"Well, shucks. Glad to know you paid the utmost attention in my class and ****. Not my fault I'm a teacher."
Alaric hopped up and joined Tara at the door, and suddenly in his mind's eye he wasn't walking down the hallway of some ritzy casino. He was traveling the well-worn path from the Institute gates to the door itself. It was a June day, approaching his twenty second birthday faster than he'd have liked, but he was still young enough and skilled enough and beautiful enough that he had decades ahead of him if he used them right. It rifled his dark hair and soothed his skin despite its latent heat; a movie studio couldn't have provided better lighting for his face and walk.
Beast had been standing at the gates, arms open wide and a warm smile on his face. Ric grinned back, though it wasn't as much at the Headmaster as it was at the weather and the music bumping in his car.
"I just hope that youuuuuu think of meeeeeeee," he sang in a pleasant everyman's R&B croon as he approached Hank and shook his hand warmly enough, hardly noticing the stares of the students outside who had turned to look at the speaker. "Hey, Hank."
"Since when have you called me Hank?" Beast had asked in surprise, eyes widening behind his glasses; Ric had grinned and turned now to see the people who had paused to bear witness to the end of his four-year sabbatical from the Institute. For a second he felt like a king, and then he ascended to god status when he saw Taralynn drop the football she had been about to throw and turn to him, grin wide and beaming like a streetlight.
"If it's a problem, I'll stop," he threw out casually, as though he probably wouldn't even if it were a problem. "What's up? You called me back saying you had something for me."
"Err...yes. Step inside, Alaric. Please. We'll talk in my study."
Every time he remembered how he had left the courtyard and walked inside the Institute itself, Ric remembered exactly what it had felt like to let his life slip away.
Alaric pulled his wallet from his back pocket like a magician pulls a card in a trick and spun a credit card nimbly between his knuckles as he walked with Tara to the elevator and pressed on one of the floors he knew for a fact had a cafe. Out of habit he turned to Tara and ran his eyes over her, with her newly straightened orange hair, fair skin, sharp, pretty features and orange eyes that glowed like like stars glow just after the night sky turns a navy blue and they have a stage to step on to. She had taken his fashion advice and wore a simple teal v-neck and black skinny jeans, dressing slightly like Ashlynn had used to but with her own, darker twinge to Ashlynn's innocent style choices. It was odd, really, how different she and Ashlynn had been. Ashlynn with her innocent face and her caring voice, soft and peaceful like you'd imagine an angel to talk, Ashlynn with her powers and mannerisms as pure as could be. And then Taralynn.
Darker. Sharper. Hotter.
Yes, hotter. It was something with a stigma attached to it, he supposed, but where Ashlynn had always been classically beautiful, Taralynn was a more new-school kind of hot, with her sharp features, her sailor's tongue and her emotionally bombastic personality compared to Ashlynn's peaceful, polite social habits. Where Ashlynn had been a controlled burn, Taralynn was fiery; when the fire was out, Ashlynn went peacefully while Taralynn smoldered. Even their surnames had been different, and their ideologies were each different: Ashlynn had gone the unoffensive route and taken Summers, trying to put the Phoenix behind her. Tara had embraced the last name Grey and used it as a badge, a testament to everything that could have been of her and everything that could still be.
Even when you took the poetics into the equation, there was something there, something intangible about her that made her hotter than her older sister had been, Alaric decided as he finally turned his gaze and sat up on the handrail of the elevator. Even if he couldn't name what it was, it was there.