Bethany Bright looked up from where she was leaning against her locker, her eyes closed and both hands pressed against her throbbing temples. It had been a long day.
When she opened her eyes and saw her boyfriend Warren standing there though, the rest of it all seemed to melt away like one of her temporary icicles. She smiled a warm, tired smile at him, leaning forward to sink into his arms. She knew how he didn't like it when she did that in public, but after the day she'd had she didn't care anymore. She needed this, to feel his warm, solid chest against her cheek. She needed to breathe in the scent of his jacket, the smoke and leather scent that always made her feel like everything was going to be okay.
To the rest of the school, she was 'Freeze Girl', or 'Ice Princess', or occasionally 'Cold Shoulder' by the boys she'd turned down before Warren. Contrary to popular belief, she wasn't stuck up at all – never once had she claimed to be 'too good' for any of those boys. It was just that she'd always been taught to save herself, to not just date any boy who came along, to be modest and to respect herself. When her mother had died shortly after her sixth birthday, her father had set out to raise a chaste, respectable girl who also respected herself, who knew that she was too smart and too gifted to just give herself over to anyone who wanted her, like so many of the girls at Sky High.
But then she'd met Warren, and she'd been literally struck dumb. It had taken her three years to finally get up the guts to even approach him, that night she'd realized she was standing right next him after Royal Pain had been apprehended. The rest of the school had been either watching wide-eyed as the police took her away, or slowly starting to break off from the group to go find their friends. And then she'd turned her head just as he'd turned his, and instinctively her arm encased itself in ice as a defense from the heat she felt from him next to her. He'd smiled ever so slightly – a rare occurrence – and had, to her immense surprise, taken her hand. They'd danced that night, and he'd been surprisingly good at it.
There was a mutual understanding between them the next day at school – she'd looked over her homeroom desk and right into his dark, intense eyes that morning, and he'd met her gaze head-on. And then he'd given that same small, almost ironic sort of half-smile that he'd given her the night before, and she'd felt her usually-cool skin heat up just a little under the surface. That afternoon during lunch she'd sat with him, and he hadn't told her to 'fuck off', as he was so fond of doing. Instead, she'd asked him about the book he'd been reading at the time - The Theories of Hobbes, which was a philosophy text regarding the theories of a 17th-century philosopher who had struggled with the question of whether mankind was inherently good or inherently evil.
She knew his reputation, but she hadn't known about the real intellect that lay behind that quietly cynical exterior, behind those jaded eyes of his. He was brilliant and perceptive and had an extremely dry, deadpan sense of humor that she could appreciate. And to him, she was the one girl at Sky High with half a brain that she was willing to use, the one girl who didn't flinch whenever he passed her in the hallways, the one girl who didn't whisper behind his back with all of her giggling friends that she'd heard that he'd once robbed a bank at gunpoint or some shit. Her blonde-haired, blue-eyed prettiness didn't really matter to him, though it was nice to look at - it was her mind that sealed the deal for Warren Peace.
So they'd been dating for the past four months or so, and with every day that passed she found out new things about him. It wasn't that he was so angered when people brought up his father because he couldn't stand hearing the man be insulted – it was that he didn't want to be associated with him. As Principal Powers had once said, he'd spent his entire life struggling to live down his father's sins, and he'd finally given up. On trying, on people, on most things.
He'd told her this one day when they'd been sitting in the tiny den of his apartment above the Chinese restaurant where he worked, and she'd felt a pang of sadness for the boy she was quickly growing very attached to. But then he'd leaned in and looked around as if to make sure that no one was listening, and had whispered into her ear with a slight shake of nervousness that she'd never heard in his voice before, "…Not when I'm with you, though. When you're here, I feel like I could maybe give it another shot."
He'd jumped up from his threadbare couch as soon as he'd said it, claiming that he was thirsty and all but running for his little kitchen, leaving her on the couch with flaming cheeks and shaking hands and a coil of warmth in her chest.
Now he was tentatively slipping his arms around her as she rested her head against his chest and sighed with relief. He felt good and solid and a little too warm in that way that she liked, and he was patting her on the head a little awkwardly. That alone was worth any scowls he might be giving at having to express any affection in public.
"Uh. Bad day?" he asked a little helplessly, and she smiled up at him. In the late-afternoon light streaming in through the hallway window behind them, her long, pale blonde hair was all but shining and her skin looked like it was…like it was glowing, or some stupid shit like that, Warren thought with a pang of embarrassment. Still, he couldn't help but think it. Beth was…Beth was everything he'd never thought a person could be. A long time ago, he'd come to the conclusion that people in general were stupid and worthless, and then he'd met Beth and the bitch had just fucked everything up for him.
"Yeah, bad day. But it's getting better," she said, nuzzling his throat a little, that feather-soft hair brushing against his chin. She had to stand on tiptoe to do it – he was nearly four inches taller than her, and she was tall for a girl her age.
"Why, what happe—oh. Me. Thanks," he said, finally getting it, and she laughed as she let him go. As intelligent as Warren was when it came to books and philosophy and math, he could downright oblivious when it came to affection.
"Fuck you two, get a room!"
Both heads turned as the rest of the classes let out and Veronica Kent came strolling out of Medulla's class with her trademark sneer fixed onto her heavily-painted face. Today it was her signature black lipstick that she thought made her look 'dark' or something, and thick, heavy black eyeliner smeared around her dark eyes that she was apparently convinced looked sexy. In reality, it made her look like a two-bit whore who had just stumbled out of the football team's locker room from a two-sluts-to-a-player orgy.
She thought she looked cool and 'goth' in her stupid-ass red-and-black striped arm socks, black fishnet stockings under a leather skirt and Evanescence babydoll t-shirt, but to anyone with half a brain she only looked like any of the mindless drones milling around the Hot Topic at the mall on Saturday night. Veronica was always running around talking shit about the 'preps' for being 'conformist', but truthfully she looked exactly like all of her equally-as-bitchy friends. They'd tried to recruit Magenta for their little crew of mall goths in their freshman year, but she'd flipped them off and went off to hang with Will and co. Ever since then, they'd been going around proclaiming that she just "didn't understand".
Warren rolled his eyes as she approached them. Ever since her freshman year here, Veronica had been harboring a crush on him, and she'd never been able to get over the fact that she'd lost her chance with him (not that she'd ever had one) to one of the so-called 'preps' that she so loved to hate.
"Back off, bitch," he said warningly as she turned to Beth with that snotty, superior sneer.
"Hi, Beth. I really love that skirt you're wearing. You've really outdone your own ugliness there, nice job."
Beth tried to glare, but the remark had stung her. She'd bought the ankle-length, dark blue skirt that she was currently wearing specifically because she'd thought Warren would like it. It was made of a soft, peach-fuzzy material that she liked a lot. She had a pair of slacks made of it, and once when she and Warren had been sitting together under a tree at the park, he'd rested his head in her lap and told her how nice it felt. So now, to hear that someone didn't like it…
Oh, she's not saying that because she really thinks it looks ugly, Beth. She's trying to get to you. Don't give her the satisfaction.
"Well, I suppose you're entitled to your opinion, Veronica," she said coldly but politely, and felt Warren give her hand a reassuring squeeze.
"Yeah. So get the hell away from us." Warren said, much less politely, and she turned and pouted at him.
"Oh come on, Warren. You're the hottest guy at this school – no pun intended. You could do so much better than this conformist whore."
Warren's eyes grew dark with a familiar anger, and he let go of Beth's hand to take a step toward Veronica, but she put a hand on his arm.
"Warren, she's not worth it. Let's just go."
Slowly, Warren nodded, his glare never leaving Veronica as he stepped away.
"Have fun fucking, you two! Watch out for those herpes, Warren!" Veronica yelled after them as they walked away, and Bethany felt Warren's hand tighten around hers until she almost whimpered. He let go immediately.
"It's all right. She bothers me too, sometimes. But we can't let her get to us, she's just jealous." Beth said comfortingly, taking his hand once more.
"What the hell is that bitch's power, anyway? I've never seen her use it."
Beth shrugged, looking up at him. "I don't know, something to do with shadows or something. Like, she can make them out of nothing and control them, something like that."
"Huh. Whatever, she's a bitch."
"Shhh," she said gently. "Where do you want to go today?" her father was rarely if ever home when she got back from school, his job usually kept him at work until around 10:00 PM. When she and Warren had first started dating, he'd read him the Riot Act – told him all about how he knew his reputation, and how if he hurt his little girl there would be hell to pay. But eventually, Warren's quiet, blunt manner had grown on him, as it had his daughter, and by now Beth's father trusted him enough to let her visit him at his apartment when he wasn't home. "If you kids aren't kissing there, you'd be kissing here when I'm not home anyway" had been his reasoning, which had earned him a shocked "DAD!" from Beth.
"I'm kind of keyed-up, let's go back to my place, all right?"
She knew how Warren got into his moods sometimes – when he preferred to just sit and brood and didn't like to talk much. She'd quickly learned that it wasn't about her, it was just that he always had a lot on his mind, and sometimes he needed a few minutes to sort it all out as best he could. Whenever that happened, she liked to sit next to him on the couch in his apartment and hold his hand, or rest her head on his shoulder. He liked that, and she knew it, though he would never have admitted it.
So they spent the night doing just that until she got hungry, and then they went downstairs into the Paper Lantern to eat. Warren wasn't working that night, so she could relax and listen to him casually talking with the little old woman who owned the place in Chinese, which she always liked. Warren's exotic, half-Asian looks had always fascinated her, his smooth dark skin, his long, glossy black hair. He'd explained that he was half Chinese on his mother's side, and half Iroquois Native American on his father's. His mother was okay with him living on his own at seventeen – she was way too busy being a hero known to the world as the Emerald Dragon to even really notice that her son was gone. She did send him money sometimes, though.
For his part, Warren loved Beth's flawlessly pale skin, smooth, straight blonde hair that brushed against her shoulders, and wide, honest blue eyes that nailed him every time. He loved her long, slender legs that made her look like some kind of fawn or something when she was running in PE, and he loved her cool, slender hands that would stroke his hair when he lay with his head in her lap. It was such a cliché, her being ice to his fire, but he relished in it. With all the crazy shit that had happened to him during the course of his young life, a cliché was welcome.
They fell asleep in his bed that night, the first time she'd done so. They'd been curled up against his pillows watching the little TV that he'd set up at the foot of the bed, him cradling her against his chest and her arms wrapped around his waist and neither of them talking. By the time she woke up, it was nearly ten and they had to rush to get out of there so Warren could drive her home. She kissed him under her porchlight and hurried into her house, her heart still pounding in a way she didn't recognize.
It was early in the afternoon the next day when Veronica made her next move.
Beth had been wearing a white skirt, one of her favorite ones. It was knee-length and looked quite nice with her black flats and her soft, baggy white turtleneck. She'd been waiting all spring for the weather to get colder so she would have an excuse to wear it. The day had gone uneventfully, though she'd had to endure Veronica's snort of disgust when she'd kissed Warren by her locker after homeroom, before they'd separated to go to different classes. Little did she know, Veronica had something in store, something she'd been waiting to do for a while.
"This is going to be fucking great, watch." Veronica said viciously to one of her fellow 'goth' friends, pulling the syringe that she'd stolen from Nurse Spex's office. It was filled with a dark red liquid that looked suspiciously like blood, but was really just red food coloring that she'd left out overnight so that it would thicken slightly.
As soon as Beth and the rest of the class stood up to leave, she aimed and nailed a perfect shot at the back of Beth's white skirt, resulting in a dark red splotch just where the backs of her legs began, so she wouldn't feel the wet fabric pressing against her skin. It looked horribly like Beth had suddenly gotten her period, and Veronica and her friend couldn't control their snickering all the way down the hall.
For her part, Beth couldn't understand why people kept pointing and giggling at her as she walked to her next class, nor was she aware that Veronica was currently running up and down the halls, whispering to anyone who would listen that Bethany Bright had gotten her period while wearing a white skirt, and "Oh my God, isn't that embarrassing? The poor girl".
It wasn't until after her next class that word got to Layla, and she came literally running up to Beth in the halls as she was on her way to lunch, breathless and flushed with Will in tow.
"Beth! Beth, stop!"
Bethany turned around, smiling brightly at the two. "Hi, guys. What's up?"
"Beth." Layla said softly, looking around to make sure no one was listening, "Let's go to the bathroom, okay? Will, I'll see you at lunch, save me a seat."
Will nodded, giving Beth a sympathetic look, and headed toward the cafeteria. Beth turned to walk in the direction of the bathrooms, but Layla put a hand on her arm.
"Uh, before you go…take this," she handed Beth her cardigan, and motioned for her to tie it around her waist. Beth blinked at her, more than a little confused.
"What's going on, Layla?"
So Beth did as she was asked, and soon the two girls were standing in the otherwise-empty girl's bathroom near the Mad Science lab.
"Beth. Oh, Beth." Layla said, turning to her with wide, teary eyes.
"Layla, you're scaring me. What's wrong?"
"Beth, turn around and look in the mirror."
And then stopped.
And burst into tears.
Layla was there immediately, folding her up into a comforting hug, squeezing her tightly. "It's okay, Beth…it was only two classes that you walked to and from, I don't think the whole school noticed…"
"But I don't have my period, Layla!" Beth cried, just as Magenta burst into the bathroom.
"She doesn't have her period? Veronica's saying she got it right after homeroom…oh." Magenta's face darkened dangerously. "That bitch."
Layla knelt and inspected the stain. "On the plus side, it looks like ordinary food coloring, it should be easy to wash out."
Beth buried her face in her hands and let the hot tears fall some more - just as the door to the girl's bathroom suddenly burst into flames.
"Ahhhhh!" Magenta and Layla screamed at the same time, as Warren came barreling into the room.
"Where's my girlfriend? Beth? Are you okay?"
Even in her anguished state, Beth had to pause and realize that never once had Warren referred to her as his 'girlfriend' in public before.
"I'm—I'm not hurt, if that's what you mean," she managed, a little afraid of the simmering, murderous rage she saw written all over his face. "But it's not…Warren, I didn't…"
"I know." he snarled furiously. "Someone in my Emergency Techniques class told me that they saw that fucking bitch nail you with some sort of syringe thing in homeroom."
"She's not going to get away with this." Magenta assured Warren, while Layla just looked worried.
"Guys…maybe we should just report this to Principal Powers."
"Maybe I should go break my size 8 off in her wannabe ass." Magenta retorted, as Warren held up a hand.
"Take Beth home, take care of her. I'll handle this."
"Oh. Um, shit." Magenta said nervously as he turned and walked out of the bathroom with an eerily calm expression.
Just as he did so, they all heard Zach's voice in the hallway saying, "Ho-ly shit, the girl's bathroom door is on fire!"
"Warren, I can't let you kill her."
Warren almost hung up on Will. He'd called after Warren had finally gone home. He hadn't been able to find Veronica all day, despite the fact that he'd skipped all of his post-lunch classes to hunt her down. So he'd finally been forced to assume that she'd been smart and had bailed with her friends. But he knew that she couldn't stay away from school forever. Sooner or later she had to come back, and then the bitch's ass was toast. He knew that her parents were incredibly rich airline owners who lived out in the wealthy suburbs, and he knew that there was no way they were going to let their shadow-controlling daughter drop out at sixteen.
"Since when do you fucking 'let' me do anything? Stay out of this Stronghold, if you know what's good for you."
"Warren, please. You're my friend, and…"
"I'm not your friend."
"Warren, shut up. I don't want to, but so help me, I'll call the cops."
"You do that."
Warren hung up.
Magenta, Layla and Beth were waiting for him outside of homeroom the next morning. Beth's eyes were red and puffy from a night of crying into her friend's shoulders. Zach had dropped by to give her an awkward hug and some hot chocolate that he'd picked up for all of them on his way there, "Cause, uh…girls like chocolate at times like this, right?"
But now they were ready, and all three of them a little alarmed by Warren's cheery grin as he approached them on his way out of homeroom.
"Morning, ladies. Feeling any better, Beth?" he asked in his trademark deadpan voice, and she stared up at him, wide-eyed.
"Warren, you can't kill her."
He sighed heavily. "Stronghold already gave me this shit, not you too."
"Please, Warren. I don't want to lose you over something stupid like this."
His eyes took on that dangerous, deadly look that made her think sometimes that maybe he and his father weren't so different after all, and he snarled, "Something stupid? She humiliated you Beth, on purpose, because of me. No. This ends today. This ends now."
"Warren!" she called after him as he turned and left, but he was already gone."
"Shit." Magenta said, looking back and forth between Layla and Beth.
"I concur. Come on, let's go get Principal Powers."
"VERONICA FUCKING KENT!"
It was lunchtime, and Warren had just burned a hole straight through the cafeteria's doors as he stepped inside. Veronica had been sitting at a table surrounded by her poser goth friends, trying to hide behind one of the fat ones. As soon as she heard her name yelled in that murderous voice, she ducked behind the tubby kid once again.
"Ronnie, you better get out of here." Said one of her girlfriends, a girl with red-and-black streaked hair who liked to call herself 'Raven', but whose name was actually Jenny.
Veronica did her best to look as badass and tough as possible, but under the table her knees were knocking. "Fuck him, if his preppy bitch girlfriend can't take a joke," she managed weakly, but her friends were slowly starting to shift further and further away from her. Her heavily-lined eyes widened in fear, and she squeaked in fear, "Hey…guys, where are you going?"
By the time she was finished speaking, the entire cafeteria had emptied out, save for she and Warren. He walked toward her, gritting his teeth and clenching his fists so hard he could feel the crescent-shaped cuts from his fingernails slicing his palms. The chairs and tables all melted as he approached her, so furious he couldn't even control his power.
"Warren…baby, you know you don't want to hurt me. This thing we have, it's sexy, like. We're all…love-hate relationship, right?" Veronica stammered.
"Sure." Warren snarled viciously. "You love me, I hate you."
"Listen, if this is about what I did to your bitch, she totally deserved it, Warren! She's not good enough for you, she'll never understand your pain the way I do."
Warren paused, almost amused. "What pain? And for that matter, how the fuck could you ever understand anyone's pain? Your parents are rich as hell, and they spoil the shit out of you. Fuck you, Veronica."
He raised a flaming hand, about to go in for the killing blow, when Beth and Will came bursting into the cafeteria, with Magenta, Layla, and Principal Powers in tow.
"Warren!" Beth shrieked, terrified that she was about to lose the one boy she really cared about to a murder charge. Luckily, Will didn't bother screaming first. He took a flying tackle toward Warren, plowing him into the ground from behind. It took a few minutes of them rolling around and throwing punches (Will was holding back as to not literally break his face in), before Warren threw the smaller boy off of him and jumped to his feet.
"Warren!" Principal Powers said in her firm, authoritative timbre, "You will cease right now!"
"Please, Warren." Beth whispered as she took a step closer to him. Warren had just raised his hand once more, holding it above a quivering, whimpering Veronica, who still snarled and spat at Beth when she approached.
"I don't need your help, slut!"
"Oh, shut up before I decide to let him kill you already." Beth shot right back at her, surprised at herself. Magenta snickered from where she was standing. Beth returned her attention to Warren.
"Warren, listen to me. What you're doing is downright selfish. I've never known anyone like you before in my life, and if you were taken away from me because of this…" she gestured to Veronica, who glared at her from where she was lying on the ground. "…I don't know what I would do. I need you, Warren. Please don't do this to me. No one's ever noticed me the way you do."
Slowly, Warren lowered his hand, turning to face her as he extinguished his own flame.
"No one's ever…no one's ever needed me the way you do. I'm not letting some jealous poser bitch make your life hell, not just after I found you."
"Fuck you!" Veronica spat, struggling to stand again in her black leather knee-high combat boots. "You don't understand my pain Warren, you'll never understand how much my soul is blackened because of you, no one ever understands me! I wish I was dead!"
"Oh, for God's sake…do stop talking, Ms. Kent." Principal Powers said sharply to her. Magenta giggled again, and Layla shushed her, though she was struggling to hold her own laughter back. Even Will couldn't help but crack a smile.
"Principal Powers," Layla said, turning to the dark-haired woman, "What are you going to do to Warren?"
"Well, I'd say that all of this property damage alone is worth a good two month's detention, but as no one was actually harmed, that'll be it this time." Principal Powers said, her voice stern but her eyes amused.
"Can I take him home now?" Beth asked, ignoring Veronica's snort of disgust behind her.
"I bet you just want to suck it all better, don't you, slut?"
"All right, you know what?" Magenta said harshly, stepping forward and punching Veronica squarely in the face before anyone could stop her. It was then that Zach stuck his head into the cafeteria, eyes wide.
"What the hell?" he said, staring at Veronica, who was out cold on the tiled floor and Magenta, who was standing over her prone body with one fist still cocked.
"Whoa, look at my girl go!" he said delightedly, and Magenta rolled her eyes but grinned at him.
"You missed out on a lot, but the bitch had it coming, believe me."
"I know no one is expecting this one, but I'm totally with you there." Will said suddenly, and Layla slipped an arm through his.
"You've got a bit of Warren Peace in you after all, huh strongman?"
"Oh God, please," he said weakly, pinching the bridge of his nose with his thumb and forefinger, as Beth stepped forward to take Warren's big, warm hand into her own.
"It really means a lot to me that you stopped," she said quietly, and he sighed.
"You've got me wrapped around your finger," he said in a defeated tone. "I'm your bitch Beth, there's no hiding it anymore."
"No, you're my boyfriend, and you care enough about me to stop when I really ask you to. Thank you for that," she said, watching as Layla ushered everyone out to give them some alone time.
"Yeah, like I said. I'm your bitch."
Laughing, Beth gave his hand a squeeze and the two turned to leave the cafeteria and Veronica Kent behind. They had to get home, after all – it was Lo Mein night at the Paper Lantern.