Alex managed to get two hundred signatures by the end of the week, but it was entirely thanks to Warren and Mary Somers.
Neither of them had been at dinner on Monday, but they heard about the petition through the grapevine and offered to help. Warren was able to convince some of the scholarship students who had been on the fence before. Apparently, he had done a fairly good job earning a lot of their trust. Mary was a force when it came to getting more signatures from the old family kids. Her years of experience in hosting her family's parties had given her quite an impressive level of charisma. She got the last one they needed at breakfast on Friday, and Alex worked through lunch to finish the rest of the application. The hardest part was answering the asinine questions in a way that didn't make it obvious he thought they were asinine.
Ellie, Jack, and Matthew had all been asking all week to be the ones to go put the proposal on Thomas's desk. They were obviously concerned about what he might do to Alex if he was the one breathing life into a problem that Thomas thought he had solved already. Alex was too, but his anger was outweighing his fear now. He wanted to look his uncle in the eye and slam that stupid packet down on his desk with so much strength the overpriced wood cracked.
"I need to do this," he insisted as they all left the dining hall after lunch. "I want him to know I'm not going to just do as I'm told this time."
They all stopped trying to change his mind, but Alex could tell none of them were thrilled about it. Jack especially. Alex imagined it took every bit of his self-control to not just steal the packet out of Alex's bag.
After French Matthew had his chess club with Alvaro, and Alex had to get to his session with Dr. Bayer, so they parted ways after they left the building. Alex had almost forgotten he had agreed to the session, thanks to how busy he had suddenly become that week. The signatures and application, the new lessons with Alvaro, and his usual level of schoolwork hadn't left much room for anything else. But Matthew remembered, thanks to Bayer's message on their machine. He reminded Alex about it as they packed up their things, and bumped his shoulder when he noticed how the reminder made Alex's mood fray.
"It'll be good for you, man," he said as they left.
"I know," Alex said, ignoring how the churning in his stomach felt decidedly not good. "I suppose I need all the help I can get, protecting you guys from my powers." Matthew raised an eyebrow and reached up to flick Alex's neck without warning. "Ow! What was that for?"
"That did not hurt."
"Your fingernails are too long."
"Need me to kiss it to make it better?"
Alex's body flashed with heat, and he ducked away from Matthew and reflexively put his hands up to his head lest he turn into a candle again. Matthew chuckled, looking unfazed both by his comment and Alex's surge of heat.
"I will miss that if you manage to get it under control though, solecito," Matthew said once he was done laughing.
"I don't want to hurt you," Alex said, relieved that his body listened to him as he told it to cool down.
"It's my fault if I'm the one playing with fire. Besides, that was my point. You should go to Bayer because it's good for you , not because it'll benefit anyone else. Think about yourself every now and then, dude. Especially since you've been working so hard to help Ellie this week."
"You all worked a lot harder than me. I doubt I would have gotten any signatures on my own."
"We'll call it a group effort. Give yourself some credit."
Alex mumbled an agreement and the two walked in comfortable silence until they left the building and needed to part ways. Alex was about to say he'd see him later when Matthew spoke up again.
"You sure I can't turn the proposal in for you?" He asked one last time, his tone making it clear he really wanted Alex to change his mind.
Alex smiled and shook his head. "I'm sure," he said, feeling more confident about this than anything. "I promise. But... thank you. For worrying."
Matthew still looked unsure, but he slowly nodded and put a gentle hand on Alex's arm. "Be careful, Alexander," he said, squeezing his arm softly.
Alex warmed slightly at the sound of Matthew calling him by his full name. He was pretty sure it was the first time he'd done it, and he wasn't exactly sure why the sound of it was so pleasant. He normally squirmed in discomfort when people called him that.
Alex nodded and hoped he looked as confident as he felt. Matthew kept his hand on Alex's arm for a few more seconds before letting go and walking off towards Alvaro's classroom. Alex watched after him for a bit until he mustered up enough courage to make his own way to Dr. Bayer's.
The session was different than the ones Alex had been to about his powers before. They were more general. At times it felt a little aimless, as Bayer just asked him questions that felt more like someone trying to catch up with a friend they hadn't seen in a while, rather than a therapist trying to analyze their patient. It wasn't until Bayer asked how his practice with Alvaro was going that Alex even remembered he was in there because he almost lit his flat on fire.
"They're going alright," Alex said. "I-I think they're helping. I mean, I haven't set anything on fire by accident. And I still heat up when I'm really embarrassed, but I think I've noticed it happening less for the small stuff. And it's less intense when it does happen."
"Sounds likes it's going more than alright. Have you noticed if your mood in general has been a bit more stable?"
"Yeah, I guess. I think it helps that I've been so focused on helping Eloise with her flower proposal."
"Right, I heard about that. It's going well?"
"Mary Somers and Warren Himura helped us get the last signatures we needed today, so I'm going to give it to my uncle after I leave here."
"I see. Congratulations."
"Thanks... Dr. Bayer?"
"Do you think it'll work? This petition. It's got to go through a bunch of different approval levels. And even if it manages to clear all that, my uncle can still say no. And of course, he'll say no. I mean, he's done all he can to sweep this all away and out of sight. He won't want a physical reminder of what happened. Right where it happened."
Dr. Bayer gave Alex a sad smile. "Not sure why you're asking my prediction," she said. "Sounds like you're convinced of your own."
"Yeah. Guess I am."
"Yet you're still pushing forward with the effort."
"Yeah... That's stupid, isn't it?"
"Not at all, Alexander. It's quite admirable, actually. It takes a certain kind of conviction to press forward in the face of such odds."
"Jack thinks it's a waste of time."
"Well, at the very least the act of trying has lifted your spirits, right? Or provided a distraction. I wouldn't say that's a waste at all."
"Yeah. I guess it has been nice, feeling like I'm doing something at least. I'm worried about how disappointed Eloise might be, when it gets shot down anyways."
"I think the very fact that so many of you kids put your name to paper will lift her spirits too."
"I hope so. They just... They deserve better. Baptiste deserves better."
"This is the first time you've lost someone like this, right?"
"Yeah. I mean, my grandmother died when I was little. I didn't..." Didn't much care for her, did we? AJ finished. "Well, I didn't know her very well. So, I don't think that counts. Not like I knew Baptiste all that well either, I guess. Feels different though."
"Well, you're older now. Have a better grasp of what exactly death means. And your grandmother was elderly. We tend to cope better with the deaths of people who had long lives. Less so with children. Especially if we're still just children ourselves. Especially violent deaths we see the results of firsthand."
Alex squeezed his eyes shut, as if that would help stave off the flash of blood and blonde that flicked behind his skull. "Can we," Alex said, pulling his knees up to his chest with his eyes still closed, "talk about something else? Sorry, I just... Sorry."
"It's alright, Alexander. Why don't you tell me the specifics of Alvaro's exercises?"
They stayed in safer territory for the rest of the session, mostly talking about Alex's time spent with Alvaro as well as Matthew's own antics during his chess club punishment. He felt a little guilty about not talking through Baptiste's death, especially since that was what triggered his most severe reactions. But he wasn't ready yet. He could barely think about all that for very long, let alone talk it through with someone else. He was grateful that Dr. Bayer was understanding about that. Though maybe someday soon she might need to start pushing him.
Alex was surprised when Dr. Bayer told him the session was over. The hour had gone by a lot quicker than most of his classes.
"Not too terribly painful, was it?" Dr. Bayer said as he gathered up his stuff.
"No, actually," Alex said. "I- I'm sorry about changing the subject when you mentioned Baptiste. I just... I'm not..."
"I understand, Alexander. We'll get there when you're ready."
"Right... Dr. Bayer?"
"Do you... Do you think there will be a day when none if it matters? I mean, higher and lower wyverns. Even the ranks within old families. Do you think someday we won't even think about it? And all our bitterness will just be like... a bad dream?"
Dr. Bayer looked at Alex with a hard to read expression for a few moments. "Thousands of years ago," she said slowly, sounding like she was thinking through what she was saying as she was saying it, "our ancestors likely never could have conceived that our lives would look like they do today. I mean, never mind all the technological advancements, but the very fabric of our culture would be unrecognizable to them. We've left behind gods and beliefs. We spend fractions of fractions of our lives in the air, or even changed at all. I mean, the very fact that we call it 'changed' would baffle them. They'd be shocked that this," she gestured to their bodies, their very human looking appearances, "is what we consider our norm. We've changed a lot. In a lot of ways. And stayed very much the same in others. This structure we have, it hasn't survived this long for no reason. But I'd argue one of those reasons is the sad fact that division was a very easy thing to maintain when we started putting on our human facades. Our bodies and beliefs needed to morph, but our prejudices fit right in. And now I imagine the biggest reason they are being challenged is because our human cohorts have been making significant strides in theirs as well."
"So... you do think it's possible? For things to change?"
"Perhaps not so drastically that it doesn't matter at all to anyone, but... Maybe enough that other things matter more. To most of us. And, like the other changes our species has gone through, it won't happen without strong outside forces making it happen."
"How long do you think it will take?"
"I suppose that depends on how hard both sides fight. Though I think you should take comfort in the reality that it's already begun."
"It's... a bit paralyzing. Thinking about how much further we've got to go."
"I know. Try not to look up to the top of the mountain. A bit easier to not be intimidated when you stay focused on the smaller steps right in front of you."
"Right. I-I'll try."
"I'll see you next week, Alexander."
Alex said his final goodbyes and thanks before heading out. He had his eyes cast down as he thought over everything that he and Dr. Bayer had talked about, letting his body carry him on autopilot. Halfway through his trek down the stairs that led out of the building, he suddenly crashed into a soft wall. He almost fell back from the physics of the impact, but an arm reached out to steady him before he could.
"Christ, Al," he heard Jack's voice say, snapping him out of his automated mode. "Bayer didn't mess with your head that much, did she?"
"Sorry," Alex mumbled, shaking his head to shake off the last of his mental fog. Once he was clearly back in the waking world Jack let go of him. "What are you doing here? You're not sick, are you?"
"Hm, medically no. In a few other ways, probably. I was waiting for you."
Alex sighed and brushed past his friend. "Jack, I'm not letting you turn in the forms for me," he said. "I told you-"
"Something you gotta do yourself, blah blah blah," Jack interrupted, following quickly after him. "I know, I know. At least let me come with you."
"... Fine," Alex decided, remembering what Sanders said about Thomas only behaving when he was being watched. "Suppose I couldn't stop you even if I wanted to."
Jack hummed in a mix of agreement and self-satisfaction, then stayed silent for the rest of the walk over to the admin building. Evidently all his friends' worries had been for nothing; Thomas was out at a meeting when they arrived to deliver the proposal packet.
"I'll make sure this gets where it needs to go," Mrs. Faraday promised when Alex handed it over to her. "I think it's a lovely idea, by the way. I'm glad that young lady had you boys to help her."
"You got any idea how long it'll take?" Jack asked as he rummaged through Mrs. Faraday's dish of sweets to find one that he wanted. "For the student council to even see it?"
Mrs. Faraday frowned slightly. "Well, I suppose it depends on how much they've got on their plate right now. Since it's the newest proposal, it's on the bottom of the priority list right now. Unless one of the council members suggests moving it up. But they'd need to take a vote to make it official."
Jack hummed in response again, though this time it sounded like it was in contemplation. Alex thanked Mrs. Faraday as Jack finally picked out a lolly from the dish, and the two headed back down the stairs to leave. Alex noticed Jack's expression had turned too thoughtful for someone only focused on unwrapping and eating a candy.
"What are you thinking about?" Alex asked, a little scared of the answer.
"Nothing," Jack said in the most unconvincing way a person could.
"You're not going to bribe someone on the council, are you?"
Jack raised his eyebrows and tilted his head, as if the thought never crossed his mind. "I could do that pretty easily, couldn't I?"
"But it wouldn't make much of a difference, would it? I doubt I'd be able to buy everyone off. Definitely not your uncle, and he's got final say at the end of the day."
"Look I know you think this is all pointless, but Dr. Bayer made a good point about that. So long as the act of going through all this helps us feel less powerless, there is a point to it."
"Even if hearing your uncle say, 'fuck off' at the end of it all makes you feel even more powerless than you did at the start?"
"I'd consider it a victory that he even needs to stop ignoring us long enough to insult us."
Jack smirked a bit around the stick of his candy, but the flat look in his eyes made it look pained rather than humorous. That contemplative look came back, and instead of inquiring about it again Alex just let the two of them walk towards the library in silence. He jumped a little bit when Jack was the first to break it.
"What kind of flowers?" he said.
"For the memorial. What kind of flowers? Did you put it in the proposal?"
"Um... no, actually. I never specified. I probably should have, huh?"
"Do you know, though? What kind would be best?"
Jack raised an eyebrow in confusion. "That's random."
"Red poppies. Those were his favorite."
"When did you two talk about flowers?"
A flash of embarrassment surged through Alex at the memory of his eavesdropping, but to his surprise that didn't increase his body heat at all. Maybe Alvaro's' lessons were already helping.
"I, um... Ellie mentioned it, I think," Alex stuttered out.
Jack stared Alex down while tapping on the stick of his candy, silently debating if he was going to call out the lie. Ultimately, he just smiled with a bit more levity than before and shrugged. "Red poppies," he muttered. "Alright."
Alex could tell some gears were still turning in Jacks' head, but he had a feeling Jack wouldn't give him answers if he pressed for them. So, he let it go and silently hoped that whatever his friend was thinking about wouldn't get them in too much trouble.
Maybe for once, AJ mused, Jack causing some trouble is what we need around here.