Ariana yawned, stretched, and mentally checked off a list of the tasks, chores, and homework she had to do so far that week, before weekend fun could begin. Starting this in a boring Monday afternoon class and continuing it through the week, as she added to and checked things off the list, made things feel less overwhelming. It was easy to get overwhelmed. For her, anyway. She supposed it was the same for others, but then, who talked about that stuff? Not teenagers. And certainly not to each other.
Except to Marcos. They didn’t talk about much, she barely knew anything about them, but somehow she always wound up telling them everything. And they’d give her that easy smile and tell her she could do it, tell her how smart and special she was, and how she’d do great things. And suddenly everything would seem alright for a while. Til her drunken mother would break her restraining order and try to ‘visit’ her at 3am. Til she’d miss a chore or drop to a 7 on some test or other piece of schoolwork and get that disappointed look from her da. Til she’d visit her grams, and look at that shrunken face, staring out in terror at a world she knew she should recognise, hearing how she’d misbehave, and hearing her da huff as he misunderstood her reasons. Ariana understood them. So did Marcos.
They weren’t dating or anything, Marcos had told her pretty firmly a while back that however much they wanted to, they couldn’t, and they couldn’t explain why, but they wanted her to know that if they could, they would have asked her out the first day they met. But they’re happy they’re friends, they don’t get to have many of those.
Ariana was fine with it. A relationship would add so much more complication to everything. When Marcos had told her all that she’d laughed a little, and told them she’d have loved to go out with them but everything was already too much. A healthy friendship was the best she could manage anyway.
It was awkward after that. For about 2 minutes. Then they moved on.
Most kids looked at Marcos like he was the weirdo in their midst, and he kind of was. Even in a school uniform they always somehow looked like they would be ready, at a moment’s notice, to spring into action and save the world. Or at least the immediate vicinity. For all Ariana knew, that was even true. It would explain, well, everything.
Anyway, she had gotten off track. One of her jobs this week was to make Marcos some sort of birthday present. They hated when she bought them stuff, but seemed to enjoy the handmade gifts she’d made. Last year it had been a vase she’d handmade at a workshop and painted with a landscape. She had to figure out how to beat that. Could she make some fake flowers to go in it? She bet they’d never thought to add any decoration, so that might be nice.
The class bell went and she filed out with the rest, headed for the last one of the day.
Marcos slid in beside her and slipped an arm through hers, tugging her urgently, but subtly, in a different direction.
“Shh, I’m sorry, but you have to come with me, we’re both in danger.”
Ariana looked over, beginning to protest again, but on seeing Marcos’ face, she allowed herself to be moved to an empty classroom.
Marcos closed the blinds and held a finger to their lips as the last of the stragglers moved past the door to their classes. Only when everything was silent did they speak.
“Ariana I am so sorry. I should never have let us become friends. I’m in danger, which means you’re in danger, and that’s my fault.”
Ariana frowned. For the first time, she detected an accent in Marcos’ voice. She’d never thought about it before, but they were usually perfectly English, no accent at all. But now there was a trace of…she couldn’t place it, but definitely something.
Marcos tapped at their phone, frowned, tapped again, and sighed, “We have about fifteen minutes before a secure vehicle can get here. Fuck. I don’t know if we’re safe in here, or if we should move, get outside ready maybe?”
They weren’t talking to her but Ariana answered anyway, “Who are you afraid of? Who’s sending a secure vehicle? What does that even mean? And why do you suddenly have an accent?”
Marcos wiped their face with their hands, smoothing back their dark hair. They reached into their pocket and pulled something out, “Do you trust me, Ariana?”
The 16 year old looked at her friend closely. The smooth mask was gone. They were terrified. She wasn’t sure what was happening, or what was about to be revealed, but this was still Marcos. She trusted them like she would her own self. She nodded.
“Good! That’s good. Use this,” Marcos handed her a hair tie.
Ariana tied back her hair, the bleached streak standing clearly out against the black.
“Now you gotta listen to me,” Marcos’ head snapped around at the tread of boots outside, and they grimaced, “I promise I’ll tell you everything. Even the bits I’m not supposed to. But first you have to do everything I say, without hesitation, without question, and nothing you might be about to see can get in the way of you doing that, or we could die. We might anyway, but hesitating will definitely make it happen. We have…” Marcos checked their phone, “11 minutes til the van gets here. Once it arrives and they see us, we’re safe. Until then, follow me, do exactly as I say, and…I’m sorry that your opinion of me might change because of this, but, don’t interfere with anything I do.”
“I trust you,” Ariana nodded, quickly stretching out to be ready for any movement.
Marcos was testing one of the windows. They had brought them both to the front of the school, presumably for easy access to the road, but there was either a corridor and a 300 meter run to get there, or, Ariana supposed, a window and a 300 meter run.
But the boots came closer, and as Marcos looked out, they both saw an incoming platoon of booted, masked, and heavily armed people heading across the fields to either side.
“Not very subtle, are they?” Ariana whispered.
Marcos snickered, “Never. They prefer to storm in and leave someone else to cover up their mess. Ok, we gotta go through the window but I don’t know how to get this thing open without making noise, look, it’s nailed shut.”
Ariana shook her head, “I don’t have a crowbar on me, sorry.”
“Oh!” Marcos looked back at her and grinned, perfect teeth flashing. They reached into their backpack and removed a small multitool, opening up something small and sharp, they began to dig around the nails. “If I can just get the wood away to get a grip on them, I can pull them out.”
“Uh. Marcos… Small flaw in the plan…” Ariana pulled them down as a shout went up, and a rattle of fire went off, hitting the wall they hid behind and breaking the window above.
“Well I guess sneaking’s out, but at least the window’s open!” Marcos opened their bag again and pulled out a pair of what looked like cycling gloves. Except these had metal spikes on the knuckles.
As Ariana gaped, they also pulled out a telescopic baton, testing it with a swish before closing and holstering it in their belt.
“OK. They probably won’t try to hurt you if they think they can get me, but if you get within their reach, or I get too annoying, they will. They’ll be aiming to capture me at first so we hopefully have time for the van to get here in…6 minutes, before they get pissed enough to stop trying to get me alive. So stick to me, stay down so I can fight, and use this if anyone gets close to you.”
Marcos handed over a small box with two antenna and a button on the side.
“Yeah, and this one’s voltage level is illegal, so it’ll drop even their enhanced fighters. I’ll also explain that later.”
The sound of boots was close now.
“4 minutes. Let’s go!”
Marcos leapt through the window in a single, swift movement. Ariana climbed through behind them and looked up, ensuring she was still within inches of Marcos, the taser gripped tightly in both sweaty hands.
She saw Marcos lash out at the unprotected leg of one of the attackers with their baton, and saw the attacker go down. Marcos tore off their helmet and socked them once in the face, letting them drop as more closed in.
“Moving now!” Marcos shouted, glancing back to ensure Ariana was behind them.
She nodded, mostly to confirm to herself that she was ready, and followed close behind.
She fixed her gaze on Marcos’ back, trying to block out the sound of fighting. As long as Marcos remained standing, she was safe, and she would follow them.
It felt like an eternity before Marcos spoke again. Like the distance to the road would never be covered. Like time would never pass to make the van arrive. Like this was her entire existence now. The sounds of kicks and punches, the cracking of bones, the occasional gunshot, the cries and shouts and grunts of exertion. But suddenly the eternity was over.
“Van’s here! Run!” Marcos turned back and pulled her up, keeping hold of her hand as they ran.
Ariana sprinted blindly, her head down, the gravel rushing past, heart hammering in her ears. She heard Marcos give a grunt of pain, and felt them stagger, but their weight was lifted and she looked up, ready to hit someone with her taser.
“No! No! Friend!” the face said, looking slightly panicked.
Marcos’ voice came, “Down, Ariana, we’re safe.”
The shouts from behind her grew more distant as she dropped her hand. Unsure what to do with her adrenaline, she laughed, slightly delirious, “Is this a normal Monday for you?”
“No. The assassins usually try to kill me on Tuesday.” Marcos grinned, then grunted as they lifted their shirt and removed a bullet from the vest beneath it.
“Is that sarcasm?”
“Yes, gormless. Now get in the van before they see you’re still out there and decide to take a potshot.”
Ariana obeyed, suddenly incredibly tired. She sat by Marcos, who pulled themselves upright and touched her hand.
The van set off at a leisurely speed as the handful of people around them settled down.
“Thanks Ariana,” Marcos said, “Let me figure out how to explain all this to you, and I promise you’ll know everything.”
“But sir!” a woman sitting by them protested.
Marcos gave her a stern look, “She wound up involved, and put in danger. She gets to know. Everything.”
The woman nodded, chastised.
Ariana raised her eyebrows at Marcos.
“I’ll explain! Just…give me a couple of hours.”
“Fine. But It better be good.
Marcos laughed and nodded, laying their head back to rest and order their tale. It would definitely be good.
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