Simon "Sigmoid" Wells got the nickname in Year 5, when he proved to the teacher that he knew what a sigmoid was and could plot one for her, if she liked, whilst everybody else was stuck fumbling over memorizing multiplication tables. It didn't catch on immediately, but it originated from that.
What really put the fire on was a year later, when he passed the teacher in the halls while walking with his friend and the teacher said, she still remembered that time with the sigmoids, one day Simon was going to do great things if he kept that up.
And then his friends called him Sigmoid, Who Could Do Great Things. Partly he was aware they were dehumanizing, though he didn't know that was the word for it back then. Partly, he liked the title, enjoyed being stripped of the plainness of Simon Wells in favor of being someone who (he thought) could be cool enough to be called Sigmoid.
It only became really dehumanizing in Year 11, when puberty was seizing everybody with its claws and making them ooze funny hormones into the air, and boys were finally getting taller than girls and reaching all new levels of immaturity in the name of trying to be adults.
Puberty neglected Sigmoid's body. So he stayed with his books when his friends left for parties, and watched as the world began to start towering above him when he walked in the halls. He lingered in the library, stuck to what he knew because everything else didn't seem so accommodating to the gangly, short kid with the glasses anymore.
Oh, he did try to be cool. He even asked his father for contacts, and when he was turned away he saved up for some himself, only to get the wrong ones and find himself stuck indefinitely with the glasses and a lack of lunch money.
This isn't about Sigmoid trying to be cool and the people who left him for parties, however. This is about Sigmoid and the people he met who stuck around, namely the two that made his Three.
One was the boy who would be Helix. Sigmoid did not meet the boy who would be Helix at the library, though, nor anywhere near a laboratory, though he got to know him there before he ever did meet him.
He did not meet him on the way home, either- and if you think that's boring, wait until you know how.
It was a cold day for August, leaving Sigmoid to upturn the collar of his dad's jacket and to brace for the wind that threatened to almost knock him over, strong as it was as it came in over the slope.
The walk home went through the terrace buildings that made up the shop district in the outskirts of the city, and through a daily hill walk that he would never find less exhausting. While other guys who had once been his friends were now on sports teams or sucking up to the guys who were on sports teams and working out until they permanently smelled sweat so they could impress girls like Rosaline Wood and Lucianna Michaels, Sigmoid's legs stayed treacherously lanky and never improved from the walks.
Walking home could sometimes be a pain on stormy days where he'd be stranded at school alone, but at least for the most part (excluding the breathlessness that seized him on bad days) it was peaceful. He only had to greet shopkeepers and smile on demand.
What shattered his peace today was what he registered in his peripheral vision as a teenager falling two storeys down from a roof- screaming, form disappearing into an alleyway dumpster. What really capped it off was the spirited laughter that followed a second later through the sea of garbage.
Sigmoid had stared for a while, but then attributed it to the teenage stupidity that he saw everywhere, and moved along. The laughter he'd heard and the fact that the same teenager seemed to pick himself up and get out of the garbage meant he was fine. Even if he wasn't Sigmoid wasn't sure if he was brave enough to help. Helping people always meant they'd demand more of you.
The day, he didn't realize then, would forever be the day he didn't meet the boy who would be Helix.
From then on, he didn't meet him in the library because the he always came in after his extra classes and with a half-hour gap after the boy had left, though he had come to notice the same name popping up in the 'borrowed' lists of all his science books
He didn't meet him in the halls because he always came much earlier to avoid the crowd bustles, and he he most certainly didn't meet him in the lab, because he used them on weekends- only, though, he left behind the most stunning and insightful notes and diagrams on trajectory calculation and force etched on the lab blackboard like sloppy memos...
Signed, N. Oxford.
It was October and Sigmoid was pining for Rosaline Wood, the girl in his class who sat between Lucianna and and the window and had the most lovely blond locks you could lay your eyes on. Plenty other guys liked Lucianna, too, the snappy auburn-haired girl who always had a pen in her hand, but Rosaline- she was the default class beauty, by far. That day she'd smiled at Sigmoid when he picked up the her copy of her handout when it slipped out of her folder- actually smiled, and made him dizzy. He must've already played that moment over in his head a hundred times.
So that October day, still playing that moment of Rosaline smiling her sweet smile and taking the paper from him and thanking him over in his head and thinking of all the ways he could have followed up, Sigmoid was going home. Maybe he could have even asked her out and made every guy jealous when they all found out Rosaline could be impressed so well by his room wall. He'd covered it in equations. They were college level. He could sit there with her on the bed and explain them all.
A truck bleated when he veered too close to the road, derailing his train of thought and bringing him back to the chilly height of autumn that was that day. Sigmoid then was attacked by the onslaught of a much more solid (and therefore terribly exciting) idea, and ran the rest of the way up the hill.
He stopped at the grocery store at the top of the slope, brightening at the sight of the tomatoes on display as he rushed in and stopped when he saw who he was looking for.
"How do you impress a girl?"
Lars Verdura was a dark-haired college student who lived in the same apartment building and sometimes came to the store for the imported salsa. Sigmoid never did understand why the man bought so much salsa. When Lars explained that sometimes he and his friend would get really, really hungry at night and chips really got old without good salsa, Sigmoid was only further mystified. Why did they all suddenly always get so hungry in the middle of the night?
Still. Tall, attractive, cool, confident and suave, he was pretty much all Sigmoid pictured he wanted to be when he got older.
Lars wasn't the kind of guy who got put off when you came up to him and, without greeting, asked him how he did it- impressed women, that is. He just told him.
He told him, it wasn't really how you looked. It was how you carried the way you looked with pride, as armor. With every chip in the armor worn not as shame but as old scars to boast of, like you'd done things and seen things that would impress them. Having actually done impressive things never hurt either, if you played your strengths.
So, standing there, Sigmoid decided he was going to play his: Math.
He thanked Lars with a flushed face and the man bought him an apple. Then, forgetting about home entirely, he ran back to school, to the lab. He dropped himself in front of the blackboard and stared at it until he forgot himself and slouched, and threw himself into papers.
Then, Sigmoid decided that whoever N. Oxford was, he needed them.
He figured N. Oxford looked like someone who was a lot like himself: nerdy, intelligent, socially isolated. It gave him a new thrill walking in the halls thinking, looking around and wondering if any of the faces around him could be he or she.
Finally, for the first and what he hoped to be the last time in his life, Sigmoid sneaked into the school directory, heart in his throat, and found a name and number and address for the only Oxford in the entire academy.
Nicholas Oxford, Year 11 Class C. The name itself sounded nerdy, and for all the books he'd borrowed and for all the notes he'd made and left behind, Nicholas was most certainly perfect to work with in the name of math. He had never been so fervently happy to write down somebody's contact details before.
That all was what put him on the front stairs of an apartment building on the outskirts of the city, buzzing into utter silence and freezing out on that desolate urban boulevard. It was three days after he'd talked to Lars and only a day after he'd found Oxford's entry in the directory. Sigmoid had been thinking of nothing but this, this and Rosaline, who was now too busy with her friends as always to grant him the joy of another smile.
"Hey!" a voice startled him and Sigmoid's legs locked up as he prepared to bolt. He'd seen this place, it didn't look completely accommodating to a kid like him. Too many fences, too many looks from people when he'd walked in- like this was territory. That yell had brought him all back to those thoughts, much less pleasant to go on then Rosaline's smile.
He jolted around and found himself looking down the steps at a incredibly slender, toned blond teenager who looked like he could have belonged elsewhere, in some high society. If not for his ragged faded blue hoodie, the dirt caking his sneakers and the slight rips on the hems of his skinny jeans it would have been hard to believe he belonged in that neighborhood at all.
A boy who, with that kind of smile, probably could have no trouble getting any girl he liked.
"You're from my school, right?" the boy inquired with a jubilant air jab at Sigmoid's uniform, bouncing from foot to foot in one place like the gravel was hot or something.
Sigmoid nodded, frozen. The boy wasn't wearing the uniform and he wasn't even sure himself he'd ever seen him before, yet he was being smiled at like he was a long-time friend or acquaintance. "C-can I, uh, help you with something?" Sigmoid murmured, trying to look tough by sticking his hands in his pockets when in reality he wasn't tough and the very joints of his fingers were trembling.
The boy looked up, and his impossibly blue eyes lit right up, dark to light blue as a sunrise condensed into a fraction of a second. "Good God you can. Oh, you really can," he chortled, hopping right up to Sigmoid and grabbing his upper arm, dragging him away from the apartments and into the open square, towards an alley.
Sigmoid felt the quiet, graceful step in which the boy moved and had no choice but to go along with it, stepping further and further away from his dreams of a math project. It felt like he'd left them all laying on the doorstep of that apartment. They made it to a back-alley metal stairway that looked suspiciously like a broken fire escape and Sigmoid felt a lump rise in his throat. The place was all grimy.
"You know how everybody's going crazy these days on the spiel of boy and girl, boy and girl always, lost virginities everywhere?" the boy was saying as he urged Sigmoid to climb first, seemingly having done this thing before. "What if for whatever reason a wormhole popped up and threw a couple of people into another time or place, and they'd feel all different and alienated until they found out that in Ancient Rome there was just as much backstabbing and meaningless concern about who was screwing who?"
"People talk about it because it's interesting?" Sigmoid suggested through wheezing breaths of cold air, wanting nothing more then than to get back to that apartment building an try and contact somebody sensible. Somebody like the clever, faceless Nicholas Oxford. He wasn't ready to climb fire escapes and talk about virginity and backstabbing and wormholes in Ancient Rome.
"You don't think it's interesting, do you?" the boy looked at him. "And you're smart. I can tell. Gossip is gossip: a pile of crap, entertainment that means nothing, fades away faster than ever. The act of sex," he pronounced somberly as they reached the top of the ladder, "should be something you enjoy, and should be exclusive to what people think of you, completely. You shouldn't do it for people. You should do it cuz you want it for yourself." He grinned and crossed his arms, "That's something a lot of people don't get!"
There was a pause, Sigmoid staring at him through his glasses and wishing the boy wasn't blocking his way back down the fire escape. The boy just spoke up again. "I wanna lose my virginity for myself, not anybody else. Not even the guy I lose it to." He nodded, more to himself at that point. "And it's gonna be a guy."
Sigmoid blinked, a little shell-shocked at that last statement. "How can you even lose your virginity to a guy?" he asked, mouth forming an O of alarm. "How does that... w-work?"
The boy smiled at him. "They figured it out all the way back in Ancient Greece, but you can't imagine how?" he shook his head. "Never mind. Come on." He urged Sigmoid up the stairs, seemingly unbothered by the withering clanging the metal made under them. It was cold, brittle like it was about to shatter if somebody hit it.
It made Sigmoid feel more and more insecure.
They reached the rooftop, which was little more than a niche walled off on both sides by the taller buildings that sandwiched that one. Across, on the other open end, was skyline: rooftops of the town and the faded images of the distant skyscrapers, pronouncing just how far off downtown was. The blond teenager bounced off the grate steps and broke into run straight across the flat rooftop surface, untamed blond hair falling out of his face.
He stopped on the ridge of the other side, crouching there nimbly and grinning at Sigmoid. "Doesn't the air of this place just stun you?" he said. "It's crispy cold ol' city all over. Only high up. Like you're the king."
"King, sure," Sigmoid muttered, eyes darting over the two taller buildings before looking at the other boy. "What do you want from me here?" he asked, hands still in his pockets and still trembling beyond control.
"First, come here," the boy said, gesturing widely with his arms and a big shameless joy in his face. Soon as Sigmoid was close enough he had his arms gripped and hands yanked out of his jacket, and the boy gripped them both with his own.
Sigmoid yelped a little at the touch. "You're cold," he winced.
"It's normal. It means my circulation can be bad so blood travels slow when it's not close to my heart and head," the boy affirmed. "What's your name?"
Sigmoid stared at him, and his gaze was met with one of absolute seriousness and concentration. So he conceded. "I'm... uh, they call me... ah, Sigmoid."
The boy's eyes lit up again with that brilliant blue. "Sigmoid," he gasped with delight, "I knew you were smart. I knew you could appreciate this." He stood up on the ledge suddenly, not breaking the lock of their hands. Sigmoid wondered how he could ever be so brave to stand there with a street storeys below just with one backward stumble. "Sigmoid, look," he said, cocking his head to the narrow street just below them. "Look, there's the other building just across this singular gap here."
Sigmoid looked. It was true. Just about a floor shorter than this building, across about five meters was another building's rooftop. The drop, though... He flinched away from the edge, breaking the grips the boy had had on his hand and withdrawing away completely. "So?" he yelped.
"So I'm afraid of heights too," the boy said seriously, "but I told myself, if I can do this, I can be brave enough to conquer anything. I can go and find the guy I can lose my virginity to. So I calculate the drop and the exact force I'd need to exert on this ledge to give myself the velocity to make the proper trajectory towards the other rooftop."
The world felt smaller. Actually, the world looked like it was now a box and Sigmoid was running out of air to breathe in it. "You're what?" he screeched, voice cracking back into his pre-adolescent high tone.
The boy didn't seem affected by his reaction at all. "So, Sigmoid, I want to thank you for bearing witness to what's gonna be my first great, successful literal leap in Parkour today." He grinned, running halfway across the rooftop and turning around, readying himself to run again. "In case I die, you can tell them my name and they'll understand immediately that you didn't murder me."
Sigmoid's entire body shook with panic as he stood back. "Oh my God, what's your name?" he yelled.
The boy gave him a thumbs up and broke into a run, exclaiming back, "I'm Nicholas!"
And then he leaped.
Sigmoid gave a very horrified scream as the boy's sneakers left the ledge and the world slowed down as that figure slid into the sky, arms outstretched to embrace the musty heavens. And Sigmoid just kept screaming, running after him and stopping just before the ledge, dropping to his knees and grabbing ahold of the dirty cement when the figure of NICHOLAS OXFORD disappeared from sight.
There was silence and then, somewhere distant, a car honked. Sigmoid couldn't bring himself to look over the ledge.
It could be Nicholas Oxford. Nicholas Oxford couldn't be blond, couldn't have such a nice body or be so outright crazy. Maybe nutty about losing his virginity, sure, everybody was these days, but...
"Ahoy!" a voice leaped and echoed over rooftops themselves.
"I HATE YOU!" Sigmoid screamed over the top of the ledge, catching sight of the blond hair like a glimpse before cowering down again.
There was a horrible, inappropriate laugh. "I'm sorry!" A pause. "Oh, but this means my calculations were perfect! I gotta make note of that in the lab! Sigmoid, come with me!"
The lab. Good lord. It was him. "I STILL HATE YOU." Sigmoid felt like crying.
"Please! You almost saw me die!"
"THAT'S NOT A VALID POINT!"
"What if I calculate wrong next time and die because you weren't there to help me! Please!" Pause. "Okay, I'll see you downstairs in five then!"
"I DIDN'T SAY YES!"
Nicholas-most-definitely-Oxford laughed out loud, from the rooftops, the sound coming back all around across the area. "I'm so grateful to have you with me, Sigmoid!"
Somewhere along the way Nicholas ended up figuring out on his very own why Sigmoid had showed up on his flat, and broken their comfortable silence with that outright laugh of his. "You were looking for me, weren't you!" he said jauntily as they walked through the deserted hall of their school, heading to the lab. "You wanted to do science with me!"
Sigmoid still wasn't getting over this boy's eyes. He was even wondering if there was a hex code for that particular hue, if it was biologically acceptable either. "N-not science."
"Ah," Nicholas nodded, putting on an understanding tone. "Sigmoids. I get it. Math. What sort? Let's go over it together. I got this book back home, it's old but it's precious to me. It's Descartes. You'd love it. It's all the love of space and mathematics put together, just the sort of stuff I was writing my paper on-"
Startled, Sigmoid jerked and stopped the boy. "Paper?"
Nicholas looked at him, eyebrows knitting even with the same smile plastered on, before saying, "Yeah, paper, it's going to get me into university and out of this shithole."
He couldn't help but flinch a little at the word shithole. Hanging out with this boy for less than two hours already saw Sigmoid listening to talks about wormholes and virginity lost to other boys and screaming like a little girl while Nicholas was throwing himself off ledges but he still couldn't get over how the boy swore like it wasn't just cool, it was normal.
They made it into the lab and Nicholas was quick to grab up a diminished stick of chalk and get started before Sigmoid ever said a thing about the deeper reason why he was there, with him, then. He supposed Nicholas didn't really care, cared more about calculating force and angle and trajectory and pederasty in Ancient Greece...
So they spoke of that instead. The spoke of the Golden Ratio, of beauty in the nebulae, of the cohesiveness and fascination that was inspired by the beautiful compact structure of D.N.A., how the coils of information could never be packed into such a small space as they were if they weren't in double-helice formation, of Athena springing from Zeus's mind upon his head being bonked with a hammer, of Alexander and Hephaestion's homoerotic relationship, of event horizons surpassed and of Galileo.
The sun was going down when the cramming information, the juggling of calculation and discussion of physics was coming to a halt and Sigmoid found himself exhausted and hunched over the lab table, never before so mentally grilled and stimulated as he'd been.
Nicholas seemed mellowed too, capping off his furious blackboard notation at the bottom with a smiley face and his signature before dropping onto the chair across. "So Sigmoid, you saw my first try at real parkour."
"Never again," Sigmoid said softly into his arm, glasses half falling off his face.
"Are you going to help me lose my virginity too?"
"You're crazy about your virginity."
"It won't be hard."
"No, dash that, you're just crazy."
"There's a club nearby. I look old enough to get in."
"You're my age right?"
"Year 11? Yeah. I'm 16."
"You'll never get in a club. Find a gay guy in school. Aren't there school fellowships for that? The gayness thing, I mean."
"I don't wanna wear a gay flag. I just wanna have sex with another man. I wanna feel it. And then, I wanna try it with a girl," Nicholas said pointedly. And then something dawned in his eyes and he jolted. "Oh."
Sigmoid looked up, fixing his glasses and breaking into cold sweat. "What? What now?"
"Don't whine," Nicholas stood up straight. "I got it. Let's start a club. We can further explore space and math and secretly go out at night. It's perfect. It's like double cover. We go out partying to cover up our science love and we go into science to cover up our going out."
"You're messed up," Sigmoid sighed, more worried for himself at that point than he was for this clearly insane young man. What would Rosaline think if he started hanging out with crazy people who went out partying and did funny things?
"If it helps anything, people will think you're cool and smart. Plus you can learn a thing or two about fashion if you mix with the right crowd," Nicholas pointed out.
Sigmoid's eyes widened. "I dress fine!"
The blond shook his head, gently. "You dress like a dweeb. Like you're striving to affirm every Asian kid stereotype anyone ever had. Come here," he said, reaching into his own pocket and pulling out- of all things- a case for spectacles.
Sigmoid stared. Nicholas just laughed. "My eyes get tired too, man, come on." Without warning he reached out and plucked the glasses off his face, replacing them with his own pair.
The world got a lot blurrier, especially outside of the field of the significantly smaller spectacles. The blur that was Nicholas told him, "I'm not one of those sassy gay boys who can advise you on fashion. I'm not even gay. I just want to feel a guy like that, see if it's nice. But I can tell you smaller specs does a lot for your eyes. What power are yours?"
"P-plus four hundred," he stammered and rushed to take them off, grabbing back his own pair and putting them back on. Nicholas's specs clattered on the table and Sigmoid darted away when he realized just how close the boy was to him.
Nicholas just looked lucidly back. "I have an idea for someone else who could help us. In our club. She's in your class, too, I think."
Sigmoid hastily walked around the table back to his own chair and dropped on it. "There aren't any nerdy girls in my class," he stated blandly.
"That's because nerdy isn't the word for her."
There was a smack of bubblegum, sounding like a slap over the bass beat reverberating into the pavement below their feet. Sigmoid felt wrong in his father's single stylish shirt, a black button-up. And the uniquely iridescent hair of the girl in front of him was the only thing keeping him from looking at those heavily black-lined eyes.
Lucianna Michaels was staring at him indifferently, and hadn't looked away the entire time. "You don't belong here," she stated at last, jaw rolling as she chewed away at her bubblegum, seemed to make a point of blowing it up and popping it before speaking again. "Neither of you."
She wore a striped sweater and a frilly miniskirt and worst of all, a messenger bag strapped over her shoulders and wedged between her breasts. It was horrible; Sigmoid couldn't help noticing.
Nicholas, beside him, remained bright as ever. "Fancy running into you here! How are you, Miss Michaels!"
Pop. Smack. Chew. "Oxford. Poster child of Science and Crazy. This place is a hellhole. You'll get chewed up alive."
"Thanks for worrying about us!" Nicholas said, ever so effervescently. "You're looking pretty sexy yourself, I'd be careful about being chewed on if I were you."
Comment ignored. "You don't belong here." Pop. Chew.
"Let us decide that for ourselves?"
"Get the fuck out."
Sigmoid shuddered, eyes darting away from that strap when he realized Lucianna was looking at him again, this time with a raised eyebrow. "...Little boy," she said.
Beside him, Nicholas put his hands in the pockets of what he'd proclaimed to be his best pair of skinny jeans. "Listen, Michaels- Lucianna," he said, ignoring how the girl's gray eyes narrowed at the use of her given name, "we think we can help you with something."
"What the hell makes you think that?" she spat, crossing her arms and snagging that damn strap even more. Sigmoid gazed in alarm and got an acid stare in return.
Lucianna looked between them both, frowning. She cocked her head, short red hair bobbing against her neck and barely in control by her barrettes. "You know my father?"
Sigmoid remembered what Lars said. Play your strengths to impress. "I know how to calculate the integral of any number you tell me right now?"
Nicholas and Lucianna stared at him. He gulped and coughed. "Sorry."
"You say the word 'integral' to me again, I'll choke you," Lucianna hissed, looking back to Nicholas. "What's that about my father?"
"Ah... Poor little rich girl," Nicholas smirked faintly, "partying all night because Daddy doesn't care."
Sigmoid's mouth hung upon wide when the girl punched Nicholas square in the face. He remained fish-faced in alarm when the blond fell backwards into a pile of trash, blood flooding from his nose. Nicholas hunched over, stemming the flow with his fingers before looking back up.
"I was saying!" he moaned, "You can keep up your lifestyle if you like if you join our club."
Lucianna Michaels cracked her knuckles. "I'm already keeping it up, in case you haven't noticed, and I'm doing just fine."
"...Our Math club."
The girl's reaction was unprecedented. She double took for a moment, and then leaped down and helped Nicholas up, pulling a tissue from her messenger bag and helping hold it to his nose. Sigmoid watched with wide eyes, admittedly a little jealous but resigned to it. After all, Nicholas had a blinding smile of his own like that, he shouldn't have been so surprised...
"Don't misinterpret," she spat his way immediately, before turning on Nicholas. "What was this about a Math club? I can join and still go here, so what's the downside?"
Nicholas nursed his nose, voice turned stuffy, "Downside is you show up twice a week to help us write our paper. Sigmoid's doing his thing on mathematics and I'm going more into physics but I know you, Michaels, I know you can help."
Her face turned sour. "So I do have to do math."
"Two days out of seven!" Nicholas exclaimed as incongruously cheerfully as anybody could with a bloody nose. "So you get the club activity on your graduating credit and don't have to worry about making up cover stories to Mommy!"
"You know too much about my family, Oxford," Lucianna growled.
Nicholas beamed. "How can I not look into the details of the life of such a fine specimen as yourself?"
"Shut up before I change my mind."
Sigmoid stared. "You'll join?"
The girl looked at him as if to say 'against my better judgement, yes'. "You nerds should get out of here, though. You'll just get me kicked out if the bouncer sees you." She reached over and straightened up the haphazard tie Nicholas was wearing. Sigmoid couldn't help but feel the same jealousy for the boy rise up again, but swallowed it.
Nicholas was seemingly unaffected by the gesture. He was probably used to it. He offered, "Come with us."
She actually laughed, chewing at her bubblegum energetically. "Nah. I promised someone I'd be back."
Sigmoid stared with dead eyes and an overall completely dispirited expression as Nicholas dragged him away. The blond had a party in his own expression and a bounce to his step, completely undeterred by the blood flowing from his own nose. Sigmoid thought that being punched that bad by a girl was something to be ashamed of, but Nicholas looked like he felt like no less than a hero.