usually considered himself a fairly unflappable man. After all, in the
course of his… somewhat checkered career, he'd seen and done things that
most people couldn't conceive of. Plus, his new cover as a high school
coach and gym teacher guaranteed him an even larger range of experiences.
He hadn't thought anything in the world could surprise him these days.
He'd thought wrong.
Who really could blame him, though? After a month, he'd thought himself well acquainted with the candidates for Project: Phoenix, and to a lesser extent, with the other students he taught. He hadn't, however, figured on Rikki Singh-Baines. Somehow, he thought wearily, he had a feeling that was a common mistake.
"You want to run that by me again, Rikki?" the older man asked, hoping the boy would make more sense this time.
"I want you to take me out of gym class for the rest of the year. I have a note from my doctor-- exercise-induced asthma. I can't breathe hardly at all. I'm sure I can make the credits up some other way, but I really need to get out of this class."
The dark-haired boy shifted from foot to foot as he spoke, but did not drop his gaze from Simon's assessing one. The note was offered in one outthrust hand, brandished as if it was a flag of truce, or some mystic weapon.
Taking the note, the coach pretended to scan it, meanwhile taking the time to size Rikki up. There was no need to read the writing, after all. He had watched the boy in gym class for a month-- he KNEW Rikki's asthma was a fabrication. The question was, why? Admittedly, the kid wasn't much of an athlete; he was skinny, kept from being painfully thin only by his friendship with Alex Mann, whose housekeeper made sure he got at least one good meal a day. But Rikki was quick and agile, and seemed to enjoy sports well enough, though he didn't obsess about them. So this wasn't just an attempt to skip physical activity that he didn't enjoy.
Suddenly the answer hit him. The panic attacks. The screening for Project: Phoenix had revealed that Rikki already had a natural version of the AMP factor, not an uncommon occurrence. But while the gift was strong, Rikki's control wasn't. The incoming information overloaded him, resulting in panic attacks. So far, Rikki'd kept those attacks secret-- he hadn't even told his parents, as far as Simon knew. But given the loud, confusing nature of gym class, Rikki couldn't possibly keep his secret much longer.
Grey studied the boy for a long moment. Rikki stared back, but he couldn't quite keep his jaw from quivering slightly. The coach shook his head. Fifteen, skin and bone, wearing faded clothes that had certainly not been bought new, and still the kid's eyes burned with a light Simon recognized easily. It was pride, the fierce, fiery kind of pride that, he knew, would be damned before it would accept an ounce of pity. Help, yes, but no sympathy.
"All right," the man nodded, folding the note away. "I'll arrange things with Mike Morrison, the riflery teacher. You'll have classes with him instead of your normal gym class. That shouldn't aggravate your asthma."
Rikki's eyes lit up as he smiled. "Really? Thanks, Mr. Grey… that means a lot."
"I'll square it with the school, too," Simon added. "You go on… the last bell rang ten minutes ago, and Alex is probably looking for you."
"'Kay, thanks." And Rikki dashed off into the halls.
Simon chuckled. The kid had the gall to face him down with a lousy story and a forged note… this was the least he could do. If he pitched it right, he could even get Dr. X to swing things with the administration… save everyone a lot of headaches. All he had to do was say he was keeping Mann's results from being biased by uncontrolled AMP exposure… yeah.
Whistling, Simon Grey headed back to his office, lousy excuse nestled securely in his pocket.