How Green Becomes Wood

It was only 6pm, but the sun had already set. But December had always been a problem child. Snow was threatening to fall over the already blanketed ground, and Dark was hoping it would hold off until he arrived back home. He did not mind the snow, but he hated driving in it, especially at night, and normally he would already be home, but it was the last day before Winter break, so he had to stay late. And since he was out late anyway, he had driven into the small shopping district--really more of a shopping street--in the center of town. There was a store there his wife liked, and the last time they were there, she had discovered a sculpture of a raven sat atop a human skull, carved entirely from rose quartz she adored. And, well, Christmas was coming up, and even though he had already bought a present for her months ago... Well, he could not resist.

Hm. He smiled inwardly to himself, because even alone he was never a particularly expressive man, but inside he felt warm at the thought of making her happy. Or, he would, if it was not so damn cold. What was that line from Hamlet? "The air bites shrewdly, it is very cold. It is a nipping and an eager air," he murmured to himself and sighed. If only there was parking closer to the store, then he would not have to walk through the December chill.

Dark shifted the box under his arm and pulled his coat tighter around him. He was all alone on the street, or thought he was, but then out of the corner of his eye... He paused, and turned towards where he thought he saw two familiar shapes.
Xander sat on the edge of the uncomfortable bench. It was of those pieces of art made to look pretty and be practically useless for the function of a bench, but it was the first semi-decent seat they'd found since leaving school. He used his heel to shove his school bag farther under the bench in an attempt to hide it from the promise of future snow and fought down a shiver. He pulled awkwardly at the thin, black button-up shirt draped open over the white, torn tank top he wore on top. His ripped jeans did not offer much more coverage, and nor did the tennis shoes holding on by mere threads around his feet.

"I wish you'd let me give you a coat. I have two," Alec said meekly, tugging at the sleeve of the bright red puffy coat that only just reached his waist over the light grey and green jacket that fell to his knees. "It's nice and warm by itself."

"I said no," Xander growled at his brother. "How's your shoulder?"

"It's fine," Alec lied, resisting the urge to touch his bruised shoulder. "How is your hand?"

Xander flexed his hand without thinking and then winced when the move opened up the split skin on his knuckles, opening raw skin to the elements. "Just fine," he lied. "Ready to move?"

Alec nodded wordlessly and reached under the bench to pull out his own backpack, a bright pink thing with a bunny printed on the front pocket.
As Dark approached the two figures, he realized they were, in fact, who he believed them to be. There were a few sets of twins at the school, but none were more immediately recognizable than these two. Maybe not for every teacher, but Dark was frequently assigned to be the staff member in charge of monitoring detention. The principal couldn't say he was scheduled so disproportionately compared to the other staff because he was "big and scary," but he knew it was why. It was not exactly his ideal method of punishing misbehaving students, even if they had the smallest, sweetest, most-always-smiling-ist teacher in that room, but he did not make the rules, and so he was often there. So too was Xander, the elder of the twins, although at least Dark was getting paid to be there.

In fact, Dark would go so far to say Xander was in his detention more than any other individual student. Which, if his own experiences as the kid who was always in detention did not already prove that method of correcting behavior did not work, the fact a few decades later, another student followed the same pattern did. So seeing Xander was inevitable. Seeing Xander inside of that school was inevitable. And Alec, too, was frequently on his radar--not so much in detention, by all accounts Alec was the more mild-mannered twin, but he was still around, especially recently. The entire school knew what had happened to their mother.

What was unexpected was seeing them both outside of school, in that weather, at that time of night, still with all of their school belongings even after school let out three hours ago. It wasn't his dream or his great hope that he would get to see his students outside of class, he was by all accounts a teacher who would pretend not to notice his students if he saw them in public than one who would go up, say hello, and try to catch up... But this was not like seeing one of his students at a restaurant with their family, so he quietly approached them.

"Hello," he said, "enjoying the lovely night?"
Xander tensed, his shoulders stiffening visibly at the voice, but he took his time turning. "Mr. Dark," he said coldly. "What, did you not get enough of me in detention today? Already missing this beautiful mug of mine?"

Alec reached out with one figerless-gloved hand and gripped Xander's arm. "Good evening, Mr. Dark," he greeted politely in his quiet voice, managing a small, shy smile. "We are just on our way home, sir." The hand holding Xander's arm trembled slightly as he looked up at the most intimidating teacher at the school. Yet, despite his fears, Dark was not the teacher he feared most. At least Dark was predictable.

Xander scowled but nodded. "Yeah. We should be moving on." He stood to go, gripping both backpacks in one hand.
"Xander, I have never missed seeing a student and I have no plans to start now," He replied with a slight shrug of his shoulders, "but it is interesting, I should think, running into you both like this." The benefit of having just about a single facial expression in your repository is the ability to think without people catching on. The quietly noted the way the twins were dressed, and the redness on their hands and faces suggesting they had been out for awhile. And those heavy, dirty backpacks.

"Right, good. You ought to be heading home, no sane person would be out in this. Not that anybody in a high school is sane--and the last day before break is an excellent day to roam, although perhaps in warmer clothing," He glanced at Xander, and then took a long pause. It was perhaps one of his more irritating traits, depending on who you asked. When Dark was taking the time to think about what he wanted to say, he stopped talking entirely, rather than fill the space with filler words. When at last he spoke again he asked, "Are you walking home, then? I thought you both lived on the other side of town." After their mother died, the school had organized a dramatic vigil where students and staff were encouraged to stop by and leave candles to "show support." As far as Dark heard, hardly anybody actually showed up, but the optics for the school were good, the local news stations got to report "Heather Hill High Support Grieving Students With Candlelight Vigil." What the media did not realize was the first planned idea was to have students and staff drive their cars past their home and honk their horns to show support--until it was pointed out how extremely tone-deaf that plan was. What it meant, though, was he knew generally where the Xander and Alec lived, and it wasn't a short jaunt from where they now were.
Xander snorted and pulled the backpack up over his shoulder. "Right, because no one ever moves, especially not after a traumatic event where the person who pays the rent dies." He started moving away from Dark, his brown eyes narrowed in distrust.

"Xander, don't be rude," Alec said softly. He smiled at Dark and took a few quick steps away. "It was nice to see you, sir. See you after the break!" His stomach clenched painfully in hunger. He hadn't eaten anything except the sparse school lunch the day before, and seeing how they hadn't paid for one in over a month, that was likely going to come to an end soon, too. Alec had skipped lunch that afternoon because Xander had gotten into some scrape with some loud mouth. Alec had made certain Xander got something to eat but hadn't partaken.

"I'm not being rude," Xander grumbled as he walked sideways. "I'm just commenting on a stupid assumption."

"Still rude," Alec muttered.

He wasn't watching where he was going and stepped on the very edge of the curb. His foot slipped off, and he stumbled with a yelp as his ankle twisted painfully. The pavement bit into his palms through his gloves as he tumbled to the ground.

"Alec!" Xander yelped, dropping the bags and diving to the ground.
"That is why I said I thought you lived on the other side and did not claim to know for certain," Dark replied. He supposed in theory it was possible they had moved, but Heather Hill, like most towns, had a level of economic disparity, and moving to a house within walking distance of where they currently were would have necessitated a sizable inheritance, which, while not impossible, problematized the issue of Xander's talk of rent and also, again, their current attire. But also, he was rationalizing: he felt strongly there was something going wrong in these kids lives, and he was trying to find evidence of it, trying to find exactly how it was wrong. He was a damn mandated reporter, and he really wasn't looking to get charged with a misdemeanor because he looked the other way.

And the worst part was, if he was right, and there was something going wrong, he wouldn't see either of them for three weeks, and by then... Misdemeanors meant nothing when held up against guilt. Dark nodded slightly to Alec's too-casual farewell, and tried to think of something he could do to--well, to do anything with these teenagers.

But ultimately, as he was scrambling through a mental rolodex of things to say and people to call, Alec slipped and crashed down to the icy pavement. Dark swore under his breath--in Arabic, even having lived in the United States for, hell, most of his life, by that point, he still defaulted to his native tongue in times like these, set down the box he was holding, taking just enough time to be careful with it, and knelt down in the snow amongst the twins, and although he did not physically touch Alec, he held his hands in the air as though he would, if given permission, and all he said was, "Are you alright?" He knew the answer, he saw the fall, and he knew Xander was probably going to give him some annoyed, sarcastic remark, but there is not, in his vocabulary, a different question to ask to assess the situation that wouldn't risk freaking them out.
Xander knelt next to Alec, one arm around him as he tried to look closer at his brother's ankle. "Oh, I'm sure he's fine! People who fall off the sidewalk usually are," he snapped. "Maybe you'd like to ask some other stupid questions?"

Alec hunched over, both hand wrapped around his ankle, hissing softly in pain. The knee of the same leg seeped red through the layer of thin fabric of his pants. They had once been nice dress pants, long ago and at least two owners ago. Now they were little more than a token cover. "I'm-I'm alright," he managed to stammer. "I'll be fine. It's okay. You don't need to be so concerned on my behalf."

Xander grunted, his eyes bright with worry. What now? Hospital was out of the question, and the little shelter they'd managed to erect in an alleyway not far from here had been taken over by a feral dog of all things. It wouldn't let them near. They'd actually been in the process of trying to find a new place to stay when the professor had come upon them. He hated the idea of trying out the shelter again. Last time, they'd tried to contact social services because they were underage. Sure, kids had a designated force looking after them, but adults could be forgotten and homeless without anyone to get in their way.
And, there was the expected remark, "Yes, he looks perfectly fine, that is why you look terrified and why he is actively bleeding." Dark replied bluntly. He sighed, and stood up, brushing the snow from his knees.

"I have a first-aid kit in my trunk. Stay here." He was not speaking lightly anymore, he was not attempting to feign a casual demeanor. Yet, he still did not yell, however commanding he was. It seemed clear to him Alec could not run if he wanted to, but he did not trust Xander to not at least try as soon as he turned his back, "I have you in class, I know you are not stupid."

Then he picked up his box, and went to his car, and not too long later returned with the first-aid kit, which he tossed towards Xander. To Alec he said, "I will help if you want me to," and then towards more towards Xander, "If you will acquiesce to receiving aid."
"Yeah, sure, why not? I bet it's going to be completely free of charge and no strings attached," Xander grumbled, glaring at a spot between Alec and Dark.

"Alright," Alec said quietly, not quite looking Dark in the eye. "Thank you, sir. I'd appreciate your help." He tugged gently on Xander's arm, moving his brother around to his opposite side. "We don't have enough for bandaids and, you know," Alec murmured under his breath to his brother, hoping Dark wouldn't hear. By "you know" he meant food, but no need for Dark to even possibly overhear.

Xander grumbled but let his brother pull him around and sat on the curb. "Long as we don't have to give up any first borns."
"My wife is the one who would want your first borns," Dark murmured, taking the first-aid kit back, "but she is not here." He privately ignored all of what Alec and Xander murmured to each other as he worked. His hands were surprisingly gentle and it was evident he had a great deal of experience with treating these sorts of injuries.

When he was finished, and Alec had been suitably disinfected, bandaged, and wrapped, Dark sat back on his heels and crossed his arms over his chest, "Right, so what exactly is your plan now? He cannot walk home on that, unless you want to make it worse. Where exactly are you headed?" And almost as if by bitter magic, a few snowflakes fell down from the sky above.
Alec and Xander exchanged uneasy glances at Dark's mention of his wife, but neither said anything, and Alec held perfectly still while he dressed his knee and ankle. Despite the gentleness of his touch, Alec never relaxed. Xander watched with narrowed eyes like a red-haired wolf ready to pounce at a moment's notice. When Dark finished, Alec reached down and carefully tested the bandage. It seemed to be really good, and he looked at Dark with new respect, though he tried to hide it.

Where exactly were they going? That was a good question. Alec raised his pale face to the sky and watched the snowflakes, leaving the inventing to Xander.

"Somewhere that's not here," Xander said, thinking frantically. He doubted he could carry Alec for long, though he might be able to support his brother while he hopped on one foot, but he doubted they'd get far. Even if they accepted a ride from Dark, where would they tell him? Would he be willing to accept dropping them off in front of some random house and not watching them go inside? He doubted it. They'd be better off alone and without help than risking any more charity from this professor. "It's not far. We can make it," he lied. "It's just a short ways down, and I can carry him."
Dark ran his tongue over his teeth and drummed his fingers against his arm, staring at the two teens. Xander's initial response being somewhere that's not here all but confirmed Dark's growing suspicion about their reality. They were daring, he'd give them that, but they were stupid.

"I apologize," Dark said dryly, "do I look like a fool to either of you? It is a fun game but honestly, if I hand you the win and pretend to believe you are both truly on your way home, where exactly do you think you will be by the new year? Ask yourself honestly. And, even if I let you walk away, I am... still going to report this, so... Tell me explicitly, what is your plan, if you have one?"
Xander's eyes narrowed, and he shifted to get his feet under him, ready to run. "I don't see how that's any of your beep business," he snapped. "We're not in school, professor, and last I checked, you ain't my daddy." He snorted and shook his head. "I should have known that you wouldn't help his leg just to be kind. So, if you will excuse us, we are going back to minding our own business. Don't let us keep you from doing the same."

Alec didn't look at Dark. He started trying to stand, testing his leg. His knee stung angrily, but it didn't feel too damaged. His ankle, on the other hand, wouldn't support him even with the wrap. He wasn't going anywhere on his own, and the snow had picked up, wet flakes falling down around them and trying to lend a magical air to a very non-magical moment. Xander automatically moved to grip his arm and support him without ever taking his eyes off Dark.
"Yes, except, here is the thing: legally, I cannot mind my own buisness, and if I do, I could be sent to jail, and I really do not want to prove my old professors right, I have already narrowly escaped that path so... No matter what, I will report this, because I care about my life more than your pride so do you really want to wait in the cold and risk injuring your brother further in meanwhile or do you want to work with me even the slightest amount?"

Dark wasn't himself entirely sure what he was offering, but he certainly was not about to let two dumb kids literally risk death, because as much as he really did just want to go home, and not have to worry about a single student for the next month, that wasn't an option for him.
"Yeah, well I'll tell you what you can do with your legal obligations," Xander snarled.

Alec tugged on his arm, stopping him before he could say something they'd all regret. "Xander," he said quietly, "you're freezing. Your lips are starting to go blue. I'm tired. I can't walk. And we're both hungry. Maybe we should see what he has to offer."

"I'm not going into the system. Neither of us are," Xander said flatly, speaking to both Alec and Dark. "It's too much of a gamble. So. Other than calling the authorities, what are your legal obligations, professor?" He glared at Dark challengingly while Alec leaned against him tiredly.

Alec just wanted a nice, warm place to sit, even for five minutes. That would be good enough for him. Just five minutes of warmth. Maybe something to eat? Nothing big. Just a little something. Maybe Professor Dark would let them stay the night. Things would look better in the morning, and they'd have time to plan. It was better than sleeping in a dumpster again.
"Oh, yes, I forgot, I am an asshole because I do not want two kids to die. It must be a cultural difference," Dark replied, "and you do not need to tell me how bad the 'system' is, I am intimately familiar with it. But it is not worse than death. So--look." He sighed, and ran one hand through his thick hair, "I do not want to still be out in this weather, and I am not going to let you both fuck off and die, so if we are bound to keep having this argument, can we at least have it at my house?"

He did not particularly relish the idea of inviting students to his home, but it seemed rather like the only option, "I am from the desert and I have never fully acclimated to the snow."
Xander opened his mouth, but Alec jumped in first. "Did you bring any sand from the desert?"

Xander, mouth still open, stared at him. "Sand?" he repeated, bewildered.

Alec shrugged. "I've never felt actual desert sand. Only playground sand. And arguing inside where it's warm sounds fair to me."

"And if this is his way of tricking us into his house so he can either sell us or chop us up into little bits?" Xander demanded.

"At least we'll die warm, and I think he'd be acting a lot more sugar-sweet if that was the case," Alec pointed out.

Xander threw up his hands in defeat. "Fine! Fine. We'll go to the creepy professor's house and hopefully not die in the cold basement but instead on the first floor where it'll be warm."

Alec smiled up at Dark. "He means thank you for the offer, we accept."
"Good. See, I knew you were not stupid. I will pull my car around so you do not have to walk to it, Alec," Dark said, and then looking at Xander with a glimmer in his eyes--which, if they had known him better, would be, for him, a smirk--and said, "Basements are passé, it is all about the attics these days."

Again, he left them, trusting entirely they would be still be there when he returned, and drove his car back to where they were waiting. On his walk to the car, he had a very brief phonecall with his wife to explain to her he was bringing home two students, and promised he would explain in depth when he could.

When he pulled back up besides the twins, he stepped out to open the trunk so he could put the first-aid kit where it belonged, and offered to let them but their bags back there. It was a nice car, jet black on the outside with a red leather interior, and evidently not one a person could afford on a teacher's salary, and knowing this, Dark explained, "my wife is very successful. You can both sit in the backseat, or one of you can sit in the front passenger seat. And, no, I do not have any sand from my hometown, I left in a bit of a hurry."
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"Attics," Xander muttered. "Seriously?"

"Everyone knows attics are for storing people, not killing them, but they are warm!" Alec said as cheerfully as he could manage. He was too exhausted to muster much emotion.

Xander scowled at him. "Enough with the warmth already!"

They both solemnly watched the big black vehicle pull up in front of them, and new worry sparked in both of their eyes. This did not look like a teacher vehicle, not by a long shot. To their eyes, it looked more like something a Saudi prince would drive. Not that either of them had a firm grasp of what a Saudi prince actually was beyond vague stereotyped notions. They didn't move at first as Dark put away the kit and stood waiting. Big, tall, muscular, intimidating. Could they actually get away if he did show any signs of wanting to hurt them? Was it really a good idea to get in the car with him? Did they have a choice?

Xander stood first and helped Alec up. "We'll sit in the back, and we'll keep our bags with us," he said firmly. He left the bags on the ground as he helped Alec limp to the back door and helped him up in the truck. Then he grabbed the two backpacks and hopped in after his brother, never fully taking his eyes off Dark.