call it AVNRT because it's very grown-up to use a weird acronym.

Kids used to call him a beanpole in school, because that's what he looked like. Well, a redheaded beanpole. Add to the fact that he wears glasses and a medical alert bracelet, and you have yourself a recipe for bullying.

Jack doesn't really care how much Mitchell yelled about his random heartbeat attacks. Mitchell's a tiny thing, and tiny things are fun to push around and knock about behind the school. Also, he is pretty sure that Mitchell made the whole thing up to get out of gym.

Mitchell figures that Ace must be his guardian angel when he shows up.

"Hey, jerkoff!" Ace adjusts his baseball cap. Tufts of dirty blonde hair stick out from under the brim. "Leave him alone!"

Jack smirks and pushes Mitchell away. Mitchell seizes the opportunity to whip out his medicine, taking it quickly to stop the palpitations.

Jack steps towards Ace. "Or what?"

Ace clenches his fists together. "I'ma make you pay."

Jack raises an eyebrow and pushes Mitchell to the ground. Ace runs at him, right hand in the air and ready to make contact, but he freezes when Jack grabs his wrist. "Stupid move."

Ace doesn't miss a beat. He drives his left fist into Jack's nose, bloodying it. Jack staggers back, and Ace smirks. "I'm ambidextrous, nimrod."

Jack wipes some of the blood from his nose and stares at it. He doesn't seem to know how to react, so he only gives the other two an uncertain look before threatening, "I'm gonna get you guys!" and trying to swagger off. The swagger is off.

Ace snorts. Then he notices that Mitchell is sprawled out on the ground, red-faced and sweaty. "You OK?" he asks. "You don't look so good."

Mitchell guesses he doesn't. "I'm fine… j-just chillin'…" he says, hoping the other boy would just drop the topic. He bites his lip. "Why'd you do that?"

Ace falls quiet as he sits down next to Mitchell, putting a fair amount of space between them. "People who… who hit other people should know what it's like. They should have a taste of their own medicine." He tugs at the bottom of his long shirtsleeves.

Mitchell looks at him, feeling like he was missing something. "Oh. 'Kay." He holds out one of his hands. "My name's Mitchell."

Ace grins. "Ace." He takes Mitchell's hand. "You stick with me, kid. We're gonna be just fine."

Mitchell hasn't seen his best friend's eyes since they were fourteen years old. Ace has been doing a good job the past three and a half years hiding them behind a huge pair of aviators. He doesn't even take them off in class, which Mitchell thinks is ridiculous. On the other hand, it's impressive that the teachers let him get away with it.

And it wasn't like he hadn't tried to find out why Ace had kept the shades on for so long. The guy has an annoying talent for changing the topic every time Mitchell brings it up. So Mitchell is a little surprised when Ace brings it up himself.

"You know how I've been wearing these awesome aviators for like… forever?" Ace leans against Mitchell's piano, fiddling with the keys but not playing any distinct melody.

Mitchell raises an eyebrow. "Um, yeah."

"And you know how I'm like, always here or at work or somewhere? And how I never let you in my house for long?" The piano keys plunk in discord.

"Get to the point, man."

Plunk. Plunk-plunk. "Phht. 'K, don't freak out on me, bro." Ace takes hold of the glasses, and he slowly pulls them off. A long, thick scar traces the bottom of his left eye. It's the most noticeable thing in the world. "Yeah. It's bad, I know."

Mitchell can't help but stare. "Um… what? What happened? I don't…"

Ace just stares at him. "Think about it, Mitchell. Do I really need to spell this out for you?"

Mitchell grapples with what this could mean. Then it hits him like so many refrigerators full of horror, if that was a thing. "Oh my God. Ace. You… you mean… your parents?" He touches his own left eye.

"My dad." Ace plunks at the keys some more. "So yeah." He swallows. "That's kinda what the thing with the maps is about."

What? Wait. What. "Oh you moron. You complete dumb – ffffh." Mitchell can feel his heartbeat beginning to quicken, but it's no cause for alarm yet. "You are not running away. That's the stupidest thing you've ever thought of! And for that matter, why didn't you ever tell anyone that this – " he makes some wild motion around his eye – "was happening? You coulda gotten out of there! Why the hell would you stay? Obviously you don't give a crap about your family, so what's there to lose?"

Ace stares at him with angry grey eyes, but he is so calm. "Mitchell, calm down. You're stressing yourself out." He puts a hand on Mitchell's shoulder and forces him to sit down.

Mitchell glares at him. "I can't believe you're just going to up and disappear. This your idea of a goodbye, you jerk?"

"Dude, would you just calm down so you don't have heart failure or something?" Ace says this more snappishly than intended. "…Sorry."

Mitchell sighs and nods. "I'm calm. My heart is AO-flippin'-K." He closes his eyes tightly. "No heart failure up in here."

"Good." Ace sits down next to him. "Cuz you should come with me. Y'know. To Washington and be basically Canadian." He smiles a little when Mitchell opens one eye to see if he's serious. "I'm so serious, dude."

"Oh." Mitchell opens both eyes and stares ahead. "So we're like… road-tripping it up now like some Fellowship of the Specs, right?" He smiles and holds out his fist.

Ace pounds it. "For sure."

In the wee hours of the morning, I just thought, "Let's give Mitchell a potentially very serious heart condition and see what happens." This is what happened.

This story is kind of nonlinear and weird.

Thanks to CaveDwellers for the review!

Have some e-cereal of your choosing. Why do I still do this after four and a half years.