Realization

T

Disclaimer: I don't own OffBeat.

Author's Note: Dedicated to Wonder1440

Author's Note 2: This story does not have anything to do with any of my other OffBeat stories. It is separate. It is not in any way connected to the others.


One day, Tory and Colin were walking to Physics class. They usually didn't converse much, but today they had found that they both liked the movie Airborne, and were talking about that.

"What was the name of that hill? Devil's Backbone or something?" Colin asked.

"Yeah, and they like raced down it?" Tory replied.

"Oh yeah, yeah, I remember that," Colin nodded after remembering the scene a little more clearly. Suddenly their friendly banter was interrupted by a bunch of rowdy jocks who came barreling down the hall, seemingly out of nowhere.

"Whoa! Look out!" cried Tory. But all too soon the jocks plowed into the duo, sending them sprawling on the floor like stuffed animals. Tory landed on his backpack, which pretty much broke his fall, but Colin was knocked onto the floor and he slid a few feet into the lockers. There was a loud SLAM when he hit them.

"Agh!" grunted Tory, getting up. "Frickin' assholes!"

"Sorry, man, are you OK?" they asked.

"Yeah," Tory grunted again, brushing himself off. "I'll be fine."

"Sorry," apologized another jock. "We cool?" he offered his fist in an effort to make amends.

"Yeah, we're cool," said Tory, knocking his fist with the other boy, therefore forgiving them. The jocks moved on, and Tory looked around to find Colin. He found him surrounded by a crowd of students, just gawking at him as he had another coughing fit. "Colin! Are you OK?" Tory cried.

"I'm…fine…" huffed Colin, staggering to get up.

"Here, let me help you," Tory offered his arm and lifted Colin up off the floor.

"No, don't, it's fine," said Colin between gasps of air.

"Colin, you can barely stand!" Tory insisted. "Alright people, move, move," he said as he pushed his way through the crowd to get Colin to the nurse. Finally, Colin gave up his protests, and allowed Tory to take him to the nurse.

"Colin!" gasped the nurse when they got there. "What happened?" Colin could only cough and wheeze helplessly as his weight was transferred from Tory's shoulder to the cot in the office. The nurse kind-of silently shooed Tory out of the office and into the main part of the Health Center, as when another student is in need of medical attention, only family members (or in Colin's case, a legal guardian) are allowed to know what's going on.

Tory paced outside the door for about five minutes, and finally he heard Colin stop coughing. He knew that when the nurse came out she would probably just tell him to go back to class, so he slipped around a corner and into an unoccupied room while the nurse exited the room that Colin was in. Once he was sure she was out of the Health Center completely, Tory quickly went to see Colin.

Colin was lying on his side on the cot, all scrunched up like someone had punched him in the gut. His face was flushed and he was sweating visibly. He was facing toward the wall, but he knew it was Tory who had just come in. It was only when Tory was close to his friend that he noticed Colin was shaking.

"Hey," he said softly.

"Hey," Colin answered back.

"Are you alright?"

"I'm fine."

"What happened?" Tory pressed on.

"You were there," Colin answered gruffly.

"Well, I meant…" Tory began. "Colin, what's wrong with you?" Colin didn't answer. Tory asked again. "Please tell me, Colin." Still no answer. Tory touched the raven-haired boy's shoulder gently and asked again, with tears in his eyes. "Please." This time when he said it, his voice cracked.

Colin suddenly felt a little guilty for keeping Tory in the dark. He rolled over so that he was now facing Tory. His arms were folded across his chest and his face was tensed up with pain.

"I have asthma," he stated simply. Tory raised an eyebrow.

"Asthma?" Colin nodded. "That's it?" Another nod. "Why didn't you just say so in the first place?"

"It's complicated," Colin sighed.

"Well, I want to know," said Tory. He took Colin's hand in his own and looked into the other boy's eyes.

"Why?"

"Because…" said Tory, blushing. "…because I care about you." Colin half-smiled. "You're my friend," Tory quickly added.

"Look, it doesn't matter. I have asthma, now you know," said Colin.

"Why don't you use an inhaler?" asked Tory.

"I can't," said Colin. "I'm allergic to the medicine."

"Really?" Tory asked. "I didn't even know…that…that was like…even a thing you could be allergic to."

"Yeah, well, I am," said Colin. "First time I used it, my eye, like, swelled shut, and I couldn't stop sneezing. It was weird."

"Sounds weird!" Tory agreed. Then he wondered whether or not this had anything to do with the Gaia Project. He felt he was on a roll with Colin, getting him to tell him stuff, so he decided to just ask. "So, does this…um…have anything to do with…uh…"

"The Gaia Project?" Colin finished for him. "Yeah. I'm actually a guinea pig in an experimental drug. And so far it's not working."

"Whoa," said Tory.

"Yeah, it stands for Genetic Alteration In Adolescents," said Colin. "G-A-I-A." Tory was stunned.

"It's an anagram?" he said, almost angrily.

"Uh, the word is acronym," Colin corrected him.

"I thought…I thought it meant…" Tory couldn't even finish his sentence. He couldn't believe he'd been so wrong. Neither of them spoke for at least a minute.

"So, now that you know," Colin began. "you can get back to your life." Tory looked up. "And, you know, you won't have to tutor me anymore." Tory looked down, feeling a strange sense of guilt inside him. True, he had only offered to tutor Colin to get close to him so he could figure out what the Gaia Project was, and now that he knew, he had no reason to ever speak to him again. Right?

"Colin, I…" Tory started. He wasn't even sure what he was going to say, so he just stopped. "I'll…see you later." And with that, he left the Health Center.

That evening at home, Tory shut himself up in his room for the night and wouldn't come out for dinner. Saving herself the trouble, Tory's mom sent Paul in to see what was up.

"Tory!" Paul called through the door. "You'd better come out, or I'm going to eat your dinner!"

"Go away," mumbled Tory.

"Come on, man. You can't stay in there forever."

"I'm not going to stay in here forever. Just until I die!" Tory called. He didn't even care that that hadn't even made any sense.

"What's wrong?" asked Paul.

"Go away!" Tory yelled. Paul frowned.

"Fine!" he yelled back. "Sorry, Ms. B.," he said. "He's not talking."

"Thanks anyway, Paul," said Ms. Blake. "I'm sure he'll come around.

Tory did manage to stay in his room for the rest of the evening, and it wasn't until late that night that he finally emerged. He wasn't at all surprised to find Paul on the couch, eating chips and flipping through the TV channels.

"Don't you have your own TV to watch, freeloader?" Tory asked.

"Mine doesn't work," said Paul. He switched the TV off. "What's up?"

"Uh…" Tory started. "Nothing."

"Well…are you feeling alright?"

"I don't know," said Tory, his voice cracking, tears welling up in his eyes. Paul suddenly became very concerned.

"Hey," he said softly. "What's wrong?" Tory sat down on the couch next to his friend.

"I know what the Gaia Project is," he said.

"Really? What is it?"

"Well, I can't tell you…it's probably not even safe for me to know," said Tory.

"Yeah, you're probably right. OK, don't tell me!" agreed Paul.

"But the weird thing is…" Tory went on.

"Yeah?"

"Well, it's weird. It's like…" he stuttered. "Ugh, how do I explain it?" he muttered to himself. "It's like, OK, you know how I was trying to figure out stuff about Colin so I could figure out what the Gaia Project was?"

"Yeah."

"Well, now that I know, I have no reason to…you know…"

"Stalk him?" Paul finished. Tory glared at him.

"I'd prefer the word pursue," he said. Paul chuckled. "But yeah. And, I still…kinda-sorta…want to be friends with him," he said. "It's weird, I know, but…"

"Why is it weird?" asked Paul. He knew what the situation was already, but he wanted to see if Tory could figure it out for himself.

"Well, 'cause, I guess, like, I never really wanted friends in the first place. And it's not even like…I want to hang out with him. I just like…you know…being with him." Tory explained (more to himself than to Paul).

"I think it's pretty obvious what's going on here, Tory," said Paul.

"What?" Paul smirked at Tory, hoping he could figure it out. Tory just raised an eyebrow. "What?" he asked again. Paul sighed and decided to just tell him.

"You like him."

Tory didn't say anything the rest of the night or even in the morning when he left for school that next day. He certainly didn't deny that he liked Colin, but he wasn't about to admit it to Paul! He couldn't confide in Mandy, since he was sure she'd just squeal like the girl she was, and she might even tell her friends.

Tory felt pretty guilty about his whole stalking-Colin thing. He knew how bad it felt when Colin would brush him off or just plain ignore him, but how did Colin feel knowing that the only reason someone talked to you was just because they were curious about some project you were involved in? As if there was no need for spending time with that person just for the sake of spending time with that person? How did Colin feel being at that end of the equation?

Tory felt pretty bad.

In Physics that day, Tory noticed that Colin wasn't there. He could have been absent, but there was always the possibility that he was in the nurse's office. Faking the need to use the bathroom, Tory was temporarily excused from class, and he made a beeline for the Health Center.

Sure enough, Colin was there, sitting on the examination cot. He didn't appear to be in any pain, but he still must not have been well enough to be in class, since he wasn't. Tory was relieved to see that there was no one else in the room with Colin, so he slowly let himself in. Colin looked up.

"Hey," he said. Tory was too embarrassed to speak, so he just nodded. "Just so you know, it's illegal to test this experimental drug on minors, so that's why the Gaia Project is top secret. So I hope you didn't tell anyone," said Colin.

"I didn't," Tory said.

"Good," said Colin. After a few more seconds of silence, Colin spoke again. "Why are you here?"

"I needed to tell you something," said Tory. When Colin remained silent but attentive, Tory realized that he meant for him to keep talking. "Well, for one thing, I'm sorry I…" he cleared his throat. "I'm sorry I…invaded your privacy," he said for starters. Colin nodded.

"Don't worry about it," he said.

"And, I know…it wasn't fair to you…that I lied…about why I wanted to get to know you…and why I was like, always around…" Tory kept muttering. "I mean, if someone did that to me, I'd probably be like, 'Oh, so that's why you wanted to be friends? I'm not interesting enough on my own, I have to be involved in a top-secret medical project for you to like me?' and I'd be…you know, a little bit…um…pissed off, too," Tory explained. Colin smiled because he could see how hard Tory was trying to be polite and sincere, and how much he was blushing.

"Whatever," said Colin.

"I just want you to know, that…it wasn't a total loss," said Tory. "I mean, I still do want to be friends with you."

"I still want to be friends with you, too," Colin admitted. Tory smiled a bit. "Although things will never be the same between us."

"What do you mean?"

"We'll both always know that it didn't start out honestly. We'll both always know that it was just a coincidence that we happen to get along and like the same things. It's not like being friends was your original intent," said Colin.

"OK, ouch," said Tory. "Isn't that just what I got through apologizing to you for?"

"It doesn't matter," said Colin. "Sooner or later, Dr. Garrets is going to find out I've been talking to you, and he'll come between us."

"Uh, you lost me," said Tory.

"If Dr. Garrets gets caught testing drugs on a minor, he'll go to jail, and I'll just get put in a foster home or something, and my life will just be even more messed up than it already is. So if it's OK with you, I think it's best if we just pretend we never met!" Colin growled.

"What?" cried Tory. "I though you just said you still wanted to be friends!"

"In theory, yes, but I can't trust you!" Colin squeezed his eyes shut and covered his face with his hands. "Ugh! Why am I doing this?" he shouted to himself. "Why did you have to talk to me? Why couldn't you just mind your own business?"

Tory backed up. "Colin, I'm sorry. I never meant to get you into any trouble."

"Well, you did!" shouted Colin. He folded his arms, lay down on the cot and turned over towards the wall. "Why does it have to be like this?" he grumbled to himself. Tory was about to leave, but he saw how much Colin was suffering. He knew he liked Colin, he knew he liked him as more than just a friend. He knew that Colin needed him, so he stayed.

"Why are you going through with this?" Tory asked softly.

"What?"

"If testing meds on a minor is illegal, why are you doing it? I mean, what are you getting out of it?" Tory asked.

"In exchange for being the guinea pig for the Gaia Project," Colin began, sitting up. "I get to stay with Dr. Garrets." Tory was now even more confused. He hopped up onto the cot beside Colin.

"So…if you don't go along with this…?"

"Like I said, I'll get put in foster care. And that'd suck," said Colin. "I want to stay with Garrets. I've known him as long as I've known my parents."

"Even so, you could still probably…" Tory didn't even know where he was going with this sentence, so it was a good thing that Colin interrupted him.

"I mean, he may be strict, but he does care about me," Colin said softly.

"He's not the only one," said Tory. Colin looked at Tory, and then shifted his eyes away from him. Then back, then away from.

"What are you saying, then?" he asked playfully, a smirk tugging at his lips.

"Well…" Tory shifted his eyes around the room and touched Colin's hand with his own. "You know…"

"No, I don't know," said Colin.

"I…you…" Tory stuttered, and finally just gave up on words and just grabbed Colin's face and kissed him. "There. Happy now?"

"Very," said Colin. And they kissed again.


THE END (I might write an epilogue.)

Author's Note: I was originally going to have them say word-for-word what Cher and Josh say on the stairs in Clueless, but then I figured I should just write my own dialogue. Maybe somebody out there can write an OffBeat-Clueless parody. I'd read that! Hint! Hint!

Author's Note 2: I don't know if it IS possible to be allergic to asthma medicine, but I got the idea (and the symptoms) from my sister, who IS allergic to aspirin. Which sucks, because she gets migraines.

Please review, thanks