Look, I know it's been almost two years, but I decided to give this story another go now that I have some fresh ideas in my mind and some time in my hands. So old readers, I hope you haven't given up on me. New readers, I do hope you enjoy the story.
Warnings: Alcohol abuse, slight language
Mikhail groaned. His mind was a blurry mess of hairless bears and vodka bottles. For what seemed like the seventh time that morning, he leaned over the toilet and retched. The sensation was unpleasant yet almost nostalgic. The time he spent in his homeland was frequently accompanied by the comfort of alcohol. The academy's strict no-alcohol policy had reduced him to a lightweight. Every chance encounter he could snag with the illustrious liquid left him hugging the toilet in a way he had not done since he was ten. That did not discomfort the Russian. What did discomfort him was the impending altercation if the boy in the other room woke up. Mikhail knew Boss' thoughts on the matter and it wasn't the first time something like this had happened. Drained and exhausted, Mikhail shakily flushed the toilet and let himself fall back onto the tiled floor.
Someone in the doorway cleared their throat. Shit.
Mikhail's eyes snapped open and came face-to-face with a groggy-looking Italian. Besides the rather feminine silk pajamas, Maloof wore an intense stare. Mikhail was spared from its full effects by his blurry vision. What he didn't see were the tears.
Mikhail pinched the bridge of his nose. "Look, Bo-I mean, Maloof…"
Maloof's gaze never wavered. "I suppose we both had an interesting night."
Mikhail sat up and a shooting pain rang through his head. There was no way he could function in any of his classes today.
"Boss, I am idiot, like weakling. No self-discipline. Will never happen again, promise. See this?" He pointed to his head. "Nothing up there. Like empty pool. Is why I need you to keep me in line."
He laughed weakly, hoping to lighten the situation.
Maloof didn't smile.
"Is that it?"
Mikhail hesitated before nodding. He couldn't bring himself to apologize and to tell Maloof his feelings were important to him. His people were strong and stoic. To reach them, one would have to bypass the obstacles of pride and ego. When Maloof cried on his shoulder and spilled his feelings, he could only provide the comfort of silence.
"Well, I have some things to say. Last night while you were out doing god knows what; I stood up to the one person who made my life here a living hell. I slapped that stupid nail gun out of his hand and I nailed him to the wall!" Maloof's voice was breaking and it was hard for him to continue. "I was so proud of myself. I-I thought my best friend would be proud of me too. But he wasn't there..."
Mikhail was stunned. He stood up and put his hands on Maloof's small shoulders.
"You stood up to bully? One who made your life living nightmare? How was it? Did he cry for mommy?"
Maloof shrugged him away.
"Who was it with?"
Mikhail paused. "What?"
"Who did you drink with last night?"
"Does not matter, Tiny Boss."
"Matters enough that you let me walk back to our room by myself when you know what Bobby is capable of! It matters enough that you don't care that you hurt me when you do this. More than that, you know alcohol dampens your psychic abilities. Do you know how much your grades suffer after you get back into this habit? Whatever, I guess I'm going to class by myself today."
Maloof stormed out of the bathroom presumably to get dressed. Mikhail could hear clothes being furiously thrown across the room.
Sighing heavily, the Russian heaved himself off the cold floor to get himself dressed as well. He would work his way through his classes. He didn't want to disappoint Maloof any further. He also hoped the empty feeling he had in his stomach was just from a lack of food.
Mikhail opened his dresser and was greeted with the sight of grays and blacks. Mikhail hated most colors, much to the disdain of Maloof who tried to get him to wear colors on countless occasions. He pulled on a fresh black t-shirt and some dark jeans. He tried to flatten his dark hair that hung in a mess around his face. He didn't know much about hair, due to wearing that stupid hat for most of his life. He looked over at Maloof and almost chuckled. He was meticulously combing his auburn curls with the angriest face Mikhail had ever seen.
"Tiny Boss, why are you coming so hard? Afraid you will look like Bobby?" Mikhail quipped.
He was met with a pink shirt flying at his face, which he expertly dodged.
Maloof grabbed his backpack and was out of the door before Mikhail even had his boots on. If he didn't hurry, he'd be late.
Their first class of the day was undoubtedly the most boring, in Mikhail's opinion. Psychic healing with practical first-aid. How foolish it seemed to Mikhail. Wounds build character. They make a boy into a man! So it was no surprise that one of the class's top performers was Maloof Canola, just below Phoebe Love. Though his psychic healing abilities had yet to be honed, he was a master of bandages and ointments. Mikhail attributed this to Bobby's constant abuse. Yet Maloof always treated Mikhail's many scrapes and bruises from the bears, despite his rebuffs.
Maloof sat next to Phoebe in the front of the classroom, per usual. Normally he would be jittery with excitement to learn, yet today he could not stop the tears from welling in the corner of his eyes. Phoebe rubbed Maloof's back comfortingly as he told her everything.
Last night he made a conscious choice to be strong and overcome his fears. That alone took an unimaginable amount of courage, courage he had no idea was inside of him. It was a stinging blow that the one person whom he idolized for his strength and perseverance would rather get drunk than protect him. Even worse, he would never say he was sorry.
When he finished his story she smiled warmly at him. Phoebe's smiles always made everything a tad brighter.
"Come on, no tears. You're an ass-kicker now, remember? I always knew you had it in you. You don't have to be so dependent on that big dummy. You proved that last night. If he'd rather go out with strangers to get wasted than look out for you, maybe you should rethink your business with him."
Maloof shook his head.
"It's so much more complicated than that, Phoebe. He's not just my business partner and bodyguard, he's my best friend. At least, I thought he was."
"But this isn't the first time he hasn't been there for you, Maloof," Phoebe spoke up, "There have been times when Bobby has hurt you much worse because of Mikhail's bad habits. Never once has he told you he was sorry, yet you've forgiven him all those times because you needed him in your life. You may not think you're ready, but I can show you that you are strong and capable of defending yourself better than he ever could."
"I'll say," said a voice behind them, "Boss hasn't so much as raised his voice to me since you opened up a can of ass-whoop on him."
Benny sat in the chair behind them, uncharacteristically alone.
"He wouldn't even get out of bed this morning. I think he was plotting. You can tell when he has something devious going on his head. His hair twitches and you can hear air whistling in his gap. If I were you, I'd watch yourself," he said.
A pair of ghostly psychic hands rested on Benny's shoulders and a voice whispered in his ear, "If I were short puny boy like you, I would give myself wedgie off tall cliff. Then cry for mommy. Do not ever speak to Tiny Boss again, and that goes for big orange poof ball you answer to."
Benny's face went from purple to a sickly gray as the hands picked him up by his shirt and plopped him down on the far side of the room.
Maloof and Phoebe's eyes went wide at the display.
"You did always have the best telekinesis, Mikhail," Phoebe said.
"You try doing that one with a massive hangover," he replied, plopping down in the unoccupied seat.
This was his chance to apologize to Maloof. His ego would take a beating and his manly ancestors would cry in the heavens, but he needed the empty feeling gone from his stomach.
The door burst open and a portly man sporting a vintage nurse's outfit strutted into the classroom.
"Sorry I'm late class but perfection takes Miss Katz's time!"
Mikhail groaned inwardly. The administration fought endlessly with the German man's insistence on wearing women's apparel in the classroom and shaving absolutely nothing. However, his reputation as best psychic healer in the nation could not be ignored.
Still, the man interrupted Mikhail's apology and he would pay for it with Mikhail's in-class napping. He smiled to himself. Yes, that seemed fair.
As the school day dragged on, all of Mikhail's attempts to apologize to the small boy proved futile. The only thing that kept Mikhail from slamming his head on the desk was his head-splitting migraine. Once classes ended, Mikhail made it a point to get his apology to Maloof whether the small boy wanted it or not. He ended up cornering him in the hallway, his massive figure cowering over the tiny boy. Maloof squirmed and pushed against him but he was powerless. Defeated, he crossed his arms and let out a squeaky "Hmph!"
Mikhail couldn't resist a chuckle.
"Don't laugh at me!" Maloof scolded.
Mikhail smirked. "I cannot help it, tiny princess. You are so cute."
Maloof turned cherry red and beat his fists angrily against the taller boy's chest.
"Hey! Stop that. Misha has something very important to tell Tiny Boss." He took a deep breath before continuing. "Sometimes, Misha does stupid things."
Maloof rolled his eyes. "I'll say."
"And sometimes," Mikhail continued, "Misha does these things without realizing that he hurts Tiny Boss' feelings. He forgets that Tiny Boss is like stubborn princess sometimes.'
"Hey!" Maloof gasped.
Mikhail laughed. "Again, I am kidding. I guess I am trying to make this easier to say. Tiny Boss…Maloof…" He braced himself.
The words came out so softly he was unsure of whether he spoke them or they remained in his head.
He looked at Maloof. The anger his face previously held was gone.
"You're…what?" Maloof asked, clearly in disbelief.
"Do not make me say words again."
Just then the tinier boy flung his arms around Mikhail's waist and held on for dear life.
"You said it! You actually said it! You've never said those words to me before. I'm so happy…"
Mikhail looked around nervously. The two boys sharing a hug in the middle of a hallway was a direct threat to his deadly reputation. Luckily, if anyone walked by, he could easily turn the hug into a half-deadly nelson.
Pulling the Italian off him, he said very seriously, "In homeland, public affection is grounds for beheading."
Mikhail smirked. "No. I just hate hugs, you drama queen."
"I'm sorry." Maloof paused to wipe tears away from his eyes. "All I've ever wanted to hear from you is an apology, but why now? I mean, you've changed at least on some level. The old Mikhail would never have let is guard down to apologize to me."
"I have been thinking all day about what Phoebe has said about the psychic war. I have not been completely plain with you about what happened yesterday with bears. The earthquake I felt had great psychic force behind it, greater than anything I have ever experienced. Something is coming and the school knows about it. Why you think they have been so hard on us? If this is true, is time for us to abandon our flaws. In time, if I become psychic warrior, my mind must be clear, and yours must be too. We cannot have these rifts between us. We must build our bridge stronger and work together more than ever. I would never forgive myself if I failed again to protect you. And that is why I am willing to change. Boss, are you crying again?"
Maloof wiped his eyes with his knuckles.
"I'm sorry. That's just…like the most beautiful and touching thing I've heard all day. I'm changing too, you know. I might have devious skills in setting traps and devising strategies, but all I want to do is kick some major ass beside my best friend!"
"Oh, Great Bear Wrestler, what a girl. You keep your brains and leave brawn to me."
Mikhail was rewarded with a small fist to the chest.
"Oof!" Mikhail dramatically dropped to the ground. "You have changed! My tiny nurse now abuses me instead of treating my wounds!"
"Oh shut up, you! I'm not your nurse and I am certainly not a girl! I am going to learn how to properly put my foot up someone's ass! Come on, we're going to see Phoebe right now!"
Mikhail grinned. Things were going to be a lot different, weren't they?
I always leave the door open to constructive criticism as well as lovey-dovey gushing reviews. I have some ideas for the next chapter and things will really start to pick up. Now I ask you, the readers, a question: What campers would you enjoy seeing more of as side characters?