This is my first solid effort at a long fic, and my first out of the cartoon/comic book realm. I was tempted by a friend's suggestion to "fix" what she (and I) thought to be lacking in both the original Twelfth Night story and She's The Man- the fact that we get very little insight into the character of Duke Orsino. Since, of course, improving on Shakespeare is sort of impossible (at least for me) I have confined myself to the world of STM. Think of this as what the movie might be if we followed Duke around instead of Viola. However, with that in mind, you should have seen the movie first or else this probably won't be as interesting ;-)

There is a fair amount of exposition in this first section, but please give it a fair shot. The movie doesn't really get moving from Duke's point of view for a fair bit, so I established a lot of back-story for him and all that groundwork is laid out here.

I also had to take a few liberties with the whole debutante thing to make it fit with the movie. I have never known a deb event to still allow people in only two weeks out, but I have seen a few keep 'standby' escorts to prevent someone from having to walk alone. My overall experience in that arena is limited, so take everything with a grain of salt.

I don't own Twelfth Night, She's the Man, or any trademarked brands mentioned in this fic.

Play On

Chapter 1

Football is all very well as a game for rough girls, but is hardly suitable for delicate boys. -Oscar Wilde

Every time I went away I was deceiving my mum. I'd tell her I was going to school but I'd be out on the street playing football. -Ronaldo

Oddly enough, Duke was glad to be going back to school.

He wouldn't trade his spot at Illyria for one at any other high school in the world, but when August rolled around Duke often wished that it wasn't the first in the city to return to class. Public schools didn't start for nearly three weeks, and that other prep-in-the-area-that-didn't-deserve-to-be-named for another two. Rumor had it that some of those guys were out playing at the beach today (though he'd never say it, Duke privately thought that they were celebrating having it all to themselves for the rest of summer), and he would give a lot to be off campus and go investigate who'd been invited to the game and how they were doing.

The approach of senior year, though, still garnered an oddly desperate welcome. Partly due to a summer colored by excessive dramatics, and partly due to the compelling desire to prove his worth as team captain, Duke felt relieved as he wrenched bags out of the car and onto Illyria grounds once more. The only piece of luggage to receive any kind of care was the red duffle containing his most precious cargo: ball, practice jersey, and –the newest but highly regarded element– captain's armband. Getting the nod hadn't really come as a surprise, but coming off a loss in last year's state championship game meant the bar was set pretty high and Duke was determined not to disappoint.

Of course, there was still the matter of moving all his stuff back into the room. Shaking his head with the knowledge that he would never need half the things his mother had loaded him down with, he glanced around in the hopes that someone else would be around to help. Not a soul. Great.

Orientation for freshmen started tomorrow, and for transfers the day after; most of the student body, and therefore, most of his friends, wouldn't show up until well after the chaos of froshie move-in subsided. He'd rather avoid the whole mess himself, if he could, but one of the "perks" of his new position was Principal Gold's subsequent requirement to help welcome the newbies. He had been planning to skip it regardless, but that plan was quickly cut short. By the end of summer he found himself unable to stand his mother's posturing in the wake of divorce number two, and excused himself the second he was able.

An hour and three trips from car to room later, Duke laid on his bed both exhausted and bored. Home at last. The empty half of the room felt wrong. He missed the camaraderie that usually accompanied move-in day: hourly pizza delivery, impromptu hallway hockey, and the lack of his erstwhile roommate and best friend wasn't helping matters. Having Rob around wouldn't solve any of his current problems, but at least he'd have someone to complain to.

Of course, the man in question had graduated last year and currently was near the top of Duke's list of complaints (second only to his mother), so maybe that wouldn't work out so well.

His mood didn't improve as he wandered out of the building, refusing to dwell on the depressing silence. Judging from the fact that everyone's mailbox had a brand new copy of the dorm life pamphlet and schedule of events for 'welcome week', it appeared that Malcolm had also returned early and was Hall Director yet again. Only he would think that the returning upperclassmen would read, follow, or care about either.

A cursory glance at the schedule told him what he already knew: the freshmen were in for six boring hours tomorrow, and he was going to try his best to avoid the whole damn thing. Really- who wanted this more than once in a lifetime? He had a feeling that if the new students survived the Get to Know You Pancake Breakfast with the Headmaster! they would have learned everything they need to know or transferred out. Exactly what was he supposed to contribute?

Only one other item seemed to demand his attention: Welcome Address from Senior Class President Olivia Lennox.

Well, hell. That had some potential. That meant that she would be here tomorrow. That she was probably here today. That he had been sitting in his room, doing nothing, while Malcolm was out somewhere, probably following Olivia from the bushes with goofy eyes and creepy breathing…the jackass. Duke clenched his fists at the thought.

Olivia had had a rough summer. Duke knew more details about her failed college relationship than most at Illyria, and hoped that it would give him enough to start a conversation. Granted that he could find her.

"Why! Captain Orsino! Welcome, welcome! How lovely to see you out and about! Are you ready to guide our precious youngsters on their hairy adolescent journey, through the hallowed halls of Illyria?" Principal Gold, holding several sheets of glittery poster board, a hammer, and a chef's hat, spoke before Duke could formulate a plan to get away. "Oh, to be hairy and adolescent again. Why when I was young I recall being so full of…"

Save me!I won't be picky, someone, anyone, please interrupt this conversation! Duke didn't normally rely on divine intervention, but as the principal prattled on he was pretty sure that was his only chance of getting out of this without Gold trying to hug him, which he could really do without.

"- but I'm sure you two will get along great. I'll trust to keep an eye on him between my little visits, alrighty?"

"Huh? What was that?" 'What the hell is he talking about? What have I gotten into?'

"Sir!" Okay, maybe he should have been more specific. A miracle in the form of Malcolm wasn't exactly what he had in mind. If it were the lesser of two evils, he'd take the high-spirited principal any day. "I just wanted to let you know that I finished posting orientation schedules in all the freshman dorms ahead of schedule. Should I go assist Olivia?" It was common knowledge that Malcolm had run for Senior Vice-President in an effort to require more of his time be spent with Olivia. Did he really have to push it?

Hoping for a quick exit, Duke quietly took a step back from the pair, but the action only seemed to draw Gold's attention back on him. He handed the roll of posters to Duke, and wrapped an arm around each young man. "Here's an idea. Why don't the both of you go help her? I should go taste syrups and butters for tomorrow's breakfast! Have you ever had a poor syrup? I could tell you stories, but your innocent minds just couldn't take it. See you tomorrow!" With that, Principal Gold galloped off. Malcolm turned and began walking as well, leaving Duke with the choice to follow or not. After a moment's hesitation he did, idly wondering how hard he could whack Malcolm with the cardboard roll without damaging it. Probably not very hard.

Malcolm, determined to ignore Duke's very existence, never saw it coming.

Compared to the silence on the rest of campus, the main entryway was a flurry of activity. A dozen or so other students, only a couple of which Duke recognized, were decorating signs and hanging banners. Olivia stood in the middle, looking especially beautiful and going over something in a blue binder with Maria. Since he had no clue what to do, approaching her seemed like a reasonable option.

Hi. Right. Like that would sweep her off her feet.

That guy you were dating is a jerk. You deserve better. What was he, a girl?

'Liv! What's up? Lame.

Olivia! Long time no see. Even more lame.

Hi Olivia. How are you? Perfect. Simple. Very little chance he could screw it up. It would probably lead to a conversation, which could lead to dinner and that…

"Duke! Don't just stand there. If those are the signs for registration, go put them over by Eddie. And see if the two of you can finish assembling the tables there." Olivia's clipped voice knocked him out of his reverie.

'Idiot! Say something.' "Uh, what? Ye...yeah. Sure." There went his suave greeting. She muttered a response he couldn't hear, but made Maria giggle.

He tossed the posters on the grass, no longer concerned that one or two had a dent in the middle, as Eddie approached. He was a good enough guy, a captain on the lacrosse team that Duke knew through the occasional interaction, and looked like he felt just as out of place.

They bent over their project for a few moments. "So why, exactly, are we here?" It was the first time he'd dared ask the question, and Eddie shuddered.

"Don't make me think of it. I made the mistake of asking Gold this morning; he gave me a twenty minute lecture about all the freshmen needing "unofficial big brothers" or some shit."

"Attention! Attention everyone!" 'What moron gave Malcolm a megaphone? '

"While we are outside today, I'll need you all to keep hold of any large, deceased insects you may come across. Malvolio has recently changed to an all natural diet and with everyone's cooperation-"

'You've got to be kidding me'. That was the last straw. He was going to lock himself in his room until graduation.

"Hello? C'mon, man, we know you're in there!"

"Duke! Dude, get your lazy ass out here!"

Blurry-eyed, Duke rolled over and spent several seconds bringing the clock into focus. Just after two in the afternoon. 'Probably shouldn't have played video games so late last night.' Looks like he at least succeeded in missing the freshman move-in and breakfast, but he'd also missed Olivia's speech. 'You win some, you lose some'. After yesterday, it seemed a fair trade.

He could still hear incessant pounding on his door. Toby and Andrew, among others, had returned. Yesterday he would have jumped at the chance to see some friendly faces, but the dealings with Malcolm and Gold on top of failure to speak to Olivia set him in a bad mood. He debated ignoring them, though years of past history told him that they weren't likely to be put off.

"Alright, give it a rest. I'm coming"

"'Bout damn time." Toby said as he opened the door, "We've been out here for fifteen minutes. Weren't you supposed to be up babysitting newbies this morning?"

"Give me a break. Like I don't have better things to do." Andrew and Toby shared a look that clearly conveyed their amusement. Unless it was soccer, Duke rarely had anything he considered important to do.

"I bet one of those things is helping us haul our stuff in from the cars. Let's go, mon capitaine."

And so Duke found himself once again hauling bag after bag down the long hallway. As seniors, they had all finally been able to get the rooms at the end of the wing. Duke knew they would be grateful for the lack of noise later in the semester, but it did nothing to make moving in less of a pain in the ass. Most of the upperclassmen that were on or going out for a team were trudging around doing the same; sports tryouts started tomorrow and presence was mandatory, even for veteran players. He pitied any of the students that would have to move in during regular hours tomorrow, when all the extra energy got worked off in the hall. 'Why can't the year just start already?'

"So, I hear you had an eventful summer." Andrew heaved his overstuffed duffle onto his bed, scattering the pile of linens and clothes already lying there.

"I see good news travels fast. Who'd you hear that from?" Duke hadn't so much as breathed a word about anything 'eventful' to either of them, and neither Andrew nor Toby lived in the area. There were only a few ways he would hear enough to say something, and Duke had a feeling he knew. Andrew wouldn't meet his eye.


"Rob is full of it."

"So you two still haven't kissed and made up," Off Duke's glare, Andrew held up his hands and continued defensively. "Look, I don't care what kind of old captain/new captain struggle you guys are having or if you two never speak again, but this year was always going to be our year. Our last chance at a championship. Almost all the starters are returning. We open against Cornwall. I would like to know that you're going to be able to focus on the team without letting Rob, or Olivia, or whoever else screw with your head." Andrew was partial to dramatic speeches, but he was also one of few guys on the team that didn't usually get intimidated by Duke physically or otherwise. When Duke needed to be told something that he wasn't going to like, it was usually Andrew that said it.

"I'm still pissed at Rob, and Olivia is probably still determined not to give me a second glance. My mom is still driving me crazy. But none of that is going to get in my way of winning state this year." Toby entered the room with last suitcase as Andrew nodded once in understanding. He wanted the title too.

"If you're both done acting like girls, Dinklage is looking for you, Duke. We'll go make sure your PlayStation is working right while we wait on you."


"No sweat. We're here for you, man."

Although most might think it was strange, Coach Dinklage's office had gotten more daunting for Duke every year. Maybe because he was overly cocky in his freshmen year and it didn't intimidate him then as it should have, or maybe because every season after that mattered to him so much more. Crossing through the locker room towards the door as a senior and captain though, felt different. The names of returning players were already carefully lettered over their locker bank, lines of cleats, jerseys, and soccer balls sitting patiently across them, cleaner and more orderly than they would ever be after today. There was a kind of cackle in the air, a readiness. This was his kingdom, and he felt ready to go to battle.

Dinklage, leaning against the door to his office, seemed to understand and appreciate his thought, even if neither of them said a word. Without breaking the silence, he gestured toward the chair opposite his desk inside. When the coach remained standing and started pacing behind his desk, Duke knew whatever was coming wasn't good.

"We're a seasoned team this year, Duke. We have a lot of good players." He knew that already. 'Is this some kind of test?' "And we're sure to get several more tomorrow."

"I …certainly hope so, sir?" Dinklage had reached the end of the small room, and turned around from the wall to face Duke.

"They'll be counting on you to be their guide. Their rock. Someone they can count on. I'm counting on that too." More pacing.

"I don't plan on letting anyone down." He didn't. If anything, he was even more determined now to make his team successful.

"You've been a critical member of the team for the past three years. Remarkable and consistently so the entire time." The pacing continued. Duke was getting a little dizzy.

"Thank you?" 'He's setting me up for something. I can practically see the other shoe about to drop. What could I have done already?'

"So imagine my surprise when Gold mentions to me how sorry he was that my captain, my team's mainstay, my hand-picked field commander, missed "a boatload of syrupy goodness" at the freshman breakfast." The HELL? Dinklage was going to read him the riot act because he'd missed the principal's stupid frosh thing? He didn't even like Gold OR freshmen!

"Coach, come on. That stuff… isn't really my thing. There was no reason for me to be there." Dinklage suddenly stopped moving. 'Wrong thing to say. Wrong, wrong, wrong. Idiot, you know better than to walk into his argument like that!'

"No? You saw no reason to honor your commitments? No reason to support your school, which has never failed to support your team? No reason to exert the same influence on those students as you are expected to have on your teammates?" During a game, when they needed to hear it on the pitch, Dinklage was loud and angry. Almost all other times, he was quiet and angry, and that was definitely worse. Duke opened his mouth once or twice, trying to come up with a worthy defense. He quickly gave up. "I expect more than that. These boys take their cue from you. I know you're a good player. I know our side will be good this year. But you need to be more than that. You need to show them greatness. You have," a glance at his watch, "seventeen hours to make up your mind to do that. If that's not something you can or will do, don't set foot in my stadium tomorrow."

Duke wished could just be punched in the face instead. It would be easier to deal with and respond to. His determination to take Illyria all the way this year was strong, but there had to be something he could do to prove that to the coach and the team.

The walk back to the dormitory was a slow one.

The perfect capstone of his weekend was being locked out of his own room. Too weary to yell over the sounds of Offroad Fury 3, Duke simply leaned against the door and pounded.

"Damn, is that the delivery guy already?" Toby's voice got clearer as he approached the door from the other side, "Give me twenty bucks, man."

"Screw you. Why do I always have to pay for pizza?"

Tired or not, Duke was losing patience. "Will one of you just get the damn door!"

It opened to an apologetic Toby, "Sorry. Didn't expect you back so soon. We figured you and Dinklage would yap for hours about the Cornwall game. By the way, your mom called." Correction: Being locked out was nothing; a conversation with his mother was definitely just the thing to twist the knife of crappy weekend in his gut. "The message is on your machine." Small favor.

"Hi my little caterpillar! Just checking in to make sure you got settled. Now, I know you're busy, but I still have some lovely girls that need escorts, so try to keep the twenty-second open. I may need you to be a spare escort in case some poor soul loses hers. Why, we had a girl register just today, if you can imagine that! Also, the carnival is next week- isn't that exciting? All of our debs are working at it, and I know at least one, Olivia Lennox, goes to your school, so you should come and show some support! Daphne managed to fill out the rest of the volunteer spots, but I'll still expect you to be there. It's for charity. Also, try and find some time this week to get your hair cut, will you? We'll be taking program pictures soon."

Toby looked confused. "I know I don't know your mom all that well, but she sounded unusually…cheerful." Duke sighed in response. That was a polite way to put it. Step dad number two had gotten a little too friendly with his secretary over the summer, and Cheryl wasted no time in kicking him to the curb. She had thrown herself into medication and Junior League as a result, being elected president and debutant coordinator in quick succession. She played the part well, but Duke couldn't help but wish she would drop the stepford act. He avoided his mom these days, and their few interactions tended to be cold, but he missed the parent she used to be. When he was younger, and his dad had been around, things had seemed much…warmer.

"I guess…I had to start tuning her out over the summer." The ring against his chest shifted as if to remind him otherwise. "She's gone nuts."

"Sounds like she's spoken to Olivia, though." Andrew commented with a grin. "Maybe your mommy could set you two up." He chuckled as this suggestion was rewarded with a soccer ball to head.

"So how is the lovely Lady Olivia? Is she still on the rebound?" Toby had an annoyingly suggestive leer on his face, but Duke was too depressed to do anything more than huff in return.

"Shut up."

"Come on. If you were any kind of man, you'd pounce. Did you even try to make nice during your early arrival?"

"No. She barely said anything to me. I didn't expect much different." Not after seeing her swear that her brother, ex-boyfriend, and every soccer player in the world was dead to her. Duke refused to show how much even the memory stung; he'd tried his best to defend her and ended up getting cast aside just because… The whole mess was entirely the fault of Rob and his dumbass college friends.

Late July in New Haven

Olivia stood straight up, looking damnably beautiful in her shorts and t-shirt. It was windy that afternoon, and her hair was being tossed around in perfect harmony with her anger. She had seemingly appeared in the park out of nowhere, halting their impromptu game. I thought she looked like a goddess, come down to wreck some sort of havoc on the mere mortals of Earth. When she spoke, the sound broke me.

"I don't understand! How could you do this?" The park was empty except for the five sweaty guys in front of her. I would have rather been anywhere else in the world, though I was pretty sure Olivia didn't even notice me at all. Her attention was riveted on the man to my left. Rob's roommate. Her boyfriend. From the beginning I had never liked him, and the feeling was made all the worse when he started dating Olivia.

"Calm down, baby, I-"

"Don't 'baby' me. I know what's going on." Olivia waved some kind of an object that couldn't be seen clearly in his face, which must have meant something to the two of them as her boyfriend suddenly paled.

I was totally prepared to punch the guy on Olivia's behalf (or possibly just for my own peace of mind) when I noticed Rob looking oddly uncomfortable.

"What do you know about this?"

"He's got another girl now." Rob whispered back to me. "He met a cheerleader at the welcome back party we had last week. Olivia must have found out."

"So, you knew he was cheating on her? You didn't say anything?" Unbelievable.

"What was I supposed to do? He's my teammate; I wasn't just going to screw him over. I'd do the same for you." Rob gave me a grin, as though this was some sort of special consideration.

"Do me a favor and don't. Jesus Rob, don't you want to look out for Olivia at all?" The two of us looked at the girl in question as silence suddenly filled the air. When Olivia spoke, her voice was weak.

"Please, just stop seeing her. I…I know things happen. We can…"

"Liv, I'm sorry. I didn't really want to do this in public. It's just not going to work out. I have too much to handle right now with the season about to start without adding a high-school girl to the mix." Olivia's shoulders shook and a horrible sob-like sound emerged. I admit was relieved to see the anger return seconds later. I wasn't sure what I would do if she broke down right here and now, but I was sure that I would have to do something. Anything was better than watching her fall apart. Anything.

"Fine." She tossed the object in her hand, a camera, to Rob as he became the target of her fury, "This is yours. Full of pictures of you and my boyfriend whoring around with cheerleaders last weekend. I get it. You stupid jocks are a team, practically brothers. Brothers! You protect each other. You only care about yourselves! Don't worry; I won't make this mistake again. I swear to God, I'm never speaking to any more of you as long as I live!" As she ran off, I didn't hesitate in running after her. I was never really the sort to seek out emotional confrontation, especially with girls. But thatcomment couldn't go unanswered. She didn't really mean every soccer player, right? I hadn't even gotten a chance!

"Olivia! Wait up!" She didn't wait, and I followed her to the parking lot before she stopped to speak.

"Duke, look. I don't care about whatever excuse you have for Rob, or his friends, or for any of them. Please just don't speak to me. I need to go home." I had nothing to say to that. Hours, even minutes, later, I would have all sorts of ideas how to handle this. Beg her to listen. Ask for a chance to prove he was a decent guy. Tell her that Rob and all his friends were assholes. But at that moment, seeing her eyes full of tears, my chest felt too tight to speak and I had no choice but to let her get away.

"Hellooo…Earth to Duke!" Andrew returned his earlier hit with the soccer ball. "You were totally gone there, man."

"Sorry. What did you say?"

"I asked what you were going to do with the extra space now that Rob graduated."

"This is totally going to be the party room." Toby answered, "We'll make it the place that all the ladies like to hang out!"

Duke shook his head. Just what he needed. "I don't know…I think Gold wants to stick me with someone new." Duke wanted to avoid any and all talk of ladies or roommates for the rest of the evening. There was only one surefire way to accomplish that.

"So, which one of you losers wants their ass kicked at Offroad Fury?"

He felt like he was on much more familiar turf the next day. It was the customary organized chaos; the majority of the student body was moving in that morning and every sort of conceivable piece of sporting equipment littered the hallways as players and hopefuls dashed in and out. As had become his tradition (Toby and Andrew had termed it 'The Malcolm Reflex'), Duke took advantage of the disorder to 'accidentally' hit Malcolm in the head at every opportunity as he helped friends bring in their stuff.

He kept a close eye on his watch. Tryouts started at noon, but returning soccer players were meeting at eleven. In an effort to prove himself to Dinklage, he was determined to show up early. At ten, much to the amusement of Toby and Andrew (who were still trying fruitlessly to beat his high score on the game from the night before), he locked himself in his room, spread his jersey out on his bed, and stared at it. Somehow he was sure it held the secret to getting on Dinklage's good side again. Even laid out next to the bright jersey, the armband stood out. He could swear the damn thing was making fun of him. In retaliation, he grabbed it in a fist and shoved it to the bottom of his duffle bag. Maybe it would suffocate.

"Are you alright man? I've never seen you look so…freaked out." Toby's voice was half concern, half 'you're acting like such a pussy' accusation and rubbed Duke entirely the wrong way.

"I'm fine! I'm just trying to get all my shit together. You guys should be doing the same. We have to go in half an hour." It came out a harsher than he intended, but neither of the other boys seemed phased. "If you're so concerned about time," Toby responded without looking up from his game, "why aren't you dressed yet?"

Because the thought of actually being ready to go face Dinklage and his new team gave him the urge to throw up. Somewhat deflated, Duke pulled his practice jersey out of the closet to add to his bag, glancing at the clock.

The door wrenched open behind him and a small figure fell against it, breathing heavily. 'What the hell is this?' The guy was wearing full school uniform, a policy that was 'recommended' by administration for today and only followed by freshmen and geeks. The guy made several attempts at a greeting while Duke tried to determine exactly what the hell he was doing here. 'Please, please, please don't tell that this is…'

"You must be my roommates." 'Oh God. I have enough problems right now; this guy is the last thing I need.' He couldn't be too surprised, Gold had hinted as much. Duke had to laugh in spite of himself. It was official: the universe hated him. Andrew and Toby were both staring, but thankfully keeping their comments to themselves for the time being (Duke knew, though,that probably wouldn't last very long). Normally his first reaction would be similar, but he couldn't help feel sorry for this little guy, who was so clearly out of his league. They didn't have to like each other, but it would make both their lives easier if he were civil in close quarters.

"What's your name?"

"Sebastian Hastings." The tone annoyed Duke just a bit, as though Sebastian thought it should have been obvious. 'Whatever'. His mother was in Junior League, he'd introduced himself to such people before. What he wasn't less prepared to deal with was the fact that Sebastian turned to be ahugger. That was going to be awkward. 'No wonder Gold seemed so excited. They'll get along great.' Duke noticed Andrew and Toby looking on, horrorstruck, and decided to share the moment. Maybe they'd get hugged too. And hopefully keep their mouths shut to everyone else.

"This is Andrew and Toby, they live next door." 'Please feel free to spend as much time as possible over there. Or anywhere but here.' The two made a few smartass remarks, but Sebastian either didn't realize it or felt that goading them on was a bad idea.

"I…skipped a couple grades. I'm brilliant. Shh!" Duke wasn't impressed, and was even less so as Sebastian proceeded to fall off his mattress. 'You've got to be kidding me. I've been stuck with a guy who might as well be a freshman. How the hell am I supposed to deal with this?'

"Do you know when soccer tryouts are?" If they had met any other way, or Sebastian had come across as any less twitchy, the question might have convinced Duke that they would get to be friends. But since that wasn't the case, it just made him dread the upcoming meeting all the more.

"Noon." 'Like I could forget.' But why would this kid care? 'This has to be a joke, Malcolm trying to get revenge on me. There's no way…' "You play?" 'Please, tell me his dream is to be the statistician.'

"Center forward. You know it, bro." Dinklage rarely ever cut anyone who wanted to play, but Duke was pretty sure that even if Sebastian tried out he would never actually see game time. Sebastian, however, seemed to misinterpret his silence as an invitation to keep talking. "So, you play the beautiful game? Bro? Brothers? …Brethren?"

'No, I just keep the posters up for the hell of it.' Duke could help but chuckle again and noticed Toby struggling not to laugh. This guy was just short of inept. Probably someone who read a lot of books about soccer and thought playing it was the same thing. He recognized that he was no amazing conversationalist, but this was just sad. Maybe it would be worth keeping him around for amusement sake. "Yeah, I'm a striker. Andrew and Toby are halfbacks." 'You do know what those positions are, right?' Duke couldn't even look at the other two as he said it; Andrew was steadfastly ignoring the whole scene, and Toby had lost the battle with laughter, pulling his head down to avoid being tooinsulting.

It didn't matter much for now; in fifteen minutes they could all leave, and probably wouldn't need to speak to Sebastian for several hours. 'He can't be all that bad…maybe once he gets used to being here, he'll be a little less…weird." Duke's attention was suddenly caught by a patch of bright color in Sebastian's boots. Surely there was an explanation for this. Duke tried to be understanding, but there was no way…those things...could go without mention

"Ok…why do you have tampons in your boot?" Lo and behold, Duke had found a topic fascinating enough to pull Andrew and Toby away from their game. He made a note to make fun of them for it later. Sebastian gave some sort of explanation involving nosebleeds, suddenly more confident than he'd been a few minutes previously. Which was just creepy. Duke could tell that the other two, like him, were struggling to determine how to handle this. It became too much for all of them when Sebastian stood straight faced with half a tampon hanging down out of his nose. 'Where did they find this guy? He'd better pick that shit up off the floor.'

"Oh my God, your roommate's a freak!" Andrew, with his usual tact, summed up the situation nicely. Thankfully, Duke was spared having to make a response. He quickly elbowed the other two, nodding at the clock.

"We gotta get going. We'll, uh…see you out there."

Sebastian nodded eagerly, "At noon! I'll be there, brothers!" Andrew walked out with a muttered "Freak!" and Toby quickly followed, still shaking with laughter. Determined not be left alone with the new roomie, Duke pulled on his shirt, grabbed his duffle, and dashed for the door after them.

Dinklage was nowhere in sight when the three boys entered the locker room, much to Duke's relief. They hadn't been the first to arrive (that would be lame) but were early enough to show dedication. Nods and quiet greetings were exchanged as more players filed in; some offering Duke an extra word or two of congratulations. He knew he'd be expected to address them before the coaching staff arrived, and though the thought never troubled him before, he suddenly wished they could just get out on the pitch. What did one say to create greatness?

When all the guys had arrived, Duke stood up. They were in various states of dress, chattering aimlessly- someone had hidden Allgood's practice jersey, a few predictions at how many games they would win, early impressions of the potential newbies- but all stopped to look at him. He cleared his throat, trying to stall for precious seconds as he grappled with nerves. He had known most of these guys for years. Had been to this season-starting meeting twice before, and had always been inspired by speeches of previous captains, including that of his former best friend.

Last spring at Illyria

We had been teammates and roommates since my first day at Illyria, and the end of last year had felt like the end of everything. Rob's time as captain had gotten us closer to the championship than any team in last six years. He had shown our team unrelenting faith, and even after we lost he kept spirits high all spring by proclaiming how great we'd be the following season. I had always thought he was a stand up guy, someone I could trust. Rob doled out advice on being captain without hesitation, and listened to me worry over the summer without giving me grief.

"I'm not like you, man. I'm not good at inspiring people. I've been on the same field as most of them for three years, and now suddenly I need to have some sort of great insight. What the hell am I supposed to say?"

Rob laughed. "Hell if I know. I usually watched a movie like 'Gladiator'then copped a speech from that. So you're not the touchy-feely type. You have other strengths. You're…stoic. You'll think of something."

"So here we are," he began, "You guys all know me. I don't make big speeches. I think actions speak louder than words. So I'm not going to talk about winning. I'm not going to talk about winning the game against Cornwall, winning the state title, or winning anything. Nobody is going to talk about any of that. This season, we're going to do it. We achieved a lot last year. We went to the state championship game. I don't want to hear about it. The senior class is undefeated against Cornwall. I don't care. Until we – this team, this year –do it, we don't have time to waste talking. I'm going to give you guys everything I have on the field."

Several of the others were nodding in agreement, and nobody was looking at him like he was crazy, so all in all Duke felt like his first speech was a success. It gave him a rush. That feeling didn't last long, as Dinklage and the assistant staff walked in right after he was done. Duke had a strong suspicion the coach been listening in and waiting for him to finish. He couldn't help but be curious what Dinklage thought of it, but he'd rather run laps till doomsday than ask in front of everyone. Instead, he leaned against the wall and tried to look focused.

"Alright ladies, I hope you have put your summer off to good use. Last year, most of you were good enough to have significant playing time. Some of you might even think that having to come back for tryouts is unfair. That means absolutely nothing to me right now. Here in Illyria, you don't get your spot handed to you. If you don't pass muster today, you'll find yourself on the bench. We've got a good bunch going out for the team today, and you had better give me everything you've got."

'He must not have seen Sebastian yet'. Duke chided himself at the thought. It was possible that Sebastian could be a decent player. 'In the same way that it's technically possible Gold and Dinklage could be having a secret love affair.'

"If you haven't had a physical yet, make sure you see Coach Rodriguez or Coach Stuart today. If you were on the injury list last spring, or did anything stupid to yourself over the summer- Cohen, that means you- talk to the trainer before you set foot out of this room. Otherwise, I'd suggest the lot of you go warm up. I'll be waiting for you on the pitch in fifteen minutes."

Duke lingered for a moment as most of the other guys filed out, hoping that Dinklage might give him some direction. He caught the coach's eye just as he reached the door, and once again, Dinklage seemed to read his thoughts. "Not bad," he tilted his head and shrugged just a bit, "but not great."

All veteran players knew that 'I'll be waiting for you' really meant 'you'd better be waiting for me'. The newbies, to their credit, were pretty quick on the uptake. Duke never tired of the awed look on their faces when the team lined up in brand new practice dress. He'd been there once as a freshmen too; determined to be a part of the elite-looking line.

Sebastian was easily recognizable. He was the only guy Duke had ever seen wear such heavy sweats to go outside in August. Dinklage ran his traditional, disparaging review of the hopefuls and wasted no time in declaring Sebastian to be on the skins scrimmage team. 'Probably trying to keep the kid from getting heatstroke'. Almost immediately, though, Sebastian protested. Duke and Andrew shared a look over Toby's head, not daring to move too much. It was hard to tell if Sebastian was being serious or just an exceptionally deadpan smartass. Dinklage seemed to have to same issue, but let it go with only mild comment. Duke made a note of it though; newbies who tried to talk back to the coach were in for a hard time.

The drills were familiar and welcome for Duke, and he could tell most of the others felt the same way. It was no worse than most practices. Still, with Dinklage's disappointment ringing in his ears, he threw himself into each activity with abandon. 'Maybe he's looking for greatness by example.'

He didn't really want to admit it, but Sebastian wasn't terrible. He lacked all kinds of polish, and stamina was definitely an issue, but Duke had seen worse at tryouts. When Dinklage had the assistants begin assigning menial exercises- sit-ups, jumping-jacks, push-ups- he knew they were near the end. It bothered him, though, when he noticed that Sebastian had given up. Even if he'd had a superior showing beforehand, that type of thing would make him second string for sure.

"Orsino!" Duke stopped mid sit-up and turned his head. "Get over here."

"Coach?" Dinklage and two of the assistants stood in a small group. They took a step back to make room for him.

"What's your feeling?"

"Coach? I'm not sure…" Duke felt puzzled. 'Did Dinklage not expect me to hack it?'

"Tell me what you've noticed." The coach impatiently continued, "You've been out there playing for three hours. Are you going to tell me you have absolutely no opinion on anything?"

It was like a light bulb went off in Duke's head. 'Duh'. "Oh. Uh…Donner's quick, but timid. Potentsky is…enthusiastic. Haimes is probably the best of the new guys."

"Better than Feldman?"

Tough question. Feldman, as a freshman, had started the final four games of last season. He didn't look as sharp today. Still, Duke wasn't going to throw him under the bus. "No way."

Dinklage raised an eyebrow at his vehemence, but didn't follow up. "How about Hastings?"

Duke cringed. He really didn't want to be the reason his roommate didn't make the cut. Of course, he also didn't want to be the reason his team was sub-standard. In the end, there wasn't really a choice. 'Hastings brought it on himself.'

"Solid skill set, but he doesn't finish well. Gives up." That appeared to satisfy Dinklage, who promptly sent him back to finish push-ups with the team.

As the group gathered around, Duke wasn't surprised to hear that the first-string was all returning players. Talented freshmen could certainly earn their place, but this year's existing team had been especially strong. Dinklage made a special point of calling out Sebastian for second string. While most of the new players didn't understand, everyone else saw it for what it was: a message. Quitters got nowhere on this team.

Duke still wasn't sure how he felt about tryouts as he walked into the shower. The coaches probably held the same opinions he did, and he doubted there was a lot he could have said that would have made a difference either way. But it still felt like a lot more weight on his shoulders than he had anticipated.

The obnoxious jabbering behind him wasn't helping matters.

"I'm telling you! I dated this chick from Cornwall and, damn, did she know how to-" Duke turned to find Sanger and Ewing, two sophomores, absorbed in a loud, graphic conversation about a very flexible sounding girl. The entire topic didn't sit well with him on any level.

"Shut it, both of you." Everyone within earshot stopped to look at him. Ewing looked particularly confused.

"Duke, what gives? We were just…"

"I know. And it stops now." He wasn't sure where this was coming from. Clearly the whole thing with Olivia over the summer had affected him more than he thought. "What if it were someone else talking that kind of shit about your sister or your girlfriend?" Ewing had a sister two years his junior, Duke knew the remark would hit home. To lighten the suddenly heavy mood, he added "And seriously, you're bragging about a girl from Cornwall?" Laughter all around. "Everyone make a note: the first rule about Cornwall is we don't talk about Cornwall."

Sebastian was nowhere to be seen after everyone had re-dressed and Duke couldn't say he was sorry about it. He was already pretty sure he would spend a good potion of his time avoiding his room from now on. It wasn't as though he didn't have other things to do, anyway. Now that the newbies had their official spots on the team, it was time to roll out the welcome wagon. He grinned as the new second stringers wearily drifted out of the locker room, oblivious to the knowing looks being passed behind them. Tomorrow, they would be considered part of the team regardless of how well they played. Tonight, they would have to earn the privilege.

A few hours later, Duke, Toby and Andrew sat at a table in the cafeteria with Eddie, finalizing plans for their 'welcome party'. Duke had dispatched a few others to pick up the essentials and check on room numbers, leaving the three of them to handle what remained.

"So, Leslie's bringing the soundtrack and Grillo's got the oatmeal covered." Toby look gleeful; he always got a sick amount of satisfaction at pelting their new 'inductees'.

"Some of my guys will create enough trouble on the east quad to call Malcolm out of the building if you'll do the same for us in the spring again." Eddie added, and Andrew nodded in response. This arrangement had been settled on the year before last. Andrew played two years of lacrosse before concentrating on soccer, and had originally been able to talk a few friends into the job. It was a far lesser offense to be busted for 'raucous behavior after curfew' than for hazing, and both teams quickly picked up on it. "And man, what the hell are you doing to that muffin?" Duke shook his head. These were the guys he depended on?

"So what's left? Wake-up call?" Duke disliked that part the most; oatmeal was mixed in the locker room, but waking up the newbies required hauling buckets of other disgusting stuff around with them. He wouldn't have to do that this year, thank God, but there was one thing that worried him about it. "Make sure whatever we get Hastings with won't make my life miserable. Nothing that will smell, crawl, or do anything else foul."

Andrew grinned, and Duke could practically see the evil thoughts form. "Aw, I was hoping to get him with the spiders."

"Hell no."

"Sour milk?"




"So what would you suggest?"

"Just make it easy. I don't know, douse him with water. It'll do the job and nothing in my room will make me nauseous for the next week."

"Fine. But he had better appreciate the consideration he's getting. I think-"

"Hey dudes! Mind if I join?" Sebastian helped himself to an empty chair without hesitation. Eddie, noticing that the topic of conversation was now present, mumbled an excuse under his breath and took off. "Thanks!" The three boys shared a glance, determined not to start any conversation that might make Sebastian think he was welcome. Despite the short time since they had met, Duke wasn't surprised when Sebastian kept talking.

"So those soccer tryouts were bogus, huh? I mean second string, c'mon that's ridiculous! Am I right? Am I right?" Duke remained impassive, uncertain if Sebastian was trying to make a statement directly to him. It didn't really bother him if he was, but he was having serious concerns about the guy's character. 'What is this kid on? Does he not remember the last six hours? Just shut up already!' As though he heard the mental command, Sebastian fell silent. But not for long.

"So, the game against Cornwall, that should be interesting huh?" Ugh. Duke was rapidly becoming convinced that Sebastian was trying to piss him off. Still, there was a slim possibility that this trespass was just because he was new, and probably not too familiar with their policy not to mention Cornwall before the game itself.

"And why," He'd get one more chance, but if he made any assumptions about winning the game, he was going to get his ass kicked. "Would that be interesting?"

"Well, my sister goes there and she used to date that tool, Justin Drayton." The three other boys immediately burst into laughter, knowing what was coming next. Trespass forgiven. Re-hashing the humiliation of Drayton was always permissible, especially to new guys.

Duke grinned at the memory. "I know him; I made him cry once during a game." It was practically a legend. He enjoyed thinking of it and did so often. The incident must have been memorable to the Cornwall side too, because Sebastian clearly knew of it. Sebastian's sister must have been just as strange as he was to even consider dating the guy. Probably Cornwall's version of Eunice. It didn't matter anyway, Duke was steering clear of all that sort of drama.

"Is your sister hot?" The chuckles died as Duke slid a glare at Toby, who grinned. 'Shut up. There will be no more talk of anyone's sister. And I'm going to beat the shit out of you for that later.'

The question seemed to throw Sebastian a bit too. "Uhhh…I guess…so. She's got a great personality." Andrew and Toby heard 'personality' and were immediately disappointed, but Duke just shrugged. He wasn't concerned about it, but was pretty sure Sebastian was lying. For one thing, from what little he knew about Drayton, the guy wouldn't be caught dead with a total dog. And two, Duke figured if he had a hot sister, he wouldn't say anything might encourage these guys to think about her either. Sebastian trying to shelter his sister was….respectable.

And speaking of hot… "Incoming." Duke strained to get a better look.


She was talking leaning in the service window some distance off, so Duke couldn't see her face. It didn't really bother him since….other equally interesting assets were on display. The skirt she was wearing was much more flattering than the khaki uniform, and Duke was content to indulge himself in the picture without worrying that she might catch him staring.

"Whoo! Check out the bootie on that blondie!"

"Uh-oh..." Years of dealing with over-protective instincts on subject of Olivia had conditioned most of the soccer team to avoid making comments about her. Caught off guard by Sebastian's remark, Duke's response was less threatening than it might have been.

"Don't talk about her that way."'Who does this guy think he is?'

"Oh? Is that your girlfriend?" No one at the table could know exactly how close Sebastian came to getting pounded for this response, since Toby chose that moment to transfer the whole of Duke's annoyance onto him.

"Ha! He wishes." All Duke could do was level another glare. 'There are no words to describe how hard I'm going to beat the shit out of him later.' Toby clearly picked up on the thought, and his amusement died instantly. Andrew attempted to smooth things over with the Reader's Digest version of the summer breakup, but Duke tuned him out. 'There's got to be a way to convince her that I'm not just a jock.'

"In man words, it's time to pounce!"

"Absolutely." The two friends pointedly ignored Duke as they spoke, but he was focused elsewhere and failed to get the hint. They realized why as a shadow crossed the table. Malcolm. Still in uniform, as though it was especially impressive, he sauntered over to Olivia. Duke crushed his straw in his hand. Even just the sight was enough to make him want to chuck an apple at the obnoxious idiot.

"I hate that guy." Major understatement, but he really couldn't afford to start anything right now.

"Looks like you got some competition." Malcolm was clearly mocking him, trying to provoke him into looking like a further jerk in Olivia's eyes, and Duke wasn't going to fall for it.

"It's just Malcolm." Most of his issues with Malcolm had little to do with competing for Olivia's attention. It was pretty clear to everyone but Malcolm that Olivia would rather be anywhere else. Still, the way he was trying to cozy up to her gave Duke to urge to hit him.

"She looks so sad; it's heartbreaking." The other three boys froze. Duke began seriously considering the possibility that Sebastian was bi-polar. It was the only explanation he could think of that would account for the total one-eighty from 'blondie with a bootie' to 'heartbreaking' in less than three minutes. In what was clearly now his habit, Sebastian continued to blather on about his last relationship despite a distinct lack of interest. 'Give me a break. How sappy is he?' While he was lost in his own world of happy bunnies or whatever, the boys shared a glance and Duke gave a nod toward to exit. He swiped Sebastian's bottle as he stood, leaving his own apple by way of payment. 'He doesn't need anymore caffeine anyway.'

The bottle gave a far more satisfying thud against Malcolm's head on the way out than the apple would have. Olivia was nice enough to pretend not to notice anything.

Part two should be out soon. Thank you for sticking with me!