Disclaimer: Valdemar and concepts belong to Mercedes Lackey, and this story and Original Characters belong to their author.
Warnings: Watch for some language in this one!
Notes: Alright, felt like cavorting with Zachie for a bit, so I wrote this One-Shot! The title has absolutely nothing to do with the story… and I should probably explain it, or it'll make no sense. Rosethorn was pointing out the X-Files-ness quality to A Dangerous Pastime, and when I decided to write this I was in the TV Show frame of mind—thusly, Zachie's One-Shot is titled "Pilot"! As in the first episode of any given TV series!
Ooh… he was a pain in the ass as a child, too, wasn't he?
For those of you who feel the need to tell me that Valdemar doesn't have television/aluminum/psychiatrists/whatever, I refer you to the notes at the beginning of my other fic, A Dangerous Pastime, in which I first introduced Zach and Jaydan. Herald Zaccheus Hoffner and his Companion come from an AU/Modern-Day Valdemar, as stated in the notes at the beginning of ADP.
He was favoring a black eye and a bloody lip, but he could take comfort in the fact that the other boy was quite a bit worse off than that.
His parents were bound to be a bit more negative about the situation, though, and he could truthfully say that—despite his various pains—he was in no hurry to get home. So instead he trudged down random alleyway after random alleyway, taking the longest and most unorthodox route home that he could think of, nursing his hurts with nothing more than silence and the occasional wince as he went.
Sniffing, Zach rubbed his jaw and then dropped his arms to stick his hands into his pockets. Kicking a stray can, he watched it bounce off a wall and skitter down the latest of the alleys he was traversing with sharp grey-brown eyes.
That jerk had it coming.
The person his thought was referring to was the one who had started the fight—just one in the string of them Zach had been involved in lately. The other boy was older and bigger than him, but hadn't had as much practical experience as him when it came to fighting in general—and, of course, Zach fought dirty.
His name was… Aaron? The twelve-year-old wasn't sure, really. He didn't know the other boy almost at all… but he hadn't been about to point that out at the time. Truth to tell, he had been hoping for a fight for days—
—so basically since the last one, which had resulted in a very painful broken arm for the offending party, a handful of bruises and scrapes for Zach himself, and his Mother grounding him for a week, complete with cutting off his television, video game, music and computer privileges.
It was funny, but that didn't dissuade him any. His skin just itched for a scuffle, and being forbidden to watch TV wouldn't kill him—he was probably the only kid his age who thought that way, though. Most of those he knew practically lived on television shows and video games, but somehow that just didn't interest him all that much.
Mom's gonna' be so pissed off with me…
His nose wrinkled in distaste at the thought, and he sighed, licking his lips distractedly and tasting coppery, metallic blood—only a split lip, which would heal in a day or two. He'd had worse… and the Aaron guy was definitely in a lot more pain than him. Probably a sprained ankle, Zach thought, and he might have broken something in his foot, given how hard he'd stomped on it there near the end. But he couldn't be sure—and he didn't really care, anyway.
I blacked both his eyes, at least. A feeling of self-satisfaction, and he pondered for a moment about the reason behind the confrontation. Don't know what his problem was, but he sure thought he was gonna' kick my ass. 'Least at first… I sure changed his tone pretty quick, though. He's probably off cryin' to his Mommy right now…
Speaking of which, he half expected his own Mother to be waiting on the doorstep when he got home, cooking spoon in hand and a dangerous glint in her eyes; she had this way of just knowing when he had been up to no good, and half the time she headed him off before he could try to come up with a explanation for his injuries.
Oh, please. What was he thinking?
His Mother wouldn't be home for hours—she'd be at work until at least eight o'clock, just like every other night. And, like half the nights every week, his Father might not come home at all… or at least not until Zach had gone to bed and been asleep for quite some time.
Truthfully, Zach was ninety-nine percent sure that his Father was running around with his secretary behind his Mother's back. Not that he would say anything. He couldn't care less, really: whatever happened between his parents and their co-workers was their business and theirs alone, and ratting his Father out wouldn't do anything besides immerse the Hoffner household in raging arguments for the next who-knew-how-long.
His Mother probably already knew, anyway.
Come to think of it, that might be why she had been drinking so much lately.
He had caught up with the can he had kicked before, and sent the unfortunate bit of aluminum flying once more. Dad cheats with his secretary, Mom drinks a bottle of vodka every night, I get into fights with the neighborhood kids, and the world continued to rotate as per the norm.
To say that he came from a dysfunctional family would have been an understatement of the worst kind, but somehow that didn't bother him. Sad as it was, Zach was used to things being as off-kilt as they were. And he'd been told that being fine with that king of a situation was a major sign of repression—by the school administrators and the "councilor" they had sent him to as well.
The last thing I need is a shrink. He snorted sarcastically, rolling his eyes. The superintendent and the principal of his school had insisted rather firmly that he go and talk to someone: someone with a psychiatric degree. Like my Mom? She's got three...
He'd looked at them like they were stupid when they told him they were sending him to a councilor, but they seemed to think he needed to speak to someone outside of his family. Never mind that he probably knew more about psychology than the woman they had him staring at—and just staring because he had flatly refused to talk.
Needless to say, it had frustrated the psychiatrist to no end—and, as she was a psychiatrist, he had no doubt that she had drawn several conclusions about his mental state from said silence, not all of which were entirely far-fetched.
Zaccheus Haley Hoffner had always been a fairly antisocial child, and he would be the first to admit that he had somewhat violent tendencies at times.
Only when I run into someone who really needs a swift kick in the ass, though.
When he looked back at incidents like the one with Aaron, he tended to justify his actions to himself, even though he never really bothered with anyone else. If his parents asked him why he did something, most of the time his only response was sullen silence or, at the most, an indignant sniff, as if it should be obvious that the other person had in some way wronged him.
Violence, antisocialism and excuse-conjuring aside, he was a surprisingly intelligent and logical child—though lazy when it came to academics. His frustrated his teachers with the noncommittal shrugs that he tended to offer in lieu of an actual response, when asked a question in class. He annoyed them when he didn't hand in assignments on time. He aggravated them when he didn't study for tests, and then surprised them when he managed to ace said tests anyway.
In general, his grades equaled out to average, just like the other three quarters of the student populace that weren't either geniuses or dunces. In fact, the word "average" could be applied to almost everything about him, his family problems and his temper aside:
At twelve years of age, he was five-feet-four-inches tall, give or take. His eyes were a bland shade of grey-brown. His hair was ordinary brown, cut short, but hung into his eyes just a bit—not enough to obscure his vision, though. He was thin, wiry, with the look of a boy who was about to hit a growth spurt but hadn't quite reached that point yet.
He wasn't tall, he wasn't short, he wasn't fat, he wasn't skinny.
Zach just wasn't special in any concrete, visible way.
The story of my life.
He caught up with the can and gave it another vicious kick, sending it flying ahead of him once more, bouncing and clattering along the ground, splashing through a shallow puddle left from the rains the night before as he pondered his own thoughts—which were surprisingly jaded, he decided, given how old he wasn't.
Deep down I'm a bitter old man. Perfect.
The monstrous amount of sarcasm present in that particular mental comment made him smirk to himself, amused, and chuckle dryly under his breath.
It wasn't as if he didn't have a decent home, a decent life. He'd been down to the bad part of Haven—he'd seen the slums, the bottom of the barrel for someone with nowhere else to go. He might not have been rich, but had a comfortable existence, fighting injuries aside. In fact, his own family (though sometimes he couldn't even think of them in that term) lived in a middle-to-upper class neighborhood, semi-close to the Collegium itself.
He didn't attend classes there, though. That would have made him a Blue, and he had no interest in being one of them—as was evidenced by the number of Blues he'd beaten the snot out of in his lifetime. It wasn't that he had anything personal against them… it was more that they tended to rub him the wrong way.
He just got the feeling that they all thought they were better than he was… or at least that the majority of them did, and there wasn't much he could do about that, given his current situation. Not that he cared all that much, anyway…
And if they don't hurry up and say something, I'm going to snap.
The footsteps behind him had been echoing softly in his wake for nearly three alleyways, and he was more than sure they were following him. He was used to it—usually, whoever was tailing him was out to prove himself, or get revenge for a fallen comrade, as ridiculous as it sounded. As if Zach were a hired gun, or a shadow assassin, and not just a kid who'd had his share of schoolyard scuffles.
Zach didn't even glance up at the voice, which carried an accusatory note, and instead kept walking, his eyes on the ground, his hands hidden away in his pockets, half-waiting for the poor abused soda can to come back into view so that he could kick it yet again.
"Oi!" More insistent this time, and he was forced to pause when a hand dropped down against his shoulder. "You little bastard—we're talking to you."
"I know." He shrugged the hand away with an almost nonchalant air, and moved to continue on his way. "So? What can I do for you?"
A pause, and then a second voice; "are you sure this is the kid? He's so scrawny…"
"Yeah, he's the one." The first voice raised in volume slightly, even as Zach paused once more. "You broke Aaron's nose, you shit. Smashed up his foot pretty good, too."
Zach couldn't help it when one of his eyebrows twitched slightly, and his lips quirked into a semi-amused smirk. "Oh, I hadn't realized about his nose…" he turned to look back over his shoulder, expression shifting back to a carefully practiced and schooled neutral. "He's lucky that's all I broke."
There were three of them, standing maybe ten feet behind him. All of them were older than him, he was fairly sure of that—probably a year or two ahead of him in school, and probably the same age as the guy he's thrashed earlier. Each of them wore an identical expression—one that bordered on shock and disbelief, as he flashed a grin-come-smirk in their direction.
"Maybe he'll think twice before he picks a fight with me again, hm?" A pause, then; "and I'm thin, not scrawny."
He tried to curb the urge to laugh at the completely blank looks he was receiving, and didn't quite manage it. A quiet snicker worked its way from his throat, and at that the boy in the front of the group—the only one of the three with blonde hair—scowled at him.
"Bugger. You're a cocky bastard, aren't you?" He spat angrily, "maybe you won't talk so much when we knock your bloody teeth out of your skull."
Zach shrugged again, lips curving into an almost amused half-smile. "You can try."
Three Shapes move in synch, flashing toward him with surprising speed—
He ducked out of the way even before the scene completed its flash through his mind, and two of the older boys stumbled past him, almost tripping from their own momentum, as the third skidded to a stop, catching himself before he could smash into the brick wall of the building beside them.
One Shape leaps at him again—
A quick sidestep, and the blonde boy flew past him again, slamming into the wall, barely managing to catch the brick with his shoulder.
"You'll have to do better than that."
A fist arcs through the air, aiming for his chest, and at the same time, a boot lashes for his shin—
That one was a bit trickier—a quick calculation in his head, and Zach jumped a bit, knocking his opponent's hand to the side at the same time and making him fall backward, landing on the pavement with a dull thump and a string of muttered curses.
Angrily. "You're gonna' get it now!"
Dryly. "Am I."
Two other Shapes gain their footing and come at him again, one from the left and one from the right—
When people claimed that Zach fought dirty, it was partly true and partly false; he didn't throw mud or sand into people's faces, he didn't hit below the belt, he didn't bite or scratch. He did, however, See what was coming before the person he was fighting against could even think of their next move.
Even three-on-one, he could easily know what to do, so long as—
Small round Object, laying on the ground—
His foot caught on something and he lost his balance.
"Shit! The can!"
He had a brief second to mentally curse himself for kicking the can ahead of himself as he walked before his feet were kicked out from under him. Bullies never wasted an opportunity, after all. He landed on his back on the ground, all the breath knocked out of him, and gasped for air. The back of his head slammed into the concrete, and black swam in his vision for a moment before clearing.
Three Shapes bend over him, raining blows, and pain flares—
A sharp kick to his ribs, and he gasped around a sharp pain that flared in his side.
"What say we give you a taste of what you did to Aaron, yeah?"
"Damn…" he forced a wry smirk and a chuckle, despite how much his head and ribs were hurting. "And here I was hoping 'Aaron' was special…"
Another kick. "Shut the hell up!"
"…would that make things easier for you?"
The blonde growled angrily. "You…"
Large, fast, dangerous—
The Vision flashed through his mind so quickly that he barely had time to realize it was one, and certainly too fast for him to make sense of it. He started to push himself up, but another kick—this one to his shoulder, knocked him back onto the ground.
"Sit and stay!" This was from the third boy, who hadn't spoken until then.
Zach tried to gasp out a sarcastic response, but he just didn't have the breath in his lungs to do so.
Hurtling forward, chiming and thundering against the pavement—
A low, pained groan. If he didn't have a broken rib or a fractured shoulder, he was certainly going to be sporting some pretty bruises in a day or so.
Damn that stupid can. Damn it to hell.
Another kick. They seemed to be trying to decide what to do with him, now that they had him incapacitated.
The roar of hooves on concrete—
That wasn't a Vision. That was his ears—
A sudden flurry of movement and noise as something crashed down the alleyway toward them, and then the loudest smash as a very heavy, very mobile creature slammed to a stop only a foot from the side of his head and launched into the air, flying over him in a blur of silver and white and lashing hair.
All three of the boys who were standing over him yelped and shrieked indignantly, scrambling away from him as quickly as they could. And then an equine shriek rang out, echoing through the confines of the alley, ringing in Zach's ears and making him wince, even as he started to shove himself up from the ground again.
"What the hell—!"
His eyes flashed after the bullies, who were dashing around the corner even as he managed to locate them, the blonde in the lead and obviously intent on leaving his friends in the dust if he could possibly manage it. So much for bravado.
:—AND STAY GONE!:
The mental shout made Zach jump in surprise, and then clamp a hand over his side, wincing again. "Ow! Damnit…"
:…they're not broken.: He felt a kind of mental shrug, and turned his eyes to look down the other end of the alley, eyes focusing on the somewhat blurred outline of a large, silver-white, very, very horse-like being—:Just bruises. You'll be fine. You're not going to start whining on me, are you?:
His response was immediate. A knee-jerk answer to the kind of question that always ticked him off. "Of course not!"
Yet another wince. His head still hurt.
:A concussion. You need to see a Healer, broken bones or not.: The Voice had taken on a stern-but-almost amused tone. :What say we head on over to the Collegium, then?:
"Excuse me? I don't bloody think so—"
A whuff, and the still-somewhat-blurry form approached to stand over him. A warm nose nudged at his uninjured shoulder. :Shall we, Chosen?:
Endless, depthless, eternal blue.
Zach stared. "Aw, shit."
And the Companion, Jaydan, heaved the first of a lifetime of suffering sighs. :Just get on my back.: