Chapter 5

"Ah, there you are," said the ever-cheery receptionist, barring anyone from entering the hall of the Educations Unit without permission. He smiled with that creepily wide grin of his, and I merely raised an eyebrow in response.

I tossed him my badge and he swiped it across the panel beneath his desk. The indistinct hiss of the nearly invisible glass doors signaled me to keep moving.

"Thanks, Benny," I muttered, snatching the badge as it sailed over my head. Benny is a receptionist and not an agent for a reason.

The hall was blindingly bright compared to my bedroom, and beyond every numbered, stainless steel door, a new horrific sound shocked you out of your blind-struck daze. It was a terror for new students to walk down this hall, especially after being told that they were going to spend every one of their afternoons in it. Of course, I didn't have much of an issue, I'd already grown accustomed to the screams, explosions, and suspicious thuds that found their way through the soundproof walls. After all, I do work here.

How does a seventeen year old girl become not only a covert operative, but also a teacher at an agency for paranormal creatures? Well, it's not like that's the norm here. Just like you wouldn't see a seventeen year old working at a bank or an insurance company, it takes special circumstances for a kid to take a position like this.

I was raised here. I know the ropes better than any senior operative, and this is the only home I know.

So as I walk through the doors of the very last classroom, just as my co-instructor is announcing me, the only shocked faces I see are the newbies.

Because no way can a girl your age teach you how to fight the bad guys, right?

"Ah, and here she is," said Agent Scott. His usually serious expression flickered with something like amusement as the students began whispering and muttering amongst themselves. As I scanned the crowd of pupils, I counted the especially young-looking ones. Two of which were Aric and Thomas.

"Yes, my little monster babies, I'm your teacher," I said in a bored tone, trying to keep a straight face as Aric pointedly turned away and crossed his arms.

"I'm here to teach you how to defend yourselves," I said, projecting each word with enough power to get everyone's attention, even Aric's. "Because no matter how skilled you were with human techniques or weapons, and no matter how big and scary you were when you whipped out your circus-freak costumes, you had no clue how to protect yourselves when the real bad guys showed up-"

"-until now."

By that point, I'd captured everyone's attention.

I proceeded to show them a slide show (manned by Agent Scott, since I wasn't good near sensitive, expensive technology) about what they would be learning in this course, and why they were there. Typically, the newbies were shipped off to another station where they were taught all the basics. But the class five and up kids were always sent straight to Defense, which happened to be one of my courses.

In the last half hour of class, I was required to show the newbies basic defense positions. It should be the most fun part for me, but since I couldn't do any real damage to real people, it was kind of lame.

What I always add on to the end of every lesson is a quick "how-to" on using your own powers or abilities as defense.

I wasn't technically authorized to tell them to use their powers for things like that, but what were they given powers for, then? To pretend they didn't have them and fight like a human?

Sure, I was a little better at defense when it came to powers, but every one of my pupils could defend themselves in a way normal people couldn't.

Even my oldest student, a man who'd been here for years because no one could find a position for him in the field, even he could be useful. He turned into glass...it sounds dumb. Maybe even hazardous for him, but when I pulled out one of my surprise flame throws, all he did was get a little melted and warped. And I don't know if there will ever be a day when someone needs him to do this, but I bet he could hide out in an art museum forever without anyone suspecting a thing.

When it came time for Thomas to step up to the mat, I expected him to jump into action with enthusiasm.

"I...I don't know what to do," he said, ducking his head. I sighed and approached him, a burning smell following each of my steps as my bare feet singed the mat.

"What's your monster?" I asked. He looked at me confusedly.

"W-what?"

"Your monster. Your power. You know, what can you do that normal people can't, kid?

"Oh," he said. Taking a look around him, he stepped back and placed his feet firmly on the ground.

I took the hint and retreated back to my original position.

I watched as Thomas closed his eyes, squeezing them tightly. The students surrounding the mat all pressed in, leaning forward in anticipation as Thomas began shaking all over. The violent tremors caused him to perspire, I suppose, because he began to sweat, beads of moisture dripping down his face.

I was just about to call it off and send him to the infirmary when he suddenly began to grow. And when I say grow, I mean his body not only doubled in size, but his skin began to sprout growths that looked like stalactites or something.

The older students seemed bored with the transformation, but the newbies all started to freak out. I nearly yawned at the anti-climactic scene...I've seen the ugliest metamorphosis you can imagine, so Thomas wasn't exactly blowing my skirt up with the rock-hedge hog look.

But just as I was about to take my usual fighting stance and give him the chance to prove his power could protect him, the rocky spikes covering his body burst out and expanded into layers of a heavy granite-looking substance. With the sound of boulders clashing and rolling over one another, the rock just kept expanding until Thomas was a mountain of earth towering over me.

Yeah, it sounds creepy. But, again, I've seen uglier.

"Whoa there, big guy," I called up to Thomas. Dust showered down on me as his body shook with a huge, rumbling version of his nervous laugh.

"I guess I don't need to teach you any defense positions," I said, craning my neck to look at his face.

He shook his massive head and began to crumble as he shrank back down to his original size.

The little, normal Thomas blinked up at me with a grin.

"Did I pass, teach?" he said sarcastically. I laughed and ushered him off the mat. Maybe these kids weren't so bad.

The only newbie left was Aric, but my half hour was up, and the kids needed to move onto their other classes.

I hopped down off the mat, gathering my boots and taking my time putting them on. After I finished lacing them up and buckling the never-ending buckles, I looked up to face the last person left in the room.

Even after the door slammed shut, there was still one pupil who hadn't moved from his position beside the mat.

Aric was staring at me intently.

"Can I help you?" I asked, quite prepared to leave the oh-so bright classroom for my dim, cozy cave.

"Tell me one thing," he said sharply, surprising me. You don't usually hear that tone from a boy in a cardigan.

"Why are you here if you don't care?"

I blinked at him. He simply continued to glare at me with those piercing grey eyes.

"I beg your pardon?" I said dryly, in place of 'stop talking and leave me alone.'

"You act like you don't care," he hissed, lowering his primly folded hands, clenching them at his sides. "And no one seems to really like you here, anyway."

I scowled, my vision blurring with red blotches. Who is this boy to tell me such a thing?!

"Excuse me?" I growled, standing up and facing him squarely. If he was scared, he didn't show it.

"So how do you do it? How can you stay here?" he asked. His tone was the same one he'd been using, but it was only then that I noticed something I usually didn't when I was facing off with anyone who dared piss me off.

He wasn't trying to make me mad, he was genuinely asking. And even though I usually just offed anybody that tried to confront me, no analyzation required, I actually cared about what this kid was saying.

"How do I stay here..." I said slowly, counting to ten in my head. "...when it's not where I fit in?"

He lowered his gaze to ground, nodding slightly. Now I got it...he's scared.

"You know, this is exactly where you belong," I added, willing him to meet my gaze. What's up with the compassion all of the sudden? And why do I feel the urge to comfort him?

"Even though I may not be the life of the party over here, these people took care of me. They raised me, and I might be a little hard to deal with, and I might blow things up sometimes, but they still keep me regardless."

The anger in his face was gone now. He still seemed wary, but he was looking at me now with something like respect.

"And I have a home somewhere," I said, not even realizing at the moment that I was giving away a piece of information that I'd never told anyone else. "I belong somewhere, and I plan to find that place. You can find your place, too. It just takes time, and -I know this sounds hypocritical- patience."

I sucked in a breath, not giving in to the shocked expression that was trying to creep onto my face, but realizing too late that I'd just attached myself to this boy emotionally. I'd connected with him. It doesn't sound like a big deal, but if something were to happen to this boy in the field, I'd be emotionally compromised.

He nodded briefly, stepping around me and walking towards the door, the tension in his stride partially gone. I turned away quickly when I realized that I was watching him go.

"Thanks," I heard him mumble, inaudible to human ears. I pretended not to hear, fiddling with the laces on my boots.

But really I was cursing myself. For showing vulnerability to this jerk, and simultaneously screwing my career. So much for professionalism.