Into the Flame

A "10 Things I Hate About You" Story

*

The sound of nauseating pep exploded in the distance, accompanied by a drum roll and a loud uproar of clapping hands. The dark night was light up by the stadium lamps streaking lines down each side of Padua High's football field. The bleachers were lit up underneath them in blurs of peppy yellows and reds. Behind the left-side bleachers a ways back was the parking lot, jam packed and swarming with pepped up, over-hormonal, vapid teenagers. Clashing sounds of music roared from various car-speakers across the lot, adding to the cacophony of school-spirit and contradicting delinquency.

Through the hyped-up organized anarchy, down the south end of the lot, gathered a group of delinquents that stood out frozen still in the swaying orchestra. The dark brooding intensity clouded over them was a palpable aroma that didn't fail to reach out and grab any passerby unlucky or oblivious enough to wander within the vicinity of their territory. They congregated around a hot-red 72' Chevrolet Impala convertible, something which in its prime was a masterpiece of eye-catching style. Now it was coated in chipped paint and rust, covered with dents and dings, and suffering lacerations of epic proportions along the soft-top.

At the head of the gathering was without a doubt the unofficial leader, Patrick Verona. Tall and lanky with the bulk of a leather jacket and combat boots, Patrick was stretched back against the hood of the car with his hands latched behind his head. His voluminous wavy raven hair was normally cut short but had recently been let to grow out till disobedient curls constantly draped into his eyes, eyes that held such a sleepily contented intensity to them that most everyone who past him by was silently persuaded to keep their distance.

The ludicrous rumors all solely focused on what a terrifying man he was that had been circulating the school since freshman year was half of that persuasion. Though all of this had influence, it was his pure essence as a whole that held such a mysterious intensity that made so many interests pique. Guys avoided him. Girls wanted him. It worked out perfectly because he was too bored and disinterested in his life to bother with handling adversarial egos of the male persuasion, and the only women that were brave enough to approach him were the only type of women he was interested in.

But that cool disinterested contentment he projected was a lie. He wasn't content, not in the slightest. Had never been. No. He was bored. Going stir-crazy. And so hopeless that he'd given up on trying to change that. And then the new semester at Padua started. With it was brought a handful of new students, just arrived in Padua, still fresh and undiscovered. It was always bound for at least a week of distraction and interaction before the novelty faded and he was back to privately going out of his mind with monotone-overload.

Only… things were different this time.

His interested had been effectively captured with one scathing insult and a leveling stare-down from the most unsuspected source. And now he couldn't get his mind off of it. Off of her. A plan was already beginning to formulate. A new challenge. A new adventure. The end of boredom and the beginning of an exciting new mission.

"Think of the devil," he muttered under his breath just as his gaze caught a familiar prickly brunette with an affinity for causing serious injury to any male rude or lewd enough to antagonize her.

The most noticeable of Verona's Crew was the one and only girl. Lucy Evans, the blonde supermodel who marred her beauty with black stripes of dreadlocks through her platinum hair, a steel bar through her tongue and naval, and an array of ink implanted in her otherwise unblemished skin. She was wrapped in a maroon leather vest that belonged over a real top but was forced to go without and a jeaned miniskirt with tears and stains paired knee-high leather boots.

Lucy sat on the bumper of her brother Nick's Impala, popping obnoxiously at her bubblegum and people-spotting with avid and mocking interest. She was in fact the first to notice the commotion revving up across the lot between the notorious biker-gang of criminals that called themselves 'The Sicilians' and the two girls that had just caught their attention.

"Get a look at that," Lucy sang cheekily while she slid from her perch to swagger round the car and lean a hip against the hood by Verona's spot. "Verona's girlfriend's got herself mixed up with Sicily already."

"Girlfriend?" Nick wondered laughingly. "I wouldn't go that far just yet, sister-dear. A few nasty altercations do not instantly equal true love, contrary to your oh-so-special belief."

"Hello," the other blonde guy added, joining them, "This is Verona we're talking about. The first girl to come around in… ever… that can so suavely hand him his ass on a spiked platter and you think he's not already in love?" Devon, Verona's cousin and roommate, sent him a taunting smirk from over his shoulder and winked before he plopped down next to Lucy against the hood and flung an arm round her waist, jostling her and chasing away her smile when his hand quickly dropped to skim along her butt.

"You're such a slimy jerkoff," she spat, shoving him off of her.

"Dude," Nick glowered dangerously, "what did I say about touching my sister?"

Devon's hands went up in defense. "I didn't."

"You did," Lucy nodded. Then she turned back to the escalating scene just as a black-clad jackass she recognized as Zack grabbed the brunette's ass at the same time she noticed a goody-goody gentleman classmate by the name of Griffin making his way to them, obviously intent on rescuing the terrorized new girl. "Uh-Oh, better get over there quick Verona, before Griff poaches your prey."

Verona rose up into a sitting position, languidly watching. He gave a curt shake of his head. "Not gonna happen…" A dark smile flickered over him as he laid witness.

"Tell me," the brunette girl drawled with a mocking tilt to her head as she let him drag her to him, manhandling her in the process and copping a majorly inappropriate feel. "Are you by any chance wearing a cup?"

Zack's brow furrowed with confusion. "Uh… No. Why?"

She smiled cruelly. "Well, if you were—this would be much less fun." As she spoke in a honey-sweet voice her sneaky hand had pulled something from her bag and shoved it lowly between them. The crackle of electricity and the sizzle of burnt flesh stained the air, mingled with a guttural cry as Zack yelped and doubled over on himself, clutching desperately at his crotch. His cronies started to swarm, but she just spun on them with a smile and lazily let the taser crackle in her hand as a silent yet ever clear warning. They let her pass them by, and the little blonde girl scurried after her.

"Kat," Blondie exclaimed in a shrill tone, "Why do you always have to be such a shrew?"

"I like the attention," she quipped back and walked away, leaving Zack still groaning and moaning on the pavement.

"Ah, that was priceless," Lucy sighed happily as Nick and Devon laughed their asses off, still watching as the cronies went to gather their leader and drag him limping and whimpering off in shame. Griffin stood off to the side with a lost look on his face before his shoulders slumped and he walked off towards the stadium.

The sound of cheerleaders crooning in shrill tones of over-enthusiastic cheer once again enveloped the quiet night.

Verona laid back in thought, staring up at the inky night sky as the thunderclouds rolled in almost imperceptibly, and thinking over the brunette and his developing intentions.

"How long do you think he'll last in the ring with her?" Devon asked with a smirk, jerking his head towards Verona.

"At least a whole two minutes before he gets dissed and dismissed."

"Or tasered," Devon added happily.

"I don't know guys," Nick shrugged in debate with himself, "Our boy may just stand a chance."

"He's good. But he's not that good."

Nick's smirk was devious. "I feel a wager coming on."

"Careful boys," Lucy warned, "you're bordering on cliché teen-movie scene."

"No bet," Verona interceded quietly, "just a decision."

They all fall silent and turn to him, only to find him still staring up at the sky in a daze, seemingly oblivious to them all.

"Right then… Well, we're off," Nick piped up, hopping from the car and dragging his sister by the arm. "C'mon Lu, we've got a PA playlist to switch out."

"You coming Patrick?" Lucy asked over her shoulder a few spaces away.

He shook his head without so much as a glance and let his three friends saunter off to their miscreant activity.

His wandering mind eventually returned and inaction settled heavily on his chest, sending Verona leaping from the car and weaving his way towards the uproar in search of one Katharine Stratford.

A few minutes later he found her hiding under the bleachers, away from the ruckus of teenage spirit, with an SLR camera slung around her neck. She was pacing slowly down one end. Her eyes roamed intently over everything in sight. Her fingers played absentmindedly with the settings on the SLR. Her chocolate hair was swept up into a Steelers' baseball cap, yellow and black, with stray tendrils dripping down around the nape of her neck. There was something indescribable about it that instantly crept under his skin and made him itch incomprehensibly.

He ducked and maneuvered silently under the web of steel rods, delving into the shadows as he made his way to her. She was facing away from him, giving him the perfect option to approach her unawares. When he was mere feet away Patrick stopped and stuffed his hands in his pockets, leaning a shoulder against a nearby rod.

She raised the SLR and aimed, snapping action-shots of the game between the gaps in the bleachers. "Patrick Verona," she said suddenly, still focused on the camera lens. "What an unpleasant surprise…" she drawled, her husky voice dripping with dry sarcasm.

"Kat Stratford," he countered with a smirk of appreciation, "what a funny place to run into you." He took a step towards her and slanted in, cocking a teasing brow. "Trying your hand at occupation: stalker?"

"Hardly," she scoffed, finally lowering the camera to glance over her shoulder at him with a wry look that said 'I'm so not impressed.' "I'm working, which may be a foreign concept to the likes of you, so don't strain yourself trying to understand." She made a show of enunciating clearly for him.

He found her bite amusing. "Don't tell me you signed up for yearbook?"

"I needed blackmail fodder," she answered automatically, turning her calculating eyes back to her canvas.

"For…?" He was standing right behind her now. A full eight inches taller, he towered over her unsettlingly.

She didn't say anything, simply nodded for him to follow her gaze out to the sidelines of the football field, where her little sister was plainly visible, hovering awkwardly around the cheerleaders.

"Why am I not surprised that she wants to be part of the Stepford's club?"

"Bianca doesn't belong in the legion of doom with me," she joked, "so where else would she go?" She raised the camera again. Snap, snap. "My sister is a wingless social butterfly who needs constant admiration and flattery to prevent deflation."

"Then she's lucky to have a shrew for a sister," he taunted, silently finishing with: 'who's willing to go out of her way to gain leverage to blackmail her baby sister's way onto the squad of something she herself so clearly despises.' She's not only tough as nails and infuriating as hell with barbed wit and intriguing persona, but she's also loyal—he thought admiringly. More and more he saw of her the more focusing his machinations on her were validated.

Kat lowered the camera and craned her neck around to shoot him a sharp glance. "Eavesdropping now, are we?"

He held up his hands in defense. "You made quite a spectacle out there."

Her caramel eyes scanned his face, wordlessly studying him with intent, before she turned back to her 'work' and ineffectively dismissed him.

Patrick studied her himself for a moment of deliberation before he slanted into her and swiped the hat from her head, letting mussed waves of hair tumble down her back.

She dropped the SLR to let it dangle forgotten around her neck, and spun on him with a glowering gaze. Her eyes flashed with something that looked to him like shock and outrage. Yep, he thought amusedly, she was affronted he dared to touch her. She snatched at the hat but he held it out of reach. She stretched her body out, her shirt riding up to expose her midriff, and reached on her toes for the hat. But with his arm held out straight over their heads, she had no hope of snatching it back.

He leaned in with the sexiest smirk in his arsenal and brushed his knuckle lightly through her bouncing hair as she moved. "You're very prickly, you know that?"

Taken off balance, Kat pulled back and wrapped her arms around herself, still scowling up at him. "Oh joy," she drawled dangerously, "and here comes the obligatory smoldering innuendo. Tell me, do you rehearse this stuff or does the bullshit just come naturally to you?" she mocked.

Verona shrugged untroubled. "It's an affinity. But I've seemed to get your panties in a twist within 30 seconds of interaction, so my mission in life is almost complete," he taunted, suggestive and mocking all at once, rendering her nonplussed. He loved working her up. It was so… amusing.

Kat reeled back and huffed with a grimace of disdain. "Don't think for a second that you have any affect on my panties."

"Then what do I have an affect on?" he asked, quirking a brow and a cheeky grin. He leaned a hand on a rod behind her head, boxing her in.

"Other than my 'jerk-alert'?" she asked. "Nothing…" She pressed her back into the steel contraption behind her, trying to get as far away as possible.

He followed her. "Is that so?" he murmured challengingly, and waited for her mouth to open in prep for a comeback to dart down and capture her lips in a searing kiss that had his head reeling unexpectedly. He hadn't braced himself for it. He'd moved too quickly with his instincts, his id, to contemplate and strategize. She threw him off balance as she responded feverishly almost the instant their lips met.

Hoorah for Teen Spirit, he thought, only half sardonic.

Then he made haste to pull away before he could do something he'd regret. He backed only a few inches away, but it was enough. When he opened his eyes he caught the flush of her cheeks and the heavy lids of her eyes accompanying the breathy pants she was breathing in and out.

He couldn't stop the smug, somewhat proud, smirk that tugged at his lips. His voice, already naturally deep, came out too husky when he said, "I was anticipating electricity of the literal variety."

His words seemingly snapped her from her daze and crashed reality down onto her. Her eyes flew open and then narrowed into a furious glare. "Used up the battery," she told him, fumingly. "But mace works just as well."

"M—" Patrick didn't have the time to process. He didn't even have the time to shut his eyes before her hand was swinging up from her messenger bag and shooting pepper spray into his face.

Patrick leapt back as his face exploded with the sensation of being on fire. He screwed his eyes shut even as they poured tears down his face and couldn't stop his hands from rubbing raw at it. It was killer. And it was so much more painful than the last time he'd been attacked with mace. Kat's must've been concentrated. Of course…

"Damn it," he cursed in pain, swinging away from her.

She clipped him with her shoulder as she forced her way passed. "Maybe this will make you stop and think the next time you try to molest an unsuspecting girl." Her voice reaches through the fire and sounds gratingly superior. It makes him wanna get his hands on her again, only for completely different reasons.

"Molest! Unsuspecting!" he yelled after her blindly, still rubbing at his eyes and starting to sniff desperately.

This obviously would not be as easy as he'd originally assumed. He'd have to be smoother. She needed a lot of work. He couldn't force it too fast. He'd have to be patient and work hard. But he was sure he was capable of breaking her. He would put all of his efforts into her and by the time he finished, she'd be conditioned as the perfect partner for him and his thrill-seeking lifestyle. No doubt, it was bound to be painful… But she had the potential, the raw and wild quality of life to her that was just perfect. He wanted it. He wanted her. And he'd have her.

Yeah fucking hoorah for teen-spirit…