Hayden is hidden away for five years.
He doesn't know what his mother is so scared of, but she keeps him in her small bedroom, bundled up in blankets with the window boarded up. She's scared of something--talks to his father in a hushed, trembling voice at night when they think Hayden is asleep.
Hayden, at five years old, knows nothing about the world either, not really. He knows the bedroom, yes, and the bathroom connected to it—he knows that he has a family, a mother and a father, and that his eyes are blue and his hair is dark, but he doesn't know about the world outside that boarded window. He has books with pictures of oceans and deserts and cities, memorizes the vocabulary, but doesn't know the words.
There are lots of things he doesn't know. He knows that he has visions, terrible visions, of his mother screaming and loud noises, of a girl bleeding out near a river, but he doesn't know why. His mother says it's because he's special. He doesn't know special—he memorizes the definition, but doesn't know the word.
He vents his frustrations to his mother the best a five-year-old can. She has no advice, no explanations, just the comfort of a motherly embrace. He melts against her reluctantly. Special, she says again. Hayden doesn't know the word.
One day, bundled up in his blankets and looking at a book, he hears screaming, loud bangs and thumps, his mother sobbing. He assumes it's a vision, and curls up, closing his eyes tight and covering his ears.
"Stop!" His mother screams, identical to the other visions, "He's my baby, you can't take him, you can't!"
It usually ends there, but this—this goes on.
Hayden, confused, unfurls and peeks out of his blankets. Someone is banging on the door, trying to open it. What if it's his mother, trying to open the door in her hysteria?
Cautiously, he makes his way to the wooden door, watching it shake on its hinges. He has to stand up on his toes, and uses all of his might to turn the doorknob with his tiny hands.
The door swings open, and Hayden squints to see through the sudden flood of light. Standing there is not his mother, but an unfamiliar woman wearing a strange uniform. Other similarly dressed people, who seem very relieved by Hayden’s appearance, flank her. Behind them is his mother, held back by her husband. She shrieks, struggling against him, clawing at his arms in an effort to get to her son.
Hayden opens his mouth, possibly to question the strange people and possibly to start crying, but before he can say anything the odd woman scoops him up in her arms, blanket and all, and begins marching towards the door.
"Ma?" Hayden calls, baffled, beginning to feel tears prickling in his eyes. He's seldom been outside the bedroom, and now they're heading towards the front door, and the whole situation is a little more than overwhelming for him.
"You'll have to sign a few papers—" One strange man begins, addressing Hayden's father, before his mother surges forward, nearly growling.
"Damn you!" She says, "Damn you all! Damn Aricus and its laws!"
"Ma'am—" The man continues.
"Give me my son!" She shouts, a hand shooting out to grip onto the stranger's throat. "I want my son back!"
That is the last Hayden sees of his home.
"Where...?" Hayden asks, after he's cried and wailed and shouted for his mother a satisfactory amount, and after the strangers have boarded a strange metal contraption with him in tow. Its silver wings remain steady, even as they leave the ground and ascend into the air.
"We're in an airplane," The woman whose lap he's sitting on explains. "We're going somewhere far away."
"Airplane?" He's never seen that in his books. When the woman simply nods in response, he continues, "I wanna go home."
"Well, you can't."
"You're special," Hayden nearly groans at the word. "Different. You have magic. You need to go and learn how to use it, far away, with other kids like you."
"It'd be dangerous for you kids to stay in the public."
Hayden is not satisfied, but he stays silent, staring out the window and down at the rivers and the land he'd previously never seen before.
The building is huge and frightening.
Hayden hesitates in the courtyard, clutching his blanket close. The huge building looks out of place plopped in the middle of empty fields of grass and trees. It looms ominously in the distance. The woman from before nudges Hayden forward, and he takes a few hesitant steps towards it, before stopping. They repeat that motion mechanically until Hayden is standing at the building's front steps.
"Welcome home." The woman says, almost dryly.
Hayden bursts into tears for the second time that day.
The rest of the children are very interested in him, smiling and prodding and asking questions. Another boy comes with Hayden, named Amery, with long black hair and an only slightly nervous expression on his face. He can turn into a canine of some kind, apparently, one Hayden has never heard of before—jackal, Amery says, huffing when Hayden isn't impressed, but instead confused.
The only two that are any sort of comforting are Irene and Ophelia. Irene is a bookish sort of girl with long, brown hair and sharp amber eyes. She sees Hayden, overwhelmed by the attention, and protects him with ferocity. With Irene comes Ophelia, another girl, her green hair (a hair color Hayden never saw in his books) curling around her face and bouncing when she walks. She backs Irene up on everything, it seems, and comforts Hayden in his time of uncertainty as well.
And then there's Robin.
He's odd right from the get go, with his dark skin and blood red hair. He looks over Hayden and Amery, observing, judging. He meets Hayden's eyes, and Hayden jolts back at the sight of them. They are a cold blue, piercing, almost creepy. Hayden can't hold his gaze, and looks away immediately, his brain screaming warnings. Robin ends up taking to Amery, adoring him. Hayden watches the two from Irene's side, thoughts rushing. His brain had screeched bad, bad, bad almost immediately at the sight of Robin. He tries to steer clear of the boy from then on, if only to avoid the panicked feeling that overcomes him.
See, every time Robin appears, Hayden goes into panic mode. He comes to recognize the feeling, and braces himself for the angry waves of his visions, but nothing ever comes. The feeling, still, gets worse—it becomes a sharp pain in his head, intense enough that he gets reduced to a trembling mess against Ophelia whenever Robin is in the room. It's embarrassing, and must be embarrassing for Robin too.
Hayden misses his mother and that familiar little bedroom, but he becomes adjusted to the new routine as the years pass. He wakes up early, before even the sun has rose, and gets ready for the day. Then, everyone warms up in the courtyard after breakfast, getting ready for training. Training continues throughout the day, only stopping for lunch, and completely ceasing for dinner. The little time before curfew is free time, then it's back to bed. Five days every week go like this, and then the two days left over are for free time. There is a sort of comfort in the whole ordeal.
Hayden, as he gets older, is filled in on what is actually happening by his superiors. He is told that he is "magically inclined", one of the very few, and can see visions of the future. He is to train until he is eighteen, then he'll be using his magic to work for the government, and serve the country.
The first thing Hayden asks is, "Can I see my ma, after I'm eighteen?"
His superiors all share a look. "If you wish to." One says. Hayden nods, satisfied.
Hayden can, eventually, look at Robin without crumbling from the pain. He's about nine, and looks on at Robin almost desperately, for some kind of recognition, acknowledgment, but he gets none. Robin is busy--he has training to do, has Amery and his best friend, Neva, doesn't have time to spare Hayden a glance. Hayden is very embarrassed for thinking that just because he can bear to look at Robin, they'll suddenly become friends. (He begins to try to bait in visions, though, to see if he's ever really a friend to Robin. The visions don't come. They only come when they're not welcome.)
Years pass. He, eventually, learns to coax in visions of the future, though they're never gentle, always intense and unforgiving. None of his visions are about Robin, so he gives up on the endeavor, only allowing himself to occasionally sneak a glance at Robin from across the room during a meal. Robin's hair grows wild and curly, and he takes a liking to entertaining the younger kids, dazzling them with his illusions, making meteor showers appear against the curtains. The illusions are intriguing, and Robin is intriguing, but Hayden sticks to Ophelia and Irene.
(He has small, trivial interactions with Robin over the years.
"Has anyone ever seen snow before?" Robin asks the table as a whole at dinner one day, almost absentmindedly, an offhanded mention.
"No," Hayden answers first, and Robin looks at him with his strange eyes, grinning.
"Before you and a lot of the other kids arrived, we had the coldest winter we've ever had in forever, and it ended up snowing overnight. It was pretty. I've been trying to remember clearly what it looked like, so I can recreate the whole scene."
"He's certainly got the feeling part of it down." Neva comments bitterly, causing a murmur of laughter to ripple through the table.
"You want a sneak peek?" Robin asks, eyes bright with mischief. Hayden nods, naively holding out his hands, and Robin holds on to them tight, beginning to give him the illusion of snow.
It's—Goddess, it's very cold, like ice but everywhere, pressed against his fingers and turning them red and numb. Hayden gasps, shudders, and jolts his hands away from Robin's grasp, rubbing them together—except the cold is already gone.
Robin is grinning like an idiot. Hayden stammers out something intelligible, and the noise seems to make everyone laugh.
"That was horrible!" Hayden decides.
"I was freezing," Robin confirms. "But it was so beautiful.")