I'm off hiatus, and I'm writing again. I decided to go back to a series I haven't touched in more than 3 years. The inspiration for this story is from Avatar, mainly the Korra series. I want to thank Kelev and Cody the Pikachu for giving me great advice. The only regret is that we can't come up with an appropriate title! I also want to recognize Wavebreeze, as one of her stories ("What We Saw From the Outside") is similar to this one. I had a hand in helping her with that story, but I want to change the premises of that story and do it my way. What's more, that story has some inaccuracies that I didn't really like, and I want to change those to fit this story better. On that note, let's begin!
Nintendo owns Super Smash Bros. I own Milo Sullivan, his parents, his friends, and all other OC's in this story.
"It's so great to be back again," a green dinosaur exclaimed as he marched through the front doors of the large mansion. This green figure, named Yoshi, was one of a dozen individuals who would return to the Smash Mansion for the fourth time. He still remembered the first time he came, when he was just a wild-eyed rookie wondering why he was summoned here. "Now I get to show the newbies how it's all done," he added.
Yoshi turned to his friend standing to his left, a plumber dressed in blue overalls and wearing a red cap. "Hey Mario, who do you think the newbies will be this time?" he asked.
Mario scratched his head while giving Yoshi a slight grin. "I know a couple of names that I'm familiar with who will join us," he described, shuffling through the spacious front hall and into the aisle leading to the back. The light from the front windows above the doors shone the way, like guiding them to their destination. "Rosalina, who I met with the Comet Observatory, will be here this time. There are a couple other names from our other friends, but most of the ones I heard about are people who were here before."
Yoshi nodded, eager to meet the new people. "What about Luigi?" he queried, "I didn't see your brother when we were walking in, so is he invited back?"
"Luigi said he was invited, but he'll be running late. He said some weird things are going on with ghosts again, and he wants to fix those before getting here," Mario explained. The famous plumber's green-clad younger brother built a mansion from an old treasure left by ghosts and spirits, but was asked to assist in a further poltergeist investigation in a far-off valley. He did promise to make it to the Smash Mansion, but couldn't guarantee an arrival time.
"Didn't you get trapped in a portrait again through that ordeal?" Yoshi snickered, taking a dig at his long-time friend, "Why does King Boo love putting people in portraits?"
Mario shrugged. "At least I can count on my brother to help me when I need it," he replied, "Either way, Luigi said he wanted to stay with ghost investigation for a while, and won't be coming until later. So I guess we shouldn't expect him to arrive for another few days."
Just when they entered the living room area, they were greeted by a fantastic sight. All their friends from previous invitations were there, and immediately greetings were exchanged. Mario went to greet Peach, the princess of Mushroom Kingdom, while Yoshi went to two fellow small and speedy Smashers, Kirby and Pikachu. "How's it going, you guys?" Yoshi stated.
"Hey Yoshi, haven't seen you in a while," the pink, round, puffy Star Warrior responded, giving the dinosaur a pat on the back, "Dedede and I arrived at the same time, and I'm just glad he isn't causing trouble here like he was in Dreamland." Kirby pointed to the self-proclaimed king of Dreamland, a large penguin-like creature who swung a huge hammer around. "I don't know if Meta Knight will come back this time though. It'll be fun to see another Star Warrior like me join in again," Kirby added.
"Yeah, I'm in the same boat as you, Kirby," Pikachu added, adjusting the Pokemon translation collar on his neck, "I know Lucario is back, but I haven't seen Jigglypuff yet. She was here the last three times, and I really hope she'll be back for a fourth." The yellow electric rodent and the pink puffball were, like Kirby and Yoshi, present since the beginning. It would be very disappointing if Jigglypuff wouldn't be around. "But anyway, Jigglypuff is usually late arriving, so I won't be surprised if she'll drop in a few days later."
Yoshi nodded thoughtfully. It could be that there were lots of late arrivals, but it could also be due to more players being cut. Master Hand did inform him this time around that there would not be as many outside individuals, so maybe the roster got smaller this time? Shaking his head a couple of times, he turned back to his two friends. "What about some of the other guys?" he asked, "Who else do we know that we've seen so far?"
"Well, Fox is here, but Falco isn't around," Kirby pointed in the opposite direction, where an anthropomorphic vulpine stood holding a water bottle and chatting animatedly with some friends, "We haven't seen Wolf either, but I don't think Fox sees that as a loss."
"I think you can say the same for Link," Pikachu chimed in, pointing to the elf-like man laughing it up with Fox, "Zelda is here with him, and Link's toon version is also here. There's no sign of Ganondorf though, so you can imagine why Link is pretty happy about that."
As if right on cue, both the Hylian hero and the Cornerian pilot turned to the three smaller, younger Smashers. With huge grins on their faces, they trotted over to say hello. "Yoshi, I haven't seen you in a while. How have you been?" Fox greeted.
"Pretty good so far, and I'm happy to be back," Yoshi replied, "But seriously, nobody from your team or even galaxy is here so far? You're all by yourself this time?"
Fox shrugged. "I haven't seen anyone from my world here, so I really don't know what's going on," he stated, taking a glance around, "It'd be cool if Falco can join us again, and I really want Krystal to be here. We worked hard to patch up our relationship, and I really hope she can be here to share this moment with me. It'll be her first time as a Smasher, you know."
All the others became solemn. They were aware that Fox and Krystal, who seemed like a fairy tale couple, had a falling out and almost broke up. Fox worried for Krystal's safety and ordered her off his team, which led to distrust and Krystal temporarily joining Fox's rivals led by Wolf. It was only now, after great effort from both sides, they were on somewhat better terms. If Krystal was invited to join the Smashers, it would really boost the couple's morale.
Yoshi shook his head again, getting the melancholic thoughts out of his mind. He turned to the swordsman in green and asked with a huge grin, "I'm guessing there's no such problem with you and Zelda, right? You two are the worst kept secret among all the Smashers. So let us hear it: how are things between you and Zelda?"
Link gave a nervous chuckle while rubbing the back of his neck. "Yeah, we're officially a couple, if that's what you want me to announce. But since you all know that already, I won't bore you with all the details," he answered sheepishly. Hyrule was in the midst of a rebuild after the last war, and Link assisted Zelda every step of the way. Not only were there modernization of society, they also updated all the laws and there were even talks of drafting a constitution. "We still haven't decided when to tie the knot yet, but we're both hoping it'll be soon."
"But forget about us for a second, Yoshi," Fox interrupted, "You ought to give us some updates. How's your uncle Brendan doing? Or more importantly, how's Milo doing?"
All sets of eyes turned to Yoshi, especially Link and Fox. Just like the latter two, Milo was an orphan. Yoshi and the Smashers had the privilege of meeting Milo about two years ago, when they visited Yoshi's uncle and aunt in San Francisco. Milo was ultimately adopted by Yoshi's uncle, and had grown close to Yoshi and the Smashers. "He's doing pretty well the last time I checked," Yoshi replied, "He's finishing his freshman year in high school this summer, and I think he's thinking about trying out for a sports team."
"Well, if he makes it, then we should definitely go support him. Shouldn't it be easier for us to travel to his place, since your uncle is an honorary Smasher?" Link pointed out. Brendan was the younger brother of Yoshi's father, and he was made an honorary Smasher a few years back. One privilege of this title was unlimited access to the Smash Mansion. Master Hand even recently included a device that allowed Brendan and his family teleportation straight to Smash Mansion, meaning there could be visits between them at any time. "If need be, we'll just teleport over and watch Milo at one of his games, right?" Link suggested.
Yoshi's cellphone interrupted further discussion. Excusing himself, the young dinosaur pulled out an egg-shaped device from his bag and trotted a few steps away. That left the rest of the group to chat amongst themselves. "Zelda's just over there with Samus," Link pointed out, tilting his head the opposite way, "Don't worry, there'll be no funny business while we're here. We both have a reputation to uphold in Hyrule, and that means abstinence before marriage."
That got the group hooting and hollering, given Link's history with girls. Throughout the Hylian hero's adventures, there were always women willing to throw themselves at him, but Link always had his eyes set for Zelda. They grew close during their adventures together, and now became a great couple. "Before long, we might have a pairing war here," Fox commented.
Just then, Yoshi returned to the group with a grim look on his face. "That was Uncle Brendan," he informed his friends, "He told me Milo got injured at his sports tryout. Milo got hit by a baseball, and Uncle Brendan thinks someone intentionally threw at Milo."
That got the colour draining out of the other Smashers' faces. Was Milo the subject of a targeted attack? What was going on at Milo's school?
The balding man with sandy blond hair was built like a bodybuilder, wearing a short-sleeved T-shirt with the school's logo on it and dark track pants. His gruff demeanor could probably get twenty rowdy high school athletes to attention in seconds. But right now, even this unflappable man could not help but feel intimidated by the steel gaze shot at him by a reptilian figure. "Mr. Klym, I want you to think very carefully before you answer this question," the large dinosaur almost growled, "What exactly happened on that field?"
Said dinosaur was Brendan, a genetically-mutated Yoshi that resembled a real dinosaur more than the regular members of his species. His dragon-like shape, silver skin with two red lines shooting down his spine, and sharp piercing eyes could often strike fear into those around him. Brendan did not pride himself in being intimidating, and actually had a reputation for being a friendly and open individual. But when something as important as this was on the line, it was time to dig out his fearsome self. "What happened to my boy out there?" he demanded.
"I promise you, it was nothing but an accident," Mr. Klym responded, waving his hands in assurance, "So the tryouts got a bit intense and the pitcher missed the strike zone. We have everything under control, and Milo will be out of the trainer's room in no time."
"Stop for a second," Brendan interjected, lifting his short arm in emphasis, "I've played on a high school baseball team when I was young. I also played when I was in college. I had a ten-year career as a professional baseball player before I retired with an injury. I'd like to think I know when a hit-by-pitch is accidental or intentional. Based on what Milo told me, I think it was intentional. What in the world is the varsity team doing out there pitching to a junior varsity tryout? Are you trying to injure the rookies or something?"
"And let me add something as well," a similar-looking dinosaur chimed in. Brendan gave way to his wife Ashley, also a genetically-mutated Yoshi like him. They were of similar size and shape, but Ashley had a blue back and a gold abdomen separated by a wave-like pattern. "You are an athletic director of this school. Every single injury and accident in your school's athletic program will be on the shoulders of you and the other directors. So are you going to come clean with what happened to my son, or will we have to take legal action?"
"Sir, Madam, please," Klym sputtered, beads of sweat now developing on his balding head, "I assure you that legal action is not required. The school has everything under control. This is nothing more than a freak accident. There is no need for alarm, honest!"
"You better hope it's nothing than a freak accident, and that Milo suffered nothing more than superficial cuts and bruises. If any of his ribs so much crack, I'll be in here with a lawyer so quick that your entire athletics program will shut down in minutes, you hear me?" Ashley ranted, sizing up the athletic director the same way her husband did earlier. There was no doubt that mother bear was out of her den, on the prowl, and very angry.
"Mom, Dad," a younger voice called. All three individuals turned to see a teenager hobbling their way. The youngster had dirty blond hair, unruly strands of which peeked out from under a baseball hat worn in reverse. His right hand favoured his left side, rubbing the ribcage while a sports equipment bag hung loosely from his left hand. "It's okay, I'll be fine."
"Milo," Brendan and Ashley weakly stuttered, rushing forward to hold their child. To say Milo Sullivan's family was unusual was an understatement, given how a human boy would call two genetically-mutated dinosaurs his parents. But all that changed when Milo met Yoshi about two years ago, when Milo was twelve years old. After a serious of unpredictable circumstances, Milo was adopted by Brendan and Ashley, leading him to become Yoshi's paternal first cousin. "Are you alright? Your ribs didn't fracture, did they?" Ashley asked.
"Mom, Dad, I'll be fine," Milo repeated himself, wincing in pain as his adoptive parents scanned him all over, "The trainers told me that it's just a big bruise, so I should just ice it when I get home. It shouldn't affect my baseball tryouts, so I'll be back on the field in no time."
"Well, looks like all's well that ends well," Klym interjected, a nervous smile plastered on his face. Stepping over to Milo, he placed a hand on Milo's left shoulder, causing Milo a small flinch. "What did I tell you? Milo is completely fine, so you two have nothing to worry about. So go home, rest up, and I'll see you at the baseball field soon again."
The dark glares from Milo's parents soon got the athletic director scurrying away. For a while, there was no one in that hallway except for the two dinosaurs and their child. The total silence and chilled atmosphere did little to sooth Milo, who felt like he was back in the sewers again. "Can we just go home and forget about what happened?" Milo pleaded.
Brendan and Ashley took one glance at each other before weakly nodding. They turned to the direction of the closest stairway, leading them back to the main floor and to where Milo's day locker was. Unlike his usual energetic self, Milo trudged up the stairs like someone placed a boulder on his back. The infectious smile that was on his face for the better part of the last two years was nowhere to be found. It was like Milo had returned to what he was like before he met Yoshi and the Smashers: a broken, neglected, abused child living in poverty and sadness.
After what seemed like an eternal death march, Milo finally reached his locker. He opened the combination lock with great difficulty, the bruised ribs on his left side doing him no favours. Even his usual tasks of taking out his backpack and putting his books in took longer than usual. It didn't matter that there were still some students doing extracurricular activities, or that there was laughter and cheers from students leaving the building. As far as Milo was concerned, nothing could numb the pain on his ribs and his mind.
Finally, Brendan intervened. "You don't have to do this alone, you know," he suggested, helping his son with some notebooks, "Your mother and I are here for you, and so are the rest of the Smashers. In fact, I called Yoshi when I was on my way here."
Milo gave a weak smile at the mention of his cousin. It was no secret that he and Yoshi had grown close. Milo would not be where he was today with Brendan's nephew. Right now, Milo could use some of the support that Yoshi would give him whenever he was down. A pep talk from Yoshi would go a long way to boost his morale.
"But Milo, you have to be honest with us," Ashley added, her look becoming stern again, "Based on what the trainers said, it sounds like something weird was happening on that field. Why would the varsity players target you? Why would they want to throw baseballs at you?"
Milo's jaw opened and closed, his mind racing to shoot the ideas out while his mouth struggled to form the right words. "Guys, it's not like that. The varsity team just wants to give us a taste of the competition this year, and they just got carried away," he explained, rubbing his forehead with shaking hands. Milo's open-fingered gloves, which he wore so religiously, soaked in the cold sweat and chilled Milo's palms to the bone. "Can we get off this topic now?"
"We won't get off this if we find out there is foul play involved," Brendan insisted, taking a stand with his wife, "If the varsity team is targeting you because you're newbies, that's hazing and bullying combined. When I was playing professional ball, our team had a no-hazing policy. Any prank more harmful than a pie in the face would be subject to fines or suspensions. If the varsity team is hazing you, then you should speak up about it."
Before Milo could say another word, a group of people rushed through the school doors and rumbled his way. "Milo, I came as soon as Uncle Brendan told me what happened," Yoshi exclaimed, screeching to a halt in front of the boy and giving him a quick scan-through, "You didn't get hurt, did you? What happened on the baseball field?"
Milo's lips lifted again, this time with more sincerity than before. His cousin Yoshi was his pillar of strength, the one individual who kept him grounded and sane. Even when all of Milo's hope was gone, and he was about to give up on himself, Yoshi was always there to boost Milo. Somehow, he just felt more at ease whenever the young dinosaur was with him. "No, I'm not hurt," he eked out, placing a hand on Yoshi's shoulder, "I just got hit by a baseball on the ribs. I should be fine after icing it tonight, so don't worry about it."
Yoshi tilted his eyes to Milo's left ribs, slight suspicion still lingering on his face. "Well, the rest of the guys are here, so you can always ask us for help. We have a pretty good infirmary at the Smash Mansion, so you can try that if you want better medical attention," Yoshi explained.
Milo's face went from comfort to dismay as he glanced at the group behind Yoshi. There was a pink puffball, a yellow electric rodent, a Hylian hero, and a Cornerian pilot. "I don't mean to be rude, but next time I get injured, can you not bring the entire Smash Mansion?" Milo requested, his eyebrows tilting at the exotic cast behind Yoshi.
"Milo, can we talk?" a gentle voice from outside Milo's bedroom got the attention of the injured youngster. Lifting his head from his homework, Milo glanced at the door to see his cousin waiting patiently. "Is it alright if I come in?" Yoshi asked gently.
Milo waved in the young dinosaur, wincing as he adjusted the icepack on his ribs. Yoshi marched into the room and slowly closed the door behind him. This room used to be the guest room for whenever Yoshi visited his uncle and aunt, but now it had become Milo's room after the latter's adoption. Oddly enough, it still wasn't decorated much, given Milo brought very little with him when he joined the family. But given how homely Milo felt when he finally had an adult to call a parent, Yoshi would say any room like this was good enough.
Yoshi turned back to his cousin, who organized his homework into completed and to-do piles. "So, how are you feeling right now?" Yoshi asked, sitting on the bed next to Milo's desk.
"I'm alright. The ribs are still a little sore, but I should be back on the field soon," Milo responded, adjusting the icepack once more. Had it not been for the towel wrapped around the pack, Milo's whole shirt would be soaked. "The coaches and trainers all say this isn't a big deal, so it won't affect me that much. Really, you can relax, Yoshi."
Milo shot Yoshi a weak grin, but Yoshi did not return it. "My uncle and aunt aren't in the room right now, and the rest of the Smashers went back, so you can be honest with me," Yoshi explained, eyes staring straight into Milo, "What happened on the field? Who did all this?"
Milo pursed his lips, his eyes downcast and his breathing heavy. He gave Yoshi an uneasy look with his wavering eyes, similar to what happened when Yoshi first met Milo at a holding cell in the police station. "You promise you won't tell anyone? Not just Mom and Dad, but none of the other Smashers can know about this, okay?" he requested.
Yoshi nodded reluctantly. Moistening his lips, Milo leaned his head in Yoshi's direction and quietly began his tale. "You know that this is my first year in school for a long time, right? I was put up for adoption after my father died, and I've been in and out of the system. I even spent three years living in the sewers because some of the older orphans thought it was real cool to start a street gang. You know that, right?" Milo recounted, staring eagerly into Yoshi's eyes.
Yoshi nodded. How could he possibly forget when his own father nearly went blind, all because the street gang wanted revenge? It was the tenth anniversary of the opening of the Yoshi Store, Brendan's pride and joy. Yoshi's father, Yoshi Sr., had come to celebrate his younger brother's success when the street gang sneaked a smoke bomb in the finale. Originally Brendan was the target, but Yoshi Sr. switched places with Brendan at the last second and ended up taking the brunt of the hit. "You guys were mad that Uncle Brendan made so many donations to the orphanage. You blamed Uncle Brendan for keeping that orphanage running and making you guys suffer, so that's why you all ran away and started that gang," Yoshi stated.
Milo nodded. It was a time of his life that he was not proud of, and he still recalled how angry Yoshi was when they first encountered each other. "Well, let's just say even though I'm no longer in that street gang, things aren't going much better," Milo described.
Yoshi listened on intently, with Milo explaining that all the orphans who were in the gang were returned back to the orphanage. Milo was the first to be adopted, courtesy of Brendan and Ashley, and others soon followed suit. "Some of those guys are with me in my school, and we're hanging out with each other," Milo added, "Normally that's a good thing, except nobody in the school really wants to hang out with us."
Yoshi tilted his head in confusion. "What do you mean they don't want to hang out with you?" he asked, "Are you saying you are completely ignored out there?"
Milo tapped his index finger to his lips in hopes of getting Yoshi to lower the volume. The dinosaur settled a bit while Milo glanced at the door, making sure his parents didn't hear their nephew's outburst. "The kids at school have this weird hierarchy where some of them act like they own the place, and anyone who doesn't follow that are shunned or something," Milo continued, his volume and confidence level sinking by the second, "I didn't think much about it at first, but when we didn't really listen to those 'cool' kids, that's when things went crazy."
Yoshi took a deep breath and processed the information. With only the ventilation in the room churning, Yoshi felt like he was back in that police holding cell when he first met Milo. "Is it just a matter of fitting in?" he queried, "I know it'll take a while to fit back in after spending all that time in an orphanage or on the streets, so maybe it's just a time issue."
"I don't think my friends and I are purposely avoiding people. I mean, one of us is in band, while another is in the social justice club. And there's me trying out for baseball too," Milo listed off, lifting one finger for each individual named, "It's just that you have to do everything their way, where you have to worship the ground these guys walk on."
Immediately a look of disgust flashed across Yoshi's face. He might be a veteran Smasher who was there since the first go-around, but never did he treat any newcomers with such a horrible attitude. "So why don't you tell your parents about it then?" he challenged, "If they find out about this, they can at least bring it to the school's attention."
"Yoshi, if I try to tell the school, I'll be treated worse than when I was still living in the sewers!" Milo exclaimed, finding it increasingly difficult to stay calm, "You realize most of those cool kids are also varsity athletes, right? They're the ones out there bringing home the gold for our school. With those guys boosting our school's reputation out there, what makes you think the school will do anything about my complaints?"
"Well, you have to do something about it! Sitting there and letting these guys walk all over you won't solve the problem!" Yoshi retorted, hands gripping the sides of his head in pure frustration, "Is that why they were throwing at you during baseball? They didn't want you on the team, so they wanted to injure you and affect your performance on the field?"
"It's not like that, Yoshi," Milo stuttered, his free hand exasperatedly wiping his face, "Look, I think it's best I try to solve it on my own right now. Thanks for your help, and I will tell Mom and Dad if there's trouble, but can you just trust me on this?"
"And what's the solution you have in mind, Milo?" Yoshi half-snapped and half-pleaded, "Don't tell me you plan to do 'if you can't beat them, join them' and become one of those jerks. Is that why you joined the baseball team, so that you can become one of the bullies?"
"Of course not!" Milo responded, volume increasing for the first time since Yoshi entered the room. The youngster's head shot up, staring back at Yoshi with the strongest expression in the last fifteen minutes, "I joined the team because I've always wanted to play baseball. Dad played the sport, you sometimes play it with Mario and the others, so why can't I?"
Milo reached over and grabbed Yoshi's shoulders. The cousins stared each other straight in the eyes, both realizing that the message would be heartfelt. "I promise you, Yoshi, I will not become like one of those jerks at my school," Milo assured Yoshi, "I still remember who I used to be. I know what it's like to be pushed around and treated like dirt in order to survive. All this talk about social hierarchy and being popular means nothing to me. I won't treat any new kids that way. If anything, I want to help those kids after you helped me."
Yoshi couldn't help by smile at that comment. When Milo left the street gang and went back to the orphanage, there were still many orphans who were there. Then, Milo took it upon himself to bring those kids back, even if it meant risking his own safety. It was in front of the Smashers that Milo declared he did this because Yoshi gave him a second chance in life, and he wanted to offer the same second chance to those kids. "Well, I'm glad you're trying to make it work out then," Yoshi stated with a relieved sigh, "I won't tell your parents or the others, but I do want you to keep us updated. Is there anything else you want me to help you with?"
"Other than with my homework, none at the moment," Milo replied with a chuckle. There was still a mess of papers on Milo's desk, and the teen wanted to get them out of the way as soon as possible, "But we are planning something for the future with the orphanage. The guys and I volunteer there every now and then. We're thinking of doing a music night next month. Mom and Dad already know and they say they'll help out. If you and the Smashers want in on this, then it'll be great. The more the merrier, I say."
Yoshi grinned. Milo still made good on his promise to help out orphans as much as he could, and Yoshi wanted to be there to support his cousin all the way. "I'll talk to the guys, but I'm sure they're all willing to get involved," Yoshi responded, "You're doing this for a really good cause, Milo. Those kids will really appreciate it, and I'm very proud of you."
Despite being near the back corner of the cafeteria, Milo always found comfort in this little cranny. Here was where he and his friends, all of whom were former orphans, could have their own discussions about topics of their interests without the so-called "cool" kids from the school disturb them. "So I talked to Yoshi about our concert at the orphanage," he began, wiping his mouth with a napkin, "Based on what he said, I'm pretty sure the Smashers are all for it."
"Sounds like a plan," the lone girl of the group, Haley, responded. Haley was a year older than Milo and in her sophomore year. She had brown eyes, brown hair done up in a ponytail, and very tan skin. She was adopted by the Palmer family, with her father a war veteran and her mother a paramedic. She was known to be the straight-talker of the group, and wasn't afraid to show a feisty side. Milo wondered how much of that was her own, and how much of that was influenced by her adoptive parents. "I'm still trying to get the social justice club involved, but it doesn't seem like they're taking this as a priority right now."
"Why would you join up with those guys if they don't even listen to you?" the oldest boy of the bunch, Mark, challenged. Mark was a sophomore like Haley, but was totally opposite in personality. Mark was rather quiet and somewhat antisocial, having known to have joined no clubs or teams. Add on the dark brown hair pointed up and sideways, expressionless face, and piercing hazel eyes, it made Mark appear cold and unfriendly. His adoptive parents, the Kerry family, wondered how long it would take before conversations with Mark became less awkward. "If that club won't care about us, then don't waste our time on them," he added.
"Relax, bro. You can't always think things won't work out, right?" Mark's younger brother Scott chimed in. Unlike Mark, Scott had a very outgoing personality, willing to talk to and fraternize with anything that moved. The Kerry family had a much easier time with Scott than Mark. He had dark brown bed-head hair, a rounder face and body, and energetic hazel eyes. It didn't hurt that Scott, like Milo, was a freshman, meaning his natural curiosity actually endeared him to quite a few people. "I'm in band, and I told some of the band guys that we should go perform. They didn't get back to me yet, but I'm sure it'll work out in the end."
"Forgive me for being sceptical, but I don't trust too many people in this school," Mark retorted harshly, giving his brother a dark look, "When we were still living in the sewers, I had to protect you from that crazy leader who wants us to do illegal stuff. Just because we're no longer there doesn't mean you won't get in trouble, especially with some of the crazy stuff I've seen. In fact, I heard Milo just became a victim of this school's dark side."
All three former orphans stared at Milo, who suddenly felt like hiding under the table. "Uh, what did you hear, Mark?" he asked, nervously grabbing his drink for an uneasy sip.
"Some of the varsity baseball guys were saying they crashed the junior varsity practice yesterday. They said something about bringing the heat and showing the junior team what real baseball is all about," Mark regurgitated, his eyes narrowing by the second, "I heard it was some initiation thing to make junior varsity players duck like sissies, and how one player named Sullivan got it on the ribs. Would you know anything about this, Milo?"
Milo swallowed hard, realizing that Mark got every detail of his incident correct. He knew Mark wasn't about to let this go, but Milo also didn't want to shake the boat. "It's not as bad as they say, you know," he responded, his tone void of any confidence, "Yes, I took a shot to the ribs, but it's nothing I can't handle. Ice it for a while, and I'll be back on the field."
"Milo, you might as well have said that those jerks sucker-punched you in the face," Haley pointed out, her eyebrows tilting into a frown, "You signed up to play baseball, not to take shots from some whippersnappers who think they own the school. If someone tried to throw at me, I'd give them a knuckle sandwich on the spot."
"And from what I heard, this isn't the only time some varsity jerks picked on junior varsity players," Mark added, tilting his head to a few tables ahead of them. There sat an Asian boy wearing a red ball cap and his Caucasian friend with spiky hair. "Those are Richie and Willis, two guys on the junior varsity soccer team. They said some of the varsity soccer guys did something similar during soccer season, when they would purposely kick soccer balls at the junior varsity guys. Those two almost quit the team because of that." Turning back to Milo, Mark's voice became lower and deeper. "Are you sure nothing is going on?"
Milo sighed, struggling to contain his mixed emotions. "Look, even if something is going on, there's not much we can do," he responded, muffled rustles coming from rubbing his fingerless-gloved hands together, "The varsity teams are the ones getting the championships and trophies, and all us junior guys have to earn their respect. If we don't do what they say, then it's not going work out for us. So right now, I'll suck it up until I make the team."
"Just wait," Haley interjected, putting up a hand in Milo's face, "You're telling me you'll let them continue throwing at you and make fun of you while waiting for the final cuts, with no guarantee that you'll even make the team? And what other embarrassing things will they do to you while you wait? Maybe they'll beat you with a bat like a piñata, or how about gluing your baseball glove to your face or something?"
"Besides, it's not like those guys are real champs. Football was eliminated in the semi-finals, while soccer and basketball both failed to make the playoffs," Mark challenged, crossing his arms and leaning back on his chair, "And if you don't make the baseball team, I think they'll see you as even more of an outcast and will bully you more. They're not exactly treating us like royalty right now, so what makes you think things will be better?"
Scott suddenly snorted, catching everyone off guard. "The only reason why we're seen as the rejects is because none of you made any attempt to get along with those guys," he countered, throwing an arm around Milo's shoulder, "Mark, you didn't join any club or team or whatever. What makes you think you will be part of the popular crowd? And Haley, with how combative you are all the time, I'm surprised you didn't scare the entire social justice club away."
Mark and Haley gaped at Scott with their jaws dropped open, shocked that the happy-go-lucky teen would turn on them so quickly. "You know, being part of the marching band means I get to see those jocks in action. I've performed with the guys at soccer, basketball, football, you name it," Scott listed off, dramatically lifting a finger at each sport he named, "If there's one thing all those jocks love, it's attention. So just slather on the charm, flatter them to death, and everything will be fine. If you do that, I guarantee you'll be in the popular crowd within a week."
"Scott, I'm not joining the baseball team to be popular. I just want to fit in while doing something I love," Milo insisted, struggling to push Scott's arm away, "I almost had a fight with Yoshi last night over this. What makes you think I'm this shallow?"
"And even if Milo is joining a sports team to be popular, it's not like you have anything to offer," Haley retorted, "If you do, then you'd be sitting with those idiots at the other tables instead of here. I doubt you're as popular as you think, Scott."
"Hey, give me some credit. I know what I'm doing," Scott persisted, taking in an exaggerated deep breath, "Once I figure this all out, Milo will be awesome in no time."
Mark could only shake his head at his younger brother's attitude. Turning back to Milo, he asked, "Speaking of Yoshi, does he know about what happened with the hazing thing? And did you tell your parents about it as well?"
Milo nodded. "All three of them know I got hit, and so do a few Smashers," he answered, "But only Yoshi knows about the hazing, and even then it's only a bit. I made him promise not to tell the others. My parents already caused a scene by confronting the athletic directors. If the school finds out I'm making a fuss, I'll be the most hated kid here."
Before Mark and Haley could admonish Milo for refusing to tell Brendan, Ashley, and the Smashers about the bullying, Scott cut in with his own thoughts. "That's how it's done, Milo. The last thing you want is to be hated, so why would you even think about doing something like that?" he declared, throwing his arm on Milo's shoulder again.
"Alright, fine," Milo sighed, partially in defeat but also because he just wanted the cross-examination from Mark and Haley to end. Liked it or not, those jocks were about to become his teammates, and it was better to stay in their good books. "I'm going to see if I can continue with baseball after school," he described, "I think the coaches are just letting me do light drills if I can't go full. I just hope this won't make them want to cut me quicker." With that, Milo picked up the remains of his lunch, stuffed them into his bag, and trotted off.
"Just take it easy today, Sullivan. Just focus on running and maybe a couple of fielding drills, but no hitting," the coach informed Milo as various players hit the baseball diamond. That left Milo sitting in the bench, watching all his potential teammates doing stretches and warm-ups. If it wasn't for the lingering pain on his ribs, Milo swore he would give it his all today.
Some obnoxious laughter to the side of the field caught Milo's attention. The former orphan turned his head to the right and saw the varsity team take the diamond on the far side of the field. The players strutted into position like peacocks showing their fans, their chests stuck out proud while their noses pointed slightly upward. Even for those who weren't on a sports team, they would know that these were the big men on campus.
The sight of the varsity team was enough to make Milo's side throb again. Despite what he had told Yoshi, his parents, his friends, and the Smashers, Milo knew exactly why he took a pitch to the ribs. Like Mark said, there was an initiation for all newbies trying out for junior varsity. Even without Mark telling him, Milo had already heard about these stories from Richie and Willis, who went through similar humiliating events in soccer. "It was soccer who started this first," Milo recalled to himself, "And all the other teams just picked up on it."
Milo gingerly stepped onto the field and joined the rest of the junior varsity tryouts in warming up. It certainly didn't help that Milo came into the school with his status as a former orphan pretty much public, given how the operation to take out the street gang was headline news at the time. Add to the fact that Milo was adopted by Brendan and Ashley, two respected members of the community, and Milo's history was an open book to the school. As Milo picked a corner of the field where he could do his warm-up by his lonesome, there was no doubt that part of the reason he got plunked first was his orphan status.
"Hey, ball boy. Start getting those balls over here!" one of the varsity members called in a loud and obnoxious voice. Milo glanced over in the middle of an arm stretch and saw a boy rushing over with several sports bags. The boy, Sean Cunningham, was probably the only person on the field who was as big an outcast as Milo was. Just like Milo, Sean was a freshman, had dirty blond hair, and was of a relative small stature. But unfortunately, Sean's reputation as the biggest klutz of the school served the same purpose as Milo's orphan status. It made Sean, like Milo and his friends, a rather unpopular figure in the student body.
"And while you're at it, get us the bats and gloves," another varsity team member ordered Sean. Milo shook his head in disgust at the way Sean was treated, almost like a servant or lackey of those jocks. Sean was in charge of equipment for both varsity and junior varsity, meaning he had to run back and forth between the two teams. The fact that varsity completely monopolized Sean wasn't just unfair for Sean, but also unfair for junior varsity. Did being on the top of the social hierarchy mean they could stop caring about others' needs?
"Alright team, let's get going on the drills. Sullivan, just stay there and we'll get to you," one of the coaches shouted. Milo nodded back at the team now moving on without him, leaving him alone at his area. It left Milo standing awkwardly on the field, his attention still on Sean, who struggled to get all the equipment set up. It was then that Milo decided to go over to help out. It was the least he could do after how badly Sean was treated.
Milo could barely take more than a few steps before Sean hustled over to the junior varsity field with another two bags of equipment. Just when Sean arrived at their field, the equipment manager tripped and fell flat on his face, causing balls, bats, and gloves to tumble out of the bags. But what shocked Milo more was the reaction of the varsity team, who proceeded to point and giggle at Sean. Feeling he had enough, Milo ignored all the derision and marched right in. "Let me help you with that," Milo offered, picking up some of the equipment.
"Thanks, Milo," Sean stuttered, organizing some of the items, "You don't have to put them back in the bags. You guys will be using that for practice anyway. Well, not you, since you're injured right now, but you know what I mean."
Milo gave Sean a strange look, surprised that Sean had even less confidence than Milo did. "You don't have to let them pick on you like that, you know," he suggested, grabbing a couple of gloves, "Why did you let them make fun of you like that?"
Sean gave Milo an exasperated look. "You know what it's like in that position, Milo," Sean replied, his voice lowering to a murmur, "When you got the tough customers doing their thing, there's not much you can do other than go along with it. A few words here or there from those guys and my next three years of high school will be miserable."
"Now you know how I felt yesterday when those guys were throwing at me during batting practice," Milo retorted, picking up a few more items before walking Sean over to the junior varsity field, "But you're in a better spot than me. Isn't your sister the student body president? A couple of words from her and I bet the jocks will shut up on the spot."
Sean gave Milo an uncertain look. It was true that Sean's older sister, a junior named Cassandra, was elected student body president. Sitting on various administrative councils and being in charge of funding and budgeting were among her duties. It was no secret to jocks and others alike that if Cassandra didn't like it, she could cut the funding to certain groups and leave them in the dust. It basically made Sean immune from bullying, as bullies feared that it would put them in Cassandra's bad books. "All you have to do is tell your sister what those jocks are doing, and it'll be game over for them," Milo added.
"I know, but how bad does that look for me? They'll just say I'm sucking up to my sister and that I'm using her," Sean countered, "I want to make it because of me, not my sister. I don't want to be forever remembered as Cassandra's little brother, you know?"
"I guess it's like what's going on with Yoshi and me," Milo muttered. Together, they handed out the equipment to the junior varsity team in silence. Being popular wasn't the most important goal for Milo. He went through much worse than being knocked down on the social hierarchy. At least none of those jocks ever lived in the sewers, so nothing they did could hurt Milo. However, Milo also didn't want to be anti-social and seen as an outcast. He had many goals in life, including giving back to the orphanage he stayed in before. If he could convince even some of these people to get involved, it would make him very happy.
"But what did your cousin say about this though?" Sean demanded, taking the empty equipment bags back to the dugout and beckoning Milo to follow, "Did he send in his whole team of Smashers? If he does that, all the varsity guys on every team will be against you."
"That's exactly what Yoshi wanted to do. Right after my dad told Yoshi I was in the trainer's room, Yoshi brought four other Smashers to the school," Milo informed Sean, "I told Yoshi about this hazing thing, but I made him promise to let me handle it on my own."
Before either boy could say another word, one of the assistant coaches approached Milo and took him to the field. They insisted that the former orphan focused on outfield fielding drills and running down fly balls. Given Brendan was an outfielder when he was playing, Milo could end up playing the same position his father played all those years back. "How cool would that be?" he pondered to himself while taking his position.
Before long, Milo was so absorbed in his fielding drills that he forgot about the issues with the varsity team and the other bullies at school. Milo concentrated on the balls hit his way, maneuvering in the outfield with ease while making the catches look easy. Sure he still had some issues with lifting his left arm due to the rib bruises, and he knew he could work on making the runs in the outfield smoother and easier, but at least Milo knew he was off to a good start. Once his ribs felt better, he could start hitting again, and finally proved that he belonged on that team.
"Batter up, guys!" a loud voice hollered, cutting Milo's concentration from the field. He glanced around and saw the sun dipping to the west. Practice was almost over, which meant the part Milo dreaded the most was about to occur. The varsity players paraded over to the junior varsity tryouts and insisted on pitching to them for batting practice. This was when Milo got drilled in the ribs last practice, and Milo shuddered to think who would get hit next.
It didn't take long before errant pitches sailed in unpredictable directions. Junior varsity hitters danced, ducked, dodged, and dove away from pitches headed for various parts of their bodies, all the while the varsity players giggled like a bunch of chimps. It was even worse than what happened yesterday, and it got the cheerful Milo into a rage. "Guys, what are you doing?" he yelled, hustling across the field, "Are you trying to get these players killed?"
Unfortunately, Milo was completely ignored. With the varsity team continuing their crazy throws, it resembled a circus more than a baseball diamond. Milo's darted around the field, hoping for someone to assist him. Yet to his horror, there were no adults or supervisors anywhere nearby. "Where on earth are all the coaches?" he shouted exasperatedly.
So if you haven't caught on already, here are the basic background info:
1.) The orphans are named Milo Sullivan, Mark Kerry, Scott Kerry, and Haley Palmer. Milo is the only one to keep his old last name because Yoshi doesn't have a last name.
2.) Mark, Scott, and Haley, if you haven't guessed already, are modeled after Mako, Bolin, and Korra from the Avatar Korra series. I actually imagined them speaking in the voices of David Faustino, P.J. Byrne, and Janet Varney!
3.) Milo and his buddies used to be in a street gang after running away from the orphanage. They had a change of heart and returned (mainly thanks to Yoshi), and were ultimately adopted. Life in the street gang is way tougher than school, so Milo doesn't really care for all this popularity jazz. His ultimate goal is to fit in and convince the student body to help him give back to the orphanage that took care of him.
I understand the sheer amount of info may slow the pace of this opening chapter a bit, and I do apologize if it feels a bit dry and boring. However, I will have things pick up soon, so please bear with me. Thanks for reading and see you next chapter!