August 1, 2012: Greetings! I'm not dead, and neither is my Bard/Finny muse, though she's been a bit stressed lately, what with reorganizing this entire work. This has involved revising and reformatting, as well as cutting back by 17 chapters, removing nearly 15,000 words of authors' notes and explicit content (more on that in later updates!), and re-positioning and combining chapters based on topic. A few surprises may be waiting for you if you go back and read from the beginning, which I recommend for your benefit.

Warning: AU, abrupt ending, potential for more later if this storyline is of interest.

Earthquake

There are certain points in a man's life where he just knows that he's run out of dignity and that no amount of courage can get him through his current predicament without pain. He's worked his way into a corner and he's so embarrassed that all he wants to do is stay right there and hide his face.

But part of being a man is doing whatever he can with the courage he's got left, and to take the pain in stride. So, the young man thought, it was about time he stopped feeling sorry for himself, got off his ass, and did something productive.

So what if he'd just ruined his reputation in front of the whole school? They were jerks, all of the ones who would give him a hard time, and none of them would be worth associating with at all.

So what if the entire male population of the school seemed to be just like that? Ignorant, intolerant bastards like the ones who'd wolf-whistled him all the way out of the cafeteria were a dime a dozen and wouldn't stand as much of a chance at success, or even true happiness, the way Bard knew he did.

But the rest of his time here would be tough if he didn't act fast, face his fears, and stand up for both himself and the other student wrapped up in this mess.

Finny, as he recalled the boy's name was, seemed breakable. In the same way a fine crystal vase on a high shelf would slip to the floor and shatter in an earthquake, the younger boy would unfailingly break under pressure if someone wasn't there to catch him. And as much as his virtue hesitated to admit it, he wanted to be there for the kid.

In the eyes of the school, they had come out as gay, and that was quite a spectacle.

A bulky bully with no daily objective other than to cause suffering for others had made Bard his target, and when a fat foot was stuck out just in time to catch the tough blonde's step, the innocent one he'd knocked over as a result was pinned beneath him in an awkward position. It had not taken long for silence to spread through the lunch crowd, and the bully's companion followed up with the inevitable verbal abuse.

"Aww, shall we give the couple their privacy? Looks like we caught you in a tender moment."

"Shut up, man," came a bold bystander from a nearby table. "It's not like they're really gay, right?"

The worst moment came when the bystander's words went unanswered, the two students on the grimy floor paralyzed in fear and gazes locked on each other. When whispers began whipping around the room at an alarming rate, they both knew they should have said something, but they had no idea what.

"Heh, so it's true then? Who'da thought!" sneered the chubby troublemaker.

Bard was already on his way out the door.

But it was likely time, he thought, to do something. If they all thought he was a freak for liking guys, that wasn't the end of his world, and maybe the girls wouldn't mind so much. They might be able to help him out. He could ask one of them out to clear up the confusion. The other kid, however, had probably been through some trouble in the past hour that the older student had managed to brush off with a quick escape, and the guilt was beginning to get at Bard.

The whispers and stares he encountered as he prowled the hallways in his blind search were not as caustic as they could have been. Maybe this isn't so bad. But for Finny, the quiet but bright young kid in his combined gym class, it may not be as easy to handle, and Bard knew he was responsible for fixing that.

A wind stirred up leaves in the air between them as Bard closed the distance between himself and the small figure on the bench behind the grade school's playground. It had taken a thorough search of the entire building after classes had well ended, and he was about to give up hope, but luck found him approaching the boy he'd fallen on top of earlier, in hopes of sorting out the mess he'd gotten them into.

He couldn't quite explain the way his heart skipped a beat when they made eye contact a second time, or the way he ached all over upon noticing Finny's broken demeanor. He'd been responsible for the earthquake; had he been too late to catch the vase?

But he had to start somewhere. "…Hi," was about all he could squeeze out of his unexpectedly tight throat.

"Hi, Bard."