Mike never liked to ask for help, so the fact that Hannah was coming over to go through his homework with him was beyond confusing. He had just mentioned in passing his failing grades and suddenly she's got the whole afternoon planned.
He had spent the last half hour trying to clean up his room from the usual mess it was. It still held the distinct reek of weed and rotting food but Mike tried his best to overpower it with whatever perfumes he could find in his mom's room. He usually avoided going in there at all costs, but she hadn't been home for a couple of days now so he felt pretty safe he wouldn't see any familiar faces under the covers. Things are still awkward between him and his biology teacher.
There was a quick knock at the door that jolted Mike from his thoughts. With a final look over his room, he opened the door to see the tiny figure of Hannah clutching a collection of textbooks tight to her chest with her eyebrows furrowed in frustration. He offered a half smile but she just barged past him and dumped the books on the kitchen table.
"You live in the worst area of town. Like I honestly thought I was gonna get jumped from just looking at a lady across the street." Hannah sighed and collapsed on the couch before Mike could warn her against it.
"Oh, I wouldn't..." Hannah just looked at him and Mike cleared his throat and awkwardly continued. "I wouldn't sit there if I was you," he mumbled.
Hannah looked confused before realisation dawned on her. "Oh...OH!" She jumped up and wiped off the back of her pants, looking at the couch as if it just insulted her.
"Yeah, we should probably go to my room, I think it's the safest."
"Your room? The safest?" She questioned.
"I mean, mom usually stays out of there. So yeah, the safest."
Hannah just picked up all her books again and went to where she assumed his room was. Mike could of sworn he heard her mutter "usually" under her breath as she passed him.
After they had settled in his room (meaning Hannah had stopped hacking out her lungs from the heavy mist of the fragrance still hanging around), they got to work.
"Okay Mike, lets start with English." Hannah grabbed his textbook with 'English' scrawled in the top corner and began to flip through it to see what he was learning about. "Wait, how old is this book?"
Mike began to answer but Hannah cut him off.
"This has dates from the last three years. Did you seriously not buy a new book at the start of the year?"
"Well, I mean, I never filled it up so why waste money, y'know?" He scratched his head and avoided the eye contact that Hannah was desperately trying to make.
"I fill out three book a year per subject! Not one every three years. AND it's only half full! Mike, this isn't good."
"Yeah, I'm not smart like you okay. I just sleep through class because the desks are more comfortable than the park bench!" Mike could feel himself getting angry, but that all dissipated when he saw Hannah's face soften.
She stayed uncharacteristically quiet for a second before speaking softly, gently placing a hand on Mike's shoulder. "I know your life is utter shit, but you have to at least try at school to get out of...here," she gestured around Mike's small room in semi-disgust. "It felt like we were gone for years and now we are back on this totally lame planet with our boring lives and we just have to deal with it."
Mike sniffed and stepped away from her hand which fell to her side in defeat. "I wanted to come back." He said, surprising himself with how strong his voice sounded. "We don't belong in the stars, we belong here in this 'lame planet.' You're thinking just like Sam. We're just random kids who accidentally found a fucking spaceship, not heroes to some galactic overlord. I work in a movie theatre and live with a whore mom. You're smart and from some happy Asian family in the 'burbs. We shouldn't even be friends!"
Hannah couldn't help but get mad. "Fine. If you think your life is so meaningless and I'm so irrelevant, I guess I have no reason to be here." She began to gather all her books. "But just remember, Mike, when you get high with Sam next, ask him how his life is doing now that he's back. Check for any more bruises. Tell him how much better it is here."
She stormed out of his room and through the house to the street. Mike heard the front door slam after her.
"I'm glad she's gone," he muttered to himself. He stood and stretched, wiping at an invisible tear in his eye. Yeah, he had no home to really go back to, but he was so sick of almost dying everyday. He was so sore and tired and just wanted to return to whatever normal is. And if normal is failing out of high school and ruining friendships then so be it. He decided ages ago when they were in some bizarre dimension that he was ready to accept the consequences.
But Hannah was right about Sam. They both had talked endlessly about their home lives when they were trapped together in a dungeon, waiting for the girls' to break them out. Mike learnt so much about Sam that he knew Sam wouldn't tell anyone else ever. Not even Amanda who he had been pining after for months. But was Mike really responsible for Sam being beat now that they were back?
His head was beginning to hurt and he went to step outside for some fresh air. As he took a step forward, his toe whacked into something heavy, sending pain shooting up his leg.
"Son of a bitch!" He shouted, grabbing his foot and collapsing on the bed. He looked to see what he kicked and realised it was one of Hannah's textbooks, hiding half under the bed. How could she possibly forget it?
He stared at it for a little too long before letting out an exasperated sigh and picking it up. It was surprisingly heavy and Mike wondered how Hannah had been able to carry a bunch of these at once. She always did say she was stronger than she looked.
He made for the door and took off down the street to give it back to her before she got too far away. And as much as he didn't want to admit it, he was worried about her walking back alone, especially with the sun sinking so low in the sky. She didn't have her axe or armour or any of the defence that she was so used to wearing. No, she just had on some jeans and a shirt of whatever band she was head-banging to at the moment.
His eyes scanned the streets as he jogged along the pavement. How quick was she walking? He should had been able to easily catch up with her. As the street morphed into more of a dodgy business area, he heard a familiar voice yelling from the alley between two stores.
"Get your fucking hands off me!"
His head whipped to the side and he saw two shadowed people in some sort of disagreement. He immediately recognised the shorter one as Hannah, who was still clutching at one of her textbooks, the others were thrown around the alley, soaking in whatever brown water that was trickling out of a pipe.
She was trying to pull herself away from a stick-figure of a man who had a steady grip on her arm and a pocket knife raised in the air. As they moved closer to the light, Mike saw his sickly grimace, the missing teeth and greasy hair combo of any homeless asshole in this town. There was a red bump on his forehead that Mike could only assume was courtesy of Hannah's heavy textbooks.
He watches the shuffle for a little longer, frozen in confusion at the sight before him. These sorts of things aren't supposed to happen here. Here they were supposed to be safe. At some point in his thinking, Hannah noticed that he was there.
"Mike! Stab this asshole already!" Her voice sounded strong and unbothered by the situation despite the knife aimed at her throat, but Mike could hear the fear beginning to bloom in her. They had all been beginning to feel it. As their scars faded and their muscles weakened, the feelings of confidence and bravery they had built up was washing away as well, leaving the same frightened kids that they were before.
The attacker, prompted by Hannah's yells, turned to face Mike who still stood frozen at the mouth of the alley.
"Hey kid, fuck off why don'tcha! Non'ya bus'niz here." He leered at him, revealing more blackened teeth. Mike flinched back in disgust. Hannah was visibly becoming more tired of holding this guy's arm back and he seem relentless in his need to stab her. "Just fuckin...take... the knife in ya damn neck already!" He grunted, pushing down harder on Hannah.
Her arm was just about to give way when suddenly there was no more force. She looked to her left and saw Mike pummelling the guys face into pulp, red in his eyes and spit on his chin. It took her five minutes to get him off.
"Mike, Jesus Christ! He's fucking dead!"
Mike's head suddenly cleared and his eyes focused. Hannah was pulling on his shoulders, trying to get him away from the attacker who was barely recognisable from the shoulders up. There was blood on the guys face and seemingly even more on Mike's fist, split skin and bruises. He was surely dead.
Mike threw up.
Hannah stepped away from the increasing pool of vomit and Mike looked up at her in despair.
"Hannah, I-I just killed a man!" He cried out, his voice hoarse and choked. Hannah didn't react, just looked at him and the body in pure pity.
Mike broke down in tears, sobbing uncontrollably as the street lights flickered on and cast even more shadows into the alley. In this lighting the homeless guy looked more like a mannequin, discarded and destroyed rather than a desecrated corpse and Mike preferred it that way.
"We have to go." Hannah finally said after what seemed like forever of nothing. She looked so blurry through Mike's tears but he noticed she had picked up all her textbooks and was standing further away from him now, more on the street. He couldn't make out her facial expression and for that he was silently relieved. He could only imagine the horror.
Mike gathered himself to his feet and turned away from the body behind him. Slowly, with his arms raised in surrender, he walked towards Hannah and the light. It didn't take long for him to regret that when the streetlight lit up the dark red stains across his shirt and face. His cheeks turned red and he went to move back in the dark but Hannah rolled her eyes and pulled him onto the street.
Silently she unzipped the backpack she was wearing and pulled out a purple sweatshirt with the NASA logo printed on the front. She reached out her arm to hand it to him but Mike hesitated.
"I just don't think it will fit," he mumbled, still wiping at the tears on his face.
"Please, it's better than what you have on now. Trust me." She replied, standing back up and throwing her bag back over her shoulder.
She looked so strong that Mike just stared at her, bloody sweat trickling down his forehead. Maybe they hadn't changed as much as he thought.
Hannah's face softened a little and she gently took the hoodie from his hands, helping him to pull his stained shirt off.
After a few seconds of humiliating struggle, Mike finally got the hoodie on. It was tight everywhere and he couldn't move his arms, but it had helped take his mind off...that.
"You're sorry?" Hannah guessed.
"I'm so fucking sorry! I just couldn't stop!" Mike wailed out, the painful lump in his throat clogging up his words.
"He was trying to stab me, it was self-defence." Hannah said matter-of-factly. Mike couldn't believe she was so calm, but she was always the most level-headed in the group, using logic while the others just freaked out. "But still, thank you."
Mike couldn't believe she was thanking him. His eyes were still blurry and he wiped at his nose, but he kept his mouth shut. There was nothing he felt he could say to redeem the situation. How could he fuck up this bad?
"Look, do me a favour and try a little harder at school, okay? That's all I'm asking."
And with that, she turned away, damp textbooks in her arms and red stains on her pale skin. She walked as strongly as ever, no passerby would be able to detect that she almost died. But Mike could see it. The small quiver as her knee almost buckled. Her shoulders hunched a little more forward in defence. The way she never looked back to see him watching her.
Maybe, Mike thought, maybe she had a point after all.