A man, a blue lizard, stood on a subway platform, adjusting his tie and shifting from foot to foot. He wasn't especially comfortable in suits, but they were the uniform of choice of his job, so he'd learned to live with them, and once he got to his terminal, he tended to forget about the discomfort anyway.
He wasn't especially comfortable in transit, either, though he considered it a necessary evil. He'd waited a bit too long before leaving the house this morning, eating up his usual buffer for delays; he could still make it into work on time if everything ran smoothly, though, who knew if that'd happen, with this system. There was a delay of almost an hour a month ago. He never learned why; it was a "medical emergency", the PA announced, but no more detail was given. He didn't know why that delayed service by that long; he didn't know why other emergencies seemed to be resolved in half an hour, or five minutes, or, he assumed, other emergencies that were resolved without interrupting his commute.
He didn't want to think about the subway system at all; he just wanted it to be there for him, and when it wasn't, it felt capricious, or vindictive, playing with the timing of his and thousands of other people's lives for arcane and unknowable reasons. But it was a necessary evil, after all, so he tried to be patient, and hoped that it wouldn't bite him when he needed it not to, like today. Leaning out to look down the tracks, he hoped to catch a glimpse of the headlights of the subway train approaching in the distance, so he could get on it and get on with his life.
"Excuse me," came a quiet voice from behind him.
He turned, and saw one of the kids he always saw heading to school during his commute, a grey bunny. She was short compared to him, though her long ears came up to his eye level. Her uniform was accented in green and blue, part of the rainbow of uniforms that he saw every morning. Her eyes were also green, and her hair curly and copper.
"There's a line," the bunny continued once she knew she had his attention, in a slightly trembling voice. "You're supposed to stay behind it."
He looked down at the yellow line with its raised rubber dots, and then back to the bunny. "It's fine, the train's not even close." He glanced at his watch. "Apparently."
"I just don't want you to get hurt."
There was a strange insistence in her voice, an unspoken pleading, and it made him pause. He glanced down the track again, and then took a step and a half back. "Okay, kid. Whatever you say."
"Thank you," the bunny said, and made her exit from the conversation.
The bunny's name is Breen, a senior at her high school. She didn't like subway stations either.
Her back met the sloping wall of the subway platform as she retreated to it, and she closed her eyes. The coolness of the tile seeped into her back, and it calmed her, a bit, as her heart beat strongly in her chest. She always felt anxious asking people to move back, though it didn't stop her; people crept close to, or over, the line all the time to look for the oncoming train, or because they wanted to be the first one on. Once she saw a group of her fellow students playing at pushing each other onto the tracks, and she cried and yelled at them.
There were whispers about her in the hallways at school. The weird quiet girl, the one whose friend killed herself. It was always that, 'her friend', not 'Sinead', like her relationship to Breen was more important than her own identity. She tried not to care, but it still upset her, not that she'd dare to admit it. It was like she was tainted by association. If she was close to Sinead, they asked, would she be next? Was it her fault Sinead did it?
It didn't help that even she felt like it was her fault. The grief counselor she saw after it happened told her that she wasn't responsible for the actions of her friend... but they were very close. Sinead had been complaining about this group of jerks who kept teasing her at school, and how tiring and hopeless it felt to get up knowing they'd be there. She hadn't told anyone else about the toll it took on her, in case those jerks used it as ammunition, and besides, everyone kept telling her to just ignore them and they'd go pick on someone else.
The trouble is, everyone from whom Sinead tried to get help also ignored it, even when it was their job not to. And then, well, this happened. Breen felt like she should have seen the signs, been more supportive, done something, even though she couldn't figure out what.
She tensed up as she heard the dull roar of the train approaching the platform, and glanced back at the lizard she'd spoken to, in case he might... be too eager to cross that yellow line. But thankfully, he wasn't, and she tried to put it out of her mind as the doors chimed and she joined the throng of people squeezing into the train.
As she walked from the station to the school, she felt a change in the air, some tension growing. When she turned the corner, she saw a group of bystanders in a loose circle, buzzing even from this distance. Three people were tossing a backpack between themselves. There was a girl in the middle trying to get it back.
Breen stopped cold.
The girl was obviously upset, on the verge of tears. The jerks around her were grinning and laughing, some inside the circle, some in the crowd, like this was some kind of game to them. Like they were glad someone had the guts to do something they'd always secretly wanted to, and got to bask in vicarious schadenfreude. Like they only saw three people in front of them.
Breen had a dull ringing in her ears, like the screeching of brakes on rails.
"STOP IT," she screamed, grabbing the backpack out of the air.
"What the fuck?" one of the jerks said, now right in front of her.
Breen looked down at her hands, which now held the straps of the backpack. She was in the middle of the circle now, some fifty feet from where she was standing. She looked back and saw a line of knocked-over bystanders from where she stood a moment ago to where she stood now.
The girl whose backpack it was bolted out of the circle, and Breen wanted to call out to her, to give her back her property, to tell her that it'll be okay.
The closest jerk tried to grab the backback back in her momentary distraction; her reflexes kicked in, and she held on fast. "Let go!" she said, trying to wrench it from his grip. "I'm not gonna let you do what you did to my friend to anyone else!"
"We didn't do anything to her," came one of the others from behind her, in the tone one uses when absolving oneself of guilt. "She jumped in front of a train."
"AND YOU PUSHED HER THERE." she shot back, pulling hard; it threw the jerk off-balance and sent him to the ground sans backpack, prompting a reaction from the crowd.
"Hey! Don't fucking touch him," came one of the other jerks; Breen turned just in time to see him winding up.
She startled into inaction, frozen on the spot by the approaching train of the jerk's fist. The punch seemed to come in slow motion, landing squarely in the middle of her stomach.
It was like a tap. It didn't even hurt.
She didn't know what was going on, and didn't care; once she was safe, she could try and puzzle it out. She wrenched her torso around as she swung the backpack -- it must have had at least three heavy textbooks in it -- and connected with the jerk while he was off-balance from the punch, sending him stumbling to the side. The first had gotten back to his feet, and the third was advancing on her.
She could feel the tears come as the crowd started yelling, more and more drawn to the spectacle. It was mixed; some rooting for her, some for the jerks, some just here for the entertainment. This wasn't fair, none of it was fair, she just wanted people not to get hurt! She threw up her elbows in a panic as another punch came, deflecting it with surprising ease, and backed up, but the jerks followed; she ducked under one's attempt at a bear hug and, in a flash of inspiration, shoved them sideways into the second, trying to buy time to put more distance between them and her. The crowd, however, had thickened into a tight ring; there was nowhere she could go, and by now, all three jerks were up and focused on her.
She dropped the backback. Her emotions were carrying her, she knew that, but something in the back of her mind told her to let them, and they'd take her to the right place. "You play with people because you think you're better than them," she yelled at them through her tears, "and you don't even care when you ruin someone's life because of it! My friend *died* because of you, and it'll never happen again, do you hear me?! NEVER AGAIN!!"
She reached behind her. For what, she didn't know.
Her hands gripped onto a pole and she brought it around in front of her. No, not a pole; its tip wasn't wood, but curved bronze, gleaming, dangerous, and somehow, she knew, hers, even though she had never seen it before in her life. Its shaft was blue-lacquered wood, with blue and green ribbons hanging from a bronze cap at the bottom.
The jerks stopped. The crowd went dead silent.
"Out of the way, out of the way!" came the voice of an adult.
Breen recognized them as one of the teachers, though she didn't know their name, as they broke through the ring of people, the bullied girl in tow. They took in the scene: three confused and intimidated jerks in a line, staring down one visibly shaking, very upset girl with a deadly polearm.
Breen dropped her weapon. She didn't want to use it, anyway.
"We weren't doing nothing, this crazy girl just attacked us!" One of the jerks said.
"I highly doubt that, Mr. Spencer," came the teacher's retort. "You three, go to the office and wait for me. Breen, come on. I'm sure you have a lot of questions. Everyone else, get inside, the bell's about to ring."
Some in the crowd dispersed immediately; some lingered, but the tension that kept them there was no longer in the air, so it was only a matter of time.
"I didn't want to-- I was just trying to--"
"I know, I know. This just... happened, yes? Things you weren't aware you could do, you just did, without knowing how?"
"I... I guess? I was standing over there, and then the next thing I know I had her backpack... oh, um, h-here. I'm sorry if I broke something." Breen picked up the backpack and offered it to its owner.
"Um, I can probably get a new calculator if I need to," the girl said, taking it and putting it on. "Thank you."
"Anyway," the teacher said, "I'm not an expert, but I can probably explain some things about what happened to you. I know it's probably scary, but it's... it's manageable." The teacher turned to the girl. "You should probably get to class, too."
The girl glanced at Breen one more time. "...Um, my name's Sarah. I eat my lunch at the big maple tree out back of the school," she said. "Um, if you want to come by and talk or something..."
"Okay," Breen replied. She did want to talk. She wanted to tell Sarah everything that she thought to say to her friend, too late.
"See you then, maybe," Sarah said, retreating towards the school.
"Alright. come on, then," the teacher said in a let's-get-this-moving tone.
Breen turned to pick up her polearm. It wasn't there any more. "Where did it..." she looked back. "Where did it go?"
"That's one of the questions I don't know how to answer," the teacher said, as they walked inside.