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Title: The Better Part of Valor
Fandom: Sky High
Disclaimer: Not Mine. Disney's
Characters: Warren/Layla
Prompt: 085. She
Word Count: 2476
Rating: PG for a few mild bad words.
Summary: "No matter what I do, I can't get them to stop talking to me."

Author's Note: Some missing scenes set after Warren agrees to go to Homecoming with Layla.



The Better Part of Valor



Warren wasn’t sure exactly what he had done wrong. But he knew exactly when he had done it. He still wasn’t sure why he had sat down with Layla, or been so nice to her that night at The Paper Lantern, but since that night it seemed like she’d taken over his whole freaking life.



Well, not really. But it turned out that the whole Homecoming Date charade was just the beginning. Now, when he was at school, at anytime, she might suddenly appear, talking to him, sometimes touching him or taking his hand, and always smiling at him.



And it wasn’t just her. Ethan, Zach and Magenta were always in tow in some combination or another.



Take the lunchroom, for example. He used to be able to sit at his table, content that nobody wanted to sit within ten feet of him for fear of being roasted. Now, every day, like clockwork, she appeared, with the whole flock of Sidekicks, invading his table, and showing absolutely no fear whatsoever that he might be planning to fry them.



It was not good for his image.



“We have to sit together, at least for a few minutes so that Will will think it’s for real,” she had explained to him, looking at him with her big puppy dog eyes. And she pointed out that if Will didn’t see them together, there was no way that he could become jealous of them and if Will wasn’t jealous then what was the point?



“I thought you said this would be painless,” Warren had growled at her. But Layla, as usual had deflected his objections with a laugh, and then offered him a home made cookie she had brought for him, or sometimes it was an apple that she claimed she had made herself.



And he would find himself more and more often at a total loss for words.



The first day, he’d lasted about two minutes before heading for the hills. The second, about five. And each day, Will Stronghold shuffled by their table pretending not to care in a way that made it obvious that he actually cared quite a bit. And after he had gone by, Layla would have a big grin on her face that she would try to hide, but Warren would always see it anyway.



So Warren was doing his best to stick it out.



And although Warren admitted that he was enjoying the evident misery that they were causing Stronghold, he was starting to wonder if the whole thing was worth it. And there was no sign that Gwen Grayson was releasing her iron grip on Stronghold any time soon anyway, which just made Layla even more determined to the go through with her plan.



So by the second week, Layla was bringing even more little bribes for him like her homemade fruit and cookies. And there was even an odd little gift or two like a black studded leather bracelet she claimed she made in art class.



“That’s the kind of thing girls do for their Homecoming Date,” She’d told him with a wink. “And we have to make it look good,” She said in a conspiratorial voice.



Warren mostly continued to pretend that he wasn’t interested. But he might have started looking forward to seeing just what she would do next to keep her promise to “make it as painless as possible.” (And he kept that bracelet, not that he’d actually wear it or anything, at least not in public, even though it was just the kind of thing he did like to wear.)


By Tuesday, he was up to eight whole minutes before he stormed away from the table. And by now other people besides Stronghold were starting to notice the strange phenomena of Warren and the sidekicks. Warren had noticed Crystal March, the Junior Ice Queen herself, staring oddly at the table as she walked by several times. And he saw her looking over her shoulder at him from across the cafeteria with a strange look on her face.



“What the hell is that about?” Warren wondered.



On Wednesday, he got carried away and actually found himself in a ten minute conversation with Magenta about the history of Tiger Man.



“No,” he had tried to explain to her gruffly, “I had that class last year. Tiger Man was NOT bitten by a radioactive tiger. It was a regular tiger, and then he AND the tiger were exposed to radiation. That’s how he and the tiger became symbiotic.”



When she tried to object he made her pull out her History of Superheroes text book, and he’d even started thumbing through it to find that passage he remembered before he noticed that Ethan was leaning on his left arm, and Zach was leaning on his right. Magenta was tapping her fingers and leaning over from the other side. And Layla was beaming broadly at him from her place directly across the table from him.



And for a moment it had seemed almost normal, sitting with a group of friends, discussing homework and sharing lunch. Warren froze in mid sentence. He looked from Layla to Ethan to Zach to Magenta and back to Layla. She was looking him in the eyes, and as always smiling at him, waiting for him to finish his sentence, nodding encouragingly. Magenta was still tapping her fingers impatiently.



Layla thought she saw a wistful look shining in his black eyes. That part of him that desperately wanted to have friends and go on dates and be normal like he used to be a long time ago. But he didn’t let that show for long.



“Oh, screw this!” And Warren was so flustered that he slammed the book down and took two steps away from the table before he remembered to go back and grab his backpack.



“Man, I am really off my game,” he thought to himself as he lurched away from the cafeteria as fast as he could.



On Thursday, Warren attempted to avoid the whole lunchtime situation. But Ethan had found him sitting alone at his usual spot by the school steps. The Sidekick actually tried to emulate him, wrapping one arm around his chest while hunching over a book. Ethan explained to Warren that “Us tough guys,” have to “Keep up our loner image.”



Speechless yet again, Warren could only stare mutely. Being admired… was so non-threatening.



Never-the-less when Warren got his voice back he growled “Go away!” at Ethan. And then he set the kid’s homework on fire for good measure before turning around and practically running up the steps to go to class, even if it were fifteen minutes early. At least there, he thought he might be able to get some peace.



Later that day, Layla had found him by his locker after school and insisted on standing there with him for a few minutes, “To keep up appearances since we missed lunch today,” she had whispered to him conspiratorially with her big earnest eyes. And she was standing very close to him and Warren noticed that she smelled like honeysuckle, and that she was very small, and that she was smiling at him just the same as she had at the Paper Lantern. And that nothing he had done since then had changed that one bit. And it didn’t even matter to her that people stared and pointed at them as they walked by, or even that Gwen and Penny walked by openly snickering.



Warren was starting to get it, that Layla was not a girl who gave up on anything. Even him. Or cared what other people thought about that, including him.



And then she went into her babbling routine, which started something like “You’ll never believe what happened today….” And then would go on for a few minutes. And it didn’t really matter what she was saying to him. And the whole time she’d smiled warmly at him, and finally, pulled out some more cookies that she’d meant to give him at lunchtime. Chocolate Chip was his favorite, she had learned. (“Because that’s the kind of thing girls do for their Homecoming dates,” she was always explaining to him.)



But just as he was taking the cookies from her, Stronghold walked by apparently trying to catch up to Gwen and Penny. Layla was mid giggle when she saw him walk by, and her eyes followed him down the hallway, her face darkening. By the time she looked back at Warren, he was gone too.



**********



By that evening, Warren was this close to calling the whole thing off. Not even getting Stronghold jealous was worth all this aggravation. But there was one thing stopping him.



That night, after he was done with his shift at the Paper Lantern, he returned exhausted to the two bedroom apartment he shared with his mother, he found her there waiting for him, even though it was almost midnight.



She was beaming.



“Guess what I got out of storage!” Laura Peace said as Warren came in the door. She was carrying an old garment bag, which Warren vaguely recognized.



“You’ll have to try it on, of course,” The blond haired, blue eyed woman beamed. “But I think it will fit you just perfectly,” She gushed.



“Is that…” Warren began.



“It’s your father’s,” she said simply. “But he doesn’t have any use for it at the moment, and you do.” She said firmly, holding the bag out to him, insistence on her scarred, care worn face.



Warren hesitated.



“Warren, you do not want to go to Homecoming dressed in jeans and an old t-shirt! And trust me, your date, whoever she is, doesn’t want you to either, no matter what she told you.”



“Mom!” Warren said, still trying to hesitate, and feeling a little uncomfortable since she didn’t know the exact details of his date.



“Oh, let me at least hold it up to you to make sure it doesn’t need any adjustments,” Laura finally said to him as she pulled out the jacket and held it up to her son’s shoulders.



Warren wasn’t sure he if was afraid that his father’s tuxedo would fit him or whether he was thrilled at the prospect that it might. The tuxedo was very classic, and black, (his color) with a black vest, a white silk shirt and a black silk tie. It had perfectly suited Barron Battle, and, Laura Peace quickly declared that it perfectly suited Warren as well.



“Maybe just a little bit too big, but not enough to make a difference,” She told him. “You look so much like him.” She said wistfully. “And he would have been proud of you, just like I am. Before…” But then she shook her head and didn’t finish.



“Yeah, I know.” Warren told her awkwardly. Neither Laura nor Warren liked bringing up the subject of Barron.



Laura continued, on a new topic. “I’m so happy you’re going to Homecoming this year! I knew you’d find a way to settle in up there. I just knew it!”



Warren shrugged his shoulders and let his head hang for just a minute. Ever since he’d told her that he was going to Homecoming, she’d been glowing about it. She really, really wanted Warren to succeed at Sky High. It meant the world to her.



Warren, for his part knew how important it was to his mom that he do well at Sky High. (Much more important then it was to him.) God knows she had worked hard enough to get him admitted there, over the objections of most of the other parents. (Warren didn’t know all the details, but there were rumors of petitions going to the administration with over 200 signatures demanding to keep him out of Sky High.) Laura had insisted he be allowed to attend, and pulled every favor anyone in the Superhero community ever owned her to make sure the administration kept their word and allowed him to stay.



And Laura’s desire for Warren to graduate from Sky High was on some days the only thing that got Warren on the bus in the morning. Warren and his mom had been through a lot together, and he was very protective of her. Warren wanted very much to please her.



So he held up the jacket again and put it on, “So, I guess it looks OK, he asked her?”



“It looks wonderful,” Laura gushed. “I’ll take it in tomorrow and get it cleaned and pressed, and it will be as good as new.”



Warren looked at himself in the mirror. The tuxedo, did indeed suit him. Looking at himself, he grinned with the same grin he’d seen his father give him a thousand times when he was little. Was it so bad that he looked just like his father, he wondered?



Warren decided that he would see if he could use one of his leather belts to make it seem more like his own, and maybe if he rolled up the sleeves and wore the vest open, it wouldn’t be so stiff and formal.



Then he asked the question that was really on his mind. “And you think Layla will like it?”



Laura Peace laughed said with a twinkle in her eye. “I know she will.”



************



Warren hadn’t decided yet if he was going to brave the lunchroom on Friday or not. But that morning, as he was sitting quietly outside the school, at his usual spot, enjoying a few Sidekick free moments, when she had suddenly planted herself right beside him, again.



And the killer thing, she was still smiling with this genuine warmth and radiance, that not even her petty annoyance with Will Stronghold, or her jealousy of Gwen Grayson could hide.



“Hi, Cutie,” she had called him cheerily. And when she took his gloved hand into both of hers, and for a moment all he could do was stare at her. And it’s entirely possible that he even enjoyed the way the sunshine glinted on her red hair, and the way her small fingers felt entwined around his.



He might even, for a moment have pretended that her babbling about how she couldn’t wait to go to Homecoming with him, was for real and not part of a (rather lame) plan to make Will Stronghold jealous. And that fantasy might have lasted for as long as she was looking at him.



But then she looked away from him. He saw her eyes follow Stronghold, arm in arm with Gwen Grayson, and heard her voice trail off like the sight of them had siphoned all the joy from her.



He hadn’t planned for his hand to burst into flame just at that moment. But it did. It was entirely spontaneous. But he managed to cover it well.



“Never call me Cutie,” he’d told her before taking the better part of valor.

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