Set Phasers To Stun
It's the words you left out that keep me awake.
You know your day is going to be a bad one when you wake up to the sounds of shrill cries, rasping coughs, and muttered curses coming from the floor above you. You know it's going to be terrible when a glance at your alarm clock informs you that it's ten-thirty on a school day. And you know you should just give up when you realize that it's actually your first day of Grade Eleven, and it's half over.
The old Emma Nelson would have jumped up in a panic and fly across town in order not to miss anything else. Scratch that. The old Emma would never oversleep to begin with. The new Emma Nelson, the one that had invaded her body sometime last year and made itself at home there, simply groaned, stretched, and rolled over for another five minutes.
When she finally dragged her tired, protesting body out of bed, she headed straight for the closet. The bracelets decorating her arm clinked together as she pushed hangers aside and considered her options. Jeans, obviously. She'd lost too much weight over the summer to wear a skirt without looking like a head on stilts. And … the pink tank top, she decided. It was still warm enough, if she paired it with her fitted, white denim jacket, and maybe the cheerful color would seep into her veins and improve her mood.
It was a long shot, sure. But she liked the way the pink complimented her skin tone, not to mention the delicate lace that drew attention to her cleavage.
Mascara and lip gloss applied, she hauled herself out the window, determined to avoid her family as she had for weeks. They hadn't fought or anything like that – Spike and Snake were far too busy to even notice her, let alone take the time to pick a fight about her wardrobe or choice in companionship. It was just … easier not to face them now.
She wasn't ashamed, she assured herself, backing down the drive in her forest green Jeep. She wasn't doing anything to be ashamed of. She'd changed since the shooting, that was all. She couldn't expect her parents to understand how it felt to have a gun shoved in your face, to have all the power in someone else's hands.
Although, if she was being honest, and she supposed she could risk it since it was only her mind and no one else would know, the shooting was just an excuse. A damn good one, sure, but an excuse all the same. She'd been falling apart long before Rick gave her a reason to. Crashing and burning with Chris, alienating all her old friends, pushing Rick around before he decided to push back. His obsession with her had been the final straw. She was sick of being idealized, of having to balance on a pedestal miles higher than the general population. No one understood how hard it was to be perfect, to smile and wave and protect the environment with people constantly spitting in your face.
Sean had helped, for a time. He'd given her a purpose – if she couldn't save the world, she could at least save him. And he made her laugh. He made her see that not everything was life-or-death, not every problem needed to be solved within fifteen minutes. Just holding his hand in the hallways had always put a smile on her face for the next three days.
He was gone, now. Of course. Wasn't everyone? He saved her life, then walked out of it. Gave Ellie a tearful 'I love you' and barely spared her a glance.
"Better that way, Em," she reminded herself as she pulled into a parking space surprisingly close to the school. Her self-hatred would only grow if she knew Sean was watching sympathetically from the sidelines. "Now, focus."
Her heels clicked as she entered the school, the rhythmic tap-tap-tap a small reassurance. The sound never failed to make her feel like she was going places. She stepped into the main office with a small smile on her face.
"Running a little late, aren't we, Emma?" Liberty sailed by on her way to the newsroom, slowing down only to deliver the snide comment.
Emma felt her smile waver and prayed for patience, directing her excuse at the secretary. "Sorry. My stepfather needed my help – Mr. Simpson, the M.I. teacher? You've probably seen him around."
"Oh, sure!" The woman, who looked middle aged and worn out, brightened. "He fixed my laptop last year! He's your step-dad?"
"Well, technically, yes, but I consider him my father in every way that counts," Emma said sweetly. Every now and then, it paid to have an authority figure as a relative.
"Well, that's just fine, hon, don't you worry. Give me a minute and I'll grab you an excused note, okay?"
Emma nodded and watched the woman knock on Mr. Raditch's door. At his murmured assent, she pushed it open and Emma's jaw dropped as she made eye contact with none other than Sean Cameron.
Well, speak of the devil, some evil part of her brain laughed. Thought the slide into oblivion would be easy, huh?
"You've got to be kidding me," she muttered, and waggled her fingers in acknowledgement when he gave her a half-wave. As far as he was concerned, she knew, they were on semi-good terms. He had no idea she'd spent the entire summer alternately loving and hating him and always trying to forget him.
Her pulse picked up as Sean stood and leaned out of sight, apparently to shake Raditch's hand. Emma shook her head in disbelief. They had officially entered the Twilight Zone. Sean was making nice to Raditch and Emma was arriving three hours late, like the delinquents she hung around.
Hurry, hurry, hurry, she urged mentally as the secretary flitted at the principal's doorway, making small talk and blocking Sean's exit. Come on, lady.
"Here you are, dear." The woman presented the slip of paper like it was the Holy Grail or something. Emma snatched it from her hands, thanking her while taking backwards baby-steps towards the door. "You tell your father I hope he feels better, okay, now?"
"Will do," she forced out, and made her escape. How was she supposed to survive her classes now, knowing that Sean was somewhere in the same building as her for the first time in months? Digging out her cell phone, Emma tossed the excused note into the trash and headed for the front steps.
"So what made you decide to return to Degrassi?"
Raditch clasped his hands on the desk and leaned forward, as if whatever Sean said next would profoundly interest or impact him. Sean resisted the urge to roll his eyes, and the even greater yearning to just get up and walk out. If he screwed up again, he wasn't sure where he'd go. Wasaga Beach had been great for the summer, but no way was he signing up for nine months of school there. Not when he'd worked so hard to make a home here.
"It was time," he shrugged. "My parents were great – better than I expected, really – but I need to finish what I started at Degrassi. I needed to be here."
"Well, we're happy to have you," Raditch said magnanimously.
Sean practically snorted. If it hadn't been for his actions the day of the shooting, he knew Raditch would bar the door and throw himself into a lion's den before allowing Sean to roam Degrassi's hallowed halls. Zero to hero in sixty seconds or less. Had to be some kind of record.
He still wasn't comfortable with the whole 'saving someone's life' thing. He'd avoided it pretty easily in Wasaga, as his reputation there didn't exactly scream 'Come ask me details about my private life!". But he'd known, when he made the decision to come back, that it would be an issue again.
Stepping in front of Emma had been like second nature. Which was scary. But it was the truth. When he'd seen the gun aimed at her, his first instinct was to get between her and the weapon. He'd said as much to his mother, when she asked why in the world he'd put himself at risk like that.
Emma's one of those people the world can't afford to lose, Mom. You'd have to know her to really understand, but she's just – she's amazing, actually. She's always on some crusade to save something, the littlest thing that no one else even gives a damn about. I just – I couldn't let her go.
"However," Raditch continued, bringing Sean back to the present. "There will be no exceptions made or rules bent in your case, Mr. Cameron. We all appreciate what you did for us last year, none more so than Ms. Nelson, I'd imagine, but don't expect to be treated any differently."
"I'm not here for a free ride, Mr. Raditch," Sean said, slightly annoyed at the speech. Had he ever asked Raditch for a single damn thing? Did the man really think that little of him, that he'd try to use saving Emma to excuse bad grades or poor attendance? "I'm here because I want to be here."
Raditch stared at him intently, then nodded. "Glad to hear it, son. Well, then, I guess we're done here. You have your schedule and – come in," he invited as a knock on the door interrupted his spiel.
"Mr. Raditch, could I have an excused …"
Sean blacked out the rest of the secretary's words. Emma Nelson stood about twenty feet away from him, staring at him like a deer caught in the headlights. And she looked good, he couldn't help but noticing. Skinnier than he remembered, but she'd maintained her curves and dressed to display them. Feeling like a fool, he lifted his hand and got a small nod in return.
"Sean? You're all set, correct?"
"W – what? Oh. Yeah. Thanks, Mr. Raditch." Surprising both of them, Sean shook his hand before taking his leave. He got out of the office just in time to see Emma step outside. Torn, he glanced down at the schedule in his hands, then at the exit. With only a small twinge of remorse, he folded the paper into his pocket and headed for the doors.
She closed her eyes and kept her back turned. Maybe he would get the hint. Maybe he would turn out to be a figment of her imagination. Maybe … had she mentioned that her luck lately had been less than good?
Sean laid a hand on her shoulder and settled himself on the steps beside her. "Em. What are you doing out here?"
"Waiting for my ride," she replied, glancing up at him from under her bangs. "You're back?"
"Until Raditch finds some innane reason to kick me out, yes," he grinned. Intolerance for the principal and his crackpot policies had always been common ground for them.
She nodded. "How'd that happen? Thought you were staying in Wasaga."
"And I did," he pointed out. "For the summer. But … I don't know. When it came time for school to start again, I realized how much I missed Degrassi. Even with everything that's happened, I can't imagine going anywhere else."
"Me, neither," she whispered. She didn't mention that she still dreamed about the day he saved her. Rick's hand in hers. His whispered pledge. This is all for you. How eerily calm he'd been about killing her. How close it had come.
"So …" Sean looked around, enjoying the warm sun and the cool breeze that surrounded them. "How have you been?"
Dying slowly inside. Missing you terribly. Spiraling out of control. She cleared her throat. "Pretty good, thanks. And you?"
He considered. "It was a good summer. My parents and I … we're a lot better now."
"That's good to hear," she said, flooring herself with the sincerity of it. She hadn't cared about much the past couple months. The fact that Sean's reunion with his family had worked out shouldn't have sent a thrill down her spine. Her breath caught when she saw the car traveling towards them. "Listen, I gotta go. You should get to class, you know. The first day's important."
Then why aren't you going? he wanted to ask. Before the words could make it out of his mouth, she was down the steps and in the car. Sean squinted, but the windows were tinted and the driver took off almost before she'd slammed the door.
"Good to see you, too, Em," he muttered, then sighed and reentered the school.
"Cameron's back, I see."
Emma stared out the window, watching the scenery rush by. "That he is."
"Did the two of you have a tear-jerking reunion on the steps of Degrassi? Oooh, or how about directly in the spot where you almost died together last year? That's, what, dramatic irony, right? Or something. Come on, Cause Girl, give me all the details. Were there tears? Please tell me Cameron cried. I'll be forever grateful."
"You know what, Jay?"
"What?" His grin was cocky, challenging. He was enjoying this. The boy was seriously twisted.
"You're an ass," she informed him.
He laughed. "Don't I know it, Sprout. That's why you hang with me."
"That's not why I hang with you."
"Oh, really? Would you mind enlightening me, then? Why does little Emma Nelson, once destined for sainthood, waste so much time with Jason Hogart, scum of the earth?"
It was a good question. Too bad she didn't have an answer for him. These days, she didn't have any answers at all.