"No f*cking way," Justin gaped. "They pushed back the release date again?" he complained.

Rory nodded, grim with the news. "It was supposed to come out in October but now they're saying December."

"F*ck," another friend, Aaron, commented. "It's probably some marketing thing. Closer to Christmas, everyone is going to want it... but f*ck, we've already been waiting a year for the game to come out!"

"Did you see the new trailer for it online? They just posted it last night," Rory asked.

Neither of his friends answered, just stared beyond Rory. Rory turned over his shoulder, only to see Deacon towering over them. He was giving them a weird look. Granted the three boys were all crouching on the floor, huddled in a small circle.

"You guys dealing drugs or something?" Deacon asked jokingly. They did look suspicious as they were.

"Video games," Justin choked out nervously. "What do you want?"

"Rory, your sister went home sick," Deacon informed. "I'll still give you a ride home though, okay? I'll see you after school." And with that, he was gone.

A moment of silence followed before, "Who the f*ck was that? Do you know him?"

"My sister's boyfriend," Rory answered.

"And he's not like... pushing you into lockers?" Aaron asked unsurely.

Both Justin and Aaron were scrawny guys, with mild acne and cracking voices. They were freshman right along with Rory, and expecting the worst from jock-like upperclassmen.

"Well, I did threaten to castrate him," Rory commented. "But other than that, I think he is just nice."

Justin and Aaron gave him disbelieving looks. "And you're still alive?" Justin asked.

"Don't go home with him. He could drive you far, far away and drop you there, forcing you to walk," Aaron warned, retelling some high school horror story of upperclassmen.

Rory huffed. "I know pressure points. I'll just..." he made a pushing motion. "I can knock him out."

"Sure you think you can," Justin snorted. "Just take the bus home."

"Buses are... gross," Rory frowned. Too much touching on a bus for his likes. He didn't want to have to bump shoulders or hips with a someone on an old leather seat. "People on buses are gross. There's swine flu, and..."

"And you've been reading too many scientific magazines," Aaron cut in with a roll of the eyes. "You're worse of a nerd than we are."

"You guys are just gamers," Rory spat. "I outsmart you any day."

Justin shot a hand out and socked Rory in the arm. "Ow!" Rory shrieked, losing his balance in his crouch and falling backwards onto his ass. "What was that for?"

"Showing off my super gamer cat-like reflexes," Justin snorted.

Rory scowled and rebalanced himself, recommencing their complaining about the delayed release date of a video game. He didn't actually play video games that often, only when he went over to Justin or Aaron's house. In a house of two women, Rory had no chance of getting a gaming system.

Money would be better spent on 'practical' things, like food. They apparently couldn't survive off power bars.

Their lunch period ended and Rory dragged himself to class. Kristen rarely got sick. Only when she... oh. Rory wondered if Deacon knew it was really because Kristen was on her period. She got bad cramps the first few days. Not that Rory knew those things.

Once school ended he made the trek out to the parking lot. He shouldered his way through the crowd of people mingling right outside the school, unmoving. Rory got shoved back into one person, stepping on a foot. He was freaking out a little now.

Deacon and Kristen weren't making a path. He had to touch people. Rory finally squeezed out of the pressing crowd, nearly tripping over himself. He shivered with... grossness. Someone had sneezed on him in the process. Swine flu.

"You okay?" Deacon chirped up, looking amused.

Rory sent him an accusing look. "No I am not."

Deacon just laughed and headed for his car. Rory hurried to catch up, until the ugly green POS car was in sight. Rory expected it to fall apart one day. Hopefully while he wasn't in it.

"I'm not getting stranded, am I?" he asked, giving into Aaron's warning.

"No," Deacon laughed and got in his car, reaching across the seat to unlock the passenger door. Rory didn't see the point since the car was such a mess. Well, at least the front was cleaner than the back.

No, wait... was that a-no, Rory would not look. He averted his eyes and stared firmly out the window. He would not look. Would not look.

"Is that a condom?" he finally asked.

Deacon seemed to flush and then looked down at Rory's feet. "Sh*t," he hissed and reached down, plucking it up. "My... I share the car with..."

Rory didn't care to hear excuses. "I saw nothing."

Deacon chuckled awkwardly and started his car. The antenna made that grinding noise for a few seconds. Deacon pulled out into the line of traffic, and waited to move again.

Rory thought about telling Deacon to stop and get chocolate, but... Kristen probably wouldn't eat it. She said it ruined her complexion.

Deacon pulled up to the house, and Rory got out of the car. He let himself and Deacon in. Rory grabbed a power bar from the kitchen while Deacon went upstairs.

"Get out!" Kristen screamed at the top of her lungs, followed by the door slamming. Rory leaned to look up the stairs, where Deacon was frozen in terror.

"What?" Deacon seemed confused, yet again.

"She's on her period, she doesn't like people seeing her because she says it makes her skin all oily and-"

"Rory!" Her voice filled the house again, and her door flew open. "I swear to god you don't need to tell him that!" And her door slammed again.

And now Deacon looked just embarrassed, giving Rory a helpless look. "Can I hang out in your room?"

No. "Yes," Rory answered automatically. Damn him.

Power bar in hand, Rory climbed the stairs and went into his room. Deacon followed, eyes landing on the shelves of magazines.

"You read all these?" Deacon asked, running a finger over the spines.

Rory felt his heart trip when Deacon's finger passed over that issue's spine, making him panic. What if somehow Deacon would be able to tell that that was well worn? With that article on the ancient Greeks...

Instead Deacon pulled out the latest issue. He flipped through it, pausing on the massive swine flu article. "...Gross," he finally commented and put the magazine back.

"I know," Rory smirked. "Now you know why I was freaking out in the crowd today."

"Germaphobe?" Deacon asked.

"Not... really," Rory answered. "I don't run around with disinfectant spray, but..."

"My car drives you nuts?" Deacon chuckled.

"I'll clean it for you," Rory said hopefully, which only made Deacon laugh more.

"I think what you would find would scare you," Deacon smirked. "Food, clothes..."

"Condoms," Rory added.

"Hopefully not those," Deacon mumbled awkwardly.

Rory set up his iPod, letting music fill the awkward silence. He didn't know what to talk about with Deacon.

"Are you thinking about any sports?" Deacon asked.

Of course he would result to something like that. Rory shook his head quickly. "I don't have the body for it."

"That's why you join," Deacon chuckled. "You could do something with swimming. You can be thin and do that."

"That's what you do?" Rory ran his eyes up Deacon's body.

"Yeah," Deacon shrugged. "I used to be pretty scrawny too, as go all teenage boys. Boys swimming doesn't start until the spring. And, it's inside. So you wouldn't have to deal with the sun."

Rory snorted. "Is it that obvious I don't get much sun?"

"Just a little," Deacon teased. "Maybe if you didn't spend so much time playing video games..." he left that open. "And like I said, it's not till spring but you and I could go to the pool sometime."

Rory gawped awkwardly. Pool? Deacon in a swim suit. Didn't swimmers wear Speedos... "No," he croaked. "No thanks," he remembered to add.

"Okay," Deacon did sound a little disappointed. "I should head out. I'll see you tomorrow."

Rory just nodded and let Deacon show himself out. Once Deacon was gone, Rory spread out on his bed, feeling... strange. He rolled onto his side and stared at the wall, trying to focus on the music.

Trying not to picture Deacon's body in his head. Oh, no. Rory would not be going swimming with Deacon.

There would be so many germs in the water. Deacon would be... Rory frowned and buried his face in the pillow. This was ridiculous!

"Just turn the lights off when you're done," Mrs. Martin said and unlocked the art room door. Rory nodded and slipped in through the door while Mrs. Martin went to her own classroom.

Rory turned on the back half of the classroom lights and spread out across the table. He set up a pallet of watercolors and a Tupperware of water. He stared blankly down at the half-finished work.

It was very uncreative and... a germ. No, Rory was not obsessed with germs. Some of the pictures about viruses looked cool and so he'd torn out a page. The computer-made image was turning into watercolor.

It actually looked kind of interesting, close-cropped with particles flying around. The virus body was green blue with a green halo around it, only the watercolor halo had bled out. Rory liked the look.

He worked for an hour before school. He and Kristen always got dropped off an hour early by their mother on her way to work.

A few minutes before school, the art teacher came in, surprised to see someone in her classroom.

"Mrs. Martin let me in, sorry," Rory mumbled and began to pack up his things.

"Oh that's fine, I was just startled," she laughed it off and started to set up for school. Rory cleaned up and put the watercolors back in their place before leaving.