Game Over

 

Lust

 

“Now this is more like it.” Devon raised both eyebrows at me in an incredibly sexy fashion, shrugging slightly to indicate our surroundings. “None of this ‘after hours at school’ bullshit – if we’re going to do this, let’s do it right.”

 

“Uh… yeah, sure.” I sat down on the edge of my bed, feeling pretty awkward even around the anticipation. Do it right, huh? I wasn’t sure that in my room while my parents were out counted as doing it right, but that was probably beside the point. “So…”

 

He gave me a wolfy sort of grin. “So… what are we waiting for?” As if that were a cue, he crouched down and braced his hands on the covers on either side of me. “Magical ‘fucking’ hour?” He leaned forward and barely grazed the corner of my jaw with his lips, breath hot against the sensitive skin of my neck. “Or would you rather I just jumped you?”

 

That actually sounded good, which would’ve made me worry for my mental well-being if I were able to think properly. “Huh,” was my brilliant response; I could already feel my breath coming short even before his hand slid over my thigh and up the inside…

 

There was something I was supposed to remember, but at that point I didn’t even care.

 

Probably nothing important. I reached out with the bold intention of running one hand down over the curve of his ass…

 

… and then suddenly I was standing in a huge empty desert all by myself.

 

I didn’t even try to keep myself from falling backwards, flopping back uncomfortably onto the ground behind me. Lucky it was sand and that cushioned it a bit. The last Lust illusion had taken place on a city street. Concrete wasn’t fun to fall onto.

 

The evidence of the illusion’s victory over me was still very, very evident and not at all happy about the lack of stimulation, too.

 

“That makes three so far,” Zinc pointed out, from somewhere to my right and above. I turned a long-suffering gaze on my Guide. He didn’t even flinch. “Shane, you’ve got to start concentrating! Mind over matter, you know? Just because you’re incredibly sexually frustrated doesn’t mean – ”

 

“Didn’t we decide you weren’t going to talk about my sex life any more?” I reminded him, pushing myself – painfully – up onto my elbows. Honestly, I really just wanted to lie there – or go back to that Lust illusion, but I’d settle for being allowed to dream up the ending undisturbed. “Or lack thereof.”

 

“But this is different!” Zinc lowered himself to stare mournfully at me. “This is affecting your Game! You’re just three Links away, but you’re never going to win the Level if you don’t get over this! Are you sure you don’t want to go out and get laid or something?”

 

“Yeah, I’m pretty sure,” I answered drily, and gave him a flat stare. “I’ll keep trying, okay? It’s not the end of the world if I don’t win.”

 

“Aw, come on! What kind of attitude is that?”

 

I chose not to answer that.

 

In the week and a half since my failed Fear illusion, I hadn’t been unlucky enough to come up against another – but the one giving me trouble now seemed to be a lot more persistent. It was all right to keep my attraction to Devon under control when he didn’t really try anything, but as soon as he was all over me, I just… lost it. I knew it was an illusion. I mean, the goddamn thing didn’t even bother to try hiding that fact. But somehow, that fact just didn’t seem to make a difference.

 

It didn’t help that I liked them a little too much, either. I was kind of half suspicious that my mind was making me fail on purpose so that I’d be able to keep going back to them.

 

“Seriously, Shane,” Zinc said to me as I pushed myself off the ground and began to dust sand from my clothes, “why do you settle for fantasies about this guy? It’s not like he hasn’t displayed enough interest.”

 

Don’t remind me. “I just do.” It helped if I focused on the gate ahead, rather than looking at my Guide. It was easier than explaining what was involved in high school romance and the fact that having absolute zilch for experience didn’t lend itself to building enough confidence to approach someone.

 

Never mind the fact that I couldn’t be completely sure Devon wasn’t just having fun with me in one way or another. Sure, I was starting to be less intimidated by being around the other Players, but that didn’t mean I enjoyed humiliation.

 

Zinc sighed loudly – and dramatically. “Maybe we should talk more about being willing to make sacrifices for your Game record,” he said, in an exaggerated ‘lecturing’ tone, following me through the gate and back to my neighbor’s back yard. “You’re the newest Player, after all. You’ve got to step things up if you want to win.”

 

“I don’t care about winning, remember?” I rubbed my fingers against the bridge of my nose. “Shouldn’t you just be glad I agreed to keep playing at all? I still haven’t decided if I’m going to end up quitting or not.” I wasn’t about to let go of that escape route any time soon.

 

The face he made at me was a pretty comical mixture of a pout and a scowl. “How can anyone not care about winning?” he muttered after a moment of that, turning his head away.

 

I rolled my eyes, and kept moving.

 

Sasenti was waiting at my front door with her silver watch swinging from one hand – she almost always ended up there whenever she stopped time, making sure I stayed put before she went off to watch the others. She raised an eyebrow when she saw us – obviously the earlier frustration left some traces. “Problems?”

 

“Nothing important,” I told her, but I wasn’t so sure I was being truthful. Zinc was right. If I was going to play this Game, I was going to have to learn to deal with its illusions – and that included Lust.

 

I just didn’t know how I was going to do it yet.

 

-----

 

“That’s actually the easiest Link for me,” Tristan told me – in the most irritatingly offhand manner possible. “Lust, I mean. I’ve never failed it once.”

 

I paused in unloading my backpack to give him a look of flat disgust. “Why does that not surprise me?”

 

“Hey, there’s nothing wrong with some friendly fooling around.” He actually looked injured. “I’ve never been dishonest about it. They knew I wasn’t looking for anything long term or serious, but they were okay having some fun.”

 

I could imagine what kind of ‘fun’ they had. If it hadn’t been with girls, I might’ve been jealous. But then again, maybe not – I wasn’t exactly the ‘harem’ type. “I’ll bet,” I said instead, not entirely being snarky about it.

 

Tristan smiled, leaning back in his seat a bit. “You could talk to Devon about the Lust Link,” he pointed out. “That’s the one he’s having trouble with right now too.”

 

“Still?” I pretended I didn’t notice my face burning at that. Tristan was way too obvious sometimes. The best way to deal, I’d found, was to ignore him. I concentrated on digging through my bag for a pen. “You were bugging him about that a couple weeks ago.”

 

“Well, maybe you guys could find a way to help each other out,” he suggested innocently.

 

I closed my hand around the pen hard, where he couldn’t see it. “You sound like Zinc,” I commented drily, making sure to keep my voice even. “Maybe I should introduce you – I’ll bet you’d be great buddies.”

 

That was a scary thought…

 

Tristan grinned, unrepentant. “I wonder if he’d get along with Ivory.” He blinked then, and looked a bit thoughtful. “You know, that might not be a bad idea…”

 

Oh, great. I was learning to mistrust Tristan and his ‘not bad’ ideas. “What?”

 

“Well, none of us have met each other’s Guides yet, have we?” He rushed on without giving me a chance to answer. “Wouldn’t it be a good idea if we all got together some time and introduced ourselves?”

 

“That might be a good idea,” Sasenti agreed, setting her bag down on her usual seat in front of me. “I’m in.”

 

I was a little too used to that by now to be startled. “I’m okay with it,” I agreed cautiously, “but it’d be a little distracting to bring Zinc with me to school. He doesn’t know the meaning of the phrase ‘sit down and shut up’.”

 

“Well, no one said it had to be at school,” Tristan pointed out.

 

“No one said what had to be at school?” Devon slouched into the seat on my other side and fixed me with a questioning gaze, blue eyes somehow a lot less hostile than they had been just a couple of weeks ago.

 

It hadn’t changed how they affected me, though. My heart started to beat hard against my chest, but I forced myself not to look away. If I was going to beat that illusion, after all, I had to be able to face this infatuation down. Somehow. “We were thinking of getting together – with our Guides and all.”

 

I was expecting him to make some kind of rude comment about how we were being way too friendly and no one cared about winning the Game but him. So it took me by surprise when he just chuckled in response. “Are you sure your Guide will want to meet up with mine?”

 

I somehow didn’t think that was a good sign. Something about that chuckle had been just a little too devious. “What do you mean?”

 

“Nothing.” The wicked-looking smirk on his face made that a lie, though. It was also the kind of smirk that showed up in my Lust illusions with alarming regularity. “I remember your Guide – Zinc, right? I met him in the bathroom that one time.”

 

That’s right, he has met Zinc before. I still wasn’t about to let the subject die just like that, though – no matter how sexily he smirked at me. “Why do you think he wouldn’t want to meet your Guide?”

 

“I didn’t say he wouldn’t – I just asked if you were sure he wanted to.” Devon shrugged, and then seemed ready to dismiss the whole topic; his gaze slid from me to Tristan. “So when are we doing this?”

 

Tristan was giving him a speculative look, obviously trying to decide between giving Devon a hard time and seeing my reaction when whatever was supposed to happen between our Guides happened. “What about tonight?” he suggested easily, and grinned at me when I directed a hard look at him.

 

Obviously it was my turn to play victim.

 

“I can live with that,” Sasenti agreed. She also shot me an amused look.

 

Wonderful. Just what I needed – one more thing to worry about.

 

“I work until eight,” Devon said, glancing over at me just briefly. His eyes were just a bit smug. Bastard. Then he turned back to Sasenti. “Just use your Item and we can meet for as long as you want.”

 

Well, not much I could do about it. “Yeah, sure,” I agreed, resisting the urge to sigh. I’d find out what this was all about soon, at least.

 

I just hoped it wouldn’t send Zinc off the deep end. He spent enough time trying to stay afloat as it was.

 

-----

 

“We could just skip out and use the time to get more Links, you know,” Zinc pointed out, when I told him about our plans. He raised both hands when I turned my head to give him a pointed look. “Just saying. We’re a little behind, remember?”

 

“I hope you also remember that I don’t care.” It would be nice to have a break from hunting down Links. Fear hadn’t exactly gone that great, I wasn’t really looking forward to finding a Despair, and the Lusts… well, I knew how those were going to end. “And I don’t want to piss anyone off either, so forget it.”

 

“They’d probably understand…” He sighed then, giving up. “All right, fine, but I think you’re missing out on a golden opportunity.”

 

“I’ll take my chances,” I responded drily. “Just keep an eye out for when Sasenti stops time.”

 

I hadn’t told him about Devon’s reaction to the meeting. Honestly, I’d considered it – maybe he’d be able to guess who it was, and possibly be somewhat prepared. In the end, though, I figured I owed him this one – for lying to me about how the Levels worked, at the very least. In the back of my mind, I had to admit I was even kind of looking forward to whatever reaction he was going to have to Devon’s Guide.

 

Tristan was probably rubbing off on me.

 

“Hey.” My Guide was eyeing me just a bit apprehensively; his tone was careful, as if he thought whatever he was going to say might get him in trouble. But he went on ahead anyway. “Did you think about what I said last night? At all?”

 

I was pretty sure I knew where this was going. “Be a little more specific – you said a lot of things last night.”

 

You know.” He waved a hand vaguely, growing a little more bold. “About you working off your frustrations with that Devon guy. He’d probably jump at the chance, and then you’d get over your weird fixation with him, and – ”

 

“I get it.” ‘Weird fixation’? Hadn’t he ever been a teenage boy before? I was starting to wonder… “Look,” I began, pushing that thought aside. “I’m 17. Still in high school. Still living with my parents. I don’t just go out and have sex. That’s reserved for older, dumber people than me, who can’t handle more than a one-night stand. Not for an 11th grader with a classmate he has to be around on a regular basis. Got it?”

 

From the look on Zinc’s face, it was obvious he really didn’t. “I don’t see what the big deal is,” he complained, leaning back and resting his elbows on the empty air behind him. “You want him, he wants you… just get it over with already. Not like you can’t stay friends or anything.”

 

There really was no point in explaining anything to him. I rolled my eyes to the ceiling. “Never mind.”

 

“Fine, but I think you’re just being stubborn about it. You’d feel a lot better if you just listened to me on this one, you know.”

 

“I’ll take your word for it,” I muttered, picking up the Key from where I’d stowed it in my drawer and pretending to be focusing very hard on wiping some dust from it.

 

He had no business messing around in my feelings for Devon and what I did about them anyway.

 

-----

 

“Hey, Shane!” Tristan was already at our meeting spot when I got there; he greeted me with a wave and a big smile. “You got here quick.”

 

“So did you,” I pointed out, and looked curiously at the small girl floating just near his shoulder. She had long auburn hair, large eyes, and a full, curvy figure. “Hi, nice to meet – ”

 

“Ivory, darling!” Zinc flew right past me and sidled up to the girl, throwing an enthusiastic arm around her shoulders. “It’s been a while! I was wondering if they’d put you on Guide duty. Y’know, all my buddies kept asking about you.”

 

Tristan’s Guide ducked her head, cheeks flaring up with obvious embarrassment. She seemed to curl up on herself a bit. “I-I’ve been busy,” she pointed out, seeming somewhat flustered by his attention. Her voice was very light. “I didn’t have time to say goodbye to everyone…”

 

“Hey, they’ll forgive you – a pretty girl can get away with a lot, can’t she?” Zinc drew back his arm, tucking it behind his head as he floated back lazily. “Have you met my Player, Shane?”

 

“Um, n-no, I… um… ”

 

“This is my Guide, Ivory,” Tristan told me when it seemed like she wouldn’t be able to finish, smiling kindly at the girl. She blushed even harder and turned her face so that her hair fell in fetching waves over it. “She’s helped me out of a few tight spots.”

 

Zinc made a ‘hmm’ sound, a wolfish grin on his face. “I could say something really bad right about now…”

 

“No, you couldn’t,” a more severe female voice said firmly from my left. “Because if you had really thought of something you could have said, you would have said it already.”

 

I looked over – another Guide had joined us. She had short black hair and a slim, athletic-looking figure. Her arms were crossed over her chest and she regarded Zinc wryly. “I probably should’ve guessed that you’d be the Guide who was leading our newest Player in all sorts of wrong directions.”

 

“Hey!” He unfolded his arms from behind his head, looking slightly injured. “What is that supposed to mean?”

 

“Exactly what it says,” the new girl replied, and looked over her shoulder at Sasenti, who was emerging from behind one of the trees on the school grounds. “My Player’s kept me up-to-date on recent events. You’re embarrassing the rest of us with what you’ve been doing.”

 

He glared silently at her, obviously struggling to think up some sort of response.

 

“Hello, Shane – Tristan.” Sasenti offered us a smile, and flicked a finger at her Guide. “This is Jade.”

 

“Nice to meet you, Jade,” Tristan greeted her, and inclined his head towards Ivory. “And Sasenti, this is my Guide, Ivory.”

 

“Hello,” Ivory said, seeming like she’d recovered from her embarrassment. She smiled a bit shyly at Jade. “I remember you from training.”

 

Jade nodded, her face softening a bit in an answering smile. “We were in the same session, weren’t we?”

 

“Um.” Now I felt a little awkward. “I’m Shane, and this is Zinc. It seems like you guys know him already, though.”

 

“Everybody knows me,” Zinc admitted, not seeming the slightest bit ashamed.

 

“By reputation, if nothing else,” Jade commented dryly.

 

He grinned at her. “Hey, I’m just living my life to the fullest extent. It’s the best way to do it. Unlike someone I know, who seems to have problems with having a little fun now and then.”

 

He didn’t look at me while he said it, but I knew exactly who that remark was intended for. I frowned at him.

 

“Well, well, well.” Another Guide seemed to slide in out of nowhere, appearing in the darkness near Sasenti’s right shoulder. He had pale blond hair – meticulously arranged – and deep set eyes. His smile was faintly condescending. “I see the rumors are true – they are letting you out on your own again.”

 

You!

 

I couldn’t help but turn and stare at Zinc. He had clenched both hands into fists so tight it looked like his arm muscles would burst from the effort, and he was glaring at the new Guide with such intense anger that I took an involuntary step back without thinking about it. It felt like I should be expecting to see bolts of fury spiking out of him.

 

“Always a sharp one, weren’t you?” the new Guide drawled, floating almost lazily towards his fuming target. He had his hand near his face as if studying his nails, but something about the way his eyes slanted told me he was steadily watching Zinc instead. “Maybe your Player will hold out long enough this time for us to properly renew old acquaintances.”

 

There was a definite innuendo in that statement – maybe because of the way he’d said it, or maybe because of the smoldering look he was offering along with it. Ivory had both hands pressed to her mouth; her eyes were wide and her face bright red. Jade was pinching the bridge of her nose as if fighting off a headache. Tristan and Sasenti both looked amused – and curious.

 

With the link between myself and Zinc still left open – as usual – I had other things on my mind.

 

~Zinc,~ I projected towards him, clenching my teeth as waves of lust and anger so strong it made me shudder and flush washed over me. It was almost like it was me who was torn between ripping the person in front of me to shreds or jumping him. I was surprised at how violent and heated that reaction was. It was almost frightening in its intensity. ~Close the damn link for once, will you?~

 

There was a startled silence between us, and then the feeling was suddenly gone. I managed to successfully fight off the urge to gasp, but knew that my face had to be pretty red. Hopefully the others would think it was from embarrassment.

 

And hopefully I could forget about that moment forever. It was way more than I’d wanted to know about Zinc’s love life – if you could call it that.

 

“I don’t have any acquaintances with you!” Zinc spat back at the new Guide, as if nothing had happened. His face was as red as I figured mine was. “And my Player’s going to do just fine – better than yours, I’ll bet!”

 

“Oh, you think so, do you?” The blond’s smile was just a bit wicked; his gaze wandered shamelessly over my Guide. “The two of you will have quite a bit of catching up to do, in that case. I might even enjoy watching you try. Among other things.”

 

Even without the process of elimination, it was obvious whose partner this guy was.

 

“You can watch us kick your asses, that’s what you can do, you – you – ” Zinc sputtered on that last bit, and his opponent laughed out loud, which seemed to infuriate him even more. “Shut up!”

 

Devon wandered over from behind Sasenti to stand beside me, watching the two of them with a certain perverse amusement. “Looks like they know each other pretty well already,” he commented.

 

I actually felt a little sorry for Zinc at that point.

 

“I probably should’ve known this meeting was a bad idea,” Jade sighed. She cleared her throat. “Coal.”

 

The blond Guide turned to her with a practiced bow. “At your service.”

 

“Be serious,” she told him drily. “And save the production for someplace private. You’re embarrassing Ivory. She’s still quite young, remember?”

 

Ivory looked as if she might protest, but glanced around apprehensively at the rest of us and shrank back instead. Tristan gallantly offered her his arm to perch on.

 

“My apologies,” Coal said simply, glancing first at Ivory and then Jade again. He avoided looking at my Guide, who was still silently seething. “Zinc and I have a great deal to say to each other, I’m sure. We’ll have to meet up some time – alone – and continue this fascinating discussion at length.”

 

“You can take whatever you have to say and stick it!” Zinc shot at him, still glaring stubbornly. “I’m not going anywhere alone with you!”

 

“You’ll forgive me if I place wagers against that,” Coal drawled, “since every other time you’ve said the same thing, it happens anyway.”

 

Considering what I’d felt from Zinc before he’d closed our mental connection, I wasn’t about to bet against him on that one.

 

-----

 

“We can’t lose now, Shane!” Zinc’s voice was unusually fervent; he practically glared at me from his perch on top of my computer. “You know that, right? We can’t let him win!”

 

“Sure.” I resisted the urge to rub at my head – again. Thanks for the great idea, Tristan. As short as that meeting had been, somehow it had managed to make this whole business a hundred times more irritating. “Whatever.”

 

“Not ‘whatever’ – I’m serious here!” He clutched the edge of the screen, blank eyes somehow burning with emotion. “This is very important!”

 

“Right. Important. Got it.” I gave in at that point, pressing the heal of my hand hard against the bridge of my nose. Time for a distraction. “I take it Coal is that ‘fuck enemy’ you were telling me about before?”

 

He made a frustrated half-growling noise, throwing both hands in the air and flopping back into a sprawled floating position. “Let me tell you something, Shane: it’s always the assholes who are best in bed! Law of the universe or something, I swear!”

 

That would explain the surge of angry lust I’d gotten before he’d covered it up. “I’ll try to remember that,” I answered dryly, and pushed myself up. I sure as hell wasn’t going to get any work done on that book report that was due Friday, anyway.

 

And I couldn’t help thinking back to that exchange between Devon and me from back after that Fear illusion…

 

“You’re an asshole.”

 

“You love it.”

 

Ugh. I pulled my shirt over my head, trying to push that thought out of my brain. It wasn’t doing me any good, that was for sure.

 

“You’re going to bed?” Zinc perked up, eyeing me with obvious disappointment. “Already?”

 

“It’s past ten,” I pointed out, glancing at the clock for confirmation. “I have school tomorrow, remember? I don’t need to go out and fail another Lust illusion so I can sleep through English class again.”

 

“You might not fail…” The words didn’t exactly come out full of confidence.

 

I rolled my eyes, and reached for the light. “Right.”

 

“Shane?” Zinc’s voice came to me just as I was settling into bed; he sounded resolved, somehow. “I’ll make sure you don’t fail.”

 

“Uh huh.” It was probably better to humor him than to let him in on the truth.

 

Hell was likely to freeze over before I got control of my feelings.

 

-----

 

I had Chemistry in last period the next day, which meant sitting alone with Devon. Even after everything, that still made me jumpy, but I’d gotten better at dealing with it.

 

“Should’ve seen your face last night,” he said, without even a proper greeting, as he slid into the desk that adjoined with mine. We’d more or less officially become lab partners, which was good for my grades because Devon was an honor student and a hundred times smarter at pretty much everything than I was. “You looked like you were going to fucking overload.”

 

“Thanks.” I shot him a flat stare.

 

He just smirked in return. “Thank your Guide for not being able to handle mind links.”

 

“Don’t remind me.” I tried not to think about how often that same smirk showed up in my fantasies – both illusion-induced and regular. “I think he skipped class a few too many times when they were teaching how to be a Guide.”

 

“You’re not fucking kidding.” His smile turned less condescending – more sympathetic. Sort of. “Coal says he’s always been like that.”

 

That was reassuring. “Yeah, he had a lot of say about how Coal’s always been too.”

 

“I’ll bet.” Devon snorted a laugh, and then turned his eyes on me, looking thoughtful for a moment. “Hey, listen, Shane – ”

 

“Good afternoon, class!” The overly loud voice of our Chemistry teacher interrupted him; she set her books down on the front desk with a firm thump. The entire room went silent. “Let’s get started, shall we?”

 

“Fucking figures,” I heard Devon mutter under his breath, but he dutifully took out his notebook and pencil.

 

I let out the breath I’d been holding. Somehow, I wasn’t sure whether I felt relieved or sorry about the interruption. I didn’t even know what he had been planning to say, but my hands felt clammy and my heart was going a mile a minute.

 

It wasn’t like we’ve ever had a clear conversation about this thing – whatever it was – between us. I sure as hell didn’t want to bring it up, and he’d never done more than tease me and get jealous of Tristan. Which I could handle. As long as there was no clear signal, everything was on a safe level.

 

At this point in my life, I’d rather it stayed that way. I was willing to admit to being totally infatuated with Devon Cross. I was even willing to admit that I enjoyed being friends with him, to a degree. Anything further than that was territory I was not comfortable exploring.

 

“I want all of you to copy this example into your notes – no excuses.” Behind me, the projector blared to life. “It’s going to be a part of this week’s lab assignment, so make sure you understand it. Come and see me after class if you need help.”

 

I started to copy it, but even as I did, my thoughts were still wandering.

 

It wasn’t like this wouldn’t pass, anyway. Maybe I’d never end up getting past one of those damn Lust illusions or anything, but one of these days I was going to graduate high school and stop seeing Devon all the time and find someone a lot safer to lust after. Someone who wouldn’t be such an asshole. Or make it a public event every time he felt like teasing me.

 

And hopefully by that point my brains would have built up natural defenses against oozing out my ears every time he did anything remotely sexy.

 

“Does anyone want to volunteer to solve this problem for us, or should I pick my victims at random?”

 

Not that Devon did a hell of a lot that I didn’t find sexy in some way. Sitting right next to the guy was enough to push that reality home. The fact that he was so close made me jumpy, especially with the kinds of thoughts I had running through my head right then. I could almost feel the warmth of his skin; it was like that short distance between us was even more unbearable than a longer one.

 

What the hell is wrong with me, anyway?

 

“No one’s feeling ambitious?”

 

Yeah, no thanks. I set down my pencil, shrinking back in my seat without really thinking about it so I could avoid being chosen to make the embarrassing trip to the front of the classroom. It was bad enough that I was a lot more interested in fantasizing about Devon than learning anything about chemistry. The last thing I needed at that point was an audience.

 

At least I couldn’t see him – that was something. As long as it was just my imagination dreaming these things up…

 

“Mr. Cross, how about you?”

 

Oh, great – perfect. I shrank back even further, hoping no one else around would notice the way my face was burning. It was hard enough to keep from staring at his ass as he sauntered up to the front. And – actually, it wasn’t just my face burning. My whole body felt hot.

 

Strange…

 

Devon was printing something on the board, but I could barely focus on what it was, despite being hyper-aware of every movement he made. It was like the motions of his arm were hypnotic – that, or I was just obsessed. The fabric of his shirt was shifting in really interesting ways, too; it made me think about what was underneath, and how that skin and those muscles were moving, and what it would feel like if I maybe had my hands running over them, and –

 

Suddenly, I had the overwhelming feeling that my hands were running over them. And there were hands running over me, too. It was so intense and so real that even after I’d managed to shake myself back to reality, it was still making my head reel.

 

Holy crap…

 

I didn’t even think at that point; I slammed my chair back so hard it hit the wall and shot to my feet. Probably the whole class was staring at me at that point, but it didn’t matter. I had to get out of there!

 

“Something the matter, Mr. McMurray?”

 

If only she knew. “I. Uh. Bathroom,” I managed, and bolted for the door.

 

It was just pure luck that I made it out into the hallway before another overpowering sense of heat and closeness and wanting hit and I staggered into a wall. I knew it wasn’t embarrassment making my face burn, either.

 

~Zinc!~

 

It wasn’t exactly a surprise that he didn’t answer. I’d let it go on too long; I could tell by the state I was in that he probably wasn’t going to be bothered by anything I might say to him. If only I’d caught it sooner! Of course he went off to fool around with Coal, and of course he didn’t think to close the link between us before he did. Why didn’t I figure it out the second my libido started acting up in class?

 

~Wantwantwant... ohyessss...~

 

I will kill you. Smiling. Cheerfully. Somehow, that thought helped to clear my mind. I gritted my teeth together hard, and darted around the corner into the bathroom. Thankfully, it was completely empty.

 

Of course, that didn’t mean it would stay that way. Damnit. How can I –  ?

 

Another one of those sudden bursts of agonizing, aching need hit right about then, much stronger than the last, and I stumbled back into the wall, fingers clenching into fists so tight it felt like the skin on my hands would rip open. There was less anticipation and more a sense of pleasure mixed in with that one, which meant something really good was probably happening, and I was sure it probably felt amazing, and I wanted to feel it so, so badly... Even when I somehow got hold of myself again, I was gasping and trembling and my pants were so tight it hurt, and I didn’t fully trust my knees to hold me up.

 

Oh fuck... oh fuck, this isn’t good...

 

I had to get that stupid door locked.

 

The answer to that problem was obvious; I was fumbling around in my pocket before I really even thought about it, pulling the Key out with badly shaking fingers. And trying very hard to keep my head on straight. I could barely think, but I was able to raise my Item and push what was left of my mind into the task of making sure no one got in.

 

Everything clicked into place just before something pushed against the door with a thud, and I heard Devon’s voice say, “Shane?”

 

For a split second, with all that lust battering around the back of my head and the sound of his voice, I just about lost it. In that one instant, I wanted – almost more than I wanted to breathe – to just unlock that door and grab him and play out one of those obscene fantasies right there on the bathroom floor.

 

But, predictably, after that moment passed, I moved right on into ohshitno mode and shoved myself sideways into a stall, sinking back against the toilet and pulling my legs up as if he could somehow see through the door and notice them hanging down. It was a horribly uncomfortable position, but it was a million times better than Devon Cross catching me in a situation like this. A billion times, even.

 

Would you answer me already? I know you’re in there.” Devon actually sounded somewhat worried – it was weird. It didn’t make his voice sound any less sexy, though. “Hey, what the hell happened to you, anyway?”

 

My breath was coming in short pants. Something really awesome was happening on the other end of that mind link, and it – combined with the unintentionally seductive sound of Devon’s voice – was driving me insane. I squeezed my eyes shut, pressed the heels of my hands hard against the sides of my head and tried very hard to ignore the urge to do something about the insistent physical response I was having.

 

This was beyond mortifying!

 

“Okay, fine. Fuck this.”

 

That was about all the warning I got, before I felt a surge of energy just outside the door, and then something literally sliced into my barrier. It was enough of a shock that I lost whatever control I’d had of it, and the whole thing fell apart.

 

Shit…!

 

If I had been thinking straight earlier, I’d have shut the stall door – and locked it. As it was, I didn’t even manage to recover from the broken lock on the door before it was too late.

 

If I was thinking straight, would he have been able to get in at all?

 

I wasn’t too sure where that thought came from, or why.

 

And I didn’t have time to wonder about it, because Devon had already stalked into the room, sliding Severance back over his shoulder and into thin air even as he did. “What the fuck, Shane?” he demanded, pushing his way obstinately into my stall and staring down at me with an odd mix of belligerence and concern. It made his face look totally different, somehow.

 

... and possibly even hotter than before.

 

Not good for my struggling self-control at all. Agh! Just go away already! I couldn’t manage to say it out loud. Actually, given what I was getting from Zinc’s end of things and my not-so-stable resistance against it, I wasn’t entirely sure what would come out if I went to say something.

 

“What the hell happened to you?” It sounded totally different now than when he’d said it before; he half-knelt, starting to look just a bit uncertain. “Seriously, Shane...”

 

I shut my eyes again. To see him looking so... well... I wasn’t sure what the word for it was, but it was not what I’d expect on him, that was for sure! It was strangely disturbing.

 

“Say something, will you?”

 

I took a long breath in – and let it out. Then sucked in another. It felt like I was drifting out of my own head, sitting up in the air watching myself pull out my hair in the throes of extreme sexual frustration.

 

A hand came down on my shoulder – the touch was oddly hesitant. “Shane?”

 

I think that moment when he touched me was the exact moment that I snapped – although I could be wrong. Maybe it was him saying my name again, in that worried tone that was so unlike every other time he’d ever talked to me.

 

Either way, I came out of my huddle like some kind of wild animal breaking loose, grabbed handfuls of Devon’s shirt, and hauled him in close enough to crush my lips onto his.

 

I think part of my mind was deeply in shock that I’d managed to pull off such a stunt. I’m sure his was, because he didn’t even move for a good fifteen seconds. More than enough time for the sensible part of my brain to throw its hands in the air and announce, ‘Okay, I give up – you’re on your own, libido. Go nuts.’

 

I’m pretty sure my libido answered with a cheerful-sounding, ‘Will do!’ as I pushed Devon back onto the dingy bathroom floor.

 

-----

 

Through the whole thing, I was never really sure when I stopped feeling that odd Zinc-Shane lust and it just became pure Shane lust. I know that that by the time Zinc had finished with whatever he was doing, I was a little too caught up in what I was doing to notice.

 

Honestly, it was only the little details that convinced me that the whole thing wasn’t another dream – or even a Lust illusion. I know I wouldn’t have dreamed up accidentally biting Devon’s lower lip, or him tearing one of the belt loops on my jeans when he grabbed at them. In my dreams, everything went perfectly. The reality was nothing like that.

 

I don’t think I’d have ever fantasized about this whole thing playing out on the school bathroom floor, either.

 

Devon didn’t exactly seem upset about me jumping him, either. If anything, once he stopped being all stiff and surprised, he was pretty enthusiastic about it. And more than okay with me taking the lead, it seemed, which was kind of unexpected. With all of his aggressive come-ons from before, I’d kind of figured...

 

Well, at that point, who cared! I had Devon Cross pinned to the floor beneath me. Devon Cross’s tongue was in my mouth. Devon Cross’s chest was pressed up against mine, rising and falling unevenly. Devon Cross’s body was right at my fingertips, and it felt so good. So good.

 

Way too good, as it turned out.

 

My fantasies didn’t normally end before either of us had removed a single article of clothing...

 

But it couldn’t have been much more than five or ten minutes of pretty intense kissing, groping, and grinding up against each other for the first heated make-out session I’d ever been a part of to come to a very sudden end.

 

A very sudden one-sided end.

 

I was still busy catching my breath and seeing white spots floating through my line of vision to notice Devon giving me a hard look – at least at first. But it would’ve been hard to ignore for long, with him being all of two or three inches away.

 

“Done?”

 

Oh, crap. That dispelled the rest of the euphoric feeling, right there. I could feel my face growing hot. This had to be the most horrible, humiliating moment of my entire life. Just great. Way to go, Shane. I shut my eyes, wishing I could melt away into the floor and disappear.

 

Apparently Devon wasn’t interesting in letting me wallow in shame, though, because he grabbed handfuls of my shirt and brought his head up so his forehead pressed against mine. “You had better not be planning to leave this halfway,” he muttered.

 

I opened my eyes, and was surprised enough to forget about being embarrassed. I couldn’t have dreamed up this expression – although I was sure that if I could’ve, every Lust illusion I’d ever faced would’ve had a field day with it. Devon’s face was flushed, his lips parted, and his eyes were kind of glazed over even as he seemed to be trying to burn holes through the front of my skull with them. This close, they seemed to be a much darker shade of blue than usual – and very hard to look away from. Not that I particularly wanted to.

 

I swallowed, hard. “Uh.” My voice was hoarse. “No.”

 

“Yeah, you’d better not,” he agreed, and freed one of his hands to brace against the back of my neck, effectively pulling me back down.

 

I had a feeling those Lust illusions were going to change quite a bit.

 

-----

 

My brain didn’t even bother re-engaging immediately after. I was too tired to be logical. And way too content to remember why getting involved with Devon was a bad idea. Everything we’d just done seemed like a fantastic idea right about then.

 

Hell, even laying sprawled out on the floor in the school bathroom in a blissfully comatose state seemed like a fantastic idea.

 

I just fooled around. And it had been really good, too – what was my objection to this, again? In a bathroom. I stared up at the tiled ceiling with its dingy, buzzing lights through half-lidded eyes. Okay, maybe that part wasn’t so... With Devon Cross.

 

Oh, shit.

 

My eyes opened all the way, and I sat up quickly. A small, but rapidly growing panic was starting to make its way through the grogginess from earlier. I fooled around with Devon Cross. I couldn’t make myself look over at him, either, especially seeing as how I was busy trying to keep from degenerating into hyperventilation. Oh shit. Oh shit.

 

“What’s your deal?” That got my attention; my gaze turned in his direction instinctively. He’d pushed himself into a sitting position as well, a lot more nonchalantly than I had, and raised an eyebrow when he saw I was looking. “You look like you’re about to fucking lose it; is this some kind of weird condition you suffer from, or what?”

 

I found my voice – or rather, a squeaky, panicked version of my voice. “We just – just... did stuff... in the school bathroom!”

 

His other eyebrow rose up. “Yeah, and whose idea was that?”

 

“It wasn’t – I didn’t – !” I sputtered for a few seconds, then gave up. “Wait, what if someone comes in? Someone could’ve come in while – while – ” My face felt hot; somehow, I just couldn’t finish that sentence.

 

“I locked the door.” He frowned at me. “I’m not an idiot. Obviously you didn’t want people walking in on you; isn’t that why you used your Item?”

 

I blinked at him. Wait – without the Key... “How did you...?”

 

He was staring at me like I was insane. “The door has a fucking lock, you know – did you just not notice, or what?” I felt my face burn – again. He shook his head. “Figures.”

 

Neither of us said anything for a moment. The bathroom light sputtered a few times.

 

“So” – Devon’s tone gave me the impression that he was trying a bit too hard to be cool and casual – “maybe next time I should pick the place and time.”

 

Next time. My gut clenched. Part of me wanted to be really excited about that. Another part wanted to freak right out. But more than anything, I was on edge. I got the impression that I was being slowly backed into a corner, and I didn’t like the idea of that at all.

 

Unconsciously, my hand slid closer to the pocket holding the Key.

 

Devon was still talking, either not noticing or just plain ignoring my lack of response. “What the hell got into you, anyway? I wouldn't think you'd go for this sort of thing, but you were pretty fucking determined.” He grinned at me, looking strangely happy – not smug or anything, just… happy. “Can’t say I mind, though.”

 

My palms felt sweaty; I wiped them on my jeans nervously. “Uh,” I managed, after a few seconds of strained silence. “About that. I guess I should explain... I mean, you probably noticed I, uh, was acting weird.”

 

“Understatement of the fucking century.”

 

“Right. Yeah. Anyway...” I had to drop my gaze; it was hard to look at him while trying to explain. “Zinc has this bad habit of, uh, not closing the mind link thing - and he’s never showed me how to do it. I don’t even know if I can.” I jerked my shoulders up and down quickly, more to do something than because I thought it would illustrate my point. “And I guess today he decided to go, uh,” – my cheeks were burning again – “screw around with someone – probably your guide, they seemed to have this thing going on...”

 

I expected him to make a sarcastic comment or something, but he just said, “Huh.” It was kind of unnerving.

 

“Anyway,” I rushed on, feeling like I might be starting to babble but unable to help myself, “apparently Zinc forgot that I didn’t really need to share the experience, and so I kind of did, and that's why I left class, and you weren’t supposed to get into the bathroom, but I couldn't keep up the barrier and then you touched me, and I – yeah.”

 

I could feel him looking at me, but he didn't say anything. “Well, you know the rest,” I supplied lamely.

 

There was another long, tense silence. The lights buzzed spitefully at us.

 

After a while, I just couldn’t stand it. “So, uh, sorry,” I muttered, still staring at my shoes.

 

There was an abrupt movement beside me; when I looked over, Devon was on his feet. “Me too,” he answered, not looking at me, then he let out a long breath, and added shortly, “Forget it.” He started for the door. “Class is probably over soon; I’m getting the hell out of here.”

 

I probably could’ve said something. I mean, I had the opportunity. I just wasn’t sure what to say, because the truth was, even though I liked him – even though I wanted him... The idea of starting something like this with him still made me feel like I was going to have some kind of panic attack. So I just sat there, feeling like the biggest jerk in the world, and watched him unlock the door and pull it open.

 

"See you in class," he added without looking back, and the door swung shut behind him.

 

-----

 

Zinc was hovering anxiously by my computer when I got home. “Hey, Shane,” he greeted when I walked in, and offered a feeble sort of smile. “How – how was school?”

 

I’m pretty sure you know already. I ignored the question, dropped my backpack on the floor, and collapsed on my bed with a groan, letting my arms flop off to the sides. For a second, I stared blankly up at the ceiling and considered just lying there all night.

 

There was no way I’d be able to concentrate on my schoolwork, and forums weren’t going to be much of a distraction. All I could think about was Devon and the things he’d said. Next time. He wanted a next time. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do about any of it. My mind felt like it was tied up in knots. Even thinking about the fooling around part made my head hurt and my throat feel like it was closing up.

 

Why didn’t emotions come with a manual or something?

 

Zinc landed on the bed beside me. “Shane?” he tried again, tentatively. “You okay?”

 

Not really. I shut my eyes. More than anything, I felt guilty. I could say it wasn’t my fault, but that didn’t make it any better, and it didn’t change the fact that I’d done it. And to make matters worse, I’d probably end up thinking about it later and getting turned on.

 

Ugh... That was it. I sat up, startling Zinc enough that he flew quickly back from the bed. I had to go do something and get away from thinking about all this. “Let’s go out.”

 

He blinked at me, obviously surprised. “Out? But – ”

 

“Link hunting.” I pushed myself up off the bed, and gave him a pointed look. “Don’t tell me you don’t want to.”

 

“I do, but – ” He was clearly torn. “Are you sure you’re okay?”

 

“Fine.” I instinctively checked my pocket – of course, the Key was still there – and headed for the door again. “In fact, I’ll bet I could even beat that Lust illusion today.” It was hard to ignore the way my gut clenched at that. “I have a good feeling, you know?”

 

Zinc bit his lip, looking anguished. “Shane, I didn’t mean to – ”

 

“Forget it,” I cut him off. I didn’t feel like being mad at him right then. “Let’s just go.”

 

I didn’t wait to see if he was following before I left the room.

 

-----

 

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