The school bell rang and Markus' chair was the first to slide back from his desk. He'd managed to avoid most of the others that morning, hiding around campus before walking in just seconds after the bell; and judging by the way they'd sneered at him when he entered, he knew he couldn't talk to them again today. Grabbing his schoolbooks and pens, he sped around a tight corner and out to the hallways.
He disappeared almost expertly within the crowd of noise, keeping his head down as he made a beeline for the door. The orphanage wasn't very far from the school, closer than most of the homes the other children lived in; but he still didn't want to risk getting a late start, for then the others had a chance of catching up with him. Tightening his grip on his backpack, he focused on the road ahead, sparing not a single glance backward.
He was halfway to the orphanage when a shadow covered the ground surrounding Markus. It was only for a split second, but that was all the time he needed. He flinched, squeezing his eyes shut.
He heard their laughter before he saw them. So the shadow hadn't been a fist this time? He felt his face grow hot at the sight of the others, and began walking again, hoping in vain that they'd leav him alone.
"What's the matter, Markus?" one of them sneered, following after him. "Afraid of a little ol' crow?"
"Aw, don't you know, he don't believe it was that," another one snickered. "He musta thought it was a dragon or somethin'."
"I didn't," Markus retorted under his breath, trying to ignore them.
"What're you gonna do if your sister's fairy buddies come after you, hmm? Gonna freeze up like you always do?" This boy, known around school to be the principal's own son, howled with laughter, showing all his teeth. "Maybe her craziness is spreading, and he's actually started believing in that crap."
"Shut up," Markus growled, his jaw clenched.
"Huh? What'd you say?" another one mocked, cupping his hand next to his ear. "I can't hear you when you're in your dream world. Maybe if you yell I'll catch a whisper."
The four boys laughed ridiculously, not even bothering to keep their voices down. The obnoxious sound was already taking a toll on Markus. He could feel his head throbbing with their laughter and their words.
"He and his sister both, they're too crazy to do anything right."
"He's already two years behind in school, can you believe that? I hear his sister didn't pass the entrance exams the first time around either."
"Ah, but that ain't his fault. Normally parents teach their kids those sorts of things."
"Yeah, but if he'd at least tried to act normal, then maybe he could've kept his. Nobody wants a freak."
"Shut up!" Markus exploded, stopping dead in his tracks. He could already feel his eyes burning. "You don't know anything."
"So what? What are you gonna do about it? Gonna send one of your sister's 'friends' after me?" the boy drawled. "Fat lotta good that'll do ya."
"No, but I'll...I'll..." His fists tightened automatically at his sides when he couldn't think of anything. The boy raised an eyebrow.
"What? You gonna hit me? Even if you are two years older, I can still lick you."
"Wanna bet?" Markus challenged, whirling around to face them as he swung his arm at the boy.
But just then, a gust of wind blew under him so powerfully that he didn't even have time to register what it was; and he only lost his balance for a second, but that was all it took. His feet were swept out from underneath him and he fell to the ground, landing hard on his side.
His hip seized in pain, and his leg tightened painfully. He could hear their absurd laughter ringing in his ears, and it was giving him a headache; but that wasn't important anymore. He had to get up, to defend himself and Elsa--
Something hard slammed into his stomach and Markus choked on a gasp.
"Think you're smarter than us now? Fool," the boy spat, aiming another kick at Markus' shoulder.
Markus tightened into a ball, curling his arms over his head. He hated when it got like this--when he just had to sit there and take it, and wait until they were satisfied. But he did have one small victory over them--for no matter what they did, he would always do whatever it took to keep from screaming. He wouldn't give them the satisfaction of knowing that they were hurting him, and he knew that irritated them.
Suddenly, the blows stopped; and Markus slowly moved his arms away from his face, peering up to see what had happened.
A teacher had arrived; and he was holding back one of the boys' readied fists, which had been aimed in his direction. Relief washed over him like a cold wave.
"What do you think you're doing?" he demanded, staring pointedly at the principal's son.
"Nothing," the kid growled, yanking his arm away with a defiant glare.
And Markus grew anxious at the thought of the boys finally being reprimanded; but the teacher only sighed, shaking his head from side to side. "Boys will be boys, I guess. Just don't let me catch you teasing him again," he warned.
"Teasing?" Markus said, sitting up slowly. His temples were throbbing, and he could feel the warm blood draining from his nose. "But...but sir, they were kicking me!"
The man paused, his eyebrows arching. "That's enough, Markus."
"Young man," the teacher said, turning to face him fully, "You may dream up your fairy-tales all you like, but I will not permit you to use them to tell lies. If I catch you provoking these boys again, I'll keep you after school."
Markus froze, his eyes wide with disbelief. He couldn't seem to breathe.
"Do I make myself clear?"
"Yes...yes sir," he answered quietly after a time, his eyes falling back to the ground.
"Good," he answered, turning once again to face the others. "You boys run along home now, alright?"
They nodded, throwing piteous looks down at Markus. "He could've just told us to leave him alone," they said, though Markus couldn't help but catch the mocking tone in their voices. "We only ever wanted to be friends."
Markus' eyes stung miserably. Slowly he got up, dusting himself off; and he noted with a cringe that the boys had torn a hole in his brand new pants. If this continued for much longer, he wouldn't be surprised if the orphanage stopped providing him with clothing altogether. Maybe he could just blame it on the fact that he didn't have parents, as he always did. That seemed to be the only excuse they'd take, anyways.
Pulling his backpack onto his aching shoulder and wiping the blood from his nose on the back of his sleeve, he began trudging back in the direction of the orphanage, anxious to put as much distance between himself and those boys as possible.