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“What was that about?” Kyle grumbles, voice taut as he glares out the passenger window.

“I know their family,” Jim says stiffly.

Kyle hums, eyes trained out the window, his body angled almost painfully into the door. “Of course you do,” he practically spits, eyes locked on the road as they drive. “I need to go to the CrashDown.”

“Alright,” Jim manages. “Their dad is a lawyer.” He offers as an explanation, making Kyle grit his teeth even further together.

“That perfectly explains a seventeen year old putting her body all over you,” Kyle grits out.

Jim’s hands clutch the wheel tighter, the energy in the vehicle turning more and more hostile. “It’s not like that,” he says almost gently. It’s enough to make Kyle’s blood boil.

“That’s what you would say,” he mutters.

“Why did your mom take your keys?” Jim asks, voice taking a sharper edge.

Kyle feels his hackles raising, ready to fight. “I called Helena Ortecho a slut.”

It feels like the entire car turns into ice, Jim’s jaw setting and body going stiff. “Kyle,” he says exasperatedly. “That’s Liz’s mom your talking about.”

“If it’s any consolation I’ve called you worse,” he says simply. Clutching tighter to his backpack, watching as the town passes by.

To his surprise his dad doesn’t say anything in response, just sits stewing in his emotions. Letting silence fall over them in a not comforting way. The small space is charged, everything in Kyle wanting to jump out the moving vehicle. But that was what he did to himself. Created this atmosphere with his father, nearly every time they were left alone together.

“Your mom wanted me to tell you that if you don’t pick a college by graduation. That she expects you to fill out the application for the force,” he murmurs. Attempting to tread carefully.

“I don’t know what I want yet,” Kyle sneers. In part because this had been all they talked about for the last two years, how Kyle should already know. But mostly because his mom wasn’t supposed to betray him. It was supposed to be them against Jim Valenti.

Jim sighs, “well you should figure out a college to go as undecided. UNM is a good school.”

“Yeah,” Kyle rolls his eyes, “one on your patrol.”

Jim narrows his eyes, “that’s not what it’s about. Don’t all your friends go there?”

“You mean my half-sister?” Kyle says voice sharp.

“I wish you wouldn’t be like this,” Jim sighs, letting his hand drag across his stubble almost aggressively.

Kyle just scoffs, turning even more into the car door, until he can’t see his father anymore. The tension slightly relaxing as they slow down in front of the diner.

He practically throws the door open as soon as the vehicle slows down, jumping out of the car. “I’ll stay at Alex’s tonight,” he says voice only slightly softer.

“You don’t have anything,” Jim says worriedly.

“I’ll manage,” Kyle says with a deep sigh. “Bye dad.”

He hates the way his stomach twists around the word, the way his chest aches. Almost as much as the glimmer of hope in Jim’s eyes, since he wasn’t calling him Jim. Even if they both know it’s all for town appearances.

“See you tomorrow,” Jim says.

“We’ll see,” Kyle says closing the car door. Shouldering his backpack as he heads into the diner. Hoping against hope that Liz or Alex will have something to distract him with.

The bell dings as he opens the door, a few people glancing up and throwing him smiles. They’re people his parents know, people who fall for the carefully orchestrated family they display to the public’s eyes. Kyle smiles back.

Alex and Liz are sat at their regular booth in the back corner, papers strewn across the entire tables surface when he arrives. Liz smiles brightly up at him, trying to gather up a bunch of her notes so there is room.

“Sorry,” she manages to clear a space, “we’re studying for our respective science tests.”

Alex groans, “Biology was made by an insane man.”

Kyle chuckles, feeling like a heavy blanket was ripped off him the moment he entered their presence. “I’ve got one in calc.”

“Math,” Alex nods, “math I could manage.”

“Hey,” Liz whines, “science is fun!”

“No you’re just a nerd, hermana,” Kyle teases. Sliding in the booth next to Alex before pulling his textbook out.

“Guess what,” Liz says excitedly, kicking at Kyle’s ankles.

He turns to Alex with a raised eyebrow, asking what she wants him to guess. Alex rolls his eyes in response, making Kyle’s brows knit together.

Because he’s not wearing his eyeliner or his septum ring, which had been nonstop since they finally got Jesse Manes fully out of their lives. Somewhere around when Alex was fifteen and the man realized Flint was standing two feet away from him arms aggressively crossed during every visit.

“What?” He asks Liz, starting to copy out a math problem into his notebook.

“Rosa is coming down this weekend,” she says really fast. “And so is Maria.”

“Mhmm,” Kyle hums. Liz’s one sided crush on Maria DeLuca had existed since middle school, and had even dictated what college she was planning on attending. “Sounds fun.”

Liz kicks him under the table, “what’s up with you?”

“Nothing,” Kyle smiles up at her brightly. “It’s just the first week back and all the teachers have tests set up for next week.”

“You’re telling me,” she huffs, “my lab partner isn’t even trying. And I need to graduate with a four point oh, or else.”

“You’ll do just fine,” Alex rolls his eyes. “Just give her sometime to adjust, they just moved, halfway through senior year.”

“Isobel?” Kyle asks, brows furrowed. Something about her itching at the back of his mind.

“Who else?” Liz rolls her eyes. “And just cause you’re both messing around with her brothers does not mean I have to cut her slack.”

“What?!” Kyle splutters.

Alex blushes darkly, “am not.”

Liz raises a brow, “than why did you take off your eyeliner the exact moment Michael said that you had pretty eyes.”

“The situations don’t correlate,” Alex says shuffling his notes around, “I just got something in my eye.”

“Max?” Kyle asks incredulously.

Liz rolls her eyes, “Alex has something in his eye, and you fail to notice Max following you around like a lost puppy.”

It takes his brain a moment trying to piece the ideas together. Because Max was shy, that was all. And Kyle was trying to be his friend, so obviously Liz was reading into it. Like she always did, like when she accused him of having a crush on Flint Hathle.

“You just sound like you’re grasping for straws,” Alex rolls his eyes. “You don’t need to drag us into your little war.”

 

 

It was easy enough to convince them to let him stay over, with Gregory on leave. The drive to Alex’s was natural, ever since middle school it had been a second home for Kyle. Well a third.

The diner, was his second. The small bed they had managed to cram into and the books they had all shared lining the walls, sometimes that small space felt more homely than the actual house he lived in. But that was the Ortecho magic.

“Kyle?” Mindy calls as soon as the door opens.

“Yes ma’am?” he asks, brows furrowed.

Alex just shrugs, hanging his keys up.

“Your dad dropped some clothes off, I put them in Alex’s room,” she smiles brightly as she comes out of the kitchen. Her dark hair is secured in a long braid down her back.

“Thanks,” Kyle says, doing his best to keep the ice out of his tone. Because both his parents hovered, which was only made worse by them being so close to all the people in his life. Even Alex had once tried defending Jim to him, before realizing it was Kyle’s battle to be fought.

“Oh,” she says pinching her eyebrows together, turning around from where she almost retreated back into the kitchen. “We’re going to the reservation this weekend. If you want to come.”

“Mom don’t hound him,” Alex nearly whines.

Kyle smiles, “I’d love to.”

“Good,” Mindy smiles, “and you should invite the new kids to your birthday Alex.”

“How did you even know there were new kids?” Alex asks running a hand exasperatedly down his face.

His mother narrows her eyes at him, “Jim told me.”

“What’s Jim’s obsession with them?” Kyle asks with maybe too much spite in his tone.

Mindy kooks sad for a moment, before waving her hand dismissively. “You know, the normal parental concern for other people’s kids.”

Kyle scoffs, “yeah.”

“Well, we’re going to see Greg,” Alex says, shoving Kyle towards the game room. Which used to be a play room, but as all the boys grew up Mindy had formatted it into a video game station. So when they were in trouble all she did was lock the door and revoke access.

“What was that about?” Alex practically hisses once they reach the room.

Gregory raises an eyebrow at them casually, before going back to Call of Duty.

Kyle shrugs, “my dad has been all up in the triplets business since they showed in town.”

“We know adults don’t give you answers,” Alex rolls his eyes. “Remember all our hardworking?”

It’s a slap to the face, the reminder of their investigative group and rules. The very reason he and his dad didn’t get along right now.

“You mean the stupid elementary school pact we made?” Kyle rolls his eyes.

Gregory sighs, “what are you two on about?”

“The new kids in town,” Alex says simply.

The older man rolls his eyes, “please tell me Drew and the Hardy Boys aren’t back at it again.”

“We aren’t,” Kyle says lowly, pointed at Alex. “I just wanted to know what my dad’s deal was.”

Gregory shrugs, “probably just worried about them integrating.”

“Yeah,” Alex mutters. “That’s why mom invited them to my birthday.”

“You’ll survive,” Gregory says tousling Alex’s hair. “Anyways Liz says your smitten with Michael.”

“I don’t even know him,” Alex says, grabbing the remote out of his brother’s hand. “Now Halo or quit.”

“Halo is fine,” Gregory chuckles, “as long as Kyle doesn’t cheat.”

“I don’t cheat,” he says slumping down into one of the bean bags. Trying not to think about the name tag glistening on his lapel too much.

Manes. He was the only one of the kids who hadn’t changed to their mothers maiden name. Something about not wanting to forget where he came from, how it was a reminder to be better. To reclaim the name.

Gregory smiles brightly while settling back down into the bean bags, turning on a remote and passing it to Kyle. Of all the people in his life who had tried to convince him actions could be redeemed, Greg was the closest to proving it. The closest to making Kyle and Jim a workable family dynamic.

 

 

Liz huffs angrily as she sits down at the lunch table, “she’s at it again. Complete bitch mode activated.”

Kyle just sighs, attempting to open his yogurt, letting his eyes dart over to where Isobel just stormed to her own table. Both her brothers watching her angrily recount something.

“What did she do this time?” Alex asks nonchalantly.

“What didn’t she do?” Liz glares, turning around to make sure she can dig her dagger eyes into Isobel.

Kyle sighs, “have you tried asking her to play nice?”

Liz turns to him with something dark glinting in her eyes, “don’t patronize me.”

He raises his hands letting her know he’s giving up. “Look, she can’t keep it up forever,” Kyle tries, “she’ll get over it.”

“Mhmm,” Liz sounds skeptical.

He opens his mouth about to say something, when he sees Wyatt making his way to the triplets table. It takes him only a moment to zero in on him, mouth closed and jaw locked tight.

He can practically read Wyatt’s body language after all the years they’ve known each other. And he’s definitely geared up about something, ready to dig into them.

Isobel looks up at him, face going pale.

“What’s he doing?” Kyle grits out, Alex and Liz turning to see what he’s looking at.

Michael’s fists ball, and his face scrunches up into a look of disgust. Isobel shakes her head, and Wyatt leans against their table self importantly.

In the space of time it takes Kyle to blink Max has jumped up from the table and punched Wyatt in the jaw. Both their bodies falling to the ground as Wyatt tackles him by his middle. Max’s head making an almost sickening crack against the floor, while Wyatt pummels him in the chest and stomach.

He doesn’t think, just reacts. It feels like time slows down as he rushes over to the table. Michael and Isobel frozen in shock.

Kyle and James have them apart in mere moments, Kyle holding Wyatt by the back of his shirt, one arm pinned to his back. While James has Max’s arms, the guy fighting like a feral cat to get at Wyatt.

“Max,” Isobel says in panic. Michael’s face is pale, eyes wide.

“Say you’re sorry,” Max spits out.

“I won’t,” Wyatt struggles only slightly against Kyle. “Not for the truth.”

Max sneers, “you’re a fucking coward.”

“What did you say?” Kyle twists his arm, with maybe a little too much force. But Max’s lip is split, and he had seemed to only get in one good hit to Wyatt, so it was a balance.

Wyatt snarls, “so your taking their side? Cause of the blonde?”

“He called her a slut,” Max says, finally calming down and not trying to pull out of James grasp.

Kyle yanks at the back of Wyatt’s shirt, making sure it’s harsh, “apologize.” He can feel something dark and acrid twisting in his stomach.

“Or what? You’ll tell mommy?” Wyatt’s voice cracks at the end.

Kyle shakes his head, “be a man. Or you’ll be on the bench.”

Wyatt’s body relaxes slightly, “sorry.” It’s mostly spit in Isobel’s direction.

“Now go cool down,” Kyle says shoving Wyatt back towards his table.

He stands there for a moment glaring at Kyle. “You’re dead Evans.”

Kyle sighs, “don’t start. No one will be hurting Max.”

“Why cause you’re fucking his sister?” Wyatt nearly spits.

Kyle’s jaw sets, “no. Because if anyone said that about my sister I’d have done the same. Wouldn’t you? If someone called Kate one.”

Wyatt’s entire face twists up, “it’s not my fault she’s a whore.”

“Kate?” Kyle asks cruelly.

“No the damn blonde,” he says angrily, taking a step towards Kyle.

James had released Max, obviously getting ready to stop a fight between Kyle and Wyatt if it came down to it.

“Well I only know of one girl who sucked off the entire football team before playoffs,” he says coolly. “And practically begged to be taken home by most everyone.”

He ducks, prepared for Wyatt’s fist before it comes. Grabbing him and putting him in a headlock, “now walk away.” He practically growls in his ear.

“No,” Wyatt says. To his credit he seemed to want to finish what he started.

Kyle releases him enough to get a good grasp on his shirt, shoving him away from him again. “Back off Long,” he says lowly. “Go sit down.”

Wyatt looks like he’s about to go back at him, but the entire student body starts whispering as the teachers hurry into the room. Word having finally reached them.

“You’re all dead,” Wyatt sneers.

Kyle’s brows furrow, his eyes snapping down to Wyatt’s shoelaces. Some sort of movement catching his eye, right as Wyatt trips falling straight onto his face.

He looks over to see Isobel has put a hand over her mouth, trying to hold in giggles. As Michael’s eyes sparkle like he knew something Kyle didn’t. All while the entire student body is laughing.

“My office,” Amy DeLuca says voice cold. “Now.”

Kyle sighs, following after her and Wyatt, Max not sure whether to come at first. But they are soon walking shoulder to shoulder.

“Thank you,” he mutters. A little begrudgingly like he didn’t need help protecting his sister.

Kyle nods, eyes catching with Liz’s. She is giving him a disappointed shake of her head, Alex looking at him slightly horrified. But the poison that had been rattling around inside Kyle all day had finally started to settle. Whether it was Max’s proximity or the fact he had harassed Wyatt he isn’t sure.

 

 

The principal is talking to Wyatt in her office, leaving Max and Kyle on the not so comfortable couch outside the door. Max is nearly curled up on himself, staring at his hands.

From this angle Kyle can make out a pinkish scar along his jaw, trailing from the corner down his throat to the other side. It’s jagged and a terrible placement. Something Kyle imagines warranted a hospital visit.

“You ever been in a fight before?” Kyle asks. Noticing how Max kept running his thumb over the grazes on his knuckles.

Max shakes his head, blushing slightly. Something he was apt to do.

“No,” he mutters. “I never quarreled with anyone in seven rivers. And Isobel kinda ruled the school.”

“Yeah,” Kyle nods. “You’ll want to put ice wherever he managed to get in hits.”

“I understand wound care,” Max says simply. Not in and angry defensive way, just in a matter of fact tone.

Kyle wants to ask how and why. But instead he turns to him, with a bright smile. “That’s an interesting scar,” he motions at his own neck. “Wyatt has a similar one from his four wheeler.”

Max releases a heavy breath, “it’s not from a four wheeler.”

He waits for Max to explain it, but he doesn’t. Just avoids eye contact.

“Sorry Wyatt’s an ass,” Kyle says bumping their shoulders together. Max wasn’t making this easy.

“You didn’t have to come to my rescue,” Max says instead.

“But I wanted to,” Kyle says. It wasn’t a lie, he had wanted to kick Wyatt’s butt. Had since the sixth grade.

Max blushes again, his jaw starting to purple where he got hit. More and more evidence the guy could have a crush on him, like Liz had claimed. Kyle moves his leg slightly so their thighs press together, watching as Max releases an inaudible gasp.

He finds he doesn’t hate the contact, Max’s body is warm though. Too warm.

“Are you running a fever?”

“No,” Max gulps. “My body temperature just runs high.”

“Why?” Kyle asks brows furrowed.

Max shrugs, “they don’t know. The anemia should make it the opposite.”

Kyle blinks, anemia, that would explain why he was so pale. But he should be cold, he knew that much from his science classes.

“Oh,” Kyle says stupidly. Reaching out slowly and placing his hand on Max’s thigh, eyes mesmerized as his fingers seem to drink in his body heat.

Max shivers, “Kyle.” It sounds like a prayer, enough to startle him and make him yank his hand back.

Just in time as Wyatt swings the door open angrily. Amy DeLuca following behind him, “I’ll be calling your father.”

“Fine,” Wyatt mutters. Glaring at Kyle before he Storms off towards class.

“Kyle,” MiMi crosses her arms, nodding towards her office.

He nods, “yes ma’am.”

 

 

By the time he’s been thoroughly scolded, Liz is waiting with Max. Both of them murmuring about something when Kyle walks out, his skin boiling. Because two things happened, his dad is going to know and he was given a get out of jail free card. Kyle never asked to be treated special because of his father, but people always did.

Liz crosses her arms standing up as soon as he walks out. “Hermano,” she says tone dark.

“Max,” MiMi calls.

Kyle gives him a reassuring smile as he heads into the office. Before turning to Liz, “which part am I being lectured on?”

“Kate,” Liz says simply. “What made you say such cruel things?”

“He wanted the truth,” Kyle shrugs. Trying to be nonchalant about the entire situation, knowing Liz would be breaking everything down to its smallest parts.

“And how do you know that?”

“I’m on the footballs team Liz,” he says darkly. Something heavy filling the room, he knows the look of disappointment on her face. Can read her like an open book. Had been able to since they were little.

Her face falls a little bit, “you’re not acting like yourself. You haven’t been for months.”

It feels like a slap to the face. Because she didn’t know. She couldn’t know. It would pull at the already delicate strings holding them all together, letting him be part of her life. The way he saw it it was his burden to carry.

Kyle sighs heavily, “I’m sorry. I’m just… going through some things alright?”

She nods, lips pursed. “But that doesn’t give you the right to make other people go through things.”

He nods, even if it was Wyatt fucking Long.

“So pull yourself together,” she says. “And I invited Max to the diner tomorrow after school. Be nice.”

Kyle shakes his head at her, like he had been anything but nice to Max. God, he’d practically caressed the guys thigh.

She leans over hugging him tightly, and it feels nice. She smells like vanilla and sunlight, wrapping him up in all the warmth he felt like his life was missing for the last stretch.

“I love you hermana,” he says hugging her back. “But you’re gonna ruin my street cred.”

Liz giggles pulling back, “yeah right. I’m scary and intimidating.”

“She says in a fluffy pink sweater,” Kyle smiles tightly.

 

 

He doesn’t know why he waits, but he does. Jumping up as soon as Max is let out. The other guys eyes light up, “Kyle.”

“You want to ditch?” he asks. “Get your jaw iced at my place? None of my parents are home.”

Max looks like he might just implode, eyes darting around, nervous energy rolling off him. He starts twisting his phone in his hands anxiously.

“We don’t have to,” Kyle shrugs easily. “It just might be nice to hang out. Get you taken care of.”

Max gulps, nodding. “Yeah,” his voice almost squeaks, “that would be nice.”

Kyle grins, “come with me.”