Standard disclaimer applies.

Aaaah! Aren't I awesome for updating so soon:D Oh, and by the end of the first few paragraphs below, incase you're wondering; I do watch American Idol x3; I'm such a loser (and voting for Blake FYI, although I don't really care who wins).

Heart of the Game
Part XII

"You punched the rival teams' ace player?" Sharpay nearly shouted, whether it was in anger or in shock, no one really knew. Sharpay always did have a tendency to overreact.

Ryan recalled an incident in third grade when the music teacher had told Sharpay that her rendition of Somewhere over the Rainbow had been a tad pitchy and way too cabaret. She had thrown a tantrum, stomped off the stage and locked herself in her room in protest for two days. Ryan knew first hand how hard she had practiced for that audition, how many hours she'd spent on voice lessons just to get the chorus right, and in some ways that justified her reaction to the teachers' less than positive response.

When Sharpay did something, she always gave it her all. That was one of the things that Ryan admired most about his sister; even though she did boss him around on a regular basis, steal his toner and moisturiser on an even more regular basis and hold his head in a choke hold while giving him a noogie. This was of course, the things that only happened at home and information to be kept between them and Ryan was all too happy too oblige.

"Where did you learn to punch like that, man?" asked Chad, lost in bliss of ignorance for a few short moments, the thoughts of Troy completely pushed out of his mind. A highly deserved break it was too.

"He must have learnt it from you," interjected Sharpay, regarding Chad with a look. "Just a minute spent around vagabonds like you is enough to affect him for life."

"Actually," Ryan said, with a look that clearly said 'au contraire' (it was Ryan's' most favourite word from his most hated subject.) "I'd learnt it from you," he wore a loop-sided smirk. "Remember Chris Hanson in the fifth grade? That fashion deficient loser with the bad haircut."

"Oh, yeah," Sharpay muttered as the memory registered and she couldn't help the satisfied smirk that curled at the side of her lips. "He so deserved it."

"What?" asked Chad, looking between the Evans twins, not at all bothered by the fact that he seemed to be involved in a normal, civilised conversation with ' Ice Queen' Evans and her sidekick brother.

"Sharpay found out he was cheating and confronted him in the lab before giving him a right upper cut that was the most awesome punch ever recorded in the history of the school."

"Seriously?" Chad gaped.

"Seriously. Then they guy got detention because Sharpay cried sexual harassment."

"Hey, his hand grazed over my boob. I had ever right to."

Sharpay wore an amused look as both Ryan and Chad broke out into laughter. For that moment in time, nothing seemed to be able to disrupt the serenity.

Then Gabriella returned.

"Gabriella," Sharpay said, stopping the laughter midway. The smile was wiped completely from her face and she took a step forward towards the girl that had been, until forty-eight hours ago, right there at the bottom of her most favourite list; right next to the colour beige, but above Country music.

Gabriella said nothing. Her head was bowed slightly, red and puffy eyes shielded from view by her black tresses, tangled and unkempt that fell around her shoulder.

"How is he?" Chad jumped up from his position sitting on the back of the plastic chair, Ryan following suit.

"He…" Gabriella said, her voice just barely above a whisper. "I-I'd gone to the bathroom because I didn't want his mom to see me. She was already so sad," she mumbled.

Sharpay shared a look with the boys behind her, not particularly sure about what Gabriella was talking about.


"He looked so sick, he was…he was not the Troy that I know," she sobbed, clutching at Sharpay's top. The blonde did nothing to stop her. "It's not fair. Things like this isn't supposed to happen to people we know, it's supposed to be in the movies, somewhere far and to strangers. This isn't supposed to happen to Troy!" she shouted, burying her face in the crook of Sharpay's neck.

Successfully hiding her shock as she'd never been someone who particularly enjoyed physical contact, Sharpay just circled her arms around Gabriella's waist, rubbing her back comfortingly.

"He'll be okay," she whispered into Gabriella's ear. "He is Troy Bolton after all."

Behind her, neither Ryan nor Chad chose to comment. Chad plopped himself back down onto the seat, dropping his head into his hands as Ryan just looked on helplessly.

Ryan never liked sadness. He didn't like crying or seeing people in pain. He wanted them all to be happy, the way Sharpay always seemed happy whenever he did things for her.

Ryan didn't like feeling helpless either; the last time he'd felt so, he could only watch as the little bird with the broken wing died in the palm of his hand.

- - - - -

'Mom, this is Chad Danforth. We're in the same class at school.'

Hearing Troy's cheer laced voice, his mother diverted her attention from the red basket of laundry she was just about to stuff into the dryer; her gaze looking over Troy's shoulder and finally falling on a mischievously grinning boy with a head of curly hair. That was the first impression she got of Chad Danforth, and it was the same one that she would forever associate with him. The mischievously grinning boy with curly hair.

For days, months and years after that moment, Chad and Troy seemed to be conjoined at the hip. It was always Chad and Troy. Chad and Troy this, Chad and Troy that.

The first time she'd ever been called to the principle's office, the only words said by the man that ever stuck with her was. 'I was informed that Chad and Troy…' enough was said. They were almost like two different people embodying a single entity. The shared the same class ever year, joined the same club, ate at the same restaurant and always sat facing each other; it had become something of a habit for them.

She'd asked Troy once, the night after Chad's mother had come to pick him up, why he hadn't sat beside his friend, instead sitting across from him. She recalled her younger years when she and her then best friend would always sit side by side, foreheads almost colliding as they bent over the latest magazine, cooing and ogling over the pictures.

'Well…because it's Chad,' he'd said with such conviction, as if it were the most obvious thing in the world. In a way, perhaps it had been.

Now, she wondered how Chad was handling the situation; thoughts of the boy just suddenly entering her mind. He and Troy were brothers in all but blood, although, Mrs. Bolton mused to herself; she remembered once when Jack had taken the boys out back and attempted to build them a tree house (and attempted being the keyword), they'd come running up to her, both holding bloodied fingers and panic flashing in their eyes. Apparently they'd tried to help Jack with the saw and in the process managed to nick each others' fingers with the sharp blade; the same spot on the same blade.

Perhaps they had become blood brothers after all.

Shaking away the sudden wave of memories, Mrs. Bolton's eyes returned to gaze at her son's face. He looked so beautiful. He was beautiful.

She released her steady grip on her Troy's hand, the other once again running through his smooth, dark brown hair. Stretching her stiff muscles and standing up, massaging the kinks out of her joints after being in one position for so long, she looked out into the hall looking for anything that would give her any semblance of time. Her eyes found the round clock that hung on the wall over the nurses' station. It was nearly ten o'clock.

She wondered whether Gabriella had already gone home.

Her eyes gazed at her surrounding, taking in the sight of the monochromic white walls and the overwhelming smell of disinfectant that filled the air, she suddenly realised that she had to use the rest room badly. But she was torn. She didn't want to leave Troy.

What if he woke up, even for a second and she wasn't there? She'd never forgive herself.


She twirled around, looking into the kindly face of one of the nurses that she'd seem accompanying Dr. Cooper on his rounds. "Yes?"

"I can stay with him for a while, if you want to get something to eat."

She didn't hold back a small smile. "Thank you," she muttered before turning back to the bed. She bent down and placed a kiss on Troy's forehead. "I'll be right back, sweetheart," she whispered lovingly into his ear then pausing, as if waiting for him to respond, to squeeze her hand or open his eyes. Anything that would let her know that he could hear her, that he knows how much she loves him.

The only thing that answered her was the beeps and hisses of the respirator; the tube currently running down her sons' throat made her half glad that he wasn't conscious.


"I'll be quick," she said, but didn't move from her position. After a few additional second, she finally straightened, eyes never once looking away. "Watch him closely, please."

"Of course."

She hesitated in the step, but finally plucked up the courage to walk out, throwing a glance back into the room before the sight of Troy disappeared behind the wall. She took a deep breath and continued on walking. It was as if time was standing still and no matter how much she walked, she still didn't reach her destination. That was what being parted from Troy felt to her at that moment. She passed nurses who flashed her smiles as they made their rounds; deep in her heart, she wondered if it was an obligation for them because everywhere she went, it smelt like death.

The halls were nearly deserted except for the staff. Dr. Cooper had only granted her permission to stay with Troy because he knew that nothing short of death could tear her away from her son.

As she walked, her steps sounding like metal hooves in the hollowed halls, she didn't know what urged her to take the right corner that would lead her to the waiting rooms. But she followed that way nonetheless. The doors leading in were ahead, and Mrs. Bolton unconsciously quickened her pace. The thumps of her shoes on the floor echoes over the wall and she finally came to a halt three inches away from the wooden door. Pushing it open, her eyes glanced inside.

Right there in the barren room, accompanied only by rows of plastic chairs and plastic plants in the corner, was the little mischievously grinning boy with curly hair. Although now, the little boy had grown up and was no longer grinning. His eyes were closed, lips parted as he breathed. His head tilted painfully to one side as he slept sitting up in one of the hard chairs. At that moment, Mrs. Bolton couldn't help but feel herself melt.

"Chad?" she called out as she approached, watching bleary eyes open and a confuse gaze looking around at his surroundings. "Honey, it's ten o'clock. Shouldn't you be getting home?"

"Huh? Oh," he muttered, stretching his arms high above his head, feeling relief as the sore joints popped back into place. "My mom said it's okay if I stayed. Gabriella and Sharpay and Ryan's parents came to pick them up earlier."

"Oh, Chad," she muttered warmly, dropping down to sit next to him. "You need your rest. It's been a long day."

"I'll be okay. I just want to stay," he said and Mrs. Bolton knew that there would be no talking him out of it.

"Do you want to go see him?"

"It's okay. I'll go tomorrow," though he tried to put up a brave front, deep down, he was afraid. After watching Gabriella break down, he didn't think he'd ever pluck up enough courage to go and see Troy.

"All right. Do you want me to ask the nurses if they could get you a spare mattress?"

Again, he shook is head.

"You are one stubborn young man, aren't you?" she said as more of a statement than a question, circling her arms around him and pulling him into a hug.

"You should go and be with him."

"I will. But you…get some rest, Chad. It's going to be a long day tomorrow," and with that, she took off the dark blue cardigan she had been wearing and draped it over Chad's shoulders.


And with that, their conversation ended and Mrs. Bolton, realising that she didn't have to go to the bathroom anyway, returned to Troy's side. Her heart was warm and aflutter, knowing that Troy had such good friends looking out for him.

She didn't expect anything less.

To be continued.

Yes, I admit that the little bird with the broken wing is such a clichéd plot device (or something) but I just could not resist x3 Also, I realized that I've made everyone so melodramatic, almost Bollywood-esque type of angst. I love it!

I'd written the Troy/Mom part while listening (kinda) to Sayonara daisuki na hito by Kiroro. It means (in my non fluent Japanese translation) something like; goodbye, I love you…I think. But whatever, it's a beautiful song. Go and look for it, now.

Much love.